2nd Helvetic Confession and Communicatio Idiomatum

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Sebastian Heck

Puritan Board Freshman
I find often that people think the Reformed undiscriminately reject(ed) the communicatio idiomatum. However, the 2nd Helvetic Confession is as clear as any in accepting it.
However, it does not qualify the way later theological formulations do. The text of the confession is:

"For we accept believingly and reverently the 'communication of properties,' which is deduced from the Scriptures and employed by the ancient Church in explaining and harmonizing seemingly contradictory passages." (Ch. XI,11)

The note in the Schaff edition elaborates:

"'Nam communicationem idiomatum ex Scripturis petitam et ab universa vetustate in explicandis componendisque Scripturarum locis in speciem pugnantibus usurpatam, religiose et reverenter recipimus et usurpamus.' It is an error, therefore, to charge the Reformed Church with rejecting the communicatio idiomatum. It admits the communication of the properties of one nature to the whole person, but denies the communication of the properties of one nature to the other, viz., the genus majestaticum, so called, whereby the infinite attributes of the divine nature (as omnipresence and omnipotence) are ascribed to the human nature, and the genus tapeinoticon, whereby the finite attributes of the human nature are ascribed to the divine. Either of these forms leads necessarily to a Eutychian confusion of natures. The Lutheran Church teaches the genus majestaticum, as a support to its doctrine of the Eucharist, but rejects the genus tapeinoticon."

Is that correct?
Is that a case of comunicatio idiomatum in concreto (Reformed view) versus CI in abstracto (Lutheran view)?
 
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R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
Sebastian,

This is a great point!

We do have a different communicatio idiomatum (communication of properties) from the Lutherans. Even if we don't always use the expression all our theologians and confessions do teach that what can be said of a given nature can be said of the person. The Lutherans, otoh, say that what can be said of the person (e.g., he is ubiquitous - i.e., everywhere) can be said of any particular nature.

In short, yes, Schaff is right.

Bullinger does implicitly qualify what he means. Notice that he says "Our Lord truly suffered." He goes on to say that "we do not deny that the Lord of glory was crucified for us." When he says "we do not deny" he's responding to the gnesio (genuine) Lutherans who alleged that unless one holds their Christology one necessarily denies that the Lord of Glory was crucified. In other words, the whole discussion is framed with reference to the questions posed by the Lutheran critics. Those critics had been particularly hostile to the Swiss Reformed for 40 years by the time this confession was published.

We can see him positing the Reformed communicatio when he says that "the same Jesus Christ our Lord, in his true flesh in which he was crucified and died, rose again from the dead, and that not another flesh was raised other than the one buried...." This is a direct re-assertion of the Reformed Christology over against the Lutheran doctrine that in his glorification the humanity began to partake of the properties of the deity. It's also a denial of the claim that the Reformed are rationalist for holding this view. We're not reducing the mystery of the incarnation but we are preserving, per Chalcedon, the true humanity of Jesus. His humanity is consubstantial with ours and the Lutherans cannot really say this. For the Lutherans Jesus has a one-of-a-kind humanity. No one has ever had the sort of humanity or ever will have the sort of humanity that Jesus has now. Notice too that Bullinger stipulated explicitly the creeds to which the Reformed subscribe.

"The Creeds of Four Councils Received. And, to say many things with a few words, with a sincere heart we believe, and freely confess with open mouth, whatever things are defined from the Holy Scriptures concerning the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are summed up in the Creeds and decrees of the first four most excellent synods convened at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon--together with the creed of blessed Athananasius...."

This is an assertion of the catholicity of the Reformed communicatio

And now a word from our sponsor. This post brought to you by Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant which contains an entire chapter on this very topic.



rsc


I find often that people think the Refgormed undiscrimantely reject(ed) the communicatio idiomatum. However, the 2nd Helvetic Confession is as clear as any in accepting it.
However, it does not qualify the way later theological formulations do. The text of the confession is:

"For we accept believingly and reverently the 'communication of properties,' which is deduced from the Scriptures and employed by the ancient Church in explaining and harmonizing seemingly contradictory passages." (Ch. XI,11)

The note in the Schaff edition elaborates:

"'Nam communicationem idiomatum ex Scripturis petitam et ab universa vetustate in explicandis componendisque Scripturarum locis in speciem pugnantibus usurpatam, religiose et reverenter recipimus et usurpamus.' It is an error, therefore, to charge the Reformed Church with rejecting the communicatio idiomatum. It admits the communication of the properties of one nature to the whole person, but denies the communication of the properties of one nature to the other, viz., the genus majestaticum, so called, whereby the infinite attributes of the divine nature (as omnipresence and omnipotence) are ascribed to the human nature, and the genus tapeinoticon, whereby the finite attributes of the human nature are ascribed to the divine. Either of these forms leads necessarily to a Eutychian confusion of natures. The Lutheran Church teaches the genus majestaticum, as a support to its doctrine of the Eucharist, but rejects the genus tapeinoticon."

Is that correct?
Is that a case of comunicatio idiomatum in concreto (Reformed view) versus CI in abstracto (Lutheran view)?
 

Sebastian Heck

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks, Dr. Clark.

This is what I thought, and I realize only now that my "problem" was partially caused by a translation issue. My German translation of the Helvetic Confession reads:

"Wir nehmen gläubig und ehrfurchtsvoll jene Lehre in Gebrauch, die auf Grund der Heiligen Schrift sagt, dass Eigenschaften, die der einen Natur Christi zukommen, bisweilen auch der andern zugeschrieben werden können."

This is, if you can understand German (which I believe you can), a Lutheran version, isn't it? Properties of one nature ("der einen Natur") communicated to the other ("der andern"). But the Latin version, of course, says:

"Nam communicationem idiomatum ex Scripturis petitam et ab universa vetustate in explicandis componendisque Scripturarum locis in speciem pugnantibus usurpatam, religiose et reverenter recipimus et usurpamus."
Thus, there is no mention of communication from one nature to the other, but communication in general. This is then, as you said, further qualified by Bullinger.

Does that seem correct? (I will have to look for another German version of the confession...man, this is unbelievable! Never trust translators!)
 

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
Sebastian,

Yes, I think you're right. The English trans. seems to follow the Latin more closely.

Do you know the background or history of the German translation? Was it done in the 19th century (after the beginning of the Prussian Union)? I wonder the translation was done under the influence or as part of the attempt to foster union between the Reformed and Lutheran churches in Saxony?

rsc
 

Rev. Todd Ruddell

Puritan Board Junior
This is why the Apostle Paul can speak of the "blood of God" in Acts 20.28 "God" has no blood, but Christ, the God-Man had blood as a result of His taking a true body and reasonable soul. The Lord Jesus Christ is very God, and the blood of His human nature, "his". In that sense it is the "blood of God" via what we call the communication idiomatum. It is not that His blood was divine, but He being God, and man (via the Hypostatic Union) at times Scripture speaks of the attributes of one nature *as if* they were communicated to the other, only however by reason of that Hypostatic Union, where the two natures remain distinct, but joined under the "singular personhood" of Christ.
 

Sebastian Heck

Puritan Board Freshman
Do you know the background or history of the German translation? Was it done in the 19th century (after the beginning of the Prussian Union)? I wonder the translation was done under the influence or as part of the attempt to foster union between the Reformed and Lutheran churches in Saxony?
rsc

That might well be. I will have to look into the sources, my edition does not name the source. I will let you know once I find out.

One thing I cannot quite get my head around is what Richard Muller writes about the CI. In "Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms" he writes about the three genera of the CI, (1) genus idiomaticum, (2) genus maiestaticum and (3) genus apotelesmaticum.
(1) is pretty clear and is where the Lutheran and Reformed orthodox seem to agree, pretty much: communication of properties of both natures to the divine person
(2) is the Lutheran attempt (as I see it) to ground (or at least derive) the doctrine of ubiquity: since a "nature" cannot be without a person (anhypostatic), it is so unified with the divine person that it "automatically" gets somewhat deified or participates in divine properties, even apart from (1).
(3) the person unifying the natures or, rather, the two natures working in concert with each other.

Now, this is where it gets muddy and either Muller is wrong or I misunderstand (which is far more likely!): Muller says that the Reformed reject (2). Granted! But then he says the Reformed really restrict the CI to (1). But what about (3)? Muller says about (3) that the Reformed do not see the apotelesmata as a genus of CI, but rather as a completely distinct communicatio. Thus, if I understand correctly, it would not be a subset of the CI at all. But what's the cash value of that? (I don't want to sound pragmatico-evangelical here, by any means...) :think:
 
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