A Christological Collage: Reflecting on the Two-Natures, One Person of Jesus for Easter

As we remember the great reality that God in Christ has accomplished for the world during this Easter moment, I thought it would be appropriate for us to stop and consider a rather technical but important Christological jesuscollagereality. Namely, how ought we think of the relationship between the divine and human natures present in the one person of Jesus Christ? How we attempt to answer this question will have important implications in regard to what we think happened at the cross of Jesus Christ. For example Todd Norquist in a recent comment on the blog pondered: “I’m also sketchy on wt [sic] Christ, in his divine nature, was experiencing in the tomb–and at death.” And over at another blog that I was recently interacting act, one of its authors, Tom Belt articulated a related point in regard to considering the implications of a two-natured Christology (albeit in a different kind of context); Tom wrote,

The homoousion posits the consubstantiality of the Son/Logos with the Father. Chalcedon specifies two natures. One person, yes, but two natures (inseparable and unconfused). It’s via his divine nature that the Son is consubstantial with the Father and via his human nature that the Son is consubstantial with us…. That is, when I say the Son is not “reduced without remainder” to the constraints of his embodied/human context, I mean what Athanasius meant when he affirmed that while the Son was a babe in the cradle the SAME SON was sustaining the universe. One Person, yes, but two natures. And the natures are not collapsed into the constraints of Jesus human consciousness and embodied state.It seems to me that Kim F in his reply to Fr Aidan conflates the natures. He thinks that since there is one and only one subject (the Son) of the human sufferings that this must mean those sufferings define the divine nature. But that’s not at all an obvious ‘Christological’ truth picked up off the surface of reading the gospels, and it specifically denies Chalcedon. (see here)

Without getting into a problem with Tom’s kind of Nestorian-like explication of Chalcedonian christology (potentially, Nestorian, I would need further articulation from Tom on what he means in regard to ‘consubstantial with us’, he seems to elide the ground of both natures in the Son while wanting to affirm it; I would need to know how Tom deploys the concept of an/enhypostasis), what his quote identifies is the import, and maybe the continued confusion (or more charitably, difficulty) of how a two-nature one person Christology ought to function. Beyond Belt though, let me provide one more example, this time from my friend Steven Nemes, and a recent Good Friday blog post he just offered while reflecting upon this Easter season. Steven used Jürgen Moltmann’s theology of the cross to reflect on God and suffering, and of course Moltmann is Lutheran, so we will get a kind of distinct rendering of the communicatio idiomatum and how the two natures repose in the one person of Jesus Christ, which for Moltmann brings suffering into God’s life:

When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finite of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him (p. 276). (see here)

Given the above examples we can see how understanding the hypostatic union (the two natures of Jesus Christ, the divine and human) can affect the way we parse things, in particular, within a soteriological frame.

In response to this I am going to offer a quick reply by offering some quotes from my friend Darren Sumner, and an essay he has written (which represents a compressed version of his PhD work at Aberdeen). Darren will identify how this kind of discussion has occurred historically and in particular between the Lutherans and Calvinists. Darren as a Barth scholar, will offer an alternative kind of via media to what is somewhat represented by the Reformed view of this given by Tom Belt above, and the Lutheran application of this observed in the Moltmann quote.

We will start with Darren’s definition of the extra Calvinisticum which is the name given to the Reformed approach to thinking the two-natures of Christ juxtaposed with the Lutheran understanding of perichoresis or interpenetration between the two-natures of Christ (the communicatio idiomatum); and then I will close with Darren’s Barthian constructive proposal between these two extreme and historic approaches that has inhered in the Calvinists and Lutherans respectively. (And as I am writing this post I am running out of motivation and steam, so I might leave this post rather fragmented, and leave you to sort it out in the comment meta, if you so desire).

Here is Darren on definitions:

[T]he purpose of this article is to examine the dogmatic place of the ‘so-called’ extra Calvinisticum in an effort to determine whether it is an indispensable tenet of Christology – particularly in the Reformed tradition. This doctrine states that the Word of God is not entirely circumscribed by his assumed humanity, but continues to fill and sustain the universe even while he is incarnate in Jesus Christ. In other words he exists in two ways, both ensarkos and asarkos, because – as the Reformed dogmatics typically put it – finitum non capax infiniti. The term has its origins in Reformation debates over the Eucharist: the Reformed rejected both the bodily presence of Christ in the sacrament and the Lutherans’ innovative expansion of the communication idiomatum that undergirded it, since, they argued, there is no sharing of attributes between the natures. In its origins as a piece of negative theology – as the denial of Lutheran ubiquity and the genus maiestaticum – the extra Calvinisticum aimed at nothing more than this. It was an attempt by the Reformed to maintain: (1) the proper, Chalcedonian distinction between the natures, and (2) that the natures remain unaltered and undiminished. Therefore the Word is fully incarnate in the human Jesus, but is etiam extra carnem also outside the flesh.[1]

Darren on a Constructive Barthian Proposal Between the Calvinsts and Lutherans:

[T]he lives of the Word as asarkos and ensarkos both mutually participate in the one Christ, just as his two natures (or essences) mutually participate. This, for Barth, is simply another way of speaking of the hypostatic union – but speaking of it as a dynamic event between God and humanity and not as a static condition. The states of humiliation and exaltation ‘operate together and mutually interpret one another’, and this simultaneity allows us to affirm both that the Son is never limited to human form, never abandons the throne or ceases to sustain the universe, and also that he is one, undivided Subject who cannot be sought other than in Jesus Christ. It has the advantage of affirming what the Reformed took of value from the extra carnem without succumbing to its failings. It also binds the doctrine of the two natures to soteriology, not allowing it to float autonomously from the narrative of the New Testament. Where Lutheran Christology suggested that the Word crosses the gap between the Creator and the creature, and Reformed Christology that the Word bridges the gap (remaining on both sides), Barth’s actualist Christology suggests intead that in his person Jesus Christ closes the gap. God and humanity remain distinct, but are unequivocally reconciled in the event of the Son’s incarnate life.

It is evident, then, that Barth’s reconfiguration of the status duplex placed the difficult matter of the extra Calvinisticum in new light. It enabled him finally to articulate just where the Reformed deployment of this doctrine into the thorny field of Christology was coming up short, and how the life of the Logos asarkos may yet be affirmed (against Lutheran kenosis, in all its forms) in such a way as to reach the goal for which Calvin had set out, yet without succumbing to the dangers of a double Logos or an evacuation of the doctrine of the incarnation of any meaningful content. But where the humiliation of the Son of God and the exaltation of the Son of Man are understood to be a single event, his life beyond the incarnation no longer speaks the definitive word about his eternal identity.[2]

If I had more energy, this is where I would attempt to draw out some implications of what Darren has offered in an attempt to engage with all of the examples I have noted previously. But I will leave that for another time.



[1] Darren O. Sumner, “The Twofold Life of the Word: Karl Barth’s Critical Reception of the Extra Calvinisticum,International Journal of Systematic Theology Volume 15/1 (January 2013): 42-57.

[2] Ibid. Obviously (if it isn’t obvious see the following), these two paragraphs have been preceded by much detailed explication and argumentation by Darren; this is his summary of all of that.

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