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?
Here is my paper that I wrote for our Greek Father’s class. Before taking the class, the only thing I had heard about Origen was that he was a heretic. After studying him this semester, I found that my conclusions were wrong. There we definitely things he taught that would be considered unorthodox today, but he was clearly one of the first great Christian minds. Therefore, I submit this paper for your reading enjoyment.
Origen is one of the most controversial early church fathers. He was accused of heresy by the 5th Ecumenical Council and was excommunicated from the church. The anathema centered around several tenets of his theology, one of them being his doctrine of Subordinationism. Subordinationism was the teaching that the Son and Holy Spirit were both subordinate to the Father in nature and being. Origen is thought to be the first theologian to insinuate, if not out right teach such an idea, and that subsequent heresies derived their authority from Origen’s initial teaching. In light of this accusation, this paper attempts to do three things. The first section takes a look at what Origen actually said about the Father, Son, and Spirit and tries to piece together a coherent view of his Trinitarian theology. An explanation is then given as to why Origen appears to be misunderstood, and clearly affirms that he does not adhere to a doctrine of relational subordinationism within the Trinity, but does see a subordination of roles within the divine mission. The final section discusses two contradictions between Origen’s theology and that of the Arian doctrine that was linked to him.