The Two Natures in Christ

November 9th in the Lutheran liturgical calendar is the Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz. For those of you who are not well-versed in Reformation history, Martin Chemnitz was a force to be reckoned with in the Lutheran sphere of activity. One of his major contributions was to bring unity between Lutheran factions shortly after the death of Martin Luther. He is also known for penning a couple of sizable texts, such as his immense treatise on the Council of Trent.

Today I’m more interested in another of his works, “The Two Natures in Christ.” Here he goes into painstaking detail to explain how Jesus can be both God and man and how those two natures can coexist as a unified whole. Chemnitz goes through and shows how Jesus being both fully God and fully man is not only the truth, it is absolutely essential. The Second Person of the Trinity became man and now the divine and the human are inextricably bound for eternity. His divinity is active wherever his humanity is found, and vice versa.

As the Reformation progressed beyond the Catholic and Lutheran debate in the days of Luther, Luther found himself at odds with other reformers, such as John Calvin. For Calvin, God’s majesty and power shaped his entire theological outlook. God could do what He wanted, when He wanted, to whomever He wanted, for any reason or no reason at all. This led him to conclude some very different things about who is saved and why, things Luther very much disagreed with. This also led him to state, “Finitum non capax infiniti,” or “the finite is not capable of (containing) the infinite.” This statement was directly most particularly at Communion. In Calvin’s way of thinking, something as common, mundane, and most especially earthly, as bread would not be capable of holding the divine essence of God. Such a thing simply wasn’t possible. Since it wasn’t possible for bread to carry Christ’s divinity, that same bread also was not capable of carrying God’s forgiveness and grace, since God had no real associated with that bread.

Luther argued against Calvin by using the plain words of Christ at the Last Supper. “This is my body,” Jesus says. There is nothing in the text to indicate Jesus is using a metaphor or telling some sort of parable. He simply says, clearly and directly, “This is my body.” For Luther, whatever I might think about such a statement is irrelevant. God has spoken and so it is. God is physically present in the bread and wine because He said so.

That line of argumentation didn’t really work for Calvin. Calvin continued to assert that Jesus was not physically present in the bread and wine. Calvin had a few different problems with Jesus being physically present in the meal. However, this particular issue overlooks the most basic example of finite creation holding the infinite: Christ Himself. As St. Paul says in Colossians 2:9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…” Everything about Jesus is mundane, common, and human, and at the very same time majestic and glorious God. Two things that have no business being bound together in such a way, and yet they are, simply because God declared it to be.

Looking then at the bread and wine on the altar, we are faced with the same statement. They should not contain the divinity of Christ, and yet they do. In that sense, Communion isn’t truly new. God has already done this before, so it should not surprise us in the least when He says He is doing it again.

In a sense, Calvin’s own theology defeats him. God truly is glorious and mighty, capable of doing anything at any time. God can become man. God can come to us in bread and wine. Why? Because He chooses to.

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