A Calvinist has asked: how can Christ assume a fallen nature and not be sinful?
In Calvinism, the tendency is to say that sin is actually in our nature, almost as a kind of substance, giving it ontological status. The answer to this lies in the Catholic nature/grace distinction and our view that sin is negation and non-being. For us, sin is, and can only be an act of the will, as 1 John 3:4, 7, says–it’s transgression of the law–an act of the human will. It’s not a state of being, as in Calvinism. For the Calvinist, nature is inherently evil and passed on now, due to the fall. This is flat-out Manichaean. It’s also why Calvinists end up hating creation and images–God cannot have anything to do with matter.
In fact, I often use the question posed to me years ago from one’s reading of Berkhof: when we worship Christ, do we worship His human nature, or just the divine? When you asked me that, I answered as any good Calvinist would–as a Nestorian. I said we only worship the divine nature, as Rushdoony said. However, the meaning of in the Incarnation according to Ephesus, which most Calvinists profess to hold, teaches that we worship Christ with one adoration which includes his flesh (see the quote below). This means we do, in some sense, worship something created–namely the deified humanity of Christ. This the Calvinists cannot grasp.
But to the first point, since sin is a move away from the highest Being–namely, the greatest and Super-transcendent Being, God, sin is located precisely in an act of the will (James 1:14-15), not a state of being. Since this is true, the nature Christ assumed can be fallen and corrupted, but yet raised, since He was God and never sinned in that nature. His deifying energies so penetrated His humanity that it actually shone forth with the divine nature–this is the meaning of the Transfiguration.
1) Ontological Question: if sin is defined as transgression of the law, how can Christ have a sinful nature if He never transgressed the law? It seems that in order to maintain your position, you must define “fallen” ontologically. It’s like you are saying, “He never sinned, but there was something sinful within him.” That’s ontological.
2) Linguistic Question: are you distinguishing between “fallen” and “sinful?” So, Christ had a fallen nature, but not a sinful nature? I don’t see how you can distinguish b/c they are one in the same. Even if you do distinguish, you still have the ontological problem.
Also, “fallen nature” can’t merely mean the ability to sin, b/c Adam had the ability to sin before the fall.
Yes, I am distinguishing between sinful and fallen. Nature can fall–as human nature did, and while it becomes corrupted, it is still not inherently evil. Even the Calvinist would admit that the rest of creation was subject to bondage–fallen, and yet not evil. Animals are fallen and die now because of the fall, but animals are not inherently evil. And so human nature remains in the image of God after the fall, but the likeness to God has been lost: theosis.
By this, we mean that when Adam and Eve fell, they lost communion with God–the deifying life of the Holy Spirit. They were reduced to a merely natural state: nature without grace. But they weren’t inherently evil in their being. They were corrupted, their hearts and wills now tended towards sin, but they did not “become” sin, because sin has no being.
And so, it’s precisely the Logos’ assumption of human flesh that raises it. Another key distinction we make is between nature and persons. Only persons can sin, not nature, because nature is common, while persons are particular. I am the person Jay, you are the person Craig. We share human nature (common). It’s the same in the Trinity: the Persons are particular, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the divine nature they share is common.
Only if, as with the Calvinist, one equates nature with evil, would it be the case that fallenness is equated with sin. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a “sinful nature,” since nature is the creation of God. God does not make “evil.” To create is to give being to–to give an ontological status to something, and evil and sin to not have “existence.” Evil is not some substance. Christ never sinned and there was nothing sinful within Him. He had no original sin. He had no concupiscence. He did cloth Himself in our mortality, which was lowly and bereft of the divine nature.
The easiest way to prove that He assumed a fallen nature is to point out that He suffered and died in that nature. These things are punishments of the fall. For us, sin is both moral and ontological. It’s not either/or as many reformed try to make it. And so likewise, when the Calvinist looks at the Incarnation, its read largely as just a legal, federal headship, neglecting the ontological. We don’t deny that aspect, but our view is much more filled out and metaphysical. And this is because, as I said in response to Doug Wilson, the Incarnation and resurrection are the supreme moral and metaphysical events, even on Wilson’s Calvinist view!
No, “fallen nature” does not mean only the ability to sin. We believe they were created in a probationary state, that did include supernatural grace, a high level of infused knowledge, and the life of the Holy Spirit within them. When they rebelled they moved, by an act of their will, away from God, towards other created things and wrongly perceived as their highest end (namely, the gnosis Satan promised them).
It is through our participation in that raised/transfigured/deified humanity that we are raised. His flesh is, as St. Ignatius of Antioch said, the “medicine of immortality.” If it wasn’t fallen, it couldn’t have been raised (His humanity). And if sin is located in an act of the will, and not in nature itself, Christ can assume the fallen nature, take on death, and conquer it, without ever sinning because He is God. This is all absent in Calvinism and protestantism, but it’s actually the meaning of the Resurrection and the Real Presence.
This is why St. Cyril uses an argument from the Real Presence to defeat Nestorius. This is why, as Jaroslav Pelikan points out in Vol. 1 of his history of dogma that Calvinists have the same Eucharistic theology as Nestorius. St. Cyril wrote in the Ephesian Council’s corpus (431):
“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).”