Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lutheran cartoons

Alan did a post over at Beggars All which generated a remarkable number of comments in short order. I’ll comment on the comments that are worth commenting on.

i) Before doing so I’ll make two general observations. In the Reformed version of the communicatio idiomatum (a la Turretin), the properties of the two natures are attributable to the person of Christ. By contrast, the properties of each nature are not attributable to the other nature. There is no transference of divine properties to the human nature, or human properties to the divine nature.

ii) This debate is frequently framed in relation to the creed of Chalcedon. The key statement is “We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter). The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.”

Lutherans typically accuse Calvinists of violating Chalcedonian Christology by “dividing” or “separating” the two natures.

However, this objection is doubled-edged since Calvinists retort by accusing Lutheran’s of violating Chalcedonian Christology by “confusing” or “changing” the two natures.

The Lutheran appeal to Chalcedon is selective and lopsided.

Edward Reiss said...

“I was wondering what you think St. Paul meant when he said the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily. Do you see any implications from that?”

That’s a picturesque description of the Incarnation–using some allusive imagery from the OT motif of God indwelling the temple. Cf. D. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Eerdmans 2008), 193f.

Edward Reiss said...

“OK. Now I have another question. Since we all acknowledge God is infinite, how can that fullness fit inside a little baby? It would seem to violate the fact that a human bode, being finite, can contain the infinite, which might force us to say the fullness was not contained in Jesus Christ bodily.”

Reiss is implicitly defining God’s infinitude in spatial terms, as though God were a physical or material entity.

It’s odd how many professing Christians entertain a view of God which is scarcely distinguishable from a worshiper of Zeus.

So that’s like asking whether a supertanker can fit inside a matchbox. Well, if you put it that way, then the answer is “no.”

But, of course, the way in which Reiss poses the question involves a flawed assumption. Since divine infinitude is not a spatial property, the hypostatic union doesn’t involve God fitting inside the dimensions of a baby. The body of Jesus isn’t literally a “container” for God’s Son, as if the Son of God were made of subtle matter–which had to squeeze inside the confines of Mary’s womb.

Edward Reiss said...

“OK, fair enough. I would just like to know if you believe the fullness of the Godhead is in the little baby or not, as an objective fact. I will leave it at that.”

Reiss is treating a picturesque metaphor as if this were a literal description. But to properly answer the question, it’s necessary to unpack the metaphor.

A metaphor is not an objective fact. Rather, a metaphor stands for an objective fact. (At least in the case of an inspired metaphor.)

It’s an objective fact that Christ is God Incarnate.

Otherwise, we end up reading the Bible the way a Mormon does, where we make no allowance for figurative or anthropomorphic depictions of God.

L P said...

“From what I can understand on the Lutheran side, the communication of attributes is the way Luther/Lutherans explain what is happening when Jesus for example did things that only the divine could do, such as walk on water, appear at will in the disciples room after the resurrection, or vanish in their presence on the road to Emmaus etc. These things are found in Scripture and as such the examples you required, from Scripture.”

i) The obvious problem with that argument is that if you invoke the Lutheran communicatio idiomatum to explain some things involving God Incarnate, you must then, by parity of argument, apply the same principle in the case of comparable events involving mere mortals or subhuman creatures (e.g. the burning bush, floating axe head, Jonah surviving in the belly of the “whale,” Daniel’s friends surviving in the furnace). It’s odd that Lutherans are utterly oblivious to these counterexamples.

ii) Remember that in the account of Jesus walking on water we also have Peter walking on water–at Jesus’ behest. Why don’t Lutherans notice that?

Apparently they stopped reading the actual account. Instead, their knowledge of the account seems to come from a secondary source, where it’s deployed as a prooftext for Lutheran Christology.

But if Jesus walking on water was grounded in the hypostatic union and Lutheran communicatio idiomatum, then the same applies to Peter. So the argument either proves too much or too little.

Edward Reiss said...

“I think that your claims Re: Monophysitism are a little too broad, so I would like to ask a couple of questions to clarify what you believe is the relationship between Jesus' human and divine natures. These are ‘yes and no’ questions and can be easily answered by Chalcidonian Christians, and even most prots are Chalcidonian Christians.”

Of course, slick lawyers are fond of “yes or no” questions. They deliberately pose a trick question to compel a misleading answer.

Like asking a witness: “Yes or no–were the defendant’s fingerprints on the murder weapon?”

The damning insinuation is that if the defendant’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon, then that’s incriminating. They must have been there because he used the weapon to murder the decedent.

But, of course, that’s extremely misleading since it omits relevant contextual factors.

If the murder weapon belonged to the decedent, then it’s suspicions to find the defendant’s fingerprints on the murder weapon.

If, on the other hand, the murder weapon belonged to the defendant, then we’d expect to find his fingerprints on the weapon.

So beware of “yes or no” questions in apologetics. That’s generally a polemical ploy to oversimplify the issues and extract a bogus concession by arbitrarily excluding necessary qualifications.

“If you were to shake Jesus' hand during his earthly ministry, would you be shaking God's hand?”

i) That’s not a “yes or no” question since it could be either yes or no depending on the intended referent. Reiss is equivocating.

Did Jesus have a divine hand–like Thor? No. Jesus had a human hand. By shaking his hand qua hand, you’re shaking a human hand–attached to a human arm, attached to a human body.

But at another level, you’re shaking the hand of a person who has a divine nature as well as a human nature. So, in that indirect sense, yes, you’re shaking God’s hand.

The hand you shake isn’t composed of divine flesh. It doesn’t have a different composition from ordinary human flesh. Jesus didn’t have ichor flowing through his veins, rather than hemoglobin.

But it belongs to a person who is a theanthropic person.

ii) To illustrate Edward’s equivocation, let’s take a comparison. Celebrities sometimes travel incognito. They try to disguise themselves to avoid the paparazzi.

Suppose you caught sight of Catherine Deneuve when she was traveling incognito. What did you see? Is that a “yes or no” question? Not really.

i) In one respect, you didn’t actually see (i.e. perceive) Catherine Deneuve. All you saw was her disguise.

ii) But in another respect, you saw a person who is Catherine Deneuve.

The person whom you saw was Catherine Deneuve, but you didn’t see that she was Catherine Deneuve. You didn’t see her face. You only saw her disguise.

“Did Jesus' human body have less mass than the amount of water displaced by his feet?”

i) Of course, the question is speculative, but I’d say no.

Reiss is tacitly assuming that if Jesus didn’t sink, then that must be due to the fact that his body had different properties than a normal human body. Buoyant properties!

Keep in mind that even if this explanation were true, it’s not a Scriptural explanation. That explanation isn’t given in Scripture.

Rather, it’s a philosophical explanation. It makes philosophical assumptions about what physical or metaphysical conditions would have to obtain for Jesus to walk on water.

Reiss didn’t get that from Scripture. He didn’t get that from the Gospel narrative of Jesus walking on water. Rather, that’s an explanatory framework which he is bringing to the text.

So even though he accuses Calvin of intruding philosophical assumptions into the debate, Reiss is oblivious to his own philosophical assumptions.

ii) Moreover, I have no reason to assume that if Jesus can do something extraordinary in or with his body–or, conversely, if something extraordinary can happen to his body–then this must be due to something intrinsic about his body. To some inherent properties of his body.

Why should we make that assumption? Does Reiss make that assumption about Jonah in the “whale” or Daniel’s friends in the furnace?

Isn’t the issue how one physical substance ordinarily interacts with another physical substance? The normal relation between the two?

In situations where that relation does not obtain, why assume it’s due to a change in one of the substances?

Why not assume that God simply suspends the ordinary relation, or buffers the ordinary relation? God miraculously insulates or isolates their ordinary interaction.

iii) Put another way, Reiss is implicitly naturalizing miracles. He still views a miracle as the effect of a causal chain. What makes a miracle different from an ordinary effect is that God introduces different physical preconditions to yield a different effect.

But why should we naturalize a miracle in this fashion? Why assume that a miracle has to be mediated by some physical process? Why is it not possible (indeed, preferable) to view certain miracles as direct divine fiats?

I see no reason to accept his apparent model, according to which a miracle must always occur within some causal continuum or another.

iv) And we see this naturalistic framework in play when he insists that Jesus “passed through the doors” of the upper room.

Yet to ask “how” Jesus miraculously entered the upper room commits a category mistake. For a miracle requires no “how to”–in the sense of a facilitating mechanism. It only requires the agency of God–which may either be immediate or mediate–continuous or discontinuous causation.

Acolyte4236 said...

“Physical locative limitation may be true of the body, but not the soul. Your soul is not spatially circumscribed by your body and so can be present to more than one place (toes, head, hands) at a time. Or to put it more correctly, your soul can access and affect your body at many places without being limited to any of them. This is also part of human nature.”

I basically agree with this statement.

“Consequently, it seems possible for the human body, divinely empowered to be accessible and participatable to a plurality of locations without being spatially limited to any one of them.”

That doesn’t begin to follow from what Perry just said. How does he infer the bilocality of a body from the illocality of a soul?

A body is material whereas a soul is immaterial. Where’s the analogy?

“This brings us to Chalcedon and the communicatio idiomatum. This is an exchange of properties or specifically energies or activities from the divinity to the humanity of Christ”

And where do we find that in the actual text of the Chalcedonian creed?

“This involves no confusion of essences for the simple reason that energies are not the essence of which they are energies.”

Once again, where do we find that distinction in the actual text of the Chalcedonian creed?

“Consequently, your humanity unempowered by divine energies does not shine as Moses’ face did or Christ’s flesh did at the transfiguration with the divine glory.”

Well, that’s one conjectural paradigm which we could dream up to explain the luminosity of Moses and Christ. But other conjectural paradigms are available.

“I’d recommend reading Richard Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation to get a better grasp of Scholastic Christology.”

And isn’t Turretin’s version if the communicatio idiomatum similar to the Thomistic and Scotist models?

“If you do not think that divine properties can be and are conveyed to the humanity of Christ, perhaps you can offer an explanation of the Metamorphesis or Transfiguration where the disciples see the divine glory coming from Christ’s flesh.”

i) Well, that’s equivocal. What is more, that’s even equivocal on Orthodox grounds.

Since the divine energies aren’t identical to the divine essence, when they perceive the glorious manifestation of divine energies, they don’t perceive God’s glory in itself.

ii) Moreover, we’re dealing with a theophanic manifestation in which sensory properties signify God’s presence. That’s emblematic.

“I also do not believe that Reformed Christology is Chalcedonian either. They deny a transfer of divine properties…”

True. We’re not pantheistic. So sorry.

“So do you agree with say the WCF 8.2 that says that Jesus is a divine and human person?”

i) What, specifically, does Perry take issue with in the WCF definition?

ii) And, ultimately, shouldn’t we take our frame of reference from NT Christology?

“It then seams to me, supposing that Rome is monophysite and your position is Nestorian that you share fundamentally the same principle doctrine, namely that God cannot be intrinsically present in creation without replacing the essence of the creature.”

Of course, the Orthodox fudge on this by introducing the compromise expedient of divine "energies"–a tertium quid which isn’t essentially divine or properly mundane. It’s like the Neoplatonic “intelligences” which bridge and buffer the relation between divinity and mundanity.

“This then implies that for you, nature enjoys a kind of intrinsic autonomy in relation to God and can only be related to him by an extrinsic act of will.”

No. What this implies is that creatureliness is inherently limited.

“Moreover, Calvin, among other Reformed writers indicate that the value of the atonement was due to God’s willing it to be valuable whether or not it intrinsically was valuable.”

Well, that grossly oversimplifies the issue. For example, an estate may be intrinsically valuable, yet only the designated heirs acquire the estate.

“Regardless of what Rome does, the term Theotokos is Christologically appropriate since Mary bore a divine person.”

The title has a perfectly orthodox sense. At the same time, it’s an extrabiblical title, so there’s no obligation on the part of Christians to use that title.

“Is Jesus a divine and human person or not?”

According to the NT, Jesus is a complex person or theanthropic person.

“When you say that he is a person of the Trinity, is that person in question a divine hypostasis or a human hypostasis or a resulting composite of both? If both, what constitutes the union if not the hypostasis of the eternal Son? What unites them?”

i) Perry has many questions, but he doesn’t take his questions from Scripture, and so he doesn’t take his answers from Scripture.

Perry’s Christology is just a human construct, not a revelatory datum.

ii) As far as Scripture is concerned, a divine incarnation makes a difference in terms of how each nature is expressed–in contrast to how each nature would expressed apart from the Incarnation.

But Perry doesn’t care about revealed truth. He’s just a loyal, Orthodox apparatchik.

“Either the Son must not be a person prior to incarnation since the person is a product of the union and so the Son came into existence at the union, or there are two Sons, one subordinating the other.”

Of course, that’s a false dichotomy. We are hardly limited to such a simplistic choice.

L P said...

“My point is this...If one separates Jesus' humanity from his divinity then this is a Nestorian view. For you cannot separate the one person who has two natures.”

Of course, “separate” is a spatial metaphor. It’s not as if the two natures are glued together.

So before we can intelligently respond to his objection, LPC needs to translate his metaphors into literal propositions.

“Wherever his divinity is, his humanity is there and vice versa.”

Once again, “there” is a spatial marker. Bodies can be here or there. But God is not a physical being.

“This is again from the postulate that you cannot divide the person.”

“Division” is literally a spatial relation. So LPC needs to translate his metaphors into literal propositions before we can intelligently respond.

Lutherans don’t know picture language when they see it. Their theology is cartoonish.

Incidentally, the materialistic conception of divine ubiquity which we find in Lutheran theology has an ironic consequence. For if you define God’s ubiquity in physical terms, then a hypostatic union is superfluous to the Real Presence inasmuch as God can be physical present in the communion elements apart from any divine Incarnation. For you already defined a divine attribute in physical or materialistic terms in itself–prior to the Incarnation.

1 comment:

  1. Hays,

    this one is one of those glorious Divine Dichotomies. You will have to die and go to Heavenly rewards to enjoy your points accurately! You just have to take it on the chin then to imagine all that you have imparted in your thrilling answers to those questions! Until then, the Just shall still have to live by Faith, that Faith once delivered to the Saints and accept your answers on your word.

    I suppose your gift is approximately and spatially at the same time, close to the Mind of Christ, because I have put a lot of wear and tear on the dictionary since I have come in here and started to enjoy the fruits of Triablogue! :)

    I didn't know one man could know so many unknown words as you? But, I am glad to be free enough to come in here and enjoy the fruits of your many labors, knowing all those new words!

    Of the many just in this one article alone, I will pick on one of them there words and exclaim yipee!


    And for those of you to shy to look up the meaning, here goes:::>

    1 : a member of a Communist apparat
    2 : a blindly devoted official, follower, or member of an organization (as a corporation or political party) a movie studio apparatchik.

    And just think, when I was in Tirana, Albania years ago, I was in the company of many of them!

    Methinks I am blind as well!