Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Power in Unity, Diversity in Rank: Subordination and the Trinity in the Fathers of the Early Church - a valuable paper

Back on January 30, 2020 I reviewed a book by the Evangelical scholar, Michael J. Svigel (link). The book was the second contribution of his that I have read; the first being a paper that he delivered back in 2004 at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, with the title: Power in Unity Diversity in Rank - Subordination and the Trinity in the Fathers of the Early Church. [Full paper available in PDF format HERE.]

This paper is one of the better treatments concerning the doctrine of God in the Greek Church Fathers from the late 1st century through the end of the 2nd century.

As the introduction of the paper explicitly points out, Dr. Svigel’s analysis/survey is inextricably linked to the Trinitarian controversy concerning the issue of subordination that arose within Evangelicalism with the publication of John Dahms' article, “The Generation of the Son”, back in 1989 [link - see also his subsequent article].

With the above in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of the paper remained quite objection in its analyses—the section on Irenaeus being the most in depth survey. The quotations from the Greek Fathers concerning the doctrine of God that he surveys are exhaustive; I noticed only a few notably exclusions—e.g. citations of Proverbs 8:22 by Justin and Athenagoras with reference to the origin of the Son of God. [See this thread for the citations.]

I was also pleased that Dr. Svigel touches on the issue of the monarchy of God the Father. Note the following selections:

In Ignatius’s thinking the Father is the ultimate authority, the monarchia of the Godhead, and this relationship seems to precede and transcend the limits of the incarnation. (Page 7)

the fact that for Athenagoras (and, in fact, for all of the writers of the second century), the monarchia of the Godhead rests with the Father while the Son and Spirit operate in submission to the Father’s will. (Page 27)

There is an overwhelming tradition of what is today described as ontological equality and functional subordination within the Trinity that emphasizes the monarchia of the Father. While the Son and Spirit are not creatures, the Father is their head, meaning that all activities conform to his will. (Page 38)

In ending, though I personally do not fully agree with all of Dr. Svigel’s assessments, the paper as a whole is a valuable contribution for those folk interested in the teachings of the early Greek Fathers concerning the doctrine of God.

Grace and peace,


No comments: