Rev. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston, Texas.
4. The Definition of Chalcedon. (continued)
The union of the two natures of Christ is defined by the Creed of Chalcedon with the four words, “inconfusedly,” “unchangeably,” “indivisibly,” and “inseparably.” We have already examined the first of these words and turn now to the second.
The second of these four words establishes the truth that the two natures of Christ are joined without change. This particular term is actually very closely connected with the previous term and is included by way of rejecting some of the heresies we have already discussed in that connection.
Eutychianism and Monophysitism, two of the heresies against which the first term, “unconfusedly,” was used, implied in their teaching that not just one, but both of the two natures of Christ were substantially and really changed by their union, being fused into a third new substance that was neither truly divine nor truly human.
The seriousness of this error, of course, is that it takes away Christ as Savior, since He must be a real man to suffer for man’s sin, and true God to be able to finish that suffering and to earn for us and bring to us the righteousness of God and eternal life. In order, therefore, to maintain as strongly as possible the distinction between the two natures, the term “unchangeably,” was included along side of and along with the term, “inconfusedly.”
What is most striking, however, is that this term exactly fills the need for a statement over against a more modern heresy, the Lutheran heresy of the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature. From the very beginning, Lutheranism has taught that Christ’s human nature after the resurrection was essentially changed in one regard, that is, that it became everywhere-present, or ubiquitous.
The Heidelberg Catechism, for example, though it does not name the Lutherans, is dealing with this error in XVIII, 47 when it explains the ascension to mean that “with respect to His human nature, He (Christ) is no more on earth.” The same is true of question 48, where the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “But if His human nature is not present wherever His Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another?” The emphasis in both questions and answers is on the fact that Christ’s human nature is not everywhere present.
The Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper demands this doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature. That doctrine, in other words, does not exist in a vacuum. Insofar as Lutheranism teaches a physical presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, that is, that Christ’s body and blood (humanity) are physically present in the supper, it must also of necessity teach that the body and blood or humanity of Christ are not only in heaven, but also on earth, and present everywhere the Lord’s Supper is administered.
It should be added to all this that Luther and the Lutherans explicitly reject the heresy of Eutychianism and deny that their doctrine means that in some way the human has become divine, or even that it is everywhere present in the same way as the divine nature. Nevertheless, they clearly violate this second statement of Chalcedon by teaching that the human nature has been changed; and not just in the sense that it was glorified. Rather, it was in the sense that it actually took on something that belongs to the divine. And no matter how one may argue, the attribute of omnipresence is not a human attribute, and a change from being limited locally to being omnipresent is an important and essential change.
That this is the Lutheran teaching is clear from one of the Lutheran Confessions, the Formula of Concord. Here we see not only the teaching that Christ’s human nature is ubiquitous, but its close connection in Lutheran theology to the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper:
Secondly: that the right hand of Cod is everywhere, and that Christ, in respect of His humanity, is seated thereat, and therefore as present governs, and has in His hand and under His feet, as the Scripture saith
all things that are in heaven and on earth (VII, Affirmative, v).
The teaching is rejected:
That Christ’s Body is so confined in heaven that it can in no mode whatever be likewise at one and the same time in many places, or in all the places where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated (VII, Negative, xi).
In this connection, they speak, too, of an actual transfer of properties or attributes from the divine to the human (a communicatio idiomata). This does indeed, then, involve a change in the human nature. It is not the same human nature that it was before the exaltation. Reformed theology also speaks of such a transfer of attributes, but not from one nature to the other. In Reformed theology this transfer is the transfer of all the attributes of both natures to the one Person of the Son of God. In other words, He is personally, fully, and really all that belongs to the human nature and all that belongs to the divine. As the Lutherans themselves state, this is not Eutychianism, strictly speaking, and yet it comes very close to that in that it violates the second term of the Creed of Chalcedon. Nor is it a small error, for it really does confound the human and divine, blurs the distinction between them, and denies, to the destruction of our comfort in Christ, His continuing real humanity.
These criticisms are, of course, apart from all criticism of the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation and the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. It should be added, however, and this helps show the seriousness of the Lutheran error, that their doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature really makes both the ascension and second coming of Christ mere forms. If Christ according to His human nature is everywhere present, how can He in any real sense ascend to heaven or come again from heaven? We, therefore, believe that the human nature is not changed by the resurrection or in any other connection, but that He continues true man. Nor are we afraid to say that according to that same human nature, He ascends to heaven and comes again at the end of all ages.
The Lutherans, at this point, have always accused the Reformed of another error, the error of Nestorianism. But as we shall see in discussing the third of Chalcedon’s terms, this is an unfair charge.
The point that needs making in this connection is that the confession of the real humanity of Christ may not in any way be compromised. The Lutheran teaching does that. The glory Christ receives through His exaltation in no way involves any change in His humanity, so that He is in some respect different from us; for to the degree that He is unlike us, we have no place in Him. And no more than we can conceive of ourselves as being omnipresent, either on earth or in heaven, no more can we conceive of Christ as an omnipresent man, without losing our confidence in Him.
As we pointed out in the previous article, this blurring of the distinction between the human and divine by ascribing what are, in fact, divine attributes to the human nature of Christ, is characteristic of much modern theology, if it can even be called “theology.” To the degree that Lutheranism blurs this distinction it goes along with the modern trend of making no distinction between God and man.
This “theology,” which is not theology, is such a grave danger to the church that it cannot be ignored. The idea that I am the only one who really matters, and that my feelings, my needs, my gifts, my rights, and my desires are not only to be recognized and used but catered to has gained such a stranglehold on the life of the church that it seems sometime that the hold can no longer be broken. Now this is not to say that modern “theology” is explicitly Eutychian. Modern theology is explicitly nothing at all. It is only to say that the failure to teach clearly the two natures of Christ and the distinction between them is part of the trend that so completely eradicates the distinction between God and man, that man himself becomes the only god that men know today.
Along the same lines and over against such sanctified humanism, the church must not only contradict various false doctrines, by pointing them out for what they are, but must also fight against it by teaching sound doctrine, particularly the sound doctrine of the incarnation. For the church to fail at this point, or for the members of the church to be ignorant of these doctrines of Christ, is to open the door both to the teaching of the sects and to that of modern liberalism.
Let us maintain, then, the confession of our own creed, that Christ is and continueth true man, and let us know what that means as far as the incarnation and the union of Christ’s two natures is concerned. That His two natures, the human and the divine, are joined without change means for us that He is unchangeably our Savior.