четверг, 16 июня 2016 г.

The Father as the beginning (arche) of the Godhead (contribution to the ongoing debate on Trinitarian theology and subordinationism)

The debate regarding Trinitarian theology and subordinationism continues in evangelical circles in the USA and beyond.

The debate surrounds the question of the eternal relations within the Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and whether this might provide a theological underpinning for relations within the family.

On one side are advocates of what has been termed 'eternal subordination', including Wayne Grudem and Mike Ovey. On the other side are those who oppose any notion of eternal subordination.

Issues about theology proper, the doctrine of God, are so central to everything that it is hard to overestimate their significance. We are talking about the Being at the centre of everything that exists, commanding our worship and service.

One of the lynch-pins of historic Trinitarian theology has been the notion of personal properties of the divine persons. In historic, Biblical Trinitarian theology the persons of the Godhead are not only each equal and equally worthy of being "worshipped and glorified"; they are also distinguished from one another. These distinctive properties are termed in Greek idiotetes, whereas in Latin theology the focus was on relationships (relationes).

In the words of Donald Fairbairn, "The Father is not exactly the same as the Son, because if he were, there would be two Brothers, not a Father and a Son. The Father is the head and the source of the Godhead, and the Son is God because he exists eternally in a filial relationship with the Father. SImilarly, the Spirit is God because he eternally proceeds from the Father, the source."

We should be careful not to venture too far in speculation in respect of God. However, within the bounds of the revelation we have, we can affirm that Father is unbegotten, begets and spirates; the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds. (We can for the moment leave aside the issue of whether the Son also spirates.) In affirming these truths we are affirming an order (the Greek word is taxis) within the eternal Trinity. In particular we are affirming the primacy of the Father. In traditional Trinitarian theology the terminology has been that the Father is the beginning (arche) and source of the Godhead.

What does it mean that the Father is unbegotten and the Son is begotten? Well, it means that one is the Father and the other the Son. But that is just repeating the obvious. It also means, and this is the inescapable logic of revelation, that the Son is OF the Father in a way that the Father is not OF the Son. In affirming that the Father is unbegotten and the Son is begotten we are affirming an asymmetrical relationship which begins with the Father. Traditionally this has meant a derivation of origin; Gregory of Nazianzus compares the Trinity to the first family - Adam was the father, Eve was taken from his side and Seth was born of him; and yet together they were the human race. John of Damascus writes that light comes from fire, not fire from light. However, even for those who would refuse to speculate on such matters, even if we perceive of the Trinity only in terms of relationships, it is the Father who first loves the Son and the Son who receives this love and responds. Either way the Father is the beginning (arche), the starting point; as such he has primacy within the Godhead.

Notwithstanding his contribution to this doctrine which further undergirded the equality of the Son, Calvin wrote in the Institutes, "... but inasmuch as the Father is first in order and of himself begat his own Wisdom, he, as we lately observed, is justly regarded as the principle and fountain of all the Godhead" (Institutes, I.13.25)

In Christian theology there is a concept called Rahner's rule which states, "The economic Trinity is the essential Trinity." Deciphered this means that the way in which the persons of the Godhead interact as they perform the works of creation and salvation reflects the eternal relations which exist between them. In John's gospel especially countless times Jesus speaks of his deference to the Father and his dependence on him. He does so not only as incarnate Man before eternal God, but as eternal Son before this heavenly Father. For example John 5:26. "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself." Not 'the Son of Man', not 'Christ', but the Son.

It may well be that the language of submission and subordination is too ambiguous and tainted with controversy to be appropriate in our Trinitarian theology. And at all times we must all affirm the equality of the Son and Spirit with the Father. However in so doing we must not allow the expediency of controversy and earthly agendas to blur our vision as to the distinctive personal properties of the divine persons - Unbegottenness, Begottenness and Procession. And, if we are to be true to our Lord Jesus Christ, we must not be loath to affirm the Father as the beginning (arche) of the Godhead.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Amen. 

1 комментарий:

  1. This blog post has been slightly amended, having taken advice from a respected theologian of the Trinity. I have altered the wording of the paragraph speaking about the unbegottenness of the Father and the begottenness of the Son in terms of what the Father is and the Son isn't and what the Father does and the Son does not do. Instead I have opted to speak of an asymmetrical relationship between the Father and the Son, whereby the Son is OF the Father in a way the Father is not OF the Son.

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