Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.
3. The analogy of body and soul.
Various analogies have been used to help explain the union of Christ’s two natures and to show that faith in this union is not unreasonable. Regarding the use of these analogies to show the plausibility of belief in Christ’s two natures, we should remember that this is a matter of faith and not of demonstration. It is part of the great “mystery of godliness” (I Tim. 3:16), and is something, therefore, that the natural man cannot receive by any amount of proof. It must be spiritually discerned. They can be used, however, with greater or lesser success, to help us understand this mystery in so far as we are able.
One analogy which has been used to teach that Christ assumed our human nature is the analogy of a man putting on a coat. This analogy is weak in many ways, especially in that it leaves the impression that the union of Christ’s two natures is not permanent, that is, that Christ can shed His human nature at will as a man sheds his coat. We believe, of course, that the union of the two natures of Christ is permanent. To all eternity, from the time of His incarnation, He is God and man in one Person. Nor is a coat ever part of a man, but Christ’s two natures are so inseparably joined in Him that without one or the other He is not even the Christ. Yet in so far as this analogy reminds us that Christ did not just dwell in a man and that He was not turned from God into a man, but that He took on or “assumed’ our humanity, it is acceptable.
More valuable and more common is the analogy of the relationship of soul and body in a man. The union of soul and body is, in other words, similar in some respects to the union of divinity and humanity in Christ. If the statement of the Belgic Confession concerning the Athanasian Creed is true, that “we do willingly receive the three creeds, namely, that of the Apostles, of Nice, and of Athanasius” (Art. IX), then the use of this analogy is indeed legitimate and valuable, for the Athanasian Creed makes uses of it when it says: “For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ” (37).
This analogy is by no means perfect. No analogy is. But as Hodge says, “There is in this case enough of a resemblance to sustain faith and rebuke unbelief. There is nothing in the one more mysterious or inscrutable than in the other” (III, iii, 1). Along the same lines, Calvin says, in making use of this analogy, “If in human affairs, anything analogous to this great mystery can be found, the most apposite similitude seems to be that of man” (Institutes, II, xiv, 1).
The points of similarity are as follows. In the first place, like man who is made up of two different “substances,” soul (or spirit) and body, the one material and the other immaterial, so Christ has two natures, the one finite and creaturely, the other infinite and all-glorious. The analogy is imperfect already at this point in that soul and body are really only parts of man, while the two natures of Christ are whole and complete in themselves. The analogy does point out, however, that it is no more unthinkable to believe in the two natures of Christ, than in man himself.
The second point of analogy is that the union of soul and body in man is personal. Together they constitute one individual man, or human person (cf. Hodge, III, iii, 1). In both the activities of soul and body there is but one man acting, willing, and thinking. Christ also is but one Person acting in and through two different natures. One is no more justified in concluding that because Christ has two natures, He is actually two different individuals, than one would be justified in ascribing to man two separate existences because he is soul and body.
In the third place, in man both soul and body, though joined, remain distinct. The union is not like that of copper and zinc, which when combined produce a third substance, brass. Body and soul do not lose their character by virtue of being joined in man. No more are the two natures of Christ united in such a way that He is neither really human and divine anymore but some kind of hybrid between the two.
At the same time, the union of the two natures of Christ is not by mere indwelling, so that the union is only accidental and temporary. This is true also of body and soul. The union between them is not such that the soul merely dwells in or is caged in the body, as a man dwells in a house. As with body and soul, so with Christ: there is a real union between the two natures, so that they work together in perfect harmony in our salvation.
Finally, the result of the union of body and soul in man is that the attributes of both soul and body are ascribed to the one person. We may say of the man what is true of his body or what is true of his soul. Describing especially the body of a man we may say that he, the man, is tall or short, handsome or not, or even that he is healthy or sick. Likewise, speaking of his soul especially, we may say that he, the man, is wise or foolish, kind or cruel, calm or high-strung. The distinction between soul and body is such that what is true of one is not necessarily true of the other. For example, when a man suffers physical injury, this may have an effect on the soul, but it is his body, not his soul, that is injured. Yet we say, and truly, that the man himself has been hurt. This distinction can even mean that what appear to be inconsistent or contradictory statements may be made about a man, as for example, that he is dust and that he is spirit.
All this reminds us that what is true of each of Christ’s natures is true of Christ Himself. The two natures are forever distinct, but what is true of each of them is true of Christ. As one Person, He is God and He is man, finite and infinite, omniscient and limited in knowledge, omnipotent and weak, eternal and time-bound. The Athanasian Creed expresses this very thing when it says that He is:
God of the substance of the Father, begotten before all worlds; man of the substance of His mother, born in the world . . . . Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two but one Christ (31, 33, 34).
This is the mystery of the incarnation, the mystery that is Christ.
We see, then, that though the analogy does help us to understand Who and what Christ is, in the end, because it is itself a mystery, it serves also to deepen our reverence and awe for Him Who is like us in all things, and yet is the God of our salvation Whom we worship and adore.
4. The definition of Chalcedon.
We have already mentioned the Creed of Chalcedon and the fact that it was written to define the relationship between the two natures of Christ over against various heresies that arose in the early church.
After the doctrine of Christ’s divinity had been established as the doctrine of the church in the Nicene Creed, the question of how Christ could be God and man together began to trouble the church, and various answers were given. Many of these answers were wrong and were rejected by the Council and Creed of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. These errors were especially those of Appolinaris, Nestorius, Eutychus, and the Monophysites.
In the Creed of Chalcedon and over against these errors there are four words used to define the union of Christ’s two natures as exactly as possible, they are the words “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably.” These words stand still today as a bulwark against error and as the fullest possible statement that can be made concerning this great mystery.
We intend to look at each of these words separately and see what they say and why they are used, but first there are several things that we should note about all of them together.
First, though these words are not from Scripture, they nevertheless do express the teaching of Scripture and express it so exactly and completely that the church has really not been able to add anything to this statement since the time it was written. Also, these words as such are not part of our own confessions. We receive officially the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds by way of the statement from Article IX of the Belgic Confession quoted above, but not this creed. I, personally, consider this a lack, but the reason is to be found in the controversial statement of the creed that Mary is “the Mother of God.” Nevertheless, though we do not officially receive the creed, its definition of the union of Christ’s two natures is comprehended in our other creeds, particularly in Article XIX of the Belgic Confession. There only one of the four words used by Chalcedon is to be found, but the essential teaching of the other three is there, as we shall see.
Finally, it should be noted that all four terms used by the Council of Chalcedon are negative. They say what the union is not, but do not even attempt to define what it is. This is, of course, to be explained first of all from the fact that the council was dealing with various heresies, but it must also be due to the fact that this is a mystery. Those who wrote this creed knew, as we do, what they believed, and what they did not believe, but to explain such a mystery as this was not only beyond their power, but beyond ours also. This does not make the definition of the Council of Chalcedon any less valuable, for as a guard against error it is irreplaceable. It only reminds us of the important thing: that this is a matter of faith and salvation, not of logical analysis and intellectual comprehension.