Thomas Aquinas on the Obedience of the Son (re: “The Obedience of the Eternal Son,” Part 3)



After questioning the motivation for the essay “The Obedience of the Eternal Son” in my first post, and then justifying my representation of the essay in the second, we are now in a position to enter into the substance of the discussion. But rather than continue with polemics, I have decided to take a piece of advice from Dr. Michael Allen and engage more constructively. (Plus, very few of my readers are even familiar with the essay under consideration as it is not easily linkable.) I do intend to continue questioning the thesis of the so-called “obedience of the eternal Son,” but rather by presenting what I believe to be an accurate representation of the Biblical data, and then comparing several alternate claims, concluding with an assessment of Drs. Swain and Allen’s parrying of the objections of Thomas Joseph White to their thesis.

As the work of Thomas Aquinas is the primary resource for Swain and Allen’s coordination of “the obedience of the eternal Son” with “traditional trinitarian metaphysics in the classical Catholic and Reformed tradition,” I will accordingly present what I perceive to be the Catholic and Reformed tradition as found in Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.

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Some Questions re: “The Obedience of the Eternal Son”: Part 2, Clarifications and Justifications


What Should Be Clear

Though I did intend in the first post of this series to disagree with Swain and Allen’s essay, “The Obedience of the Eternal Son,” I certainly did not want to misrepresent it. I think I have stated clearly that neither Scott Swain nor Michael Allen held to the Eternal Functional Subordination of the Son (EFS), nor was their essay intended to support it. It would make no sense in the context of their piece to argue that they did. The point of their essay was to show a path such that one could affirm the obedience of the eternal Son of God without succumbing to such ahistorical revisions of Trinitarian doctrine and metaphysics as found in EFS. They refer specifically the specter of identifying “obedience as the Son’s distinguishing personal property (usually identified as the Son’s ‘role’ in the Trinity),” pointing to Grudem and Ware in the footnote (p. 74).  Further, an eternal “functional” obedience would fare no better on these terms since the constant assumption throughout the piece is that one cannot divide the Being and acts of the Son of God.

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Some Questions re: Swain and Allen’s “The Obedience of the Eternal Son”: Part 1, Barth’s Challenge

karl_barth 2

I must note at the outset: Swain and Allen explicitly reject ESS, EFS, and ERAS as presented by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware. Further, nothing below is meant to suggest that they have in fact adopted the Barthian program or are themselves “Barthians.” And I also must include the obligatory (and accurate), “I am no expert on Barth, but…”. I am far from it.

I have been mulling over Scott R. Swain and Michael Allen’s article “The Obedience of the Eternal Son” for quite some time now, having had mixed feelings. Plus, I don’t really see myself well positioned to critique such better lights as these. (In fact, if you haven’t read Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation by Swain and Allen, I would suggest clicking out of this article and ordering now.) Nevertheless, as proponents of Eternal Subordination of the Son seem to be finally adopting the doctrine of Eternal Generation, and are now beginning to use the doctrine as the basis for ascribing obedience to the Son in eternity, I’ve decided to at least ask few questions over the next couple of posts.

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