Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fully God and Fully Human

Anyone who has studied much church history is familiar with the Nestorian controversy which led to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.  It was at this council that the church affirmed the two natures of Christ existing in one body.  Christ was fully God and fully man at the same time.  Calvin affirms and adheres to this same doctrine in chapter 14 of book 2 of the Institutes.

Calvin starts off by clarifying the phrase used in John 1:14, “the Word made flesh.”  This does not mean that the Word was turned into flesh or was mixed with the flesh.  “He who was the Son of God became the Son of man – not by confusion of the substance, but by unity of person.”  Calvin compares this to the soul and the body.  The soul is distinct from the body and the body distinct from the soul.  The two together make up the whole man.  Calvin refers to the ancient writers who called this interchange of characteristics as “the communicating of properties.” 

The second section contains Scripture passages which show Christ's divinity, humanity, and the communication of properties between the two natures.  For instance, John 8:58 includes the phrase, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (NIV).  This is Christ speaking directly about His divinity, not humanity.  In Christ's prayer recorded in John 17, He says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began,” (John 17:5 NIV) also showing His divinity.  In other places Christ affirms His humanity, such as in John 8:50, “I am not seeking glory for myself.” and in John 6:38. “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me,” (NIV).  Both his natures worked together in His earthly life and in the work of salvation.  Calvin writes, “when Christ, still living on earth, said: 'No on has ascended into heaven but the Son of man who was in heaven' [John 3:13 p], surely then, as man, in the flesh that he had taken upon himself, he was not in heaven.  But because the selfsame one was both God and man, for the sake of the union of both natures he gave to the one what belonged to the other.”

Looking more into John's writings concerning this unity of God and man in the person of the Mediator, Calvin explains, “he received from the Father the power of remitting sins [John 1:29], of raising to life whom he will, of bestowing righteousness, holiness, salvation; he was appointed judge of the living and the dead in order that he might be honored, even as the Father [John 5:21-23].  Lastly, he is called the 'light of the world' [John 9:5, 8:12], the 'good shepherd,' the 'only door' [John 10:11,9], the 'true vine' [John 15:1].”  Christ had been given these titles during His earthly life, and these titles could not have been given to anyone who was just a man but only to the One who is both God and man.

Paul wrote much about this unity as well.  Calvin highlights several passages, but just look at the creed that Paul writes to the Philippians:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness,
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to death-
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:5-11 NIV
Some unnamed early Christian theologians were confused by the idea of two natures being in the one person of the Mediator.  Calvin corrected their teachings through the use of Scripture to correct them.  In tomorrow's reading, we will study the specific examples of heresies related to the dual nature of Christ.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.14.4-2.14.8

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