24 August 2011

The doctrine of the impersonality

of the human nature of Christ is one of the most vital and neglected pieces of our orthodox confession of the Savior.  Nothing like a conversation with a Nestorian heretic to demonstrate its ongoing relevance and how its denial lands you with TWO Christs, no matter how hard you fight it. Kyrie eleison!!!!

24 comments:

Weekend Fisher said...

Don't you find it a problem to say that Jesus is fully human and then claim that his human nature is impersonal? The human nature that any other human has, that is not impersonal. So what would be the difference between saying "Jesus' human nature is impersonal" and saying "Jesus' human nature is not fully human" or "Jesus' human nature is not the same as the humanity that you and I share"?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

William Weedon said...

Oh, no. Not at all. He is fully human - consisting of human flesh and a reasonable soul. But to confess the impersonality of the human nature is to confess that that full human nature was assumed by the Divine Logos into the unity of His person. The human nature never subsisted "of itself" and we use the Person of that which subsists of itself and is not part of another. Pax!

Jim Huffman said...

What is meant by "personality" in this context?

Ps-Iosifson said...

I was once in a conversation concerning the Armenian rite. This scholar was explaining how they have all of these terribly outdated references to Zoroastrianism that may have been very helpful when the Armenians were being overrun by Persians every other year but that in today's world it's a prime example of the kind of thing that should be cut.

He was surprised when I told him my neighbor was a Zoroastrian and we'd had a very interesting discussion about religion.

"Oh, well, then maybe there's some use for those texts after all."

Same with other 'terribly out of date' heresies such as Nestorianism, Arianism, Monotheletism, Donatism, etc.

(In a discussion on NPR's 'Fresh Air' yesterday about the New Apostolic Reformation associated with Rick Perry and dominionism, their demonic warfare theology seemed to border on the Manichean or dualist.)

Ps-Iosifson said...

The impersonality of the Christ's union with human nature is also important because it means he united all human nature with the Godhead. That is, the one, common human nature that all humanity shares (including Christ) is united to God. We aren't just terrestrial, our nature is sitting at the right hand of the Father.

Bethany said...

My husband just decided to give up trying to teach the 5th council's enhypostatsis/anhypostatsis Christology in his college religion classes. None of the students could ever get it. He tried using a sort of analogy about it being like Anakin Skywalker is the preexistent person who assumed an impersonal machine nature into the unity of his person and all he got on the mid-terms was that Jesus is like a Darth Vadar because he's half robot. Also, half of them thought that Darth Vadar was Luke Skywalker, so the answers were bad both theologically and in terms of Star Wars mythology. But, then again, it's a Roman Catholic college and so that's verging Nestorian anyways.

Bethany Kilcrease

Weekend Fisher said...

So -- trying to see if I've grasped your point here -- when you say that Jesus' human nature is "impersonal", the upshot is that his human nature is fully unified with the Divine Logos.

That leaves me wondering -- I hope you don't mind, I'm nearly borrowing free theology lessons here -- what exactly you'd mean by a regular human being "personal", in contrast with this?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

William Weedon said...

"Person" refers to that which subsists of itself and not as part or piece of another. That's how the AC defines it, running with the classic definition of the fathers. The human nature (the human flesh and rationale soul of our Lord) never had a subsistence of its own (otherwise our Lord would be two persons). The Divine Logos assumed into the unity of His Person that human nature.

Dr. Nagel had a great way of driving this home: if He assumed a human person, jolly good for that person, but what about the rest of us?

Jim Huffman said...

But "person" is not "personality," which is itself a construct of fairly modern vintage. We tend to think of "person" without "personality" as a kind of zombie.

The notion of personality is probably part of the vocational crisis in western Christianity, but addressing that is important. I suspect the way we think of personality wouldn't have even occurred to folks more than 100-200 years ago.

This would go a long way toward explaining why Chemnitz (in his masterful '2 Natures') doesn't address this -- it wasn't a part of his way of thinking.

William Weedon said...

Personality is used here only in the sense of one's own person. Chemnitz explicates this on page 76:

"But the divine nature of the Logos, or God the Logos, or the person of the Son of God, subsisting from eternity in the divine nature, assumed in the fullness of time a particular individual unit (massa) of human nature, so that in Christ the assuming nature is divine and the assumed nature is human.... Further, in other cases the human nature is always the nature of some definite individual, and its characteristic is to subsist in some definite hypostasis which is distinct from other hypostases of the same nature by some special property of its own. Thus each man has his own body and his own soul. But in the incarnate Christ the divine nature subsisted in itself before the union and even from eternity. But the individual unit of the assumed human nature did not so subsist of itself before the union that there was before the union a particular body of some distinct and definite individual with a particular soul, that is, a particular person subsisting in himself, which the Son of God at a later time assumed. But in the very act of conception, the Son of God assumed this entity of human nature into the unity of His own person so that it subsisted in His person and was sustained by it."

Jim Huffman said...

The point I was trying to make is that folks who seem Nestorian may be in reality simply in the midst of a philosophical conundrum. They are enmeshed in a notion of personality and can't get loose from it. As always, this calls for patient teaching.

William Weedon said...

I see. Well, not in this case. The fellow actually left no doubt - but it is only ONE of his most unusual ideas... Lord, have mercy.

Drew said...

It seems to me that Chemnitz is still confusing person and nature. Natures don't do anything, persons do. From my understanding, that's the patristic Christological starting point. The divine nature didn't assume a human nature (that would be to say that a nature does something); rather, a divine person, the Son and Word of God, assumed a human nature. Chemnitz seems to waffle on this point.

Furthermore, I don't think the Fathers (at least the Greek Fathers and pre-Augustinian Latin Fathers) would speak of a divine person 'subsisting in a divine nature'. In fact, I don't think you see that until Aquinas (but I'm not sure), where persons are defined as relations subsisting in the divine nature. The distinction of the three divine persons, for Aquinas, is a conceptual and not a real distinction (how that isn't at least an implicit affirmation of modalism, I have no idea). If Chemnitz is borrowing from Aquinas, and it seems that he is, then he's pretty far from the patristic understanding of the matter.

I have great respect for Chemnitz. He was obviously theologically astute, and more importantly, a man of deep piety. But from my reading of him, he is trying to harmonize the medieval Latin theological tradition with the patristic tradition, and I don't think such harmonizations work in the end.

I'm wading in deep waters here, so I could very well be confused.

William Weedon said...

Drew,

We will no doubt have to agree to disagree. I do not think Chemnitz confuses nature/person.

Drew said...

Could you show me how he does not?

The Lutherans have historically (rightly) criticized Reformed Christology for its Nestorianizing tendencies - i.e. confusing person and nature by attributing actions to the human nature of Christ. If this is a fair criticism, and I think we both agree that it is, then is it not just as fair to be critical of Chemnitz if he attributes actions to the divine nature, e.g. assuming human nature?

William Weedon said...

Drew,

Though he speaks at several points of "His divine nature" acting (assuming the human nature, for example), it is, I would maintain in the context of his entire work, invariably a short hand way of saying: He - the Divine Person of the Logos - uniting to His divine nature."

If you still have his work, see p. 70 for example, where he can say: through the action of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity "the divine nature of the Son of God...assumed a true, complete and entire human nature" but clarifies this by saying: "And the assumed flesh must not be considered, sought, or apprehended only within the intimate embrace *of the assuming Logos* and not outside of Him." His concern is always that there not be two PERSONS, but that the single Person of the Divine Logos assumed into the unity of His Person the human nature. Hence: "By this act of assumption the hypostasis of the Logos, which from eternity subsisted in the divine nature of the Son, became also the hypostasis of the assumed human nature and now subsists in and consists of the two natures inseparably united, with the divine assuming and the human assumed, and the human nature has its own subsistence not from itself but in the person of the Logos in which it is sustained."

Drew said...

You obviously know Chemnitz better than I do, so if you could find where he states that Christ is an exclusively divine person, that would be helpful, and would probably solve the matter entirely.

William Weedon said...

"Damascenus is quite correct in his belief that the human nature in Christ can be called anhypostatos inasmuch as it does not subsist in itself and according to itself, in its own personality, as the Scholastics say, but is enhypostatos. It subsists in another person, namely, *the Logos, who has become the hypostasis for it*." (Two Natures, p. 31)

"Thus the human nature in Christ (although it does not subsist in itself or by itself) in a sense possesses personal attributes, because this unit (mass) or this individual unit of human nature which subsists in the Person of the Logos differs from all other persons possessing human nature in that it does not subsist in itself but in the person of the Logos and does not possess a personality of its own, since it has the person of the Logos for its hypostasis." (Two Natures, p. 35)

I'm not sure how he could express more clearly that the Hypostasis of the Incarnate Word is the Divine Logos?

Acolyte4236 said...

"Therefore the person of Christ the Mediator ought to be recognized, invoked, and honored because as a result of the hypostatic union of the two natures there comes into being one person consisting of two natures and subsisting in two natures. " Chemnitz, Two Natures in Christ, p. 68.

"Moreover, in forming a definition many have endeavored to resolve the problem in a brief summary and with few words, as the skillful method of drawing up definitions usualy is. And they have actually boiled it down to this, that the hypostatic union is the highest and most intimate coming together by which the divine nature assumes an the human nature is assumed and made the property of the divine, so that these two natures, apart from all change or commingling, come together, concur, and are united to produce one person in Christ." Ibid, p.69

"Not that there might be two persons in the incarnate Christ, just as there are two natures, but to form the one united person of the incarnate Christ, these two natures are joined together by this union so that not only His divine nature, which assumed, but also HIs human nature, which was assumed, might pertain to the complete person of the incarnate Christ." Ibid. p. 70

"Augustine says of this simile [body/soul analogy] 'Although it does not correspond perfectly, yet it is a good simile, excellent for explaining a matter which is difficult but necessary for our understanding; for it uses things which are easy and familiar to our minds.' And from this figure we have come to use as equivalents the terms essence, nature, or person (hypostasis or hupsistamenon) with reference to the incarnation of Christ." Ibid., p.90.

Drew said...

Right, so Chemnitz is in fact confused. On the one hand, the person of Christ is the Son and Word of God, and on the other hand, the person of Christ 'comes into being', is 'produced', and is 'formed' by the union of the divine and human natures; or, in other words, Christ is a divine-human person. Contrary to what Chemnitz says, person and nature are not equivalent terms. I think it was John of Damascus who said that heretics are led astray by the confusion of person and nature.

And while Chemnitz' Two Natures is not a binding confessional document for Lutherans, Article VIII, Section 11 of the Solid Declaration is. And what Chemnitz says above certainly illumines how it is read.

William Weedon said...

Well, as I said earlier, we will have to disagree - especially on who is confused. When the Symbols speak of the two natures united so that they make up a single person, they are simply saying in a different way: "What was once assumed is never put off." The Person of the Logos from the incarnation forward never meets us as anything other than the God-Man. But I've got to run teach school - no more time for this conversation at the moment!!!

Acolyte4236 said...

Pastor Weedon,

Lots of Christological positions could say “what was once assumed is never put off.” I don’t see how that helps.

And saying that the Person of the Logos never meets us as anything other than the theanthropos is perfectly compatible with say a Reformed Christological outlook.
What would be interesting and no doubt helpful would be if you could comment on the passages I posted. What do you make of them? How do you propose Lutherans should understand them?

No hurry.

William Weedon said...

Hi, Perry. I understand the passages you cited to indicate that from the moment of the incarnation forward, the Person is always the Logos ensarkos. "The complete Person of the Incarnate Christ" seems clearly to indicate that the Person of the Logos, having assumed into the unity of His person the human nature and uniting it to His divine nature, is henceforth ever to be regarded as the God-man. I'm honestly not sure what he means by essence, nature, or person as equivalent (and note that Augustine notes that the simile is imperfect), but I certain embrace what he says right before that: "The Logos made a habitation for Himself in the assumed nature in the same way that a soul of man is believed to have its own body." I note that he goes onto observe: "And when the difference between essence and person is not kept in mind, it gave birth to great difficulties over this doctrine.... Ousia indicates the nature that is common to many individuals, including the entire essential property of the individuals. But hypostasis is the particular or individual subsistence which rests upon the common nature and beyond this subsists discreet from all other singular individuals of the same nature, with certain definite properties which are not essential, but personal, as Damascensus says, or delimited, as Justin puts it." (p. 91).

I would maintain that it is charitable and correct to read Chemnitz in his entire context and not gerry-pick passages that seem problematic, but that are answered within their larger context?

Drew said...

Interesting, Pastor. Thanks for doing much of the ground work here. I do wonder, though, why at one point he says person and nature are equivalent and then at another he acknowledges the theological problems that arise from not keeping them distinct.

But hypostasis is the particular or individual subsistence which rests upon the common nature and beyond this subsists discreet from all other singular individuals of the same nature, with certain definite properties which are not essential, but personal, as Damascensus says, or delimited, as Justin puts it.

Honestly, I do not know how he can affirm this and simultaneously confess the Filioque. Procession is either a natural property or it is a personal property. If it is a natural property, then it common to all three persons of the trinity, and if it is a personal property, then it is absolutely unique to one person. And yet the doctrine of the dual procession obfuscates the distinction between person and nature, which Chemnitz seems to affirm above.