God Died for Us…Really? (McCormack Croall adjunct seminar)

What is the root problem that McCormack is trying to get at in his lectures?  What is the bee in his bonnet?  After all, the Church (with a couple small Oriental exceptions) has been happily funcitoning with the Definition of Chalcedon for nearly sixteen centuries, which has held firm and uncontested throughout all manner of doctrinal controversies and schisms, and never been seriously questioned until the last two centuries.  Even these questions, we are likely to say, are the result more of unbelief in general than of any problem internal to the doctrine as such.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”–right?

Well the problem is this: Christians have always wanted to say, and routinely do say in sermons and hymns, that “God himself came and died for us; God himself came and died for us; God himself took the burden of evil upon himself and saved us because we could not save ourselves.”  I heard a great sermon yesterday on the problem of evil that focused on just this point–God has taken the problem of evil on himself and borne its suffering.  But the question is, can we really say that?  Does our theology really allow us to assert, with a straight face, without any asterisks or fine print, that very God suffered and died on our behalf?  McCormack thinks the answer is “No”–orthodox theology, as we have received it, must always add a bunch of fine print at the bottom, so that God may remain properly God.  “Thanks God, for dying for us,” we say, “but just between the two of us, we know you can’t really, cuz you’re God,” we add with a wink. 

The tensions, suggested McCormack in his open discussion seminar on Friday, go all the way back to the Chalcedonian definition.  We should not, says McCormack, treat Chalcedon as irreformable, because to do so would be to elevate the philosophical categories available to the fifth-century bishops to the level of the canon.  We must honor the doctrinal goals they were seeking to accomplish, while acknowledging that ultimately they had to articulate these doctrines within the philosophical resources available to them, which are not sacrosanct.  If we can improve upon the account by bringing new philosophical resources to bear, while continuing to do justice to the core theological values, then we may be able to construct a more coherent, more Biblical account of Christology.  

In principle, this sounds like a fine endeavour, and when you hear what McCormack is up to, it’s hard not to be sympathetic to his project–I do have at least three key misgivings, but I’m going to continue to hold off on them until McCormack is done his lecture series. For now, his analysis of Chalcedon:  

In the Chalcedonian Definition, we have two natures and one person.  Everyone knows that much.  Moreover, what not everyone knows (because only in the last couple decades has scholarship come back around to this conclusion–one recognized all along by the East)–the relationship between the two is conceived in basically Alexandrian terms: the one person of the hypostatic union is identical with the eternal person of the Logos, the second person of the Trinity.  There is no new composite person, rather, there is the person of the Logos who assumes to himself a human nature, adding it to the divine nature he already possesses (but, as we all know, without confusion, without separation, without change, etc.).  So far, so good.

But what, pray tell, is a person?  And what, pray tell, is a nature?  Well for us, certainly, a person certainly means a self-conscious subject, an agent that wills, acts, and takes responsibility for his or her actions.  And a nature, it would seem, is a set of essential properties that define a certain being.  Now, where do things like will and consciousness reside?  Are they part of our human nature?  It would certainly seem so.  Will and consciousness are properties pertaining to the human.  Will and consciousness, then, belong to a nature, but are expressed through a person; in the case of Jesus Christ, these human properties receive their expression through the divine person.  But wait a second, how does this person relate to its divine nature?  The will and consciousness of the Logos are those of its divine nature.  The Logos is simply a divine nature in conscious action, right?  To speak of the person without his divine nature is to speak of a mere abstraction, like the mathematical placeholder 0.  On this way of looking at it, the divine nature and the one person must be held together in the tightest unity–so how do they relate to the third element of the equation–the human nature?

According to the basic theosis soteriology prevalent in the early Church, the divine nature and the divine person were not treated in abstraction, but as a single subject acting through and upon the human nature.  However, as soon as the Fathers came to treat of the communication of attributes–which they had to do in order to predicate genuine humanity of Christ–they had to hold the nature and person apart in abstraction.  The properties of human nature were ascribed to the person of the union, but they were not ascribed to the divine nature as such.  How could they be?  The divine nature could not be composite, finite, passible, etc., and still remain divine.  Divinity acted through and upon the humanity, but the humanity did not act through and upon the divinity.  The relation is necessarily asymmetrical. 

Now, either way we have a problem.  When the divine nature and divine person are held closely together, then the human nature is instrumentalized; it is as it were a passive object used by the divine Word, but in itself capable of contributing nothing.  Indeed, if an infinite power is always operating in and through it, it is hard to see how Christ can act as a genuine human at all–how can he know as a finite being, act as a finite being, suffer as a finite being?  The slide toward Apollinarianism becomes all but irresistible.  On the other hand, when we try to emphasize the genuine humanity of Christ’s person, we do so only by putting a chasm between the person and the divine nature, and thus reduce the person to a metaphysical abstraction, with the two natures in the end functioning separately along parallel tracks.  The slide toward Nestorianism becomes all but irresistible.


The only way of resolving this, McCormack thinks, lies in ditching the metaphysical scruples that, in his mind, are a wrench in the gears of the whole thing–divine simplicity and divine impassibility.  On the grounds of a Greek metaphysical understanding of what is proper to the divine nature, a wall of separation has been erected, so that human attributes can never touch the divine nature–this is either done via the Nestorian wall of abstraction, or via the Alexandrian route–making the divine nature so completely active with respect to the human nature that there is no way for the human nature to act reflexively back on the divine.  

The Nestorian approach, for McCormack, is a non-starter (it is, after all, heretical).  We have to use the Alexandrian starting-point, but–here’s the punch line–in reverse.  What if, instead of the divine nature/person being completely active with respect to the human nature, the divine nature/person is completely passive with respect to the human nature; or rather, since God is always the sovereign agent in any relation and is thus never passive in the full sense of the world, we could say “receptive.”  Thus, what McCormack wants to say is this: in the Incarnation, the divine Word freely wills to exist in perfect receptivity to the human–to human thoughts, feelings, finitude, suffering.  Is this really so radical after all?  After all, this is the sort of thing we say in prayers and sermons and hymns all the time, particularly around Christmas.  From a dogmatic standpoint, though, this really may be radical.  It’s also useful from a Biblical standpoint–for if the agency at work in Christ is divine and all-powerful, what need does Jesus have of the Spirit?  And yet he calls upon the Spirit, and is indwelt by the Spirit.  This seems redundant.  But on McCormack’s account, the all-powerful agency of the Word is not active in the man Jesus–else it would overwhelm his humanity; Jesus thus acts by the aid of the Spirit, as his apostles did.  

And there’s more.

Remember how the Chalcedonian definition does not merely use the word “person,” but also that opaque Greek word hypostasis?  The literal Latin equivalent of hypostasis is substantia–substance–but that’s misleading.  The best definition, McCormack suggested, was “the thatness of a thing,” in contradistinction, indeed, from the “whatness,” which is substance.  The word enters Christology from Trinitarian theology.  In the Trinitarian credal formulas, one God exists in three hypostases.  These are not at all fully independent persons as we would normally understand the term; modern social trinitarianism has gone on to predicate much more difference and personality within the Trinity than the classical doctrine would permit.  Classical dogmatics, indeed, in treating of the ontological differences among the members of the Trinity, would say no more that they differed in their modes of origination–the three hypostases were defined by being autotheos in the case of the Father, begotten in the case of the Son, and spirated in the case of the Spirit.  But to state things this way is to say next to nothing, to posit no more than abstract logical relations without any clear substantial content.  To complain then that the “one person and hypostasis” of the incarnate Word becomes no more than an empty abstraction, a metaphysical placeholder, in our doctrine of Christ, is to point to a problem already bequeathed to the Council of Chalcedon by the previous century’s Trinitarian disputes.  And this is where McCormack’s proposal gets pretty darn cool.  

Yes, he says, it is true that on its own, the second hypostasis of the Trinity has no differentiating personal properties.  That is why he became man.  The Word took to himself a human nature so that humanity might become proper to Him, might become a personal property of the second person of the Trinity.  What else would have been merely divine nature shared in common with Father and Spirit is now divine-and-human nature.  The Son is the Son because he is the one who became Son, who was born amidst God’s human children and became one of them.  The Son is the one who made humility, suffering, sacrifice, part of what it meant to be God.

Now, lest we fall headlong into some terrifying pit of process theology, McCormack is quick to say: this does not mean that God ontologically changes.  Divine impassibility may be unbiblical, but he does not think immutability is.  All this is not a violation of divine immutability because this man-becomingness is part of the eternal election of God.  The Son has always already been constituted as the one who freely willed to become man.  The logos asarkos is never not already the logos incarnandus–or, in English: the Word-outside-the-flesh is never not already the Word-to-be-enfleshed.

Again, to say all this (at least all but the last bit) is in many ways to say things that Christians have instinctively felt the need to say: yes, what makes the Son different from the Father is that he has taken to himself human nature and made it part of himself.  But dogmatically speaking, this is certainly a departure–preeminently a departure from the doctrine of divine simplicity, which McCormack considers another holdover from Platonism.  Divine simplicity states that God’s being has no composite parts; it consists only of itself in perfect unity.  But how can this be if the fully divine Son has taken to himself another nature as ontologically proper to himself, and thus become a composite being, a being of two natures?  


So God becomes incarnate in Christ to exhibit himself as God-for-us, as the God who has eternally willed to exist for and in communion with his creatures, as the God to whom finitude, humanity, humility, is not alien, but indeed part of who He is.  This is where McCormack is coming from, and this is what he’s going to unpack with relation to the doctrine of the atonement in the coming days.  A beautiful solution, though most will admit a dangerous one, and one that many will not be willing to accept.  But, as Jeremy Begbie once said, “All good theology is done on the cliff-edge—one step too far and you tumble into idolatry, one step back and the view is never so good. The reader [of this book] will have to judge whether we have occasionally stumbled over the precipice, and when we have not, whether the view has justified the risk.”


(If you’re wondering, by the way, what happened to the bit about T.F. Torrance that I said McCormack presented on Friday; well, I decided to leave it out, considering this discussion to be long enough and interesting enough on its own.  If anyone’s desperate for a synopsis of the Torrance material, let me know and I can try to provide it.)

23 thoughts on “God Died for Us…Really? (McCormack Croall adjunct seminar)

  1. "The logos asarkos is never not already the logos incarnandus–or, in English: the Word-outside-the-flesh is never not already the Word-to-be-enfleshed."How does he keep creation from being necessary?The earlier stuff was, I believe, standard Cyrillian Christology, for instance, this sentence "Thus, what McCormack wants to say is this: in the Incarnation, the divine Word freely wills to exist in perfect receptivity to the human–to human thoughts, feelings, finitude, suffering. Is this really so radical after all?" seems to be simply a rejection of a monothelite or a monergestic Christology, in preference for a synergistic and dyothelite position, and though I'm not a Maximos scholar, sounds very similar to Maximos' position. (Though the later part does not.)


  2. Oh–I read a bit of this before class, and a bit more. I think this sentence "Indeed, if an infinite power is always operating in and through it, it is hard to see how Christ can act as a genuine human at all–how can he know as a finite being, act as a finite being, suffer as a finite being?" (which is indeed, again, an endorsement dyothelite and synergistic position of the Sixth Ecumenical Council against the monothelites and monergistics) seems to turn on a confusion of the term "infinite".I've been thinking about this for a while, and I'm not exactly sure I can communicate it to well. Suffice it to say this: When mathematicians use infinite, and thus when the general population uses infinite, they mean infinitely large. But when a theologian says infinite he does not mean infinitely large, for a infinite large thing is bounded by largeness. (Indeed the section you quoted can be read as "the Infinitely large is bounded to be infinitely large, so how can it become small.") Rather the theologian means that God is not bounded in any way. So Gregory of Nazianzius in one of his theological orations says that God's omnipotence is chiefly shown in his ability to become weak (or perhaps it was Nyssa who said that somewhere) and Jacob of Serug spends a good deal of time explaining that the Word showed himself to be infinite by being bound by the womb of the Virgin, for had he not been able to be bound, he would have been limited by an inability to be bound.When we read infinite as a theological term we must be careful not to read it as the mathematical infinite, which means infinitely large, and thus not able to be small. As a theological term, infinite means not constrained in any way. And it is precisely because God is not constrained not to be man, precisely because He is infinite, that he is able to become a man, even, to become finite.


  3. Albert

    AHH! Somebody call Perry Robinson. Strictly speaking according to the categories in question, "natures" cannot act nor can they be acted upon as objects. So these statements:

    Divinity acted through and upon the humanity, but the humanity did not act through and upon the divinity. The relation is necessarily asymmetrical. Now, either way we have a problem. When the divine nature and divine person are held closely together, then the human nature is instrumentalized; it is as it were a passive object used by the divine Word, but in itself capable of contributing nothing.

    … need to be rephrased before I can understand what one is going after. In other words, "humanity" and "divinity" are synonymous with human nature and divine nature. But the natures cannot act: only the one hypostasis (the whole Christ) can act, though he does so according to two wills (dyothelitism). Nor can "human nature" be used as a passive object by the "divine Word," since "nature" is not an object and the incarnate Word is both divine and human. This may seem like semantics, but it matters because if you say a "nature" is acted upon, you assume there is a separate instantiation of human substance separate from the instantiation of divine substance and play them off each other; that is, you assume two hypostases with two natures which can be played off each other, which is Nestorian. In other words, when you use those erroneous phrases, you begin to imagine problems that aren't there, that the terms would guard against.If we cannot play the two natures off each other in that way, then we can honestly speak of a whole Christ and say that "Christ died for us" and "Christ suffered on our behalf" (Though it's true we can't say God the Father died for us… or can we? Or do we object to not being able to say the Father died for us?). And that is true, for the whole Christ has a human nature, according to which he died. The Logos did not merge with some guy Jesus who existed separately and who feels all the pain separate from the Logos; the Logos is Jesus and he did suffer as the object of divine wrath and he did die because He became incarnate. He just did so according to his human will and nature. But Christ did do so, no footnote required. And I think that is what people resonate with: human suffering (nails, thorns, whips, fire), even eternal human suffering… not divine suffering (assuming that could even be). What seems to be under discussion is, as Matthew indicated, how the two wills (dyothelitism) in Jesus, the divine and the human, relate. Must the divine will of the one hypostasis, necessarily by its presence, belittle and obliterate the human will?The question of why a Spirit-filled man could not have sufficed at the crucifixion and resurrection is a good question, and perhaps the clearest one McCormack asks. But the Reformed have answers, the Orthodox have perhaps better ones, and I don't think the latter is irreconcilable with Western answers. That is my hope at least. More to follow as the lectures go on.


  4. Hey Brad thanks for these lecture summaries in reflective form. I am finding them very helpful, and hope you keep them coming since I haven't been able to get back down to Edinburgh for the latter 2/3 of the series!


  5. Brad Littlejohn

    Just now snatching some time to reply to comments–To Matt:"How does he keep creation from being necessary?"Well, he doesn't exactly. He bites the Hegelian bullet, like Barth, and says that freedom for God is the freedom not to be determined by anything outside himself. Otherwise we make freedom voluntaristic, as if there were a time before God's election, and then he at some point chose between a range of options. There never was anything but his election, which is thereby what God is. What God is essentially is what he wills, and what he wills is what is essentially. And since God is in himself eternally God-for-us, God cannot but create and redeem the world. But the world is in no way something independent that ontologically conditions God–God remains conditioned only by himself, and the creation of the world flows out of that. Feel better?As for your remark that this seems to you to be standard Cyrillian and Maximian Christology; perhaps so. I am no expert in these fellows. Certainly McCormack has made a big point of defining himself over against the Greek Fathers, solving the problems they left unsolved. It may be that in his eagerness to do this, he has failed to do justice to their position and recognized that they were already saying more or less what he wants to say. This is what Sara Parvis, one of our Patristics scholars, argued with him in the Q&A to the second lecture, and what others have suggested to me.As for your second comment, Matt, I think that's right-on, and that's exactly what McCormack, following Barth, is trying to say. God is so infinite that he is capable of becoming finite, so powerful that he can become weak; we must not so protect the greatness of God that we make him a prisoner of his own Godhead. Again, though, I'm surprised if this is really the testimony of the Greek Fathers, given that McCormack has repeatedly implied that he is making this point precisely over against the theology of the Greek Fathers, which he thinks depended too much on Middle Platonism's doctrine of God.


  6. Brad Littlejohn

    To Albert:No, don't call Perry Robinson! Anyone but him! ;-)I may have been unclear in my language (you have to cut me some slack–it's not easy to keep your language crystal clear when talking about this stuff). But I think the incongruity you're running up against is intentional–McCormack is saying it can't be that way–the natures obviously can't really be played off against each other–but that Chalcedonian Christology has always tended to tie itself in knots and acting as if one can do that. This is probably still very unclear, so let me just be as concrete as possible. Yes, in the orthodox Christology, Christ has two wills, energies, etc., and operates according to each. What McCormack asks, however, is whether in this model, it is possible for the divine will, energy, consciousness, etc., not to overwhelm the operation of the human. How does Christ know something? Infinitely, as God? Or finitely, as man? Or if we say "both" and say that he has at it were two different minds operating side-by-side, haven't we hypostasized the natures? If we try to get both together in one mind, then clearly the finite knowledge gets swallowed up by the infinite. The divine subjectivity wins out, and thus the one person Jesus Christ cannot have a truly human experience, of his life, or more importantly for present purposes, of his death. If Christ suffers death according to his human nature, how meaningful is the experience if all along he, as God, rests in perfect communion with his Father, confidence of his triumph, and impassibility in himself? That's McCormack's burning question, and for all the effort the tradition has spent on trying to answer it, I think it's still a fair question, and it's reasonable to feel that past answers haven't quite proved satisfactory. Whether the standard orthodox answers are as flawed as McCormack seems to think, though, is certainly open to doubt.


  7. Brad,It seems like McCormack is trying to say something similar to what Jenson says in Systematic Theology (vol. I). But Jenson takes the Greek Fathers as a starting point, and only offers relatively minor criticism of them, with most of it being applying Losky's criticism of the filioque to St. Gregory Palamas–namely, he thinks that Palamas removes the essence to far, based on a prior philosophical commitment. And it may be that McCormack innovates on this point, and perhaps legitimately. But his point about the humanity of God being active, and not merely a passive tool is simply the orthodox formula–the monothelites and monenergistics were excommunicated as heretical. At the very least, his criticisms that the humanity never acts are not on point.Unless he wants to say that the humanity acts on the Word. But that doesn't seem right because it precisely is the Word who acts in his human nature, not the humanity of the Word. And like I said, whatever interaction there is between creation and God is surely willed by God throughout, and instigated by Him, if only at the Annunciation, and the call of Abraham.The first paragraph seems problematic to me because, while it claims that God is beyond all bound, it seems to imply that God is bound by created categories like will etc. And thus seems self-contradictory. If God is truly free, and not determined by anything outside Himself, then He hyperbeing which is not being, and hypergood which is so beyond good that even good and beyond cannot properly apply to Him. Which is the Eastern position. And if God is so beyond constraint that he is not even beyond, and if precisely this is the import of "infinite", then it is precisely because God is not bounded that He is "able" to become Incarnate. And all but the last bit is just standard Orthodox theology. In short, I think that Orthodox theology assumes that God is even more free than it seems McCormack does, and thus for the Orthodox there can be no difficulty in a Divine Person being Incarnate.That said, Jacob of Serug may be very atypical. He isn't a Greek father, but Syriac. (And the only book I know of of his is from St. Vladimir's in their popular patristics, and they seem to have stopped publishing it for some reason.)


  8. Brad Littlejohn

    Myk,Alright. I'll try to either post that material, or email it to you, but I probably won't get to it until after the week's over–just keeping up with the lectures and typing up the summaries is consuming all the time I have.


  9. Brad,Uhm, gee thanks for the crowning of persona non gratia. :<I think McCormack misreads Chalcedon as not a few contemporary writers do. He seems to be thinking of instrumentalization in the way that Albert aptly pointed out, that is, as some kind of extrinsic relation. But this is not how Cyril or post-Chalcedonian writers thought of it. They say so explicitly. That would be to fall back on to Nestorianism, Apollinarianism or the Adoptionism of Theodore. McCormack also seems to think of human nature almost like a second subject such that if it were the Word’s, it wouldn’t be fully human. He has noted in the past that the Reformed do not follow Chalcedon, but a reinterpretation of it with Christ’s person being a product of the union and so a divine/human hypostasis, which is like an inverted Eutychianism. I don’t think McCormack takes the patristic doctrine of enhypostinization and enhomniization seriously, that is, his grasp of it seems rather superficial. If he did, some of these problems just wouldn’t come up.Part of the problem is, as has been pointed out already is thinking of natural principles as acting or being active, but the principles or powers of a nature are used or employed by the person. To address your question regarding “both” the problematic result doesn’t follow. It only follows if we take intellect or “consciousness” (which the ancients took to be a function of intellect) to be the person. But for the Fathers, neither the soul, pace Apollinarius, nor the mind was the person. For Christ to know things according to two intellects is not to posit two persons. The one person is both omniscient and ignorant, showing that these two natural things are not opposites, as Hellenism would have it.On the other hand, it seems to me that the instrumentalization is on the other foot for how can McCormack maintain that the humanity of Christ is not subordinated to the divine will in predestination? He seems to be in flux in relation to his earlier critique of Calvin (as in his, essays Studies in Reformed theology and History) and how to make Barth compatible with Chalcedon. It seems he’s chosen Barth over the latter. That is to say, to say that Christ has two energies or operations is not just to say that he acts humanly, but that he does so without subordinated and determining the human will to the divine. That is what dyothelitism and dyoenergism entails.I don’t see a reason why a divine person can’t have genuinely human experiences. Part of the problem is thinking of persons as a substance in Aristotle’s first sense. Personhood outpaces substance as a category, pace social Trinitarianism.As to impassibility, even its refined scholastic version has gotten a bad rap, as Creel’s older work shows. But recently Gravilyuk’s work has shown that there just wasn’t one philosophical notion available. The Father’s main point in asserting divine impassibility was to secure the thesis that God is cause of all and the source of all. Consequently pathos for the eternal Son is genuine, but unique since it isn’t a passive reception of suffering as ours is, but an active engagement and laying hold of it, much like say Plato thought of sense experience as the power of the soul reaching out and laying hold of something. Consequently, Christ’s suffering while genuinely human, is unique and uniquely situated to not only go into its deepest depths but also to repair human nature from the inside out. A divine engagement doesn’t of itself render the experience non-human. What is required is a more robust metaphysical view of what constitutes the imago dei, specifically as something eternal in God rather than a created object at the opposite end of the metaphysical spectrum.In any case, McCormack's proposal doesn't seem all that new, but rather a rehash of the Reformed view of the person of "Christ" as a divine/human product of the union.


  10. Brad Littlejohn

    Hey Perry,Seriously, thanks for jumping in. There's a lot of helpful meaty stuff in here. In your second paragraph, you say that the problem only arises if we try to take intellect as part of the person, when in fact this is a natural property. But this gets precisely to one of McCormack's concerns–what content does the concept "person" then have? It is, as he calls it, a mere "metaphysical placeholder," since it is not the center of consciousness, of will, anything–it is merely this abstract something that ties together two wills, intellects, etc. I have to confess that whenever I used to read about the monothelite controversy, the monothelite position seemed to make a lot more sense to me, because it actually gave some real content to the unified person. Now, I'm by all means willing to be instructed, I don't want to be a heretic. "The one person is both omniscient and ignorant, showing that these two natural things are not opposites, as Hellenism would have it." This is intriguing. Tell me more."On the other hand, it seems to me that the instrumentalization is on the other foot for how can McCormack maintain that the humanity of Christ is not subordinated to the divine will in predestination?"This seems like a red herring. If all human wills are governed by predestination, then the mere fact that the human will of Christ is so governed does not make it any less properly human. Unless you think that the only way to articulate predestination is at the complete expense of free will (and I certainly don't think that it is), then this criticism misses the mark. Or to put it another way, of course the human will is subordinated to the divine will–of course all human wills are–but that is different from being so subordinated that it becomes a mere passive instrument."Part of the problem is thinking of persons as a substance in Aristotle’s first sense. Personhood outpaces substance as a category, pace social Trinitarianism."This seems important, but I don't follow it. Please elucidate.Your paragraph on impassibility sounds exactly, and sounds very much like what McCormack wants to say. Which would make his proposal not wrong, just unnecessary. I asked him yesterday if he thought the coherence of his proposal would be negatively affected if his analysis of the Greek Fathers turned out to be wrong. He said, no, far from it; on the contrary, he'd be much happier if it turned out he had Cyril on his side; he just honestly didn't think he did. Of course, I'm not 100% satisfied with that answer, as I'll explain a bit in my evaluative post. "In any case, McCormack's proposal doesn't seem all that new, but rather a rehash of the Reformed view of the person of "Christ" as a divine/human product of the union."Hmm, I can see why you say that, but I think the logic is quite different. On the Reformed view (or rather, the Nestorian extreme of the Reformed view; thankfully most Reformed haven't quite gone there), a new divine-human person is created by the Incarnation, which is not strictly speaking continuous with the eternal divine Logos (one sees something like this stated for instance by David VanDrunen, if I may be permitted another swipe). McCormack is as adamant as Cyril that the person of the union is identical and continuous with the eternal divine Logos; however, this eternal divine Logos has always willed to have human properties. To that extent, the doctrine is similar to the older Reformed, in which the person is constituted by the two natures, but it is crucially different in that the eternal person and the person of the union are one and the same, as in Chalcedon and the Alexandrians.


  11. Brad,Let me clarify. I don’t believe I said the problem was taking the mind/intellect/consciousness as a *part* of the person. It is taking it to be the person that is the problem. This view fallen out of Lockianism created all kinds of problems for Trinitarian theology in the Enlightenment period. (See Nice Hot Disputes by Dixon) The person isn’t their consciousness (which is a function of intellect) lest unborn children not qualify as persons. The same goes with the soul, for Christ has a human soul but he is not a human person.If McCormack doesn’t have an alternative theory of person on hand, then I am not sure he is in a position to criticize. He doesn’t seem to but just fudges by relying on being as act, which isn’t exactly clear either and it isn’t a theory of personhood to boot. The fact is that qua metaphysics, the notion of a person is murky for everyone. Part of the problem is that Hellenistic philosophy isn’t exactly conducive to it. Plato for example, a person is an individual thing, which is nothing more than the congruence of activities of a myriad of forms where forms are causal powers of the natural order. I think reflection on free will and other metaphysical issues rightly leads to a kind of apophaticism regarding persons. Persons resist analysis in terms of objecthood or “thingness” or purely causal events. If you read Turcescu’s bk on Nyssa and the Concept of Divine persons, you begin to approach a concept of person but he doesn’t go far enough and I think that’s right since personhood outpaces substantialist or any other metaphyhsical analysis. This is just to say that there is more to me than laws or principles could explain. Personhood is the paradigm case of anti-inter-theoretical reductionism. There is always a remainder.As for the “metaphysical placeholder” everyone holds to some form of it since we all hold to some form of divine incomprehensibility. Second, McCormack’s view is just as committed to a metaphysic as anyone else, even though it is probably a thinner and different one, so that I do not see how he gets around his own “metaphysical placeholder.”As for the center of consciousness, why suppose that the center of consciousness is what constitutes a person for Chalcedonian theology? That is anachronistic in the extreme. And secondly, that is an awfully thin reed to place so much weight. Is he prepared to tell us exactly what “consciousness” is? I’ve done enough work in phil mind to know just how messy that is. Is a person nothing more than a historical stream of qualia? Really? Where exactly does agency come into that picture? If that were what it was to be a person then every Borg drone would be a person! The problem isn’t with Chalcedon per se, but with wider metaphysical and philosophical issues, which McCormack’s view leaves untouched. So his criticisms and proposal offers no significant advance here.If the monothelite position made more sense to you, did Arianism make more sense to you in terms of what constitutes a person? I ask this not to be polemical but because they turned on the same fundamental principles-the will was hypostatic for the Arians which was a major reason why the Son was a different being than the Father. In fact, I’d argue that neither views give real content to the concept of the person. What they do is obliterate personhood in favor of a substantialist analysis and so are reductionistic. Is there anything more to Arius’ Christ than an instantiated and individualized essence? Is it anything more than an instance of a kind? Not that I can see. Here the same problem comes up in Trinitarianism for if we make the will hypostatic in rejecting the “metaphysical placeholder” then we will well be on our way to the LDS or Social Trinitarianism (a misnomer if ever there was one) or to Modalism. For three wills will imply three beings, rather than one being with one will which the three persons employ. Or one will, will imply one person.What motivates the worry over Mk 13:32 and such is that ignorance, weakness and such are opposite to things divine, and so bad, immoral and evil. But they aren’t, for God has no opposite and the world, including matter is no opposite to God, which is why an incarnation is possible. The same goes for the resurrection. God’s access to the world is direct, intrinsic, and unmediated. This is why a hypostatic union made no sense to the Nestorians or the divinity of Christ made no sense to the Arians-God and the world/matter were opposites. Second, if we take the person to be a substance then it is impossible to see how these things can be said to be true of the same individual/substance. The solution IMHO is not to keep them separated so much as Nestorius, Arius, Apollinarius, et al would have it, but to split the difference between them. If they can’t be true of substances, then this implies that persons are not substances but are altogether huper ousia or transcend those categories. Here we have a genuine advance over Hellenism so that ignorance is not opposite to knowing and can be true of one and the same person, relative to different powers. Difference and opposition are consequently not the same and so goes out the window all talk of the “Other.” Christ makes the powers of the world that seem to be in opposition to be “friends” as Athanasius writes-the hot and the cold, mightiness and weakness, etc. He makes all things new.As for monothelitism, it isn’t a red herring and here is why I think it isn’t. The fact that one has to move to general anthropology to escape the conclusion shows that it isn’t. And widening the scope of the problem doesn’t solve it-it moves it. Why think that the antecedent is true, that all human wills are governed by divine predestination? Second, it gets, IMHO the proper order of theology backwards. Your best example of humanity is Christ, not humanity in general. So we should look at Christ to see how humanity and divinity relate, for in no other case is the relationship as close or specific. Here’s another reason why it isn’t a red herring. To say that the divine will governs in a determining fashion the human will of Christ just is monothelitism and so I can’t see how admitting the implication is beside the point. Making Christological Monothelitim into anthropological monothelitism isn’t an answer, it just amplifies the problem and spreads it out. And most directly, McCormack’s charge seems to be that Chalcedon gives us a hobbled and defective Christology because of instrumentalization. Suppose that is so. Then if instrumentalization renders a hobbled Christology, then why doesn’t Reformed instrumentalization do the same? If the nature of genuine humanity is a question on the table, why do the Reformed get to assume without argument that their notion of freedom is consistent with human nature at this point or that form of instrumentalization that it entails is not equally problematic? Are some forms of instrumentalization more equal than others?Since I take free will to pick out the conditions given by Libertarianism, I do take the governing of the human will of Christ to make it less properly human and so did the 6th council in condemning monothelitism and monoenergism, for the idea of the human will of Christ determined by the divine just was a species of monothelitism. And so I do take the only way to articulate the Reformed view of predestination is at the expense of free will, consequently at the expense of counciliar Christology. This is why the Reformed have always dissented from Chalcedon (whether they were aware of it or not) as Muller, McCormack and others have shown. If Rome did such a thing, we’d never hear the end of it.If the human will is subordinated to the divine because of a difference in being, aren’t we back to the metaphysics of Hellenism detested by McCormack? Further, doesn’t this entail thinking of the will as an emanating power of a substance rather than something used by a person? I can’t see where there is a place for persons on such a view. It seems like a fiction added to a two place ontology of objects and powers. So I have to balk not a little on your remarks of “Of course…” Of course it *isn’t.* As far as passive instrumentalization goes, I can’t see how it isn’t so on the Reformed view. Do humans participate in justification? Do they co-operate in their regeneration? Is their response, even via secondary causation, anything more than an effect of divine activity? What is monergism then? I am not clear how we get any more passive than that. In fact, that is one of the main reasons for thinking as the Reformed do that the Spirit has to aid the human Jesus since this would render the purely active deity passive. How can he be truly human unless he is a purely passive recipient of the Spirit and the created (grace) effects that are produced in his humanity by the Spirit?To clarify my remarks on personhood and substances, if we take Aristotle for example on substances, there are three senses of the term. Individual thing, form and substrate. Of the first sense, there are primary and secondary substances. A primary substance is say a triangle whereas triangularity is the secondary substance. Secondary substances never exist apart from their primary substance. So taking a person as a primary substance it becomes very hard to see how a person is anything other than an instance of a nature and it is not hard to see how this entails either modalism or tri-theism in triadology or Nestorianism or Eutychianism in Christology. This is why Social Trinitarianism really has nothing to offer qua personhood. It is just the same old lack of conceptual space for persons that Hellenism possessed.As for my remarks on impassibility, I think I can say much of what McCormack wants to say without all the problems McCormack’s view seems to entail. And so you’re right, it is unnecessary. So why dissent from conciliar theology for nothing? And why give a pass to those who do?I do think his case is affected by a misreading of the fathers. Not only are a number of moves unnecessary, they imply all kinds of other problems in the doctrine of creation, divine freedom and such as I think Matthew already pointed out in another post. That doesn’t seem to be the way to defend Christianity via a procrustean bed.I think he is right to see that certain things part of the Reformed tradition have to go, but I think there is a lot more that needs to go that he hasn’t yet seen. I think the worry about Process theology is warranted consequently. (His remarks on divine simplicity for example lack sufficient nuance to even map on to what concepts were floating around in the conciliar period.)I understand the Protestant position denying any privileged position to the judgment of any man. But I just have to be a bit in awe at the ease at which major decisions of the church are brushed aside. As I hinted at previously, if Rome did this in Christology, we’d never hear the end of it. Why there isn’t a hew and cry over dislodging major areas of Christian theology is something I don’t get. Why do Protestants get a psychological pass when the same behavior with their own confessional standards would cause a major schism or individual ejection? Can you imagine if Leithart did the same? He’d be out on his ass so fast it’d make his head spin. And so I have a hard time understanding what happens to the traditional Reformed profession of adherence to the faith of the primitive church of the first four councils. The Reformed then aren’t offering what they been advertising. If Chalcedon can be up for review, the same problems will in principle entail a revision of Nicea and Constantinople, for no other principles were at work in the latter disputes than in the earlier ones. Please note, I am not making an argument that such behavior entails a free for all because of a lack of principles, but rather just the opposite. An endorsement of those theological principles upon which the theological alterations are predicated will imply alterations for those councils too.I can grant that Cyril wasn’t the world’s nicest patriarch or that he didn’t always express himself with sufficient clarity or precision, but Cyril and not Leo was the touchstone at Chalcedon (See Gray’s, The Defense of Chalcedon in the East). To not have Cyril on your side is tantamount to taking Theodore, Theodoret and Nestorius to your bosom. I disagree with your take on the Reformed. The Christological defect is enshrined in the WCF (8.2) as well as being in the Heidelberg Catechism. Take Ursinus’ commentary for example. (Q.36, sec.2, obj. 2) As Muller shows (and McCormack likewise among others) that this way of thinking about the person of Christ as a divine/human product is the mainstay of the tradition and not an idiosyncrasy. You can find the same in Owen (see Spence’s Inspiration and Incanration, on Owen’s Christology for example) or Vermigli’s dialog on the Two Natures. There Vermigli sides explicitly with Theodoret against, going so far with the view as to explicitly deny that the Logos dies for our sins. The idea that the person of ‘Christ” is aproduct of the union is the mainstay of historical Reformed Christology, as McCormack admitted in the past when he came to the aid of Peter Enns over against the Westminster crowd, much to the chagrin of Scott Clark who didn’t seem to even know the issues.The Reformed historically interpret Nestorianism incorrectly and so take that view to be Nestorianism, which they reject. What is clear though from looking at Theodoret of Cyrus and Nestorius is that the former all more or less reject what the Reformed understand as “Nestorianism.” They never affirmed a crude dual Son Christology, but were happy to affirm “Christ” as a product of the union as a dual subject. (I haven’t read Van Drunen, do you have a reference for where he talks like that?)If McCormack is adamant with Cyril that the person of the Logos is always and only a divine person, then why his constant pounding on Cyril, particularly with reference to the baptism of Christ? His argument seems to be that the baptism and any coming of the Spirit to Christ must be eternal to his divine person and relative only to the human nature, otherwise the human nature is unreal and the aid of the Spirit is unnecessary.I agree with parts of the trajectory of McCormack in seemingly wishing to make the incarnation something willed eternally (which can be different than saying it is “always willed.” But if to act is to be, then it is going to be hard to see how we escape Apollinarianism, among other problems, for Christ was not eternally incarnate. More to the point, the Barthian take that he seems to be endorsing seems like a rehash, Hegelian or something else modern, of the older actus purus notion. But of course, I am not an expert in Barth so I’ll defer to those who are. In any case, what McCormack needs is a specific concept of power or potency in God, but that is exactly what his view of being precludes, and the wider Reformed and Western tradition does as well. He ironically approaches the Palamite view indirectly, which turns in part on the difference between 1st and 2nd actuality via Aristotle and late Platonism. If he had that doctrine of essence and energies, where suffering or the kind of receptivity to it is a divine potency or first actuality qua God, the account would be much smoother and coherent. This is why building on Gavrilyuk’s work on impassibility divine suffering is an active participation in suffering and why Christ’s death is unique. For if we took McCormack’s line on the baptism of Christ contra Cyril all the way through to the death of Christ, we’d be hard pressed to see what made his death intrinsically any different than any other man. Also, if human nature were an eternal energy in God and was deity, then it would be far easier to ground the idea that God timelessly wills to have human properties. So far as I can see, and I could be wrong, McCormack seems like he is straddling two worlds-the Reformed gloss on Christology and some other position he is in motion towards. In any case, McCormack’s view isn’t the mainstream historical Reformed interpretation and so I think my take on the Reformed Christology remains untouched. I don’t say any of the above to be polemical or a partisan, but just to lay out how I see things.


  12. Brad,Also, the view that the mind/will constitute the person is philosophically problematic. Doug Jones is clearly denying that the mind or will constitute the person when he talks about poetic knowledge etc. And the Credenda of things like the philosophy of the person inherent in the Matrix likewise depends on a notion that the person is not just the mind and the will, but that the mind and the will are a part of a person. If you could destroy my body, but find a way to keep my mind and will functioning, would this thing be me? Maybe in some sense–because it is a part of me–but how can I be me without my body. And anyway, even a corpse is a part of the person, and can rightly be called the person, though clearly there is no will or consciousness in a corpse. Indeed it was because my body is part of me, and belongs to me, can even be called me in a certain sense, that we can say "he touched her" (which is not merely a metonymy for "his body touched her body"), or "the mother took her still born baby in her arms and cried", is why Christians do not cremate their dead, is why desecration of a corpse is a great evil against the completely defenseless, and why N. T. Wright tells us our hope is not life after death, but life after life after death.


  13. As to whether the issues with the Word being Jesus is a perennial problem in the Reformed world, a friend of yours, to whose blog you link told me, in a public forum:"As to theotokos, I believe that the title only works as a trope, making use of the communicatio idiomatum. In no real way is Mary the orignator [sic] of God, nor does she enjoy such glory or adoration."This was not as a response to any claim that Mary originated God, or any such, rather, in context, "originate" seems to be a synonym for "mother of God." That is to say, he's qualifying "theotokos".The same interlocuter also told me elsewhere “That line ["God was dependent on Mary"] is, on literal terms, not true, and it is heretical. What is true is that God’s humanity was dependent on Mary, and that qualification makes all the difference in the world."He is right that that qualification makes all the difference in the world, and that it divides heresy and orthodoxy, but he is wrong as to which side is the orthodox side.


  14. Brad Littlejohn

    Perry,See, that's why I said "Oh no, not Perry!" There needs to be a word limit on these comments! I really will try to come back and read your comment and reply if I can, but as things stand now, I simply don't have time. Briefly in reply to Matt: 1) I never said that the mind and will constitute the person in themselves; I merely said that it's hard to make sense of the concept person without them–they would seem to be part of the notion of person. 2) A friend of mine whose blog I link to? Hm…now I'm curious. But, as those quotes stand, what that "friend" was saying does not sound in itself objectionable. No, Mary is not the "originator of God"; and no, God is not "dependent on Mary"–all creatures are dependent upon God's will, even Mary in the act of bearing the Word. You may be right that this person had some very un-Chalcedonian ideas about theotokos (most Reformed do), but I don't think these quotes prove your case.


  15. Brad,Regarding your first point: Fair enough. That said, I deny that God is a seat of consciousness, just as I deny God has a body. Or rather, I assert that in assuming a human soul and body God took up consciousness just as He took up materiality. Consciousness is created, as is matter.Regarding the second: If you're really curious google it. Your last statement confuses me. It's like as if you said "my friend has some very non-Nicene ideas concerning homoousias, but that doesn't prove he is Arian." Precisely this denial that it was God who was born of Mary, and the counter assertion that it was merely his humanity is Nestorianism. And as I said, originate seems not to be a denial of Mary's eternality, but a qualification of theotokos, and is used, apparently, as a synonym for mother.Regarding the earlier point, if God died on the cross, it was God who as a baby was dependent on Mary. So much is not logically controversial. That Mary was even then dependent on God, particularly on the Holy Spirit is a different, and equally true claim.But that is aside the point. The problematic part is that he asserts that it was not God who was an infant in Mary's arms, but his humanity, which precisely, is Nestorianism.


  16. But I should add that I am not saying this to condemn the person or engender strife, (that's why the name is withheld), but to show that it is a real and present problem. The Nestorianism seems to be a problem that arises in some contexts and not others. For instance, Reformed everywhere will sing "Tis mystery all th'Immortal dies…" or will make similar statements. But theologically there is a problem. So my opinion is that there is a tension within Reformed thought, and a dangerous tension, but not a damning tension.


  17. Brad Littlejohn

    Fair enough; I'm just saying that it would be harsh to accuse someone of Nestorianism on the basis of a few statements like that; any language used to describe Christology is quite slippery indeed, and it's easy for someone speaking off the cuff, or insufficiently familiar with the orthodox language, to phrase things the wrong way. I think that when it comes to Christology, and indeed to theology in general, we all need to avoid getting so hung up on the precisely proper formulations and logical relationships that we forget that more often than not, most of us are trying to say the same thing, and just doing our best with a limited grasp.


  18. Albert

    Wow, that's a lot of text. Perry, good to see you joining the conversation. I've amazed that you stumbled upon it. A comment in the context of the discussion of personhood: I've been comfortable calling Christ a "divine and human person" because I'm taking "person" to be a synonym of "hypostasis," and if the hypostasis has (after the Incarnation) two substances, each of a particular nature (human and divine), it seems to me unproblematic to say it is a "divine and human hypostasis" if what one merely means by that phrase is that the divine hypostasis of the Word previously having a single divine substance and nature now has two substances, each with a particular nature, and not meaning that a brand new hypostasis was created as product of the union of two hypostases/substances/natures. Given the recognition of those truths, then is there still another problem with using the language "divine and human person" rather than "divine person with a human nature (as well as a divine nature)"?Brad, sometimes I weary of the technical lingo. But if it helps me to do justice to the Christology of certain Church Fathers (as I think McCormack does not fully do in some important ways), my own opinion is that it is worth it.Cheers, all.


  19. Albert,I believe the question is the divinity of the hypostasis, as hypostasis, and not only as a function of the nature he possesses. If "x is a Y hypostasis" (where x is a name of a particular hypostasis, and Y is a nature e.g. human, divine, angelic, etc.) merely means that x has a Y nature, then it would be fine to say the Second Person of the Trinity is human and divine. But theologically, this logical system is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, because it logically subordinates the Divine Hypostases to the Divine Nature–as if the Word were not Himself God, but rather is divine because He is a hypostasis of the truly divine thing, the Divine Nature. (And likewise for the other Persons.)But second, because the statement as phrased claims too much knowledge of God in himself. It may be true of created things that "x is a Y hypostasis" means x has a Y nature, but that does not mean it is likewise true when we speak of uncreated persons and uncreated essences. On at least some systems "x has a Y nature" where x = God and Y = Divine Essence, is syntactically valid, but semantically nonsense; or worse, implies that God is subject to and measured by created categories, and thus is finite Himself.And finally, because such a statement implies there is more to the mediator than the Divine Logos–namely created humanity.Perry wrote more about it here: http://tsarlazar.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/westminster-confession-8-2-confusing-person-and-nature/


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