Thursday, January 19, 2006

Multivolipresence: Exegetical Theology or Philosophical Theology?

“Multivolipresence.” The philosophical argument for the Lutheran position is this:

1. God can be wherever he wills
2. Christ is God
3. Therefore, the human nature of Christ can be wherever Christ wills.

Forgetting for the moment that this is a philosophical position rather than an exegetical one, there is an obvious leap in this syllogism. First of all, the person of Christ is equated with the nature of Christ. For instance, Calvinists affirm that Christ can be really present without being physically present because we rightly recognize that the person of Christ is not the same thing as the human nature of Christ. On a philosophical level, the Calvinist position is very simple. It doesn’t require ambiguous definitions and the twisting of concepts, and yet choosing to in the end simply call it a “mystery.” Rather, we first affirm a Biblical view of the Incarnation, that Christ is one person with two distinct natures that remain unconfused, and then from that we must reject that the human nature, being that it is human, can be either illocal or omnipresent. The term Multivolipresence is a misleading one. This isn’t simply an issue of “Christ can be wherever he wills.” This is an issue of defining our terms correctly. When we say that Christ’s human nature is “human,” we mean that it is human. Bob Waters said:

Sure, he could have created a key- though there is no reason why He would have had to. He could have played “peek-a-boo.” He could have done all sorts of things. And He could have been illocally present throughout the universe. The troublesome question is why one would prefer some other explanation- any other explanation- to that last one. After all, He’s God. He can do whatever He wants with His human nature.

Noting in passing that this isn’t an issue of what one “wants” but of what the passage addresses, we remember that Steve rightly said, “As to whether God can do anything he wants with his human nature, that depends on what you mean. God has the power to change or remake human nature at will. But, of course, it would then cease to be human. So, yes, God could do it, but in so doing, you’ve radically redefined a key ingredient of the Incarnation.”

By definition, we must reject any communicatio idiomatum that attempts to redefine humanity. From an exegetical standpoint, however, is this a Christological error? Calvin stated, “For we affirm His divinity so joined and united with his humanity that each retains its distinctive nature unimpaired, and yet those two natures constitute one Christ.” This is in absolute in agreement with Chalcedon. This is not Nestorianism, we must emphatically state, because we affirm that “those two natures constitute one Christ.” But Lutheran theology has a problem with the fact that orthodox Christology rejects any communicatio idiomatum that attempts to take one more Monophysitistic step by divinizing the human nature. Our position, therefore, is based upon Christological orthodoxy, not Christological heresy. In fact, it must be noted that Chalcedon favored Nestorius over and against Eutyches on this matter. Harold O. J. Brown writes in Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present:

On [one] wing of the Christological front stood those who were so inspired by the concept of the deity of Christ that such sober and modest language [as the complete humanity of Christ] seemed to them to be totally inadequate and even irreverent. They had no appreciation for the nice theological distinctions such as that between theotokos and Christotokos; to reject the one and to insist on the other seemed to them to detract from the glory due the deity of Christ. . . . If contemporary liberal Christianity tends to revert to a kind of adoptionism, contemporary conservative Christians—including evangelicals and fundamentalists as well as traditionalist Roman Catholics—reveal a tendency to drift into a Eutychian or monophysite view, seeing in Christ only his deity and failing to take his humanity as seriously as the Bible and historic orthodoxy require. (Brown, 180-183 passim)

…The fundamental impulse of monophysitism is the insistence that the unity of the divine and the human in Christ is fulfilled in the physical life of Christ and produces a single nature. The theory states that the Word becomes flesh, but it works itself out in the human flesh becoming divine. Because they held that Christ’s humanity became divine, many, including Cyril and even Gregory of Nazianzus [both canonized doctors of the church], could be called Monophysites. (Brown, 184)

We can affirm a communicatio idiomatum as far as it is exegetically allowed. The Lutheran position is that a hypostatic union requires a communication of attributes to the extent that the union occurs at such a level that the divine attributes are transferred to the human nature of Christ. Anyone who disagrees is guilty of separating the two natures, and therefore, by their definition, denying a true hypostatic union. But what is the exegetical basis on which a hypostatic union necessitates a communicatio idiomatum to the extent that attributes such as omnipresence or illocality are attributed to the human nature of Christ? Where does Scripture enable us to positively explicate the nature of the hypostatic union? Scripture establishes a hypostatic union, but it tells us very little about the relationship between the two natures. So where does Scripture have us conclude that Christ’s divine nature is communicated to his human nature to the extent that the human nature ceases to be truly “human”?. The answer is “no where.” This is the difference between having a position that can be exegetically supported and having position that is derived from philosophical ambiguity.

Furthermore, the Lutheran position, in effect, appeals to exegetical silence when it will be of benefit. For instance, why isn’t the human nature completely omnipresent? Why not affirm some type of pantheism? The reason that would be given involves the extent of the communion between the natures. In other words, we would be told that the human nature is merely “illocal” rather than fully omnipresent (and, by the way, the Lutheran definition of omnipresence is not entirely Biblical to begin with, because it places it in terms of physicality and locality rather than in terms of knowledge, sight, and non-locality) because of the extent of the communion. But how do we know the extent of the communion? In one sense, Lutherans appeal to a philosophical position that exceeds the texts of Scripture (in which Calvinists appeal to exegetical silence), but then when the position is strung out to its logical conclusions, there is an appeal to exegetical silence! Obviously, this is an arbitrary philosophical position and not an exegetical one. Apparently, the “literal” reading of “this is my body” is “this is my body to the extent that it is physically illocal, yet physically present, yet not omnipresent, yet not bound by the bread, yet in the same spatial location as the Spirit, physically constrained unlike the Spirit, in space and time, yet out of space and time, wherever the Spirit is yet in a different mode of presence, in communion with the Spirit at the level of the natures but to an uncertain, limited sense.” Is this an exegetical conclusion?

Evan May.

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