Blog Archives

McCall on subordinationism in the Trinity

Nick Norelli has posted a really nice review of Tom McCall’s new book Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?: Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology. This is one that I’m hoping to read myself (some day). Although he’s appreciative overall, he does push back on Tom’s argument that a strong view of eternal functional subordination (i.e. the Son is functional subordinate in all possible times and all possible worlds) entails a denial of the homoousios because it means that the Son necessarily and essentially has a property that the Father does not have.

Tom’s argument basically works like this (as I understand it from a paper he presented at ETS some time back). Everyone in this particular debate agrees that the Son is functionally subordinate the Father in the incarnation. The question is whether he was so before the incarnation. Tom is willing to concede that this might be so as long as it was conceivably possible for him to not be functionally subordinate (i.e. even if the functional subordination is eternal, it must still be voluntary). If, he argues, it is not even conceivably possible that the Son could have chosen not to be functionally subordinate (i.e., it is essentially necessary in all times and possible worlds), then it is not a voluntary subordination. Instead, it is a necessary and essential attribute of the Son to be subordinate to the Father. And, Tom concludes, since this is clearly not an essential and necessary attribute of the Father’s, then the Son and Father are not homoousios.

Since many of you have recently spent some time in the Greek Fathers wrestling with precisely these kinds of questions, I’m curious as to how you would respond to this argument. Would you agree with Tom that there must be an essential egalitarianism (at least conceptually) within the Trinity so that the Son’s subordination is eternally voluntary, or would you contend that the Son can be necessarily subordinate to the Father while still remaining homoousios with the Father? Or, are you so confused by my explanation that you have no idea what to think?