Theos sesarkomenos: The First Response to Turretinfan on Nestorianism
April 17, 2010 1 Comment
“Why do you incessantly call Mary ‘Theotokos’?” –Julian the Apostate, (Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol. I, pg. 241)
“With all reverence let us praise the light of the world, the great orator and champion of the Mother of God; for by his fiery teachings he burned the heresy of Nestorius. Wherefore let us cry to him: O divine Cyril, intercede with Christ to strengthen the orthodox faith.” “Thy teaching has reached to the ends of the earth. For from the wellsprings of the Savior, O blessed one, thou hast poured forth a flood of doctrine which engulfs all heresies.”
–Eastern Troparion and Kontakion of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Patriarch and Doctor
By: Jay Dyer
Calvinist polemicist Tur8infan of Dr. James White’s Alpha & Omega Ministries has written what he perceives to be a response to the accusation I made that Calvinists are Nestorians, in that they end up denying the henotic union. He has issued an informal challenge, intending on doing a 13-part response to all of my claims about the implications of Calvinist theology, which I showed were Nestorian when brought to what Van Til called “epistemological self-consciousness.”
I couldn’t have dreamed of a better statement from him of his views, since he has admitted two of my accusations in his first response. This will not be difficult to dissect, and I hope for readers with an open mind to pay close attention, and by God’s grace, better their theology.
Tur8infan begins: Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). Christ, however, (and only Christ) was immaculately conceived. He was like the sinful flesh of Mary from whom he (after the flesh) came, but his flesh was not itself sinful. He was a true human, but he was the second Adam. He was not under Adam’s federal headship and he did not inherit Adam’s fallen and depraved nature. This is, of course, not only the Calvinist position but also the position of at least most of the major early church fathers who addressed the subject.
Jay: As we will see below, this will become very problematic. We fully agree that Christ had no original sin or concupiscence in His human nature. We fully agree that after the fall, nature has become corrupted and vitiated. It has not, however, become inherently evil and depraved. God is the author of nature. We agree He was born of a Virgin and was Immaculate. However, he took His human flesh from his Mother. The flesh He took from His mother was fully consubstantial with us: it cannot be gnostic or heavenly flesh. As we read in Hebrews 2:14, we are explicitly told that He partook of our fallen state by suffering and dying. Only if you equate nature with evil would you think that means He took on evil. But, oddly enough, it’s the reformed person, who in his imputational theology, argues that the Son of God literally “became sin.” But sin has no being: it is not a substance. Sin is an act of the will: 1 John 3:4, Gal. 6:1, James 1;14-15, never a state of being. I have fleshed this out (no pun intended) already here. If He didn’t assume our fallen state, He would not have wept, bled, suffered and died. The problem with Tur8infan’s construal above is precisely what I laid out in one of my other accusations: Calvinists are Manichaean. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as “sinful flesh.” If so, then God creates sin, since God creates human nature. And I know what St. Paul says: but St. Paul is not a Manichaean–he is not saying nature is evil; “sinful flesh” is his encapsulating terminology for our state with original sin. This is proven by the fact that St. Paul says God was manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). Does Philippians 2:7 mean that He only came in the ‘likeness” of humanity, but not in a fully human nature? Of course not. Human nature is composed of body, soul and mind. None of these things can be inherently evil, for they are created by God. To say they are naturally evil, is to make God a creator of evil. This is why Luther was accused, and rightly so, of being Manichaean. Notice that Tur8infan calls it “depraved nature.” Just as with all Calvinists, they confuse nature and person. Persons are seen as frozen instances of nature, in a perpetual state of sin.
Sin is given actual ontological status in this view–something now natural. It’s not simply individual human persons who sin, but sin is become, in this view, an active state of being. If human nature has become inherently evil, then Christ could not assume it, for He assumed a nature capable of suffering and death. The mere fact that the Calvinist says Christ could not assume a fallen nature shows that he equates nature with evil and sin. So, again, how do I prove Christ assumed our lowly, fallen state–by the very fact that He died. If He did not assume our lowly state, we are not raised and we are in our sins: there is no hope. Again, if He did not assume our lowly state, He wouldn’t have died, since this is a result of the fall. But beyond this is the other problem I laid out in another accusation: the idea of the legal exchange/imputation meaning that Christ had to be cut off in wrath from the Father. As we will see below, this is completely impossible without being openly anti-trinitarian or Nestorian.
The Son shares the Father’s divine will, as does the Spirit. This is because will is a property of nature. Since, as will be shown below, there is only one subject in the Incarnation, the divine Person of the Logos, this means the crucifixion was the experience of none other than the Logos.
God was crucified in the flesh, as the communicatio idiomatum says, and in order for this subject to be cut off and rejected by the Father, we either need 1) a separate human subject who can experience damnation, which introducing of a second subject I will show below to be certainly Nestorian, or 2) the Divine Person of the Son to be cut off from the Father and reprobated. This is blasphemous. Either way, the Calvinist has a dilemma that his legal imputation theology cannot make sense of. But if we really want to turn up the heat, we can just look to the doctrine of perichoresis: the divine indwelling. The doctrine of the indwelling of the Persons is taught by all Trinitarian professing Churches. Simply put, each of the Persons fully indwells the other Persons (John 14:9-10).
So, if you get one Person, de facto you get the other Two. Calvin teaches the perichoresis in the 1556 Institutes, Bk. I, Ch. XIII, Sec. 2. He notes there that the Father expresses Himself wholly in the Son and so on. But if Christ can be damned and rejected, manifest absurdities arise, such as then the divine indwelling must either cease, or the Father and Spirit will be damned and cut off with the Logos. But this is nonsense and blasphemous.
Tur8infan: b) The Accusation Disputed The Nestorian error is (to put it concisely) to deny the hypostatic union. Nestorianism, as it is classically defined, argues that Christ was not one person with two natures, but two persons. The existence of the hypostatic union is critical to the Calvinistic view of the atonement. The fact that the person of Christ was of infinite dignity on account of His divine nature makes the atonement of infinite intrinsic worth. The fact that the person of Christ had a truly human nature made the atoning death of Christ possible, as well as making the form of the sacrifice (death of man) a proper suffering of the penalty due. Without one or the other, the atonement would be impossible. Consequently, it would be impossible for a consistent Calvinist to embrace Nestorianism.
Jay: There is much here that is correct. I don’t think that he is purposefully denying the Incarnation. Remember: the accusation is that they are inconsistent, and if they followed out their contradictory ideas, they would end up Nestorian. However, Tur8infan has not caught what the argument is. The argument does not rely upon the statement from Chalcedon, which he has given above. The argument comes from Ephesus and the 5th and 6th councils, which he is evidently unfamiliar with. Yes, the hypostatic union is Christ in two natures. However, as the debate raged following the council of Chalcedon, the question changed: was the humanity of Christ a personal subject? In other, words, the Neo-Nestorians argued, like Nestorius, that there was still some sense in which the humanity was an alter-subject in the Incarnate God-man, and it was this man who was the subject of the human actions, such as eating, drinking, suffering and dying. The answer to this was a return to Scripture and St. Cyril: there is only one subject of all the Incarnate acts of the economy: The Logos. This can be easily demonstrated. The Logos, as the Second Person of the Trinity obviously possessed his Divine Personhood prior to becoming Incarnate. Therefore, it was noted that its more correct to say that it was a Divine Person with a divine nature that became Incarnate.
This is because nature is impersonal. Otherwise, the divine nature would be a 4th person, which is heretical. Chalcedon, as often read in the West, tends to make Jesus into a kind of addition formula: divine nature + human nature = hypostatic (Personal) union. But the impersonal divine nature alone, is not what became Incarnate, nor does it act as if it were a Person. On the contrary, Catholic orthodoxy affirmed instead that a divine Person (the Logos) with a divine nature became Incarnate. “The Word (Second Person) was made flesh (assuming an impersonal human nature), and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
You will always see in the Fathers and Councils the human nature referred to as “It.” Otherwise, if the Logos assumed a human Person, Jesus, we would have two Persons in the Incarnation: precisely what Nestorius did say. With this in mind, we can now see why our Catechism refers to this controversy as follows, emphasizing the single divine subject, which is our consistent, ageless teaching:
“466 The Nestorian heresy regarded Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son. Opposing this heresy, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the third ecumenical council, at Ephesus in 431, confessed “that the Word, uniting to himself in his person the flesh animated by a rational soul, became man.” Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception. For this reason the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 that Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb: “Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.” We read concerning the post-Chalcedonian Neo-Nestorian movement:
“468 After the Council of Chalcedon, some made of Christ’s human nature a kind of personal subject. Against them, the fifth ecumenical council, at Constantinople in 553, confessed that “there is but one hypostasis [or person], which is our Lord Jesus Christ, one of the Trinity.” Thus everything in Christ’s human nature is to be attributed to his divine person as its proper subject, not only his miracles but also his sufferings and even his death: “He who was crucified in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, is true God, Lord of glory, and one of the Holy Trinity (Jn. 14:9-10).”
It is precisely this that I am honing in on, and had Tur8infan read my article on the explanation of the accusations, he would have known that. As it stands, however, it appears he did not, since he didn’t even catch what the argument was.
Tur8infan: Furthermore, this alleged Nestorian error has been disputed. As A.A. Hodge explains in his Outlines of Theology: The Nestorian heresy charged upon Nestorius, a Syrian by birth, and bishop of Constantinople, during the fifth century, by his enemy, Cyril, the arrogant bishop of Alexandria. Cyril obtained a judgment against Nestorius in the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431, to the effect that he separated the two natures of Christ so far as to teach the coexistence in him of two distinct persons, a God and a man, intimately united.
But it is now, however, judged most probable by Protestant historians that Nestorius was personally a brave defender of the true faith, and that the misrepresentations of his enemies were founded only upon his uncompromising opposition to the dangerous habit then prominently introduced of calling the Virgin Mary the mother of God because she was the mother of the human nature of Christ. Jay: Wow! So, you quote a top reformed thinker saying Nestorius was a personally brave defender of the Faith! That’s pretty much my 1st accusation. Since Hodge doesn’t even understand the issues in the dispute (as I show at the bottom that no one ever said Mary caused His divinity), which is whether there is a single subject for all the economic actions and experiences. I couldn’t have asked for a better confirmation of Calvinists loving Nestorianism.
We see that the orthodox is called “arrogant,” and the heretic, a “brave defender of the Faith.” Accusation number one proven. Also demonstrated is my claim that in Protestantism all we have is the shifting sands of this and that academic. Hey, can we restore Arius as well? Can we restore Pyrrhus? What about Macedonius? Hopefully, we can dig up all the ancient heretics and place them in the reformed churches, where their errors echo from the pulpits to this day. Thanks a million for this one, Tur8infan!
What Tur8infan needs to read to understand what’s going on: 1) The decrees and canons of Ephesus, including St. Cyril’s 12 Chapters & 3 Letters 2) Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol. 1 3) St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ 4) John McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy 5) Edward Hardy, Ed., Christology of the Later Fathers And as for Nestorius being a defender of the Faith, let’s see St. Cyril’s dialogue with a Nestorian below.
As you will see in this selection, and I know its lengthy, buts great–it’s precisely the Nestorian who argued that a man as a separate subject was cut off from the Father in the crucifixion. But in your first statement above, you denied this. St. Cyril is “A”, while the Nestorian inquisitor is “B,” On the Unity of Christ, SVS Press, 101-105. St. Cyril shows the necessity of a single divine subject for all the Incarnate acts: the Logos Himself. He writes:
“A. Seeing that we have been made accursed because of the transgression in Adam and forsaken of God have fallen under the snare of death, and that all things have been made new in Christ, and a return of our condition to what it was in the beginning [has taken place]; need was it that the second Adam which is out of Heaven, He Who is superior to all sin, the All-holy and Undefiled second first-fruits of our race, Christ, should free from sentence the nature of men and call again upon it the good favour that is from above and from the Father and undo the forsaking through His Obedience and entire subjection. For He did no sin, and the race of man in Him has gained the riches of spotlessness and entire blamelessness, so that it at length may with boldness cry out, My God my God why forsookest Thou me? For consider that the Only-Begotten having been made man, gave forth such words as one of us and in behalf of our whole nature, as though He said, The first man hath transgressed, he slipped down into disobedience, he heeded not the command given him, by the wiles of the dragon he was carried off into wilfulness: therefore fall rightly has he been subjected unto decay and has become subject to doom, but Thou didst plant Me a second beginning to them on the earth, I am called, Second Adam. In Me Thou seest the race of man purged, achieving sinlessness, holy, all-pure. Give now the good things of Thy Clemency, undo the forsaking, rebuke decay and let wrath reach its period. I have conquered Satan himself too who of old prevailed, for he found in Me no whit of what was his. Such then, as I think, is the meaning of the Saviour’s words; for He was inviting the good favour of the Father not on Himself but on us rather. For as the [fruits] of wrath passed through as from the first root, I mean Adam, unto the whole nature of man (for death hath reigned from Adam unto Moses over them too which sinned not after the likeness of Adam’s transgression): thus too will the [fruits] from our second first-fruits, Christ, pass through unto the whole human race. And the all-wise Paul will be our warrant, saying, For if by the transgression of one man the many died, much more by the righteousness of the One shall the many live, and again, For as in Adam all die so too in Christ shall all be quickened. B. Unwise therefore and utterly incongruous to the holy Scriptures is it both to deem and to say that the man assumed used human expressions as forsaken by the Word which was connected with him. A. Blasphemy, my friend, and a proof of the uttermost stupefaction, and that full clear, will this be, yet is it not incongruous to those who understand not to think aright. For since they sever and divide utterly both words and facts and have allotted the one to the Only-Begotten alone and by Himself, the other as it were to a son other than He and from a woman, therefore have they missed of the straight and most unerring way and of clearly knowing the mystery of Christ. B. We must not then divide either words or facts, when the Gospel and Apostolic preachings are brought forward? A. By no means, as far as pertains to two persons and hypostases severed from one another and diverging altogether apart and separately: for in that there is One Son, the Word made Man for our sakes, I would say that all are His, both words and facts, both the God-befitting and besides the human. B. Hence even if He be said to be weary from the journey. to be hungry and to share in sleep: will it be fit (tell me) to allot to God the Word things thus mean and abased? A. The Word still bare and not yet Incarnate and ere He descended unto the emptying, it will by no means befit (for you deem aright), but to Him made man and emptied what hurt can this inflict on Him? for as we say that His flesh was made His own, so again His are the weaknesses of the flesh through the Economic appropriation of them and after the mode of the emptying, for He was made like in all things to His brethren, without sin alone. And marvel not that we say that He has made the weaknesses of the flesh His own along with the flesh: whence to Himself again hath He allotted the contumelies too from without, which were put upon Him by the frowardness of the Jews, saying through the voice of the Psalmist, They parted My garments among themselves and upon My vesture they cast the lot, and again, All that see Me sneered at Me, they spake with their lips, they wagged the head. B. Hence though He say for example, He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father, I and the Father are One, and to the Jews, Why are ye seeking to kill Me, a man Who have told you the truth which I heard of God, shall we allow that the words both one and other belong to One and the Same? A. Most certainly, for Christ has never been divided, but is believed to be One and Only and Very Son by all who worship Him. For the Image of the Invisible God, the Brightness of the glory of the Person of the Father, the Impress of His Essence, took bondman’s form, not as though connecting a man to Himself, as they say, but rather Himself made in that form, yet even so abiding in likeness to God the Father. And the all-wise Paul hath written, For it is God Who said that the light should shine forth of darkness, Who shone in our hearts unto the illumining of the knowledge of His glory in the Face of Christ Jesus. For view how it is in the Person of Christ that the illumining of the Divine and Ineffable glory of God the Father shines forth: for the Only-Begotten albeit made man shews in Himself the glory of the Father, for This Alone and none other is conceived of and called Christ. Else let our opponents teach us how one can behold in a mere man the illumining or the knowledge of the Divine glory? for not in the form of man shall we see God: yet in the Word Alone Which has been made as we and made Man and hath even thus remained by Nature and truly Son, might one in wondrous wise see this too, in that He is conceived of as God. And verily the steward of His Mysteries, having called Him Christ Jesus as having been made as we and Incarnate, knows that He is so together with being God by Nature and in truth: for he writes after this wise, More boldly in part I have written to you, as reminding you because of the grace given me by God that I should be a minister of Christ Jesus, ministering the Gospel of God, Zacharias too prophesieth to his own child, I mean the Baptist, And thou, little one, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare a people for Him: and the Divine Baptist pointed out the Most High and Lord saying, See the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world: This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a Man who has been made before me because He was prior to me. Is it then lawful to doubt that One and Only and Truly Son is the Word forth of God the Father together with the flesh united to Him and that not without soul, as some say, but ensouled with reasonable soul and in all respects One Person with it?”
[Note: This actual quote is from the online edition at tertullian.org, and not the SVS edition. The online, edition, however, is not numbered in any way. It can be read here:
Tur8infan: c) The Accusation Redirected The Nestorians (those associated with the historical Nestorius) never went away, and (ironically) Rome now accepts the Nestorian communion under certain qualified circumstances (link), which (as the linked document cautions) should not be confused with the idea there is full communion between them. On the other hand, Rome has proven Nestorius’ apparent concerns over the term “theotokos” (literally “God-bearer” but often translated “mother of God”) to be well founded. In the years since “theotokos” became accepted terminology, Mary grew to have an increasing role in the worship of Rome, until today we have apologists for Catholicism insisting that devotion to Mary is a mandatory part of religious life. Now, an official document from the Vatican from the 1970′s states: “With his mind raised to heaven … the priest should very often turn to Mary, the Mother of God, … and daily ask her for the grace of conforming himself to her Son.” (source) If Nestorius were still around today, he’d feel vindicated in opposing the term “theotokos” on the ground that it can lead to what amounts to Mary-worship (though modern Catholicism is careful not to call this sort of veneration of Mary “worship”).
Jay: This is a complete straw-man. This present debate is not about Mary, although we can have that debate later. But Tur8infan doesn’t understand the Theotokos to be so important because he doesn’t understand that there is only one Personal subject in the economy: the divine Person of the Son. This is the reason Theotokos is so key: it means that the Person–the only Person she bore was God. It never meant and has never meant that St. Mary caused the divinity in Him. No one has ever said this, except for Nestorius, who first made this accusation. St. Cyril constantly had to explain to Nestorius no one was saying anything as stupid and absurd as that St. Mary, a creature, caused the divine nature in Christ. The Church has always confessed that He took flesh from the Virgin, as our catechism says: “495 Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus”, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord”. In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity.
Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos).” And, “503 Mary’s virginity manifests God’s absolute initiative in the Incarnation. Jesus has only God as Father. “He was never estranged from the Father because of the human nature which he assumed. . . He is naturally Son of the Father as to his divinity and naturally son of his mother as to his humanity, but properly Son of the Father in both natures.”
Ephesus itself said in explanation on this point (in Denzinger):
“111a For we do not say that the nature of the Word was changed and made flesh, nor yet that it was changed into the whole man (composed) of soul and body but rather (we say) that the Word, in an ineffable and inconceivable manner, having hypostatically united to Himself flesh animated by a rational soul, became Man and was called the Son of Man, not according to the will alone or by the assumption of a person alone, and that the different natures were brought together in a real union, but that out of both in one Christ and Son, not because the distinction of natures was destroyed by the union, but rather because the divine nature and the human nature formed one Lord and Christ and Son for us, through a marvelous and mystical concurrence in unity. . . . For it was no ordinary man who was first-born of the Holy Virgin and upon whom the Word afterwards descended; but being united from the womb itself He is said to have undergone flesh birth, claiming as His own the birth of His own flesh. Thus [the holy Fathers] did not hesitate to speak of the holy Virgin as the Mother of God.” Again, this is designed to destroy Nestorius’ heretical notion that there is another subject, the man, to whom we ascribe the experiences of suffering and dying. But this is heretical.
This is why St. Cyril/Ephesus argue as follows from the Real Presence in his second letter, since the flesh of some mere man obviously cannot save us: “We will necessarily add this also. Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the Only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, confessing his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, we offer the Unbloody Sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received his Holy Flesh and the Precious Blood of Christ the Saviour of us all. And not as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid: nor as of a man sanctified and associated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the Life-giving and very flesh of the Word himself. For he is the Life according to his nature as God, and when he became united to his Flesh, he made it also to be Life-giving, as also he said to us: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood. For we must not think that it is flesh of a man like us (for how can the flesh of man be life-giving by its own nature?) but as having become truly the very own of him who for us both became and was called Son of Man. Besides, what the Gospels say our Saviour said of himself, we do not divide between two hypostases or persons. For neither is he, the one and only Christ, to be thought of as double, although of two (ἐκ δύο) and they diverse, yet he has joined them in an indivisible union, just as everyone knows a man is not double although made up of soul and body, but is one of both. Wherefore when thinking rightly, we transfer the human and the divine to the same person (παρ’ ἑνὸς εἰρῆσθαι).” In conclusion, we do not have a response, but a manifestation of Tur8infan’s unfamiliarity with the issues. He has run quickly to A.A. Hodge, but Hodge said what I said: Calvinists are Nestorian. Tur8infan still hasn’t caught the argument about the raising of our nature or the single subject of the Logos in the economy. Had he read this article I sent him, he might have had a clue about what the debate actually was. Instead, he relied on a few Google searches, which is no replacement for 8 years of patristics research. This is a wonderful and instructive example of my first claim, that Calvinists are Nestorian.
May God give grace. St. Cyril of Alexandria, pray for us.