How To Avoid Christological Heresy this Christmas

It has become a cliche to regard the incarnation as providing an upgrade for humanity and even all of creation. Consider this from Michael Sean Winters:

We Catholics believe that human nature is changed and uplifted precisely because our God chose to don it. Human nature, you might say, was the first “gay apparel” of Yuletide. If the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord relativizes our humanity to his divinity, Christmas celebrates the relativization of his divinity to our humanity. It is because of this twin relativization that Jesus was able to overturn manmade precepts with such determination, to cut away the cultural encrustations and get to the kernel within, to proclaim a new day of favor

Truth be told, divinity does not merge with humanity, not even in Jesus himself. Remember what the bishops affirmed at Chalcedon:

begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved

The hypostatic union does not blur or merge or combine Christ’s human and divine natures. The Westminster Divines were also explicit about keeping the human and divine distinct even though in one person:

The only mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father, in the fullness of time became man, and so was and continues to be God and man, in two entire distinct natures, and one person, forever. (WLC 36)

In which case, if the incarnation did not divinize Christ’s human nature, then how could it Christ’s birth and life conceivably sacralize the rest of humanity and human civilization?

Be careful out there.

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33 thoughts on “How To Avoid Christological Heresy this Christmas

  1. HC 47. Is Christ then not with us even unto the end of the world, as He has promised?
    Christ is true man and true God. According to His human nature He is now not on earth, but according to His Godhead, Majesty, Grace, and Spirit, He is at no time absent from us.

    48. Since his human nature is not present wherever His Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another?
    Not at all; for since the Godhead is incomprehensible and everywhere present, it must follow that the same is not limited with the human nature He assumed, and yet remains personally united to it.

    Jesus did not become a life-giving Spirit when He was born incarnate.
    Jesus did not become a life-giving Spirit until after His resurrection.

    Adam “became a living being” ” As opposed to a dead being . Leviticus 21:11 and Numbers 6:6

    Genesis 1: 20 Then God said, “Let the water swarm with lliving beings 21 God created every living being tthat moves in the water….24 Then God said, “Let the earth produce living beings according to their kinds:

    30 for every living being on earth—everything having the breath of life in it. I have given every green plant for food.”

    Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man BECAME a living being

    2 Corinthians 15 :45 the last Adam BECAME a life-giving Spirit.

    https://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2014/07/the-breaking-of-images/

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  2. “In which case, if the incarnation did not divinize Christ’s human nature,”
    Honest questions, no baiting. I’m not here for an argument but to be informed. How then does the Reformed tradition understand the Transfiguration? What did the disciples see? Was it only the divine nature? Was it only the human nature? Was it the divine nature simply using the human nature as a conduit without really using it? When Christ walked on water (or other miracles), was it only the divine nature doing so? Was it through His human nature without “touching” it and thus divinizing it? Are these miracles by dint of the divine nature moneregistically using the human nature without any sense of perichoresis (interpenetration)?

    Maybe this will give us a clear answer: when Christ was resurrected, was that His human nature as well? What did the disciples see and touch?
    I guess I just can’t wrap my head around how Christ’s human nature ISN’T divinized in His divine personhood. That just seems odd. But, obviously, I have a different understanding of Chalcedon and Ephesus (and the various debates between Cyril, Nestorius, Apollinarius, and Eutyches).
    Had Kristoff Ligero Maduro yesterday. Man, it was good. I hope your break is going well.

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  3. “Real presence does not mean ubiquity of Christ’s humanity.”
    ***Interesting and helpful, Mark. But how would this abstract formula concretely answer the questions I posed above? What did the disciples see at the Transfiguration? Obviously, they saw Christ’s divinity, but through what? Darryl said that Christ’s humanity was not divinized. Then through what means at the Transfiguration did they see Christ’s divinity? Did they see only his humanity and not his divinity? If I use your formula above, then that would seem to be the case. They see the real presence of His divinity without His humanity. You can see how that makes little sense. If they only see His divine nature, then they don’t see His person, according to Chalcedon that Darryl cited. I don’t want to impute this reading to you, but that’s what your concise formula implies.
    From the article you cite: “But in the Pauline Epistles resurrection seems to be depicted as a privilege reserved for the new humanity in Christ.1”
    ***But is this new humanity human? That’s all I’m asking. And if it is human, then does that mean this “new humanity” (whatever that means; the article doesn’t state) would be divinized? If it’s divinized, then Darryl’s statement in the original post is a least a little problematic and needs some qualification.

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  4. Justin J,

    You asked, “When Christ walked on water (or other miracles), was it only the divine nature doing so?” What is the orthodox understanding of others performing miracles. When Peter walked on water or Moses split the Red Sea, did they have a divine nature doing this?

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  5. Hi, sdb. I hope all is well.
    I don’t want to get too sidetracked from my initial questions regarding Darryl’s Christological assertions, namely “if the incarnation did not divinize Christ’s human nature.” But I will answer your question briefly.
    Peter is a human person with a human nature. Christ is a divine person with a divine nature and a human nature. We can see the glory of God in all of Peter’s acts because Peter does “divine” things. The Orthodox understanding of others doing miracles is that this is a participation with God, that is, His grace. So Peter is fully human but participating synergistcally with the Uncreated Divine Energies (Grace). This is how he’s able to walk on water, resurrect the dead, etc. He is a partaker of the divine nature, but certainly does not have a divine nature, unlike Christ.
    Obviously, you’re going to take a monergistic read here with Peter. But how does that cash out with Christ and His human and divine natures. That’s what my question comes down to. How do we see the Transfiguraion, for example, the revelation of Christ’s divinity, without said divinity coming forth through His humanity? Mine is obviously a question about the communicatio idiomatum, and I realize that the Reformed don’t “do” CI. So I’m just trying to get a sense of the Christological parsing of how Christ’s divinity is revealed through his humanity (especially since He’s a divine person) without His humanity being divinized.
    As I’ve said many times, I’m certainly not here to score cheap points, which I’m really not intellectually equipped to do any way.

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  6. Justin, Short answer is I don’t know and would be glad to be instructed. The transfiguration suggests something happened after the “incarnation” at conception. Since other men performed miracles, prophets and apostles, it doesn’t seem to be essential to the case for the performer to be divine.

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  7. Darryl,
    I agree with you, as I noted to sdb, that humans seem to do divine things. But they are human persons. I’m assuming you believe Christ is a divine person, but I could be wrong. I’m just riffing on your idea that Christ’s humanity wasn’t divinized. I can’t wrap my head around how that could be so since He is a divine person.
    “how Christ’s divinity is revealed — a halo?”
    ***Hey, you’ve been looking at orthodox icons again (it’s actually symbolized by what’s known as a mandorla). Luke 9.28-36: the appearance of His face is altered; His robe becomes white and glistening. Matthew 17.1-8: face shone like the sun; clothes became as white as the light. Of course the voice that speaks out of the cloud helps, but that’s not about Christ’s divinity or humanity, but about the Father.
    But if we now know He’s divine by dint of his post-resurrectional appearance, then that’s the filter through which we understand these moments, right? I suppose a face that shines like the sun isn’t proof of divinity (I’ve seen you pretty happy at times, and I’m almost convinced), but His resurrection proves so, and now we see other markers in Scripture.
    Christ does resurrect His human nature in His divine personhood, yes? His human nature isn’t left behind, is it? When He sits at the right hand of the Father, that’s not only His divine nature, is it?
    I guess I’m just curious from the Reformed perspective what’s at stake if His human nature is divinized. How does that play out soteriologically? Do certain Reformed teachings collapse if that’s the case?

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  8. Thanks Justin,
    Interesting stuff. It isn’t a topic I had thought too much about evidently. I guess I don’t understand why Christ’s humanity can’t participate in the divine nature (like Peter’s) without being divinized. I think of the two natures as side by side rather than one being subsumed by the other, but that probably makes me a heretic of some sort. I thought Christ’s divinity was revealed by the Father via the Holy Spirit (Mt. 16:17) – why does the transfiguration/resurrection require the divinization of Jesus’s humanity to be further evidence of his deity? I’m not asking rhetorically, I haven’t thought about this at all before and I find it interesting.

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  9. sdb,

    “I think of the two natures as side by side rather than one being subsumed by the other,”
    ***I think that’s the usual Reformed understanding. From what I get (just from reading books), somehow the attributes of each nature are communicated through the person of Christ without each nature coming into contact with the other. I just don’t understand how that can be. I’m not a heretic hunter, so that’s not my interest at all. I just like trying to wrap my head around other Christian understandings of classical/ancient Christian issues. Darryl’s provocative language hooked me, and I wanted to follow up. I’m not into apologetics or sheep stealing, so these conversations are always laid back for me.
    “why does the transfiguration/resurrection require the divinization of Jesus’s humanity to be further evidence of his deity?”
    ***I don’t know that it’s evidence more so than inevitability. If Christ is a divine person, then how is that divinity NOT shown through His human nature? If it’s show through His human nature, then how is that not deified? I suppose one could strike a Docetist pose, but I doubt the Reformed are doing this. I guess it comes down to this: does Christ’s human will participate with the divine will? If so, then I can’t quite see how human nature isn’t deified via Christ’s divine personhood (which would be my position with Peter as well, though his is ONLY human personhood). Maybe the Reformed tradition doesn’t affirm the 6th ecumenical council–the monothelite controversy? Maybe the Reformed affirm there was only one will in Christ–the divine will? I don’t know.
    Christ is a good person to meditate on, I think. All theology is Christology, as far as I’m concerned. Heck, all anthropology is Christology. But this probably unmasks my heresy with regards to Reformed tradition.

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  10. Justin, SDB, Darryl,

    As far as I am aware, the CI in Reformed theology says that the attributes of each nature are communicated to the person, not to the other nature.

    And the Reformed do affirm two wills in Christ. The human will cooperates with the divine will, but for the Reformed it can’t be in any commonly understood synergistic sense, as far as it seems to me. Actually, I don’t see how any traditions can construe it as synergism without falling into the denial of the impeccability of Christ. And, if the Son determined from all eternity to go to the cross, in what sense is the human will of Christ free? If the human will truly could not follow the divine will, you’ve got sin and a potentially schizophrenic Christ. At least that’s how it looks to me.

    The issue is that whatever you say about the divine nature’s impact on the human nature, deification/glorification can’t mean that the human nature is made non-human. Otherwise, you’ve rejected Chalcedon. From a Reformed perspective, the ways in which some RCs and some EOs construe deification is that it ends up eclipsing the humanity of Christ and consequently of the saints. In RC theology, for example, it’s hard to see how Mary remains human. Human natures are limited, but apparently she can hear an unlimited number of prayers all at once. I’m not as familiar with Mary’s place in EO theology.

    And if Christ’s human nature was divinized/glorified before the resurrection, how is he able to suffer? Is not our deification/glorification something that renders us immune to death?

    I guess I’m just curious from the Reformed perspective what’s at stake if His human nature is divinized. How does that play out soteriologically? Do certain Reformed teachings collapse if that’s the case?

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by divinized. It is hard to see how Christ could be the second Adam and succeed where Adam failed if he was walking around with a human nature already glorified/deified/divinized. In Reformed thought, Adam’s glorification/deification was something he had to earn in Eden. The same would be true of Christ. And it does seem that after the resurrection. Christ in his humanity is able to do some things he wasn’t able to do in his humanity before then.

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  11. Thanks for your comments. This is clearly something I should think about more! A few comments/questions below if you have the patience to navigate my naivety.

    “I just don’t understand how that can be.“
    Me either… I think the word *mystery* starts popping up a lot though when going this route.

    Now to further expose my ignorance…
    “ does Christ’s human will participate with the divine will?”
    My understanding is the same as Roberts. We believe Christ has two wills. But what does it mean for the human will to participate with the divine will? My understanding is that in his humanity, he freely chooses to do the will of his Father (which happens to be identical to his divine will as luck would have it – the Calvinist coming out in me). Is this what you have in mind by “participate”?

    “If so, then I can’t quite see how human nature isn’t deified via Christ’s divine personhood (which would be my position with Peter as well, though his is ONLY human personhood).”
    By “deification”, do you have in mind “sanctification”? I think of this as becoming like God while not becoming God. In that sense Jesus’s will was revealed to be divine insofar as he freely chose to do the will of his divine nature.

    “Christ is a good person to meditate on, I think.”
    Agreed

    “All theology is Christology, as far as I’m concerned.”
    Hmmm… but the Holy Spirit and the Father are distinct persons from the Son. Surely not everything about the Son applies to the other two, right (at least economically)?

    “Heck, all anthropology is Christology. But this probably unmasks my heresy with regards to Reformed tradition.”
    Not sure what that means, but it is an interesting statement.

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  12. Great comments, Robert. You have articulated precisely what I understand the Reformed tradition to be.
    So this is precisely what I can’t wrap my head around: “that the attributes of each nature are communicated to the person, not to the other nature.” Do the Reformed understand hypostasis as some sort of holding ground where the two natures reside but don’t interpenetrate (without confusion) one another? Do the Reformed affirm divine personhood (hypostasis) of Christ? If so, then I’m lost about how the human nature would be untouched by the divine since His human nature would abide in His divine personhood.
    I see in the Reformed position a real fear of Eutychianism (which is good). But I’m wondering if it goes too far with regards to separation. It seems like you’re saying that if Christ’s human nature is interpenetrated by the divine, then somehow the human nature ceases to be human nature (like a drop of wine spilled in the ocean). The classic metaphor used by the Fathers of Chalcedon, however, was one of fire and iron. When fire penetrates iron, iron doesn’t lose its iron nature, nor does fire lose its nature. It becomes a blade that can burn or a fire that can cut. One thing does not lose itself to the other in this interpenetration (perichoresis) We both affirm that the two natures in the divine personhood of Christ are without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.

    The rest of your post is really provocative, and I want to get to those questions, just for fun, but first I’d like to clear up the Reformed notion of personhood and what the disciples saw when they saw Christ transfigured, His face like the sun. I’m trying to figure out if it’s possible in the Reformed tradition to see both his divinity and humanity in this moment and if so, how. Given the example of fire and iron above, I can easily affirm that in His divine personhood, the divine nature (say fire) penetrates the human nature (iron) in Christ’s person so that I can see both natures (both the fire and iron) simultaneously in his person. I’m trying to figure out if there’s’ a Reformed gloss on the fire/iron analogy, but I don’t think there can be.
    Thanks so much for your post, Robert.

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  13. sdb,
    I think some of my comments to Robert will help clarify some of these questions, especially “I think the word *mystery* starts popping up a lot though when going this route.”
    “My understanding is that in his humanity, he freely chooses to do the will of his Father (which happens to be identical to his divine will as luck would have it – the Calvinist coming out in me). Is this what you have in mind by “participate”?”
    ***I wouldn’t pose Christ’s will as libertarian free will but as a natural human will (I’m getting this from Maximos Confessor, the most important ancient theologian for the monothelite controversy) that always wills to do good/God. Christ did not have a gnomic/deliberative will, so he could not have chosen otherwise than good/God.
    “By “deification”, do you have in mind “sanctification”? I think of this as becoming like God while not becoming God.”
    ***I’m not completely clear on Reformed/Western categories of justification/sanctification, but I think I can affirm this.
    ““All theology is Christology, as far as I’m concerned.”
    ***Sorry, that should have read: All theology BEGINS with Christology.
    All I mean by anthropology is that Christ is the new Adam and gives us an image of what it now means to be human, both now and eschatologically. But I realize that the “now” part runs counter to the Reformed teaching of total depravity, and I have no desire to argue about such things.

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  14. Thanks that is clarifying. I like the iron/fire analogy.

    Regarding anthropology, I like that. I agree that as the new Adam, Christ shows us what it means to be truly human. I’m not sure why depravity is a problem though. I think of that as a perversion of our humanity that should be squelched so we can be ever more like Christ (truly human). Does that run counter to what you have in mind by “now”? Do the orthodox hold that one can achieve perfection in this life?

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  15. sdb,
    “I’m not sure why depravity is a problem though.”
    ***I thought that in the Reformed tradition nothing one can do would ever be considered good. There’s always something selfish lurking beneath all acts. I don’t quite understand how one’s depravity squelched to be more like Christ. That sounds very synergistic, not monergistic.
    “Do the orthodox hold that one can achieve perfection in this life?”
    ***I’ll speak to Orthodox teachings only briefly since Darryl is kind enough to host me and I therefore want to keep discussions in the realm of the Reformed. I suppose it’s possible theoretically, and we are called to live perefctly (“Be holy for I am holy’), but practically? Mary is the only one who fulfills this (and not necessarily via the immaculate conception, though there are a variety of teachings in the East–none that are the same as the West because we do original sin/guilt differently). Rather than perfection, one thinks of one’s relationship to Christ as union. This is done through sacraments and virtue, how ever short one may fall. But that’s enough about that.

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  16. “ *I thought that in the Reformed tradition nothing one can do would ever be considered good. There’s always something selfish lurking beneath all acts. I don’t quite understand how one’s depravity squelched to be more like Christ. That sounds very synergistic, not monergistic.“
    I wouldn’t put it quite like that. Good works are never perfect in the sense of obligating God’s blessings. They emerge naturally from those with a new nature out of gratitude. All our good works are indeed tainted, but less so as we are sanctified (I.e., become more Christ-like). Christ is the standard we approach asymptotically until we are perfected in the next life. Does this still run afoul of what you have in mind about anthropology?

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  17. “Does this still run afoul of what you have in mind about anthropology?”
    ***Not on the surface, but it probably does as we keep pushing. If Darryl objected to Christ’s human nature being deified (which is what prompted my initial response), then he’d certainly object if I posited that humans become deified. And I’m not here to argue that point. But I think I understand now why he would posit that Christ’s human nature wouldn’t be deified, because I think that would then have to extend to us. I think.
    But we’ve moved a long way from my initial inquiry. Thanks sdb for your responses. And thanks Robert for yous. I’ll check back and see if anyone ever responds to be inquiry regarding Christ’s personhood and perichoresis (the whole iron/fire analogy). How one responds to that will help define how one sees Christ’s personhood, I think.

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  18. Justin,

    First, you say all theology is Christology. Surely you don’t mean that, as if the doctrine of creation is Christology. If you were right, then you’d agree with Wendell Berry that farming is breaking the body and shedding the blood of Christ. It’s sacramental. Precision, please.

    Second, I was pushing back against bad uses of the incarnation, that use the divine and human in Christ to say that all of creation is divine and human after the incarnation because God became “with us.” Precision please.

    Third, it sure looks like Jesus doesn’t want his divinity revealed. On your understanding, it seems inevitable that Christ would look different because his person was/is divine. But a lot of people didn’t understand Jesus and he kept telling those who thought they did to keep it to themselves.

    Clearly, I don’t know Christology or the history of it. Likely a weakness in me and the Reformed tradition that I know more about the active and passive obedience of Christ than about the mysteries of Christ in his person. But since the road to Christology is marked by so many heretical potholes, I’m sort of content with my ignorance, which doesn’t do much for you in this exchange.

    One other factor, how does Christ change after the Transfiguration compared to after the resurrection compared to after the ascension?

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  19. Darryl,
    I hope you didn’t sense any hostility in any of my responses. I didn’t intend that in the least.
    “First, you say all theology is Christology.”
    ***I ammended that to say that I miswrote and said the all theology BEGINS with Christology.
    “Surely you don’t mean that, as if the doctrine of creation is Christology.”
    ***It was for many ancient theologians. God the Father creates through the Son. Creation would have been seen as a Trinitarian act. I agree with this position. If all share the same nature, then all would share the same will, even if that will is exercised differently in the economy of going outside (i.e., towards creation) of the Trinitarian life.
    “Second, I was pushing back against bad uses of the incarnation, that use the divine and human in Christ to say that all of creation is divine and human after the incarnation because God became “with us.” Precision please.”
    ***I agree with you here. I was simply asking about how Christ wasn’t divinized and what was at stake in saying such a thing.
    “Third, it sure looks like Jesus doesn’t want his divinity revealed. On your understanding, it seems inevitable that Christ would look different because his person was/is divine. But a lot of people didn’t understand Jesus and he kept telling those who thought they did to keep it to themselves.”
    ***I agree. Heck, he can resurrect someone 4 days dead and still get crucified. Peter abandoned Him, etc. But post-resurrection sure helps us to read Scripture, like on the Road to Emmaus. The revelation of His divinity surely changes how we understand Scripture. We don’t have to read the Gospels with blinders on, as a simple historical chronological unfolding of events. Indeed, they were written post-resurrection, preaching the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. If we can go back through the OT with Christ as a hermeneutic key (the Road to Emmaus), surely we do this in the NT. I don’t think you’d disagree with any of this, though most certainly its application. I respect your hermeuntic minimalism.
    “But since the road to Christology is marked by so many heretical potholes, I’m sort of content with my ignorance, which doesn’t do much for you in this exchange.”
    ***That’s probably a safe bet. It’s just you made a pretty sweeping Christological statement, and I wanted clarity, precision. That’s all.
    “One other factor, how does Christ change after the Transfiguration compared to after the resurrection compared to after the ascension?”
    ***Just spit-balling here: Christ has a post-resurrectional existence in the latter two, which has tasted death and resurrected the body in a spiritualized (albeit material) state.

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  20. Justin, Thanks and I hear you. I’m not sure what more I can say since I am way above my paygrade on Christology. Since you agree with mmmeeeeEEEE about letting the incarnation do more than it should, I’m good.

    Just to be clear, what was the “sweeping Christological statement” I made. Part of what I “said” was to quote Chalcedon. I know I said more. Just curious.

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  21. “Just to be clear, what was the “sweeping Christological statement” I made.”
    3 parts: 1) giving instructions on avoiding Christological heresy; 2) citing Chalcedon; 3) and most important for my responses: “if the incarnation did not divinize Christ’s human nature”
    ***It’s the last element I find to be so sweeping. The implication would be that any Christology that does not see Christ’s human nature interpentrated by the divine (see the fire and iron analogy I gave) would then be heretical. All my questions followed from this. I fully understand that you’re simply taking up the Reformed tradition, and I’ve read some relevant Reformed theologians on Christology. I was just hoping I could get a better sense of the divine “personhood” of Christ in the various acts He performed. I’m fully satisfied with the answers you’ve given, and it’s a topic if it’s above your paygrade, then it’s certainly beyond mine.
    Got some Tatuaje Miamis as a stocking stuffer. Can’t wait to light one up.

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  22. Justin,

    Thanks for your kind words. I’ll try and respond as best I can. For what it’s worth, I think the hypostatic union is the most difficult Christian belief to understand, even harder than the doctrine of the Trinity. On a popular level at least, most Reformed discussions of Christology tend to not go farther than Chalcedon, though as far as I am aware, the Christological conclusions of the 5th and 6th councils are affirmed without reservation in the tradition.

    So this is precisely what I can’t wrap my head around: “that the attributes of each nature are communicated to the person, not to the other nature.” Do the Reformed understand hypostasis as some sort of holding ground where the two natures reside but don’t interpenetrate (without confusion) one another?

    Not as a holding ground, I don’t think. I believe that part of saying that the attributes of each nature are communicated to the person and not to the other nature is to preserve the distinctness of each nature. I don’t think there is a problem with saying the natures interpenetrate as long as we are clear that they do so without confusion.

    One of the classic examples is the text in Acts where it is said that God purchased the church with his own blood. The person of the Son of God has blood. The divine nature of the Son of God does not.

    Do the Reformed affirm divine personhood (hypostasis) of Christ?

    Yes.

    If so, then I’m lost about how the human nature would be untouched by the divine since His human nature would abide in His divine personhood.

    Westminster Confession 8.3 says that the human nature is touched by the divine:

    “The Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”

    In general, we Reformed seem to prefer the language of sanctify over deify/glorify at least prior to the resurrection. That’s in part due to seeing glorification/deification as a distinguishable stage in the order of salvation.

    I see in the Reformed position a real fear of Eutychianism (which is good). But I’m wondering if it goes too far with regards to separation.

    Well, Reformed Christology has been accused of having a Nestorian tinge. I don’t think it is a fair assessment, but I do think it is fair to say that the tradition is more comfortable talking about the distinctive properties of each nature than it is about their union. In part I think that is because we tend to rest on Chalcedon pretty strongly and many don’t think much about councils 5 and 6, at least on the popular level. It is my impression that the East focuses more on the union. Is that a fair assessment?

    It seems like you’re saying that if Christ’s human nature is interpenetrated by the divine, then somehow the human nature ceases to be human nature (like a drop of wine spilled in the ocean).

    I don’t think I’m saying that. At least, it’s not my intent.

    The classic metaphor used by the Fathers of Chalcedon, however, was one of fire and iron. When fire penetrates iron, iron doesn’t lose its iron nature, nor does fire lose its nature. It becomes a blade that can burn or a fire that can cut. One thing does not lose itself to the other in this interpenetration (perichoresis) We both affirm that the two natures in the divine personhood of Christ are without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.

    I don’t see a problem with this analogy in itself. One of the issues I am trying to figure out is what happened to the human nature post-resurrection. We can’t say that the two natures are more united post-resurrection. The union was perfect and complete from the incarnation on. But can we say that human nature did not experience all of the benefits of that union prior to the resurrection? Or that the human nature was not “fully elevated” until the resurrection? I’m not sure what I’m trying to articulate here. There does seem to be a change in Christ’s humanity post resurrection. Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the Emmaus road don’t recognize him at first. On some readings of John 20, perhaps Jesus attains the ability to appear immediately in the upper room without going through a doorway (though the text doesn’t necessitate that). Romans 1 says that He is declared/becomes “the Son-of-God-in-power.” He is exalted to God’s right hand in some way that he was not before (according to his humanity).

    At some point we run into mystery. There is a change. I think it is more due to a change in the stage of redemption than a change wrought by the union of the natures.

    The rest of your post is really provocative, and I want to get to those questions, just for fun, but first I’d like to clear up the Reformed notion of personhood and what the disciples saw when they saw Christ transfigured, His face like the sun. I’m trying to figure out if it’s possible in the Reformed tradition to see both his divinity and humanity in this moment and if so, how. Given the example of fire and iron above, I can easily affirm that in His divine personhood, the divine nature (say fire) penetrates the human nature (iron) in Christ’s person so that I can see both natures (both the fire and iron) simultaneously in his person. I’m trying to figure out if there’s’ a Reformed gloss on the fire/iron analogy, but I don’t think there can be.

    RC Sproul used to say that the transfiguration was a moment where the disciples saw the refulgent glory of God shining through Christ’s humanity. So I do think it is possible to see in that moment both the divinity and humanity of Christ. But it’s a mediated divinity, right? It’s not a direct view of God because it is shining through HIs humanity.

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  23. Miswrote yet again: “The implication would be that any Christology that does not see Christ’s human nature interpentrated by the divine (see the fire and iron analogy I gave) would then be heretical.
    ***Should read: “The implication would be that any Christology that sees Christ’s human nature interpentrated by the divine (see the fire and iron analogy I gave) would then be heretical.”

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  24. Very helpful, Robert. Thanks so much for taking the time. There are a few illuminating lines throughout.
    “In general, we Reformed seem to prefer the language of sanctify over deify/glorify at least prior to the resurrection. That’s in part due to seeing glorification/deification as a distinguishable stage in the order of salvation.”
    ***Very helpful for me to see all sorts of things now.
    “It is my impression that the East focuses more on the union. Is that a fair assessment?”
    ***Yes. So much, in fact, that’s it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around ANY Christology that doesn’t.
    “Well, Reformed Christology has been accused of having a Nestorian tinge.”
    ***That was my initial assessment, but having read various takes on it, I don’t think it’s that easy. Your position outlined here makes it an impossible charge, I think.
    “RC Sproul used to say that the transfiguration was a moment where the disciples saw the refulgent glory of God shining through Christ’s humanity. So I do think it is possible to see in that moment both the divinity and humanity of Christ.”
    ***Very interesting that Sproul makes this claim. To see the divinity and humanity simultaneously through the divine person of Christ would then be to see a divinized humanity?
    “It’s not a direct view of God because it is shining through HIs humanity.”
    ***Of course. No one has seen God, except through Christ.

    There are other issues in your post here that I’ll return to. Thanks so much for answering my questions.

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  25. Justin, Thanks.

    My push back is Chalcedon. “the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved”

    That sounds like the human is still human, not divinized.

    Please don’t tell me this makes sense if you’re Greek.

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  26. “Please don’t tell me this makes sense if you’re Greek.”
    ***Right. Ultimately, we’re talking about what hypostasis means. Robert affirmed that he sees no problem in the Reformed tradition in my use of the traditional iron/fire analogy, which was a typical image for the anti-Nestorians and anti-Eutychites. Fire is fire by nature; iron is iron by nature, neither being changed by the other. But each is communicated via the other without confusion. I certainly don’t argue that being divinized changes the nature of that which is divinized. We don’t become divine when we become “partakers of a divine nature.” Christ didn’t mean that we change natures–from human to divine–when he affirmed Psalm 82: you are all gods, sons of the most High.
    From Chalcedon via your link:
    “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;”
    So two natures without confusion, without either one changing into the other nature (which is what you and I are both affirming). But also without division, without being separate. I think this how we take this is the sticking point from your end, yes? I realize and am certainly not charging that the Reformed teach two persons.
    “concurring in one Person and one Subsistence,”
    ***This is the question of the hypostasic union and the cummunicato idiomatum. No doubt a mystery, which is why fire/iron analogy is used. I’m just clarifying my position, not arguing against yours. Do you object to Robert’s affirmation of the iron/fire analogy? I think the Reformed and Lutherans debated this very thing in the 17th century? So no need to rehearse this all over again.

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  27. DGH sez: “… My push back is Chalcedon. ‘the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved’ … that sounds like the human is still human, not divinized…”

    I appreciate this comment very much. A decade or so ago when I wound up joining an “evangelical-type” congregation (never mind why) one of the questions I asked the pastor who facilitated the new member class was why the congregation embraced the Apostolic Creed and the Nicene Creed (though the latter was somewhat badly translated vs. the version with which I had been familiar for most of my life, IMO), but the Chalcedon instead of the Athanasian creed. I felt that he viewed me a kind of a trouble maker when he said, “Why do you ask? Do you have some problem with that?”

    In my experience and learning, the Athanasian defines the two natures explicitly whereas the Chalcedon seems to beat around the bush a bit. I used to think that maybe it was just me and I was being too picky, but after reading some of these Reformed blogs I’ve come to realize that I may have been on the right track all along.

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  28. Justin, I’m assuming that the iron/fire analogy has the human as the iron, which would imply it is the fire that “changes” the iron. But what if the human “changed” the divine in Christ? It seems it’s possible to get away with that seeming hypocrisy by saying that the human covered the divine– people couldn’t see the divine glory of the Son, and Christ experienced humiliation of creatureliness and suffering. In which case the fire could be humanity.

    Or have I just invited an attack from local Orthodox terrorists?

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  29. Darryl,
    There is no change in the nature of the fire or iron (modern physics may have detected something, but the ancient world was blind to it). The nature of iron doesn’t change when fire penetrates it. The fire doesn’t change as it penetrates. In fact, Cyril loved saying that the iron became a sword that burns and fire that cuts.

    The Orthodox are too busy arguing about calendars to terrorize anyone.

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  30. Quick thought: “and Christ experienced humiliation of creatureliness and suffering.”
    Cyril of Alexandria got out of this mess by saying that Christ (divine person) suffered (in His human nature willingly) impassibly (in His Divine nature). This probably strikes Reformed ears as contradictory, not paradoxical.

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  31. Justin, Darryl, et al,

    I think one of the issues in this discussion is that the warning signals go up when we Reformed see the idea of a “divinized” human nature. I think our initial impression is to think that somehow human nature becomes deity. And I think there are certainly some writers in church history who may give that impression. Perhaps it may be true that on the popular level in the East that some Orthodox conceive of it that way.

    But it is my understanding that the Orthodox are NOT saying that when they talk about theosis (deification/divinization). So the issue may be that in many ways we end up talking past one another.

    Robert Letham, a modern Reformed theologian, has made the case that the traditional understanding of theosis in the East is actually analogous to what we mean by glorification. I’m by no means an expert on the issue, and Letham may be overstating things just a bit, but I do not think he is far off the mark here. Donald Fairbairn, another contemporary Reformed theologian (from the ARP, I think) who did a lot of missions work in Eastern Europe makes a similar argument. He seems to construe deification as the process by which we increasingly share in the love that the members of the Trinity have for one another. He has a good book that cites Irenaeus, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, and Athanasius to argue for this. And I don’t see any problem with that from a Reformed perspective even if it may not be something we have emphasized.

    And note that even John Calvin could speak of our being deified in his commentary on 2 Peter 1.

    There are important differences between the Eastern Orthodox and the Reformed to be sure, but I don’t think we’re actually that far apart on the nature of the hypostatic union. The problem may be that we Reformed might think more about the ordo salutis than we should (because of our differences with Rome) and that the East may think more about the union than they should, and so we end up talking past each other. The East, I think, tends to collapse the elements of what the Reformed would call the ordo salutis together, and we’re so focused on the ordo salutis that we don’t think much about the person of Christ.

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