The Glove Doesn’t Fit

Eternal Relational Authority-Submission (ERAS) is inconsistent with eternal generation, the homoousian, the divine unity, and related doctrines

Ware says that he embraces EG as “the only explanation that grounds the Father as the eternal Father, and the Son as the eternal Son.” Though he remains concerned about biblical support, he is happy to affirm the church’s doctrine of the eternal modes of subsistence: the Father is the Father because he begets the Son, and the Son is the Son because he is begotten of the Father. Regretfully, however, he undoes these affirmations by positing that EG entails the idea that the Father “has the intrinsic paternal hypostatic position of having authority over his Son,” and the Son “has the intrinsic filial hypostatic position of being in submission to his Father.” EG entails nothing of the sort. 

 
A few days ago, Bruce Ware offered a substantial reply to the recent criticisms voiced against the doctrine of eternal relational authority-submission (ERAS). Others, including Mark Jones, have penned thoughtful rejoinders to the post as a whole. I wish to concentrate on Ware’s comments about the doctrine of eternal generation (EG) – not because Ware tells the reading public for the first time that he affirms this as the “church’s doctrine,” nor because he does so having once labeled the doctrine with the shibboleths of speculative and unbiblical (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 162, fn. 3). No, rather, because Ware contends that ERAS fits hand in glove with EG. This glove, however, doesn’t fit. ERAS is not only inconsistent with EG, but Ware’s suggestion to the contrary also highlights (again) the questions and concerns about ERAS’s understanding of the homoousian, the divine unity, and related doctrines.

Ware says that he embraces EG as “the only explanation that grounds the Father as the eternal Father, and the Son as the eternal Son.” Though he remains concerned about biblical support, he is happy to affirm the church’s doctrine of the eternal modes of subsistence: the Father is the Father because he begets the Son, and the Son is the Son because he is begotten of the Father. Regretfully, however, he undoes these affirmations by positing that EG entails the idea that the Father “has the intrinsic paternal hypostatic position of having authority over his Son,” and the Son “has the intrinsic filial hypostatic position of being in submission to his Father.” EG entails nothing of the sort.

EG is concerned with how the Son can be said to have the whole divine essence, as does the Father and the Spirit, but in such a way as the essence remains undivided (avoiding tritheism) and the persons not confounded (avoiding modalism, Sabellianism, etc.). Francis Cheynell states the doctrine succinctly: “The divine persons are distinguished by their inward and personal actions. The Father did from all Eternity communicate the living essence of God to the Son, in a most wonderfull and glorious way” (The Divine Trinunity, 188-89). Because each person subsists ad intra, within the divine essence, the modes of subsistence are necessary, eternal, and immutable. The communication of essence from the Father to the Son thus precludes any division of essence, as well as the idea that any of the three persons are “before or after the others in time, dignity, or degree” (Zacharias Ursinus, Corpus doctrinae, 136). EG rules out any distinction of “degree, state, or dignity” among the persons subsisting in the essence (Lucas Trelcatius, Scholastica et methodica, 22).

To be in an intrinsic position of hypostatic submission seems to entail more than the Son’s subsistent relation to the Father, which is what EG propounds, but instead a degree or state of subsistence under the Father. If not, what does sub mean in submission? If I am reading Ware correctly, he wants to say that the Father and the Son subsist in these relative positions, states, or degrees within the Godhead. Yet, if Ursinus and Trelcatius are correct (and we could cite others saying much the same), the Son’s mode of subsistence as eternally begotten of the Father, as the consubstantial and co-equal Son of the Father, can in no way allow for a graded, ranked, or hierarchical relation under the Father ad intra. To suggest otherwise is to divide that which is indivisible, the divine essence.

What, however, of Ware’s suggestion that “the eternal relations of authority and submission…flow out from and are expressive of those eternal modes of subsistence”? This seems to be saying something different than that EG entails the Son’s intrinsic position of hypostatic submission.

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