More Resources: Scotus, Schwenckfeld, and the Transfiguration
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter examines three resources for an appropriation and revision of Heavenly Flesh Christology: Duns Scotus and his Primacy of Christ thesis, the Radical Reformation work of Caspar Schwenckfeld, and Eastern Orthodox interpretations of the Transfiguration. The work of Scotus is much maligned in contemporary theology, and even for his supporters, his Christology is rarely connected to his metaphysics. The author shows that the metaphysical implications of his Christology fit nicely with and add a revisionary element to Heavenly Flesh Christology. Schwenckfeld should be treated as one of the original and innovative thinkers about Christology in the history of theology. This chapter should go far in advancing that claim. Finally, debates about the Transfiguration focus on the question of what it revealed. Was Jesus Christ always, even in his earthly body, the form of the eternal light of God? If so, then was his body incorruptible even before the resurrection?
Hans Blumenberg, in his seminal work, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, argues that the origin of modernity can be found in a theological development initiated by Duns Scotus. That might make Scotus a hero to some, but it makes him a villain to the theological movement known as Radical Orthodoxy. The leaders of this movement, John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock, do not acknowledge their debt to Blumenberg's historical analysis, but they have enshrined his claim as one of their central dogmas. By targeting Scotus as the primary source of the theological mistakes that led to a spiritually truncated modernity, the Radical Orthodox movement has succeeded in making Scotus the focus of much theological conversation, so that even defenders of Scotus usually work within the historiographical limits established by these critics. Pickstock and company argue that Scotus did just about everything wrong, but his biggest error has to do with the ways in which we speak about God. Scotus, they say, treats God as an object just like other objects, and thus ends up making our language about God univocal to our language about everything else.1 This means, to the Radical Orthodox, that he is too confident about how we can talk about God, with the result that he takes the mystery not only out of our language about God but also out of God himself.
All of these contentions can be and are vigorously debated. In chapter 3, I criticized the emphasis on apophatic theology in the work of David Hart, who also belongs to the Radical Orthodox camp, while in my discussion of Colin Gunton, I defended the superiority of Scotus's theory of the univocity of religious language over negative theology. What makes Blumenberg's analysis so interesting is that he locates Scotus's problem not, as with the Radical Orthodox, in an inadequate theory of religious language but in Scotus's doctrine of creation and, by implication, his Christology. Blumenberg, for me, raises the (p. 141 ) deeper issues about Scotus and inadvertently shows why Scotus is still a necessary thinker of the divine today.
The problem with Scotus for Blumenberg comes down to the question of mediation. Blumenberg thinks that Scotus emphasized God's omnipotence and transcendence to the point that Scotus did not think God had any need for the Platonic forms in creating the world. According to Blumenberg's account, the origin of this problem lies in the question of what makes individuals distinct from each other. Scotus thought that the things of this world have an irreducible quality of “thisness” for which Scotus coined the Latin term haecceity. The immediate object of thought is not a universal category but the particularity that makes something what it is rather than something else. Blumenberg thinks this move undermines the forms that, in the Platonic view, are the foundations of knowledge. Furthermore, if we can know things directly, then so can God. Relieved of the need to speculate about intermediary categories between God and the world, Blumenberg suggests, theologians after Scotus began separating their thinking about the infinity of God from their reflections on the finitude of the world. God and world no longer belonged together in an integrated whole. The Christian worldview was about to fall apart, but not until Christianity unintentionally made itself useful for a final and crucial service to humanity.
Blumenberg has a basically ironic view of history, which is made evident in his argument that the theological development launched by Scotus was bad philosophy but good social policy, since it was the beginning of a final overcoming of Gnosticism. Gnosticism, for Blumenberg, stands for every religious or philosophical system that devalues the material world by pitting its finitude against an imaginary infinity. Modernity begins when people accept the physical world as a good in itself, without need of religious justification or metaphysical explanation. For modernity to be born, then, something had to put an end to the Gnostic condemnation of matter. Early in its history, Christianity fought the lopsided dualism and consequent mystifications of Gnosticism by developing the doctrine of creation out of nothing, which, in effect, transferred the concept of infinity from matter to the divine. The transcendence of an infinite God defeated Gnostic worries about the evil of matter by putting matter firmly under God's control. The logic of infinity, however, needed to be taken another step, since the infinity of God still renders the world an imperfect reflection of an unimaginably greater dimension. For Blumenberg, Scotus inadvertently cleared away the entire metaphysical apparatus dealing with God's relation to the world when he began emphasizing the individual uniqueness of every object. In a world of absolute individuals, God is the most absolute individual of all. God is absolutely powerful, for Scotus, with nothing mediating his relationship to the world. As a result, the world is radically contingent (everything could be other than it is) since it conforms to no pre-existing plan. The world is the product of God's will, and God knows the world through God's will as well, (p. 142 ) because God's knowledge of the world is identical to God's decision to sustain the world by the exercise of his unlimited power.
Scotus thus takes God's infinity to its logical conclusion (of infinite power) while, at the same time, he inadvertently makes God utterly irrelevant. If the world conforms to no eternal law, with everything possessing an individuality that defies metaphysical explanation, then God becomes irrelevant to the question of how we know the world. By taking divine infinity to its furthest conclusion, Scotus completes the demolition of Gnosticism by unintentionally eradicating Christianity. In sum, Blumenberg's story goes like this: The Platonists failed in reconciling the infinity of matter to the immateriality of the divine, which led to the dualism of good spirit and evil matter exploited by Gnostic speculations, while Christians transferred infinity to God in order to halt the Gnostic denigration of the world, only to find that God's infinity made God irrelevant, so that the world, in the end, reverts (but this time properly) to all that can be known, and in this way, the world becomes the only true infinite (the world exhausts our capacity for knowledge).
After Scotus, God has little to do, so theology refashions his relationship to the world as a particular kind of fact—and facts are easier to deny than metaphysical arguments. Grace becomes something like a law that predestines human salvation. Religion is no longer a matter of searching for the wisdom entailed in first principles; instead, it becomes a matter of submission to the divine will. “The escape into transcendence, as the possibility that is held out to man and has only to be grasped, has lost its human relevance precisely on account of the dependence of the individual's salvation on a faith that he can no longer choose to have.”2 In the end, we have Scotus to thank for secular humanism.
The problem with this reading of Scotus—other than the way it is a story so fanciful that it reads like a bad French farce written by a philosophy graduate student enamored of Hegel—is that it crashes headlong into his teaching on the central role of Christ in the creation. More than most other theologians in Christian history, Scotus develops a Christological foundation for the world, so how could he be accused of marginalizing God by stripping creation of any mediation? Even Scotus's understanding of God's infinity is shaped by his Christology, so that he thinks of infinity as a kind of intensity, rather than unlimited extension. Divine infinity is not simply the negation of finitude when applied to God, since the divine substance can be condensed into the single and particular form of Jesus Christ. It is true that Scotus was one of the first to emphasize the radical contingency of the created order (everything could be different from what it is), but he did so in order to highlight its beauty and God's creativity. If everything is contingent, then everything is also irreplaceable (which is what he means by haecceity) just as everything is the immediate object of divine love. God does not love things in general, in other words, just as the divine nature does not exist apart from the particular relationship between (p. 143 ) the Father and the Son. God's love is uniquely focused, we could say, because it is an infinite love that is extended from and through the love shared by the Father and the Son. That is why, as Mary Beth Ingham points out in the best introduction to Scotus, “Within Soctus's Franciscan tradition, the person is understood as imago Christi as well as imago Dei. Christ is the pattern, the intentional blueprint for the created order. Progress in spiritual life is seen as a process of christification as well as deification.”3 The world is born of desire, not simply as an assertion of God's bare and blatant will. It was created to give space and time for Jesus Christ.
The idea that Scotus left the world a jumble of isolated and unrelated particulars is a grievous misreading. His views on matter are extremely complicated, but they are worth summarizing to establish the shortsightedness of Blumenberg's (and Radical Orthodoxy's) critique. Here I follow the work of Richard Cross, who has provided an invaluable service to students of theology by demonstrating the relevance of Scotus's subtlety to modern thought.4 Scotus breaks from Aristotle and indeed, from the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions altogether by arguing that matter is not without properties of its own. Aquinas accepted the Aristotelian position that matter is pure potentiality. The pure potentiality of matter is the basis of Aristotle's hylomorphism, which Aquinas also accepted. If matter is pure potentiality, then of course it must always be united with a form of some sort. Scotus dismisses this line of analysis as nonsense. Pure potentiality has no actuality, so something that is purely potential does not actually exist. Aquinas, Scotus suspects, simply reduces matter to form. Scotus also argues that something that is purely potential (assuming it could exist) could not be a cause of anything, nor could it stay the same through the process of substantial change. Matter therefore must actually be something. It must have an essence or quiddity. Moreover, if matter has an essence or nature, then knowledge of this essence is a genuine possibility. Scotus admits that we do not know matter apart from form, but he insists that God does. He reasons, in fact, that God must know something in order to create it, so if God cannot know matter, then matter cannot be a created reality.
How this new approach to matter influenced the rise of modern science is the subject of much debate.5 What is often overlooked in these discussions is the relationship of Scotus's metaphysics of matter to his Christology. This connection is hard to draw, so we will have to begin as simply as we can with Scotus's theory of the incarnation, which is, again, a radical departure from Aquinas. Aquinas had good company in holding that the incarnation was in response to the fall (no sin, no incarnation). That was the traditional belief in his day, as it is still the commonsense view of most Christians today. Scotus demurred. (He does not mention Aquinas by name in his discussions of this issue but he clearly has Aquinas in mind.) Scotus was not the first to argue that the incarnation would have happened regardless of the fall. That honor might go to Rupert of Deutz (c.1075–1129 or 1130), although intimations of this view can be found in (p. 144 ) the scriptures (Eph.1:3–10 and Col. 1:12–20) as well as in theologians like Maximus the Confessor, who wrote, “For Christ's sake, or for the sake of the mystery of Christ, all the ages and all the beings they contain took their beginning and their end in Christ. For that synthesis was already conceived before all ages: the synthesis of limit and the unlimited, of measure and the unmeasurable, of circumscription and the circumscribed, of the Creator with the creature.”6 The synthesis that is Christ was conceived before all the elements that were to be synthesized were created. Moreover, that synthesis prior to creation was more than just an idea, because everything that exists is contained in it. In the words of Marilyn McCord Adams, “whether or not we sinned, and even if we had not sinned, God would want to make Christ the one in whom the cosmos holds together.”7 We could even go further and say whether or not God created us, God would have wanted to make Christ the foundation of everything he might create.
Scotus's position is more complex than its usual formulations suggest and has so many implications that it is hard to sort them all out. It is usually called the Primacy of Christ thesis, but it is also associated with the more general category of the “incarnation anyway” view.8 Sometimes it is called the Franciscan thesis, not only because so many of Scotus's fellow Franciscans follow this position but also because it was inspired by St. Francis himself. In Eric Doyle's summary of St. Francis's spirituality, “Francis reminds us all to realize the dignity God has bestowed on us: our body he formed and created in the image of his Son, our soul he made in his own likeness …. The body of the Incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth, was a blueprint for the bodies of the first human beings.”9 And in Francis's own words, “In this world there is nothing of the Most High himself that we can possess and contemplate with our eyes, except his Body and Blood, his name and his words, by which we were created and by which we have been brought back from death to life.”10 Doyle notes that the “by which” in this statement certainly refers to “his words,” but it could also refer to “his Body and Blood.” The flesh of Christ is, in some sense, the creative source of the entire cosmos.
Some argue that the roots of the Primacy doctrine go back to Neo-Platonic theology, especially that of Pseudo-Dionysius. Dionysius adopted the Neo-Platonic idea that God is necessarily self-diffusive, and squeezed that idea into a Christian framework. For Dionysius, God overflows himself in a descending cascade of creative order, the high point of which is Jesus Christ. This could be taken to entail an “incarnation anyway” position. If God necessarily wills the fullest expanse of goodness because the good seeks its own maximization, then the highest good of creation is implicated in the divine nature. Scotus actually had little sympathy for this line of thought because it downplays God's freedom, which is one of his central themes. It might also be helpful to distinguish Scotus's position from the Arian heresy that I discussed in chapter 5. R. P. C. Hanson has argued that Arius held that the Son was created for our sake and (p. 145 ) thus defended an anthropomorphic cosmology.11 That can sound a bit like Scotus, but it is actually the reverse of his position. Scotus holds that we were created for Christ's sake and thus defends a Christological anthropology.
So what did Scotus actually say? Here is the most important set of passages, taken from a translation by Allan Wolter with my numbering added:
(1) Predestination consists in foreordaining someone first of all to glory and then to other things which are ordered to glory. (2) Now the human nature in Christ was predestined to be glorified, and in order to be glorified, it was predestined to be united to the Word, in as much as such glory as it was granted would never have been conferred on this nature had it not been so united …. (3) And just as it is foreordained that this nature be united to the Word, so is it predestined that the Word be man and that this man be the Word …. (4) We can deny that predestination concerns persons only, for if God can love a good other than himself, not only when it is a person but also when it is a nature, then for its sake he can also select and ordain in advance some good suitable to it …. (5) [In response to the question whether this predestination necessarily depends on the fall] For it seems to be universally true that one who wills ordinately, and not inordinately, first intends that which is nearer the end …. (6) Neither is it likely that the highest good in the whole of creation is something that merely chanced to take place, and that only because of some lesser good. Nor is it probable that God predestined Adam to such a good before he predestined Christ.12
I will comment on the stages of this argument in ways that emphasize its compatibility with my own position, although I will later explain how Scotus and I disagree:
1. Scotus begins by defining predestination as a divine action that intends to bring someone glory. The action that God chooses to do from eternity has nothing to do with rectifying evil or suffering but everything to do with spreading joy and glory. God's creativity is not reactive but pro-active. God is love, so God cannot have any eternal thoughts that are less than perfect. The love that the persons of the Trinity share for each other is the basis for every subsequent divine action, especially God's decision to create a world where free and rational creatures can participate in the divine love.
2. The primary object of God's plan for creation is the glorification of the human nature of Jesus Christ. That thought alone is quite amazing, but we must not hesitate to go even further, since the predetermination to glorify Christ's flesh is equiprimordial with the Father's desire to make the Son the recipient of all possible glory. In loving the Son inordinately, (p. 146 ) God the Father determines to have an orderly world where the Son is worshipped and glorified. There are as many reasons for this claim as there are things that exist, because every single existent in the world has its being in the heart of this decision. By being the God who is the Father honoring the Son, God determined to make something that was not God to bring the Son glory. That is why God made a world that can support creatures that are sufficiently similar to the Son that they can participate in the Trinitarian circle of love. Humans are not a random afterthought to creation, nor are humans radically isolated individuals kept separate from each other by the freedom of self-determination. Humans are essentially related to each other in a community that has a head, and that head is Jesus Christ. It follows that the human nature of Jesus Christ is the model for humanity. The world is created for humans, but the glory of humanity is the human nature that the Father bestows on the Son. Everything depends on this first and most fundamental metaphysical principle—that human nature is made for the Son.
3. If God determined from eternity that human nature is to be united to the Word, then it follows that he also determined to have his Word be united to human nature. In eternity, then, the Father speaks a Word that is not an empty sound projected into an infinite space without echo or resonance. The Word is not a disembodied voice—invisible, transitory, and formless—but the shape that God gives the Son with the intention of sharing it with us.
4. For those who say that God predestines only persons, that is, creatures capable of willingly and knowingly glorifying God, Scotus argues that God also creates and foreordains the natural world that makes those creatures possible. Christ's human nature exists within the Trinity as the predestination of the Son, but human persons cannot exist outside of the Trinity except in a created world, so once God the Father decides to glorify the Son in the most maximal manner, he decides at the same time to make a material world where that glory can take place. The world is good because it is suitable for Christ. The origin, history, and destiny of matter can be found in the Father's love of the Son and the Holy Spirit's outpouring of that love.
5. It follows from all of this that God in no way made these decisions as a response to the fall. For Scotus, God decides to bring something other than God into the world for the purpose of multiplying glory—and multiplying it in an ordered, not a random or scattered, way. All order is ordered for something, and in the case of the world, its ordering is for Christ. The world was created as a suitable environment for creatures that were themselves planned as companions of the Son. The incarnation is the dramatic entrance of the Son into history, but the history of the incarnation, metaphysically speaking, is older than the world itself. The incarnation is not (p. 147 ) an afterthought to creation. God determines to glorify the Son by having the Son enter into creation as a creature, but this creature is the perfect form from which all of creation takes its bearing. The entire cosmos takes its cues from the human nature of Jesus Christ.
6. Finally, even if one supposes that God foreknew or permitted the fall, God did not become incarnate because of the fall. That would subject the greatest possible amount of glory in the universe to the lowest point in history. God the Father does not give the Son everything he has to give because we human creatures turned our backs on God. Nor did God first determine to glorify Adam and then decide to become incarnate, because that would demote Jesus Christ to a lower role in the divine plan than Adam.
One of the most important implications of the Primacy thesis is that we can trust our anthropomorphic language about God because our humanity is, in its perfection in Jesus Christ, the model of all creation. The unity of human nature with the Word is so deep and tight that we can truly talk about God in terms drawn from our human experience. Our language about God, in other words, is univocal.13 Aquinas, as is well known, argued that all of our language about God is analogical. I will discuss his definition of God in the next chapter, but for now it is important to note that he does not think that analogical language can penetrate the divine essence. Ever the Aristotelian when it comes to practicing virtue as a means between extremes, Aquinas positions analogy between univocal and equivocal assertions, but he never develops a full theory of analogy because he does not think analogical statements do much more than point toward what we cannot really say. Analogical language about God makes sense only if it is coupled with a Platonic theory of participation, but even our participation in God does not underwrite our confidence in the use of analogies with regard to God, since the process of participation, in Christianity, is purely a gift of grace. Another way of saying all of this is to note that the greater the distance between two things, the less alike they are, and since God, for Aquinas, is immeasurably other than us, the notion of any likeness between God and creatures completely falls apart. There is very little in the analogical theory of religious language, then, that keeps it from falling into the postmodern embrace of God's absence. Postmodern theology is characterized by a certain ironic stance toward the world, which is contrasted with the innocent naϯveté of anthropomorphic literalism. Yet Christopher Insole, in an elegantly written essay, points out that the absence of God is also a construct of the human imagination. “Do we not feel the shudder of recognition when we regard some modern constructions of the apophatic God? A being who is inexpressible, unfathomable, infinitely fascinating and self-fascinated, who is politically impotent, although perhaps ‘suffers’ in an empathetic manner which only further enriches the inner world of self-suffering, and (p. 148 ) glorious self-sensitivity. This being is the romantic monad which fills our television screens, advertising bill-boards, conversations, diaries and all other manifestations of our sloppy, intellectually disastrous, self-understanding.”14 The apophatic God is more of a projection of a socially located self-understanding than the almighty God ever was. Scotus saves us from having to decide between analogy and negation.
Nonetheless, Scotus's theory of the univocity of religious language is even less popular today than his theory of the Primacy of Christ. For most Christians, the idea that Jesus Christ came down from heaven in response to our sin is deeply satisfying. After all, it compliments our vanity. God loves us so much that he gave us his only begotten Son! By putting it that way, we keep ourselves in the center of the cosmic picture. Adam was God's first attempt to glorify a creature, and the incarnation is Plan B—what God does when his first plan fails. As I was taught as a child, humanity started out good and healthy, but we became sick with sin, so God sent us a doctor to cure us. Our illness was so great, however, that the doctor had to become sick for us in order to save us. He could not call in a prescription from his office. He had to inject himself with our disease. According to this analogy, there would not have been a doctor had we not fallen ill, and that is what is so wrong with it. As silly as this analogy is, it represents Christological thinking that is deeply pervasive in much theology, both popular and academic, today.
Take, for example, the work of the great Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. Many theologians consider his book Mysterium Paschale to be one of the most moving and important reflections of the twentieth century on the salvific meaning of suffering. The Word becomes human for von Balthasar because God wants to redeem our suffering by participating in it as one of us. Jesus Christ even descends into hell in between his death and resurrection in order to stand in the place of sin. That part of von Balthasar's book has raised much controversy, because von Balthasar places Jesus in hell rather than, as tradition teaches, in the realm of the God-fearing who died before they had a chance to be saved by the cross. Even though his teaching on hell is controversial, the basic outline of his position is widely accepted: The point of the incarnation is the cross, and the cross is needed because of the fall. Von Balthasar's Christology of the cross is so pure in its devotion to Christ's passion that it is as far removed as a Christology can be from Scotus's Christology of creation. Anyone who doubts this claim should just reread the opening paragraph of Mysterium Paschale. Von Balthasar begins with a question: “Once the incarnation has taken place, is not the Passion something that might be dispensed with?”15 Should we not agree with Scotus, he goes on to say? Von Balthasar says no to Scotus and insists on putting the passion, not the incarnation alone, at the very center of theology. Von Balthasar's work is inspiring in its literary skill and imaginative reach, but Scotus frees theology from the compulsion of dwelling incessantly and even morbidly on the Father's (p. 149 ) demand that the Son suffer. Scotus does not minimize the passion: Once the fall takes place, the purpose of the incarnation is altered, which makes our sin, if anything, even more terrible to contemplate. Nonetheless, the incarnation originates in the desire of love, not the need for just punishment. Von Balthasar follows Gregory of Nazianzus in arguing that the birth of Jesus is undertaken so that he can die. From a Scotist perspective, the birth of Jesus Christ is itself as important as his death on the cross, since the significance of his coming to earth is not simply reducible to the beginning of a slow and steady march to the cross.
Scotus goes a long way toward an incarnational understanding of creation, but he stops just shy of a heavenly flesh for Christ (although, as I tried to show in my gloss on the six stages of his argument, he could have arrived at that point if he had followed his own logic to its natural conclusion). To explain why he stopped short, we need to examine how he distinguishes between God's intentions and God's actions and how he makes the incarnation central primarily in the former, not the latter. For Scotus, God is not a haphazard planner; he is an intelligent designer. He thus thinks about creating before he creates, which is to say that the order of God's intentions is not necessarily the order of his actions. Just as an artisan sees in his mind the end product that he wants to create before he even begins to find the right material and tools to create it, God knows the purpose and goal of creation before he creates anything. God first creates the clay of the world, shapes it into various forms, and only much later makes the bodily form of human nature. Thus, Scotus can be understood to mean that God intends the incarnation as the goal of creation but does not unite human nature to the Word until he does so in Mary's womb. Notice, though, that the analogy of the artisan is misleading. Simply put, the artisan does not need to create the clay before he makes the pot. The artisan also does not need to create the idea of a pot in his mind, because there is a long tradition of pottery that he is merely contributing to. When God creates the world, God is creating things that have absolutely no precedent. If the incarnation is the foundation of creation, then it must be more than just a vague idea in the divine mind that is not executed until everything else is accomplished. Moreover, Scotus's modification (Blumenberg calls it a repudiation) of Platonism is important in this regard. The haecceity (thisness) of Christ's body is simply too singular and too significant to have originated as a potential idea that was only much later, in response to events on the ground, actualized.
Scotus also avoided heavenly flesh Christology in the way that he handled the question of the relationship of Jesus Christ to his own body. The nature of this relationship was an issue of intense discussion in scholastic theology.16 Scotus argued that the body of Jesus Christ was accidentally related to the Son of God, and it is this move that prevented him from speculating about Christ's heavenly flesh. If Jesus Christ's humanity is related to the second person of the Trinity in a necessary manner, then that human flesh would be eternal. If that (p. 150 ) relationship is accidental, however, then, according to Aristotelian metaphysics, the Son of God had an eternal potential (the potential of incarnation) that he actualized at some point in time. Most theologians and philosophers were certain that the Son was God and that God did not have any potentiality that was not always actualized. As Aquinas insisted, God is pure act (pure actuality), but that raises the question of whether the Son had the potential to become incarnate. In response to this quandary, Aquinas developed a complicated position to try to show that the concrete parts of a substance do not necessarily contribute anything new to that substance (Summa Theologica III, 2, 6). If that is true, it follows that the flesh of Jesus Christ can share in the nature of the Son of God without being either accidentally or necessarily related to that nature. Nobody outside of Aquinas's circle was much impressed by this argument. Scotus took the simpler path of affirming the accidental relationship of the human nature to the divine in Jesus Christ. Without going into the details of his concept of passive potentiality (he basically tries to demonstrate that something can depend on a subject without altering any feature of that subject), we can point out that only his (incredibly complex) solution to this problem kept him from developing a position that might have been similar to the idea of heavenly flesh. Indeed, Scotus actually thought that the Son of God could have become incarnate in absolutely any kind of material object (a position more popularly associated with Occam, who formulated it in a much more aggressive manner), because God's action cannot be limited by the given features of any created object.17
For all of his logical acumen, it is ironic that Scotus's teaching about Christ promises so much about the Incarnational foundation of creation only to end up in soft platitudes about love. This is illustrated by the work of St. Francis de Sales (1567–1622), bishop of Geneva and patron saint of the deaf.18 De Sales was as focused on providence and predestination as Calvin, but in a much different way. In his famous devotional Treatise on the Love of God, he argues that God foreordained the incarnation. “God knew from all eternity that he could make an innumerable multitude of creatures with divers perfections and qualities, to whom he might communicate himself, and considering that amongst all the different communications there was none so excellent as that of uniting himself to some created nature, in such sort that the creature might be engrafted and implanted in the divinity, and become one single person with it, his infinite goodness, which of itself and by itself tends toward communication, resolved and determined to communicate himself in this manner.”19 De Sales appears to locate the divine desire to love something other than God in the relationship of God to the world, rather than within the Trinity itself, although this desire has Trinitarian implications. In Bonaventurian fashion, De Sales grounds God's desire to love a creature in the overflowing of the divine goodness, but he is not clear about the relationship between glorifying a creature and the Father's love of the Son. At the very least, though, de Sales defends the logical priority of the (p. 151 ) incarnation over the creation. “Then having selected for this happiness the sacred humanity of our Saviour, the supreme providence decreed not to restrain his goodness to only the person of his well-beloved Son, but for his sake to pour it out upon divers other creatures, and out of the mass of that innumerable quantity of things which he could produce, he chose to create men and angels to accompany his Son, participate in his graces and glory, adore and praise him forever.”20 What is not clear is the chronological implications of this logical priority. What form did the Son have when God created men and angels? Does it make sense that God would have given “men and angels” the Son's form before he gave that form to the Son, that is, before the Father treated the Word as the Son? De Sales draws back a bit from this speculation, scattering possible scenarios rather than following through on his hypothesis. “And inasmuch as he saw that he could in various manners form the human of this Son, while making him true man, as for example by creating him out of nothing, not only in regard of the soul but also in regard of the body; or again by forming the body of some previously existing matter as he did that of Adam and Eve, or by way of ordinary human birth, or finally be extraordinary birth from a woman without man, he determined that the work should be effected by the last way.”21 In the end, what matters for de Sales is when the Father decided to glorify the Son, not when he created the Son's body or how he did so. He decided to create a body for the Son from the very beginning, but he could have done it in a dozen different ways. The when and the how are unrelated to the why. He could have made the body out of nothing, before anything else, he could have fashioned it from the primordial dust, or he could have made it right in Mary's womb. Why he waited de Sales does not say. His own logic leads one to think that God would have acted first to make that which is so perfect that it is a part of him and only subsequently to make that which complements this aspect of his own nature. For de Sales, however, it is all about love; motive triumphs over the details, and feeling makes up for any loose theoretical ends.
The Primacy of Christ teaching can help us to better appreciate the role of love in God's decisions, but if its main contribution to technical theology is as a hypothesis about what was going on in God's mind before he created the world, then it probably deserves to be a much neglected piece of medieval speculation. Even worse, the Primacy teaching is sometimes reduced to a counterfactual claim like, “God would have become incarnated even if humans had not sinned.”22 Counterfactuals are conditional statements that try to ascertain what is true by hypothesizing about what might or might not be true. Some logicians argue that counterfactuals, to be meaningful, should take the form of “all possible worlds” arguments. Thus we could say that “In every possible world that includes creatures capable of praising God, God would have become identified with the most highly developed of those creatures in order to be the object of their praise.” Every counterfactual statement is like a really difficult puzzle that admits to a variety of equally difficult solutions, and counterfactual statements (p. 152 ) in general are the subject of great debate as to their merit and use. Connecting the Primacy of Christ position to Heavenly Flesh Christology can save it from being mere speculation about the divine mind or a logical exercise in juggling counterfactuals. At the very least, the Primacy teaching should be recognized as a very helpful way to reflect on the relationship of God to the material world as well as the ontological status of the human nature of Jesus Christ.
Due to the nearly overwhelming complexity of his thought, Maximus the Confessor is a stimulating but ultimately obscure witness to the potential explanatory power of the Primacy thesis. Maximus can write as if matter is merely a providential instrument for God's condescension to our physical level (the economy of the Trinity) in order to lift us out of the sensible world. He can also take the apophatic theology of Dionysius the Areopagite (the idea that God transcends both our affirmations and our negations by being beyond being altogether) so far as to deny that there is anything fitting in created reality capable of serving as an analogy for the divine.23 Nonetheless, at the same time, and in creative tension with his hyper-negative speculations, Maximus argues, drawing from a trope with deep roots in Platonic philosophy, that humanity is a microcosm of the universe, with the potential to unite all of nature's divisions. Chief among those divisions is the one between uncreated and created nature. Humans were created last among living creatures, Maximus argues, because they are “a kind of natural bond mediating between the universal poles through their proper parts, and leading into unity in itself those things that are naturally set apart from one another by a great interval.”24 Humanity does not serve this unitive function by its own power, of course. Indeed, in this same passage Maximus meditates on the statement from one of Gregory of Nazianzus's sermons that in the incarnation “our natures are instituted afresh.” The synthesizing function of human nature is a direct consequence of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Because Christ is human, humans can participate in Christ's unification of the spiritual and the material and thus can have a share in Christ's divinity. So far so good, yet a problem arises. If humanity serves a unitive function by nature, then humanity has been microcosmically significant since before the incarnation. The solution to this problem is to posit the incarnation as a model for humanity since before the creation.
At times, Maximus appears to attribute the foundational role of Jesus Christ in unifying spirit and matter to his bodily ascension and subsequent reign in heaven, yet he also treats the pre-existent Christ as the reason the cosmos is anthropologically constructed. The universe can be a medium of revelation because what all things have in common—their true logos—is their participation in the eternity of Jesus Christ. The significance of this claim is profound: If Jesus Christ holds together the spiritual and the material from before the beginning of creation, then he cannot be composed purely of spirit or merely of matter. He can be more but not less than what he unites. Maximus does not directly draw this conclusion, even though he should. Maximus makes an (p. 153 ) interesting comment in Ambiguum 33 on Gregory Nazianzen's description of the Word as something subtle that “became thick” in the incarnation. One of Maximus's interpretations of Gregory's description is that the Word, “having hidden himself in the defining sub-structures of created beings for our sake, he indicates himself by analogy through each visible being, as through certain letters, wholly present in his utter fullness in the whole universe and at the same time wholly present in individual things.”25 Adam Cooper writes that this comment “suggests that the mystery of divine incarnation, enacted constitutively in Christ, is in fact the paradigmatic foundation of a far-reaching cosmic mystery.”26 I would go even further by suggesting that this comment makes the eternal Christ sound more like an unimaginably fine substance than the infinitely unknowable God of negative theology. Perhaps the source of Maximus's creative power is the tension he preserves between a Christological metaphysics of matter and the Platonic dualism of the ineffable and the sensible that he never quite overcomes. If this tension is not, in the end, stable, then the intellectually glamorous appeal of negative theology, which Maximus also represents, must be sacrificed to a strong affirmation of the role the incarnation plays in the creation of all things.
What I gain from the Primacy teaching, finally, is this: Matter can come from spirit if the two are neither identical nor opposed, but they have this creative relationship if and only if God from the very beginning determined to be a divine person in human form. God created matter for himself, or, more specifically, for his Son. It is more helpful to say that he created it out of himself than out of nothing, because he created it for himself before he created it for us. Matter is not exactly eternal, because it is a gift tied primordially to the relationship of the Father and the Son, but it is also not lacking in eternal reality, because this gift is the substance of the eternal love that unites the Trinity.
The Radical Reformation, represented today by the Mennonite Church among others, appears to have very little, if anything, in common with Eastern Orthodoxy. Anabaptists and their progeny value simplicity in both outward forms and inward thoughts, striving for an ethical version of discipleship that can appear to be completely at odds with the Eastern love of ritual and passion for the mystical. Nonetheless, some Radical Reformers developed a Christology that is remarkably similar to the Monophysite-leaning Christologies that can be found in the Oriental Orthodox Communion (which includes the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Syriac Orthodox Churches). Just one of the reasons this seems odd is that the Radical Reformation's focus on following Jesus and strictly complying with his ethical teachings suggests a Christology more in tune with the Antiochene emphasis on the human side of Jesus rather (p. 154 ) than the Alexandrian emphasis on Jesus’ divinity. That early Radical Reformation Christology does not fit into the traditional nomenclature suggests how artificial those labels are. Although Monophysite Christology is regularly criticized for downplaying the humanity of Jesus, the early Anabaptists did not see it this way. The Radical Reformation thus brings out an otherwise easily missed moral dimension of the heavenly flesh Christology: The more heavenly the flesh of Jesus is, the more radical is the demand entailed in the new nature God asks us to assume.
The Radical Reformers were not as theologically sophisticated as their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, but they still developed some very important theological arguments. The Dutch Anabaptists, for example, made a very interesting distinction between Jesus being born “out of” Mary, which they accepted, and “from” her, which they denied. (This distinction was also made in terms of Jesus being conceived in but not of Mary's womb.)27 This distinction was meant to emphasize how the Holy Spirit created Christ's flesh ex nihilo, so that Jesus was born through Mary without having his flesh derived from her. To Catholics and most other Protestants at the time, this position not only denigrated Mary but also seemed to deny that Jesus is consubstantial with us. From the Radical Reformation perspective, however, it was no more objectionable to believe that God created the flesh of Jesus all at once than to believe that this is how God created Adam. If Adam's body, created out of nothing, was fully human, then the body of Jesus Christ, also created out of nothing, could also be fully human, no matter how or where that creation took place.28 Consubstantiality, then, is not dependent on some kind of mythic confabulation of the Holy Spirit actually impregnating the Virgin Mary. Catholic tradition has always emphasized the pure passivity of Mary in the miraculous conception of Jesus, and the Radical Reformation simply took this passivity to its logical conclusion. Menno Simons (c. 1495–1543/4), for example, argued, drawing from the biology of his day, that just as fathers provide the seed for procreation, the heavenly father provided the seed for Jesus.29 This comes close, as several scholars have pointed out, to turning the virgin birth into a double miracle, since Jesus has neither a human mother nor a human father. Simons based his argument not only on biology but also on theology, since he thought that the full divinity of the human nature of Jesus Christ was the foundation of moral perfection. It is in that search for perfection that the Radical Reformation comes close to the role of holiness in Orthodoxy. Moreover, by connecting perfection to the body of Jesus, the Anabaptist movement avoided becoming simply a more morally rigorous form of Protestantism.
In older treatments of celestial flesh Christology it was sometimes assumed that the Radical Reformers, with their strong suspicions of Roman Catholicism, promoted an eternal body of Christ as a way of denigrating the role of Mary in giving birth to Jesus. Today most scholars would agree that the celestial flesh theory had nothing to do with a desire to demean the Catholic Church's (p. 155 ) reverence toward Mary. Saying that Mary was a conduit, vehicle, or vessel for the transformation of a heavenly body into earthly form is not an insult. It should, in fact, raise Mary's status. The Catholic Church, after all, has always treated the chalice that holds the wine with the utmost reverence. The same is true of the garments of the priest, which symbolize the coats of skin that God gave Adam and Eve after the fall. These garments are a kind of second skin, no less precious for being put over the first skin of the body. Only if place has no meaning at all can Mary be dismissed as the mere vehicle of Christ's entrance into the world. The heavenly quality of Christ's flesh is precisely what makes Mary's womb so sacred. Besides, the Radical Reformers who took a celestial flesh position did not deny that something miraculous happened in (and not just outside of) Mary's womb. Caspar Schwenckfeld, for example, insisted that Jesus did receive his flesh from Mary, “but in such a way that both in his humanity and in his divinity Christ was the Son of God and had God as his Father.”30 He frequently complained that he was misunderstood on this issue, but one can sympathize with those who found him puzzling.
Caspar Schwenckfeld (1489–1561) was one of the most creative, though far from systematic, of the Anabaptist theologians, although he gets put in the Anabaptist category mainly because historians do not know what else to do with him. He was at theological odds with almost everyone and thus cut a pretty lonely intellectual path. The source of his troubles is that in a most mysterious and unprecedented fashion, he developed a heavenly flesh Christology almost from scratch. Sometimes Schwenckfeld's Christology is attributed to “the craving of a lay theologian for originality,”31 but that is wildly unfair. Schwenckfeld began his theological investigations with the inseparable intimacy of the two natures of Christ after the resurrection and ended with their union throughout all of time. He did not think that Mary was a mere tube through which the body of Jesus was squeezed into the world, nor did he deny that the body of Jesus was truly human, although he did insist on its absolute perfection. He also insisted that the whole person of Jesus Christ really suffered and died on the cross. Perhaps the most fundamental premise of his theology is, in the words of André Séguenny, “the non-contradiction between nature and grace.”32 Nature is not the antithesis to the divine. (His influence on pietism on this point suggests that he can be considered a forerunner of Hegel.) Séguenny says that he did not think the historical Christ had a celestial body before the resurrection, even though “Christ had fulfilled all conditions in order to possess a celestial body.”33 A celestial body for Schwenckfeld is a moral achievement, one which we too can gain in the afterlife, but Christ was perfect here and now, which is why Schwenckfeld can also be interpreted as arguing that he had a celestial body even prior to the resurrection. E. J. Furcha has pointed out that the idea of Christ as the prototype of humanity is utterly crucial to Schwenckfeld's thought. Jesus Christ can be reborn in every person who becomes born again because we are made in his image.34
(p. 156 ) Some scholars suggest that he turned toward the eternal divinity of Christ's body after a visit from Michael Servetus in 1531, though Emmet McLaughlin observes that “it is difficult to determine who influenced whom on this point.”35 Interestingly, McLaughlin points to Hilary of Poitiers as an influence, which makes Schwenckfeld one of the very few theologians in the history of Christianity to grasp the radical implications of Hilary's Christology.36 Schwenckfeld influenced Melchior Hoffman who in turn passed on the celestial flesh doctrine to Menno Simons, though the exact chain of influences is widely debated. To what extent Schwenckfeld and company should be identified with the ancient Monophysites is also a subject of some debate, although their contemporaries were certain that they were advancing both Eutychianism and Monophysitism. George Williams traces Simons's and Schwenckfeld's Christologies to Valentinus, Apollinarius, Apelles, and Hilary of Poitiers, though he is cautious about this genealogy, since he admits that the Radical Reformation theologians could have re-invented, rather than re-discovered, the idea.37 Indeed, William E. Keeney writes, “No one has as yet clearly established the source of Hoffman's ideas” concerning celestial flesh.38 Perhaps Schwenckfeld demonstrates how the worship of Jesus, when taken to its uttermost logical conclusion, implies something like the heavenly flesh. If so, Heavenly Flesh Christology is a perennial possibility in Christological speculation—an idea that is always out there waiting to be rediscovered.
Schwenckfeld also contributed a technical theological innovation to Christological debates by denying the equivalence of human nature and creaturehood. All humans are flesh and blood, but not all humans are creatures, he argued, because creaturehood has to do with how something is generated, not its nature or essence. True, there is only one human being who was not a creature, but this distinction provided Schwenckfeld with an important theological tool. As McLaughlin explains, “Schwenckfeld argued that Christ according to his humanity was the natural son of God. As such he could not be considered a ‘creature.’ Creaturehood and sonship were mutually exclusive terms.”39 The Logos can have heavenly flesh and be a human being without also being a creature. In other words, the heavenly flesh position need not fall into the trap of Arianism.
Schwenckfeld thought he solved the problem of Arianism, but he did not even try to solve the problem of immaterialism. He simply was not thinking on that metaphysical level. In the hands of the Radical Reformers, the celestial flesh doctrine was not intended to contravene the teaching of creation out of nothing. On the contrary, they appealed to the latter to support the former. If God could create the world out of nothing, and Adam all at once, why couldn’t God create a perfect body for Jesus that was not in need of Mary's substance, even though it was in need of her nourishment?40 For the Radical Reformers, the celestial flesh doctrine served not to bridge the spiritual and the material but to distance the church from the world. The new nature of Christ is so new (p. 157 ) that, when we are born into it, we should have little or nothing to do with the old nature of fallen humanity. In this way, the most mystical interpretation of Christology can become the basis for the most sectarian account of the church's relationship to the world. In fact, cosmological and metaphysical speculations about matter's origin were so far from Schwenckfeld's mind that some scholars suggest that rather than bridging the spiritual and the material, the celestial flesh teaching assumes “a supposed irreconcilability of spirit and matter.”41 After all, the Anabaptists, like Zwingli, rejected the idea that Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Sjouke Voolstra represents a modified version of this line of analysis. Anabaptists like Hoffman fought against “the clerical manipulation of the means of salvation.”42 They wanted to free Christ from the confines of a priestly governed ritual by making Christ directly accessible to any believer. “It is not the philosophical distinction between spiritus and materia but the biblical-theological contradiction of spirit and flesh … that constitutes Hoffman's religious thought.”43 The purity of Christ's body made it available above and beyond the mediation of a clerical class, and it also inspired those who received it to pursue a purity that was not the way of the world.
In any case, what this discussion demonstrates is that the heavenly flesh doctrine does not function the same way for every theologian who held it. It is a flexible doctrine that can mean different things depending on how it is used—and whatever one thinks about the Radical Reformation, Schwenckfeld must be considered a provocative and profound student of the cosmic significance of the incarnation.
(Luther and Calvin Respond, Quite Negatively)
Luther, in his 1540 disputation with Schwenckfeld, revealed his nominalist tendencies by insisting that Schwenckfeld misunderstood the difference between the concrete human nature of Jesus and its abstraction as humanity. Luther had the advantage in this debate because Schwenckfeld was not a systematic theologian or a philosopher schooled in metaphysics, so it is a bit unfair to hold him to such high logical standards. Yet what is more troubling than Schwenckfeld's alleged confusions is Luther's consistent nominalism in his response to Schwenckfeld.44 Luther did not think that theologians should make abstract statements based on inferences from the fact that Jesus Christ had a human nature. The reason he did not think such inferences should be made is precisely because they would likely lead to claims about the eternity of Jesus’ body. “Christ the human being,” Luther asserted, “is not prior to the creation of the world.”45 Jesus Christ, Luther insists, is a human being, not humanity (argument 25 from the disputation). When we call Jesus a man, we are referring to the subject that is Christ; when we discuss the human nature of (p. 158 ) Jesus, we are simply referring to the qualities that this subject possesses. We are not referring to anything else. For Luther, the nature of any person, let alone the human nature of Jesus Christ, does not exist in any way independently of that person. God did not assume in the incarnation universal human form or humanity as such, because humanity is a general term that requires specification if it is to have any concrete meaning. “Human nature” and “man” signify the same thing.
Like all nominalist critiques of universal or abstract objects, this one misses the mark. Indeed, regardless of the question of the ontological status of abstract ideas, Luther's nominalism completely misses the metaphysical thrust of the heavenly flesh Christology. Schwenckfeld did not imagine the flesh of Jesus as a kind of generic material without particular features. He was not even arguing that there is an abstract human nature to which Christ was united. Instead, he pictured that flesh as the model of our own, so that it is the perfection of those qualities which we possess only in an inferior and incomplete manner. The flesh of Christ is the one truly universal object, because it is the body of God. His flesh is more real than our own.
Not only does Luther's nominalism in this dispute miss the mark but it also leads him into dangerous waters. By restricting the scope of the humanity that God assumed in the incarnation, Luther's nominalism leads him dangerously close to Apollinarianism. If there is no such thing as a fully human nature apart from its concrete existence as a particular person, then, Luther admits, God could not have assumed a fully human being in the incarnation. “If it were asserted that the divine person assumed a human being, that is, a human person, it would follow that there would be two persons, but this cannot be tolerated.”46 Christ assumed, then, neither human nature in general nor a particular human person. What Christ assumed must be some kind of impersonal flesh (flesh evacuated of all that makes it personal). Whether that makes sense given Luther's nominalism is beyond the scope of this book, but in this day and age, impersonal flesh is more the stuff of zombie horror movies than a concept applicable to the incarnation.
Perhaps one way to overcome Luther's suspicion of an abstract reality corresponding to human nature is to treat human nature not as something that exists in itself but to redefine it as something that always exists relationally, which is what we will see Norris Clark doing in chapter 7. If human nature is an eternal gift of the Father to the Son, then it exists in a reality that transcends our concrete individuality. It also exists in such a way that our humanity is always dependent upon it. Human nature exists perfectly in the Son, but it exists relationally in us, which suggests that, for us, human nature is always more than a set of attributes belonging to a human subject. Our humanity is dependent on Jesus because his humanity is the model of what we are meant to become. There is more to human nature than its individual instantiations because humans are on their way toward God, bodies and all. Luther might be (p. 159 ) right that there is no such thing as human nature as such, but only if we mean by that “as such” a human nature that can be in its essence thoroughly independent of the divine. All humanity is dependent upon God, which includes the original humanity that is the form the Father gives the Son.
Even though Luther was horrified by the very idea of heavenly flesh, it is interesting that he had his own peculiar, and almost equally controversial, version of a glorified body of Christ. Against the Christological speculations of Schwenckfeld and other radical reformers, Luther narrowed the concept of humanity in order to protect the singularity of the life of Jesus, but against the rationalists who wanted to turn the Eucharist into a symbolic memorial, he inflated the post-resurrection body of Jesus beyond comprehension. To preserve (against Zwingli) a strong doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he argued that the resurrected body of Jesus is potentially present everywhere. The human nature of Jesus Christ really and truly participates in the divine Logos by sharing its properties after the resurrection. From the vantage point of his doctrine of ubiquity, Luther could even talk at times as if there were a “preexistent union of God with humanity” and even a “crucifixion from eternity,” thus sounding quite a bit like his old enemy Schwenckfeld.47 By ubiquity Luther did not mean that Christ's post-resurrection body is infinite, which would mean that it is merely not finite. Instead, Luther means that Christ can be thoroughly present anywhere, even if in a hidden manner.48 Christ's body is a real body, and like all bodies it has a place, but its place is everywhere. That Luther came close to a heavenly flesh position is indicated by the fact that “Lutherans were sensitive to the charge of Eutychianism which their Christology immediately drew forth from Reformed theologians.”49
What Luther meant by ubiquity is ultimately hard to pin down, but at the very least it suggests “a highly positive understanding of the spiritual significance of created matter.”50 Moreover, Luther opens the door to the possibility that the body of Christ is so capacious that it is, in some sense, the container of space itself. Calvin, by contrast—though he was just as vehemently opposed to the radical reformers—insisted that the post-resurrection body of Christ was in one specific place, and that if it were everywhere, it would lose whatever it is that makes it human. Lutheran theologians called this the extra-Calvinisticum, “the idea that Christ's Eucharistic presence, or indeed his presence in the world in any way today, is an attribute solely of his divine nature, not his humanity.”51 For Christ to be present to us, he must leave his body behind.
An older generation of theologians, trying to distinguish Lutheran and Reformed theology, portrayed Calvinism as a system that begins with the axiom, finitum non capax infiniti (the finite cannot contain or grasp the infinite). This principle is not unique to Calvin nor is it found explicitly in his writings, so it cannot carry the weight of a full analysis of Calvin's Christology.52 Nonetheless, it represents one of the implicit premises of his thought, since he was consistently repulsed by any confusion of the spiritual and the material. (p. 160 ) That is why, in the Institutes, he could be just as horrified as Luther of the idea of Christ's heavenly flesh, which could only be “a monster fabricated in their own brains.”53 Calvin was sensitive to the charge that “we attribute no more to the power of God than the order of nature allows and common sense dictates.”54 He knew that his critics thought he had a parsimonious theological imagination, while he, in turn, accused them of being carried away “by their own exaggerations.”55 He insists that he is not limiting what God could have done but only following what God actually did according to the Scriptures. He attributes the historical origin of what he called a spectral body to Marcion, the Manichees, Eutyches, and, more recently Servetus, but his most immediate concern is to establish the proper way in which Christ is present in the Eucharist. Luther secured that presence by hypothesizing the ubiquity of Christ's body, a position Calvin thinks necessarily entails some version of celestial flesh. Calvin was especially suspicious of theologians who make arguments in the form of an appeal to the conditions that make the Eucharist possible; they “say that necessity demands this so that Christ's body may be given in the Supper.”56 Calvin was always metaphysically frugal, but his protestation that it was “not Aristotle, but the Holy Spirit [that] teaches that the body of Christ from the time of his resurrection was finite” rings a bit hollow.57 He also protests that he is not a biblical literalist, even though he took the ascension to be a statement of strict cosmological fact. Christ's resurrection body was in heaven and nowhere else. Furthermore, it is a body that has no more spiritual power than our bodies, so it could not possibly have been an aspect of Christ's being from before the incarnation. To make his point, he warns Christians not to “invest him with boundless magnitude to be spread through heaven and earth.”58 Why not? “For these things are plainly in conflict with a nature truly human.”59 He acknowledges that his opponents teach that it is “wrong for the nature of the glorious body to submit to the laws of common nature,” but his only response to this proposition is that it would wipe out his body altogether so that “no difference between deity and human nature is left.”60
Calvin makes other arguments against the idea of a celestial flesh. Why would Jesus have needed to send the Holy Spirit if his flesh were not really located in (and only in) heaven? His main concern, however, is to refute the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the act of communion, Christ does not descend into the bread and wine; instead, “we are lifted up to heaven with our eyes and minds.”61 The glory of Christ's resurrected body is not of this world. Nor is it related to the glory Christ had before the incarnation.
Although he protests that his view of the body of Christ is taken from scripture and not philosophy, when he writes about the body he can sound like a nominalist. Things are what they are because that is what God willed them to be. The body is simply a name for an object that occupies a specific place. To say otherwise is to move beyond concrete reality. “Such is the condition of flesh that it must subsist in one definite place, with its own size and form.”62 That is (p. 161 ) calmly put, but Calvin can also lose his logical cool over this issue. A long passage is worth quoting in full:
What is the nature of our flesh? Is it not something that has its own fixed dimension, is contained in a place, is touched, is seen? And why (they say) cannot God make the same flesh occupy many and divers places, be contained in no place, so as to lack measure and form? Madman, why do you demand that God's power make flesh to be and not to be flesh at the same time! It is as if you insisted that he make light to be both light and darkness at the same time! But he wills light to be light; darkness, darkness; and flesh, flesh. Indeed, when he pleases he will turn darkness into light and light into darkness; but when you require that light and darkness not differ, what else are you doing than perverting the order of God's wisdom? Flesh must therefore be flesh.63
This is an unusually passionate passage for Calvin. He uses tautology (flesh is flesh) and the law of non-contradiction (flesh cannot be and not be at the same time) to restrict the way in which the properties of the divine and the human can interpenetrate each other. A tautology tells us nothing about the properties of an entity (except that it is self-identical), let alone that entity's nature if it is divine. Calvin reinforces one tautology with another when he goes on to declare that light is light. Given the discovery of dark matter and the admission by physicists that they have no idea how dark matter is related to light, it is tempting to correct Calvin's statement from the perspective of modern science, but Calvin beats us to the punch by correcting himself. He admits that God, of course, could make light dark and flesh ubiquitous, but we should not ask him to do so, and besides, would God really want to pervert his own order? The answer to that question depends, of course, on the original order that God gave the cosmos, an order that is determined by the personhood of the Son.
Calvin begins with what is really human to discern what is human about Jesus Christ, the exact opposite of the procedure I am advocating (relying on Jesus Christ to determine what is essentially human). Calvin understands that starting with Jesus Christ will overturn our conventional notions of embodiment. “Take away what he claims as proper to the nature of his body; will not a new definition of body then have to be coined?”64 Precisely so! Calvin denies the charge that his own view diminishes Christ in any way, but it definitely results in a diminished reading of scripture. He argues that Paul and Stephen did not really see Jesus, because Christ did not “change his place.”65 When the Gospels state that Jesus, after his resurrection, went to his disciples through a closed door, Calvin thinks it more likely that the door “was removed at his command, and immediately after he passed through, returned to its place.”66 Even in his resurrected state, evidently, the body of Jesus was bound and determined by all the laws of physics. There is no need to reduce Calvin's (p. 162 ) position to absurdity by following it to an extreme conclusion: Calvin does that all by himself when he insists that even in his resurrected and glorified state, the features of form and location remain in Christ's body minus the corruption and ephemerality. This is absurd because a body that is not mutable and temporal simply is a new concept of body altogether, which is precisely what Christ revealed at the transfiguration.
Although it is a much neglected Gospel event, there is no better place to begin thinking about the body of Jesus Christ than the transfiguration (Luke 9, Mark 9, and Matthew 17).67 Why theologians do not assign it a higher priority of discussion is something of a mystery. New Testament scholars have contributed to its marginalization by arguing that it is a resurrection appearance that somehow stumbled its way into an earlier part of the Gospel story.68 The best argument for this bit of speculation is that it is unlikely that Peter would have denied Jesus Christ after witnessing this astonishing display of Christ's glory. Anyone who has ever had a mystical experience, however, will understand at once how limited this argument is. Mystical experiences are not easily integrated into quotidian existence. Indeed, the more amazing they are, the harder they can be to assimilate. The miraculous can be such an overwhelming interruption of the ordinary and the mundane that it needs to be constantly repeated, like the Mass, in order to gain our attention. The transfiguration is an illustration of the mysterious way miracles, as Jesus well understood, do not carry much evidentiary weight, even when we believe them. Consistent with his later betrayal, Peter simply “did not know what to say” (Mark 9:6). Even today, most theologians are in the same position. The transfiguration is by far the most singular and wondrous event in the entire Bible (save, perhaps, the resurrection), and yet is has made very little impact in Western theological debates about Christology. In contemporary Christianity, outside of the Orthodox East, it has nearly vanished from sight altogether. Perhaps this is to be expected: The transfiguration is almost too hard to comprehend—for us today, as it was for the disciples.
Commemorating it as one of the twelve great feasts of the liturgical year, the Orthodox Church has honored the transfiguration with much more reflection and exposition than Protestant churches and Roman Catholicism. Of course, just because it has been neglected in the West does not mean that it cannot be subjected to the opposite reaction. It is quite possible to overemphasize the newness and strangeness of what the disciples saw on Mt. Tabor. As an example of this overemphasis of the astonishment factor, which leaves this event more perplexing than it needs to be, some of the Greek fathers of the church, beginning with Irenaeus, tended to let the glory of this revelation blind them to (p. 163 ) its message about human nature. After all, the disciples saw that day their own destiny as well as the essential reality of Jesus Christ. Far from being an event of such otherworldly significance that the disciples should not even have been there, no moment in the Gospels is more plainly practical in its implications for how we should think about the relationship of God to matter. What the disciples saw at the transfiguration is the light that blinded Paul at his conversion and the flame that amazed Moses because it did not consume the burning bush. It is the “light that shines into the darkness” but also “the light of men” (John 1:3, 4). The transfiguration revealed not only who Jesus is but also what we are meant to be.
Most simply put, as Eastern Orthodox theologians argue, the light of the transfiguration is the eternal light of God. To emphasize this point, the great Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky insists that “no change took place in Christ at that moment, even in His human nature, but a change was produced in the consciousness of the apostles, who received for a moment the ability to see their Master as He was, resplendent in the eternal light of his divinity.”69 The miracle is not what happened to Jesus but what happened to the disciples. They were enabled to see what Jesus already was even in his human nature. Lossky adds, with a hint of electromagnetic literalism, that “In order to see the divine light with corporeal eyes, as the disciples did on Mount Tabor, one must participate in this light, one must be transformed by it to a greater or lesser degree.”70 What the disciples experienced was not a mental vision; with their corporeal eyes they saw the true nature of corporeality. Jesus was showing them himself, but he was also showing them themselves.
No one has emphasized the way the transfiguration reveals human destiny better than M. C. Steenberg, whose starting point is that “the nature of the transfiguration [is] anthropological revelation.”71 At one and the same time Jesus Christ shines forth not only the incomparable glory of God but also the universal essence of humanity. That the human face of Jesus radiates with the divine demonstrates that his oneness is definitively divine, while our apparent oneness (our human nature) is actually two (human nature on the way toward the divine). To be a Monophysite in Christology means to be a diphysite in anthropology, although even that formulation misses the mark, because, according to Steenberg, Christ's human nature cannot be separated from our own “either at the level of ontology or instantiation.”72 His humanity is not just “like” ours; neither is he merely an instance of what we already possess. He is homoousion with us, with the qualification that his body is the actuality of what we are potentially. “There is only one human ousia,” Steenberg writes, “in which all who bear the name ‘human’ partake.”73 When the glory of God is emphasized in the transfiguration, it is too frequently interpreted as an occasion of a realized eschatology, as if God is cutting away the human medium of revelation and showing the disciples the divine substance in the entirety of its entire naked splendor. Nothing could be further from the truth. The incarnation is not just (p. 164 ) the medium but also the substance of the transfiguration. Jesus is showing us that just as his flesh is the form that God has given him and has thus made one with the divine, so too our flesh will one day be made one with his. Jesus Christ is unique but not exclusively so. His uniqueness, that is, serves a purpose. He is the one in whom all the saved shall find their lasting identity.
In chapter 5 I criticized Pope Leo's interpretation of the exchange of properties between the two natures of Jesus Christ, but Steenberg points out that those theologians sympathetic to the Monophysites might be too hard on Leo's true intentions. Steenberg analyzes Leo's sermon on the transfiguration and finds that Leo in that document is closer to the East than one might suppose. Leo says, “Although they had recognized the majesty of God in him, yet the power of his body, wherein his deity was contained, they did not know.”74 Leo can be read with the emphasis on Jesus’ body as the container of his divinity, but he can also be read with the emphasis on the divine power of his body. For Steenberg, Leo identifies the glory of Jesus Christ with none other than the glory of human personhood. As Steenberg puts it, “Atop the mountain stands, in all its visible splendor, the full image and likeness of God into which he first created his human handiwork.”75 The transfiguration, then, is neither Christophany nor theophany but anthropophany. What changed, as Lossky argues, is his disciples’ perception, not Christ's physiology. One could even speculate that Moses and Elijah were there simply to demonstrate that even in all of his glory Jesus Christ still looked human.
Another important sermon on the transfiguration comes from Saint John of Damascus, who makes the crucial point that “The glory did not accrue to the body from without but from within.”76 In other words, Jesus Christ's own body was shining with divine splendor. The light was in the flesh, so to speak. John reaches the only conclusion that can be drawn from this point: This “holy body was never without a participation in the divine glory.”77 Orthodox theologians are able to affirm the holiness of Christ's body because they understand its significance in creation. As Panayiotis Nellas explains, “The essence of man is not found in the matter from which he was created but in the archetype on the basis of which he was formed and towards which he tends.”78 That does not mean that matter is irrelevant, however. “The archetype is that which organizes, seals, and gives shape to matter, and which simultaneously attracts it [matter] towards itself.”79 Nellas suggests that our biological life did not begin until after the fall, when God gave Adam and Eve “garments of skin” to protect them from the harshness of the nature that awaited them outside of the Garden of Eden. Before this descent into the evolutionary biology of struggle and strife, Adam and Eve were dressed in a “divinely woven attire” of grace and light.80 The bodies Adam and Eve had before the fall were much closer to the nature of Jesus Christ than the bodies they had after the fall. Bodies, in this reading of the Bible, are perfectible to the degree that they correspond to the body of Christ.
(p. 165 ) Perhaps because the transfiguration is so hermeneutically rich, the Eastern Orthodox interpretation of it has been the source of some contention and controversy, beginning with the work of Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), a monk of the famous Mount Athos and later archbishop of Thessalonica. Palamas was the great defender of the hesychast tradition, which posits the primacy of contemplative prayer over philosophical abstraction. The hesychasts did not treat prayer as a mental ascent to the divine. Instead, prayer opens a path to the presence of God that requires the transformation of the whole person, including the body. Palamas thought Christians, in this life and with God's grace, could transcend the limits of human nature in order to have a true vision of the divine. This vision does not lock God into our embrace because God remains transcendent, no matter how close we come to him. To emphasize this point, Palamas distinguished between knowing God's essence (which is impossible for us) and knowing God's energies (which we can attain if we are transformed by grace). Western theologians were never comfortable with this distinction, because they thought it risked denying God's simplicity and unity. Palamas made the further controversial move of calling the light of the transfiguration uncreated, which gives it an eternal status that seems to identify it with the divine nature. As uncreated, it is more than a symbol of the divine. It is the gift as well as the means by which we receive the gift of God's grace, thus providing the most immediate and direct experience we can have of God.
Palamas was a thinker of light, and he can sound like he takes the transfiguration literally. “This light, then, is not just a phantom without subsistence.”81 Such luminous literalism, however, is not his intention, since he insists that the vision of the disciples was interior, not exterior. The experience of God's energies belongs to neither the intellect nor the senses; it is neither dogma nor metaphor. Palamas does insist that the transfiguration revealed not only Christ's but also God's true identity. “Not only will Christ be eternally thus in the future, but he was such even before he ascended the mountain.”82 Nonetheless, the disciples were able to see the illuminated Christ because his radiance opened an inner sight not subjected to blindness or blinking. They did not see God's essence by the power of the light, but they saw the divine energy that God radiates in order to brighten the darkness of our spiritual sight. Because this light is not a sensible phenomenon, it is not congruent with human nature. Palamas is a close follower of the negative theology of Maximus and Pseudo-Dionysius, and he insists that the uncreated light is utterly invisible and thus otherworldly. It must be defined negatively, since it is “without limit, depth, height or lateral extension.”83 It also must be experienced negatively: This invisible light is not seen by corporeal eyes. “Sometimes it makes a man go out from the body or else, without separating him from the body, it elevates him to an ineffable height.”84 Much discussion of Palamas has focused on the Neo-Platonic influences on his thought, especially the emanationist scheme of salvation as the procession of all things from God and their eventual return. The most important vestige of Neo-Platonism in his (p. 166 ) theology is his Plotinian definition of the divine as immaterial and invisible, which leads him, ultimately, to deny the reality of the light as light. “If one covers the eyes of him who sees, even if one gouges them out, he will still see the light no less clearly than before.”85 The disciples saw the light because they closed their eyes to the things of this world. This vision of God represents the divine's triumph over the corporeal, since the disciples passed from flesh to spirit, given that no human organ can receive this gift. Even if it is insisted that the disciples did indeed have their eyes open when Jesus revealed himself, Palamas is clear that after the ascension, the sight we must use is purely inward and spiritual. “How can this be accomplished corporeally, now that He Himself is no longer corporeally present after His ascension to the heavens?”86 As Lossky points out, the Orthodox do not adore Christ's humanity because, just as in the incarnation the invisible became visible, after the ascension the visible becomes once again invisible.87 The shining of Jesus’ light is as dark as it is bright.
Is it possible that the light of the transfiguration was something more than the Holy Spirit opening minds to true understanding? Could the light of the transfiguration be both the divinity that the disciples saw and that by which they saw the divine? David Grandy, a philosopher of science, has argued in a recent book that light is both the metaphysical and physical foundation of all thought. Grandy's starting point is the way in which the speed of light is constant in all inertial reference frames. That this defies common sense “is too weak a word. It seems downright impossible.”88 Movement is relative, which means that we can tally the speed of one thing by knowing the speed of something else. Light should travel differently according to our own motion, but it stubbornly resists any impact we can have on its measurement. Nothing compares to the speed of light, so much so that it renders the idea of motion a clumsy and inadequate tool for trapping its splendor. Rather than reflect on how the phenomenon of light must make us change our view of the world, however, Grandy travels in the opposite direction. “I believe that light is more than strange: it is constitutive of reality, of our own being, and therefore not really strange but deeply familiar.”89 Light is both the exterior that makes possible the interiority of our thought and the cosmic unity that makes sense of material plurality. Why else would Jacques Derrida write that light is a “revealability more originary than revelation”?90 Grandy's prose is more clear than Derrida's, but he too is not afraid to use extravagant language that borders on (or plunges into) the religious. The constancy of light is a miracle in his book, and it is hard to disagree. What makes light most strange is the way in which we are already in its glow when we try to take its measure. We cannot think about light without thinking about the ways in which we think. Light is thus more than a metaphor for thought; its indifference to space and time is the very essence of rational truth.
Prior to Einstein, to oversimplify matters, space and time were held constant in order to get a fix on motion, but Einstein fixed the speed of light and let (p. 167 ) space and time become the variables. Light became a motion set apart, with disturbing results. Light becomes, in a way, its own space and time, a non-material border to the physical universe—non-material because it does not exist in a particular place, and besides, it has zero rest mass and moves at a speed matter cannot attain, so how could it be something material? As Grandy laconically states, “We are not used to phenomena that undercut or relativize the very terms by which we define them.”91 How can we even talk about the speed of light if it is indifferent to space and time? From its own perspective, like anything else, light does not move at all, but since it is the frame for all other movement, it seems particularly appropriate (but still strikingly odd) to think of light as beyond movement altogether. Philosophers and theologians have long been drawn to its instantaneous nature as an indication of eternity, and modern physics has a way of showing how old metaphors need to be taken literally. In light, how we know (epistemology) and what we know (ontology) are taken to a point of “mutual immanence.”92 When we see light, we do not see it moving; we do not see it in an intermediate space, nor can we see it off in the distance. Moreover, the constancy of light's speed suggests that every observer is in the center of the world. “It is as if the world pivots around any and all points, so long as those points are occupied by observers.”93
Grandy is led by these observations to identify light by what he calls the principle of nonseparability. He puzzles over our inability to figure out how the constituent parts of light interact. If such interaction actually occurs, “it does so on a basis different from that of material bodies.”94 Light has parts but not in the way that (other) material objects have parts. Light is the closest the world gets to God, who is utterly simple and thus without parts, yet light is also so important for our material world that without it, matter would not exist. Some of the philosophers who have thought hardest about this puzzle have concluded that light is the most subtle material substance, since light is the precondition of our knowledge of matter as well as a kind of matter that lies at the edge of (or beyond) what we can experience. Light is thus the interface between the spiritual and the material, or, put another way, light, as the most immaterial form of matter, corresponds most closely to the nature of God. But if matter can come close to being pure form, can God, who provides the forms of all things from out of his divine mind, be said to consist of a kind of matter?
Light transmits images by being imageless, which makes it a kenotic or self-overcoming medium. We experience light only when it lets us experience something that it is not. It hides at the moment it reveals itself to us. It provides for the coherence of intelligibility by standing outside of our rationality. Light says, ultimately, that our world wants to be known, but it says this only by keeping itself in the dark. No wonder Dante among others identified divine love as eternal light, making simultaneous all that is scattered and separated. As the Psalmist wrote (and probably sang), “In your light we shall see light” (Ps. 36:10). (p. 168 ) Light is indifferent to motion, but Jesus Christ shows us that light is not indifferent to us. Placing these observations in the context of the transfiguration, it should become clear that the light on Mt. Tabor was not merely a metaphor. Light just might be the best clue we have to the kind of glorious body that belongs, eternally, to Jesus Christ.
(1.) See Catherine Pickstock, “Duns Scotus: His Historical and Contemporary Significance,” Modern Theology 21 (2005), pp. 543–574, and the excellent reply by Mary Beth Ingham, “Re-Situating Scotist Thought,” Modern Theology 21 (2005), pp. 609–618, as well as my discussion of these issues in The Dome of Eden: A New Solution to the Problem of Creation and Evolution (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010), Ch. 7. For Milbank, note this comment: “Now this philosophy was itself the legatee of the greatest of all disruptions carried out in the history of European thought, namely that of Duns Scotus, who for the first time established a radical separation of philosophy from theology by declaring that it was possible to consider being in abstraction from the question of whether one is considering created or creating being.” John Milbank, “Knowledge: The Theological Critique of Philosophy in Hamann and Jacobi,” in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, ed. John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward (New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 23. For a superb retort to Radical Orthodox historiography, see Richard Cross, “Where Angels Fear to Tread: Duns Scotus and Radical Orthodoxy,” Antonianum 76 (2001), pp. 7–41, and Hans Geybels, “Creatures: Duns Scotus the Scapegoat?” in Orthodoxy, Process and Product, ed. M. Lamberigts, L. Boeve, and T. Merrigan (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 2009), pp. 119–170.
(2.) Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), p. 137. Also see the important work by Elizabeth Brient, The Immanence of the Infinite: Hans Blumenberg and the Threshold to Modernity (Washington, (p. 317 ) DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2002), pp.117–121. For Scotus on divine infinity, see Richard Cross, Duns Scotus (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 39–41.
(3.) Mary Beth Ingham, Scotus for Dunces: An Introduction to the Subtle Doctor (Saint Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2003), p. 75.
(4.) I draw my account from Richard Cross, “Duns Scotus's Anti-Reductionistic Account of Material Substance,” Vivarium 33 (1995), pp. 137–170, as well as his book, The Physics of Duns Scotus: The Scientific Context of a Theological Vision (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), ch. 2.
(5.) Oddly, even though he rescues matter from the elusive and mysterious position that Plato and most subsequent metaphysicians put it in, he is often, Blumenberg excepted, portrayed as a negative influence on the rise of modern science, perhaps because his work became the basis of so much self-involved scholastic debate. See, for example, Stephen Gaukroger, The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1210–1685 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), pp. 81 and 117.
(6.) Quaestiones ad Thalassium 60; quoted in Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor, trans. Brian E. Daley (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), p. 272.
(7.) Marilyn McCord Adams, “The Primacy of Christ,” Sewanee Theological Review 47 (2004), p. 169. Adams interprets Scotus as saying that the soul of Christ is the first and primary object of love in God's decision to be a creator. “On Scotus's representation, the material world does not interest God except insofar as it is what is naturally suitable for Christ and the other human co-lovers of which Christ is the head” (p. 174). To me, that downplays the continuity Scotus draws between the love shared within the Trinity and the way in which God creates the world to consummate that love in Christ. According to McAdams, Scotus thinks that Christ does not intend to have a human body until after God sees humans sin. “And only after that [God sees human sin] does God see the human soul of Christ volunteering to solve the sin problem by his passion and death. And only after that does God will to furnish Christ with a passible body as a means to that end” (p. 175). McAdams is trying to show how, for Scotus, the intention to become incarnate is prior to the intention to become a redeemer. She also thinks that Scotus “begins with divine selflove and divine desire for spiritual creatures,” not material creation. That makes Scotus sound too much like Origen. She calls her own position, by the way, “polyvalent primacy,” and it is very similar to my position in these pages and in my previous book, The Dome of Eden. She writes, “Human nature crowns God's efforts to make material creation—while yet material—more and more Godlike” (p. 177). In Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), she rejects Scotus's Primacy of Christ argument because, she says, it is too dependent on the assumption that sin is optional (see pp. 188–189). She is, perhaps, mistaken about this, since the intentions for creation consequent upon the intratrinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son is a separate issue from the question of what kind of freedom humans have both before and after the fall.
(8.) For an excellent overview, see Edwin Chr. Van Driel, Incarnation Anyway: Arguments for Supralapsarian Christology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). He focuses on Schleiermacher, Barth, and Isaak August Dorner, but he does briefly discuss Scotus on pp. 172–173.
(9.) Eric Doyle, “St. Francis of Assisi and the Christocentric Character of Franciscan Life and Doctrine,” in Franciscan Christology, ed. Damian McElrath (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University, 1980), p. 7
(11.) R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988), p. 22.
(12.) Allan B. Wolter, “John Duns Scotus on the Primacy and Personality of Christ,” in Franciscan Christology, pp. 147–151.
(13.) See the excellent essay by Thomas Williams, “The Doctrine of Univocity Is True and Salutary,” Modern Theology 21 (2005), pp. 575–585.
(14.) Christopher Insole, “Anthropomorphism and the Apophatic God,” in Modern Theology 17/4 (October 2001), p. 482. Also see Henny Fiska Hagg, Clement of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Apophaticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
(15.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale, trans. Aidan Nichols (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 11. Von Balthasar says that “the Incarnation is ordered to the Cross as its goal” (p. 22) and that “he who says Incarnation also says Cross” (p. 22). Indeed, for the Logos “to become man is for him, in a most hidden yet very real sense, already humiliation” (p. 23). That last comment borders on anti-humanism and is certainly not sayable from a Scotist perspective. For von Balthasar, the flesh is already the cross! What then were the wise men celebrating in the nativity? Basic to von Balthasar's position is the classical metaphysical premise, which he otherwise wants to leave behind, that spirit is opposed to matter. “Were the two forms simply compatible … then nothing would really have happened in God himself” (p. 27). God's taking of flesh, for von Balthasar, is a radical act that goes against everything divinity means. Von Balthasar does at times try to modify his own extremism, but he cannot help himself: “By becoming man, he enters into what is alien to him” (p. 81), a comment which boldly contradicts his brief attempt to affirm that “when the Creator first made man the ideal Image he had in mind was the Incarnate Son as our Redeemer” (p. 30). Rather than being the crown of creation, humanity is so problematic to God that “right from the moment of man's creation, God wills his Resurrection” (p. 42). Scotus provides a dramatically superior foundation for thinking through the dignity of human nature.
(17.) In a similarly subtle fashion, Scotus tried to solve the problem of what kind of human nature God assumed in the incarnation. If the human nature God assumed satisfied the conditions for personhood, then the incarnation would have consisted of two persons, one divine and one human, and this is the Nestorian position that was resolutely rejected by the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Yet if that human nature does not have the property of personhood, then it is not the same as our human nature, and thus the claim that God saves us by assuming what we are is defeated. Scotus gets around this problem by redefining personhood as a negative property of human nature. Personhood is a property of human beings that can be prevented from being so. Admittedly, this kind of logical maneuvering gave Scholastic theology a bad name, but it is not irrelevant to one of the central problems of Christology. In chapter 8 I will discuss Karl Barth's argument that the flesh God assumed is identical to our fallen nature. Barth is trying to follow the ancient dictum that “what is not assumed is not transformed” to its logical conclusion. Thus, God must have identified with the totality of the human person in his or her alienation from God in order to guarantee our salvation. Scotus demonstrates the metaphysical risk involved in rendering this position coherent. God could not have assumed a totally human person unless personhood is not an essential (or positive) property (p. 319 ) of human nature. This risk is metaphysically obscure, but even if it were defensible, few theologians, given the vulnerable status of human personhood in the world today, would want to take it.
(18.) Speaking of the deaf, it is interesting that hearing people take the invisibility of God for granted. Those who hear need not see God in order to understand what he is saying. God's invisibility is downright positive, because it accentuates the ways in which the Bible often conceives of God as a voice, whether internal or external, metaphorical or literal. Invisibility takes on a whole new meaning when viewed from the perspective of the deaf. They need to face the person they are communicating with in order to see what they are saying through their hands, gestures, and facial expressions. When the hearing want to devote themselves to God, they bow their heads and close their eyes, but not the deaf, for whom visibility is of the utmost importance. For these points, see Wayne Morris, Theology without Words: Theology in the Deaf Community (London: Ashgate, 2008), and my review in Reviews in Religion and Theology 16 (July 2009), pp. 387–389.
(19.) St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, trans. Dom Henry Benedict Macky (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1997), p. 73.
(22.) For an excellent examination of this issue, see Peter S. Dillard, “A Minor Matter? The Franciscan Thesis and Philosophical Theology,” Heythrop Journal 50/5 (September 2009), pp. 890–900.
(23.) For an example of his negative Christology, note this passage, where Maximus explains in what sense Jesus Christ is without a mother: “He is without mother because of his immaterial, bodiless and completely unknowable manner of his pre-eternal begetting from on high from the Father.” Quoted in Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 118 (Ambiguum 10). One can sympathize with Maximus's position, because it is impossible to say what begotten means, even though, for many theologians, it is the only thing that distinguishes the Father from the Son (the Father begets; the Son is begotten). One might suppose that if the Son is eternally begotten, which all the ecumenical creeds attest, then he was given something or shaped in some way. Maximus takes the mystery of the Son's begetting in another direction—as evidence of his immateriality.
(24.) Louth, Maximus the Confessor, p. 157 (Ambiguum 41). Also see Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken, trans., On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected Writings from St. Maximus the Confessor (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003), pp. 99–101 (Ad Thalassium 2).
(25.) The quotations from both Gregory and Maximus are from Adam G. Cooper's impressive book, The Body in St. Maximus the Confessor: Holy Flesh, Wholly Deified (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 39–41.
(26.) Ibid., p. 74. And yet Cooper also admits that Maximus is still deeply Platonic in his commitment to the metaphysical privileging of immaterialism. “Maximus operates with an epistemology patently rooted in Origen, in which, simply put, the anabasis of the intellect from the material to the spiritual constitutes the dominant structural metaphor” (p. 128).
(27.) Egil Grislis, “The Doctrine of Incarnation According to Menno Simons,” Journal of Mennonite Studies 8 (1990), p. 19. I have profited from the rich bibliographic references in this essay.
(p. 320 ) (28.) For a summary of this argument, see Thomas N. Finger, “Post-Chalcedonian Christology: Some Reflections on Oriental Orthodox Christology from a Mennonite Perspective,” Christ in East and West, ed. Paul R. Fries and Tiran Nersoyan (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1987), pp. 155–169.
(29.) Joyce Irwin, “Embryology and the Incarnation: A Sixteenth-Century Debate,” Sixteenth Century Journal 9 (1978), pp. 93–104.
(30.) Alvin J. Beachy, “The Grace of God in Christ as Understood by Five Major Anabaptist Writers,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 37 (1963), p. 27. Perhaps the clearest formula about this issue was stated by Melchior Hoffman: “Jesus Christ was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit but born out of Mary rather than from Mary” (p. 33). Mary's body nourishes the body of Jesus but that body does not receive its substance from her.
(31.) Sjouke Voolstra, “The Word Has Become Flesh: The Melchiorite-Mennonite Teaching on the Incarnation,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 57 (1983), p. 156.
(32.) André Séguenny, The Christology of Caspar Schwenckfeld: Spirit and Flesh in the Process of Life Transformation, trans. Peter C. Erb and Simone Nieuwolt (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1975), p. 64.
(34.) E. J. Furcha, “Key Concepts in Caspar von Schwenkfeld's Thought: Regeneration and the New Life,” Church History 37 (1968), pp. 160–173.
(35.) R. Emmet McLaughlin, Caspar Schwenkfeld, Reluctant Radical: His Life to 1540 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 208.
(37.) George Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), pp. 326–327.
(38.) Quoted in Grislis, p. 20. For a good analysis of the parallels between Anabaptist and Eastern Orthodoxy, see Thomas N. Finger, “Anabaptism and Eastern Orthodoxy: Some Unexpected Similarities,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 31 (1994), pp. 67–91.
(39.) R. Emmet McLaughlin, The Freedom of Spirit, Social Privilege, and Religious Dissent: Caspar Schwenckfeld and the Schwenckfelders (Baden-Baden, Germany: Koerner, 1996), p. 163.
(40.) Finger, “Post-Chalcedonian Christology,” p. 166.
(41.) Voolstra, “The Word Has Become Flesh,” p. 157.
(44.) I am not pursuing the wider argument that Luther is nominalist all the time. Others, though, have made this point: “Thus, all in all, Luther's Christology is extremely Ockhamist.” Graham White, Luther as Nominalist (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Seura, 1994), p. 297.
(45.) Argument 2 from Luther's 1540 Disputation concerning the Divinity and Humanity of Christ, quoted from Mitchell Tolpingrud, “Luther's Disputation concerning the Divinity and the Humanity of Christ,” Lutheran Quarterly 10 (1996), p.160. For Luther's criticisms of Eutyches, see Luther's Works, vol. 41: On the Councils and the Church, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955-1986), pp. 107–136.
(47.) Klaas Zwanepol, “A Human God: Some Remarks on Luther's Christology,” Concordia Journal 30 (2004), p. 44.
(49.) Bruce McCormack, “For Us and Our Salvation: Incarnation and Atonement in the Reformed Tradition,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 43 (1998), p. 283.
(50.) Kurt K Hendel, “Finitum capax infiniti: Luther's Radical Incarnational Perspective,” Currents in Theology and Mission 35 (December 2008), p. 421.
(51.) Alasdair Heron, “Communicatio Idiomatum and Deificatio of Human Nature: A Reformed Perspective,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 43 (1998), p. 368.
(52.) E. David Willis, Calvin's Catholic Christology: The Function of the So-Called Extra Calvinisticum in Calvin's Theology (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966), p. 28.
(53.) Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. II, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), p. 1329.
(62.) Ibid. Also see Thomas J. Davis, “Not Hidden and Far Off: The Body Aspects of Salvation and Its Implications for Understanding the Body in Calvin's Theology,” Calvin Theological Journal 29 (1994), p. 414.
(67.) For the historical critical background, see Barbara O. Reid, “Voices and Angels: What Were They Talking About at the Transfiguration? A Redaction-Critical Study of Luke 9:28–36,” Biblical Research 34 (1989), pp. 19–31. For theological reflection, see Allison A. Trites, The Transfiguration of Christ: A Hinge of Holy History (Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press, 1994).
(68.) See Charles Edwin Carlston, “Transfiguration and Resurrection,” Journal of Biblical Literature 80 (1961), pp. 233–240.
(69.) Vladimir Lossky, The Image and Likeness of God, ed. John H. Erickson and Thomas E. Bird (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985), p. 61.
(71.) M. C. Steenberg, “Two-Natured Man: An Anthropology of Transfiguration,” Pro Ecclesia 14 (2005), p. 412.
(76.) Harold Weatherby, trans., “Homily on the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Saint John of Damascus,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 32 (1987), p. 4.
(81.) John Meyendorff, ed., Nicholas Gendle, trans., Gregory Palamas: The Triads (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1983), p. 75.
(87.) Lossky, The Image and Likeness of God, p. 65.
(88.) David A. Grandy, The Speed of Light: Constancy + Cosmos (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), p. 1. Also see the fascinating book by Iain M. MacKenzie, The Obscurism of Light: A Theological Study into the Nature of Light (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1996). He pays close to attention to the concept of uncreated light, as well as to the argument that light is the first bodily form, in the work of Robert Grossetestes.