The Alleged Necessity* of Christ’s Divine Nature, continued
(*for his merit)
I said that the authors of MM seem to assume either that the obedience of Christ was performed in his divine nature, or that his human nature was deified by virtue of union with his divine nature. I think I have shown that the first possibility—that the obedience of Christ was performed in his divine nature—is clearly unbiblical. Christ’s obedience (both active and passive) was performed in his human nature, not his divine nature. But so far I haven’t really addressed the second possibility—that his human nature was deified or somehow made ontologically infinite by virtue of the hypostatic union with his divine nature.
With regard to this second possibility, the authors of MM don’t actually do this in their book, but one imagines they could borrow a page from Lutheran theology and utilize its doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum (communication of attributes). According to the Lutheran doctrine, the hypostatic union functions as a bridge that gets the divine nature into contact with the human nature, thereby imparting divine attributes to Christ’s human nature. Specifically, the authors of MM would need this doctrine of the hypostatic union to undergird the transference of the divine attribute of ontological infinity to the human nature.
Both the Reformed and the Lutherans affirm the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, but not in the same way. For example, the Westminster Confession affirms it in these terms:
Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature. (WCF VIII.7)
Reformed Christology recognizes this linguistic communicatio idiomatum as one of the ways Scripture speaks, e.g., “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28 NASB). This statement is not a mere figure of speech. It is a true statement, grounded in the hypostatic union. “By reason of the unity of the person” it is legitimate to speak this way, because Christ is God and Christ purchased the church with his own blood, even though we must add the qualifying statement that Christ’s blood was shed in his human nature.
Lutheran Christology affirms this linguistic aspect of the communicatio idiomatum but goes further and holds that some divine attributes are actually transferred from the divine nature to the human nature in order to enable the human nature to act above its creaturely limitations. Perhaps this is just what the authors of MM need.
Remember, the authors of MM argue that the contrast between Adam’s merit and Christ’s merit is that Adam’s merit is finite and creaturely, whereas Christ’s is infinite and divine. Adam was a mere creature, and so he could only have his obedience “counted as meritorious” on the basis of God’s voluntary condescension. But “because of his divine nature, only Christ’s obedience was inherently worthy of the reward of eternal life” (MM 57). They base this reasoning on the “great ontological chasm—an ‘infinite distance’ between God and man” (MM 51). They claim that Christ’s merit, because of his deity, is “inherently worthy” (MM 57), “intrinsically infinite” (MM 57) and “inherently obligating God” (MM 58).
But there’s a problem. Even Lutheran Christology would not give them enough gas to drive their car that far. According to Lutheran dogmatician Francis Pieper, Lutheran Christology limits or qualifies the communicatio idiomatum in two ways. First, only the operative divine attributes (such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence), but not the quiescent divine attributes (like eternity, immensity, and spirituality) are communicated to the human nature. Second, the manner of communication is dynamic rather than static—the human nature receives operative divine attributes so that the divine Son can work through the human nature to perform certain divine actions, such as miracles.
Our thought-experiment of imagining how the authors of MM could utilize Lutheran Christology to get to their desired destination has failed, for even the Lutherans do not go as far as they do in ascribing “inherently infinite” ontological status to the human nature of Christ. It would seem, then, that the authors of MM would need to adopt full-blown monophysitism, the fifth-century error rejected at the Council of Chalcedon that the human nature of Christ was completely deified by the hypostatic union so that it ceased to be truly human. That might give them enough gas to get to their destination, but it comes at a hefty price—going beyond the pale of Chalcedon.
(Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics [St. Louis: Concordia, 1951], vol. 2, pp. 236-39.)