The theory of subordinationism within the Trinity


#1

I came across the term subordinationism while looking in wikipedia. I was wondering is it heretical for a Catholic, or a Christian for that matter, to believe that there is some form of subordination within the Godhead?

In other word, is the whole idea of subordinationism considered heretical by the Church? Arius obviously believed that God isnt a Trinity, but I get the impression that the idea of subordinationism is not the same as Arianism. Apparently Origen believed in subordinationism as well, but probably not the same as Arius.

Because there are a few bible verses that may hint towards subordinationism:

1 Corinthians 15:28
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.

John 5:
26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself,
27 and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.

John 10:
29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

John 13:
16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.

John 14
28 You heard me say to you, `I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.

clerus.org/bibliaclerusonline/en/index.htm

The main verses which stick out for me are 1 Corinthians 15:28 and John 14:28.

What’s the Churchs position? From what Ive seen there doesnt seem to be much authoritative information on the Net, but some of you may know some.

Please don’t bite :wink:


#2

Subordinationism is considered heresy. It expresses an inequality between the three Persons of the Trinity.

Check the following site:
www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm
The article is quite long, but you can scroll down to the controversies (about 1/3 of the way down).

Here’s a quote regarding what the Church does teach (underlining mine):

Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.” In this Trinity of Persons the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God’s nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system.

Nita


#3

Thanks for responding Nita.

Wasnt Origen Trinitarian though? How come he had this line of thinking? Ive heard he had some heretical ideas, but is still greatly respected.

Has anyone noticed in the Apostle’s Creed (used before the formulation of the Nicene Creed), that only God is called Almighty, but not the and the Son and the Holy Spirit:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
born of the Virgin Mary.
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand
of **God the Father Almighty. **
From thence he shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

Text taken from Wikipedia

In actual fact, it doesnt seem to even say that the Son and the Holy Spirit are God as well.


#4

Keep in mind Origen lived before the Nicene Council - before the doctrine had been clearly defined. The Trinity had to be a difficult doctrine to clarify. Sometimes it seems all the wrong definitions need to be put forward first, and recognized as wrong, in order to ensure that when officially defined, the doctrine is comprehensive?? enough. (Don’t know if that makes any sense.)

Regarding the Apostle’s Creed, to call Jesus the Son of God was no doubt equivalent to calling Him “God” (at the time of the apostles). Recall the incident in the gospel where the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy because He called God His Father, thereby making Himself equal to God. (John 5:17-18)

Nita


#5

Para 1: I can undertand that you are saying that it was often because of the heresies that came up, that the church was able to define more clearly a doctrine.

Para 2: The reason I bring the Apostles Creed was for some more points regarding the idea of subordination within the Trinity, not to say that Jesus wasn’t God.

But, since you brought up, I want to add that I think Arius also claimed Jesus was divine, maybe God, but not on the same level as the Father.

I could imagine Arius using the Apostle’s creed to say that the Apostles thought that only the Father is Almighty, and that God has exalted Jesus and appointed Him to be ruler. But anyway…

Good point about John 5:17-18, but one could say that those words didnt mean Jesus agreed with them. Nor does it clearly refute the idea that although Jesus is God, He could still be eternally subordinate.


#6

Para 1: I can undertand that you are saying that it was often because of the heresies that came up, that the church was able to define more clearly a doctrine.

Para 2: The reason I bring the Apostles Creed was for some more points regarding the idea of subordination within the Trinity, not to say that Jesus wasn’t God.

But, since you brought up, I want to add that I think Arius also claimed Jesus was divine, maybe God, but not on the same level as the Father.

I could imagine Arius using the Apostle’s creed to say that the Apostles thought that only the Father is Almighty, and that God has exalted Jesus and appointed Him to be ruler. But anyway…

Good point about John 5:17-18, but one could say that those words didnt mean Jesus agreed with them, and that actually Jesus said Himself: “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I”. Nor does John 5:17-18 clearly refute the idea that although Jesus is God, He could still be eternally subordinate.

Only the Church can make an authoritative ruling regarding this matter. I myself cannot see how subordinationism can not be true by reading the Scriptures alone (outside the Church).

I mean even John 1:1 doesnt rule out subordinationism (as I understand), because the theory doesnt deny Jesus is God, but that He is nevertheless subordinate (or eternally subordinate) to the Father.

Therefore, arianism isnt the same as subordinationism.


#7

“and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived…”

The Apostle’s creed is not speaking of the Second Person of the Trinity in only His Divine nature, but specifically as united with His human nature. (Perhaps the point they were trying to make clear is that God truly became man; what would come to be defined as the hypostatic union.) In many of the Scripture passages where the Father is (or appears to be) identified as greater, the interpretation is that it is a reference to the human nature Our Lord assumed. Human nature will always be inferior to Divine nature.

Also, the title “Lord” is predominantly used in the Old Testament to refer to God; the Jews even substitued the word LORD for YHWH, God’s personal name, because they felt His name was too sacred to be uttered by humans.

Just some more thoughts.

Nita


#8

Im cautious when saying that Jesus is God simply because they called Him Lord, which is what they called God in the OT. One reason is this:

Read Acts 2:36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” .

If “Lord” always means God, how do we explain what St. Peter said not too long after the Ascension? He says that Jesus was made both Lord and Christ. There is a discussion about this in this thread.

I think that while “Lord” can be a title for God, it wasnt always used for that. Even now, some people are called “lord” like in Britain.


#9

I didn’t say it was always used for God, just predominantly - and, by the way, VERY predominantly. There are definitely some times when it was used for humans.
In the four gospels (when used as a noun) it seems to be used exclusively for:

  1. God,
  2. Jesus (who is of course God), and
  3. in parables where it is symbolic of God.
    But I would never consider that to be the only, or even the main reason, for believing Jesus is God.

Nita


#10

Well, we started out with subordinationism - but I checked out the thread you gave in your last post, and it appears the big question mark for you is the word “made” in the Acts passage. I hope it is not causing a crisis of faith in the deity of Our Lord for you (I’ve been through that and wouldn’t wish it on anyone).

I would refer you again to what I said about the human nature of Our Lord. Whenever the name “Jesus” is used, it is a reference to the Second Person of the Trinity in his human incarnation - it was the name given Him at His human birth. His mortal human body and human soul had a beginning in time - so you might say what pertains to them was “made”, that is, did not exist eternally (in the physical realm that is; divinely of course, our Triune God KNEW it eternally). Altho the Second Person of the Trinity was eternally Lord/God, His human nature was “made” Lord. Time (past,present,future) has application ONLY to Our Lord’s human nature.

Some concepts are very difficult for me to express verbally. Hope the above is understandable for you.

Nita


#11

Subordination does deny the deity of the other two Persons (Son and Holy Spirit) of the Trinity according to the Christian definition/understanding of “God”. God is almighty; if the other two Persons are somehow subordinate/less/lower in rank, then they are not “all mighty”. You can go through all the attributes of God accordingly. As soon as you come up with something “less”, then it no longer conforms to the Christian understanding of God.

Nita


#12

But even if there is subordination in the Trinity, that doesnt mean that Jesus or the Holy Spirit is “less” God does it because they each possess fully the nature of God. I think problems arise if we say that the Son or the Holy Spirit dont possess fully the natuer of God.

Because even according to Trinatarian philosophy, the Son is begotten of the Father, so without the Father there could be no Son. Is that right? Or is generating the Son something that “had” to happen for the Father to be/exist?

I hate to say it, but Im hung up over the Apostle’s creed saying that the Father is Almighty, but didnt bother to say that the Son or the Holy Spirit is; it would have been easy to include. In fact, all the creed says about the Holy Spirit is “I believe in the Holy Spirit”.


#13

More about subordinationism: wouldnt that be an explanation as to why it was the Son that was sent, and not the Father? And also why the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to the Church?

I think St. Augustine dealt with this issue, but I not sure what he said.

One could maybe say, that the Father sent the Son as the perfect sacrifice as a fulfillment (want of a better word) of when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son. But another person could argue that Father had already pre-ordained that the Son was to be sent before creation even came to be. This is really complex. :confused:


#14

But the attribute of “all mighty” is an attribute of the Divine nature. If it (almighty) does not apply to the Son and the Spirit, then they do not possess fully the nature of God. And if one doesn’t possess the FULL nature of God, then one isn’t God, but some sort of lesser being.

Part of the definition of “God” is the infinite degree of His attributes - ALL powerful, ALL knowing, etc. If it’s infinite in each of the Persons, then they are all equal, they possess the attribute equally. If it isn’t infinite in one of the Persons, then that Person would not be God.

John 16:15 All that the Father has* is mine**; *
Nita


#15

Subordinationism is classified as a heresy by the Catholic church because it denies one of the definitions of the Trinity. The definition of the trinity presented by the church:

  1. There is one God
  2. There are three persons (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) who are God.
  3. All three of the persons are equally God.

There is only one being or nature that is divine, but there are three persons who are the one being. Because all three persons share in the divine nature there cannot by definition be one that is more divine or more God than another. Subordination denies the divinity of one or more of the persons of the Trinity. One can be less than another only if one does not share the same nature as the others.

So Christ can only be less than the Father only if he is not divine. Since we as Christians believe in the divinity of Christ, we must also believe in His equality with the Father and the Spirit.

When viewing scripture that suggests inequality you must look at this in terms of either His humanity or His humility. The perfect verse which I believe is in one of the letters to Timothy (don’t have my Bible with me) is: Though being in the Form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather He emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of Man…God highly exalted him, so that at Jesus’ name every knee shall bend and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord.

What do I get from these verses? Christ’s humility and a Father’s love. Humility is a necessary trait to Love. Christ loves his Father so much that He humbles Himself before His Father, and the Father loves His Son so much that He exalts Christ’s name even above His!


#16

The Persons of the Trinity don’t share the divine nature; they each fully possess it. I think you already knew that.

Hypothetically speaking, I think one can have the same nature as someone, but voluntarily or otherwise not remain equal with that person. For example, the Pope and me. We each have a human nature, but in the Church, he is considered greater than me.

When viewing scripture that suggests inequality you must look at this in terms of either His humanity or His humility. The perfect verse which I believe is in one of the letters to Timothy (don’t have my Bible with me) is: Though being in the Form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather He emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of Man…God highly exalted him, so that at Jesus’ name every knee shall bend and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord.

This is a good verse, but the problem is people have come up with other meanings of it, like JW, Christadelphians etc. Otherwise, why arent they Christian as well.

When God “highly exalts” Jesus, does that mean He raised the human nature of Jesus to be equal with his DIvine Nature? However, I think Ive heard on these forums that Jesus’ human nature will always be less (so to speak) than his divine nature. If this is the case, what was the meaning of exalting Jesus, based on the assumptions that **Jesus is always fully divine **and that Jesus’ human nature is even after the Ascension not equal to His divine nature?

What do I get from these verses? Christ’s humility and a Father’s love. Humility is a necessary trait to Love. Christ loves his Father so much that He humbles Himself before His Father, and the Father loves His Son so much that He exalts Christ’s name even above His!

This sounds good, but I dont think its compatible with scripture. See below:

**1 Corinthians 15:28 **
26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
27 “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him.
28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.

clerus.org/bibliaclerusonline/en/index.htm


#17

Look again. :slight_smile: Everything after “I believe in the Holy Spirit” is Holy Spirit stuff.

the Holy Catholic Church
CCC 749 The article concerning the Church also depends entirely on the article about the Holy Spirit, which immediately precedes it. “Indeed, having shown that the Spirit is the source and giver of all holiness, we now confess that it is he who has endowed the Church with holiness.” The Church is, in a phrase used by the Fathers, the place “where the Spirit flourishes.”

the forgiveness of sins
CCC976 The Apostle’s Creed associates faith in the forgiveness of sins not only with faith in the Holy Spirit, but also with faith in the Church and in the communion of saints. It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them his own divine power to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

the resurection of the body
CCC 1002 Christ will raise us up “on the last day”; but it is also true that, in a certain way, we have already risen with Christ. For, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, Christian life is already now on earth a participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ:
And you were buried with him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead … If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

and the life everlasting
1050 “When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise . . . according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom.” God will then be “all in all” in eternal life:
True and subsistent life consists in this: the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, pouring out his heavenly gifts on all things without exception. Thanks to his mercy, we too, men that we are, have received the inalienable promise of eternal life.

Oops! :blush: I see now that I could have just quoted this instead:
CCC686 The Holy Spirit is at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation. But in these “end times,” ushered in by the Son’s redeeming Incarnation, the Spirit is revealed and given, recognized and welcomed as a person. Now can this divine plan, accomplished in Christ, the firstborn and head of the new creation, be embodied in mankind by the outpouring of the Spirit: as the Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.


#18

I have never heard of this perspective before. Thanks for you input.


#19

On those assumptions it’s safe to say that exalting does not change Jesus’ humanity to be equal with the divine. His divinity as LORD can’t be lowered. His human divinity can’t be raised to parity.

I presume that the ‘exalting’ is what happens in the next verse, he recieves the praise, worship and honor from the whole world that in turn glorifies the one who sent him.

Phil2 9-11 :bible1:
[9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
[10] that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
[11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


#20

No problem! :thumbsup: My patron saint is an expert on these matters so I’m just trying to get up to speed.


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