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Calvin on Jesus’ Divine-Human Activity

April 24, 2012

Following up on last week’s post, here is John Calvin‘s argument for the unity of the two natures of Christ in all of this activities. The context is Calvin’s first letter to the Polish brethren in opposition to Francesco Stancaro (1560), who was teaching that Christ is Mediator only according to his humanity — since it is improper for the divine to suffer and die.

… It is also true to say that all the actions which Christ performed to reconcile God and man refer to the whole person, and are not to be separately restricted to only one nature.

Lest this opinion be subject to quibbles, a distinction will be helpful: certain actions, considered in themselves, refer to one nature, but because of a consequent effect they are common to both. For example, dying is proper to human nature, but if we take into account the apostle’s meaning when he says that by the blood of Christ our consciences are purified because he offered himself through the spirit (Heb. 9:14), we will not separate the natures in the act of dying, since atonement could not have been effected by man alone unless the divine power were conjoined.

If the apostle suitably and correctly concludes that Christ is the mediator of the New Testament because he offered himself through the spirit, it follows that his death, on that account, was expiatory since he was the only begotten Son of God and the Redeemer given to mankind. In this manner, nothing hinders the properties from remaining integral to each nature, nor does their communication argue against their distinction.

From Joseph Tylenda, “Christ the Mediator: Calvin Versus Stancaro,” Calvin Theological Journal 8 no. 1 (1973), pp. 14-15.

In agreement with the early medieval church Calvin suggests that Jesus’ humanity and divinity are both at work in his mediating death. There is one person who suffers and dies, and though he does so by virtue of his humanity he does not do so strictly in his humanity. The activity is common to both natures because of the person in whom they subsist. Furthermore, their unity in Jesus’ activity does not compromise the integrity of both natures (Chalcedon’s inconfuse).

Beyond these two basic affirmations (one Chalcedonian, one Constantinopolitan), Calvin concludes that the divine nature is itself necessary for the mediation that reconciles God and humankind in the death of Jesus. His death is expiatory not because a human has died in our place, but because a human who is the Son of God has died. As later Reformed writers would put it, his divine nature adds to that death its great worth. The work of the Mediator that brings about reconciliation, then, is and must be divine-human activity and not restricted to one nature.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 25, 2012 8:03 am

    I find Calvin incredibly ambivalent on the two natures of Jesus. He emphasises that actions are performed by the one person of the Mediator, but still lapses every so often into the idea that certain things are performed by one of the natures.

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