Patriarchy or Trinitocracy?
February 28, 2022

The following is a revised version of a portion of an essay that originally appeared as a part of a Theopolis Conversation on masculinity.

On many specifics, I agree with Christians who today advocate for patriarchy. Scripture teaches that men are shepherds in churches and husbands are heads of their wives, as Christ is head of the church. Some strands of feminism are at war with masculinity, and even, of late, with femininity. Andrew Sullivan is right to complain, “Our new elites insist that such a distinctly manly virtue cannot and should not exist.” And Sullivan is right that contempt for masculinity presents a deep civilizational crisis: “Great civilizations do not despise this natural male urge to ennoble their distinct sex; they value, celebrate, and direct it.”

Yet, for Christians, rehabilitating patriarchy isn’t the way to repair the damage because patriarchy is a theologically infelicitous concept. The arche of patri-archy means “source” or “beginning.” True, the Father (pater) is the beginning or source (arche) of the Godhead, but Trinitarian thought immediately complicates any one-directional hierarchy. The Father is never alone. In the Trinity, there is no arche without completion in a Second by means of a Third; indeed, the Second Person is also identified as arche (Colossians 1:18). Source and product, root and fruit, sun and rays, are co-equal and co-eternal co-archai; the original is immediately and forever fulfilled in the image who is the radiance of His glory.

More: the Second Person makes the First what he is, for there is no Father without the Son. If the Son is Son by virtue of the Father’s begetting, the Father is Father by virtue of the Son’s being-begotten in the Spirit. First and Second are entangled with one another, and with the Third, so that none alone can be identified as sole arche.

Patriarchy is also a cosmologically infelicitous term. One can say the world is literally a patriarchy, governed by the Father, but, once again, Trinitarian orthodoxy complicates the picture. For the Father creates through and for the Son (Colossians 1:16), the Word energized by the eternal breath that is the Spirit. Creation is as much a filiarchy and a pneumatocracy as it is a patriarchy, but in fact it is none of these but a Trinitocracy, created and ruled by the Father through the Son and Spirit.

When applied to humanity, pater shades into “male” and arche into “rule,” so that “patriarchy” takes on the sense of “rule of men.” Here too “patriarchy” doesn’t capture the biblical picture. The Trinitarian reasoning outlined above again applies.

Adam was the literal patriarch of the human race. But Adam is sole ruler only for a moment, and his solitude was the one thing in creation God assessed as “not good.” Adam comes to his own full glory only in the presence of a female helper, made suitable to him. He becomes ‘ish only when Yahweh presents the ‘ishshah (Genesis 2:23). God didn’t create the world to be ruled by men or fathers, but by ‘adam, whom He created male and female (Genesis 1:26-28). At a minimum, Adam couldn’t complete the “Adamic vocation” by himself because he couldn’t “fill” the earth without a sexual partner. As Paul writes, man isn’t the exclusive source of woman. Rather, man and woman are mutually dependent, each in a sense both source and fruit, since every man after Adam has been born of a woman (1 Corinthians 11:8-12).

As the Father’s Fatherhood depends on the generation of the Son, so Adam’s masculinity depends on the femininity of Eve. As the First (Father) is what He is in and for the Second (Son) by the Third (Spirit), so the first (man) is what He is in and for the second (woman). Neither Adam as the first man, nor men in general, can be isolated as sole archai of the human race. Scripture envisions mutual dependence and a co-archy of male and female.

The human task is thus a task for men and women. As James Jordan put it, men are oriented toward the “forming” dimension of ruling the world, and women to “filling.” But filling is just as crucial to dominion as forming. Both are aspects of the sub-creative task of the human race. Genesis 2 makes clear there are sexually differentiated tasks, but those pertain more directly to Adam’s priestly role in the sanctuary-garden than to his kingly rule in the world. Dominion too is a sexually-differentiated task, but Adam can’t complete his vocation to dominion without his queen at his side.

The human story doesn’t end in male rule either. Jesus the Last Adam reigns with His Eve, the church. We might say the Father rules the eternal kingdom, but, as noted above, the Father never rules alone, but everywhere and always by His two hands, the Son and Spirit. Creation has a bridal future (Revelation 21:1-8). The church anticipates the new heavens and earth precisely because she is now the bride that creation will one day become.

Masculinity is an ontological reality, but so is femininity. Femininity is, we might say, the fundamental reality of creation and humanity: Things are what they are in the end, and the Bride is the telos of creation.

To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.