Same Essence For All Subsistences: Ames On Trinitarian Controversy

amesiusWilliam Ames (1576 – 1633) was used by the Lord to influence Puritan thinking and beyond in England, on the Continent, and (through his writing) in the New World. One of his most important works is The Marrow of Theology (Amazon), the translated version of Medulla theologica (1623) from his lectures. Ames’ clear thinking can help us in our current discussions regarding Trinitarian relations.

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As the debate regarding the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) has continued, Ames’ reminder that how we speak of subsistences and essence in the Godhead is so important. Withholding further comment, here is the raw data from Marrow I.v.i-xv. Tolle lege

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1. This subsistence, or manner of being [subsistentia] of God is his one essence so far as it has personal properties.

2. The essence is common to the three subsistences. As far as essence is concerned, therefore, the single subsistence is are rightly said to exist of themselves.

3. Nothing is attributed to the essence which cannot be attributed to each subsistence in the matter of essence.

4. But what is attributed properly to each subsistence in the matter of subsistence cannot be attributed to the essence

5. The subsistences are distinguished from the essence, because the mode of subsistence, though consolidated with the essence, are distinguished from it considered by itself.

6. They are distinguished from each other as things connected by certain relative properties, so that one cannot be another, although they are the same nature. Neither can one be said to be first or last, except in order of beginning and manner of subsistence.

7. These relative properties are, as it were, individual forces in one essence, spiritually and perfectly alive. Hence the subsistences are rightly called persons.

8. Now these properties are not inherent qualities but relative affections which contain all the perfection found in the similar affections of creatures, but none of the imperfection.

9. A relative property in God implies a person, but this is not so in creatures.

10. The subsistences are either breathing, like the Father and the Son, or breathed, like the Holy Spirit.

11. Breathing or sending forth is not a relation which of itself constitutes a person: It is a relation common to two persons.

12. The relative property of the Father is to beget, Ps 2:7 You are my son, this day I begat you; John 3:16, The only begotten Son; Heb 1:6, The first begotten. Hence the order.

13. The relative property of the Son is to be begotten, that is, so to proceed from the Father as to be a participant of the same essence and perfectly carry on the Father’s nature. Hence he is second in order. Hebrews 1:3, the brightness of His glory in the character of His person.

14. The property of the Holy Spirit is to be breathed, to be sent forth and to proceed from the Father and the Son John 15:26, He whom I will send forth you from the Father, that Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father; Romans 8:9, the Spirit of Christ; Galatians 4:6, the Spirit of the Son.

15. The difference between being begotten, which applies to the Son, and that proceeding which applies to the Holy Spirit cannot be explained in words, except that the Son proceeds from the Father alone, and the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son (in this instance taken together).

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