Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kevin Giles Discusses Moltmann, Pannenberg and Catholic Views of the Trinity

The following paper outlines what Kevin Giles writes about subordinationism in the thought of Moltmann, Pannenberg and Roman Catholic theologians. I will discuss pp. 94-97 of Giles' work The Trinity and Subordinationism. All references are to his book.

I. Jurgen Moltmann and the Trinity

Jurgen Moltmann is one 20th century theologian and writer, who has intensely focused on the Trinity doctrine. Karl Barth has apparently exerted a great influence on Moltmann, especially with regard to the latter's stress on relationality. The community of the Three Persons within Moltmann's social Trinitarian thought is grounded in the Eastern notion of perichoresis (i.e. intermutuality, interpenetration
or mutual indwelling). The Three are considered to be divine subjects (centers of activity), Moltmann argues, who are coequal, live in one another, manifest themselves in one another, as they eternally work through one another (see Giles 94-95).

Giles concludes that Moltmann categorically repudiates "all subordinationism" (95). The Three Persons supposedly relate to the world and to one another in love. The argument is thus made that God is not a monarch to whom humans subject themselves. Rather, he is supposed to be "one who seeks a loving fellowship with those with whom he identifies himself" (ibid). Moltmann thinks God is our heavenly partner, it seems, suffering with and for us. Undoubtedly his form of social Trinitarianism is a result of his theological starting-point. He begins with God's activity in Heilsgeschichte (salvation history) rather than with God's immanence (divine existence in se).

II. Pannenberg, the Trinity and Subordinationism

Another significant Protestant theologian is Wolfhart Pannenberg. His thought has been described as "speculative" since he putatively has the tendency (Tendenz) to navigate theologically where other Trinitarian discussions are "currently cresting" (Giles quoting Ted Peters in Giles 95). Giles chooses Pannenberg because other Protestant theologians have stated that the German thinker espouses the eternal subordination of the Son. But while Pannenberg does write that the Son is "dependent" on the Father and he is evidently "differentiated" from the Father, Pannenberg's thought as a whole apparently does not support the claim made by certain Protestant theologians. Granted, he seems to believe that the Son and the Spirit are dependent on the Father; however, the Father is evidently also dependent on the Son in his post-resurrection existence according to Pannenberg:

"The Father's dependence on the Son takes place, Pannenberg argues, after Christ's resurrection, when he is given all power and authority, being made head over all things . . ." (Giles 96).

In nuce, it appears that Pannenberg believes the Son's dependence on the Father is balanced by the Father's mutual dependence on the Son. Giles thus concludes that a holistic reading of Pannenberg does not support the claim that he teaches the eternal subordination of the Son. To the contrary, a "mutuality in their relationship" obtains, is the view of Pannenberg.

III. Roman Catholicism and Subordinationism

Giles states that Roman Catholic treatments of the Trinity doctrine are examples of high-level scholarship: they are "impressive," and these Catholic studies apparently do not differ in substance from their Protestant counterparts. Giles summarizes these Roman Catholic works in the following way: "The Trinity is a communion of three distinct divine persons who interpenetrate one another and work as one, none being set over or under the others" (97).

Nevertheless, he reports that he was surprised when he researched Catholic books while writing his study, for he found that none of the Catholic works he consulted actually talked about subordinationism in any detail. He relates that Catholics think the pre-Nicenes "naively" subordinated the Son and Spirit to the Father (Bernard Lonergan). Furthermore, "Subordinationism is not given a hearing by Roman Catholic theologians because their doctrine of the Trinity is emphatically 'Western' "(ibid).

The Roman Catholic version of the Trinity doctrine supposedly begins with the unity of the persons. Ergo, "Whenever the divine unity is to the fore, subordinationism is excluded" (ibid). The Western Filioque clause also seems to preclude any suggestion that the Son is, in any way, subordinate to the Father. In ftn. 51 on page 97, Giles refers to Catholic books on the Trinity that he consulted in preparation for his study. He closes the section on Roman Catholic theologians by referring to Karl Rahner's rule, even though he denies that this notable axiom supports the eternal subordination of the Son concept. The famed rule says: "the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity."

So whether drawing from Protestant or Roman Catholic thinkers, Giles insists that neither type of theologia upholds subordinationism.


Matt13weedhacker said...

I find this thought interesting: "The argument is thus made that God is ( not a monarch ) to whom humans subject themselves."

The idea of "a monarch" and/or "monarchy" i.e. rule by One Person was a core issue in the late Second century, (Tertullian, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus, Hippolytus all mention or write works "On the Monarchy of God"). Rule by and of three EQUAL persons/rulers, (plural), would be a "Triarchy" without at least some sort of subordination involved. The earliest forms of the Tri{3}nity, all seem to me to involve some sort of subordination.

NOTE: The genuine, (contra psuedo-grapha), works on the "Monarchy" by Justin and Irenaeus are lost.

Edgar Foster said...

Appreciate your remarks, Matt13weedhacker:

Tertullian extensively discusses the monarchy in Adversus Praxean and I include some of the fathers you mention in my M.Th. thesis which was published by Roman and Littlefield. I agree that the language allows for/lends itself to subordination within the godhead. Each father you list subordinated the Son to the Father in a significant way.

Edgar Foster said...

Here is an endnote from my book on Tertullian and Angelomorphic Christology:

Moltmann's Trinity and the Kingdom, 130-134 contains pertinent information concerning the history of the term monarchia. He points out that this "curious hellenistic word-formation" is a Greek compound of μονας and μία αρχη. Moltmann consequently states that this term originates with Pythagorean terminology used in Alexandria. He observes that we also find the concept of God's monarchia in Philo, Justin, and Tatian where it respectively refers to God's lordship (Justin), the "monarchical constitution" of the cosmos (Tatian) or God's universal sovereignty (Philo). Tertullian appears to employ the signifier in order to reference God's supreme empire or rule (130-131). Moltmann argues that the pre-Nicenes thus replace the biblical concept of βασίλεία with what he calls, "an uncommonly seductive religious-political ideology" (131).

Matt13weedhacker said...

Just reading E. Hatches "Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church", and its interesting that in Lecture 8, chap. 2 he talks about the Greek philosophical concept of an ideal city state, or administration by the gods over man, and mentions Gk., ( oikonomia ) "economy" or "administration". Just coming up to the chapter on "God as the Supreme Being", which I suspect Gk., ( monarchia ) may will come into it.

I find a lot of inconsistency on the definition of this term Gk., ( μοναρχία ).

Some say "sole principle", some say "sole government". Others like Moltmann above, derives it from μονας, (= feminine gender of μόνος), "one alone" "solitary" and μία αρχη "one beginning" in a numerical and temporal sense. Which doesn't agree with Tertullian's definition below. I wonder why a modern Tri{3}nitarian would stare away from a personal, (singular person), definition?

I would like to read what he has to say anyway.

Others, (Tertullian's Adv. Prax. 3), derive it from μόνος, (masculine gender), "one [man i.e. person] only" in more of a personal sense, in the sense of singular a personal agent, i.e. "one [person] only" compounded with ἄρχων, archon, "ruler" rather than a temporal meaning of μία αρχη "one beginning", which I have a strong hunch leans more on Athanasius, (Contra Arianos Bk. 4, c. 1;), and his rather polarized re-definition from later times, than the etymology. A "one [person]" definition would not fit into a Gk., ( TRIAS ) "three" person scheme, modern or old. Thus the need to re-define to suit in later times.

ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA (circa. 296-373 C.E.): "...For the Word, being Son of the One God, is referred to Him of whom also He is; so that Father and Son are two, yet the Monad of the Godhead is indivisible and inseparable. And thus too we preserve One Beginning of Godhead and not two Beginnings, whence there is strictly a Monarchy. And of this very Beginning the Word is by nature Son, not as if another beginning, subsisting by Himself, nor having come into being externally to that Beginning, lest from that diversity a Dyarchy and Polyarchy should ensue; but of the one Beginning He is own Son, own Wisdom, own Word, existing from It. For, according to John, 'in' that 'Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,' for the Beginning was God; and since He is from It, therefore also 'the Word was God.' And as there is one Beginning and therefore one God, so one is that Essence and Subsistence which indeed and truly and really is, and which said 'I am that I am Exodus 3:14,' and not two, that there be not two Beginnings; and from the One, a Son in nature and truth, is Its own Word, Its Wisdom, Its Power, and inseparable from It. And as there is not another essence, lest there be two Beginnings, so the Word which is from that One Essence has no dissolution, nor is a sound significative [...] For as the Beginning is one Essence, so Its Word is one, essential, and subsisting, and Its Wisdom. For as He is God from God, and Wisdom from the Wise, and Word from the Rational, and Son from Father, so is He from Subsistence Subsistent, and from Essence Essential and Substantive, and Being from Being..." - (Discourse [Or "Book"] 4, Chapter 1, "Four Discourses Against the Arians,"
Translated by John Henry Newman and Archibald Robertson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.)

Matt13weedhacker said...

“...A monarchy is a form of government in which all political power is absolutely or nominally lodged with an individual, known as a monarch ("single ruler"), or king (male), queen (female)...”
“...The word monarch (Latin: monarcha) comes from the Greek μονάρχης (from μόνος, "one/singular," and ἄρχων, "leader/ruler/chief") which referred to a single, at least nominally absolute ruler...”
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

MONARCHY [SUBHEADING]: Word Origin & History
“..."RULE BY ONE PERSON," late 14c., from O.Fr. monarchie , from L.L. monarchia , from Gk. monarkhia "absolute rule," lit. "ruling of one," from monos "alone" (see mono-) + arkhein "to rule" (see archon). Meaning "a state ruled by monarchical government" is from early 15c...”
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

TERTULLIAN OF CARTHAGE (circa.145-225 C.E.): “...But I, if I have culled any knowledge of both languages, know that [Ltn., “monarchiam nihil aliud significare scio quam singulare et unicum imperium”] “MONARCHY” MEANS NOTHING ELSE BUT ( THE RULE OF ONE SINGLE PERSON ); but that monarchy, nevertheless, does not for the reason that it belongs to one, lay it down that he to whom it belongs should either not have a son or should have made his very self into a son for himself, or should not manage his monarchy through whom he will...” - (Chapter 3:2, Pages 32, “TERTULLIAN AGAINST PRAXEAS,” By Alexander Souter, D. Litt., Translations of Christian Literature Series II, Latin Texts, General Editors: W. J. Sparrow-Simpson, D.D., W. K. Lowther Clarke, B.D., Society For. Promoting Christian Knowledge. London, The Macmillan Company. New York, 1920.Alexander Souter.)

My paraphrase of Tertullian: “...that a “monarchy” means nothing else but rule by a single person, and to the exclusion of all others...” which I think fits the following context of the next senstence.

Ltn., ( singulare ) masculine, singular, ablative “by” or “with” “one [person] only”
Ltn., ( unicum ) masculine, singular, accusative
Ltn., ( imperium ) neuter, singular, accusative

Edgar Foster said...


I believe part of the difficulty stems from trying to understand this concept in 2-3 languages (Greek, Latin, and English) and we also have to contend with the dual meaning of ἀρχὴ.

Lewis-Short Latin Dictionary defines monarchia as "I.absolute rule, monarchy (post-class. for unius dominatio, imperium singulare, regnum, regalis potestas), Capitol. Max. and Balb. 14; Tert. adv. Prax. 14; Lact. 1, 5, 23."

But the Latin form is equivalent to the Greek μοναρχία.

And we know that the Greek has the same basic definition according to LSJ: monarchy or government by one ruler. The word can also reference the "supreme command" of a military official.

It appears that some fathers in the early church began using μοναρχία in the sense that Moltmann discusses: the word came to mean divine unity, to denote God as the supreme origin and principle of ta panta. See