How many wills and intellects are in God?

Here is the article in question: There is no Obedience in the Trinity. In it, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush asserts multiple serious errors on Jesus and on the Trinity, namely:

1. The claim that in God, there is only one will and one intellect, and that each of the Three Persons does not have, in any sense, their own will, but only the one will of God.

2. The claim that in Jesus, the divine will and divine intellect are not specifically of the Second Person of the Trinity, but solely of the One Nature.

3. The claim that the Son is not obedient to the Father, and the Spirit is not obedient to the Father and the Son.

4. The claim that, when Scripture speaks of the obedience of the Son to the Father, it is only the human nature of the Son that is obedient to the Father.

It would be hard to find any post, written by any Catholic priest, anywhere on the internet, that presents so many grave doctrinal errors, on such an important matter of faith, in so few paragraphs. Let’s consider each error in turn.

1. Is there only one will and one intellect in God?

If there were only one will and one intellect in God, then in what sense would there be three Persons?

“CCC 255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another”

Catholic teaching is that the three Persons have a relationship with one another. That relationship is what distinguishes one Person from another. But without a will and intellect which is, in some sense, of each Person, there can be no relationship. A person without a will or intellect is not a person. If God has only one will and one intellect, then He would be only one Person.

In order for each of the three Persons to love the other Persons, there must be, in some sense, three wills and three intellects — three intellects, because one cannot love what one does not know (knowledge is of the intellect), and three wills because love is a choice of the will. You can’t have a relationship with another person, unless each of you has will and intellect of your own. Your relationship with one another is based on a choice of the will to love what you know to be good in the other person. If you don’t teach have will and intellect of your own, you don’t have a relationship.

But should we say, then, that the Godhead, that is, the Divine Nature, has no will or intellect that is of the Nature? No, of course not. For how can God be truly God if He has no intellect and no will? God is all-knowing, so the Divine Nature must have intellect. God loves and God freely chooses, so the Divine Nature must have will.

But how can the Divine Nature have its own intellect and will, and yet each Person has its own intellect and will? We cannot propose four intellects and four wills, for then we would have four Persons.

The only solution then, to this apparent contradiction, is that the will of God is three yet one, and the intellect of God is three yet one. Any other position either destroys the Threeness of God (as is the case in Fr. Erlenbush’s claims), or destroys the Oneness of God.

Does this solution imply that there are four wills in God, one for each Person and one for the Divine Nature? Not at all. For God is not four things: person, person, person, nature. The three Persons are the one Nature; the one Nature is the Three Persons. Therefore, the three wills are the one will, and vice versa, and the same for intellect.

Proof that this position is correct is found in passages of Scripture, which speak specifically of the will of the Father, as distinguished from the will of God (i.e. of the Divine Nature).

Jesus repeatedly speaks of the will of the Father:

[Matthew]
{7:21} Not all who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does the will of my Father, who is in heaven, the same shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

{12:50} For anyone who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

[John]
{4:34} Jesus said to them: “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me, so that I may perfect his work.

Jesus speaks of his own will, and the will of the Father who sent him:

{5:30} I am not able to do anything of myself. As I hear, so do I judge. And my judgment is just. For I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

{6:38} For I descended from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
{6:39} Yet this is the will of the Father who sent me: that I should lose nothing out of all that he has given to me, but that I should raise them up on the last day.
{6:40} So then, this is the will of my Father who sent me: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus tells us that the Father has His own will. We should believe our Lord. He cannot lie, and He is all-knowing.

And we cannot say that Jesus, in speaking of his own will, is solely speaking of his human will, since he says: “I descended from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” The “I” who descended from Heaven is not the human nature of Jesus — which did not preexist in Heaven before the conception/incarnation. The Logos (the Second Person of the Trinity) descended from Heaven, not to do his own will, the will of the Logos, but to do the will of the Father. And this assertion by Jesus about himself as the Logos (the Word of the Father, that is, the Son of the Father) implies the obedience, in some sense, of the Logos to the Father.

From the Mass: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world….” Thus, the will of the Father is of the Person of the Father.

The Holy Spirit also has his own will, a will which is of the Third Person:

[1 Cor]
{12:11} But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one according to his will.

We should believe what Sacred Scripture teaches, in the words of Saint Paul above — that the Spirit has his own will.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “All believers in Christ, therefore, following the example of the Apostles, must fervently strive to conform their thinking and action to the will of the Holy Spirit….” [Dominum et Vivificantem 62]

But Sacred Scripture also speaks of the will of God, and so we cannot conclude that only the Persons have will, and not the Divine Nature:

[Mark]
{3:35} For whoever has done the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister and mother.”

[Ephesians]
{5:17} For this reason, do not choose to be imprudent. Instead, understand what is the will of God.

Then we also have the example from the private theology of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), in his book “Behold, the Pierced One”:

“the human will [of Jesus] is completely one with the will of the Logos. United with the latter, it has become a pure Yes to the will of the Father.” [p. 40]

“Jesus’ human will assimilates itself to the will of the Son.” [p. 41]

“what unites the two wills is the Yes of Christ’s human will to the divine will of the Logos.” [p. 92]

The writings of theologian Joseph Ratzinger are not an act of the Magisterium, but also certainly not heretical. He offers the sound theological opinion, in accord with my previous citations from Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium, that the individual Persons of the Trinity have their own will — though I would add that in God, there are not four wills, nor merely three distinct wills, but one will that is three, and three wills that are one.

2. It is true that in Jesus, the Divine will and Divine intellect are not specifically of the Second Person of the Trinity, but solely of the One Nature?
3. Is it true that only the human nature of the Son that is obedient to the Father?

The claim that Jesus is only obedient to the Father in his human nature, and the claim that Jesus has no divine will which is of his divine person, but only the one will of God — claims made Fr. Erlenbush — are grave theological errors. First, these claims make a mockery of the dogma that the Second Person of the Trinity became man. For if the will and intellect that became man can only be attributed to the Divine Nature, and not in any sense to the Second Person in particular, then God became man, but it would then seem that the Son specifically did not.

Second, if the assertions in Sacred Scripture about the will of Jesus (e.g. that Jesus does the will of the Father) can only be said of his human nature, and not of the one Person, then the two natures of Jesus are divided — thus contradicting the dogma of the hypostatic union. For example:
[Hebrews]
{5:8} And although, certainly, he is the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things that he suffered.

Is Jesus the Son of God only in his human nature? No, of course not. Yet to attribute his obedience only to his human nature is to divide the two natures, as if they were not of one Person. And if there is only one will and one intellect in God, then even if we propose that Jesus was obedient only in his human nature, he would then be obedient only to the Divine Nature, not specifically to the Father — as Sacred Scripture and Jesus himself clearly teach.

Therefore, when God became man as Jesus Christ, the Second Person (Logos) took on a human nature, and therefore has two wills, the human will and the will of the Logos, and two intellects.

If the Father has no will or intellect of his own, then how can the Father send the Son? And if the Son also has no will of his own, other than his human will, how can the Father and the Son send the Spirit. And what can the Spirit do, in the Church, if he has no will of his own? Without a will and intellect which pertains to each Person, the Three Persons are not true Persons. If only the Divine Nature has will and intellect, then the Trinity is a mere illusion.

But if we instead hold that the Father and the Son and the Spirit each have will and intellect, and necessarily also that these three wills and intellects are indeed one in the Divine Nature, then the previously cited teachings of Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium on the will of God make perfect sense. The Father wills to send the Son. The Son, as the Second Person, does the will of the Father, since the Son proceeds only from the Father. All that the Son is, in his Person, is from the Father. And the same can be said of the Spirit, proceeding from the Father and Son, and doing the will of the Father and Son.

4. Is there obedience in the Trinity?

Yes, there is a type of obedience in the Trinity, but it is not worldly obedience, by which one person or will is subjugated to another, as if one were less than the other. The obedience found in the Trinity is based on procession: the Father does not proceed, so He is not obedient. The Son proceeds only from the Father, so He is obedient only to the Father. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, equally, as from one principle, so He is obedient to the Father and the Son.

Thus, the Son is eternally obedient to the Father, and the Spirit is eternally obedient to the Father and the Son — though not as if any one of the three were less than infinite perfect God. For each Person fully possesses the one Divine Nature, and each is fully God — though it is one God only, not three gods.

Thus, the opinion of Fr. Erlenbush on this subject include multiple grave doctrinal errors, and that opinion is neither magisterial teaching, nor sound Catholic theology.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to How many wills and intellects are in God?

  1. Patricia says:

    Hello Ron,

    Your explanation was very good on how you explained the errors of Father Erlenbush. And I understand why you have to explain these things because of the errors. I have no degree in theology. But what I find interesting is how so many people put limits on God. The Trinity is a mystery yet even I can understand that there are 3 distinct persons with their own will yet one God…. God is beyond our understanding….Yet in the same breath they love each other perfectly and their wills conform to each other in a way….God is all encompassing…to me. To me the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all communicate with other, and they all know each others will and what’s going on with each other – yet they all are separate from each other and but they are One God. But their wills conform with each other…because they are perfect and love each other….

    Jesus, said in the garden Father not my will but yours…..He was having a hard time with what he was about to go through yet….his love for the Father and for man kind was greater then his own will. To me its like Father Erienbush puts a rubber band around God that he could not be 3 distinct persons yet one God. To me this limits God and constrains him….puts him in a box…. Thank you for writing and correcting errors.

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