Sunday, February 21, 2010

Here we stand

More than one time, I have been asked why I argue about certain things. Here is an example from the comments:

"Is the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom predicated on the relevance of this unsettled argument?"

This is in regards to the Christological arguments which have been going on between several Reformed interlocutors and me. The "unsettled argument" is exactly how to interpret Chalcedon. A Reformed theologian more or less conceded that the Lutheran understanding of the person of Christ as a divine person who assumed human nature is the older "Chalcedonian" view as compared to the Reformed view which is more like Christ is out of two natures, i.e. when the Logos assumed flesh he became a new person who is God and man . As the article says:

The Reformed placed the emphasis upon the formula “two natures unimpaired in their original integrity subsequent to their union.”  As Calvin put it, “For we affirm his divinity so joined and united with his humanity that each retains its distinctive nature unimpaired, and yet these two natures constitute one Christ” (Institutes II.xiv.1).1  This was said in order to lay a foundation for the rejection of the Lutheran doctrine of a direct communion or inter-penetration of the natures.  The properties of each nature, the Reformed said, are rightly ascribed to the “person” but not to each other.   God remains God, the human remains human – precisely in the hypostatic union. 

Needless to say, I reject the Reformed doctrine of the Lord's Supper and its underpinning, the Reformed doctrine of Christ where the uniting of the two natures makes the person Jesus Christ "out of two natures", as Calvin said. Lutherans believe the person Jesus Christ is the divine Logos who has assumed human nature. So for us, it is not an "unsettled matter" that the Logos is the person of Jesus Christ, but a correct interpretation of Scripture as described in the Definition of Chalcedon. Reformed Christology is, therefore, not something I can lightly ignore for the sake of Gospel proclamation as it is a key difference between the two communions, and it is the basis for Reformed denial of key doctrines such as that of the doctrine of the Real Presence.


Chris Jones said...


First of all, you are right. Right in your characterization of the difference between the Reformed and the Lutheran interpretations of the Chalcedonian definition, and right that ours is the correct interpretation.

But this ground has all been covered before. These conflicting interpretations of the Chalcedonian definition played themselves out in the aftermath of Chalcedon itself. The definition could be (and was) read either in a Nestorianizing way or in a Cyrilline way. Nestorius himself (who was still alive in 451) famously approved of the definition and regarded it as his vindication; and the Monophysites also saw it as a vindication of Nestorius and so rejected it.

It was the task of the two following ecumenical councils (Constantinople II and III) to clarify the Chalcedonian definition, and to specify that it was in no way a repudiation of the theology of St Cyril, but must instead be read in light of Cyril's thought. In particular, the burden of Constantinople II was to resolve the "theopaschite" controversy by insisting that the one hypostasis of Jesus Christ and the hypostasis of the Logos are one and the same; and thus it was none other than God Himself who died on the Cross. Thus it is said that "there is in Christ no 'human hypostasis,' but the one divine hypostasis which has taken on human nature." (Sadly, Constantinople II failed to reconcile the Monophysites, but that is another story.)

It is common among Protestants (at least, those Protestants who value the ecumenical councils at all) to recognize only the first four councils, and to regard Chalcedon as the terminus of valid and worthwhile Christological development. The fifth and sixth councils are regarded as unnecessary quibbling over details (and the seventh is usually rejected outright). But Constantinople II is invaluable for understanding Chalcedon rightly, and the failure to acknowledge its teachings leads directly to the Christological error you are rejecting in this post.

Steve Martin said...

All we can do is throw it out there. That the Scarament IS the gospel.

Sure, argue about it a bit. But if they continue to deny it...then I say don't waste your time.

Thse folks are hardened in their rationalism and there are far too many people out there that need to hear it (the gospel) than to mess around for too long where the clay is already baked.

Edward Reiss said...


Thanks, that was very informative.

Edward Reiss said...


I don't think it is a waste of time. I think it is better if our reformed brethren understand that the issues go deeper than trite labels such as Monophysitism, and that their view is contrary to the historical Christology of the Church.

Steve Martin said...

It's not a waste of time to try and inform them, to explain to them.

But there does come a point in time to move on.

Each of us will have to figure out that point for ourselves.

I always remember Jesus' admonition to dust off those sandals and move on.

I know it's not exactly the same, but the longer I'm in Christ, the more validity I see in it.

Acolyte4236 said...


You're welcome. :)

Edward Reiss said...


Yeah, I was influenced by your posts. I always bothered by the Reformed approach to the sacraments, and when I saw it is directly related to Christology it all sort of clicked. And I also have a better understanding of why Luther said to Zwingli "you have a different Spirit from we..."

Of course, individual Reformed do not necessarily follow Calvin slavishly.

Acolyte4236 said...


I agree, but the problem isn't just Calvin. Muller's work makes plain that this is a major stream with few exceptions. Its not just Calvin. Its in the Dutch, the English Puritans, Southern as well as Norther Presbyterians, etc.

Of course, I think there are some real zingers in Chemnitz too. Of course Chemnitz is way better, but I don't think he's quite there either.

But you are right, once you see it in Christology, it all just clicks and hangs together. This is why I try to focus people on Christology as the intersecting point for all of these other debates.

Edward Reiss said...


"Of course, I think there are some real zingers in Chemnitz too. "

I find this shocking.

NOT. :-)

Acolyte4236 said...

"Moreover, in forming a definition many have endeavored to resolve the problem in a brief summary and with few words, as the skillful method of drawing up definitions usually is. And they have actually boiled it down to this, that the hypostatic union is the highest and most intimate coming together by which the divine nature assumes the human nature is assumed and made the property of the divine, so that these two natures, apart form all change or commingling, come together, concur and are united to produce one person in Christ."

Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ, p. 69.

Edward Reiss said...


That certainly sounds similar to Calvin's statements. However, I am not sure it developed in a Calvinist direction. The Confessions sound more orthodox (or, Orthodox if you prefer) to me.

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