A previous post offered some thoughts about 'order'. Here are some about 'Trinity'! ... which reminds me of the appositeness of doing so, this Sunday being Trinity ...
Trinity is the great doctrine of the church and mission for it is our doctrine of God and thus our self-understanding of distinctiveness in respect of all claims concerning 'God', including denials of the existence of God. Being doctrine, it has both human history and divine disclosure in its origins.
Its human history is that the church once did not have such a doctrine and then one day did have this doctrine. If its conception is through divine disclosure, then its birth certainly involved labour pains. The great contractions leading to the birth began as questions arose about the relationship between Jesus Christ and God and disputed answers were offered. The dispute in summary was over the question whether Jesus Christ was less than God in being (Arian led the affirmative for this) or completely God in being (Athanasius led the defence of this). Scriptural evidence could be gathered in support for each answer; though the matter did not turn solely on exegesis for the experience of the church counted for something: it had been worshipping Jesus as God from the beginning, was this wrong? Reason too played a part: if Jesus was not completely God in being, could he save us completely?
Some of the evidence of Scripture pointing to Jesus being less than God were texts which spoke of the subordination of Jesus to God: the language of sending, of obedience, of exaltation, of filling with the Spirit of God spoke volumes to Arian and his supporters. The order, God, Christ, angels, humanity, animals, plants, was an order of subordination: Christ subordinate to God, angels to Christ, etc, with an ontological dividing line - a line between uncreated being and created being - drawn between God and Christ, angels, humanity, animals, plants. For an Arian hermeneutic, the being and function of Christ are unambiguously subordinate to God.
But there was more to Scripture than this reading of the evidence. Other texts, both singly, but more powerfully, cumulatively, spoke of the oneness of God and Christ, as a unity of being of Father and Son (and Holy Spirit). This reading of the evidence, of the divine disclosure through Scripture of the essence of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, gathered strength from its upholding of doctrines of salvation, creation, and revelation. Though some specific moves in the commitment of the church through councils making creeds involved imperial power, the establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity is not an expression of power rather than truth. In post-imperial ages the Arian challenge has recurred and the church has always confirmed its Athanasian rejoinder.
What then of order in the Trinity? First, all the texts Arian read remain in Scripture. In some measure Jesus Christ is subordinate to God the Father, the question we are teasing out is the extent of that 'measure'. Secondly, the Trinity which necessarily involves language of 'equality' includes a direct challenge to simple notions of subordination: in some sense Father Son and Holy Spirit are coordinate. Thirdly, the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated in the finite language of humanity is always an attempt to penetrate through language to the inner character of the being of God. In itself it cannot convey exhaustively the truth of God for then our words would be greater than God. This is of particular relevance when we reflect on the relationship of Father to Son and Holy Spirit and of Father and Son to Holy Spirit.
If, for example, we ask the question has the Father given birth to the Son, the answer has always been an unequivocal negative but the word we have come up with to describe the "origin" of the Son has been 'begotten', a somewhat equivocal word as it cannot dislodge a hint of 'birthing'. Ditto for the "origin" of the Spirit in the Father or in the Father and the Son: we have come up with the word 'proceed', a somewhat equivocal word also as it cannot dislodge a hint of production. (Indeed, so difficult is the question of understanding 'proceed' that the church split in 1054 between West and East over the question whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or from Father and Son). In short, we stumble with our language seeking to penetrate the mystery of God the eternal being of Father Son and Holy Spirit, none created of the other(s), none superior or inferior to the other(s), when we attempt to articulate the meaning of 'Father' in relation to 'Son' and 'Father' and 'Son' in relation to 'Holy Spirit' who is revealed in Scripture as the 'Spirit of God', the 'Spirit of Jesus' and so forth.
It is this stumbling, I suggest, which creates the opportunity to describe the subordination of God the Son to God the Father as an 'eternal subordination'. Our question then is whether this is a true speaking of God the Trinity. There are alternative possibilities to consider, the obvious one being that there is a temporal subordination rather than an eternal subordination.