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.


Worms or Gods? Hooker, Rushdoony, and the Creator/Creature Distinction

A friend of mine, Robin Phillips, recently emailed me an amusing excerpt from Rousas John Rushdoony, accusing my beloved Hooker of being nothing less than an Arian!  Rationalist I’ve heard, bootlicker of the powers that be, I’ve heard, but Arian?  The particular passage he alleged (which I will get to in a moment) was willfully and absurdly misread, but the broader accusation was quite revealing:

Having introduced man into the Godhead, Hooker plainly made man God’s associate in the government of all things. Thus, the British monarchy now had indeed a divine right of amazing dimensions….It is not surprising that the British monarchs loved their Mr. Hooker! Hooker introduced man into the Godhead, subordinated British subjects firmly to an absolute monarch on religious grounds, and saw the monarchy, and the English church-state as a divine order.

Now, let’s leave aside for a moment the complete incomprehension of Hooker’s political thought that this displays, and look closely at that first sentence.  Here, I think, Rushdoony has read Hooker right.  But the problem is that Hooker has read the Bible right.  Man has been introduced into the Godhead; man has been made God’s associate in the government of all things.  If that’s not what the doctrine of the Incarnation and Ascension teach us, then what does it teach?  Isn’t that what Phillippians 2:9-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 are all about?  The astounding wonder of the Gospel is not merely that God came down to be among men, but that God then brought man up to be among God; that is what we especially celebrate now during the Feast of the Ascension.  God was not content to bring us from death to life, for us to forever adore him for his mercy, but he does incredibly more–he brings us from lowliness to lordship, from powerlessness to power.  

And this is where the favorite Calvinist mantra–the “Creator-creature distinction”–breaks down, because God himself broke it down.  Creator became creature, and then brought creature up to share in the glory and the dominion that is proper only to the Creator; Christ as man rules over all, and we share with him in that glory, we in him are brought up to the heavenly places.  I know little of Rushdoony’s work, but I would surmise that is it no coincidence that Rushdoony can’t stand Hooker at this point, because this is precisely the point where Hooker critiques the whole Puritan tradition of which Rushdoony is an heir–for thinking that God can only be exalted at man’s expense.

 

Before fleshing that out, let me go back and make sure Hooker is adequately defended against the particular charges that Rushdoony brings.  This is the passage that he alleges as evidence of Arianism

“Seeing therefore the Father alone is originally that Deity which Christ originally is not (for Christ is God by being of God, light by issuing out of light,) it followeth hereupon that whatsoever Christ hath common unto him with his heavenly Father, the same of necessity must be given him, but naturally and eternally given, not bestowed by way of benevolence and favour, as the other gifts both are. And therefore where the Fathers give it out for a rule, l that whatsoever Christ is said in Scripture to have received, the same we ought to apply only to the manhood of Christ; their assertion is true of all things which Christ hath received by grace, but to that which he hath received of the Father by eternal nativity or birth it reacheth not.” (from LEP V.54.2–for context, see here)

This is not Arianism, however, but classical Christology–albeit of a more Easter than Western stamp.  The Orthodox have always been quite emphatic (and some are even concerned that Protestants lean toward heresy on this point) that the Father is the sole fons divinitatis–fount of divinity.  This is what the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit mean–that although both Son and Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal, nevertheless they are derivative, not originative.  This seems somewhat paradoxical, to be sure, but then so does all Trinitarian theology.  And it is what conservatives have tried to say about male-female relations–the female derives from the man, and so is n that sense subordinate, but is nevertheless equal.  There has been a tendency for Western theology since Arianism to be so allergic to subordinationism of any kind that it denies even that subordination which is manifestly attested in the New Testament.  And I think that’s what’s going on here with Rushdoony.  Note that Hooker says, “naturally and eternally given, not bestowed by way of benevolence and favour.”  This is blatantly anti-Arian.  The Arians said “there was when he was not”–a time when Christ was not God.  But Hooker says that the Son’s Godhood was “eternally” given. The Arians saw it as a matter of creation–the gift of being to a creature of another nature from the Creator God, rather than the generation of a being from within his own nature.  Hooker says that Godhood is “naturally” given to the Son–it belongs to him by nature; he never was of any other nature than that of God Himself.  

 

What about the accusation of divinising the British monarchy?  Pshaw.  In fact, the English monarchy resisted absolutization and divinisation during this period more than any other European monarchy, and for that, people like Hooker can take considerable credit.  There was a brief stage with Charles I and Charles II that tended toward the kind of absolutism Rushdoony is critiquing here, but it would be hard to argue that Hooker bears responsibility for that development.  Indeed, on my reading, Hooker actually pushes toward a more provisional, human-law understanding of the royal supremacy, and of political authority than that which was common in the 16th century, including that offered by the magisterial Reformers.  Folks like Cranmer, Bullinger, and Vermigli, and even in certain respects Calvin, were prone to sacralize political office and make it a direct mediation of the divine will in a way that Hooker judiciously stops short of. 

 

But let’s get back to the larger theological point.  Hooker’s theology of the Incarnation certainly is explicit in insisting that through the Incarnation, human nature is made “God’s associate in the government of all things.” (See, for instance, posts here, here, here, and here.)  This is, after all, the inescapable implication of the doctrine of the hypostatic union.  But, some will object, that is Christ only, not us.  We are not hypostatically united to God.  True, but we are united to Christ and made participants in the glory that is his.  Indeed, the hypostatic union is not, as it turns out, some odd anomaly–this is the pattern of all of Scripture.  On the sixth day of creation, after finishing the animals, did God say, “Well, now I’ve got me my creation.  I guess I’d better start governing it”?  No, he created mankind–in his image–and invited them to exercise rule over it, in fellowship with him.  When mankind failed, God neither gave up on them, nor engaged in some deus ex machina rescue mission to reverse their mistakes.  Instead, he made them the actors in his redemption drama.  He raised up Israel to be the emissaries of God to the world, his associates and partners in the glorious task of redemption.  And then when they too failed, he still didn’t resort to a deus ex machina, even if we sometimes treat the Incarnation that way.  No, the solution was still deus in homine–God chose to work redemption through human means, clothing himself with humanity even while doing what only God can do.  And no sooner was the deed accomplished then he empowered humanity again to be his partners and associates in redeeming and transforming the world.  

Does any of this detract from the glory of God?  There is an age-old human tendency for man to try to exalt himself at God’s expense.  The Gospel laughs down all such pretensions.  But there has been an age-old theological tendency, which has reached perhaps its most sustained and refined embodiment in many forms of Calvinism, to seek to curb man’s pride by an equal and opposite reaction–to try to exalt God at man’s expense.  God must have all the glory, which means that we must repeat over and over that we are but worms.  We are nothing, God is everything.  From this tendency flows the hyper-Calvinism that is so afraid even to give man “credit” for meriting damnation by his sins, that it insists upon giving God the “glory” of being the exclusive cause of the sin and the damnation.  From this tendency flows the theonomy that is so hostile to any kind of human authority that it rules out all law but that given directly by the voice of God.  From this tendency flows the fundamentalism that is so skeptical of the powers of the human mind that it would reject all sources of knowledge and wisdom but the Bible.  The more we ascribe to Scripture, the better.  And Scripture itself must be de-humanized and thought of as a divine dictation, lest we demote God and exalt man by thinking of God’s truth as mediated through weak human instruments.  

But this is of course to get it all wrong.  The greatest God is not the one who could be so great that everything else is dust and worms; the greatest God is the one who could make others great without becoming any smaller himself, the one who was so great that he could give himself away without becoming any less.  The most powerful God is not the one who could accomplish any work by his sole power alone, but the one who could somehow accomplish just as glorious and perfect a work while working through mere creatures.  The true God is not the one who defines himself over against everything else, by subtraction, but through all else, by addition.  That is why he is Trinity, not monad.  That is why he became man, that man might become God.  He is the God who looks on us and says, “You are not worms, you are not dust; I have said ye are gods.”  This is the God who actually is willing to make us stewards of the infinite riches of his word–to give us the most important job in the world, even when we’ve proven ourselves to be unreliable, unfaithful, forgetful.  This is the God who said, “Go, make disciples of all nations.  Go ahead, do it.  And while you’re at it, make laws, build cities, compose the Fifth Symphony, discover Proxima Centauri, breed golden retrievers, invent pizza.”  And this is the God who looks on it all at the end and says, “It is very good.” 


Beyond Space and Time: O’Donovan on the Ascension

Today is Ascension Day, which, although one of the great feasts of the Church calendar, is not something most Christians give much heed to.  Perhaps that is because we don’t really know what to make of the ascension.  We confess it in the Creed, to be sure, we believe it happened, to be sure, but we don’t really give much thought to how it happened, or to what on earth–or in heaven–it means.  The former, perhaps, we can’t really know.  But the latter we should know.  Oliver O’Donovan offers some very thoughtful reflection on both in On the Thirty-Nine Articles (of which, apparently, a new edition is coming out in a few months!):

“For the meaning of Christ’s resurrection is that the renewal of creation has begun. In a body that represents ‘the perfection’ of man’s nature we see the first-fruits of a renewed mankind and a sign of the end to that ‘futility’ which characterizes all created nature in its ‘bondage to decay’ (Rom 8:19-21). There are two aspects to this renewal which have to be kept in a proper balance. On the one hand we must not understand the newness of the new creation as though it implied a repudiation of the old. The old creation is brought back into a condition of newness; it recovers its lost integrity and splendour. In the resurrection appearances of Jesus the disciples were offered a glimpse of what Adam was always meant to be: lord of the elements, free from the horror of death. On the other hand, restoration is not an end in itself. Adam’s ‘perfect’ humanity was made for a goal beyond the mere task of being human; it was made for an intimacy of communion with God. The last Adam, in restoring human nature, leads it to the goal which before it could not reach, brings it into the presence of God’s rule, where only the one who shared that rule could bring it. And so it is that the moment of triumph divides into two moments, a moment of recovery and a moment of advance. The resurrection must lead on to the ascension: ‘Do not hold me,’ said Jesus to Mary in the garden on the first Easter morning, ‘for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’ (Jn. 20:17). In the Western church we speak of God’s deed of ‘salvation,’ emphasising the aspect of recovery and deliverance from sin and death.  In the Eastern church they speak more commonly of theosis or ‘divinisation’, emphasising the advance beyond simple restoration to communion with the divine nature.  Both aspects are present; they are differentiated in the two steps of Christ’s exaltation.

Differentiated, but not therefore torn apart.  We cannot overlook the fact that of the four Gospels one, St. Mark, has nothing to say about the ascension; two, St. Matthew and St. John, hint at it allusively, and only one, St. Luke, narrates it as an event. In the theology of the Pauline epistles it remains, more often than not, undifferentiated from the resurrection.  The ascension, we must judge, does not stand over against the resurrection as the resurrection stands over against the crucifixion, it does not add a new element to the story which was not present before, but unfolds the implications of what is present already in the resurrection. Are we, then, to agree with Barth’s statement that ‘the empty tomb and the ascension are merely signs of the Easter event, just as the Virgin Birth is merely a sign of the nativity’?  No.  For, as Barth himself elsewhere wished to say, what the ascension shows us of the meaning of Christ’s triumph is distinct: It is the mark which defines one side of the resurrection, the elevation of Christ to the Father,  and therefore stands in contrast to the landmark which defines the other side, the empty tomb. In between them, holding the two boundary-marks together into one triumphant happening, are the actual appearances of the risen Christ throughout the forty days.

This raises the question of how we are to understand the ascension as an event. Can the statement, ‘he ascended into heaven’, stand alongside the statements, ‘he was crucified, died and was buried’ and, ‘on the third day he rose again’?  However problematic the statement of the resurrection may seem to be, the problems posed by the ascension are of a much more fundamental kind.  For ‘heaven’, ‘God’s throne’ and ‘the right hand of the Father’ are not places that can be mapped topographically within space.  The verb ‘ascended’, like the verb ‘came down’ in the creed, can refer to no spatial movement known to man.

….

Christians believe that God, in the person of his Son, has established communication between his being and our created space-time order. How else can we speak of this communication except ‘coming’ and ‘going’, as ‘up’ and ‘down’? We say that Christ ‘came down from Heaven’ and ‘ascended into Heaven’, yet do not think of the incarnation and ascension as journeys through space from one location to another, like a journey between the earth and the moon. As Athanasius said wittily: “When Christ sat on the right hand of the Father, he did not put the Father on his left.” These events are transitions between the universe of space and time that God has made and his being which is (in a sense that we can apprehend, but not comprehend) beyond it. Yet these transitions are ‘objective’ in the sense that they cannot be reduced to states, or occurrences, of Mind. The incarnation is not simply a mythic portrayal of the fellowship between men and God, nor the ascension of the triumph of the cross. Insofar as these transitions have one foot in our space and time, they are seen there as events — events which, however, have another end to them beyond the historical sequence of which, at this end, they form a part.

With this in mind let us think further about the ascension. Obviously, in one purely negative sense, it is an event in time: the resurrection appearances of Jesus came to an end. St. Luke makes it very clear that this is one important aspect of the ascension. It is the point at which Jesus is “taken from the disciples until he is restored to them at the end of time (Acts 1: 9,11). Even St Paul, who narrates his own vision of the risen Lord on the Damascus road as one of the resurrection appearances, acknowledges that it is ‘out of order’ (1 Cor. 15:8). But there is more that must be said about the event than that it was the cessation of the resurrection appearances. It is not only a ‘taking from’, it is a ‘taking up.’ It is a material event which involves the material body of Jesus; it leaves this spatio-temporal order to enter the immediate presence of the Creator…. This transition from the earth to Heaven is more than a reversal of the incarnation at which God ‘came down’; It is the elevation of man, physical spatio- temporal man, into an order that is greater than the physical and the spatio-temporal, and which is not his native habitat. What form does the human body take outside space and time as we know it?  Obviously, that is the unanswerable question, the one which earns St. Paul’s withering response, ‘You fool!’.  All we can say is that the transition has occurred, that there is a beaten path that lies before us, linking our physical existence to an existence in the presence of God which lies beyond its conditions We cannot see the path –the cloud which hid Jesus on the mountain-top is a veil for that which cannot be comprehended from below — but we know that the path has been taken and that we are to take it too.

In the same way that Jesus’s ascension means the elevation of humanity beyond the limits of ‘our’ space, it means also the elevation beyond the limits of ‘our’ time. Here we must guard against the suggestion in Article 4 [of the Thirty-Nine Articles] that Jesus is, as it were, killing time until his coming again: ‘he ascended . . . and there sitteth, until he return’. There is nothing wrong with these verbs; they represent, quite properly, the different points at which Christ’s triumph intersects with our time, past, present and future: he ascended, he sits, he shall return. But this time is our time; he is not bounded by it as we are, but is lord over it. We should not begin to ask what the ascended Lord is doing in the meantime, during the long wait before he must return.

….

What we see in the Epistle to the Hebrews is something very characteristic of the New Testament as a whole, the assertion that the Christ-event is the last thing in God’s plan for the world, and that with its completion the end of time has, in effect, already come.  We are seen to have our existence, as it were, in the middle of the end, in between the last things and the last things.  Still to come is the universal manifestation of Christ’s glory, but the time-lapse which separates that from the accomplishment of that glory in the ascension is of no significance.  It serves the function of permitting the gospel to be preached to the end of the earth, but it does not add to, or subtract from, God’s saving deed.  Thus we find, both in the Scriptures and in the creeds, that the ascension and the parousia (the return) of Christ are seen together, almost as one event.  When Christ sits down at the right hand of God, that is a gesture not of a patient waiting but of triumph.  The triumph is already achieved; it only remains for the triumph to be manifested universally.  Christ ascended has reached the fulfilment of man’s destiny; he is already at the end of time.  Mankind will follow him to that fulfilment.  Time is thus not an iron cage within which all events are bound, but a dimension of history–and in the fulfilment of the purpose of history in Christ, we see that time, too, is fulfilled.”



Is Christ Divided? Christology and the Two Kingdoms

Those of you who were reading this blog last summer may recall that one of the oddest, and to my mind one of the most disturbing, aspect of David VanDrunen’s political-theological proposal in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms was his notion of the dual mediatorship of Christ as the Christological foundation for the two kingdoms, Church and State.  Of course, VanDrunen did not set it forth as a theological proposal, but as a historical doctrine merely, one that he claimed to find in incipient form in Calvin and more or less fully-developed by Turretin and Rutherford.  Although I think he is on somewhat shaky ground in much of the historical evidence he claims to find, there is one theologian that he could have quite plausibly invoked as an early proponent of the doctrine–the Elizabethan Presbyterian, Thomas Cartwright.  Indeed, on this, as on every other point, VanDrunen studiously avoids so much as mentioning Cartwright, but the links are unmistakable.  What makes this so juicy for my purposes is that Richard Hooker mounts a devastating attack on Cartwright at precisely this point (among others, of course), and along similar lines to the concerns I raised about VanDrunen.

The two mediatorships doctrine runs something like this:

“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” (John Bolt quoted in VanDrunen 75). 

As mediator over creation, Christ rules as God over the civil kingdom–politics, economics, everything that natural man does, in short.  As mediator over redemption, Christ rules as man over his body, the Church, which does spiritual things.  (It may seem like there’s an odd inversion–as God he rules over merely human activities; as man, he rules over divine activities; but don’t ask me, I’m not the one who cooked up the paradigm.)  Now, there is a problem with this paradigm as VanDrunen and Cartwright develop it.  A big problem, actually.  It’s called Nestorianism.

Of course, it is worth cautioning at the outset that VanDrunen is not quite as susceptible to this charge, it seems to me, as Cartwright.  While Cartwright will speak of Christ as mediator over the one kingdom “as God” and over the other “as man,” VanDrunen is somewhat more guarded and will speak of “eternal member of the Divine Trinity” vs. “incarnate mediator/redeemer” or simply of “God” vs. “God-man.”  This might indeed be completely fine if it were merely a temporal distinction–first the one, and then the other.  But the Bolt quote makes clear that it is not; these are rather envisioned as two simultaneous mediatorships.  The extra Calvinisticum is brought in to justify conceiving of Christ existing and operating in two different forms–incarnate and non-incarnate–during and after his incarnation.  As I’ve written before, this would hardly seem to be a safe or a wise use of the extra.  

Now, the difficulty here is not, I should make clear, that of making a distinction between these two capacities or offices of Christ.  Christ can and does exercise distinct offices.  Christ is both creator of the world and redeemer of the world, and therefore relates to it in these distinct ways.  The difficulty comes in if we speak of these two capacities or offices of Christ in a way which seems to designate or require two separate agents.  There is a distinction between divine and human in Christ, but never a personal separation.  So let’s look more closely at just what it is that Cartwright and VanDrunen say.  

 

Cartwright, in attacking John Whitgift’s two regiments doctrine, 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.”

Christ has authority as divine Son over creation (and therefore the State); but he has authority over the Church as incarnate man, under God.  Torrance Kirby summarizes, 

“On the one hand, Christ qua Son of Man and Redeemer, that is to say, according to his human nature, is inferior to the Father.  For it is through his assumption of the human nature that Christ is able to mediate between God and men.  And for Cartwright, Christ’s mediatorial role as Redeemer is identified with his specific function as head of the Church….For the Disciplinarian, Christ’s humanity is the source of ecclesiastical government wheras all other worldly government derives directly from his deity.” 

These two governments are analyzed as two separate parallel polities.  For Hooker, says Kirby, “such a separation within the source of authority, and its consequent ‘personal’ separation of the civil from the ecclesiastical community implies an inevitable de-Christianizing of the secular political order.”  Well, this is quite interesting indeed, since that is precisely what VanDrunen is up to–a de-Christianizing of the political order.  This is not, of course, Cartwright’s immediate agenda; rather, he develops this argument in defense of the more narrow claim that the monarch cannot be head of the Church.  This is why he lays so much stress on Christ as man being inferior to the Father–he is the earthly head of the Church under God, so there is no need for a human earthly head under God.  But Hooker is right to recognize that the implications are wider.  

Now, the dangers in this articulation seem quite straightforward–Christ is rendered permanently unequal to himself–a human being governing the Church, and a divine being governing the world.  The human and divine are conceived of as two independent centers of activity, which are concerned with completely different works.  If Cartwright were to allow a communicatio idiomatum, it seems, it would have to be only of the barest linguistic variety–there must be no real sense in which the divine Christ could be said to do what the human Christ does, or vice versa.  And it is of course crucial to orthodox Trinitarian theology and Christology that we can say that God is the agent of all that Christ does.  

 

Thankfully, VanDrunen doesn’t quite put things this way.  He does not emphasize the language of Christ being simultaneously “equal to” and “inferior to” his Father, though no doubt if one pressed hard enough, one might find such categories as part of the picture.  However, the core claim, that there is a rift between what Christ does as divine Son and what he does as incarnate man, is clearly emphasized: “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” (181).  This even means that we cannot rightly identify “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” (313).  Therefore, the creation order is not “Christian.”  

Because VanDrunen does not set up the distinction, as Cartwright does, straightforwardly between divine and human, but between divine non-incarnate, and divine-human incarnate, the Nestorianism is not quite so blatant.  Indeed, more immediately apparent are related problems in Trinitarian theology.  However, if VanDrunen’s distinction functions so that the pre-incarnate (and for that matter, post-incarnate) Word and the incarnate Christ represent separate agents, then this is clearly Nestorian.  No doubt VanDrunen would say that he means merely to designate a separation of offices–Christ fulfills one office as divine Son, and another office as incarnate God-man, and the fulfillment of the latter office does not impair a continued separate exercise of the first.  Maybe, though I still think a number of his formulations seem to teeter on the brink; but the problem I see is that “redemption” is not merely something the Son happens to do–it defines him.  God the Son is the Redeemer, the mediator.  His person is defined by his work.  Christ’s redemptive capacity is not just one hat that he wears among many.  And if this is the case, then there is simply no way to draw such a rigid separation between the Son’s work as sustainer of creation and Christ’s work as redeemer, without effectively introducing a personal separation between Word and Christ.  This, at any rate, is the Barthian line of critique

 

But, as Hooker reveals, one does not even need to take that line of critique.  One could grant that it were possible that the incarnate Christ, as man, might not be participant in all that the eternal Word works as God; however, as a matter of fact, Scripture and the doctrine of the ascension compel us to the conviction that the dominion exercised by the Word as God is now exercised also by the Word as Man.  So let’s look closely at what St. Richard has to say.

I have already explored Hooker’s Christology at length in a series of posts, and I hinted at its applicability to this issue.  But thankfully, we need not try and draw the connections ourselves, for Hooker himself does so in response to Cartwright’s attack on the royal supremacy.  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.”  One cannot, as Cartwright does, make Christ’s sovereignty over the Church a function of a subordinate human headship separate from his divine sovereignty.  Why?  

“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, DVD 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, there is an important corollary:

“As the consubstantiall word of God, he had with God before the beginning of the world that glorie which as man he requesteth to have.  Father glorifie they Sonne now with that glorie which with thee I enjoyed before the world was, for 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.  Dominion belongeth unto the Kingly office of Christ as propitiation and mediation unto his priestly, instruction unto his pastoral or propheticall office.” 

Although there may well be “no necessitie” that the two dominions should be united, the Father’s gracious glorification and exaltation of the Son ensures that they are.  All that the Son worked as God he works now also as man–the two natures are united in one agency, one dominion, a dominion over not only the Church, but all creation, following 1 Cor. 15:20-28.

This is stated even more clearly back in Hooker’s Christological discussion in Bk. 5, which he is clearly drawing on at this point:

“that deitie of Christ which before our Lordes incarnation wrought all thinges without man doth now worke nothinge wherein the nature which it hath assumed is either absent from it or idle.  Christ as man hath all power both in heaven and earth given him.  He hath as man not as God only supreme dominion over quicke and dead.  For so much his ascension into heaven and his session at the right hand of God doe importe….Session at the right hand of God is the actual exercise of that regencie and dominino wherein the manhood of Christ is joyned and matchet with the deitie of the Sonne of God….This government [over all creation] therefore he exerciseth both as God and as man, as God by essentiall presence with all thinges, as man by cooperation with that which essentiallie is present.”

And so he says again, contra Cartwright, “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 basis of all worldly 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.  One therefore simply cannot say that Christ rules over creation as God and over redemption as man; or over creation as God merely and over redemption as God-man.  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 is the orthodox doctrine of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ.  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. 

So, if VanDrunen does not fall afoul of the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation (which he may), he certainly does fall afoul of the doctrine of the ascension.  Thank goodness the Reformed have Anglicans like Hooker to set them straight.  đŸ˜‰