Questions You May Not Have Thought Of
People often think theologians are busy thinking up answers to questions that people don’t really care about.
I bet you’ve heard that, in the Middle Ages, scholastic theologians spent their time debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
People believe this is true. It is our stereotype of theologians — even though there is precisely zero evidence that this question was ever debated.
However, read the theology of any era (even our own to be quite honest) and you will come across passionate arguments on questions that would have never occurred to you at all.
Here’s the deal: There is usually a good explanation of why the issue was important enough to raise people’s passions.
Explore the context behind the question and you might find you can’t write it off. You just might find an insight or two for your own faith.
Take question 48 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
48 Q. If his humanity is not present wherever his divinity is,
then aren’t the two natures of Christ
separated from each other?
I suspect you’ve never lost a minute of sleep over this one.
Does Christ’s continuing presence with us after the Ascension divide Christ’s natures? Is the human now separated from the divine? Do you care?
Well maybe you should…
Threading the Needle: Reformed, Lutheran, and Catholic
I’ve mentioned that writers of the Heidelberg Catechism had to step pretty carefully: They were teaching the Reformed faith of Zwingli, Bucer, and Calvin. The law demanded they stay within the teaching of the Lutheran Augsburg Confession.
They also had to be cautious with regard to Roman Catholic teaching. There was a big core of Christian teaching on which Protestants and Catholics all agreed.
The Reformed wanted to affirm many points of Catholic theology. And a number of those positive points were defined in opposition to negative views — ideas that ancient global councils had rejected as heretical.
So the Catechism had to teach the Reformed faith without offending the Lutherans or sliding accidentally into views every informed Christian rejected as heresy. Dicey.
Councils and Heresies
Long ago the question of Jesus’ nature(s) vexed the Church for centuries.
You may think Scripture is perfectly clear both on Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. But it wasn’t so clear back in the fourth and fifth centuries.
- Some favored Christ’s humanity at the expense of his true divinity.
- Some favored his divinity at the expense of his true humanity.
- Some taught that Jesus was sort of a mishmash, with humanity and divinity melted together.
- Some taught that Jesus was almost two separate people, one divine and one human,
The Council of Chalcedon in 451, drawing on a book by Pope Leo I, defined the boundaries on the issue as follows. Jesus is
One and the Same Christ…acknowledged in Two Natures
the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved…
The Ascension and Christ’s Natures
That is what the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism had in mind when Question 48 asked, perchance, would the Ascension divide Christ’s natures:
A. Certainly not.
is not limited and is present everywhere,
it is evident that
is surely beyond the bounds of the humanity that has been taken on,
but at the same time
is in and remains personally united to his humanity.
Christ bodily ascended into heaven and is with us, because the Bible affirms both.
But he remains one Jesus Christ, with a true human nature and a true divine nature. Those natures don’t get pulled apart because they are joined “indivisibly, inseparably” in one person.
Knowing What You Believe
To get a clear sense of why the point is important you need to study up on the theology of the Councils. (Short answer: If Jesus isn’t one person with two natures he really can’t save us.) But that’s more than I can handle in a blog post.
It turns out that knowing what you believe is a somewhat bigger project than knowing that you follow Jesus.
Knowing what you believe is takes more than even reading or studying the Bible.
To really know what you believe, and why it matters, you have to listen to your brothers and sisters in Christ who asked good questions for centuries before you were even born.
That’s good news for people like me who like to teach Church history and historical theology.
Why don’t you tell me in the comments what topics in Christian theology you wish you could have a chance to explore in a friendly online community?