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Humor and the Hypostatic Union: Or, Did Jesus Laugh?

16 March, 2009

Here’s an enjoyable and suggestive article from Robert Velarde on Boundless webzine, entitled “The Laughter of Jesus.”

A lot of this follows along the lines of Elton Trueblood’s study, The Humor of Christ (Harper & Row, 1964). Although one might not express everything exactly as Velarde does, his point about the hypostatic union — and the full humanity of Jesus according to the Definition of Chalcedon — is very important for exactly how we think of Jesus not only as perfect God, but a perfect human being.

It follows, given Christ’s human nature, that He laughed (granting the premise that good, objective humor, rooted in God’s nature, exists). Besides, Jesus had 12 disciples. Get 12 guys together, have them hang out for awhile, and they will definitely laugh at something – probably a lot of things….

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9 Comments
  1. 20 March, 2009 1:19 am

    What worries me is that from my perspective Penal Substitution undermines the Hypostatic-Union. I’m having a debate with a Calvinist on this very issue. Look at this quote by Luther (there are more where this came from from other respected Reformed theologians):

    “So then, gaze at the heavenly picture of Christ, who descended into hell for your sake and was forsaken by God as one eternally damned when he spoke the words on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” – “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In that picture your hell is defeated and your uncertain election is made sure.” (Luther, Martin. “Treatise on Preparing to Die.”)

    If Jesus was forsaken as a sinner eternally damned on the Cross – in our place as Penal Substitution demands – then the Hypostatic-Union is destroyed.

  2. creedorchaos permalink*
    20 March, 2009 9:00 am

    Nick~

    It seems, frankly, the way you’re reading Luther here, *any* statement about Christ that is said of the unity of his person, but that specifically pertains to one or the other of his natures, would destroy the hypostatic union. Whether it’s Thomas’ confession “My Lord and my God!”, or Jesus’ “I thirst”, and a whole litany of biblical and theological claims, all in this case destroy the hypostatic union, because they say something of the whole person what pertains particularly either to his divine nature (‘my God!’) or human nature (thirst) respectively.

    *Unless*, of course, one is speaking in the quite traditional and quite orthodox terms of the communication of idioms, which is clearly what Luther is doing here. Christ (the person of the God-man) died (in his humanity) the cursed death of the cross in our place, and rose again our victorious Redeemer (again, always as the God-man). There’s absolutely nothing controversial about this vis-a-vis the hypostatic union if you hold to Chalcedon:

    “…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….”

    Did you read my recent posts on Calvin’s replies to Stancaro about the importance of the Mediator being both true and full God and true and full man in one person, and therefore the way we’re to think, speak, and interpret Christological language accordingly? The letters are nothing special with respect to the proper employment of the communication of idioms, but a ready example of a quite thoroughgoing Lutheran and Reformed (and Catholic and Orthodox) practice.

    Honestly, I’m having a hard time believing that you don’t know this, or don’t recognize quite uncontroversial language when you see it (Cur Deus Homo, anyone?) …I’m being a bit feisty, perhaps, and I apologize if I’m wrong, but it seems to me you might be most interested here in taking a pot-shot at what you would argue Protestant Christology/soteriology entails. If you have a problem with penal substitutionary atonement, just say it — but don’t find problems where there aren’t any.

    ~B

  3. Nick permalink
    20 March, 2009 1:25 pm

    “*Unless*, of course, one is speaking in the quite traditional and quite orthodox terms of the communication of idioms, which is clearly what Luther is doing here. Christ (the person of the God-man) died (in his humanity) the cursed death of the cross in our place, and rose again our victorious Redeemer (again, always as the God-man). There’s absolutely nothing controversial about this vis-a-vis the hypostatic union if you hold to Chalcedon”

    First you said “Christ the PERSON of the God-man” which is inaccurate, because Christ was one Person, the eternal Son. His Personhood was NOT a divine-human compound.
    But more importantly, you missed my point. This wasn’t about “communication of idioms,” it’s about God the Father damning God the Son, forsaking him as one eternally damned. The Hypostatic Union cannot be upheld under this situation, for it forces Jesus to be cut off from the father, either resulting in the human nature being cast off or an arian-like break between Father and Son.

    “Did you read my recent posts on Calvin’s replies to Stancaro about the importance of the Mediator being both true and full God and true and full man in one person, and therefore the way we’re to think, speak, and interpret Christological language accordingly? The letters are nothing special with respect to the proper employment of the communication of idioms, but a ready example of a quite thoroughgoing Lutheran and Reformed (and Catholic and Orthodox) practice.”

    I’m new to this site, so I’ve missed that letter. But I’m not having problems in that regard. The issue is how the Protestant view of God pouring out His wrath on Christ fits with orthodox Christology.

    “If you have a problem with penal substitutionary atonement, just say it — but don’t find problems where there aren’t any.”

    Everything is tied together. God the Father forsaking Jesus as one eternally damned is Penal Substitution but most certainly has an impact on Christology.

  4. creedorchaos permalink*
    20 March, 2009 3:01 pm

    Nick~

    Your problem with my language of “Christ the PERSON of the God-man” is a problem with Chalcedon: “the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together ***to form one person and subsistence***.”

    And your assertion that this is either a Christological problem or uniquely Protestant simply cannot stand. Compare the following catena from Aquinas on Mark 15:34/Matt 27:46 (Eloi, Eloi…), as a few examples of the catholicity of this way of speaking:

    Bede (on Mark 15):

    “For when Adam sinned, it is also written that he heard the voice of the Lord, walking in paradise, in the cool after mid-day [Gen 3:8]; and in that hour when the first Adam by sinning brought death into the world, in that same hour the second Adam by dying destroyed death. And we must observe, that our Lord was crucified, when the sun was going away from the center of the world; but at sunrise He celebrated the Mysteries of His Resurrection; because He died for our sins, but rose again for our justification.

    Nor need you wonder at the lowliness of His words, at the complaints as of one forsaken, when you look on the offense of the cross, knowing the form of a servant. For as hunger, and thirst, and fatigue were not things proper to the Divinity, but bodily afflictions; so His saying, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” was proper to a bodily voice, for the body is never naturally wont to wish to be separated from the life which is joined to it. For although our Saviour Himself said this, He really shewed the weakness of His body; He spoke therefore as man, bearing about with Him my feelings, for when placed in danger we fancy that we are deserted by God.”

    Hilary (de Trin. x. 50):

    “From these words heretical spirits contend either that God the Word was entirely absorbed into the soul at the time it discharged the function of a soul in quickening the body; or that Christ could not have been born man, because the Divine Word dwelt in Him after the manner of a prophetical spirit. As though Jesus Christ was a man of ordinary soul and body, having His beginning then when He began to be man, and thus now deserted upon the withdrawal of the protection of God’s word cries out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Or at least that the nature of the Word being transmuted into soul, Christ, who had depended in all things upon His Father’s support, now deserted and left to death, mourns over this desertion, and pleads with Him departing.

    But amidst these impious and feeble opinions, the faith of the Church imbued with Apostolic teaching does not sever Christ that He should be considered as Son of God and not as Son of Man. The complaint of His being deserted is the weakness of the dying man; the promise of Paradise is the kingdom of the living God. You have Him complaining that He is left to death, and thus He is Man; you have Him as He is dying declaring that He reigns in Paradise; and thus He is God. Wonder not then at the humility of these words, when you know the form of a servant, and see the offence of the cross.”

    Augustine (serm. on Matt 27:48):

    “Wherefore should we be offended that Christ came from the bosom of the Father to take upon Him our bondage, that He might confer on us His freedom; to take upon Him our death, that we might be set free by His death; by despising death He exalted us mortals into Gods, counted them of earth worthy of things in heaven? For seeing the Divine power shines forth so brilliant in the contemplation of its works, it is an argument of boundless love, that it suffers for its subjects, dies for its bondsmen. This then was the first cause of the Lord’s Passion, that He would have it known how great God’s love to man, Who desired rather to be loved than feared.

    The second was that He might abolish with yet more justice the sentence of death which He had with justice passed. For as the first man had by guilt incurred death through God’s sentence, and handed down the same to his posterity, the second Man, who knew no sin, came from heaven that death might be condemned, which, when commissioned to seize the guilty, had presumed to touch the Author of sinlessness. And it is no wonder if for us He laid down what He had taken of us, His life, namely, when He has done other so great things for us, and bestowed so much on us.”

    I couldn’t hope to say it so well.
    ~B

  5. 20 March, 2009 4:27 pm

    Quote: Your problem with my language of “Christ the PERSON of the God-man” is a problem with Chalcedon: “the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together ***to form one person and subsistence***.”

    Nick: You are misreading Chalcedon IF IF you are indicating a NEW *person* comes about by the union of the divine and human natures. Jesus is NOT a divine *person* AND human *person* coming together, Jesus is a Divine Person alone, the Word. I’m too lazy to look up Chalcedon now, but in your quote it said “but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word” indicating Jesus always is and was one Person, God the Son.
    I’m not accusing you of anything, I just am trying to avoid misreading eachother.

    Quote: And your assertion that this is either a Christological problem or uniquely Protestant simply cannot stand. Compare the following catena from Aquinas on Mark 15:34/Matt 27:46 (Eloi, Eloi…), as a few examples of the catholicity of this way of speaking:

    Nick: You’re saying great Catholic theologians advocated “My God, My God…” as a literal spiritual forsakeneness AS Luther advocated?

    Quote: Bede (on Mark 15):
    “Nor need you wonder at the lowliness of His words, at the complaints as of one forsaken, when you look on the offense of the cross, knowing the form of a servant. For as hunger, and thirst, and fatigue were not things proper to the Divinity, but bodily afflictions; so His saying, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” was proper to a bodily voice, for the body is never naturally wont to wish to be separated from the life which is joined to it. For although our Saviour Himself said this, He really shewed the weakness of His body; He spoke therefore as man, bearing about with Him my feelings, for when placed in danger we fancy that we are deserted by God.”

    Nick: This comes nowhere close to the Reformed “God poured out his Wrath on Christ” and “forsaken as one eternally damned.”

    Quote: Hilary (de Trin. x. 50):
    “From these words heretical spirits contend either that God the Word was entirely absorbed into the soul at the time it discharged the function of a soul in quickening the body; or that Christ could not have been born man, because the Divine Word dwelt in Him after the manner of a prophetical spirit. As though Jesus Christ was a man of ordinary soul and body, having His beginning then when He began to be man, and thus now deserted upon the withdrawal of the protection of God’s word cries out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Or at least that the nature of the Word being transmuted into soul, Christ, who had depended in all things upon His Father’s support, now deserted and left to death, mourns over this desertion, and pleads with Him departing.

    Nick: Same thing as I said above, nowhere close. IN fact, here he points out clearly it is the “withdrawal of divine protection” (which is in fact what it was) from the Romans, nothing about God’s wrath or forsaken as a damned sinner.

    Quote: But amidst these impious and feeble opinions, the faith of the Church imbued with Apostolic teaching does not sever Christ that He should be considered as Son of God and not as Son of Man. The complaint of His being deserted is the weakness of the dying man; the promise of Paradise is the kingdom of the living God. You have Him complaining that He is left to death, and thus He is Man; you have Him as He is dying declaring that He reigns in Paradise; and thus He is God. Wonder not then at the humility of these words, when you know the form of a servant, and see the offence of the cross.”

    Nick: There is no problem here because nothing along the lines of what Penal Substitution is advocating. Nothing he says logically demands the Hypostatic-Union be harmed.

    Quote: Augustine (serm. on Matt 27:48):
    “The second was that He might abolish with yet more justice the sentence of death which He had with justice passed. For as the first man had by guilt incurred death through God’s sentence, and handed down the same to his posterity, the second Man, who knew no sin, came from heaven that death might be condemned, which, when commissioned to seize the guilty, had presumed to touch the Author of sinlessness. And it is no wonder if for us He laid down what He had taken of us, His life, namely, when He has done other so great things for us, and bestowed so much on us.”

    Nick: Augustine nowhere comes close to “forsaken as one eternally damned,” and if you read the Penal Substitution debate on my page you will see Augustine holds that in assuming human nature there is the curse of mortality, pain and death, attached to it. Not the imputing of guilt and undergoing the Father’s wrath.

  6. creedorchaos permalink*
    21 March, 2009 2:15 am

    Nick~

    You have at least one key unstated (and highly prejudicial) premiss going on here, which I’ll get to.

    On Chalcedon: who said anything about two persons? I’ve been talking about the way we’re supposed to think and speak according to the reality of Christ being two natures in one person. I’ve been working *from* Chalcedon, not *to* Chalcedon. The Son incarnate is two full and complete natures in one unified person without separation or confusion, the second person of the Trinity having taken to himself our complete humanity (by ‘assuming’ integral human nature, *not* one human person, Jesus). And that’s what Luther held as well.

    On the quotes: my point isn’t to prove penal substitution (I’m hesitant to use the phrase, since it obviously carries untold conceptual baggage for you — plus it seems you use it as a sort of swear word!). My point is that your interpretation of the Luther extract was misguided in assuming that he must’ve been speaking of Christ inappropriately vis-a-vis the hypostatic union. The quotes are just off the cuff illustrations as to the Chalcedonian practice (following scripture) of saying of the person of Christ what is properly referred to one of his natures. And to boot, I think these quotes contain more than a smidge (to understate) of what Luther describes as Christ suffering God’s wrath and hell for our sakes — which to that extent is all straightforward biblical (and catholic) language. But you clearly disagree, which brings me to your assumed, and highly prejudicial, premiss:

    Penal substitution “logically demands the Hypostatic-Union be harmed”.

    And you’re bringing this presupposition into a discussion *precisely about* how penal substitution may or may not be in harmony with the hypostatic union. It’s no wonder you employ such a hermeneutic of suspicion with Luther; it would be literally *impossible* on your assumptions to come to any conclusion other than your own.

    Either you’re doing this on purpose, as an (unfortunate) rhetorical strategy, or you’re baldly begging the question.

    ~B

  7. Nick permalink
    21 March, 2009 2:21 pm

    Quote: On Chalcedon:

    Nick: I made it clear I was not accusing on this issue, instead I wanted to make sure we were not misunderstanding eachother.

    Quote: On the quotes: my point isn’t to prove penal substitution. My point is that your interpretation of the Luther extract was misguided in assuming that he must’ve been speaking of Christ inappropriately vis-a-vis the hypostatic union.

    Nick: I don’t see what the point of your quotes was if they came nowhere near the “forsaken by God as one eternally damned” quote. My point was that such outrageous claims would never have come out of the mouths of any Church Father. Whether Luther intended heresy is not the issue, I doubt he and the rest of PSub advocates intended heresy on that point.

    The point is theologically, Jesus cannot be cut off from the Father in such a manner without destroying the Hypostatic-Union. And what has become clear to me as I’ve see such quotes by other Reformed theologians is that they are not taking Christology seriously into account before they utter such words (instead it seems to be an afterthought, if that).

    Quote: The quotes are just off the cuff illustrations as to the Chalcedonian practice (following scripture) of saying of the person of Christ what is properly referred to one of his natures.

    Nick: That was never disputed. To say things such as “God died on the cross” is not a problem.

    Quote: And to boot, I think these quotes contain more than a smidge (to understate) of what Luther describes as Christ suffering God’s wrath and hell for our sakes — which to that extent is all straightforward biblical (and catholic) language. But you clearly disagree, which brings me to your assumed, and highly prejudicial, premiss:

    Nick: You’re right, I do disagree, and that is because those quotes come nowhere near to stating what Luther and the Reformed state. I don’t see where there is a “smidge” of truth in those quotes when they come nowhere close to saying Christ was damned in place of the sinner.

    Quote: And you’re bringing this presupposition into a discussion *precisely about* how penal substitution may or may not be in harmony with the hypostatic union. It’s no wonder you employ such a hermeneutic of suspicion with Luther; it would be literally *impossible* on your assumptions to come to any conclusion other than your own.

    Nick: It’s not a “hermeneutic of suspicion” when the Reformed camp states Jesus was damned. When something as preposterous as that is affirmed about Our Lord, it’s more than warranted to object to it, including on Christological grounds. Do you understand what it means to say a soul is forsaken by God?

    Quote: Either you’re doing this on purpose, as an (unfortunate) rhetorical strategy, or you’re baldly begging the question.

    Nick: I have one simple question for you: What does it mean to say a soul is forsaken by God?

    I believe answering that question will clear up this issue and demonstrate whether I’m begging the question or not.

  8. creedorchaos permalink*
    24 March, 2009 12:57 pm

    Nick~

    Two things: first, my latest post is my response to ‘the fathers would never make such outrageous claims’, which is simply wrong. Obviously, it won’t be good enough for you to see the point I’ve been making in this thread, because again, you’re already *assuming* that Christ’s ‘forsakenness’ and suffering of God’s eschatological wrath in our place is an incoherent novelty with Luther.

    Second, not only because I’ve been really busy the last couple days, but also because your responses seem to be fragmentary and incongruous (as arguments), I asked my friend John who’s doing his PhD on the atonement to read through this comment thread and give me his opinion of your idiosyncratic take on these matters. Here’s an excerpt of his email to me (used here with his permission):

    “There’s more to this than maybe meets the eye…because Nick’s criticism of Christ’s sufferings is unexpected – the nature of Christ’s sufferings was not disputed at the reformation – even the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the atonement recognises that. Like you point out the reformation was about how Christ’s work is communicated i.e. infusion/imputation. If there was an issue between Catholics and Protestants on the nature of Christ’s sufferings then surely we would have expected them to have debated it. Either that or Nick is telling us that they were all missing the point!

    What Nick says about the nature of Christ’s sufferings is somewhat surprising for a Catholic because it isn’t Catholic – it’s Socinian. This is why he thinks penal substitution destroys the two natures of Christ (as far as I can tell anyway) because he’s bought into the Socinian objection that the Father cannot punish the Son (or in other words, for the Father to punish the Son, the Son must abandon his deity).

    I had a look at his post on penal substitution on his blog responding to Packer. Thinking that I might find a clue that there that might give evidence that he is Socinian, I found a lot more…. Nick says:

    ‘The Second significant issue is to note the position taken by Faustus Socinus who was strongly against the view of Penal-Substitution. Socinus claimed Penal-Substitution was unacceptable morally and rationally. (Packer’s claim that Socinus was a “Unitarian Pelagian” is irrelevant in this discussion and has no bearing on Socinus’ claims.) What is interesting here is that almost nothing is said here or elsewhere in the article about the Catholic objections to Penal-Substitution, which stemmed from redefining a Catholic concept to something it never meant. Catholics would agree with the stand taken by Socinus against Penal-Substitution.

    Morally and rationally, the view fails because it entails an innocent individual, Jesus, receiving a punishment. Punishment, especially one coming from a just God, cannot be inflicted on the innocent, nor can a punishment be transferred. A just judge can rule that a guilty individual either be pardoned or punished, but the guilt can never be transferred. Because sin is first and foremost a personal offense to God, the option to pardon or punish is entirely His. See Appendix 1 at the end of this article for a brief overview of the Catholic view of the Atonement.

    It also should be noted that Catholics also object to Penal-Substitution on the grounds that the concept is not only not found in Scripture, but contrary to Scripture. The theological ramifications of Penal-Substitution cannot be overstated, from a Catholic point of view Penal-Substitution is both blasphemous and heretical. God the Father punishing God the Son, for whatever reason, is unacceptable theologically (whether the Protestant adherents realize it or not). It introduces disunity and animosity among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Further, the fact is if the sinner deserves eternal punishment in hell that would mean Jesus would have had to be eternally damned and suffer eternal hellfire in place of that sinner, Jesus would have had to be cut off from God forever. The very fact Jesus did not do this strongly undermines Penal-Substitution.’

    To this I’d say:

    Nick’s arguments are standard Socinian objections to the a) Catholic and b) Protestant understanding of the nature of Christ’s sufferings. First of all Nick’s claim that ‘Catholics would agree with the stand taken by Socinus against Penal-substitution’ is unsubstantiated. Catholics ‘would’ agree – the question is though ‘do they agree’? Now perhaps there are Catholics that do, but this doesn’t make them Catholic, it makes them Socinian. Historically Catholicism is hostile towards Socinianism. Socinianism is a) ‘The body of doctrine held by one of the numerous Antitrinitarian sects to which the Reformation gave birth’ (first line of the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on Socinianism!) and b) a theology dismissed by the RC church as heretical (see the end of the same article for a lists the places where Catholicism has dismissed Socinianism).

    Has the Catholic Church adopted criticisms by a ‘reformation’ and heretical theology towards an issue that wasn’t even disputed at the reformation and lies at the very heart of the gospel? I doubt it. Wherever Catholic theology has adopted Socinian convictions it needs to be identified as Socinian, not Catholic (and the same is also true in Protestantism).

    …basically I would sum him up as a Catholic who came across some Socinian material and taken a fancy to it – just as many protestants have – because it fits today’s moral consciousness that the innocent cannot suffer in place of the guilty (which as we’ve talked about before is only half the story anyway because while Christ is innocent as to his own righteousness he is also guilty as a result of federal union, explaining his suffering and death)….Sadly he’s very mixed up.”

    This email from my friend tied up a lot of loose ends that I’d n0ticed in the character of your responses, but hadn’t connected myself.
    ~B

  9. 24 March, 2009 4:20 pm

    I have commented on your latest post, this is before I knew about your response here. I did not know John commented on what I had said.

    You said I’m “already *assuming* that Christ’s ‘forsakenness’ and suffering of God’s eschatological wrath in our place is an incoherent novelty with Luther.”

    I’d like to see you or John produce a Church Father quote that comes anywhere near to Luther’s interpretation of forsaken.

    John said that the Catholic Encyclopedia says the Reformers and Rome were in agreement on the “nature of Christ suffering,” but I’ve read various Catholic Encyclopedia articles on the subject and have seen nothing of the sort, especially affirming God’s wrath poured out on Christ. In fact, one of CE’s articles on Atonement explicitly criticizes what is effectively the Penal Substitution view.

    John’s Socinian charge is bogus because great minds like Anselm and Aquinas never advocated PS yet they are not Socinian. And the Christological ramifications are not something only (or even originally) founded in Socinus, the Church Fathers fought against such readings of “forsaken” because such passages were used by heretics like Arians at the time.

    Nowhere will John find any major Catholic document or Scholastic advocating God pouring out His wrath on Christ, which is what Calvin in his institutes called the most critical aspect of the Atonement.

    John calling me Socinian is a seriously misinformed charge because Socinus’ main objections (though not all) were already pre-existing objections of Catholics. The MAIN PROBLEM is John doesn’t realize that Dr. Packer makes it clear the Catholic understanding of “satisfaction” was radically re-defined by the Reformers. By failing to realize that, John assumes Catholics and Protestants share a common view of the atonement, which is false.

    If John were to read my current debate, this misunderstanding of his would be cleared up, because my Calvinist opponent makes a similar mistake of failing to distinguish between Catholic view of Satisfaction and the re-defined Protestant view.

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