Friday, March 9, 2012

Hypernestorian Sacramentarian Blues

Is Mary the mother of God? Did God die on the cross? Historic Christian teaching answers "yes" to both of these questions. The heresy of Nestorianism says "no." In Nestorianism, the divine and human natures of Christ are loosely united. Nestorians tend to think of the two natures as two boards that are glued together. They will say that Mary is the mother of Jesus' human nature or that Jesus' human nature died on the cross. But they will not say that Mary is the mother of God or that God died on the cross. They don't say that Christ is two persons but for all practical purposes the Christ of Nestorianism is two persons.

The Scriptures use very anti-Nestorian language. 1 Corinthians 2:8 says that the rulers of this age crucified the Lord of glory. The rulers of this age crucified God. Acts 20:28 says that the church has been purchased by God's blood. In his debate with Luther, Zwingli believed that passages like these and John 6:55 where Jesus says "My flesh is real food"were mere figures of speech. Zwingli said that Jesus really meant His divine nature is real food.

Although the average Christian would have no idea what you are talking about if you called him a Nestorian, it's still a pretty widespread error. The general tendency within Christianity is to What difference does it make? It makes all the difference in the world. If God did not die for us, we would all be damned. Luther writes (LW 22:21f):

If Christ is not true and natural God, born of the Father in eternity and Creator of all creatures, we are doomed. For what would Christ’s suffering and death avail me if Christ were merely a human being like you and me? As such He could not have overcome devil, death, and sin; He would have proved far too weak for them and could never have helped us. No, we must have a Savior who is true God and Lord over sin, death, devil, and hell. If we permit the devil to topple this stronghold for us, so that we disbelieve His divinity, then His suffering, death, and resurrection profit us nothing. Then we are bereft of all hope of eternal life and salvation; in short, we are not able to comfort ourselves with any of the consoling promises of Scripture.
In another place (LW 41:103) Luther says:

Christians should know that if God is not in the scale to give it weight, we, on our side, sink to the ground. I mean it this way: if it cannot be said that God died for us, but only a man, we are lost; but if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, his side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale. Yet he can also readily go up again, or leap out of the scale! But he could not sit on the scale unless he had become a man like us, so that it might be called God’s dying, God’s martyrdom, God’s blood, and God’s death. For God in his nature cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is called God’s death when a man dies who is one substance or one person with God.
This was not Luther's private opinion but was the orthodox position taken by the church fathers. Both the church fathers and the Lutheran theologians compared the union between the two natures of Christ to the union of fire and iron when iron is placed in fire. The divine and human natures of Christ do not intermingle, each retains its essence and properties. But just as iron glows read and becomes hot when placed in fire, so the human nature takes on characteristics of the divine nature because of the union. Jesus was able to perform miracles and pass through walls because His human nature took on characteristics of His Divine nature.

Calvinists and Zwinglians reject the Lutheran understanding of the Lord's Supper and accuse Lutherans of being Eutychians. Eutychiansism was a heresy that taught that the two natures of Christ combine together to form a single nature. Calvinists and Zwinglians teach that because Lutherans believe the body of Christ can be in more than one place at a time, this is a violation of His distinct human nature. Just on the surface, this charge is odd given the fact that the orthodox church fathers at these councils all believed that Christ's body and blood were received in the Lord's Supper. Even the Nestorians believed that Christ's body and blood were present in the Lord's Supper. The Calvinist/Zwinglian charge seems to actually make them hyper-Nestorians. Calvinists claim that the Lutheran understanding of the Lord's Supper cannot be so because the finite is not capable of the infinite. But if the finite is not capable of the infinite then the incarnation never happened.

The limitations imposed by the Calvinist system upon what Jesus can or cannot do with his own body seem rather arbitrary and forced. Calvinists say that when Jesus would pass through walls, the wall ceased to be a wall at that point. When Jesus would disappear they say that He did not really disappear but materialized in another location. Apparently, Calvinists can teleport with their own bodies but cannot make them disappear. When Jesus walks on water according to the Calvinist the water ceases to be water. And so when the Calvinist reads "This is my body" he understands it to mean that in the Lord's Supper the Holy Spirit lifts you up to heaven to partake of body of Christ because apparently Christ's body cannot be in more than one place at a time but your spirit can drift off to heaven for a period of time.

Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus would often tell the Apostles that He was going to die and rise again. They spiritualized this statement of Jesus. God can't possibly die. They were completely surprised when He actually died and had no hope that He would rise again. When He arose they were completely surprised again. It's because of the death and resurrection that the church took Jesus' Words about the Lord's Supper seriously. It wasn't until the ninth Century that theologians began to spritualize the Words of Christ.

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