Is Subordinationism a Heresy?
The modern resurgence of orthodoxy in Anglican circles takes as its cardinal tenet the eternal coinherence of three persons in the one Godhead, equal in substance, rank and power. This is assumed to be the doctrine of the Nicene Council of 325, and the putative heresy that denies it is known by the term subordinationism. Although the ample lexicon of Greek heresiology supplies no clear antecedent for this term, the charge of subordinationism is thought to imperil any claim to be teaching in the catholic tradition, even if the teacher is Barth or Rahner. The confidence with which these accusations are levelled, however, seems to be in an inverse ratio to the accuser’s knowledge of history, for neither in New Testament scholarship nor at the cutting edge of the modern study of patristics will one find much evidence that subordinationism is even an anomaly, let alone an aberration from the biblical or conciliar norm. It is only in modern theology, not in the writings of empirical historians, that the Gorgon’s head of Arius is held up to those who question the strict equality of persons. At the same time, we must not forget that the systematician’s reading of Nicaea was until recently also that of the historian. No doubt the reason is partly that until the last half–century every historian was also a confessional theologian; but there is also a certain truth in the older approach so long as some pains are taken to define “subordination”.
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