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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Critique (on CBMW's Claims Regarding Who Taught the Concept of an Eternally Subordinated Son)

The CBMW gender blog claims that these thinkers taught a model of the Trinity that includes an eternally subordinated Son:
  • Hilary of Poitiers (c. 291-371), who was widely known as the Athanasius of the Western tradition. His work on the Trinity, De Trinitate, clearly expresses order and ranking in the Godhead.
  • Athanasius (c. 296-373) argued against Arianism at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and saw his view emerge victorious. Yet, in his Orationes contra Arionos (Orations against Arius), he articulates the eternality of the Son and expresses a clear order within the Godhead.
  • St. Augustine (354-430), famed bishop of Hippo, whose theology undergirded the Reformation. In his classic work On the Trinity, Augustine emphasized the unity of the Trinity and also reflected on the eternal subordination of the Son.
  • Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394), Basil of Caesarea (c. 329-379) and Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 330-390), the great Cappadocian Fathers, whose teachings on the Trinity were formative for the nascent Christian church, expressed order or ranking within the Godhead.
  • Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), a profoundly important philosopher and theologian in the scholastic tradition. In his classic work Summa Theologica (Sum of Theology), he argues that, as the Father is not from another, it is in no way fitting for Him to be sent, but only for the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • John Calvin (1509-1564), a father of the Reformation and author of the first systematic theology, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin adopted Augustine's view of the Trinity...
Personally, I would like to see some quotes instead of a list of names, because expressing a belief in Trinitarian order is not the same thing as expressing a belief in the permanent subordination of the members of the Trinity.

For example, the above list of names from CBMW included Athanasius, yet it is the Athanasian Creed that says,

25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal."

The CBMW blog also includes Gregory of Nyssa, yet in so doing demonstrates a misunderstood comprehension of "eternally begotten." Yes, the Nicene Creed says that Jesus is begotten of the Father, but we must take care to understand the words of the Creed as the writers intended, not as we see them fitting into our pre-existing conclusions.

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (├Žons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father…"
But "begotten" is not an indication of a permanently subordinated Son, and therein lies the rub. An explanatory footnote (found in full here, emphasis below mine) adds the following important information,

Arius said that if the Father has begotten the Son, then the Son must be inferior to the Father, as a prince is inferior to a king. Athanasius replied that a son is precisely the same sort of being as his father, and that the only son of a king is destined himself to be a king. It is true that an earthly son is younger than his father, and that there is a time when he is not yet what he will be. But God is not in time. Time, like distance, is a relation between physical events, and has meaning only in the context of the physical universe.

When we say that the Son is begotten of the Father, we do not refer to an event in the remote past, but to an eternal and timeless relation between the Persons of the Godhead. Thus, while we say of an earthly prince that he may some day hope to become what his father is now, we say of God the Son that He is eternally what God the Father is eternally.

In other words, the Fathers considered "begotten" to be indicative of a relationship, not a hierarchical position.

But in Grudem's Systematic Theology, he clearly says the opposite,

“This is why the idea of eternal equality in being but subordination in role has been essential to the church’s doctrine of the Trinity since it was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed, which said that the Son was “begotten of the Father before all ages” and that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Surprisingly, some recent evangelical writings have denied an eternal subordination in role among members of the Trinity, but it has clearly been part of the church’s doctrine of the Trinity (in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox expressions), at least since Nicea (A.D. 325).”
No, it has not. Permanent hierarchical subordination can only be seen if one defines the word, "begotten" in a way that differs from the meaning given to it by Gregory of Nyssa and Athanasius.

Unfortunately, most readers at CBMW are not going to take the time to see if the CBMW blog is speaking the truth. For the typical reader, it will just looks like "big names" are on CBMW's side.

The problem, as this post shows, is that it's not necessarily true.

I would like to see quotes, not just names. Sure, stating that John Calvin believed in permanent subordination within the Trinity is one thing, but actually showing us (or citing for us) where he did so is quite another.

In closing, I offer a small portion of the Second Helvetic Confession which deals specifically with the concept of permanent subordination within the Trinity (emphasis mine):

God Is Three. Notwithstanding we believe and teach that the same immense, one and indivisible God is in person inseparably and without confusion distinguished as Father, Son and Holy Spirit so, as the Father has begotten the Son from eternity, the Son is begotten by an ineffable generation, and the Holy Spirit truly proceeds from them both, and the same from eternity and is to be worshipped with both.

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.

We also condemn all heresies and heretics who teach that the Son and Holy Spirit are God in name only, and also that there is something created and subservient, or subordinate to another in the Trinity, and that there is something unequal in it, a greater or a less, something corporeal or corporeally conceived, something different with respect to character or will, something mixed or solitary, as if the Son and Holy Spirit were the affections and properties of one God the Father, as the Monarchians, Novatians, Praxeas, Patripassians, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Aetius, Macedonius, Antropomorphites, Arius, and such like, have thought.