Do We Have a Christology Crisis? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante   
Thursday, 23 February 2012 13:54

The contemporary world of theological and philosophical “Christology” can feel like undiscovered territory for Reformed Christians. Full of specialized vocabulary and historical figures who are underrepresented in Reformed theology, there is a feeling of excitement for some and, for others, insecurity. Clearly, it is of fundamental importance to be concise and orthodox on the doctrine of what Christ is. But is this an area that the older Reformed thinkers failed to adequately consider? Is there a deep and perhaps fatal defect in Reformed Christology? A few academic church historians, and a number of apologists for unreformed churches1, have claimed that there is. Usually, their claim is that Reformed Christology is “Nestorian,” and thus heterodox. So is there really a hidden “key” within Christology that will radically alter our estimation of our own Reformed tradition?

The mature answer is “No.” Keep calm and carry on.

The Reformers were masters of the Christian tradition, and took no step which their informed minds and hearts knew to be unorthodox. They unanimously rejected demonstrated heresies and affirmed the Biblical truths articulated by the faithful in ancient councils, as well as the genuine catholic consensus of their day. Familiar with the writings of the Nicene and post-Nicene Church, the Reformed felt no need, however, to use those writings as their regula fidei in place of the Holy Scriptures.2 Instead, they pushed forward towards a Biblical Christology, emphasizing the history and nature of revelation, and understanding the Lord in Biblical categories, as Word of God, God with us, and in terms of the munus triplex (the threefold office of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King). The Reformed prided themselves on being the most faithful to Chalcedon in all Christendom. In short, what is claimed to be a weakness by certain speculative academic theologians on the one hand, and by aggressive apologists of unreformed churches on the other,3 actually turns out to be one of the Reformed tradition's key virtues.

The Christ of the Councils

Today's scholarly world talks about patristic Christology under a number of terms, but the two main labels are this historical categories“Alexandrian” and “Antiochene.” Limiting the conversation to only these two categories in light of the broader history of the church would be wrong, but for patristic studies they have a sort of prominence. Cyril of Alexandria represents the best of the Alexandrian Christological tradition, emphasizing the unity of Christ's person, whereas the Antiochene school emphasizes Christ's two natures. Antioch's legacy, however, is too often unjustly besmirched through its association with Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius of Constantinople, and (to some) Theodoret of Cyrus.

There is a legitimate academic and historical conversation to be had about all this, though it's a complicated one to be sure. Cyril of Alexandria has been portrayed as both a saint and a villain. The Council of Chalcedon, definitive for the Christian West on this point, has also been claimed as both an Alexandrian and an Antiochene victory. Famously, modern scholars (and a number of early Protestant writers4) are not at all sure that Nestorius was correctly understood. And the inner workings of the various theologies and rhetorical vocabulary can be bewildering at times.5

Cyril and the Alexandrian school were viewed with a good bit of suspicion by mainline Protestants in the twentieth century. Cyril's theological language, particularly in his early career, was not as precise as Chalcedon would require. He mistakenly identified certain theological expressions as coming from Athanasius, when in fact, they came from the heretical Apollinaris of Laodicea. Some of Cyril's followers, Eutyches of Constantinople chief among them, did in fact go on to advocate monophysitism. To top it all off, Cyril's character has been impugned by charges of abusiveness and violence. Thus, there are many reasons to seek to demote his role and influence on the development of Chalcedonian Christology.

On the other hand, there has been a sort of scholarly push back recently, partly rehabilitating Cyril's character and arguing that later Christological developments must be seen as developments from within a Cyrilline paradigm of thought. There is good historical work to support this,6 but there are often other motivations to retell the historical narrative which are less admirable.7

So it is reasonable to say that the legacy of Cyril is mixed.8 His theology certainly required cleaning up, and he even showed himself willing to cooperate in the refining project. Beyond this measured historical judgment, an important theological test case for Cyril's Christology and its compatibility with Reformed thought can be found in the question of divine suffering and impassibility. Jealous as they were to protect the divine nature from being mixed with creation, Reformed theologians always emphasized that God did not suffer on the cross according to His divine nature, but rather He did so through His Son and particularly through His son's humanity. That is, God suffered in the flesh, through the new nature assumed at the Incarnation. If Cyril advocated more than this, then there would be a discontinuity of thought between the so-called Alexandrian Christology and Reformed Theology (as Lutherans have historically claimed). However, even despite his use of “one nature” in Christ, Cyril always maintained the distinction between what is appropriate only to one nature or the other. He clearly says that the Word did not suffer in His divine nature, in terms, it should be said, which satisfy even the high bar of Reformed precision. Two statements will demonstrate this, both taken from On the Unity of Christ. Cyril writes, “Just as 'he made him who knew no sin into sin for our sake that we might become the righteousness of God in him' (for the nature of man has been justified in him), so in the same way he caused him who knew not death (since the Word is life and life-giver) to suffer in the flesh. But insofar as he is considered as God he remained outside suffering in order that we might live through him and in him.” He adds, “The Word was alive, even when his holy flesh was tasting death.”9  These are sufficient qualifications to satisfy any Reformed demands. However strict the emphasis on the unity of person may be, Cyril does not violate the basic distinction of natures, nor does he actually go farther than Reformed boundaries would allow. At this point some may bring up issues of emphasis, but emphasis arguments are always suspect.10 The Reformed allow for a variety of emphases, as long as key boundaries are preserved.

So Cyril isn't the great touchstone, and we certainly aren't “Nestorians” in any sense intended by the classic rejection. But just to show how cloud-castle some of these modern debates can be, it's worth pointing out that, just as Hume was a realist when he left his study, we are almost all Antiochenes now. Here's an example of what “Alexandrian Christology” looked like in the wild. Not as carefully, partially, correctively quoted in a council, but the thing on its own:

             The Gnostic is such, that he is subject only to the affections that exist for the maintenance of the             body, such as hunger, thirst, and the like. But in the case of the Saviour, it were ludicrous [to suppose] that the body, as a body, demanded the necessary aids in order to its duration. For He ate, not for the sake of the body, which was kept together by a holy energy, but in order that it might not enter into the minds of those who were with Him to entertain a different opinion of Him; in like manner as certainly some afterwards supposed that He appeared in a phantasmal shape. But He was entirely impassible; inaccessible to any movement of feeling -- either pleasure or pain. While the apostles, having most gnostically mastered, through the Lord's teaching, anger and fear, and lust, were not liable even to such of the movements of feeling, as seem good, courage, zeal, joy, desire, through a steady condition of mind, not changing a whit; but ever continuing unvarying in a state of training after the resurrection of the Lord.11

It's not very likely that the modern neo-Cyrillians really think like this; which makes all the complaining about Leo and Augustine and Calvin not very credible.

History matters, as the Reformed, of all people, know well; and certainly, getting the historical record right can be considered a good thing, but it is by no means always easy. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be. While pastors and theologians do need to master these topics in appropriate measure,12 the fact is that our justification does not depend on mastering the arcana of Christology in its philosophical-conciliar expression. What matters, of course, is living trust in the living Son of God, revealed in the Biblical history, not in the history of councils.13

What is for certain is this. First, the ancient writers are hardly one thing: there is no patristic consensus to which to appeal, only conciliar decrees whose language is primarily meant to exclude exegetical mistakes, not construct a doctrine apart from the Word. Second, the councils themselves, like the ancient writers, do not constitute an independent regula fidei; they were very mixed because they were very human affairs, and received only insofar as they express consensual exegesis. And last, where the do so, not only is Reformed doctrine in accord with them, it is in fact is the most rigorously faithful to them.

The Christ of Commitment

 But if the old Cyrillianism, monophysitism, and docetic tendency, isn't really among us, what is? What's “neo-” in “neo-Cyrillian”?

William Bartley, in his Retreat to Commitment, acutely analyzed the retreat from objective truth claims by mainstream Protestant theologians in the twentieth century, and their replacement by metaphorical “meaningfulness” and sincere “commitment.”14 This wasn't simply an openly “liberal” move; a number of well-intentioned neo-orthodox went down this road too. By accepting a Kantian division between the objective, the world said to be only really knowable by scientism, and the subjective, the world of unverifiable values, these theologians would come to speak by preference of the “narrative” of the “faith community,” rather than the objective history of the acts of God and His elect people, and objective order of creation. This move makes the data of revelation “meaningful” (as opposed to objectively true)15 symbols of the faith community's experience of the world. Modern academic theology mostly presumes this; hence, the constant attempts to make classical doctrine “relevant” or “meaningful” in every way other than the fundamental way in which it really is relevant. Notable examples are “social Trinitarianism” and certain modern neo-Patristic Christologies,16 which are used, in the place of reason, to symbolically solve social problems or epistemological anxieties, matters which properly belong to politics and philosophy, but which the new theologians think can only be resolved through new speculative syntheses.

Some Reformed theologians have even been a little swept up in this, dismissing the sacred rationality of their predecessors as “Enlightenment rationalism,” a move which is really Bulverism on the one hand, and old-fashioned (and postmodern!) irrationalism on the other, and using undefined terms from the new Christologies in equivocal or mystifying ways, which are privileged by an appeal to mystery or their supposed transcendence of logic and rhetoric when challenged, but then do in fact get used to mean and do some very unmysterious and specific things. And too often, we find in these supposed correctives no close engagement with the classic Reformed tradition, the tradition purportedly in need of being urgently“reformed” in the direction of neo-patristic systems.

It should be said that if the Reformed tradition does have a persistent problem, it certainly isn't in its Christology. It is rather perhaps in the custom of a certain kind of overbraininess, which at its worst leads to the grave error of thinking that faith means an exact, sophisticated grasp of what Christ is in philosophical terms, rather than trust in who Christ is in Biblical terms- the mistake of thinking that the means of justification is subtle intellection (notitia) rather than firm trust (fiducia). This has perhaps created a habit of mind which, when coupled with restlessness, inexperience, and exposure to wider historical and theological horizons, leads some to seek even more arcane and exotic formulations, and thus to leave the plain truths of the Reformed doctrine. A number of bookish and usually young Reformed people have been drawn to unreformed doctrines and communions in this way. Once in their new and supposedly superior position, as is typical of converts to anything, they sometimes launch into apologetical crusades to induce others down their road, armed with their esoteric vocabulary which they claim has the authority of the councils.

Using five dollar words to dazzle is an old trick. A reasonably clever apologist can pretty easily master the terms of antique Christology and manipulate them nimbly enough to make most untutored Christians' heads spin and leave them wondering whether they ever held the orthodox faith at all. But this is simply a problem of catechesis and confidence. This kind of thing mostly works only on bookish people; the Reformed truck driver who lives a life of trust in Christ, is a pillar of kindness, and cleaves to the Word and the fellowship in which he hears it, isn't likely to get dizzy if he comes across philosophizing claims that his Christology is “Nestorian.” For those who are more likely to be unsettled, we need greater pastoral attention which can ask basic question such as, “do you really think God would have made it this arcane?”, and which can reliably guide students through the riches of the texts of the old Reformed masters, presently obscured by a fixation with late-Puritan pietism on the one hand, and Copernican pretensions of some modern writers on the other, leaving Reformed pastors much the poorer.

Instead of the sophisticated retreat to commitment or the frenzy of conversion sickness, a measured and mature Reformed mind will identify canonical principles of truth and methods of understanding and hold fast to them. Our churches need to identify what is necessary to be confessed, using the Bible as rule, reason as method, and the tradition as a guide. We do not need to create a new alternative mental universe of existence and discourse ruled by secret and saving knowledge.

The Christ of Calvinism... and Christendom

 So if the scholarly view of Cyril's historical legacy is mixed, but his basic theology can be put in a consistent way with Reformed theology, what is all the fuss about? Why is it that Reformed theology is accused of not doing enough with Christology? Typically this always gets back to the Eucharist, or rather unreformed superstitions regarding it, but more basically it seems to be because the Reformed are not seeking to prioritize “Alexandrian ontology.” That is, the Reformed do not use Christology as a way to redefine philosophical categories, and they consistently resist all efforts to say that the Incarnation changed humanity from its original created nature. In no way is the Creator/creature distinction challenged, undone, or bridged by genuine catholic Christology. Modern neo-Christology is up to something different than Reformed theology. And this difference is the Reformed tradition's particular glory.

 You see, for many modern students of “Christology,” the christ they have in mind is not the revealed Son of God, Who is already present in the Word and in His body, those who believe on him- both of which things are there, at once prosaic and miraculous, in the Protestant congregation. It rather seems to be their own solution to an anxious metaphysical quest. At worst it is a way to answer and overcome the supposedly alienated condition of being created. At best, it is an attempt to sophisticate the Reformed tradition, mistakenly perceived as small-town and limiting. It is not sin they wish us to repent of and be forgiven for; rather, they seem to wish to transcend their ontological or cultural intellectual marginalization. Rather than being grasped through understanding of messiahship and salvation from sin, the philosophical christ is a way to avoid Biblical categories altogether. And insofar as the christ of neo-Christology is regarded primarily as a trope for a breaking down of the Creator-creature distinction, is removed from the original covenantal revelation, and the offices of prophet, priest, and king, as well as the sacrifice for sins and the propitiation of God's wrath, that christ is a false metaphysical substitute for the Word made flesh- in other words, it is an idol.

This is why Calvin seems so unhelpful to modern and postmodern Christologians. He's not in the least interested in what they are interested in. He was aware of Cyril and Chalcedon, to be sure, and Calvin never holds back from rejecting Nestorianism, but he's far more interested in Biblical theology and a Christ who is the Son of God, Mighty God, Angel of the Lord, the Messiah, the savior of Israel, and the one who ushers in the kingdom. As Stephen Edmondson has shown,17 Calvin was certainly working with Augustine, Peter Lombard, and Aquinas,18 but he was also, above everything, working with the Bible. Far more interesting than discussions about person, nature, and the way in which the words should be used, is the way in which Jesus fulfilled the munus triplex. Philosophy was brought in to discussions in order to guard against speculative overreadings asserting themselves as the Truth, and then the judgment was typically left alone so as to avoid further trouble. Later scholastics did go further when it comes to this point, and not all of them were necessarily in error for doing so,19 but Calvin still seems the wisest in recognizing that philosophy is mostly beside the point when it comes to Christology. Much more important is a humble faith that sees in Christ, not a solution to a mental puzzle, but the God among us, the living forgiveness of sins.    

The other obvious disjunction between Reformed theology and the Christologies of academics and apologists for the unreformed is the role of tradition. While Cyril, Gregory (each of them), and Maximos were important (some even great) men, they were still of the same nature as Calvin, Hodge, and Bavinck. The virtue of the ancients is in their accuracy, when they are accurate; not in their antiquity. And the Reformed have been the most ready to state this principle confidently. Insofar as the ancient writers are correctly exegeting the Bible and correctly using reason and logic to accurately frame the argument, then they are received. But insofar as they are removing us from the discussion of Scripture in pursuing the odium theologicum or pseudo-metaphysical constructions, they are set aside. In fact, there is often benefit in distance, as later thinkers can more carefully and patiently examine all angles of the question, determining which are truly the most helpful. This is why the Reformed, in owning tradition, are unafraid to own more of it, recognizing “fathers” and “doctors” in our own great men as well, right up to the present. Rather than retreating backwards to “Tradition,” we use tradition to go forwards and outwards.

Reformed theologians do not have to be totally dismissive of modern Christology. But they should be profoundly confident in their own tradition of doctrine and reflection. In fact, B.B. Warfield wrote some extremely insightful essays in his collection, The Person and Work of Christ, which anticipate and handle Christological controversies that would later become almost mainstream through the writings of Neo-Orthodox and process theologians. The Reformed masters interact with ancient and modern arguments without skipping a beat. Bavinck's third volume of Reformed Dogmatics is magisterial, confidently interacting with world religions and philosophical concepts from the broadest of traditions. He consistently connects the right dots without getting side-tracked.  

The Reformed tradition's classic distinctive is that God is always and ever God, and man is always and ever man. Even in the unity of Christ, the two natures remain unmixed. And it is God who does the saving. Far from being a weakness, any reluctance to go beyond this is our foremost achievement: a biblical theology of Christ. Jesus didn't go around teaching people how to energize their hypostases. He preached the kingdom, judgment, and how to gain rest in Him. This is the gospel, and this also happens to be both catholic Christology and Reformed theology.


1. These are almost exclusively the Eastern Churches and the Lutherans, together with the Eastern-leaning or Radical Orthodox Anglicans. The Roman Catholics have on the whole retained the traditional theology of the West in this matter, and our difference with them lies elsewhere.

2. Calvin famously declined to subscribe to the Athanasian Creed, though he agreed with the content of it, feeling instead that the request itself displayed harmful assumptions about tradition and authority. Lancelot Andrewes, often wrongly claimed as an Anglo-Catholic, went so far as to say, “They have the Fathers, Councils, the Church and the Pope. We have not so” (A Pattern of Catechetical Doctrine 5.3). This statement did not mean that such were of no value or no historical orientation, since Andrewes also claims the famous 5 centuries, 4 councils, 3 creeds formula. He means to deny any formal authority to tradition. Sola Scriptura is still the foundational rule. The most important thing to note is that councils are contingent affairs, though Spirit-guided in the right circumstances; not divine organs. Their decrees are received insofar as they express consensual exegesis of the Word on a controverted point. The primary function of the decrees is negative, that is, delineating what should not be said, rejecting false or oversimplified formulae. They used philosophical language, somewhat riskily, to that purpose, but were not using it in a sense other than generally understood, and were not using it to create a speculative system- we are speaking of the decrees, of course. The ancient writers themselves were often given to the wildest un-Biblical speculations. For an introductory consideration, see Carl FH Henry's God, Revelation, and Authority, (Word Books, Waco, 1982) vol 5, chapter 9, “The Doctrine of the Trinity”.

3. These groups are actually quite distinct, though they tend to feed off one another. Whereas there can be some genuine appreciation of the academics, much more skepticism should be placed upon the use of the academics by the apologists. One common move, used to introduce theopaschite process theology under cover of equivocation, is treating “person” as a category separable from nature, so that the Divine Person can leave behind, as it were, His divine nature so as to be able to be said to have died unequivocally, or so “Theotokos” can be said unequivocally. Of course this is nonsense, and a revenant of the long-refuted old kenotic theology.

4. Calvin himself is rightly suspicious of the odium theologicum of the ancients, and Hooker's friend Richard Field, in his great Five Books of the Church, shows a critical sense of the highest order in his discussions of the excommunication frenzies of Late Antiquity, which were by no means always edifying. See also Ramsay MacMullen, Voting About God in the Early Church Councils (Yale UP, 2006), whose account in many respects underscores Calvin's own.

5. Harry Wolfson examines a number of the sources of these terms as well as their peculiar and not always happy developments among the early church fathers, in his work, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers. Wolfson notes the role of Philo, Aristotle, and the Stoics in the definition of terms, as the ways in which these philosophical terms were sometimes put to uses that strained the earlier Biblical categories. The actual intellectual background of the terms used in the definitions of the hypostatic union are found in Late Antique physics and chemistry, which, while not representing a wholly corrupting influence, also does not represent any sort of patristic revolution in metaphysics.

6. Particularly John McGuckin, St. Cyril of AlexandriaThe Christological Controversy Its History, Theology, and Texts

7. This is mostly true among certain Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran theologians whose own proclivities owe much to fairly extreme forms of Cyrillianism, but as speculative Christology gains popularity as a pseudo-philosophical device, this is also being seen as an attractive move for postmodern theologians of all theological backgrounds. One should not miss the fact that much of modern German thought, including the always irksome kenotic Christology, is a driving force in this sort of move. A Christology that is more “Cyrilline” is thought to provide metaphysical options for harmonizing the relationship between divine and human nature, just as social Trinitarianism is supposed to suddenly conjure community gardens or magically quell road rage, or provide (how, exactly?) a model for marital relations. But this neo-Cyrilline concoction answers an illusory problem, for it builds upon the questionable, in fact Gnostic, supposition that the “problem” with the relationship of these natures is fundamentally primal and ontological, rather than historic, moral and covenantal. In other words, the real problem, as the Bible gives it, is that our persons are on the outs with the personal God, not that our nature is essentially on the outs with his nature. Absolute distinction of natures is not alienation. But sin is. Often the neo-patristic theologians are weak on historic protology, which leaves them working with very vague and confused ideas of original nature and the Fall, giving their picture partly the color of Existentialism, and partly the color of Roman Catholic donum superadditum theory, all in Byzantine costume.

8. On the whole, it seems that a mediate position between the complete “Alexandrian” reading of Christological history and the anti-Cyril reading is correct. This seems to be a fair treatment of the academic sources as well. Norman Russell notes that Cyril's use of mia physis (one nature) continued to be problematic for years after his death. Speaking of Cyril's theology at the Council of Chalcedon he writes, “The more extreme Cyrillian position, as expressed by the Twelve Chapters, was irreconcilable with the two natures teaching of Leo's Tome and was therefore excluded.” See Norman Russell, Cyril of Alexandria 60. Russell points out that many churches, believing themselves to be the true followers of Cyril, rejected Chalcedon as a Nestorian council. There eventually came about another compromise position, though many of the more extreme followers of both Alexandria and Antioch split from the imperial church, forming their own churches, Russell 61-62; Russell discusses the formations of the Syrian churches, as well as the Jacobites and Copts. Painting a more sympathetic portrait of Cyril's legacy, John McGuckin argues that rather than Leo's Tome serving as a standard of authority, it was itself only found acceptable insofar as it was shown to be consistent with Cyril. McGuckin thus reads Chalcedon as a Cyrilline victory, Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy 235-242. Even McGuckin notes, however, that Cyril had earlier made concessions to the Antiochene position and that several of Cyril's successors moved their way into heterodoxy, 227-229. It was only after a good bit of compromise that a settlement was achieved.

9. On the Unity of Christ, 115

10. For example, if one considers the classical notion of what constitutes an “hypostasis,” an individual subsistence of a nature, they will list spirit, mind, will, and energy. A singular set of all of these components would ordinarly constitute a person. Yet with Christology, the conciliar definition admits of two spirits, minds, wills, and energies, each according to the nature. Thus Jesus Christ has two minds, two wills, and two energies. How much “emphasis” can one give to his singular person without under-emphasizing his dual working (energetic) organs? How much can one prioritize his two seats of consciousness without jeopardizing the hypostatic unity? These were causes of the monothelite and monoenergist controversies, and if honestly considered, these questions show that our creedal statements are more apophatic than cataphatic. We say what is not permissible in order to allow for a certain breadth of freedom of speech. Beyond the mere words, the context and intent of the argument must be considered before a helpful judgment can be made.

11. Clement, Stromateis VI.9. Apparently Alexandria doesn't really look so “incarnational” after all.

12. And while it may come to a surprise to some (though it really shouldn't), Warfield, Bavinck, and Berkhof have excellent treatments of the Christological development within church history.

13. Though it should be said that the Reformed doctors were unusually careful, using their highly developed historical-grammatical method, philology in the best and broadest sense, and not only was their doctrine consistent with catholic consensus, in fact on the whole they sharpened and perfected it. To give just one example, a glance at Daniel Waterland's masterpiece A Review of the Doctrine of the Eucharist will reveal at once his mastery of patristic tradition; and yet he proves athe Reformed doctrine of the Eucharist with it. W J T Kirby has also demonstrated that Richard Hooker's Christology is profoundly Chalcedonian; see Richard Hooker's Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy 51-58, 74-79, 111-116. As archives such as the Post-Reformation Digital Library ( make the older texts more available, we can expect a renaissance of Reformed doctrine from new encounter with the older masters.

14. Bartley's own philosophy is not to be recommended, but his historical analysis of certain moves in modern Protestant theology, even among many “conservatives” however unwittingly, is extremely illuminating.

15. While they might be regarded as “transcendentally” true, beyond mere earthly “objectivity”, this is just a fancier way of saying the same thing

16. One wonders whether the liberal beginnings of some of the neo-patristic Lutheran theologians haven't played a role in inclining them toward a metaphysical rather than Biblical-historical Christology, and toward the allegorizing exegesis of the Alexandrians, as opposed to the more rigorous Antiochene tradition, which reaches full flower in the historical-grammatical method of the Reformers. Much of this theologizing is an antiquarian and theosophically inclined imaginary supplement to scientism, justifying itself over against scientism as legitimate subjectivity- irreducible meaning, faith-knowledge looking to trump science because, as is certainly true, natural science isn't enough. But the problem is in accepting the postmodernist retreat from objectivity, and from history, in the first place. The neo-patristic Christologies are not really historically patristic; the “neo” really makes a difference. What they do have in common with certain Alexandrian-minded ancients is the aversion to history; but they do not actually share the thought-world of those people, since the goal of the moderns is to get human life back. They are inevitably Antiochene, so to speak, in that way; the lost object they're after is creation. But since they have surrendered it to scientism, all they can get back is the “discarded image,” but without the ancient supposition that the image corresponds to an order of things, and thus, the “discarded image” is retrieved unnaturally detached from an order of things (which perhaps accounts for the appeal of “theological aesthetics,” a la von Balthasar). And metaphysical Christology, and its corollary versions of ecclesiology, are put to work in the service of that project, as the palette of tropes with which the picture will be painted. Nonfalsifiable, as data of “faith”, they thus make for a privileged imaginal supplement to the world of scientism and modernity, a supplement which does not challenge scientism nor redefines modernity. Nonfalfisiable and hypermeaningful- “infallible but not inerrant,” one might even say. In any case, the flight from history is the retreat to commitment, to subjectivism.

17. See Calvin's Christology, particularly 15, 186-219

18. Notice that this is a bigger tradition than merely Chalcedon. Though a broader discussion, it should not be assumed that anyone simply “stopped” with a certain traditional settlement. The East has a neo-Chalcedonian tradition, and the West has its own post-Chalcedonian tradition.

19. Zanchi is especially rigorous, giving careful treatment to Cyril of Alexandria and John of Damascus. See his Observations of the Same Zanchius Uppon His Owne Confession and Certaine Positions of the Same Zanchius Of Some Principall Articles Of Our Christian Faith Against Divers Heresies At Sundrie Times Disputed On, Partly At Heidelberg, Partly At Newstade, both of which can be found in his De Religione Christiana Fides ed. Baschera and Moser, particularly pgs. 535-551, 659-759.

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matthew n. petersen (Registered) 2012-02-26 16:04:26

Do you really think the Orthodox will recognize the position you attribute to them, without argument? The ones I have spoken to do not, calling the piece "hand-waving" and "sloganeering".
matthew n. petersen (Registered) 2012-02-26 16:05:30

And you have not even begun to state the question. Distinguishing between possible readings of "God died in the flesh", Vermigli says "The first sense [one could] understand the Son of God to have suffered and died [is] the sense that the passion and death sprang from the human nature but nonetheless so that they reached to the Word itself and reached in a way that the Word truly suffered and died...The second sense is...that Christ suffered and died not from the nature of the Godhead but from the nature of the humanity, namely that the passion and death proceeded from the humanity and were terminated in it since they did not pass through nor penetrate the Word itself because it could neither die nor suffer. But if the Word is said to die and suffer, that means that the nature which it made its own through the incarnation died and suffered."
matthew n. petersen (Registered) 2012-02-26 16:05:47

That is, someone could affirm "God suffered in the flesh", yet hold to radically differing positions. II Constantinople pronounced the second reading anathema, while it explicitly endorsed the first understanding of the terms. So the question of orthodoxy does not hang on the use of the phrase "God suffered according to the flesh" but on the meaning of the phrase.

In order for this article to be a success, the difference between your position and that of your detractors must be stated clearly, and accurately. If it is not--or even worse, if you cannot--the piece is a failure. And the difference is not clearly stated; and inasmuch as it is stated, it is stated inaccurately.
matthew n. petersen (Registered) 2012-02-26 16:10:55

By which I do not in any way intend an attack on the Reformed; but a response to this defense of the Reformed churches. I am currently working on my own response to the charges, which I shall post where I can.
swandpe (Author) 2012-03-18 17:06:37

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Last Updated on Thursday, 23 February 2012 19:43