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ETS and the trinity: Augustine and “one will”

August 8, 2012

Fortunately this is the last of my language research posts on this topic. I will have some thoughts later on the value of linguistic research relating to the trinity. However in this post I will simply remark the fact that the trinity has “one will” – una uolentas, if you wish to google this in Latin. The Son is equal to the Father in potestas (exousia), in fact, he is one with the Father in exousia, and he is also one with the Father in will, and in working. Here is Augustine in De Trinitate, Book II, 9,

He will reply, I suppose, if he has a right sense in these things, Because the will of the Father and the Son is one, and their working indivisible. In like manner, then, let him understand the incarnation and nativity of the Virgin, wherein the Son is understood as sent, to have been wrought by one and the same operation of the Father and of the Son indivisibly; …

For perhaps our meaning will be more plainly unfolded, if we ask in what manner God sent His Son. He commanded that He should come, and He, complying with the commandment, came. Did He then request, or did He only suggest? But whichever of these it was, certainly it was done by a word, and the Word of God is the Son of God Himself. Wherefore, since the Father sent Him by a word, His being sent was the work of both the Father and His Word; therefore the same Son was sent by the Father and the Son, because the Son Himself is the Word of the Father. For who would embrace so impious an opinion as to think the Father to have uttered a word in time, in order that the eternal Son might thereby be sent and might appear in the flesh in the fullness of time?

And in De Trintate Book IV, 19,

In such wise that, whereas four things are to be considered in every sacrifice—to whom it is offered, by whom it is offered, what is offered, for whom it is offered,— the same One and true Mediator Himself, reconciling us to God by the sacrifice of peace, might remain one with Him to whom He offered, might make those one in Himself for whom He offered, Himself might be in one both the offerer and the offering.

In this way, the Son was sent to take on mortality die, but this is not a metaphor of a father exerting his authority and killing his submissive son, but rather the story of a God who himself became mortal and experienced death. The Son is one with the Father in will and working. He is both sent and sender, both priest and offering. There is no subordination here, but indivisibility of will. I will present some complementarian responses to this tomorrow.

To view all posts in this series click on the ETS tag at the top right.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2012 7:37 pm

    He is both sent and sender, both priest and offering.

    Ah!! Thank you!! “Both priest and offering” is practically woven into my Catholic DNA (although in slightly different words). “Both sent and sender” is an obvious (…now that you point it out!) application of the very same principle, the same conceptual underpinning. It immediately makes sense to me.

    The bit you quote from De Trinitate IV, 19 would make a lovely prayer during the Preparation of the Gifts, too (when the bread and wine are brought to the altar). Someone should turn it into a hymn text.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 9, 2012 12:18 am


    Thanks for your vote of confidence! I don’t like a God who exerts authority, exiles his submissive Son from heaven, and kills him as punishment. But a God who himself becomes human, and in becoming human takes on mortality and a necessary death – and then dies that death at the hands of others – that makes sense. That God is himself the mediator between God and humankind.

  3. August 9, 2012 2:37 pm

    Yes! This is what I have argued: that where there is one will, it is impossible for there to be an authority-submission relationship. The nature of authority-submission is that one gives in to the other’s will. Where both equally want the same thing, and are of one will to accomplish it, authority-submission becomes moot– an incoherent concept. The Son could not have been submissive to the Father in any coherent sense except when the Son was on earth in human flesh, when His human needs and desires had to be subordinated to the Divine will.

  4. August 9, 2012 11:55 pm

    @krwordgazer –

    The nature of authority-submission is that one gives in to the other’s will. Where both equally want the same thing, and are of one will to accomplish it, authority-submission becomes moot– an incoherent concept.

    Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, one could argue that the one will is the mechanism or instrument by which the authority/submission relationship is implemented.* That is, if the authority/submission relationship is primary, then the one will could be seen as the perfect fulfillment of that relationship: the Son equally desiring what the Father desires as a result of that perfect submission.

    We tend to think of desire and will as intrinsic and primary, but that’s arguably a result of our autonomous, individualistic anthropology. In a relational ontology, it’s reasonable to see relationship as primary, and desire and will as conditioned by relationship.

    *Setting aside, for the moment, the sheer arrogance of attempting to work out the mechanisms of the internal workings of the Trinity…

  5. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 10, 2012 1:02 am

    Thanks both of you! I do think that some honestly hold to what Victoria explains. The only problem is that if you have two human individuals and only one will, that is a pathology. The one whose will is paramount will see it as normal, while the other person has no will and experiences diminishment. But the one in authority experiences life as normal. He can control his environment by having the other person in his immediate environment fulfill his will. It makes him feel safe. But it ends in insanity, of course. However, those who are on this path don’t see that insanity. I don’t know how to explain it to them either.

  6. August 10, 2012 6:39 pm


    I agree with Suzanne. For the Son to want what the Father wants *because* of submission and not because He wants anything in and of Himself, would effectively mean that the Son had no will of His own. In other words, it would render Him just an extension of the Father, a non-Person, and thus negate the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as being tri-Personal.

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