Does Subordination in the Trinity Imply Patriarchal Views on Gender?

I cam across this excellent piece by an egalitarian Evangelical Christian on the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father clarifying ultimately that subordination of the Son to the Father does not imply what many of his fellow Evangelical egalitarians thinks it implies. The article is by Craig S. Keener and I would urge all Evangelical egalitarians who are accusing ESS advocates of heresy to read it.

On the flip side though, I will state that while those rejecting the divine monarchy of the Father over the Son and Spirit who accuse those who do affirm those who accept that of the heresy of subordinationism to pay close attention that while you are accusing these people of heresy, they also are accusing you of the heresy of modalism! Now, I want to make clear that I certainly don’t buy into the Latin idea of the Trinity but I certainly don’t decree their idea as a heresy. The Angelic Doctor himself wrote on the subordination of the Son to the Father that “we are to understand that Christ is subject to the Father not simply but in His human nature, even if this qualification be not added;” (Summa Theologica, Third Part, Q. 20, A. 1). I find such an assessment of the Trinity to be borderline Nestorian though. But it is interesting to point this out as it seems that the Angelic Doctor’s idea of the Trinity is hitting right on as to what the Evangelical egalitarians believe! Only one problem…St. Thomas is no egalitarian.

I answer that, Certain things are required in the recipient of a sacrament as being requisite for the validity of the sacrament, and if such things be lacking, one can receive neither the sacrament nor the reality of the sacrament. Other things, however, are required, not for the validity of the sacrament, but for its lawfulness, as being congruous to the sacrament; and without these one receives the sacrament, but not the reality of the sacrament. Accordingly we must say that the male sex is required for receiving Orders not only in the second, but also in the first way. Wherefore even though a woman were made the object of all that is done in conferring Orders, she would not receive Orders, for since a sacrament is a sign, not only the thing, but the signification of the thing, is required in all sacramental actions; thus it was stated above (Question 32, Article 2) that in Extreme Unction it is necessary to have a sick man, in order to signify the need of healing. Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order. Some, however, have asserted that the male sex is necessary for the lawfulness and not for the validity of the sacrament, because even in the Decretals (cap. Mulieres dist. 32; cap. Diaconissam, 27, qu. i) mention is made of deaconesses and priestesses. But deaconess there denotes a woman who shares in some act of a deacon, namely who reads the homilies in the Church; and priestess [presbytera] means a widow, for the word “presbyter” means elder. (Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 39, A. 1)

Part of the Angelic Doctor’s reason why women cannot receive the sacrament of ordination is because they are in a state of subjection. St. Thomas Aquinas has already expressed previously that,

Subjection is twofold. One is servile, by virtue of which a superior makes use of a subject for his own benefit; and this kind of subjection began after sin. There is another kind of subjection which is called economic or civil, whereby the superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good; and this kind of subjection existed even before sin. For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates. Nor is inequality among men excluded by the state of innocence, as we shall prove (96, 3). (Summa Theologica, First Part, Q. 92, A. 1)

I think the main problem with the Evangelical egalitarians attempting to frame those who affirm the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (or any sort of subordination of the Son to the Father or any emphasis of the divine monarchy of the Son to the Father for that matter) as subordinationist heretics is an underlying assumption in their theology that subordination demotes one’s own nature. But one can be subject in authority to one’s boss while still being equally human. The subjection seen in the Trinity is therefore voluntary whether it is eternal or not. And one’s views on subjection in the Trinity does not necessarily dictate their views on gender roles either unless one assumes that the only text that matters in the theological and philosophical debate over women’s ordination, gender roles, and subjection in the Trinity debates in the church is 1 Cor. 11:3. If you’ll note, this text is never mentioned in St. John Paul II’s arguments against the ordination of women in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. And to be honest, I’ve never read much of Karol Wojtyla’s Trinitarian theology.


About newenglandsun

A student. Male. Passionate. Easily offended. Child-like wonderer. Growing in faith, messing up daily.
This entry was posted in Christology, Jesus is God, Trinitarianism. Bookmark the permalink.

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