I have gotten involved in a new thread at Fides Quaerens Intellectum, concerning the issue of Subordinationism and the pre-Nicene Church Fathers. I have long maintained, with John Henry Newman, R.P.C. Hanson, and many other Patristic scholars, that ALL of the pre-Nicene Church Fathers held to some form of Subordinationism. However, this view is being challenged by one who posts under the name “Photius Jones”. In the comments section of the above mentioned thread, Photius wrote:
I believe Hanson to be wrong when he states that every single theologian East and West was a subordinationist. I do not see Subordinationism in the anti-Gnostics. The result of subordinationism falls upon a defective ordo theologiae, taken from pagan philosophy, that starts with the Apologists, Clement, and Origen. This inevitably led to the Nicene Crisis. The explanation of the Faith based on philosophical concepts resulted in this confusion. Look at Justin Martyr, is the Logos a Person, a power, or an attribute to St. Justin? Hence, the problem. (October 22, 2008 at 10:03 am.)
A bit later he posted:
Your are [you are; or you’re ?] ambiguous on subordinationism. Subordinationism in its heretical form is that the Son is inferior in nature to the Father. The Son is however subordinate to the Father qua Person according to Orthodox Theology. Where do the 1st Century Fathers and Irenaeus teach that the Son is inferior in Nature to the Father? Igantius? Clement of Rome? They do not, nor does the New Testament teach this. You beg the question based on your received Augustinism, and read the Fathers through that lense. (October 22, 2008 at 2:43.)
Before moving on to the writings of the Church Fathers themselves, in an attempt to eliminate any charge of ambiguity, I shall provide a few selections from recognized, scholarly sources that delineate “Subordinationism”:
SUBORDINATIONISM. Thus we call the tendency, strong in the theology of the 2nd and 3rd cc., to consider Christ, as Son of God, inferior to the Father. Behind this tendancy were gospel statements in which Christ himself stressed this inferiority (Jn 14, 28; Mk 10, 18; 13, 32, etc.) and it was developed esp. by the Logos-christology. This theology, partly under the influence of middle Platonism, considered Christ, logos and divine wisdom, as the means of liaison and mediation between the Father’s position to him. When the conception of the Trinity was enlarged to include the Holy Spirit, as in Origen, this in turn was considered inferior to the Son. Subordinationist tendencies are evident esp. in theologians like Justin, Tertullian, Origen and Novatian; but even in Irenaeus, to whom trinitarian speculations are alien, commenting on Jn 14, 28, has no difficulty in considering Christ inferior to the Father. (M. Simmonetti, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Early Church, II.797.)
SUBORDINATIONISM. Teaching about the Godhead which regards either the Son as subordinate to the Father or the Holy Ghost as subordinate to both. It is a characteristic tendency in much of Christian teaching of the first three centuries, and is a marked feature of such otherwise orthodox Fathers as St. Justin and Origen. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., p. 1319.)
SUBORDINATIONISM. The term is a common retrospective concept used to denote theologians of the early church who affirmed the divinity of the Son or Spirit of God, but conceived it somehow as a lesser form of divinity than that of the Father. It is a modern concept that is so vague that is that it does not illuminate much of the theology of the pre-Nicene teachers, where a subordinationist presupposition was widely and unreflectively shared. (John Athony McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology, p. 321.)
It is generally conceded that the ante-Nicene Fathers were subordinationists. This is clearly evident in the writings of the second-century “Apologists.”…Irenaeus follows a similar path…The theological enterprise begun by the Apologists and Irenaeus was continued in the West by Hippolytus and Tertullian…The ante-Nicene Fathers did their best to explain how the one God could be a Trinity of three persons. It was the way they approached this dilemma that caused them insoluble problems and led them into subordinationism. They began with the premise that there was one God who was the Father, and then tried to explain how the Son and the Spirit could also be God. By the fourth century it was obvious that this approach could not produce an adequate theology of the Trinity. (Kevin Giles, The Trinity & Subordinationism, pp. 60-62.)
I could literally spend hours, typing up like quotations from various other contemporary scholars, but shall refrain from doing so, being somewhat confident that the above references have dispelled (at least for most) charges of ambiguity concerning the sense of the term “subordinationism”, as applied to the pre-Nicene Church Fathers.
Specific examples of subordination from the pre-Nicene Church Fathers corpus will have to wait until after lunch, a workout, and beach run. Until my next thread, I would like to urge my readers to reflect upon what I contributed in THIS OLDER THREAD.
Grace and peace,