Theses on the Vicarious Humanity of Christ

Christian Kettler provides his nine thesis statements on the vicarious humanity of Christ in the theology of Thomas Torrance:

crucifixion1. Christology includes the “double movement” of the way of God to humanity and the way of humanity to God, contra Docetism and Ebionitism. The “Creator Son,” “the Word of God,” is identical with Jesus of Nazareth (Athanasius). Thus, the radical significance of Christology is “the coming of God himself into the universe he created.”

2. God coming as a human being, not just in a human being removes all possibility of a “deistic disjunction” between God and creation. The possibility of the interaction of the living God with space and time is opened up.

3. The vicarious humanity of Christ is the heartbeat of salvation history. From the circumcision of Abraham to the Incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the interaction of the humanity of Christ with creaturely form provides a basis for the knowledge of God and the reconciliation of humanity within the structures of space and time.

4. However, the reality of the humanity of Christ, as the reality of the “Creator Son,” “the Word made flesh,” is not limited to the structures of space and time. This is what is expressed in the Reformed doctrine of the so-called extra Calvinisticum, the significance of the vicarious humanity of the risen and exalted Christ.

5. The reality of the vicarious humanity of Christ stresses the inability of fallen humanity to know and respond to God. The Lutheran emphasis on finitum capax infiniti paved the way for the nineteenth century doctrine of the religious capacity of the human spirit.

6. This integration of the divine and creaturely provides the basis for the mediatorial ministry of Christ.

7. The divine Logos in human flesh, as the vicarious humanity of Christ, communicates the very life of God in humanity (Campbell). Salvation is based on the communication of this life (Irenaeus, Athanasius). In this way, Christology is dynamically related to soteriology. In effect, Christ becomes the “very matter and substance of salvation.”

8. The work of the vicarious humanity of Christ is based on the twin moments in salvation of substitution/representation and incorporation. Christ not only takes our place, and becomes our representative, thereby creating a new humanity (substitution/representation), but also incorporates us into this new humanity (incorporation). Our actions become his actions. Our life becomes his life, the life of God.

9. The “correlation and correspondence” produced by the vicarious humanity of Christ provides an “inner determination” of life. There is a “reciprocity” of being which creates “wholeness” and “integrity” and presents a “contradiction” to the forces of darkness. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ, 127-28]



  1. I like it. A lot. Reformed, covenantal Christology makes sense out of Chalcedon more than any other formulation I’ve encountered.


  2. Nice, Derek, glad you like this! This is definitely a bit more radical than classical Covenant conception, but also definitely takes its semantics and grammar from the classic realm.


  3. I like this a lot too. I’d be really curious to see you try and explain thesis #5 more. How does the so-called Calvin’s extra circumvent the move towards Schliermacherian god-consciousness and the liberal trends besetting the gospel?


  4. I love that I get another swing at these, knowing more than I did the last time I saw them! 🙂

    Picking at #2, I do see how it aims to solve a problem, but I think it gives the problem too much credit. Which, of course, we always have done. I like that Barth dissolves this problem by reminding his readers that the Creator is always Lord of creation, and that there is nothing that can legitimately interfere in the possibility of God’s action upon and interaction with anything in space and time. This is the nullification of both the extra Calvinisticum and the infra Lutheranum as attempts to negotiate a boundary that is only an issue from our side.

    Clarification of a point: I assume that, by “vicarious humanity,” we mean the genuine and full humanity of the Son, Jesus Christ, the fact of the assumption of which is directed toward a purpose which is “vicarious” in some sense crucial to various theories of the atonement.

    What, then, can possibly be meant by “the interaction of the humanity of Christ with creaturely form” in #3? Can the “reality of the humanity of Christ” possibly be separated from the “creaturely form” of real human beings? Is there any humanity to be claimed for the logos asarkos? In what would such a humanity consist, if it could be separated from being the man Jesus?


  5. Cal, the problem with #5 is that this was not the point of the phrase finitum capax infiniti in a eucharistic and Christological sense. It was meant to relieve the burden of the presumed impossibilities of the real presence and the ubiquity of the body. But the phrase doesn’t mean that in any sort of limited way, and having said it, and even championed it against the opposite notion, we got stuck with the ramifications of the statement itself. The virtue to the extra at this point (even though I think it has none in the original context) is that finitum non capax infiniti is at least half of the truth. To speak the other half, we must assert the capacity of God, rather than of the creature.


  6. Not that that “circumvent[s]…the liberal trends besetting the gospel,” but I don’t find that to be a proper claim of a theological problem in the first place. Can you do better stating what you mean, Cal?


  7. Matt:

    Perhaps I misunderstood the phrase “the nineteenth century doctrine of the religious capacity of the human spirit”. I took it as referring to the godconsciousness of liberal christianity and that humanity can progress to that perfect state that Jesus embodied. I thought the point was that emphasizing the ‘extra’ was to grab a hold of not only Jesus as Man towards God, but also God towards Man in a way that might get muddled otherwise.

    This just intrigued me. I’m not sure either for Calvin’s Extra or Luther’s Infra, but the discussion is helpful anyhow. Which is more faithful to talk of Christ being fully God and fully Man, the total revelation of the Father, is the thing that makes me ask that old question anyhow.



  8. Cal,

    Torrance’s concern with the “container notion of space” and then what he believes is Luther’s appropriation of that (or the Lutheran appropriation of that), and then the communicatio idiomatum is that the two natures interpenetrate each other in such a way that humanity is divinized and Divinity is humanized which then presents an theology that is really anthropology. Simply stated.


    Yes, you definitely have been given a second chance :-).

    I am with you on your point about logos asarkos, and I must say that I am appreciating Barth’s point in this regard much more than I have in the past. So the problem inverted from both Barth’s and Torrance’s maxim ‘no God behind the back of Jesus’ could be: ‘There is no man behind the back of Jesus’ :-).


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