March 23, 2017

February 25, 2012


On Subordination and Arianism

For a while there has been a tendency amongst some to accuse those of us who understand that the Bible affirms complementarianism and also the Eternal (Functional) Subordination of the Son of being little better than Arians. The claim is that

If in the Trinity all have the same authority, “none are before or after,” all are “co-equal” (the Athanasian Creed), then the doctrine of the Trinity calls into question all forms of human domination.

Which is, of course, begging the question since it implies that to be subordinate must be to be dominated - as though there is no other option. Thus we are accused of Arianism since we “subordinate” the Son to the Father and make Him less than He is.

However,

  1. The great mistake of Arianism was to be unable to reconcile how one divine person might be functionally subordinate to another while remaining ontologically equal, just as the Father and Son actually are and as Nicaea affirmed.
  2. Critics of complementarianism similarly refuse to reconcile how one gender may be (in certain circumstances) functionally subordinate to another while remaining ontologically equal. They cannot conceive of a functional subordination that does not also imply an ontological subordination - just as Arius their methodological forefather could not.

n.b. for some detailed responses to the charge of Arianism against complementarians see here and here and check out this debate [video].


Share this story:


Recent Related Posts

Comments

10 comments

[1] Posted by David Ould on 2-25-2012 at 11:25 PM · [top]

Reference was made to I Corinthians 15:28 in our study of Isaiah at Congregation Beth Israel last Friday. The relationships of the persons of the Holy and Undivided Trinity are what St. Paul notes in 15:51 “a mystery.” I am content to be guided by the Councils, including Chalcedon, on such matters and to affirm that for all creation, “Jesus is Lord.”

[2] Posted by TomRightmyer on 2-26-2012 at 07:27 AM · [top]

It’s a little involved, but there’s a better approach to affirming both the deity of Christ and his subordination to the Father:

https://www.vulcanhammer.org/whats-important-in-christianity/my-lord-and-my-god-a-layman-looks-at-the-deity-of-christ-and-the-nature-of-the-godhead/

[3] Posted by vulcanhammer on 2-26-2012 at 08:44 AM · [top]

I appreciated this good dose of serious theology and thanks for linking to George’s comments at your blog.  He was able to point out the politics and maneuvering of the Council without coming to the wretched conclusion currently afoot in too many churches: “Since they had political issues then, we are free to use political tactics to simply overturn what the church passed on to us.  There is no truth, just competing interests.”

To say that we can separate the theological issues out from the politics in which they were hashed out is to make an absurd idol of the institutional church.  Article XIX rightly locates the Church of Christ in its kerygma and sacraments, flowing from the Word, rather than in institutional claims.

It is no surprise that the “new thing’s” Trinity posits a political clash - a disunity of the Spirit and the Word - rather than a unity of eternally begotten love.

[4] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 2-26-2012 at 01:32 PM · [top]

  The relationships of the persons of the Holy and Undivided Trinity are what St. Paul notes in 15:51 “a mystery.”

I don’t think that’s right. Paul’s “mystery” of 15:51 is “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”. It’s speaking of the General Resurrection, not the Trinity. I think it’s safe to say Paul never uses the language of “mystery” to speak of God in the sense that His internal relationships cannot be understood.

[5] Posted by David Ould on 2-26-2012 at 03:58 PM · [top]

I would agree with David’s #5.  I Corinthians 4:1 casts the apostolic church as a “steward” of the mysteries, which I believe refers to a financial manager, able to report upon that with which he is entrusted.

[6] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 2-26-2012 at 07:54 PM · [top]

The danger of asserting that the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father while saying that he is in reality equal ignores the fact that all attributes to God are essential to him.

Thus, I don’t see that the two assertions can stand together.  Greek philosophy doesn’t provide a clear-cut way to solve this problem, which is why a) the equality of the persons of the Trinity became “normative” theology and b) why it’s necessary to find the solution to the problem elsewhere.

[7] Posted by vulcanhammer on 2-26-2012 at 09:04 PM · [top]

Excellent comment from George Athas, linked to David’s comment at #1. His respect for St Athansius is obvious (presumably not just because they were/are both Greek!).

For those not aware, George is lecturer in Hebrew, Old Testament and Church History at Moore Theological College. His blog is at http://withmeagrepowers.wordpress.com/about/ and is well worth reading.

[8] Posted by MichaelA on 2-26-2012 at 11:01 PM · [top]

The danger of asserting that the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father while saying that he is in reality equal ignores the fact that all attributes to God are essential to him.

Thus, I don’t see that the two assertions can stand together.

And yet, surely, they do! It’s simply not enough for us to state that “all attributes to God are essential to Him” without also recognising that there is a clear distinction between the Father, Son and Spirit. They are three persons who relate to one another in particular but not identical ways. Thus unless one wants to just blend all three into non-differentiated persons (in which case, why are they three persons in the first place) we have to concede that there are differences.

And this is seen, not least, in the particular relationship between Father and Son.

[9] Posted by David Ould on 2-27-2012 at 09:44 PM · [top]

And yet, surely, they do! It’s simply not enough for us to state that “all attributes to God are essential to Him” without also recognising that there is a clear distinction between the Father, Son and Spirit. They are three persons who relate to one another in particular but not identical ways. Thus unless one wants to just blend all three into non-differentiated persons (in which case, why are they three persons in the first place) we have to concede that there are differences.

Although there is no doubt that there are differences amongst the persons of the Trinity, the requirement that divine attributes be essential to God stands, unless, like Moses Maimonides, you assert that you really cannot state that any characteristic be properly attributed to God.

The problem of the subordination of the Son to the Father vs. the deity of the Son is one of the stickier problems in Christian theology.  Ante-Nicene theology was uniformly subordinationist and (especially in the East) infused with Logos theology which (I think) originated with Philo.  The problem—and anyone who has read Origen wrestle with this issue, esp. in his Commentary on John is aware of this—is that, in the context of Greek philosophy, there was no “clean way” to assert the inequality of the Father and the Son without potentially compromising the Son’s deity.  That became Arius’ sticking point, and his solution was to deny the deity of the Son.  The Church rejected Arius’ solution, and rightly so, but still using Greek philosophy to explain the relationship of the persons of the Trinity amongst each other, has ended up setting subordinationism aside in order to preserve the theistic integrity of the Trinity.

Subordinationism and logos theology, however, are essential in establishing a connection between God and his creation that precedes the Incarnation of the Son.  That’s an important point; it was certainly so in Patristic times, when the Greeks asserted that the “God over all” had little or no interest or connection with the creation, and today with Islam.  I am aware, however, that the interest in Anglican circles re subordinationism has not been driven by this consideration.

Having considered this at length, I came to realise that the solution to this conundrum doesn’t come from philosophy but from mathematics, which is why I wrote My Lord and My God.  This basically allows subordinationists to have our/their cake and eat it too, i.e., assert the essential, uncreated nature of the Godhead in all of his Persons and at the same time recognise the subordination/difference amongst same Persons.

Although I understand Anglicans’ dislike for theological adventurism given 40+ years of hard experience in the matter, I think a solution of this kind is important if we are to understand the God we worship and communicate to the very limited extent that we can the reality of his nature.

[10] Posted by vulcanhammer on 3-2-2012 at 12:48 PM · [top]

Registered members are welcome to leave comments. Log in here, or register here.

Comment Policy: We pride ourselves on having some of the most open, honest debate anywhere. However, we do have a few rules that we enforce strictly. They are: No over-the-top profanity, no racial or ethnic slurs, and no threats real or implied of physical violence. Please see this post for more explanation, and the posts here, here, and here for advice on becoming a valued commenter as opposed to an ex-commenter. Although we rarely do so, we reserve the right to remove or edit comments, as well as suspend users' accounts, solely at the discretion of site administrators. Since we try to err on the side of open debate, you may sometimes see comments which you believe strain the boundaries of our rules. Comments are the opinions of visitors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Stand Firm site administrators or Gri5th Media, LLC.