Tuesday, May 19, 2015

John of Damascus (Christology)

15) “But this is what leads heretics astray: they look upon nature and person as the same thing” (III.3)

Communicatio Idiomata

(16) “The Word appropriates to Himself the attributes of humanity” (III.3)

This is good Reformed Christology...so far.  The attributes of humanity are predicated, not of the divine nature but of the Person.

(16*) … “And he imparts to the flesh his own attributes by way of communication”

And here John sounds like a Lutheran.  The flesh receives the attributes of deity.  John wants to preserve several values:

(16a) The flesh is deified (which as to be the case if his teaching on the Lord’s Supper holds water).
(16b) Divine impassibility is not threatened (which is why the communication appears to be a one-way street).

Does John elucidate upon this problem?  

(17) Essence signifies the common, subsistence (person) the particular (III.4).

This lets John say in III.3 that the flesh receives the Word’s attributes while in III.4 he can claim that the flesh doesn’t receive the properties of divinity.

(18) Conclusion: “Each nature gives to the other its own properties through the identity of the Person and the interpenetration of the parts with one another.”

How are they united?

(19) The Word of God was united to flesh through the medium of mind, which stands midway between purity of God and grossness of flesh (III.6).

(See Bruce McCormack’s lecture on Patristic Christology where he deals with this passage).   Does this work?  It seems like “mind” is acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures.  “The mind is the purest part of the soul, and God the purest part of the mind.”  It looks like this:

(gross matter) body----> soul------>mind ------> better part of soul--->God (Pure Spirit)


“And so the Word was made flesh and yet remained wholly uncircumscribed” (III.7)

John comes back to the question of communication and sounds a Lutheran strain:
(18*) “It [The Divine Nature] imparts to the flesh its own peculiar glories”

Make of it what you will.

From Christology to Liturgy

John demonstrates that Christology informs our liturgy, and gives a defense of the Trisagion
“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” (repeat 3x).  The church learned it when a lad was snatched to heaven and taught the hymn by angels, and so the city averted disaster (III.10).  


Energy is the efficient activity of nature (III.15).  Therefore, Christ has two energies.  John says he works his miracles through the divine energy.  This is false.  He works his miracles because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 12:28: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of god has come upon you.
Acts 10:38: “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power…”
Luke 4:1, 14, 5:17: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness...And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit...and the Power of the Lord was present for him to perform healing.”

(19) The flesh acted as the instrument of the divinity (ibid).

John mentions this in passing, but it is at the heart of Orthodox deification soteriology. What does this mean?  A deified flesh is not one that changed its nature, but received the permeation of the divine nature.  

I think we have a potential contradiction at this point.  John is very clear that Christ’s human nature has a human energy, which is its efficient power.  I have no argument with that.  But if the human energy is what John says it is, then what is its relevance in an instrumental humanity?  If humanity is just the instrument of divinity, then why bother speaking of energy at all?  Further, since the subsistence of the Word does everything, then there is no way to say that the human energy of Christ ever activates.

(19*) The flesh received the riches of the divine energies (III.17).  

What is the upshot of all of this?  John says he was able to cleanse the leper because of his divine will.  Will this hold water?  Maybe.  We’ve already established that Christ did his miracles because of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  However, the text elsewhere speaks of Christ’s power going forth from him.  Further, those engaged in deliverance ministries speak of a heightened sense of Christ’s power after they have fasted.  

(19’) The riches of the divine energies heighten the power by which the Holy Spirit works in the believer.

Can John maintain both impassibility and divine suffering?  Maybe.  He has an interesting argument.  

(20) The soul shares in the pain but is itself not changed by the pain (III.26).

John gives an example:  if I cut myself with a knife, my soul feels the pain but the soul, being simple and immaterial, is not cut by the knife.  This is consistent (at least on the first level) with what John said in (19).  If the soul is the medium between God and man, or God’s nature and man’s nature in Christ, then the divine person can be truly present in the suffering without his immaterial nature undergoing change.

This seems to work, but it opens another question:  if the soul participates in the divine nature, and if there is an open street between them, it’s hard to see how the divine nature isn’t also experiencing perturbations.  

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