What’s up at Lux Christi? Well, I came back from vacation with an extra member to my household, a young man named Matthew that my wife and I are looking to adopt. He has a lot of challenges in front of him, but he is learning the Liturgy, and also his way around my parishes one, paperback liturgy book. On Sunday, following the Liturgy, we had someone enter the catechumenate. When we came to the part to recite the Nicene Creed he flipped back in the book to find it so to say it as well. He has a lot to learn, and he is already soaking up a lot of stuff (head, chest, right shoulder, left; mind, heart, strength; don’t take all the cake at coffee hour). But that aside, since we got home from our family vacation, it has been the hurly-burly incorporating him legally into our lives: trying to get everything done before I leave for Canada on Saturday has been exhausting. I’ve learned again – – though I never really forgot – – about how duplicitous and incompetent some of the people in our government are, how really mercenary some others in our culture are (I won’t elaborate at all online), but also how kind, charitable and helpful so many are both in and out of government. Meetings and phone calls and doctor visits and more phone calls and more running “there and back again” has left me frazzled. Tomorrow I am driving some acquaintances to New York City, mid-town Manhattan. While there I will park myself around 50th St. and 1st Ave and get some reading done on Marsilio Ficino, one of my favorite western philosophers, and a client of the original godfather, Cosimo de Medici. On Friday more hurly-burly, and then a week in Canada, away from everything, just to fish and relax. But, before all that, I am finishing up a couple posts that I will upload remotely (meaning from the Westport, Ontario public library), one on prayer, one on Romans 9, and the last on Faust (who?).
So, to begin with I wanted to say address some thoughts to another matter. I have been reading a book on Peter Martyr Vermigli, an often marginalized or forgotten Protestant Reformer, but a man of vast learning who had a real impact on the Reformation. Being Italian and not connected as the dominant reformer at any particular place (though important in England, Strasbourg, Frankfurt, and Zurich) has left him without any real following. Nonetheless he has enjoyed a Renaissance in the past few decades, there is a society for the translation of his opera, and a number of books and articles are appearing. One of my colleagues in the PMV Society (he shall go unnamed as I have yet to submit the review or write to him about my thoughts), wrote a book on the external means of Grace, which he argues, for Vermigli, are three: the text of scripture, the elements of the sacraments, and the human body (nature) of Christ. Vermigli saw Christ’s human nature as distinct from these others in that the Incarnation is a unique expression of the will and providence of God, but nonetheless the Bible and the sacraments are linked by analogy to the Incarnation.
This notion that Christ’s human nature is an external means of grace is of course quite daft, for it makes also the notion of the Person of the mediator mediating something other than the divine to the human, and in turn, the human to the divine. Vermigli spent a lot of time arguing and asserting all sorts of ideas about the Incarnation, as he tried to hold to what he thought was a Leonine/Chalcedonian doctrine of the two natures in Christ. His main targets were Anabaptist spiritualists and the Lutherans. What he ends up doing, however, while all the while denouncing Nestorius, was holding to a modified version of the ancient heresy, by maintaining that the mediator was mediating something other than true humanity and true divinity. Nestorius held that “Christ” was the production of the divine nature and divine person in union with a human nature and human person. The “Christ” was the prosopon of unity. Eventually Nestorius condemned his own teachings and accepted Chalcedon. Vermigli’s lapse comes in his efforts to denounce Lutheran Eucharistic doctrine which taught that Christ’s human nature was deified by the divine nature of Christ so that it was everywhere, and thus in the elements of the Eucharist. For Vermigli the communication of properties, the mediation of deity and humanity, was merely verbal, and only seeming (videatur).
This informs (I had first written “feeds into” but that would at best be a metaphor for faith in Vermigli) both his Eucharistic doctrine, that the bread and wine are visible words that assure us of grace, but are not themselves grace filled and deified elements; and further this also falls in line with not only Vermigli’s, but all of the Reformers’ teaching that justification is only God accounting us righteous, for while we are justified we are still sinners. We are only seemingly righteous, for we have been but declared so before the bar of divine judgement. Vermigli does insist on a righteous life and a good mode of living that arises from our new state, but this comes not from a direct communication of deity, but instead by an act of the Spirit applying the benefits of Christ’s life and death to us (as opposed to applying the divine life to us, but merely the created effects of Christ).
My acquaintance’s book is a good read, and quite insightful. There are a few wayward blemishes of an historical nature: not knowing that Dionysius the Areopagite’s use of instrumental cause is derived directly from Plato, who had six causes as opposed to Aristotle’s four, and thus it is not at all related to how the Reformers used the notion of instrumentality; and he doesn’t see Vermigli’s neo-Nestorianism, etc. But he was trained within the department of religion at the Harvard of Canada, and has done a first-rate job in showing Vermigli’s use of instrumentality and Christology as a key to understanding his theology, and in fact is a key to understanding a good bit of Reformed theology.