The Threefold Gift (Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 3)

Having established in V.52 the personal identity of the Logos with the incarnate Jesus Christ, and in V.53 the unaltered integrity of the two natures in the person, communicating their attributes to the person but not to each other, Hooker turns in V.54 to offer an important qualification to the doctrine of V.53, explaining how it is that the human nature of Christ is perfected by its union with the divine.  We might say that V.52 represents the asymmetrical side of the hypostatic union, V.53 the symmetrical side, and V.54 a move back toward asymmetry.  The chapter is entitled “What Christ hath obteined accordinge to the flesh, by the union of his flesh with deitie.”

Before addressing this particular question, Hooker outlines three senses in which Christ is “a receyver”:

“first in that he is the Sonne of God; secondlie in that his humane nature hath had the honor of union with deitie bestowed upon it; thirdlie in that by meanes thereof sundrie eminent graces have flowed as effectes from deitie in to that nature which is coupled with it.  On Christ therefore there is bestowed the guift of eternal generation, the guift of union, and the guift of unction” (V.54.1)  

In other words, one might say, receptivity is not alien to the Son, but proper to him (as McCormack might put it, though arguing in a rather different direction than Hooker is here); Christ first receives eternal generation as a gift from the Father, before he receives anything in the incarnation.  Hooker has no qualms about asserting that the Father is autotheos: “Seinge therefore the father alone is originallie that deitie which Christ originallie is not (for Christ is God by being of God, light by issuinge out of light) it followeth hereupon that whatsoever Christ hath common unto him with his heavenly father the same of necessitie must be given him, but naturallie and eternallie given, not bestowed by waie of benevolence and favor, as the other guiftes both are” (V.54.2)

Now, before going on, we may note that there is a bit of an oddity here.  For when we speak of the first gift, the receiver is the Logos, clearly.  But in the second two cases, the receiver is the human nature, and the Logos, it would seem, is the giver.  But the human nature is not a hypostasis capable of receiving a gift, not, at any rate, until it is coupled with the Logos, which act is the second gift described above.  So in the first gift, the Logos is given to, in the second gift, the Logos gives himself, and in the third, the Logos gives from himself (in his divinity) to himself (in his humanity).  There would thus seem to be some logical problems in treating the three gifts as parallel.  

Of course, Hooker does recognize some distinctions–let’s pay careful attention, and see whether he resolves this tension.  The first gift is distinct from the latter two, in that it is given naturally, the latter two by grace.  “Touching Union of Deitie with manhood it is by grace, because there can be no greater grace showed towardes man then that God should voutchafe to unite to mans nature the person of his only begotten Sonne.”  Here then this appears to be a gift not to Christ per se, but from God to man.  Hooker proceeds to make it somewhat more precise: “As the father hath life in himselfe, the Sonne in him selfe hath life also by the guift of the father [i.e., the gift of eternal generation].  The guift whereby God hath made Christ a fountaine of life is that conjunction of the nature of God with the nature of man in the person of Christ [i.e., the gift of union]….The union therefore of the flesh with deitie is to that flesh a guift of principall grace and favor.  For by vertue of this grace man is reallie made God, a creature is exalted above the dignitie of all creatures and hath all creatures els under it” (V. 54.3).  It is then clearly the flesh assumed that is the beneficiary of this second gift, and as Hooker has already showed (in V.52) that the flesh (that is, human nature) assumed is not a particular human nature, but “that nature which is common unto all,” then the “guift of union” is a grace that is showed to human nature as such, that nature which we all share, which has been graced with the personal presence of God in it.  So the union is not a gift to the person Christ, but a reception on the part of that person of a gifted flesh, the giftedness of which consists in that very act of reception.  Is what sense is this a gift to the Logos?


After all, Hooker goes on, “This admirable union of God with man can inforce in that higher nature no alteration, because unto God there is nothinge more naturall then not to be subject to any chaunge.  Neither is it a thinge impossible that the word beinge made flesh should be that which it was not before as touching the manner of subsistence, and yeat continue in all qualities or properties of nature the same it was, because the incarnation of the Sonne of God consisteth meerlie in the union of natures, which union doth add perfection to the weaker, to the nobler no alteration at all” (V.54.4).  In other words, the divine nature of the Word cannot receive any change from the union, even if the human nature can perhaps receive “perfection” from it (here, we have asymmetry manifesting itself once again). 

“If therefore it be demaunded what the person of the Sonne of God hath attained by assuminge manhood, surelie the whole summe of all is this, to be as wee are trulie reallie and naturalle man, by means whereof he is made capable of meaner offices then otherwise his person could have admitted, the only gaine he thereby purchased for him selfe was to be capable of losse and detriment for the good of others” (V.54.4).

Now that’s some pretty sweet stuff.  The Son of God is not merely a giver in the union, but the receiver of a gift–he receives a new capacity–the capacity to be made lowly, to be capable of loss, to give himself up.  This is the grace of union which accrues to the Logos.  This is not a change to his nature, but it is a new property of His person.  

But Hooker does not dwell on this, much as we might like him to.  His main interest is in the change that takes place in the human nature assumed, since this was, Hooker believes, at the heart of his mission in the incarnation: “The verie cause of his takinge upon him our nature was to change it, to better the qualitie and to advance the condition thereof, although in no sorte to abolish the substance which he tooke, nor to infuse into it the naturall forces and properties of his deitie.”  He thus qualifies himself right away–it changes it, but not abolishing its substance or mixing it with the substance of deity.  He states the dialectical no change/change relation again, even more carefully:

“neither are the properties of mans nature in the person of Christ by force and vertue of the same conjunction so much altered, as not to staie within those limites which our substance is bordered withall; nor the state and qualitie of our substance so unaltered, but that there are in it many glorious effectes proceeding from so neer copulation with deitie….For albeit the naturall properties of deitie be not communicable to mans nature, the supernatural guiftes graces and effectes thereof are” (V.54.5.)

Now, this looks pretty shifty.  The human nature is in fact altered, but not so as to exceed the bounds of human nature?  The natural properties are not communicated, but the “guiftes, graces, and effectes thereofe” are?  Hmmmm…  Perhaps Hooker could be helped here by a bit of “actualism”–perhaps it’s not a matter of natural substance, but of offices and operations.  In fact, that seems to be just what Hooker has in mind–human nature is taken up into the history of God, and made to be sharers in all the honors and activities pertaining properly to the Logos:

“to be the way, the truth and the life; to be the wisedom, righteousness, sanctification, resurrection; to be the peace of the whole world, the hope of the righteous, the heire of all thinges; to be that supreme head whereunto all power both in heaven and in earth is given; these are not honors common unto Christ with other men, they are titles above the dignitie and worth of aniie which were but a meere man, yeat true of Christ even in that he is man, but man with whome it hath added those excellencies which make him more then worthie thereof.  Finally sith God hath deified our nature, though not by turning it into him selfe, yeat by makinge it his owne inseparable habitation, wee cannot now conceive how God should without man either exercise divine power or receive the glorie of divine praise.  For man is in both an associate of Deitie” (V.54.5).

Once again, this is some pretty sweet stuff.  Many Protestants (including McCormack) are quite hostile to deification language–it would seem to depend on a substance metaphysics and a substance soteriology that are alien (at least many would say) to the Protestant tradition.  But that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case here.  Here, man is “deified” by being made “an associate of Deitie”–a co-worker of God in all that he does, a co-receiver with God in all the honors that God receives.  The change that takes place is not a transformation of nature, but a making that nature a sharer in the life, the history, of God.  Sounds pretty good to me.


Finally, though, we come to the grace of unction, which might be more troubling to those leery of substance metaphysics: “did the partes of our nature the soule and boddie of Christ receive by the influence of Deitie wherewith they were matcht no abilitie of operation, no vertue or qualitie above nature?”  No, says Hooker–just as a heated sword cuts both by its own sharpness and by the virtue added to it by the heat, so

“the deitie of Christ hath inabled that nature which it tooke of man to doe more then man in this world hath power to comprehend, for as much as (the bare essentiall properties of deitie excepted) he hath imparted unto it all thinges, he hath replenisht it with all such perfections as the same is anie waie apt to receive, at the least accordinge to the exigence of that economie or service for which it pleased him in love and mercie to be made man.  For as the partes degrees and offices of that mysticall administration did require which he voluntarelie undertooke, the beames of deitie did in operation allwaies accordinglie either restraine or enlarge themselves” (V.54.6)

In other words, the nature of man, without ceasing to be human nature, was made capable of operations beyond the ordinary power of human nature–this is how Hooker accounts for the superhuman knowledge of the human Christ, for the incorruptibility of his human flesh, etc.  How does this understanding not violate his qualifications, about how the human nature is not changed, does not receive the natural properties of the other nature, is not stretched beyond what it means to be a human nature, etc.?  Hooker’s qualification here is “with all such perfections as the same is anie waie apt to receive” (V.54.6)–that is to say, with the elevated perfections that human nature is somehow predisposed to receive, that human nature can receive without going beyond what it means to be human.  This qualification means that Hooker is not willing to include ubiquity as part of the gift of unction.  “Wee nothing doubt but God hath manie wayes above the reach of our capacities exalted that bodie which it hath pleased him to make his own….Notwithstanding a bodie still it continueth, a bodie consubstantiall with our bodies, a bodie of the same both nature and measure which it had on earth” (V.54.9).  So this qualification does have some real force–there is a difference between human and superhuman–even if we might wonder if it should have more force, precluding, for instance, the super-human knowledge that Hooker attributes to the human mind of Christ.  

The notion upon which Hooker is relying here is a fascinating one, and one that has always remained a subtle undercurrent in Western theology, though never properly developed here as it was in the East: human nature is not static, but dynamic; human nature is destined for, capable of, a greater perfection than that which it had at the beginning.  For human nature to transcend itself is thus not to become super-human, not to abolish human nature, but to advance into the perfection proper to it, to become in fact more human.  In Eastern Christology and soteriology, Christ is understood to have proleptically advanced our human nature to this perfection destined for it, to be the true human, more human than we are, showing us what we are to become.  Soteriology is then about us treading that pathway into fuller humanity, becoming like God but not therefore becoming less human.  There is I think a significant hint of this in Hooker, and this is why he thinks he can say that the human nature receives added perfection from the divine, but not so that it becomes any less a human nature, however, I think it remains only a hint, since there is nowhere in the Lawes anything in the way of a systematically-developed anthropology that would provide the necessary grounding for this understanding.  (That would have to wait for Nevin. 😉 )


In ch. 55, Hooker turns to elaborate much more fully on the question of ubiquity, in light of the categories laid out in this chapter, since the question of ubiquity was at that time still quite a hot-button controversy with the Lutherans.  Because of the length of this discussion, I will reserve it for a separate post a few days from now.

“In Four Words” (Hooker’s Christology Intermezzo)

I will, as promised, be getting to the latter installments of the discussion of Hooker’s Christology very shortly; in the meantime, however, I thought I would put up this little gem, which didn’t seem to fit within the compass of any of the planned posts, but which it would’ve been a terrible shame to omit.  At the end of V.54, in one of his most famous little passages, Hooker encapsulates in a delightfully tidy little nutshell the entire structure of orthodox Christology, and the various heresies that have challenged it (I have modernized the spelling and punctuation this time, mindful that not everyone gets as much of a kick out of “four” being spelled “fower” as I do):

“To gather therefore into one sum all that hitherto hath been spoken touching this point, there are but four things which concur to make complete the whole state of our Lord Jesus Christ: his deity, his manhood, the conjunction of both, and the distinction of the one from the other being joined in one.  Four principal heresies there are which have in those things withstood the truth: Arians by bending themselves against the deity of Christ; Apollinarians by maiming and misinterpreting that which belongeth to his human nature; Nestorians by rending Christ asunder and dividing him into two persons; the followers of Eutyches by confounding in his person those natures which they should distinguish.  Against these there have been four most famous ancient general Councils: the Council of Nicaea to define against Arians; against Apollinarians the Council of Constantinople; the Council of Ephesus against Nestorians; against Eutychians the Chalcedon Council.

In four words alethos, teleos, adiairetos, asynchytos–truly, perfectly, indivisibly, distinctly; the first applied to his being God, and the second to his being man, the third to his being of both one, and fourth to his still continuing in that one both, we may fully by way of abridgement comprise whatsoever antiquity hath at large handled either in declaration of Christian belief or in refutation of the foresaid heresies.  Within the compass of which four heads, I may truly affirm that all heresies which touch but the person of Jesus Christ, whether they have risen in these later days, or in any age heretofore, may be with great facility brought to confine themselves.  We conclude therefore that to save the world it was of necessity the Son of God should be thus incarnate, and that God should so be in Christ as hath been declared.”

The Communicatio Idiomatum (Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 2)

I’m afraid I’ve been sadly delayed from getting to this second installment, but here at last it is.  Having looked at Hooker’s rather Alexandrian treatment of the unity of Christ’s person in the first post, I will now look at his treatment of the distinction of natures, in which he articulates a clearly Reformed understanding of the communicatio idiomatum over against the Lutherans.  This appears in V.53, “That by the union of the one with the other nature in Chirst there groweth neither gaine nor losse of essentiall properties to either.”  

He begins with a resolutely Chalcedonian summary statement: the conjunction of natures involves “no abolishment of naturall properties apperteininge to either substance, no transition or transmigration thereof out of one substance into an other, finallie no such mutuall infusion as reallie causeth the same naturall operations or properties to be made common unto both substances, but whatsoever is naturall to deitie the same remayneth in Christ uncommunicated unto his manhood” (V.53.1).

We may merge the two in speech, while recognizing that they remain thoroughly distinct in reality: “To Christ we ascribe both workinge of wonders and suffringe of paines, wee use concerninge him speeches as well of humilitie as of divine glorie.  But the one wee applie unto that nature which he tooke of the Virgine Marie, the other to that which was in the beginning” (V.53.1)  Otherwise we risk eclipsing the humanity of Christ, which being the weaker nature, would be “swallowed up as in a gulfe” if it were merged with the divine nature–this was the error of Eutyches.  Against this, Hooker cites testimony from Sts. Hilary, Cyril, and Leo.  

Inasmuch as the two natures remain distinct and unimpaired in themselves, they serve as the causes of distinct operations–some things Christ works by power of his divinity, others by power of his humanity, others by both concurrently: “Wherefore some thinges he doth as God, because his deitie alone is the wellspringe from which they flowe; some thinges as man, because they issue from his meere humane nature; some thinges jointlie as both God and man, because both natures concurre as principles thereunto” (V.53.3).  Hooker thus proposes as a rule for deciding all doubts “that of both natures there is a cooperation often, an association alwayes, but never any mutuall participation whereby the properties of the one are infused into the other” (V.53.3).

This, he says, is the proper foundation for the Damascene doctrine of the communication of attributes.  The constant association of the natures in one subject justifies our attribution of the works of God to man and the works of man to God.

“A kinde of mutuall commutation there is whereby those concrete names God and Man when wee speake of Christ doe take interchangablie one another’s roome, so that for truth of speech it skilleth [matters] not whether wee saie that the Sonne of God hath created the world and the Sonne of man by his death hath saved it, or els that the Sonne of man did create and the Sonne of God die to save the world.  Howbeit as oft as we attribute to God what the manhood of Christ claymeth, or to man what his deitie hath right unto, we understand by the name of God and the name of man neither the one nor the other nature, but the whole person of Christ in whome both natures are” (V.53.4).

The legitimacy of such forms of speech, he says, is what justifies statements such as the Apostle saying that the Jews “crucified the Lord of glorie” in which “there is attributed to God or the Lord of glorie death whereof divine nature is not capable”; or statements that the Son of Man is in heaven at the same time he is on earth.  “Therefore by the Lord of glorie wee must needes understand the whole person of Christ, who beinge Lord of Glorie was indeed crucified, but not in that nature for which he is termed the Lord of glorie.  In like manner by the Sonne of man the whole person of Christ must necessarelie be meant, who beinge man upon earth filled heaven with his glorious presence, but not accordinge to that nature for which the title of man is given him” (V.53.4). 

I am not sure that at this point Hooker is being altogether consistent with his approach in the previous chapter.  For here, it has sounded as if the relationship of the two natures to the “whole person of Christ” is symmetrical–the person in itself is something of a logical abstraction, neither divine or human in itself, but both by its possession of each nature.  But in the previous chapter, the relationship between the divine and human in the one person was clearly asymmetric–it was a divine person, possessing a divine nature, who took to himself another nature, a human nature, so that it too might become proper to him:    “Christ is a person both divine and humaine, howbeit not therefore two persons in one, neither both these in one sense, but a person divine because he is personallie the Sonne of God, humane because he hath reallie the nature of the children of men.”   Christ is not both divine and human in the same senseone he is personally, and the other, we might say, appropriately–that is, by appropriation.  

To make a statement about “the Lord of glorie,” it would seem, is to make a statement about the person of the Son, not about the divine nature in abstraction.  And therefore there is no need to resort to the notion of the communicatio idiomatum in order to explain how we could attribute death to the Son of God.  Natures don’t die, persons do, and so there is no need to make some kind of conceptual stretch in order to say “they crucified the Lord of glorie”–this, it would seem, is true without equivocation.  At least, that’s what Hooker seemed to think in the previous chapter, when he said: “Whereupon it followeth against Nestorius that no person was born of the virgin but the Sonne of God, no person but the Sonne of God baptised, the sonne of God condemned, the sonne of God and no other person crucified.”  It does make sense, on the other hand, to invoke the notion of the communicatio idiomatum to explain a statement about the ubiquity of the Son of man–because there is no human hypostasis corresponding to the human nature that possesses divine attributes (as such a statement would seem to imply); there is a divine hypostasis that possesses human attributes.  So here, the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum is necessary to explain why such statements are justified, and in what sense they are rightly understood.  

There is thus somewhat of a tension between this characteristically Reformed way of using the communicatio idiomatum as applying symmetrically to both natures which associate or concur in a person, understood somewhat abstractly, and the Alexandrian approach of the previous chapter, where the divine person was understood asymmetrically to act through and be acted upon in the human nature which he assumed.  


However, Hooker does not linger at this point of tension for long.  Immediately in the next chapter, he goes on to articulate an asymmetry in the relationship between the two natures, in which the human does not remain untouched by the divine the way the divine remains untouched by the human, and seems to heavily qualify his statement in this chapter that there is “never any mutuall participation whereby the properties of the one are infused into the other.”  This discussion, which occupies ch. 54, paves the way for him to build something of a bridge toward the Lutheran understanding of ubiquity, but without leaving authentically Reformed ground or conceding to the Lutherans on the crucial points.   

I had said before that this series would consist of three posts, but it will take two more to cover the remainder of Hooker’s argument, so consider this Part 2 of 4.

“No person but the Sonne of God” (Richard Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 1)

As something of a transition (albeit a bit belated) between filling much of my blogspace with reflections on McCormack’s Christology and filling much of it with reflections on Richard Hooker (as I shall be wont to do for the next couple years, most likely), I thought it might be good to write up a few posts on Richard Hooker’s Christology, which although quite rich and thoughtfully developed, is rarely if ever mentioned in surveys of Protestant Christology (at least, I have never heard it mentioned).  This is a sad oversight, for though certainly not startlingly original, Hooker articulates a Reformed Christology that is deeply rooted in, and consciously harmonized with, Patristic orthodoxy, and that goes a fair way toward bridging the deep rift that had opened up between Reformed and Lutheran Christologies by the end of the sixteenth-century.  At any rate, that is how I read it, though I invite those more expert in Christology and historical theology to correct or nuance this judgment.

Hooker’s Christology is also well-worth attending to for my own purposes, since Torrance Kirby argues in his recent monograph Richard Hooker’s Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy that it is integral to his political theology, in particular his account of the relationship of the two kingdoms, and of Church and State.  Indeed, Kirby claims that Hooker constructed his doctrine this way in direct response to Cartwright’s appeal to Christology to undergird the Puritan political ecclesiology, arguing that Cartwright’s Christ was heterodox.  If so, this is very intriguing indeed, since none other than our old friend VanDrunen has summoned forth Christology as an integral foundation for his version of the Reformed two kingdoms doctrine, and to my mind has fallen into heterodoxy in the process.  My hunch is that Cartwright’s correlation of Christology and political theology will have the same structure as VanDrunen’s, and Hooker’s response will be equally telling against both, thus providing another means of tying in Hooker’s political thought with modern debates.  


Hooker’s Christology proper spans twenty-five densely-packed pages in the middle of Book V of the Lawes, comprising chapters 51-55.  Although the immediate question before Hooker at this point in Book V is the efficacy of the sacraments, he opts, as usual, to build this more particular discussion on as general and systematic a foundation as possible, and that means explaining who Christ is and how we can have communion with him in his divine and human natures.  And if Kirby is correct, Hooker penned this discussion also with an eye toward his account of church and state and the royal supremacy in Book VIII, which would draw on the Chalcedonian language of two natures in personal union.  Although spanning five chapters, Hooker’s discussion can be divided into three movements: first, a thoroughly orthodox and Alexandrian statement of the received Chalcedonian doctrine, emphasizing the personal identity of Christ with the eternal Logos; second, a typically Reformed statement of the communicatio idiomatum, emphasizing the separation between the two natures; third, a series of qualifications to the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, constituting as it were concessions to the Lutheran understanding of the divinization of the human nature and its resultant ubiquity, yet without abandoning firm Reformed ground.  I shall allot one post to each of these movements.


First, then, Hooker undertakes to establish in ch. 51 “That God is in Christ by the personall incaranation of the Sonne who is verie God.”  He begins by making a traditional Trinitarian distinction of the three persons and the one nature, and uses this distinction to show that the second person, the Word, becomes incarnate, but the other two persons do not.  However, while being careful to deny the incarnation of the other two persons, we must not deny the incarnation of the divine nature: “Notwithstandinge for as much as the worde and deitie are one subject, wee must beware wee exclude not the nature of God from incarnation and so make the Sonne of God incarnate not to be verie God.  For undoubtedly even the nature of God it selfe in the only person of the Sonne is incarnate and hath taken to itself flesh.”  We must not imagine any kind of gap between the person of the Word and his nature.  “Wherefore incarnation may neither be graunted to any person but only one, nor yeat denied to that nature which is common unto all three”–so the orthodox doctrine requires, but Hooker confesses this “an incomprehensible mysterie” (51.2)  

Why should this incarnation happen?  Because “it seemeth a thinge unconsonant that the world should honor any other as the Savior but him whome it honoreth as the creator of the world, and in the wisdom of God it hath not bene thought convenient to admitt anie way of savinge man but by man him selfe.”  Using language reminiscent of Athanasius, then, Hooker says “It became therefore him by whome all thinges are, to be the waie of salvation to all, that the institution and restitution of the world might be both wrought by one hand.”  Moreover, inasmuch as God willed that the world could only be saved by the death of his Son, “Christ tooke manhood that by it he might be capable of death whereunto hee humbled him selfe” (51.3)

He moves on then in ch. 52 to define the hypostatic union.  He begins with due humility, warning that “It is not in mans habilitie either to expresse perfectlie or conceyve the maner how this was brought to passe….Howbeit because this divine mysterie is more true than plaine, divers havinge framed the same to theire owne conceiptes and phancies are found in theire expositions thereof more plain than true” (52.1).  In other words, orthodoxy and logical clarity are likely to be inversely proportional in this matter; heresies have erred more often than not by trying to make the matter perfectly clear, thus undermining the delicately-balanced tension of the orthodox paradox.

He then runs through a quick and dizzying catalogue of the heresies that arose on this point between Nicaea and Chalcedon, culminating with Nestorius, in response to most of the rest of this chapter is arranged.  By Nestorius’s time all had come to agreement that Christ was both truly God and truly man, “But that the selfe same person which verelie is man should properlie be God also, and that, by reason not of two persons linked in amitie but of two natures humaine and divine conjoyned in one and the same person, the God of glorie may be said as well to have suffered death, as to have raised the the dead from theire graves, the Sonne of man as well to have made as to have redeemed the world, Nestorius in no case would admitt” (52.2).

His error here, says Hooker, steemed from inattention to John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt in us”; the plural number signifies that Christ became incarnate in the manhood common to us all, not in one particular man.  This distinction is absolutely essential, as Hooker expounds so well that it is worth quoting him at length:

“If the Sonne of God had taken to him selfe a man now made and already perfected, it would of necessitie follow that there are in Christ two persons, the one assuminge and the other assumed, whereas the Sonne of God did not assume a mans person unto his own, but a mans nature to his owne person, and therefore tooke semen the seed of Abraham, the verie first originall element of our nature before it was come to have anie personall humaine subsistence.”  

This means that there was never anything human preexisting the union of the Word with the human: “The flesh and the conjunction of the flesh with God began both at one instant, his makinge and takinge to him selfe our flesh was but one act.  So that in Christ there is no personall subsistence but one, and that from everlastinge.”

The person of Christ is completely identical with the eternal person of the Godhead: “By taking only the nature of man he still continueth one person, and changeth but the maner of his subsisting, which was before in the meere glorie of the Sonne of God, and is now in the habit also of our flesh.”  This personal unity must be so unqualified that we can speak comfortably of the human history of Christ as God’s history; indeed, we must do so, because it is the history of a person, not of a nature: “For as much therefore as Christ hath no personal subsistence but one whereby wee acknowledge him to have bene eternallie the Sonne of God, wee must of necessitie applie to the person of the Sonne of God even that which is spoken of Christ accordinge to his humane nature.  For example, accordinge to the flesh he was borne of the Virgin Marie, baptised of John in the river Jordan, by Pilate adjudged to die and executed by the Jewes.  Wee cannot saie properlie that the Virgin bore, or John did baptise, or Pilate condemn or the Jewes crucifie the nature of man, because these are all personall attributes, his person is the subject which receaveth them, his nature that which maketh his person capable or apt to receive.”

To say otherwise (e.g., to deny “Theotokos”) is simply Nestorianism: “If wee should saie that the person of a man in our savior Christ was the subject of these thinges, this were plainelie to intrap our selves in the verie snare of the Nestorians heresie between whome and the Church of God there was no difference savinge onlie that Nestorius imagined in Christ as well a personall humane subsistence as a divine, the Church acknowleging a substance both divine and human but no other personall subsistence then divine, because the Sonne of God tooke not to him sele a mans person but only the nature of a man.”  

In sum, then, we must affirm that “Christ is a person both divine and humaine, howbeit not therefore two persons in one, neither both these in one sense, but a person divine because he is personallie the Sonne of God, humane because he hath reallie the nature of the children of men.”

“Whereupon it followeth against Nestorius,” Hooker emphatically and unapologetically asserts, “that no person was born of the virgin but the Sonne of God, no person but the Sonne of God baptised, the sonne of God condemned, the sonne of God and no other person crucified, which one onlie point of Christian beliefe–the infinite worth of the Sonne of God–is the verie ground of all thinges beleived concerninge life and salvation by that which Christ either did or suffered as man in our behalfe” (52.3)

Here we can see, as starkly and clearly as possible, how forcefully the orthodox tradition asserted that God really did suffer and die; I am still not convinced by McCormack’s arguments that this confession was weak, half-hearted, and hedged in with qualifications that deprived it of real force–merely a linguistic and not a real confession.  No, it is emphatic and uncompromising. 


Hooker concludes this chapter by finishing the story up through Chalcedon–Cyril’s forceful confession against Nestorius is misinterpreted by some (due to some imprecise language on Cyril’s part) as a confession of only one mixed nature in Christ (Eutychianism) which Chalcedon undertook to deny.  “For as Nestorius teaching righlie that God and man are distinct natures did thereupon misinferre that in Christ those natures can by no conjunction make one person; so Eutyches of sound beliefe as touching theire true personall copulation became unsound by denyinge the difference which still continueth between the one and the other nature.  Wee must therefore keepe warilie a middle corse shunninge both that distraction of persons wherein Nestorius went awrie, and also this later confusion of natures which deceived Eutyches” (52.4).

Finally, we must confess this union to be perpetual, so that it applied even when Christ was dead in the grave.  Even at this point, the person of the Son remained inseparably joined to his human body and soul, existing with them in a state of death.


Up to this point, we have a doctrine that is robustly Alexandrian, willing to affirm much more than most modern Reformed are regarding the fullness of the union.  In fact, we may wonder whether Hooker is going to be Reformed at all with this kind of emphasis.  In the following chapter, which I will explore next week, he undertakes to balance out this discussion with an explanation of the complete distinction of the two natures.

The Ghost of Charles Hodge (Final thought on McCormack lectures)

One more point occurred to me, that I had meant to mention in my reflections on the Croall lectures, and I thought it was worth posting as a brief afterthought–this is much more impressionistic, so take it with a grain of salt.  

Perhaps my greatest misgiving about McCormack’s project is ultimately that it’s too logical.  Allow me to explain.  When McCormack says something like, “The Word is eternally predisposed to become man, and thus humility and finitude is proper, not alien, to him; the logos is always the logos incarnandus,” I’m like “Right on!  Preach it brother!”  But when he goes a step further, and says, “And therefore, the Word does not empty himself in time, but emptied himself in eternity; he has always been self-confined by these human limitations, acting not by the power native to him, but the power of the Spirit,” I’m like “Whoa, hold on there!”  Now, one might say that the second statement really isn’t a separate step, but simply a logical result of the first statement, combined with the principle of divine immutability, and the principle that God is pure actuality, with no potentiality.  These principles would seem to lead us inexorably to the conclusion that if the Son always was going to be self-emptyingly finite, he must always have been self-emptyingly finite, otherwise he is realizing an unrealized potentiality in time and undergoing change.  Perhaps there is no way around this–logic is a cruel taskmaster, and not to be trifled with.

But I’m wary, because it has been said (don’t ask me to say precisely where and by whom) that all the great ancient heresies, perhaps especially in Christology, erred by trying to follow out a certain logical principle to its conclusion; existing doctrines seemed to them too shrouded in mystery and incoherence, and so they tried to find a neat logical solution.  Hence Nestorianism.  In response to Nestorius, Cyril and the Alexandrians said all kinds of delightfully paradoxical things, such as “the immortal one died,” “the impassible one suffered.”  The Chalcedonian creed itself is a devilish bundle of paradoxes.  Now, my suspicions are aroused when such paradoxical formulations are pounced upon by McCormack as signs of inconsistency, incoherence, of a logical knot that needs to be unraveled, rather than as a mystery to be gloried in, as the Alexandrians apparently considered them.  I think Cyril knew full well that his formulations did not fit into a neat logical package, but I think he thought that was precisely the point–the Incarnation is all about God not fitting himself into a neat logical package, but doing things we never could have imagined.  

McCormack spoke repeatedly of the need for a “well-ordered” doctrine of Christ, by which he meant one that ties up the logical loose ends; he admitted that of course there must always be a place for mystery, but was suspicious that most invocations of mystery are simply cop-outs, and excuses for protecting our biases.  I would suggest that a similar concern for consistency and order partially underlies McCormack’s antipathy to what he sees as muddled, hybridizing forms of ecumenical theology.  It certainly partially underlay his antipathy to ontological soteriologies, which he tended to consider hopelessly vague and mysterious. 

There seems to be something perversely modernist in all this, in the single-minded pursuit of strict logical consistency in such questions, and I think heresy is never far off when you try to renounce paradox and make it all make good plain sense.  Call me po-mo, call me Kierkegaardian, call me Catholic if you like.  But I have to at least wonder whether McCormack, occupying the Charles Hodge Chair of Systematic Theology, hasn’t inherited something of Old Princeton’s analytical scholasticism, with its desiccating effect on theology, anti-sacramental trajectory, and so forth. But there, I’m on the threshold of rambling and blathering, or perhaps already crossed it, so I will leave it at that.  

Again, this is not so much an outright criticism (though it may have sounded like one) as it is a vague discomfort, which I have hopefully succeeded here in making somewhat less vague.