Recently, it was pointed out to me that Edgar Foster, the anti-Trinitarian author of Christology, available at Heinz Schmitz's Jehovah's Witnesses apologetics website, had taken issue with my essay on Nicene Christology here at Tekton. I joined the discussion group where the criticism was launched, and had a few exchanges with Edgar, along with other members. Edgar and I had a discussion on whether or not JW's are Arians (which led into Origen), along with whether or not functional subordination is anathema to Catholic and orthodox Trinitarian theology. It is the latter that I here wish to focus on.
But before I begin, I want to state that I found a definite hypocrisy amongst Edgar and the gang. For example, Heinz Schmitz, who whimpers on his site because J. P. made a (very innocent) pun on his name, had no word of rebuke for his fellow JW's when they called me 'the phantasm'. Nor, for that matter, did anyone show any regret at suchlike until I actually showed up on the board. Heinz and others accused me of cowardice for not linking to Edgar's essay (as though there was no such thing as a search engine), and hadn't the grace to apologize for this. And so forth. Anyways, during the course of the debate, it became apparent that talking to Edgar was like talking to a bag of bricks.
Are you a Trinitarian who knows what you believe? If not, just ask Edgar-he'll tell you what to believe. In fact, as our debate went on, it became apparent that Edgar was more than willing to tell even those of us who do know what we believe that we are, in fact, wrong in our understanding of what we believe. With the fact that Edgar doesn't have an 'intake' mode becoming more and more apparent, I apologized for my sarcasm towards him and announced that I would simply leave the board, as staying meant talking to someone who is stubborn, and talking to someone who is stubborn cannot but evoke sarcasm on my part.
Now, at this point, I was already certain that his scholarly prowess was impaired to the point that nothing he writes could possibly be worth reading. The reason for this was that he seemed so absolutely dense and unable to grasp very simple distinctions (such as the difference between ontological and functional subordination), along with mismanaging sources within context (see below). At any rate, I was simply willing to leave it alone. And then, lo and behold, Edgar, after I had already stated that I wasn't going to post anymore, had the (dis)grace to make a post against me with several provocative comments in it. This angered me considerably, and in turn, I rethought whether or not I actually ought to have been so apologetic regarding my sarcasm towards him. I concluded that he is an object worthy of sarcasm, so here I am. Before I get into the actual subject matter of the post in question by Edgar, I choose to, in the spirit of Edgar's dubbing me 'Mr. Phantaz', give him a similar title. 'Mr. Edgar' doesn't seem to capture the essence of this scholar, but in light of the common aphorism 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink', I personally find 'Mr. Ed' a quite capable designator. Smile Mr. Ed, you're being rogued on Tekton .
Subordinationism is a heretical christological view which maintains that Jesus Christ is essentially inferior to God the Father. Functional subordination is a term denoting the completely orthodox view that Christ's activity ad extra is originated in the Father, just as his person ad intra finds its origin in God the Father, alongside the Son's being equal to the Father in essence. I'll try to elaborate here. The doctrine of the Trinity maintains that Christ is 'eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light', and so forth. In other words, the Son is from the Father, essentially. The most common analogy for the Nicenes in demonstrating this point was sun and shine, or light and radiance. The two cannot be separated, yet the latter finds it origin in the former, and the two also share a community of substance, i.e., they are absolutely equal in nature. That in regards to the Trinity in itself. But does the Son's being 'from' the Father have anything to do with the Trinity as it functions, or more specifically, the way in which the functioning of the Son is related to the Father within the Trinity? Mr. Ed answers 'no,' and it is pretty easy to guess why. In our debate, he gave a three-fold distinction regarding the term 'subordination': essential subordination, positional or functional subordination, and incarnational subordination, without giving anything like a precise definition of any of the three. As a result, his thought on this issue is extremely muddled, as is apparent in his 'book', where he maintains that in order for Trinitarians to be able to countenance the formal Church declarations on the Trinity and the Athanasian Creed, we must maintain either that the Son is self caused (and therefore, unlike the creedal proclamation, not 'begotten of the Father'), or (horrors!) face up to the fact that the Son really is eternally begotten, thereby making him into a 'lesser deity'. It isn't clear at this point whether or not Mr. Ed realizes that such a procession of the Son ad intra corresponds quite comfortably with the functioning of the Son ad extra within the Trinitarian paradigm. At any rate, the first option, according to Mr. Ed, leaves us with two gods. The second option, according to Mr. Ed, turns the Son into a 'lesser deity'. Thus, according to Mr. Ed, we Trinitarians have a dilemma, and no matter what we choose, we can't be Trinitarians.
Mr. Ed then hammers home his point by dragging in the testimony of a few theologians who 'recognize' that this dilemma exists and, leaving for the moment their home turf of theology, try their hand at logic, recommending that we ought discard with the idea of a begotten Son (Hodgson, for example). In his Christology he seems to advocate that, in order to cohere with the 'thrust' of the Athanasian Creed, Trinitarians ought to abandon the idea of the eternal generation of the Son-yet as with the rest of his thought on this issue, its difficult to tell exactly what he thinks. In his recent post contra me, he even went so far as to cite someone that (according to him) prefers to think of the Son's begotten-ness as applying only to his humanity, lest the Son be 'subordinate' to the Father. And so on.
The point is this-according to Mr. Ed the Trinity is logically incoherent. This is of course the reason why he can't spit out a single sentence that elaborates on the Trinity as Trinitarians actually understand it, for one cannot talk about non-sense; one cannot elaborate at great lengths about an object x that is x and is not x at the same time. Yet Mr. Ed shows something by way of recognition of the common sentiment amongst Trinitarians that we simply will not allow for Christ to be anything less than God. What Mr. Ed can tell us of the Trinity is this-that we must confess the Son to be absolutely equal to the Father. After recognition of this fact, his thought comes to a screeching halt. Hence, in his mind, we Trinitarians can affirm a string of linguistic symbols (viz.,--"the Son is God, the Father is God, the Son is not the Father, there is only one God ") even though they are in themselves complete nonsense; and if we are to be faithful to the dogma of the Trinity, we must affirm these; yet in doing so, we necessarily must swallow a contradiction and smile. He never recognizes that there is a third option, the affirmation of which eases the burden on reason, alongside allowing for the reconciliation of dogma, Scripture, and the ante-Nicene Tradition. In my essay, I stated the matter thusly with regard to the Son's being 'of' the Father:
And at this point, we're also able to answer Edgar Foster's challenge regarding the issue of aseity, wherein he asserts that if the Son's being is derived from the Father, the Son cannot be God.
The answer to this is quite simple. It is the bringing forth of the Son which constitutes the existence and nature of God the Father. Thus the Son is not contingent, but every bit as necessary as the Father. To imagine the Father without the Son is like imagining the sun without shine. Therefore, since the bringing forth of the Son is intrinsic to the aseity of the Father, the aseity of the Father includes the person of the Son. There exists a strict logical dependence within the Trinity whereby the having of one of the persons entails of absolute necessity the having of all of the persons. Due to this fact, the logical priority of the Father within the Godhead does not entail the ontological priority of the Father.
In my essay I go into detail and show how this is precisely the Nicene claim regarding the Son. It also fits in with a christological template recognized by virtually all N. T. scholars-Wisdom Christology. Not only that, the implications thereof also suggest a rather easy way to reconcile the witness of the ante-Nicene Church to the Nicene Church, not to mention Scripture itself. In other words, it renders Mr. Ed's entire critique of the Trinity void. So I'm not sure whether or not Mr. Ed simply doesn't want to recognize this option (since it would place a rather large portion of the crow on his dinner plate), or whether he hasn't the mental capacity to grasp it. At any rate, his most recent claim is that this view (which, providing the model for the operations ad extra of the Trinity, entails functional subordination as a correlate) is irreconcilable with Tradition. I'm not certain whether or not Wisdom Christology is, according to Mr. Ed, supposed to be equally untenable, as it requires the Son to be 'of' the Father.
As I'm Catholic, I pointed out that I can't speak for the specific claims of Protestant theologians on this issue, but that the Catholic Tradition, along with the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, agrees with it. [ED note: As it happens this matches just fine with Protestant views expressed by the likes of Witherington and Hurtado -- JPH.] His modus operandi then consisted of pulling quotes from Catholic sources (or at least imagining himself to have done so) to the effect that 'the Son is equal to the Father in every way' and 'subordinationism is heretical' in an effort to prove his point. The rest of this essay will be a response to his latest such effort.
Mr Phantaz has expressed his desire or intention to leave this forum and I think that might be a good idea. I do hope that he "lurks," however, since I will be posting material relevant to our discussion in the next few days. He is free to think that he is right all day long and that "there was no war" that transpired on this board. Nevertheless, I hope that he one day opens his eyes and learns what his own church has traditionally said about subordination.
Here we see the move, typical amongst Arians, of telling Trinitarians what they 'really believe'. Before going on, it should be noted that, within the context of our conversation, I specifically told Mr. Ed that I was representing the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Traditions. So, in his attempt to prove that functional subordination isn't a Catholic christological option, he cites-
For the sake of reiteration, I will first cite two sources that I think phantaz never addressed before I present Millard Erickson's treatment of this subject.
Millard Erickson-Mr. Ed's prime source for expounding his thesis, isn't Catholic. The import of this fact is quite significant within the context of the dialogue. For Catholics, there are dogmatic declarations, which are 'untouchable', so to speak (i.e., the belief in the Trinity), and there are also respectable theological opinions which can be held in relation to dogma, which the Church neither condemns nor proposes as a definite article of faith. Now, the basic epistemological framework for us is this-Scripture, the Fathers, and the Councils, as articulated by the Church today. This does not mean that our dogmatic teachings can, within this epistemic framework, change-the dogmas never change, yet they are ever articulated anew as times and circumstances require. A pretty good illustration of this can be found in the section on the ante-Nicenes in my essay on Nicene Christology, wherein we see Dionysius of Alexandria clear up his Christological position when the context of discussion shifts from battling modalists to clearing himself of being charged with teaching Christ to be a creature. As a faithful disciple of Origen, he certainly never thought of Christ as being a contingent creature, yet it is the context in which he finds himself that causes him to be more precise. He didn't switch beliefs-he defined his beliefs in proportion to the circumstances making it necessary.
Hence (for us) if something is definitely not excluded today, then it essentially never was at odds with the proclamation of the Church, and if it is affirmed today, it always was part of the original confession. The reason I bring this up is this-there is a manner of coordinating the various theological statements that are found in our Tradition. In other words, an outsider really hasn't the right to try and pluck and pull various theological statements without adopting the Catholic hermeneutic (similarly, we've all seen the havoc this wreaks upon the New Testament when various exegetes treat passages in a wooden way, and wind up finding a synoptic Jesus at odds with the Johannine Jesus, or a Paul of Acts 'incompatible' with the Paul of the epistles, etc.) And certainly this doesn't follow only for Catholics, but for any thinking Christian who wants to be able to countenance history.
With the above in mind, Mr. Ed continues-
Systematic theology professor Owen Thomas writes:
"God the Father is the ground or presupposition of God the Son, and God the Father and God the Son are the ground or presupposition of God the Holy Spirit. God the Son is of or from God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit is of or from God the Father and God the Son. But the Church interpreted this in such a way that there is no temporal priority or **subordination**" (Thomas, Introduction to Theology, page 68).
Again, Thomas isn't a Catholic, so I fail to see how he can represent 'what my church has traditionally said'. I fail to see how it has anything to do with my Church for the very simple reason that Thomas is not of my Church. I fail to see how it has anything to do with 'tradition' of any sort, for it is an abstract definition, and not the tracing of the doctrine's articulation throughout the course of history. Moving on …
Thomas' observation seems pretty clear to me. The Church has (generally) interpreted the AD INTRA works of the Trinity in a way that excludes the notion of subordination. Thomas did not write "subordinationism" (inferior per essence) but subordination. Later, in his introductory text, he affirms the subordinate position of the incarnate Christ. His comments, in this context, must therefore apply to the three relations of the Godhead as they eternally relate to one another.
While I have no problem at all with Thomas's definition of the Trinity, I think it can be stated quite easily that there are a few problems with Mr. Ed's take on it. First of all, according to Mr. Ed, if we confess the Son to be 'of' the Father, we make the Son a lesser deity and thereby become (ontological) subordinationists. So right from the get-go, we have Mr. Ed introducing a definition which (he thinks) can't function at any rate-though, according to Mr. Ed, if we are to be real Trinitarians we must affirm the 'Christ is not caused by the Father' side of the dilemma. More on that below. Next, he again confuses functional subordination with ontological subordination, and in a very clumsy way equates the two. It is obvious from what Mr. Ed says that when Thomas affirms the Son to be 'subordinate' as a man that he is referring to ontological subordination. This for two reasons, first, all orthodox Christians affirm that Christ didn't stop being God when he became incarnate (I assume that Thomas affirms the definition of Chalcedon), and second, it was the human nature, not the divine nature, that was 'subordinate' to God the Father. That is the sense in which Christ was 'subordinate' as a man-he was ontologically subordinate in his manhood, and if the contexts are parallel, then we can conclude that that is the sense we cannot apply to the Son within the immanent Trinity. The issue of functional subordination doesn't even come up.
Roman Catholic theologian James Bellord further writes: "In nature, the offspring is inferior to, and dependent on the parent, and owes a duty of submission. This is NOT the case in the Blessed Trinity. The Son is, and always has been, equal to the Father in ALL THINGS" (emphases in original). See Matthew Alfs, Concepts of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, page 9.
I don't have Bellord's work. Matthew Alfs is, according to Mr. Ed, a JW, hence I have as little confidence in his ability to exegete a Catholic theologian as I do his ability to exegete Scripture. That said, if Bellord wishes to deny that the Father is the origin of the Son, and that everything within the Son is communicated to him from the Father, it can be stated with certainty that he is simply wrong. More probably, Bellord wishes to warn us against thinking of two centers of consciousness and will, wherein one such ego dominates the other-the rejection of such a notion being perfectly in line with orthodoxy. In any case, the issue of functional subordination-of the Son's being, and course of activity, being originated in the hypostasis of the Father; and the Father's will being accomplished essentially via the 'radiance of his glory'-isn't brought up.
With these preliminary observations, I will now review Erickson's discussion of subordination found in his _Understanding the Trinity_.
Once more, Mr. Ed flirts with being, within context, ultimately irrelevant, as Erickson isn't Catholic and therefore can't really speak as a mouthpiece for my Church's Tradition. Nonetheless, we takes what we gets …
MILLARD ERICKSON AND DIVINE SUBORDINATION
I. The Eternal Subordinationist View
Erickson describes Trinitarian subordination as the view that "there is an eternal, asymmetrical relationship within the Trinity between the Father and the Son, and by extension, the Spirit as well" (Understanding the Trinity, page 85).
This theological position is based, in part, on biblical passages that speak of the Father generating the Son. Such Bible verses are construed as applying to the Son, not simply during his incarnate state, but from all eternity. Since the Father has putatively been generating the Son from all eternity, "The subordination of the Son to the Father was therefore not simply during his earthly life. It is from all time" (ibid., 85).
Erickson also notes that those advocating this view "take considerable pains to disclaim an inferiority of the Son to the Father," avidly contrasting their position with that of Arianism (ibid).
The above view, described by Erickson, is the traditional view held by the Church. As a brief side note, the phrase 'asymmetrical relationship' refers to the relations of opposition within the Trinity. According to the Latin tradition, as the essence which the three persons share is absolutely identical, the only possible way to individuate them one from another is via the way they are related to one another. Thus the Son's being of the Father is the defining mark of his person, and the Spirit's being of the Father and the Son is the defining mark of his person. This was essential for Augustine in establishing the double procession of the Spirit within the Trinity, as he argued that if the Spirit were simply of the Father, it would be impossible to distinguish him from the Son. The East rejects this notion, and as far as I can tell, maintains that each of the persons have what philosophers call thisness, that is, an incommunicable monadic property that constitutes identity. At any rate, this much can be said-the belief in this asymmetry within the Trinity is certainly part of the traditional teaching of my Church. And while the East doesn't find it necessary to resort to such in order to distinguish the persons from one another, it is nonetheless certain that they also affirm this asymmetry (the Father alone is unbegotten, the Son is from the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father in a manner not identical with the manner in which the Son proceeds from the Father). Also, I'm not certain that the idea of the divine persons having thisness is necessarily excluded by the Latin tradition (as a personal individuating property, other than a mode of origin or lack thereof, seems at least not certainly the type of monadic property that would throw the unity of substance within the Trinity off-kilter). While it is certain that the oppositions of relation distinguish one person from another, it is not certain that there could not be other individuating properties-it is only certain that such properties cannot be hard monadic properties.
Mr. Ed continues …
II. The Eternal Equality View
Contra this intra-trinitarian model, there are other trinitarians who contend that the three persons are eternally equal and symmetrical in relation to one another. Therefore, "The biblical statements about the Father begetting the Son are to be applied to the earthly incarnation, when the second person of the Trinity stepped down to earth and added humanity to his deity. Similarly, his statements of apparent subordination, such as 'the Father is greater than I' (John 14:28), are to be interpreted within this framework. This subordination is to be understood as a subordination of function, not of essence" (ibid).
Here Erickson is simply confused, for it is the human nature that is subordinate to God, and the issue of function doesn't even come into play; and in denying the eternal generation of the Son, the proposed model is essentially and definitely at odds with my Church's Tradition.
Note that those advocating an eternal equality view with reference to the TRES PERSONAE generally argue that Jn 14:28 only has reference to the incarnate Son.
A comment that is completely irrelevant, as it addresses ontological subordination and not functional subordination …
They speak of functional subordination in the sense of the Son being subordinate to the Father while incarnate on earth. This type of subordination is thus viewed as temporary and ceases once Christ ascends back to the Father.
Once again Mr. Ed fails to strike gold. If, according to his own threefold distinction, incarnational subordination is distinct from functional subordination, one wonders why he drops the ball and identifies the two here? If it is ontological subordination that Tradition excludes viz-a-viz Jn. 14:28 (and it is ontological subordination that is at issue here according to tradition), then, yet again, functional subordination doesn't even enter the discussion.
Whereas some trinitarians use the terminology "functional subordination" to reference the Son's pre-incarnate status and incarnate mode of being, others strictly limit the nomenclature to the incarnate Christ. Erickson, Understanding the Trinity, 85-86.
Given Erickson's lack of precision and failure to distinguish between ontological and functional subordination, we can simply put him in the same boat as Mr. Ed. For clarity's sake, I'll offer two precise definitions with which we can function throughout the remainder of this essay. Ontological subordination denotes an inferior category of being. Functional subordination denotes being dependent upon/subject to an other within a framework wherein an activity is accomplished. Thus a rock is ontologically subordinate to a man, and a man is ontologically subordinate to an angel; the wheels on a bike are functionally subordinate to the chain, and the chain is functionally subordinate to the movement of the pedals. Mr. Ed can complain about the chain being, in some obscure sense, 'less than' the pedals all he wants, yet the fact remains that without assuming this structure motion cannot be communicated through the bike, and like his argument here, he'd be getting nowhere he'd get nowhere once he tries to take it for a ride. Anyone who can't grasp the obvious difference between the two may consider whether or not their mind belongs in the ontological category of the above mentioned rock .
At any rate, an important point that should not be overlooked is what Erickson writes next:
"On this latter view, there is NOT an asymmetrical relationship of generation. Not only do the Son and Spirit derive their being from the Father, but they also derive it from one another, as does the Father from each of them. Beyond that, this view claims that each member of the Trinity serves each of the others. There is a mutual subordination of each to the other" (ibid., 86).
According to Erickson, the eternal equality view posits an intra-trinitarian model wherein the three persons are mutually subordinate to one another in that the three relations serve each other and derive their very being from one another. I read mutually subordinate here as co-equal in view of what Erickson later writes.
Again, it is difficult to follow Erickson here, and I'm not certain whether this is due to Mr. Ed's handling of his work, or if it is due to Erickson himself. For it is certainly incorrect to view anything other than the Father as being the source of divinity; it is certainly correct to view the three as mutually indwelling one another; it is also certainly correct to view each of the persons as necessarily presupposing the existence of the other two; it is philosophically muddled to state that each of the three are equal due to the fact that each of the three are equally less than one another (a view which has all the force as the statement that three bankrupt people are 'equally rich'). Moving on …
However one interprets Erickson at this point, one can definitely say that the author of the work promoting understanding of the Trinity favors the latter view and affirms the fact that orthodoxy has traditionally maintained that the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father:
"The interpretations the orthodox gave to the passages appealed to by the Arians are basically that these should be taken as referring to Jesus' earthly ministry, rather than his eternal status. The logic of the argument would seem to apply to the passages marshaled in support of the subordinationst view as well. Thus, the begetting passages should be seen as referring to the earthly residence of Jesus, rather than some everlasting continuous generation by the Father" (ibid).
Here we can arrive at a few conclusions. First, Erickson (assumng Mr. Ed represents him well) can't tell the difference between 'being begotten' and 'being subordinate in essence'. If there is some reason why that which is begotten is necessarily ontologically less than that of which it is begotten, something like a rigorous philosophical argument would be forthcoming in demonstration of the assertion, as it is by no means obvious that a human son is less human than his father. Second, Erickson is certainly wrong regarding the Nicene response to the Arians. As my essay on Nicene Christology shows beyond doubt, the eternal generation of the Son was absolutely affirmed by the Nicenes. Third, he is wrong in imagining that they thought the 'being begotten' passages were applied to Christ's humanity over against his divinity. Fourth, Mr. Ed reveals a definite lack of understanding when it comes to Nicene terminology when he ushers in such persons as spokesmen for the Nicenes.
III. Erickson Highlights A Difficulty With the Eternal Subordinationist View
Erickson argues that the eternal subordinationist view finds it difficult to prevent eternal subordination of the Son to the Father and the Holy Spirit to the Father and/or Son from "lapsing into the inferiority of the Son," a position synonymous with Arianism (ibid., 86-87).
So, in other words, Mr. Ed has found a theologian who has the same philosophical incompetence as himself (once again, even assuming that he represents him fully and correctly), and cites him as an authority when, because of this incompetence, he makes the same mistakes as Mr. Ed. According to Erickson, we'd have to bunch Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Didymus of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil of Caesarea and Augustine amongst the Arians (if, that is, Mr. Ed is giving an accurate presentation of Erickson's views). In fact, I doubt whether or not Erickson has even read the works of the above mentioned Church fathers-some of whom are the Church's Trinitarian theologians par excellence. What seems more likely is this-that Erickson, like Mr. Ed, has divorced himself from Tradition and held on only to the 'there is only one God, the three are not eachother, and each of the three is God' bit, and then jumped into private speculation with an incompetent mental prowess. And while I recognize the effort as having good intentions, in the end it must be said that his failure to allow earlier Tradition to inform his thought does him more harm than good.
And at this point, its worth mentioning again what Mr. Ed's aim in this paper is supposed to be. As stated in the opening paragraph, it is to show the 'traditonal teaching' of my Church, and how functional subordination is excluded. What we have so far, on the other hand, is a theologian who doesn't belong to my Church, who doesn't have enough philosophical precision to bring the issue to a head, attempting to formulate a purely abstract articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. As far as 'the traditional teaching' bit goes, the only place where Erickson has brought it up, he proved himself clearly in the wrong. Let this be a lesson for Trinitarians who engage Arians in a debate-your opponent will constantly avoid the issue and bring in sources that are ultimately irrelevant. If you try and show your opponent that the Johannine prologue is indebted to Sirach, you'll receive in response a citation from the likes of Gleason Archer to the effect that 'the apocrypha isn't Scripture', and so on. Mr. Ed continues …
Erickson then alludes to Geoffrey Bromiley's article in the Baker Dictionary of Theology, which avers, based on the eternal generation theory, there is an eternal "superiority and subordination of order" in the triune Godhead. See page 368 of Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984).
Bromiley further qualifies his statement by noting that eternal subordination does not imply inferiority amongst the three opposed relations of the Trinity. Yet, Erickson thinks that Bromiley's position seems logically absurd. Why is this the case?
It would be interesting here to see Bromiley describe his position in his own words. In any case, notice that, aside from the fact that Mr. Ed has failed to do anything like show what my Church has 'traditionally taught'-still less any disparity between such a tradition and what I argue for-he also points out that, outside of my Church, there are people that (it seems) are in agreement with me! Mr. Ed's 'case' (ignoring for the moment that he's playing ball on the wrong field, within context) has all the force of someone who is trying to 'prove' that 'it won't rain today', with the evidence being ushered in stating 'maybe it will, maybe it won't.' Moving along …
Bromiley's position is that "The Father is superior to the Son and the Son is subordinate to the Father but without being inferior" to the Father (Erickson, Understanding the Trinity, 87). But Erickson suggests that Bromiley is working with "some ambiguity of superiority and inferiority that enables A to be superior to B without B being inferior to A. Without justification of this distinction of meaning we have a logical contradiction. And I would contend that if that distinction were to be made clear, the significance of the Father's superiority would vanish. In other words, if the ambiguity is not removed, there is a logical contradiction. If it is removed, the meaning of the assertion is lost" (ibid).
Ugh! The mentally un-equipped playing the philosophy game and tying themselves into knots. The entire paragraph above is muddled, re my distinction between functional and ontological subordination above. In that case, Bromiley's 'the Father is superior to' amounts to 'in any activity within the Trinity, that activity is originated in the Father,' and 'without being inferior to the Father' amounts to 'is not ontologically less than the Father'. The ambiguity is removed, there is no logical contradiction, and the meaning of the assertion remains. And let it be noted that Erickson, as he apparently hasn't grasped the distinction, can't be accused with having denied it. What can be said for certain is that Erickson doesn't allow the Son to be ontologically subordinate to the Father, and in saying as much, he is perfectly orthodox.
Erickson's point is that the Son cannot simultaneously be subordinate to the Father without being inferior to Him. The only way that such a situation can obtain is if one uses the term "subordinate" in an ambiguous and non-standard fashion. But if the word "subordinate" is not used ambiguously, there is a logical contradiction. For how can a personal entity be subordinate to another entity without being inferior to the said entity, in some way? On the other hand, if one defines "subordinate" in a manner that disambiguates the term, then the Son's putative eternal subordination to the Father disappears. Either way, there is an unsolvable problematic feature associated with the eternal subordinationist view. Erickson therefore favors the temporary subordinationist model to account for Jesus' subordination to the Father.
As should be obvious by now, Erickson's entire commentary on the issue (as presented by Mr. Ed) is rife with imprecision and inaccuracy. 'Subordinate' is in no way 'ambiguous' under the functional subordination model. We do not say 'the Son is equal to the Father in essence, yet less in essence than the Father when he acts', but 'the Son is equal to the Father in essence, and as the Image and Word and Radiance of the Father, he is the means whereby the Father's expression is accomplished'. As for the 'how can a personal entity be subordinate … without being inferior …?' bit, I think that such a comment reveals an utter lack of understanding of New Testament ethics. Jesus washing his disciples feet (Jn. 13) is an example of something that would fit into Mr. Ed's confused ego-centric understanding of 'subordination' (being less than), yet this is precisely what we are told to do (13:14). Paul's talk of the 'body of Christ' (1 Cor. 12:4f.) also comes to mind here. The point in both of these instances is that God says 'take the way you usually think of honor and greatness, and stand it on its head, for you are all dead wrong here,' and he sends his Son as a living illustration of how to get it right-'the greatest among you will be your servant,' (Mt. 23:11) '"whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all," then he took a little child and put it among them …' (Mk. 9:35) Love, by its very nature, gives itself away.
The Lover gives everything to the Beloved, and the Beloved returns everything to the Lover. To hold itself back would be to bring an end to the Love itself; it would destroy the harmony. One is reminded of C. S. Lewis's chapter on 'Heaven' in The Problem of Pain, wherein life is like a ball passed from one to another, and to cling to it is death. The Trinitarian model for this is the Father pouring himself into the Son, and the Son, who does 'only what' he 'sees the Father do', returning this gift to the Father. That is why the New Testament can say that Jesus reveals God, and that God is Love. The crucifixion is the Incarnation of agape, ecstatic and diffusive Love for an other. The Son's being the 'radiance of God's glory' and 'the Image of the invisible God' is nothing less than his being an image of the Father's kenosis (phil. 2:5f., see also Bauckham's God Crucified, von Balthasar's Credo). The Spirit being the 'Love' within the Trinity is nothing less than the Spirit's being an image of the Father and Son's activity towards one another.
Finally, it needs to be noted that Mr. Ed ultimately drops the ball, as he concludes that the view of the Trinity which entails the Son's being eternally of the Father, and there being asymmetry within the Trinity, is 'wrong', yet it is absolutely affirmed by Catholic Tradition. And here's some free advice for Mr. Ed-if in Erickson you expect to find a spokesperson for what the Catholic Church has 'traditionally taught', take that book and throw it out the window.
Phantaz would no doubt deny that he believes the Father is superior to the Son, the Son is subordinate to the Father, and yet not inferior to the Father. That is, phantaz seemingly would affirm the Son's eternal subordinate status while simultaneously denying that the Father is either superior to the Son or that the Son is inferior to the Father, I presume. But his use of the word "subordinate" lends to the same ambiguity that Bromiley's does. It is only by defining the word "subordinate" in an ambiguous or ad hoc fashion that phantaz can maintain his eternal subordinationist view. Even phantaz' appeal to definitions of subordinate such as "dependent" or "subject" does not work since even those terms, in everyday English, are not normally used to delineate the relationship of rain and clouds but relationships between parents and children as well as grammatical relationships (e. g., dependent clauses). Cf. the word "dependent" in an English dictionary of your choice. :-)
And so on. First off, the complaint of ambiguity can be dropped without further comment. Second, Mr. Ed shows a marked stubbornness in his complaint regarding a definition becoming more precise within the context of a debate or a framework wherein an issue is being given more clarity. Cf. the definition of 'intend' within the field of phenomenology, or the evolution of the distinction between 'hypostasis' and 'ousia' during the Nicene era. If Mr. Ed has a problem with this, he ought find another field to play in, and leave the big toys alone. Hence it does not matter how a word is used in everyday English, for if that were the case, Mr. Ed would need to register a complaint about predicating the grammatical modifier 'when I winked' in the sentence 'She smiled when I winked' as a 'subordinate clause'. His entire complaint against me can be settled rather simply: subordinate means 'subject, dependent' and functional means 'of or pertaining to a function or functions'. These are both definitions taken right out of the dictionary, so it can't be complained that they are 'ad hoc'. On the contrary, the definitions fit within the semantic range of the words and express a meaning assumed as common property by traditional Trinitarians. As for the meaning of 'functional subordination'--Functional subordination denotes being dependent upon/subject to an other within a framework wherein an activity is accomplished. Thus a rock is ontologically subordinate to a man, and a man is ontologically subordinate to an angel; the wheels on a bike are functionally subordinate to the chain, and the chain is functionally subordinate to the movement of the pedals-Mr. Ed, never once interacts with this meaning.
Of course, it doesn't help matters that Mr. Ed's understanding of the Trinity boils down to modalistic monarchial tritheism. In other words, for him, if we say the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father, it boils down to two centers of consciousness and will wherein one such center exercises domination over the other (nevermind that the traditional doctrine of the Trinity anathematizes this as tritheism). The Trinity teaches a single consciousness subsisting in three distinct manners. So while, for Mr. Ed, functional subordination would amount to 'not all three-one of it being able to call the shot(s)', for example-
Father: Son, go to Jerusalem and die for man.
Son: But Fava, I don't wunt toooo.
Father: This is the way we-me, the one God, is going to save man, so go!
Son: Hey, I'm we-me-God too! What gives you the right to tell me what to do?
Spirit: Hey, he's the Father you know.
Father: True true!
Son: Hey Spirit, why don't you-me-God go and do it then?
Father: Go to Jerusalem Son, that is an order! If you don't listen to me …
Son: Hey, haven't you read the Athanasian Creed? All three-one both of us are 'equal in glory', so there!
….and so on. Mr. Ed's downfall here, as my previous essay remarked, lies in his inability to grasp Wisdom Christology. Wisdom is the radiance of the Father, the expression of God. Hence just as it is-
Father/Son--with regard to the Son's origin, so too is this model followed for any actions of the One God. Each person of the Trinity cannot be divided within any single act accomplished by the One God, yet each person acts in unity with the others according to the particular perfection of his individual person. Hence-
Father(creation)/Son/the world is created.
The Father must create through the Son. And also-
The Father must 'reconcile the world to himself in Christ'. This doesn't limit any of the three persons, on the contrary, it posits love and communion as the centerpiece for every 'moment' and every act of God's existence.
In conclusion, I believe that Erickson's discussion demonstrates the position that orthodoxy has traditionally maintained concerning intra-trinitarian relations. Church creeds, councils, and post-Nicene fathers have generally expressed themselves in the way that Owen Thomas describes. To recap his observation:
"God the Father is the ground or presupposition of God the Son, and God the Father and God the Son are the ground or presupposition of God the Holy Spirit. God the Son is of or from God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit is of or from God the Father and God the Son. But the Church interpreted this in such a way that there is no temporal priority or **subordination**" (Thomas, Introduction to Theology, page 68).
Yet again, note the 'traditionally maintains' bit. I tried to enlighten him on the issue, but he simply wouldn't listen, this no doubt due to the fact that he already knows all about Catholic theology-heaven forbid he should have his notions corrected by a Catholic. At any rate, it should be noted that Thomas's definition above is at odds with Erickson's anti-eternal generation Christology. If you say 'if Father, then Son' and 'if Father and Son, then Holy Spirit', you are quite a distance from saying 'Father if and only if Son' and 'Father and Son if and only if Holy Spirit'-which is ultimately correct, yet not included in the above definition. Thomas's definition is fine, as it posits the Father as source of the Son and Spirit. I don't see how Mr. Ed could fail to recognize that Thomas is speaking of ontological subordination when he says 'no subordination', and since Mr. Ed thinks it anathema to believe the Son begotten of the Father (begotten, in Edgarese, equals 'being subordinate and less than'), even Thomas fails to pass the Mr. Ed bar of orthodoxy. And if Mr. Ed pulls out the classic 'that's not what I said' line, he ought consider that since the 'traditional teaching' is, according to him, incoherent, he has little room to complain. If a person ties their legs into knots, they oughtn't complain when it is pointed out to them that they aren't going to go anywhere, aside from all over themselves.
Now that I'm finished with Mr. Ed's yap-stack, its time to put the nails in the coffin. As I've already dealt with the Nicenes, I needn't repeat myself. Their testimony is an irrefutable and clear testimony to Mr. Ed's wrongness. This time around, I'll cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I apologize if there are any Protestants out there who think my singularity of focus to be exaggerated-please realize that I'm simply answering a particular charge brought against me. And also, the issue of the Trinity isn't exactly a controversial issue between us. After the Catechism, I'll bring in the testimony of one of the theological experts who served at the Vatican II council, Karl Rahner. As the author of perhaps the most influential work on the Trinity of our generation, and also the most influential Catholic theologian of the 20th century, his testimony is of extreme importance. Now for the Catechism-
240 Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son in relation to his Father: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
241 For this reason the apostles confess Jesus to be the Word: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God"; as "the image of the invisible God"; as the "radiance of the glory of God and the very stamp of his nature."
The above passages are crucial, and the reason is this-the Sonship of the Son are articulated in light of three of the most explicit Wisdom passages in the entire New Testament, John 1:1; Col. 1:15f.; and Heb. 1:2f.. It is also worth noting that the citation from paragraph 240-Mt. 11:27-is commonly referred to as the 'Johannine thunderbolt' in Matthew's gospel, and it also is linked with the Wisdom corpus. And more to the point-
242 Following this apostolic tradition, the Church confessed at the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (325) that the Son is "consubstantial" with the Father, that is, one only God with him. The second ecumenical council, held at Constantinople in 381, kept this expression in its formulation of the Nicene Creed and confessed "the only begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father."
Indeed, the entire Nicene fight could quite aptly be described as the fight to uphold the Wisdom Tradition; the fight of Athanasius could be summed up as the assertion that Jesus is the Son of God for reals. At any rate, once again we are faced with the Wisdom idea of a procession that is both from God and intrinsic to God-sun and shine, light and radiance. The former is from the latter, it is the constitution of the essence of the latter to bring forth the former, and the two share an identical nature. The causation, though necessary (so we can say 'Father if and only if Son' as well as 'if Son, then Father'), still only goes one way.
I here repeat the definition of functional subordination--Functional subordination denotes being dependent upon/subject to an other within a framework wherein an activity is accomplished. So in other words, if the actions of the Trinity towards the world are going to correspond with the manner of the Trinity's subsistence within itself, what ought we expect? We would expect that just as the Father is the Origin of the Son, so too he will be Origin of any activity. We would expect that just as the Father essentially communicates his being to the Son, so too any activity would be communicated to the Son. We would expect that just as the Son is the concrete and actual radiance of the Father, so too the Son would be the concrete ex-pression of the Father's activity. Hence if the Father wills to save mankind, this willing will be communicated to the Son, and the Son will ex-press it. And when I say 'communicated', I don't mean that there is any interval of time, so that it could be imagined that the Son sits about not knowing what to will until the Father decides it. The relation must be thought of within the perichoresis model-the mutual indwelling of the persons. And it also must not be thought that there are two distinct centers of consciousness and will such as the Mr. Ed model invites. Though each of the persons are actually distinct, and each of the persons is aware of 'his self' as distinct from the other two, the unity must ever be kept in mind. Hence for the Father it would be will given, and at the same instant, for the Son it would be will received. The will is identical in every respect and communicated in union and harmony, yet it belongs to the one as subsisting in the Unbegotten begetter, and to the other as Begotten receiver. It is will given in love, and will received in love, there being no room for separation or division, just as there is no room for separating the sun from its shine. And just as, in believing the Son to be the receiver of the Father's will, I don't thereby think the Son to be in any sense impoverished; so too it cannot be imagined that the Father is 'hamstrung' because he cannot but accomplish his will but through the agency of the Son. It is vital to clear the imagination of any such thoughts. The 'who gets to do what?' question isn't even an issue. All thought of the Trinity must be taken back into the point of origin, procession, and unity-and at that point, we must constantly recall that it is love and communion that provides the framework for our thought on the Trinity. The activity of each of the individuals corresponds to the manner of procession, and the principle of love-of the mutual indwelling, essential communion and communication in mutual giving and receiving-this is the model wherein the mind that wishes to understand the Trinity must rest; in constant motion and awe. No doubt, this is asking a bit much for the modern Arian, who would much rather imagine a static and embodied god floating atop clouds within space and time-the mind that is unable to move, I suppose, must make up for it with a god who must move, literally. If they aren't willing to brake themselves of mind-idolatry-the intellect's acceptance only of the comfortable and mundane-they can have it; I simply ask that they stay to what they know, and quit trying to tell us about the wrongness of what they aren't willing to try to know. Back to the issue of functional subordination, the final passage from the Catechism that I'll be citing is of especial interest-
258 The whole divine economy is the common work of the three divine persons. For as the Trinity has only one and the same nature so too does it have only one and the same operation: "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three principles of creation but one principle." However each divine person performs the common work according to his unique personal property. Thus the Church confesses, following the New Testament, "one God and Father from whom all things are, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit in whom all things are." It is above all the divine missions of the Son's Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit that show forth the properties of the divine persons.
Which brings us to Karl Rahner. In the Introduction to his The Trinity, Catherine Mowry LaCugna-an outstanding authority on the Trinity in her own right (see her God For Us), sums up the matter thusly: "Missions (the Son and the Spirit's 'being sent') and processions are the same reality under different aspects. The eternal begetting of the Son is the eternal ground of the sending of the Son in the Incarnation." (xiv) And this is precisely the point that the modern Arian, like Mr. Ed, doesn't get. God in-himself corresponds to God in the world, for us. Thus it is not a matter of one of the three 'getting to be top dawg', but it is a matter of the three as they are which renders explanation for why one is sent by another. LaCugna continues, "This, Rahner says, is the content of the economic Trinity which is, in its turn, the foundation for the immanent Trinity. The two-fold distinction of persons in salvation history 'must belong to God in himself', else there can be no true self-communication." (xviii) And finally, "… the Father is fontalis, the font and origin of divinity from whom Son and Spirit proceed. The unity of the divine persons is found not in a common essence (as with Augustine or Thomas) but in the person of the Father and in the perichoretic interrelatedness of the divine persons. The Father always has a certain priority (neither ontological nor chronological) over Son and Spirit. The Father communicates as God, and communicates the divine essence as such." (xx)
I'm sure it will no doubt come as a surprise to Mr. Ed that Rahner has yet to be accused of being a 'subordinationist' or having turned the Son and Spirit into 'lesser gods'. In fact, judging from the official Catechism of the Church that Mr. Ed above tried to teach me a lesson on, it appears as though the Church flat-out agrees with Rahner here. Imagine that!?!
The red-thread that runs through Rahner's work has turned into a touchstone for Trinitarian theology--the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity. And as a brief aside, it should be pointed out that the common charge brought against Rahner here-that, supposedly, this results in a modalist God that is determined by interacting with the world-is way off the mark. Such a complaint misses the point entirely. The point isn't that God turns into three when and because he interacts with the world. The point is that the structure of God's mode of interacting with the world corresponds to the manner in which God is. We'll take a prime example from a question that Mr. Ed and company would probably think a great threat to our intellectual comfort as Trinitarians. Granting that all three are God, identical in nature, and equal in glory, might the Father have become Incarnate, rather than the Son? The Mr. Ed camp would certainly think it proper for us (in order to be consistent with our creeds!), to allow the Son to send the Father about from time to time and, I suppose, prove himself equal in glory and rank and so forth. But Rahner's answer is uncompromising-
"The most ancient tradition, before Augustine, has never considered such a possibility and has at bottom always presupposed the opposite in its theological considerations. For the Father is by definition the Unoriginate, the one who is in principle 'invisible,' who reveals himself and appears precisely by sending his Word into the world. The Word is, by definition, immanent in the divinity and active in the world, and as such the Father's revelation. A revelation of the Father without the Logos and his incarnation would be like speaking without words."
Yet doesn't this bog down our idea of the Three all being God? Not at all, for the simple reason that it is "a perfection for the Son as Son to descend from the Father." Or, in other words, "we cling to the truth that the Logos is really as he appears in revelation, that he is the one who reveals to us (not merely one of those who might have revealed to us) the triune God, on account of the personal being which belongs exclusively to him, the Father's Logos." (29, 30) In other words, if God is truly a Trinity-the Trinity of Father and Son and Spirit that Trinitarians believe in, God cannot but so reveal himself. "God relates to us in a threefold manner, and this threefold, free, and gratuitous relation to us is not merely a copy or an analogy of the inner Trinity, but this Trinity itself, albeit freely and gratuitously communicated." (35) Hence, "The 'immanent' self-communication becomes perceptible, and its meaning, although remaining mysterious, becomes intelligible, in the 'economic' self-communication." (64)
A final passage from Rahner brings the issue back to one, and thus to a close: "Father, Son and Spirit are only 'relatively' distinct; that is, in their distinction they should not be conceived as constituted by something which would mean a distinction previous to their mutual relations and serving as their foundation." (68) What Rahner means here is that the Father 'just is' Unbegottenness, and the Son 'just is' being Begotten, and the Spirit 'just is' Procession from the Father via the Son. In other words, as was mentioned above, everything in the Trinity is identical save the manner in which the three distinct persons are related to one another. All three are God, all three are equal, and the means of distinguishing between them is via Mr. Ed's supposedly dreadful principle of asymmetry within the Trinity.
And this brings our discussion on functional subordination to a close. Functional subordination within the Trinity is a prerequisite of orthodoxy. As the economic reveals the immanent, the 'being sent' of the Son into the economy is grounded in the 'proceeding from' in eternity. The point at which the revelation of God begins is the point at which explanation stops, so to speak, for the revelation itself is a revelation of the answer to any question we may have. When we realize that the Son truly is the Word and Wisdom and Radiance and Ex-pression of God, we understand why he was 'sent' by the Father. And when the Father reconciles the world unto himself, we understand why it was done 'in Christ'. When we hear of the Father creating the universe, we understand why it is done 'through' his Son. It has nothing to do with one being 'top dawg' and the other being less; it has everything to do with the model and structure of an unrelenting communication and communion in love-the Trinity.