Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Lutheran Response to Calvin

After Calvin published his Institutes as well as his several treatises on the Lord ’s Supper, many Lutherans quickly rose up to begin writing in defense of the doctrine which they held so sacred. This time however, they were not writing against someone who gave barely any importance to the sacrament but one who fought for its sacredness.

The two main exegetical issues in this debate were the words of institution and the issue of whether or not Christ’s human body was communicated omnipresence. First of all, some issues needed to be cleared up in regards to common misunderstandings of the Lutheran view of the Eucharist. First of all, the charge was often brought and continues to be against the Lutheran church that they teach “consubstantiation.” The word in itself is not necessarily problematic, and a few Lutheran dogmatists have used it. However, along with the word comes great misunderstanding. There was an older position in the medieval church which was called “consubstantiation” or “impanation” to where the physical body of Jesus was implanted within the elements of bread and wine. The problem with this is that it explains too much. The Lutheran church has never tried to explain how the whole Jesus is present in bread and wine, but that he is. The words “in, with, and under” commonly used in Lutheran theology are simply ways to try to get across the idea that somehow Jesus is there when the recipient receives the Eucharist.

Another important thing that needs to be discussed is that the Lutheran church does not believe in the necessary or local omnipresence of the body of Christ. Christ in his human nature is not omnipresent in and of itself, for that would destroy his humanity. However, due to the unified person of Christ, the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature. It is by gift, not by nature. Also, Christ’s body is not locally present in all places. In other words, there are different modes of presence. The body of Christ was on earth before the ascension in a local manner which is different from the manner in which he was present afterwards. As Jesus himself testifies, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The Lutheran divines saw this statement as showing that Jesus, while he would not be present in the same manner he was with the disciples, would be present with his church for all time. The question now to be asked is if this is only according to his divine nature that he is present or according to both natures. Exegetically the second option is preferable.

If the divine nature is present everywhere, while the human nature is present only at the right hand of the Father, then most of the person of Jesus is without his human nature. This means that only a small part of his divinity had become incarnate. It was the Lutheran contention that if Jesus was truly incarnate, it was all of Jesus, thus wherever he is, there is both his human and divine nature. Is this taught anywhere directly in scripture? Observe Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4, “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” This speaks of Christ’s ascension to fill the whole universe. If this were merely about his divine nature, then one would have to admit that Paul believes Christ to have been omnipresent in his divine nature only after the incarnation. Since this destroys his deity, it is untenable. Thus, Paul must be referring to Christ in his human nature. The reformed position must force its own theology into the text. When Matthew wrote that Jesus was to be with the church always, is there any evidence that he was thinking of the divinity of Christ apart from his humanity? It is nowhere in the text.

This is further proven by the fact that Christ is said many times in scripture to gain attributes of deity in time. As God of course, he already had these attributes. Thus, they must have been given in time to his human nature. For example in Philippians 2, Paul speaks of Christ gaining a name that is above every name by his death on the cross, not by nature. He was exalted because of his obedience. Jesus in John 3:35 is said to have been given all things by the father. Parallel expressions are found in Matthew 11:27, and Luke 10:22. If he has truly been given all things then he is according to his whole person omnipotent. This cannot refer to his divine nature unless one resorts to subordinationism. As American Lutheran theologian Charles Krauth says, “Christ, then, has received according to one nature, to wit, the human, what He intrinsically possessed in the other, to wit, in the divine, or, as it has been expressed, Whatever Christ has in the one nature by essence, He partakes of in the other by grace- and this is the doctrine of our Church.” Jesus is seen in the gospels to disappear at times, and even to walk through walls. These are attributes, not of humanity but of deity. They must have been communicated to the human nature. Jesus confessed before his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. The man Jesus said this to his disciples. There is no reason to believe this refers to his divine nature alone. This interpretation is not a new one with the emergence of Protestantism but was taught by several highly esteemed fathers of the church. Athanasius says, “Whatever the scripture declares that Christ had received in time, it affirms with reference to his humanity, not with reference to his deity.” The book of Concord contains an appendix with several quotes of Patristic sources showing this to be a historic teaching.


Christopher said...

Hey Jordan,

A good discussion of this issue. A few considerations and one concern:

1. Dr. David Scaer in a symposium at CTSFW which was later published in the CTQ (I believe it was "'Homo Factus est' as the Revelation of God," but I might be wrong) effectively made the argument that Luther reinterpreted the philosophical idea of omnipresence and made Christ's human nature "dynamically" omnipresent. Thus, the origin of the different discussions of "presence" in Lutheran theology. The Reformed still heavily cling to scholastic theological methods, while Lutherans can use either that or even sacramental theology and don't see a problem addressing theological concerns in different ways.

2. This issue of Christology also effects the Reformed (and the remainder of Protestantism's) views of Baptism. No other Protestant group to the best of my knowledge associates baptism with an ACTUAL uniting to the death and resurrection of Christ...because the Antiochian/Nestorian leaning character of their Christology prevents the divine and human from having a real contact. Lutherans are heavily Cyrilian/Alexandrian, and the majority of quotes in the "Catalog of Testimonies" which you refer as an appendix to the Book of Concord are from St. Cyril of Alexandria, who many Reformed don't like...in fact in all of the volumes of Schaff's Church Fathers, not one work was by St. Cyril. Similarly, there is heavy work by Reformed today to somehow say Nestorius wasn't doctrinally wrong as St. Cyril portrayed him...even though Nestorius' Christology was exactly the reason both he and Pelagius were condemned at Ephesus.

Both Pelagius and Nestorius had a hypostatic union of persons (which can also happen when you separate and treat the natures as two different "things" or "operators") which only allowed for salvation by will (see Weinrich on Athanasius' theology necessitating salvation by inclusion into the hypostasis of the fully divine person of the Son and sharing in the divine life of the Trinity - CTQ 67 (3/4):335-346). Salvation would either be totally by divine will (total predestination) or totally by man's will (accruing of merit).

This brings me to my concern:
You said that the human nature in Christ receiving the divine attributes is a "gift" and not "of nature." I think I understand what you mean, but you need to be careful, as the Reformed in their systematic theology will claim that the Holy Spirit gives the human nature of Jesus an ability to do divine things...the same with all believers...rather than Him having them "by nature" due to the hypostatic union.

I left Lutheranism for Orthodoxy, but I still have a soft spot for good Lutheran theology...and against the Reformed they are the best. I recall a discussion between Turetinfan and gnrhead (Roman Catholic) where Turetinfan argued against a "physical transformation" of the elements of the Eucharist in Ignatius of Antioch. There is a great desire to "misread" and "quote mine" the fathers, and they do this with Luther as well.

I only read Dr. White and Turretinfan's blog and somehow I listened to a show of "Iron Sharpens Iron" where a Reformed expert on Luther discussed what parts of TULIP Luther accepted. He was not too bad until he got to the section on "unconditional election" and couldn't answer a question relating to Luther's theology of baptism...how can you claim to be an expert in Luther's doctrine of election and NOT know his views on God revealed in the preached Word through Word AND Sacrament?!

Anyway, nice blog. God bless.


Christopher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jordan Cooper said...

I will have to take a look at this David Scaer article.
What I mean when I say that it is "of gift" rather than "of nature" is simply that the human nature of Christ does not have divine attributes in itself, but only through the hypostatic union. I am simply saying that the attributes are properly of the divine nature though active through the human nature.
Regarding TurretinFan, I once tried to discuss the issue of the two natures of Christ. He started debating me on the issue. However, it became clear to me that he did not understand the Lutheran view. I asked him about it and he replied, "I don't have time to read Lutherans." This was pretty disappointing and continued to confirm my suspicions that the Reformed so often just ignore our side of the issues. I cannot agree with the way he reads Ignatius either.
The man on Iron Sharpens Iron was James Swan. He is usually very fair in his representation of Luther and Lutheranism in general. However, I was also surprised at his lack of understanding of Luther's view of baptism.

Christopher said...


Sorry for the reduplication.

I had a feeling of what you meant by "gift." Perhaps a better way of saying this is that the divine attributes are proper to the human nature in hypostatic union...maybe.

As for TF: I recall on his blog arguing that you can't really call Christ a human person, and I received many criticisms since they cling to Chalcedon (not Ephesus) and say that Christ is fully human and therefore a human person. They ignore the issue of hypostasis/person...the personal subsistence of Christ is the second person of the Trinity...not a human person. There is no human person in Christ, merely human nature (anhypostatic). They just couldn't wrap their heads around that.

And yes...James Swan; that was it!