There was no small debate over the issue of the “presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in the early Reformation period. Just look at the arguments with Luther, Zwingli, and Beza for instance. It is an important topic as whatever view one lands on regarding the Supper will flow from how one views the Incarnation. This article is not meant to be a refutation of the confessional Lutheran position of the Supper per se, but a brief discussion of their understanding of the human nature of Christ post resurrection and ascension which they tie to the Supper.
Omnipresence and Human Nature
Orthodoxy has confessed that Christ has a real human nature that did not mix with the divine. We see this very clearly in the Chalcedonian definition:
…recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.Chalcedonian Creed
There is no mixing of natures with each nature remaining preserved. This creed remained the standard down through the ages even through the Reformation and into the Reformed confessions most notably the Westminster and 1677 Baptist confession. I am not going to go into the biblical support for these doctrines as they have been well established and biblical support can readily be found in those two confessions. It’s veracity will be assumed. Now, look at the Lutheran position on the nature of Christ post resurrection as found from Heinrich Schimd’s work:
The repletive presence is omnipresence, which belongs to God alone, per se and essentially, and to the human nature of Christ by virtue of its union with the divine, and personally.Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, page 579
On this page Schmid was laying out two different “methods” of what is called the “hyperphysical” presence in regards to Christ in the Supper and as it relates to His human nature in general. Lutherans must do this in order to consistently teach that Christ is consubstantial with the elements of the Supper without actually being physically present with the elements of the Supper which is an important distinction to make. More on “hyperphysical” shortly, but let us deal with the the assertion that omnipresence is communicated to His humanity. This is problematic on a number of levels. First, the natures of Christ are mixed. The distinction so clearly made at Chalcedon based on biblical categorical distinctions between the human and divine (John 1:14 and Hebrews 2:17 are examples of these categories) is now lost. There is now a blending of the two natures together. That which is only proper to the divine (omnipresence) is now attributed to the human nature as well. This would make the human nature of Christ no longer really human as Hebrews 2:17 is clear about leaving us with a Christ that is not really human, creating a third nature that is comprised of human and divine. The divine essence would then be no longer divine since it is now taking on properties it did not yet have since the divine nature is extending into a creature in a way that is against its own nature. The reasoning provided by Schmid is that the union of the human and the divine nature somehow brings about this communication of omnipresence. Why only omnipresence and not other attributes is not discussed, but that would be the logical conclusion if one were to use the argument of the union of natures as communication of divine attributes to the human nature. This is unacceptable biblically and traditionally. This inches closer to Eutychianism which taught that Jesus was really only one nature: divine. Britannica says, “ Eutychian, a follower of the 4th–5th-century monk Eutyches, who advocated a type of monophysitism, a belief that Christ had only one nature.” While I would expect confessional Lutherans to reject Eutychianism, this language dangerously heads down the road to that heresy.
“Hyperphysical” Presence of Christ
As already mentioned, confessional Lutherans believe that Christ’s human nature is “hyperphysical”. This means that it is not physical as in taking up space and merely human as Christ was before the resurrection, but he has a human nature that is akin to how angelic beings exist. Notice what Schmid’s work again:
Definitive presence is that of a being which is present somewhere, without the local occupation of space. In this way angels are present, who, because they are spiritual beings, cannot be measured by any interval of space. This definitive mode of being present will become common to our bodies also, in the life to come. This method Christ also employed when he came forth through the sepulchral stone from the tomb, etc.Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, page 579
This where things get strange very quickly. This is the first of the two distinctions made in “hyperphysical” presence of Christ’s human nature. The second is what was discussed already with omnipresence. This essentially creates Christ as a spiritual being who, in the hypostatic union, is divine on the one hand and “hyperphysical” on the other. Basically, Christ is “spiritual” just in two different ways. This sounds very similar to the heresy of Docetism which taught that Jesus did not have a real human nature but was only apparently human or a spirit. While I would never accuse any confessional Lutheran of being a full Docetist, there are aspects of it in this thought which makes it dangerous. Did Jesus walk through the stone? There is no indication of this in the Gospels. We only find through the synoptic accounts that the stone was rolled away which gives evidence that Jesus walked out of the tomb via an open way rather than a ghostly passing. Where this assertion of Jesus walking through the stone comes from when the text clearly indicates otherwise is left for us to speculate.
We also have express discussion of Jesus’s human nature post resurrection. If we look at passages such as John 20:19-29 and Luke 24:36-42 we see expressly Jesus confirming He is really there in the flesh. He even goes as far as to specifically break down the substantial difference between a ghost, who does not have flesh and bones, and a human who does (Luke 24:39). This is in stark contrast to a view that would hold Jesus as anything but physical, local, and corporeal post resurrection. Jesus invited His disciples to put their fingers in real nail holes and a real, physical piercing in His side proving He was really there and had really risen. Doubting Thomas had to touch the physical Savior in order to believe. Jesus gave Him irrefutable proof that He was there in the flesh. Since He was flesh and bone with His disciples this means He took up space as any other human would or He would not really be human and Jesus was lying to His disciples.
Cyril of Alexandria, a 5th century church father who wrote against Nestorianism, in his commentary on Luke 24:38 says this:
This therefore He gives them as a sign, His knowledge namely of the tumult of thoughts that was within them. And to prove moreover in another way that both death is conquered, and that human nature has put off corruption in Him as the foremost, He shews His hands and His feet, and the holes of the nails, and permits them to handle Him, and in every way convince themselves that the very body which had suffered was, as I said, risen…That the disciples therefore might be quite sure that it is the very same Who suffered and was buried and rose again, He shews, as I said, both His hands and feet: and He bids them be fully convinced that it is not a spirit, as they thought, but rather in very truth a body, saying, “And ye see that a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.” For a shadow and spirit and apparition merely could not endure the touch of the hand.Cyril of Alexandria, A Commentary upon the Gospel according to S. Luke, trans. R. Payne Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1859), 729.
If we take the confessional Lutheran understanding, Christ must have changed in some way from a physical body (they do confess Chalcedon) to a hyperphysical body later. This is not the hypostatic union of Scripture but a fundamental change in Christ’s second nature. Remember, Lutherans are trying to defend against accusations that the physical body and blood of Christ is with the elements. Yet, they also believe there is a real substantial presence in the Supper leading them to say that you are actually eating the body and blood of Christ in some way, ergo “hyperphysical” provides them a way they to say He’s really omnipresent leaving Him to have a body like the angels (i.e. spiritual). How does that work? Well, that is just mystery at the end of the day according to the Lutherans in spite of the clear contradictions they bring to the table. I find it odd that these passages discussed in this section are absent from the discussion Schmid provides (please point me to it if I’ve missed it). I would think this would be a very important set of evidence to examine before making assertions regarding the nature of Christ’s humanity.
One last topic to discuss: our resurrection at Christ’s second coming. The quote that Schmid provides indicates what are resurrected bodies will be. To requote from the section above, “This definitive mode of being present will become common to our bodies also, in the life to come.” The definitive mode is like that of the angels who are spiritual and not physical, taking up space as it were. This undermines the discussion of what our resurrection will be like as described in 1 Corinthians 15:20 for instance. Paul is saying that Christ is the one whom is given first as the “firstfruits” of all that would come after Him in resurrection. The crop that was given was of the same essence as the first and best given in sacrifice (see Leviticus 23:9-14). There wasn’t one crop fundamentally different from the other. They were all wheat. In the same way, we are all going to be raised as Christ was with “spiritual” bodies, changed bodies without “corruption”. But they are still bodies, not of real spiritual substance like an angel. But incorruptible, physical, bodies. Cyril of Alexandria again in his discussion of Luke 24:38:
Let no one therefore cavil at the resurrection: and though thou hearest the sacred Scripture say of the human body, that “it is sown an animal body, it is raised a spiritual body,” do not deny the return even of human bodies to incorruption. For as the animal is that which follows after, and is subject to animal, that is, to fleshly lusts, so also the spiritual is that which submits itself to the will of the Holy Ghost. For after the resurrection from the dead, there will be no longer the opportunity for carnal affection, but the goad of sin will be entirely powerless. That very (body) therefore which has been brought down to the earth, shall be clothed with incorruption.Cyril of Alexandria, A Commentary upon the Gospel according to S. Luke, trans. R. Payne Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1859), 729.
As we can see, there are serious implications for taking a Lutheran view of the Supper. One’s Christology must be pointed toward heterodoxy to confess this view and create categories for Christ’s human nature that are not in Scripture. And that is really what the discussion is about: will we take the categories that Scripture provides us and make them work together consistently or will we impose improper philosophy on the Scripture and just say “it’s mysterious”? I will take the former.
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