That God died

I had assumed that yesterday’s post about Crucifixion, in which I talked about how God died, would attract objections. This was actually a big controversy during the Reformation, with Zwinglians in particular denying that God could be said to have died on the Cross. The human nature of Christ died, of course, but divinity–conceived in the Aristotelian way as an impassive, unchanging Being–could not be said to have died. The Lutherans responded with their unique Christology, which teaches the communication of the attributes, that what can be said of Christ’s human nature can be said of His divine nature, so that His human body can truly be omnipresent on all altars at Holy Communion, and that in the incarnation God was so united with human flesh that we can say that Mary was indeed the mother of God and that God died on the Cross. This is affirmed in the Lutheran confessions, in The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII:

If the old weather-witch, Dame Reason. . .would say, Yea, divinity cannot suffer nor die; you shall reply, That is true; yet, because in Christ divinity and humanity are one person, Scripture, on account of this personal union, ascribes also to divinity everything that happens to the humanity, and vice versa. 42] And it is so in reality; for you must certainly answer this, that the person (meaning Christ) suffers and dies. Now the person is true God; therefore it is rightly said: The Son of God suffers. For although the one part (to speak thus), namely, the divinity, does not suffer, yet the person, which is God, suffers in the other part, namely, in His humanity; for in truth God's Son has been crucified for us, that is, the person which is God. For the person, the person, I say, was crucified according to the humanity. . . .

Dr. Luther says also in his book Of the Councils and the Church: We Christians must know that if God is not also in the balance, and gives the weight, we sink to the bottom with our scale. By this I mean: If it were not to be said [if these things were not true], God has died for us, but only a man, we would be lost. But if "God's death" and "God died" lie in the scale of the balance, then He sinks down, and we rise up as a light, empty scale. But indeed He can also rise again or leap out of the scale; yet He could not sit in the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be said: "God died," "God's passion," "God's blood," "God's death." For in His nature God cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is correctly called God's death, when the man dies who is one thing or one person with God.

This high view of the Incarnation, this notion that God is to be known not as an abstraction as in theologies of glory but in Christ crucified, is at the essence of Luther’s theology. Zwingli taught that Christ could not be bodily present in the sacrament, since He ascended bodily into Heaven. The Lutherans, though, taught that since He ascended into Heaven, His body COULD be present by virtue of the omnipresence of the Godhead. Lutheran Christology looms behind many other doctrines, but it is much neglected today. (“Like what?” you may ask. I’ll let you readers answer that question.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Larry

    This was actually a big issue about a year ago in our SS class when we were still in PCA (we are now Lutheran, LCMS). It was brought up and affirmed during a class on the ancient creeds by the teaching elders of the church. That God did not die. This was critical to me because it went right to the heart of my instantaneous atheist to Christian conversion listening “incidentally” to a very strong preaching of Christ crucified and His dereliction crying out, “My God My God why hast Thou foresaken Me”.

    Without going into a lot of detail as an atheist I could hypothetically believe that God could in a way make for himself a flesh and become like a man, that was not hard to hypothesize, what I could not see was it being real. My atheistic view of the two natures, in theory in my mind at that time, was not at all unlike that of Zwingli and Calvin. So I saw the crucifixion almost like a façade, if I were to believe it true, but I could not see God really suffering or dying and thus it at best more or less “representative” with God in control and not really suffering. I could not understand Christ’s fear at Gethsemene. That was the tripping point, if he’s really God and knows the out come then why the fear. It would not be the same as the fear of a man who has no control over the situation and MUST suffer it (suffer = passive = passion). I couldn’t see the “passion” as real and thus I would deduce “no god”. But then at that cry of dereliction that Word struck me and I converted instantly, God DID suffer and die, the two natures were of such connection it was no mere façade with the deity sitting aloof as it were. Now at the time I had zero theological moorings other than a smattering of SB SS lessons having grown up an unbaptized SB child, I knew nothing of the creeds, Luther, etc… So that reality out of the naked Word came to me for a lack of a better way of putting it, I didn’t deduce it, deducing took me away from it as an atheist/agnostic.

    So, in that PCA SS that was a BIG turning point for me concerning the Lord’s Supper which I had been investigating under Luther versus Calvin attempting to see the difference. It wasn’t until much later that I saw the connection between the real body and blood presence and the two nature, Luther on one side, Calvin and Zwingli on the other, the later really being a form of subtle arianism. But in that SS class I saw the terror on the faces of some of the laity sitting there when they heard the elders say that, God did not die and suffer. Some fearfully and shocked even lightly inquired more, however very timidly. You could SEE their faith being struck at by that little statement. I saw how it affected the faith of the poor unsuspecting laity in that PCA SS class. It was a very shocking moment for me and as it turned out eye opening reality between something I never saw connected before, the Lord’ Supper issue and the two natures, and it related deeply to my sudden conversion itself. That’s why I couldn’t just let it rest. I recall telling my wife about it, she couldn’t attend that Sunday, and just how shocking it was.

    That’s the “long story short” version.

    Yours,

    Larry

  • Larry

    This was actually a big issue about a year ago in our SS class when we were still in PCA (we are now Lutheran, LCMS). It was brought up and affirmed during a class on the ancient creeds by the teaching elders of the church. That God did not die. This was critical to me because it went right to the heart of my instantaneous atheist to Christian conversion listening “incidentally” to a very strong preaching of Christ crucified and His dereliction crying out, “My God My God why hast Thou foresaken Me”.

    Without going into a lot of detail as an atheist I could hypothetically believe that God could in a way make for himself a flesh and become like a man, that was not hard to hypothesize, what I could not see was it being real. My atheistic view of the two natures, in theory in my mind at that time, was not at all unlike that of Zwingli and Calvin. So I saw the crucifixion almost like a façade, if I were to believe it true, but I could not see God really suffering or dying and thus it at best more or less “representative” with God in control and not really suffering. I could not understand Christ’s fear at Gethsemene. That was the tripping point, if he’s really God and knows the out come then why the fear. It would not be the same as the fear of a man who has no control over the situation and MUST suffer it (suffer = passive = passion). I couldn’t see the “passion” as real and thus I would deduce “no god”. But then at that cry of dereliction that Word struck me and I converted instantly, God DID suffer and die, the two natures were of such connection it was no mere façade with the deity sitting aloof as it were. Now at the time I had zero theological moorings other than a smattering of SB SS lessons having grown up an unbaptized SB child, I knew nothing of the creeds, Luther, etc… So that reality out of the naked Word came to me for a lack of a better way of putting it, I didn’t deduce it, deducing took me away from it as an atheist/agnostic.

    So, in that PCA SS that was a BIG turning point for me concerning the Lord’s Supper which I had been investigating under Luther versus Calvin attempting to see the difference. It wasn’t until much later that I saw the connection between the real body and blood presence and the two nature, Luther on one side, Calvin and Zwingli on the other, the later really being a form of subtle arianism. But in that SS class I saw the terror on the faces of some of the laity sitting there when they heard the elders say that, God did not die and suffer. Some fearfully and shocked even lightly inquired more, however very timidly. You could SEE their faith being struck at by that little statement. I saw how it affected the faith of the poor unsuspecting laity in that PCA SS class. It was a very shocking moment for me and as it turned out eye opening reality between something I never saw connected before, the Lord’ Supper issue and the two natures, and it related deeply to my sudden conversion itself. That’s why I couldn’t just let it rest. I recall telling my wife about it, she couldn’t attend that Sunday, and just how shocking it was.

    That’s the “long story short” version.

    Yours,

    Larry

  • Tom Hering

    God in His humanity had a non-religious vocation, and created things in wood that were not only useful to his neighbors, but beautiful as well (I’m sure).

  • Tom Hering

    God in His humanity had a non-religious vocation, and created things in wood that were not only useful to his neighbors, but beautiful as well (I’m sure).

  • Jonathan

    I wonder if the reason that we have an underlying repulsion at the idea of God “dying” in Christ may stem from a deep-seated fear that death actually means non-existence rather than a transformation from one existence to another. If death means non-existence, then, indeed, how could God died. However, if God in Christ can come into this world and be human–a mystery all by itself–then why can’t He also leave it through death?

  • Jonathan

    I wonder if the reason that we have an underlying repulsion at the idea of God “dying” in Christ may stem from a deep-seated fear that death actually means non-existence rather than a transformation from one existence to another. If death means non-existence, then, indeed, how could God died. However, if God in Christ can come into this world and be human–a mystery all by itself–then why can’t He also leave it through death?

  • Mary Jack

    Bonhoeffer said Christology is ecclesiology; the two cannot be split or separately: Christology is inherently wound into the themes of creation, community, and costly discipleship.

  • Mary Jack

    Bonhoeffer said Christology is ecclesiology; the two cannot be split or separately: Christology is inherently wound into the themes of creation, community, and costly discipleship.

  • Orianna Laun

    There was a great pastor’s roundtable on this topic on Issues, Etc. last week. http://issuesetc.org/?p=744
    If this link doesn’t get one there, one can hear it by going to http://www.issuesetc.org, clicking on “listen” then “on demand archives” then going to Thursday, October 29. I think these pastors said it best. (If one scrolls down to Wednesday, October 28, one will find another familiar person talking about homeschooling too.)

  • Orianna Laun

    There was a great pastor’s roundtable on this topic on Issues, Etc. last week. http://issuesetc.org/?p=744
    If this link doesn’t get one there, one can hear it by going to http://www.issuesetc.org, clicking on “listen” then “on demand archives” then going to Thursday, October 29. I think these pastors said it best. (If one scrolls down to Wednesday, October 28, one will find another familiar person talking about homeschooling too.)

  • Jack Kilcrease

    The genus majestaticum or the full communication of divine glory to the man Jesus, is central to Luther’s concept of the gospel. If the gospel is a unilateral promise, it means an act of self-donation on the part of God. In other words, if God tells human that he will be gracious to them no matter what, he gives himself fully over to them. He “donates himself” (this is the title of my dissertation on the Lutheran doctrine of atonement BTW). So, if I promise to be someone’s bodyguard, then I have to conform my physical movement to theirs, I have to be awake when they sleep, etc. In the same way, God must give his own being to us. If he were to hold anything of himself back in the Incarnation, then the self-donation would not be totally real.

    In fact, you can see how this works its way out in the theology of Calvin and Aquinas (the two other serious western alternatives to Luther). In both cases, they construe the Incarnation as being an incomplete communication of glory to the man Jesus. So too, they have little time for a concept of the gospel as unilateral surrender on God’s part. We merit salvation through grace for Aquinas (God does change his attitude of law towards us, rather we’ve got to change and move towards him) and in Calvin’s case, the gospel is only a stepping stone for us to recognize God’s glory and try to conform to it with our good works (as Elert puts it “the gospel is good for Calvin, becuase it makes the law work”). In both cases, incomplete self-donation of God leaves a kind of distance between God and humans which allows humans to have a role filling it in with the law. God is willing to help them with grace, just as he’s willing to be somewhat incarnate in Jesus. But he does not donate himself fully to them.
    In Luther’s case though, God being is literally given over to the man Jesus and then given to me in Word and sacrament via the promise of the gospel. Therefore, there’s no distance to be filled in. Consequently, there’s no room to the divine-human relationship to be constructed under the law.

  • Jack Kilcrease

    The genus majestaticum or the full communication of divine glory to the man Jesus, is central to Luther’s concept of the gospel. If the gospel is a unilateral promise, it means an act of self-donation on the part of God. In other words, if God tells human that he will be gracious to them no matter what, he gives himself fully over to them. He “donates himself” (this is the title of my dissertation on the Lutheran doctrine of atonement BTW). So, if I promise to be someone’s bodyguard, then I have to conform my physical movement to theirs, I have to be awake when they sleep, etc. In the same way, God must give his own being to us. If he were to hold anything of himself back in the Incarnation, then the self-donation would not be totally real.

    In fact, you can see how this works its way out in the theology of Calvin and Aquinas (the two other serious western alternatives to Luther). In both cases, they construe the Incarnation as being an incomplete communication of glory to the man Jesus. So too, they have little time for a concept of the gospel as unilateral surrender on God’s part. We merit salvation through grace for Aquinas (God does change his attitude of law towards us, rather we’ve got to change and move towards him) and in Calvin’s case, the gospel is only a stepping stone for us to recognize God’s glory and try to conform to it with our good works (as Elert puts it “the gospel is good for Calvin, becuase it makes the law work”). In both cases, incomplete self-donation of God leaves a kind of distance between God and humans which allows humans to have a role filling it in with the law. God is willing to help them with grace, just as he’s willing to be somewhat incarnate in Jesus. But he does not donate himself fully to them.
    In Luther’s case though, God being is literally given over to the man Jesus and then given to me in Word and sacrament via the promise of the gospel. Therefore, there’s no distance to be filled in. Consequently, there’s no room to the divine-human relationship to be constructed under the law.

  • Eric

    To Larry (#1),

    I’m so sorry to hear about your experience in that PCA church. I’m a PCA pastor and I can say unreservedly that God did in fact die on the cross, that God was in Mary’s womb, etc. Unfortunately, there are many elders (and sadly, even pastors) in all our communions who are more influenced by the evangelicalism of their youth than the confessions of their current church. I hope that those men, especially, came to understand the truth. Because this is a point on which Lutherans and Reformed stand together.

  • Eric

    To Larry (#1),

    I’m so sorry to hear about your experience in that PCA church. I’m a PCA pastor and I can say unreservedly that God did in fact die on the cross, that God was in Mary’s womb, etc. Unfortunately, there are many elders (and sadly, even pastors) in all our communions who are more influenced by the evangelicalism of their youth than the confessions of their current church. I hope that those men, especially, came to understand the truth. Because this is a point on which Lutherans and Reformed stand together.

  • Dan Kempin

    Jonathan, #3,

    That is an interesting point. Our thinking is so driven by our presuppositions, and the dominant cultural view of death is non-existence. Running with this false assumption will only take you further from the truth.

    This insight, though, does not resolve the difficulty with regard to God dying. For one thing, it would be problematic to say that God transformed or changed, since he is immutable and eternal. No, the explanation is not in the nature of death, but in the nature of the union between the divine and the human. God, without changing his nature, unalterably joined his nature to humanity in such a way that, while it can be distinguished, it cannot be separated.

    This is a great mystery. How can the infinite become finite? How can the creator become creature? how can God become man in a true union of personhood? Nevertheless, the Word became flesh, and the Son of Man is enthroned as God.

    Whew. Deep stuff.

    Veith,
    “Zwingli taught that Christ could not be bodily present in the sacrament, since He ascended bodily into Heaven. The Lutherans, though, taught that since He ascended into Heaven, His body COULD be present by virtue of the omnipresence of the Godhead.”

    I’ve never heard any trained theologian summarize the issue so accurately and succinctly. I salute your clarity of thought.

  • Dan Kempin

    Jonathan, #3,

    That is an interesting point. Our thinking is so driven by our presuppositions, and the dominant cultural view of death is non-existence. Running with this false assumption will only take you further from the truth.

    This insight, though, does not resolve the difficulty with regard to God dying. For one thing, it would be problematic to say that God transformed or changed, since he is immutable and eternal. No, the explanation is not in the nature of death, but in the nature of the union between the divine and the human. God, without changing his nature, unalterably joined his nature to humanity in such a way that, while it can be distinguished, it cannot be separated.

    This is a great mystery. How can the infinite become finite? How can the creator become creature? how can God become man in a true union of personhood? Nevertheless, the Word became flesh, and the Son of Man is enthroned as God.

    Whew. Deep stuff.

    Veith,
    “Zwingli taught that Christ could not be bodily present in the sacrament, since He ascended bodily into Heaven. The Lutherans, though, taught that since He ascended into Heaven, His body COULD be present by virtue of the omnipresence of the Godhead.”

    I’ve never heard any trained theologian summarize the issue so accurately and succinctly. I salute your clarity of thought.

  • Larry

    Eric,

    I appreciate that and your kind words. Though revealing, in the end it was not the reason for leaving that confession but rather issues deeply concerning baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I don’t want to give the wrong impression; we’ve never left a confession (baptist or reformed) on a sour note in a SS class or disagreement with a pastor, those arise here, there and yonder and just are what they are. Rather we’ve always left due to no longer adhering to that confession holistically itself.

    Thanks,

    Larry

  • Larry

    Eric,

    I appreciate that and your kind words. Though revealing, in the end it was not the reason for leaving that confession but rather issues deeply concerning baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I don’t want to give the wrong impression; we’ve never left a confession (baptist or reformed) on a sour note in a SS class or disagreement with a pastor, those arise here, there and yonder and just are what they are. Rather we’ve always left due to no longer adhering to that confession holistically itself.

    Thanks,

    Larry

  • Larry

    In a large article I’ve been reading in chapter three entitled, “The Sacrament Does Not Coincide With The Omnipresence Of The Body Of Christ”, something I’m still chewing on that I never grasped of Luther regarding the omnipresence was stunning. I think this short exert captures it best (the last part Luther adopting a quote from Augustine captures it best I think), its very different than most think about “omnipresence”, including Zwingli or Calvin:

    “Behind the notion of two alternating forms of existence of the body of Christ probably lies the idea that the omnipresence would imply a physical change of the body of Christ, a peculiar diffusion of matter into an infinity, conceived physically:
    Here you will say: would Christ’s humanity be extended and roll out like a hide? . . . I answer: in accordance with your darkened mind which comprehends the . . . bodily, comprehensible way, you will not understand this; neither do the enthusiasts, who have no other thought than that the Godhead is omnipresent in a bodily, comprehensible fashion as if God were a big, extended thing extending all through creation.
    It is consequently the concrete, physical body of Christ, the same body as before and after the ascension, that takes God’s immediate relation to His creation. Only a confused, unclear thinking operating with naive physical categories has difficulties as concern the relation between Creator and the created. In order to explain what is at issue, Luther adopts a quotation from Augustine: “All things are in Him rather than that He is anywhere in them,” and writes: “They [the things] do not measure or encompass Him, but it is rather that He has them present before Himself, measures them and encompasses them.” In the child Jesus sleeping in Mary’s lap rests all creation, and the galaxies meet in a human being: “Him whom the world cannot comprehend, Mary found upon her lap.””

    Larry

  • Larry

    In a large article I’ve been reading in chapter three entitled, “The Sacrament Does Not Coincide With The Omnipresence Of The Body Of Christ”, something I’m still chewing on that I never grasped of Luther regarding the omnipresence was stunning. I think this short exert captures it best (the last part Luther adopting a quote from Augustine captures it best I think), its very different than most think about “omnipresence”, including Zwingli or Calvin:

    “Behind the notion of two alternating forms of existence of the body of Christ probably lies the idea that the omnipresence would imply a physical change of the body of Christ, a peculiar diffusion of matter into an infinity, conceived physically:
    Here you will say: would Christ’s humanity be extended and roll out like a hide? . . . I answer: in accordance with your darkened mind which comprehends the . . . bodily, comprehensible way, you will not understand this; neither do the enthusiasts, who have no other thought than that the Godhead is omnipresent in a bodily, comprehensible fashion as if God were a big, extended thing extending all through creation.
    It is consequently the concrete, physical body of Christ, the same body as before and after the ascension, that takes God’s immediate relation to His creation. Only a confused, unclear thinking operating with naive physical categories has difficulties as concern the relation between Creator and the created. In order to explain what is at issue, Luther adopts a quotation from Augustine: “All things are in Him rather than that He is anywhere in them,” and writes: “They [the things] do not measure or encompass Him, but it is rather that He has them present before Himself, measures them and encompasses them.” In the child Jesus sleeping in Mary’s lap rests all creation, and the galaxies meet in a human being: “Him whom the world cannot comprehend, Mary found upon her lap.””

    Larry

  • EGK

    In my year’s sojourn among the evangelicals, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, working toward a Master of Theology degree, I found it frustrating that I could not really engage in this issue, but was simply dismiseed. When the professor brought up the Ephesians 4 passage about Jesus descending and then ascending far above the heavens that He might fill all things, I pointed out that Jesus ascended to fill all things not just as God but as the God-Man, he simply said “You Lutherans need to say that to justify your belief in the real presence. I’m a Zwinglian, so I don’t need to worry about that.” The omnipresence of the human nature, however, does not just relate to the Lord’s Supper, but to the essence of the Incarnation. Now and forever, wherever the Christ is both natures are present.

  • EGK

    In my year’s sojourn among the evangelicals, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, working toward a Master of Theology degree, I found it frustrating that I could not really engage in this issue, but was simply dismiseed. When the professor brought up the Ephesians 4 passage about Jesus descending and then ascending far above the heavens that He might fill all things, I pointed out that Jesus ascended to fill all things not just as God but as the God-Man, he simply said “You Lutherans need to say that to justify your belief in the real presence. I’m a Zwinglian, so I don’t need to worry about that.” The omnipresence of the human nature, however, does not just relate to the Lord’s Supper, but to the essence of the Incarnation. Now and forever, wherever the Christ is both natures are present.

  • John Tape

    God did indeed die on Good Friday. But it should be pointed out that only the second person of the Trinity died–not the first or the third. Yet, there is only one God.

  • John Tape

    God did indeed die on Good Friday. But it should be pointed out that only the second person of the Trinity died–not the first or the third. Yet, there is only one God.

  • Larry

    I thought it might be helpful to pull the whole excerpt from the chapter that gets to the end (below) concerning, “All of creation flows into a genuine human being who really suffers and dies on the cross, but what He dies is God’s immortal death”. Sorry for the length of the quote but I just couldn’t condense it without loosing its force and sustained thought entirely.

    Larry

    –BEGIN QUOTE

    III. The Sacrament Does Not Coincide With The Omnipresence Of The Body Of Christ

    More than any other controversies, the Christological controversies concerning the one person and two natures of Christ have, for the modern observer, the stamp of dried flowers in a botanist’s collection. Even when it is supposed that they may have had significance for people of a past age whose thinking had the prerequisites for them, they are explicitly said to lack relevance for people in our day. Even a conservative sermon which intends to have redemption as its focal point avoids everything smacking of dogmatic Christology. The result of this is, however, mortally detrimental to faith in all its functions. If redemption does not describe how One of the Holy and Immortal Trinity suffers on the cross in the human nature He assumed, the meditation on the person of Christ will inevitably become a nauseating hero worship. The entire direction of Christian worship to the central person in the New Testament will then assume traits of an unhealthy intimacy. The feeling of anxiety, which seizes both believers and unbelievers faced with a Savior, however forgiving, who is portrayed outside the orthodox rules of Christology, can be said to be a righteous protest against heathenism in the sanctuary, launched by both innate and Biblical monotheism. This holds true especially in regard to the body and blood of Christ which rest upon the altar in the midst of the congregation. If it is not a question of God’s body and blood–belonging to Him not as clothes but as parts of His eternal person–both Holy Communion and a book like this one, which is devoted to the fact of the Real Presence, become incomprehensible and obnoxious. The rejoicing kindled before the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament is possible only if the persons who adore know that they are standing in front of the Power that created them, whom they cannot refuse to worship without denying the sense of all human existence.
    It is often presumed that the great denominations have a common Christology. The disputes once waged and connected with the battle names from the coast of Asia Minor–Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon–are presumed to have had lasting, unambiguous results, preserved in unanimity by the denominations of today in their confessions of faith. This uniform picture does not correspond to actual facts. The Lutheran Church represents a Christology which is essentially different from that of both Roman and Reformed theology. This means, consequently, that the churches have different interpretations of the decisions of the council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. The decrees of that synod involved, among other things, the relation between the divine and human natures of Christ with the formula unconfusedly and indivisibly. This formula is often heard in our day, but it is rarely perceived that there might be difficulties in interpreting these words. However, even the presentation given in the conventional works on the history of dogma ought to arouse the observant reader’s suspicion. These tell us that Patriarch Nestorius was wrongly condemned by the Chalcedon synod: his teaching on the two natures is said to be actually in agreement with the decisions which pronounced the New Testament condemnation over him. On the other hand, we are told that Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, to whom the council paid its homage, was in fact a heretic from the viewpoint of the council’s own teaching. The latter is supposed to have been guilty of monophysitism, i.e., the peculiarity of the human nature would have been swallowed up by Jesus divine nature so that in fact only one nature was to be found in the God-man. Behind this accusation lies the following thought: Cyril of Alexandria indubitably taught a real communication of the divine attributes to the human nature of Jesus. For this reason, it is thought the two natures cannot have existed unconfusedly. However, this axiom is not an axiom. As we shall find, Lutheran Christology, which considers itself the heir of Cyril of Alexandria and John of Damascus (highly revered also in the Eastern Church), retains the integrity of the natures and nevertheless admits the communication of the divine attributes to the created human nature of Jesus. Once one is able to think this thought, the controversies leading to Chalcedon appear in more comprehensible patterns.
    The settlement which the Lutheran reformation worked out here and which sets a boundary against both Roman Catholic and Reformed Christology means that the banner of Cyrillian Christology is once again raised in the West. A false, un-Biblical, Nestorian, schematic Christology is replaced by the faith in the One Lord. The Christology which had become the leading tradition in Latin Christendom had come to regard Christ’s humanity as having the same relation to His divinity as Christ’s clothing had to the human nature. Only a form of ownership, called in this case person, ties together, from the beginning, the Son of the Virgin in the crib and the eternal Word. This leads to the notion that, e.g., the miracles wrought by the man Jesus in principle were worked in the same way as the miracles wrought by apostles and prophets: the power comes from a divine assistance rendered from the outside. The man Jesus cannot be worshipped either. The person of the God-Man has been deeply split. Nestorius, the one officially condemned, had once again seized power.
    From 1519 on, Luther proclaims an interpretation of Phil. 2:6ff. which results in a decisive change. Now the old decision of the Synod of Ephesus was again to resound splendidly: “If any one does not confess that the flesh of the Lord is quickening, because it was made the Word’s own, who quickens all things, let him be anathema.”55 Once again, what Ambrose of Milan speaks of was to become a living reality: “the flesh of Christ, which we today also adore in the mysteries [the Sacrament], and which the apostles adored in the Lord Jesus, as we have said above.”56 This big change was not caused by general speculation about the divine and the human and their relationship to each other, nor by a religious need, but (like the change in the question of justification) by a careful, exegetical study of a Bible verse. We find here an interesting parallel to the Reformation discovery of justification as far as the techniques of exegesis are concerned. In both cases, Luther succeeds in freeing himself from the traditional, philosophical interpretation of single words; righteousness in the one case, form in the other. Around the latter word the revived Cyrillian Christology is developed. Luther realizes that form of God in Phil. 2 (“being in the form of God”) does not refer to the divine nature as such, but to the divine attributes in which Jesus’ human nature rested, but which He did not fully employ during His state of humiliation in order to make the work of redemption possible.57 This means also that the humanity of Christ is the iron which can be made to glow in the fire of the Godhead unto freedom from suffering and death, the iron which lets divine power be exercised by the human nature in miracles also during the time of humiliation. This is the one, inseparable “I” speaking and acting in the New Testament.
    In 1526 Luther consciously and expressly draws the conclusion that the human nature of Christ is like His divine nature, omnipresent.58 At this point we should mention that the usual term for this, ubiquity, does not occur in Luther’s writings. It is an invective used by later opponents of Luther’s teaching. It was normally rejected by Luther’s followers as an offensive word. For a variety of reasons, it seems reasonable not to use it here. No matter what may be said about the terminology, what is important is to determine what Luther means when he speaks of the omnipresence of the body of Christ. This does not mean the last stage in a change in Christ’s humanity conditioned by the history of salvation so that His humanity, after the materiality of earthly life, is replaced by the resurrection body of the forty days, which in turn is surpassed by the deification of the ascension, whereafter perhaps the day of judgment may reawaken the concrete conditions of earthly life when He comes again visibly in the skies. For Luther the omnipresence of the body of Christ means instead that the body of Christ took God’s superworldly relation to every point of creation already in the womb of Mary. Now Christ’s human nature is, from the womb on, higher and deeper in God and before God than any angel.59 Yea, he says, Christ was in heaven when He was still walking on earth.60 Luther explicitly rejects the idea that the ascension meant that omnipresence ought to be ascribed to Christ because of that event: “For by His glorification He did not become another person, but He is present everywhere as He was before and always has been since.”61 Behind the notion of two alternating forms of existence of the body of Christ probably lies the idea that the omnipresence would imply a physical change of the body of Christ, a peculiar diffusion of matter into an infinity, conceived physically:
    Here you will say: would Christ’s humanity be extended and roll out like a hide? . . . I answer: in accordance with your darkened mind which comprehends the . . . bodily, comprehensible way, you will not understand this; neither do the enthusiasts, who have no other thought than that the Godhead is omnipresent in a bodily, comprehensible fashion as if God were a big, extended thing extending all through creation.62
    It is consequently the concrete, physical body of Christ, the same body as before and after the ascension, that takes God’s immediate relation to His creation. Only a confused, unclear thinking operating with naive physical categories has difficulties as concern the relation between Creator and the created. In order to explain what is at issue, Luther adopts a quotation from Augustine: “All things are in Him rather than that He is anywhere in them,”63 and writes: “They [the things] do not measure or encompass Him, but it is rather that He has them present before Himself, measures them and encompasses them.”64 In the child Jesus sleeping in Mary’s lap rests all creation, and the galaxies meet in a human being: “Him whom the world cannot comprehend, Mary found upon her lap.”65
    This proves drastically the untenability of the axiom which lies behind the modern interpretation of the Chalcedon creed. The deification of Jesus’ body is consistent with Jesus’ full humanity. Cyrillian Christology does not indeed burn up Jesus’ human nature, at the latest, with His ascension into the fire of the Godhead, diluting it into hovering smoke. Cyrillian, Lutheran Christology counts on a normal humanity, which, while retaining its given created concretion, assumes the role as the center of everything and the ruler of all, the object of all adoration. All of creation flows into a genuine human being who really suffers and dies on the cross, but what He dies is God’s immortal death. Of this Jesus Luther says: “For since Jesus is one with God, you must put this His essence far, far outside of creation, as far outside as God is outside, but on the other hand, so deeply within creation and as close to it as God is in His creation.”66

    –END QUOTE

  • Larry

    I thought it might be helpful to pull the whole excerpt from the chapter that gets to the end (below) concerning, “All of creation flows into a genuine human being who really suffers and dies on the cross, but what He dies is God’s immortal death”. Sorry for the length of the quote but I just couldn’t condense it without loosing its force and sustained thought entirely.

    Larry

    –BEGIN QUOTE

    III. The Sacrament Does Not Coincide With The Omnipresence Of The Body Of Christ

    More than any other controversies, the Christological controversies concerning the one person and two natures of Christ have, for the modern observer, the stamp of dried flowers in a botanist’s collection. Even when it is supposed that they may have had significance for people of a past age whose thinking had the prerequisites for them, they are explicitly said to lack relevance for people in our day. Even a conservative sermon which intends to have redemption as its focal point avoids everything smacking of dogmatic Christology. The result of this is, however, mortally detrimental to faith in all its functions. If redemption does not describe how One of the Holy and Immortal Trinity suffers on the cross in the human nature He assumed, the meditation on the person of Christ will inevitably become a nauseating hero worship. The entire direction of Christian worship to the central person in the New Testament will then assume traits of an unhealthy intimacy. The feeling of anxiety, which seizes both believers and unbelievers faced with a Savior, however forgiving, who is portrayed outside the orthodox rules of Christology, can be said to be a righteous protest against heathenism in the sanctuary, launched by both innate and Biblical monotheism. This holds true especially in regard to the body and blood of Christ which rest upon the altar in the midst of the congregation. If it is not a question of God’s body and blood–belonging to Him not as clothes but as parts of His eternal person–both Holy Communion and a book like this one, which is devoted to the fact of the Real Presence, become incomprehensible and obnoxious. The rejoicing kindled before the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament is possible only if the persons who adore know that they are standing in front of the Power that created them, whom they cannot refuse to worship without denying the sense of all human existence.
    It is often presumed that the great denominations have a common Christology. The disputes once waged and connected with the battle names from the coast of Asia Minor–Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon–are presumed to have had lasting, unambiguous results, preserved in unanimity by the denominations of today in their confessions of faith. This uniform picture does not correspond to actual facts. The Lutheran Church represents a Christology which is essentially different from that of both Roman and Reformed theology. This means, consequently, that the churches have different interpretations of the decisions of the council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. The decrees of that synod involved, among other things, the relation between the divine and human natures of Christ with the formula unconfusedly and indivisibly. This formula is often heard in our day, but it is rarely perceived that there might be difficulties in interpreting these words. However, even the presentation given in the conventional works on the history of dogma ought to arouse the observant reader’s suspicion. These tell us that Patriarch Nestorius was wrongly condemned by the Chalcedon synod: his teaching on the two natures is said to be actually in agreement with the decisions which pronounced the New Testament condemnation over him. On the other hand, we are told that Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, to whom the council paid its homage, was in fact a heretic from the viewpoint of the council’s own teaching. The latter is supposed to have been guilty of monophysitism, i.e., the peculiarity of the human nature would have been swallowed up by Jesus divine nature so that in fact only one nature was to be found in the God-man. Behind this accusation lies the following thought: Cyril of Alexandria indubitably taught a real communication of the divine attributes to the human nature of Jesus. For this reason, it is thought the two natures cannot have existed unconfusedly. However, this axiom is not an axiom. As we shall find, Lutheran Christology, which considers itself the heir of Cyril of Alexandria and John of Damascus (highly revered also in the Eastern Church), retains the integrity of the natures and nevertheless admits the communication of the divine attributes to the created human nature of Jesus. Once one is able to think this thought, the controversies leading to Chalcedon appear in more comprehensible patterns.
    The settlement which the Lutheran reformation worked out here and which sets a boundary against both Roman Catholic and Reformed Christology means that the banner of Cyrillian Christology is once again raised in the West. A false, un-Biblical, Nestorian, schematic Christology is replaced by the faith in the One Lord. The Christology which had become the leading tradition in Latin Christendom had come to regard Christ’s humanity as having the same relation to His divinity as Christ’s clothing had to the human nature. Only a form of ownership, called in this case person, ties together, from the beginning, the Son of the Virgin in the crib and the eternal Word. This leads to the notion that, e.g., the miracles wrought by the man Jesus in principle were worked in the same way as the miracles wrought by apostles and prophets: the power comes from a divine assistance rendered from the outside. The man Jesus cannot be worshipped either. The person of the God-Man has been deeply split. Nestorius, the one officially condemned, had once again seized power.
    From 1519 on, Luther proclaims an interpretation of Phil. 2:6ff. which results in a decisive change. Now the old decision of the Synod of Ephesus was again to resound splendidly: “If any one does not confess that the flesh of the Lord is quickening, because it was made the Word’s own, who quickens all things, let him be anathema.”55 Once again, what Ambrose of Milan speaks of was to become a living reality: “the flesh of Christ, which we today also adore in the mysteries [the Sacrament], and which the apostles adored in the Lord Jesus, as we have said above.”56 This big change was not caused by general speculation about the divine and the human and their relationship to each other, nor by a religious need, but (like the change in the question of justification) by a careful, exegetical study of a Bible verse. We find here an interesting parallel to the Reformation discovery of justification as far as the techniques of exegesis are concerned. In both cases, Luther succeeds in freeing himself from the traditional, philosophical interpretation of single words; righteousness in the one case, form in the other. Around the latter word the revived Cyrillian Christology is developed. Luther realizes that form of God in Phil. 2 (“being in the form of God”) does not refer to the divine nature as such, but to the divine attributes in which Jesus’ human nature rested, but which He did not fully employ during His state of humiliation in order to make the work of redemption possible.57 This means also that the humanity of Christ is the iron which can be made to glow in the fire of the Godhead unto freedom from suffering and death, the iron which lets divine power be exercised by the human nature in miracles also during the time of humiliation. This is the one, inseparable “I” speaking and acting in the New Testament.
    In 1526 Luther consciously and expressly draws the conclusion that the human nature of Christ is like His divine nature, omnipresent.58 At this point we should mention that the usual term for this, ubiquity, does not occur in Luther’s writings. It is an invective used by later opponents of Luther’s teaching. It was normally rejected by Luther’s followers as an offensive word. For a variety of reasons, it seems reasonable not to use it here. No matter what may be said about the terminology, what is important is to determine what Luther means when he speaks of the omnipresence of the body of Christ. This does not mean the last stage in a change in Christ’s humanity conditioned by the history of salvation so that His humanity, after the materiality of earthly life, is replaced by the resurrection body of the forty days, which in turn is surpassed by the deification of the ascension, whereafter perhaps the day of judgment may reawaken the concrete conditions of earthly life when He comes again visibly in the skies. For Luther the omnipresence of the body of Christ means instead that the body of Christ took God’s superworldly relation to every point of creation already in the womb of Mary. Now Christ’s human nature is, from the womb on, higher and deeper in God and before God than any angel.59 Yea, he says, Christ was in heaven when He was still walking on earth.60 Luther explicitly rejects the idea that the ascension meant that omnipresence ought to be ascribed to Christ because of that event: “For by His glorification He did not become another person, but He is present everywhere as He was before and always has been since.”61 Behind the notion of two alternating forms of existence of the body of Christ probably lies the idea that the omnipresence would imply a physical change of the body of Christ, a peculiar diffusion of matter into an infinity, conceived physically:
    Here you will say: would Christ’s humanity be extended and roll out like a hide? . . . I answer: in accordance with your darkened mind which comprehends the . . . bodily, comprehensible way, you will not understand this; neither do the enthusiasts, who have no other thought than that the Godhead is omnipresent in a bodily, comprehensible fashion as if God were a big, extended thing extending all through creation.62
    It is consequently the concrete, physical body of Christ, the same body as before and after the ascension, that takes God’s immediate relation to His creation. Only a confused, unclear thinking operating with naive physical categories has difficulties as concern the relation between Creator and the created. In order to explain what is at issue, Luther adopts a quotation from Augustine: “All things are in Him rather than that He is anywhere in them,”63 and writes: “They [the things] do not measure or encompass Him, but it is rather that He has them present before Himself, measures them and encompasses them.”64 In the child Jesus sleeping in Mary’s lap rests all creation, and the galaxies meet in a human being: “Him whom the world cannot comprehend, Mary found upon her lap.”65
    This proves drastically the untenability of the axiom which lies behind the modern interpretation of the Chalcedon creed. The deification of Jesus’ body is consistent with Jesus’ full humanity. Cyrillian Christology does not indeed burn up Jesus’ human nature, at the latest, with His ascension into the fire of the Godhead, diluting it into hovering smoke. Cyrillian, Lutheran Christology counts on a normal humanity, which, while retaining its given created concretion, assumes the role as the center of everything and the ruler of all, the object of all adoration. All of creation flows into a genuine human being who really suffers and dies on the cross, but what He dies is God’s immortal death. Of this Jesus Luther says: “For since Jesus is one with God, you must put this His essence far, far outside of creation, as far outside as God is outside, but on the other hand, so deeply within creation and as close to it as God is in His creation.”66

    –END QUOTE

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Larry, what a striking “testimony” you gave of your conversion from atheism to faith. That the Word that did it was “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is unutterably profound.

    And Jack, what a fascinating and helpful dissertation you are pursuing!

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Larry, what a striking “testimony” you gave of your conversion from atheism to faith. That the Word that did it was “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is unutterably profound.

    And Jack, what a fascinating and helpful dissertation you are pursuing!

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Larry, who is the author and what is the title of the work you are quoting?

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Larry, who is the author and what is the title of the work you are quoting?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith (@15), I can’t claim to be following this thread closely, but I can answer, via some googling, that Larry is quoting from On the Sacrament of the Altar: the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper by Tom G. A. Hardt, published by Concordia Theological Seminary Press in 1984.

    It would appear that the entire book is available online at this Web site.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith (@15), I can’t claim to be following this thread closely, but I can answer, via some googling, that Larry is quoting from On the Sacrament of the Altar: the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper by Tom G. A. Hardt, published by Concordia Theological Seminary Press in 1984.

    It would appear that the entire book is available online at this Web site.

  • Larry

    Dr. Veith,

    Sorry I took so long getting back to this, I just checked this morning. Todd is correct. The link I found this at is:http://web.archive.org/web/20060212083203/http:/members.aol.com/SemperRef/venerable.html#fnI.

    It’s a fascinating booklet, part of it seems to speak strongly to this topic. I’m still reading it though. I’ve been re-reading chapters as I go to “get it all in”.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Yours,

    Larry

  • Larry

    Dr. Veith,

    Sorry I took so long getting back to this, I just checked this morning. Todd is correct. The link I found this at is:http://web.archive.org/web/20060212083203/http:/members.aol.com/SemperRef/venerable.html#fnI.

    It’s a fascinating booklet, part of it seems to speak strongly to this topic. I’m still reading it though. I’ve been re-reading chapters as I go to “get it all in”.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Yours,

    Larry

  • Jack Kilcrease

    Dr. Veith, Thanks. BTW, the dissertation is completed. I hope to divide it into two separate books and publish them.

  • Jack Kilcrease

    Dr. Veith, Thanks. BTW, the dissertation is completed. I hope to divide it into two separate books and publish them.

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