Monday, May 7, 2012

Chemnitz and Aquinas: Chalcedonian Affirmations

More from the article:

As we have already noted, both theologians accept the Christological boundaries established in the first six ecumenical councils. Therefore at the beginning of De Duabus Naturis, Chemnitz outlines a series of general definitions and explanations of the hypostatic union derived from these early councils and the Church Fathers.[1]  Following the formulation of the fourth ecumenical council, Jesus is both true God and true man in one person (or hypostasis).[2]  Within this union of divine and human natures, neither nature is mixed with or transmuted into the other.  Although both natures retain their essential integrity, when considered in the concrete unity of the hypostatic union, neither can be spoke of in isolation from the other. 
Following the third ecumenical council implicitly and fifth ecumenical council explicitly, Chemnitz asserts that we must view the Second Person of the Trinity as the subject of the Incarnation.  The divine person of the Logos incorporates a non-personal or “anhypostatic” human nature into his own pre-existent hypostasis.[3]  Chemnitz explains that in the human nature of Christ we are confronted with “one particular individual unit (massa) of human nature.”[4]  This does not mean that Christ’s humanity lacks anything that is essential to human nature; rather what it lacks is any independent reality as an individual person or center of identity.  Christ’s human nature subsists in the pre-existent person of the Son, within which it is incorporated (enhypostasis).  Moreover, since the human nature possesses its center of identity and reality through its subsistence in the person of the Logos, what befalls it must be viewed (when considered in the concrete) as befalling the person of the Logos.  This is true because the unity of the person of Christ is not merely notional or rhetorical, but hypostatic and real.  For this reason (following the third ecumenical council) Mary must be referred to as the Mother of God or the “God-bearer” (Θεοτόκος).[5]  In giving birth to Christ, she gave birth to his total theandric person. 
Lastly, contrary to the claims of some,[6] Chemnitz fully accepts the teaching of the sixth ecumenical council that Christ possesses two wills (δυοθελητισμός).[7]  This does not mean that Christ has two centers of identity or consciousness that are potentially in conflict with one another.  Rather, what it means is that Christ lacks nothing that is essential to human nature, including a human volition.  As Maximus the Confessor argued during the Monothelite controversy,[8] if Christ lacked anything that is essential to humanity, it would be impossible for him to redeem other humans.  The claim of the sixth ecumenical council is therefore merely reaffirmation of Chalcedon’s insistence on Christ’s full divinity and humanity.
            In Tertia Pars of the Summa, Aquinas gives roughly the same list of propositions and distinctions discussed above.[9]  The major difference is that in the treatment of these aspects of the hypostatic union is more drawn out and detailed than in De Duabus Naturis.  The Angelic Doctor begins by affirming that Jesus is both true God and man, subsisting in a single concrete person.[10]  In the Incarnation, both natures retain their integrity and the essential qualities of each nature are left undisturbed.[11]  The hypostatic union may be spoken of in analogy with the union of grace, though unity between the two natures far exceeds any other union between God and his creatures.[12]Despite this strong affirmation of the unity of the person of Christ, we will later see that choice of the analogy of the union of grace is rather telling for how Aquinas will later describe the interaction between the two natures. 
Lastly, following the mainstream of the Latin tradition,[13] Aquinas asserts that the human nature in Christ is united with the divine person of the Logos through the medium of his soul.[14]  This latter assertion, though not discussed in Chemnitz, is rejected by many Lutheran theologians on the grounds of its rationalistic nature and the lack of biblical evidence.[15] 

[1] Chemnitz, 1-4; Preus, 29-36.
[2] Chemnitz, 26, 38-9, 47, 62-4; Preus, 83, 113, 131, 172-3  For the text of Chalcedon see Tanner, 1:83.  For discussions of Chalcedon see J. N. D. Kelly,Early Christian Doctrines (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958), 339-342, 406; ;  John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Washington: Corpus Book, 1969), 12-6;  Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, 5 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971- 1989), 1: 263-6;  Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 74-5, 88-9, 91, 93-94,98-100.
[3] Chemnitz, 18-20; Preus, 68-72.  For the text of the fifth ecumenical council see Tanner, 1:107-22.  See fifth ecumenical council in Aloys Grillmeier,Christ in Christian Tradition, Pt. 2, vol. 2 (Louisville, Ky: Westminster-John Knox, 1995), 341, 387, 402- 10, 419-62, 463.   Meyendorff, 38-40, 59-64;  Pelikan, 2:29-30.
[4] Chemnitz, 2; Preus, 30.  “Sed naturam humanum assumpsit consideratam in una certa individua massa . . .”
                [5] Chemnitz, 77-8; Preus, 208-10.  For the text of the third ecumenical council see Tanner, 1:40-74.  See third ecumenical council in Pelikan, 2:260-1, 329-30; Kelly, 328, 331, 341; Urban, 86, 322.
[6] See I. A. Dorner, Entwicklungsgeschichte der lehre von der person Christi von den ältesten zeiten bis auf die neueste dargestellt, 3 vols. (Stuttgart: Verlag von Samuel Gottlieb Liesching, 1845-1856), 1:106;  Gottfried Thomasius, Die christliche dogmengeschichte als entwicklungs-geschichte des kirchlichen lehrbegriffs, 2 vols. (Erlangen: A. Diechert, 1874-1876), 1:371.  Also see discussion of Chemnitz’s acceptance of the sixth ecumenical council and criticism of these two figures’ characterizations in: Tom Hardt, “The Sixth Ecumenical Council,” in Mysteria Dei: Essays in Honor of Kurt Marquart, eds. Paul McCain and John Stephenson (Ft. Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 2000), 67-78.
[7] Chemnitz, 87-90; Preus, 233-9.  For the text of the sixth ecumenical council see Tanner, 1:124-30.  For sixth ecumenical council see Pelikan, 2:70-5; George Ostrogorski, History of the Byzantine State (New Brunwick, NJ: Blackwell, 1969), 127. 
[8] See Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ: Person, Nature, and Will in the Christology of Saint Maximus the Confessor (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004); Meyerdorff, 42-3, 99-115; Pelikan, 2:8-36; Janet Williams, “Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor,” in The First Christian Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Early Church, ed. G. R. Evans, (Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 193-9.  Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (New York: Routledge, 1996); Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor (Chicago: Open Court, 1995).
[9] See brief description of Aquinas’ acceptance of the parameters of the ancient councils in Richard Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation: Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005), 51-64; Michael Gorman, “Christ as Composite according to Aquinas” Traditio 55 (2000): 143-57;  idem, “Uses of the Person-Nature distinction in Thomas's Christology,” Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales 67, no 1 (2000): 58-79;  Herman Otto Pesch, Thomas von Aquin: Grenze und Größe mittelalter Theologie (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald Verlag, 1989), 334-5; Eleanore Stump, Aquinas (New York: Routledge, 2005), 407-26;  Joseph Wawrykow, The Westminster Handbook to Thomas Aquinas (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 71-3.
[10] ST, 3a. q.2, art.1-2; BF, 48:35-47.  Also see Edward Gratsch, Aquinas’ Summa: An Introduction and Interpretation (New York: Alba House, 1985), 217-8; Joseph Wawrykow, “The Hypostatic Union” in The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, ed. Joseph Wawrykow and Nik Van Nieuwenhove (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2005), 222-51.  Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1992), 297-307.
[11] ST, 3a. q.2, art.1-2; BF, 48:35-47. 
[12] ST, 3a. q.2, art.9; BF 48:73-9.
[13] Peter Lombard, The Sentences, 4 vols., trans. Giulio Silano (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2007-2010), 3:8.
[14] ST, 3a. q.6, art.4; BF, 48:165.  Ad primum ergo dicendum quod caro humana sortitur esse per animam.
[15] For example, this is the judgment of Francis Pieper.  See Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953-1957), 2:99-100.


  1. Dr Kilcrease,

    Thanks for this excellent post. Just seek your advice on a question I have. In view of Chemnitz' understanding of Christ's theandric person, how will he probably explain Jesus' telling his disciples that the Son of Man does not know the day or the hour of his second coming?(Mark 13:32; Mat 24:36). Will he follow Athanasius' explanation - that Jesus does actually know in his divinity but he spoke in that manner to express his humanity?


  2. No, I wouldn't. The problem with the Church Fathers and the Medievals on this question (and by the way, they all give that answer- it goes back to Origen!) is that being Platonists they assume that ignorance=evil. So, if Jesus was ignorant in his state of humiliation in any way, the claim, he would be morally imperfect. The major problem with this is of course that there are many biblical texts where Jesus admits to being ignorant of something. Also, the Bible assumes a very different understanding of moral agency than does Plato.

    Luther and traditionally other Lutherans have stated that Christ suspended the use of certain divine attributes transmitted to his humanity in his state of humiliation. This would include his human nature knowing certain things such as the last day. I think this also works well with the Bible's assertion that Jesus is the exemplar of perfect faith (Hebrews 11:1). If Jesus automatically knew everything in a divine way in his state of humiliation, he couldn't live the perfect life of faith and serve as both our righteousness before God and our example for the life of faith. Faith depends on not knowing things as immediately apprehensible truths from one's own experience. Although Jesus had certain special divine knowledge of his identity and mission, he nevertheless did not perceive these things in the way that the saints and angels in heaven do- that is, according to immediate vision of God and his glory. He had to trust and rely on his Father. From what he suffered and overcame, Hebrews tells us that he became the source of eternal life through his perfect faithful obedience.

    1. I have two questions (not necessarily to this comment--blogger isn't letting me comment on the article, but only on the comments).

      First, you said 'This does not mean that Christ has two centers of identity or consciousness that are potentially in conflict with one another. Rather, what it means is that Christ lacks nothing that is essential to human nature, including a human volition.'

      I'm having a hard time seeing how two centers of consciousness are not necessary--at least if we say God is conscious. If Christ lacks nothing essential to a human nature, why not a human consciousness? (But I may be misunderstanding you.)

      2) On this comment you said "Luther and traditionally other Lutherans have stated that Christ suspended the use of certain divine attributes transmitted to his humanity in his state of humiliation."

      I have trouble making sense of this given simplicity. For Aquinas, the divine attributes are different ways of symbolizing and understanding the one simple essence. And indeed, if the essence is absolutely simple, with no real distinction between attributes, then claiming the attributes are real and not merely nominal does not make sense. How can Christ in his humanity have some of the Divine Nature?

  3. Dr Kilcrease,

    Wow. Thanks a lot. This is very interesting. So how would you describe Luther's hermeneutical method? You have previously noted with Bayer that Luther's ontological thinking primarily as reflecting Aristotle as interpreted by Ockham. So what do you think are Luther's theological methods?


  4. Also, what is your take on Brenz? Jenson likes him, and I'm working through his catechism, but he hasn't been translated, so it's slow.

  5. Matthew-I like him. I would say that the way that Chemnitz understands what the essential characteristics of the two natures are is much more satisfactory way of getting to the omnipresence of Christ's human nature than is Brenz's. Claiming that circumscription is not an essential characteristic of humanity is wrong I think. Moreover, claiming that whole universe is one place and so the humanity of Christ is in one place is something a stretch.

    Martin- I would describe Luther's theological method as reading the Bible on the basis of the most simple grammatical meaning in light of the analogy of faith. I think that in Bondage of the Will, where he distinguishes between external and internal clarity of Scripture, you have a good description of how he deals with the Bible. Christ is the center, but one only get there through the concrete and historical-grammatical meaning of the text. I think with Ockham, you get a need to talk about particular things (since only individual things exist) and so you have more of an emphasis of historical particularity as being a way to understand God. This is most true in Luther in the focus on the humanity of Christ being the bearer of divinity and also the sensus literalis.