Response to a Calvinist on “Fallen Nature”

By: Jay Dyer 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).”

5 Comments on Response to a Calvinist on “Fallen Nature”

  1. Michael Burgess // April 17, 2010 at 3:15 pm // Reply

    Jay, this is tremendous. This issue is so critical, it simply can’t be ignored, and you’ve done a fantastic job of distilling it and supporting it here. Well done, and thanks.

    • Thank you. Turretinfan thinks I’m making up the 20 or so people on facebook, including families, who were influenced to leave Calvinism due to these debates. I think it shows he has no concern for understanding the different views, but worshipping his own false system of theology.

  2. Patrick Hall // April 17, 2010 at 4:57 pm // Reply

    Bravo, Jay!

    Like always, very well done.

    One thing I would like to mention (but might not have any real bearing): from what I understand, the traditional view was that only Earthly nature was fallen – that the “outer cosmos” were unaffected by Man’s Fall. Since the forces of nature on the Earth (gravity, electromagnetism, &c.) are the same as they are on, for example, Neptune, then we are forced into understanding that the Fallen Nature only applies to those things that can be properly understood to be “alive”.

    Since Christ took on our Fallen Nature with His Incarnation, and His Body was elevated with His Resurrection, it is only logical that His next step was Ascension into the Heavens, where the stain of Original Sin has not reached. Can we then understand His Ascension leaving a “vacuum of divinity” on Earth, which was then filled by the spirit of the Holy Ghost?

  3. I posted this as a comment on Turretinfan’s most recent post attempting to respond to your arguments (or rather linking to someone else’s response). I think this might help you fine-tune your argument.

    Jay Dyer’s first statement that “to be a consistent Calvinist you must be” 1. “Nestorian, in that the Logos cannot assume a fallen human nature” is headed in the right direction, but I think he used the wrong term.

    Nestorius was not concerned with keeping Jesus from having a fallen nature, obviously, but with Mary being called “mother of God.” So he said Mary was only Jesus’ mother as man but not as God, hence only Christotokos not Theotokos.

    Calvinism, on the other hand, asserts that Jesus’ flesh is different from ours. Nestorius did not do this. But the docetists did, the docetists I mean that allowed for him to have a body, even to have flesh, but only celestial flesh. There were docetists who claimed Jesus had no body at all, or that his body was pure spirit or soul and he had no flesh. But there were also the celestial flesh docetists. Marcion’s understudy, Apelles, for example believed that on Jesus’ way down from heaven he put together a body of flesh by taking atoms from the stars during his descent. Calvinism does sort of also give Jesus a celestial body, in the sense that he does not take the same flesh as us. The theory is that he is somehow not a descendant of Adam but constitutes a new race, even though Mary from whom most orthodox Christians would not doubt he derived his flesh is clearly a descendant of Adam! Somehow the Calvinists see that Mary is a descendant of Adam but don’t want to allow Jesus to be one. Somehow Mary, of the race of Adam, spawns a new species in Jesus. Its very similar to the celestial flesh speculations of certain Gnostic groups.

    And point 11, that a consistent Calvinist is “An agnostic, in that human reason is so damaged by the fall and total depravity, it cannot accurately reason about God and ever attain certainty.” I would point out that according to the story in Genesis, Adam and Eve did not lose intellectual capacity or become ignorant as a result of the fall, but rather “their eyes were open” and God says “behold man has become as one of us to know good and evil.” The story in Genesis does not teach a loss of moral capacity due to the fall, but a gaining of moral capacity. The doctrine of total depravity, therefore, is not from Genesis, but from some Manichean mythe.

  4. Jay, you need to include “The Body Electric” and “Cross Currents” by Robert O. Becker in your cart on Amazon.

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