Monday, May 15, 2006

I and my Father are one

I would like to respond to Rebecca's post on the topic of the functional subordination of the Son.

Father and Son

I believe that the term 'son' when used for Christ does not reflect a begotten or generated child or offspring. It means that Christ is of the same nature as God and then becomes of the same nature as humanity. Christ is fully human and fully divine.

The human father and son is not a permanent or eternal authority/submission relationship. The human son must always grow up and become the fully mature adult. A permanent functional subordination of son to father is a distortion of all that is healthy and normal. This would be the handicapped child. Not an eternal ideal. The struggle for maturity and the shift of power typifies the human father/son relationship. The eternal father and son are of the same nature and essence as each other; they are never locked in a struggle for power. Power is perfectly at rest between them because their will is one, but not by nature of subordination.

Christ is eternal with the father and was not begotten by him. There is no temporal difference in their existance. Christ is uniquely of the father, but not generated by him.

Submission to death

Christ voluntarily emptied himself and became human. He took on a mortal human nature and submitted to death. He submitted as a human to pain and suffering in order to share in our nature fully. As a human he fully experienced submission to the will of his father in heaven and to an unjust execution at the hands of a human government.

Christ did not rejoice or see beauty in death. He experienced suffering, grief and sorrow. Otherwise he could not identify with us. We do not rejoice in death other than in our sharing with Christ and knowing his victory over death. Christianity is in no way masochistic.

Christ in heaven

Christ is given all authority in heaven, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him. He is utterly unlimited in power, but by his nature he will never have a separate will from the father. This is a mystery, but the mystery is that there is oneness of will, and not subordination and authority. If it were submission/authority, it would not be a mystery. We would have a human, and humanly understood, religion.

I believe that Christ came in oneness of will with the father and not in subordination to the father. Christ is now the head of everything and is accorded this by the one to whom it was not unlawful for him to consider himself equal. Christ is subject to the father in that it is impossible for Christ to have a separate will from the father. That does not mean that he submits his will, but rather that in his divine nature his will does not differ from the father. Only in humanity Christ's will differed, because he wanted to avoid death. Then he submitted his human will to his father.

Hierarchy on earth

There are two places where the scriptures explicitly teach that the human understanding of hierarchy is not what God wants for humankind. First, in 1 Samuel 8:9, God tells Samuel to warn the people that a king who reigns over them will claim rights. The monarchy of Israel is a concession to human desire for visible order. In Luke 22:25 Christ says, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves benefactors."

Even the law and the priesthood were a temporal and impermanent order. The law was added because of our transgressions. When we are adopted into God's family we are not under the law. However, as humans we always want to be in a submission/authority relationship because we do not understand freedom and are not able to remain in God's will for us.

This is how I have understood it over the years. I did not know there were other teachings on this topic until recently.


Anonymous said...

Suzanne, what about Genesis 1:29 and God's command to man, "fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth?" In the Augustinian explanation where our sin is seen as the result of a misdirection of the good desires that God has implanted in us onto improper objects, we would say that man was intended to rule collectively over the creation (which is already a sort of hierarchy), but that this desire is misdirected so that people wish to dominate other people, which is not part of the original plan.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

This understanding of the Trinity is fairly novel as far as it employs the language of "roles." The members of the Trinity "play" these "roles" in the process of redemption and therefore, like the men-woman issue, men and women "play roles" of function that image the Trinity's hierarchy.

The problem with this, as many recognize, is that the "roles" are ETERNAL and that something WITHIN the persons makes them this way. The biggest flaw this view has is that the Lordship atribute of authority only belongs to the Father and not to the Son or Spirit. Hence, this denies the ontological equality of the persons and moves towards semi-Arianism in theory (not in practice, of course).

Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I don't know if you are doing this deliberately or unknowingly, but by denying that Christ is begotten or generated by the Father you are going against orthodox Christian teaching as expressed in the Creeds. Now I don't think that your basic beliefs are unorthodox or against the Creeds, it is just how you have expressed them. You rightly and orthodoxly state that Christ is eternal with the Father and was not begotten or generated in time, i.e. at any point of time. The orthodox view is that this is something eternal, an eternal state rather than a past event. And if there is any distinction between these two persons of the Trinity, it has to be this, for it is this which makes one the Father and the other the Son. But I would agree with you that this eternal distinction does not imply an eternal hierarchy of authority, for both are Lord.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


There are even those who would question whether we as fallen creatures rightly have dominion over nature. It is an interesting question but beyond the intents of this blog. Hosever, it is a good lateral connection for thinking about issues of authority and dominion.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I deliberately chose to avoid the language of the creeds. They did not influence my thinking. I do not necessarily disagree with them, but it is not how I would put it. I am aware that it sounds as if I disagree but I would have to know how others understand the creeds before I would do this.

First, I understand 'son of' from the Hebrew, of the same family, descent, group or category. Christ is God. Christ is Human.

Next, I understand that 'only begotten' can mean 'uniquely son of God.' I cannot agree that it means that Christ is begotten in either time or priority.

The phrase εν αρχη John 1:1 means that Christ was with the father in the beginning in time and in supreme power and dominion or priority. The Greek αρχη says both to me, but maybe I mistake this.

In Aristotle, the father - son relationship is hierarchical only inasmuch as it is limited in time. The son matures and is no longer in a natural hierarchic relationship with his father. With maturity he gains authority. He is no longer inferior. This is not a matter of law so much as a statement of the natural relations between them. An eternal hierarchy between father and son doesn't sound quite right to me.

The language of hierarchy is our human way of expressing the desire for a unity of will. It will never happen on earth but we want it. We think that unity is fulfilled in hierarchy. However, God will bring about unity of will in his own way.

Ruud Vermeij said...

Hi all,

There is an excellent article on this subject by Gilbert Bilezikian.

There is also a nice article on Nicea.

Jeremy Pierce said...

As far as I can tell, Adam is repeating an egalitarian meme with no basis in history. The quotes Rebecca gives show that there were plenty of people who held that the economic trinity (with different roles) is not inconsistent with the ontological trinity (with equality of being). My recent post also deals with this. See especially the comment I left this morning (May 17, 2006 07:42 AM) for historical sources for this view, including Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. This general sort of view is the orthodox view. Those who deny any role distinctions among the Trinity that might possibly be read as giving the Father greater authority while retaining equality of nature with the Son are denying the traditionally orthodox position.

This isn't a complementarian issue, either. Complementarians do use this as an argument, but some egalitarians acknowledge this, most notably Craig Keener, who doesn't think it entails complementarianism but does think it allows it. In fact, it isn't an argument for complementarianism. It's a defense of the consistency of ontological unity and equality with economic or functional role difference.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Ruud,

“God is a
Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”

I am very glad that I wrote my post first, without reference to any other text, and clearly stated that I believe in the equal power of Christ because of the NT, not because of Bilezikian.

But now that I read this article, I do indeed agree with it, above all, the fact that Christ came voluntarily. It was in becoming human of his own will that he accepted death, not in Gethsemane. I would not want a sacrificed Christ.

I have to say that I find this article excellent but it did not exert any influence on me.


I could not respond to the langauge of the creeds without having all the references in Greek, which I don't have at the moment. I think my difficulty with the word 'begotten' is a specific language problem.

I won't be accusing people of heresy on this account. However, I have worked hard to think about Christ the way I do my whole life, but I only knew of a connection to the gender debate very recently.

What has influenced me is my upbringing in the Brethren which taught me to be suspicious of hierarchy as an ideal, but appreciative of it as a human structure. I don't think that the Brethren are altogether realistic, but I respect the ideal of the leading of the Spirit. Then later my MA was on the history of diocesan boundaries in the Anglican Church of Canada as it relates to Native language issues, so once again I plunged into a contemplation of hierarchy.

I find hierarchy to be only a fallible reflection of the desire for unity that God has instilled in us. Nothing more.

I appreciate the detail of how you and ohers have presented the creeds and will look at them soon in the light that you suggest.

On the separation of ontological and functional equality, I find few complementarians that claim that women are equally equipped to lead, but are not allowed the function of leading.

They seem to say that women must not have the function of leading because they have not been given the this function within their created nature. So how does one separate function and nature?

And is Christ the same in nature as the father, but not the same in authority. What would Aristotle make of that? A woman is under her husband's authority according to A., because she was by nature without authority, ακυριος. Is Christ, our Lord also ακυριος?

Ruud Vermeij said...

There is a Greek version of Nicea at Wikipedia.

I like your thoughts on hierarchy.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks, yes that explains what I meant about 'begotten'. It is a very good discussion there.

Peter Kirk said...

The Nicene Creed (thank you, Ruud, for the link) calls Christ not only τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ "the only Son of God" but also τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων "the one begotten of the Father before all ages". So "begotten" does not come from a misunderstanding of μονογενής. In fact it is probably based on Psalm 2:7 (LXX) as quoted and explicitly applied to Christ in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5; all three read Υἱός μου εἶ σύ, ἐγὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε "You are my Son, today I have begotten you". So it is a biblical thought. Of course the concept of "begotten" no more implies eternal subordination than does the concept "son".

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I have been thinking about Psalm 2 also, I just looked it up, but I don't have a clear idea in my mind about it right now. I wonder how the phrase was intended, except to make clear the sameness of his nature. Maybe I'll do some reading about this later.

I found a Tartar Creed here recently.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

It seems that quite a few commentaries rightly point out that "This day have I begotten you" applies clearly to either his incarnation or even more likely his resurrection. The emphasis seems to be on his identity with God, and his all-powerful being.

A much more detailed dialogue on subordination has been going on over at Intellectuelle in the comment section.

Ruud Vermeij said...

Another creed, the Doctrines of the Salvation Army