08 February 2009

A Primer on Mystical Union

Offered at Pr. Wilken's suggestion, for those who wish to explore the role of mystical union in early Lutheran theology, a beginning by offering some citations from Blessed Martin Luther, Blessed Martin Chemnitz, and Blessed Johann Gerhard:

What great honor and glorious worship that is has been said above, namely, that the divine glory is upheld and God is made to be the true God. In return, God will doubtless bring that person to divine honor and as a result make him a god and a child of God. Who can even estimate what good things such honor and worship of God produce? (Admonition Concerning the Sacrament, AE 38:111), Martin Luther

To give a simple illustration of what takes place in this eating: it is as if a wolf devoured a sheep and the sheep were so powerful that it transformed the wolf and turned him into a sheep. So, when we eat Christ's flesh physically and spiritually, the food is so powerful that it transforms us into itself and out of fleshly, sinful, mortal men makes spiritual, holy, living men. (This is My Body, AE 37:101), Martin Luther

Christ, therefore, saith he, thus joined and united unto me, and abiding in me, liveth this life in me which now I live; yea Christ Himself IS this life, which now I live. Wherefore Christ and I in this behalf are both one. This union or conjunction, then, is the cause that I am delivered from the terror of the law and sin, am separate from myself, and translated unto Christ and His kingdom, which is a kingdom of grace, righteousness, peace, life, salvation and eternal glory. Whilst I thus abide in Him and dwell in Him, what evil is there that can hurt me? (Great Galatians 2:20) - Martin Luther

As concerning justification, Christ and I must be entirely conjoined, and united together, so that He may live in me and I in Him. And this is a wonderful manner of speech. Because Christ liveth in me, look now what grace, righteousness, life, peace and salvation is in me, it is His, and yet it is mine also, by that inseparable union and conjunction which is through faith by the which Christ and I are made as it were one body in spirit. (Great Galatians 2:20) - Martin Luther

Men are to be admonished that they should through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the flesh and firmly adhere to Christ by faith and through the use of the Word and Sacraments become more and more united with Him and seek from God the gift of perseverance, and wrestle, lest the wantonness of the flesh drive out the gift of perseverance. (Examination of the Council of Trent, I:607) - Martin Chemnitz

Christ instituted that in the Lord's Supper bread and wine should be the means or instruments through which He wishes to offer and communicate His body and blood to those who eat, in order that He might be and remain in the believers not only through faith and Spirit but, as the ancients speak, also by natural or substantial participation and might thereafter be united to them more and more." (Examination of the Council of Trent, II:251) - Martin Chemnitz

In the Supper of the new covenant the same victim which was sacrificed to God for our sins is also given to us in the Lord's Supper and shared in by the communicants, so that through this participation in this same victim we are joined to Christ and made partakers of all His merits. (The Lord's Supper, p. 146) - Martin Chemnitz

Therefore, in order that we might be able to lay hold on Christ more intimately and retain Him more firmly, not only did He assume our nature but He also restored it again for us by distributing His body and blood to us in the Supper, so that by this connection with His humanity, which has been assumed from us and is again communicated back to us, He might draw us into communion and union with the deity itself. (The Lord's Supper, p. 188) - Martin Chemnitz

Theology takes its name from God: first, by reason of its principal effective cause, that is, that it is a divinely revealed teaching; second, and indeed especially, by reason of its subject or object, that it makes men divine or "partakers of the divine nature." (On the Nature of Theology and Scripture, p. 27) - Johann Gerhard

Thus this Holy Supper will transform our souls; this most divine sacrament will make us divine men, until finally we shall enter upon the fulness of the blessedness that is to come, filled with all the fulness of God, and wholly like Him. (Sacred Medtiations XX) - Johann Gerhard

The glory of the Head is the glory also of the members. Where our flesh reigns there let us believe that we too shall reign. Where our blood rules there let us hope that we too shall be glorious; though our sins forbid this, yet our participation in His holy nature makes it possible. (Sacred Meditations XXI) - Johann Gerhard

It is by faith alone that we are made partakers of this blessed spiritual union, as it is written, "I will betroth thee unto me in faithfulness." By faith we are engrafted as branched into Christ, the spiritual vine, so that we derive all our life and strength from Him; and as those united in marriage are no longer twain, but one flesh, so "he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" because Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. (Sacred Meditations XIII) - Johann Gerhard

Our spiritual Head is Christ and He submitted to holy baptism that the members of His mystical body might enjoy its saving benefits. (Sacred Meditations XVII) - Johann Gerhard

Great indeed is the honor put upon our bodies, inasmuch as they are the dwelling places of our souls redeemed and fed by the body of Christ, and are the temples of the Holy Ghost and the abodes of the adorable Trinity. It cannot be that they should ever remain in the grave, since they are nourished with the body and blood of our Lord. He is the wonderful bread of life. We partake of it and become one body with Christ. We are members of Christ; we are animated by His Spirit; we are nourished with His body and blood. (Sacred Meditations XVIII) - Johann Gerhard

We are united to Him not only because He hath assumed our nature, but also because His body and blood are communicated to us in the Holy Supper. (Sacred Meditations XVIII) - Johann Gerhard

Nor does Christ simply speak the word of comfort to our souls, He also takes up His abode in us; He feeds our souls not with heavenly manna, but, what is far better, with His own blessed self.... What can be more intimately united to our Lord than his own human nature, which He hath taken, in His incarnation, into fellowship with the adorable Trinity, and thus made the treasury of all the blessings that heaven has to bestow? What is so intimately joined to Him as His own body and blood? With this truly heavenly food, He refreshes our souls, who are as miserable worms in the dust before Him, and makes us partakers of His own nature; why then shall we not enjoy His gracious favor? (Sacred Meditations XIX) - Johann Gerhard

But behold, in this holy Supper, more than a paradise; for here the soul of the creature is spiritually fed with the flesh of his almighty Creator. The conscience is cleansed from all its guilty stains in the blood of the Son of God. The members of Christ, their spiritual Head, are nourished with His own body; the believing soul feasts itself at a divine and heavenly banquet. The holy flesh of God, which the angelic hosts adore in the unity of the divine nature, before which archangels bow in lowly reverence, and before which the principalities and power of heaven tremble and stand in awe, is become the spiritual nourishment of our souls! (Sacred Meditations XIX) - Johann Gerhard

Come, heavenly Bridegroom, Light divine,
And deep within my soul now shine;
There light a flame undying!
In Your one body let us be
As living branches of a tree,
Your life our lives supplying.
Now, though daily
Earth's deep sadness
May perplex us
And distress us,
Yet with heavenly joy You bless us!
(LSB 395:2)


bajaye said...

The similarities between the views expressed in the quotes you posted and the Orthodox understanding of Theosis are quite remarkable. As I’m sure you’re aware some good work was done on this, in the last decade or so, by several Finnish Lutheran theologians. An unrealized Lutheran treasure.


William Weedon said...

Yes, I appreciate much of the Finn's work (though disagree with their assessment of the Formula - as I'm sure you might imagine!). Dr. Stephenson up at St. Cat's noted how explicit this was in the Christmas Hymn: "Let All Together Praise Our God."

Er wechselt mit uns wunderlich
Nimmt an unser Fleisch und Blut
Und gibt uns in dein Vaters Reich
*Die klare Gottheit dran!*

Sadly, the English doesn't quite get there.

Andrew said...

Pr Weedon,

A couple of questions:

What constitutes the real -- as opposed to nominal -- relation between Christ and the believer?

What does it mean to be a 'partaker of the divine nature' without compromising absolute divine simplicity?

bajaye said...

I think, Andrew, that you could ask the same question concerning the Incarnation. Isn't that the greatest absurdity to divine simplicity?

The point is that if God wills it, enables it and desires it, how can it possibly compromise God (simplicity or not)?

As Lutherans are fond of saying, "let God be God."


Anonymous said...

I remember Dr. Nagel using the quote from Luther about the wolf and the sheep a "few" times at Seminary...
He would also say that, in the partaking of the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ "bodies and bloods" us as we chew on His flesh and as His blood is poured down our throats.
I also remember another quote from Luther:
"Ist" ist "ist" und immer ist "ist".

Former Vicar

Dennis said...

This is picked up on in the Book of Common Prayer liturgy after the words of institution is said, "that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with Thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him , that he may dwell in us and we in him."

I always found this very reassuring to hear each week during the Liturgy.

William Weedon said...

Amen, Fr. Brian.

Mark, ist ist immer ist is pure gold.

Dennis, the phrase "may be filled with all heavenly benediction" is actually borrowed from the old Roman canon, but the "may be made one body with him" is a beautiful Anglican amplification. The old Service Book and Hymnal of the former LCA/ALC had "that we and all who partake thereof may be filled with heavenly benediction and grace, and, receiving the remission of sins, be sanctified in soul and body, and have our portion with all thy saints."

Rosko said...

bajaye said:
"The point is that if God wills it, enables it and desires it, how can it possibly compromise God (simplicity or not)?"

Rosko responds:
Father bless!

I just wanted to add a resounding 'AMIN' to your phrase there.

Father Weedon,
The Finns have done great work on this topic, and your paper that used to be on St Paul-Hamel's website is pretty good too1

Fr. Carlos said...

Question: I am really interested in reading on this subject from Luther's perspective. Is "This is My Body, AE 37:101," referring to volume 37 of Luther's works?

bajaye said...

Yes. AE refers to the American edition of Luther's Works.


jgernander said...

Sorry if I'm late on this discussion, but I wanted to present a few Lutheran hymn references that bring this out, one by Paul Gerhardt and one by Thomas Kingo:

This only, Lord, I humbly pray,
O grant it, dearest Savior,
That Thou wouldst dwell in me this day
And here abide forever.
So let me be Thy cradle blest,
Come! Come, within my heart to rest,
My precious Joy and Treasure!
(ELH 129, "Ich Steh An Deiner Krippen/I Stand Beside Thy Manger Here," v. 5)

Break forth, my soul, for joy and say:
What wealth is come to me this day!
My Savior dwells within me now:
How blest am I! How good art Thou!
(ELH 325 "O Jesu, Sode Jesu, Dig/O Jesus, Blessed Lord, to Thee" v. 2 -- Here you must go to the Norwegian-heritage hymnary to get the translation that is more faithful to the Danish than that of TLH, and see the difference! -- "In me now" vs. "In my heart")

And there is also Nicolai's "How Lovely Shines the Morning Star" v. 3-4.

Pastor Jerry Gernander

Jason said...

Hello Pastor Weedon,

Would you have time to ellaborate on your following comment:

"Yes, I appreciate much of the Finn's work (though disagree with their assessment of the Formula - as I'm sure you might imagine!)"

I'm curious what your disagreement with the Finns is regarding the FoC.

Thanks for your blogging ministry and efforts.

William Weedon said...

The Finns see a real conflict between the stand taken in the Formula and that of Luther in Great Galatians. But the "conflict" can hardly exist since the Formula itself refers all further questions on the matter of righteousness To Great Galatians. Also, frequently missed in Missouri circles, is the Formula stating that it is not Christ in His divine nature alone; nor Christ in His human nature alone; but the whole Christ *in both natures AND in His most holy obedience* that is our sole righteousness. In other words, rather than let things slip into parts and fractions, they hold the whole together (the united person in two natures and in all His works).