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.”



Taxation and Christian Ethics, Pt. 1: A bit of exegesis

What should Christians think about taxes?  Why do we have to pay taxes?  How much do we have to pay?  What about tax shelters and loopholes?  What if we can legally avoid taxes–can we do so?

Such questions, which not all that long ago might have been considered no-brainers, are now a pressing ethical question for Christians, particularly in America.  As our governments increasingly lose the respect of their people and the aura of legitimacy, all taxes come to seem like an imposition, a coercive demand.  Many Christians are convinced that most of our taxes are in fact a form of theft, and hence to be protested and, if possible, not paid.  Any legal loopholes should be exploited readily as safe ways to avoid paying taxes we have no duty to pay. 

Although I’ve regularly given thought to related issues on this blog (see here and here), a recent question from a friend afforded me the opportunity to try to offer a more systematic ethical reflection than I’ve yet given the matter.  I certainly welcome any feedback.  A full response to this question would require a thorough consideration of the role of government in a well-ordered political theology, which is something I won’t pretend to offer here.  But a few key Scripture passages will provide us with some good starting points:

 

When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” 
He said, “Yes.” 
And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” 
Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” 
Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.  Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”

 –Mt. 17:24-27 (NKJV)

In this passage, a couple of things jump out at us.  First is Jesus’ striking flippancy regarding the whole matter– “They want money?  Heck, here’s a fish, take the money from the fish and pay it to them.”  Second is his apparent claim that Christians–“the sons”–can consider themselves “free” from the duty of taxpaying.  They should pay only “lest we offend them.”  Taken together, Jesus appears to give us a picture of Christian freedom, a freedom that expresses itself in service precisely because it is free also from selfish concern.  In one sense, you need not pay, but in another sense, you have no reason not to pay–it’s just money, after all. 

This is consonant with a recurrent theme of Jesus’ ministry, one we have seen already in Matthew–that Christians need not be overly concerned about money, their hearts are not to be set on it: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21).  It is not merely greed that we are to avoid, but a prudent preoccupation with just making sure we have enough; instead, we should trust that God knows what he’s doing, and will provide: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt. 6:31-33)

 

Something similar, I suggest, is going on in the famous “Render unto Caesar passage”:

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.  And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.  Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?  Show Me the tax money.” 
So they brought Him a denarius. 
And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” 
They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” 
And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

–Mt. 22:15-22 (NKJV)

 

What’s interesting here is that Jesus does not, as a matter of fact, answer their question at all.  Too often, this passage has been read as if he clearly did.  They ask, “Is it lawful?” and he answers, “Give unto Caesar what is his due,” so clearly he is saying that it is not only lawful, but necessary.  But of course, Jesus does not actually say anything about “what is due”–he merely notes that this money is, in fact, Caesar’s.  There are several things going on here.  For one, we notice again a flippancy, a lack of seriousness confronted with a question which, for many Jews, was deadly serious.   Instead of appealing to theological principles to answer this question, which for the Jew was weighted with theological significance, Jesus adjudicates it on the question of a picture: “The coin’s got Caesar’s picture on it, so it must belong to him.”  

But there is a deeper message, underneath the irony.  Jesus’ teaching ministry is permeated by a contrast between God and Mammon–you cannot serve two masters.  And Mammon is repeatedly identified with the power-hunger and violence of both Rome and the Jewish leaders.  “Caesar demands money?” asks Jesus–“Well of course he does, since his kingdom is all about money.  God’s kingdom, on the other hand, is about other things.”  Give Caesar taxes, then, and don’t fuss yourself about it, if you are truly of God’s kingdom.   

 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.  Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  Therefore “ If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.  For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.  Render therefore to all what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are owed, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.  Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.   

–Rom. 12:14-13:8; NJKV (except for verse 7, which I have translated so as to make consistent with verse 8) 

As you may know, I’ve spent a lot of my spare time over the past couple years studying this passage, but I’ll confine myself here to a couple general points, without seeking to include the detailed justification for them that I’ve worked out elsewhere.  The point in this passage, I think, is not to lay out criteria of governmental legitimacy, upon which basis our obedience (including taxpaying) is required.  I think, on the contrary, that the point is to sidestep the issue of “legitimacy” altogether.  The Caesars were hardly “legitimate”–either in title or practice.  The taxes they demanded were largely unjust, both in quantity and in purpose.  But that doesn’t stop Paul from insisting that the Roman Christians continue to pay their taxes (or, if you translate the verb as indicative, as the NJKV above does, assuming that they will continue to pay their taxes).  This is because tax-paying is not primarily about legitimacy, but about love.  Jesus, as you will recall, told Peter to pay taxes “lest we offend them”; Paul here calls on us to obey and pay the authorities as a way of “blessing” rather than “cursing.”  Even if the government is an enemy, what are you supposed to do?  Feed the enemy.  What if it asks more than is justly owed to it?  Well, love should determine how much is owed, and there is no limit to love.  

The idea here is that Christians are not to be self-concerned in any of their relations–rather, they are to be concerned about how best they can show concern for the other, which includes enemies and authorities.  They are not to be be pre-occupied with ascertaining “legitimacy” and adjudicating “rights,” but are to be humble, confident that God is in control, and is using all things for good.  This is the context within which we are to understand tax-paying.  The main questions are not “How much can the government justly demand?” but “What opportunities for love and service does this demand provide?  How can I respond with maximum charity, faith, and humility in light of this demand?”  

Shifting from “rights” and “legitimacy” to “charity” does not necessarily make matters simpler.  Charity is a tricky business if there ever was one.  But it does help clear the field of false concerns that often blind us and entangle us before we even get to working out the tricky business of charity.

 

In these passages, I have taken what is, I suppose, a fairly Anabaptist tack, implying that the government is always bad and their tax-collecting illegitimate.  It is not my intention to make that claim.  Rather, the point is that, even if the government were bad and illegitimate, the core values and duties informing Christian taxpaying (and Christian citizenship in general) would still be operative.  If the government is in fact doing good and wonderful things for society, then all the more reason to pay up willingly.  

In the following post, I shall try to draw some implications from these passages and the rest of Scripture regarding tax-paying and tax avoidance.  I may also try to offer an additional post with some thoughts on tax protesting, if time allows.


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.  ðŸ˜‰


“No Where Severed”: The Problem of Ubiquity (Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 4)

Having established the personal identity between the eternal Word and the man Christ Jesus, the complete distinction and unimpaired integrity of the two natures, and the sense in which Christ’s humanity is glorified by its union with the Word, Hooker turns in chapter 55 of Book V to expound much more carefully the hotly-disputed question of ubiquity, which had driven a rift between the Lutheran and Reformed churches, a very serious rift indeed, touching as it did the crucial mystery of the Christian faith.  

Hooker, while operating within a basically Reformed Christology, seeks to articulate the question of ubiquity in a way that does as much justice as possible to the things the Lutherans wanted to emphasize.  This is quite a delicate theological operation, and it’s worth looking closely at how Hooker conducts it. 

 

He begins by affirming the tremendous importance of the question, since our salvation depends on union with Christ, and union with Christ requires an account of how Christ could be personally present to us.  He then lays down a key foundational principle, that he touched on already in ch. 53–that no nature can be both finite and infinite, and all created natures are finite: “Out of which premises wee can conclude not only that nothinge created can possiblie be unlimited or can receave any such accident qualitie or propertie as may reallie make it infinite (for then should it cease to be a creature) but also that everie creaturs limitation is accordinge to his own kinde, and therefore as oft as wee note in them any thinge above theire kinde it argueth that the same is not properly theires but groweth in them from a cause more powerfull then they are” (V.55.2).

This principle tells us that when inquiring of the omnipresence of Christ, we must be dealing with a property of his divinity: “Wherefore Christ is essentiallie present with all thinges in that he is verie God, but not present with all thinges as man, because manhood and the partes thereof can neither be the cause nor the true subject of such presence” (V.55.4). So far so good–standard Reformed stuff.  

Hooker then turns to ask what the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity would require: “if Christ in that he is man be everie where present, seinge this commeth not by the nature of manhood it selfe, there is no other waie how it should grow but either by the grace of union with deitie, or by the grace of unction received from deitie” (V.55.6)  You may recall that Hooker has spelled out in the previous chapter what is involved in each of these two “graces.”  Regarding the former, the grace of union, he established that the attributes of each nature are not communicated to the other nature, but the natures continue each the same nature that they were before, in unimpaired integrity–standard Chalcedonian stuff.  What about the grace of unction?

“And concerninge the grace of unction, wherein are conteined the guifes and vertues which Christ as man hath above men, they make him reallie and habituallie a man more excellent then we are, they take not from him the nature and substance that wee have, they cause not his soul nor bodie to be of an other kinde then oures is.  Supernaturall endowments are an advancement, they are no extinguishment of that nature whereto they are given” (V.55.6). 

We have already seen in the previous post how this logic works–an advancement of the human nature within the perfections proper to it, not a transcendence of that nature to another nature entirely.  Could ubiquity then be a perfection proper to the advancement of human nature?  Hooker answers a firm no:

“If his majesticall bodiie have now anie such nue propertie by force whereof it may everie where reallie even in substance present it selfe, or may at once be in many places, then hath the majesty of his estate extinguisht the veritie of his nature….To conclude, wee hold it in regard of the forealleaged proofes a most infallible truth that Christ as man is not everie where present as man” (V.55.6, 7).

 

Things aren’t looking very good for the Lutherans.  But then comes a crucial word–“Yeat”:

“Yeat because this [human] substance is inseparablie joyned to that personall worde which by his verie divine essence is present with all thinges, the nature which cannot have in it selfe universall presence hath it after a sorte by beinge no where severed from that which everie where is present.  For in as much as that infinite word is not divisible into partes, it could not in parte but must needes be whollie incarnate, and consequentlie wheresoever the word is it hath with it manhood.  Els should the worde be in parte or somewhere God only and not man which is impossible.  For the person of Christ is whole, perfect God and perfect man” (V.55.7).  

Now this is interesting stuff.  

Premise 1: The Word is fully and inseparably joined to human substance.  
Premise 2: The Word is indivisible.
First conclusion: Human substance must be everywhere the Word is.
Premise 3: The Word is everywhere.
Conclusion: Human substance must be everywhere.

 

Now, how is this going to work?  Well, in view of the limitations previously sketched,

“wee cannot say that the whole of Christ is simplie everie where, as wee may that his deitie is and that his person is by force of deitie.  For somewhat of the person of Christ is not everie where in that sorte namelie his manhood, the only conjunction whereof with deitie is extended as farre as deitie, the actual position restrained and tied to a certaine place.  Yeat preasence by waie of conjunction is in some sorte presence” (V.55.7).

So, the human nature can not be present everywhere by way of position…but it can be present by way of conjunction–it is always united to that which is present everywhere.  One has a feeling that modern quantum mechanics might be rather helpful in helping us sort out some of these metaphysical quandaries.  But although we might have difficulties articulating exactly how presence by way of conjunction works, Hooker’s next category may seem to us more fruitful, employing as it does more “actualistic” language that will please the Barthian in all of us.  

 

For we may also speak of the humanity’s presence by way of “cooperation with deitie”:

“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.  The Sonne of God which did first humble him selfe by takinge our flesh upon him, descended afterwardes much lower and became accordinge to the flesh obedient so farre as to suffer death even the death of the crosse for all men because such was his fathers will” (V.55.8).  

This humiliation of the manhood is followed by its exaltation:

“as accordinge to his manhood he had glorified God on earth, so God hath glorified in heaven that nature which yealded him obedience and hath given unto Chirst even in that he is man such fullness of power over the whole world that he which before fulfilled in the state of humilitie and patience whatsoever God did require, doth now raigne in glorie till the time that all thinges be restored” (V.55.8).  

We saw some of this already in the last section–the very exciting notion that the Incarnation means that humanity is now made a participant in all that God does, a co-worker of deity–God works nothing now that he does not work through and with a human being, Jesus Christ.  Thus, wherever the Word is at work–indwelling human souls, in the Eucharist, etc.–there is the human nature at work.  This is what we confess in the doctrine of the ascension–that the human nature has now been glorified to participate in the Son’s reigning over all things–formerly as God, now as God and man.

In short, “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.”  How does this cooperation work?  “By knowledge and assent the soule of Chirst is present with all thinges which the deitie of Christ worketh” (V.55.8)


This much, though, applies only to the human soul of Christ, not his human body, which is what the Lutherans are after–after all, this is at root a dispute over his body and blood in the Eucharistic elements.  For this, Hooker returns to the earlier category of conjunction:   “For his bodie being a parte of that nature which whole nature is presentlie joyned unto deitie wheresoever deitie is, it followeth that his bodilie substance hath everie where a presence of true conjunction with deitie” (V.55.9).  

Finally, Hooker introduces, though very briefly, a third category: “And for as much as it is by vertue of that conjunction made the bodie of the Sonne of God by whome also it was made a sacrifice for the synnes of the whole world, this giveth it a presence of force and efficacie throughout all generations of men” (V.55.9).  The sacrificed body of Christ, which is a human body, is of infinite value and saving efficacy by virtue of its conjunction with deity, and therefore, it is “it selfe infinite in possibilitie of application”–the power of Christ’s body, then, even if not its actual physical substance, can be present everywhere in the Eucharist.  This last is very Calvinian language, and, one might add, closer perhaps to the original intention of “substance” language in the doctrine of transubstantiation, in which substance was to be understood as the dynamic power of something rather than its physical properties.  

Hooker thus concludes, hoping in all this to have so far extended a bridge to the Lutherans that they should have nothing more to complain about: “Which thinges indifferently everie way considered, that gratious promise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ concerninge presence with his to the verie ende of the world, I see no cause but that wee may well and safely interpret he doth performe both as God by essentiall presence of deitie, and as man in that order sense and meaninge which hath bene shown” (V.55.9).   

 

All of this material, I need scarcely add, is pregnant with significance not merely for Eucharistic theology, but also for ecclesiology and political theology.  I have little doubt that as I spend the next couple years with Hooker, I shall have ample occasion to reflect on these latter connections and implications.  Suffice for now to mention just one, because it is one that Hooker makes explicit in Book VIII of the Lawes, contra Cartwright, in an argument which proves devastating not only to the Puritan political theology/ecclesiology, but also to our familiar whipping-boy VanDrunen, who shares the same Christological paradigm.  The short version is this: if it is true that by virtue of the incarnation and ascension, human nature is made a sharer in all the operations proper to the eternal Word,  that in reigning at the right hand of God over all creation the Son of God rules now as Son of Man, then the whole “two mediatorship” paradigm collapses as heterodox.  Christ does not rule over creation as Son of God and over redemption as Son of Man, because Christ is Son of God and Son of Man inseparably now, and as redeeming Son of Man, he cannot but be a co-agent with God in all of the divine reign over every aspect of creation, political life included.  

(If this last bit intrigues you, don’t worry; you can bet on my posting much more along these lines over the coming months and years.)


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.