23 February 2013

More Than a Feeling: Restatement

 Now begins our fourth post in this series, picking up at Schleiermacher's revision of the hypostatic union:

Restatement

Schleiermacher then proceeds to hope that the above criticisms have laid a sufficient foundation . . .
. . . for such a revision, which attempts so to define the mutual relations of the divine and the human in the Redeemer, that both the expressions, divine nature and the duality of natures in the same Person (which, to say the least, are exceedingly inconvenient) shall be altogether avoided.1
He goes on to frame his restatement of the doctrine thus: The Redeemer is like all men in the possession of the same human nature, but distinguished from all men through the absolute power of the God-consciousness that constituted a “real existence of God in him.” In him the human was the perfect organ for the reception and representation of the divine. Insofar as all of the Christ’s human activity depends upon “this existence of God in Him and represents it, the expression (that in the Redeemer God became man) is justified as true exclusively of Him.” Similarly, every moment of his life presents a new manifestation of the incarnation of God, “because always and everywhere all that is human in Him springs out of that divine.”

So ends Schleiermacher’s judgment of this most foundational element of the ecclesiastical formulae regarding the two natures of Christ. In short, it “had better be given up . . . because it is an imperfect solution of the problem . . . and harmful because the occasion of persistent misunderstandings” (ibid., 390).

Response

Many criticisms and several affirmations and adjustments could be made from what has been presented in this series of posts thus far. It’s scope, however, is more narrow (not least in size)—that of christology. And further, we aim to respond to Schleiermacher’s critique of the creedal expression of the hypostatic union in his “§96 First Theorem.” What follows corresponds to the numbering in my last post, though not necessarily in the same order as presented there.

First, with respect to titles and other references to Jesus of Nazareth denoting his divinity, Schleiermacher’s wariness, based on socio-grammatical grounds, is quite right. James D. G. Dunn has summed it up well in his Christology in the Making (in his study on the “Son of God” in nascent Christianity, though the conclusions relate to every title, in that this reference to Jesus “has had both the historical depth and lasting power” of all the titles that have come to denote his divinity2):
They all denote one who is related to God (the divine) in some way—that is quite clear. But whether the relationship is of an individual who lived in close accord with God (specially favoured by God, specially pleasing to God), or of something much more (embodying deity in some way), that is not clear. Certainly ‘son of God’ as applied to Jesus would not necessarily have carried in and of itself the connotation of deity. . . . (ibid., 22)

In the earliest period of Christianity ‘Son of God’ was not an obvious vehicle of a christology of incarnation or pre-existence. . . . In other words, we have not yet discovered any pre-Christian or indeed primitive Christian talk of a Son of God descending to earth which could explain the appearance of such talk in the Fourth Gospel. To put it another way, the understanding of Jesus as Son of God apparently did not provide the starting point for a christology of pre-existence or incarnation. (ibid., 64)
On this first count, then, Schleiermacher anticipated a better reading of the Scriptures than what he had inherited.

Second, starting with the second part of his criticism first, Schleiermacher deems the word nature particularly misleading because it should only be applied to finite existence, and thus is totally inappropriate to God’s aseity and infinity. This argument misses the mark, since it doesn’t comport with the patristic understanding. The concept of “nature” and the concept of “being” were interchangeable by the time of the formulation of the christological creeds, and the former did not carry with it the denotation of finitude that Schleiermacher articulates.

His first part of the argument, however, that the word nature cannot be uniformly applied to both the human and the divine has some merit. The human and the divine are not on the same level of reality; but it is also the superiority of the infinite over all the finite that makes the doctrine of the hypostatic union so difficult to express. Put another way, in the ontological perspective of the Greek world in which the word nature was used and applied to both of Christ’s natures, a resolution to the problem of singular personhood in which these natures subsist cannot be expressed easily without confusion, which brings us to the next points.3

Brief mention must first be made of Schleiermacher’s fourth criticism, that the doctrine of the two wills of Christ adds to the incoherence and unhelpful nature of the creedal formulae. In so doing, he doesn’t move the conversation forward (uncritically relying as he does on his culture’s definition of person—with the addition of self-consciousness and the personality development it made possible).4 At any rate, it’s an extension of the real problem of ascribing two natures to one person, and to that end, he raises his most crucial insight—the question of the relation between nature and person, to which we will turn in the next post.



1 Schleiermacher, Christian Faith (§95), 397, and hereafter throughout the remainder of this paragraph.

2 James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 12.

3 On the best reading, Schleiermacher’s concern here is motivated by his desire to protect the transcendence and holiness of God over against all things creaturely, and so he rejects all attempts to apply words in the same manner to both God and man.

4 For an argument of its coherency in relation to the hypostatic union in the incarnation, see Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), 153–62.

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