Van Mastricht - God's Essence, Substance, & Subsistence

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TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm trying to get my head around the language of essence, substance, and subsistence when theologians talk about God. For instance, when refuting that God is a composite (based on the objection of God as three persons), Van Mastricht says the following:

"(a) His essence does not differ from his personality except in our reason or conception, which can think of one thing only while it is not thinking of another thing. For God's personality is nothing other than the subsistence of his essence, and his subsistence is nothing other than the actual existence of his substance, which without doubt does not differ from the God who himself exists. And (b) the persons in the abstract differ among themselves, not as three subsistences, but as three modes of one subsistence, which because they are not beings, do not compose, but only distinguish and limit, as we will teach more distinctly in its own place." (Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, Vol. 2, 146.)

After reading Muller's entries on these terms in his Dictionary, I think I understand the difference when speaking of humans or other created things but my question is this - when referring to God, is there any actual difference in terms of his essence, substance, and subsistence? Is that Van Mastricht's point in the quote above, that there is no real difference?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I'm trying to get my head around the language of essence, substance, and subsistence when theologians talk about God. For instance, when refuting that God is a composite (based on the objection of God as three persons), Van Mastricht says the following:

"(a) His essence does not differ from his personality except in our reason or conception, which can think of one thing only while it is not thinking of another thing. For God's personality is nothing other than the subsistence of his essence, and his subsistence is nothing other than the actual existence of his substance, which without doubt does not differ from the God who himself exists. And (b) the persons in the abstract differ among themselves, not as three subsistences, but as three modes of one subsistence, which because they are not beings, do not compose, but only distinguish and limit, as we will teach more distinctly in its own place." (Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, Vol. 2, 146.)

After reading Muller's entries on these terms in his Dictionary, I think I understand the difference when speaking of humans or other created things but my question is this - when referring to God, is there any actual difference in terms of his essence, substance, and subsistence? Is that Van Mastricht's point in the quote above, that there is no real difference?

Substance is somewhat different than essence in that substance can also imply accidents, which wouldn't be proper when speaking of the being of God. Moreover, substance, as the term notes, implies a subject "standing under" a thing, which is why Van Mastrict links it with subsistence. A subsistence, and Van Mastrict doesn't immediately develop this, is a mode of a an essence.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
Substance is somewhat different than essence in that substance can also imply accidents, which wouldn't be proper when speaking of the being of God.
Interesting. What do we do with the WSC when it says that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “the same in substance”? Or the term “consubstantial?”
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Interesting. What do we do with the WSC when it says that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “the same in substance”? Or the term “consubstantial?”

At that point in philosophical history, substance could be interchanged with essence. Essence is probably a more precise term but in popular parlance, substance works. And in English we just say "nature" and it seems to work fine.
 
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