The theological substance of Jesus’ prayer to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane is the topic of no small debate. When Jesus prays to the Father, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), how are we to understand the wills of which he speaks? Is he speaking solely as a man and of his human will as opposed to the divine will of his Father? Does he speak as the second person of the Trinity, demonstrating a personal distinction in will between Father and Son beyond the incarnation? One approach in working toward an answer to these questions is to invite prominent theologians of the past to share their thoughts on the volition of Christ and the Father in Gethsemane.
This paper will trace the interpretation of the Gethsemane narratives among influential thinkers of the patristic and early medieval eras of church history to analyze understandings of the volitional elements present in Christ’s prayer. Special attention will be given to Nicene and post-Nicene fathers and their attempts to understand the interplay between divine and human volition in the garden. After the various interpretations of the church fathers are presented, the paper will categorize the approaches and critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of each, taking into consideration biblical and theological concerns. The paper will conclude by offering a theological interpretation of the Gethsemane prayer and its implications for Christological and trinitarian studies today.