The generic term for a heresy that taught that the Son and Holy Spirit are inferior to the Father. This heresy found support in certain passages of scripture wherein Christ indicated his inferiority to the Father (Jn 14.28; Mk 10.18, 13.32, etc.), as well as from middle Platonism which viewed the logos as an intermediary between the transcendent divinity and the world. Subordinationist tendencies can be found in Hermas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. The classic forms of subordinationism are the following:
Arianism. Arius (d. 336), a priest of Alexandria, denied that the Son was either coeternal or coequal with the Father. He taught that the Son (Logos, Word) is not of the same nature as the Father; he is not begotten of the substance of the Father but made freely by the Father out of nothing. The Son, he said, did not exist from eternity: "there was a time when he was not." He is a mere creature (ποίημα) of the Father, created before all other creatures and exalted above them, an instrument used by the Father for creation. The Son is not God, but can be called God in an improper sense; God not by nature but by grace, because He was adopted by God as Son. Arianism was condemned at the Council of nicaea I (325), which defined Jesus Christ as "the Son of God, begotten of the Father … God from God … begotten not made … consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father."
Semi-Arianism. The Nicene definition was opposed not only by the strict Arians but by Semi-Arians and others, who refused to subscribe to the homoousios (of the same substance) because it seemed to them Sabellian. They maintained that the Son was not homoousios with the Father but only homoiousios or like the Father in substance (Acacius of Caesarea, Aetius). A bitter struggle followed Nicaea in the years leading to the Council of constantinople (381), and Arian and Semi-Arian emperors brought such pressure to bear on bishops that Jerome could write of the Council of Ariminum (359): "the whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian." The open persecution of the Catholics by the Emperor Valens had the good result of making clear the real issues and putting an end to confusion about terminology. When Valens was succeeded by a Catholic, theodosius i, the way was open for an unambiguous acceptance of what had been defined at Nicaea.
A council was held in 381 in Constantinople, which repeated homoousios, named and condemned different forms of Arianism, and affirmed that there is one divine substance in three Persons in God, and that the Second Person became man. By this formula, which was a triumph for the great Cappadocian bishops, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, the Council condemned not only Arianism, but also the heresy known as Macedonianism.
Macedonianism. Arius had treated explicitly only of the Son, but his teaching was extended to the Holy Ghost by, it is said, Macedonius, Semi-Arian bishop of Constantinople (deposed 360). The Holy Ghost was declared not to proceed from the Father, but to be a creature made by the Son, by whom "all things were made" (Jn1.3; 15.26). Against the Macedonians (Pneumatomachi, enemies of the Spirit, as Athanasius called them) Athanasius, Didymus the Blind, and the Cappadocian Fathers upheld orthodox doctrine. The General Council of Constantinople I (381), defined (indirectly) the divinity of the Holy Ghost and his consubstantiality with the Father and Son by calling him "Lord" and ascribing certain divine attributes to him: the giving of life, adoration and glory such as are due to Father and Son, and illumination of the Prophets.
Bibliography: g. bardy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 15.2:1625–29. j. lebreton, a. fliche and v. martin, eds., Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1935–) 2:88–91, 319–324, 337–344; Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 19 (Louvain 1923) 481–506; 20 (1924) 4–37. j. tixeront, History of Dogmas, tr. h. l. brianceau, 3 v. (St. Louis 1910–16) v. 1. j. n. rowe, Origen's Doctrine of Subordination: A Study in Origen's Christology (Berne and New York 1987). r. p. c. hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh 1988).
[p. j. hamell/eds.]