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The Obedient Son
HERESY, NOVELTY OR BIBLICAL THEOLOGY?
A discussion of issues raised in the book The Trinity and Subordinationism – by Kevin Giles

 

This site represents an interaction and debate on the questions raised by Revd Dr Kevin Giles in his recent IVP publication The Trinity and Subordinationism. It functions as an adjunct to material published in The Melbourne Anglican and began as a response by the site host (Andrew Moody) to a favourable review of the book published in November 2002. Additional material is added from time to time as I continue my Master's research at Ridley College.

This is a debate in progress and the facts are still being thrashed out. If you find things that you think are wrong, please contact me <trinity@ajmd.com.au> and point them out to me.


  1. The Trinity and Subordinationism — a second look (letter to TMA by Andrew Moody -no edits))
  2. The Trinity and Subordinationism (response to #1 from Dr Duncan Reid) **formerly external link
  3. The Trinity and Subordinationism (response to #2 by Andrew Moody formerly on TMA site)
  4. Subordinationists - Arians in Another Role? (response to #1 by Dr Kevin Giles; TMA -no edits)
  5. Short response to Arians in another role. (short response to #4 by Andrew Moody; TMA)
  6. Extended response to Arians in another role. (point by point response to #4)
  7. A last word on Subordinationism . (response from Dr Kevin Giles to #5) **external link
  8. A latter word on Subordinationism . (point by point response to #7)

  9. 2007 - Review and Discussion of Jesus and the Father separate page

Other Links

Other reviews of the book:

  1. http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/culture/reading/519a/"(Bishop Robert Forsyth).
    (Dr Giles has asked me to make his reponse to this review available, here.) (Acrobat Reader required)
  2. http://www.cbmw.org/journal/editions/7-2.pdf (Article by Peter R.Schemm,Jr., Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) (Acrobat Reader required)
  3. Dr Charles Sherlock has supplied a copy of his speech delivered at the launch of the book. It is available as a .pdf here. (Acrobat Reader required)
  4. Kevin has asked me to make available his submission to the Sydney Doctrine Commission (5/04 - revised edn 8/04). It is available as a .pdf here. (Acrobat Reader required).
  5. There is a quite amicable ongoing online discussion of these issues (and Trinitarian issues in general) on the Sydney Anglican website. Feel free to have a look and join in.
  6. ***Very comprehensive review of Kevin's treatment of the doctrine of begottenness (and especially his reading of Athanasius) by Matt Paulson.
  7. Dr Giles has replied to the above article on the same site here. Read both and decide for yourself
  8. A rejoinder to the above by Matt P is now available here.
  9. http://www.trinity.unimelb.edu.au/theology/colloquium04.shtml A whole colloquium on this topic! Dr Peter Adam's submission is especially good. Kevin has asked me to post a (pdf) response to it here.
  10. There are now some very well informed bloggers attacking this issue. You can see discussion in favour of relational subordination here and against here.

 

Related links:

  1. http://www.cbmw.org/resources/articles/orthodox_trinitarianism_feminism.pdf (Article by by Paul A. Rainbow responding to Gilbert Bilezikian who argues along similar lines to Kevin Giles) (Acrobat Reader required)
  2. http://www.cbmw.org/resources/articles/trinity.pdf "Tampering with the Trinity: Does the Son submit to his Father?" useful article by Bruce A. Ware. (Acrobat Reader required)
  3. http://www.tektonics.org/PS_NC.html (Astonishingly knowledgeable exposition of Nicene theology by Roman Catholic scholar Matt Paulson (aka Phantaz Sunlyk). This article is not directly related to the debate but raises fundamental issues which are intimately connected. There is another article by the same author here).
  4. http://jsrhee.hihome.com/ImportedFiles/thesis5.htm. Useful overview of modern trinitarian models by Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Kukje Theological Seminary, Seoul)
  5. http://capo.org/premise/96/feb/p960205.html Another discussion of the views of anti-subordinationist Gilbert Bilezikian.
  6. http://www.onlinetrinity.com/TRIUNE/SECTIONS/feminism.html (A very nice collection of links to various online discussions of trinitarian issues. This a great resource for anyone investigating this or similar issues).
  7. http://www.anglicanmedia.com.au/index.php/article/articleview/1294/1/123/ (A well balanced response to Kevin Giles and Peter Carnley by Moore lecturer Mark Baddeley).
  8. http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/briefing/webextra/apr04_giles.html#_ftnref24 An extended rebuttal of Kevin Giles' arguments by Moore College's systematic theolgy head, Robert Doyle. There is also a nice primer on trinitarian terminology here on the same site.
  9. A paper I gave to a lay audience on the topic of "The Trinity and the Bible" is available here.

 

 

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THE TRINITY & SUBORDINATION – A SECOND LOOK - by Andrew Moody

Did the fourth century Trinity debates really result in the exclusion of all hierarchical ordering within the Trinity? Dr Kevin Giles’ latest book (reviewed in last month’s MA) argues that they did, but the reality may be a little less straightforward.

Kevin Giles' book has done several useful things. It genuinely advances the debate concerning trinitarian functional subordination by introducing a much better system of classification for describing the subject. It also achieves an important point by demonstrating that the idea of the Son being derived from the Father (as occurs variously in Calvin, Cappadocian theology and possibly the creeds) does not necessarily connote a submissive relationship on the part of the Son— subordinationists have been too eager to claim this.

Unfortunately however, these valuable insights are somewhat undermined by the books overly polemical tone. Dr Giles’ attempt to demonstrate the novelty of functional subordinationism commits him to an anachronism in comparing ancient trinitarian frameworks with more modern social trinitarianism1. The fact that he is unable to find precedents for the modern views is actually fairly unsurprising given the fact that very few Nicene or post-Nicene theologians could conceive of the Father and Son having an interpersonal relationship (whether ordered or hierarchical) outside the incarnation2.

Kevin Giles' reading of recent theology is similarly compromised by his engaged scholarship3. The idea that the Son is eternally submissive to the Father is fairly common in Johanine studies (look up Jn 14:28 in a few commentaries) but we will not hear anything about that in this book. When respectable figures take the subordinationist tack it is either ignored (eg. Colin Gunton4) or relegated to oblique footnotes (eg. JI Packer5). Karl Barth is misquoted (p.88 n.15)6 to redeem him from subordinationism; Charles Hodge is misread (p.73n.60,61)7 to make his position more extreme.

More problems occur in the book’s treatment of the biblical data. The author exhorts his opponents to pay more attention to the themes and trajectories of the Bible which endorse the lordship of Christ and his equality with the Father. Here the principal is commendable but the application contains a false antithesis. It is quite possible after all for the Father to be prior to the Son vis á vis their relationship with each other yet completely equal from our perspective — just as it is possible for a police constable to submit to a police sergeant yet have equal powers as regards arresting you or me. Indeed this seems to be precisely the thrust of passages such as John 5:19ff where the Son is dependent on his Father but is to be equally praised because the Father does all things through him (v. 23).

A second danger with the ‘big picture’ approach advocated here is that it can easily become a substitute for close examination the texts from which the themes are supposed to be drawn. There is no serious discussion of 1Corinthians 15:27-28 in this book; no consideration of the book of Revelation where we see Jesus both ruling in glory (cf Rev 3:21;5:6ff) and receiving revelations from the Father (1:1) and calling the First Person of the Trinity "my God" (eg 3:12). Kevin tells us that "after Easter [Jesus] is confessed not as obedient servant of the Father but as the Lord who reigns" without even attempting to explain Acts 4:27-31 where the risen Christ is called God’s servant.

In the end the real question underlying this debate is whether God has actually been revealed to us through Christ at all. If the Son is unlike Jesus in his eternal relationship to the Father then what do we really know about their relationship8? What does “Father” mean? What does “Son” mean? What do the creeds mean when they talk about begottenness or procession? Dr Giles has heard these questions before and insists vehemently that there is a difference; that Father and Son are differentiated by their relations. But what is the content of this difference? Is the difference in relations; a difference in relationship? And, if so, what is the shape of that difference? In answer to these deepest of questions this book offers only silence and negation.

 

  1. This is a shame. Dr Giles has raised important issues here with his discussion of the doctrine of perichoresis (wherein the members of the Trinity are seen to be contained within one another such that where one is the others are found too). He speaks of perichoresis several times and also the (closely related) question of whether the Father and Son have a single will. Giles rightly detects that the an emphasis on the perichoretic unity (as traditionally conceived) is inimical to his opponents' position and jumps on it, but the desire to prosecute his enemies is so strong that he does not properly discuss the issue of perichoresis and whether it is permissive of any form of social trinitarianism. A proper examination of the issue might have shifted the focus of the whole debate and made everything a lot clearer for everyone. As it is we have a peculiar bit of special pleading where the classical concept of a perichoretic unity is selectively invoked to negate only bad (ie. hierarchical) social trinitarianism.

  2. Postscript: this is a bit of an overstatment but only a bit. Ancient Trinitarians often seem to tilt either toward a social model (the persons have real relationships) or a psychological model (eg the Son is the Father's wisdom or word etc). Gregory Nazianzen and Basil, Cyril of Jerusalem and Hilary (see below) drift toward the first. Gregory of Nyssa and Athansius are more attracted to the second. For those in the first camp there is something approaching the ERS model. They speak of a transmission of will (Basil) or of sending or even commandments (Greg Nazianzen etc)

    But for those who prefer the unity envisioned by the psychological model it is almost anathema to think of the Son as a separate centre of consciousness receiving communication from the Father. It sounds to them like the Son is then a separate and inferior being. Besides:
    — the Son is the Father’s (literal) wisdom. How can the Father have anything to pass on to his wisdom apart from it?
    — the Son is the Father’s (literal) word. How can there be any intervening word or communication?
    — the Son is the Father’s will. How can there be any difference in the content of their wills implied by giving and receiving?

    Resistance to social trinitarianism also occurs in Calvin along similar lines (compounded perhaps by his tendency regard much relational/affective language about God as anthropomorphic). In his comments on John 17:24 (...,for thou lovedst me before the creation of the world) he writes:

    This also agrees better with the person of the Mediator than with Christ's Divinity alone. It would be harsh to say that the Father loved his Wisdom; and though we were to admit it, the connection of the passage leads us to a different view.

    But in Hilary we see a vigorous defence of the idea of derived equality wherein the Son is seen as absolutely and undeniably equal with the Father because the Father causes everything that makes him great and worthy of honour to be also found in the Son. This idea by itself is not uncommon amongst the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, but Hilary is not adverse to finding relational implications which derive from this ontological structure. Thus we find passages like this:

    the Only-begotten God the Son is born, and draws His divine Being only from God; and since the essence of Him who is begotten is exactly similar to the essence of Him who begot Him, there must be one name for the exactly similar nature. That the Son is not on a level with the Father and is not equal to Him is chiefly shewn in the fact that He was subjected to Him to render obedience, in that the Lord rained from the Lord and that the Father did not, as Photinus and Sabellius say, rain from Himself, as the Lord from the Lord; in that He then sat down at the right hand of God when it was told Him to seat Himself; in that He is sent, in that He receives, in that He submits in all things to the will of Him who sent Him. But the subordination of filial love is not a diminution of essence, nor does pious duty cause a degeneration of nature, since in spite of the fact that both the Unborn Father is God and the Only-begotten Son of God is God, God is nevertheless One, and the subjection and dignity of the Son are both taught in that by being called Son He is made subject to that name which because it implies that God is His Father is yet a name which denotes His nature. Having a name which belongs to Him whose Son He is, He is subject to the Father both in service and name; yet in such a way that the subordination of His name bears witness to the true character of His natural and exactly similar essence.
    (On the Councils, or the Faith of the Easterns – here discussing one of the pronouncements of Sardica)

    Who, indeed, would deny that the Father is the greater; the Unbegotten greater than the Begotten, the Father than the Son, the Sender than the Sent, He that wills than He that obeys? He Himself shall be His own witness:-The Father is greater than I. It is a fact which we must recognise, but we must take heed lest with unskilled thinkers the majesty of the Father should obscure the glory of the Son.
    (De Trinitate, book 3)

    Hilary thus sees the Son's submission as deriving from two sources: his (temporary) humiliation as a man and his (eternal) begottenness as the Son. The first he describes as leading to service, the second to filial obedience.

  3. This polemic shows up most markedly in the rhetorical strategy of attempting to make functional subordination a stalking horse for Sydney Anglicans and Old South Confederates who are are looking for an excuse to justify their power over (respectively) women and blacks. This approach is, of course, fashionably foucauldian and sure to please those who dislike the Sydney diocese but is hardly constructive. The trouble with post-structuralist hermeneutics is that they cut both ways and Kevin seems pretty much oblivious to this possibility. Of course it is possible that Trinitarian subordinationists are encouraged in their position by their views on gender hierarchy (or ecclesiastical hierarchy:see Abp Peter Carnley's article "In praise of hierarchy - A response to Jürgen Moltmann" in Common Theology, July 2002). But isn't it just as likely that his egalitarian trinitarianism is wish fulfillment for his egalitarian views on gender relations or a cover for some personal gripe with Moore Theological College? The evidence from the book is not encouraging; before we reach half way Kevin has stopped talking about the Trinity and moved on to gender and slavery as if these are the subjects he is really interested in.

  4. Colin Gunton endorses the idea of the priority of the Father with the Son and Spirit as His " two hands" (as per Irenaeus). He agrees that 1Cor 15:28 suggests, "a subordination of taxis — of ordering within the divine life — but not one of deity or regard. It is as truly divine to be the obediant self-giving Son as it is to be the Father who sends and the Spirit who renews and perfects."
    (C. Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology p 164).

  5. Packer clearly associates phenomenon of sonship with obedience. See his chapter "Sons of God" in Knowing God and his chapter on "Trinity" in Concise theology.


  6. Kevin quotes Barth as describing subordination as occurring "in the forecourt of the divine being" (CD 3/1 p196). Actually Barth is arguing against this position.

    Kevin argues that Barth by makes the Son revealer of the triune God rather than revealer of his own self — thus making his submission part of God in a general (though very unclear) sense. He also cites Barth's explicit attack on subordinationism (ibid). But both contain a measure of special pleading. Barth is certainly wont to use language that sounds modalist when speaking of God but he is trying to safeguard the unity of God as a single person (in the modern sense). It is in this sense that Barth attacks subordinationism — he rejects the idea that there are two divine beings.

    Yet once the unity of God is safeguarded, Barth is very happy to speak of relationships between the members of the Trinity and at this point he is certainly a subordinationist to the extent that he is a social trinitarian (admittedly a difficult question). Speaking clearly of the differences between the Father and Son he writes:

    In His mode (sic) of being as the Son He (ie the one God) fulfils the divine subordination, just as the Father in His (ie the Father's) mode of being the Father fulfils the divine superiority.
    (CD 3/1 p209)

    Interestingly Barth argues that this pattern has implications for gender relations in exactly the same way that Sydney Anglicans do (cf CD 3/1 p202) (postscript - I've mucked up the references here. Try CD4/1)


  7. Kevin tries to explain Charles Hodge's position in terms of Hodge being a Cappadocian subordinationist who argues for a derivation of essence from Father to Son (cf Hilary fn 1). But, as with Barth, Hodge is arguing against the position. In reality, Hodge (like Berkhof) is a Calvinist with a social trinitarian twist. He believes:
    1. that the Son has his divinty (essence) a se (not from the Father as per the Cappadpocians)
    2. that the Son's person is derived from the Father (as per Calvin).
    3. that this (hypostatic) derivation has a relational dimension. (This is the divergence from Calvin — Calvin (like most ancient theologians) will not speak of the pre-incarnate Word having a relationship with God in any sense that we would describe it today).

  8. Of course if there is a congruence (to use BF Westcott's language) between the Son's relationship to the Father and Christ's then we know a great deal about God, humanity and salvation history. We see history ordered by a loving Father and dispensed through an obedient Son according to plan that turns out to be for the Son’s own glory. We see the human constitution as capable of receiving the incarnate Son without compromise of either. And yes, we see that hierarchy is not inconsistent with the dignity of the one who submits.

 

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THE TRINITY & SUBORDINATION – RESPONSE TO ANDREW MOODY - by Dr Duncan Reid

A response to Andrew Moody from Duncan Reid
(This article originally published in "Culture Vulture", Melbourne Anglican <http://www.media.anglican.com.au/culture/2002/books/trinity2.html.>


I write to respond briefly to Andrew Moody's Second look at Kevin Giles' recently published book The Trinity and Subordinationism. I regret to have to say that, put bluntly, Andrew Moody's response shows him to be out of touch with the bulk of contemporary writings on the Trinity. The majority of recent writers on the Trinity see in the tradition an unequivocal affirmation of the mutuality of the trinitarian relations, and the consequent equality of the persons.
True, the early church started with a notion of Jesus as a man adopted by God, but moved past this when it asserted him to be Son of the Father. True, the Father is traditionally said to be without origin (anarchos) whereas the Son and the Spirit are originated, but the great achievement of the writers of the fourth century was to establish that this quality of being originated does not mean inequality. Moody gives an example of the police constable and the sergeant, both with equal powers to arrest. The example is misleading because it starts from the false premiss of subordination, and does not even raise the question of origination. A more helpful analogy - and remember that even the best of analogies are of limited value when we talk about God - might be that of a parent and a child. The child has his or her origin in the parent, but as a human person has a life that is of equal value with the parent. On becoming an adult, the child also holds equal legal rights as the parent, but without ever ceasing to be the child of his or her parent - in other words, originated from the parent.


When he asks "If the Son is unlike Jesus in his eternal relationship to the Father then what do we really know about their relationships?" - and a great deal hangs on the force of the "if" here - Moody might well find his answer in the same Hilary of Poitiers whom he elsewhere quotes in support of his argument. In Hilary's words "by the power of their eternal love, the divine persons exist so intimately with, for and in one another that they themselves constitute themselves in their unique, incomparable and complete union" (De trinitate, 4.42. For a detailed modern discussion of this genuine mutuality in relation to the unoriginateness of the Father, see W. Pannenberg, Systematic Theology I, pp. 311-2. I do not refer to contemporary Roman Catholic thinkers because, as Prof Anne Hunt remarked at the launch of Giles' book, this is simply not an issue for Roman Catholic theologians - they are agreed on the non-subordinationist interpretation of the trinitarian tradition, and genuinely surprised that it should be an issue for Anglicans). In saying that the Father is the origin of the Son and the Spirit, the tradition is simply affirming that these trinitarian persons have a personal origin: their origin does not lie some sort of undifferentiated divine substance behind or beyond the person. The most fundamental ontological reality is, in other words, personhood - and for this reason personhood is fundamental to the Christian, i.e. trinitarian, understanding of God.


Andrew Moody might also look at Augustine, who devotes an early chapter of his classic on the Trinity to "the texts of scripture explained respecting the subordination of the Son to the Father, which have been misunderstood" (De trinitate, 1,8). Like Pannenberg, Augustine does not deny that the scriptures and some of the early Christian writers thought of the Son as subordinate. Even later writers seem to suggest this at times. But taken in context, the scope of the scriptures and the mainstream of the tradition speaks loudly and consistently, and for most of us convincingly, otherwise.


To be originated from another does not mean to be less than, or subordinated to, or in any way inferior to the one from whom I take my origin. Personhood is the fundamental ontological reality. These may seem like arcane theological principles, with no relevance to everyday life. They may even seem counter-intuitive: all sorts of human social arrangements involve hierarchy. Bu make no mistake - on these ancient theological principles hang our modern respect for the ultimate value and dignity, under God, of every human life, and the equal respect that our society, at its best, shows to every person irrespective of colour, gender, social background or role, or any other accidental characteristic.


Duncan Reid
United Faculty of Theology, Melbourne.

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THE TRINITY & SUBORDINATION – RESPONSE TO DR DUNCAN REID- by Andrew Moody

(This article originally published in "Culture Vulture", Melbourne Anglican <http://www.media.anglican.com.au/culture/2002/books/trinity3.html.>

1. Dr Reid seems to think my knowledge of modern trinitarian theology is not what it should be and I agree. I wish I knew more. But what is his point? Is he saying that if I knew how many theologians rejected eternal relational subordinationism in the trinity I would have already tossed in the towel? Or does he think that I was holding up relational subordinationism as the mainstream position?

If it's the first then I hardly need to respond. Drs Giles and Sherlock have both reminded us in discussion of this topic that good theology is not made by head counts. And, in any case, I think I pointed to a few respectable theologians who think differently.

If it's the second then Dr Reid is simply mistaken. I did not, and do not, dispute the claim that most modern systematic theologians would reject trinitarian relational subordination. I was simply arguing that Dr Giles had overstated his case in suggesting that these views are to be discovered only amongst conservative oppressors of women and blacks. I stand by this and I think my case has been further strengthened by Abp Peter Carnley's recent concurrence with the Sydney line (a cause for amazement in itself).

2. I am not sure I understand Dr Reid's objection to my police analogy. Yes, it contains a subordinationist premise - that's the point. It illustrates how two persons who both fully partake of the nature of constabulary - such that they are to be honoured equally by civilians - can still be ordered hierarchically without either of them being less police. And no, there is no causation here; the illustration is not designed to demonstrate the reason for this differentiated equality, merely its logical possibility.

3. But Dr Reid prefers a parent analogy and I defer to the choice. It is, after all the language preferred by the Lord Jesus. Except when Jesus uses it is is not 'his or her' but 'father and son' and this in a culture where patriarchy would dictate the priority of the father. Upon majority the (Near Eastern) firstborn Son enjoys equal respect as his father — he represents his father and will one day inherit his Father's wealth and lead the clan. But while the Father is alive it is unthinkable that a Son should consider himself to be his father's equal with regard to their relationship to each other. This seems to be the same kind of pattern as the police analogy (though admittedly much more fruitful).

4. I am a bit unclear about the reason for the Hilary quote. Is the point that the members of the Trinity love each other? If so then we can agree that this is possible whether we are subordinationists or not. My point however was that if the eternal Son relates to the Father very differently from the incarnate saviour then we never really see that love in its native state. Everything happens behind the opaque screen of salvation history where one of them pretends to be the leader and the other adopts the role(sic) of the follower.

5. I too was interested to hear Dr Hunt's comments about the absence of a subordinationist debate in Roman Catholicism. I am unable to issue any other comment but would like to hear more about the prevalence of social trinitarianism in general within the the RC scene.

6. I have read such responses as Augustine's to the Bible passages I mentioned and I do not dispute that an anti-subordinationist readings can be made (even if not very persuasively to my mind). My comment was simply that Dr Giles doesn't bother to deal with the difficult passages and that this is a weakness of his book.

7. Dr Reid seems quite interested in the idea of origination as a central tenet of orthodox formulation. I mostly agree with him here, and I agree that causation gives content to the terms "Father" and "Son" even without subordinationism being on view. But we are talking about Kevin Giles' work and Dr Giles (unless I have misread him) rejects the doctrine of Father as fons divinatis.

8. Dr Reid writes that "To be originated from another does not mean to be less than, or subordinated to, or in any way inferior to the one from whom I take my origin"

Fair enough - the one does not necessarily mean the other. And, as I said before, I think Kevin has done a good job of showing that the one did not connote the other amongst the Cappadocian Fathers who are sometimes listed as the authors of this causation theory*. My question is however, "is derivation of the Son from Father incompatible" with a relational subordination?" And I would suggest it is not. If there is a flow of divinity from Father to Son then - once social trinitarianism is on view - wouldn't it also be natural to think of the Father as the source of divine action too? Isn't it reasonable to see the ontological structure matched in the relational? Far more importantly, I would suggest that this is the pattern we see in the Bible where the Father creates through the Son and sends the Son and commands the Son and sets a time that the Son does not know for the Parousia and ordains everything for the Son's glory.

 

* postscript: Origen is a better candidate; the New Testament is better still.

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SUBORDINATIONISTS: ARIANS IN ANOTHER ROLE? - by Kevin Giles

I read with interest Andrew Moody's polemical reply to my book, The Trinity and Subordinationism (TMA December).
He is defending functlonal subordination that he believes is orthodoxy. So we are told once again that the police sergeant and the constable are personal equals although differing in function and authority. On this basis, the argument goes, women are personal equals with men, just given different roles by God.

My book seeks to refute this "role argument" inherent in the contemporary conservative evangelical case for the permanent subordination of women and then projected back into the Godhead to substantiate the prior argument about women. Andrew Moody and his subordinationist friends are right, subordination in role does not necessarily infer thepersonal subordination or inferiority of the person with less authority.

It does not because in everyday usage the word role refers to activity not intrinsically connected to one's person. Our roles can change. The constable can become a sergeant and the sergeant can be demoted. In the novel use of the word role by those advocating the subordination of women and the subordination of the Son of God a change in roles is not possible. The given role is intrinsic to the person. Thus what in fact is being argued by this illicit use of the seemingly innocuous term role is the permanent personal/ ontological subordination of women and the eternal personal/ontological subordination of the Son. The Son and women lack something possessed by the Father and men: they are not equipped to lead, and this can never change.

The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine, Calvin, every Roman Catholic theologian and the vast majority of Protestant theologians in contrast argue that the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit always work as one. They are one in being/person and action/ function/role and thus are equal in authority. All three are "almighty" as the Athanasian creed says. To argue that the Father eternally rules over the Son, he is head over the Son like men are over women, contradicts the creeds. It implies that eternally the Son is less than the Father in person and function: he must always do as he is told. Yes, in the incarnation the Son gladly subordinated himself to the Father. Paul speaks ofhim laying aside his "equality" with God to take the form of a servant for our salvation after which he was exalted to rule as Lord of the universe (Phil 2:6-11) and as "head over all things" (Eph 1:22, cf. Matt 28:18).

Orthodox theologians are well aware of verses that Arius loved to quote to "prove" the eternal subordination of the Son in being and function, a few of which Andrew quotes to rebut me, ie Jn 14:38 and 1 Cor 15:27-28. In reply they argue, as I do, that such texts must be interpreted in the light of the whole "scope" of Scripture. The Son of God is depicted in four scenes in the divine narrative outlined in Phil 2:6-11. He is first seen as pre-existent, equal with God, next temporally and voluntarily subordinating himself to the Father in the incarnation to achieve our salvation, then being exalted to rule as Lord until the end of all things and finally voluntarily handing back rule to the Father. Texts only become difficult when allocated to the wrong scene or interpreted to contradict what is primary in Scripture.

To find two or three more people who speak of the subordination of the Son is irrelevant. I give a whole chapter to discussing people who have eternally subordinated the Son. The force of the criticism that I am anachronistic in comparing ancient “trinitarian frameworks with modern social trinitarianism” completely escapes me. Athanasius and the Cappadocians began with the three persons (the social Trinity) and then explain the unity, as do many theologians today. This approach may be contrasted with Augustine and the historic Western tradition, still represented by most Roman Catholic theologians today, who begin with the unity of the Godhead and then explain the persons. Both perspectives are “ancient” and “modern.”

There may be omissions and errors in minor details in my book but I do not anticipate that theologians who understand trinitarian orthodoxy are going to dispute my case that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternally one in being/person and action/function. This is what the Nicene and Athanasian creeds teach.

The Revd Dr Kevin Giles

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SHORT RESPONSE TO ARIANS IN ANOTHER ROLE- by Andrew Moody

Kevin Giles letter concerning the trinity in last months raises many issues that deserve extended response (see www.ajmd.com.au/trinity), but in the space allowed here I would like to highlight a few crucial matters.

Firstly, a point of clarification. Dr Giles states that I hold up my view as 'orthodoxy'. If he means by this that I consider mine the only position allowed within credal and biblical Christianity then he is mistaken. As far as I am concerned, both the views of Kevin Giles and the views of those who espouse eternal relational subordination (ERS) are within the boundaries set up by the creeds. This debate should be an in-house disagreement between orthodox Christians.

Unhappily, Kevin Giles seems not to share this catholic attitude. At the book launch he publicly accused the Sydney diocese of publishing heresy on this topic and repeatedly asserts that ERS adherents are in breach of the creeds, despite our clearly stated commitment to the Nicene and Athanasian proclamation that the Son is both eternal and equal with the Father as regards divinity.

Dr Giles’ attempt to anathematise the ERS position is particularly puzzling given his comments in his other TMA article last month where he distinguished between generous loving evangelicals and those who are "intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them". How does an attempt to discover heresy in a theological position held by a broad range of theologians from Peter Carnley to Peter Jensen, from Hilary of Poitiers to DA Carson, represent this tolerance he advocates?

Readers should note that no ecumenical council has ever rejected the ERS position. Kevin Gile's conclusion that it is heresy is based on two inferences.

  1. That any permanent role which involves the Son submitting to the Father must be founded on the intrinsic inferiority of the Son.

  2. That any intrinsic (ontological) inequality between the persons must mean that one of them is less than truly God.

Both arguments are mistaken. In the first instance; Kevin fails to produce any logical reason why God should not be completely free to arrange his own (and human) relationships with or without regard to intrinsic qualities. If God can anoint the tribe of Levi into a priestly role without implying that its members are more naturally holy than other Jews, why can't the members of the Trinity choose to relate hierarchically without the implication that one is intrinsically superior?

But in the second case, even if the Son's obedience does point to some deeper reality, this is still not necessarily heretical. Orthodox theologians (especially in the East) have always held that there is both ontological equality and order within the Trinity. Although Father, Son and Spirit are all truly and equally God, there is also a certain greatness that attends the Father alone who eternally begets the Son and from whom the Spirit proceeds.

For most who espouse ERS, submission is simply the outworking of this causation in the social dimension: Just as the Son receives his being or person from the Father, so he also receives commands such that their two wills operate in perfect unity. And far from being a burden foisted upon the Son, obedience is his way of honouring the Father, who in turn orders all things for (and does all things through) his beloved Son.

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EXTENDED RESPONSE TO ARIANS IN ANOTHER ROLE- by Andrew Moody

(I have reverted to the second person here after communicating directly with Dr Giles. I hope this will make things a bit more personable but it is always hard to sound friendly when you are profoundly disagreeing with another person's arguments. Nevertheless I would like to make it clear that I like my former lecturer and certainly regard him as a older brother in Christ. I bear no ill will toward him or his ministry and pray that God richly blesses his commitment to making Jesus known to the people of North Carlton. I hope he doesn't mind being prayed for by a heretic such as myself!)

I read with interest Andrew Moody's polemical reply to my book, The Trinity and Subordinationism (TMA December).
He is defending functlonal subordination that he believes is orthodoxy. So we are told once again that the police sergeant and the constable are personal equals although differing in function and authority. On this basis, the argument goes, women are personal equals with men, just given different roles by God.

My book seeks to refute this "role argument" inherent in the contemporary conservative evangelical case for the permanent subordination of women and then projected back into the Godhead to substantiate the prior argument about women.


" …Now tell me someone, what is argument?"
There was a confused murmur.
"Come, come," said the jailer. "You must know your catechisms by now. You there" (and he pointed to a prisoner little older than a boy whose name was Master parrot), "what is argument?"
"Argument." said Master Parrot, "is the attempted rationalisation of the arguers desires."
"Very good," replied the jailer… "Now just one more. What is the answer to an argument turning on the belief that two and two make four?"
"The answer is 'You say that because you are a mathemetician.'" ( CS Lewis. Pilgrim's Regress)

Arguments which become preoccupied with the hidden motive of one's opponents are a fairly unproductive kind of ad hominem attack. Maybe some of those who adopt the eternal relational subordination (ERS) are motivated by their prior commitments on gender issues, but then maybe not; and then again maybe this is also true of those on the other side of the debate.

You try to clean up the historical mess on this topic by raking together ERS supporters into neat piles for burning. First we have the "naive" pre-Nicene theologians (who didn't know any better - we can just ignore them) then we have a number of 18th century figures (but that's okay because someone says trinitarianism was in a period of decline so what can you expect) and after that we have people like Hodge and Dabney (well they were pro-slavery so their trinitarian views would have been simply an unconscious justification of that) and now we have numerous examples in the modern era (which is all about women's ordination of course).

The trouble is that this broad brush approach just paints right over reality. Some of those moderns who espouse the ERS position published their opinions before women's ordination became an issue (eg. PT Forsyth, Karl Barth) while others are actually pro women's ordination (eg. C Gunton, P Carnley). In the Nicene period we have people like Hilary and Cyril of Jerusalem — orthdox theologians! Your reading of the history turns out to be just a sweeping generalisation which tries (but fails) to orphan your opponents.

In my own case I can only say that I arrived at the ERS position through studying John's gospel a good five years before I made up my mind on gender issues.


Andrew Moody and his subordinationist friends are right, subordination in role does not necessarily infer thepersonal subordination or inferiority of the person with less authority.

It does not because in everyday usage the word role refers to activity not intrinsically connected to one's person. Our roles can change. The constable can become a sergeant and the sergeant can be demoted. In the novel use of the word role by those advocating the subordination of women and the subordination of the Son of God a change in roles is not possible. The given role is intrinsic to the person. Thus what in fact is being argued by this illicit use of the seemingly innocuous term role is the permanent personal/ ontological subordination of women and the eternal personal/ontological subordination of the Son. The Son and women lack something possessed by the Father and men: they are not equipped to lead, and this can never change.


But wait. What if the constable is simply not cut out to be a sergeant? What if he doesn't possess the characteristics required for higher command? Or let's shift analogy; what if we are dealing with a person who is brain-damaged and can never rise to any kind of leadership role? Is our constable less of a policeman because he can never become a sergeant? Is the person with brain damage less human because she can never become a leader. Of course not!

The fact is that potential seargents are a subset of policemen and potential leaders are a subset of humanity. It is possible to be policeman without being sergeant material just as it is possible to be fully human without having the ability to become a leader. In the same way Fatherhood is a subset of Godhead. The Son is not the Father and can never be such (at least according to traditional Christianity) but this lack does not mean he is not God.

Let's put it another way. Each of the persons of the Trinity shares in the incommunicable attributes of deity — that's what makes them God. But they also personally possess other incommunicable attributes which differentiate them from each other. Only the Father has the attributes of Fatherhood. Only the Son possesses the attributes of Sonship. Only the Spirit is marked by those attributes which make Him the Spirit. You confuse the attributes of deity with the attributes of Fatherhood and then assume that if the Son lacks something in comparison with the Father he must be less than God. But of course the Son does lack something; namely Fatherhood!

This of course leaves us asking what the attributes of divine Fatherhood and Sonship are. We will return to this question below.

(Two additional points on the word "role"

  1. The word may be new but the meaning is not. The word "office" serves a very similar function in ancient theology.
  2. There aren't that many people who argue for a pure "role subordination" trinitarianism ("pure" meaning without regard to interpersonal ontology). Wayne Grudem is the only one I know but I would be interested if you have come across others. (postscript: Gerald Bray may fall into this camp too - see his review of Dr Giles' Book in Churchman, Autumn 2003 edn.117)

postscript - You write in your book that the conservative use of "role" doesn't occur before the 70's. This is wrong. J.N.D Kelly 1960,Early Christian Doctines p273-274 writes, concerning Augustine, that "since each of the persons possesses the divine nature in a particular manner, it is appropriate to attribute to each of them, in the external operation of the Godhead, the role which is appropriate to Him in virtue of his origin."


The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine, Calvin, every Roman Catholic theologian and the vast majority of Protestant theologians in contrast argue that the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit always work as one. They are one in being/person and action/ function/role and thus are equal in authority. All three are "almighty" as the Athanasian creed says. To argue that the Father eternally rules over the Son, he is head over the Son like men are over women, contradicts the creeds. It implies that eternally the Son is less than the Father in person and function: he must always do as he is told. Yes, in the incarnation the Son gladly subordinated himself to the Father. Paul speaks of him laying aside his "equality" with God to take the form of a servant for our salvation after which he was exalted to rule as Lord of the universe (Phil 2:6-11) and as "head over all things" (Eph 1:22, cf. Matt 28:18).


I think everyone in this debate agrees that the Persons work as one. All the Persons are involved in creation, all the persons are involved in redemption. But to say they are one in "action" is not to say they are one in "function or role". They are all involved in the work of God but their ways of being involved are varied. As 1Cor 8:6 puts it; "there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." Thus Bible and faithful orthodoxy have always seen the Father as the beginning of action; the Son as the one through whom God's purposes are accomplished and the Spirit as God immanent in an action. Calvin puts it like this:

…to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things; to the Son wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action, while the energy and efficacy of action belong to the Spirit. Institutes, 1.XIII. 18.

Again you are confusing the attributes of deity and personhood but now it's a confusion over being and person. You write that They are one in "being/person" but this is misleading. The unity of being can't be the same as the unity of person because (according to the creeds) they are one being and three persons. If they were one in person as they are being (numeric) that would lead to modalism. If they were one in being as person (eg common purpose) it would be tritheism.

Rather it's like this: if we are speaking as to their Being then of course their actions are exactly the same because it's not "they" but "he" — there is only one divine being. But if we are talking about the Persons then there is differentiation in the way they participate in divine activity. In this second case their unity is a unity of purpose (and more besides but we will get to that) and there is no difficulty with different persons working together on a project in different capacities.

The most useful analogy I have come across for understanding the difference between being/person distinction is one which likens God to a human being with multiple personality disorder (but where all the personalities can present simultaneously). In this scheme it doesn't matter how the personalities relate hierarchically, democratically, asymmetrically. They are ontologically and inextricably part of the one being and the one being does everything even though there are three persons that may work variously within the one being.

(postscript - this analogy is a good picture of how Western trinitarianism works and works well as an explanator of the Quicunque. But note how it raises the question of who is the one in whom the three person(alities) reside. Is this in fact a kind of fourth meta-person? Is this in fact the real being (now the preferred translation of ousia in many circles) with the others merely subsistences. I like this image less and less the more I think about it. A more accurate image is the one based on sonship I explore in my seminar paper - see pdf)


Orthodox theologians are well aware of verses that Arius loved to quote to "prove" the eternal subordination of the Son in being and function, a few of which Andrew quotes to rebut me, ie Jn 14:38 and 1 Cor 15:27-28. In reply they argue, as I do, that such texts must be interpreted in the light of the whole "scope" of Scripture.


But haven't you noticed what some of what those "orthodox theologians" actually say about John 14:28.

If any one say that the Father is greater, inasmuch as He is the cause of the Son, we will not contradict this. But this doth not by any means make the Son to be of a different Essence. (Chrysostom, Hom LXX)

the Son too says not, 'My Father is better than I,' lest we should conceive Him to he foreign to His Nature, but 'greater,' not indeed in greatness, nor in time, but because of His generation from the Father Himself[12], nay, in saying 'greater 'He again shows that He is proper to His essence. (Athanasius, Orations against the Arians 1.58)

For that the same thing should be at once greater than and equal to the same thing is an impossibility; and the evident solution is that the Greater refers to origination, while the Equal belongs to the Nature; and this we acknowledge with much good will. (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 30.7)

Notice how these theologians make the distinction you resist. The Father is greater than the Son by virtue of his causation of the Son but he is still of one essence with the Son. In terms of interpersonal relations there is an inequality; but as regards ontology of being/essence/substance they are absolutely equal.

Notice too how the Father is not simply greater than the incarnate Son. This is a situation that inheres to the way the divine persons are constituted in relation to each other in eternity. In fact according to orthodoxy this relationship of causation is the central attribute of fatherhood. The Father is the Father because he begets the Son throughout all eternity. As the creeds put it.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
(Nicene Creed, emphasis mine)

The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
(Athanasian Creed)

I realise that you acknowledge that this is the traditional position even if you don't agree with it (I have yet to hear any positive content from you on the meaning of the terms "Father" and "Son" except the linguistic truism that they imply each other). What you seem less ready to concede is that this causation has any implications for the way the Persons actually work together. Indeed I suppose you must resist this idea because to suggest that Father is the source of the Son in the realm of action takes us very close to saying the Son does the Father's will — the very idea under contention.

Nevertheless this again is a how orthodox theologians have typically understood the situation. The interpersonal ontology (begetting/procession) is matched in the way the persons act and will. The will of God is unified with reference to (single) being of God but if we look at the persons, that will is always from the Father through the Son. Thus we get Basil saying:

...His own will is connected in indissoluble union with the Father. Do not then let us understand by what is called a "commandment" a peremptory mandate delivered by organs of speech, and giving orders to the Son, as to a subordinate, concerning what He ought to do. Let us rather, in a sense befitting the Godhead, perceive a transmission of will, like the reflexion of an object in a mirror, passing without note of time from Father to Son.

He shines forth from the Father, and does all things according to the likeness of Him that begat Him.
(Basil, On the Holy Spirit Chapter 8)

or again.

Accordingly, there is no divergence of will between the Father and the Son, but the image of goodness is after the Archetype of all goodness and beauty, and as, if a man should look at himself in a glass (for it is perfectly allowable to explain the idea by corporeal illustrations), the copy will in all respects be conformed to the original, the shape of the man who is reflected being the cause of the shape on the glass, and the reflection making no spontaneous movement or inclination unless commenced by the original, but, if it move, moving along with it,--in like manner we maintain that our Lord, the Image of the invisible God, is immediately and inseparably one with the Father in every movement of His Will. If the Father will anything, the Son Who is in the Father knows the Father's will, or rather He is Himself the Father's will.
(Gregory of Nyssa, Answer to Eunomius' Second Book 1)

Thus the order of procession is matched by the missions. The Son and Spirit receive all that they are and do from the Father. And this is a consistent theme in orthodox theology both East and West. Despite Dr Hunt's comments at your booklaunch I have discovered the idea in Yves Congar and Urs Von Balthasar, meanwhile a Catholic friend has assured me that exactly the same theme can be seen in Rahner's work (though Rahner is anti-social trinitarianism so the expression is slightly different).


The Son of God is depicted in four scenes in the divine narrative outlined in Phil 2:6-11. He is first seen as pre-existent, equal with God, next temporally and voluntarily subordinating himself to the Father in the incarnation to achieve our salvation,


The question that ought to be asked of Philippians 2:7 is, "who is Christ serving?" It is not entirely clear that the service is not with reference to us rather the God. Yet this is scarcely worth arguing about. If there is some doubt over Phil 2, Hebrews 5:8 speaks of Jesus learning obedience "although he was a son". Clearly there is some change in the way the Son relates to the Father under in the incarnation.

In the classical tradition the change that takes place here is the addition of a second will*. Jesus now finds himself wanting things that are in tension. As a man in a fallen world he wants to avoid suffering but he also wants to do the will of his Father — and thus he suffers and is torn just as all who resist sin are torn. In the torment of Gethsemene we see this conflict in agonising clarity.

So in this sense you are absolutely correct! If "obedience" means the imposition of a contrary will on the will of the one obeying then the Son does not obey the Father outside the fallen sphere. There is surely no conflict or tension or resistance in the Son's constitution prior to his incarnation or after his death to sin.Obedience in this sense begins with the man Jesus.

Yet obedience in another sense must surely be eternal The rejection of servile obedience on the part of the preincarnate Son by the fathers was never replaced by any concept that the Son and Father acted as a democracy. We have already seen quite clearly in the quotes from Basil and Gregory that they considered that the content of the Son's will is exactly that of the Father's — not because they are simply of the same mind nor because they reached some consensus. Rather it is because the Father's will is immediately and wholly communicated to the Son alongside his very self which is eternally begotten of the Father. Thus the Son does only his Father's will. And, if in doing so, he also does his own will it is either because (i.) he is so constituted that he has no independent capacity for volition and thus his will is literally the Father's or (ii.) or he always choses to do what his Father wants (see further discussion on this below).

* postscript - I have been a bit ambiguous in my use of this word in these articles. Here I don't mean "will" as volitional centre (that would be some kind of Nestorianism or extra calvinisticum), here but a second set of wants.



then being exalted to rule as Lord until the end of all things and finally voluntarily handing back rule to the Father.


So hold on,doesn't that mean that at the end of time the Son is worse off with regard to the Father than he was at the beginning? Do you actually believe that relational subordination is the telos of the Son? We clearly need a bit more clarification here.

Also this still doesn't fit with those other passages I mentioned where the ascended (but pre-parousial) Christ is called "servant" Acts 4:27-31 or where Christ receives revelation and calls his Father "my God" Rev 1:1; 3:12. Under the above scheme the Son should be relating to the Father as a peer at this point.

Incidently I would be interested to know if you can produce any verse in the Bible where we can see the Son and Father relating unequivocally as peers. I can't think of any.


Texts only become difficult when allocated to the wrong scene or interpreted to contradict what is primary in Scripture.


Sometimes they become difficult because we don't like what they say.



To find two or three more people who speak of the subordination of the Son is irrelevant.


In other words the actual opinions of theologians such as Hodge, Barth, Hilary of Poitiers etc are relevant only when they confirm your reading of historical theology.


I give a whole chapter to discussing people who have eternally subordinated the Son.


Yes, see above.

To recap, you say:

  1. that the ERS opiniion is not to be found amongst the orthodox after Nicea.
  2. that in the modern era it occurs only amongst those who use it as a justification for slavery and conservative values on gender relations.

The examples I mention are relevant because they show that both these ideas — which are by no means minor elements in The Trinity and Subordinationism — are wrong. You should acknowledge that you have overstated your case and agree not to repeat these errors.


The force of the criticism that I am anachronistic in comparing ancient “trinitarian frameworks with modern social trinitarianism” completely escapes me. Athanasius and the Cappadocians began with the three persons (the social Trinity) and then explain the unity, as do many theologians today.


The question is, however, what those such as Athanasius and the Cappadocians mean by 'person'? or, more specfically, do they construe the persons as possessing separate centres of volition? This is absolutley essential for any social conception of the trinity because the very idea of relationship (as opposed to reflex) necessarily implies persons deliberately acting toward one another.

But it is not absolutely clear that the Cappadocians do think of the persons in this way. The idea that they start with the three is often stated as a way of showing how they differ from western theology but it might be an overstatement. We have already seen how they prioritise the Father in his relations with the Son to such a degree that the latter tends to become a mirror reflecting (completely and perfectly) content from the Father. In Gregogry of Nyssa the suggestion that the Son might be the Father's will takes us ever closer to the psychological analogies of Augustine which render the persons into (impersonal) components of a single self.

The problem might be stated like this. If the Son's will is wholly the Father's then where is his own free response to the Father? There needs to be an individualising element as well or the Son is reduced to a passive conduit (or mirror) for the Father. By way of contrast with the Cappadocian position Hilary of Poitiers anticipates the problem and, in response, presents the Son as both receiving and choosing the Father's will:

Their nature is such, that the several action of Each implies the conjoint action of Both, and Their joint activity a several activity of Each. Conceive the Son acting, and the Father acting through Him. He acts not of Himself, for we have to explain how the Father abides in Him. He acts in His own Person, for in accordance with His birth as the Son, He does Himself what is pleasing. His acting not of Himself would prove Him weak, were it not the case that He so acts that what He does is pleasing to the Father. But He would not be in the unity of the divine nature, if the deeds which He does, and wherein He pleases, were not His own, and He were merely prompted to action by the Father abiding in Him. The Father then in abiding in Him, teaches Him, and the Son in acting, acts not of Himself; while, on the other hand, the Son, though not acting of Himself, acts Himself, for what He does is pleasing. Thus is the unity of Their nature retained in Their action, for the One, though He acts Himself, does not act of Himself, while the Other, Who has abstained from action, is yet active. (Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate Book IX)

I am happy to be corrected in this suspicion and I would welcome any decisive information you might present. Meanwhile readers may be interested to see a more extensive consideration of this question from Harvard professor of divinity, Sarah Coakley in an online article*.

(postscript - after further research I am more convinced I am right about this. I have added some details above)

* http://www.bostontheological.org/colloquium/bts/btscoak.htm. Unfortunately the page no longer exists but the article is now available in: Davis, S., Kendell, D., O'Collins, G. eds 1999, The Trinity, An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity, Oxford University Press, NY


This approach may be contrasted with Augustine and the historic Western tradition, still represented by most Roman Catholic theologians today, who begin with the unity of the Godhead and then explain the persons. Both perspectives are “ancient” and “modern.”

There may be omissions and errors in minor details in my book


"May be omissions and errors"? Didn't you check my comments on his misreading of Barth and Hodge or is this the closest you can get to acknowledging a mistake?* "Minor details"? Again it sounds like the facts are only significant when they agree with your generalisations.

*postscript - In retrospect this sounds a little churlish. I apologise.


but I do not anticipate that theologians who understand trinitarian orthodoxy are going to dispute my case that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternally one in being/person and action/function. This is what the Nicene and Athanasian creeds teach.


see above


 

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A LATTER WORD ON SUBORDINATIONISM- by Andrew Moody

Neither Athanasius, the Cappadocian fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Barth, Rahner, Torrance, Moltmann nor any one else of theological weight allows that the Son is eternally subordinated in authority to the Father


Well that all depends on what we mean by 'subordinated'.

— If it means viewing the Son as a separate inferior being with less power and authority then you are correct — no orthodox theologian would agree with this. It would be either Arian or tritheist (depending on whether the Son were viewed as created or eternal).

— If it means that the person of the Son does what the Father says then some would agree and others not (depending on whether they are social trinitarians) — for some the very idea of social trinitarianism smacks of tritheism.

— If subordination means that the Son is wholly from the Father in terms of his participation in the Godhead (the Father is the eternal deifier of the Son) then again, some would agree and others argue that the Father is simply the cause of the Son's person (I can't see the difference either but Calvin and Torrance think it's important).

But if subordination means that the Son always does the Fathers will — or that the Father's will is always expressed through the Son — then I think we would have pretty broad agreement from many in the list above. There aren't actually many social egalitarians in trinitarian theology as far as I can see (Moltmann is probably the only exception in your list)


because Jesus himself said after his resurrection, "all authority has been given to me on earth and in heaven" (Matt 28:19) and for Christians the primary confession is, "Jesus is Lord".


You make it sound like there is no need for historical research. Some people might call that historical eisegesis.


If Jesus reigns as Lord he is not a subordinated person.


Then Jesus' diciples were mistaken when they called him 'Lord' on earth. After all we both agree he was subordinated at that point.


What is more the creeds and Reformation confessions explicitly condemn Andrew's views. They make it heresy. Only someone completely blinded by an ideological agenda could fail to see what is so clear in these standards of faith.


!

The Athanasian creed after first affirming the personal distinctions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit says the three are "one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Spirit." Other clauses are added to underlie their complete unity and then the creed says, "So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, the Holy Spirit almighty." Does this clause not unequivocally exclude the idea that the Father has greater authority than the Son? If all three divine persons are almighty, how can one be less in "almightyness" than another? I find it hard to think what other words could have been used to exclude this suggestion.
A few clauses later in summing up the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity the creed says, "And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other, none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal." Again I simply cannot see how Andrew Moody's position could be excluded any more strongly. These words are intended to proscribe the idea that in the Trinity the divine persons are hierarchically ordered in being or authority. The three divine persons are co-equal without any reservations.


Co-equal in every regard? Clearly not. The Son is not equal with the Father as to fatherhood, nor vice versa.

But this is your strongest point and I confess the Athanasian creed might mean what you say if it is talking about the Persons in their relationships with each other. If that is the case then it is declaring me a heretic ... but it's also declaring Athanasius and Chrysostom and Basil heretics too because (see above) they also ascribe a certain greatness to the Father alone and the Athanasian creed says "none is greater"

If that is the case then we should perhaps regard the creed as deficient and remind ourselves that it is not actually a creed at all but a pseudonymous document from somewhere in France and that the Eastern Church does not subscribe to it (it includes the filioque clause and condemns to hell anyone who disagrees with its tenets). You, Kevin, might also own up to a certain disingenuosness at this point because — last I checked —you don't actually agree with the first line of the creed which damns those who don't agree with it.

On the other hand the Athanasian creed may be speaking about the persons, not in their relationship to each other, but to the divine essence; what they have in common. Remember that the Nicene formula is one being(essence/substance) and three persons and each of the persons is in full possession of their common being. In this sense they are all almighty and none is greater than the others simply because they are all the one Almighty God. They cannot be 'before or after' each other in this sense any more than it is possible to stand in front of yourself in a line. As to being they are one and equal*.

I cannot prove that this is the meaning of this creed but another clue that it might is the statement that there are not 'three almighties' (the bit you stop short of). In other words, it's not that we have (i). an almighty Father and (ii). an almighty Son and (iii). an almighty Spirit and thus they are all equal, rather they are each the one Almighty. It is a predication of identity and full possession of the divine (in this case omnipotent) essence rather than a discussion of their personal disctinctives (fatherhood, sonship etc).

*postscript - After more research I am certain that I am right here. The creed is described by a J.N.D. Kelly (1964 The Athanasian Creed, p80-82) as a summation of Augustinian theology. This is important because Augustine initiates a new Western emphasis on the numerical (simple) unity of the divine essence. Attributes which pertain to the substance must be predicated singly.

Waterland (1723 A Critical History of the Athanasian Creed, p171) makes pretty much the same observation I have made here, too:

When it is said, “none is afore or after the other," we are not to understand it of order: for the Father is first, the Son second, and the Holy Ghost third, in order. Neither are we to understand it of office; for the Father is supreme in office, while the Son and Holy Ghost condescend to inferior offices. But we are to understand it, as the creed itself explains it, of duration and of dignity…

It is interesting to note that there is a tradition of dissatisfaction with the Athanasian Creed on exactly the grounds I have described above. Samuel Taylor Coleridge objects to it in these terms;

The author of the Athanasian Creed is unknown. It is, in my judgement, heretical in the omission or implicit denial, of the Filial subordination in the Godhead, which is the doctrine of the Nicene Creed, and which [Bishop George] Bull and Waterland have so fervently and triumphantly contended.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge Specimens of the Table Talk of the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1835)

(Kevin Giles attempts to dismiss both Bull and Waterland in The Trinity and Subordinationism (p74) by labelling them Arian on the authority of Maurice Wiles. Wiles says no such thing and refers to both of them as orthodox at various points throughout Archetypal Heresy: Arianism Through the Centuries.



All the Reformation confessions of faith, including article 1 of the 39 Articles, stress the unity of the three divine persons thereby excluding implicitly the idea that one divine persons is set over the others while the Second Helvetic Confessions, possibly the most important reformed confession, makes this explicit by anathematising those who claim the Son is "subordinate" (in being) or "subservient" (in authority).


I think the Helvetic Confession is also talking about the persons with regard to the one being. Look at the flow of reason:

Thus there are not three gods, but three persons, consubstantial, coeternal, and coequal; distinct with respect to hypostases, and with respect to order, the one preceding the other yet without any inequality. For according to the nature or essence they are so joined together that they are one God, and the divine nature is common to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So as to persons, there is distinction and order but with regard to what they are as regards the essence the persons are equally the one being — they are literally and numerically one! And you can't rank one being.


When equality is stressed, as it is in all Western depictions of the Trinity, the differences between the persons are minimised. Their unity is always to the fore. In Andrew Moody's Trinity what is stressed is the differences between the divine persons, especially between the Father and the Son.


Have you decided that the whole Eastern church is heretical too?

Actually I think the unity of being is just as important as the differences between the persons. It's just that I am trying to respond to a position that doesn't seem to recognise any describable differences.



Andrew Moody wants us to believe his views represent orthodoxy but I cannot see this. I am convinced the creeds and reformation confessions exclude what he is teaching. I therefore categorically reject his claim that his position and mine are both within the bounds of orthodoxy.


Thanks for saying it clearly.



One of the strange things that follow from Andrews claim that both positions, the Son is not eternally subordinated in being, function or authority to the Father, and that the Son is eternally subordinated in authority to the Father, are within the bounds of orthodoxy is that it undermines his prior concern to prove women are subordinated to men by appeal to the Trinity.


Have I ever made the connection? You keep reading this hidden agenda into my arguments but maybe it's the other way round.


If both positions are orthodoxy nothing can be proven by appealing to the Trinity.


Well again — I don't recall trying to make the case. In terms of gender relations the biblical analogy between Christ and the church is much stronger. (Again hierarchical of course)

But the logic here is flawed. I am not saying that I regard our trinitarian models as equally true or equally demonstrable from the Bible; simply that they are both within the boundaries of credal orthodoxy. The creeds don't seek to say everything about the Trinity, nor are they coextensive with scripture. What I am saying is that we can still disagree strongly about these aspects of trinitarian theology and believe that the other person is wrong without calling each other heretics.


The permanent subordination of women and the social equality of men and women are both possibilities. If this is so I prefer the later view because it is more equitable and fair, and because it reflects the primary comment on the sexes in the Bible in Gen 1:28-29 - man and woman are equal in dignity and authority.


Back to the police analogy. When the constable and sergeant appear before the Queen they are equally her subjects and equal as deputised members of her loyal constabulary. When they arrest you or me they have equal authority. But with regard to each other they are ordered. So are they equal? Yes abslolutely and no. Understanding that difference is really the whole point with this debate. *

I prefer the differentiated equality model because the Bible teaches it explicitly without contradicting itself. I believe that Jesus actually reveals the eternal Son and finally because I fail to be persuaded by the logic of your inferences concerning the impossibility of hierarchy and equality exisiting simultaneously.

* postscript - The technical name for the distinction is substantial verses relative predication. Augustine relies on the distinction quite heavily (see De Fide et Symbolo 9.18; De Trinitate 5.6.7). It's a very important idea in everyday life! Substantial equality says, for example that the class of Christians who lack sufficient wisdom or leadership abilities to be elders are not thereby lesser as Christians even though they are excluded from governance by their relative (or perhaps accidental - but we don't need to go into that) inequality. Substantial equality should be the basis on which we defend the rights of the unborn or deformed - they might not be smart or fully aware or independent and are in these ways inferior or deficient. But substantiallythey are in God's image.

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