Phil Gons on the McCall/Yandell Argument and My Response

Phil Gons has a good post detailing a response to the McCall/Yandell argument against necessary role subordination in the Trinity:

Here’s their argument:

  1. If the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in all possible worlds, then the Son is necessarily subordinate to the Father.
  2. If the Son is necessarily subordinate to the Father, then the Son is essentially subordinate to the Father.
  3. Thus, the Son, as essentially subordinate to the Father, is of a different essence or nature than the Father, which entails a denial of homoousion.

My first line of response is to show that this argument can be equally applied to any eternal difference between the Father and the Son. Let’s take the Son’s property of sonship and apply their own argument to it.

  1. If the Son is eternally the Son and the Father is eternally not the Son in all possible worlds, then the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son.
  2. If the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son, then the Son is essentially the Son and the Father is essentially not the Son.
  3. Thus, the Son, as essentially the Son, and the Father, as essentially not the Son, are of a different essence or nature, which entails a denial of homoousion.

The result of extending the argument this way is that it demonstrates—assuming the legitimacy of the argument—that there can be no eternal difference of any kind without denying homoousion. But Yandell himself affirmed in the debate that the Son alone has the property of being the Son, and the Father alone the property of being the Father, and the Spirit alone the property of being the Spirit. Yet, according to his own argument, he must deny homoousion because these eternal differences constitute necessary differences, which constitute essential differences.

Yandell and McCall are attempting to affirm three propositions that simply cannot stand together. Here are the three incompatible propositions:

  1. The argument is valid.
  2. There are eternal differences among the three persons of the Trinity.
  3. The Father and the Son are homoousios.

If they wish to maintain their claim to rationality, they must either deny (1) the legitimacy of the argument, (2) that the Son alone has the property of being the Son, etc. (which amounts to a denial of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity), (3) the doctrine of homoousion, or (4) some combination of the three. At least one of these has to go. All three cannot coexist.

I thought this was a good argument. But after studying some metaphysics (years later) I left this comment:

I came across this post just after the debate, and I thought your raised a good argument against McCall and Yandell. Even though I was skeptical of it, I could not put my finger on what I thought was wrong with it. Now I am thinking I have an account of what is wrong with it. You write,

“My first line of response is to show that this argument can be equally applied to any eternal difference between the Father and the Son.”

I think there is a good reason to think it is false that this argument can be applied to any necessary difference between the Father and the Son. The property of “sonship” as explained by your counter argument amounts to this: “the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son.” The first conjunct, “the Son is necessarily the Son” is the exemplification of self-identity: necessarily, everything is identical with itself. The Son has this property as does the Father as does every concrete particular. Yet such a property is what philosophers have recognized as an ‘impure property’—that is, a property that presupposes the notion of a concrete particular! To say the Son has the property of being identical with the Son and the Father as having the property of being identical with the Father is to assert a trivial truth that elucidates nothing about their constituent ontologies. What McCall and Yandell are worried about is a pure property, one that does not presuppose a concrete particular, distinguishing the Father and Son’s constituent nature. If the Father has the property of being in authority, and the Son qualitatively lacks this property, then neither the Father nor the Son is identical in their constituent ontologies.

One might try to wriggle out of this problem by claiming that the ‘being in authority’ property is not a constituent of the divine nature; rather, it is only a constituent of the Father’s personal nature. But there is good reason to doubt this as such a property seems to be a necessary condition of the divine attribute of sovereignty. One is sovereign if and only if one has the ability to control all things and the right to govern all things. It is very plausible to envisage the right to govern all things as exemplifying the property of being in authority, something the Father has that the Son lacks.

This distinction helps explain how there is compatibility between the three propositions. First, the argument is valid. There is no logical fallacy or false inference occurring between the premises. Second, the property of self-identity, while not sufficient to elucidate the constituent nature of a concrete particular, is sufficient for naming a difference between at least two concrete particulars, that is the Father and Son. Third, pure properties, those that make up the constituent nature of a concrete particular without depending on a concrete particular, make up identical sets of properties that are both necessary and sufficient for the divine nature of the Father and Son, thus both are homoousios

What do you think?

Read the whole thing to see Gons’s response.


Against the New Subordinationists

Against the New Subordinationists:

And we see, moreover, how functional subordinationists read ghosts of subordination into every little thing. The Father gave the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. The Father sent the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. The world was made through the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. But we have seen these claims before; we battled them in the Eunomians sixteen hundred years ago. They were no more plausible then. The Father sent the Son, yes, but ‘to send’ tells us nothing of authority. A child may say to his parent, “Go and see how well I have cleaned my room.” The parent goes; and, behold, in going, the parent is sent. But this tells us nothing of who has the greater authority. My friend and I are in perfect agreement that she should help you on some matter; I say to you, “I am sending you my friend to help you.” Have I arrogated an authority over my friend? Hardly, for my purpose does not rule the agreement. Was I lying? Certainly not, for I am sending my friend. This supposed proof is dubious in our own case; shall we think it conclusive in God’s? It is even less likely to be legitimate there. For if I and my friend are in perfect agreement, it can be nothing in comparison to the agreement of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, who are so united that the work of the Father is through the Son and in the Spirit, so that one and the same action belongs to three persons, whether it pertains to creation or salvation. What human unity of purpose could possibly compare? But in unity of purpose, as such, there is no subordination; if there were subordination there would not be unity, but one purpose subordinating another purpose, however congenially. And so if the Father gives the Son, and this giving is eternally purposed by the Thrice-Holy Trinity, there is no subordination in being given, for there is no subordination of purposes, only a perfect unity of purpose: that the Word be made flesh and come among us a Savior, a gift of life. Thus from the mission of the Son, nothing follows about subordination. And likewise from the making of all things through the Son, nothing follows about subordination; indeed, the reverse: for that all things are made through the Son shows clearly that the Son is one with the Father with a unity that we can scarcely comprehend. But so eagerly do the functional subordinationists grasp after straws that they see elaborate subordinations lurking in every difference of preposition.

Read the whole thing.

William Lane Craig on the “generation” of the Son

At William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith website, Dr. Craig answers a complex question about the Trinity and prior causation. Although most of the article is dedicated to explaining the “First Cause” argument for God’s existence, there are a few interesting quotes about the eternal generation of the Son from the Father. He says,

Theologically, it seems to me, the doctrine of the generation of the Logos from the Father cannot, despite assurances to the contrary, but diminish the status of the Son because He becomes an effect contingent upon the Father. Even if this eternal procession takes place necessarily and apart from the Father’s will, the Son is less than the Father because the Father alone exists in Himself, whereas the Son exists through another. Such derivative being is the same way in which created things exist. Despite protestations to the contrary, Nicene orthodoxy does not seem to have completely exorcised the spirit of subordinationism introduced into Christology by the Greek Apologists.

For these reasons evangelical theologians have tended to treat the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father with benign neglect. If we do decide to drop from our doctrine of the Trinity the eternal generation and procession of the Son and Spirit from the Father, how should we construe the intra-Trinitarian relations? Here I find it useful to distinguish between the ontological Trinity and the economic Trinity. The ontological Trinity is the Trinity as it exists of itself apart from God’s relation to the world. The economic Trinity has reference to the different roles played by the persons of the Trinity in relation to the world and especially in the plan of salvation. In this economic Trinity there is subordination (or, perhaps better, submission) of one person to another, as the incarnate Son does the Father’s will and the Spirit speaks, not on His own account, but on behalf of the Son. The economic Trinity does not reflect ontological differences between the persons but rather is an expression of God’s loving condescension for the sake of our salvation. The error of Logos Christology lay in conflating the economic Trinity with the ontological Trinity, introducing subordination into the nature of the Godhead itself.

So I regard God the Father as neither ontologically nor causally prior to God the Son, and I view Augustine and the Damascene’s views as extra-biblical and unfortunate.

From this it is not clear whether there is an eternal subordination of the Son; only an eternal generation is denied. But many complementarian scholars seem to conflate the two thinking that the Son’s eternal generation is evidence (or perhaps better said, the explanation) of His eternal subordination. Still, Craig does not see the economic Trinity as reflecting the ontological Trinity, which is fundamental to the complementarian scheme.

IVP Dictionary on the Trinity

From The New Dictionary of Theology edited by David F. Wright, Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1988.), 693. The article is by Gerald L. Bray.

Western Trinitarianism was matched by its Eastern rival, which is associated with the name of Origen. Working quite independently of Tertullian, Origen developed a doctrine of the three hypostaseis of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which were revealed to share the same divine ousia (essence). Origen arranged these in hierarchical order, with the Father as God-in-himself (autotheos), the Son as his exact image, and the Holy Spirit as the image of the Son. He insisted that this order existed in eternity, so that there could be no question of saying that there had been a time when the Son had not existed. But he also maintained that the Son had always been subordinated to the Father in the celestial hierarchy.

This view was later questioned by Arius, who argued that a subordinate being could not be co-eternal with the Father, since coeternity would imply equality. He was countered by Athanasius and others who replied that the Son was indeed co-eternal with the Father, but not subordinate to him, except in the context of the incarnation. Classical Trinitarianism developed in earnest after the Council of Nicaea (325). There it had been stated that the Son was consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father, but soon afterwards this key term and the doctrine it embodied were widely rejected in favour of compromise formulae, such as homoiousios, ‘of a similar substance’. Athanasius, almost alone in the East, but after 339 with the support of the West, battled for an understanding (reflected in homoousios as he read it) which would make the Son numerically identical with the Father. The Son was not to be regarded as a part of God, nor was he a second deity; he was simply God himself, in whom the fullness of divinity dwelt (Col. 2:8) and in whom the Father himself was to be seen (Jn. 14:9). Eventually his viewpoint was secured, but not before controversy had broken out over the Holy Spirit.

(bold is mine)

Looks like Athanasius is to egalitarians as Origen is to complementarians in their understandings of the Trinity. Thank God for the work of Athanasius and the establishment of his creed.

And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are Co-eternal together

Equality within the Trinity is hardly a feminist idea. It is pure orthodoxy.

Trinty And Truth

There is an interesting blog called Trinity And Truth that primarily reviews books on… you guessed it: The Trinity! The author comes from an egalitarian perspective on the man-woman debate and an eternal subodinationist view of the Son-Father debate. Here is a section from his review of Bruce Ware’s Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance:

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