Yesterday, I posted on the opposing categories of “essence” and “function” and how both of these can’t exist as absolutes side-by-side because they are both opposite phrases of “equal in essence” and “subordinate in function.” I then took you, the reader, through the ridiculousness of the subordinationists’logic—which is demonstrated when they add the word “eternally” in front of both opposing statements (as if this actually helps the problem). Now what they’ve done is affirmed that these two OPPOSING STATEMENTS can exist AT THE SAME TIME IN THE SAME WAY throughout infinity! This is like saying that a person can be both tall and short at the same time throughout all eternity. When subordinationists accept this contradiction, however, they are going against rules of common logic.
Tonight, though, I’m back to deal with the words of Gregg Allison, who is a professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. Allison was asked by Randy Stinson, who chaired the event, to explain “the discrepancy in the debate” over the church fathers and the Trinity. According to Courtney Reissig, Allison responded as such:
“Because the early church did not specifically discuss authority and submission in their teaching on the Trinity, Erickson takes this as the early church fathers not holding to authority and submission. Allison said that the church fathers saw authority and submission as so natural that they did not have to make it explicit in their writings.”
For those who wanna see the article for themselves, go to the following site:
What amazed me most about Allison’s quote is that he advocates the subordinationist position, but does so for a poor reason: “the church fathers saw authority and submission AS SO NATURAL that they did not have to make it explicit in their writings.”
He is, however, incredibly wrong on this point. There is a reference to Jesus as “subordinate” (with the word “subordinate” mentioned) in a few of the church fathers, but not all. I will cover in this post the church fathers who reference the “subordination” or “inferiority” of Jesus in relation to God the Father.
First, we have the ante-Nicene (before the Nicene Creed) father Novatian:
“He [Jesus] is therefore the Son, not the Father: for He would have confessed that He was the Father had He considered Himself to be the Father; and He declares that He was sanctified by His Father. In receiving, then, sanctification from the Father, HE IS INFERIOR TO THE FATHER” (quoted by Millard Erickson in “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity?” page 143).
Next is the church father Athanasius:
“For we acknowledge, that though HE BE SUBORDINATE TO HIS FATHER AND GOD, yet, being before ages begotten of God, He is God perfect according to nature and true, and not first man and then God, but first God and then becoming man for us, and never having been deprived of being” (“Who’s Tampering With the Trinity?” page 148).
“And no one is ignorant, that it is Catholic doctrine, that there are two Persons of Father and Son, and that the Father is greater, and the Son SUBORDINATED TO THE FATHER together with all things which the Father has subordinated to Him” (148).
Erickson writes regarding Athanasius:
“Whether he saw the full implications of his view and would have applied them to these statements is not completely clear, but the principle of the double account, if carried through thoroughly, might have resolved these APPARENTLY CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS” (149).
As I stated in my blog post from yesterday called “Creative Absence,” one cannot hold to “equal essence” and “unequal function” at the same time without qualifying these two opposing statements. Athanasius, however, leaves them “in tandem” without qualifying the terms. Even though he mentions “subordination,” we still don’t know whether he would’ve qualified the subordination as “temporary” or “eternal.”
Hilary of Poitiers is another church father who writes about the subordination of the Son in his work, “On the Councils”:
“There is no question that THE FATHER IS GREATER. No one can doubt that THE FATHER IS GREATER THAN THE SON IN HONOR, DIGNITY, SPLENDOR, MAJESTY, AND IN THE VERY NAME OF FATHER, the Son Himself testifying, ‘He that sent Me is greater than I.’ And no one is ignorant that it is Catholic doctrine that there are two Persons of Father and Son; and that THE FATHER IS GREATER, AND THAT THE SON IS SUBORDINATED TO THE FATHER...” (Hilary of Poitiers; quoted by Millard Erickson in “Who’s Tampering,” page 151).
These three church fathers (Novatian, Athanasius, and Hilary of Poitiers) are the only three that mention “subordination” in their discussion of the Son’s relation to the Father.
Back to Allison’s quote: the church fathers did mention submission and authority, and some even labeled Jesus as “subordinated” in function. However, only three do so. And the fact that they mention “subordination” of any sort demonstrates that the church fathers felt the need to explicitly, in detail, set forth their theological convictions in writing. However, the “subordination” of Jesus is never qualified (we are just told that Christ is subordinate). So the question then becomes, if Jesus’ “functional subordination” was not qualified, then was His essence? Are there any clues about His essence and its eternality? That will be the subject of my next post...