Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (review notes), part 1

Witnesses to Christ:  “They [apostles] do not even claim the same kind of infallibility that rationalists critique them for” (10).  I don’t want to get into the inerrancy debate right now, but if JM is right, then why are Protestants pressed to have a kind of historical and epistemological certainty on the canon and the church?

He justifies Hellenism on the basis that the Church, to minister to the Greeks, had to think in Greek categories.  (Oddly enough, he later rebuts Harnack et al for charging that the Byzantine Church thought in Greek categories).

“The Christological problems of the fifth and sixth centuries thus can be said basically to have shaped the Byzantine theological mentality and to have provided its main theme until about the ninth century” (14).

The first chapter dealt with Cyrillene Christology.  I have no major comments except that Meyendorff didn’t touch the issue of whether deification soteriologies necessitate an instrumentalization of the human nature.  They do.   This becomes hugely problematic when these same guys tie into the communicatio idiomatum.

Some basics on Ascension

A post on the liturgical day here.

The moderator begins on a surprising covenantal note.    I am surprised–indeed, delighted–because Covenantalism is at war with his larger ontology of being.

He writes,

later entire nations like the Russian people in the tenth century.  God’s redemptive work in Christ aims at the restoration of fallen humanity through union with Christ (Ephesians 1:10, 3:14-15).

Slight difference here.   I can understand how the Tsar could be the federal head of a nation (but if you affirm that, why don’t you affirm Christ as our federal head who imputes his righteousness to us?), but how did it work out for Russian piety?

 The phrase “everything I have commanded you” is the basis for Holy Tradition which comprises both written and oral Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

This is assuming what you are trying to prove.  Paul said to hold to the traditions he had delivered to them.   How do you know that your cultural accretions today–like the iconostasis–are the traditions Paul had delivered?  You simply cannot know this.  Your argument looks like this:

Premise 1: If Paul uses tradition he is using them in the same way we are

Premise 2:  and we use tradition then.

Conclusion:  Therefore, he is using them in the same way we are!

This is the fallacy of asserting the consequent.

The main question I want to ask is this:  Is Jesus bodily in heaven?  If he is, and he only has one hypostasis, then how can he be in a million Eucharists on earth?

Lord and Servant

This is Mike Horton’s second installment in his Covenant series.  He reframes Christology around “covenant” and is stunningly successful.  His genius is in using the covenant to contrast two ontologies:  overcoming estrangement (classical metaphysics) and meeting a Stranger.

Similar to proposals by Robert Jenson, Horton shows how we meet the Stranger by his own revealing himself to us, and doing so “by strong verbs” (23, 55).  The noun (God) is revealed by the verb (his actions).  From this Horton draws the brilliant conclusion about Speech-Act:  speech is an act.  There is no dilemma between word-revelation (Propositional Protestants) and Act-Revelation (the truth at what Barth was aiming, if not fully getting there).

This segues into God’s freedom (and freedom in general).  Horton refuses to see freedom in the abstract.   We do not abstract God’s will from his nature.  Freedom (of any sort) is a natured freedom and if our ousia is a covenanted ousia, then we have a covenantal freedom (this is much more concrete and refreshing than discussions about “Free will,” whatever that means).

The next theological locus is creation.  Contra Anchoretism, the covenant allows us to view creation in its integrity.  It is neither divine nor demonic, rather “Nature has capacities for answering back to the creative speech-act of God” (66).  (While Horton doesn’t draw out the implications, this could explain how the land is said to be defiled by man’s sin).

Horton suggests that the covenant is the nexus between transcendence and immanence.  The God-world bond is covenantal relation (I realize that Aristotle used “relation” as a thinner form of essence; I am not using it in that sense).


Horton does a wonderful job in establishing the “federal-ness” of Adamic humanity.  Horton will contrast his model with the Platonic paradigm (Overcoming Estrangement).  Continuing with the covenantal paradigm, Horton sees the imago dei as:

Sonship/ Royal Dominion:  Adam was invested with kingship as the imaged-son on the Sabbath day.  In Christ this dominion is restored.  Shades of Rushdoony!

Representation:  We are God’s embassy to the world.

Glory:  The glory is ethical-eschatological, rather than essential.

Prophetic Witness:

All of this is recapitulated in Christ.   Interestingly enough, Horton rightly points out that Scripture never speaks of anthropology in the abstract, but always in the covenant.

Christology Proper

Horton gives a brief and lucid description of Reformed Christology against Lutheranism, particularly in the non capax.  He has a very interesting suggestion that the debate between Alexandrians (Divinized humanity) and Antiocheans (Schizo Jesus) is because neither could locate Jesus as he is given for us in the covenant (166).


The basic challenge he gives to anyone who rejects penal substitution:  on said gloss, how is the work of Christ appropriated pro nobis?  How does “defeating Satan” (or any such Christus Victor, political liberation variant) become actual for us?


It’s hard to say which one is better, this book or the one on soteriology.  Both are magnificent.  I think Horton’s use of the covenant model is more tightly argued in this book.

On the nature assumed

One of the tricky questions in Christology is to what extent Jesus assumed our human nature.  The problem arises when we ask, “Did Christ assume the sinful part of our nature?”  If we say yes, then it is hard to see how Christ is sinless.  If we say no, then we have to (seemingly) admit that Christ didn’t really assume all of our nature.  The answer lies along the lines that sin is accidental to our nature, not essential to it.   Therefore, Christ can essentially assume our nature without assuming the sinful part of it. 


Notes on Deere’s Surprised by Voice

This is not a simple endorsement of Jack Deere’s book.  I think it is problematic in a lot of ways.  It exhibits a woeful lack discernment and much of the exegesis is too simplistic.  Still, there was a number of insightful passages.

He makes the observation that Jesus’s power to work miracles was not merely because he was God, but noting Acts 10:38, and its apostolic interpretation of Jesus’s ministry, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and how he went around doing good and healing, because God was with him.

People on both sides might actually miss this, and Deere himself may not catch it, but this is an important Christological point.  Crucial to a Reformed Christology is the theologia unionis, the union between the human and divine natures of Christ.  This means Jesus’s human nature can never have the attributes of his divine nature, otherwise it would cease to be a human nature!   Deere draws the following inference:  “So even though Jesus was fully God, he took on the limitations of humanity in such a way that he did not heal, prophesy, or minister out of his own divine power.  But he did minister in power.  From where did this power come” (43)?  Deere’s use of Acts 10:38 and elsewhere suggests, quite rightly, that it came from the Holy Spirit.

Again, this draws upon a similar, yet another Christological point:  Reformed Christology does not confess that Jesus was fully powered with the attributes of the divine nature acting at all times (while this sounds shocking, this explains how Jesus wept, got tired, suffered, and admitted ignorance of the of the second coming, actions which cannot be properly predicated of the impassable deity).  In contrast to our Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox friends, we believe that Jesus received this power from the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Reformed theology has always confessed this (cf. Francis Turretin, vol. 2, pp. 324ff).   Deere simply (whether he knows this or not) extends the inference.

Turretin on hypostatic union

These are more of summary notes of certain sections of Turretin, vol. 2.

a composite union?  This language is used both by the ancient fathers (rather unsoundly) and more recently by Reformed fathers.  What the latter meant is that it is “composed rather of number than of parts properly so called” (II: 312) because many things (human and divine natures) numerically exist.  The fact that the fathers speak of a composite person should put to rest the charge that the Reformed Christ is Nestorian.

The Communicatio

The effects of the hypostatical union are twofold: some to the human nature and some to the person.   To the former are ascribed the grace of eminence and habitual graces (graces that are still human qualities but magnified). What is communicated?  The communication of attributes is an effect of the union whereby the properties of both natures are predicated of the person.  It is a real communication with respect properly to the person.  When Turretin speaks of abstract and concrete communications, the terms are to be understood this way:  we are not asking whether there is a communication of a concrete human nature to the person of Christ.  All sides acknowledge this.    The question is whether there is an abstract communication of nature to nature.

If the divine essence is communicated to the human nature (ala Lutheranism and some expressions of Orthodoxy), then the following must hold:

  1. A created thing becomes an uncreated thing.

  2. The human nature is thus immense and finite.

Further, what is proper to one cannot be communicated to another; otherwise it would cease to be proper and become common to that which is communicated (324). Either all of the properties of the divine nature were communicated or none were, since the divine essence is simple.  All of the properties of the Logos must be communicated or none are, since the Logos cannot be divided.  Further, if on account of the union the divine properties are communicated to the flesh, then the properties of the flesh ought in turn to be communicated to the Logos (325).  The union is reciprocal.  However, they are unwilling to admit this.  Further, if the union was made (the natures themselves and their properties remaining unconfounded and entire and distinct, as the Lutherans acknowledge) a communication of properties could not have been made in it.  For what is communicated does not remain proper.

Theologia Unionis as Epistemological Model

The Christological problem follows the [epistemological issue]:  if the human nature of Jesus, as finite, is in capable in itself of comprehending the infinite knowledge of the theologia archetypa[think of the simple divine mind, admitting no real distinctions], then any equation of the theologia unionis [for our present purpose, think the communication of attributes; BH] with archetypal theology must involve some alteration of the human nature of Jesus.  For Jesus to be possessed of an infinite divine wisdom according to his humanity, there would have to be either a communication of divinity to humanity or a transference of divine attributes to Jesus’ humanity within the hypostatic union (Muller, PRRD I: 250]

The point is this:  If Christ in his incarnation didn’t exhaustive knowledge, then how can  we expect fallen sinful man to have it?   If you do not accept this point, then you will doom yourself to deadly spiritual models that can only cause theological insanity.  You will end up asking questions like,

  1. If there is no infallible speaking church/pope, then how can I have certainty about anything?
  2. How do I know which books are in the canon?
  3. How do I know I am elect?

All of these questions, pursued in a false context of Illegitimate Religious Certainty, are spiritual death.

A difficulty with ancient Christologies

One of the initial charms of reading guys like Maximus the Confessor, Cyril, and others is that they offered a fairly neat way of tying in human nature, Christology, and soteriology.  It runs something like this, “Christ assumed all of human nature (because he is consubstantial with humanity) and the rejection of which entails something like Nestorianism.”  Four years ago I liked the argument, but even then I suspected some tensions.  I’ll list them:

  1. Where exactly does the Bible say Christ assumed the universal of humanity?  Yes, it says he took the form of a servant, but that’s a far cry from the standard Alexandrian line.  I know they’ll respond, “You have to read the Bible in light of the Fathers et al.”  Fair enough, but the Bible also counts for tradition and the absence of any such line of reasoning is fairly telling.
  2. If Christ assumed all of human nature (which includes a human will along with a divine will), and recapitulated it in his death and and raised it in his resurrection (Farrell, 223), then why isn’t all human nature saved?  Keep in mind that human nature is continually united to the Logos:  when Christ, on their gloss, locally descended into hell were the united-to-him-human-natures also in hell?
  3. It’s not surprising that Origen opted for the universalist route.
  4. Maximus rejected the universalist route, but posited yet another type of will.  He called this the gnomic will, or a mode of a mode. So practically speaking, we have 3 wills of Christ:  human, divine, and gnomie.
  5. This distinction, incoherent as it may be, allowed Maximus to keep the point in (2) above, yet also ascribe a personal willing to the human subjects which would avoid the trap in (3) above.

The question I never asked concerning icons

When I looked at Eastern Orthodoxy there were a number of questions on the tip of my tongue that I never asked.  Most likely I couldn’t formulate them and never bothered to think it through.  One of the standard iconodulic arguments is that in the Incarnation the divine nature is imaged in the Son and thus images of the Son are now justified.   Denying this, so runs the gloss, is either Nestorian or Docetic.

In response I am in debt to something Scott Clark said:  all icons of Jesus are by definition Docetic.  Docetism was the heresy that downplayed Jesus’ human nature, saying it was merely imaginary.   The problem is, though, that every iconic representation of Christ is an imagined Christ.  Admittedly, no one knows what Jesus’ human nature looked like (and here the anchoretic communions have to back off their hyper-realist ontology:  The Logos didn’t assume a Platonic, archetypal form of humanity, but, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, a human body).  Therefore, any representation of Jesus is an imagined one.

There is one other problem.  Key to any Christology is the doctrine of the enhypostasia:  natures are always in a hypostasis.  We all agree that the divine and human natures cannot be separated.   We all agree that there is only one hypostasis of Christ.   Now, the smarter iconodule will state that they are representing the person of Christ (who is truly present).   If the person of Christ is truly present, then that means his divine and human natures are truly present.  These natures can never be separated.   Therefore, is he present in all the representations?  Does this not mean there are hundreds of thousands of hypostases of Christ?

Answering the Anchorites

This project has been a long time in coming.  Anchoretic apologists have been initially successful in picking off Reformed students by using a series of Trinitarian and Christological arguments.  In short, the Reformed students are (supposedly) faced with the implications of what they believe about necessity and how this is (supposedly) at odds with conciliar Christology.   The average Reformed student has no chance whatsoever of answering these challenges, if current seminary models are still valid.  There are two ways of dealing with these challenges:   1) simply pretend to be ignorant.  This really isn’t a bad method.  Most of these Anchorites (most but not all) aren’t that much more philosophically advanced than the Reformed student.  So all that the Reformed guy has to say is, “Hmm…show me.”    More often that not, that works.    Still the challenges must be faced.   The following challenges (and answers thereto) are based from numerous conversations with Anchorites.  They really aren’t based on any definitive literature because there isn’t any definitive literature that truly understands Calvinism.  Maybe that will change in the near future.

Anchorite challenge 1:  Isn’t the Reformed faith Nestorian?   Rushdoony and A.A. Hodge fell into Nestorianism.  The WCF 8.2 says that the person of Christ is divine and human.

Response ~1: Rushdoony doesn’t speak for the Reformed faith.   For over ten years he willingly cut himself off from any communion.    Hodge spoke too loosely and no one at the time really understood what Nestorius was saying, as McGuckin later demonstrates.   As to the Confession, if this is a claim to a Nestorian Christology, it is a very vague and weak claim.  I suppose  What does the Confession mean about the Person being “divine and human?”   It really doesn’t specify.   The most common interpretation is that the person has both divine and human elements to it.   This isn’t that much different from Maximus the Confessor confessing a synthetic Christ (cf. Von Balthasar, The Cosmic Liturgy).

Anchorite Challenge 2:  But doesn’t the Reformed faith deny a communication of attributes?  This means there is no communion between the two natures, and such a denial is a Nestorian separation.

Response ~2:   The Reformed do not deny a communication; we simply deny a 1:1 switch-over between the two natures.   Rather, we assert that the two natures are communicated to the Person.  If the Reformed (and generally Western) position is not held, and the two natures communicate their propria to each other, then they lose any real human or divine identity.   You can assert Nestorian all you want, but from our position all we see of you is Eutychianism.  Sure, this is a Western Christology.  We don’t hide it.  Unfortunately, we do not see anchorites trying to understand what legitimate concerns the Reformed have.  None has said it better than Richard Muller,

The Christological problem follows the [epistemological issue]:  if the human nature of Jesus, as finite, is in capable in itself of comprehending the infinite knowledge of the theologia archetypa[think of the simple divine mind, admitting no real distinctions], then any equation of the theologia unionis [for our present purpose, think the communication of attributes; BH] with archetypal theology must involve some alteration of the human nature of Jesus.  For Jesus to be possessed of an infinite divine wisdom according to his humanity, there would have to be either a communication of divinity to humanity or a transference of divine attributes to Jesus’ humanity within the hypostatic union (Muller, PRRD I: 250]

We must add one more thing:  if the Eutychian communicatio is true, then it’s hard to understand why Christ had to be anointed by the Holy Spirit and receive said gifts.

Anchorite Challenge 3:  You believe in necessity, do you not?  So, on your view is Christ’s human nature determined by his divine nature?

Response ~3:   This is one of those times where you just press them to define their terms.  When I hear the word necessity, I reach for my pistol.  Okay, maybe I don’t, but the point is that necessity has a loaded vocabulary.  Since I am representing Reformed theology, I get to define what necessity means (and doesn’t mean) according to Reformed sources.  Fair?  Reformed Orthodoxy makes a distinction between the necessity of consequence and the necessity of the consequent.   The former is how contingent events fall out in God’s providence.  They will happen, given what events came before them, but not absolutely.   As Muller says, it is a conditional necessity.  “The conditions that create [necessitate?  BH] that circumstance are themselves conditional” (Muller Dictionary, 200).  By contrast, the necessity of the consequent is an absolute necessity (like the opera ad intra).  Therefore, to answer the question, even though I think the question is badly misleading, the human nature follows the divine nature in terms of a necessity of consequence.

But even saying that, I simply have not read in any serious Reformed sources anything like the above charge.

Anchorite Challenge 3b:  How can you speak of natures determining?  Isn’t that Manicheanism?

Response ~3b:  All we mean by that is no nature against the terms that definite that nature, not even God.  This is standard theological fare (cf. Muller, ibid 200).  I remember listening to a Our Life in Christ podcast on the Essence and Energies (#4) and they came very close to positing a schizophrenic God.   They admitted that God’s nature doesn’t change, but then asserted that predestination isn’t true because God relates to us as a person, not a nature.   I suppose on one level God indeed does relate to us as a person, but I shudder to think of a disjunction between person and nature.

Anchorite challenge 3c:  Isn’t that monoenergism, since the human will of Christ doesn’t act freely?

Response ~3c:  No.  Given what we believe about the necessity of the consequence, we allow for freedom.  Let me explain.  Reformed scholasticism speaks of a liberum arbitrium, a freedom of choice.   We believe that the faculty of will (voluntas) is itself free and not prey to the bondage to which human nature fell (Muller 176).  We maintain that the human will is free from external constraint and imposed necessity.  The so-called lack of freedom is the limitation of choice.
How does this relate to Christ’s two wills?  I don’t know, but I think I have demonstrated that that the human nature isn’t “bad” on the Reformed gloss.

Anchorite Challenge 4:  But surely you Reformed speak of a sinful nature, right?

Response ~4: This might be somewhat our fault.  Our humanity has a sin nature accidentally, not substantially.  It’s been easier in discourse to simply say “fallen nature,” or something like that.    Casualty of war, I suppose.