On the Trinity and the Sexes

In the forthcoming issue of the Stone-Campbell Journal should appear my book review of Fr. Kevin Giles’ The Trinity and Subordinationism. I cannot reproduce that review here, though if there is a link to it online, I’ll update this blog. However, I can give a brief indication as to its content. Essentially, Fr. Giles is arguing that the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father is a heresy (it is) and that those who would found arguments for the subordination of women to men based on the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, are wrong (and they are). Fr. Giles also reveals the inconsistencies in the hermeneutical argumentation of proponents for the subordination of women to men as these relate to analogies to hermeneutical argumentation for slavery (admittedly, this is a necessary criticism he must make, but it is less substantial than the arguments related to the Trinity because even in the terms of those he criticizes, such an argument is much more tangential).

Had Fr. Giles stopped there in his argument, he would have provided a powerful resource for all those concerned for the Church’s teaching on the relationship between men and women and how this relates to matters of ordination to leadership ministry and other roles of women in leadership. Regrettably for his own argument and the resultant injury to the quality of his work, he does not.

Instead, Fr. Giles has an agenda. He wants to promote the belief that women should be admitted to roles of leadership, especially, for his concerns, positions of ordained leadership ministry. To do this, and this is where his argument falters, he must stress the unity of the Godhead at the expense of its diversity. It is here that we see most clearly the implications that Trinitarian beliefs have for practical Christian living.

Fr. Giles rightly points out that an imbalanced focus on the persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) leads to tri-theism. So he wants to stress the homoousios of the Son with the Father–which of course, all Christians should do. But to do so, Fr. Giles has recourse to the filioque clause–which states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son–inserted by the West into the Nicene Creed, and also on the so-called Athanasian Creed which depends on the filioque and has similar tendencies. It is precisely here that Fr. Giles’ argument falls apart.

For all Fr. Giles’ brilliant analysis of the problems of the heresy of eternal subordination, his mind becomes clouded with his agenda. He must prove the validity of the ordination of women to the priesthood, therefore he must stress the unity of the Godhead.

This imbalance leads him to fail to adequately maintain the distinctions of persons in the Trinity. By use of the filioque he turns a trinity into a duality: Father-Son and Holy Spirit. Instead of the eternal subordination of the Son, we have the eternal subordination of the Holy Spirit, which makes of the Holy Spirit something less than fully God.

In stressing the common essence (ousia) of the Godhead, he sacrifices the balance of the distinction of the persons. He rightly stresses the single action of begetting which Father and Son share, but fails to adquately maintain that as Father, God is begetter, and as Son, God is begotten. One essence, two (insofar as the activity of begetting is concerned) persons. Similarly, for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit and the Father share in the activity of procession. But they are distinct in that the Holy Spirit, as God, processes, and the Father, as God, originates that procession. (And this is precisely why the Spirit cannot be said to process from the Son, this confuses the distinction of the persons of the Father and the Son, and makes of the Holy Spirit something different than Father and Son.)

Instead, a proper Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead accomplishes two things: it establishes the equality and common worth of men and women (ousia), while limiting the roles that men and women may rightly assume (person, or, more technically, hypostasis). Ephesians 5.21ff is perhaps the most clearly analogous. The so-called haustafel passage begins with “submit to one another” (ousia) then follows with (hypostasis) “wives [submit] to your husbands as to the Lord,” “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” (Note: I have bracketed the word “submit” in the imperative to wives because literally the word is not there. It reads literally “wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.” The reason for this is that the imperative in the immediately preceding verse, “submit to one another,” grammatically covers the imperative to the wife. This is not interpretation, it’s Greek grammar, as any responsible exegete will admit.) One can also discern this same sort of structure in 1 Peter 3.1-7; Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Timothy 2:8-3:13; Titus 2:1-8; etc.

In other words to “deny” (which is a prejudicial word already coloring the argument with presuppositions) the validity of women’s ordination, contrary to Fr. Giles’ assertion, is not to succumb to heretical notions of the Godhead. Rather, it is to affirm, in part, precisely the sort of orthodoxy about the Trinity that Christians must affirm.

This is only one piece of the issue. Those concerned with these matters must also pursue Christian anthropology through the lenses of Christology. But certainly the Trinity is an important beginning point. We are made in the image of God. And so men and women share a common nature, while maintaining unique distinctions. This is why Jesus did not need to be both a woman and a man, to save all of humankind. As a man, he shared the same essential nature men and women share. Salvation is not effected by distinction of human persons. But the distinction of persons is not immaterial, and we humans, as icons of God, must image God with our distinctions. And this means we image God within the limitations given to us as persons. Aquila never gave birth. And Priscilla was never ordained to the priesthood. Yet both were saved and valued in their humanity.