Thursday, March 04, 2010

TF Torrance on Christ’s natures in Chalcedon

The following from TFT makes three important points by way of indicating how Chalcedon could and should have gone further than it did in its definition of the person of Christ: (1) that the human nature assumed by Jesus was not “neutral” but fallen – you may be interested in my previously published thoughts on this subject; (2) our understanding of Christ’s human nature ought not be imported from elsewhere; and, finally, (3) our understanding of Christ’s divine nature also ought not be imported from elsewhere. This latter point is, of course, central to questions about God’s impassibility, etc. But, enough summary – here is TFT:
Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Robert T. walker, ed.; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic and Paternoster, 2008): 201-2.

“The crucial factor here is the meaning of the ‘human nature’ of Christ. There is no doubt at all that by ‘human nature’ the fathers wanted to stress the actuality of Christ’s union with us in our true humanity, that Christ was human in all points exactly like us, yet without sin. And that is right as far as it goes, for Christ was fully human like ourselves, coming into and living in our mode of existence, and sharing in it to the full within a span of temporal life on earth between birth and death, and in the unity of a rational soul and body. But the Chalcedonian statement does not say that this human nature of Christ was human nature ‘under the servitude of sin’ as Athanasius insisted; it does not say that it was corrupt human nature taken from our fallen creation, where human nature is determined and perverted by sin, and where it is under the accusation and judgment of holy God.

“But that is all essential, for ‘the unassumed is the unhealed’, as Gregory Nazianzen expressed it, and it is with and within the humanity he assumed from us that the incarnate Son is one with the Father. Therefore the hypostatic union cannot be separated from the act of saving assumption of our fallen human nature, from the living sanctification of our humanity, through the condemnation of sin in the flesh, and through rendering from within it perfect obedience to the Father. In short, if we think of Christ as assuming neutral and perfect humanity, then the doctrine of the hypostatic union may well be stated statically. But if it is our fallen humanity that he sinlessly assumed, in order to heal and sanctify it, not only through the act of assumption, but through a life of perfect obedience and a death in sacrifice, then we cannot state the doctrine of the hypostatic union statically but must state it dynamically, in terms of the whole course of Christ’s life and obedience, from his birth to his resurrection.

“For many people the difficulty with Chalcedonian christology is this, that when it speaks of ‘the human nature’ of Christ, it seems to be speaking of some neutral human nature which we know in some way from our general knowledge of humanity, even though we nowhere have any actual experience of such neutral human nature. Here then, there appears to be a twofold difficulty. It appears to define the human nature of Jesus in terms of some general conception of human nature, and then to think of Christ’s human nature as perfect, or at least neutral, and to that extent unlike our actual human nature. Now if Christ’s human nature is perfect, and further, if Christ is the Word become man, the new Adam, then we cannot define Christ’s human nature in terms of some general idea of human nature we have already conceived, for it is the human nature of Christ alone that is the norm and criterion of all true human nature. The same mistake appears to be present in the Chalcedonian concept of the divine nature of Christ, for it too is defined in terms of some general concept of divine nature, which somehow we have already formed in our minds, whereas if Christ is the Son of God become man, then it is the divine nature of Christ which must be our only norm and criterion for the understanding of divine nature. It is not surprising therefore that the Chalcedonian christology, in spite of its intention, should always tend towards a form of dyophysitism, tempting correction in the form of being counterbalanced by a new monophysitism.”

Bookmark and Share

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Travis:
I find this post interesting because it deals with important questions. I want to share with you my opinion.

The human nature assumed by Christ is the only human nature that exists. Is human nature fallen or unfallen? The category fallen is already a theological determination. The question is, in my view, if this “fallen” is something ontological, say natural or biological; or is something we have come to see that does not follow necessarily from human nature. I tend to think that in Christian is this last choice that prevails. We know we are fallen because we have been taugth so (by Jesus, by God).

Regards,
Sergi

W. Travis McMaken said...

Hey Sergi,

Thanks for the comment. I tend to agree with you, and I think that TFT does too. :-)