The Extra Calvinisticum

visionKevin DeYoung: (original source but never fully contained within, the human nature.

The term was originally a pejorative label given by Lutheran theologians in their debates with Reformed divines over the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Whereas Lutherans affirmed the physical presence of Christ’s body in, with, and under the elements, Reformed theologians spoke of a real spiritual presence. In order to maintain their position (later termed consubstantiation), Lutherans argued that the attribute of omnipresence should be predicated not just of Christ’s divine nature, but also of his human nature.

Reformed theologians, by contrast, held to a different understanding of the communicatio idiomatum (communion of properties), insisting that what can be said about either nature can be said about the Person of the Son, but cannot be automatically predicated to the other nature. Consequently, the divine Logos is omnipresent, but Christ’s human body is not. In other words, the Son, even in his incarnate state, is able to live a divine life outside (extra) his human nature. Or as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it: “Since divinity is not limited and is present everywhere, it is evident that Christ’s divinity is surely beyond the bounds of the humanity he has taken on, but at the same time his divinity is in and remains personally united to his humanity” (Q/A 48).

While the doctrine may seem like unnecessary and overly precise doctrinal wrangling, the extra Calvinisticum is crucial for protecting a classic understanding of the incarnation. In fact, some have preferred the term extra Catholicum because even though the doctrine is attributed to John Calvin, it was clearly the position of church fathers like Augustine, Cyril, and Athanasius, and was taught throughout the Middle Ages. The extra is an important doctrine in that it safeguards the transcendence of Christ’s divine nature (i.e., it cannot be contained) and the genuineness of the human nature (i.e., it does not possess attributes reserved for divinity).

The extra also reminds us that in the incarnation “the Son did not cease to be what he had always been” (Wellum, God the Son Incarnate, 332). He continued to sustain the universe (Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:1-3) and to exercise his divine attributes together with the Father and the Spirit. When Mary conceived a child by the power of the Holy Spirit, the divine nature did not undergo any essential change. Better to say the Person of the Son became incarnate than to say the divine nature took on human flesh (for the latter suggests the divine nature changed in its essential properties).

All this means–because the divine nature did not undergo essential change–that in coming to earth, the Son of God did not abdicate his rule, but extended it. It also means–because the human nature was not swallowed up by the divine–that the Son’s earthly obedience was free and voluntary. In short, the extra protects a Chalcedonian understanding of the incarnation that Christ’s divine and human natures were indissolubly joined, yet “without confusion” and “without change.”

On the Incarnation

Christmas02On the Incarnation – From a sermon by Henry Law (1797-1884) entitled, “I am that I am” based on Ex. 3:14

Reader, look down now from this astounding glory and fix your eye on Bethlehem’s manger. A lowly Babe lies in the lowly cradle of a lowly town, the offspring of a lowly mother. Look again. That child is the eternal “I AM.” He whose Deity never had birth, is born “the woman’s Seed.” He, whom no infinitudes can hold, is contained within infant’s age, and infant’s form. He, who never began to be, as God, here begins to be, as man. And can it be, that the great “I AM THAT I AM” shrinks into our flesh, and is little upon our earth, as one newborn of yesterday? It is so. The Lord promised it. Prophets foretold it. Types prefigured it. An angel announces it. Heaven rings with rapture at it. Faith sees it. The redeemed rejoice in it.

But why is this wonder of wonders? Why is eternity’s Lord a child of time? He thus stoops, that He may save poor wretched sinners such as we are. Could He not by His will or by His word? Ah! No. He willed, and all things were. He speaks, and all obey. But He must die, as man, that a lost soul may live. To rescue from one stain of sin, the Eternal must take the sinner’s place, and bear sin’s curse and pay sin’s debt, and suffer sin’s penalty, and wash out sin’s filth, and atone for sin’s malignity.

“I AM THAT I AM” alone could do this. “I AM THAT I AM” alone has done it. What self-denial, what self-abasement, what self-emptying is here! Surely, royalty in rags, angels in cells, is no descent compared to Deity in flesh! But mighty love moves Jesus to despise all shame, and to lie low in misery’s lowest mire. Through ages past His “delights were with the sons of men.” Prov. 8.31.

The Incarnation

The Incarnation: What We Celebrate at Christmas

In this excerpt from “What Did Jesus Do?,” R.C. Sproul reminds us what we really celebrate at Christmas—the incarnation of God Himself.

The Incarnation: What We Celebrate at Christmas from as important as that is, but what’s so significant about the birth of that particular baby is that in this birth we have the incarnation of God Himself. An incarnation means a coming in the flesh. We know how John begins His gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So in that very complicated introductory statement, he distinguishes between the Word and God, and then in the next breath identifies the two, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then at the end of the prologue, he says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Now in this “infleshment,” if you will, of Christ appearing on this planet, it’s not that God suddenly changes through a metamorphosis into a man, so that the divine nature sort of passes out of existence or comes into a new form of fleshiness. No, the incarnation is not so much a subtraction as it is an addition, where the eternal second person of the Trinity takes upon Himself a human nature and joins His divine nature to that human nature for the purpose of redemption.

In the 19th century, liberal scholars propounded a doctrine called the kenotic theory of the incarnation, and you may have heard it, the idea being that when Jesus came to this earth, He laid aside His divine attributes so that the God-man at least touching His deity no longer had the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and all the rest. But of course, that would totally deny the very nature of God, who is immutable. Even in the incarnation, the divine nature does not lose His divine attributes. He doesn’t communicate them to the human side. He doesn’t deify the human nature, but in the mystery of the union between the divine and the human natures of Jesus, the human nature is truly human. It’s not omniscient. It’s not omnipotent. It’s none of those things. But at the same time, the divine nature remains fully and completely divine. B. B. Warfield, the great scholar at Princeton, in remarking on the kenotic theory of his day said, “The only kenosis that that theory proves is the kenosis of the brains of the theologians who are propagating it.”—that they’ve emptied themselves of their common sense.

But in any case, what is emptied is glory, privilege, exaltation. Jesus in the incarnation makes Himself of no reputation. He allows His own divine exalted standing to be subjected to human hostility and human criticism and denial. He took the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men. This is an amazing thing that He doesn’t just come as a man, He comes as a slave. He comes in a station that carries with it no exaltation, no dignity, only indignity. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient even to the point of death, the shameful death of the cross.