Categories
Archive Early Church Fathers Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine Steven Wedgeworth

A Compound Person and Complex Questions (Part 1): Addendum to “Do We Have a Christology Crisis?”

Peter Escalante and I wrote our previous paper[1] as a historically and academically informed, yet primarily pastoral reflection on the current state of Christology in theological apologetics. It was our contention that the historical and theological discussion is most often a red herring, with the true issue being anxiety regarding ecclesiastical identity and improper catechesis. And this is still our contention. There are, however, a number of interesting claims being put out by contemporary scholars, and invoked by critics of Reformed religion, which were not directly addressed by our paper. This was due to the limits imposed by the primarily pastoral aim of the paper, as well as the fact that it was already a bit too long and too dense for the needs of that aim. Still, we thought it would be worth interacting with a number of these theological claims in particular. And so, while this paper should be able to stand on its own, it should also be understood as a further explanation of some of the charges made by those people we addressed in our former paper. Consider this, then, an expanded footnote.

Christology was indeed an issue at the time of the Reformation. While the Reformers always maintained their consistency with Chalcedon and the confessions of the ancient church, they were at times falsely accused of variations and heresy, usually by the Lutherans. And while these accusations were almost always motivated by disagreements about other theological loci (as indeed they are today), they did serve to clarify and expand the use and meaning of theological terms. They also helped give the Reformed theologians the opportunity to perfectly explain what they meant and what they believed about the person of Christ. In doing so, the Reformed showed themselves to be the most logically consistent and rhetorically advanced of all theologians, and our modern misunderstanding of their words is no fault of theirs, but rather indicative of our lack of familiarity with their philosophical and philological rigor.[2]

Charging the Reformed with Nestorianism is an old move in the history of theology. The Lutherans made such a charge when the Reformed refused to admit that the properties of the divine nature were communicated to the properties of the human nature in Christ. Instead the Reformed said they were communicated to the person of Christ, interpenetrating but not mingling (for they are qualitatively different natures).[3] There was also the famed extra calvinisticum, which was but an explanation of the broader principle of finitum non capax infiniti.[4] These distinctions, while unpopular among certain contemporary thinkers, are really no more than a consistent articulation of the distinction between infinite nature and finite nature, or the Creator and the creature. They were meant not to say that there could be no personal relationship between the two – the Reformed insisted, indeed, that only sin prevented this relationship and not any sort of metaphysical barrier, and in fact the Reformed notion of infinity allows for the infinite to interpenetrate the finite without losing any of its nature or changing the created nature – but rather to show carefully that the two were not mingled or confused. This will be discussed more as we explore the contemporary questions which are themselves distinct yet inseparable.

Bruce McCormack’s Online Essay

Bruce McCormack has written a short essay highlighting the particular concerns which accompany Reformed Christology today. Originally posted on a blog which has since been removed from the Internet, the paper itself persists in the archives of the ever-mnemonic Google.[5] It should be noted that McCormack’s project is quite specific and more than a little idiosyncratic.[6] He is not intending his arguments as criticisms of the Reformed tradition, but unfortunately, in the age of the electronic Wild West, his arguments have been seized and deployed in service of larger and different ones, to very unfortunate effect. This shows how, as has always been the case in Christendom, academic problems can quickly become pastoral problems. While McCormack’s essay can be critiqued solely on historical grounds, the use of his essay by converts and aggressive apologists for unreformed churches is a different matter and indeed in part the subject of our former paper. McCormack makes a number of claims in his essay, some of them quite useful and suggestive. Unfortunately his paper is characterized by hasty generalizations and a few false conclusions. While it is true that Reformed Christology’s genealogy is more specific and nuanced than if it were a mere recitation of Chalcedon,[7] it is not true that the Reformed ever admitted to being inconsistent with Chalcedon, nor is it the case that they declared themselves to be innovating beyond the logic and principles of traditional Christology. They certainly would not have said that their Christology was “born out of conflict with the Lutherans,” but rather would have said that the Eucharistic controversy was opportunity to sharpen already-existing theological commitments. McCormack also says that the Reformed resisted “an instrumentalizing of the human nature.” This too is not careful enough. It all depends upon the meaning and use of the terms. While the Reformed did seek to emphasize the full integrity of the human nature in Christ, complete with its mind, will, and energy, thus requiring a sort of human working agent, they also maintained the primacy of the divine person. Of this we will treat more at length below.

Additional confusing historical claims made by McCormack are that the Reformed interpreted Chalcedon as a Nestorian victory,[8] that Heinrich Bullinger, in the Second Helvetic Confession of Faith, advocated two “hypostases” in Christ, and that the use of John of Damascus caused the Reformed theologians to articulate a “compound person.”[9] These claims will need to be sorted out, and it will be our goal to do this by looking at the figures mentioned by McCormack as well as other Reformed writers near to the context. We will show that by a careful examination of the context and use of the terms, there is no inconsistency with Chalcedon nor with the wider patristic consensus, though admittedly such consensuses are always elusive.

The Reformed Position on Nestorianism

While the Reformed have often been accused of Nestorianism, it would be a rather novel concept to insinuate that the Reformed ever granted the truth of the charge. It is true that Peter Martyr Vermigli says that Cyril, Nestorius’ arch-opponent, made “exaggerated statements”[10] and sometimes “conveyed that sense” which “offended many people.”[11] Yet Vermigli actually goes on to vindicate Cyril, appealing to “the interpretation given by Cyril himself,” the correct understanding of the communicatio idiomatum, and the conciliar statements of Ephesus and Chalcedon, assuming that Cyril is adequately interpreted by them.[12] Vermigli also states that Nestorius “pulled apart the natures” of Christ, and therefore “we abhor and stand far apart from Nestorius.”[13] These are not exactly obvious defenses of Nestorius.

John Calvin writes, “For we must put far from us the heresy of Nestorius, who, presuming to dissect rather than distinguish between the two natures, devised a double Christ.”[14] He adds that Ephesus “justly condemned” Nestorius. Rather than attempting to rehabilitate Nestorius, Calvin says that he was in the thralls of “heresy” and a “dream.”[15]

Girolamo Zanchi, writing in his Confession of Christian Religion, says:

We therefore acknowledge and confesse against Nestorius that in Christ is onelie one person and that eternall, most simple and most perfect and the same shall remaine forever, namelie, the person of the everlasting Son of God. Further, that unto this eternall person there came in time not another person, but another nature, namelie, mans nature and the same not as a part of that person of whome it was taken, but a thing farre different from it and yet taken unto it, into unitie of the same.[16]

He goes on to include in his list of rejected errors the “Nestorians, which denied the true union of the humaine nature with the person of the Sonne and did set downe two persons in Christ and two Sonnes, the Sonn of God and the Sonne of man.[17] In his later Observations, Zanchi cites Cyril against the Nestorians.[18] In his Appendix to the Eleventh Chapter, he rejects “the impious opinion of Nestorius.”[19] He consistently cites Cyril, Leo, and Vigilius, over and against Nestorius.

In the third book of Richard Field’s Of the Church, we do see an attempt at historical revision regarding Nestorianism. Field’s argument, however, is not a vindication of Nestorius, but rather of those churches who have been identified with his name. Field argues not that Nestorius is not a Nestorian, but rather that the “Nestorians” are not truly Nestorian. Field writes:

What the heresy of Nestorius was is known to all. For he professed to believe that the son of Mary is a divine man, and that God is with him, but would not acknowledge that he is God, and therefore would not yield, that it may be truly said that Mary is the mother of God. But they that are now named Nestorians acknowledge that Christ was perfect God and perfect man, from the first moment of his conception, and that Mary may rightly be said to be the mother of the Son of God, or of the Eternal Word but think it not fit to call her the mother of God, lest they might be thought to imagine that she conceived and bare the divine nature of the three persons; the name of God containing Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.[20]

Notice that Field says that Nestorius did hold to heresy. He defends later churches and Christians who are often called “Nestorian” as not actually being so. Later in his book, he defends Theodore Beza from charges of Nestorianism. He explains that Beza used an expression of “two hypostatical unions in Christ,” but that it was in an explanation of the fullness of the human nature assumed by Christ and not an assertion of an actual subsistence apart from the divine Logos.[21] Field’s explanation of Beza’s theology will prove helpful for a later point, but for now our point is simply to show that Nestorius is not claimed as a correct and helpful precedent, but rather assumed to be heretical.

Perhaps if no other Reformed theologian can help us in our search for a positive citation of Nestorius, we can turn to Bullinger. After all, Bullinger is the man accused of directly affirming two hypostases in Christ. Surely he has a kind word for Nestorius? Let’s see what Bullinger thinks: “Nestorius, willing to avoid a coal-pit, fell into a lime-kiln.”[22] The editorial note in the margin explains that this expression meant that the solution was worse than the initial problem. We might say today that it was “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” In fact, Bullinger refers to Cyril of Alexandria as, “blessed father.”[23] Throughout Bullinger’s writing on the subject we see positive references to Cyril, Theodoret, Augustine, Vigilius, Damasius, and John of Damascus. But as to Nestorius, the best we can find is that he was “injurious to the scripture and to true faith.”[24] In fact, the supposedly controversial 11th chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession of Faith makes sure to state, “And indeed we detest the dogma of the Nestorians who make two of one Christ and dissolve the unity of the Person.” Searching the original Latin on this point only makes things worse: “abominamur.”

Bullinger and the Second Helvetic Confession

McCormack’s most eyebrow-raising claim is that Heinrich Bullinger used the expression “two hypostases” in the Latin edition of the Second Helvetic Confession of Faith. McCormack writes:

Heinrich Bullinger offers the most extreme example. In his Second Helvetic Confession, he writes, “We therefore acknowledge either two natures or two hypostases or substances, the divine and the human, in one and the same Jesus Christ our Lord.” Two hypostases is extreme; indeed, it is something less than orthodox. According to Chalcedon, there is but one hypostasis in which the two natures subsist. What led Bullinger to this conclusion, however, was something that is to be found in the Definition, viz. the idea that the person of the union is formed out of the “coming together” of the natures.

This claim is in connection with the prior claim that the Reformers read Chalcedon as a “Nestorian victory.” In context, McCormack is not merely noting an unusual occurrence of a word, but is in fact making the claim that Bullinger was intentionally moving away from traditional orthodoxy towards a different understanding of the hypostatic union, one which sees the person of Christ as being constituted by the “‘coming together’ of the natures,” and (at least in Bullinger’s case) a coming together of two hypostases. The use of the controversial term is therefore not an accident but a necessary consequence of a larger and consistent Christology. In McCormack’s opinion, it is “extreme” and “something less than orthodox.”

It should be said that McCormack has identified an intriguing case of textual criticism in relation to the Second Helvetic. He explains that he is not using the standard version in circulation today:

I should note that this translation of the Second Helvetic Confessions constitutes a modification of the one found in Arthur Cochrane’s much-used Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, p.243. Cochrane left out the phrase – original to Bullinger’s Latin text – “two hypostases.” If he did so deliberately, it is likely due to the fact that he could only understand the phrase as tilting decidedly in the direction of Nestorianism.

McCormack says that he is using a phrase which is “original to Bullinger’s Latin text,” one which has been removed by Arthur Cochrane’s English text. McCormack is not giving us the full story, though. Cochrane is translating from the Latin, but there is no unified Latin version, containing the controverted words, from which Cochrane is uniquely and “deliberately” departing. There are a number of Latin versions, and the use of “hypostases” was already removed in the 1568 version – within Bullinger’s own lifetime.[25] Cochrane states that he is working primarily from Wilhelm Niesel’s Bekenntnisschriften und Kirchenordnungen, but he also lists a variety of other editions of the Second Helvetic, including Philip Schaff’s influential Creeds of Christendom.[26] Niesel notes that “aut hypostases” appears in the first edition (thus giving support to McCormack’s claim), but was quickly removed, and he therefore relegates it to the footnotes.[27]

When we turn to Schaff, who is using a compilation of the 1651 Zurich edition and four other editions, some of which he notes contain omissions, we find no mention of the critical history on this point. Schaff’s Latin rendering of the Confession also lacks any reference to “two hypostases.” Instead, what we find is, “Agnoscimus ergo in uno atque eodem Domino nostro Jesu Christo duas naturas vel substantias, divinam et humanam.” Only “duas naturas vel substantias.” No “hypostases.” And more puzzling, there is no notice of textual variation.

Otto Fritzsche’s 1839 edition of the Second Helvetic does include the use of “hypostases,” but the context shows that it is being used synonymously with the other terms. Fritzsche’s version renders it as, “duas naturas aut hypostases vel substantias.” He has a textual note which says that “aut hypostases” was later omitted from the first edition and that “aut hypostases vel substantias” went on to be omitted from the next five editions.[28]

Schaff admits that “The editions of Fritzsche and Bohl were not at hand,”[29] explaining his silence on the matter. Cochrane does not list Fritzsche among his consulted sources, but instead cites Niesel as his primary Latin.[30] In any event, Cochrane does not give us his Latin notes, but rather an English translation based upon the compilation of his research. Rather than deliberately cleaning up Bullinger’s orthodoxy, Cochrane is likely reflecting the consensus opinion of most recent editions, which omit “hypostases” altogether and understand “substantias” as a restating of “naturas.”

The question then is whether the textual variant in the first edition Latin is indicative of a significant theological position. For many reasons, the answer is negative. The first point to be made is that the grammar of the text itself, even with the inclusion of “hypostases,” points towards the term being used as a synonym for nature and for substance taken in the sense of “nature,” not of existent. “Duas naturas aut hypostases vel substantias” most obviously translates to “two natures, whether hypostases or substances.”  All three terms are then contrasted against the “una persona” of the following clause.[31] So taken together, Bullinger’s expression in the Second Helvetic is an affirmation of two natures/hypostases/substances (all taken as equivalents) in one person. Of course, as we stated earlier, the use of “hypostases” in this context was already recognized as confusing and taken out of the 1568 version. Ernst Koch suggests that this was most likely due to a meeting with Theodore Beza, where the two men decided that they did not want the confession to seem to be in tension with the Augsburg Confession.[32]

What’s more, according to Schaff’s history of the Confession, the Second Helvetic was originally published in both Latin and German.[33] Furthermore, according to Schaff, the Confession was also translated and circulated in French,[34] English, Dutch, Magyar, Polish, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish. It is unlikely, to say the least, that a single Latin variant would have been recognized as indicative of a significant theological shift. Still more historically relevant is the fact that Frederick the Elector, while subscribing to the Second Helvetic, was also able to defend his theology in the face of Lutheran critics, whose strainers were gnat-fine, in 1566. This was before the supposedly offending term was removed.[35] And again, the confession was edited in Bullinger’s own lifetime, and the variant passes without comment in the work of Schaff and several others. It appears to have been a historical non-issue.

McCormack is not merely highlighting a single term as a smoking gun.[36] He sees the term as perhaps an overextension, but a revealing one caused by a specific underlying theological commitment. He does not prove this from Bullinger’s wider work, however, but instead jumps right away to the third point concerning the definition of person as a “coming together” of the natures. We will address this third point shortly, but first we would like to pay some attention to Bullinger’s other statements. Perhaps they can clue us in as to whether Bullinger had been working on a distinctive Christological expression which would somehow require the admission of two hypostases (in the sense of subsistence rather than nature), even if still contrasted against one persona, which term would then in turn take on a new and different meaning from the orthodox one.[37]

As we have seen, there are no secret heresies hidden in the thicket of the editions of Second Helvetic Confession. In it, Bullinger makes all of the other standard Christological claims: two natures, one person, the eternal Son of God is the divine person – consubstantial with the Father and Spirit, and a virgin birth (indeed, an ever-Virgin birth!). Then is added condemnations of Apollinaris, Eunomius, Nestorianism, as well as Eutychianism, Monothelitism, and Monophysitism. He affirms the communication of properties. He concludes with a recitation of the ancient symbols of the church to which he adheres:

And, to say much in a few words, we sincerely believe and loudly confess all that has been determined out of the Holy Scriptures concerning the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and is contained in the creeds and decrees of the first four œcumenical Councils held in Niceæ, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, in the Creed of St. Athanasius, and all similar creeds; and we reject all contrary to the same. In this manner we retain, unchanged and entire, the Christian, orthodox, and catholic faith; knowing that nothing is contained in the aforesaid creeds which does not correspond with the Word of God and aid in setting forth the true faith.

The gun is losing its smoke, to say the least. But perhaps titillating revelations of deviant Christology await us in Bullinger’s broader systematic theology.  And so we turn now to his Decades, where we will find, as one might expect, that the case for a rogue Bullingerite Christology totally falls apart.

As we noted before, Bullinger positively cites Cyril of Alexandria, calling him a “blessed father,” along with Theodoret[38] and a number of other church fathers. He says that Nestorianism is a worse error than Eutychianism. He repeatedly speaks of the unity of the person of Christ. Here are a few examples:

The Son of God … is consubstantial (or, of the same substance) with his Father, and therefore True God: that selfsame Son, being incarnate for us and made man, subsisteth in either nature, as well of God, as also of man; howbeit so that these natures are neither confounded between themselves, nor yet divided: for we do believe one and the selfsame our Lord Jesus Christ to be true God and true man.[39]

Nestorius, willing to avoid a coal-pit, fell into a lime-kiln. For he, confessing two natures, seemeth to affirm that there are so many persons, teaching that the Word is not united to the flesh into the selfsame person, but that it only dwelleth therein: whereupon he also forbade the holy virgin to be called God’s mother. Against whome the common assertion of the whole church, holding opinion according to scripture, hath taught that two natures in Christ and tho the properties of those natures are to be confessed; which are so coupled together into one undivided person, that neither the divine nature is changed into the human, nor the human into the divine, but either of them retain or keep their own nature, and both of them subsist in the unity of person. For Christ, according to the disposition of his divine nature is one and the selfsame, immortal: according to the disposition of his human nature, mortal: and the selfsame immortal God and mortal man is the only Savior of the world.[40]

For one person is God and man, and both of them is one Jesus Christ.[41]

Even in defense of the extra Calvinisticum, Bullinger affirms the unity of the person of the mediator saying, “Again, he doth not divide the person of our mediator, God and man, whosoever for the unity’s sake of natures doth not so far extend his humanity as his divinity is extended.”[42]  If Bullinger is arguing for a move away from patristic Christology, he is himself unaware of it.

What is a Compound Person?

McCormack’s assumption is that Bullinger is intentionally using “less than orthodox language” because of the Reformed’s distinctive emphasis on the person of Christ as compound. McCormack writes, “What led Bullinger to this conclusion, however, was something that is to be found in the Definition, viz. the idea that the person of the union is formed out of the ‘coming together’ of the natures.” What is truly bizarre about the use of McCormack here by the anti-Reformed apologists is that they fail to notice McCormack’s admission that this odd feature is “to be found in the Definition [of Chalcedon.]” And though it perhaps laid dormant in the ambiguity of Chalcedon, McCormack definitely locates its outworking in John of Damascus. Why this is seen as evidence that Bullinger and the Reformed were moving away from “Cyrilline” or Chalcedonian Christology is not at all clear, unless of course Damascus is still just too close to Antioch.

But John of Damascus is indeed the culprit. He routinely uses the notion of a person “consisting of” two natures:

We, however, do not give it as our view that Christ’s nature is compound, nor yet that He is one thing made of other things and differing from them as man is made of soul and body, or as the body is made of the four elements, but hold that, though He is constituted of these different parts, He is yet the same. For we confess that He alike in His divinity and in His humanity both is and is said to be perfect God, the same Being, and that He consists of two natures, and exists in two natures. Further, by the word “Christ” we understand the name of the subsistence, not in the sense of one kind, but as signifying the existence of two natures. For in His own person He anointed Himself; as God anointing His body with His own divinity, and as Man being anointed. For He is Himself both God and Man. And the anointing is the divinity of His humanity. For if Christ, being of one compound nature, is of like essence to the Father, then the Father also must be compound and of like essence with the flesh, which is absurd and extremely blasphemous.[43]

Christ is not a compound nature, but rather he “consists of” and “exists in” two natures. Going even further, Damascene says that “by the word ‘Christ’ we understand the name of the subsistence, not in the sense of one kind, but as signifying the existence of two natures.” The “name of the subsistence” signifies “the existence of two natures.” The original is τὸ δὲ χριστὸς ὄνομα τὴς ὑποστάσεως. In the one hypostasis, He is Himself both God and Man.

This is a helpful historical source because it shows a manner of speaking of the “person” of Christ as a sort of compound person, but definitely not in the Nestorian sense (traditionally understood). Nestorianism would say that there was an actual hypostasis, that is a particular individual subsistence, of the human nature which was then joined to the person of the Word in an external way, a moral union. This would produce “two persons,” even if the human “person,” never existed in history apart from the divine. Still, the “person” of Christ is left as a “compound” of the two prior persons. Damascusis not using the expression of a compound person in this sense, but rather as a way to specifically point to the distinction between the natures, even within the hypostatic union. The one person, a specific irreducible subsistence of the divine nature, has added an instantiation of another nature, and a nature which is not itself simple, to himself. It is this sense of the expression that the later Western tradition used, and it is this sense which the Protestant Reformers used, explicitly citing John as precedent.[44] And what is especially important is noticing the freedom Damascene feels in using such language.

John of Damascus goes on to say:

So then He was both in all things and above all things and also dwelt in the womb of the holy Mother of God, but in it by the energy of the incarnation. He therefore became flesh and He took upon Himself thereby the first-fruits of our compound nature, viz., the flesh animated with the intelligent and rational soul, so that the very subsistence of God the Word was changed into the subsistence of the flesh, and the subsistence of the Word, which was formerly simple, became compound, yea compounded of two perfect natures, divinity and humanity, and bearing the characteristic and distinctive property of the divine Sonship of God the Word in virtue of which it is distinguished from the Father and the Spirit, and also the characteristic and distinctive properties of the flesh, in virtue of which it differs from the Mother and the rest of mankind, bearing further the properties of the divine nature in virtue of which it is united to the Father and the Spirit, and the marks of the human nature in virtue of which it is united to the Mother and to us. And further it differs from the Father and the Spirit and the Mother and us in being at once God and man. For this we know to be the most special property of the subsistence of Christ.[45]

Notice particularly that John says, “the subsistence of the Word, which was formerly simple, became compound.”[46]

Unlike the obscure but supposedly revelatory text variants involved in the claims about the Second Helvetic, John of Damascus’ role is out front and center among Reformed theologians. Bullinger cites Damascus in his Decades, Vermigli cites him in his Dialogue on the Two Natures, Ursinus cites him in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, and Zanchi cites him throughout his Confession, as well as his Observations. Everywhere the Reformed doctors use the expressions “whole Christ” or “compounded person,” John’s name is not far away.

There are several instances where the Reformers distinguish between the Logos and the “whole person” of Christ. In so doing, they do not mean that the hypostasis of “Christ” is itself composed of two prior hypostases (in the sense of persons). Instead, they mean that the “person” of the incarnate Christ is a union, a compound of two natures, the divine and the human. Furthermore, when speaking properly of the divine nature’s subsistence, they refer to the “person of the Logos.” There is no subsistence of the assumed human nature, yet it is still possible to refer to the one “person of Christ” (that is, as incarnate), as composed, so to speak, of the divine nature and the human nature. In fact, “Christ” is itself a term of redemptive economy, Messiah, and on its own, it does not signify deity. The Logos cannot subsist apart from His divine nature, while He mostly certainly can subsist apart from the human. The Christ cannot subsist apart from the Logos.[47] And according to the church fathers and the larger catholic tradition, there are certain properties and actions that apply only to the humanity of Christ – such as passibility – and not to His godhead.[48]

This paper will be continued in part 2.


[1] The paper, “Do We Have a Christology Crisis?”, can be accessed online here: http://www.credenda.org/index.php/Theology/do-we-have-a-christology-crisis.html

[2] Under this conviction, I was actually hesitant to write this paper. My fear was that I would just be telling the reader to consult with other earlier sources. However, upon reflection, it has become plain that an exhortation to read the Protestant scholastics (or even Bavinck, Berkhouwer, and Berkhof) is in fact necessary. They have yet to be improved upon.

[3] Harry Wolfson, in his book The Philosophy of the Church Fathers (Harvard University Press, 1970), explains the patristic origin and meaning of this kind of language. He shows that Philonic and Stoic concepts of “unity” were invoked to explain how two natures could be inseparable yet ever distinct. He also shows the complexity and variation of terminology among the church fathers. See especially pages 387–433.

[4] For a defense of these concepts, consult Edward David Willis, Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the So-Called Extra Calvinisticum in Calvin’s Theology (Brill, 1966).

[5] The essay, called “Reformed Christology and the Westminster HTFC Report: A Critical Comment,” was originally posted at http://aboulet.com/2008/05/20/reformed-christology-and-the-westminster-htfc-report/. It can now be accessed here. The paper has also appeared on a number of Eastern Orthodox blogs, often cited with breathless enthusiasm as proof positive that the Reformed are inconsistent with Chalcedonian orthodoxy. See http://castleman711.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/all-reformed-need-to-read-this-part-1-mccormack/, http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2008/06/15/a-deformed-christ/, and http://medievaltriad.blogspot.com/2012/02/not-all-who-are-alexandrian-are.html.

[6] In fact, the occasion for his writing the essay was the controversy over Peter Enns’ controversial doctrine of Scripture. McCormack argued that a strong emphasis on divine unity in the realm of Biblical authorship would run contrary to the purported Reformed emphasis on dual activity in the person of Christ. This is a complicated and, in my opinion, seriously flawed argument, though I will only be examining his particular historical claims about Reformed Christology. It should also be noted that McCormack is working to further modify the Reformed tradition away from classic theology (most evident in his rejection of impassibility), and he is thus not representing any sort of traditional reading of the Reformers.

[7] Of course, the proper interpretation of Chalcedon is itself hotly disputed.

[8] He does not explicitly state it in this way. McCormack writes, “There is, you see, an ambiguity at the heart of the Chalcedonian Definition where the ‘Person’ is concerned … there are those who, leaning heavily on the first of these formulations, say that the Formula grants a certain victory to Nestorius. But there are also those who say that it is Cyril’s theology which triumphed at Chalcedon. In the first group is to be found Aloys Grillmeier and Brian Daley; in the second, John McGuckin. My own view is that a carefully contextualized reading of the Definition will show that it is the second of these opinions which is correct. But here’s the thing: classical Reformed theology clearly stood on the side of the first of these options – not the second.” Still, the insinuation is clear. The Reformers understood the theology of Chalcedon in the manner of Grillmeier and Daley, that is, as a “certain victory to Nestorius.” McCormack adds that he is persuaded of the contrary opinion regarding Chalcedon, but he wants to make it plain what he thinks the Reformers thought, and what  he thinks they were most likely doing, which is, according to him, moving away from the council’s true intent.

[9]  McCormack writes, “The ‘person’, according to this teaching, is not simply the Logos as such but is very God and very man – the two natures having come together to form a single person.”  McCormack is unclear as to whether this position is consistent with Chalcedon, though he uses it to support the claim that the Reformed position was, at least, in some respects, distinct from Chalcedon.

[10] Dialogue on the Two Natures in Christ, translated and edited with an Introduction and Notes by John Patrick Donnelly, PML, vol. 2 (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, 1995), 59.

[11] Ibid., 61.

[12] Ibid.

[13] 59.

[14] Institutes 2.14.4.

[15] Ibid 2.14.5.

[16] Confession of Christian Religion 11.7, ed. Baschera and Moser (Brill 2007), 209.

[17] Ibid 11.16, 227.

[18] Observations of the same Zancius Uppon His Owne Confesion 12.7, 555.

[19] Ibid., 639.

[20] Of the Church 3.1, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1635), 127.

[21] 3.33, pp. 307–308. Field writes, “Beza, saith he, teacheth that there are two hypostatical unions in Christ; ergo, two hypostases or persons; which was the heresy of Nestorius. The consequence of this argument is too weak to enforce the intended conclusion; for when Beza saith there are two hypostatical unions in Christ, the one of the body and soul, the other of the nature of God and man, he doth not conceive that the union of the body and soul do in Christ make a distinct human person or subsistence different from that of the Son of God; (for he everywhere confesseth that the human nature of Christ hath no subsistence but that of the Son of God communicated to it); but he therefore calleth it an hypostatical union, because naturally it doth cause a finite and distinct human person or subsistence, and so would have done here, if the nature flowing out of this union had not been assumed by the Son of God, and so prevented and stayed from subsisting in itself, and personally sustained in the person of the Son of God. This doctrine is so far from heresy that he may justly be suspected of more than ordinary malice that will traduce it as heretical: yet hath Beza, to stop the mouths of such clamorous adversaries, long since corrected and altered this form of speech which he had sometimes used.” Much unnecessary anxiety would be dispelled if only modern commentators were as judicious as Field.

[22] Decades, 4th Decade, 6th Sermon, vol. 3 (Parker Society ed.), 261.

[23] Ibid, 257.

[24] 268.

[25] See the discussion in Ernst Koch, Die Theologie der Confessio Helvetica Posterior (Neukirchener Verlag des Erziehungsvereins, 1968), 109.

[26] Arthur Cochrane, Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 223.

[27] Wilhelm Niesel, Bekenntnisschriften und Kirchenordnungen: der nach Gottes Wort reformierten Kirche (Zürich: Theologische Buchhandlung, 1985), 236.

[28] Otto Fridolinus Fritzsche, Confessio Helvetica Posterior (Turici: Sumptibus Friderici Schulthessh, 1839), 34.

<a id=”29″ href=”#ref29″[29] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3, (Baker, 1966), 233.

[30] Cochrane, 223. He also cites Koch, who includes the notification of textual variations in a footnote.

[31] The intended meaning of the term must be understood from within its context. While some might assume “hypostasis” to have been a fixed term, 16th-century lexicons show that it in fact bore a complex scope of various meanings. See Johannes Altenstaig, Lexicon Theologicum, (Antverpiae: Belleri, 1576), 135. Field’s explanation of Beza’s use of hypostatical is also relevant, n. 21. In its immediate context here, Bullinger’s use of the term is paired with naturas and substantias, and contrasted against persona. The Reformed, true to their Humanist philological method, were, to their immense credit, keenly aware of the slipperiness of signifiers both in themselves and in their historical usage.

[32] “Die Textuberlieferung der Confessio Helvetica Posterior und Ihre Vorgeschichte” in Glauben und Bekennen. 400 Jahre Confessio Helvetica posterior. Beiträge zu ihrer Geschichte und Theologie, ed. Joachim Staedtke (Zürich: Zwingli Verlag, 1966), 39&ndash40.

[33] Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1 (Baker, 1966), 393.

[34] For example, the French translation of the 1566 edition says this, “Nous recognoissons donques en un mesme et seul Jesus Christ nostre Seigneur deux substances, ou natures, l’une divine, et l’autre humaine: et disons qu’icelles sone tellement conjointes et unies, qu’elles ne sont aneanties ni confuses, ny meslees: ains que les proprietez d’icelles natures demeurent sauves en icelle union personelle: tellement que nous honorons et adorons un seul Christ Seigneur, et non point deux: un seul di-je, vray Dieu et homme&hellip. Car comme nous detestons l’heresie de Nestorius … ” La confession helvetique posterieure (text francais de 1566), tr. Jaques Courvoisier. Cahiers Theologiques de l’actualite Protestante 5/6, Editions Delachaux & Niestle S.A. (Neuchatel, 1944), 69–70. Courvoisier, who otherwise gives extensive annotations, makes no mention of a deleted term or controversy surrounding the 1566 translation.

[35] Schaff, vol. 3, 233.

[36] Unfortunately, too many of the online apologists have tried to make it such, being superstitiously attached to terms apart from context or usage, and seeking master codes which might reduce the complexity of history to easily manageable proportions.

[37] The candidate for such a new, unorthodox meaning purportedly at the heart of Reformed Christology is “compound person.” The actual meaning and history of this expression will be considered in the next part of this discussion.

[38] This citation is on the very next page, an odd coupling to modern historians, but perhaps evidence of the specific “patristic consensus” current to Bullinger’s day, as the substantial theological content is deemed more important than any sub-ecclesiastical identitification or narrative tradition.

[39] Bullinger, 242.

[40] Ibid, 261.

[41] 264.

[42] 271.

[43] An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 3.3.

[44] Though the medieval Scholastics made great advances in clarity and precision over the lexical usages of the ancients, they also proceeded in an extremely speculative and unphilological fashion. Thus the Reformers were rightly suspicious of aspects of their treatises, and in the first phase of the Reform privileged the antiquity of the Fathers, as closer to sources, over the clarity of the Scholastics. But once the initial work of reform was secured, the evangelicals went on to retrieve and reform what was good in the scholastic legacy.

[45] Ibid 3.7.

[46] Originally, “σύνθετον γενέσθαι τὴν πρότερον ἁπλῆν οὖσαν τοῦ Λόγου ὑπόστασιν.”

[47] There are other uses of messiah in the Bible, of course, but our conversation is limited to the specific instance of Jesus Christ.

[48] John of Damascus himself makes a distinction between the use of “God” and “Godhead.” While he will allow for the statement “God became man,” he will not allow for the statement, “the Godhead became man.” Neither will he admit the Godhead to be united to humanity. “For the name God is applicable to each of the subsistences, but we cannot use the term Godhead in reference to subsistence,” 3.11. The use of this language by the Reformed was later to fuel cavils by Lutheran dogmaticians.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

2 replies on “A Compound Person and Complex Questions (Part 1): Addendum to “Do We Have a Christology Crisis?””

[…] Our first essay, as Mr. Wedgeworth explains at its beginning, is a deeper and more thoroughgoing examination of a controversial claim we addressed in outline in a previous essay kindly published by Credenda Agenda. There, we were concerned to outline, for pastors especially, the intellectual and pastoral background of some recent critiques of the Reformed tradition. Here, however, the historical and theological aspects of the critique are considered directly and at length. […]

Comments are closed.