NOTE: This question is aimed at those who hold a particular view of the Trinity. If you do not hold the view I am referring to, then this question is not directed torwards you

Thomists and other Trinitarians hold that each person of the Trinity is identical to the divine essence, and that there is only a virtual or mind dependent distinction between the persons and the essence. But if each person is the divine essence, wouldn't that mean the persons are identical to each other? How then can we say the hypostases are distinct?

  • 1
    Chalcedonian Trinitarianism actually says the three persons have one faculty of mind, will, etc. The distinction is usually thought to be one of relations: we don't know how it is that the persons relate with each other in eternity, but they truly do have genuine relationships. The other distinction is of order: the Father is first, from whom the Son is begotten, and from (both) the Spirit proceeds.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 5, 2022 at 1:51
  • @curiousdannii I know that they're distinct in their relations. The question is HOW CAN they be distinct if all three persons are identical to the essence.
    – Bob
    Dec 5, 2022 at 2:07
  • Such an answer is probably far beyond our understanding ;) We can't know God as he knows himself.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 5, 2022 at 2:12
  • Read this: They are distinct concerning the special character which each of them possesses, and yet united concerning the attributes of the nature which they all share. The Father is only Father and not Son. The same also is true of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. However, if they are differentiated by their substances (hypostases), they are united by their essence and nature, because the divine nature is common to the three persons. Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet they are not three gods of different essences, but one God in three co­essential persons.
    – Mr. Bond
    Dec 5, 2022 at 14:57
  • @Mr.Bond Again, with all due respect, I am fully aware what the Trinity is, that is not my question.
    – Bob
    Dec 5, 2022 at 15:18

1 Answer 1


The persons are distinguished on account of their relations, specifically because the relations imply an opposition.

It is therefore better to say that the persons or hypostases are distinguished rather by relations than by origin. For, although in both ways they are distinguished, nevertheless in our mode of understanding they are distinguished chiefly and firstly by relations; whence this name "Father" signifies not only a property, but also the hypostasis; whereas this term "Begetter" or "Begetting" signifies property only; forasmuch as this name "Father" signifies the relation which is distinctive and constitutive of the hypostasis; and this term "Begetter" or "Begotten" signifies the origin which is not distinctive and constitutive of the hypostasis. Summa, I Q40 A2

Hence, the Father is not the Son (person) and paternity is not filiation (properties) because those properties are opposed yet Father, Son, paternity and filiation are the Divine Essence because everything attributed to God is the Divine essence except a relation (because God is simple).

  • The OP asked a very similar question here, and received some good answers. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/89830/…
    – Anne
    Dec 10, 2022 at 17:13
  • That is the Hypostatic Union (Christ being God and Man); this is how are hypostases distinct (Father vs Son vs Holy Spirit and how those are distinct also from the Essence).
    – eques
    Dec 10, 2022 at 17:14
  • The OP commented, "The question is HOW CAN they be distinct if all three persons are identical to the essence." It appears that the OP has an opinion (all 3 persons are identical to the essence). Is the OP's claim that "Thomists and other Trinitarians hold that each person of the Trinity is identical to the divine essence" not entirely accurate, as equally sharing the one divine essence is not a barrier to relationship within that one Being of God? I'm seeking to know more, not nit-pick!
    – Anne
    Dec 12, 2022 at 12:28
  • 1
    It is definitely the case from Thomistic principles that the person (more specifically the property) is the essence (hence the Father is God) because there is nothing in God but the essence. The only real relationship in the Trinity is predicated by opposition - paternity vs filiation or Father vs Son.
    – eques
    Dec 12, 2022 at 14:27

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