Friday, August 27, 2010

Does the Communication of Attributes Really Contradict Divine and Human Nature?

Calvinists (and Roman Catholics too!) continuously complain that the Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes contradicts God's nature (who is utterly separate from all created things) and human nature (which is finite and cannot bear the total reception of the divine life). I would argue that this is false, and that, in fact, the communication of attributes (most notably the genus majestaticum) fulfill the essence of God and humanity.

First, Christians confess that God is by nature self-communicating. He is so because he is constituted by his life as Trinity. God the Father possess the fullness of infinite divine glory and therefore is capable of giving all of it in the form of begetting of the Son. The Son is capable to returning all of it to the Father in the procession of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore in God's very nature to communicate himself. He therefore properly expresses his nature in the communication of his glory to the humanity of Jesus.

In the same way, because God is by nature self-giving and communicating, he makes a world. He does so as a pure gift. In the case of humans, he makes them free receivers of his self-giving. He created them originally as receptive to his goodness in perfect faith. Hence, to be receptive is the essence of humanity. Christ's humanity which receives the fullness of divine glory does not contradict its nature, but merely deepens and fulfills what it means to be human- that receiver of God's own self-communicating goodness. Christ restores to humanity its original role as receptive to God's goodness and fulfills it.

Hence, both the communication of the divine glory and the reception of it by Christ's humanity fulfill the original divine-human relationship, they do not contradict it.

13 comments:

  1. I wonder if you'd be wiling to respond to a question posed on Facebook relating, in a way, to this issue. Names withheld:


    But therein lies my issue: Lutheran dogmatics treats the original righteousness (also "concreated righteousness") as a quality in human nature, which is why original sin "is truly sin and damns." If righteousness is substantial, then Christ's two righteousness' are not "active and passive," they are "human and divine."

    Similarly, His "active righteousness" is not "active" at all, but simply gained through the taking of human nature "without sin." The whole life of Christ is thereby effectively ignored.

    Similarly, I cannot find a consistent LCMS source regarding the imputation of Adam's sin on his offspring. In fact, I would argue the new "The Lutheran Study Bible" blatantly contradicts itself (compare the notes on Deuteronomy 24:16 and Romans 5:12).

    The note on Deut. 24:16 quotes Cyprian saying, "Everyone is HIMSELF held fast in HIS OWN sin; nor CAN ONE BECOME GUILTY FOR ANOTHER."

    The Rom. 5:12 note follows Augustine's interpretation (from his mistranslation...and that is his MAIN argument throughout much of his anti-Pelagian writings): "Adam's fall into sin brought sin to all humanity (good). We inherited his guilt and the desire to sin (contradiction and good)."

    I can further note that Ezekiel 18:1-4 and Psalm 51:5 seem to avoid the issue of guilt and emphasize that each person is held to be judged before God. This is where the issue is, and why if original guilt and righteousness as a natural quality is followed, Nestorianism necessarily is a result.

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  2. con't...

    Remember that Nestorianism (roughly speaking) was a more subtle form of the "Two Sons" theory of Theodore of Mopsuestia. It posited two prosopa united in a prosopon of union, but each of the two prosopa (human and divine) did things "proper to them." Chalcedon accepted the "do things proper to them," but in the union of the person of Christ, He does them in one "theanthropic act." Thus the Person of Christ is "the righteousness of God" (unless Luther's anxiety about it being some set of rules or in this case, attributes, leading to his rediscovery of the Gospel in that Romans passage rather than law is to be ignored) that is revealed, and this Lutherans call the "passive righteousness" of Christ. But it is the whole Christ who participates in the "active righteousness," not just the "human nature." To say such a thing would make the human nature a distinct subject...and now, how can they be united?

    It seems that as long as Lutherans accept an Augustinian anthropology they must necessarily tend towards Nestorianism (and this was the weakness of both Pelagius and Augustine). It is inconsistent anthropology and Christology...and simply saying "mystery" or "paradox" doesn't make this problem go away...you need to have a consistent anthropology precisely because of the high Lutheran emphasis on the incarnation (and as more akin to the Alexandrians, emphasizing the union and the deification of the human nature resulting in the "communicatio idiomatum").

    It is this that I cannot find a consistent answer for, and it comes up in issues of the human will as well. If the natural will is corrupted, it leads to the irrational passions (or as the AC says, "concupiscience"), but nontheless, the natural will is there as per the FC Art. I). If we are only going to give into our natural passions and desires, then we have no free will even in things "beneath us." We are automatons because there is NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN PERSON (HYPOSTASIS) and SUBSTANCE (OUSIA). It is precisely this problem which led to the Monothelite heresy, something which Lutherans object to as a heresy but haven't addressed (aside from Chemnitz in "De Duabis Naturas")...modern dogmatics not only does not address it aside from a footnote in Pieper and Scaer, nor do they apply the implications to anthropology. If I am wrong on this latter part I would LOVE to know it.

    This is my problem: If we inherit the guilt of Adam by imputation, then STOP pussyfooting around: Unbaptized babies go to Hell, PERIOD. Not wanting to not offend grieving parents should not ultimately affect the reality of the situation...the theology of the cross "calls something what it is." If however, we inherit death and corruption which God desires to fix and rescue from, then the death of the child is tragic, but not necessitating damnation (for how can God be necessitated from anything?...this would make salvation of necessity, not grace).

    Also: If the personal expression of the natural human will is not "free," then all of our actions would be self-seeking in toto...PERIOD. Has any Lutheran read and is familiar with Maximos the Confessor and Constantinople III and sees the problems I do?

    The original question was: If Christ is the righteousness of God IN HIS PERSON (hypostatically), then how is original righteousness natural and not also hypostatic?

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  3. Weslie- Thanks for all the questions. This going to take a long time to answer. I'll start now and try to finish this over the next few days. Allow me to breakdown each question and answer one-by-one.

    "But therein lies my issue: Lutheran dogmatics treats the original righteousness (also "concreated righteousness") as a quality in human nature, which is why original sin "is truly sin and damns."

    Correct. Original righteousness is an accidental quality of the human substance. This is why the divine image can be lost, but not human nature.

    "If righteousness is substantial, then Christ's two righteousness' are not "active and passive," they are "human and divine."

    Wrong. Considered in the concrete, Christ's humanity and divinity form a single subject. Consequently all qualities and action taken by the single subject of the God-man are to be to be attributed to the total theandric person. Beyond this, because the fullness of divine glory is substantially communicated to the human nature, the divine righteousness is present and active, in, under, and with the human nature of Christ. Divine righteousness then forms an accidental quality within the substance of human nature.

    "Similarly, His "active righteousness" is not "active" at all, but simply gained through the taking of human nature "without sin." The whole life of Christ is thereby effectively ignored."

    Again, incorrect. First, it is impossible to take on human nature and not engage in human activity. That "I am" derivatively means that I do. Secondly, the obedience of Christ to the Father in going to the cross is a necessary component to redemption. Since both passive and active righteousness are necessary for redemption, it was necessary for Christ not merely to exist, but rather go to the cross to gain passive righteousness. So, yes, technically mere existence did actualize active righteousness, but said active righteousness is worthless without passive righteousness. Hence active righteousness must exercise itself in a particular way for redemption to take place. Thereby the life of Christ is not ignored.

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  4. "Similarly, I cannot find a consistent LCMS source regarding the imputation of Adam's sin on his offspring. In fact, I would argue the new "The Lutheran Study Bible" blatantly contradicts itself (compare the notes on Deuteronomy 24:16 and Romans 5:12)."

    That's because historically Lutheranism never thought it was important to say whether or not humans were imputed with Adam's sin and received his corrupt nature or if they merely were viewed by God as sinful because they possessed a corrupt nature inherited from Adam.

    Basically it doesn't matter. We're sinful and worthy of damnation from our conception either way.

    "The note on Deut. 24:16 quotes Cyprian saying, "Everyone is HIMSELF held fast in HIS OWN sin; nor CAN ONE BECOME GUILTY FOR ANOTHER."

    The Rom. 5:12 note follows Augustine's interpretation (from his mistranslation...and that is his MAIN argument throughout much of his anti-Pelagian writings): "Adam's fall into sin brought sin to all humanity (good). We inherited his guilt and the desire to sin (contradiction and good)."

    I can further note that Ezekiel 18:1-4 and Psalm 51:5 seem to avoid the issue of guilt and emphasize that each person is held to be judged before God."

    I'm personally failing to see the contradiction. My own sins are my own. Now, I commit sin because I did inherit a corrupt nature from Adam- so in that sense, since ontologically I was damaged because of what father Adam did, and because I continue along his same path, I do sin "in Adam." But it is me individually who is responsible what I do. I guess I don't see the significance of his argument here and I still don't see why imputation of Adam's sin really matters.

    "This is where the issue is, and why if original guilt and righteousness as a natural quality is followed, Nestorianism necessarily is a result."

    Well, it's not really a natural quality, since it's against God's plan for nature. Also, I don't get the rest of this.

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  5. Certainly a lot of food for thought, however just one question:

    "Christ's humanity which receives the fullness of divine glory does not contradict its nature, but merely deepens and fulfills what it means to be human - that receiver of God's own self-communicating goodness"

    Doesn't this run the risk of making Christ's humanity completely other - as none of us even in our glorified state will partake of the divine glory to the extent that Christ being God would partake of it.

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  6. No. Because the essence of humanity is to be receptive. Christ merely deepens that, he does not contradict that. Even if we do not partake in it to the extent that he does it is irrelevant. If for example, I have blond hair, but not as blond as yours, it does not make me any less blond.

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  7. Weslie- Here's Somemore:

    Your opponent writes:

    "Remember that Nestorianism (roughly speaking) was a more subtle form of the "Two Sons" theory of Theodore of Mopsuestia. It posited two prosopa united in a prosopon of union, but each of the two prosopa (human and divine) did things "proper to them." Chalcedon accepted the "do things proper to them," but in the union of the person of Christ, He does them in one "theanthropic act." Thus the Person of Christ is "the righteousness of God" (unless Luther's anxiety about it being some set of rules or in this case, attributes, leading to his rediscovery of the Gospel in that Romans passage rather than law is to be ignored) that is revealed, and this Lutherans call the "passive righteousness" of Christ. But it is the whole Christ who participates in the "active righteousness," not just the "human nature." To say such a thing would make the human nature a distinct subject...and now, how can they be united?"

    There is a profound misunderstanding here. "Passive righteousness" is Luther's term for the righteousness of faith, opposed to "active righteousness" which is the works of the law in the civil realm.

    This is different than Christ's "active" (obedience to the law) and passive righteousness (suffering punishment for sin) as Lutheran and Reformed scholasticism dealt with them. The terminology of active and passive righteousness for the work of Christ does not come from Luther, but Flacius during the Osiander controversy in the 1550s.

    We don't fall into Nestorianism, because we believe in the communication of attributes. Also, we don't believe in all that other stuff that you imputed to us in the earlier post. A lot of this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. At least this is predicated on a misunderstanding of termniology.

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  8. For many years I saw little value in the doctrine of imputed Adamic sin. Lately I have been seeing more value to the doctrine because of its parallelism to the doctrine of Objective Justification. Perhaps we have a line of historical development in our understanding of the Gospel that goes like this: Augustine imputed Adamic sin to all- Anselm- All sin imputed to Christ- Luther- Christ's righteousness imputed to the believer- Walther- This righetousness imputed to all but only recieved by the believer.

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  9. Excellent Point Greg! I'll have think about. That's great though!

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  10. Thanks for taking this up Dr. Kilcrease. I thought it may interest you. I'll take some time to read through the response. I should note, though, that he is not my opponent, but a former classmate from the sem. Very good guy and extremely bright!

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  11. Weslie- Here's some more

    Your opponent writes:

    "It seems that as long as Lutherans accept an Augustinian anthropology they must necessarily tend towards Nestorianism (and this was the weakness of both Pelagius and Augustine). It is inconsistent anthropology and Christology...and simply saying "mystery" or "paradox" doesn't make this problem go away...you need to have a consistent anthropology precisely because of the high Lutheran emphasis on the incarnation (and as more akin to the Alexandrians, emphasizing the union and the deification of the human nature resulting in the "communicatio idiomatum")."

    Actually I would totally disagree. Augustine's weak point is that he has a quasi-Nestorian Christology, to deal with a deep problem of original sin.

    Interestingly enough, though Nestorius' Christology was closer to that of Pope Leo's, the reason why the Pope ultimately supported Cyril's party was because when Pelagians fled to the east, they were protected by Nestorians.

    If you accept that the human Jesus is a quasi-separate subject acting in tandem with the divine nature, then you'll probably also believe that humanity has the ability to actively cooperate with grace.

    Your opponent is therefore way, way off base.

    Logically, one would need a Alexandria Christology, where the divine subject of the Incarnation is emphasized, to deal with sin as a human problem. In other words, getting ride of sin isn't something humans can do, it's God's monergistic act which counts. Hence, in the person of Christ, the human nature is impersonal and the divine nature is emphasized as the agent and subject of the Incarnation. This directly parallels the insistence on monergism in conversion.

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  12. Weslie- Your opponent continued:

    "It seems that as long as Lutherans accept an Augustinian anthropology they must necessarily tend towards Nestorianism (and this was the weakness of both Pelagius and Augustine). It is inconsistent anthropology and Christology...and simply saying "mystery" or "paradox" doesn't make this problem go away...you need to have a consistent anthropology precisely because of the high Lutheran emphasis on the incarnation (and as more akin to the Alexandrians, emphasizing the union and the deification of the human nature resulting in the "communicatio idiomatum").

    It is this that I cannot find a consistent answer for, and it comes up in issues of the human will as well. If the natural will is corrupted, it leads to the irrational passions (or as the AC says, "concupiscience"), but nontheless, the natural will is there as per the FC Art. I). If we are only going to give into our natural passions and desires, then we have no free will even in things "beneath us." We are automatons because there is NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN PERSON (HYPOSTASIS) and SUBSTANCE (OUSIA). It is precisely this problem which led to the Monothelite heresy, something which Lutherans object to as a heresy but haven't addressed (aside from Chemnitz in "De Duabis Naturas")...modern dogmatics not only does not address it aside from a footnote in Pieper and Scaer, nor do they apply the implications to anthropology. If I am wrong on this latter part I would LOVE to know it."

    Huh? I can't make any sense out of this. Sorry. This is weird.

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  13. Weslie- The last part.

    "This is my problem: If we inherit the guilt of Adam by imputation, then STOP pussyfooting around: Unbaptized babies go to Hell, PERIOD. Not wanting to not offend grieving parents should not ultimately affect the reality of the situation...the theology of the cross "calls something what it is." If however, we inherit death and corruption which God desires to fix and rescue from, then the death of the child is tragic, but not necessitating damnation (for how can God be necessitated from anything?...this would make salvation of necessity, not grace)."

    Well, you are correct that original sin necessarily damns even if the person subject to it is an infant. The issues is that God is capable of saving apart from the means of grace, even if he has bound us to them. Also, I would say that since John the Baptist already had faith in the womb because of what he could hear from the blessed Virgin, we should not doubt that the unborn can have faith through hearing of the Word as well. The point isn't that original sin doesn't necessarily damn, but there are ways that God can get around it. We should not underestimate him.


    "Also: If the personal expression of the natural human will is not "free," then all of our actions would be self-seeking in toto...PERIOD. Has any Lutheran read and is familiar with Maximos the Confessor and Constantinople III and sees the problems I do?"

    Again, your friend is having the difficulty that he keeps on crossing over terminological boundary between the discussion of anthropology and Christology. The discussion of the will of Christ present in "Maximus" (not "Maximos") the confessor has nothing to do with the question of the freedom of the will.

    Regarding the human will, we must make a distinction between our relationship to other creatures and our relationship to God. First, our relationship to God can never be free because any action we take towards God is ultimately determined by God himself in the sense that he either allows our sin will to take its own course, or causes us to change directions towards the good. God is the antecedent cause of every cause, so thinking that we could some how engage God in way that doesn't originate in his agency is an absurdity. This doesn't pertain to other creatures, since their causal affect on us is not one of a creator of our will, but as other casual factors that stand in a kind of equality with ours. This doesn't mean that we can ultimately prevent ourselves from sinning all the time regarding that which is below us, it does mean that we can control how we express our sinful will.

    His question about passions misunderstand how sinful passion works. Sinful passions can't be controlled in the sense that I can actually will myself not to have them. Just having them is blame worthy. Nevertheless regarding "that which is below me" I can control whether or not I express them. I can't control whether or not I want to sleep with a woman who is not my wife, I can choose whether or not to act on that impulse.

    "The original question was: If Christ is the righteousness of God IN HIS PERSON (hypostatically), then how is original righteousness natural and not also hypostatic?"

    I again, don't understand the question. Original sin isn't natural, since it goes against nature. Perhaps he means in our nature or something, opposed to personal? But I think we would consider both to be true, right? I mean, there is personal sin and original sin, right? I need more clarification on this point.

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