Lutherans! and Calvinists! and Catholics! Oh My! Pt. 1

To begin responding to some of my critics, I am going way back to the blog entry, “A Heterodox Two-fer” where I quoted from a well known Lutheran text which explicates Lutheran anthropology. Drew posted long citations from Chemnitz arguing that my worry that while Lutheranism does a better job with key Patristic concepts like energia, it ends up botching it and is Eutychian, was mistaken.

I place first the strongest argument I have from the selections he provided. I think there are others but I thinik these will be sufficient.

“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.” (Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ, p. 306)

Now, here I am interested in the sentence “but just as the divine essence is communicated to the assumed nature by the personal union…” This doesn’t seem right on its face for the divine essence is not communicated to the humanity of Christ. I can’t think of any Orthodox writer who would speak this way.

“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.”

Here the influence of divine simplicity via the Scholastics should be obvious. All of the divine attributes or predicates are identical in God. the difference between them is not in God but in the effects. Reading the first part of the Summa Theologica, 3rd article will bear this out rather quickly. Special attention should be payed to the terms “considered by itself” since this denotes that the difference is in our ways of thinking.

“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).”

Here again is the point that troubles me. The distinction is not real but pragmatic or conceptual. And this is exactly the same spot that the teeth of the Orthodox are set on edge. How is this any different than the Roman view or at base from the Reformed Scholastic view? If in and of itself, the attributes are all identical to the divine essence in an absolute way, as Chemnitz indicates, and only considered to be distinct for purposes of understanding, then there really is no substantial advance oveer the Reformed or Roman views.

“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, living.”

Here again, there doesn’t seem to be any real mapping onto the Orthodox view and in fact a real identity with the Scholastic view, whether Roman or Reformed. The difference between the attributes is not in themselves but as they are divided or pluralized in the effects as effects. Now it seems to me that either it is the case that the divinization of the humanity of Christ entails a real identity with the divine essence which we, for the sake of conceptualization divy up or the humanity of Christ is divinized in the sense that it is the recipient of created effects. Either view seems seriously mistaken. Given what Chemnitz says about the divine attributes being actually identical with each other and the divine essence, I do not see how it is possible to view the Lutheran view as being Eutychian in some way.This doesn’t mean that I think Lutherans are gross heretics or mean people. I must also confess that I am not an expert in Lutheran theology and so I leave it open to informed Lutherans to correct me. That said, here are some subsidiary reasons for thinking that I am on the right track. All of the informed Lutherans I have talked to or texts I have consulted have explicitly denied anything approaching the Orthodox distinction between Essence and Energy or at best take away what they grant, as I think Chemnitz does. If Chemnitz were teaching what Orthodoxy does, then I find it strrange that the Orthodox view should meet with such hostility.Moreover, I need subsidiary reasons for taking Chemnitz’ views as being representative and binding. Plenty of what Luther wrote is not considered “Lutheran.” So the fact that Chemnitz was a Lutheran theologian of no small repute won’t be sufficient to convince me, even if my reading of his texts is mistaken, that it is in fact the Lutheran teaching.

3 Responses to Lutherans! and Calvinists! and Catholics! Oh My! Pt. 1

  1. Mark Downham says:

    “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.” (Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ, p. 306)

    Martin Chemnitz does NOT allow for the Prpphetic Intentionality of the Incarnation NOR does he allow for the kenotic attributions of the Divine person and nature of Christ or the submissive attributions of the sinless human person and [pre fall] nature of Christ and their Inter-Fusion or miaphytism.

    Essence and Energy are communicable – otherwise we would only be beholding christlikeness [energetic potentiality] and NOT be becoming Christlike [communicable and essential actuality].

    If we understand the Prophetic Intentionality and Purpose of the Incarnation then we can understand how the necessity of hte Incarnation determines the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  2. Sophocles says:

    Perry,

    I think this last piece I wrote ties into what you have written here. If you can pardon my own peculiar way of stating in a “hidden” fashion what you have the ability to state plainly, I would ask you to have a looksee and correct or confirm that theology that runs throughout the piece.
    Nice post, by the way. I look forward to the rest.

    In Christ and in fellowship,

    http://molonlabe70.blogspot.com/2007/04/reflections-where-i-waswhere-i-am.html

  3. Michael says:

    I can’t speak to your interpretative questions of Chemnitz vs. energetic procession; the whole thing seems out of my pay grade. I’ll have to think about it some more.

    But I can tell you that Chemnitz was a principal drafter of the Formula of Concord, which all Lutheran pastors are required to teach upon their ordination, and that his ideas about the natures and person of Christ are certainly part of that document.

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