Still Opposing EFS: Divine Will

Last week, I discussed how even though there is a single nature, each person is that nature in a way proper to their person. Even though this is the case, because of the doctrine of divine simplicity we must maintain that each person is the entirety of the divine nature, albeit in a peculiar way. To divide up the divine nature among the three persons would be to divide up God, which is really a species of tritheism.

This view is seen in contradistinction to the view held by EFS advocates, that introduces the attribute of “submissive” or “authority” into specific persons of the Trinity in order to distinguish them. Most explicitly, this view is articulated by Douglas Wilson, but is also shared by Bruce Ware when he argues that the Father is a supreme authority over the Son and Spirit.

This week, I want to address a common objection to the orthodox view. That objection, to summarize, is that if we fail to affirm in some sense that the Father and Son have different wills, that we destroy the distinction between the persons. This is also sometimes applied to the pactum salutis, which is not possible —so says the EFS advocate— without a plurality of wills. This critique, as we will see, falls far short of the mark.

Recall how we learned last week that although the divine nature is one and indivisible, that each person is (or participates in, or expresses, or exists as) the divine nature in a way that is proper to their person.

The Father is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Father of the Son and the personal origin of the Spirit. The Son is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Son of the Father, and the mediate origin of the Spirit. The Spirit is the fullness of the divine nature in a way that is proper to his person, relative to being the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The same logic which allows us to affirm these premises, allows us to say the same thing about the divine will. So while we affirm with the historic Church that there is a single divine will in the Godhead, we also affirm that each person wills in accord with their peculiar hypostatic relations. So the Father wills as Father. The Son wills as Son. The Spirit wills as Spirit. This should not surprise us given the doctrine of divine simplicity.

Augustine articulated it thus: It is not different for God to be great, than it is for God to be.

That is to say, God, if he is God, must also be great, for to be and to be great are not distinct things for God. So also, we can say that whatever it is that God wills, he wills necessarily. Just as you could take most attributes in a human person, and remove one (or several) of them and still have a human (as well as that human). You could do the same thing with a human will. I am willing to write this blog post, but I could be willing to do something else right now (eating breakfast for example… mmmmm…. donuts). If I were willing to do something else, I would still be human, and I would still be the particular human I am. However, for God, it is not so. His will is not distinct from his essence. If God were to will something other than what he wills, would be for God to be something other than what he is. 1 Since the divine will is a feature of the divine nature, it is found in each person in a peculiar way which is proper to their hypostatic relations, that is, relative to the other persons.

This reveals yet another way that the EFS advocate introduces additional natures into the Godhead. Just as Doug Wilson introduces “authority” into the essence of the Father, and “submission” into the essence of the Son (and by implication the Spirit), so also do the EFS crowd unintentionally introduce “Wills to submit to the Father” and “Wills to rule over the Son” into the respective natures of the Son and Father. 2 For them, the relationship between the persons of the Trinity is an act of the will by each distinct persons. What they do not realize, at least I hope they don’t realize, is that since the will is a feature of nature, by making the relationship between persons a function of the will they have made it a function of diverse natures.

So, what we see happening is a two-fold natural division of the persons. They implicitly divide the persons by dividing their wills. The Son submits to the Father, willingly. That is, the Son engages his will to submit to the Father. Then, because they understand (or at least they seem to understand) that from an orthodox position, the will is a feature of the nature of a person, they are forced to speak in terms which articulate a difference of natures. Thus we are left with Doug Wilson’s statement that “[The Son’s] existence is obedience” and “The Father’s existence is authority.”

Notes:

  1. I understand that this raises questions regarding the necessary nature of creation, for if God wills to create he does so necessarily. Scholars such as Jonathan Edwards have affirmed that creation is a necessary entailment of God’s nature, but I would disagree. Explaining exactly how that is the case is the subject of a doctoral dissertation, rather than a blog post, so I digress.
  2. So also introducing “Wills to rule over the Spirit” into the essence of both the Father and Son, and “Wills to submit to the Father and Son” into the essence of the Spirit, further establishing the tritheistic division of natures in the EFS Trinity.