Play It Again Sam

Protestants of a classical stripe (Calvinists and Lutherans) often make a lot of noise over “the gospel.” Soteriological issues understood primarily in moral and legal categories are of utmost importance for them. How can one stand before a holy deity? How is a person vindicated or justified before God is always on their lips.

A more substantial grasp of the Reformation controversies between Rome and different Reformation traditions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist) discloses that the issues are not fundamentally soteriological. The issues are something of a replay of the older Christological debates. Soteriological and other adjoined debates concerning the nature of the sacraments and their efficacy or Mary are a function of one’s Christology. Take under consideration the following citations.

“Lutherans have learned from experience that any error in the doctrine of the Sacrament inevitably indicates a prior error in Christology.” David P. Scaer, Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics: Christology” 56.

Concerning Mary, “The Reformed have generally favored the Nestorian position and denied Mary that title[Theotokos], though Calvin did not.” Scaer 57

“The Reformed hypothetically hold to the genus idiomaticum, but this is a verbal and not a real predication, as each of the natures remain not only distinct but separate. Thus to this day Reformed theologians do not operate with any meaningful understanding of the genus idiomaticum and in effect still deny the personal or hypostatic union in Christ.” Ibid.

“Whereas the greatest difference betwneen the Lutherans and the Reformed appears in the genus maiestaticum, which the Reformed utterly reject, we note that the Reformed view of the communicatio, which tends to be restricted to the genus idiomaticum,  approarches the communication more as a praedicatio verbalis, or verbal predication, of idiomata from both natures of the person, whereas the Lutheran view insists that the person actually bears the idiomata of both natures. The Reformed, in addition, do not view the apostelesmata, or shared operations, of the natures as a genus of the communicatio idiomatum but as a separate communicatio apostelesmatum according to which the distinct operations of both natures are brought to completion in the one work of Christ.  Thus, Lutheran teaching is a real communicatio while the Reformed, remaining at the level of a communicatio in concreto only, is quite accuratley called antidosis onomaton, a mutual interchange of reciprocation of names, rather than a transfer of communication of properties…” Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, 74.

“While the Reformed held, at least according to their own definitions, to the genus idiomaticum and the genus apostelesmaticum, they rejected the genus maiestaticum, because it indicated that God’s majesty and glory were communicated to the human nature. The philosophical axioms of Reformed theology, which in practice became their theology’s formal principle, deny that the finite is capable of any association with the infinite (finitum non est capax infiniti) and hence the human nature of Christ (finite) is incapable of receiving any divine properties (infinite) by virtue of the Personal Union of the two natures in Christ.” Scaer, 58

Philosophical axioms driving Reformed theology you say? Huh, I thought it was supposed to be just derives from the exegesis of the Bible. Huh. Ya learn something new every day it seems.

“For Lutherans the genus maiestaticum meant that the divine attributes not only were assigned to the human nature but were operative in and through it.” Ibid.

“We must be careful not to understand the term [communicatio idiomatum] to mean that anything peculiar to the divine nature was communicated to the human nature , or vice versa; or that there is an interpenetation of the two natures, as a result of which the divine is humanized, and the human deified (Rome). The deity cannot share in human weaknesses; neither can man participate in any of the essential perfections of the Godhead.” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 324.

Gee, I wonder how God died

“In order to compensate for this lack of divine attributes in Jesus’ human nature, Berkhof, in exemplary Reformed fashion, has spoken of the human nature of Christ as receiving special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus the human nature of Christ has superior intelligence and is incapable of sinning. Christ is even capable of receiving adoration, but Berkhoff carefully avoids seeing Him as an object of worship.” Scaer, 60

Hmm, sounds like adoptionism. But to continue.

“Inherent in the genus maiestaticum is a tension which Confessional Lutheran theology does not attempt to resolve. Through this genus the human nature posseses divine and human attributes which appear to oppose each other.” Scaer, 61

Tension and opposition? Would that be like dialectic perhaps? Like distinguishing objects by opposite properties? Hmm so could the opposition and dialectic in Lutheran theology between law and gospel be the result of their Christology? Hmm.

“The Reformed recognized the genus apostelesmaticum, but understood it as each nature working towards accomplishing the one work of Christ…Thus the natures exist and work side by side in parallel wich each other but without communication.” Scaer, 62-63

Natures work? I thought persons did that. In any case sounds like two continugous functioning substances coming to gether in a common appearance and will. Nestorius or Pyrrus anyone? With natures doing all this work, natures must be what is fundamentally real huh? Who needs persons?

“The possibility that Christ could sin would presuppose that there exists in nature a neutral, third position between holiness and sin. Such a position of moral neutrality has never existed. Man is in either a state of sin or holiness or both at the same time.” Scaer, 63.

I thought it presupposed that there was such a thing as nature and it differed from grace. A dialectic between sin and grace seems not only quite unAugustinian, but Gnostic.

Naw couldn’t be. After all, I just make this stuff up.

33 Responses to Play It Again Sam

  1. Brandon,

    I’d take a look at the Muller quotation. Muller seems right that the way the union is glossed by the Reformed make is verbal. And a verbal gloss on the union made lots of sense to various Nestorians as a mere rule for the proper use of language concerning Christ.

    Moreover, Chalcedon does require the predication of divine properties to the human nature per the glorification and resurrection of Christ.

  2. ““Christ is God” becomes a statement about the nature Christ possesses, “Christ is man” is then a statement about a nature Christ possesses. But the problem with making nature prior to substance is two-fold. First, it makes Unity prior to Trinity, and is thus heretical. Second, it doesn’t jive with our experience. Our deepest joys are not experiences of substances, but of persons.”

    Wow. I’m impressed. A protestant who understands the patristic ordo theologiae. Bravo for you Matthew!


  3. It seems false, as far as I can see, to say, as Scaer does, that the Reformed conception of the communicatio is purely verbal; the only Reformed theologians who hold this are those who follow Zwingli on this point, and they are by far the minority. The usual Reformed objection to the Lutheran view is that Lutherans are constantly speaking as if the union in Christ were a natural union, i.e., a mingling of two natures, when really it is a union ‘in concreto’, i.e., in the person of Christ, in which the natures are not mingled or confused. That is, the complaint is that whereas Chalcedon requires attributing the properties of the two natures to the one Christ, the Lutherans keep trying to attribute the properties of each nature to the other. Whatever the fairness of the Reformed accusation (it doesn’t seem quite fair when applied to Chemnitz, for instance), it would make no sense if the communicatio were purely verbal.

    The charge that Reformed theologians take it to be purely verbal goes back, I think, to an ambiguous sentence in Calvin (In Inst. II somewhere), in which he says that the Scriptures so earnestly affirm the union of the two natures that they, by a trope, sometimes interchange the two; and this trope he says is what is called the communicatio idiomatum. One could read this as saying that the union is merely a figure of speech; or one could reading it as saying that in Calvin’s technical terminology (which he thinks, rightly or wrongly, is the standard terminology) ‘communicatio idiomatum’ means the trope used to express the union of the two distinct natures in the one person of Christ. In any case, what quickly became usual among Reformed theologians on this point (those who weren’t following Zwingli, anyway) is to try to stick as close as they could to the formulas of Chalcedon and the Tome and yet still argue their view that the Lutherans are wrong in thinking that they are affirming Chalcedon.

    But in a sense I think it can be said that the tendency of Lutherans to read Calvinists this way (and the tendency of Calvinists to read Lutherans the way they do) is an example of what Perry Robinson notes somewhere above, namely, that Lutherans and Calvinists have different strengths and weaknesses while built on the same or similar principles.

  4. Militus,

    I agree. Also, Penal Substitution is also anti-trinitarian because it implies that there is a new relation between Father and Son, namely, wrath over sin.


    Although human nature existed prior to the incarnation, the human persons Jesus of Nazareth did not. Jesus of Nazareth is the instantiation of human nature in a mode of hypostatic union with the eternal Son.

    You do know that Chalcedon says Christ is “one person” not a human person existing in a personal relation with the Eternal Son? Mary’s Son existes prior to the Incarnation. Mary’s Son exists prior to Abraham. Mary’s Son exists prior to creation. Jesus of Nazareth is the Eternal Son. “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate from the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man. (et homo factus est.)” It is a direct denial of the Creed to say 1) that Jesus did not exist prior to the Incarnation, and 2) that the Second Person of the Trinity did not become man, but only was united to a human person 3) that Mary’s Son is not begotten of His Father before all ages; all of which you denied.

  5. Christ Jones,

    What do you think of Bonhoeffer’s statement that Luther’s later Christology was an attempt to explain “how” in response to Calvin, and hence problematic. We should be content with “The Man Jesus Christ is God” (or though he didn’t say it, but “Mary is the Mother of God”) and not attempt to explain it away.

    I myself (a Presbyterian by denomination who believes in the Real Presence and even the ubiquity of the humanity of Christ (though I wouldn’t say it like that)) think that the whole difficulty arrises from an attempt to make nature prior to person. “Christ is God” becomes a statement about the nature Christ possesses, “Christ is man” is then a statement about a nature Christ possesses. But the problem with making nature prior to substance is two-fold. First, it makes Unity prior to Trinity, and is thus heretical. Second, it doesn’t jive with our experience. Our deepest joys are not experiences of substances, but of persons. If I attempted to explain the magic of holding a girl’s hand by explaining how hands (what you are holding) are important, I would completely miss the point. And even if I were to explain that it is important to touch a girl, I would completely miss the point. It is important that you contact her. The correct explination of holding a girl’s hand must answer the question “who?” not “what?”.

    Similarly, we shouldn’t even try to ask what Mary is the mother of, but who. Mary is the mother of the uncreated Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten not made…was born of the Virgin Mary…was crucified died and was burried, he rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven…” This sentence (that we tend to miss because of its length) is why “The creed of our father’s handed-down to us” that Mary is the Mother of God, and the whole Chalcedonian formula.

    The Reformed insistance that mary is the Mother of God according to his humainty means not really, is really just an objection that Mary is not the mother of the Trinity. But often (though probably in response to the Reformed problematic) Lutherans seem to suggest we should ask what is omnipresent, and the answer is not only God, but man. I think saying “the humanity of Christ is omnipresent” accepts the false and even heretical Reformed Christological problematic, and just answers the flawed question differently. (Though of course in accord with the Creeds.) The correct question is not what is omnipresent–with the answer being either the divinity, or the divinity and the humanity–but who is omnipresent. Who is prior to what.

    Again, this (and the ubiquity of his body) is what St. Paul says in Colossians “in Him all things consist.” All things do not exist in divinity, We the correct question is not “what” but “who”. All things exist in Mary’s Son.

    And I may be sounding very Lutheran right now.

  6. Charlie Brown says:

    Photios Jones,

    Would you contact me at the address I have left.

    Charlie Brown

  7. trvalentine says:

    Just had to respond to this!

    WTM wrote:

    Marilynn McCord Adams is an excellent Christian scholar, and one from whom we can learn much about ancient metaphysics.

    Since she is (1) a priestess in the Episcopal Church, and (2) teaches that homosexuality is a legitmate form of sexual activity for Christians, it is incorrect to refer to her as ‘an excellent Christian scholar’. Her actions and positions demonstrate she is certainly not a Christian. And to divine approval of homosexuality from the Christian tradition demonstrates she is no scholar.

    (back to lurking)

  8. Chris Jones,

    I think Lutheran Christology is better but still inadequate. It still strikes me as capitulating at key points to scholastic distinctions that take away what they gave in other areas. Granted I have not read everything or nearly everything in Lutheran theology on this point. I have read Chemnitz, a good dose of Luther, Melancthon, and a few other classical Lutheran sources.

    I don’t think the Lutherans want to advocate monophysitism or monothelitism. It is harder to push them to it, not the least of which is that often they reuse to own their implications, which can be a mark of piety and grace but isn’t an intellectual virtue. My judgment for what it is worth is that they do tend that way.

    But that was not the purpose of my post. It was to do two things. First, to make clear that I am not the only person saying these types of things. You can find the same points that do not turn on a commitment to Orthodoxy. So I wanted to dispel the ad homs. Second, I wanted to help people from those traditions to think of the issues of justification and such in a Christ centered way, rather than a human entered way, which is usually what they do. Furthermore, I wanted people to see that the reason why people believe such and so in justification is a function of specific philosophical assumptions and their Christology, rather than some n0on-theory laden reading of the biblical text.

    There are three ways to employ dialectic I suppose. One is by placing objects in direct contradiction to each other as equals-hot and cold. The next is to subordinate one in terms of superior and inferior, such is the case in Justin’s Subordinationalism. Third is to collapse one into the other. I think at different points you can see these conceptual grids at work across the board of traditions in the Reformation including in Lutheranism.

    The notion for example of Christ meriting on our behalf, of Luther’s gloss on the relation of humanity to the divinity, especially in terms of will strikes me as quite dialectical. Platonism can be seen as also being paradoxical or more specifically ironic. There is A LOT of irony in Plato, as in Gnosticism for example. I think you are thinking that dialectic is different than paradox since in the former an opposition or conflict is resolved. I don’t think that is so. It isn’t in Plato, which is why he loves the circle. Play it again, Sam!

    Philosophically inclined or not, your comments are always welcome here.

  9. WTM,

    I don’t know why you would think that the classical definition of a person is an instantiation of a nature. Plenty of counter examples come to mind. Taking a Platonic view won’t get you to a definition of persons for a simple reason, Platonism doesn’t have a free standing concept of personhood. There are no persons strictly speaking in Plato or Aristotle for that matter. And, God isn’t an instance of a taxonomic class for this would imply that God was formally caused by an antecedent essence superior to deity.

    “Classically” hypostasis was the most concentrated participant in an essence, originally taken to denote the dregs left over from making wine. But this view won’t work unaltered since there are things true of the divine persons not true of the nature. God is creator by will and not by nature. Moreover, it isn’t clear than when you use nature whether you mean phusis or ousia for the two are not co-extensive in meaning since the former includes the ousia but also the acitivities or signs produced by the essence.

    Another problem is that the term “attribute” is vague since it can be employed in a number of ways and has been so used historically. Your view of gaining attributes depends on the assumption that said properties are dialectically related such that where one is active the other cannot be. The power of one drives out the power of the other. But on Christological grounds this cannot be so, for all of the logoi of every created nature subsists in the one divine Logos without any opposition. And this includes the logos of human nature such that there is no contradiction in speaking of a theanthropos or Godman. Difference doesn’t imply contradiction.

    If humanity weren’t capable of divine mode of existence then it would be impossible for humanity to be enhypostatically united to the eternal Son. Moreover, it would be impossible for Christ’s flesh to manifest God’s visible glory to the eyes of the Apostles, let alone for the face of Moses to be penetrated by it. Human nature is never separated from the divine logos that predetermined it. We are made in the image while Christ is the image.

    If Persons were instance of natures then it follows that Jesus is two persons for there are two instances of natures, human and divine. And on philosophical grounds, the notion of instantiation is problematic since there seems to be no coherent way to distinguish instances from the properties if the properties can be said to exist as well. Appealing to mystery here strikes me as rather a hoc. It is no answer to a legitimate counter example to toss out mystery when it effectively reduces the position to a theological absurdity.

    And yes we do have human persons transcending human nature for nature does not determine the actions of persons, neither in humans nor in God.
    As for Adams, since there is more than one theory of properties on the market an Adam’s disusses many of them, it would be helpful to single out which notion you have in mind.

    I am not sure why you would think that we would need an account of the Spirit’s work in uniting human persons to God, or at least primarily so, since that is accomplished in the Incarnation and so the Incarnate Christ is the bond of unity in the Church, upon whom the Spirit rests.

    As for Adams, she is a bright lady as is her husband. That said, she is also quite heterodox in many ways, (she’s a priestess after all) not to mention quite confused respecting the humanity of Christ. This is apparent toward the end of her short lecture on the human nature of Christ. Granted its not all her fault given that the problem arises from the medieval models she is considering and she wants something better.

    Thanks for the intelligent convo.

  10. WTM,

    It is true that the Orthodox do not view nature and grace in the same way, but it doesn’t follow that there is no distinction between image and likeness. I would ask you to stretch your understanding so as to not conclude that merely because it doesn’t fit an Augustinian way of distinguishing the two that there is no way to do so. Moreover, I think there is good reason for thinking that the shoe is on the other foot. On a Reformed understanding Adam is created intrinsically righteous, implying a kind of pre-lapsarian confusion between nature and grace (Pelagianism) such that a fall from grace implies a distortion and sometimes even claimed a loss of the imago dei resulting in something like a “second nature.”

    And God had better feel physical pain in the incarnation otherwise there is no incarnation. Consequently deification doesn’t imply a loss of human nature or its absorption into the divine essence. Here I think you are implicitly conflating nature and person for the person can suffer while the nature does not admit of alteration or pure passive potency.

  11. If there is anyone who is the “closest” to Orthodoxy among the Reformers, well, it’s undoubtedly Luther.

    Luther is like Augustine. Sometimes he’s dialectical in doing theology, sometimes he’s not at all.


  12. The Scylding says:


    I ‘second’ Chris’ question. Also, some of us amateurs, although not entirely bereft of philosphical understanding, have a hard time following these debates.

  13. Fr. Gregory,

    Yes, I think the same kind of gap is prevalent among Reformed and Evangelicals, which is why their views tend to be adoptionistic and moralistic. It explains in part in part the Evangelical fascination with “technique.”

  14. WTM,
    I agree that the problems may appear elsewhere, but it is still the case that they appear here. I think that the Tome is fine, but it is either too weak in places or mistaken. The touchstone was Cyril and not Leo. The council had to examine the Tome to make sure it was in line with Cyril and not the other way around.

    Why isn’t the principle true? For the same reason why it is false to say that God can’t partake in human weakness or die. God suffers impassibly. God dies in an undying manner. Etc. I don’t think God is related to creation as a user to instruments. I think following Athanasius that the relation is far closer. Consequently I see the imago dei differently. This is why the humanity of Christ can take on divine powers such as immortality and glory.

    The question therefore is not if human nature can do this or that of itself since natures do nothing, persons do. Secondly even if it made sense to speak this way, the point would not be that humanity couldn’t do it without divinity, but that it could do so with divinity. Theosis then is a potentia of the logos of humanity.

    ISTM that Luther and Calvin has opposing strengths and weaknesses because their systems appear built on the same principles just taken in dialectically different directions. I do think that the Lutherans are on the right track though concerning the deification of the humanity of Christ. To be fair, it does not require a mixing of essences. It does require a transfer of energies. And so empirichoresis is quite an appropriate term and was used to speak of the deification of the humanity of Christ long before the Lutherans came along. It is quite present in Ireneaus, Athanasius, Cyril, Maximus, et al. As I noted above it comports well with the biblical data on the immortality and deification of the humanity of Christ as well as our own. Moreover, your view seems to depend on an Empedoclean view of properties which is controversial at best.

  15. Chris Jones says:


    Good post.

    What I take from your catena is that the Lutheran critique of Reformed Christology (as ably presented by Dr Scaer) is essentially correct. What I don’t find in your post is an asssessment on your part of Lutheran Christology. Do you agree with Mr Krause that Lutheran Christology is Monophysite (or Monophysitizing (if that’s a word))?

    Obviously I do not agree with Mr Krause, but if you do then I should very much appreciate it if you could elaborate on why you think so.

    The closest you get in this post to a critique of Lutheran Christology is when you suggest that Dr Scaer’s use of the term “tension” indicates a dialectical approach to Christology. I don’t think that a dialectical approach to Christology is characteristic of Lutheranism, and if you do think so I would like to know why. Acknowledging a “tension” is not necessarily dialectical, and refusing to resolve a paradox (as Dr Scaer does) is, to my mind, the opposite of the dialectical approach of trying to come up with a synthesis.

    Of course, I have no philosophical training and am quite uninterested in philosophy. So I may be using philosophical terms like “dialectic” quite wrongly. If so, I welcome your correction.

  16. “We must be careful not to understand the term [communicatio idiomatum] to mean that anything peculiar to the divine nature was communicated to the human nature , or vice versa; or that there is an interpenetation of the two natures, as a result of which the divine is humanized, and the human deified (Rome). The deity cannot share in human weaknesses; neither can man participate in any of the essential perfections of the Godhead.” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 324.

    “In order to compensate for this lack of divine attributes in Jesus’ human nature, Berkhof, in exemplary Reformed fashion, has spoken of the human nature of Christ as receiving special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus the human nature of Christ has superior intelligence and is incapable of sinning. Christ is even capable of receiving adoration, but Berkhoff carefully avoids seeing Him as an object of worship.” Scaer, 60

    These two quotes argue what I’ve often intuited about Calvinism…for them, Christ is essentially different from God the Father. This plays out (for me) most clearly in their most popular model of the Atonement (Penal-Substitution). My question then is this: If God the Father cannot abide sin and IS OBLIGATED to react to it according to His Nature, why is God the Son not also OBLIGATED to react wrathfully? The position (I think) is one that either 1) Denies Christ’s divinity, or 2) is Polytheist.

  17. Levi says:


    If you get some time could you email me? It would be greatly appreciated. I really need some help understanding something.


  18. WTM,

    I like mystery, but I don’t know why you’d appeal to mystery regarding the Incarnation if you’ve already given ‘Person’ a very *defintional* understanding. At seems like theology as a science is sufficient at that point of providing an answer or to dig for one.

    I think it is very helpful for us to grasp ancient metaphysics so we can understand 1) What the ancients were grappling with, 2) Realize that we aren’t as innovative at times as we actually think we are, and most importantly 3) Understand the movements towards and away from Hellenization in the early church (and today).


  19. WTM says:

    I’m assuming that there is some element of miracle in the incarnation which, I would think, all Christians agree about.

    While it is true that the fathers went about reconstructing and reenvisioning metaphysics, they did so in large measure with the tools already at their disposal. So, knowing these other ancient metaphysics is helpful. But, Adams is also a medievalist, so she is intimately familiar with the further Christian development of these things.

  20. WTM,

    I’m sure we can learn alot from Marilynn Adams or a whole score of scholars on ancient metaphysics. I’m assuming here by ancient you mean Platonic, Stoic, Aristotelian, NeoPlatonic, and so on. What do those things have to do with Christian metaphysics? The Fathers saw Christianity as a real break from Hellenism.


  21. WTM,

    If the Logos is an instance of the divine nature, how can he instantiate another nature? You’ve boxed yourself in with your definition of a person. The only way that a person can manifest a nature, which is our view of energiea (not person), is if a person is ontologically distinct from nature and can transcend that nature.


  22. WTM says:

    When did I say that the incarnation is two instantiations of nature? Never said it; never would. I’m not a Nestorian, which should be apparent from my account of an an/en-hypostatic Christology.

    Marilynn McCord Adams is an excellent Christian scholar, and one from whom we can learn much about ancient metaphysics.

  23. Mark Krause says:

    I wasn’t saying you were Nestorian because you didn’t believe in a union between God and man, I was saying you must not believe in a union between God and man if you’re a Nestorian. Proof:
    1) A person is an instantion of a nature.
    2) Incarnation=two instantiations of nature.
    :. There are two persons in the incarnation.

    This is Nestorianism. This is why Reformed people are Nestorians, because of there definitions of person and nature. The Lutherans just take the other end of the dialectic and end up looking all the world to me like monophysites with the whole communication of properties thing. That looks to me like a confusion of natures.

    You either believe the creeds or you don’t. Trying to read either a hellenistic or a modern meaning onto terms used by the Fathers is just silly. If you don’t mean the same thing by the terms person and nature, then you don’t believe the creed.

    No offense, but who cares what Marilynn McCord Adams thinks? I’m sure she’s a great academic, but unless she’s relying on revelation for her metaphysical terminology, I don’t care what she thinks.

    Man cannot expect to get at metaphysical reality aside from revelation. I agree with Richard Rorty when he says that in order for us to do this type of work on a correspondence theory of truth, we would actually have to have someone reveal human nature to us. Thanks be to God that this did happen in the Incarnation. If there’s one great thing that I think post-modernity has shown us, it is that trying to do metaphysical work on our own is a hopelessly lost project. The only way we can have an accurate view as to what human nature really is is to look at it through the revelation of Jesus Christ. As long as Protestants refuse to do that and try to rely on their own reasoning capacities, they will always end up heretics. As St. Maximus says, it is the Logos who reveals the logoi of all things.

  24. WTM says:


    What are subjects other than complicated things?

    Your point from the Damascnene is interesting but, I think, irrelevant since I do not equate nature and person. I say that a person is an instantiation of a nature.

    The two natures of Christ is the Christological mystery, which I would overcome by locating the ‘person’ aspect in the eternal Son who assumes and instantiates human nature.

    “True, human nature doesn’t acquire a divine mode of existence. I didn’t say that. I said the human person do.” If you want to make this distinction stick, you need to come up with an account of the Holy Spirit’s work in uniting human persons to God. It cannot simply be a given; it has to be the result of continuing divine activity.

    My Christology is enhypostatic. The eternal Son is the subject. I am frankly amazed at how you have misunderstood me. Of course, I’m likely doing the same.

  25. WTM,

    I don’t take “classical”, hellenistic ideas of what they thought persons were. That is the very Hellenization of the gospel. John of Damascus’ long retrospective of the Triadological and Christological heresies (and really EVERY heresy), i.e. this very hellenization, was simply this:

    “But this is what leads the heretics astray, viz., that they look upon nature and person as the same thing.” An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith III.3, c.f. NPNF II, 9 p. 47b

    If persons are instances of a nature, then with respect to Christology, if Christ has two natures, he has two persons, if one nature, one person. This is the very dialectical christology we have been talking about as of late. Person in your view is just a special kind of attribute of a nature: just another natural property. In Triadology: Tri-theism or Sabellianism.

    Why would you treat “persons” like “things?” Does an instance of a thing really grasp what it means to be a subject?

    True, human nature doesn’t acquire a divine mode of existence. I didn’t say that. I said the human person do.

    You don’t have enhypostatic Christology, because it isn’t single subject. The union that you have is one that is had in the object of will.


  26. WTM says:


    Unfortunately, all these things are just plain confusing.

    I’m not a Nestorian. Because I don’t think that there is a hypostatic union between you or I and God does not make me such.

    Powers and capacities would fall under ‘attributes’ or ‘properties’. My definition is working at a very low metaphysical level, and it is taken from the work of Marilyn McCord Adams.

    I think it is confusing to speak of the Father, Son and Spirit as three different persons – although I would never consider someone heretical just because they used that language, indeed, the language is well established within the tradition. The problem is that modern thought understands a ‘person’ to be something very different that the fathers. In my mind, the Trinity as a whole is closer to our common use of the term ‘person’. A nature can be instantiated any number of times. My nature is not essentially different from yours; the Father, Son and Spirit all instantiate the same divine nature; etc. Of course, you and I instantiate human nature in a way fundamentally different than the way in which Father, Son and Spirit instantiate divine nature.

  27. Mark Krause says:

    So you’re a Nestorian. So you don’t believe there can be a true union between God and man. That’s very sad.

    Why think of natures as sets of properties, rather than a set of powers/capacities. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this more of what the fathers had in mind by “nature.” Why think that you have enough insight into the realties of metaphysics to be so confident about the definitions of person and nature over and against the Church?

    If persons are just instantiations of nature, then doesn’t this mean that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must all have different natures? Or are they just one person? Or is it just the case that you have a defintion of person that is completely different in the case of the Trinity from all other uses of the term. (In which case it seems a little odd not to use a different term. It seems either sloppy, deceptive, or at best just plain confusing to use the same term in both ways.)

  28. WTM says:

    I think that yours is a very slippery relation between person and nature. The more classic definition of a person is an instantization of a nature – a hypostisis. A nature is simply a catalog of attributes that belongs to every instance of a class. If you have an instance of a class, and then that instance looses attributes of its class or gains attributes of another class, the nature has changed. You now have a hybrid of some kind. This is a problem in the human nature but not with the divine because divine nature is perfect and infinite – it is capable of anything (except evil), even a human mode of existence. But, human nature is not on its own power capable of a divine mode of existence.

    Human nature is not perichoretic with the divine nature, not lease of all because this is an improper use of the term. Perichoresis is a technical term to signify the way in which the intra-Trinitarian relations are different than relations between human persons.

    Persons are instances of a nature. The eternal Son was able to become incarnate because he is God, and God can do whatever he pleases. Although human nature existed prior to the incarnation, the human persons Jesus of Nazareth did not. Jesus of Nazareth is the instantiation of human nature in a mode of hypostatic union with the eternal Son. This is the point of an / en – hypostatic Christology. In no sense do we have here a human person transcending human nature.

  29. WTM,

    Human nature doesn’t change. It is and has always been perichoretic with the divine nature by dent of the Person. That is divine powers are enhypostasised: existing in a person. What’s wrong with that? You admit of human powers subsiting in a divine person. Why not divine powers subsisting in a human person?

    The fundamental issue is the distinction between person and nature. Persons are in no way identical to their natures. Person can transcend what they have by nature which is why Christ was able to become Incarnate.


  30. WTM says:

    I’m afraid that I have to fundamentally disagree with the conclusions of that article. And, I would draw your attention to a phrase from the final paragraph: “[the human person] becomes by grace what the giver of grace himself is by nature”. To say this is one thing, but the way that this gets spun throughout the rest of the article serves to erase the distinction between grace and nature, at least so it seems to me. Grace becomes almost like a ‘second nature.’ It smacks of ontological change, which I think that we can all agree doesn’t take place (for instance, we all still have bodies – God does not; we all still feel physical pain – God does not; etc).

  31. WTM,

    Yes I am capable of the infinite. Try this little article:


  32. Fascinating post, thank you!

    While I need to think more about what you wrote, intuitively in makes sense with my conversations on pastoral care w/ especially Evangelical Christians (a group I realize you did not address here). Would I be right in thinking that there is among Reformed Christians an unbridgeable gap between humanity and divinity that is not closed even in the Person of Christ?

    In Christ,

    +Fr Gregory

  33. WTM says:

    To be perfectly fair, what we find in these Lutheran and Reformed Chistological problems is not absent from the broader tradition. In fact, it could be argued that they go back to the Tome of Leo, which was an official interpreting document for Chalcedon although some would argue that the definition and the Tome are at odds.

    With reference to the principle of ‘finitum non capax infiniti’, that should not be applied to Calvin. This was something quite unique to Zurich (Zwingli was big on it) and not to Geneva. In any case, isn’t it true? Are you on the basis of your own finite human powers capable of that which is infinite? To paraphrase Paul, “Hell no!” What Zwingli didn’t understand and what Calvin did was the way in which the Holy Spirit might employ finite things as instruments.

    But, with reference to Christology, it is true that both Calvin and Luther have opposing weaknesses and therefore complimentary strengths. Luther’s notion of the ‘communicatio idiomatum’ for instance is nonsensical. A nature is a catalog of properties, and if the two natures begin swapping properties, the natures change. You no long have a divine and a human nature, but a pair of hybrids. While I don’t have anything against saying that in the incarnation the eternal Son assumes human nature in such a way that what it means to be the human Jesus of Nazareth becomes a part of what it means to be the eternal Son (i.e., the divine nature / person actually incorporating human nature within itself), I have to protest when this starts flowing the other way.

    Anyway, these are all interesting quotes. Thanks for posting them!

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