Subordination Within The Godhead

The Historical Development of "Arian style" (Jehovah's Witness) Subordination:

  1. "The Apologists were, in a sense, the Church's first theologians: the first to attempt a sketch of trinitarian doctrine and an intellectually satisfying explanation of Christ's relation to God the Father. They identified Christ with God, with the Logos, with the Son of God, but they seemed to count His Sonship not from eternity but from the moment of his pre-creational generation. In thus using a two-stage theory of a pre-existent Logos to explain the Son's divine status and His relation to the Father. They Probably did not realize that this theory had a built-in 'inferiorizing principle' that would win for them the accusation of 'subordinationism.' Origen, the greatest theologian of the East, rejected this two-stage theory and maintained the eternal generation of the Son. But to reconcile the eternity of the Son with a strict monotheism, he resorted to a Platonic hierarchical framework for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and ended up by also making the Son and Holy Spirit not precisely creatures but 'diminished gods.' Thus two currents of thought and belief began to stand out. One read the Biblical witness to God as affirming that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three who are equally God and somehow one God. The other read the Biblical witness differently and concluded that Christ, although divine to some extent, was not equal to the Father in divinity but somehow an 'inferior god.' This set the stage for Arius, one of the pivotal figures in the development of trinitarian dogma. The idea of a 'diminished god' he found repugnant. Christ, he declared. must be either God or creature. But since God is and must be uncreated, unoriginated, unbegotten, and the Son is and must be originated and begotten, He cannot be God but must be a creature. And thus the subordinationist tendency in the Apologists and Origen reached full term. Now the Church had to make its faith and its position clear, and it did this at the Council of Nicea in 325. the first ecumenical council. There it rejected Arius' doctrine that the Son is not true God but is a creature. (The Triune God, Edmund Fortman, introduction, p.xv)
  2. In their somewhat infelicitous attempts to explain the Son's divine status and His relation to the Father by a two-stage theory of a preexistent Logos, the Apologists obscured if they did not deny the eternal personality and the eternal generation of the Son. Clement and Origen rejected the two-stage theory of the Apologists and maintained the eternal generation of the Son. But Origen, in his attempt to combine strict monotheism with a hierarchical order in the Trinity, ended up by making the Son and the Holy Spirit not precisely creatures but 'diminished gods,' inferior to the Father who alone was God in the strict sense. The stage was set for Arius. He saw in Scripture, the Apologists, and especially Origen two interwoven ideas. One that the Son was God. The other that the Son was subordinate and inferior to the Father in divinity. He saw a tension between a Father alone was God in the strict sense and that the Son was a 'diminished god' but not a creature, and he was not satisfied with the tension. He felt it must be resolved, and so he put a blunt question: Is the Son God or creature? He answered his question just as bluntly: The Son is not God, He is a perfect creature, not eternal but made by the Father out of nothing. And thus the subordinationist tendency in the Apologists and in Origen had reached full term. (The Triune God, Edmund Fortman, p68-70)
  3. The Apologists went further. They affirmed that God is one but also triadic. To Christ they ascribed divinity and personality explicitly. to the Holy Spirit only implicitly. To try to express Christ's mysterious relationship with God. they used the concept of a pre-existing Logos somehow originating in and inseparable from the Godhead, which was generated or emitted for the purposes of creation and revelation. Thus they had what is called a 'two-stage theory of the pre-existent Logos.' or a Logos endiathetos and a Logos prophorikos. But in describing the origin of the Logos-Son, they sometimes presented the personality of the Logos and the generation of the Son so obscurely as to leave a strong impression that the Logos-Son was a non-eternal divine person, a diminished God drastically subordinate to the Father. But they did not go as far as the later Arians would and make the Son only a creature and an adopted son of God. (The Triune God, Edmund Fortman, p59-61)
  4. To some extent Origen was a subordinationist, for his attempt to synthesize strict monotheism with a Platonic hierarchical order in the Trinity could have and did have only a subordinationist result. He openly declared that the Son was inferior to the Father and the Holy Spirit to the Son. But he was not an Arian subordinationist for he did not make the Son a creature and an adopted son of God. Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria made a notable, if unintended, contribution to the developing crisis by bringing into prominence the three basic trinitarian deviations that are known to history as Sabellianism, Subordinationism, and Tritheism. and the urgent need of precise trinitarian concepts, terms, and distinctions. His encounter with the Pope of Rome also turned a strong light on the term homoousios that was soon to occupy the center of the stage at Nicea. (The Triune God, Edmund Fortman, p59-61)
  5. But Justin describes this Logos as a second God, one who proceeded from the Father before creation in the manner of word or fire or spring water. "The Father of the Universe has a Son, who also, being the first-born Logos of God, is God." Tatian too has a Logos doctrine but speaks of Christ as "the God who suffered." Similarly, Clement refers to Christ as God. In spite of these points, the Christology of the apologies, like that of the New Testament, is essentially subordinationist. The Son is always subordinate to the Father, who is the one God of the Old Testament. (Gods and the One God, Robert M. Grant, p109)
  6. "Thus, the New Testament established the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. Initially, both the requirements of monotheism inherited from the Old Testament and the implications of the need to interpret the biblical teaching to Greco-Roman paganism seemed to demand that the divine in Christ as the Word, or Logos, be interpreted as subordinate to the Supreme Being. An alternative solution was to interpret Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three modes of the self-disclosure of the one God but not as distinct within the being of God itself. The first tendency recognized the distinctness among the three, but at the cost of their equality and hence of their unity (subordinationism); the second came to terms with their unity, but at the cost of their distinctness 'as "persons" (modalism)." (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1979, Trinity, Vol. X, p.126)
  7. Third century monarchianism arose as a backlash against Logos theology, which was feared to jeopardize the unity of God; the modalism of Sabellius admitted the distinctions in history but denied their reality in God's being. Origen (died c. 254) contributed the idea of the eternal generation of the Son within the being of God; although other aspects of Origen's theology later were judged to be subordinationist, his teaching that the Son is a distinct hypostasis brought about subtle changes in conceptions of divine paternity and trinity. In the West, Tertullian (d. 225?) formulated an economic trinitarian theology that presents the three persons as a plurality in God. Largely because of the theology of Arius, who about 320 denied that Christ was fully divine, the Council of Nicaea (325) taught that Christ is homoousios (of the same substance) with God. The primary concern of Athanasius (d. 373), the great defender of Nicene orthodoxy, was salvation through Christ; if Christ is not divine, he cannot save. ... The Greek approach can be represented by a line: Godhood originates with the Father, emanates toward the Son, and passes into the Holy Spirit who is the bridge to the world. Greek theology (following the New Testament and early Christian creeds) retains the "monarchy" of the Father who as sole principle of divinity imparts Godhood to Son and Spirit. The Greek approach tends toward subordinationism (though hardly of an ontological kind) or, in some versions, to tritheism since in Greek theology each divine person fully possesses the divine substance. The Latin approach can be represented by a circle or triangle. Because the emphasis is placed on what the divine persons share, Latin theology tends toward modalism (which obscures the distinctiveness of each person). Also the Trinity is presented as self-enclosed and not intrinsically open to the world. Principles of Trinitarian Doctrine. ... Arian subordinationism (ontological hierarchy of persons), Sabellian modalism (no real distinctions "in" God), and Macedonianism (denial of the divinity of the Holy Spirit). (The Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade, Trinity, Vol 15, p53-57)
  8. "Arianism is a union of adoptionism with the Origenistic-Neo-Platonic doctrine of the subordinate Logos which is the spiritual principle of the world, carried out by means of the resources of the Aristotelian dialectics" ... "only as cosmologians are the Arians monotheists; as theologians and in religion they are polytheists; finally in the background lie deep contradictions: A Son who is no Son, a Logos which is no Logos, a monotheism which does not exclude polytheism, two or three who are to be adored, while really only one differs from the creatures, an indefinable being who only becomes God in becoming man, and who is neither God nor man." (Outlines of the History of Dogma, Adolf Harnack, p251)

  By Steve Rudd


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