Thursday, June 09, 2016

Eternal Subordination of the Son? & Augustine

Keith E. Johnson, 'Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal subordination of the son: An Augustinian perspective' Themelios 36.1 (2011): 7–25

In a debate where there is sometimes name-calling and excessive heat, Johnson seems to attempt a careful and fair treatment of Augustine and those who have sought to enlist him in their cause.

Johnson argues that:

Augustine’s mature account of trinitarian agency involves two elements. on the one hand, the working of the Father, son, and Holy spirit is inseparably the work of the three ad extra. on the other hand, in this single act, the divine persons work according to their relative properties ad intra. The Father acts with the other divine persons according to his mode of being “from no one” (unbegotten). The son acts with the other divine persons according to his mode of being “from the Father” (generation). The spirit acts with the other divine persons according to his mode of being “from the Father and the son” (procession). Combining these two elements we might say that the divine persons act inseparably through the intra-trinitarian taxis: from the Father, through the son, in the Holy Spirit.


Augustine writes:

what we are saying may perhaps be easier to sort out if we put the question this way, crude though it is: in what manner did God send his son? did he tell him to come, giving him an order he complied with by coming, or did he ask him to, or did he merely suggest it? well, whichever way it was done, it was certainly done by word. But God’s word is his son. So when the Father sent him by word, what happened was that he was sent by the Father and his Word. Hence it is by the Father and the Son that the Son was sent, because the Son is the Father’s Word (De trin. ii.9, 103, emphasis mine).

"Inseparable action, therefore, intrinsically qualifies all the working of the Father and son, including the “sending” of the son by the Father. EFS proponents, therefore, misread Augustine when they sever his comments about the Father “sending” the son from Augustine’s unequivocal affirmation that the divine persons act inseparably."

Again, Augustine:

so it is that the invisible Father, together with the jointly invisible son, is said to have sent this son by making him visible” (De trin. ii.9, 103)

Johnson's conclusion is as follows:

"So where does Augustine stand on the EFs debate? we have seen that Augustine is misread by proponents and opponents of EFs alike. Moreover, important differences exist between Augustine’s trinitarian theology and the theology of some representatives on both sides in the debate. There is no evidence that Augustine believed that the hypostatic distinction between the Father and the son is constituted by eternal “authority” (on the part of the Father) and eternal “submission” (on the part of the son). to the contrary, this element of EFs is incompatible with his account of trinitarian agency. At the same time, Augustine does not explore the speculative question of whether any analogy might exist between the son’s filial mode of being eternally “from the Father” and his obedience to the Father in his state of humiliation."

He adds in a final footnote:

"Thomas Aquinas, who builds on Augustine’s trinitarian doctrine, does not explore this question either. several twentieth-century theologians, however, do explore this possibility. two notable examples include karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Barth’s discussion of the eternal obedience of the son (see karl Barth, Church Dogmatics iv/1: The Doctrine of Reconciliation [trans. G. w. Bromiley; Edinburgh: t&t Clark, 1956], esp. 195–203) has been the subject of extensive debate. receiving almost no attention in the EFs debate, however, is an important Catholic contemporary of Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar. von Balthasar’s theology is profoundly trinitarian and quite speculative at points (owing in part to the influence of the Catholic mystic, Adrienne von speyr). in his five-volume Theo-Drama, von Balthasar labors to show how key facets of the economy of salvation— especially the cross—are grounded in God’s immanent life. For example, von Balthasar claims that the economic self-emptying (kenosis) of the son in the incarnation reflects a kind of super-kenosis in the divine life in which the Father gives himself away wholly and without remainder in the begetting of the son. in relation to the present discussion, von Balthasar claims that the human obedience of Jesus reflects something fundamental about the son’s eternal relationship to the Father: “For [the son] simply expresses in the oikonomia what he has always expressed anew in the eternal, triune life: his complete readiness to carry out every one of the Father’s wishes” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Last Act, vol. 5 of Theo-Drama Theological Dramatic Theory [trans. Graham Harrison; san Francisco: ignatius, 1998], 513; see also 86–89). [Editor’s note: Cf. stephen M. Garrett, “The dazzling darkness of God’s triune Love: introducing Evangelicals to the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar,” Them 35 (2010): 413–30.]

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