Posts tagged ‘Two Natures in Christ’

CHRIST.ology – Part 3

In 1971, a delicatessen opened in Austin that became instantly popular among college students for its delicious sandwiches.  From its humble beginnings on South Congress Street, Schlotzsky’s has since become a national franchise with hundreds of stores scattered over thirty states.  Their slogan is simple, yet to the point:  “Funny name.  Serious sandwich.”

As I wrap up my three-part series on Christology based on a class that I taught at Concordia’s Men’s Bible Breakfast, Schlotzsky’s slogan provides an apropos starting point for this blog:  “Funny names.  Serious Christology.”

In last week’s blog, I surveyed a few of the different ways in which, historically, people have gotten the two natures of Christ wrong.  Arianism denied that Christ was true God.  Docetism denied that Christ was true man.  Nestorianism asserted that Christ not only had two natures, but was two persons.  Monophysitism said that Christ had only one nature – a composite God-man nature.  All of these Christologies were declared by the Church to be heretical.

So if these Christologies are wrong, then what’s right?  How do we properly understand the relationship between the two natures – divine and human – in the one man, Jesus Christ?  Enter the funny names.

The Church has regularly used three genera (singular, genus) to describe how the two natures in the one man Jesus Christ relate to each other.  Genus is a Latin word meaning “type,” or “kind.” It is regularly used in biology as a taxonomic unit.  Thus, these three genera have been used by the Church to explain the types of ways in which the two natures in Christ relate to each other.  Be warned, however, for these three genera have funny names.  But don’t let that throw you.  For they present some serious Christology.

The Genus Idiomaticum
The Genus Idiomaticum seeks to uphold the distinction between the two natures of Christ by declaring that each nature in Christ “has its own peculiar essential or natural attributes, which it retains even in the union, yet without conversion or confusion…The difference of the natures [is not] abolished because of the union, but rather the property of each nature is preserved intact and takes part in forming the one person” (Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ, 172).  In other words, even though we cannot divide the two natures into two Christs, we can make distinctions between these two natures as they work together in the one Christ.

A biblical example of the Genus Idiomaticum comes in Romans 1:3-4: “God’s Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, but through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God.” Here, Paul clearly distinguishes between the human and divine natures of Christ.  On the one hand, Jesus, according to his human nature is the Son of David.  On the other hand, according to his divine nature, Jesus is the Son of God.  The Genus Idiomaticum says that it is acceptable and even important to make these kinds of distinctions as long as one does not divide Christ’s two natures.

The Genus Majestaticum
This genus is explained well by Martin Chemnitz: “The divine nature of Christ in itself has received nothing from the hypostatic union, but…his human nature has received and possesses innumerable supernatural gifts and qualities which are contrary to its nature and which are above every name and also above, beyond, and exceeding its own essential properties, which still, however, remain unimpaired” (The Two Natures in Christ, 244).  In short, Chemnitz says that the attributes of Christ’s divine nature affect and enliven the attributes of his human nature.  For example, because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could walk on water.  Or because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could heal the sick.  Or because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could rise from the dead.

Interestingly, this genus proved to be a flashpoint of contention between the Lutherans and those who were Reformed.  The Lutherans properly maintained that this genus allowed Christ to be physically present with his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  After all, because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – can be omnipresent, even in Communion.  Those who were Reformed did not hold to this genus and so, at best, they asserted that only Christ’s divine nature, and not his human nature, could be present in the Sacrament.  For Christ’s human nature could not be present on an altar while also being present in heaven, even as humans cannot be in two places at once.  Proper Christology, then, affects many different areas in the broader discipline of theology.

The Genus Apotelesmaticum
The Genus Apotelesmaticum asserts that even though distinctions can be made in Christ’s two natures, the whole person of Christ, and not one of his natures individually, saves us.  Again, Martin Chemnitz explains: “The union of Christ’s two natures took place in order that the work of redemption, propitiation, and salvation might be accomplished in, with, and through both of His natures” (The Two Natures in Christ, 218).  Thus, when we speak of our salvation, we say, “Christ saved me.”  We do not say, “The human nature of Christ saved me when he died on the cross,” or, “The divine nature of Christ saved me when he rose from the dead.”  No!  All of Christ – his birth, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection – effects our salvation.

From time to time, I will see bumper stickers on the back of vehicles with a simple two-word confession:  “Jesus Saves.”  Besides being a nice way in which Christians can share their faith, these bumper stickers also represent a proper understanding of the Gensus Apotelesmaticum.  For they are a good reminder that it is Jesus – all of Jesus – who saves us.  It is good Christology wrapped up in two words.  And this is why Christology is not only incredibly intricate, it is also blessedly simple.  For this confession of “Jesus saves” is a confession we can all carry in our hearts and on our tongues no matter how young or old, how theological trained or theologically novice we may be.  Carry it to someone else today.

February 11, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

CHRIST.ology – Part 2

This blog is part two of a three part series I am writing on Christology, based on the Tuesday morning Men’s Bible Breakfast series I am teaching at Concordia.  In part one, I spoke of Christ’s two natures as truly God and truly man.  Sadly, over the centuries, these two natures have regularly been disparaged and misrepresented by heretics.  So that we do not make the same mistakes as these heretics of old, it is worth surveying some of the historical mistakes made concerning Christ’s two natures.

Broadly speaking, Christological heresies have fallen into one of two categories:  those which deny Christ’s two natures on the one hand, and those which confuse Christ’s two natures on the other.  Let’s look at some examples of each.

Heresies which deny Christ’s two natures…

Arianism rose to ascendancy in the third and fourth centuries.  This heresy taught that though Jesus was a god, he was not the God.  That is, Jesus was indeed divine, but he was not “of one substance with the Father,” as the Nicene Creed confesses.  A letter that Arius wrote to Eusebius of Nicodemia, the bishop who baptized Constantine, succinctly states the Arian position: “Before Christ was begotten, he was not…The Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning.”  The Arians taught that Jesus’ was God’s first creation and not eternal.  John 1:1 firmly refutes such a notion:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Jesus, the Word, was in the beginning.  He is uncreated and without beginning because he is in the beginning.  Thus, he is not a god, he is the God.

The heresy of Adoptionism surfaced at the turn of the second century.  The Adoptionists taught that Jesus was not just declared God’s Son at his baptism, he was made God’s Son (cf. Luke 3:21-22).  To back up this claim, the Adoptionists used Psalm 2:7:  “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  According to Acts 13:33, this Psalm is fulfilled in Jesus.  The Adoptionists pointed to God “becoming” Jesus’ father as proof that he was adopted.  However, their reading of this passage is woefully mistaken.

The Hebrew word for “become” in Psalm 2:7 is yalad, a word classically translated as “beget.”  This word can either denote cause or relationship, depending on what Hebrew mood is used.  That is, sometimes this verb can denote cause – one generation giving rise to another through procreation.  Other times, however, this verb is used to denote relationship, describing the love and affection that two people have for each other.  In Psalm 2:7, this verb, according to its Hebrew mood, is used to denote relationship and not cause.  That is, this verb is used to speak of the Father’s loving relationship with the Son and not the Father’s causation of the Son.  Thus, Psalm 2:7 is not meant to say that the Father adopted to Jesus to make him his Son, but that the Father loves his Son, even as many fathers love their sons.

The name “Docetism” comes from the Greek word dokeo, meaning, “to seem.”  The Docetists taught that though Jesus looked, or seemed, human, it was merely an illusion.  He did not truly become a man and he did not truly die on a cross.  The Docetists based their position on the philosophy of the Gnostics who taught that the spiritual was inherently good while the physical was inherently evil.  Therefore, the Docetists taught that God, who is spiritual, would never become a man because a man is physical and the physical is evil!  John refutes this heresy again and again.  For instance, the evangelist writes in 2 John 7: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”  John is unequivocally clear:  If a person does not acknowledge that Jesus became true man, he is a deceiver.

Heresies which confuse Christ’s two natures…

Even as Arianism and Adoptionism denied Christ’s nature as God and Docetism denied Christ’s nature as a man, there were other heresies which affirmed both natures, yet confused them.  To these we now turn.

Nestorianism became especially prevalent in the fifth century and taught not only that there were two natures contained in the one person of Christ, but that there were actually two Christs!  That is, although Christ may have looked like one person, he was actually two persons.  Thus, there were some things which the human Christ did which the divine Christ did not participate in and vice versa.  For instance, the Nestorians taught that only the human Christ died on the cross, for God cannot die.  This is in direct contradiction to Philippians 2:6, 8 which teaches:  “Christ, being in very nature God…and being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.”  Paul clearly teaches that Christ, who was in his very nature God, died on the cross. Thus, God died on the cross contra Nestorianism.  Christ is one person with two natures, both of which participate in everything Christ, the one man, does, including his life, miracles, ministry, death, and resurrection.

In reaction to Nestorianism, there arose yet another heresy called Monophysitism. Monophysitism taught that Christ was one person with only one nature.  That is, Monophysitism so desired to keep the two natures of Christ unified rather than radically separating them into two Christs as did Nestorianism that it melded Christ’s two natures into one hybrid nature.  Eutyches explains Monophysite theology thusly: “Christ’s human nature was dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea.”  Thus, Christ’s human nature, though still theoretically present, is not in any way distinct from his divine nature.  Biblically, this is problematic because Scripture speaks of Jesus’ two natures as distinct, though not separate.  For instance, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  Here we see both Jesus’ human and divine natures.  As a human, Jesus does not want to die.  As God, he surrenders himself to his Father’s will.

Pope Leo the Great wrote against Monophysitism in a declaration known as The Tome of Leo:

The proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person…The birth of flesh reveals human nature; birth from a virgin is a proof of divine power. A lowly cradle manifests the infancy of the child; angels’ voices announce the greatness of the Most High. Herod evilly strives to kill one who was like a human being at the earliest stage the Magi rejoice to adore on bended knee one who is the Lord of all. And when he came to be baptized by his precursor John, the Father’s voice spoke thunder from heaven, to ensure that he did not go unnoticed because the divinity was concealed by the veil of flesh: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Accordingly, the same one whom the devil craftily tempts as a man, the angels dutifully wait on as God. Hunger, thirst, weariness, sleep are patently human. But to satisfy five thousand people with five loaves; to dispense living water to the Samaritan woman, a drink of which will stop her being thirsty ever again; to walk on the surface of the sea with feet that do not sink; to rebuke the storm and level the mounting waves; there can be no doubt these are divine.

There is hardly a finer confession, explication, and affirmation of Christ’s two natures than the one penned above.  Pope Leo clearly confesses that Christ has two natures, yet he is only one person.  And indeed, this confession of Christ is sorely needed – not just because it is good Christology, but because it is good soteriology, a word which refers to the doctrine of our salvation. Christ must be human so that he can identify with us in our struggles, temptations, and sin.  He must be human so that he can die.  But he must also be God so that he can lead us, guide us, and redeem us.  He must be God so that not only does he die, but he also rises again.

Truly man.  Truly God.  Truly Jesus.  Truly our hope and salvation.  Don’t settle for anything or anyone less than him.

February 4, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment

CHRIST.ology – Part 1

Today begins a three-part series of blogs I plan to post on Christology.  These are based on a three-week Bible study I am leading at Concordia’s Men’s Bible Breakfast on Tuesday mornings.

“Christology” is a compound word.  The suffix “-ology” means “the study of” and the word “Christ” means, well, “Christ.”  Thus, Christology is “the study of Christ.” And indeed, there is no important topic – or, more accurately, there is no more important person – to study.  Martin Luther explains:

I have perceived and noted in all histories of all of Christendom that all those who have correctly had and kept the chief article of Jesus Christ have remained safe and secure in the right Christian faith. Although they may have sinned or erred in other matters, they have nevertheless been preserved at the last. For whoever stands correctly and firmly in the belief that Jesus Christ is true God and man, that he died and has risen again for us, such a person has all other articles added to him and they firmly stand by him…On the other hand, I have also noticed that all error, heresy, idolatry, offense, misuse, and evil in the church originally came from despising or losing sight of this article of faith in Jesus Christ. (AE 34:207-208)

If we lose a proper Christology, Luther argues, we lose all of theology and quickly lapse into rank heresy and wickedness.  Therefore, Christology is foundational for everything we believe, teach, and confess.  This is why it’s so important.

Classically, theologians have talked about two natures in Christ – a divine nature and a human nature.  And yet, even though there are two natures, there is one Christ.  Over the next two weeks, I will write about how people have gotten the two natures in Christ wrong as I survey the historical heresies that have plagued Christology.  I will also write about how the two natures in Christ relate to each other.  But in this blog, I just want to briefly comment on two passages of Scripture which I believe are foundational to properly understanding Christology.  The first passage is Matthew 16:13-16:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Two things are especially notable about this exchange between Jesus and his disciples.  First, the answers of the people as to Jesus’ identity are notable, especially when considered in light of Mark 6:14-15: “King Herod heard about Jesus’ miracles, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’” These answers to Jesus’ identity of John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets were apparently stock answers.  Herod Antipas believes that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life to haunt him because he had earlier beheaded him.  Peter however, has a different answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter defies all the stock answers and affirms Jesus’ divinity as “the Son of the living God.”  He confesses good Christology.  And this leads to the second especially notable thing about this passage.  When Jesus asks, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?” the “you” is plural.  It’s “y’all.”  In other words, even though Peter is one who answers Jesus’ question, Jesus is positing this question others as well.  Indeed, this is a question that Jesus asks every disciple, including you.  And this means that every disciple must answer for him or herself, including you.  Thus, Christology is vital because Jesus himself asks us to confess who he is.  Do you have an answer to Jesus’ question?

The second passage that is especially pertinent to Christology is 2 John 7-11:

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

In Matthew 16, the Christological problem is that those outside of Christ’s church are being deceived as to Christ’s identity.  In 2 John, the problem is that some inside the church are trying to deceive others as to Jesus’ identity.  And interestingly, they do this not so much by denying his divinity as they do by denying his humanity:  “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming into the flesh, have gone out into the world” (2 John 7).  This heresy seems to be rooted in a philosophy called Gnosticism, which denied that the eternal God could or would ever want to become human.  Thus, there were teachers who taught that even though Christ seemed human, his humanity was merely an illusion.  We’ll look at this heresy more in-depth when we study the Docetists.  For now, suffice it to say that John thunders against such people:  “Do not take these people into your house or welcome them” (2 John 10).

But doesn’t this seem a little harsh?  After all, isn’t Jesus known as a man who “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).  Yes, but those “sinners” were people outside the faith who Jesus was evangelizing so that they might believe.  In John’s case, there are people inside the faith – supposedly, at least – who are, through their false teaching, seeking to drag faithful Christians away from Christ.  To them, John responds the same way that Jesus responded to the religious leaders of his day who also supposed themselves to be in the faith while leading people astray: “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good” (Matthew 12:34)?

Thus, in these two passages, we read of the heart and soul of Christology.  Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  That is, Jesus is true God.  But Jesus has also “come into the flesh” (2 John 7).  That is, Jesus is also true man.  True God.  True Man.  This is Christ.  And this is Christology.

Christology.  Yes, it’s a big word.  But it’s also central to everything we believe.  I hope that this blog has helped you understand why.  So, until next Thursday, I’ll simply leave you with these questions:  Who do you say Jesus is?  What’s your Christology?  I hope that you can confess along with Peter and the church, “I believe, teach, and confess that Jesus, true God and true man, died and rose again for my forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”

January 28, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

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