Many (perhaps most) Trinitarian theologians says that the Father, Son, and Spirit each possess the one singular divine will. This is a stronger statement than saying they are "united in will", which could leave open the possibility that each person of the Trinity has its own will. (In the incarnation the Son took on a human nature including a human will, but that is out of scope for this question. Answers should not focus on the incarnation or Christology. This question is about the one divine will possessed by the Father, Son, and Spirit in eternity.)

When was this doctrine first expounded, and what arguments, whether Biblical or otherwise, were given to support it?

Another question, Does the triune God have will by nature, or by persons?, has some good information and quotes about this doctrine, but it does not ask about the earliest defences of it.

  • Are you asking if the Divine Persons can contradict each other? – Geremia Aug 11 '16 at 17:03
  • It might help if you quoted some creedal or official doctrinal statement of the doctrine whose origins you are asking about. – Lee Woofenden Aug 11 '16 at 19:03
  • @LeeWoofenden I have been looking, but it is hard to find anything concrete. (Most things Google brings up are about the Christological monothelitism debate, or about how we can discerne the will of God now.) I have edited the first sentence because there is some disagreement about this among Trinitarians. – curiousdannii Aug 12 '16 at 1:46
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    @LeeWoofenden Here is one: Divine Will: "His will is actually identical with the divine essence", meaning that the divine will must be singular because there is only one divine essence. – curiousdannii Aug 12 '16 at 2:03
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    I guess it's related to the divine simplicity. Having more than one will would be tantamount to declaring that God has parts. Declaring that God has parts would imply that God is not fundamental. If God is not fundamental then he's not truly God – TheIronKnuckle Feb 8 '17 at 20:30

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390) in his Fourth Theological Oration gives an early defence for the doctrine of the one divine will. The context of this paragraph is John 6:38.

Let them quote in the seventh place that The Son came down from Heaven, not to do His own Will, but the Will of Him That sent Him. Well, if this had not been said by Himself Who came down, we should say that the phrase was modelled as issuing from the Human Nature, not from Him who is conceived of in His character as the Saviour, for His Human Will cannot be opposed to God, seeing it is altogether taken into God; but conceived of simply as in our nature, inasmuch as the human will does not completely follow the Divine, but for the most part struggles against and resists it. For we understand in the same way the words, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; Nevertheless let not what I will but Thy Will prevail. For it is not likely that He did not know whether it was possible or not, or that He would oppose will to will. But since, as this is the language of Him Who assumed our Nature (for He it was Who came down), and not of the Nature which He assumed, we must meet the objection in this way, that the passage does not mean that the Son has a special will of His own, besides that of the Father, but that He has not; so that the meaning would be, “not to do Mine own Will, for there is none of Mine apart from, but that which is common to, Me and Thee; for as We have one Godhead, so We have one Will.” For many such expressions are used in relation to this Community, and are expressed not positively but negatively; as, e.g., God giveth not the Spirit by measure, for as a matter of fact He does not give the Spirit to the Son, nor does He measure It, for God is not measured by God; or again, Not my transgression nor my sin. The words are not used because He has these things, but because He has them not. And again, Not for our righteousness which we have done, for we have not done any. And this meaning is evident also in the clauses which follow. For what, says He, is the Will of My Father? That everyone that believeth on the Son should be saved, and obtain the final Resurrection. Now is this the Will of the Father, but not of the Son? Or does He preach the Gospel, and receive men’s faith against His will? Who could believe that? Moreover, that passage, too, which says that the Word which is heard is not the Son’s but the Father’s has the same force. For I cannot see how that which is common to two can be said to belong to one alone, however much I consider it, and I do not think any one else can. If then you hold this opinion concerning the Will, you will be right and reverent in your opinion, as I think, and as every right-minded person thinks.

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This is what Joseph Priestly said about the "one will" doctrine:

"The next controversy of which I shall give an account, shows, at the same time, the subtlety of the mind of man in devising distinctions, and the impotence of power to restrain or guide it. In the seventh century, the emperor Heraclius, considering the detriment which his empire received from the migration of the persecuted Nestorians, and their settlement in Persia, was very desirous of uniting the Monophysites, and thought to prevent the diversity of opinions among them by inducing them to accede to the following proposition (suggested to him, it is said, by Anastasius, the chief of the Jacobites, and who pretended to renounce Eutychianism, in order to be made bishop of Antioch), "There was in Jesus Christ, after the union of the two natures, but one will and one operation." Accordingly he published an edict in favour of this doctrine, which was called that of the Monothelites, in 630. It was afterwards confirmed in a council, and for some time seemed to have the intended effect. But soon after it was the occasion of new and violent animosities, in consequence of the opposition made to it by Sophronius, a monk of Palestine. He, being raised to the see of Jerusalem, was the occasion of a council being held at Constantinople in 680, which was called the sixth general council, in which the doctrine of the Monothelites was condemned. Not withstanding this condemnation, this doctrine was embraced by the Mardiates, a people who inhabited Mount Libanus, and were afterwards called Maronites, from Maro, their first bishop; but in the twelfth century they joined the church of Rome. In the condemnation of this doctrine, it is remarkable that it was not stated, nor anything opposite to it asserted; the writings only which contained it being condemned, as containing propositions "impious and hurtful to the soul;" and they were therefore ordered to be exterminated and burned. It is, indeed, no wonder that those who are called orthodox with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, should be embarrassed with two intelligent principles in one person, in what manner soever they may imagine them to be united. If there be but one intelligent principle, or nature, there can be but one will, but if there be two intelligent principles, it is natural to expect two wills. But then what certainty can there be that these two wills will always coincide, and what inconvenience would there not arise from their difference?" A History of the Corruptions of Christianity, pg. 43

The Catholic Encyclopedia confirms this:

The origin of the Monothelite controversy is thus related by Sergius in his letter to Pope Honorius. When the Emperor Heraclius in the course of the war which he began about 619, came to Theodosiopolis (Erzeroum) in Armenia (about 622), a Monophysite named Paul, a leader of the Acephali, made a speech before him in favour of his heresy. The emperor refuted him with theological arguments, and incidentally made use of the expression "one operation" of Christ. Later on (about 626) he inquired of Cyrus, Bishop of Phasis and metropolitan of the Lazi, whether his words were correct. Cyrus was uncertain, and by the emperor's order wrote to Sergius the Patriarch of Constantinople, whom Heraclius greatly trusted, for advice. Sergius in reply sent him a letter said to have been written by Mennas of Constantinople to Pope Vigilius and approved by the latter, in which several authorities were cited for one operation and one will. This letter was afterwards declared to be a forgery and was admitted to be such at the Sixth General Council.

It seems this doctrine came about by an emperor named Heraclius from about 622-630 AD. He uttered something along the lines of "one operation", but he wasn't sure if it was correct. So he asked some other Catholics and they agreed to it. There are no biblical arguments for this doctrine, and Yeshua expresses a will in opposition to God's quite a few times. Examples of this are:

"Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." Luke 22:42


Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Matthew 4:1

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  • I'm not asking about montheletism or its opponents - and I'm pretty sure the doctrine of the one divine will must have been established before it, or else they wouldn't have been able to oppose montheletism in the way they did. – curiousdannii Aug 10 '16 at 0:24
  • I'm sorry @curiousdannii, but monotheletism is a Greek word from μονοθελητισμός that means "doctrine of one will". Here is a Wikipedia article: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monothelitism So I'm not sure why you say you're not asking about it. As you can see from the Joseph Priestly quote, there were very few refutations to it at the time because nobody had ever heard of such a thing. If anything I've written is false I would appreciate correction; but if not, then is there anything else I can add to make this answer acceptable? Thank you. – Cannabijoy Aug 10 '16 at 2:49
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    @Anonymouswho Monotheletism is about Jesus having only one will rather than both divine and human wills. I am asking about the doctrine that the three persons of the trinity possess only one divine will, not one divine will each. – curiousdannii Aug 10 '16 at 5:36
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    @anonymouswho You could be right, that would at least be earlier than Aquinas. But if, as you said earlier, "I'm not sure what the difference is between all three possessing one divine will and all three possessing one divine will each", then I'd have to say that you're not aware enough of the issue I am asking about. To say that "the trinity is a Christology" is definitely to miss the point. – curiousdannii Aug 10 '16 at 7:15
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    @anonymouswho Normal English means that "one divine will each" means that each person of the Trinity would have their own distinct divine will. This is the same topic as the older question Does the triune God have will by nature, or by persons? but I am wanting to trace the origin of the doctrine, which I'm sure must be before Aquinas, and probably considerably before the Third Council of Constantinople. – curiousdannii Aug 10 '16 at 7:35

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