In this post, I intend to move beyond the theologia/oikonomia distinction of use Class 1 and begin to piece together the developments that led to our current usage of the distinction (Classes 2 and 3), at each step assessing the orthodoxy of the claim that the Son is economically subordinate to the Father in eternity.  I will focus largely on the works of Herman Witsius and John Owen due to their popular work on the Pactum Salutis and the corresponding expansion of the oikonomia beyond the use of the Fathers. Also, an important contrast between these two great theologians will prove polemically valuable to our study as they differ on the implications of their shared doctrine re: the subordination of the Son to the Father.

“Economic” Subordination of the Son? Part 2: the Pactum Salutis

We began this study by considering the revised Ligonier Statement on Christology’s inclusion of the clause, “We deny the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in the ontological Trinity,” noting the debilitating ambiguity of the denial.  There are simply too many ways that theologians define the ontological/economical distinction such that the most ardent opponents of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) as well as its most ardent proponents can affirm the Statement’s denial. I went on to identify three different use classes of the distinction as found most commonly among those discussing ESS:

Class 1. The “economy” as in the oikonomia employed by the Church Fathers in contrast to the theologia.

Class 2. The “economy” as in the Economic Trinity, “the activity of God and the roles of the three persons with regard to creation and redemption,” as contrasted with the Immanent Trinity, “the Trinity in itself, without regard to God’s works of creation and redemption” (via Ligionier).  The former is the Trinity considered in se, as God is in His inner most life and being and the latter as He is considered ad extra in His works and operations revealed in history.

Class 3. The ESS usage of “economy,” which includes all of Class 2 Economic Trinity, but also illicitly includes the internal, interpersonal, relations of the Trinity.

(I say “use classes” because the defining edges of these groupings are admittedly rough.)

In the last post we discussed use Class 1, the oikonomia and theologia of the Church Fathers. After some quite exhaustive sampling of 1st through 7th century texts employing the distinction, we concluded that the conceptual distinction between theologia and oikonomia in Fathers does not refer to the in se life of the immanent Trinity in distinction to the ad extra works and operations of the Trinity in creation and redemption as required in Classes 2 and 3. In fact, to the Fathers, there is no “Ontological Trinity” or “Economic Trinity”; the theologia/oikonomia distinction has nothing to do with Trinitarian theology per se, but is primarily a Christological distinction.  The theologia is ascribed to the Son in His Divine Nature and all that is entailed by His true and perfect Godhead; the oikonomia is ascribed to the Son united with His manhood and all that is entailed by the appropriation of true flesh and human soul. And the purpose of the terms was to make plain that the properties of the latter do not diminish the properties of the former since it is an arrangement, a dispensation, a condescension, keeping the Natures distinct—God and man in one Person.

We concluded that the oikonomia/theologia distinction is simply that which grounds Athanasius’ Double Account:

Now the scope and character of Holy Scripture, as we have often said, is this,— it contains a double account of the Saviour; that He was ever God, and is the Son, being the Father’s Word and Radiance and Wisdom ; and that afterwards for us He took flesh of a Virgin, Mary Bearer of God , and was made man. And this scope is to be found throughout inspired Scripture.[1]

Augustine terms the same “the canonical rule”:

Wherefore, although we hold most firmly, concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, what may be called the canonical rule, as it is both disseminated through the Scriptures, and has been demonstrated by learned and Catholic handlers of the same Scriptures, namely, that the Son of God is both understood to be equal to the Father according to the form of God in which He is, and less than the Father according to the form of a servant which He took; in which form He was found to be not only less than the Father, but also less than the Holy Spirit; and not only so, but less even than Himself—not than Himself who was, but than Himself who is; because, by taking the form of a servant, He did not lose the form of God, as the testimonies of the Scriptures taught us.[2]

So, to the question of this series, can we say that the Son is economically eternally subordinate to the Father according to use Class 1 without exposure to all the same theological difficulties as modern ESS?  According to the oikonomia/theologia distinction of the Fathers, we can say that the Son is subordinate to the Father according to the oikonomia; but since the oikonomia is only in time, the subordination is not eternal.  Further, because the oikonomia only applies to the Son in His flesh, then the subordination is not according to His eternal Godhead.  And last, we must remember that the question doesn’t even really apply to the distinction of the Fathers as it was not a Trinitarian distinction to begin with.

The Reformation

Although the actual term oikonomia (or “economic”) had fallen into some disuse, the Double Account/Canonical Rule of the Fathers continued to be employed as a standard hermeneutic and exegetical principle all the way up to and through the Reformation, and only began to be modified during the early period of Reformed Scholasticism (we will discuss how and why below). Take for example John Calvin’s (1509-1564) commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:3, “the head of Christ is God,” wherein, in perfect accord with the Fathers, he employs the Double Account:

Let us, for the present, take notice of those four gradations which he points out. God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal.[3]

Or Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) answering an objection based on the same passage:

Objection 8: The Son has a head and is less than the Father. Therefore he is not one and the same essence with the Father.

Answer: The Son has a head in respect to his human nature, and his office as mediator. These things, however, do not detract any thing from his Divinity.[4]

We could, of course, iterate examples like this for the rest of the post—and that just on this one passage, let alone passages on “sending”, or Christ’s suffering, limited knowledge, or intercession.  As I am wont to do such things, we shall leave it here.

Early Reformed Scholasticism

Moving into the period of early Reformed Scholasticism, we continue to find similar use of the Fathers’ principle of economy. For instance, Herman Witsius’ (1636-1708) argues from the principle of economy when responding to the claim that Christ in His divinity became subject to the Law:

In order to remove this difficulty, we are accurately to distinguish between both natures considered separately, and the same natures united in the person of God-man. It was proper that both natures should act suitably to themselves and their distinct properties. Since the divine nature, as subsisting in the Son, could not truly and really be subject; therefore, by virtue of the covenant, it did not exert or display all its majesty in the assumed form of a servant; nor hinder that nature to which it was united by the hypostatical union, from being truly subject to the law, both as to the condition of the reward, and as to the penal sanction, which indeed, was neither a real renunciation, nor degradation of the divine superiority, but only a certain economical vailing of it for a time.[5]

This is the Christological use of the Fathers. John Owen (1616-1683) mentions the “economy” with the same Christological, Double Account import while discussing the priestly service of Christ:

Now, this oblation or offering of Christ I would not tie up to any one thing, action, or passion, performance, or suffering; but it compriseth the whole economy and dispensation of God manifested in the flesh and conversing among us, with all those things which he performed in the days of his flesh.[6]

But “economy” statements like these, with purely Christological import, soon became a novelty. It is in this period that we begin to see a widening of the Double Account model to include the Father and Holy Spirit as well; that is, we begin to see the notion of an “economy” of the whole Trinity emerging.  So Owen notes when discussing the Trinity that “we must consider a twofold operation of God as three in one.  The first hereof is absolute in all divine works whatever; the other respects the economy of the operations of God in our salvation”[7]. He goes on elsewhere,

There is an external economy and dispensation of the persons in reference to the work of our salvation, and what we draw nigh to them for. So the Father is considered as the foundation of all mercy, grace, glory, every thing that is dispensed in the covenant or revealed in the gospel, the Son receiving all from him, and the Spirit [being] sent by the Son to effect and complete the whole good pleasure of God in us and towards us.[8]

But please note clearly that in both passages, the “economy” of the Trinity is accorded only to the works of redemption.  Nowhere in this period do we find the notion of “economic Trinity” applied to Creation or including all ad extra works and operations of the Persons.  In fact, Owen is explicit in the passage above. He distinguishes the “absolute in all divine works whatever” from the “economy of the operations of God in our salvation.” What we are seeing here is the same hermeneutical and exegetical Double Account principle extended to the other Persons of the Trinity.  That is, the Christological oikonomia/theologia distinction employed by the Fathers to uphold the full Deity of the Son while maintaining the full humanity He assumed—the properties of the latter not diminishing the properties of the former—is here extended as a principle applying to the whole Trinity in their several and distinct (though inseparable) works of redemption.  Though each Person of the Trinity has different works within the one redemptive work, there is a condescension of each which misunderstood might lead one to question their full deity and single essence. As such, to properly maintain homoousia of the Persons, one must understand a specific economy of work carried out in time only for the work of redemption.

Owen writes of the Spirit in distinction to the Son,

The condescension of the Holy Spirit unto his work and office is not, indeed, of the same kind, as to the “terminus ad quem,” or the object of it. He assumes not our nature, he exposeth not himself unto the injuries of an outward state and condition; but yet it is such as is more to be the object of our faith in adoration than of our reason in disquisition. Consider the thing in itself: how one person in the holy Trinity, subsisting in the unity of the same divine nature, should undertake to execute the love and grace of the other persons, and in their names, — what do we understand of it? This holy economy, in the distinct and subordinate actings of the divine persons in these external works, is known only unto, is understood only by, themselves.[9]

He distinguishes in the same work between the eternal procession of the Spirit and the economic activity toward redemption:

His ekporeusis or proceeding, mentioned in the place insisted on, is his economical or dispensatory proceeding, for the carrying on of the work of grace. It is spoken of him in reference to his being sent by Christ after his ascension: “I will send him which proceedeth,” — namely, “then when I send him.” As God is said to “come out of his place,” Isa. xxvi. 21, not in regard of any mutation in him, but of the new work which he would effect; so it follows, the Lord comes out of his place “to punish the inhabitants of the earth.” And it is in reference to a peculiar work that he is said to proceed, — namely, to testify of Christ: which cannot be assigned to him in respect of his eternal procession, but of his actual dispensation.[10]

The economic work of the Spirit is a temporal dispensation, a condescension, that has only to do with His ad extra redemptive work. The oikonomia/theologia is extended, with much the same meaning as the Fathers and to much the same apologetic ends, to the whole of the Trinity.  Consequently, Owen references throughout his writings the “known maxim”, inaequalitas officii non tollit aequalitatem naturae; literally, “inequality of office does not take away equality of nature”.[11] This is the Double Account, the Canonical Rule, applied to each of the Persons of the Godhead, the whole of the Trinity.

We can almost see before our eyes the Christological Double Account being stretched to include the whole Trinity in the following passage from Benedict Pictet’s (1655-1724) Christian Theology:

[…]if the Son is said in any passage to be inferior to the Father, and to work by the power of the Father, such passage only shows that there is something in Christ besides the divine nature, viz. the human nature, according to which he is inferior to the Father, and also that there is a certain order of operation between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and a kind of economy; but it by no means proves that Christ, as God, is inferior to the Father.[12]

The Pactum Salutis

So what, we may ask, was the cause for this shift in use of “economy”? I would argue it was the rise and development of Covenant Theology in the early period of Reformed Scholasticism, and more specifically, the Pactum Salutis. Integral to the covenantal formulations of Coccejus, Owen, Witsius, etc., in the 17th century was the idea that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had in eternity past covenanted to redeem fallen man, each agreeing to certain redemptive tasks, with promised gifts for accomplishment and promised rewards. (This intra-Trinitarian Covenant has been variously called the Pactum Salutis, the Covenant of Redemption, and the Council of Peace.) Johannes Coccejus (1603-1669) summarizes here:

The council of peace involves the triune God and has its own oeconomia — an economy with specific legal relationships.

To formulate it more precisely: the concilium pacis or pactum salutis describes a relationship among the three Trinitarian persons in a negotiated agreement (negotium) in which these persons act as legal parties who are mutually obligated to each other.  The Father functions both as the Lawgiver who requires that righteousness be rendered and that sin be punished in the person of the Son, and as the all-wise Sovereign, who appoints his Son as sponsor in order to reveal his mercy in his dealing with his creatures.[13]

It is not my intention to explicate this covenant, but only to demonstrate its connection to the development of the “economic Trinity”.  And we see it clearly in this statement from Coccejus. The notion of economy, as inherited from the Fathers, is put in service of the Pactum. Just as the eternal Son condescended to take upon Himself a true human nature without diminishing His divine attributes, so the Father and the Spirit, by common agreement and covenant, condescend and act in different offices toward redemption without diminishing the divine homoousia of the Persons. As quoted earlier from Owen,

There is an external economy and dispensation of the persons in reference to the work of our salvation, and what we draw nigh to them for. So the Father is considered as the foundation of all mercy, grace, glory, every thing that is dispensed in the covenant or revealed in the gospel, the Son receiving all from him, and the Spirit [being] sent by the Son to effect and complete the whole good pleasure of God in us and towards us.[14]

We have, due to the Pactum Salutis, not only a redemptive mission of the Son that does not diminish His deity: “He who was in the form of God, and equal to him, was in the form of a servant, whereunto he humbled himself, his servant, and less than he”[15], we also have a redemptive mission of the Spirit that does not diminish His deity:

There is an ekporeusis or “procession” of the Spirit, which is oikonomike or “dispensatory.” This is the egress of the Spirit in his application of himself unto his work. A voluntary act it is of his will, and not a necessary property of his person.[16]

And a redemptive mission of the Father,

[…]for in this agreement the part of the enjoiner, prescriber, and promiser, whose will in all things is to be attended unto, is on the Father. And his will was naturally at a perfect liberty from engaging in that way of salvation which he accomplished by Christ.[17]

The Pacum Salutis and Subordination: Witsius vs. Owen

We come now to our chief question for the piece: can one say that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father according to this Pactum driven sense of “economic” without exposure to the same criticisms leveled against modern ESS?  It would seem upon a cursory reflection that an economy of the Trinity grounded in the Pactum Salutis would indeed suffer the same ill fate as modern formulations of ESS. True, the definition of “economic” used by these Reformed Scholastics is certainly much closer to Class 1 than both Class 2 and the ESS Class 3; but does this formulation not push the temporal subordination relations between the Persons back into eternity, as the Pactum was forged in eternity?  And does not the charge of tritheism seem to hold as well since we are here contemplating each Person committing to a specific task, including the Son submitting to the Father’s authority in eternity?  Does this not assume three wills and therefore three natures and therefore three gods?

Herman Witsius sees no such subjection implied by the Pactum and strictly maintains the oikonomia/theologia distinction of the Fathers and does not seem to extend the Double Account beyond that of the Christological application.  In his Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, he explains that the undertaking of the Son in this eternal Covenant implies no subjection:

The Son, as precisely God, neither was, nor could be subject to any law, to any superior; that being contrary to the nature of Godhead, which we now suppose the Son to have in common with the Father.  “He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” No subjection, nothing but the highest super-eminence can be conceived of the Deity.[…]

Nor is it any objection against this, that the Son, from eternity, undertook for men, and thereby came under a certain peculiar relation to those that were to be saved. For, as that engagement was nothing but the most glorious act of the divine will of the Son, doing what none but God could do, it implies therefore no manner of subjection: it only imports, that there should be a time, when that divine person, on assuming flesh, would appear in the form a servant.  And by undertaking to perform this obedience, in the human nature, in its proper time, the Son, as God, did no more subject himself to the Father, than the Father with respect to the Son, to the owing that reward of debt, which he promised him a right to all claims.  All these things are to be conceived of in a manner becoming God.[18]

For Witsius, the eternal covenant does not imply an eternal subordination because (1) the Son is true God, (2) it was by His divine will that He entered into the agreement, (3) the agreement was for the Son to become subject in time, and last, (4) the agreement implies a mutual subjection and dependency between the Father and the Son. A couple pages later in this work, he goes on to discuss the question with reference to Christ in His incarnate mission:

It is here usual to enquire, whether Christ as Mediator, is inferior to the Father, and subordinate to him. But this controversy, it seems, may be easily settled among the orthodox: if the Mediator be considered in the state of humiliation, and the form of a servant, he is certainly inferior to the Father, and subordinate to him. […]we may look upon the very mediatorial office in itself as importing a certain economical inferiority, of subordination; as being to be laid down, when all things shall be perfectly finished, and Go himself shall be all in all, 1 Cor. Xv. 28.[19]

Again, for Witsius, the subordination of the Son is perfectly in accord with the teaching of the Fathers.  It exists nowhere except according to the Son in His flesh, and certainly not according to the eternal nature of the Son.

I, of course, agree with every word of this, but unfortunately the case may not be so simple.  John Owen seems to be more subtle in his approach to this discussion and possibly more aware of the implications of he and Witsius’ Pactum.  According to Owen, for the Pactum Salutis to be a true covenant, it must include “(1.) A proposal of service; (2.) A promise of reward; (3.) An acceptance of the proposal, with a restipulation of obedience out of respect unto the reward.” As such, the Pactum,

[…]indispensably introduceth an inequality and subordination in the covenanters as to the common ends of the covenant, however on other accounts they may be equal; for he who prescribes the duties which are required in the covenant, and giveth the promises of either assistance in them or a reward upon them, is therein and so far superior unto him, or greater than he who observeth his prescriptions and trusteth unto his promises. Of this nature is that divine transaction that was between the Father and Son about the redemption of mankind.[20]

So, if in eternity the Father and Son have entered into an actual covenant, then in eternity there is an order of subordination between the Persons resulting from such voluntary arrangement.  Owen continues,

And on this account it is that our Saviour says his Father is greater than he, John 14:28. This place, I confess, the ancients expound unanimously of the human nature only, to obviate the Arians, who ascribed unto him a divine nature, but made, and absolutely in itself inferior to the nature of God. But the inferiority of the human nature unto God or the Father is a thing so unquestionable as needed no declaration or solemn attestation, and the mention of it is no way suited unto the design of the place. But our Saviour speaks with respect unto the covenant engagement that was between the Father and himself as to the work which he had to do: for therein, as we shall further manifest, the Father was the prescriber, the promiser, and lawgiver; and the Son was the undertaker upon his prescription, law, and promises.[21]

Here, Owen even goes so far as to say that in John 14:28 Jesus is less than the Father due to the Pactum, contrary to the Double Account interpretation his forebears.

But even more difficult is his awareness that the very idea of a compact between the Persons of the Trinity implies an exercise of distinct wills. He refers throughout his presentation of the Pactum to such multiplicity of wills:

[…]the will of the Father and Son concurred in this matter[…]. And the original of the whole is referred to the will of the Father constantly. […] And the same is further evidenced by the exercise of his [the Father’s] authority, […]for none puts forth his authority but voluntarily, or by and according unto his own will. […] The will of the Son also was distinct herein. In his divine nature and will he undertook voluntarily for the work of his person when the human nature should be united thereunto, which he determined to assume.[22]

Many have pointed out the true danger of this language—verging on blasphemy and threatening to destroy the historic Nicene formulation—and thus many have rejected the Pactum Salutis itself.  Not only does the Pactum suggest an eternal subordination of the Son similar to modern ESS (and laden with all of its theological difficulties), it also blatantly includes one of the most obvious and disqualifying conclusions of ESS, viz., multiplicity of wills. I am personally tempted, at this point, to reject the Pactum Salutis as well, following others in seeing such eternal covenant language in the Scripture as no more than metaphorical or anthropomorphic language describing mysteries which are not directly conceivable to the human mind.

But I wonder at this point, how did Witsius and Owen come to such different conclusions on the implications of their common doctrine?  As explicated by WItsius, I see no difficulty in the Pactum; but as more fully explicated by Owen, I see great difficulty.  Is there a bridge between Owen’s presentation of the Pactum and Witsius’ conclusions on subordination and “wills”?

Fortunately, Owen was a master of theology and was fully aware of the difficulties presented by distinguishing the “will of the Father” from the “will of the Son.” He deals with this difficulty head on in An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.  While many do not find his answer to his own conundrum satisfactory, I believe it does forge the way for showing continuity between he and Witsius on subordination in the Pactum.  He first presents the objection and then proposes the solution; I will quote at length:

But this sacred truth must be cleared from an objection where unto it seems obnoxious, before we do proceed. “The will is a natural property, and therefore in the divine essence it is but one. The Father, Son, and Spirit, have not distinct wills. They are one God, and God’s will is one, as being an essential property of his nature; and therefore are there two wills in the one person of Christ, whereas there is but one will in the three persons of the Trinity. How, then, can it be said that the will of the Father and the will of the Son did concur distinctly in the making of this covenant?”

This difficulty may be solved from what hath been already declared; for such is the distinction of the persons in the unity of the divine essence, as that they act in natural and essential acts reciprocally one towards another,—namely, in understanding, love, and the like; they know and mutually love each other. And as they subsist distinctly, so they also act distinctly in those works which are of external operation. And whereas all these acts and operations, whether reciprocal or external, are either with a will or from a freedom of will and choice, the will of God in each person, as to the peculiar acts ascribed unto him, is his will therein peculiarly and eminently, though not exclusively to the other persons, by reason of their mutual in-being. The will of God as to the peculiar actings of the Father in this matter is the will of the Father, and the will of God with regard unto the peculiar actings of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son. And in this respect the covenant whereof we treat differeth from a pure decree; for from these distinct actings of the will of God in the Father and the Son there doth arise a new habitude or relation, which is not natural or necessary unto them, but freely taken on them. And by virtue hereof were all believers saved from the foundation of the world, upon the account of the interposition of the Son of God antecedently unto his exhibition in the flesh; for hence was he esteemed to have done and suffered what he had undertaken so to do, and which, through faith, was imputed unto them that did believe.[23]

His solution is that the one will of the Father and Son can be distinguished according to their peculiar actings toward redemption.  It is not that the Father has one will and the Son another, but rather we can distinguish a “will of the Father” and a “will of the Son” according to the workings and objects that they terminate upon in time. The will is one, the peculiar terminus of the actions of the Persons accords a distinction without difference.

This is remarkably important for our discussion, for if the eternal covenant itself, the Pactum Solutus itself, is entirely an arrangement of the Persons of the one God working in distinct ways toward temporal missions, then the subordination and subjection erected therein is also only toward the temporal missions; that is, the economy of the Trinity as defined by the Reformed Scholastics as borne out of the Pactum is, strictly, the subordinate actings of the Person performing their temporal missions.  And this brings us full circle back to the “economic” Trinity as an extension of the Double Account, the Canonical Rule, and the expanded oikonia/theologia distinction of the Fathers.  This is evident throughout the works of John Owen.  He writes of the Son: “He that was less than his Father as to the work of mediation, being the Father’s servant therein, is equal to him as his Son, as God blessed for ever.”[24] Further,

And these two distinct respects have we to Jesus Christ, our mediator, who is Theanthropos, God and man, in our religious worship, and all acts of communion with him: As one with the Father, we honour him, believe in him, worship him, as we do the Father; [430] as mediator, depending on the Father, in subordination to him[…][25]

And as we quoted earlier of the Holy Spirit, “it is in reference to a peculiar work that he is said to proceed.”[] He also writes specifically of the issue of authority, and limits it to the temporal work only:

He that gives any thing hath authority to dispose of it. None can give but of his own, and that which in some sense he hath in his power. Now, the Father is said to give the Spirit, and that upon our request, as Luke xi. 13. This, I acknowledge, wants not some difficulty in its explication; for if the Holy Ghost be God himself, as hath been declared, how can he be said to be given by the Father, as it were in a way of authority? But keeping ourselves to the sacred rule of truth, we may solve this difficulty without curiosity or danger. (1) […]this authority of the Father doth immediately respect the work itself, and not the person working; but the person is said to be given for the work’s sake. (2.) The economy of the blessed Trinity in the work of our redemption and salvation is respected in this order of things. […] (3.) In the whole communication of the Spirit, respect is had unto his effects, or the ends for which he is given.[26]

This is consistent with Owen’s explanation of the one will of God distinguished economically toward the variegated temporal works of redemption.

A terminological tension yet remains between Witsius and Owen as Witsius prefers to narrow the use of “economy” to the Son only, and that only according to His incarnation.  Owen freely extends the use of “economy” to the whole Trinity in the work of redemption, and with reference to the Son, extends it to the whole of His mediatorial work upon compacting in eternity.  But if we understand Owen to be speaking of an eternal covenant whose personal engagements are defined by the one will of God variegated only by the Persons redemptive actions and works in time, then the substance of the two men’s position is quite the same with reference to the Father, Son, and Spirit.  Just as for Witsius, the economic subordination of the Son extends only to His incarnation, so for Owen the economic subordination of the Son and the Spirit extends only to the temporal missions and not according to the Persons in eternity; that is, to the Son in His incarnation and the Spirit in His missional procession.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would argue that the “economic Trinity” as understood by the early Reformed Scholastics, referring as it does only to (1) redemption and not to the whole of God’s ad extra works, and (2) the variegated works and actings of the Persons in their redemptive missions, is in substance identical to the oiknomia/theologia of the Church Fathers and is simply an extension of the Double Account to the whole of the Trinity.  It represents the same interpretive and apologetic purpose of the Fathers, to maintain the homoousia of the Godhead with all of the properties of deity while also fully acknowledging the subordinate actings of the Persons in time toward redemption, without the latter properties diminishing the former.  This includes maintaining the equal authority of the Persons in eternity while maintaining the temporal condescension of the Persons toward their several works of redemption in time and in space. As quoted above, “this authority of the Father doth immediately respect the work itself, and not the person working.”

As such, we may say that there is indeed an economic subordination of the Son to the Father, as well as the Spirit to the Father, but not in eternity and not according to the Persons, but exclusively according to their redemptive actings in time. This is simply the Christological Double Account of the Fathers extended to the whole of the Trinity.

 

___________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Discourses Against the Arians, 3.26.29

[2] On the Trinity, 2.1.2

[3] Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11

[4] Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 374

[5] Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, p. 154

[6] Owen, John . The Works of John Owen: The Mortification Of Sin, Catechisms, Of Justification by Faith, Pneumatologia, Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy … (Kindle Locations 80658-80664).

[7] ibid., Kindle Locations 56965-56980

[8] ibid., Kindle Locations 141582-141585

[9] ibid., Kindle Locations 75159-75168

[10] ibid., Kindle Locations 45679-45699

[11] ibid., Kindle Locations 45726-45743

[12] Pictet, Benedict. Christian Theology (Kindle Locations 1600-1603). Pneuma Press. Kindle Edition.

[13] W. J. Van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius: (1603-1669) (Brill, 2001), p. 230

[14] Owen, John . The Works of John Owen: The Mortification Of Sin, Catechisms, Of Justification by Faith, Pneumatologia, Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy … (Kindle Locations 141582-141585).

[15] ibid., Kindle Locations 136584-136601

[16] ibid., Kindle Locations 55170-55175

[17] Owen, John. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol II (An Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 2) (Kindle Location 1912).

[18] Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, pp. 183-184 

[19] ibid., p. 188

[20] Owen, John. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol II (An Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 2) (Kindle Location 1859).

[21] ibid., Kindle Locations 1881-1891

[22] ibid., Kindle Locations 1908-1925

[23] ibid., Kindle Locations 1946-1962

[24] Owen, John . The Works of John Owen: The Mortification Of Sin, Catechisms, Of Justification by Faith, Pneumatologia, Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy … (Kindle Locations 136584-136601).

[25] ibid., Kindle Locations 141462-141484

[26] ibid., Kindle Locations 54968-54987

9 Responses

  1. Jay Ryder

    Hi Brad.
    You’ve spent considerable time working this out and explicating. Similar territory was covered in the previous debates, but it is good to have a recounting with quotes from original sources.

    Two issues:
    1) Pactum Salutis. (vs. solutis)
    2) Owen.
    Your conclusion of Owen’s description of the distinct acts of the Father and Son don’t necessarily comport with his position.
    Owen:
    “not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son. And in this respect the covenant whereof we treat differeth from a pure decree; for from these distinct actings of the will of God in the Father and the Son there doth arise a new habitude or relation, which is not natural or necessary unto them, but freely taken on them. And by virtue hereof were all believers saved from the foundation of the world, upon the account of the interposition of the Son of God antecedently unto his exhibition in the flesh; for hence was he esteemed to have done and suffered what he had undertaken so to do,”
    When Owen speaks of “what he had undertaken so to do” this refers back before the foundation of the world.
    From my perspective, the important point of mentioning the distinct acting of the will is to understand submission as an act, unlike subordination, which is a state. Swain and Allen mention the same in Church Dogmatics. Therefore, in Owen , we see the Son who undertook his mission in eternity past as an act of the one will in God.
    No subordination. Economic submission in tact.
    Hope that helps.

    Reply
    • Profile photo of Brad Mason
      Brad Mason

      Oh wow, you are the man! Nice save brother! Fixed.

      As for the understanding of Owen, I am probably just not explaining well. I agree that it was in eternity, but I am arguing that it was nevertheless toward the mission, the incarnation. Remove the temporal terminus of the covenant and it would seem that we are stuck again with three wills. It seems to me that either we read Owen as I have suggested, or we are indeed left with divided wills. My argument also seems to fit with his explanations elsewhere which always seem to include that the economy, the wills, the subordination, the authority, etc., are always related to the works and actings of the Persons. E.g.,

      “But keeping ourselves to the sacred rule of truth, we may solve this difficulty without curiosity or danger. (1) […]this authority of the Father doth immediately respect the work itself, and not the person working; but the person is said to be given for the work’s sake. (2.) The economy of the blessed Trinity in the work of our redemption and salvation is respected in this order of things. […] (3.) In the whole communication of the Spirit, respect is had unto his effects, or the ends for which he is given.”

      I will continue to explore. Thank you again!

      Reply
  2. Matt Powell

    So you’re willing to accept a subordination within the persons of the Trinity with respect to their workings in time, specifically just with respect to the works of redemption, but not reading any of that back into any aspect of their eternal relations?

    Problems: God constantly says that He is revealing Himself through His acts in history. In fact, speaking for example of the eternal procession of the Spirit, it is only because of the sending of the Father and the Son in the history of redemption that we have any idea of the eternal procession. That is to say, the church fathers historically read backwards from the works of redemption to the eternal mode of subsistence. If the works of redemption tell us nothing about the eternal relations, then at a minimum we have to jettison the eternal procession of the Spirit. Or how would you defend the idea of eternal procession?

    And would you then say that it is completely coincidental that the order in which the Persons operate in the history of redemption just happens to mirror the order of the modes of subsistence? That is, in the modes of subsistence, we have the Father as first, subsisting of Himself alone, the Son second, subsisting from the Father, and the Spirit third, subsisting from the Father and the Son. And that order is then duplicated in the works of redemptive history- Father sending the Son, the Father and the Son in turn sending the Spirit. And yet the one has nothing to do with the other? Could it have been the case that the Son sent the Father? Could they have operated in history in the reverse order from the modes of subsistence?

    And if not, if the works in redemptive history mirror the modes of subsistence, wouldn’t you conclude that therefore that reveals something essential about the nature of the Trintiy’s relations, and that it would be mirrored in all their works? And in fact, this is what you see- when the Son is spoken of as being involved in creation, it is in an instrumental sense- all things were created THROUGH the Son, for example (John 1:3, Col 1:16, for example).

    Reply
    • Profile photo of Brad Mason
      Brad Mason

      I would agree with the Fathers (though they didn’t say it like this) and with Owen (in this case) that the eternal processions are reflected in the order of operations. And I can agree that the redemptive missions reflect the order of operations. But I do not agree that the works in time undertaken economically imply an eternal relation of submission and authority due to the processions or order of operations. The condescension of the Son was in no wise required by His eternal nature and was actually a setting aside of eternal prerogative. I am in full agreement with the Fathers that this order of submission to authority relates only to the Son incarnate, but I am unsure if I agree with Owen’s extension. I am sure that nothing about an ordered operation of the three Persons of the same nature and will in any way implies a relation of authority and submission. I literally don’t think that could be stated without dumping too much agreed upon Trinitarian theology. And I don’t think it is necessitated by any passage.

      I think I may be able to agree with Owen, but only as formulated in the article. Just as he argues we can speak of the one will of the Father accorded to each Person differently only in as much as the one will terminates upon specific and variegated temporal works, so with the subordination. As he wrote, “this authority of the Father doth immediately respect the work itself, and not the person working.”

      The furthest I may be able to go with Owen may be this:

      “That these things may be rightly understood and apprehended, we must consider a twofold operation of God as three in one. The first hereof is absolute in all divine works whatever; the other respects the economy of the operations of God in our salvation. In those of the first sort, both the working and the work do in common and undividedly belong unto and proceed from each person. And the reason hereof is, because they are all effects of the essential properties of the same divine nature, which is in them all, or rather, which is the one nature of them all. But yet as they have one nature, so there is an order of subsistence in that nature, and the distinct persons work in the order of their subsistence: John v. 19, 20, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” The Father doth not first work in order of time, and then the Son, seeing of it, work another work like unto it; but the Son doth the same work that the Father doth. This is absolutely necessary, because of their union in nature. But yet in the order of their subsistence, the person of the Father is the original of all divine works, in the principle and beginning of them, and that in order of nature antecedently unto the operation of the Son. Hence he is said to “see” what the Father doth; which, according unto our former rule in the exposition of such expressions, when ascribed unto the divine nature, is the sign and evidence, and not the means, of his knowledge. He sees what the Father doth, as he is his eternal Wisdom. The like must be said of the Holy Spirit, with respect both unto the Father and Son. And this order of operation in the Holy Trinity is not voluntary, but natural and necessary from the one essence and distinct subsistences thereof. Secondly, There are those operations which, with respect unto our salvation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do graciously condescend unto, which are those treated of in this place. Now, though the designing of this work was absolutely voluntary, yet, upon a supposition thereof, the order of its accomplishment was made necessary from the order of the subsistence of the distinct persons in the Deity; and that is here declared.”

      So, for Owen, the order of operations was necessitated by order of procession, but the order of temporal works toward redemption was not. And if we reiterate his general argument that the “wills” that agreed to the Pactum were the one will variegated only as toward the temporal redemptive work, and that only upon this supposition do the order of redemptive operations have consequent necessity, then I think we might be able to agree with Owen and still maintain the teaching of the Fathers and creeds, leaving no place for an eternal subordination of the Son or a subordination among the Persons of the Trinity.

      The Fathers knew very well there was an order of operations. They also believed these operations to be inseparable, a motion of the one will of God. They also knew that even within this order of operation each Person of the Trinity was also a principle efficient cause and NOT simply instrumental, being of the same nature and will (they wrote a lot about this; Owen wrote as well, “so also the Word is said to make the world, as a principal efficient cause himself.”). And the Fathers consistently used such arguments AGAINST subordination.

      Reply
      • Matt Powell

        Brad, how would you characterize an “order of operations”? What does that exactly mean? In the “order of operations”, in what sense is the Father first, Son second, Spirit third?

      • Profile photo of Brad Mason
        Brad Mason

        Well, I certainly don’t interpret it to mean that there is any commands or obedience going on, nor authority and submission going on. We are talking of God here, each Person wholly God, with no gradations, none before or after, and one Nature and one will. I see no reason to even think subordination in the sense of authority and submission would even be implied by it, unless we analogize from human relations.

        I think of it all pretty much exactly as Gregory of Nyssa in “On Not Three Gods”: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2905.htm

        It is the one inseparable nature and will of God working from, through, and to all that He does ad extra.

  3. Barbara Roberts

    Thank you Brad for this post.
    When I first heard about the Pactum Salutis, which was when I joined a Presbyterian Church after having come from Arminian type churches, I was initially shocked, taken aback and dismayed, because it seemed to imply that each person of the Trinity had a separate will and I knew that was wrong. I have been quite reluctant to accept it as a doctrine, for that reason. But the way you have recounted and explained Owen’s understanding of it makes sense to me. The way Owen explains it, it no longer smells of heresy. It has the fragrance of love — the love of God for those He has chosen from before the foundation of the world.

    And by the way, I haven’t read all your reply to Matt Powell, but I honour your for disagreeing with him. I’ve dealt with Matt Powell in my work at A Cry For Justice. In my experience, he is a guy who is mainlines Authority and Subordination relentlessly and who has no compunction about how his views hurt and harm Christians who are victims of abusers.

    Reply
    • Matt Powell

      Funny how just last week at Synod I got called a liberal and a feminist 🙂 Guess you can’t please everyone.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Skip to toolbar