Essay / Theology

Polanus, Axiom 1 on the Trinity

Polanus (d. 1610) wrote 18 axioms on the Trinity. Ryan Hurd and I want to study them. So here’s our plan: Post Ryan’s translation of each axiom here at the Scriptorium, talk about it, post the video. Welcome to the first axiom:

Axiom 1. The sacred Trinity is God—indeed, the single, only God.

To understand this axiom correctly, one must distinguish the homonym word “Trinity.” It does not signify a “unity of three”; rather, it means either the numbering of a ternary number or the numbered absolutely speaking (like τριας, in Greek); or, by metonymy, those things which are said to exist in a ternary number, such that one posits “Trinity,” which is αφαιρεματικον ρημα, an abstract word, for some complex, specifically of three things. When we deal with God in the former signification, we call the three hypostases or persons in the unity of God’s essence the “Trinity” —as is evident from the Greek word τριας and from what the Athanasian Creed affirms: “we worship Trinity in unity.” This is why the Fathers set “unity” opposite “Trinity” and say that one considers the unity in essence and Trinity in persons, and likewise that one perceives number in the trinity, and does not find something numbered in the essence. For this reason, Trinity has respect to the persons, and unity to the essence. But if one has taken “Trinity” as the ternary numbering or ternary numbered absolutely speaking and without distinction, then God is not “Trinity,” because God is not a number. If, on the other hand, one takes “Trinity” for the three hypostases or persons in whom we believe with piety, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then certainly God is that “Trinity.” It follows then that the persons of the deity are not outside the Trinity, nor is the Trinity outside the persons of the deity; and for that reason it follows that God is not the Trinity outside the Father. Rather, God is the essence subsisting in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This axiom affirms then this: the three persons are one and the same divine essence, beyond which there is no other thing that is the divine essence. Thus, the three persons are one absolute thing or one essence in number—further, not through a collection as is the case e.g. when the many faithful are called one church.

Luther and Calvin felt the word “Trinity” was beyond barbaric, not because they despised the reality itself—which they believed and taught in piety—but because they wanted a more Latin-style word, and one with greater elegance. The purer Latinists never said “Trinity,” even though the Latin Fathers e.g., Tertullian,[1] Cyprianus,[2] and all those after them adopted this word because no more fitting Latin word was presenting itself. Moreover, it can rightly be termed “Triunity,” and “Trias,” the word taken from Greek. In the Germanic language, we use the name Dreyfaltigteit—even though it displeases Luther,[3] because it seems to signify a composition of three. For sure, it is better to say Dreyeinigkeit. The Bohemian word Trogice corresponds well with the Greek term τριας.


[1] Libro contra Praxean.
[2] Sermone de Oratione Dominica.
[3] In maiore Postilla.

And here’s the video:

Just for fun, here’s what a page of Polanus’ Syntagma looks like. This is not the page we’re talking about here; it’s the first page of the entire Trinity section (Vol 1, chapter 3).

And since Bohemia came up in this conversation, here’s where Amandus Polanus was born: Think Czechia, but on the edge of Poland; and then he studied largely in Germany before ending up as a professor in Basel.

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