Thursday, June 11, 2009

Order in the Trinity (3)

In response to my previous post on Order in the Trinity (2) these questions were raised in a comment:

"But how can [the subordination of God the Son to God the Father] be temporal?
Do you mean by that .. just for Jesus' time on earth?
While He's 'inside' time, whereas they are both now 'outside' time?
If that is the case, how come it was decided 'outside' of time?
How come Jesus 'humbled' Himself to become man in order to save us.
Doesn't that mean in some sense that I don't understand, that He's now not 'pure' God, but a mixture?
Otherwise what does it mean to say "He humbled Himself."
Isn't any submission [I've said before I don't like the word subordination] voluntary?
Otherwise it IS subordination surely?"

On the last two questions I would simply say that submission is not necessarily voluntary (one might think of the submission Islam has on occasions sought at the point of a sword) and subordination, whatever our personal preference to not use it as a word in these contexts of Trinity and Order, is the word mostly used in current discussion.

The first questions raised can be responded to with this excerpt from Wikipedia's article on the Trinity ... which, a little short of time this week, I post with gratitude to the writer! (In any case, I do not think I could have put these things clearer or more concisely myself):

"Economic and ontological Trinity

Economic Trinity: This refers to the acts of the triune God with respect to the creation, history, salvation, the formation of the Church, the daily lives of believers, etc. and describes how the Trinity operates within history in terms of the roles or functions performed by each of the Persons of the Trinity—God's relationship with creation.

Ontological (or essential or immanent) Trinity: This speaks of the interior life of the Trinity (John 1:1–2, note John 1:1)—the reciprocal relationships of Father, Son and Spirit to each other without reference to God's relationship with creation.
Or more simply—the ontological Trinity (who God is) and the economic Trinity (what God does). Most Christians believe the economic reflects and reveals the ontological. Catholic theologian Karl Rahner went so far as to say "The 'economic' Trinity is the 'immanent' Trinity, and vice versa."[71]

The ancient Nicene theologians argued that everything the Trinity does is done by Father, Son, and Spirit working together with one will. The three persons of the Trinity always work inseparably, for their work is always the work of the one God. Because of this unity of will, the Trinity cannot involve the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Eternal subordination can only exist if the Son's will is at least conceivably different from the Father's. But Nicene orthodoxy says it is not. The Son's will cannot be different from the Father's because it is the Father's. They have but one will as they have but one being. Otherwise they would not be one God. If there were relations of command and obedience between the Father and the Son, there would be no Trinity at all but rather three gods.[72]

In explaining why the Bible speaks of the Son as being subordinate to the Father, the great theologian Athanasius argued that scripture gives a "double account" of the son of God – one of his temporal and voluntary subordination in the incarnation, and the other of his eternal divine status.[73] For Athanasius, the Son is eternally one in being with the Father, temporally and voluntarily subordinate in his incarnate ministry. Such human traits, he argued, were not to be read back into the eternal Trinity.

Like Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers also insisted there was no economic inequality present within the Trinity. As Basil wrote: "We perceive the operation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be one and the same, in no respect showing differences or variation; from this identity of operation we necessarily infer the unity of nature."[74]

Augustine also rejected the idea of an economic hierarchy within the Trinity. He claimed that the three persons of the Trinity "share the inseparable equality one substance present in divine unity".[75] Because the three persons are one in their inner life, this means that for Augustine their works in the world are one. For this reason, it is an impossibility for Augustine to speak of the Father commanding and the Son obeying as if there could be a conflict of wills within the eternal Trinity.
John Calvin also spoke at length about the doctrine of the Trinity. Like Athanasius and Augustine before him, he concluded that Philippians 2:4-11 prescribed how scripture was to be read correctly. For him the Son's obedience is limited to the incarnation and is indicative of his true humanity assumed for human salvation.[76]

Much of this work is summed up in the Athanasian Creed. This creed stresses the unity of the Trinity and the equality of the persons. It ascribes equal divinity, majesty, and authority to all three persons. All three are said to be "almighty" and "Lord" (no subordination in authority; "none is before or after another" (no hierarchical ordering); and "none is greater, or less than another" (no subordination in being or nature). Thus, since the divine persons of the Trinity act with one will, there is no possibility of hierarchy-inequality in the Trinity.

Since the 1980s, some evangelical theologians have come to the conclusion that the members of the Trinity may be economically unequal while remaining ontologically equal. This theory was put forward by George W. Knight III in his 1977 book The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women, states that the Son of God is eternally subordinated in authority to God the Father.[77] This conclusion was used as a means of supporting the main thesis of his book: that women are permanently subordinated in authority to their husbands in the home and to male leaders in the church, despite being ontologically equal. Subscribers to this theory insist that the Father has the role of giving commands and the Son has the role of obeying them."


Rosemary said...

Hmm, well, I probably put the questions badly then, or not in the ‘proper’ way, because I feel my questions are still unanswered. If I may go through the Wikipedia stuff.

I am not questioning that .. “Everything the Trinity does is done by Father, Son, and Spirit working together with one will. The three persons of the Trinity always work inseparably, for their work is always the work of the one God. Because of this unity of will, the Trinity cannot involve the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father.”

I understand that completely, and it is what I have always believed. However, when I read .. “Eternal subordination can only exist if the Son's will is at least conceivably different from the Father's.” Then I don’t see that as clearly. That doesn't appear to mean the same thing. Again I would suggest that there IS a difference between subordination and submission. In my mind, Jesus willingly agrees with Himself as the ‘One’ and willingly submits His part of the Godhead, to achieve the will of the One/Three. In other words, I agree with Nicene orthodoxy that says the Son's will cannot be different from the Father's. Not because it IS the Father's, but because it is ‘theirs’ .. the Three in One. If the Son’s Will was different, then He would not have willingly submitted to anything, He would have been ‘constrained’ .. made to be subordinate if you like. I don’t believe that for one moment.

What I don’t understand is this dichotomy that has been made by these great theologians that any submission by any one of the One/Three .. is limited in anyway. Are they saying that now .. outside time .. the Son doesn’t ‘submit’ to His Father? Nor the Holy Spirit to either of the other two?

I mean if I tell my arm .. with my brain .. to do this or that. I’m not meaning by that, that my arm is subordinate to my brain. It is part of my body, we are one. I think it does ‘submit’ to the wishes of my brain, but then it agrees with my brain because it is ‘one’ with my brain. It shares with my brain a desire to lift this or that object in order to achieve something. Yes, if my arm was cut off, the rest of me could continue to operate, albeit in a diminished way, whereas if my brain should die, then the whole would die .. but then the same is true of my heart. Is it possible to MAKE my arm do something it doesn’t WANT to do willingly? If it is .. then my arm is subordinate to my brain, but the fact is, it CANNOT do anything unless my brain wills it, is has no reason that is separate from my brain. Surely in just such a way, is God. The ‘One’ is supreme, although He has arms and legs doing different things both for and with Him, their reason is shared, whole and completely 'one.'

I suppose in much the same way, as husband and wife are ‘one’ .. that debate could spill over in that regard, but that is not my motive for asking these questions. So I ask again..

1. How can the ‘submission’ of Jesus be said to be for a limited time only, or be ‘temporal?’

2. Does that mean that the things God decides ‘outside’ time have limits too, as this decision did?

3. Is the ‘arm’ or ‘Son’ still the Son? He’s fulfilled His Father’s [and His own] wishes, voluntarily .. without ‘will’ of His own. Using my above analogy, it’s entirely possible to thrust one’s arm into the fire and damage it in order to save the whole body. Incredible, brave, generous, breathtaking .. but possible. “I am the way etc.”

4. Whereas, doesn’t the limit of ‘temporal’ mean somehow that the ‘arm’ or ‘Son’ was coerced, DID have a ‘will’ that was different? I know I can’t possibly disagree with these great minds you quote .. but my poor brain comes to the opposite conclusion.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
Apart from the fact that I may not have the ability to respond to such important questions, I am going to have to plead too much to do/too many deadlines re any possibility of an instant reply. I will get back to you!