In Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility (2016) the late Michael Ovey makes a careful and potent case for the Son’s subordination to the Father. That’s right; subordination. Ovey observes that the salient feature of Arianism, was that the subordination of the Son arose from his alleged created status. The Son was a creature, a seperate being, therefore he was subordinate to the Father. However those like Ovey who argue for the subordination of the Son are happily Pro-Nicene, because the Son is the same divine-being as the Father. Overy also explains that the Son being subordinate to the Father doesn’t sub-divide the divine nature. When Jesus says in anguish, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42), he’s speaking as a true Son to the Father. Volition, (ancient versus modern conceptions of that concept notwithstanding) is certainly an aspect of nature, but it is always expressed in personhood. As per the Chalcedonian quadrilateral (two natures, “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” ) Jesus was and is a unified person. Lastly, those who oppose the Son’s subordination to the Father claim that it’s a modern invention to buttress Complmentarian claims about the Trinity and gender roles. But Ovey carefully surveys the evidence, and finds that the subordination of the Son is a thread of orthodox theology that starts in the first centuries, continues through the ravages of the Arian controversy and then on past the Council of Nicea.

Ovey’s book assumes a basic understanding of church history, theology and the current Trinitarian controversy. He wastes no time with preambles and lays out his case systematically in a dense but readable format. It is without a doubt the clearest and most important articulation of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) view that has emerged in the current controversy about the Trinity. Ovey starts by explaining his thesis, that “the Son is a true Son. Since the Son is a true son, two things follow; first, he shares his Father’s nature, and is therefore fully God; and secondly he is in an eternal relationship as son in which he submits to his Father, as sons do, something aptly described as subordination.” (page 2) Chapters two and three then focus on the long historical presence of this ‘true Father-Son’. For example, Tertullian recognised the obedience of the Son, the Arians always linked the subordination of the Son with his alleged creaturely status and various Creeds after Nicene affirmed the Son’s eternal subordination.

Ovey is keen to make a comprehensive case and in chapter five demonstrates from the Gospel of John that the subordination of the Son isn’t just a convenient theological construction but an idea found in Scripture itself. As I described above one of the concerns of those opposed to the subordination of the Son is the division of the divine will. So Ovey in chapter six affirms the orthodoxy of dyothelitism and importantly discusses how this maps onto Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane. Ovey notes that “Far from being inconsistent with dyothelite theology, the eternal subordination of the Son fits well and preserves precisely that aspect, namely Jesus the Son as a unified and coherent Person, which is so important if dyothelitism is not to degenerate into Nestorianism.” (page 112) In otherwords, the Garden of Gethsemane conversation is between two persons, not a conversation between a human and a divine nature. The final chapter is an excursus into how our perceptions of power, hierarchy and love shape our perceptions of the subordination of the Son.

Subordination is a confronting word, not only because of all our associations with power, control and violence but because we are rightly afraid of making the Son somehow inferior to the Father. The Trinity is the central paradox of Christianity, marrying both distinction and unity. How can two persons be equal but different? What practically does that difference mean?

As the years pass we may end up agreeing that while the subordination of the Son is technically true, it’s a clumsy and crude way of describing a true Father-Son relationship. However to safeguard the eternal relations of the Trinity, the self-revelation of God and our new access to the eternal God we must affirm for now the subordination of the Son to the Father.

Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility
Mike Ovey
Latimer Trust
Find it at The Wandering Bookseller