Now that my serialised posting of My Lord and My God is done, we can tackle what is, for Anglicans at least, the obvious question: what relationship does this have with the Sydney Anglicans’ contention that subordination does, in fact exist in the Trinity? This has been batted around since the issue first hit the Sydney Synod back in 1999. Defence of same has followed, from this to this and this.
You have to hand it to the Sydney Anglicans: the Archdiocese which has “stood firm” while the rest of the Province has wavered didn’t get that way by messing around. Subordinationism per se has been generally regarded as heretical since the collapse of the Roman Empire. For an Archdiocese that prides itself by its orthodoxy, it was a bold move.
The weak point in Sydney’s idea is that one can separate the function of the persons of the Trinity from their essence. As Mark Thompson put it in his monograph:
Again, the word ‘subordination’ is often taken to mean that one person is somehow less than the other. In this particular case, some suggest the word implies a ‘subordination of being’, that the Son is somehow placed below the Father in being. In other words, he is not as fully God as the Father is. This is indeed the ancient heresy of Arius and those who advocate this view clearly stand outside the orthodox Christian tradition. Yet there is another way of speaking about ‘subordination’: to refer to a difference in function between the Father and the Son. This is ‘functional subordination’ and it is very different from the suggestion that the Son is somehow less God than the Father. Far from being a false reduction of the Son’s divine nature, this way of speaking emphasises both a sameness of nature or being and a difference in function. The Doctrine Commission’s report makes clear repeatedly that it is using the word ‘subordination’ in this second way. It explicitly and repeatedly denies a ‘subordination of being’.
That is simply a theological nonstarter. God’s essence, his attributes and his actions are one in the same; they cannot be separated. Back when David Ould attempted his last defence of this topic, I pointed this out to him, to which his response was as follows:
And yet, surely, they do! It’s simply not enough for us to state that “all attributes to God are essential to Him” without also recognising that there is a clear distinction between the Father, Son and Spirit. They are three persons who relate to one another in particular but not identical ways. Thus unless one wants to just blend all three into non-differentiated persons (in which case, why are they three persons in the first place) we have to concede that there are differences.
And this is seen, not least, in the particular relationship between Father and Son.
To which I responded as follows:
Although there is no doubt that there are differences amongst the persons of the Trinity, the requirement that divine attributes be essential to God stands, unless, like Moses Maimonides, you assert that you really cannot state that any characteristic be properly attributed to God.
The problem of the subordination of the Son to the Father vs. the deity of the Son is one of the stickier problems in Christian theology. Ante-Nicene theology was uniformly subordinationist and (especially in the East) infused with Logos theology which (I think) originated with Philo. The problem—and anyone who has read Origen wrestle with this issue, esp. in his Commentary on John is aware of this—is that, in the context of Greek philosophy, there was no “clean way” to assert the inequality of the Father and the Son without potentially compromising the Son’s deity. That became Arius’ sticking point, and his solution was to deny the deity of the Son. The Church rejected Arius’ solution, and rightly so, but still using Greek philosophy to explain the relationship of the persons of the Trinity amongst each other, has ended up setting subordinationism aside in order to preserve the theistic integrity of the Trinity.
Subordinationism and logos theology, however, are essential in establishing a connection between God and his creation that precedes the Incarnation of the Son. That’s an important point; it was certainly so in Patristic times, when the Greeks asserted that the “God over all” had little or no interest or connection with the creation, and today with Islam. I am aware, however, that the interest in Anglican circles re subordinationism has not been driven by this consideration.
Having considered this at length, I came to realise that the solution to this conundrum doesn’t come from philosophy but from mathematics, which is why I wrote My Lord and My God. This basically allows subordinationists to have our/their cake and eat it too, i.e., assert the essential, uncreated nature of the Godhead in all of his Persons and at the same time recognise the subordination/difference amongst same Persons.
Although I understand Anglicans’ dislike for theological adventurism given 40+ years of hard experience in the matter, I think a solution of this kind is important if we are to understand the God we worship and communicate to the very limited extent that we can the reality of his nature.
He never responded to this. To my mind, I’m not sure whether he understands what I am trying to do or not. But what I have done has solved a critical theological problem of their own making, and I always try to appreciate people who bail me out when I’m in a tight place.
But that leads us to the motivation of the Sydney Anglicans’ embrace of this theology; subordinationism above leads to subordinationism below, and especially between men and women. But here too I don’t think they have thought things out very well.
If we go back to the infinity model, we can show that, within the Godhead, the Son can be less than the Father, and the Spirit less than the Son. But what does that really mean? We instinctively see that, if we do the area comparison analogy, the Son’s area is “less” than the Father’s. Since the days of Dedekind and Cantor it has been shown that all infinities are not equal; establishing a neat “ratio” between them is another matter altogether. Thus subordination and rank in the Godhead don’t mean the same thing as it does here. That’s perfectly fitting with the nature of God and the nature of his creatures. As God himself explained to Isaiah, “”My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways,” declares the LORD. “Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”” (Isaiah 55:8-9 GW)
Bringing things back to earth, the Sydney Anglicans use subordinationism to buttress their idea that, just as there is subordination in God, so also should there be subordination between men and women. But that doesn’t take into consideration one important aspect of the classical world: the system was rank-driven from top to bottom. Modern concepts of “equality” were unknown in the ancient world, and the concept is dicey even today, although we try very hard to hide that fact. A high-born woman would have been superior to a low-born man, especially if the latter happened to be her slave. The Roman system had patricians and plebeians built into the system at the start, and ended up with the honestiores and humiliores at the end. All of these categories were populated by both sexes.
So I think we’re going to have to look elsewhere to the solution of this problem. In the meanwhile I think I have demonstrated that the Sydney Anglicans’ concept of subordinationism in the Trinity is lame and subject to revision.