A Laymen’s Commentary on the Epitome of the Formula of Concord: The Person of Christ

VIII. The Person of Christ

1 From the controversy concerning the Holy Supper a disagreement has arisen between the pure theologians of the Augsburg Confession and the Calvinists, who also have confused some other theologians, concerning the person of Christ and the two natures in Christ and their properties.


Chief Controversy In This Dissension.

2 The chief question, however, has been whether, because of the personal union, the divine and human natures, as also their properties, have realiter, that is, in deed and truth, a communion with one another in the person of Christ, and how far this communion extends.

3 The Sacramentarians have asserted that the divine and human natures in Christ are united personally in such a way that neither has realiter, that is, in deed and truth, in common with the other that which is peculiar to either nature, but that they have in common nothing more than the name alone. For unio, they plainly say, facit communia nomina, i.e., the personal union makes nothing more than the names common, namely, that God is called man, and man God, yet in such a way that God has nothing realiter, that is, in deed and truth, in common with humanity, and humanity nothing in common with divinity, its majesty and properties. Dr. Luther, and those who held with him, have contended for the contrary against the Sacramentarians.

As a result of their heresy about the sacrament the Sacramentarians, first and foremost Zwingli and John Calvin, had a busted theology about the Person of Christ.  While they certainly affirmed the Christ has two natures, divine and human, in one person, they deny that the two natures had any communion with each other.  Namely the two were divided and compartmentalized, such that you could point to the human nature of Christ acting in one instance, and the divine in another.  You could have the divine nature of Christ present without the human.

As you can see this theology directly leads to, or is consequent from, the Sacramentarian theology of the Lord’s Supper.  The two are intertwined with each other.  The Reformers wisely decided to put the discussion of the Lord’s Supper first as the discussion of the Person of Christ is only one part of the argument about the Lord’s Supper, surprisingly not even the most important.  The most important part of the Lord’s Supper argument is whether or not you take Christ at His word or not.  This argument about the Person of Christ is related and exceedingly important but not the most important part of the argument of the Lord’s Supper.  Thus in order to not confuse the issue it is put following the Lord’s Supper.  This is not to decrease its import, but rather to make sure the argument stays on task.

Affirmative Theses.

Pure Doctrine of the Christian Church concerning the Person of Christ.

4 To explain this controversy, and settle it according to the guidance [analogy] of our Christian faith, our doctrine, faith, and confession is as follows:

5 1. That the divine and human natures in Christ are personally united, so that there are not two Christs, one the Son of God, the other the Son of man, but that one and the same is the Son of God and Son of man, Luke 1:35; Rom. 9:5.

It is clear from Scripture that the two natures of Christ are personally united (technical term).  As such Christ is both Son of Man and Son of God at the same time (Luke 1:26-38, Romans 9:1-5). The most excellent and clear explanation of this is in the Athanasian Creed, which basically summarizes this whole article:

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;

Athanasian Creed

The Epitome continues:

6 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the divine and human natures are not mingled into one substance, nor the one changed into the other, but that each retains its own essential properties, which [can] never become the properties of the other nature.

7 3. The properties of the divine nature are: to be almighty, eternal, infinite, and to be, according to the property of its nature and its natural essence, of itself, everywhere present, to know everything, etc.; which never become properties of the human nature.

8 4. The properties of the human nature are: to be a corporeal creature, to be flesh and blood, to be finite and circumscribed, to suffer, to die, to ascend and descend, to move from one place to another, to suffer hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and the like; which never become properties of the divine nature.

9 5. As the two natures are united personally, i. e., in one person, we believe, teach, and confess that this union is not such a copulation and connection that neither nature has anything in common with the other personally, i.e . because of the personal union, as when two boards are glued together, where neither gives anything to the other or takes anything from the other. But here is the highest communion, which God truly has with the [assumed] man, from which personal union, and the highest and ineffable communion resulting therefrom, there flows everything human that is said and believed concerning God, and everything divine that is said and believed concerning the man Christ; as the ancient teachers of the Church explained this union and communion of the natures by the illustration of iron glowing with fire, and also by the union of body and soul in man.

There is no confusion of essence or nature in the Person of Christ but rather a communion, a personal union, of the natures.  Each nature retains its own properties. The divine retains the divine, all that the Godhead possesses. The human retains the human, everything that a perfect man would possess.

Though each nature is separate in terms of its properties, it does not mean that there is no union between the two.  It is not like two boards joined together by glue, where each board is each nature, and the glue is the Person of Christ. While there is no perfect analogy to describe the personal union of Christ, the ancient church preferred the illustration of iron in fire:

64 We, therefore, hold and teach, in conformity with the ancient orthodox Church, as it has explained this doctrine from the Scriptures, that the human nature in Christ has received this majesty according to the manner of the personal union, namely, because the entire fulness of the divinity dwells in Christ, not as in other holy men or angels, but bodily, as in its own body, so that it shines forth with all its majesty, power, glory, and efficacy in the assumed human nature, voluntarily when and as He [Christ] wills, and in, with, and through the same manifests, exercises, and executes His divine power, glory, and efficacy, as the soul does in the body and fire in glowing iron (for by means of these illustrations, as was also mentioned above, the entire ancient Church has explained this doctrine).

65 This was concealed and withheld [for the greater part] at the time of the humiliation; but now, after the form of a servant [or exinanition] has been laid aside, it is fully, powerfully, and publicly exercised before all saints, in heaven and on earth; and in the life to come we shall also behold this His glory face to face, John 17:24.

66 Thus there is and remains in Christ only one divine omnipotence, power, majesty, and glory, which is peculiar to the divine nature alone; but it shines, manifests, and exercises itself fully, yet voluntarily, in, with, and through the assumed, exalted human nature in Christ. Just as in glowing iron there are not two kinds of power to shine and burn [as though the fire had a peculiar, and the iron also a peculiar and separate power of shining and burning], but the power to shine and to burn is a property of the fire; but since the fire is united with the iron, it manifests and exercises this its power to shine and to burn in, with, and through the glowing iron, so that thence and from this union also the glowing iron has the power to shine and to burn without conversion of the essence and of the natural properties of fire and iron.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article VIII 64-66

One could also try another more modern illustration of the wave-particle duality of light from physics.  Still all of these illustrations fail to capture the full meaning of what is going on.  Similar to the Trinity, it is best not to try to illustrate or analogize what is going on here in the personal union.  Rather it is best to take Scripture at its word and believe that Christ has two natures in one person and that the natures are personally united with each other. The Epitome continues:

10 6. Hence we believe, teach, and confess that God is man and man is God, which could not be if the divine and human natures had in deed and truth absolutely no communion with one another.

11 For how could the man, the son of Mary, in truth be called or be God, or the Son of God the Most High, if His humanity were not personally united with the Son of God, and He thus had realiter, that is, in deed and truth, nothing in common with Him except only the name of God?

12 7. Hence we believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not a mere man and no more, but the true Son of God; therefore she also is rightly called and truly is the mother of God.

13 8. Hence we also believe, teach, and confess that it was not a mere man who suffered, died, was buried, descended to hell, arose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and was raised to the majesty and almighty power of God for us, but a man whose human nature has such a profound [close], ineffable union and communion with the Son of God that it is [has become] one person with Him.

14 9. Therefore the Son of God truly suffered for us, however, according to the property of the human nature which He assumed into the unity of His divine person and made His own, so that He might be able to suffer and be our High Priest for our reconciliation with God, as it is written 1 Cor. 2:8: They have crucified the Lord of glory. And Acts 20:28: We are purchased with God’s blood.

15 10. Hence we believe, teach, and confess that the Son of Man is realiter, that is, in deed and truth, exalted according to His human nature to the right hand of the almighty majesty and power of God, because He [that man] was assumed into God when He was conceived of the Holy Ghost in His mother’s womb, and His human nature was personally united with the Son of the Highest.

If the divine and human natures had no communion then all of Scripture would be false and it would blasphemy to say many of the things about Christ that Scripture does.  Namely:

  1. Man is God and God is man.
  2. Mary is the mother of God (theotokos).
  3. That Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God.
  4. That Jesus of Nazareth did any miracles.
  5. That God suffered, died, was buried, descended to hell, rose from the dead, ascended and raised to God’s right hand.
  6. That Jesus of Nazareth is at the right hand of the Father and rules all things.
  7. That a man rules all of Creation.
  8. That a flesh and blood son of David lives forever and sits at the right hand of the Father.

These and so many of the things above would and must be false if there is no personal union.  Since Scripture cannot lie, and because the economy of Justification demands it, the two natures must be united in Christ, as Luther (quoted in the Solid Declaration) points out :

36 Namely, first, since in Christ two distinct natures exist and remain unchanged and unconfused in their natural essence and properties, and yet of both natures there is only one person, hence, that which is, indeed, an attribute of only one nature is ascribed not to that nature alone, as separate, but to the entire person, which is at the same time God and man (whether it is called God or man).

37 But in hoc genere, that is, in this mode of speaking, it does not follow that what is ascribed to the person is at the same time a property of both natures, but it is distinctively explained what nature it is according to which anything is ascribed to the person. Thus the Son of God was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, Rom. 1:3. Also: Christ was put to death according to the flesh, and hath suffered for us in, or according to, the flesh, 1 Pet. 3:18;4:1.

38 However, since beneath the words, when it is said that what is peculiar to one nature is ascribed to the entire person, secret and open Sacramentarians conceal their pernicious error, by naming indeed the entire person, but understanding thereby nevertheless only the one nature, and entirely excluding the other nature, as though the mere human nature had suffered for us, as Dr. Luther in his Large Confession concerning the Holy Supper has written concerning the alloeosis of Zwingli, we will here set down Luther’s own words, in order that the Church of God may be guarded in the best way against this error. His words are as follows:

39 Zwingli calls that an alloeosis when something is said of the divinity of Christ which really belongs to the humanity, or vice versa. As Luke 24:26: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” Here Zwingli juggles, asserting that [the word] Christ is understood of the human nature.

40 Beware, beware, I say, of the alloeosis! For it is a devil’s mask, for at last it manufactures such a Christ after whom I certainly would not be a Christian; namely, that henceforth Christ should be no more and do no more with His sufferings and life than any other mere saint. For if I believe this [permit myself to be persuaded] that only the human nature has suffered for me, then Christ is to me a poor Savior, then He Himself indeed needs a Savior. In a word, it is unspeakable what the devil seeks by the alloeosis.

41 And shortly afterwards: If the old weather-witch, Dame Reason, the grandmother of the alloeosis, would say, Yea, divinity cannot suffer nor die; you shall reply, That is true; yet, because in Christ divinity and humanity are one person, Scripture, on account of this personal union, ascribes also to divinity everything that happens to the humanity, and vice versa.

42 And it is so in reality; for you must certainly answer this, that the person (meaning Christ) suffers and dies. Now the person is true God; therefore it is rightly said: The Son of God suffers. For although the one part (to speak thus), namely, the divinity, does not suffer, yet the person, which is God, suffers in the other part, namely, in His humanity; for in truth God’s Son has been crucified for us, that is, the person which is God. For the person, the person, I say, was crucified according to the humanity.

43 And again, shortly afterwards: If the alloeosis is to stand as Zwingli teaches it, then Christ will have to be two persons, one divine and one human, because Zwingli applies the passages concerning suffering to the human nature alone, and diverts them entirely from the divinity. For if the works be parted and separated, the person must also be divided, since all the works or sufferings are ascribed not to the natures, but to the person. For it is the person that does and suffers everything, one thing according to one nature, and another according to the other nature, all of which the learned know well. Therefore we regard our Lord Christ as God and man in one person, non confundendo naturas nec dividendo personam, so that we neither confound the natures nor divide the person.

44 Dr. Luther says also in his book Of the Councils and the Church: We Christians must know that if God is not also in the balance, and gives the weight, we sink to the bottom with our scale. By this I mean: If it were not to be said [if these things were not true], God has died for us, but only a man, we would be lost. But if “God’s death” and “God died” lie in the scale of the balance, then He sinks down, and we rise up as a light, empty scale. But indeed He can also rise again or leap out of the scale; yet He could not sit in the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be said: “God died,” “God’s passion,” “God’s blood,” “God’s death.” For in His nature God cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is correctly called God’s death, when the man dies who is one thing or one person with God. Thus far Luther.

45 Hence it is manifest that it is incorrect to say or write that the above-mentioned expressions (God suffered, God died) are only praedicationes verbales (verbal assertions), that is, mere words, and that it is not so in fact. For our simple Christian faith proves that the Son of God, who became man, suffered for us, died for us and redeemed us with His blood.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article VIII 36-45

The Epitome continues:

16 11. This majesty He [Christ] always had according to the personal union, and yet He abstained from it in the state of His humiliation, and on this account truly increased in all wisdom and favor with God and men; therefore He exercised this majesty, not always, but when [as often as] it pleased Him, until after His resurrection He entirely laid aside the form of a servant, but not the [human] nature, and was established in the full use, manifestation, and declaration of the divine majesty, and thus entered into His glory, Phil. 2:6ff, so that now not only as God, but also as man He knows all things, can do all things, is present with all creatures, and has under His feet and in His hands everything that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth, as He Himself testifies Matt. 28:18; John 13:3: All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. And St. Paul says Eph. 4:10: He ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things. And this His power, He, being present, can exercise everywhere, and to Him everything is possible and everything is known.

Christ has always had the majesty of God in the personal union, since His conception.  However He withheld His power.  It is not as if Christ ceased to be God but rather He restrains and limits Himself.  This is part of His state of humiliation.  Christ retains a servant’s form and restrains His full power until after His death on the cross.  This was all part of His suffering for our sake.  We see glimpses of His divinity, but not its fullness until after the Resurrection (Philippians 2:6-11).

At His ascension Christ now takes on all power, which He possessed before as the Word, but now as the God-man. He fully exercises His divine power as a human. This is a very joyous and comforting thing, that a Man who understands us so profoundly sits on the throne of God exercising all power (Matthew 28:16-20, John 12:1-20, Ephesians 4).

17 12. Hence He also is able and it is very easy for Him to impart, as one who is present, His true body and blood in the Holy Supper, not according to the mode or property of the human nature, but according to the mode and property of the right hand of God, as Dr. Luther says in accordance with our Christian faith for children, which presence (of Christ in the Holy Supper] is not [physical or] earthly, nor Capernaitic; nevertheless it is true and substantial, as the words of His testament read: This is, is, is My body, etc.

18 By this our doctrine, faith, and confession the person of Christ is not divided, as it was by Nestorius, who denied the communicatio idiomatum, that is, the true communion of the properties of both natures in Christ, and thus divided the person, as Luther has explained in his book Concerning Councils. Neither are the natures together with their properties confounded with one another [or mingled] into one essence (as Eutyches erred); nor is the human nature in the person of Christ denied or annihilated; nor is either nature changed into the other; but Christ is and remains to all eternity God and man in one undivided person, which, next to the Holy Trinity, is, as the Apostle testifies, 1 Tim. 3:16, the highest mystery, upon which our only consolation, life, and salvation depends.

Thus it is a trivial and easy thing for Christ to be present in the Sacrament as He promises, and as we discussed in the previous article. Christ is not divided as Nestorius charged and taught (as we will discuss shortly).  Nor is it mixed as Eutyches taught.  Rather the two natures remain distinct but have a personal union in the Person of Christ as the Creed and Scripture testifies (1 Timothy 3:14-16).

Negative Theses.

Contrary False Doctrine concerning the Person of Christ.

19 Accordingly, we reject and condemn as contrary to God’s Word and our simple [pure] Christian faith all the following erroneous articles, when it is taught:

20 1. That God and man in Christ are not one person, but that the Son of God is one, and the Son of Man another, as Nestorius raved.

The heretic Nestorius (386-450) was condemned at the Council of Ephesus for his teaching regarding the Person of Christ.  His followers rejected the term Theotokos. Calvinists are functionally Nestorian even if they would deny that charge.

21 2. That the divine and human natures have been mingled with one another into one essence, and the human nature has been changed into the Deity, as Eutyches fanatically asserted.

Eutyches (380-456) was condemned at the Council of Ephesus.  His teaching is basically a back reaction against Nestorius.  In his teaching the two natures were confused and became one essence in Christ. Calvinists will often charge Lutherans with being Eutychian, which is false, we do not confuse the natures of Christ but rather we confess the personal union.

22 3. That Christ is not true, natural, and eternal God, as Arius held [blasphemed].

Arius (250-336) was condemned at the Council of Nicaea.  Taught that Christ was the first creation of God the Father and not true God. His modern day followers are the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

23 4. That Christ did not have a true human nature [consisting] of body and soul, as Marcion imagined.

Marcion (85-160) taught that Christ was not true man but was a docetist, namely that Christ’s material body was an illusion or construct.  His writings and edition of the “Scriptures” lead to the orthodox church first considering what works belonged in the canon. He was condemned by the early Church Fathers as a heretic.

24 5. Quod unio personalis faciat tantum communia nomina, that is, that the personal union renders only the names and titles common.

25 6. That it is only phrasis et modus loquendi, that is, a phrase and mode of speaking, when it is said: God is man, man is God; since Divinity, as they say, has realiter, that is, in deed [and truth], nothing in common with the humanity, nor the humanity with the Deity.

26 7. That there is merely communicatio [idiomatum] verbalis [without reality], that is, that it is nothing but words when it is said the Son of God died for the sins of the world; the Son of Man has become almighty.

Scripture does not use mere figures of speech when it attributes to Christ both divine and human actions and titles but rather the whole Christ is doing them in accord with the personal union. Similar to the Lord’s Supper we are to take Scripture at face value. The whole clear consistent testimony of Scripture is the personal union of Christ.

27 8. That the human nature in Christ has become an infinite essence in the same manner as the Divinity, and that it is everywhere present in the same manner as the divine nature because of this essential power and property, communicated to, and poured out into, the human nature and separated from God.

28 9. That the human nature has become equal to and like the divine nature in its substance and essence, or in its essential properties.

29 10. That the human nature of Christ is locally extended to all places of heaven and earth, which should not be ascribed even to the divine nature.

30 11. That because of the property of the human nature it is impossible for Christ to be able to be at the same time in more than one place, much less everywhere, with His body.

31 12. That only the mere humanity has suffered for us and redeemed us, and that the Son of God in the suffering had actually no communion with the humanity, as though it did not concern Him.

32 13. That Christ is present with us on earth in the Word, the Sacraments, and in all our troubles, only according to His divinity, and that this presence does not at all pertain to His human nature, according to which also, as they say, He, after having redeemed us by His suffering and death, has nothing to do with us any longer upon earth.

33 14. That the Son of God who assumed the human nature, after He has laid aside the form of a servant, does not perform all the works of His omnipotence in, through, and with His human nature, but only some, and only in the place where His human nature is locally.

34 15. That according to His human nature He is not at all capable of omnipotence and other attributes of the divine nature, against the express declaration of Christ, Matt. 28:18: All power is given unto He in heaven and in earth, and of St. Paul, Col. 2:9: In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

35 16. That to Him [to Christ according to His humanity] greater power is given in heaven and upon earth, namely, greater and more than to all angels and other creatures, but that He has no communion with the omnipotence of God, nor that this has been given Him. Hence they devise mediam potentiam, that is, a power between the almighty power of God and the power of other creatures given to Christ according to His humanity by the exaltation, such as would be less than God’s almighty power and greater than that of other creatures.

36 17. That Christ according to His human mind has a certain limit as to how much He is to know, and that He knows no more than is becoming and needful for Him to know for [the execution of] His office as Judge.

37 18. That Christ does not yet have a perfect knowledge of God and all His works; of whom nevertheless it is written Col. 2:3: In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

38 19. That it is impossible for Christ according to His human mind to know what has been from eternity, what at present is occurring everywhere, and what will be in eternity.

39 20. When it is taught, and the passage Matt. 28:18: All power is given unto Me, etc., is thus interpreted and blasphemously perverted, namely, that all power in heaven and on earth was restored, that is, delivered again to Christ according to the divine nature, at the resurrection and His ascension to heaven, as though He had also according to His divinity laid this aside and abandoned it in His state of humiliation. By this doctrine not only the words of the testament of Christ are perverted, but also the way is prepared for the accursed Arian heresy, so that finally the eternal deity of Christ is denied, and thus Christ, and with Him our salvation, are entirely lost if this false doctrine were not firmly contradicted from the immovable foundation of the divine Word and our simple Christian [catholic] faith.

Any and all statements either limiting the divine nature’s access to the humanity or the human nature’s access to the divine are rejected.  We have one and only one Christ, not two.  Nor do we have a limited Christ (Colossians 1:15-2:15).

The Solid Declaration has a good capstone to this discussion:

96 These errors, and all that are contrary and opposed to the [godly and pure] doctrine presented above, we reject and condemn as contrary to the pure Word of God, the Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles, and our Christian faith and confession. And we admonish all Christians, since in the Holy Scriptures Christ is called a mystery upon which all heretics dash their heads, not to indulge in a presumptuous manner in subtile inquiries, concerning such mysteries, with their reason, but with the venerated apostles simply to believe, to close the eyes of their reason, and bring into captivity their understanding to the obedience of Christ, 2 Cor. 10:5, and to take comfort [seek most delightful and sure consolation], and hence to rejoice without ceasing in the fact that our flesh and blood is placed so high at the right hand of the majesty and almighty power of God. Thus we shall assuredly find constant consolation in every adversity, and remain well guarded from pernicious error.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article VIII 96

Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh–
Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this was shown:
God was there upon His throne.

Then stepped forth the Lord of all
From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man,
His heroic course began.

God the Father was His source,
Back to God He ran His course.
Into hell His road went down,
Back then to His throne and crown.

For You are the Father’s Son
Who in flesh the vic’try won.
By Your mighty pow’r make whole
All our ills of flesh and soul.

From the manger newborn light
Shines in glory through the night.
Darkness there no more resides;
In this light faith now abides.

Glory to the Father sing,
Glory to the Son, our king,
Glory to the Spirit be
Now and through eternity.”

(LSB 332)

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