Tuesday, May 16

Functional Subordination Again

Here's how I responded to Ilona's commments in the discussion on the Trinity at Intellectuelle today. Ilona's remarks are in italics; mine are not.
Gregory of Nyssa, of the Cappadocian Fathers: "[action] starts off from the Father as from a spring; it is effected by the Son, and by the power of the Spirit it completes its grace. All providence, care, and attention of all ... and the preservation of what exists, ... is one and not three." Whose discourse on this gives a sense of how the roles of the Godhead interact.

This expresses roles, but not dominance; rather mutuality of roles. It isn't command and obey, it is how the Godhead works in union.


Gregory of Nyssa’s quote seems to me to be exactly the historical Christian view of the trinity, which is not subordinationism, which has always been considered heresy; but what has been called functional subordination, which affirms distinction of roles within the trinity. The Father directs, the Son acts as the agent, working what the Father has started by his decree, and the Spirit assist both the Father and the Son.

And I don’t see dominance either, but rather directing by the Father, and willing effecting of the Father’s will by the Son. It’s not mutuality of roles, because the roles are different. The persons of the Godhead do different things, but there is is unity of purpose, and that’s the way they work in union.

Immediately such verses as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" come to my mind. This appeared to have been agreed upon within the Godhead

I would agree that it was agreed upon (I wouldn’t think the Son ever disagreed with the Father), but nonetheless, scripture uses the word “send” for the role the Father plays in the incarnation, and the sending by the Father had to occur before the actual incarnation itself, and the Son agreeing to come as sent by the Father had to occur before the incarnation itself. In fact, I would argue that these different roles were part of the pact made in eternity before creation itself--that Christ was foreordained as "the sent one" before the time began, which means that God existed as the sender, and Christ existed as "the sent one" in eternity.

In order to come into the earth on His mission, the Son had to empty Himself, this is the submission,

I think emptying himself refers not to the whole of the Son's submission (although he emptied himself as part of his submission), but particularly to Christ voluntarily giving up the glory, rights, perogative, etc that was due him as diety to come in human form.

and I think it comes from the mutual desire in the Godhead to fulfill a particular goal that God decided upon.

I don’t disagree with this.

I don't think this proves an eternal type of subordination, although I see the temptation to read back into God's Person from this.

I don’t think it’s just a temptation to read back. I think it has to do with the immutability (or eternality) of God. The way the persons of the trinity relate to each other can't change. The relationship between them is an eternally unchanging relationship.

I think we see those roles in creation as well, BTW. We have God the Father creating the world through Christ’s agency (Hebrews 1:2). God the Father speaks the words of creation that bring everything into existence, but the work of creation is done by the Son.

And it is the Father who appointed the Son heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2 again). The Son has authority, but he has the authority as appointed by the Father.

There is a mutuality of giving glory. Although here I would say, wouldn't it be Christ's great desire to give all as a gift to His Father, and isn't the Father's stated desire to give all to the Son? And doesn't the Holy Spirit delight in glorifying Christ, who glorifies the Father?

I’m not sure there’s a mutuality of giving glory, depending, I guess on what you mean by giving glory. I think, for example, that in his role, the Spirit gives glory to the other two, but I have a hard time finding any scripture that reverses things, and has the Father or the Son giving glory to the Spirit. (This is not to say that they three persons aren’t equal in glory, just that the Spirit seems to defer his glory to the other two.)

And I think it’s fairly clear in 1 Corinthians 15 that in the consummation of all things, Christ subjects himself to the Father so that God the Father may be all in all. (Paul is using the name “God” in this passage to refer to the Father, as he usually does, and as the context suggests.) I don’t think you can find anywhere in scripture where the Father subjects himself to the Son, and yet here, at the consummation of all things, when everything is put exactly and forever in order, you have the Son subjecting himself to the Father. He is acknowledging, willingly, the eternal priority of the Father.

And one thing not mentioned by any of us, doesn't God glorify us? Are we not in the process of going from glory to glory? There is alot we are not understanding in this concept of glory. I think it would be a mistake to attribute this to some dominance of the Father over the Son.

Ahhh...but the purpose of our glorification (or our salvation) is to glorify God, in particular his attribute of grace. Our glorification is only a means to an end, the end being the glorification of God. God works it, so he is the only one who gets glory. The boast (or glory) in our recreation is God’s alone because it comes about as a work of his grace. (See Ephesians 1, Ephesians 2, 1 Corinthians 1 etc.)

The first question I would put to you in interpreting the creed in the way you do is this:"And what does the Father do?"

The Father wills. The Father decrees. The Father plans. The Father sends. The Father gives.

In the meaning of 'what is a father' and 'what is a son' is the fact that the one comes from the other. If this were the same substance, which it is, does this mean eternal dominance?

I wouldn't use the word dominance. Eternal ultimate authority, yes, but not necessarily dominance, depending I guess, on what you mean by that word.

Can you explain to me what you think it means that the Son comes from the Father? Why do the creeds say that the Father is not from the Son? What does that mean? It can’t refer to origins, since they are both eternal. It can’t refer to substance (or likeness), since they are of the same substance, and have been eternally. It can’t be talking only of the incarnation, since that the Son is from the Father is an eternal thing. What does it mean?

Essentially you are stating the equality, for if someone willingly gives something and does not owe it, they are acting from an equal position.

Yes, exactly. That’s what functional subordination is. Equal essence, equal status, equal value, equal glory, equal power, but different roles. Not inferior roles, either, but subordinate roles. By choice.

I hesitate to use the word “position” because I don’t know what you mean by it. If all you mean by it is status, then I’d agree. If you mean that they have the same “job” or that there is no priority in order within their roles, then I’d disagree.

When transposing this idea to men and women, if women willingly give submission it is something quite different from and inate position of inferiority or as subordinate.

Exactly. And functional subordination doesn’t say that the subordination of Christ to the Father comes from an inate (or characteristic) position of inferiority, either. It is a willing subordination in role among equals.

When we are talking about man/woman relationship of order and rule/subordination are we not discussing the outcome of the fall?

I don’t think so. The roles come out of the order of creation (man was formed first), and before that, out of the order of the Godhead. The man named the woman, showing his authority, before creation the fall. That things turn nasty on us--that husbands dominate or lord it over wives--comes out of the fall. That wives fight for control over their husbands comes out of the fall.

And through Christ, are we not to overcome this disadvantage and go on into renewing our minds with the reality of what we find in the example of Christ?

We certainly should work to overcome the results of the curse. But the particular roles weren’t given in the curse, but before that, and I wouldn’t call the different roles a “disadvantage”, either.

Let me ask you a question in regards to the Trinity as it exists eternally. How are the persons in the trinity differentiated? You’ve explained how you think they are eternally the same, but how are they eternally different?
And yep, it's 11 AM and I'm still in my pajamas. You see why I don't do this sort of thing as much as I used to. I know other people can probably whip these sorts of responses off in no time at all, but it doesn't work that way for me.

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