A Heterodox Twofer

I have been reading some Lutheran Scholasticism as of late, and the following snippet jumped out at me. I thought it was a good summation of the dialectic of Nestorianism/Eutychianism between Calvinists and the Lutherans in terms of of Biblical inspiration. It will be helpful to keep in mind that the author uses “Orthodox” to refer to the orthodox Lutheran theologians.

“Some divergence of interpretation concerning Scriptural inspiration may be observed between the Orthodox theologians of the Lutheran and those of the Reformed Confessions. Although the later stressed that Scripture was verbally inspired, they differed from the Lutheran writers in ascribing to it a merely instrumental function.  They stoutly maintained that the Holy Scriptures has no power in itself; instead, it resembles some inanimate tool, a saw or a hammer, which becomes effective only when the master-workman especially deigns to take it into his hands and operate with it. Thus the Holy Writings cannot work except through some special decision and operation of the Holy Spirit, who in this case ‘exalts’ the intrument and works with it upon the listener or reader.

Lutheran Orthodox theologians did not countenance such a restriction upon the efficacy of the Holy Scriptures. In their polemical writings they emphasized the organic character of the content, desitgnating it as a ‘thing which is alive (res animata) .  They preferred to compare the Scriptures to the ‘living incorruptible seed’ (1 Peter 1:23), a seed that grows by itself (Mark 4:26-29), penetrating fire (Jeremiah 23:29), oil and wine (Luke 10:34), bread and food, rain that refreshes the earth, shining light, and healing medicine. Here the intrinsic value of Scripture was strongly maintained. The understanding was that the divine revelation and its expression in the Scriptures are so completely united that to divorce them would create a serious distortion.  This view inspires greater confidence in the holy will of our Father in heaven than a view which leaves the inspiration of Scripture in suspense.”

 Edmund Smits, The Doctrine of Man in Classical Lutheran Theology, xiii-xiv

Here I think the Nestorianism of the Reformed in the locus of biblical inspiration is obvious. That which is human relates to God in instrumental or extrinsic terms. The Bible is a tool because man is a tool. The work of the Spirit is external to humanity and so one can see how the monergism of Reformed soteriology structures their view of Biblical inspiration. Humanity becomes effective when used by God so that in say the Reformed notion of the Covenant of Works, humanity could merit God’s favor.  In and of itself, humanity is worthless, impotent, etc. This is why it takes the Spirit’s work, rather than the work of the Son in the Incarnation to accomplish anything relative to our humanity in Reformed theology. Humanity is never united to God except extrinsically.

But the instrumental relation is also discernable in the Lutheran reading.  Humanity is so much a tool of the divine that it is indistinguishable from the divine. God simply absorbs it.  The worry is that any distinction amounts to a “divorce” or separation. There can only be one nature and one person because for Eutychians, person and nature are the same thing. This is why the language of “organic” comes into play. In order for the union to be genuine, it has to be glossed in terms of essences, rather than that of persons. This is because for both the Lutherans and the Reformed a personal or hypostatic union amounts to a union of will.

10 Responses to A Heterodox Twofer

  1. I think that’s a fairly bad mischaracterization of Lutheran views on faith, also.

    Luther said about faith:
    It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever.

    Take care & God bless

  2. Jason says:

    I someone going to answer Michael’s book request recommendation? I love book recommendations! 🙂

  3. Don Bradley says:

    Well said, Perry, when you stated they struggle against it. I don’t out and out call the Lutherans and Reformed monothelites, but they tend towards it; just as the Reformed tend towards nestorianism and the Lutherans towards monophysitism. It leaves us free to discuss it with them without imputing the consequences as if they were actually being what they are tending towards, and the Reformed and Lutherans do not have to defend themselves as if they are actually being branded heretics. In my case I was a Christological Nestorian tending towards semi-Arianism as a Calvinist; but I only say that of myself, not all Calvinists. It took months to recognize, and years to heal.

  4. Drew says:

    I think the Eutychian moniker is false, but I’m willing to be proved wrong. Here’s Chemnitz, speaking for himself:

    “These qualities are communicated to the assume nature, not by
    themselves, through a separate or equated transference outside the
    divine essence, but by nature of and by reason of the union, or
    through the mode of the union, just as fire communicates itself
    completely – its glow, its strength, its efficacy and its activity
    – to the heated iron, as we have already
    pointed out.” p. 304

    “In the first place, the opponents argue that if the person union is
    defined as a communication of the essential divine attributes, or if
    it is said that the activity (energeia) of the divine attributes in
    and through the assumed nature arises out of the personal union, it
    would follow that no only the Son but also the entire Trinity became
    incarnate; for the essential attributes of the Deity are common to
    the Trinity. However, we reply that in our churches we do not define
    the personal union as a communication, as we have shown by our
    description of the union in chapter 4, but rather we say that the
    communication grows out of and follows from the union, as we have
    explained in this chapter. For the facet that the essential
    attributes of the Deity are common to the entire Trinity in no
    hinders them from being communicated to the assumed nature in the
    person of the Son, in the manner just now described.” pp. 304, 305

    “The second objection is that since the essential attributes of the
    Deity are the same as the divine essence, it follows that the human
    nature has therefore become the divine essence, if the attributes of
    the Deity are communicated to it.” (p. 306)

    “But we have already replied to this objection by pointing out that
    an essential or natural communication of the divine attributes does
    not take place; but just as the divine essence is communicated to the
    assumed nature by the personal union, so also its attributes are
    communicated to the assumed nature by the dispensation of the union,
    as we have explained at length.” (p. 306)

    “The third sophistry is that since the attributes of the Deity are
    the same as the essence, and since the essence is indivisible or
    undivided, therefore all or none of the divine attributes are
    communicated to the assumed nature; but it cannot be all of them, for
    the flesh of Christ did not become an eternal, infinite, or spiritual
    substance. Therefore, no divine attribute was communicated. You see
    that these sophists are not governed by the revelation of Scripture,
    which asserts that these attributes have been given in time to Christ
    according to His human nature [note: he devotes the next chapter to
    that entirely]. But these men have put their own arguments in
    opposition to the revealed Word, so that when the Council of Ephesus
    on the basis of Scripture stated that the power of giving life
    (surely a divine attribute) is given in the flesh of Christ, they
    deny this by their intellectual sophistry.

    “But I shall reply to these arguments of ‘lying knowledge,’ as Paul
    calls them with the simplicity of the fisherman, and I shall only say
    what I know and believe in this life about the entire mystery of the
    incarnation, and thus also about the communication of majesty, must
    be sought and learned only from Scripture and what has been expressly
    revealed there, namely, that in time these attributes have been given
    and communicated to the assumed nature. About these things only can
    I make assertions and speak truth, and in these I can rest securely
    and be wholly content. But that which might be investigated or
    disputed, which does not have the express revelation in the Word
    (since we cannot in this life explore or fully understand the depth
    of that great mystery), must be deferred and held in abeyance until
    we enter that great heavenly, eternal, and enlightened school where
    we shall see the glory of Christ, our Savior and our Brother, face to
    face. Although I cannot explain these things, I must not depart from
    what is expressly revealed in the Word.

    “If this reply appears rather rude, simple, and puerile, I will not
    deny it, but I know it is the truest, surest, and safest of all. For
    we must not believe or say anything about God but what is expressly
    revealed in the Scripture. And I am right in humbly limiting myself
    to the bounds of divine revelation in regard to the discussion of the
    communication of the majesty. To be sure, the entire Trinity, whose
    essence is indivisible, dwells undivided in the saints, and yet the
    Trinity does not perform all of His activities (energies!) in all of
    them, nor does He do them at all times. If I ask how this can be
    consistent with the indivisibility of the divine nature, of which we
    as believers are made partakers (2 Pet 1:4), we have the reply of
    Paul in 1 Cor 12:11, “He has distributed as He wishes.”

    “But let us now press more closely in order to refute these
    sophistries. The Scholastics and the other learned men have rightly
    said that the essential attributes of the Deity are nothing more than
    the absolute essence of God, since they are one and the same thing.
    The essence of God considered by itself is undivided, and thus also
    the essential attributes taken by themselves in an absolute sense are
    not distinct from one another; for God is not wise in one respect,
    powerful in another, and just in a third respect. Nor is one quality
    in God His power, another His wisdom, another life, but the one
    undivided, irreducible, divine essence is power itself, wisdom
    itself, life itself.

    “But when this undivided essence of the Deity is applied to created
    things and is considered in relation to something outside itself, as,
    for example, in the case of created things, He does not accomplish
    the same things in all of them but different things in different
    creatures, somethings by His justice, something by His goodness, some
    things by His power; in this relationship or frame of reference, for
    the sake of teaching and learning, we must recognize that there is a
    degree of distinction between His essence and His attributes, which
    we prefer to call attributes here rather than peculiarities (idiomata).

    “Thus, for the sake of teaching and learning we commonly make a
    distinction between the divine essence and certain attributes, and
    then in this relationship or frame of reference the divine attributes
    admit a certain degree of distinction among themselves. For there
    are some attributes by which the divine essence works with a certain
    power (energy) outside itself with respect to created beings. These
    are attributes which show their power (energy) outside themselves;
    that is, they reveal themselves by their work and from their effects
    among created things. Thus they can be understood, described, and
    distinguished by the secondary action. Such attributes are His
    justice, His goodness, His power, majesty, glory, wisdom, and life.
    Through these attributes the divine essence works and accomplishes
    certain things in created beings, some in one and others in another.
    For the effects of God’s justice in created beings are one thing,
    those of His goodness another, of His wisdom another, and the effect
    of His power still another. As a result of this, creatures can be
    described, so that they too can be called wise, good, just, powerful,

    “This is what Damascenus says in his work on the two activities:
    ‘The Deity does not make creatures partakers of His nature but of His
    activity (energy). For there are some attributes of God which, as it
    were, remain within the essence and do not go outside of it into
    creatures by special activities (energies), actions, operations or
    effects; and they do not reveal themselves for us to see so that we
    could describe or understand them by any secondary action. These are
    such attributes as the eternity, immeasurability, infinity, and the
    spiritual qualities of the essence. Nor are the descriptions of
    creatures changed as a result of these attributes, so that they could
    be called eternal or immeasurable.’

    “Since we may define this communication of the majesty in Christ, of
    which we have been speaking, as an activity (energy), it is manifest
    that the divine power of the Logos not only shows certain qualities
    such as He demonstrates in other creatures, but He also demonstrates
    His divine activities in and through the assumed nature. Regarding
    this teaching some have put it quite well when they say that certain
    peculiarities or attributes of the Deity are communicable, others are
    incommunicable. In this relationship or frame of reference there is
    no partitioning or separating of the divine attributes among
    themselves; but we do speak of a distinction in regard to things
    outside the Godhead, that is, in regard to creatures. Yet because
    the Logos communicated by the personal union the whole fullness of
    His deity personally to the assumed nature, He certainly left nothing
    uncommunicated; for He communicated Himself personally, as the total
    and entire fullness of the Godhead to the assumed nature.
    Furthermore, such characteristics or attributes as eternity and
    immeasurability are jointed to the other divine attributes by an
    indissoluble connection. For the divine power which carries on its
    work through the assumed nature is an eternal, immeasurable,
    infinite, and divine power.

    “The same reasoning holds true with regard to the eternity and
    infinite immeasurability, and also in the case of the majesty,
    wisdom, and the life which we have said have been communicated to the
    human nature in Christ, as we will show more fully later on. Others
    assert on this matter also that the entire essence and all the
    attributes of the Deity have been personally communicated to the
    assumed nature by the union. These points do not conflict with each
    other, but show simply that there is a difference in the mode of
    communication. For the eternity and boundlessness of the divine
    Logos dwell personally in the assumed nature of Christ because they
    are part of the whole fullness of the Godhead, but they do not show
    themselves or stand out by themselves as peculiar activities
    (energies) in the assumed nature. But the other attributes of God
    the Logos dwell personally in the assumed nature in such a way that
    they manifest their activities (energies) in and through it, as we
    have said. However, the eternity and boundlessness cohere with an
    indivisible connection. For the divine power of the Logos which
    manifests its activities through the assumed nature is an eternal and
    boundless power. These things are plain to those who love the truth.

    “Other created things are changed in respect to certain qualities by
    the activity (energy) of the divine attributes, just as a rive which
    flows from a fountain or rays which are given off of a light. But in
    Christ’s assumed nature the divine power of the Logos produces not
    only conditions or qualities, but it also manifests its own divine
    activities through the assumed flesh in the manner described. And
    the result is that we use of the figure of the flesh of Christ as
    being life-giving. But it is said that the flesh of Christ as a
    result of the union was not made an eternal, infinite, boundless,
    spiritual essence, and therefore the entire fullness of the Godhead
    was not personally communicated to the assumed nature. This problem
    is easily solved. For by the person communication of the other
    attributes the humanity of Christ is not made omnipotent, omniscient,
    or vivifying of itself or in itself, essentially, or in essence, by
    some property or condition of its own nature, but because the assumed
    humanity possesses personally, united to itself, the attributes of
    the divine Logos in such a way that the attributes show their
    activities (energies) in and through the humanity, just as we have
    described concerning the heated iron. And thus it is said to have
    communion with them. (pp. 306-309)

  5. Michael says:

    Okay, you have me interested.

    What is the best thing I can read on THE TRUTH of Theosis and how it relates to Christology?

  6. acolyte says:


    yes and yes, though to be fair it is not as if Chemnitz is an idiot and says ” I want to be a Eutychian. He struggles against it as do his fellow Reformed sectarians struggle against the charge of Nestorianism.

    This is why in the case of theosis, over which people are falling over themselves to affirm now in non-Orthodox bodies, testifying to the fact that they lost the patristic and biblical teaching, the mere use of the terms means nothing.

    When Calvin speaks of deification, he simply doesn’t mean the same thing as Athanasius or Cyril any more than the Jehovah’s Witness and myself mean the same thing when we say “Jesus.”

  7. Michael says:

    Hmmm…interesting, Perry. I’ll have to think about that carefully.

    I take it you have read Chemnitz on The Two Natures in Christ and found it Eutychian?

    Meanwhile, there are two of us awaiting your insights in the “Directing the Course” article on Filioque.

  8. acolyte says:

    Don B,

    With the Lutherans the primary relation to God is an extrinsic relation, that is, it never constitutes what we are, namely faith. That is the point of using faith and emptying it out of all possitive content for Lutheranism. Faith before God is worthless but it is a conduit or the formal cause of justification. It gives justification its character, which is complete dependence, passivity, and externality.


    I disagree with your disagreement. The author I cited is Lutheran. He makes it clear that in the Scriptures the divine trumps and subordinates the human so much so as to identify the two. It is hard to see on his account where the personal lies. At least with the Reformed view it is attempting to preserve the intuition that there is a personal activity in the Scripture’s inspiration, it just mislocates it with the Spirit rather than the Son and makes the relation completely external to humanity.

    The relevance to the incarnation should be obvious. If we carried out the Lutheran view articulated here to Christology it would imply Eutychianism. I don’t deny that the Lutherans use traditional analogies and language for deification, but they lack the categories to adhere to the patristic teaching. The idea that there is a predication of attributes from the divine to the human is not the patristic teaching for the fathers know nothing of “attributes” in the scholastic sense in which the Lutherans employ that terminology. I know often the term for energy or power is translated as “attribute” it this just testifies to how the Lutherans qua Latins are understanding the Fathers through their own philosophical grid.

    That is to say that the Lutherans lack the doctrine of energies. If they had it, their explication of the eucharist, biblical inspiration, and the incarnation would be unproblematic for then they could affirm that there are energies communicated from the divine essence through the divine person to the human nature of Christ without any confusion of essences. BUt since they don’t have that doctrine and they affirm that all of the attributes are identical in God, this simply isn’t possible for them to do, which is why they appeal to “paradox.”

    If they had the apparatus, biblical inspiration would be a personal activity of Christ in the Spirit, in synergy with the biblical writers, rather than a more monergistic and essentialist gloss. What after all is “the Word” that is functioning? Is it the divine essence or is it a Person? If the latter it is hard to see how Christ can speak through the prophets in the Spirit without synergy.

    Consequently, all of the patristic language that the Lutherans use is re-interpreted along scholastic lines, and this is why even in Sanctification, the presence of divinity in the soul brings about created effects so that our union with God is a union between a love that is “like” his and his own, namely a relation of will between a created analog and divinity. Here we are right back to the Roman doctrine of created grace.

  9. Michael says:

    I disagree with this assessment of classical Lutheran thought. Lutherans in my experience always maintained both the union, the interpenetration and the distinction between Divine and human natures in Christ. Similarly, this has always been a sacramental argument between Lutherans and Reformed. Reformed say, “Finitum non capax infinitum”; Lutherans say the opposite and refer to the patristic analogy of glowing iron.

  10. Don Bradley says:

    I played this game while a Calvinist about 10 years ago. I think the key line you offer is, “Humanity is never united to God except extrinisically.”

    I’d like to see this same line of reasoning applied to Lutheran, Reformed, and “evangelical” ecclesiology. I *see* the relationship, but I’m not sure I can articulate it adequetely. For the Reformed and the evangelicals it seems plain enough their ecclesiology is *extrinsic* because nobody knows who is really elect or who is *on fire for Jesus*. I’m not sure how this would be applied to Lutherans.

%d bloggers like this: