Saturday, October 10, 2015

Communication of Idioms and the Blessed Mother

On my birthday in 2010, I posted a paper of mine on communicatio idiomatum or the communication of idioms. This is a Christological concept that posits that because the person of Jesus possesses both human and Divine natures, properties of the Divine can be attributed to the man Jesus, and properties of the human can be attributed to the eternal Word. For example, we can say that God became man or that God's blood was poured out for us, because we understand these statements pertaining to Jesus as a person.

The practice of attributing Divine properties to the person of Jesus or human properties to the Word came into scrutiny during the 5th century. A bishop of Constantinople by the name of Nestorius began to preach against the use of the name Theotokos (God bearer) for the Blessed Mother or to refer to her as the Mother of God. While Nestorius insisted that he was not suggesting two persons in Christ, that was the logical consequence of his overemphasis on the distinctness of the two natures of Christ.

This position was condemned at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and again at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, where the opposed view of the Monophysites and those who followed Eutyches that the two natures of Christ became a single nature (although these heresies disagreed on what resulted) were also condemned.

As I was flipping through the FM channels the other day, I was surprised to hear someone talking about the Eutychian heresy and the communicatio idiomatum. He did a fairly good job explaining it, although he stumbled theologically whenever he talked about the Divine and human natures of Christ, trying to avoid using the term nature and falling back on the term "properties" instead (which is inadequate since human nature includes many properties). Anyway, I looked up the station and confirmed my suspicion that the speaker was indeed Matt Slick.

But what struck me about his discussion was that he only invoked the name of Eutyches and not Nestorius. He emphasized the hypostatic union of two natures unmixed and unchanged in the person of Christ but completely left out (from what I heard) any discussion of the term "communication of idioms" in relation to the most clear example cited at the Council of Chalcedon—Nestorius and the controversy concerning Theotokos.

Now, the reason is fairly obvious. If he brings up Nestorius, he has to explain the Chalcedonian Creed. Here's that creed, which was pronounced at the Council of Chalcedon (the fourth of the first seven Ecumenical Councils):
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. 
Note that in this very creed, the council uses the name "Mother of God for the Virgin Mary. Oddly enough, the statement appears on the CARM site (and is linked above), where Slick posts many of his apologetics articles. In fact, in another article, Slick himself addresses the heresy of Nestor and explains (rightly) that it calls into doubt the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Yet also on this site is another article of his that claims that we should not call Mary the Mother if God! So he essentially dismisses the two ecumenical councils' findings and asserts that Roman Catholics invented the name with no scriptural basis (which is true if you mean that it does not literally state this but false if you mean that nothing in scripture warrants this conclusion--sort of like the doctrine of the Trinity or the institution of the seven sacraments). Never mind that the Eastern Orthodox Church also refers to her as Theotokos, or that as far back as Ignatius of Antioch (d. 110 AD) was this notion espoused. In fact, he posits several "facts" about Catholics and the Blessed Mother with no context or explanation of what the terms mean, taking references from the Catechism without noting in the least their Patristic foundations. (He also gets some things flat out wrong and takes anecdotal reports from "some Catholics" as representative of the actual teachings of the Church.)

The CARM web site even lists the Chalcedonian Creed with its list of early Christian creeds and notes:
Creeds and Confessions are written summaries of the Christian faith. Different Creeds have different reasons for coming into existence, and they don't always agree with each other 100% of the time. However, they divulge the truth of the Christian faith in the essentials.
Of course, I would dispute the second clause of the second sentence in relation to the early Christian creeds. They differ, yes, but they emphasize different aspects of the faith precisely because they were clarifying the beliefs of the Church in order to combat heresy. They do not "disagree" with each other until you start getting into the reformed creeds!

I don't listen to Matt Slick, but I know many people who do, and they report the same things. First, he picks and chooses among the councils and early Church Fathers for those positions he thinks support his. I say "thinks" because by removing particular statements from their context, you cannot establish a particular father's meaning, any more than you can point to Romans 3:20[a] without interpreting it in light of Romans 2:6-8[b] or 2:13[c].

Second, he employs sophistry to score points with his listeners. Someone will call in to refute some claim he makes about Catholics, and he'll bring up everything but the disputed point. He'll shift the goal posts and do everything he can to "win" the argument. What suffers is the truth. If you look to this person to support your faith, look elsewhere, for the good of your soul.

a. Romans 3:20: "For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."

b. Romans 2:6-8: "For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury."

c. Romans 2:13: "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified."
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