“God suffered, God died”

Some of the deepest waters of Lutheran theology and where it makes some of its greatest contributions are in the realm of Christology.  For Lent I have been reading The Two Natures in Christ by Martin Chemnitz, that master of Biblical, Medieval, and Patristic (not only Latin but also Greek) sources and the principal author of the Formula of Concord.

Studying all of this has given me some new understanding and appreciation for the magnitude of what happened on that first Good Friday.   Article VIII of the Formula of Concord turns an assertion that was highly controversial at the time into a matter of confessional subscription:  That we are to understand the Incarnation and the Atonement in such a way that we can affirm that “God suffered” and “God died.” [Read more...]

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.)


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