No, Reformed Christology is not Nestorian

Normally, I don’t think it’s helpful to address the arguments of cage-stagers, preferring instead to engage with the well thought-out and well researched ideas of those who understand their positions. However, after two different cage-stage Lutherans in the span of a week called Reformed Christians Nestorians for our Christology, I decided that this is a subject worth addressing in order to present an accurate view. Understand that I do not fault Lutherans or Lutheranism for two cage-stagers. Every ideology has new converts with more zeal than knowledge.

In fact, one of my readers is a Lutheran with the full understanding of the Lutheran doctrines, and he is a college professor. I welcome him to present the Lutheran view of Christology in either a comment or in a blog post if he so chooses. However, this is the last I’ll mention of my Lutheran brothers in this post, as I will be presenting my understanding of Christology.

Chalcedonian Creed

A controversy erupted between the Eastern and Western churches over the nature of Christ. In 451, a council met at Chalcedon to settle the matter. The Western churches adopted the creed that the council produced while some of the Eastern churches did not. The Creed maintained the two distinct natures of Christ (divine and human)  teaching of as opposed to the teaching of Eutyches — that Christ had only one nature, a mixture of human and divine.

The part of the creed I would like to highlight is this: “…one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person…”

Christ is not two separate persons but one Person with two natures. His divine nature is distinct from His human nature. Though the two natures share properties, they are nonetheless distinct.

Hypostasis

Western Christology teaches that Christ’s human nature and His divine nature are distinct yet united in the one Person. He is fully God and fully man, yet these two natures are not interchangeable. Athanasius used the term “hypostatic union” to describe Christ’s two distinct natures to defend the doctrine that Christ is both fully God and fully man.

Pope Leo I also asserted that Christ has two natures in one person and that these two natures share properties, a doctrine known as communicatio idiomatum. This teaching posits that Christ in His humanity could lay claim to the glory of God before the world was made. Yet, the Bible also teaches that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Lk 2:52)

Another important passage of Scripture to support the hypostatic union is John 1:14. “The Word became flesh.” Here we see that the Son is God and took on the nature of man. It’s also important to note that He did not lose His human nature upon ascension but retained His human nature, incorporating it into His eternal being, showing that Jesus Christ is still fully God and fully man.

Two Errors

I want to pause here to discuss two opposing errors—one of which I was accused of. Nestorianism teaches that there are two persons inside of the Son. Rather than unifying, as described above, this view separates the two natures into two subsistent beings. Since I have already presented an accurate understanding of my view, I see no reason to defend myself here to show that I do not believe in Nestorianism.

The opposite error is Eutychianism. This view absorbs the human nature into the divine nature with no distinctions. For example, this view teaches that since Christ’s divine nature is omnipresent, then so is His human nature because they are one in the same.

Eucharist

The Christology taught in the Chalcedonian Creed is held by both the Roman Catholic Church and most Protestants. Since both believe that Christ’s human body is in heaven, how is His presence different in the sacramental elements?

 Aquinas says there are two ways in which something can be that it was not before: 1) local motion, 2) conversion of something into itself. For the first way, a thing cannot be moved from one place to another without ceasing to be in the original place. Aquinas, using Aristotelian metaphysics, considers the second way since Christ is physically located in heaven. It is by divine mode of a conversion of something into itself that while the accidents of bread and wine remain, it nevertheless becomes the body and blood of Christ through the second way. In conversion of the Eucharist, a subject passes over into a subject without a change in the accidents. Jesus Christ conserves the accidents while changing the substance. Just like when a substance is converted to ashes, the substance of a thing is not to be confused with its accidents. The whole of Christ is present in every crumb and drop in the same way that the whole of water is present in every drop.

Because of his adherence to the Chalcedonian Creed, Aquinas recognizes that Christ’s body is locally in heaven and therefore, the elements do not change by local motion but by conversion. Protestants reject the conversion process of the elements while most still retain the Christology adopted from Rome and from Chalcedon more specifically. The belief of real presence by means of Christ’s Spirit does not rely on Nestorianism and is compatible with the Chalcedonian Creed.

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