Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Juxtaposition of Christ’s Divinity and Humanity

     In a discussion and debate regarding the claims of the Athanasian Creed, especially regarding the juxtaposition of Christ’s divinity and humanity, I was delighted to read Luther’s commentary on Psalm 122:5.

     The Scriptures plainly teach this as a mystery, a mystery that is often terribly misunderstood as struggling Christians attempt to make sense of what is beyond our capacity fully to understand or explain. Scriptural declarations of the Christ, especially such as Colossians 2:9 and 1 Corinthians 15:28, can seem to contradict the Athanasian Creeds explanation of the juxtaposition of the divine and human natures of the Son.

     Luther’s commentary is really quite a delight to read, and so I post it below.

     5. Because there seats have sat in judgment, seats over the house of David. A most beautiful verse and most beautifully expressing the characteristic of the church militant, if only I could achieve it in explanation. But be active in us, Lord, and we shall dare to try it. This at any rate is a difference between the church militant and the church triumphant other than what was said earlier, that there are seats in it and that they are manifest (that is, the powers and principalities of bishops, priests, etc.) but the sitter Himself, namely, Christ, does not appear and is hidden through faith and in faith, and yet He sits and is present, yes, extremely present, in them, since they are His seats. Therefore He in Himself does not physically preside over the church and His people, but His representatives, the priests, do. They sit and govern and rule over the people physically, as is clear. But lest they regard themselves as being lords and that it is their own possession, He humbles them and calls them “seats” and not “sitters,” as if to say: “Although you may be sitting, ruling, governing, and presiding, you are not sitters, kings, princes, and presiders over this people, but representatives and seats, on which sits the true King, Sitter, Prince, and Presider Himself. In the future however, when He will have put away every principality and power and will sit alone as king forever, you will not be seats, that you may sit, but you will be seats that you may stand, and He alone will sit. But now, since because of faith you are seats, you also have seats, namely, the subordinated people, on whom you sit in the stead and place of the Lord; but He sits on you. Yet when He Himself will enter upon your seat, you will give place, and you yourselves will also be one seat with those who are now seats for you because of Him who sits on you and subjects them to you. But as by this word He humbled and struck fear into the superiors, when He reminded them of the Sitter and called them seats rather than sitters, so that they might know that they have a superior, Christ, as they are themselves the superiors of others; even so He certainly and in a like manner also struck fear and reverence and obedience toward the prelates in the subordinates, that they might know that they are the seats of Christ. Therefore they ought to be humbled out of a sincere heart as before Christ sitting upon His throne, not because of the seat, but because of the seat of Christ, who without doubt sits there invisibly. As the ancient figure has it in the mercy seat, where the seat of God was, and yet He was there invisibly, so also now He sits in His church, which is His seat.
     Hence the corollary follows that since the church has a manifold order, there are always superiors when compared with their inferiors, who are sitters on the latter, and the latter are the seats of the former, but when compared with their superiors, they are themselves the seats of those who sit on them. But Christ is in them all. And, indeed, in this verse only the status of the superiors is expressed. For the seats are not sitting ones, except those who have inferiors on whom they sit and a superior or superiors who sit on them. Unless even the lowest are perhaps called sitting seats, because they do not rule over people but over their own subdued flesh. This is the tropology of all that has been said before.
     Thus with these things that have been said, look at the church, and you will see that it has without doubt been thus arranged in orders and ranks, as this verse has described. I say, the church militant. It will be otherwise with the church triumphant. Now see that it expresses another beautiful mark of a peaceful king. For to sit means to be peaceful and at rest. Therefore it is not the seat of a king of peace, unless he be at rest and peaceable in the conscience. But also the subordinates ought to exhibit to their own superiors, when they sit on them in peace, what they themselves exhibit to Christ their sitter. Otherwise, how will the seats sit and not rather everything be carried on riotously and rashly? But this will come to be if they are purely and humbly obedient and subject to them. In order that they might do this, let them contemplate and look upon the sitter, Christ, rather than the seat itself. For if they are seats, a sitter will certainly also be there, and this seat will not be vacant, although He who sits is not seen. Therefore let us fear and be reverent and humble before these seats as before Christ.
     But the words “in judgment” were not spoken for nothing. For power has been given to the priests not for capturing riches, honors, and pleasures, but for the purpose of exercising judgment. Every order and position of the church has been established and founded in righteousness, but only the position of power is “in judgment.” For it is its business to prohibit evil, note errors, drive out heresies, remove offenses and offer correction, and exercise discipline. For the power exists because of the insubordination of the wicked. For if we were all good and perfect, we would be saved and needed only to be saved, but not judged and condemned. Now, because we are evil, or at any rate mixed, there has to be a power which judges, accuses, and reproves. For an equal does not suffer reproof from an equal, as is clear, but the subordinate from the superior, and the weak from the stronger. It is not so in righteousness and wisdom, where without power an equal can instruct and justify an equal, yes, an inferior a superior. Therefore this David does not with a light thrust strike the brow of Goliath, that is, the extremely hard brow of the body of Babylonians, who are the heretics, with this stony word. Why are the heretics unwilling to be subject to the bishops and priests of the church? They say: “Because they do not sit in righteousness and holiness, for they are ungodly and evil, but we want to regard ourselves as holy and righteous.” To them we reply: “It is enough that they sit in judgment, that they forbid your error and heresy and those of others (since they will not be more fully described here), that they may sit in peace and be peaceable subordinates. But you break off the yoke, you abhor the judgment, and you boast of much righteousness. As if the righteousness of the subordinates were anything, unless they would obediently bear the judgment of the superior, although the judgment of a superior should be enough, as far as the church is concerned, even without righteousness. For righteousness is humble obedience alone. Therefore judgment pertains to superiors, righteousness to inferiors. For no one is righteous unless he is obedient. But a superior is not held to obey, and therefore he is not held to be righteous with respect to an inferior. But the inferior is held to obey, and consequently he will be righteous. You, then, want to establish righteousness in the superior and judgment in the inferior, namely, that they obey you, and not you them. Therefore, if they are unrighteous, they are so to their own superior. What is that to you? You be subject and permit yourself to be ruled in judgment. Because they are unrighteous and disobedient to their superior, Christ, should you then also become unrighteous by not obeying your superior? Therefore the true difference between righteousness and judgment is this, that righteousness pertains to the inferior, or to the extent that he is inferior, because it is humility, obedience, and a resigned subjection of one’s own will to the superior, while judgment pertains to the superior, or to the extent that he is a superior, because it is execution of the Law and chastisement of the wicked and presiding over inferiors. Hence also the apostle says, Rom. 6:7, that he who is dead to sin is justified. And the spirit is righteous when the flesh is judged by it and made subject to all obedience, so that nothing is left to the will and its desires. But the reason why I said ‘to the extent that he is superior and inferior’ is that the middle prelates, as are all except Christ, are at the same time superiors and inferiors. Therefore it is not for inferiors to demand righteousness of the superiors, because this means snatching their judgment to oneself. For it is for the latter to demand righteousness of the inferiors. And it is for these to accept judgment and to obey them, whereby the correction of the evil comes about in peace. Obedience removes every evil peaceably and allows the ruling one to be peaceable. Humility does the same, for it is nothing else but obedience and complete righteousness. For it depends totally on another’s judgment, it has nothing of its own will or opinion, but abases all its own and prefers and magnifies what is another’s, the superior’s.”
     Thereupon, after Goliath lies down, struck by the cast of the stone, he now cuts off the head, when he says “over the house of David.” For indeed, also the heretics preside over, and are subject to, each other, and the seats sit there in judgment. There is righteousness, obedience, and humility also among them, but it is lying. For they sit not over the house of David, but over the house of Bethaven, that is, of an idol. They have erected the synagog of Satan for themselves. Therefore, where their seats sit, Satan rules in those very seats, in the house of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia. But the house of David is the church of Christ, persevering in the true succession, as of old the figure was in the kingdom of David. Hear, then, heretic, the counsel of this prophet who says: Pray for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem; and abundance for those who love thee. Let peace be in thy strength, and abundance in thy towers. This peace none but the heretic disturbs, who fights against the church without cause, for this is not of those who love the church, but those who hate her. This does not mean that Christ has two churches. One is His dove (Song of Sol. 6:8). And though there are many seats, they are all over the house of David, which is only one. But the church militant is called the house of David because of Christ’s humanity. For Christ now rules insofar as He is man and by faith in His humanity, which He has from David. But in the future He will turn this house over to God the Father, and He Himself will also be subject to Him who has subjected all things to Himself (1 Cor. 15:28), and it will be the house of God and the kingdom of God, so that then not only Christ as man may be in us, but also Christ as God may be in us. Therefore we now have Him only in part, because we are in the kingdom of His humanity, which is a part of Christ. But then the whole Christ will be clearly in us without the wrapping of humanity. Not that He is not God in us now, but that He is in us wrapped and incarnated in humanity. But then He will be revealed as He is (1 John 3:2). Now we know in part, but then even as also I am known (1 Cor. 13:12). Not that He will get rid of the humanity, but that He will clearly show also His divinity hidden there, which we now see confusedly and in the riddle of His humanity. And so meanwhile we are the house of David, and the seats sit. Not only that, however, but they also stand. For it belongs to seats that they stand. But they stand by comparing them with a superior, and they sit by comparing them with inferiors. Therefore, to show them that they preside and are subject at the same time, he said that they sit and also that they are seats. They stand by obedience and humility, and so they are righteous; they sit by power and authority, and so they are judges, whom we must obey and before whom we must humble ourselves, that we may be righteous. And so “righteousness and judgment are the establishment of his throne,” Ps. 97:2.
     “Judgment” is thus established to control evil. But there are no evils except self-will and private opinion. And these two need a superior power if they are to be removed and forbidden and subdued. Hence it is necessary for seats to sit in judgment, namely, for the condemnation of self-will and private opinion. Accordingly it does not matter what, what kind, how much is commanded, be it fitting or unfitting, useful or useless (as long as it is not against God), but as in the case of boys, these things must be done by not judging and estimating. Those who first consider a work that is commanded as to its reasonableness and usefulness, forgetting that God does not require the work, but the subjection and obedience of the will and opinion, want to stand in judgment themselves, that is, they want to obey and rule at the same time, those foolish and disobedient people.
     And therefore in Ps. 119 (what is to be noted very particularly) there is so frequent a prayer concerning commandments and law, for he is not praying to do such great or such fine things, but he is praying only for obedience to the Law and for the knowledge of obedience, so that the eye is rather directed not to the work to be done but to the obedience which the Law requires.

+ + +
Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther's Works, Vol. 11 : First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126. Saint Louis : Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1976 (Luther's Works 11), S. 11:544

No comments: