Johannes Brenz (1499-1570) was a younger contemporary and important early follower of Martin Luther, and the principal leader of the Reformation in the Duchy of Württemberg. His most significant theological legacy, and the focus of the short treatise below, was in deepening Luther’s understanding of how the personal or hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures ought to inform our understanding of Christ’s presence in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. In his controversy with the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, Luther had insisted that, because Christ’s humanity is inseparable from his deity, his body is properly ubiquitous, to be found everywhere. (On this, cf. Luther’s Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper.)
Brenz took the further step of arguing that Christ’s human ubiquity is in fact a consequence of the “communion of attributes” between his natures, which Brenz interpreted as entailing that Christ’s humanity is endowed by grace with properties that his deity possesses by nature, including not only ubiquity, but also omniscience, omnipotence, and so on. Brenz was firmly opposed by leaders within the Swiss Reformed churches, notably Peter Martyr Vermigli (then in Zürich) and Henrich Bullinger (Zwingli’s successor at Zurich), who insisted that the Lutheran “ubiquitarians” had revived the ancient Christological heresy of Monophysitism, by collapsing Christ’s human nature into his deity. They insisted on the local presence of Christ’s ascended body in the “Empyrean heaven” (the so-called extra Calvinisticum).
Brenz devotes a great deal of On the Personal Union, and still more of his much longer On the Majesty of Christ, to combatting these “Girdlers” (as he mockingly calls them in the latter work, for their “tying up” Jesus in heaven, far from the elements of the Supper on earth) by means of an alternative interpretation of Christ’s ascension. For Brenz, this is not an event in which Christ literally flew up to a particular region of the cosmos called “heaven,” but rather a public declaration of the inmost truth of the Incarnation itself, namely the assumption of the man Jesus into the very majesty and glory of the Triune life. For Brenz, from the first moment of his conception, Christ was “seated at the right hand of the Father,” although this is only publicly made known after his resurrection.
In some ways, Brenz’s On the Personal Union is not a text apt to warm the hearts of today’s ecumenically minded theologians, exhibiting as it does the Reformation polemicist’s sharp tongue, which is caustic toward “Papists,” but still more unsparing toward his reforming rivals. Nonetheless, it combines deep patristic learning and careful and creative biblical exegesis with a strikingly modern attitude toward cosmology. This last feature is the aspect of Brenz’s thought which most inspired Robert Jenson (1930-2017), a Lutheran theologian who sought to deepen and radicalize Brenz’s revisionary metaphysics of the Incarnation in something like the way that Brenz deepened and radicalized Luther’s theology of the Supper. I’ll conclude this short introduction with an extended quotation from Jenson’s discussion of Brenz in his Systematic Theology, v. 1, pp. 203-204:
Shortly after Copernicus, a school of theologians did appear for whom he posed no problem; who, if convinced by observation and argument, could abandon Ptolemy without hesitation; and we will take up their lead. Johannes Brenz and others in Swabia, a territory especially agitated theologically by the divisions of the Reformation, set themselves to think through the metaphysical requirements of Christ’s bodily presence on the altar. So doing, they came to deny—even mock—the whole notion of a “heaven” spatially related to other parts of the created universe. Brenz inquired of defenders of such a heaven, “Does Jesus take little walks up there?” He made demythologizing use of those very features of the appearance-stories to which we have attended: “Friend, tell me, where was he between appearances to his disciples? And when in his visible Ascension a cloud received him …, tell me, friend, where had he gotten to?”
According to Brenz and his fellows, there is no mystery about Christ’s bodily presence on the altars beyond the great mystery of the Incarnation itself. Christ does not need to get from heaven to the earthly churches, by travel or by supernatural exception to the otherwise determining situation of his body. The Incarnation given, what we call the humanity of Christ and the deity of Christ are only actual as one sole person, so that where the deity of the Son is, there must be Jesus’ humanity, unabridged as soul and body. And that the Son in his deity is present on the altar, as everywhere else, is not disputed. The problem about the Eucharist is therefore not that Jesus is bodily present, but defining a difference between this presence and his presence generally.
The Swabians relied on a radically Cyrillean Christology: “Although it is a property only of the divine nature in Christ to be everywhere and fill all things, nevertheless he possesses this property only in common with his human nature, that he assumed into the one and the same person that he is.” In Brenz’s argument, it is the appearance stories that legitimate such Christology.
Christ has risen to be in God’s place. God, however, is in no place but is his own place; and over against God, the created universe is therefore just one other single place. Since the creation is for God but one place immediately over against the place that he is, his simultaneous presence to the whole creation is unproblematic. And his exercise of that presence will not be modulated by location within the creation, since for God there are no plural created locations, but only by ontological context: he is one way present in his Word, he is otherwise present at all points in created space, he is otherwise present in the hearts of believers, and so on. From the place that God is for himself, the risen man Jesus shares this relation to created space. Thus Brenz replies to the obvious objection to his claim that Christ’s body is ubiquitous: “We do not attribute to his body extension or diffusion in space, but elevate it beyond … all location.”
Despite the profundity of their thinking, the Swabians fully convinced few besides themselves, and their work is now generally forgotten. Without more radical metaphysical revision than even they ventured, it was and is hard to see by what right they call the entity they describe a body at all. And they could provide no really satisfactory statement of the difference between Christ’s “bodily” presence in the Eucharist and his “bodily” presence elsewhere. We will be able to carry out their insight and overcome their failings—and so fully justify their appearance here—only as we develop the doctrines of creation and of the church and its sacraments.
Finally, a brief note on the translation. So far as I know, this text has never been translated into English, perhaps apart from a few extracts. I hope that it will find a wide and engaged readership in the world of Anglophone theology, and Christology in particular. This translation is based on the text from the original 1561 Tübingen printing, a scan of which is available here: https://bit.ly/3HmfNT7.
The quality of the scan was variable, particularly in the eccentric cursive font used for Greek characters, and the frequent use of shorthand throughout the Latin text meant that I was constantly over-taxing my limited palaeographical skills in deciphering the text. Nonetheless, I hope that the version I’ve produced here is reasonably accurate and readable, though I certainly welcome any corrections from interested readers.
The translation is also not quite complete: I’ve omitted Brenz’s preface to the Duke of Württemberg and the long series of extracts from Luther’s works which he appended at the end. I’ve also skipped over a few of Brenz’s frequent and lengthy quotations from the Church Fathers when the first two or three in a series adequately made his point. At some point in the future, I hope to produce an unabridged and thoroughly annotated translation, although, since I’m by no means an historian of the Reformation, the latter task might need to fall to a more competent partner. In the meantime, I’m glad to have an English version of this fascinating and badly neglected work out in the world, and doubly happy for it to be hosted at Eclectic Orthodoxy.
Johannes Brenz, On the Personal Union of the Two Natures in Christ, and the Ascension of Christ into Heaven, and his Session at the Right Hand of the Father, by which the True Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper Is Explained and Confirmed (Tübingen, 1561).
In the disputation [i.e., the Stuttgart Synod of 1559] over the presence of the body and blood of Christ in his Supper, all parties agreed peri tou hrētou [concerning the statement] about the truth of these words of Christ, This is my body etc., and, This is my blood. We confess both of these words of Christ to be most true, and that they are to be recited in the Supper at the sanctification of the bread and wine for the dispensation of the body and blood of Christ, and for the proclamation of his death, that through faith we might be sharers in all the benefits which the son of God sought for us from his Father through his death and blood. But not all parties agreed peri tēs dianoias [concerning the understanding], that is, about the meaning of these words. For we hold to to hrēton (which they call the letter) of the words of Christ, and we believe that when Christ held out bread and wine to his disciples with his words, he also held out his true body for them to eat, and his true blood for them to drink, not only with the thought of their mind, or by way of efficacy, but really and truly and substantially present, even if not transubstantially (as the Papists dream) nor locally (as some calumny us as thinking). But others think that the body and blood of Christ are indeed received in the Supper, but under a figure and by faith, and that it is not really and substantially present in the Supper, but in these times is only in heaven. And they explain this meaning with the example of the Sun, and of its rays, that although the Sun, according to the bulk of its body, is in heaven, nonetheless its rays are on earth, so they suppose that the humanity of Christ is only in heaven, but his Deity is everywhere, and so is present in the Supper also, but without his humanity. And they gather many arguments, by which they strive to prove their own understanding, and to refute ours.
1. They say that our understanding wars with the nature of the human body, which surely cannot be at once in heaven and in the Supper, and indeed in all the many places, in which the LORD’S Supper is celebrated. As the old Tragedy says, A name can be in many places, but not a body. And so they do not hesitate to declare that we make Christ polysōmaton, polytopon, kai pantotopon, that is, multicorporeal, multilocal, and omnilocal. They call us Capernaites, sarkophagous, that is, Flesh-Eaters, Blood-Drinkers, All-Placers, Ubiquitists, Omnilocalists, worshippers of a breaded God, and they hurl many other horrible abuses of this kind at us.
2. They say that our understanding wars with the articles of the faith, He ascended into heaven, he sits at the right hand of God the Father. And they pile up here all the sayings of Scripture and of the old Fathers, which testify that Christ is in heaven.
3. They say that it is impossible that an unworthy person should eat the body of Christ, etc.
There are many other things which they gather for the defense of their understanding. But at present, we will treat only of those things which we have enumerated above, because in these (as it seems to me) the whole controversy is particularly bound up, and once they are explained, the others will easily be washed away. And certain things to this point have been sufficiently worked over and illustrated, that not even our adversaries themselves look for much protection from them, e.g., The flesh profits nothing. He has arisen; he is not here. John is Elijah, and many others.
Indeed, from the beginning, we were contented with a simple interpretation of the words of Christ, and with the recognition of the will and omnipotence of God. But what should we do? The adversaries drew us into these disputations, and still detain us in them. So it is necessary, that the Church of the Son of God might rightly and piously learn a lesson about these things.
In the beginning, they say, Christ assumed a human body such as ours is (sin alone excepted). But since this is the nature of our body that it is in one place only, nor can it be in many places, it necessarily seems to follow that the body of Christ is also in one place only, nor can it be in many places at once in which his Supper is celebrated. They add also that in Christ there is indeed a union of two natures, namely divine and human, but that both preserve their properties: and according to Augustine, the divinity of Christ is to be so construed, that we do not take away the truth of his body.
To these one can respond briefly and most truly that even if the human body cannot be in many places at once by its own nature and power, nevertheless it can do so by the nature and power of God. For who prescribes the mode of God’s power? Who puts a limit to his might? And that, just as Christ in this age indeed suffered the cross and death in his flesh, but not by any necessity, but rather of his own will: so he was in this world in one place according to the flesh, not by any constraining necessity, but by his spontaneous will. And it should also be added that not even the Papists themselves ever, so far as I know, have taught that the Body of Christ is in the bread of the Supper locally and circumscriptively. But those of our party have often and in many words testified that they in no way attribute a local space to the presence of Christ’s body in the bread.
And so we are unjustly accused, in dispensing the Lord’s Supper, either of dragging Christ’s body down from heaven and enclosing him locally in the bread, or of making Christ polysōmaton kai polytopon, that is, multicorporeal and multilocal.
But, because they pose an objection to us about the diversity of the two natures in Christ, which we also certainly and indubitably believe, confess, and uphold, we ought to repeat ourselves at some length and more diligently expound it.
It is manifest and most true that God sent his Son into this world to redeem the human race from the tyranny of Satan. The Prophets also preached this, and the Apostles explicated it. Behold – the Angel says to Mary – you will conceive in your womb, and you will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High, etc. And elsewhere, The Word became flesh. And again, God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that everyone who believes in him should not perish, etc. And in Paul: Set apart for the Gospel of God, which he had promised beforehand through his Prophets in the holy Scriptures ABOUT HIS SON, who came to be from the seed of David according to the flesh, who was defined the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of sanctification. And again: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his son, come to be from a woman, etc.
Most of our writers have called this sending of the Son of God into human flesh “Incarnation,” and have interpreted Deity and humanity as being most diverse natures or substances (for the one exists from all eternity and is the creator of all things, but the other is created; and the one is spirit, but the other body), neither of which is either converted or changed into the other. Rather, in Christ they are so conjoined, or rather united, that they simply constitute one person, never to be separated in all eternity. And so, the sending of the Son of God into this world is to be understood in such a way that, since in one eternal and simply Divinity there are three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the one who assumed human nature or its substance (namely a human body and a rational soul) is not the first person, who is the Father, nor the third, who is the Spirit, but only the second, who is the Son. He so united that substance to himself, that there are not two diverse persons, but there remains only one person. And although the divine substance is not changed into the human substance, and each nature has its own properties, nevertheless these two substances are so conjoined into one person in Christ, that one is never actually divided from the other. On this topic we ought to heed the understanding of our greats.
Council of Ephesus, with Cyril:
If someone divides the subsistences in the one Christ after the unity, connecting them by a coupling alone, which is according to merit or authority or power, and not rather by a coming together according to a natural unity, let him be anathema.
Council of Chalcedon, ca. the year of Christ 450:
We confess our LORD Jesus Christ, begotten indeed from the Father before the ages according to Deity, but in the last days, the same is to be recognized as [begotten] for our salvation from the Virgin Mary, the theotokos, according to humanity, one and the same Christ, the Son, the only- begotten Lord, in two natures, inconfusedly, immutably, UNDIVIDEDLY, INSEPARABLY, with the essence of the natures in no way being taken away because of the union, but rather, with the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one PERSON and existence, not partitioned and divided or disjoined into two persons, but one and the same only-begotten Son.
What need is there for more? This comparison stands out in Athanasius and others of the ancients: as the flesh and the rational soul are one man, so God and man are one Christ. By this comparison is signified that as in man, so long as he exists as and remains man, flesh and soul cannot be separated, so too in Christ God and man cannot be divided from one another.
And Leo, in his Epistle 81:
One is the LORD Jesus Christ, and there is one and the same person of the true Deity and of the true humanity in him, nor can the solidity of this Union be broken by any division.
It does not matter from which substance Christ is named, since, with the unity of person remaining INSEPARABLY, he is both entirely the Son of Man because of the flesh, and entirely the Son of God because of the one Deity with the Father etc.
And a little before:
Although from that beginning, by which the Word became flesh in the Virgin’s womb, there never existed any division between the divine and human substance, and the actions of every time came to be through all the bodily portions [incrementa] of the one person, nevertheless those things which came to be inseparable, we do not confound with any mixture.
I could recite many other testimonies of the ancients, by which it is proved that the divine and human natures or substances are so coupled in Christ into one person, that no creature, not even death, could divide and separate them one from another. But because I suppose that there is no one in these times who admits to dividing the two natures in Christ, I will not tarry longer in reciting the testimonies of the Fathers.
What then follows from this? What will we say? Is it not obvious that since Deity and humanity are conjoined inseparably and indivisibly in one person of Christ, it is necessary that wherever Deity is, there also is Christ’s humanity? Certainly unless these two natures always remain so united in Christ, that the one can never be without the other, there is no way for Christ to remain one person. For if the Deity of Christ is somewhere without his humanity, there will be two persons, not one. Why then is it that some say that the person of Christ does not have his humanity everywhere united to himself (cf. Gabri[el Biel]. [Commentary] on the 3rd book of the Sent[ences]: dist. 22, dub. 2)? They certainly affirm this strongly, but for what reasons? And how does this fit with what the universal Church has always understood, that the two natures in the one person of Christ are so conjoined that in actuality they cannot be separated from one another, or rather that they might only be separated in the understanding? We are not speaking here about actions, but about the union of natures in the person of Christ. We know that the person of Christ works one thing from his divine and another from his human nature, but nonetheless these two natures, however diverse are their properties and operations, are perpetually joined and united in the one person of Christ, that they might never be separated. It will not be irksome here to recite the testimony of Gelasius in the book about the two natures in Christ, against Eutyches and Nestorius. “Although (says Gelasius) there is one and the same Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole God is man, and the whole man, God, and whatever is proper to humanity, the God man makes his own, and what is God’s, the man God has: nevertheless, that this mystery might remain, nor can it in any part be dissolved, so the whole man persists in being what God is, as the whole God persists in being whatever man is. If, God forbid, something of divinity or humanity fell away from there, the ineffable dissolution of the Sacrament would follow, and – what we should flee either saying or hearing – either the man would cease to be God, if only humanity abided there, and not also Deity, or God consequently would cease to be man, if only Divinity remained there, and not also humanity.” Thus Gelasius. We should flee either saying or hearing, he says, that Divinity alone abides there, and not also humanity. But then how dare they say that the person of Christ does not have his humanity everywhere united to him? Certainly the Deity and humanity of Christ are one and inseparable person, as was said above. But it cannot be denied that whatever are inseparably united are one everywhere; there is left no place or space of places which can separate them. But they are accustomed to respond that this is true when one of those things which are united does not exceed the other, and there is no greater ambit of one than the other. As if we should give way here to Geometric speculations about the ampler excess and the greater ambit, and as if this ineffable and inseparable union, of which there is no other example in all the nature of things, the immensity of the one and the diminutiveness of the other might dissolve. But let them not lead us into the heights of bewilderment, since we surely know by faith that the Son of God assumed the Son of Man into the same person, and adorned him with all his own majesty, and exalted him to the right hand of God the Father, so that, as the Son of God possessed immense power from all eternity, so now the Son of Man, after he was assumed into the unity of person, is of the same majesty, and rules over all things. But here, show me the definition of ‘person.’ Person, they say, is an individual substance of a rational nature. If a person is an individual substance, how could the divinity of Christ not have his humanity everywhere united with him, which he assumed into the unity of his person? So, let us know that in the person of Christ, the reason of man is not to be consulted, but the understanding of the Holy Spirit: which, when he testifies that the Word became flesh, and that the two natures in Christ are hypostatically and personally, and so inseparably, united, is not in any way to be resisted. The human intellect does not grasp this mystery through its reasons, but faith understands through the Holy Spirit.
But again they object that there is only one infinite and measureless. So, if the humanity of Christ were always there wherever the Deity is, would there not be two infinites and two that are measureless? So argues human wisdom. To such a one we might respond even from his own Philosophy that even if the humanity of Christ were everywhere in all places, it would still not be infinite. For neither places, nor the world itself, by which all places are defined, are infinite. And if we are properly speaking about the infinite, it is fitting to recite the words of Nazianzen: “The infinite is considered in two ways, both according to the beginning, and according to the end: for whatever transcends these and is not contained by them, is infinite.” So, even if the humanity of Christ is now, after the union, wherever his Deity is, nevertheless it does not for that reason lack a beginning, as does Deity, and so it is not, in that regard, infinite. But let us hear what the wisdom of God’s Word teaches. For Deity and humanity in Christ are not two persons, but only one person, and there are not two Christs, but only one Christ. And so there is only one infinite, one thing measureless. And if we are now to speak not about the unity of person, but about the diversity of substances what, I pray, prevents it that what befits the one substance intrinsically should befit the other accidentally, as the Dialecticians say? It is an old and true statement about Christ that whatever befits the Son of God by nature befits the Son of Man by grace. Is not God alone infinite in power, wisdom, goodness, justice? And yet, since the Word was made flesh, the Word was so united to the flesh as to pour out into it all the majesty of his Deity, as was indicated a little earlier. In him, Paul says, all the fullness of divinity was pleased to dwell (Col. 1). And again: In him dwells all the fullness of divinity bodily (Col. 2). What then? Should we not say that there are two things infinite in power, wisdom, goodness, and justice? If indeed we are discussing the nature, there certainly is only one infinitely powerful, wise, good, and just, who is God himself. But if we are discussing grace, surely it must be that the Son of God pours out all his majesty into that Son of Man, whom he assumed into the unity of person in the hypostatic union by his inscrutable counsel and gratuitous clemency, so that what he is intrinsically and by nature, this one is accidentally (that is), by an alien benefit and grace, because of the hypostatic union. Paul, writing about the majesty of Christ: God, he says, established him at his right hand in the heavens, above every principality and power and virtue and dominion, and EVERY NAME which is named, not only in this age, but also in the future. This is certainly to raise the Son of Man into infinite power, wisdom, goodness, and justice. And if the Son of Man became infinite in these things in his own way, how could the Son of God not have raised him to that infinity, by which he fills all things both above and below in a celestial way?
But this, you will say, is at war with the nature of the human body. And Augustine says, “Take away the space of places from bodies, [and] they never will be, and because they never will be, they will not be.” I am aware that these things which are said about the majesty of Christ, to which he was raised, seem most absurd to human reason, and indeed impossible. But the hypostatic union of the most diverse natures in the person of Christ is handed down by the Holy Spirit in sacred Scripture for us to recognize and believe: and although this union is the absurdity of absurdities, nevertheless the human intellect must give way to it, and take itself captive for obedience to the Word of God. And it is not surprising that from that one and greatest absurdity many other absurdities follow according to human understanding: “Having conceded one absurdity, infinite others follow.” Augustine rightly warns us on this score (cf. Sermo 147.10), saying, “Let us believe this, brothers. Even if we solve the arguments of the Philosophers only with difficulty, let us hold without difficulty to what was demonstrated by the Lord. They mock; we believe.” And elsewhere, he says (On the City of God 12.17), “If reason could not refute impious arguments, faith ought to laugh at them.” So, let us strive to mock the philosophers, and let us laugh at their physical and geometric arguments, which they are wont to recite in order to refute and dissolve that highest mystery of the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ. And however, lest we seem to laugh with temerity, and to war with ourselves, that is, with our profession, we will explain our understanding, inasmuch as it can be done. For, when they object to us about the diversity of natures in Christ, and that neither the divine nature is changed into the human, nor the human into the divine, and similarly that each nature in Christ retains its properties, they seem to oppose us from our Theology and not from their own Philosophy: but the matter is really far otherwise, about which we should say something at present.
For first, when it is said that the divine nature in Christ is not changed into the human, nor the human into the divine, the word “nature” must be rightly understood. For sometimes by this name the very substance of a thing is understood, and sometimes the properties and accidents of a thing. Therefore when it is said that in the one person of Christ there are two natures, the one of which is not changed into the other, and which are not confused, nor mixed up together, the word NATURE is to be understood of the substance of the thing. As in the person of Christ there is a divine substance, which is an uncreated and eternal spirit, there is also a human substance, which is corporeal and was not from eternity, but is created. So, in the hypostatic union of Christ, neither Deity, which is uncreated, eternal spirit, is ever changed into humanity, which is a corporeal and created substance, nor is humanity ever changed into Deity. Rather, each substance remains inviolate and unmoved in the person of Christ. But if the word NATURE is meant about the properties or accidents of the thing, it is not obscure, that Deity is a most simple thing, nor does it possess any accident. And so it is immutable and impassible, but humanity is a thing composite and liable to various accidents, which do not change the substance of the thing, and can be present or absent without the corruption of the subject, as the Dialecticians say. And so, even if the human substance is liable to suffering and to death, nevertheless these properties do not so inhere in man that if they change, the substance of man would change as well: but it can both be present (for Christ suffered and died in the flesh, and the rest of humanity is liable to suffering and death) and be absent (for in his resurrection, Christ escaped suffering and death: and all of humanity will be similarly immortal and impassible). Nonetheless, as Christ after his resurrection and the remainder of humanity in their own resurrection retain the true and perfect human substance. So, if this change of properties or accidents does not change the substance of the thing, why couldn’t the substance of the body also remain unchanged, even if somewhere it was not locally in a place, since to be in a place does not belong to the substance of a body, but is only an accidental property of the substance? And if you say that being in a place is so proper to a body that it cannot be separated from it: let’s grant for the moment that this is true, but it still can’t be denied that what is impossible for nature is not only possible, but even easy, for divine power and industry. But why [grant the objection]? Is not heaven the greatest of all bodies, even though it contains within itself all places yet is itself in no place, since Aristotle himself defines that neither place nor vacuum nor time is outside heaven?
Next, when a human body is attributed to Christ, we ought not simply consider what are the properties which are intrinsic accidents of the human body in this world and given the condition of this world. For it is manifest that a body is in a place locally and circumscriptively, to which the thing itself bears witness. But most of all we ought to consider that the body of Christ is united with the Son of God by a hypostatic or personal and inseparable union, so that wherever the Son of God is, there also is his body, for if the Deity of Christ were somewhere without his humanity, the unity of the person would be rent asunder. And so, even if human nature apart from Christ, and according to Physical reasons, has to be in one place only, as Augustine says, and [even if] Christ, in the time of his Ministry and conversation in this world, bore human weaknesses, and was in his body, given the condition of this world, in a place circumscriptively: yet at the same time, the hypostatic union was not dissolved, so that wherever the Deity of Christ was, there he also had his humanity, and that not locally, but, as the ancients said in that saying of the Prophet (I fill (repleo) heaven and earth), repletively. So, whatever glory the body of Christ either had in this age or already has in another age, it has not from the nature of humanity as such, but from the nature of Deity, with which the body of Christ is inseparably united by a hypostatic or personal union. Further, when we so conjoin or unite the humanity of Christ to his deity that wherever the Deity is, there he has his humanity with him, we do not attribute to Christ many and various bodies, nor do we attribute local extension or diffusion to his body, but we exalt him beyond this corporeal world, apart from every creature and place, and we locate him, according to the condition of the hypostatic union, in celestial majesty: which, even if in the time of his flesh in this age he dissembled, or, as Paul says, emptied himself, still he never lacked it. The power (says Cyril [of Alexandria]) which he says was given to him after the resurrection, he also had before the resurrection. And so he did not have two or three or four or many bodies, one in Jerusalem, when he was preaching in the temple or hanging on the cross, another in the city of Rome, another in Athens, another in heaven: but one and the same body, which was in Jerusalem visibly and locally, was with the Deity everywhere it was, apart from all places, invisibly and non-locally. Nor are those places, which are different in our human eyes, and distant from one another, so many, so great, and of such kind in the eyes of the divine majesty: but as all times are a moment to him, so also all places are one place to him, indeed a mere point of a place, or something more minute still, if that is possible. So, when we conjoin his humanity to the Deity of Christ, we do not extend nor diffuse his body in a corporeal and local way, but we attribute to him that majesty which human reason cannot comprehend, but which is owed to him because of the hypostatic union, and which is made evident by so many miracles, such as the resurrection from the dead, the ascent into heaven, and his session at the right hand of the Father.
Further, from this marvelous and ineffable union arises the Communication of attributes (idiomata), celebrated by Ecclesiastical writers. For there could be no true communication of attributes between the divine and human nature in Christ, unless those two were inseparably united and associated in one person. But before we speak about the thing, let’s speak about the words. For, since the Schools call the properties of some language (e.g., German or Greek) “idioms (idiomata),” many suppose that when it is said that there is a communication of attributes between the divine and human nature of Christ, this is to be understood solely in terms of the properties of words, and not the properties of things. But the ancients rightly taught about the communication of attributes, so far as I can judge at this point. But the Scholastics and some more recent writers, when they say that the person of Christ does not have his humanity united with him everywhere, seem to affirm that in Christ there is only a verbal communication, not a real one, as though Christ should be called “God” in words, but is not in fact God, that is, divinity and humanity are not really everywhere united in Christ. For these, Christ the man will finally be, not true God, but only God by appellation. And God the Christ will suffer for us sinners, not truly, but in word only. But by “attributes” we understand in this matter, not only words, but also the properties of things, so that when we say, by means of the communication of attributes, that God suffered and died, the meaning is not that the word “God” might be said only with a verbal speech to have suffered and died, but that the thing itself pertains no further to God. Rather, it means that God, even if in his own nature he neither suffers nor dies, yet makes the passion and suffering of Christ so common to himself, that because of the hypostatic union he is present personally in the suffering and death, and is not otherwise affected, if I may speak so, than if he himself suffered and died. And so: ho logos, or God the Word, suffers and dies, as Cyril says, impassibly, and immortally, that he should not be said with an empty word alone to suffer and die, but also truly and in reality suffers and dies, not indeed out of the nature of Deity, but out of the nature of humanity, to which ho logos is united personally, hypostatically, and inseparably (Cyril, “On the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten,” ch. 28). “The passion (Cyril says again) was a matter of dispensation, when he spoke with his own word those things which are proper to the flesh because of the indescribable unity, while he remained indeed outside the passion, inasmuch as pertained to his nature. For God is impassible, nor is that surprising, since we see that the soul of man, if the body suffers something, still remains outside the passion inasmuch as pertains to its nature, yet it is understood not TO BE outside the passion, since the body which suffers is its own.” So far Cyril.
So also the attributes tou logou or of God the Word are predicated not only with empty words but also truly and in fact of the flesh of Christ. Deity alone is life-giving, and yet the flesh of Christ is also life-giving, and has a life-giving power, not indeed from its nature as flesh, but from the nature of Deity, to which it is personally united. But, wherever it has this power from, it certainly has it. Likewise, God alone is to be adored, and yet the flesh of Christ also is to be adored, and the majesty of adoration is to be brought to it, not indeed if it is considered alone, as human flesh, without Deity, but because it is united with Deity hypostatically and personally and so inseparably. Let us hear some testimonies from the ancients about this communication of attributes, that is, properties.
Basil on the holy Nativity of Christ:
How is Deity in the flesh? As fire in iron, not transitively, but distributively. For the fire does not run out to the iron, but remaining in its place, it distributes its own faculty to it.
So, how (he says) was God the Word not filled with corporeal weakness? We say, just as fire does not take to itself the properties of iron. Iron is black and cold, but when it is ignited, fire clothes it with its form, and it is illumined and shines, without making the fire black, and it is inflamed, without making the flame cold. So also the human flesh of the Lord, itself becoming a participant of Deity, did not hand over its own weakness to Deity.
Here, Basil does not think that Deity in Christ did not make its own the weakness of the flesh, but that it was not changed by the weakness of the flesh. And yet as in ignited iron, the fire assumed the blackness and coldness of the iron, not that it might become black and cold itself, but that it might take away the blackness and coldness of the iron, and inflame and illumine the iron: so Deity united in Christ assumed the passion and death of his humanity, not that it might suffer and die in itself, but that it might absorb the passion and death, and adorn that nature with celestial majesty.
Cyril on John:
Not in every way ignorantly do you deny the flesh to be lifegiving. For if it is understood alone, it can make nothing live, which lacks the life-giver. However, since you have investigated the mystery of the Incarnation with laudable care, and have come to know the one dwelling in the flesh, although the flesh can hardly do anything of itself, nevertheless you believe it to have become life-giving. For because the flesh was conjoined with the life-giving Word, the WHOLE has become life-giving.
Although the nature of the flesh, insofar as it is flesh, cannot give life, still it does this, because it receives the WHOLE operation of the Word.
If honey, since it is naturally sweet, makes those things sweet with which it is mixed, would it not be foolish not to think that the life-giving nature of the Word had given to the man, in whom it dwells, the power of giving life?
Cyril, On the Incarnation of the Word, ch. 7:
As the body is of another nature than the soul, and yet one man is made and named from both, so also from the perfect subsistence of God the Word and from perfect humanity, Christ is one. Likewise, in the same place, At once God and man, God the Word also calls his own those things which are proper to the flesh, because it is his body, and not another’s. But he makes the operations of his majesty as it were common to his flesh, so that he could also make the dead live and heal the infirm.
[I omit a few other lengthy quotations from Cyril, Athanasius, and Augustine, all aimed at illustrating the patristic consensus that the “communication of attributes” was real rather than merely verbal.]
From these and other testimonies of that sort, with which the books of the Ecclesiastical writers are full, it is clearly known how great is the union of the two natures in Christ. For even if the nature or substances are most diverse between themselves, and have their own diverse attributes or properties, yet those substances are also joined by so great a union, that they are one and inseparable hypostasis, that is, subject or person: and their properties are communicated with so much familiarity to the substances, that what is the property of the one nature, the other makes common to itself, as the ancients explained. But now let us weigh what may be seen about the majesty of Christ’s humanity. It was said now that the humanity of Christ is not only life-giving, but also to be adored, and that because of the hypostatic unity of person. But it is no less majesty to be life-giving and adorable, than to fill all things. So, even if it is a property of the divine nature in Christ alone to be everywhere and to fill all things, nevertheless it has this property in common with his humanity, which he assumed into the same person. And it is amazing that while you do not abhor saying that the humanity of Christ is truly life-giving and to be adored, since it is hypostatically conjoined to divinity, you nevertheless abhor saying that his humanity fills all things, and yet it is always the same unity of person. For we are not now particularly concerned with whence Christ’s humanity has it, but whether it has the property of filling all things. For it is manifest that as humanity alone does not have the power of giving life, nor ought it be adored, but it has that majesty from the hypostatic union with deity, so neither does humanity alone, according to its own nature, fill all things, but it has that majesty from the personal union with deity, that it should fill all things not from the nature of humanity, but from the nature of divinity. And so even if the humanity of Christ does not have this majesty from itself and its own nature, nevertheless it truly has it because of the hypostatic unity of person. And since the flesh of the Word is not adored with the adoration of latreia (as they say) inasmuch as it is human flesh, but inasmuch as it is assumed flesh, why isn’t it rightly said in the same way that the body of Christ does not fill all things inasmuch as it is a human body, but inasmuch as it is an assumed body? And so when we say that the humanity of Christ is everywhere united to his divinity, first, we do not extend the humanity of Christ by a local diffusion, just as divinity itself is not locally diffused, as was said above. Next, we do not change humanity into divinity: on this score, we do not deny the diversity of properties of each nature. Rather, we explain in words, as much as we can, that ineffable union, by which God and man are conjoined in the one person of Christ, so that they may be separated by no space of place. But meanwhile, the properties of each nature are left to it, but each nature has them so in common with the other in Christ, that union of those natures in one person is never rent asunder, but rather is confirmed and established.
I am aware that certain of the ancients disapproved of this locution, “The humanity of Christ is everywhere.” Nor would I have approved it, if by this word (everywhere) were signified locality. Therefore, let us posit, for the sake of illustration, a threefold ubiquity (for so they like, as I said before, without any distinction to slander a venerable and most true thing with a new and portentous name), namely, local, repletive, and personal. Now there is nothing, whether spiritual or corporeal, which is everywhere via local ubiquity: but God alone is everywhere via repletive ubiquity. And after the Son of God united humanity to himself, it necessarily follows that that humanity, assumed into the unity of person by the Son of God, is everywhere, via personal ubiquity. So, the word (everywhere) must be rightly understood. For in the customary manner, it includes in itself a diffuse locality, extended all about. But in this locution, “The humanity of Christ is everywhere,” this word (everywhere) does not signify any locality, for neither is Deity itself disused and extended locally. How then could we say that the humanity united to Deity is extended and diffused locally? But by this word (everywhere) is somehow expressed that which Paul said: He ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And: He established him at his right hand in the heavens, above every principality etc. And so, if we are talking about the geometric space of places, Christ is not everywhere. And this is what those Ecclesiastical writers meant in denying that Christ’s body is everywhere. And rightly Gregory says, Christ is not here by the presence of the flesh (namely, visibly and locally), who however is never absent by the presence of majesty. But if we are talking about the celestial mode of filling any things, surely, if you concede the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, you cannot do otherwise than confess Christ’s humanity to fill all things, lest while you affirm the unity of the person in words, nevertheless in fact you dissolve it, and make two persons, the one somewhere with the humanity, the other elsewhere without humanity. To be sure, each nature in Christ, divine and human, retains its own property, but in such a way that the person of Christ is not divided, and that wherever the divine nature is, there it has the human nature united to itself, lest if these two natures are separated by diverse places, they should become different persons. Jerome, in his “Against Vigilantius,” says, about the saints resting in Christ, “They follow the lamb wherever he goes. If therefore the lamb (he says) is everywhere, surely the saints also are to be believed to be everywhere.” So far, Jerome. But even if I am aware how much the Papists have abused this bit of Jerome to establish, as they dream, the invocation of the saints, I am not interested in this argument at present except to understand that line from the Apocalypse, “They follow the lamb wherever he goes”: and despite the difference between Christ, who is God and man in the unity of person, and the saints, who are not God by nature, still Jerome understands the saints to be everywhere because of Christ the lamb, whom they follow, and so he understands Christ the man also to be everywhere. And so I wanted to cite this passage that I might show that this teaching about the presence of Christ’s humanity within in this lands was not unknown to and unheard of by the church until now. For if this was so prodigious a teaching, as they pretend, Jerome would not have taken it up lightly, especially since he had many enemies, who were intent on seizing any occasion for reprehending his writings. Peter Lombard says (Sentences 3, dist. 22) that Christ is whole (totus) wherever he is, but not entire (totum). This is false if you understand Christ to be somewhere where he does not have his humanity with him personally and in a celestial mode. For then the person would be divided. But it is true if you interpret it through the saying of Thomas Aquinas. For Thomas writes as follows, saying, “The person of Christ is whole in every place, but not totally, because it is circumscribed in no place. That is also true that Christ is not whole everywhere, if by ‘whole’ you understand the corporeal and visible mass of the body, and the other external circumstances of the body.”
Bonaventure writes (In Sent. III, d. 22), When it is said (he says), “That man is everywhere,” this pronoun (that) can pick out the person of Christ, or of the singular man. If the person of Christ, thus without doubt it is true that that man is everywhere; however, if it is of singular man, it is still true, but not by his own nature, but through the communication of attributes: because what befits the Son of God by nature, befits that man by grace. But even if in that place Bonaventure adds that this proposition (that man is everywhere) is false, if that term (man) is posited on the part of the predicate, and is signified through this, that the form of humanity extends itself to every place in Christ: yet he also said a little earlier that Christ is everywhere personally, and we taught above that the humanity of Christ is not everywhere with a local extension, but only in that ineffable and celestial mode, by which he is hypostatically and inseparably united to the Deity .
The author of the compendium of theological truth says (Bk. 1, ch. 17): the Body of Christ, although it is not everywhere, since it is a creature, and cannot be equated in this way with the creator, nevertheless it is whole in many places, under diverse hosts, and this is because of the union of the flesh with the Word. And so it just that it should be more amply than other creatures, in many places at one and the same time. So far the author of the theological compendium. Here, then, I ask – consider with me – what reason he gives for why the body of Christ should be whole in many places under diverse – as he says – hosts. Because of the union, he says, of the flesh with the Word. But is he not for the same reason everywhere, in all places? For there is never not a personal union of the flesh with the Word. And when he says that a creature cannot be equated in this way with the creator, he speaks rightly, since he understands the creature not to have from itself and its nature that it should be everywhere in all places. But we showed above, that the humanity of Christ, which is a creature, is not at once, nor in many, nor in all places locally and circumscriptively. However, that he fills all things in a celestial mode, he does not have from himself, but from the Deity to which he is personally and inseparably united.
I don’t repeat these testimonies of the scholastic writers because I think that we should return to such trash (has sordes), or because I pretend that we have a need of them to establish pious dogmas: for it is not unknown, how much human Philosophy corrupts celestial doctrine. But rather, that I might show that not even their understanding, if the sophistical trash (sordes) is washed away, and if they are understood rightly, conflicts with ours.
Nor did Luther (as his writings testify), when he teaches that the body of Christ is everywhere after the session of Christ at the right hand of God, understand something other than what Paul says, viz., that Christ had ascended above all the heavens that he might fill all things, and what is said more commonly, that the two natures, namely the divine and the human, are united hypostatically, inseparably, indivisibly in the person of Christ. And so, just as the nature of the human body, which is hypostatically and personally united with Christ, does not prevent the humanity of Christ from filling all things in a celestial mode, so does it much less prevent that the body and blood of Christ are in the sacrament, that is, the bread and wine of the Supper, not indeed locally, nor even transubstantially (as the Papists trifle), but truly, really, and substantially, present, in a celestial mode which is incomprehensible to human reason. So much for the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ.
Let’s now turn to the Ascension of Christ into heaven, and his session at the right hand of God the Father. This is an article of faith which they are accustomed to put forward in order to thrust the body and blood of Christ out of the Supper. To start, we aren’t asking, nor is there any doubt, whether Christ ascended into heaven. For it is manifest and certain that Christ, on the fortieth day after his resurrection, ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, with his disciples looking on, and was taken up into a cloud from their eyes. This visible ascension of Christ into heaven has the most certain testimony of Prophetic and Apostolic scripture, and why it came about is best explained in the Catechism, and needn’t detain us here. But what is sought in the present discussion is whether Christ ascended into heaven in such a way as he had not been in heaven prior, except according to his divinity, and is now dwelling in heaven locally and circumscriptively, so that he is not also (even in a celestial and indescribable mode) on earth, nor can his body and blood truly and really be in the Supper. This certainly is to be denied, nor up to now has it been demonstrated by any firm arguments, that the body of Christ so occupies that external and worldly heaven, that it must be substantially absent from the Supper and its bread. We are not unaware that that worldly heaven, even if it is not in a place, as was said above, nevertheless has and contains within itself its places, which are different and, to human eyes, far distant from the places of this earth. Nor do we deny that Christ can also be locally present in this heaven, and wherever else he wishes to make himself known locally and circumscriptively. But the present question is whether, as the heavenly and earthly places are distant from one another to human eyes, so also are they distant from the body of Christ, which is personally and inseparably united with the Deity? Certainly we should not think in this part about the humanity of Christ and his body, as about the body of another man. But that we might know this, it ought to explicated a bit more copiously. And because we have already spoken about the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, which was borne witness to in the raising and exalting of Christ’s humanity into such majesty, we will now speak about the ascension of Christ into heaven. For he did not so ascend, that he should inhere in some particular place of this external heaven. For, even if we do not dimmish his power, as we already said, to dwell also in this external heaven if he wished. Still his ascension did not so locate him in heaven that he did not also transcend and surpass all the heavens. It is not Christian but Aristotelian to conclude the body of Christ within the ambit of this heaven. For it is the voice of Aristotle, not of Christ, which says, No body is nor can be outside of heaven. But why should we imagine Christ to have his local throne, or as they say, residence, in this external heaven? Certainly to a nobler body, such as Christ’s, is owed a nobler place in heaven. I know that heaven seems to be everywhere above the men who dwell under it: but if we are to believe Aristotle, that is, Physical speculations, not the Arctic pole, which appears to be above us, in the Northern hemisphere, but rather the Antarctic, which is below us, is judged to be the higher and so nobler part of heaven. So, if Christ ought to be in the nobler part of heaven, surely he will dwell not above but rather below us, around the Antarctic pole. And if the body of Christ must in every way be located in a peculiar and certain place of this external heaven, it is necessary that it should be located in one pole only, whether Arctic or Antarctic, particularly because they alone are fixed and immobile in the heavens, but the other parts of heaven are seized and whirled around with the motion of the firmament around the earth day by day: unless perhaps you think that Christ in his body is day by day whirled around the earth together with heaven, and contemplates what is happening on earth. And where will Christ finally end up, with his body and so with all his saints, after this external heaven passes away, as Christ said, and burns with fire, as Peter teaches? For Aristotle does not permit he should be located outside of heaven, since according to his understanding, it cannot happen that a body is outside heaven, although elsewhere he opines that there are beings outside heaven who lead the best life. But forget about that.
The true understanding of the Ascension of Christ into heaven is to be sought, not from human reason, but from the Word of God. So, the Ascension of Christ into heaven is interpreted, first, by that appendix in the Creed, which is confirmed by all the Prophetic and Apostolic writings: He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. But the right hand of God is not some corporeal or worldly place, to which Christ as it were tied himself, but is the omnipotence and majesty of God. Which, since it is not enclosed in some peculiar place, since otherwise it would not fill heaven and earth, and so all things, it necessarily follows that Christ is not located by his humanity, by which he sat down at the right hand of God, in this external heaven alone. For, because the right hand of God, at which Christ sat down, fills heaven and earth, it not only signifies that the kingdom of Christ and his power is evident everywhere, but also that his humanity, with which he sat down at the right hand of God, is present before all things in a celestial – not a human – mode, and has all things in his sight, and being present, governs them. For, since Luther in his little book, to which he gave the title “The Words of Christ in the Supper, This is my body, etc., yet stands firm,” copiously and piously expounds and so confirms that while it can be opposed by human reason, and by sophistical artifice, it cannot be captured by true arguments, I won’t tarry over it longer here.
Next, the Apostolic sayings interpret the Ascension of Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter says, It was necessary for heaven to receive Jesus until the times of the restitution of all things: but he did not mean that Christ was stuck in the external heaven, but that he was taken up from the eyes of the disciples, and had a celestial rather than a terrestrial empire. Therefore, let us hear the Apostolic interpretation. In Ephesians 4, Paul writes: He ascended above all the heavens, so that he might fill ALL THINGS. Paul does not bind Christ with his humanity to some one place in this external heaven, but brings him above ALL the heavens, and adds expressly, “that he might fill ALL THINGS.” Which “all things”? Perhaps the predictions of the prophets? I know that this is how many writers, both ancient and more recent, have interpreted it. But indeed, although it is true that all the prophetic predictions have been fulfilled through Christ, nonetheless Paul does not speak her about this fulfillment, but about filling up of the lower and upper places, that is, heaven, earth, and all things. For a little before, he had said: The one who ascended, who is he except the one who descended first into the lower parts of the earth. The one who descended, he is also the one who ascended above all the heavens. Here you hear, “the lower parts of the earth.” You hear “the highest heavens.” You see the antithesis of descent and ascent. Therefore it cannot be that you should refer the word (filling all things) in this place to prophetic predictions, but to those things, which are in its near context, namely the lower and higher parts of the earth, so that it might be signified that Christ received the majesty of God his Father, and domination over all things, both lower and higher, and to govern and conserve those things in their presence, not by his Deity alone, but also by his humanity. Here a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews ch. 4 is also relevant: “We have a high priest, who passed through the heavens.” He does not say, Who inheres in some place of heaven, but “he passed through the heavens.” He shows this in another place more clearly (Heb. 7), saying, “He has become higher than the heavens.” If he is higher than the heavens, how is he so contained within the heavens that he should not also fill other places? But to how great a height Christ was exalted in his humanity, Paul most clearly expounds elsewhere (Eph. 1), writing, “God established Jesus at his right hand in the heavenly places, above all principality and power and virtue and dominion, and every name, which is named,” etc. And in Philippians 2: “God exalted him, and gave to him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, on earth, or under the earth.” These sayings bear Christ with his humanity, not only over all the external heavens, but also over every creature, whether heavenly or earthly. And why? Didn’t Christ enter with his humanity into the glory of his Father, and receive all his majesty? But Isaiah says, about the glory and majesty of God: “Measures the waters in his hands, and weighs the heavens in his palm etc.” And Solomon (2 Chron. 2): “Heaven,” he says, “the heaven of heavens cannot contain you.” So, since Christ with his humanity was raised to this glory and majesty of God the Father in his Ascension – it only remains that his Ascension should prove him to inhere in some local place of this corporeal heaven, since it rather testifies him to be exalted above all the heavens, and so above all things, below as much as above, earthly as much as heavenly.
But let us pursue our plan. It is manifest that Christ, on the fortieth day after his resurrection, ascended into heaven and was visibly taken from the sight of his disciples, so that he might sit at the right hand of his Father, and might fill all things. But then, did he not also ascend invisibly? Did he first ascend into heaven and sat down at the Father’s right hand, when he was taken up on the Mount of Olives from the eyes of the disciples? Certainly he then first ascended visibly, but he had already ascended before, and sat down at God’s right hand invisibly, in his resurrection from the dead. For there is a visible ascension, which happened on the Mount of Olives. And there is also an invisible ascension, which happened at the resurrection. In Matthew, Christ says, “I will not drink henceforth from this fruit of the vine, until that day, when I drink it with you anew in my Father’s kingdom.” But it cannot be denied that immediately after the resurrection, he ate and drank with his disciples. So it is manifest that he was then in his Father’s kingdom, to which he had invisibly ascended in his resurrection. In Luke, he says: “Was it not necessary for Christ to suffer these things, and so to enter into his glory?” But he had already become free from his passion after he rose from the dead. So it remains that he had already entered into his glory and majesty, and sat down at the right hand of God.
I trust it will not be burdensome to the reader to propose, as something to be reckoned with, and to transcribe here, what Jerome wrote about this to Marcella: “The last bit [schedula] contains the following: ‘Whether after the resurrection, in the forty days, THE LORD conversed with his disciples, and was never elsewhere, and secretly ascended to heaven and descended [again], and nonetheless didn’t deny his presence to his Apostles?’ If you consider THE LORD, the Son of God, about whom we’re speaking, and that it is he who says, ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth, says the LORD?’, and he about whom the Prophet testifies: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth the footstool for my feet,’ and again elsewhere: ‘He who holds heaven in his palm, and the earth in his fist,’ and about whom David sings: ‘Where will I go from your spirit, and where shall I flee from your face? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I descend to the dead, you are there. And if I dwell in the furthest reaches of the sea, even there your hand will bring me out, and your right hand will surround me’ – if you consider all this, surely you will not doubt that even before the resurrection, God the Word dwelt in a lordly body, so that he was in the Father, and enclosed the circle of heaven, and was mixed in and around all things, that is, as penetrating the interior of all things, and containing the exterior. For it would be foolish for his power to be limited by the meagerness of one little body, whom heaven does not grasp, and nevertheless, he who was everywhere, was also in the Son of Man. Surely the divine nature and the Word of God cannot be cut into parts, nor divided by places, but since he is everywhere, he is whole everywhere. So, he was at one and the same time, both with the Apostles for forty days, and with the Angels, and in the Father, and in the furthest parts of the sea. He went about in all places, with Thomas in India, with Peter in Rome, with Andrew in Achaia, with the individual Apostles and Apostolic men in each and every region. But what is said, that he either deserts some or doesn’t desert them, has nothing to do with the limits of his nature, but rather describes their merits, with whom he either deigned or did not deign to be.” So far, Jerome.
So, let us reckon, insofar as the present plan allows, with this response. Marcella had asked, whether Christ, after his resurrection and before his ascension, so appeared to his disciples, that in the meantime he was ascending to and descending from heaven. But the question is not about the divinity of Christ, about which Marcella surely was not ignorant, but about the presence of his humanity, namely, whether Christ, after his resurrection and up to his ascension, was continually in visible intercourse in his humanity with his disciples, or whether he was ascending to and descending from heaven at intervals? Here, if Jerome, when he preaches about the presence of Christ in all places and regions, understands only the presence of his divinity, he must be a remarkable charlatan, as if, asked about a beet (beta), he answered about a pumpkin (cucurbita). For the woman did not ask about the presence of the divinity, but about the presence of the humanity of Christ. I, however, think better about Jerome. So, what he preaches about the presence of Christ in all places is to be understood, not only about the presence of his divinity, but also about the presence of his humanity, which humanity was hypostatically united with his divinity, and was so conjoined with it, that wherever the one is, the other cannot be absent.
[I omit here another brief discussion of an analogous quotation from Ambrose.]
But what was the need to speak about the time of the resurrection and ascension alone, since already from the beginning, in the moment of the Incarnation, he had ascended invisibly into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father? Perhaps you will marvel at what this might mean. But you will cease to marvel, if you consider rightly the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, which came to be from the beginning of the Incarnation. For if the deity and humanity of Christ are one and inseparable person, surely it cannot be denied but that, when the Son of God assumed the Son of Man into the unity of person in his mother’s womb, he continually exalted and located him in that majesty and glory, in which he was from eternity with his Father. He had not yet suffered death, when he was transfigured before his disciples on the mountain. In that spectacle, by which he offered as it were a taste of his majesty to his disciples, he plainly signified that celestial majesty had never been lacking in him up to that point from the beginning of the Incarnation. No one, he says, ascends into heaven, except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven. “Who descended,” he says, “from heaven.” And when did this happen? When he assumed the Son of Man in the mother’s womb into the same person with him. And so then also the Son of Man ascends into heaven, and is thenceforth in heaven, even if he is afflicted on earth with all manner of contumely. For doesn’t Paul say, “The kingdom of God is justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit? But Christ had all justice, and all peace with God his Father, and all joy in the Holy Spirit even before he rose from the dead and visibly ascended into heaven. So, it cannot be denied but that then he was in his Father’s kingdom.
But then, if the majesty of Christ’s humanity was so great from the beginning of his assumption into God, how could he bear human weaknesses? How could he suffered beating and death? The response is easy and true. He took on our weaknesses, not by necessity but by will, and he suffered death not as coerced, but willingly. For so great was his majesty, that he could have not borne those weaknesses from the beginning, or, having received them, cast them off in a moment. But he wanted to receive them willingly, and to bear through them to death, so that he might satisfy his Father’s will, and procure our salvation before him, by the expiation of our sins. “Since he was in the form of God,” Paul says, “he did not judge it robbery to be equal to God, but he emptied himself, having taken the form of a servant, and come to be in the likeness of man. And being arrayed as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” And so truly he suffered human griefs, truly he died. Meanwhile, however, he retained his majesty authoritatively (as was said above), which in his time he made evident executively. And so it is that, even if in the time of his humility he did not show his highest majesty, which he possessed, nevertheless he did not entirely dissemble it, since several times its presence is testified to with manifest arguments. For he fasted for forty days and nights, and he walked upon the waters, and he rendered himself invisible, and he raised the dead by touch, and transformed himself with celestial glory before his disciples. And it is remarkable that those, who take away from the humanity of Christ his celestial presence when he is in heaven and on earth, especially in the Lord’s Supper, necessarily have to concede many spiritual and celestial ornaments to the bodies of other men without any change to their substance, both in this and the future age, but they do not concede that – much less a more excellent – majesty to that body which is hypostatically united with his divinity in the person of Christ. Consider, I ask, how absurd those changes of things would be, if we should hold it as firm and fixed that where hyperphysika [supernatural] accidents are added to the substances of things, immediately the substances themselves were necessarily changed. The face of Moses shines with such splendor, that the Israelites cannot look on him. Elijah is taken up in his body into heaven. Peter walks in his body upon the sea as upon dry ground. Philip disappears suddenly from the eyes of the Eunuch. Paul is snatched into the third heaven and paradise, and does not know whether in or out of the body. And these hyperphysika marvelously occurred in this age to human bodies without any change to their substance. But so what? Many hyperphysika have marvelously occurred to the bodies, not only of men, but also other things, animate and inanimate. Balaam’s donkey spoke like a man; the water of the Red Sea stood apart like a wall; in Joshua, the sun and moon stand motion for a day, and yet their nature is to run indefinitely. Plato said that the ancients called the sun and moon theous, that is, runners, because they were always theein, that is, running. Aristotle writes that there is no end to heavenly motion. So then, while the sun and moon stood motionless against Gibeon, did they not retain their substance, and the sun not remain sun, nor the moon, moon? … But enough about the miracles of bodies in this age. But in the future age, at the resurrection of the dead, human bodies, even if they will be adorned with heavenly glory, still they will not cease to be human bodies. Four gifts are customarily enumerated, with which human bodies will be endowed: impassibility, clarity, subtlety, and agility. It is sown, Paul says, in corruption; it rises in incorruption. It is sown in ignobility; it rises in glory. It is sown in weakness; it rises in power. It is sown an animal body; it rises a spiritual body. And then: As we have borne the image of the earthly, so we will bear the image of the heavenly. And Augustine: We ought to believe, he says, that we will have such bodies, that we will be where we will, when we will it. And again: Not without reason are those bodies called spiritual. They aren’t called spiritual, because we will then be spirits, not bodies: for those which we now have, are called animal bodies, and yet they are not souls (animae), but bodies. So they are called spiritual, but not spirits, unless because they serve at the prompting of the spirit. And then: You will be where you will, but you will not draw back from God. You will be where you will, but wherever you go, you will have your God. You hear how great is the majesty, how great are the gifts which divinely arise in human bodies: and do you not think that many more, more illustrious, and more divine gifts can arise without change of substance in that body which was assumed by the Son of God into the unity of person, into hypostatic union?
Augustine and many others think that Christ in his birth passed through the closed womb of his mother, and after his resurrection, through the closed doors to his disciples. Why is strange, Augustine says, is the Lord sent his glorified body to his disciples through the closed door, who, leaving the sign of his mother’s chastity uninjured, entered the door of this world? [Another brief omission, of the remainder of the quoted text from Augustine …] Others hand down that his glorious body passed through the spheres of heaven without dividing them: but whether this occurred because of his virtue of subtlety, as they say, or from the virtue of divine power, certainly there were two bodies in one place, which indeed is no less a miracle, than if one body were at once in two or many places. And briefly, if the Son of God had not deigned to assume the Son of Man into inseparable union with him, and to raise him with himself to the right hand of God, he would not have deigned also to confer on him all his celestial majesty, all the while preserving his substance. And so, far from the visible ascension of Christ into heaven and his session at the right hand of God the Father being an impediment to the true and real presence of his body and blood in the Supper, they in fact maximally establish and confirm it. Nor can you cast those out from the Supper, unless you at the same time draw them away from the right hand of the Father.
But you will say, “If the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ is so extraordinary, that wherever deity is, there also is humanity, not indeed, as has often been said, by way of local diffusion, nor by Geometric extension, nor by thick circumscription, nor by that stupendous transubstantiation of which the Papists dream, but in a marvelous and celestial manner, what need will there be for me to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Supper instituted by him, since I have bread and wine in my house, in which the body and blood of Christ are also present, and it is possible for me to receive them every day and even every hour? But listen: even if Christ, by his majesty, together with his body and blood is hardly absent from your domestic bread and wine, nevertheless, in order for you to receive them efficaciously, the words of Christ are to be followed. For when Christ was about to suffer death and give us his body and blood, that we might be assured of the remission of sins and eternal life, he did not send the Church to domestic bread and wine, but to the bread and wine of the Supper, where it is said: Take, eat, this is my body. Drink, this is my blood. So, in the Supper, where there is the word and command of Christ, his body and blood is received: so that while these things were present even prior, because of the personal union of the two natures in Christ, and his session at the right hand of God the Father, truly indeed, not locally, but personally and in a celestial manner, so now they are present definitively. For Christ defined by his word to dispense his body and blood where wills that they be received. We elsewhere call this definition “consecration.” But about this matter Luther wrote a great deal in his little book, to which he gave the title “That the words of Christ in the Supper,” etc., and elsewhere it has been copiously explained by me.
Further, many wonder, “How could it be that, since Christ spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,’ nevertheless do impious hypocrites and wicked and impenitent men, who do not have true faith, receive the body and blood of Christ in the Supper?” But if they rightly consider what we said above about the presence and dispensation of the body and blood of Christ in the Supper, none of these scruples should remain. For since from the personal union of the two natures in Christ, and from the word of Christ, his body and blood are truly present in the Supper, the lies of hypocrites and of wicked men are not great enough to overturn the truth of God’s word. Their unbelief, Paul says, does not nullify the faithfulness of God. So they do indeed receive the body and blood of Christ in the Supper, but they do not perceive its saving fruit, that they might believe in the danger posed to their eternal salvation by this reception, according to Paul’s word: Whoever eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment on himself, not discerning the body of the LORD.
But what’s the surprise? Is not God, who fills heaven and earth, in whom we all are, live, and move, by his nature is nothing but justice, charity, rectitude, life, light, truth, and felicity. And yet to perverse men, according to the Psalm, he is perverse; to the unjust he is unjust; to the blind he is blinding; to liars, he is a lie; not indeed because of any lack in God, but because of the lack in impious men, who fashion for themselves such a God as they themselves are. Is not the Gospel of Christ the wisdom and power of God for all who believe? And yet to fools it is foolishness, and to those perishing, destruction. Hear Christ himself: For judgment, he says, I came into the world, that those who do not see, might see, and that those who do see, might become blind. But they become blind, not because Christ is not light, but because they themselves are darkness, who fight with this light, and are blinded by their own lack. So, even if the body and blood of Christ in the Supper are food and drink unto eternal life for believers, still hypocrites and the impenitent eat and drink judgment, that is damnation, on themselves, because those things which are most salutary are abused by their impiety.
These are the thing which I thought to observe about the true presence and dispensation of the body and blood of Christ in the Supper. And now indeed something ought to be said about the true use of the Lord’s Supper, but because this has been copiously explained elsewhere, I will not detain the pious reader any further. But I pray from my soul that God the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ may never take his spirit from me, that I should become either the inventor or defender of a new teaching in the Church. But because in bringing forward the indissoluble and inseparable union of deity and humanity in Christ, which they call by the new word, pantachousian [ubiquity], and in explaining the session of Christ at the right hand of God the Father, and in affirming the true presence of his body and blood in the Supper, I follow the understanding of Dr. Luther, it follows from that that I see it armed with the most certain testimonies of sacred Scripture. I do not deny that a great crowd of Ecclesiastical and Scholastic writers so circumscriptively locate the man Christ in this external and worldly heaven, that they do not permit his humanity to be everywhere united with his deity. But their understandings are dissimilar [from one another?], as we showed above, and they frequently indulge, even in so great a mystery, in reasons which are more philosophical than theological. So, I prefer to follow what the oracles of the Holy Spirit, which are the Prophetic and Apostolic writings, propose for our belief, than what the reasons of human wisdom propose for our understanding. We who, in the beginning, brought our spiritual arms to bear with a great consensus against Antichristianity, now turn them – O miserable thing! – against our own bowels, as others oppose the true presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Supper with much more hostility than they ever directed against the Papists. Others, lest there be any shortage of offenses in the Church, hunt in the writings or sayings or deeds of friends for something to slander or anathematize and condemn with the name of “sect.” Who, since they falsely make many innocents into sectarians, do not understand themselves to be creating a new kind of sect, which is anathemaziōn [of the anathematized]. Within this social war, both the Church of God is imperiled, and her enemies hardly sleep in their eagerness to oppress her. What then shall we do? Everyone proposes a different counsel. For my part, amid these difficulties and in so great a distraction of soul, I remember that it was said about the old, euchai de gerontōn [but, the vows of the elderly]. So I repeat the prayer of king Jehosaphat [2 Chron. 20]. In us, indeed, there is not such power that we could take away such great offenses from the kingdom of Christ, and establish it in peace. But since we do not know what we ought to do, this alone remains to us, that we should turn our eyes to the Lord.
© 2022 Brendan Case