Eternal Functional Subordination, The Will of God and The Creeds

In the last two articles on EFS, we picked up on what Jesus says in John 5 and Matthew 26. We saw, that on the face of it, The Son submits his will to The Father.  Proponents of EFS argue that this is exactly what the Son is doing and that this must be an eternal act because God the Son submits to the Father.  They argue that The Son is equal in nature with the Father but that he has a different role or function. His submission is to do with his personhood and relationship with the Father. 

However, opponents of EFS argue that this is simply not possible. You see, this will mean that The Son’s will arose from his person and not from his nature. However, the historical view has been that God’s will arises out of his nature not from the persons. This means that the one God has one will and not three wills. Similarly, the Son because he is one person with two natures has two wills, a human will and the divine will which he shares in with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

AS I said, there are some good, common sense arguments for looking at things this way and we will come to them later. However, there are some potential problems with this as we observed in the previous articles.  So, is it possible to debate this, argue it out and change our minds. Opponents of EFS argue that you cannot. The belief that the will arises from the nature is seen as a central, creedal tenant of the faith. In other words, if we get this wrong, we may find ourselves straying out of orthodoxy.

Now, you will notice that I have said that this is creedal, not that it is Biblical. The Creeds (especially the Nicene and the Apostles Creed) are seen as summaries of the essential things Scripture teaches as agreed by councils of the church and recognised throughout history. Therefore, whilst not being infallible Scripture themselves, they are seen as key markers of orthodoxy.

The Nicene Creed we use in worship today is not in fact the Creed from the Council of Nicaea itself but the text that developed and evolved afterwards being agreed at the Council of Constantinople in 381AD.  Here are the original words, in full.

We believe in one God,the Father almighty,  maker of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten,

that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light,

true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father,

through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth,

Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down,

and became incarnate and became man, and suffered,

and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the heavens,

and will come to judge the living and dead,

And in the Holy Spirit.

But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not,

and that He came into existence out of nothing,  or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance,or created, or is subject to alteration or change- these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.[1]

You will notice that the Council agreed that it was essential to believe that Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man. We is the one through whom everything is made and he is the same substance as the Father.  He is also begotten from the Father. 

The other important early creed to take note of, especially with regards to the person of Christ is the Chalcedonian Creed which says:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;

truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body;

consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood;

in all things like unto us, without sin;

begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood;

one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;

the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;

as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.[2]

This Creed focuses on the Son further and so we discover that he had a reasonable or rational soul and body. This is important because it emphasises that Jesus did not merely appear in human form or possess a physical body with his spirit. He was fully human in nature, thinking human throughts, experiencing human experiences.   Once again, the creed wants to emphasise the Son’s divine nature.  Neither his human nor his divine nature is diminished meaning that he does not give up qualities from either.  There is addition rather than subtraction.The creed wishes to emphasise the distinction of the natures so that the incarnation does not create a new hybrid man-god entity. However, it also wants to emphasise that we don’t separate the natures so that Christ’s body becomes a host for two different and potentially competing entities.

However, you will notice that neither creed talks about how many wills God or The Son has and whether the will arises from nature or person. This is true of the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene-Constantinople Creed too. In other words, that particular dispute does not appear to have been considered central to any dispute.

Those who agreed the creed clearly seemed concerned to ensure that we did not deny the unity, equality or distinction of the persons but beyond that did not have much more to say.  These matters of knowing the seat of the will are important discussions to have but not a central test for orthodoxy. There is room for discussion and debate at this stage. 

Our priority at this stage should be to discover why Christians have been keen throughout the centuries and bring in that extra layer of detail. The next and most important clue in that regard is the third council of Constantinople. Prior to that, there had been significant support for the view that The Son had two natures but one will. This is known as Monothelitism.  This seemed to gain a significant level of support for some time. However, the council at Constantinople rejected this and opted for Dyothelitism, the belief that the Son had two wills, one divine and one human.

I think that what you are seeing here is another level of detail so that there is no way that we can be tempted to think of Christ as a spirit simply possessing a human body like taking on a shell or as I once put it, God with skin on.


[1] Nicene Creed from the Council of Nicaea 325AD

[2] Creed from the Council of Chalcedon 451 AD

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