The Will of God is One yet Three

God is truly and absolutely simple (as Ss. Augustine and Aquinas taught). His existence is His will is His intellect is His Love. All that God is, is one in Him: love, justice, mercy, knowledge, will, existence, etc. So God has one intellect, which is literally the same as His one will, which is literally the same as His existence. God is One.

God is not divided into being and doing. For God is truly and absolutely simple. God is not a being who acts. For then He would be divided into what He does and who He is. In truth, the being of God is the same as the doing of God. God loves, and God is love, are exactly the same in God. If God were to cease to love (which is impossible), He would literally cease to exist. For in God, being love and doing love are the same. In God, love is the same as knowledge is the same as will is the same as intellect is the same as existence, etc. Every act of God is one Act, and that Act is also His very Nature. All that can be truly said of God, of His Divine Nature or of His acts, is One.

What is the Nature of God? The nature of God is Act. God is One Divine Eternal Act — the act of being all that God is, and of doing all that God does. In God, being and doing are identical.

But if God is so thoroughly One, how can He be Three?

The one Act that is God includes the act of the Son proceeding from the Father, and the act of the Spirit proceeding primarily from the Father and secondarily from the Son (in one spiration). The one Divine Nature is the Three Persons, and the Three Persons are the One Divine Nature. God is not four things: Person, Person, Person, Nature. God is One Nature, and that One Act called His Nature is the Three Persons.

So the Oneness of God includes a Threeness. God is One yet Three. This mystery is only understandable to any created mind to a limited extent. All the created minds put together, including that of the human nature of Christ, still cannot entirely understand, still cannot comprehend, this mystery that the one God is — in the very same Act that is so thoroughly One, in the very same single Act that is His Nature — also Three.

And the Threeness of God is so full that each of the Three is a Person, who is fully God. Each Person is co-equal as God. And so, each must be able to exercise, to have full possession and full use of, the one Nature. For there is nothing of the Three Persons that is not of the Nature, and nothing of the Nature that is not of the Three Persons. Otherwise, God would be four, not three.

God has a will. The Divine Nature is One, and so we can certainly say that the one God has one will.

But each Person must have full use of the Divine Nature in His own Personhood, otherwise each would not be fully God. We cannot attribute to one Person the will, and to another Person the intellect, and to another Person the love, of the one God. Therefore, there must be a sense in which each Person has His own will and intellect and love, by His personal possession and exercise of the one Divine Nature.

To say otherwise is to make the absurd claim that something can be a Person without any will or intellect or love that is in any sense of the Person. Or again, if we say that the will of God is only of His Divine Nature, then all that God wills would be from His nature, as if from necessity, not from free will.

Now if we consider the human person, we find that human nature and human will are distinct. The human person has a good nature, but his will can choose evil, because free will is fundamental to personhood. The lower animals do not have free will, and so they are not persons.

But this is not to say that the will of God is four. All that God is, is One. And so He cannot be divided into four wills: one for each of the three Persons, plus one for the Divine Nature.

Furthermore, the Persons of the Trinity cannot be Persons without will and intellect and love; these are essential to Personhood. Therefore, a human person who chooses to reject the love of God and neighbor is also choosing, in a sense, to reject himself as a person, to become more like an animal, and less like a person made in the image of God.

It would be contrary to the Catholic understanding of the Trinity to say that the Father does not love the Son, or that the Son does not love the Father. It would be contrary to Sacred Scripture to say that the Son cannot will to do the will of the Father, as if the Father and Son and Spirit each do not have their own will.

{6:38} For I descended from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

{14:23} Jesus responded and said to him: “If anyone loves me, he shall keep my word. And my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and we will make our dwelling place with him.

{14:26} But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will suggest to you everything whatsoever that I have said to you.

The Second Person of the Trinity descended from heaven in order to become Incarnate. So the will of Jesus spoken of here is not solely his human will, but also the will of the Second Person. Jesus, in both His wills, does the will of the Father who sent the Son. The Father does not only send the human nature of Christ, but His whole Person. The First Person sent the Second Person to become Incarnate. Then the Second Person incarnate, having two wills, does the will of the Father.

And when the Spirit is sent upon the Church, He is sent by the Father and by the Son. But it would be impossible for one Person to send another, or for two Persons to send another, if none has a will of His own. And it would be impossible for the Spirit to teach the Church, if He does not have an intellect of His own. For how can He be called the Spirit of Truth, if He has no intellect with which to understand truth?

The Father wills to send the Son; this sending is a reflection of procession. This implies that both have will and intellect. The Second Person proceeds from the First Person, such that the Son is a perfect image of the Father. The Father and Son will to send the Spirit; this sending is a reflection of procession. The Third Person proceeds from the First and Second Persons, which in turn implies that the Spirit also has will and intellect.

The Father loves, the Son loves, the Spirit loves. They love one another and they love us. Although we can certainly say that God wills, God understands, and God loves, we cannot refuse to say the same about each Person. We must also hold that each Person wills, understands, and loves. Otherwise, the various passages in Sacred Scripture on the Trinity would be false or nonsensical.

For example, how could Christ in the garden pray to do the will of the Father — not the will of God, but the will of the First Person — if the Father has no will of His own? Or how could the Incarnation be of the Second Person, not of all Three Persons, if the Second Person has no will, intellect, and love of His own? The dogma of the Church is that the Second Person has two wills, one human and one Divine. But we cannot hold that the Second Person has no will of His own. And we cannot hold that all Three Persons of the Trinity were Incarnate. So the dogma of the Incarnation of the Second Person, and the dogma of the two wills of that Person (one human, one Divine), imply that in some sense each Person of the Trinity has His own will.

We also must say, based on Sacred Scripture, that God has will, and intellect, and love. But God cannot have four wills, just as He cannot be four things: three persons and one nature.

The only solution is for us to say that God is Three yet One. Will in God is three yet one; intellect in God is three yet one; love in God is one yet three. The three wills of the three Persons are the one will of God, and the one will of God is the three wills of the Three Persons. The same is true for intellect and for love.

It is also true that in God, will and intellect and love are exactly the same.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

Articles on Catholic Ethics
My work with Sacred Scripture

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1 Response to The Will of God is One yet Three

  1. Shane says:

    The late Catholic apologist Frank Sheed used to say that part of the reason we cannot fully understand the mystery of the Blessed Trinity was because our rational method of understanding was, in line with the thought of St. Aquinas, based on our experiences, and since we have no experience of what it means to possess one Divine Nature in Three Persons, we cannot hope to comprehend it fully. But, we can of course begin to grasp some basic concepts, as given in Divine Revelation

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