Re: Orthodoxy (was Re: Biblical Interpretation Reconsidered)

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Thu Jan 01 2004 - 11:01:12 EST

D. F. Siemens, Jr. wrote:
> On Tue, 30 Dec 2003 13:35:56 -0500 George Murphy <>
> writes:
> > Dr. Blake Nelson wrote:

> Could a Y chromosome like Joseph's, or taken from him, have been
> miraculously transferred? Of course. So? My point is simply that for Mary
> to be /Theotokos/, there had to be an unprecedented miracle.
> > On balance I have to agree with Blake here. The hypostatic
> > union means that
> > divine and human are united in a single person, which is the Second
> > Person of the
> > Trinity. That does not entail any particular belief about how such
> > a union was
> > accomplished, whether or not it came about by a direct, rather than
> > mediated, act of God
> > or, in particular, whether or not Jesus had a human father. It's
> > true that it seems
> > easiest to picture (which, N.B., is not the same as "explain") how
> > this might have taken
> > place in terms of virginal conception, but that is far from a proof
> > that it did take
> > place in that way.
> I recognize that there has been, and continues to be, multiple views on
> every theological point. Such was the crux of all the ecumenical
> councils. It is my firm belief that most of these modern alternatives are
> products of a kind of tunnel vision. Let me try an illustration of what I
> mean from the discussion of oil supply and a hydrogen energy economy,
> especially considering Glenn's information. Here are some solutions.
> Extract all the oil from the known pools. Get the fuel from oil shale
> deposits. Make all cars, trucks, trains and boats hydrogen powered. Use
> coal, but capture all the carbon and sulfur compounds produced by
> combustion. There are all kinds of straightforward solutions until
> everything they ignore comes up. Then they are seen to be silly.

        This is all beside the point. In principle we can understand all the physics,
economics &c involved in the issues of energy resources. But even if we accept (as of
course I do) the "that" of the hypostatic union, we don't understand the "how" of it.
It is, to use your language, "an unprecedented miracle." You are, however, overstating
the matter if you insist that virginal conception _must_ have been an essential part of
that miracle. We simply don't know that God could not have accomplished the union of
human and divine natures in the person of the Logos in some other way. & that was my
only point here.
> Theologians similarly produce solutions that only work if the
> consequences are ignored. For example, your question about Paul and John
> may be turned on its head: why should they mention something that
> everyone at the time knew? When did someone feel he had to explain to you
> that all mammals breathe air?

        If we want to understand the theology of Paul or John, we have to operate with
their extant writings and not with speculations about what "everyone at the time" knew.
& this is especially the case if that speculation is pure question beggging - the
question being precisely whether "everyone at the time," including Paul and John knew

> As a quibble on your language, there are those who acknowledge the
> divinity of Jesus without recognizing his deity. I was told of a very
> liberal churchman who remarked that he and his colleagues used the
> traditional language, but with different meanings. In addition to such
> deliberate misrepresentations, there is the general problem of ambiguity.
> Clarity sometimes requires such complicated specification that it becomes
> unclear.

        Your quibble does not touch my language. I said "The hypostatic union means
that divine and human are united in a single person, which is the Second Person of the
Trinity." I should have said "divine and human _natures_" but my shorthand should have
been clear. The word "divine" needs to be used here because there's no English
adjective that I know of formed directly from "deity." It is proper to say that Jesus
is "divine" because of his divine nature, kata Chalcedon, though of course one then must
also speak of his humanity. & while it can be said (because of the communication of
attributes) that "Jesus is God," that kind of language may be misleading because it
suggests that he is God _simpliciter_ and not human. Thus it needs the additional
statement "God is human." Similarly it can be misleading to speak of Christ's "deity"
unless one qualifies it (as in Wesley's Christmas carol" as "incarnate deity."

        Of course people can play games with the language of either "divinity" or
"deity" & say that all of us have "a spark of divinity" & so forth but my language made
it clear that that wasn't what I was talking about.
        & since we're quibbling, let me note that your response to Blake's statement,
"Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is not a creature,"
namely that it "Sounds patripassian," is incorrect. How it sounds is either docetic
(that Christ's humanity was only apparent) or monophysite (that his humanity was
swallowed up in divinity). Patripassianism in itself doesn't say anything about the
humanity of Jesus but is a modalistic claim about the Trinity - i.e., it was the Father
who suffered on the cross.

        Whether or not Blake meant his statement in a docetic or monophysite sense is
another matter & something he may want to address. The human nature assumed in the
Incarnation is created, but the Second Person of the Trinity who assumed it is, _in
itself_, not. It would seem to be correct (but here I'm just stating my theological
opinion) to refer to the person of Christ as a creature because the communication of
attributes in the hypostatic union means that the properties of the human nature can be
ascribed to the person - which is why Mary is to be called theotokos.

        You will note, of course, that I'm using Chalcedonian language here, but that
shouldn't be taken to mean that theology must be limited to the philosophical framework
of nature, person &c that Chalcedon worked with.

George L. Murphy
Received on Thu Jan 1 11:03:27 2004

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