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A.            Chalcedon and the Personal Union

The Council of Chalcedon (451) affirmed the following of the two natures in Christ:

“Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, in two natures, inconfusedly (or unmixed, or without confusion), unchangeably (or unchanged, or without change), indivisibly (or undivided), inseparably (or inseparable), the distinction of the 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 person but one and the same Son and Only-begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

The primary concern was to avoid the extremes of Eutychianism (two natures before the Incarnation but only one nature after) and Nestorianism (two persons). Jesus Christ is one person with two natures.

B.        The Personal Union of God and Man in Christ

1.            It is not a nominal union as though Jesus were God only in name (cf. Modalism).

2.            It is not a natural union. Pieper writes:

“We speak of a natural union in the case of things which have a natural relationship to each other, as in the case of the body and the soul of man, which were created for each other; united, they make up a natural whole. But between the divine and the human nature in Christ there is no natural relationship; they stand in the greatest imaginable contrast to each other, the contrast between God and the creature. . . . According to Scripture, the incarnation of the Son of God was not a natural development, not the result of a necessary evolution of the divine or the human essence, but it was due to the free compassion of God upon fallen and condemned mankind” (II:98).

3.            It is not an external or accidental union, as when two boards are glued together or when a body is clothed in a garment (such is no more than a conjunction of elements but hardly a union).

4.            It is not a relative union, as when two things are in close relation but essentially separate. E.g., when two friends are bound or united by mutual love they yet remain distinct persons and spatially separate.

5.            It is not a sustaining union, such as exists between God and his creation (Col. 1:17).

6.             It is not an essential or commingling union, as if to say the two natures were so joined as to coalesce into one nature or essence (Eutyches: “I confess that our Lord was born of two natures before the union; but after the union I confess one nature”).

7.            It is not a union by adoption. The incarnation was not the adoption of a human person by God but the assumption of human nature into the person of the Word.

8.            It is not a mystical union, such as exists between God and his people (John 14:23).

Francis Pieper explains: “Though God is in every tree, we dare not say: ‘This tree is God’ or ‘God is a tree’. Although the Triune God dwells in every Christian, we nevertheless dare not say: ‘This Christian is God’ or ‘God is this Christian’. But we can and must say with Scripture of the Man Christ: ‘This Man is God,’ and: ‘God is man,’ because in Christ God and man are united in one Person” (II:86).

Thus we are left with the somewhat negative assertions of Chalcedon, resigned to describing what the union is not rather than what it is.

C.        The Biblical Portrait of Christ as One Person with Two Natures

1.            Scripture nowhere testifies of a two-fold personality in Jesus Christ.

In the Triune Godhead Father, Son, and Spirit address each other as distinct persons, but such is never the case within the person of Christ. We never see the Son of God address the Son of Man as if he were another person. The deity never addresses the humanity nor the humanity the deity as if two distinct persons exist in the one body. Christ always speaks of himself as “I” or “me” but never as “we” or “us”.

2.            In Scripture, a) human attributes are ascribed to the person as designated by a divine title (1 Cor. 2:8; Acts 20:28; Col. 1:13-14; Rom. 9:5; Luke 2:11; Gal. 4:4; 1 John 1:1-3); and b) divine attributes are ascribed to the person as designated by a human title (Mt. 1:21; John 3:13; 6:62; 1 Tim. 2:5-6).

Thus we conclude that there are not two different persons, each with its own nature and attributes, but only one person with two natures and two classes of attributes (human and divine). The two natures are thus joined or united but never confused.

D.        The Christology of Lutheranism

Historic Lutheranism affirms with the Reformed tradition the reality of two natures in personal union in Jesus Christ. They differ, however, on the relationship of the two natures:

Reformed or Calvinistic Christology – Any and every attribute of either nature may be ascribed to the one person, but none of the attributes of either nature may be ascribed to the other nature.

Lutheran Christology – The attributes of both natures may be ascribed not only to the one person, but the attributes of the divine nature may also be ascribed to the human nature (communicatio idiomatum).

Luther taught that there is a real transference of properties from the one nature (divine) to the other (human). They exchange something of their substance as if by a process of endosmosis (osmosis from the outside to the inside). Thus, even in his human nature Christ is almighty and omnipresent. The divine nature interpenetrates the human. Thus Christ’s humanity participates in the attributes of his deity (more specifically, the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and adoration).

One consequence of this view is that the Logos now has no existence outside the flesh, nor the flesh outside the Logos (logos totus in carne). When Zwingli and others objected to Luther’s doctrine of the physical presence of Christ in the elements of the eucharist, he countered by appealing to the doctrine of the communication of attributes, according to which the attribute of omnipresence (ubiquity) is predicated of the human nature.

Martin Chemnitz (1522-86; The Two Natures of Christ) asserted the communication of attributes, but argued that Christ’s physical flesh was omnipresent only when he so willed. The power of being simultaneously present in many or all places is subject to the will of the person of Christ.

We must note three important qualifications to Lutheran Christology:

(1)            Contemporary Lutheran theologians typically distinguish between the possession and the use of those divine attributes communicated to the human nature. Mueller explains:

“So far as the possession is concerned, the divine properties were communicated to the human nature at one and the same time, namely, at the very moment or act of unition (conception), so that even the infant Jesus was in possession of the entire divine majesty and glory, John 1:14; Luke 1:35. Yet Christ refrained from the full use of His imparted majesty during the state of humiliation, though rays of divine omnipotence, omniscience, etc., frequently manifested themselves, John 12:28; Matt. 3:17; John 14:11; 11:43f.; Matt. 17:2ff. The full and constant exercise of the communicated majesty did not begin until His exaltation to the right hand” (276-77).

(2)            The communication of attributes is not reciprocal. The attributes of humanity are not predicated of deity, “for there cannot be a humiliation, emptying, or lessening of the divine nature . . . as there is an advancement, or exaltation . . . of the human nature. The divine nature is unchangeable and therefore cannot be perfected or diminished, exalted or humiliated. The promotion therefore belongs to the nature that is assumed, not to that which assumes” (Mueller, 277).

(3)            Whereas most Lutheran theologians agreed that the powers of deity were in the possession of the humanity, they differed on whether Jesus renounced the use of these powers in the days of his flesh or simply exercised them in secret.

D.        The Christology of Calvinism

The Calvinist criticism of Lutheranism was primarily two-fold:

(1)            The Lutheran Christology tends toward Docetism in that the communication of divine attributes to the human nature does not allow for the purely human development of Jesus.

(2)            The communication of attributes will necessarily issue in monophysitism and the error of Eutyches (ultimately only one nature in the incarnate Word).

Lutheranism vigorously denies that one nature (the human) changes into the other (the divine). There is no confusion of the natures issuing in a tertium, as e.g., when honey and water are mixed and become mead. They simply wish to avoid what they believe are the Nestorian tendencies in the Calvinist formulation (namely, that the divine and human natures function independently of each other, inevitably resulting in two persons).

In response to Lutheranism, the Reformed tradition did seek to clarify the relationship between the Logos/Word and the human nature he assumed. It came to be known as the Illud Calvinisticum.

The Lutherans had contended that the whole Logos was present in Jesus, thus demanding the communication of the divine attribute of omnipresence to the humanity (and hence the latter’s ubiquity). The Reformed tradition, and Calvin in particular, held a much stronger distinction between the infinite and the finite (finitum non est capax infiniti) and concluded that the Logos, truly present in Christ’s manhood, is nonetheless existent outside it: totus extra carnem as well as totus in carne, governing the world simultaneously from a different center of life and consciousness, so to speak, from that at which He dwelt incarnate in Jesus Christ. Calvin explains:

“Although the boundless essence of the Word was united with human nature into one person, we have no idea of any enclosing. The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, to live on the earth, and hang upon the cross, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning” (Book II, 13ff.).

E.         The Concept of “Anhypostasia”

The classical concept of the incarnation contends that the Word did not take to himself or assume an independently existing human person. “Scripture,” says Pieper, “never describes the incarnation of God as His singular activity in a human person distinct from Him, or as His causing such a person to give perfect expression to His will” (II:80). Rather, the Word assumed a human nature, a nature that finds its own personality in the divine person of the Logos. Thus the human nature of Christ is described as “impersonal” or anhypostasia.

Anhypostasia = that which has no personality in itself

Enhypostasia = that which subsists in another personality or partakes of another hypostasis

Some object, insisting that to deny “personality” of the human nature of Christ is docetic: it truncates or detracts from the true humanity of Christ. E.g.,

“The Jesus confronting us in the gospels does not at all impress us as having only a human nature which finds its personality in the divine logos. On the contrary, the gospels show us a genuinely human consciousness. The human nature is not just an impersonal organ of the Logos; we rather encounter a struggling, praying, believing, human being” (Korff, cited by Berkouwer in The Person of Christ, 306).

Althaus agrees:

“One cannot separate the nature from the person. Human personality is an essential constituent of human nature. Hence anhypostasy abolishes the true humanity of Jesus, his believing and praying human ego, the truth of his being tempted – the Logos cannot be tempted” (II:225).

Part of the problem is found in our definitions of “nature” and “person”. Berkouwer explains:

“The term ‘nature’ denotes the sum-total of all the essential qualities of a thing, that which makes it what it is. A nature is a substance possessed in common, with all the essential qualities of such a substance. The term ‘person’ denotes a complete substance endowed with reason, and, consequently, a responsible subject of its own actions. Personality is not an essential and integral part of a nature, but is, as it were, the terminus to which it tends. A person is a nature with something added, namely, independent subsistence, individuality. Now the Logos assumed a human nature that was not personalized, that did not exist by itself” (321-22).

But is a human “nature” which lacks independent, volitional self-consciousness, truly human? Advocates of Anhypostasia insist that it is. By speaking of Christ’s human nature as “impersonal” or “without personality” they are not saying that he lacked anything substantially necessary to being truly human. They simply wish to deny that the Logos assumed to himself an independently existing, self-conscious human person. The human nature of Christ can never be conceived abstractly, i.e., independently of its existence in the person of the Divine Son. The human nature in Jesus had no personal subsistence next to or along side of the Logos. According to Bavinck, “the human nature formed in and out of Mary did not for a moment exist by and for itself but from the earliest moment of conception was united with, and taken up into, the person of the Son” (cited by Berkouwer, 311). Again, the point is that the human nature of Christ did not exist as a separate person before it was taken up into and united with the Son of God. Karl Barth sums up this view by pointing out that

“God and Man are so related in Jesus Christ, that He exists as Man so far and only so far as He exists as God, i.e., in the mode of existence of the eternal Word of God. What we thereby express is a doctrine unanimously sponsored by early theology in its entirety, that of the anhypostasis and enhypostasis of the human nature of Christ. Anhypostasis asserts the negative. Since in virtue of the egeneto, i.e., in virtue of the assumptio, Christ’s human nature has its existence – the ancients said, its subsistence – in the existence of God, meaning in the mode of being (hypostasis, ‘person’) of the Word, it does not possess it in and for itself, in abstracto. Apart from the divine mode of being whose existence it acquires it has none of its own; i.e., apart from its concrete existence in God in the event of the unio, it has no existence of its own, it is anhypostatos. Enhypostasis asserts the positive. In virtue of the egeneto, i.e., in virtue of the assumptio, the human nature acquires existence (subsistence) in the existence of God, meaning in the mode of being (hypostasis, ‘person’) of the Word. This divine mode of being gives it existence in the event of the unio, and in this way it has a concrete existence of its own, it is enhypostatos” (CD I:2, 163).

F.         The Human Development and Limitations of the Theanthropic Person

How does the classical view explain the growth in wisdom and the limitations in the earthly experience of Jesus? Appeal is made two principles.

1.            The dominant and controlling factor in Christ’s person is his deity, not his humanity. The argument is that the second person of the Trinity took to himself a human nature, not a human person. Thus Jesus the man had so much power and no more or less as the divine nature pleased to exert in him.

2.            A distinction is made between the existence of the divine nature or Logos in Jesus and its manifestation. The Logos was always present in bodily form but did not always and consistently act through his human body and soul. Jesus was not always performing miracles, nor was he always imparting to his human nature the whole of his infinite knowledge. William G. T. Shedd explains it as follows:

“During all these infantile years of the immature and undeveloped human nature, the Logos, though present, was in eclipse in the person of Jesus Christ. By this is meant, that the Logos made no manifestation of his power through the human nature he had assumed, because this human nature was still infantine. When the infant Jesus lay in the manger, the Logos was present and united with the human nature as really and completely as he is this instant, but he made no exhibition of himself. . . . The babe lay in the manger unconscious and inactive. Yet the eternal Logos was personally united with this infant. There was a God-man in the manger as truly as there was upon the cross” (II:274-76).

“It will not follow, however, that because there was no thinking going on in the human mind of the infant Jesus, there was none going on in the Logos. For it must be remembered, that though the Logos has condescended to take ‘the form of a servant’, he has not ceased to exist in ‘the form of God’ . . . . Because the Logos was localized and limited by a human body on the earth, it does not follow that he did not continue to exist and act in heaven. And because the Logos did not think in and by the mind of the infant Jesus, it does not follow that he did not think in and by his own infinite mind” (II:274-76).

Thus, Shedd concludes that “Christ’s self-consciousness of his theanthropic person and mediatorial office was formed gradually, as he passed from youth to manhood, by the increasing illumination of the humanity by the divinity” (II:277). Thus the humanity of Jesus knew only as much as the deity pleased to disclosed and manifest.

Q: But if there was at all times in Jesus a “human mind” or a seat of consciousness capable of being illumined by the “divine mind”, capable also, therefore, of thinking and willing, how does one escape the conclusion that there were “two minds” in the incarnate Christ? And if two minds, why not “two persons”?

G.        Duality or Singularity of Will in the Theanthropic Person

Classical Christology affirms that Jesus is but one person who has two natures. Does he then possess only one or two wills?

If one stresses the unity of the Person, monothelitism seems reasonable. If one stresses the two natures a duality of wills makes sense. Shedd contends for the latter: “Either nature would be incomplete and defective, without the voluntary quality or property in it. Each nature, in order to be whole and entire, must have all of its essential elements. A human nature without voluntariness would be as defective as it would be without rationality” (II:328). I.e., a truly functional nature in an intelligent being must have the voluntary capacity to act. “In this light,” says Pannenberg, “it is clear that doubleness of nature requires doubleness of will” (293). The dyothelite (two wills) formulation is thus built on the assumption that axiomatic to a nature is volition.

Q: Again, if there are in Christ two natures, both of which are rational and volitional, how does one escape the Nestorian heresy of two persons?

The monothelites (one will) regard the two natures as having only one theanthropic will between them. They insist that from the union of the two natures there resulted a will that was not solely divine, nor solely human, but divine-human (Shedd calls this a modified Eutychianism).

Q: Does not the concept of one will imply one nature? In other words, how does monothelitism avoid the heresy of docetism?

Shedd offers this explanation:

“In opposition to this error [Monothelitism] the catholic theologians asserted two wills in order to the completeness of each nature, and met the objection of the Monothelites that there must then be two persons, by affirming that by reason of the intimate personal union of the two natures neither will works without the other’s participation in the efficiency. If the human will acts, the divine will submits and co-acts. This is the humiliation of the divine. If the divine will acts, the human will submits and co-acts. This is the exaltation of the human. One and the same Christ, therefore, performs the divine or the human action, as the case may be, although each action is wrought in accordance with the distinctive qualities of the will that corresponds with it, and takes the lead in it” (II:328).

Monothelitism was condemned under emperor Constans at Constantinople in 681. Should it have been?