Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Edinburgh Dogmatics: Luther's and Calvin's Christologies

This paper, given by Professor Henri Blocher (Faculte Libre de Theologie Evangelique, Vaux-sur-Seine) opened the second day of the conference. Yet again (!), here is my brief summary:

  • There are pitfalls in an exercise like this: over-polarising and neglecting commonality; chasing a symmetry of views which is not there.
  • Common inspiration for Luther and Calvin in Christology is greater than might be expected: both confess classical orthodoxy; both give Christology the central and decisive role; both emphasise the personal appropriation of the message; both express distrust of scholastic theology.
  • The differences, nevertheless, are significant, as witnessed to by the distrust between the disciples of the two men. The divergence on Christology has been crystallised into the phrases communicatio idiomatum vs extra calvinisticum. Luther's view it seems was already forming before he applied it to his confrontation with Zwingli over the eucharist. Whereas for Luther, the omnipresence of the divine nature of Christ was communicated to his human nature, including his body, for Calvin the two natures remain distinct (according to deity he fills the world, but his human body retains a finite character). Luther speaks of the mixing, intermingling, fusing of Christ's natures; Calvin warns against such descriptions. This is why Barth famously describes the Luther-Alexandrian and Calvin-Nestorian symmetry.
  • The core difficulty with Luther's view is: how can he claim that the human nature of Christ remains essentially that, when it receives the properties of deity? Luther's imprecision when dealing with person and nature compound his problems.
  • Calvin is precise with distinctions, but one might feel that he was too fond of the idea of residence - of the logos residing within a body. However, Calvin does speak of Chalcedonian union, the extra calvinisticum actually being the extra catholicum, required to safeguard the transcendence of deity and the true humaness of Jesus.
  • 'If, as I believe, the main distortions of Christology in our day combine a kenotic annihilation of deity (deity worthy of the name) and, post-Hegelian, the insertion of the man Jesus as such in what is called the Trinity, reflection on the Christology of Luther and Calvin, their common inspiration and their differences, may shed light on our path.'

During the paper, Prof Blocher helpfully spoke of the need to recognise the approximations in our language of persons in the Trinity and especially in respect of Christ's two natures. He asks the question: 'is it truly possible to say two?...you can only add things of a same nature...Duality implies a common measure: where is it between God and man?..if God is ipsum esse, all fulness, how can a created being be added?'

The other good thing was the quote from Calvin, chiding Valentino Gentile as '...this monkey of a muddler, who does not know the basics of Grammar...'. That Calvin called someone a monkey ought never to be forgotten!