Person-nature distinction briefly explained

On one hand it is the heart of Trinitarian reasoning.   Persons are the “who” in a sentence that do the “what.”   Natures are the “this-ness” of a perseon.   Bottom-line:  Persons do stuff, not natures.  It has been a common Orthodox critique of Calvinist Christology to nail Calvin in his commentary on John 14.  Calvin says that each nature (of Christ) does what is proper to itself.  This seems to be a person-nature confusion.   Admittedly, this is very sloppy language.  However, the Orthodox can be guilty as well.

Many Orthodox say that human nature participates in the eternal resurrection ala John 6.   The problem is that persons should do the participating, not natures.

My point is that both sides, while employing this necessary distinction, also fail it at times.

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34 comments on “Person-nature distinction briefly explained

  1. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Thank you, Jacob. I’m going to have to look into these matters before I can opine. I will state, however, that I believe to move any theological discussion (debate) from the matter at hand (which was over imputation) into a discussion of differing views on Christology, may just be the “nuclear option” in an discussion. I mean, personally, if I were debating this or that topic, and a pastor or anyone said my viewpoint is incorrect due to improper Christology, well, that immediately puts me up against the ropes. I’m not saying the “nuclear option” should be taken off the table. What I am saying is that all of us (and I would include in this “us” even the high churchmen among us, of which I am not) need to hold our own Christology in an relative loose fashion. Oh, we should defend “Orthodox” (and I don’t mean EO here) Christology with every last breath and keyboard stroke. But I would only caution readers of this blog to criticize someone else’s Christology at your own risk. I’ve read several books on the topic, and I think I have somewhat of a grasp, but I know I really don’t wield this sword (yet) with the kind of precision that would be needed to accruately use it in theological debate. A bit long winded, all to say, those among us who feel have a grasp of Christology ought to further elaborate, or point those of us to writings that are helpful. The most helpful for me was “St. Cyril of Alexandria” by McGuckin, which I have read twice, but am still committed to reading Cyril himself, since I found great value in reading this “doctor of the Incarnation” from the 5th century. Enough from me.

  2. Andrew Buckingham says:

    I mean we can affirm “Hypostatic Union” while still admitting that we haven’t thought through every angle around this issue. I don’t think we should hold our adherence to “HU” loosely, but I would be careful to tell anyone that their view is out of step with Orthodoxy unless I was convinced through a plain reading of the issue at hand. Sorry. That’s enough.

  3. Andrew Buckingham says:

    And along these lines, Jacob, I am going to ask that you and I discuss further Calvin’s Christology, online (here) on the blog (as you are able) or offline via e-mail. You can criticize Calvin’s or the EO’s Christology, along my lines of reasoning, both sides should hold these views “loosely.” But unless there is agreement among the high reformed churchmen, that Calvin’s got issues in his interpretations of John, we should be careful to say that “This seems to be a person-nature confusion.” I for one, without reading as much Calvin as you have (yet) would feel more comfortable with Calvin’s Christology, since I have a high view of the man, than any other at this point. So I am committed to researching these matters you raise. All in good time. But I need to do my bible reading for the day…clock is ticking… 🙂 Peace.

  4. Andrew Buckingham says:

    You are gracious and humble, though, as you continue after that comment. Let’s just flesh this out. It’s important, I really think.

  5. Andrew Buckingham says:

    I mean, Christology debate introduces the ultimate spinning pile-driver, the theological judo move to end all judo moves. I think we are at the heart of some important things here. Calvin and I have to be allowed to put our hands up and block the oncoming barrage…

  6. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Ok, I am fully aware that I am using this blog to post my thinking out loud. But I don’t know who this blogger is, or how to evaluate. But the issue of Calvin’s Christology is given a defense here.

    I would encourage reading, in your free time, the last three chapters on the blog post from 2009.

    http://stephenwillcox.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/john-calvin-and-christology/

  7. Andrew Buckingham says:

    *Three paragraphs. Too much coffee this morning! I appreciate, Jacob, your highlighting the importance of Christology, and the “spurring on” to at least do a google search and see what I could find in regard to Calvin’s Christology. Peace to you. -ab

  8. Andrew Buckingham says:

    “My point is that both sides, while employing this necessary distinction, also fail it at times.”

    I would go farther. Not just EO and Reformed fail when trying to explain Christology. Every human being who has ever tried (or even not tried) fail at times. That doesn’t mean we don’t make every effort to understand what our tradition/Scripture is saying. But I think, at least in our Sunday Schools at church, the pastors were quite clear. More so when discussing the Trinity, rather, the specific questions that cover in in the LC. They can teach us what Scripture says, or the history of the church’s teaching (each respective tradition, of course, and they each swear that they are the one true church back to the time of Jesus, of course). But I appreciate when people exercise humility over the hammering out of the “nuts and bolts” of the Trinity. Of course, we as Christians should be at least able to know when people fall off the cliff into error or heresy. But I don’t think any of us will get to a point where we will say, “hey, I’ve got this whole Trinity thing all figured out.” I’d have some issues with someone who told me that. I would imagine so does every other Christian. So consider this comment one of platitude. Peace.

  9. Andrew says:

    Jacob,

    Many Orthodox say that human nature participates in the eternal resurrection ala John 6. The problem is that persons should do the participating, not natures.

    Interesting observation. I think you may be on to something. Why does Christ’s salvific work deterministically effect all human persons by dint of His salvation of human nature in only some ways and not all? That is to say, why are all human persons deterministically raised to immortality but not raised to glorification? Why do some of the effects of Christ’s salvation of human nature need to be personally appropriated while others do not?

  10. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Hey, so I’ll totally await Jacob’s reply. But I’ve got a “stock” response to what I think is the “theist’s” biggest question, namely, the problem of Evil. Here I go:

    All we know is that although we don’t know what reasons God does have for allowing evil and suffering to continue, it can’t be that he doesn’t love us or care, or he wouldn’t have actually, through the incarnation, become enmeshed in it himself. Whatever the reasons are, it can’t be that he doesn’t care, because he’s proven that by the incarnation and the cross. And that what we’ve got in Christianity-not an answer. but a personal involvement. –Tim Keller

    You may ask, “why is Andrew B. answering a question I didn’t even ask?” Not a bad question to ask me. But I actually think the answer to the problem of evil, given by Dr. Keller, is helpful for other difficult questions put to the Christian.

    Andrew H, correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds like you are kind of asking about “definite atonement.” I’ll be the first to admit, as a Calvinist, this doctrine is a tough hurdle for any non-Calvinist to accept.

    But what I will say, as I consider my standing before a Holy God, I actually do believe it is right for me to stand is a state of condemnation, apart from Christ’s active obedience, that is. I am a sinner. God is Holy. So the response I have towards a God who freely administers Grace to me, is one of awe and thankfulness and wonder at His goodness.

    Now, what about other people? In the “definite atonement” scheme, why are not all existent in the state that I claim to be in (namely, I believe I am in a state of grace.)? I hear you asking this question as you phrase it here:

    “That is to say, why are all human persons deterministically raised to immortality but not raised to glorification”

    If I understand your question, it’s along the lines of, “How can a loving God condemn sentient beings (humans in our case, those are the only we are aware of as of today) to an eternity in Hell?”

    I’m not going to lie – I believe that’s a tough question for any Biblical Christian Theist to answer.

    But what I have tried to show is how I personally relate to the question, how I personally view myself before God.

    I can never enter the mind or soul of another person. Nor will I ever know the eternal state of another person. That’s something between that person and God, and that person and God alone.

    What I am trying to say is, I don’t think there is an answer as to “why” definite atonement is what appears to be the teaching of the Bible (just as Keller admits that Christianity doesn’t offer an answer to the “Problem of Evil.”)

    But the “Christian answer” is that God chose to be among us and pay the price that we could never pay. And that is enough for me to rest in God’s grace and mercy towards me. And to remain a faithful, praying, Bible reading, Christian. Through and through. Love is not simply some sort of mental construct among sentient beings. God is Love. I’ve thought a lot about it – without God, I am unable to answer the question of where Love and Justice come from. My answer is that they come from God. They are God. Not everyone likes that answer (I find some who reject everything above that I wrote). I accept it though. And so I am a Christian.

    You are not asking for a personal testimony or anything. But you ask a tough question which I wrestle with as well. Doesn’t hurt to perhaps over communicate over the issue.

    Just so we all know, my goal in posting these things is not to try to get everyone into the OPC or a Calvinistic way. However, I’m happy to reveal the things I see in my circles. And try to give the Biblical basis, etc. All sorts of different Christians interpret different parts of the Bible differently (and not all agree on Scripture as an authority, to say nothing of the “Canon” question, which Jacob and I have explored in Facebook posts, in the past, meaning, if we could agree on a doctrine of Scripture, which tradition’s “Canon” reigns supreme?).

    But maybe it’s not definite atonement that’s your issue, but something else? I’m just trying to help. The moment I get annoying with all these comments (unless that’s far past) I hope someone will cry “uncle.” Although I suppose I should have the self control and ability to know when I overstayed my welcome.

    Blessings!

    PS I don’t mean to suggest “sentient” beings other than humans. But I saw the movie “prometheus” over the weekend. Just in case you are a sci-fi fan like me. It was a fun movie (although like the other Alien movies, not necessarily for those who can’t stand the “horror” elements of it…)

  11. Andrew Buckingham says:

    PPS Jacob’s going to regret the day he told me he blogs….I just know it 🙂 With all my comments. Peace, brothers.

  12. olivianus says:

    Andrew,

    “That is to say, why are all human persons deterministically raised to immortality but not raised to glorification?”

    >>>What kind of immortality? The scriptures use that term physically with reference to never ending existence but also spiritually as the reprobate suffer an eternal death.

    “Why do some of the effects of Christ’s salvation of human nature need to be personally appropriated while others do not?”

    Because Christ is not in the same covenant with sinners. Christ is a party to the covenant of redemption while we are parties of the covenant of grace and works. The Covenant of redemption implies a general maintenance of humanity through the ages wherein the elect are effectually called. The covenant of grace is where personal appropriation of the work accomplished in the Covenant of Grace is applied.

  13. Andrew says:

    If I understand your question, it’s along the lines of, “How can a loving God condemn sentient beings (humans in our case, those are the only we are aware of as of today) to an eternity in Hell?”

    No, that’s not really my question. My question is aimed at those (namely, the Orthodox) who try to make sense of Romans 5 in light of the person/nature distinction. As I understand it, for the Orthodox Christ saves human nature in His salvific economy — i.e. He frees it from its bondage to sin, death, and the devil — but He does not save human persons. The Holy Spirit saves human persons, but human persons must also cooperate with the grace given by the Holy Spirit. This understanding does make more sense to me given the universal language of redemption found in Romans 5. But — and here’s where my question comes in — for the Orthodox, one of the effects of Christ’s salvation of human nature is that all human persons are raised at the last day. Deterministically, irrespective of their cooperation. In short, because Christ the New Adam was raised from the dead, all will be raised. So Christ’s salvation of human nature does effect human persons, at least in this one way. But why is it only in this one way? That seems kind of arbitrary, especially given the scope of the effects of the first Adam’s fall. That’s what I was trying to get at with my question. Does that make sense? I recognize that Orthodox theology comes across as really foreign and weird to those who are entrenched in Augustinianism.

    On a related note, I think the Reformed have trouble answering why Christ’s redemption does not effect all in some way given Christ’s consubstantiality with human nature (which, given their commitment to Chalcedonian Christology, they must affirm). Maybe Jacob can weigh in on that one.

  14. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Hey Andrew:

    “My question is aimed at those (namely, the Orthodox) who try to make sense of Romans 5 in light of the person/nature distinction. ”

    ” So Christ’s salvation of human nature does effect human persons, at least in this one way. But why is it only in this one way? ”

    “Does that make sense? I recognize that Orthodox theology comes across as really foreign and weird to those who are entrenched in Augustinianism.”

    I firmly believe we can bring out the plain meaning of the theological discussion we are having. Orthodox theology need not come across as foreign. I’m also processing olivianus’ post (whom I believe is a man named Drake, I haven’t had much correspondence, but I am quite impressed with the output of a man named Drake Shelton, was quite taken by some of the youtube videos I watched, and tried to reach out to him to express my thanks for those – hopefully these are one in the same person…).

    Let’s certainly make an effort to bring the plain meaning and draw out the distinctions in outlooks, as our time allows. I’m firmly committed to elucidation of thought, especially in theology. I enjoy the dialogue with those who wish to talk. Let me think and pray a bit. We can get to the bottom of these things 🙂

    As mentioned, chime in, “olivianus,” I like what you are doing…

    Peace,
    AB

    • Andrew Buckingham says:

      I guess I meant to mention, if the question is towards the Orthodox, not really sure why you (an EO) is asking me, the “reformed ordained dude.” I should be asking you the questions, yo 🙂

  15. Andrew Buckingham says:

    I know I am wordy, and leave lots of comments. Sorry!!

    “for the Orthodox, one of the effects of Christ’s salvation of human nature is that all human persons are raised at the last day.”

    [AB COMMENT – Can you define, “raised.” The reformed believe in “Hell.” Is the one who is “raised to Hell” still raised, per EO?]

    Deterministically, irrespective of their cooperation.

    [AB COMMENT – is this a form of universalism?]

    In short, because Christ the New Adam was raised from the dead, all will be raised. So Christ’s salvation of human nature does effect human persons, at least in this one way.

    [AB COMMENT – if you help me out with what this, “raised state” looks like, I’ll keep trying.]

    Peace.

  16. Andrew Buckingham says:

    More words!!!! This will do it for me.

    Here’s a WCF reading of souls on the last day (which you could have looked up yourself, I am sure. It’s just you have to know the “reformed” are going to bring in confessions and the like when we start wondering these things. I know I am not arguing here, just showing how this is done):

    CHAPTER XXXII.

    Of the State of Man After Death,
    and of the Resurrection of the Dead.

    I. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

    II. At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up with the self-same bodies, and none other, although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls forever.

    III. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor; the bodies of the just, by his Spirit, unto honor, and be made conformable to his own glorious body.

  17. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Last thing, and then I have to hit the road, commute home.

    I am seeing a lot of technical theology going on here.

    What I do for a living is accounting for a large corporation. I know what its like to have a complex financial system or accounting rule, in which people get into a room, and mass confusion either ensues or never gets resolved.

    I’m trying to bring all of us back to what Jacob intended – an analysis of the Christologies of these two great traditions.

    I’m a strong believer in “tidying up loose ends.” And what’s clear to me is that there are individuals such as Drake and Jacob who have read a lot!

    The reason I bring up my job is because I see disagreements, but people move forward together, all the same. I don’t think we should expect reconciliation on all issues. We should expect diversity. Even within a small denomination that I belong to, the OPC (I have been in this for 13 year now, since a freshman in college) there is wide diversity amongst congregations in a presbytery.

    I totally believe in highlighting the differences between EO and Reformed, over Christology.

    But we shouldn’t be doing this to argue, just FYI. We should be sharing what we are seeing in each of our respective circles. Even within the same denomination, there will be differences. I perceive great value in both Christians with differences, engaging in dialog, and those with relatively few differences.

    But at the end of the day, I think Jacob and Drake show a pretty good model – of being committed to reading things on a subject.

    Sometimes, the answer to tough questions is to point one another to books. Not always the friendliest. But we are all people with lives to live (jobs, family, etc.)

    Not that we don’t devote the proper time to theology. Of course we must. But I have to admit – after now only getting involved in theological blogs for a couple weeks, I kind of miss the point of the technical theological debates. I hope it’s always one of Christians revealing themselves to one another, in an effort for all of us to worship Christ better, together.

    I’m not saying anyone isn’t adhering to this. I am saying, let’s try to make our intentions clear.

    I suppose mine are just that I enjoy rambling? 🙂 I hope not. I’m after Truth, as I imagine you all are as well.

    Peace.

  18. Andrew Buckingham says:

    PS I’m still of the mind that there is no hope without active obedience. Drake, any comment on active obedience? I’m all ears for anyone who takes the bait. That’s where this Christology stuff started. Peace out.

  19. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Whoa, I’m like the only guy who uses my first and last name. I shouldn’t call out people’s real names, in posts, like I have done. Sorry. I’ll stick to nettiquette once I finally get past my thick skull 🙂

  20. olivianus says:

    Andrew,

    Andrew,

    “for the Orthodox, one of the effects of Christ’s salvation of human nature is that all human persons are raised at the last day.”

    >>>That is John Cassian’s argument and IMO rests on a faulty view of immortality.

    “On a related note, I think the Reformed have trouble answering why Christ’s redemption does not effect all in some way given Christ’s consubstantiality with human nature”

    >>>Not at all. The definition of consubstantiality that you are operating off of is Eutychian which is typical with anchoretic theology. Joseph P Farrell mentions this in Free Choice that the humanity of Christ is universal. If that is true it is eternal. Universals are never temporal or particular. If the humanity is eternal it is not consusbstantial with created nature.

    • That’s interesting, Drake. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Andrew says:

      Drake,

      The definition of consubstantiality that you are operating off of is Eutychian which is typical with anchoretic theology. Joseph P Farrell mentions this in Free Choice that the humanity of Christ is universal. If that is true it is eternal. Universals are never temporal or particular. If the humanity is eternal it is not consusbstantial with created nature.

      Could you flesh this out a bit? I’m thickheaded at times. Also, isn’t there an aspect of humanity that is uncreated, as shocking as that may sound? That is to say, isn’t the image of God, which all humans possess, uncreated? How is this Eutychian?

      • Andrew Buckingham says:

        Uh, I’m gonna have to say I’m shocked. I’m gonna have to say I want that fleshed out. What part of me is uncreated? No big deal, just that’s pretty interesting, if you ask me, but I’m going to say, I probably won’t agree. But I’m all ears. Thanks!

  21. olivianus says:

    Yes, this is Drake Shelton. Olivianus is an nickname I took from a previous pastor.

  22. olivianus says:

    Andrew B,

    “Drake, any comment on active obedience? ”

    >>>Yeah. I am pretty traditional in my understanding of Justification. I do not believe in any meaningful distinction between active and passive obedience. I do believe that men are justified by the imputed obedience of Christ. My explanation would only differ from Turretin in that I actually mean something real when i assert that the basis of the imputation is union with Christ. As a Clarkian I affirm the most clear and some say the most radical view of ontological connection and participation in divine persons. I had a full debate with Catholic nick on all the issues involved with Justification: http://catholicnick.blogspot.com/2012/04/sola-fide-debate-vs-drake-shelton.html

  23. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Olivianus,

    Thanks. I totally get why all this blogging and comment are going on. I care about imputed righteousness, so I speak up. I haven’t gotten into Clark. I can see you care about that and ‘ADS.’ Said another way, I should find or start a blog about Machen and imputed righteousness.

    No hope without it 🙂

    Nice talking with you, Drake, and others. Looking forward to more.

    Peace.

  24. Andrew Buckingham says:

    I hear good things about Henry, outlaw. I’d appreciate more from you, about what you like. But seeing as I don’t have time to blog, its unfair for me to ask others to keep this up when I dont 🙂 Just saying, we should all articulate what we are seeing as theoligically important. Helps everyone out, I with Jacob appreciate the civil manner as shown on this blog here. Peace.

  25. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Further to my own point, more than asking the people articulate what they like in theology, for the good of us all, we should share those ordinary means of grace we are finding helpful. I could probably write a blog about the importance of daily Scripture reading and prayer. Keeping it real simple, but just trying to show for all this theology discussion and helping one another, and imputation stuff, it really is my time spent in the Word that is the most powerful thing in my life, since getting serious 9 months ago. So what’s working well for you? I use m’cheyne. And not bragging. But it works. Imagine that. Reading the Bible actually works! Speaking of which, I have 4 chaps to read before work. Peace, my friends. -ab

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