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Subordinationism is a belief within early Christianity that asserts that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being. Various forms of subordinationism were believed or condemned until the mid-4th century, when the debate was decided against subordinationism as an element of the Arian controversy. In 381, after many decades of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity, the First Council of Constantinople condemned Arianism.
Subordinationism has common characteristics with Arianism. In various forms it thrived at the same time as Arianism, and long survived Arianism. Its chief proponents in the 4th century were Arius of Alexandria, with whom the view is most commonly associated, and Eusebius of Nicomedia. Two patriarchs of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria and his mentor and predecessor, Alexander of Alexandria, battled Arian subordinationism.
- 1 History
- 2 Current views
- 3 See also
- 4 References
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- Origen taught that Jesus was deuteros theos (secondary god), a notion borrowed from Hellenistic philosophy. He also said the Son was "distinct" from the Father. Finally Origen insisted that the Son is other in substance than the Father. It should be noticed that some of these same references are used to defend the concept of the Trinity. However, subordinationism is not a differentiation or distinction between persons in the Trinity. In this regard they agree. Subordinationism rather suggests that the Son (and Spirit) are other in substance than the Father.
- Clement of Rome (composed late 1st or early 2nd century): "The apostles received the gospel for us from Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was sent from God. So Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ: thus both came in proper order by the will of God." Also, "Let all the heathen know that thou [the Father] art God alone, and that Jesus Christ is thy Servant..."
- Ignatius of Antioch (50-115): "Jesus Christ ... is the expressed purpose of the Father, just as the bishops who have been appointed throughout the world exist by the purpose of Jesus Christ." "Be subject to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ in the flesh was subject to the Father and the apostles were subject to Christ and the Father, so that there may be unity both fleshly and spiritual." "All of you are to follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery [the elders] as the apostles."
- Epistle of Barnabas (c. 100): "[...] if the Lord endured to suffer for our soul, He being Lord of all the world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, 'Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness,' [...]" "For the Scripture says concerning us, while He speaks to the Son, 'Let Us make man after Our image, and after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the beasts of the earth, and the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea.' And the Lord said, on beholding the fair creature man, 'Increase, and multiply, and replenish the earth.' These things [were spoken] to the Son."
- Justin Martyr (100-165) : "I shall attempt to persuade you, [...] that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things [...] wishes to announce to them." "But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten, there is no name given. [...] And His Son, [...] the Word, who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God's ordering all things through Him; [...] But 'Jesus', His name as man and Saviour, has [...] significance. For He was made man [...] having been conceived according to the will of God the Father."
- Didache (c. 1st century): "We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you have made known unto us through Jesus your Servant." "We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge, which you have made known to us through Jesus your Servant. Glory to you forever!"
- Tertullian (AD 165-225): professed that the Father, Son, and Spirit "are inseparable from each other." His "assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that They are distinct from Each Other. This statement," according to Tertullian, "is taken in a wrong sense by every uneducated as well as every perversely disposed person, as if it predicated [...] a separation among the Father, [...] Son, and [...] Spirit." Tertullian said "it is not by [...] diversity that the Son differs from the Father, but by distribution: it is not by division [...] but by distinction; [...] they differ one from the other in the mode of their being. For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, [...] Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as He who begets is one, and He who is begotten is another; He [...] who sends is one, and He who is sent is another; and He [...] who makes is one, and He through whom the thing is made is another." Moreover, "their names represent [...] what they are [...] called; and the distinction indicated by the names does not [...] admit [...] confusion, because there is none in the things which they designate."
- Pope Dionysius (composed 265): "Neither, then, may we divide into three godheads the wonderful and divine unity.... Rather, we must believe in God, the Father Almighty; and in Christ Jesus, his Son; and in the Holy Spirit; and that the Word is united to the God of the universe. 'For,' he says, 'The Father and I are one,' and 'I am in the Father, and the Father in me'." Yet, Jesus is not treated as synonymous with God.
First Council of Nicaea
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Bishop Alexander, of Alexandria, taught that Christ was the Divine Son of God, who was equal to the Father by nature, and in no way inferior to him, sharing the Father's divine nature. However, Presbyter Arius believed this was inconsistent with the recent decisions against Sabellius at the Synod of Rome. Arius opposed Alexander and called him a heretic. At subsequent local synods, Alexander's view was upheld, and Arius was condemned and excommunicated as a heretic.
Arius' friendship with powerful allies, especially Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was influential in Constantine's Imperial Court, led to the controversy being brought before Constantine. Constantine at first viewed the controversy as trivial and insisted that they settle their dispute quietly and peacefully. When it became clear that a peaceful solution was not forthcoming, Constantine summoned all Christian bishops to convene the first ecumenical council (Nicaea I) at Nicaea. From the beginning of the Arian controversy, due to the influence of Arian bishops like Eusebius of Nicomedia, Constantine initially favored the Arian position. He saw their views as being easier for the common Roman to understand, and easier for Roman pagans to accept and convert to.
Two vocal subordinationists were Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia. Of these, Eusebius of Caesarea was more moderate in his subordinationist views. Although not as extreme as the Arians in his definition of who Jesus is, he disagreed with the Modalists in equating Jesus with his Father in authority or person but he was flexible concerning ousia (substance). The Trinitarians also opposed Modalism, but insisted on the equality of the Son and the Father by nature (though they generally allowed that the Son was relationally subordinate to the Father as to his authority). For the reasons of him being moderate in the religious and political spectrum of beliefs, Constantine I turned to Eusebius of Caesarea to try to make peace between the Arians and the Trinitarians at Nicaea I.
Eusebius of Caesarea wrote, in On the Theology of the Church, that the Nicene Creed is a full expression of Christian theology, which begins with: "We believe in One God..." Eusebius goes on to explain how initially the goal was not to expel Arius and his supporters, but to find a Creed on which all of them could agree and unite. The Arians, led by Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia, insisted that the Son was "heteroousios" or "of a different substance/nature" from the Father. The Trinitarians, led by Alexander, his protege Athanasius, and Hosius of Cordoba insisted that the Arian view was heretical and unacceptable. Eusebius of Caesarea suggested a compromise wording of a creed, in which the Son would be affirmed as "homoiousios", or "of similar substance/nature" with the Father. But Alexander and Athanasius saw that this compromise would allow the Arians to continue to teach their heresy, but stay technically within orthodoxy, and therefore rejected that wording. Hosius of Cordova suggested the term "homoousios" or "of the same substance/nature" with the Father. This term was found to be acceptable, though it meant the exclusion of the Arians. But it united most of those in attendance at Nicaea I. Even the "semi-Arians" such as Eusebius of Caesarea accepted the term and signed the Nicene Creed.
Constantine, though he initially backed the Arians, supported the decision of the Council in order to unify the Church and his Empire. He ordered that any bishop, including his friend Eusebius of Nicomedia, who refused to sign the Creed should be removed from their positions in the Church and exiled from the Empire.
Athanasius, in particular, categorically rejected subordinationism in all its forms, possibly as a reaction against Arianism. In the pseudonymous Athanasian Creed, all three divine persons are almighty and Lord; no divine person is before or after another, none is greater or less than another … all three are co-equal. Constantine, who had been sympathetic to the Arian view from the beginning of the controversy, ends up rescinding the exiles of Arius and his supporters only a few short years after Nicea. He also brings Eusebius of Nicomedia in as his personal spiritual advisor, and then turned on Athanasius, who is not only deposed from his seat as bishop of Alexandria, but also banished from the Roman Empire a total of five different times.
After the death of Constantine, his sons, Constans I and Constantius II, share joint rule in the Empire. Both sons begin to actively support the subordinationist views of Arianism, and begin to depose Trinitarian bishops in key sees throughout the empire and replace them with Arian bishops. This policy begins to change the balance of power in the Christian Church, as many of the most influential churches in the empire became Arian by the intervention of Constans I and Constantius II. To this, Saint Jerome lamented about the creed of the Synod of Ariminum: "The whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian." Ironically, after Nicaea I, Arianism actually grew in power in the Church.
The deaths of Constans I and Constantius II ended this policy, however the increased power of Arianism in the Church remained unchanged until the ascension of an Emperor friendly to the Trinitarian view. Theodosius I called the second ecumenical council, Constantinople I, in 381, 56 years after Nicaea I, to confront the Arian controversy. Constantinople I once again rejected Arian subordinationism, and affirmed Trinitarianism. In addition, the Nicene Creed of 325 was amended and expanded to include a more detailed statement about the Holy Spirit, rejecting an idea which had been advanced by the Arians during the intervening years since Nicea, termed "Macedonianism", which denied the full deity of the Holy Spirit. The Creed of 381 included an affirmation of the full deity of the Holy Spirit, calling him "the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father."
Some Cappadocian Fathers consistently asserted the supremacy and authority of the Father in all things. Cappadocians writings helped unify the semi-Arians with the Trinitarians. (The Greek Fathers and the whole Christian Orient speak, in this regard, of the "Father's Monarchy," and the Western tradition, following Augustine of Hippo, also confesses that the Holy Spirit originates from the Father principaliter, that is, as principle. In this sense, therefore, the two traditions recognize that the "monarchy of the Father" implies that the Father is the sole Trinitarian Cause (Aitia) or Principle (principium) of the Son and the Holy Spirit.)
The origin of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone as Principle of the whole Trinity is called ekporeusis by Greek tradition, following the Cappadocian Fathers. St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the Theologian, in fact, characterizes the Spirit's relationship of origin from the Father by the proper term ekporeusis, distinguishing it from that of procession (to proienai) which the Spirit has in common with the Son. "The Spirit is truly the Spirit proceeding (proion) from the Father, not by filiation, for it is not by generation, but by ekporeusis."  [speculation?] Even for Cyril, the term ekporeusis as distinct from the term "proceed" (proienai), can only characterize a relationship of origin to the principle without principle of the Trinity: the Father.
In 589, battling a resurgence of Arianism, the Third Council of Toledo, in the Kingdom of Toledo, added the term filioque ("and the Son") to the Nicene Creed. This was ostensibly to counter the Arian argument that the Son was inferior to the Father because he did not share in the Father's role as the Source of the Holy Spirit's Godhead, and so they affirmed that the Holy Spirit proceeded "from the Father and the Son". This, phrase, however, was not intended originally to change the Nicene Creed, but only used as a local creed in defense against the Arians. But its use began to spread throughout the Western Church. To many in the Eastern Church, the filioque implied that there were two sources of the Godhead, the Father and the Son, which to them meant that there were now two Gods, and the Holy Spirit was relegated to an inferior status, as the only member of the Godhead who was not the source of any other. The Western Churches, however, did not necessarily understand this clause to imply this, but understood it to mean the Holy Spirit proceeded "from the Father through the Son" or "From the Father and the Son as from one principle our source". But to the Eastern Church, it appeared to be a denial of the Monarchy of the Father and an heretical and unauthorized change of the Nicene Faith.
In the Eastern Church, the debate surrounding subordinationism was submerged into the later conflict over Monarchianism, or single-source of divinity. This idea was that the Father was the source of divinity, from whom the Son is eternally begotten and the Spirit proceeds. As the Western church seemed to implicitly deny the monarchy of the Father and explicitly assert the papacy. Disagreements about the filioque and papal primacy eventually contributed to the East-West Schism of 1054.
According to the Eastern Orthodox view, the Son is derived from the Father who alone is without cause or origin. This is not a subordination in time, since the Son is co-eternal with the Father or even in terms of the co-equal uncreated nature shared by the Father and Son. However, this view is sometimes considered a form of subordinationism by Western Christians, and the Western view is often viewed by the Eastern Church as being close to Modalism.[page needed] Regarding this point, the Revised Catechism of the Orthodox Faith notes that "This (the Orthodox view) is sometimes misunderstood (by Christians influenced by Western teachings on the Trinity) as "subordinationism," but this term cannot rightly be applied to the Orthodox teaching because it can be said that God the Father depends on the Son to be called "Father..."[not specific enough to verify]
Catholic theologian John Hardon wrote that subordinationism "denies that the second and third persons are consubstantial with the Father. Therefore it denies their true divinity." Arius "made a formal heresy of" subordinationism. The International Theological Commission wrote that "many Christian theologians borrowed from Hellenism the notion of a secondary god (deuteros theos), or of an intermediate god, or even of a demiurge." Subordinationism was "latent in some of the Apologists and in Origen." The Son was, for Arius, in "an intermediate position between the Father and the creatures." Nicaea I "defined that the Son is consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father. In so doing, the Church both repudiated the Arian compromise with Hellenism and deeply altered the shape of Greek, especially Platonist and neo-Platonist, metaphysics. In a manner of speaking, it demythicized Hellenism and effected a Christian purification of it. In the act of dismissing the notion of an intermediate being, the Church recognized only two modes of being: uncreated (nonmade) and created."
John Kleinig, of Australian Lutheran College, promoted a form of subordinationism and concluded:
Well then, is the exalted Christ in any way subordinate to the Father right now? The answer is both "yes" and "no". It all depends on whether we are speaking about Him in His nature as God, or about Him in his office as the exalted Son of God. On the one hand, He is not subordinate to the Father in His divine essence, status, and majesty. On the other hand, He is, I hold, subordinate to the Father in His vice-regal office and His work as prophet, priest, and king. He is operationally subordinate to the Father. In the present operation of the triune God in the church and the world, He is the mediator between God the Father and humankind. The exalted Christ receives everything from His Father to deliver to us, so that in turn, He can bring us back to the Father.
Contemporary Evangelicals believe the historically agreed fundamentals of the Christian faith, including the Trinity. In the typical Evangelical formula, the Trinity is one God in three equal persons, among whom there is economic subordination (as, for example, when the Son obeys the Father). As recently as 1977, economic subordinationism has been advanced in evangelical circles  including George W. Knight III. Knight wrote, in The New Testament teaching on the role relationship of men and women, that the Son is functionally – but not ontologically – subordinate to the Father, thus positing that eternal functional subordination does not necessarily imply ontological subordination.[page needed]
Nontrinitarianism is a form of Christianity that rejects the mainstream Christian doctrine of the Trinity—the teaching that God is three distinct hypostases or persons who are coeternal, coequal, and indivisibly united in one being, or essence (from the Greek ousia). Certain religious groups that emerged during the Protestant Reformation have historically been known as antitrinitarian.
In number of adherents, nontrinitarian denominations comprise a small minority of modern Christianity. The three that are by far the largest are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons"), Jehovah's Witnesses and the Iglesia ni Cristo, though there are a number of other smaller groups.
‘Subordinationism. Thus we call the tendency, strong in the 2nd- and 3rd-century theology, to consider Christ, as Son of God, inferior to the Father. Behind this tendency were gospel statements in which Christ himself stressed this inferiority (John 14:28; Mk 10, 18; 13, 32, etc.) and it was developed in 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 in theologians like Justin, Tertullian, Origen, and Novatian; but even in Irenaeus, to whom trinitarian speculations are alien, commenting on John 14:28, has no difficulty in considering Christ inferior to the Father.’
Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church
Subordinationism, according to Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, "regards either the Son as subordinate to the Father or the Holy Spirit as subordinate to both. It is a characteristic tendency in much Christian teaching of the first three centuries, and is a marked feature of such otherwise orthodox Fathers as" Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Reasons for this tendency include:
- "the stress on the absolute unity and transcendence of God the Father, which is common to all forms of theology using the existing categories of Greek thought
- "the fear of compromising monotheism
- "the implications of one strand of biblical teaching" represented by John 14:28”
By the 4th century, subordinationism was "regarded as clearly heretical in its denial of the co-equality of the Three Persons of the Trinity. The issue was most explicitly dealt with in the conflict with Arius and his followers, who held that the Son was God not by nature but by grace and was created by the Father, though in a creation outside time." Subordination of the Holy Spirit became more prominent in the 4th century Pneumatomachi. The second ecumenical council, Constantinople I, condemned subordinationism in 381.
The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology
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.
Ante-Nicene subordinationism. 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.
Mark Baddeley has criticized Giles for what he sees as a conflation of ontological and relational subordinationism, and for his supposed generalisation that "the ante-Nicene Fathers were subordinationists"
- Cross, Frank L.; Livingstone, Elizabeth A., eds. (2005). "subordinationism". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd rev. ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192802903 – via Oxford Reference Online. (Subscription required (. ))
- Origen Against Celsus, 5.39 (PG 14:108-110; ANF 4: 561.).
- Prestige xxvii
- Origen On Prayer, 15:1; Origen Against Celsus, 8.12 (ANF 4: 643–644.).
- Clement of Rome First Letter to the Corinthians, 42:1-2 (ANF 1: 16.).
- Clement of Rome First Letter to the Corinthians, 59:4 (ANF 1: 21.).
- Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Ephesians, 3.
- Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Magnesians, 13
- Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8.
- Epistle of Barnabas 5:5 (ANF 1: 139.)
- Epistle of Barnabas 6:12-13 (ANF 1: 140–141.).
- Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho, 56 (ANF 1: 223.).
- Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho, 6 (ANF 1: 190.).
- Didache, 9:1, Sparks ed.
- Didache, 9:3, Sparks ed.
- Tertullian Against Praxeas, 9 (ANF 3: 604.).
- Dionysius of Rome Letter to Dionysius of Alexandria, 1. Excerpt in "The Trinity". catholic.com. El Cajon, CA: Catholic Answers. Archived from the original on 2001-12-17.
- Socrates Scholasticus Church History, 2.37 (NPNF2 2: 61–65.).
- Jerome Dialogue against the Luciferians, 19 (NPNF2 6: 329.).
- Socrates Scholasticus Church History, 5.8 (NPNF2 2: 121–122.), 5.11 (NPNF2 2: 124.).
- Tanner, Norman; Alberigo, Giuseppe, eds. (1990). Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-87840-490-2
- Augustine of Hippo. De Trinitate XV, 25, 47 (PL 42:1094-1095).
- Discourse 39, 12 (Sources chretiennes 358, p. 175)
- c.f. Commentary on St. John, X, 2, (PG 74:910D); Ep 55, (PG 77:316D), etc.
- Cross, Frank L.; Livingstone, Elizabeth A., eds. (2005). "Filioque". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd rev. ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192802903 – via Oxford Reference Online. (Subscription required (. ))
- Davies, Rupert Eric (1987-07-01). Making sense of the creeds. Epworth. ISBN 978-0-7162-0433-6. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
- Meyendorff, John (1996) [©1981]. Lossky, Nicholas, ed. The Orthodox Church: its past and its role in the world today. Translated by Chapin, John (4th rev. ed.). Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 9780913836811.
- Ware, Timothy (Kallistos) (1993). The Orthodox Church. Penguin religion and mythology (New ed.). London [u.a.]: Penguin Books. p. 213?. ISBN 9780140146561.
- Revised Catechism of the Orthodox Faith, Question 095
- Hardon, John A. (2003). "Catholic doctrine on the Holy Trinity". therealpresence.org. Lombard, IL: Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association. Archived from the original on 2003-12-24. Retrieved 2016-06-23.
- International Theological Commission (1979). "Select questions on Christology". vatican.va. §II.A.2. Archived from the original on 2012-03-18. Retrieved 2016-06-23.
- Kleinig, John W. (2005–2006). "The subordination of the exalted Son to the Father" (PDF). Lutheran Theological Review. 18 (1): 41–52. ISSN 1180-0798. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-09-05.
- Knight, George W. (1977). The New Testament teaching on the role relationship of men and women. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. ISBN 9780801053832.
- Halsey, A. (13 October 1988). British Social Trends since 1900: A Guide to the Changing Social Structure of Britain. Palgrave Macmillan UK. p. 518. ISBN 9781349194667.
his so called 'non-Trinitarian' group includes the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Theosophists, Church of Scientology, Unification Church (Moonies), the Worldwide Church of God and so on.
- Simmonetti, M. (1992). Berardino, Angelo Di, ed. Encyclopedia of the early church. 2. Translated by Walford, Adrian. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 797. ISBN 9780195208924.
- McGuckin, John A. (2004). "Subordinationism". The Westminster handbook to patristic theology. Westminster handbooks to christian theology. Louisville [u.a.]: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 321. ISBN 9780664223960.
- Giles, Kevin (2002). The Trinity & subordinationism: the doctrine of God and the contemporary gender debate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. pp. 60–62. ISBN 9780830826636.
- Baddeley, Mark (2004). "The Trinity and Subordinationism". Reformed Theological Review. 63 (1): 29–42. ISSN 0034-3072.