Rushdoony gets it…sort of

When I was first becoming Reformed the guy I mainly read was RJ Rushdoony (and many would say that’s a problem; that he is not a real Calvinist, and I should have spent years reading Berkhof instead; perhaps, though that would only have deferred the problematic issues and not removed them).

I was so excited to read Rushdoony’s book on the early church councils.  Admittedly, it was a terrible introduction to the early church.   Even where Rushdoony did not get it wrong, he often missed the main point (e.g., Athanasius was fighting Arius, not Karl Barth; reading Rushdoony one often got that impression).   That said, it was a fun read.

I get annoyed when Calvinists say doctrine is important, but the Filioque is simply trifling over words (cf Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology).  To be fair, what difference can  three words make to your spiritual life (or to your social order)?

Now that I think of it, Rushdoony was onto something.    He believed there is a direct relation between Triadology and social order.   So did St Gregory Nazianzus:

The three most ancient opinions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia. The first two are the sport of the children of Hellas, and may they continue to be so. For Anarchy is a thing without order; and the Rule of Many is factious, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly. For both these tend to the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.

Rushdoony upholds the Filioque, and he tries to show how it is important.  On p. 189ff (I think; I am quoting this from memory.  If I am  off on the pagination, it is only by a few pages) he says the addition of the Filioque destroyed the remaining vestiges of subordinationism in Christian theology.  Further, it reduced the power of the State in the West and saw the triumph of the Church.

My thoughts:

The Filioque destroyed a form of healthy subordination by negating the monarchia of the Father (and all must admit this is a new move in theology). The only way one can remove all forms of subordinationism in the Trinity is to opt for something like Calvin’s autotheos, the Son (and presumably Father and Spirit) is God of himself.   But one must then ask, “given the denial of the monarchia, and what autotheos entails, how can one affirm a personal source of unity in the Trinity?”  One can’t.  One is left with “God popping up all over the place.”

The problem is that Rushdoony gets the best and worst in one swoop.  He removes the healthy form of subordinationism by moving away from the monarchia of the Father, and with his emphasis on autotheos he does have the persons of the Trinity fully God–even if he can no longer show how they are connected, something the monarchia safeguarded–but even with the Filioque one must admit subordinationism is not yet gone.

This is a point that is rarely seen.   If the ancient view of the monarchia is subordinationist because it has the Son and Spirit deriving from the person of the Father, and the Filioquists say that the Filioque destroys this subordinationism of the Son, how can one avoid the conclusion that the Spirit is now subordinate to the Son and the Father?   The Spirit has been made the Son’s lieutenant.  It won’t do to say as Berkhof that the Spirit receives the entire divine essence.  That’s not the issue under contention–the monarchia of the Father said the same thing.

The Social Order

The above are arguments and counters- you will find in any Filioquist discussion.  Rushdoony makes a number of correct observations if wrong conclusions.  He notes that one’s view of the Trinity is directly tied to one’s view of social order.

  • Rushdoony noted a connection between subordinationism in the Trinity and the development of the Byzantine state.   Actually, he used more loaded terminology, but let’s look at it.  I think he (correctly) assumes a correlation between the monarchia of the Trinity and political monarchy.   Of course, he sees that as statism and “developing the Byzantine state.”  While the Byzantines were autocrats in a certain sense, this is still far removed from the “state” in any modern sense.
  • Rushdoony (correctly) says the Filioquist West saw the rise of the Church above everything else in society.   He’s not entirely accurate on this point.   It’s not so much that the Filioque let to the rise of the Church–especially not in the free, volunteer church that Rushdoony espoused!–but to the rise of the papacy.   The East said that the Holy Spirit is the principle of unity in the Church.   While the West may affirm that, too, one more likely sees the papacy as the principle of unity in the Church.    That’s what Thomas Aquinas said,

“The error of those who say that the Vicar of Christ, the Pontiff of the Roman Church, does not have a primacy over the universal Church is similar to the error of those who say that the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son. For Christ himself, the Son of God, consecrates and marks her as his own with the Holy Spirit, as it were with his own character and seal, as the authorities already cited make abundantly clear. And in like manner the Vicar of Christ by his primacy and foresight as a faithful servant keeps the Church Universal subject to Christ. It must, then, be shown from texts of the aforesaid Greek Doctors that the Vicar of Christ holds the fullness of power over the whole Church of Christ.