Sunday, December 21, 2014

Instrumentalization thesis

One of the repeated and more annoying complaints against Reformed theology is that we teach the human nature (primarily, the will) is completely passive in salvation.   That has been demonstrated to be false on a number of occasions.  To repeat the charge is simply willful ignorance.  It does raise some problematic concerns for the Anchorites on the subject both of human nature and the patrum consensus.  Athanasius, like Apollinarius and Cyril, held to a divinization soteriology.  As both Sergii Bulgakov and Bruce McCormack make clear, divinization soteriologies demand seeing the human nature of Christ as an instrument (in short:  Christ uses the human nature to divinize it).   Athanasius scholar Khaled Anatolios makes this repeatedly clear (Coherence, p.71ff).

Instruments by their very definition are passive.  There is no such thing as an active instrument (contra McGuckin who sees Cyrillian Christology as an “omnipotent instrument”).   If the human nature is an instrument, and will is a faculty of nature, then how can the will be active?  Because Reformed theology does not demand aninstrumentalization thesis, we are not obligated to view the human nature as a passive recipient.  At least in the mode of conversion we posit that the human will is active.
This raises a deeper problem for the patrum consensus:  Here and elsewhere Athanasius is saying things that sound a lot like what Anchorites charge Reformed theology with teaching.   Of course, one father doesn’t equal the patrum consensus. I grant that. But if any father should be representative on Christology, then surely it is Athanasius!


  1. Do have any thoughts on what it would mean for 'human nature' to be passive?

  2. not in technical terms. Even the strictest Calvinist doesn't believe in a robotic anthropology. The Fathers used it to mean that the a) divine nature would deify the human but b) human pertubations wouldn't disrupt the divine life. That's how they used passivity.