The Reformed Doctrine of the Eucharist in Nine Theses

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at a “Faith Discussion Dinner” in northern Virginia, debating eucharistic theology with a Roman Catholic speaker and fielding questions from a mixed Protestant-Catholic audience. The entire conversation was fruitful, challenging, and edifying. My opening statement consisted of a positive exposition of the Reformed doctrine of the Eucharist, as well as several points in critique of the doctrine of transubstantiation and in defense of the catholicity and biblical simplicity of the Reformed doctrine. For the latter, I’d encourage you to read my essay “The Real Presence and the Presence of Reality“; for the former, here it is in nine theses:

  1. In the Eucharist, it is Christ himself that we receive, not merely his benefits. Moreover, it is the whole Christ that we receive, that is, Christ in both his divinity and humanity.
  2. The purpose of the Eucharist is not physical nourishment, but psychical and spiritual; it is our cleansing from the power of sin and death and our sharing in the power of Christ’s indestructible life. It is also, to be sure, the guarantee of resurrection life for our physical bodies, but this is received not as a biological gift in the present, but a promise for the future anchored in our union with the risen Christ.
  3. This being the case, the mode in which Christ offers himself in the sacrament is suited to the end of this self-offering. Since Christ is not meant to be chewed with the mouth but received in the soul, he offers himself in a non-carnal and spiritual, yet objective, manner.
  4. Therefore, there is no need for Christ’s flesh, which is that of a human being who remains spatially finite and localized, even as resurrected and ascended, to present itself carnally and locally in the sacrament. Rather, by the agency of the Spirit, the whole person of Christ, including the life-giving power of his flesh, is presented non-physically along with the physical bread and wine.
  5. As the mouth is the proper organ for receiving the physical elements, by means of chewing, so the soul is the proper organ for receiving the spiritual presence, by means of faith. However, whereas the bread and wine become part of us by the physical eating, Christ makes us part of him by the spiritual eating.
  6. Since faith is the means of receiving Christ, those who lack faith cannot, in the nature of the case, truly receive Christ as he is offered in the sacrament. Rather, the offered gift, having been spurned, becomes to them a curse.
  7. The physical elements of bread and wine are first of all “visible words,” by which the body and blood of Christ are proclaimed and represented to us. Their particular physical properties are not arbitrary, but signify the nourishing (bread) and invigorating (wine) qualities of Christ’s body and blood. Moreover, they have the promise of Christ’s presence attached to them by a sacramental union, so that we know that Christ’s body and blood are exhibited in them and presented with or through [no unanimity in the tradition on the most appropriate wording here] them.
  8. The consecrated elements are the effectual means whereby Christ presents himself to the faithful, but should not be thought of as themselves the site of his presence—at least not the elements outwardly considered apart from the acts of distribution and reception. Accordingly, there is no room for veneration of the elements beyond any respect that might appropriately be shown to other vessels used in sacred actions.
  9. Moreover, the ordination of the Eucharist as a communal meal is by no means irrelevant. The ecclesial body is the body of Christ, and its unity is manifested in the eucharistic body, and in the communal reception thereof. Therefore no one can celebrate the eucharist individually.

(Note: Based on feedback, theses 7 and 8 have been restructured and reworded. They previously read:

7. Since Christ offers himself to the faithful as they receive the elements, he should not be thought of as properly present in the elements outwardly considered apart from the acts of distribution and reception. Accordingly, there is no room for veneration of the elements beyond any respect that might appropriately be shown to other vessels used in sacred actions.

8. However, the elements are not irrelevant. They are first of all “visible words,” by which the body and blood of Christ are proclaimed and represented to us. Their particular physical properties are relevant, in signifying the nourishing (bread) and invigorating (wine) qualities of Christ’s body and blood. Moreover, they have the promise of Christ’s presence attached to them by a sacramental union, so that we know that Christ’s body and blood are exhibited in and with them.) 

Constructive feedback and questions are welcome. I’ll try to actually stay on top of the comment moderation for once. 🙂


Nothing but the Creed?

A friend’s recent musings on just how useless the Ten Commandments were as a summary of Christian ethical teaching (aside from the first commandment, it’s hard to think of a single one of which even the definition, much less the application, commands anything like universal assent) got me to wondering whether the case with dogmatic theology was in fact any better than with moral theology.  

I do think there are solutions, of course, to this chaos of disagreement, ways of sorting out the wheat of legitimate disagreement from the chaff of heterodoxy and spurious interpretation, so to speak, but it’s worth dwelling for a sobering moment or two on the full extent of doctrinal diversity that can be found within those professing faith in Christ.  This can be done by a line-by-line consideration of the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

Should we really call God “the Father”?  Isn’t God also a “Mother”?  Shouldn’t (S)he be genderless?
What do we mean by saying that God is “Almighty”?  Open theists would say that it does not mean he has any power over the future, or over the wills of free creatures.
What does it mean that he made heaven and earth?  As in, created each creature in its particularity?  Or simply the raw material for the Big Bang?  Or something in between?  And that’s just about the “earth” and the “visible” side of things.  What falls under the “heaven” and “invisible” side?  For medievals, far more entities fell under this heading than do for most modern Christians.  What are we to think of angels and all that?

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Insert all the disputes that led to this credal formulation here.  Of course, perhaps we might accept that subsequently, to be “Christian” is to be bound by this decision, and all earlier opinions are excluded from Christianity.  But what does it mean for the Son to be “begotten of the Father before all worlds . . . begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father”?  There’s some complicated metaphysics here, and there’s a massive difference of opinion among theologians today (and at the level of popular piety) on the metaphysical makeup of the Trinity; many of these opinions fall into what would classically have been condemned as modalism or tritheism.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man;

Insert all the disputes leading up to the Council of Ephesus and the Council of Chalcedon here.  Important as those later conciliar formulations may be, they do not seem to be definitive of “Christianity” since both the Nestorian Church and the Monophysite churches continued for many centuries thereafter.  Even within Chalcedonian orthodoxy, monothelitism and monoenergism were widely asserted in the following centuries.  Even among those who formally reject these two, significant disputes about the relation between the two natures, the relation between the natures and the one person, the communication of attributes, the role of Mary in the incarnation, etc., continue to vex theologians.  And never mind at the level of popular piety, where all kinds of deviant understandings of what it means for Jesus to be God and man proliferate—I expect that the majority of evangelical Christians, if subjected to a test on their Christology, would come out as Docetists, Apollinarians, Nestorians, or some curious blend of the above.  Among modern theologians, there is considerable restlessness, if not outright rejection, of the Chalcedonian formula, and a desire to articulate Christ’s human identity in much more robust terms than those typical of earlier Christianity.

On a totally different note, what do we mean by saying he came “for us men and for our salvation”?  Was the incarnation strictly oriented toward the atonement?  Or was it oriented toward the divinization of the race?  Was it necessitated by the Fall, or intrinsic in the logic of creation?  Theological disagreements with wide-ranging implications on these questions date back to the beginning of Christian theology and still rage today.

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried;

Who suffered?  Just the human Christ?  The divine person according to his human nature?  The divine person without qualification?  The whole Trinity?  Modern theology has been torn with such disputes for decades, and they have their analogues in earlier theological debates.  (Note that the Nicene Creed conveniently leaves out the contentious “descended into hell” clause of the Apostles’ Creed.)  The mention of “Pontius Pilate,” while perhaps not controversial in itself, raises a whole set of issues about the historical particularity and historical reliability of the Scriptural accounts.  To what extent does our faith depend upon the reliability of the specific historical claims made in the Bible.

and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father;

Let’s assume we can all agree on the first clause (though there are certainly plenty of liberal Christians who don’t, and don’t think it matters too much), but what do the latter two clauses mean?  Clearly these are somewhat metaphorical.  Heaven isn’t actually a place lying vertically above the earth; God doesn’t really have a right hand.  So concealed under these metaphorical spatial descriptions are actually descriptions of activity—we are trying to describe just what it is that Jesus Christ is now doing in the time between his resurrection and return.  Traditionally, these activities have been described primarily as intercession and reigning.  But in what exactly does his intercession consist?  Is it an ongoing intercession, a pleading to the Father on our behalf?  Or is it simply the ongoing intercessory value of his once-for-all sacrifice?  Theologians disagree.  And can it be described in terms of a “treasury of merit” that can be dispensed by the Church, as in medieval Catholic theology?  For that matter, is Christ the sole intercessor before the throne of God, or do other saints and particularly Mary play this role?
When we come to the question of reigning, the disagreements become even more wide-ranging.  The recent disputes over “Reformed two-kingdoms theology” have thrown again into sharp relief how much depends on how one understands the ongoing reign of the ascended Christ.  Is it an inward reign over hearts, or an outward reign over institutions?  Is it a reign just over his Church, and what does that mean?  Or is it a reign over all creation?  To what end?  The preservation of the created order, or its renewal?  To what extent is his reign exercised through creaturely agents, whether in the Church (pope, priest, presbyter), or in the State?

and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Insert the myriads of disputes over eschatology here.  When Christ comes again, will he destroy this present earth, or restore it?  Will he physically reign here before destroying this earth?  Will there be a Rapture?  A Great Tribulation?  Will his return and reign simply be a continuation of that renewal begun by his Church already?  When Christ “judges the quick and the dead,” what’s that look like?  Is it on the basis of faith alone, or works too?  Do the righteous get just a “well done, good and faithful servant” or do they have to go through a purgatory, whether physical or psychological?  What about the wicked?  Notice there is no doctrine of hell spelled out here.  Universalists, annihilationists, and those with a “traditional” doctrine of hell can all, in theory, unite under the banner of the Nicene Creed.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life;

Ha, what does this mean?  No branch of theology is so murky as pneumatology, which is mainly just used as a launchpad for speculation on every other branch of theology.  In particular, disagreements about the role of the Holy Ghost are implicated in many questions of ecclesiology and soteriology, as we seek to define the ongoing role of the Spirit in mediating redemption to the Church and individual believers.

who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;

Again, Trinitarian disputes here.  Of course, notoriously, this is a point of Trinitarian theology at which the two most ancient branches of the Church part ways and cannot even agree on the credal formula, and the renaissance of Trinitarian theology (or shall we say speculation?) over the past century has multiplied the various forms of disagreement on the relation of the Spirit to the Father and the Son.

who spoke by the prophets.

Aha!  Inspiration!  Insert all contemporary disputes about the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Scriptures here, disputes that increasingly lie not simply between “liberals” and “evangelicals” but within evangelicalism.  And that’s not to mention disagreements about the ongoing role of the Spirit and spiritual gifts.  Does the Spirit continue to speak in prophecy today?  Or just through the magisterium?  Or not at all?

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

Thankfully, everyone agrees on this one, right?  Ha!  Orthodox Christians today do not agree on the meaning of any of the adjectives here—”one” “holy” “catholic” “apostolic”—or even of the noun, “Church”—are we talking about the invisible Church or the visible?  Or is that even a helpful dichotomy?  If we’re talking about the visible, how is it identified?  Wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name?  Wherever discipline is rightly administered?  Wherever bishops preserving the apostolic succession are?  Wherever there are bishops in fellowship with the bishop of Rome?

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
What does that mean?  Are we talking about baptismal regeneration?  Or is baptism merely a sign of an inner grace that has nothing to do with it?  Or something in between?  All the questions of sacramental efficacy could be inserted here (and notice the Creed makes no mention of the Eucharist, so the whole vast range of opinions on that doctrine can all be accommodated under the banner of the Nicene Creed as well).  Plus, with baptism, you have additional disputes about age (infant or adult) and mode (immersion, sprinkling, etc.—this may seem trivial, but for some Christians, it isn’t!).

and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The disputes about eschatology mentioned above arise again here.  Plus questions like, when our bodies are resurrected, what kind of continuity will they have with our present bodies?  What will our life in “heaven” look like?  Eternal worship?  A never-ending party?  Something kinda like our present lives, only without sin and suffering?


Nothing But the Cross

After a two-year sabbatical to share two other wonderful homilies (here and here), I return to my tradition of re-posting Peter Leithart’s 2006 Good Friday Homily:


Paul determined to know nothing but Jesus and the cross. Was that enough? To answer that question, we need to answer another: What is the cross? The cross is the work of the Father, who gave His Son in love for the world; the cross is the work of the Son, who did not cling to equality with God but gave Himself to shameful death; the cross is the work of the Spirit, through whom the Son offers Himself to the Father and who is poured out by the glorified Son. The cross displays the height and the depth and the breadth of eternal Triune love.

The cross is the light of the world; on the cross Jesus is the firmament, mediating between heaven and earth; the cross is the first of the fruit-bearing trees, and on the cross Jesus shines as the bright morning star; on the cross Jesus is sweet incense arising to heaven, and He dies on the cross as True Man to bring the Sabbath rest of God.

Adam fell at a tree, and by a tree he was saved. At a tree Eve was seduced, and through a tree the bride was restored to her husband. At a tree, Satan defeated Adam; on a tree Jesus destroyed the works of the devil. At a tree man died, but by Jesus’ death we live. At a tree God cursed, and through a tree that curse gave way to blessing. God exiled Adam from the tree of life; on a tree the Last Adam endured exile so that we might inherit the earth.

The cross is the tree of knowledge, the tree of judgment, the site of the judgment of this world. The cross is the tree of life, whose cuttings planted along the river of the new Jerusalem produce monthly fruit and leaves for the healing of the nations.

The cross is the tree in the middle of history. It reverses what occurred in the beginning at the tree of Eden, and because of the cross, we are confident the tree of life will flourish through unending ages after the end of the age.

The cross is the wooden ark of Noah, the refuge for all the creatures of the earth, the guarantee of a new covenant of peace and the restoration of Adam. The cross is the ark that carries Jesus, the greater Noah, with all His house, through the deluge and baptism of death to the safety of a new creation.

The cross is the olive tree of Israel on which the true Israel died for the sake of Israel. For generations, Israel worshiped idols under every green tree. Israel cut trees, burned wood for fuel, and shaped the rest into an idol to worship. Now in the last days, idolatrous Israel cut trees, burned wood for fuel, and shaped the rest into a cross. The cross is the climax of the history of Israel, as the leaders of Israel gather to jeer, as their fathers had done, at their long-suffering King.

The cross is the imperial tree, where Jesus is executed as a rebel against empire. It is the tree of Babylon and of Rome and of all principalities and powers that will have no king but Caesar. It is the tree of power that has spawned countless crosses for executing innumerable martyrs. But the cross is also the imperial tree of the Fifth Monarchy, the kingdom of God, which grows to become the chief of all the trees of the forest, a haven for birds of the air and beasts of the field.

The cross is the staff of Moses, which divides the sea and leads Israel dry through it. The cross is the wood thrown into the waters of Marah to turn the bitter waters sweet. The cross is the pole on which Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, as Jesus is lifted up to draw all men to Himself.

The cross is the tree of cursing, for cursed is every man who hangs on a tree. On the tree of cursing hung the chief baker of Egypt; but now bread of life. On the tree of cursing hung the king of Ai and the five kings of the South; but now the king of glory, David’s greater Son. On the tree of cursing hung Haman the enemy who sought to destroy Israel; but now the savior of Israel, One greater than Mordecai. Jesus bears the curse and burden of the covenant to bear the curse away.

The cross is the wooden ark of the new covenant, the throne of the exalted savior, the sealed treasure chest now opened wide to display the gifts of God – Jesus the manna from heaven, Jesus the Eternal Word, Jesus the budding staff. The cross is the ark in exile among Philistines, riding in triumph even in the land of enemies.

Jesus had spoken against the temple, with its panels and pillars made from cedars of Lebanon. He predicted the temple would be chopped and burned, until there was not one stone left on another. The Jews had made the temple into another wood-and-stone idol, and Israel must have her temple, even at the cost of destroying the Lord of the temple. Yet, the cross becomes the new temple, and at Calvary the temple is destroyed to be rebuilt in three days. The cross is the temple of the prophet Ezekiel, from which living water flows out to renew the wilderness and to turn the salt sea fresh.

The cross is the wood on the altar of the world on which is laid the sacrifice to end all sacrifice. The cross is the wood on which Jesus burns in His love for His Father and for His people, the fuel of His ascent in smoke as a sweet-smelling savor. The cross is the wood on the back of Isaac, climbing Moriah with his father Abraham, who believes that the Lord will provide. The cross is the cedar wood burned with scarlet string and hyssop for the water of purification that cleanses from the defilement of death.

The cross is planted on a mountain, and Golgotha is the new Eden, the new Ararat, the new Moriah; it is greater than Sinai, where Yahweh displays His glory and speaks His final word, a better word than the word of Moses; it is greater than Zion, the mountain of the Great King; it is the climactic mount of transfiguration where the Father glorifies His Son. Calvary is the new Carmel, where the fire of God falls from heaven to consume a living twelve-stone altar to deliver twelve tribes, and turn them into living stones. Planted at the top of the world, the cross is a ladder to heaven, angels ascending and descending on the Son of man.

The cross tears Jesus and the veil so that through His separation He might break down the dividing wall that separated Yahweh from his people and Jew from Gentile. The cross stretches embrace the world, reaching to the four corners, the four winds of heaven, the points of the compass, from the sea to the River and from Hamath to the brook of Egypt. It is the cross of reality, the symbol of man, stretching out, as man does, between heaven and earth, distended between past and future, between inside and outside.

The cross is the crux, the crossroads, the twisted knot at the center of reality, to which all previous history led and from which all subsequent history flows. By it we know all reality is cruciform – the love of God, the shape of creation, the labyrinth of human history. Paul determined to know nothing but Christ crucified, but that was enough. The cross was all he knew on earth; but knowing the cross he, and we, know all we need to know.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The Reign of the Son of Man

This post, again, contains much material from last year, but considerably reorganized, and much more developed (particularly in the latter section)

For Hooker, the royal supremacy, and indeed, the whole identity of a Christian commonwealth, cannot be explained without reference to Christology.  In this, he responds directly to Cartwright, but also, as we shall see, to VanDrunen, for both have advanced the same argument.   

In Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, VanDrunen lays great weight on what he calls the Reformed doctrine of the “two mediatorships,” which he summarizes, 

“As mediator, the divine Logos is not limited to his incarnate form even after the incarnation.  He was mediator of creation prior to his incarnation and as mediator continues to sustain creation independent of his mediatorial work as reconciler of creation in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth.” 

The function of this doctrine is to emphasize two distinct offices of the Son of God, that of creator and governor over the order creation, on the one hand, and that of redeemer and governor over the order of redemption on the other.  These are not to be characterized as a temporal sequence, for, by virtue of the doctrine of the extra Calvinisticum, VanDrunen sees both offices being executed simultaneously and separately—while Christ was on earth, and indeed, after his ascension as well.  We need not look far to find the function of this doctrine for VanDrunen, for if Christ exercises two separate kingships, this authorizes the two kingdoms distinction.  VanDrunen, we will recall, correlates the civil kingdom to creation, encompassing phenomena such as politics, economics, and culture, and the spiritual kingdom to redemption, encompassing the Church and its work.  

Thus far, the distinction is fairly unobjectionable.  Having once made such a distinction, however, we must be careful not to allow it to become a dichotomy.  The personal unity of the Incarnate Word ensures that, as Hooker emphasized, creation and redemption hold together as two works of the same agent; moreover, these are not two unrelated works, but the latter, as we have seen repeatedly in Hooker’s exposition, renews the former and brings it to perfection.  A mere distinction of this sort, therefore, will not necessarily underwrite the strict separation of Church and state, of the norms of redemption from the norms of creation, that VanDrunen seeks to offer.  VanDrunen must therefore seek to resist the communicatio idiomatum whereby the human acts of the work of redemption can be predicated of the eternal Word and the divine acts of creation and governing creation can be predicated of the Son of man.  VanDrunen thus asks us to separate out these two “capacities”: “The Son of God rules the temporal kingdom as an eternal member of the Divine Trinity but does not rule it in his capacity as the incarnate mediator/redeemer.”  VanDrunen will even go so far as to say that this means we cannot rightly speak of “Christ” as creator:  “To distinguish between the Son as creator and the Son as redeemer entails that the title of ‘Christ’ belongs only to the latter . . . in his special mission of becoming incarnate for the particular work of saving his people.  The Son redeemed the world, but did not create the world, as the Messiah, the Christ.”  On this basis, VanDrunen argues, it is wrong to try to make the creation order (and thus the state) “Christian.”    

Distant as these Christological concerns may seem from politics, a glance at the 16th-century reveals that VanDrunen is not barking up the wrong tree.  In his debate with Whitgift over the relationship of the two kingdoms, Cartwright developed a similar line of argument, which he pursues at some length in his Second Replie.  In attacking Whitgift’s account of the civil and spiritual kingdoms, Cartwright argues that  

“yt confoundeth and shuffleth together the autoritie of our Saviour Christ as he is the sonne off God onely before all worldes coequall with his father: with that which he hath gyven off his father and which he exerciseth in respecte he is mediator betwene God and us.  For in the governement off the church and superiorytie over the officers off it, our Saviour Christ himselfe hath a superior, which is his father: but in the governement off kingdomes, and other commonwealthes, and in the superiority which he hath over kinges and judges, he hath no superior, but immediate autoritie with his father.”  

Further on, he explains, 

“let yt be consydered fyrst that our Saviour Christ ys in one respecte creator, and preserver of mankinde, in another redeemer, and upholder of his church.  For he created once and preserveth daily as God coequal with his Father, and holy spirite, but he both redemed once, and daily gathereth his church, as mediatour of god and man, in which respect even yet in his infynite glory he enjoyeth, he is, and shall be under his father, and holy ghost, untill having put downe all rule and power, he shall render the kingdom to his father.  Secondly yt ys to be donsidered, that as our Saviour Christe doth these in dyvers respectes: so he doth them by divers meanss.  To wyt that as God symply he hath ordeined certein means to serve his providence in the prservation of mankynde; so as God and man, he hath ordeined other certein, for the gathering, and keping off his church.  Thes groundes laied, yt is to be considered, whether the exercise off the sworde by the magistrate, come from our Saviour Christe preserver off mankinde, wherein he is coequal to his father, or as mediatour off his church, wherin he is inferiour.”

In these passages, Cartwright is attempting to assert a Christological basis for a separate government of church and state.  These institutions, says Cartwright, serve to provide for the ongoing work of redemption, and the ongoing government of creation, respectively.  Accordingly, they are not simply under the government of Jesus Christ in the same way, and cannot be mixed together.  In particular, Cartwright’s point here is to insist that we cannot speak of a human head of the Church, because the Church already has a human head, Christ Jesus, who answers to God.  As governor of the Church, “our Saviour Christ himselfe hath a superior, which is his father.”  However, Cartwright does want to allow for human heads of state, and thus argues that these are subordinated to Christ only as he is God: “in the governement off kingdomes . . . he hath no superior, but immediate autoritie with his father.”  Torrance Kirby explains: “According to Cartwright’s position, then, Christ has a double role or function as the ‘God-man’.  On the one hand, he is the source of all authority in the secular political order by virtue of his being the Son of God; on the other hand, he exercises ultimate power as head of his body, the Church, through his Manhood.”  With two distinct heads, then, the civil and spiritual kingdoms function in Cartwright’s account as two distinct, personally separated bodies.  

VanDrunen approvingly cites Samuel Rutherford advancing a similar, though perhaps even more starkly stated account: 

“Rutherford put the temporal kingdom under ‘God the creator’ and spiritual kingdom under ‘Christ the Redeemer and Head of the Church.’  In speaking further about the former, he writes that it is ‘not a part’ of Christ’s spiritual kingdom and thus states bluntly that the civil magistrate ‘is not subordinate to Christ as mediator and head of the Church.’  Along similar lines, he says later that ‘magistrates as magistrates’ are not ‘the ambassadors of Christ’ but ‘the deputy of God as the God of order, and as the creator.”

 

Behind this sort of account lurks the spectre of Nestorianism, the implication that we must treat the Incarnate God-Man as a separate agent from the eternal Word, and must strictly avoid predicating of the one functions carried out by the other.  Hooker is alive to this danger, and also to its larger consequences, recognizing that “such a separation within the source of authority, and its consequent ‘personal’ separation of the civil from the ecclesiastical community implies an inevitable de-Christianising of the secular political order.”  Accordingly, he responds to Cartwright’s claims from the Second Replie in a masterful stretch of argument in VIII.4.6, drawing on the Christological principles laid down already in Book V.

He begins, “As Christ being Lord or Head over all doth by vertue of that Soveraigntie rule all, so he hath no more a superiour in governing his Church then in exercising soveraigne Dominion upon the rest of the world besides.”  On this basis, he will argue “that all authoritie as well civill as Ecclesiasticall is subordinate unto his.”  One cannot, as Cartwright does, separate Christ’s kingship over the Church as man his divine kingship.  Hooker constructs his argument carefully, beginning with the eternal Son’s sharing in the rule of God the Father:

“That which the Father doth work as Lord and King over all he worketh not without but by the sonne who through coeternall generation receiveth of the Father that power which the Father hath of himself.  And for that cause our Savioures wordes concerning his own Dominion are, To me all power both in heaven and earth is given.  The Father by the sonne both did create and doth guide all.”

So far, VanDrunen and Cartwright would probably concur—the second person of the Trinity, by virtue of his divinity derived from the Father, is creator and ruler of all things.  However, Hooker insists at this point on the communicatio idiomatum: “there is no necessitie that all things spoken of Christ should agree unto him either as God or else as man, but some things as he is the consubstantiall word of God, some thinges as he is that word incarnate.  The workes of supreme Dominion which have been since the first begining wrought by the power of the Sonne of God are now most truly and properly the workes of the Sonne of man.  The word made flesh doth sitt for ever and raigne as Soveraigne Lord over all.”  Indeed, at stake here is not merely the doctrine of the incarnation—by virtue of which divine agency can be predicated of Jesus of Nazareth—but the doctrine of the ascension, by virtue of which the man Jesus Christ has been elevated, in his human nature, to kingship at the right hand of God over all his works.  Whereas VanDrunen asserts, and Cartwright implies, a version of the extra Calvinisticum which permanently sunders the human being Jesus Christ from the lordship exercised by the divine Son, Hooker insists that all that the Son worked as God he works now also as man, and what the Son works as man, he now does by divine power: “And yet the dominion wherunto he was in his humane nature lifted up is not without divine power exercised.  It is by divine power that the Sonne of man, who sitteth in heaven doth work as King and Lord upon us which are on earth.”  The two natures, in short, are united in one agency, one dominion, a dominion over not only the Church, but all creation.  

It is thus as both God and man that Christ rules over his Church, and as both God and man that he rules over the kingdoms of this world.  The foundation for all earthly government, then, is not merely from God the Creator, but now also through the God-man, the redeemer, who as man sits on the throne at the right hand of God, as redeemer of the world exercises his rule over creation.  All that the Son has and does by virtue of divinity, his humanity is made sharer in, and all that Jesus Christ has and does by virtue of his humanity, the divinity is made sharer in.  This, Hooker has argued, is simply the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation.  One cannot say then that as divine Son, the Word exercises a dominion in which the man Christ Jesus has no part, or that as redeeming man, Christ exercises an office in which the divine Son has no part.  Rather, all things on heaven and earth are made subject to the Word made flesh.  For that reason, there is no part of the natural order that has not been united to, and perfected in, the order of grace.

 

Just as the implications of Cartwright’s semi-Nestorian move for political theology are profound, so the implications of Hooker’s response supply him with a strong foundation not merely for his defence of the royal supremacy, but more generally, for his account of the Christian commonwealth.  Civil magistrates hold their authority derivatively from God through Christ, and thus are accountable to Christ for the outward protection of his kingdom.  Because we cannot sever Christ’s redemptive work from his work of creating and governing, it follows that magistrates are responsible not merely for preserving the created order of human society, and witnessing to God’s rule over it, but also for encouraging the redemption of society, and witnessing to the kingship of Christ the redeemer.  For Hooker, this is not a denial of his clear insistence on the integrity of the natural order, and of natural law as a means for governing this order.  Rather, as we have seen, he has maintained throughout that human nature seeks its proper fulfillment in union with God.  Now that this natural end has been achieved by virtue of supernatural grace in the Incarnation of Christ, one cannot speak of the natural order without reference to its rightful king, Christ the Redeemer.  In him, human nature has not been destroyed, nor transformed into something else; rather, it has been restored from its fallen condition, and advanced to a higher perfection, a perfection not beyond nature but proper to it.  Accordingly, the political order, while falling within the realm of nature, is not unaffected by the work of Christ; it cannot carry on as though it existed only under the banner of a generic deity.  By the same token, nor does natural law have no need of the revelation of Christ and his Word, despite having its roots in creation rather than redemption.


Come, Desire of Nations Come . . .

I won’t try to offer some profound or uplifting Christmas reflection, since I don’t have one, I’m afraid.  Instead, these stunning lyrics, among the richest of any Christmas hymn (unfortunately, all five verses are very rarely sung) are well worth meditating on and rejoicing in:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”