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More from Calvin on Christ, our Mediator as Both God and Man

6 March, 2009

In a recent post I offered some excerpts from Calvin on the importance, not only of Christ’s human nature in accomplishing the office of Mediator, but his divine nature as well in this office. Both natures in one person are absolutely essential to affirm of Christ as our Mediator.

Below is another helpful excerpt from Calvin along the same lines, this time emphasizing the importance of thinking and speaking properly of Jesus as our Mediator, both God and man in one person, without confusion or separation of divinity and humanity. In all this, Calvin is simply upholding Chalcedonian orthodoxy. In 451, in response to various errors that had come up regarding Christ, the Church confessed the following, known as the Definition of Chalcedon:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, 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.

This Definition, in a nutshell, sets boundaries on how we should think and speak about Christ according to scripture, as he is fully God and fully man, two natures in one integral person. Now here’s Calvin applying these things in a concrete way to our language about Christ as Mediator:

“The individual who holds to the mind of Christ will free himself from all entanglements [about Christ’s mediatorship according to his whole person] since he will see that expressions common to both natures are not to be separately ascribed to one. We do not make all that is joined to the office of mediator or its duties common to both natures. When expiation cannot be accomplished without dying and the shedding of blood, then the mediator must die. This is something proper to humanity, we admit, but since dying is one thing and the effect of dying another, the reconciliation effected by death is falsely attributed to the human nature alone. Hence, the apostle says that Christ offered himself through the spirit (Heb 9:4), and by this phrase he reminds us that if the efficacy and fruitfulness of his death are to be made available to us then Christ should not be considered simply as man.

Similarly, it was the function of the mediator to acquire righteousness for us by his obedience and so become the servant of the Father; it would be erroneous to ascribe this to the divine nature; nevertheless, the very acquisition of righteousness does borrow its force from the divine nature. Both these elements are clearly joined in Christ’s words: ‘for these I sanctify myself’ (John 17:19); to be sanctified belongs to flesh, and on the other hand, to sanctify belongs to God, but both are found only in the complete person.

We also admit, by reason of its opposite, that there are certain characteristics in the mediator, so proper to the divinity, that they should not be transferred to the human nature except by the communication of idioms [i.e. by saying of Christ’s whole person what pertains specifically to one nature or the other]. In another place Christ says ‘I lay down my life by myself’ (John 10:18), and he speaks as mediator not as man, since no man has of himself the decision over life and death except the one God, and this is sufficiently evident….

It now appears clear that a union of both natures is required for the office of mediator, but whatever pertains to the mediator’s role should not be indiscriminately ascribed to either nature.”

From Joseph Tylenda, “The Controversy on Christ the Mediator: Calvin’s Second Reply to Stancaro,” Calvin Theological Journal 8 (1973). Calvin develops these lines of thought at length in Institutes 2.14.

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