Getting carried away on an Eucharistic question

cosmic liturgy imageAn acquaintance of mine who with his family converted to Orthodoxy almost two years ago emailed me earlier today. We touch base through email largely. I should say, he is the one kind enough to contact me. He jumped to Orthodoxy from Presbyterianism of a rather hotter sort, and thus had lots of questions. Sadly, I have only been able to answer a few of them. But today he wrote me about someone from his Presbyterian past with whom he stays in fairly close contact, who had asked him how the Orthodox would respond to the Calvinist objection to Lutheran Eucharistic teaching: that they have to ascribe to the human nature (body/blood) of Christ something (ubiquity/omniprescence) that is proper only to the divine nature (which he said goes against the Chalcedonian denial of the communication of properties between the divine and human natures of Christ). Below is an expansion of the response I gave him.

This objection errs on two counts. First, the Orthodox don’t hold to the peculiarly Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity. There are several reasons for this, but first, as humans we are more than our bodies, and also, bodily deficiency doesn’t make us less human: as if one were less human if bald, one-legged, blind, deaf, etc. Being composite, humans have bodies, and they are part of our human nature, but these bodies can corrupt, and even at death, while sundered from the body, we are still human. While I have not found it explicitly in Luther’s writings (I am not a Luther specialist, though I have read a great deal by the man), it would seem that ubiquitarianism, the doctrine that on account of the communication idiomatum (exchange or sharing of properties) Christ’s body possesses omnipresence, arises as a seeming necessity from Luther’s nominalism. Since human nature as a universal doesn’t exist, and is only a mass of particular humans, there is no “human nature” whose union with Christ, by that divine- human union effects salvation. I believe this is why Luther has no doctrine of grace mediated to us through the Eucharist, for grace is not bound to any one particular that could be then distributed to the universal (HA, for there are no universals). Thus, justification, the imparting of righteousness, comes via faith in an historical fact which is the execution of the promise of God (promise is a powerful word to Lutherans, and stands synonymous with “Gospel” and thus opposed to “law”), and not through union of our nature with Christ. You might guess, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the Finnish school of Luther interpreters.  While I can say that I have not found this explicitly in Luther’s works, Luther was quite adamant in his rejection of realism and universals, and of his disdain for Aristotle. Plus, I have never found in any of this writings that the Eucharist brings Christ to us in a healing and salvific way by means of the presence of Christ or the Spirit in the Eucharist, communicating to us divinity through the Eucharist. Luther could use the language of means of grace, and spoke of the sacraments as visible words, and thus since they bring us the Gospel, like the word of promise (which he linked strongly to baptism as God’s promise), they were means in that way. Thus we see the link between Luther’s doctrine of justification and why he could also maintain a doctrine of baptismal regeneration. I am happy to be taught better on this by any of our Lutheran readers or those who know more than I, but I am largely stating this to correct my friend’s inquisitor.

Secondly on the ubiquitarian front, in Orthodoxy there is no need for it. For the Orthodox, Christ is made present physically on the altar by the same Spirit that made him physically present in the Virgin’s womb. This is why the epiclesis forms such a vital part on Orthodox Eucharistic thought, though I cannot speak to why it is absent in the old Roman rite or canon. For Rome, Christ is present on the altar and the sacrifice acceptable to God by the rite itself, that is, by the presence of the Eucharistic prayers said by the Christ-ordained and Christ-established priesthood. The offering to God is what makes it acceptable to God. For the Orthodox it is the presence of the Spirit, though you will also find that in a number of Fathers (including St. John Chrysostom) that it is the blessing of the bread and the repetition of the words of institution (This is my body) that brings the change (St. John does use an epiclesis). Christ’ risen body, like the multiplied loaves, like his ability to appear and vanish, is not bound to space and time, though it is a body in space and time. As it needed not male agency but only the power of the Holy Spirt to be conceived in the Blessed Virgin’s womb, so it needs only the power of the Spirit to come on the altars.

But the whole question of my friend’s interlocutor errs secondly, and more importantly, in that it would be news to the Fathers at Chalcedon that they denied the communicatio idiomatum. They revolted when the Roman legates and the Imperial senate wanted to seat Theodoret of Cyr for he had denied this doctrine in his writings defending Nestorius against St. Cyril of Alexandria. Indeed, the Fathers of the council had not seated him. Only when Theodoret had appealed to the pope and the imperial power, asserting his agreement (falsely, it now has been shown) with Cyril of Alexandria on this matter, was he allowed to attend. Further, the whole defense of Chalcedon, both during the Council and afterwards, was predicated on that doctrine, and that Chalcedon was consonant with everything that Cyril of Alexandria taught. When the Fathers took up pope St. Leo’s tomus they balked at his formula of “in two natures” for it was not Cyrillic. But the commission that investigated the tomus came back with strong recommendations that it be adopted, all based on its consonance with St. Cyril. When the bishops, some 160 of them, signed that they accepted Leo, it was with acknowledgments that Cyril speaks through Leo, and that St. Leo’s formula did not differ from Cyril’s, even though it did not use his God-honored language. But the rub came, and why the final formula of Chalcedon appears as it does (an earlier version had used “from two natures”), setting aside St. Cyrils “from two natures,” for it was seen that this formula did not guard against the conclusions that Eutychius had drawn from them. The “in two natures” language, drawn from pope St. Leo, had clearly defended St. Cyril’s and the formula of union’s teaching on communicatio idiomatum (Cf. St. Leo’s Tomus, beginning on line 126, or in the Hardy ed., Christology of the Latter Fathers, p. 366, section 5: Propter hanc ergo unitatem personae in utraque natura intellegendam, et filius hominis legitur descendisse de coelo cum filius Dei carnem de ea virgine de qua est natus adsumpserit, et rursum filius Dei crucifixus dicitur ac sepultus, cum haec non in divinitate ipsa qua unigenitus consempiternus et consubstantialis est Patri, sed in naturae humanae si infirmitate perpessus.) Thus, far from denying the sharing of properties in the one Lord Jesus Christ, Chalcedon was at great pains to defend and assert this.

So why does my friend’s Calvinist interlocutor want to deny this? It’s quite simple: his theology forces him to deny that most fundamental of all Christian truths: that there is but one God and one Mediator between God and man, Himself man, Christ Jesus. The Reformed denied that the sharing of properties was anything but verbal, and you can read both Calvin and Peter Martyr Vermigli on this (look up any decent discussion of the so-called extra-calvinisticum). Vermigli goes so far as to deny that God actually shared our human nature in anything but a seeming way (videatur), or that the Logos suffered (One of the Holy Trinity suffered in the flesh, as emperor St. Justinian put it). The Reformed are in all essentials Nestorian, and this has to be the case, for they deny that the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, the Word, mediates and is the only mediator between God and man, and instead erect another mediator, called “covenantal righteousness” or “justice” and all on account of their doctrine of covenant. The “merit” of this covenant, performed by the man Jesus, and not the Second Person of the Trinity, brings us to God. Vermigli brings all of this out in his Dialogue on the Two Natures in Christ, ostensibly written against the Lutheran Eucharistic doctrine of the theologian Johannes Brenz to teach him what “Chalcedon taught” but which in the end denies not only what Chalcedon taught, but also Ephesus and Constantinople I, and St. Gregory of Nazianzen, for it is the assumption of our nature into Him that heals it (what is not assumed is not redeemed). Note what Martyr says (he’s here actually Theoderet): “In his third dialogue [Theodoret] adds, “Saint Peter in his catholic epistle says that Christ suffered in the flesh. But he who hears Christ understands not the incorporeal God the Word, but the incarnate Word. The name of Christ signifies both natures. That the Word was subjected to suffering in the flesh signifies that one nature, not both, suffered. He who hears that Christ suffered in the flesh again recognizes him as the impassible God, but attributes the suffering to the flesh alone {This is from Fr. John Patrick Donnelly’s translation of the Dialogue, pp. 63-64. Fr. Donnelly’s translation has an opening quote at the beginning of the quotation from Theodoret, but no closing quote. He also attributes the quotation to I Peter 3:18 (which reads “He was put to death for us in the flesh), but it is I Peter 4:1. The citation of Theodoret is from PG 83: 263 A}.”

This quote obliterates the union that the Word has with human nature, for at best it makes it little more than a fiction, and effectively creates, as had Nestorius, two Words. A few folios on, Martyr cites Theodoret’s citation of Eustathius, and observes that, “These words also show which properties are so much a part of human nature that they cannot be communicated to the Word {Donnelly, p. 66}.” One must ask, is anything created communicable then to the Word? Can anything be assumed? What might Gregory of Nazianzenus think of this theology? He already told us, we don’t have to guess.

Martyr then quotes Cyril of Alexandria from his letter to John of Antioch, standing him on his head by his translation:  “Besides, we all confess that the Word of God is impassible even though in distributing wisely this mystery the Word seems to have attributed to itself the suffering that happened uniquely to the flesh. That wise man Peter says as much, ‘Christ suffered in the flesh’ for us; he did not say, ‘in the nature of his ineffable divinity.’” …. From this passage it is already taken for granted that the sufferings of Christ belong to his flesh, but it speaks about the Word insofar as the Word attributes them to itself. And so they belong to the Word in the judgment and statement of Scripture, not because the Word Itself really suffered and died. {Donnelly, p. 67. The letter is often referred to by its Latin title, Laetentur coeli. Emphasis added.}   Martyr translates ὁρèτο (the middle and passive present optative forms of ὁράω) as “seems” instead of “is seen”. I am working off the text in Migne, v. 77, col. 180. In Martyr’s original text (Dialogus, 39v), he translate ὁρèτο, as videatur. It could be translated into English as “is seen,” yet this would then go against Martyr’s argument, and I agree fully with Fr. Donnelly’s translation of “seems”.

And while someone might argue that it was the divine Christ who obeyed God, and thus in His Divine activity is the mediator, Calvin explicitly states that there was nothing about Christ as divine that was worthy of God accepting his obedience (cf. Institutes 2.17). No, it was merely by God’s good will that anything is accepted (verging here on Luther’s nominalism). Thus, in Covenant theology (as supposed by Calvinists) Christ obeys the law that Adam failed to do, and by this merits us justice in His justice. The legal debt is paid, and Christ suffers God’s wrath on the cross. The denial of the communication of properties turns Christ into the executor of a legal fiction like a corporation, instead of it being His personal, hypostatic union that effects salvation for us.

The Second Person of the Divine and ever-blessed Trinity, the God-Word, assumed a human nature, but was no human person. In His divine person he mediates divinity to humanity, and humanity to divinity. This is what St. Cyril saw as the great error of Nestorius, that he had posited yet another Person (which then takes residence in the Trinity) arising out of the union of Christ-God and Jesus-man, a sort of legal fiction if you will, though Nestorius’s doctrine was what was termed the prosopic union. I cannot see how the legal status attained by Christ is of any essential difference in creating a tertium quid by which we come to God. This same point is repeated throughout the Christological controversies, and can even be found in Maximus the Confessor’s Disputation with Pyrrhus.

And now, to the grading of papers.

About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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4 Responses to Getting carried away on an Eucharistic question

  1. Let me see if I am understanding this correctly:

    Orthodox Christology states that the properties of the two (non-confused) natures apply to the whole person Christ.

    Lutheran (Ubiquitist) Christology states that properties of each nature are transferred to the other.

    Classical Calvinist Christology states that the divine person Christ does not assume the properties of Christ’s humanity (and vice-versa?).

    Am I on the right track? This is a subject that deeply interests me, though it is a bit above my head at present.

  2. Cyril Jenkins says:

    Corvus, it would be better to say that “from” and “in” two natures entails that the one agent Christ acts according to these two natures, with a human will and with a divine will. The distinction of wills seen in the garden is the locus classicus here, for Christ seeks to act according to both the divine and the human wills (seeking and acting both divinely and humanly) in his one Person, so that there is a mutuality that exists within the one Divine Hypostasis who has both a human and a divine nature. So I don’t think “apply” would be the most apt term.

    I cannot speak to modern Lutherans, but for Luther and Brenz (I hesitate to say Melanchthon), the sharing of properties meant that divine attributes now effected the purely creaturely properties to make them divine as well. This is something to consider, for St. Maximus the Confessor could speak of the “infinity of man” and we openly profess deification and theosis. Our bodies will be made like His glorious body, that is, incorrupt and immortal. We shall have life in God, and we shall forever be “moving” in God toward life. This is a bit different than saying that matter is made omnipresent.

    As for Calvinism, you are correct. In what is termed the extra Calvinisticum (a term coined by the Lutherans, I should point out), Calvin makes the same assertion that as the finite cannot contain the infinite, the Infinite God cannot be bound to the finite human. Now, Lutherans admit this: God does not change. But what this would entail then, is that the Word does not suffer. Well, he doesn’t suffer in his Divine nature, but He certainly does in His human nature, and this is what Calvin and Martyr were slow to admit. See The Institutes 4.17.27-33 (at the least).

  3. Thank you, this is helpful.

  4. aka says:

    Luther has no doctrine of grace mediated to us through the Eucharist…

    Lutherans refer to Word and Sacrament (Eucharist and Baptism, possibly Confession) as “means of grace”.

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