Sunday, January 27, 2008

Monophysite Bread and Wine

[Please read the combox of this post, where I was led to make necessary corrections or qualifications to my comments on Monophysitism.]

Eutychian Monophysitism, condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), taught that the Lord was in two natures before the incarnational union, but one nature after (see here). I think Reformed Protestants rarely realize our confessional belief that Christ is bodily in Heaven as He is spiritually (see e.g., WCOF, Ch. VIII, Sec. 4). This belief flows from a proper understanding of the hypostatic union against Monophysitism, so it's important to retain!

But I wonder, is the Reformed view of the communion affected with at least a touch of Monophysitism?

The Catholics believe that Christ is fully present in their consecrated elements, both in His body and His Divinity. The Anabaptists taught that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross is memorialized with the Supper, so that neither His body nor His Divinity are made present to the communicant. But the Reformer has somewhat of a hybrid position: worthy participants "really and indeed" receive and feed upon Christ by faith. He is, then, "really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance. (WCOF, Ch. XXIX, Sec. 7)" Contrariwise, the wicked who receive the elements not in faith do not receive the thing signified by the bread and wine, but are still especially guilty for unworthily approaching the Supper (Id., Sec. 8).

Christians daily benefit from Christ's grace. This happens invisibly; we do not receive Christ when He answers our prayers, but we receive His grace. However, in the Supper, Jesus Christ and not only His graces are "really and indeed" present and received. But if Christ is indivisibly and eternally Incarnate, joined by the hypostatic union, it seems an improper speculation to state the we receive Him in only one nature. Even entering Heaven Christ retained the union of His natures. Why would He only dole out one nature for the benefit of His Church?

Further, I sense an illogic in the notion that those without faith receive nothing, and yet still eat and drink to their own damnation (Id.). This received-in-faith-only view of the communion seems to do great violence to 1 Cor. 11:29: "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. " There is no spiritual presence to cause harm to the unbeliever, since that presence only exists for the faithful. There is no bodily presence, of course, under the Reformed view. There is nothing left, then, that should not be consumed by the unbeliever.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Good points. The Monophysite controversy has always been confusing to me. As I understand it, (and maybe I'm getting confused again) there has been some reconciliation between some of the the monophysite churches and Rome in recent years.

And regarding the verse from 1 Corinthians, I see another problem with the reformed view on this:

"Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." (NIV)

How can you be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood if it isn't present?

StBasil said...

I agree with Mr. Troutman. As a Protestant, 1 Cor 11 didn't make any sense to me. Why would someone be guilty of both the Body and Blood of Our Lord if he isn't receiving the very Body and Blood of our Lord?

Very many Protestant errors in regards to the Sacraments can be traced back to the fact that they don't follow through with all of the implications of the Incarnation.

Pax Christi tecum.

Jonathan said...


You treatment of this topic, in my opinion, labors under a few misconceptions.

1. The Reformed have been accused in the past of Nestorianism, but never Monophysitism. The idea of a "spiritual presence" apart from the bodily presence of Christ (which is not what the Reformed mean) has implied to some a separationg of the two natures, thus running the Reformed into the error of Nestorius. Thus, most historical theologians would say that if the Reformed conception of the Eucharist runs them into any early Christological heresy, it would be Nestorianism. They have been accordingly condemned as such by confessional Lutherans in the Book of Concord, and have consequently often been heard to thrust to charge of monophysitism back at Lutherans.

2. It is necessary to differentiate between different streams of thought in the history of the Reformed tradition. I would argue that the true confessional Reformed position is not what you have here presented. It is a common mistake, but nevertheless a lethal one. The sixteenth century Reformed (at least of the Calvinist stripe) used the term "spiritual" with reference to Christ's presence in the Supper to connote a mystery brought about by the Holy Spirit. Thus, rather than teaching--as it is often misrepresented as--a presence of Christ's Spirit, the historic Calvinist position on the Supper is that it is a presence of the whole Christ *brought about by the Spirit*.

Thus, in the historic Calvinist conception, the reality is objectively joined to the sign in a sacramental union by the Spirit, to be received by faith. The presence is therefore objective and real. Not simply subjective and disembodied.

Numerous citations can be given in this regard, but I just offer a few.

From the Genevan "Confession of Faith Concerning the Eucharist":

“We confess that the spiritual life which Christ bestows upon us does not rest on the fact that he vivifies us with his Spirit, but that his Spirit makes us participants in the virtue of his vivifying body, by which participation we are fed on eternal life. Hence when we speak of the communion which we have with Christ, we understand the faithful to communicate no les in his body and blood than in his Spirit, so that thus they possess the whole Christ."

Institutes 4:17.10:

“For unless a man means to call God a deceiver, he would never dare assert that an empty symbol is set forth by him. Therefore, if the Lord truly represents the participation in his body through the breaking of bread, there ought not to be the least doubt that he truly presents and shows his body. And the godly ought by all means to keep this rule: whenever they see symbols appointed by the Lord, to think and be persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is surely present there.”

From the Belgic Confession, Article 35:

“Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ’s own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood– but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith. In that way Jesus Christ remains always seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven– but he never refrains on that account to communicate himself to us through faith. This banquet is a spiritual table at which Christ communicates himself to us with all his benefits. At that table he makes us enjoy himself as much as the merits of his suffering and death, as he nourishes, strengthens, and comforts our poor, desolate souls by the eating of his flesh, and relieves and renews them by the drinking of his blood.”

From the Old Scottish Confession, Article 21:

“And thus we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else but naked and bare signs; no we assuredly believe that by baptism we are engrafted into Jesus Christ, to be made partakers of his justice, whereby our sins are covered and remitted; and also, that in the Supper, rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us, that he becometh very nourishment and food to our souls; not that we imagine any transubstantiation of bread into Christ’s natural body, and of wine into his natural blood… but this union and conjunction, which we have with the body and blood of Christ Jesus, in the right use of the sacraments, is wrought by operation of the Holy Spirit, who by true faith carieth us above all things that are visible, carnal, and earthly, and maketh us to feed upon the body and blood of Christ Jesus, which was broken and shed for us, which is now in heaven, and appeareth in the presence of the Father for us; and yet, notwithstanding, the far distance of place which is between his body now glorified in heaven, and us now mortal on this earth; yet we most assuredly believe that the bread which we break, is the communion of Christ’s body, and the cup which we bless, is the communion of his blood. So that we confess, and undoubtedly believe, that the faithful, in the right use of the Lord’s Table, do so eat the body, and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus, that he remaineth in them, and they in him; yea, they are so made flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bones, that as the eternal Godhead hath given to the flesh of Christ Jesus (which of its own nature was mortal and corruptible) life and immortality; so doth Christ Jesus his flesh and blood, eaten and drunk by us, give unto us the same prerogatives.”

Again, I could provide many more statements, but I hope these will suffice. I'd also recommend two works on the subject: John W. Nevin's "The Mystical Presence," and Keith Mathison's "Given for You."


Jonathan Bonomo

Canadian said...

I have argued these very things with my Baptist brethren.
Christ can be nowhere unless it is in both natures. Plus, verse 29 clearly adresses something:
"For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself."
The judgement is in the eating and drinking act! You eat and drink judgement. Physical presence brings physical judgement.
Something else, it seems comdemnation here is assuaged by God's active discipline of believers, not previous forensic justification. Thoughts on that last point?

Canadian said...

Sorry to use a comment for this Thos, but:

Brother Bonomo! How are you doing? I miss your Ecclesial Awakening blog.
Peace in Christ,

Jonathan said...

Brother Darrin,

As always, I am overcome with joy when I see that name "Canadian" pop up on my screen. :-)

Things are well. I am currently posting at Check it out if you haven't heard about it before. I thought I included you in an e-mail I sent out about it, but I suppose I could have been mistaken.

As always, feel free to shoot me an e-mail anytime: jb4calvin at gmail dot com.



Tim A. Troutman said...

A couple pertinent (and authoritative) quotes:

"And that the same Lord our Jesus is illegitimate, and that He exists in the consecrated hosts not with respect to His humanity but with respect to His divinity only."

(Condemned error of Zanini de Solcia in Pope Pius XII's bull "Exsecrabilis" 1460 AD


(Council of Trent)
Canons on the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist:

Can 4 "If anyone says that after the completion of the consecration that the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is not in the marvelous sacrament of the Eucharist, but only in use, while it is taken, not however before or after, and that in the hosts or consecrated particles, whic are reserved or remain after communion, the true body of the Lord does not remain; let him be anathema."

It must be tough to be a true Calvinist these days anyhow, I don't know of many Protestant communities where you'd be fully accepted doctrinally (much less practically) and you certainly wouldn't be accepted by the Catholic Church.

Then again, my friend who's an elder at a PCA church commented upon contemplating a swim across the Tiber "I suppose a good Calvinist would be closer to Catholic doctrine than most of the Catholics in your Church" I told him he was probably right.

Jonathan said...


Actually, I'd venture to say that the majority of Presbyterian ministers I know share the historic Calvinist conception of the Eucharist. It seems to me that the confessional Reformed conception of the Holy Sacrament is alive and well, at least among educated folk.

And, if those quotes were pointed in my direction, you're not bringing anything to the table concerning which I'm not already well aware.

Gil Garza said...

You may be comforted to know that the so-called Monophysite Churches have always taught that Jesus Christ is fully present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist.

Thos said...


I’ve thought and prayer about this response. I hope it does more good than harm. Thank you for taking me to task on this post. My use of the term ‘monophysite’ was perhaps not fully thought out. I think I’m going to put a disclaimer in my original post to make it clear that necessary corrections or qualification have been made in this combox. I will try to make this qualification (or correction, whichever it ends up being) clear, and avoid some tempting side topics.

I think that my perception that our communion confuses the Chalcedonian definition deserves discussion. However, I think I was confusing Nestorian emanations with Monophysite ones (specifically, Eutychian). While these two are, generally speaking, at opposite ends of the spectrum, they are both confusions of the hypostatic union. Maybe you would allow me an analogy to the similarities between the opposites of Communism and Fascism to allow me to preserve my pride with this post? At any rate, let me take another stab at this.

You say that the Reformed do not mean that there is a spiritual presence apart from the bodily presence. While some Reformers may have made this claim because they perceived the difficult implications an other view would have for the hypostatic union, you did not address my use of the Westminster Confession. You and I are fans of Reformed Churches teaching and sticking to their confessions. So we should be able to agree to discuss the “Reformed” position from a Reformed Confession, at least in parts it addresses head on. I read that Confession as teaching that when we partake of the visible elements of the Sacrament, we “do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified. (WCOF, XXIX, 7)” So we are spiritually, not carnally receiving Christ, who is hypostatically united, permanently, inseparably in Heaven. In other words, a spiritual presence apart from a bodily presence.

But alas, I note your position is in the Belgic Confession, Art. 35, which tells us, “as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls [later it adds that it is by faith we receive], for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior.”

I understand that Eutyches taught that after the incarnation, the two natures become one such that the “human nature was in a certain way absorbed by [Christ’s] Divinity. (Fr. Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 304)” This is the line that got me to thinking about communion. It seems that if all of Christ is conveyed to us spiritually, then we are in a sense teaching that his human nature has been in a certain way absorbed by his Divinity. Since we know that human nature cannot be conveyed spiritually, I figured that the Reformed view had to be (in practice) that his spiritual nature has somehow absorbed His human nature. That’s where I got to thinking about Monophysitism.

It is a greater affront to reason or to the meaning of “human nature” to say that human nature can convey spiritually than to say that we would eat upon the Real flesh of Christ (the “abominable heresy” of the Eucharist condemned by our Confessions). If human nature can convey spiritually, then Christ did not need to retain his flesh, did not need to hang from the Cross and be buried, after the incarnation. He could have achieved these things required of His human nature in a spiritual reality only. Likewise, the Jews could have been spiritually fed physical manna in the desert. The 5,000 could have been spiritually fed, through faith, instead of by the bodily replication of those few loaves and fish. No, part of human nature is its physical reality.

But I see what you mean, that the common criticism is rather that the Reformed have Dyophysite (Nestorian) tendencies in our communion. I see your view that this misses the Belgic position that body and Divinity are conveyed spiritually. I leaned on the Westminster and missed the Belgic in my criticism that spirit conveyed *without* body, so lapsed into what I should have called a Nestorian emanation (that the natures were split apart). I am now very much inclined to grant you that under the Belgic explanation, there is no Dyophysite problem. Rather the problem is what I addressed above, that it is an affront to the continuance and perseverance of Christ’s “human nature” to say that it can convey spiritually.

Thank you for helping me unravel what I had jumbled in my mind. I look forward to continuing this discussion is you are so inclined.


What are you arguing with the Baptists? I am presently inclined to think that the Catholic and Baptists views, being at opposite ends, are both consistent with the hypostatic union (since in one, everything conveys – spirit spiritually and body bodily, and in the other, nothing conveys at all – it’s a memorial only).

Tim and StBasil,

I think you were raising the point I was trying to express in my last paragraph, that 1 Cor 11:29 makes little sense if all that is received is received only by faith, such that nothing is received in the absence of faith. I think the retort though is that the symbol of faith (the elements) are made precious such that the non-believer approaching them sins (but they are not made so precious that they cannot be disposed of in an ordinary means). I see enough complexity with this position that it would need its own post. Maybe I should have left it off.

Peace in Christ,

Canadian said...

I was not meaning that my argument with Baptists was regarding a denial of the hypostatic union, (though I don't know I have ever heard any teaching on it in a Baptist church) but rather their denial of the Eucharist.

You posted:
"The Catholics believe that Christ is fully present in their consecrated elements, both in His body and His Divinity. The Anabaptists taught that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross is memorialized with the Supper, so that neither His body nor His Divinity are made present to the communicant."

I was responding more generally to your above comment. The texts in 1 Cor. obviously mitigate against the Baptist position here.

Jonathan said...


Your comment ignores my statement about what the Reformed (yes, the Westminster divines included) mean by the term "spiritual." The term, when used in reference to the Eucharist, was not used to imply a sort of disembodied presence. It was rather used to connote a presence of the Christ in both his human and divine natures, brought about by the operation of the *Holy Spirit*. It was meant to retain the heavenly mystery. The phrase "Not carnally" means simply "not chewed in the mouth." It does not mean "disembodied." The Reformed have always confessed this to be a great mystery, but a reality nonetheless. The whole Christ, humanity united with divinity, is received in the sacrament. This was confessed by Calvin, Bucer, Melanchthon, Vermigli, Zanchi, Cranmer, and even Bullinger toward the latter part of his career. You are reading the confessional documents through the lens of later post Enlightenment writers, such as Charles Hodge.

Also, I must reitterate that your use of Monophysitism here is still off base. Those Reformed writers who have postulated a disemboied presence (such as Charles Hodge), have done so while making clear that they are contending for a presence of Christ's divinity *only*. This would run them into Nestorianism, not monophysitism, for it is a separation of the two natures, not a confusion of them. No Reformed writer has simultaneously contented for a disembodied presence in *both* natures, for the idea is absurd. The original Reformed were completely orthodox in this regard, contending that the whole Christ (who cannot be thought to be without his body), body, blood, soul, and divinity (if you will) is made present by the work of the Spirit.

Again, I recommend that you try to get a hold of and read the aforementioned works. B.A. Gerrish's article in Theology Today (written, I believe, sometime in the 70's) on the doctrine of the Lord's Supper in the Reformed Confessions would also probably prove helpful to you.



Thos said...


Gotcha! It also occurred to me after writing you that I may unfairly be lumping Baptists. Are they all Zwinglian (memorial feast)? I think many refuse to even use the word "sacrament" (preferring "ordinance" instead), but perhaps not all?

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...


Thank you. To be certain, I was working out my thoughts as I wrote. When I said "But alas" of the Belgic, I meant to say (though I should have been clearer) that the lightbulbs went off. I realized from the Belgic what the Westminster said (it's not as explicit on this narrow point). I realize and agree about the WCOF meaning of carnal. I think I am in agreement with you here.

But I did address the Reformed position as you explained it and I now understand it. (BTW, I've read this position before; it had just been a while. Letham's "The Lord's Supper" states the proper Reformed position. As for Mathison, I distrust his scholarship enough to not give it a go.) The position is that we receive all of Christ (humanity + divinity) *into our souls by faith*. Re-reading Letham this morning, I note his emphasis on 1) the Holy Spirit's action in the process (as you noted), and 2) the belief that the communion brings us up to Christ, and not him down to us (as the Lutherans or Catholics would have it). The second point involves the belief that Christ cannot be bodily (physically) ubiquitous, although as God He is (and even was while walking the Earth).

This is hard to talk about without confusing language, so I do appreciate your patience with me. In my last reply I criticized the view that body and spirit can convey spiritually (as that would involve a collapse of body into spirit). You replied that the Reformed position is not that both natures are present in a disembodied way. You said the whole Christ (humanity and divinity) is made present by the work of the Spirit.

So perhaps it is incorrect to state the Reformed belief as being that *body and spirit convey spiritually only*. But are we in the alternate saying *body and spirit convey into our souls by faith only*. I honestly am having a hard time seeing the distinction. Either way, and whether we are brought up to Christ in Heaven or He condescends for us (which is not the Reformed position), the humanity (which includes the body of Christ) is present without being physically present. How is Christ not present in a disembodied way then? Do you believe he's physically present after we have consumed the element (I could see where that clears things up)? You quoted the Belgic, "...the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith." We are receiving the body, if not spiritually, then by the Spirit in a non-physical way. The body is present, but not bodily.

That the body and spirit can convey directly into our souls by faith seems to involve a belief that the body of Christ's humanity is able to be absorbed into His divinity and spirit, hence at least an indicia of Monophysite tendencies.

Let me be clear also that I do not mean to hold as a default alternative that the Catholic Eucharistic position is right if this is not. There are separate matters indeed to wrestle with there. I'm just trying to work systematically through this one.

I look forward to our continued discussion, and pray that Christ will be glorified as we (or at least I) wrestle with these difficult mysteries.

Peace in Christ,

Jonathan said...


1. I never said that Christ is present in humanity and divinity but in an unphysical way. He is truly and physically made present and united with the elements, though not contained in them, by the power of the Holy Spirit. "Spiritual" does not mean "unphysical." I think this confusion of terms is what is driving your treatment of the topic. Whenever you read the Reformed say "spiritual" you seem to assume that they mean "not physical," but as I've been trying to point out, what they really mean is "made present by the Holy Spirit." The local distance between Christ and the believer being overcome by the Spirit. The Spirit makes the incarnate Christ truly Present. This is all that the term "spiritual" means.

2. I think Letham is mistaken with regard to the confessional Reformed position concerning the idea of the lifting up of the believer into the heavenly realm in the Eucharist. All they meant to imply here is the mode of the mystery, not some sort of transplanting of the believer's soul. The sacramental mystery is heavenly. Speaking of being brought up to Christ is metaphorically to emphasize that the Sacrament is heavenly in nature. We are not literally brought up to Christ. Rather, heaven is truly made present to us, who are in reality even now seated in the heavenly places (Eph. 2), in the sacramental mystery. It does not matter whether this is conceived as Christ coming to us, or the Spirit bringing us to him. In reality, we can conceive of the mystery either way, because it is precisely that... a mystery. I however would like to think of the Spirit bringing Christ to us... bringing heaven to earth, so to speak. And this is completely in keeping with the historic Calvinist position.

And, Mathison's scholarly credentials aside, I've studied the Reformed view of the Church and Sacraments in much depth (for close to three years now this has been the primary focus of my studies) and I can tell you that "Given for You," though it has its flaws, is on the whole pretty balanced in its historical treatment of the topic. It is actually far superior to Letham's brief work. And Nevin is a classic. If you are currently working through issues of Church and Sacraments, you will need to grapple with Nevin at some point.

Feel free to e-mail me at any point if you'd like to take this discussion off of the thread and into the form of private correspondence.



Jonathan said...


One more thing:

"That the body and spirit can convey directly into our souls by faith seems to involve a belief that the body of Christ's humanity is able to be absorbed into His divinity and spirit, hence at least an indicia of Monophysite tendencies."

It does not follow that receiving Christ's body into our souls indicates an swallowing of his humanity into his divinity. This is an uncharitable and, I'd even say, a skewed version of it. Going by these standards, we'd have to impugn everyone who has a high view of the sacrament of Eutychianism. Christ being absorbed into our souls (and bodies... the Reformed do not deny the union being according to our bodies as well), does not necessitate a swallowing up of his humanity into his divinity anymore than does the fact that he could walk through walls after his resurrection, and accomplish all other manner of miraculous tasks.

If you want to talk about a divinization of Christ's flesh, look at the Lutherans who posulate the ubiquity of Christ's human body, thus transfering the divine attribute of omnipresence to the flesh of Christ. (For the record, I'd argue that *even this* is not Eutychian *per se*, but rather a tendency pointing in that direction.) Also, the Orthodox gladly affirm the divinization of Christ's humanity, as well as of our own, with no problem (which I also have no problem with). And it's hard for me to see how a location of the entire Christ within, or in the form of, a small piece of bread or a sip of win is any more miraculous, mysterious, or indicating of a divinization of Christ's flesh than would be the capacity of that flesh to be absorbed into both the souls, and by virtue of this into the bodies as well, of believers.

Thus, if the Reformed are Eutychian, everyone is... except for maybe the Baptists. ;-)

Again, you may get away with the charge of Nestorianism for *some* of the Reformed expressions. But monophysitism is way off the mark. Sorry.

Thos said...


Thank you for the continued dialogue. I am wrestling with saying that “Christ is truly and physically made present and united with the elements” with the qualification that this is done by the Spirit not in an unphysical way but yet not corporeally (or carnally). What is the difference between saying that Christ is physically present in the elements, and saying that He “is made present” spiritually by the Holy Spirit? The latter is in the passive voice – unwinding that a bit, I read it as saying the Holy Spirit makes Christ present _____ (Where? I can only guess how to fill in that blank without saying present in the elements).

You said: “It does not follow that receiving Christ's body into our souls indicates an swallowing of his humanity into his divinity. This is an uncharitable and, I'd even say, a skewed version of it” and then went on to say that the Reformed acknowledge union with Christ’s presence being accorded to our bodies too. I think you were a bit uncharitable to say I am uncharitable, as I did say “Do you believe he's physically present after we have consumed the element (I could see where that clears things up)?” I included that comment very intentionally, because I realized it would avoid the problem of there being a purely spiritual conveyance of humanity and divinity. Now that you’ve made that important qualification (that Christ’s humanity and divinity exist physically and spiritually in our bodies and souls), I understand how your view is not Eutychian. I do not see it as Eutychian to allow physical nature to sort of ride along with spiritual nature while being given over (I agree that the physical humanity of Christ happens by a purely spiritual event in Lutheran, Orthodox and Catholic events too). The problem I saw was where the physical nature *indwells nothing,* but only conveys spiritually. Wherever Christ is present, he needs to be physically present as well as divinely, because physicality is a fundamental part of His humanity (walking through walls aside, since He masters the laws of Physics). If He is physically in our bodies at the point at which we receive Him also spiritually (and all by faith), I think you have a strong defense to a charge of Eutychianism. I simply needed this point to be made. I agree that it would be no more miraculous to say that the presence is in bread than to say that it is physically in our bodies as recipients (or the other way around). My entire point has been that where Christ exists, He has to exist in humanity and divinity, and that physical indwelling is essential to His incarnational humanity. If the physical aspect of His human nature only rides along with the spiritual, but only notionally so (indwelling nothing), then that seems like a Monophysite proposition.

I understand then, and think we agree, that Christ is not physically present in the elements, as the Reformed churches celebrate them. We do not bow to them for this reason. So if there is a physical presence of Christ, no matter how brought about, it occurs later, right? It occurs in our own bodies. It doesn’t occur just in our souls, for the physical humanity of Christ cannot be only spiritually present. This view says that the elements symbolize that truth that is about to occur by an especial gift of the Holy Spirit within the believer (by the way, if we’re in agreement here, I could see this as a powerful argument against the use of grapejuice, but that’s another matter entirely).

So, for the myriad Reformed Christians (perhaps you would say their problem is only being poorly catechized) who do not believe that they are receiving (or about to receive) Christ physically into their bodies (as well as receiving His divinity in their soul), I do not believe my raising the possibility of Monophysite tendencies is “way off”. Monophystism, I’ve had it suggested, is much more subtle than Nestorianism because the corruption of the first formulation of His union is not so obvious. I really don’t think I’m so far off the mark (and definitely don’t think I’m “way off”). How would a Monophysite view of the Eucharist differ from the Reformed view?

Letham cites Calvin (Institutes, 4.17.16-27) for the proposition that, by taking into account Christ’s ascension into Heaven, the Reformed view differs from the Lutheran view. The Lutheran view, Calvin says (per Letham) incorrectly ascribes a ubiquity to Christ’s body in the creation that is improper to a belief in the bodily ascension. Letham says, “Since Christ has gone up to the right hand of God, he cannot, according to his humanity, be physically present here. As a consequence, in the Lord’s Supper, Christ is not brought down to us, but we are lifted up to him.” I note this for two reasons: 1) so everyone knows I wasn’t making this up (which you did *not* imply), and 2) to be sure that I haven’t claimed for Letham something he did not say. I am inclined to disagree with Letham insofar is his view seems to limit Christ’s presence and activity (even physically) to time and space in a way that may be incorrect. After reading his citation to Calvin’s writing, I see where Letham comes from, and see room for your disagreement.

I will put Nevin in my mental queue of books to work toward. Thanks! Lastly, I pray that you will be blessed with great patience as you read my redundant, quite likely confused writing. I hope you can at least sense that I mean to give an honest effort at comprehending the Reformed view of both the Incarnation and the Lord’s Supper.

Peace in Christ,

Jonathan said...


I lack adequate time to deal with all of this. I'll address as much as I can.

You said:

"What is the difference between saying that Christ is physically present in the elements, and saying that He “is made present” spiritually by the Holy Spirit?"

Simple: in the one he is locally conatained within, or in the form of, bread and wine, while in the other he is not locally contained within them, but joined to the symbols sacramentally by the Spirit. The Reformed have traditionally answered "in heaven" to the question "where?" However, they are clear that in the sacramental mystery, "the distance of space is overcome by the working of the Spirit." That is, the Spirit brings heaven to earth.

You said:

"I think you were a bit uncharitable to say I am uncharitable"

First, to be precise, I said your reading is an uncharitable reading, not that you are an uncharitable person. But I must confess that I do think in this instence you are betraying an uncharitable bent toward your own communion. Please try to understand why I am saying this. I'm not trying to attack or rebuke you, but I am concerned with what may be conditioning your thinking here. There is no patristic or Reformation scholar on the planet who has insinuated that the Reformed have a monophysite tendency. Further, the Reformed have never been accused of having such a tendency by even their greatest adversaries, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutherans. Should this not give you at least a little pause at hurling the charge in their direction? You have asserted your own authority to accuse your brethren of heresy, seemingly without checking this hunch against the best scholarship of our day or the actual historical record. (Maybe I'm wrong that you haven't undergone a real concerted study of the topic, but the fact that you have had a very limited exposure to the Calvinist view forces me to conclude that you have not.) Is it not then uncharitable for you to presume to charge your brothers with heresy without being at least somewhat educated about their position, or at least about how others have viewed that position? I think it is. This blog's title is "ecumenicity." Have you forgotten to be ecumenical, charitable, and understanding towards your brothers within your own communion?

I like you Thos... but you just are wrong here. It is no small matter to accuse others of heresy, especially when you are the first to do so, and that with little more than a personal hunch to go on.

You said:

"My entire point has been that where Christ exists, He has to exist in humanity and divinity, and that physical indwelling is essential to His incarnational humanity. If the physical aspect of His human nature only rides along with the spiritual, but only notionally so (indwelling nothing), then that seems like a Monophysite proposition."

Here you have confused Monophysitism with Nestorianism, the opposite tendency. To say that Christ can be present according to one nature and not the other is a Nestorian concept, not a Eutychian one. Eutychianism would be to say that Christ's humanity is mixed with his divinity. The Reformed do not say, and have never said, anything like this. *Some* (primarily 18th century and later) have insinuated that Christ is present according to his divine nature only, while his humanity remains in heaven. The tendency here would be Nestorianism, not Eutychianism. And Nestorianism is precisely the opposite of Eutychianism.

Regarding Letham on Calvin: there are much better expositions of Calvin's view available, such as those offered by Gerrish, McNeil, Wallace, Nevin, and, at a more popular level, Mathison (again, Mathison's work on this topic really is better than you might suspect). And also, it wouldn't hurt to read Calvin himself.



Thos said...


This conversation has likely run its course, but several things you said should not stand.

1) Calling into question my motivation is not helpful as I try to understand intellectually the Reformed teachings. The difficulties in determining and distinguishing one’s “bent” and when an uncharitable bent has been betrayed over e-mail and the internet are legion. I believe that in this instance you are mistaken (you can see a post or two below where I have arguably betrayed a bent that is uncharitable to the ecclesial crowd I suspect you think I currently favor), but more than that I do not wish to infuse supposed motivations into an already complex discussion. I would have preferred discussion on whether you’re right that spiritual does not mean “un-physical”. I understand you were not trying to attack me, but rather to call something to my attention. However, my concerns above stand.

I doubt you can speak for every patristic or Reformed scholar on the planet. I did not, as you say, assert on my authority an accusation that my brothers are in heresy (as you stated thrice). I specifically said in my post that I “wonder” whether the Reformed view “affected” with a “touch” of such heresy. We are all influenced by a variety of things. Catholics, we say, have been heavily influenced by ancient secular philosophers. I have in this combox used words like “tendency”, “emanation”, and “indicia”. I have not made the accusation you accuse me of having made.

2) Calling into question the sufficiency of my theological study is not helpful in my understanding. If I had plenary knowledge, I would not need to explore these thoughts with those visiting this medium. Further, you are again wrong in your surmise about my background. Your assertion that I have a “very limited exposure to Calvinism” is patently false. But I don’t want to get into a wizzing contest about which of us has read more Reformed theology or been raised more intimately in the bosom of a Reformed family and community. I’ve already told you though that it’s been a while since I read this, and that you called back to my attention certain aspects of the Reformed teaching. I even amended my original post with a warning, lest anyone be led to error by my own misunderstanding of terms. This was a generous, but justified and necessary concession. To not have something at the tip of my tongue is not to say that I have never been exposed to it. Further, -- and perhaps most importantly and most offensive to me – there may be a world of difference between my not intellectually grasping the Reformed claim (as is the case) and not knowing what the claim is (as is now not the case). If I don’t even know what the claim is now, after reading you, and re-reading the Confessions and Calvin, then EITHER the claim is virtually unknowable for the layman (which would say something about it) OR I am mentally incompetent (and I can offer you empirical evidence to the contrary privately if you wish).

I was interested in exploring a certain relationship between the theology of the hypostatic union and our teaching on communion. If one needs to have three years of extensive study in Reformed sacramentology to make such explorations, or needs to show that other people have similarly explored (so that the query is not novel), then (further) theological exploration by laymen is effectively foreclosed.

You say I haven’t studied enough to raise concerns. You say that the very Letham I read (an ordained OPC pastor) is incorrect on a major aspect of the discussion we’ve been having. It is hard to know whom I can trust before engaging in such a discussion.

3) Calling into question my ecumenical motivations is not helpful to my understanding. My efforts, strongly colored by my own searching (admittedly, obviously), have been to note and discuss the issues that separate Christ’s people. Often we are separated by language, its meaning, and people’s different understanding of language. I think that a deep discussion of what we variously mean by “presence” within the sacrament of communion is a significant and worthwhile effort. You say I’m not “understanding” toward my brethren in the spirit of ecumenicity. I say that *I do not understand*, and that is a factual matter. That is not to say that I don’t know, or that I am not trying.

We are recycling the discussion of whether I am confusing monophysitism and nestorianism, and you do not seem to believe as I do that those opposite errors are extremely closely related.

I’ve rarely been so set off by a blog discussion. I repent of it (that’s why I have not posted in a while), and hope that it doesn’t happen again. To help me in this regard, I would appreciate if my brothers and sisters would refrain from making remote judgments about 1) my motives, 2) my knowledge and background, or 3) my ecumenical sincerity. Jonathan, I hope I haven’t put you I a spot where you feel compelled to reply to this. I hope you are prepared, as I am, to move on, as we have come to unwholesome discussion with one another.

Peace in Christ,

Jonathan said...


I hope you'll try to undersand where I'm coming from. I am very sick of hearing charges of heresy against the Reformed, my brethren. I'm all for critiquing the views of my own communion, and have even freely admited here that some Reformed authors are affected by a Nestorian bent. But it is the current fad in the disgraceful world of blogdom to accuse the Reformed of all sorts of heresy, and when I see people bringing forth new accusations to the table in the seemingly never ending flow of anathemas against my tradition, yes, I get angry.

I wasn't questioning your motives, or even your scholarship in general. I was rather pointing out that, at least in my opinion, to publicly bring forth such assertions (even if they include introductory statements such as "I wonder") without checking your inclinations against authoritative writers, both secondary and primary, is uncharitable and irresponsible.

Regarding my ability to speak for the world of patristic or Reformation scholarship on this issue: find me a legitimate scholar who has, in fact, insinuated that the Reformed are affected by a monophysite tendency, and I will retract what I have said here.

On a minor note: I didn't say that Letham is necessarily wrong, I just said that there are better treatments of Calvin's view available.

I'm fine to end this discussion, as I agree that it has run its course.

Sorry if you see me as coming across as your enemy here. I assure you that I am not, and such a stance was not my intention.