Friday, August 19, 2011

Paradox cont.

Becker, p. 123-126

When Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ was man, he went out of his way to make it clear he believed him to be a man in every sense of the term--conceived, born, weak, helpless, dependent, subject to all the limitations of space and time, as all other men.  On the other hand, when he said that Jesus Christ was God, he pointed out again and again that he meant to be understood as saying that Jesus was God in every sense of that term--eternal, without beginning, omnipotent, omnipresent, the Lord of all creation.  Luther insisted on taking this view with all earnestness, without resolution, without regard for the logical consequences.  He believed that here we have one indivisible person, who is both God and man at the same time.  Nor was it blind, thoughtless faith on his part to hold such a position.  He was fully conscious of what such a view entailed.  He saw no way to make such a paradox rationally defensible.  He said,  "I can follow the idea, but I just do not understand what it means."  No one who is "rational" will say that this can be made to fit into the category of what DeWolf calls rationally meaningful paradox.

This was the doctrine, as we have already seen in another connection, that Luther was sure was at stake in the controversy concerning the Lord's Supper.  The denial of the real presence by Zwingli was in reality, so he held, a denial fo the full unity of the Person of Christ and of the communication of attributes.  Zwingli held that when the Scriptures ascribe divine attributes to Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, or when they ascribe human attributes to the eternal son of God, this is a figure of speech, which he called alloeosis.  Luther, however, insisted that this was not a figure of speech.  He called the alloeosis a "mask of the devil."  Luther believed that God, who is immortal, died.  And with the Council of Chalcedon he held that Mary is "the mother of God."

...In fact, he says, this is an offense to reason.  No reason can ever make things like this agree.  Our faith is a wondrous thing.  We believe that this man is God and yet crucified.  Ad we believe that this is God who was crucified.  Unless his death is Gods' death we are not redeemed.  On the other hand he is man, and yet he has been given almighty power.

In line with this thinking, Luther was afraid that if the sacramentarians would be permitted to separate the body of Christ from his deity by denying it the capacity of being present in the Lord's Supper, they would eventually on this same ground deny the personal union of the two natures in Christ.  In a sermon preached in 1526 he said,  

"I am afraid the time will come when our unruly spirits with their reason will want to destroy Christ completely and not let him be the eternal and true God.  For they neglect the Word and operate with their reason.  They confuse themselves in their thoughts, so that they do not know what they are about...  That is not the case with the Holy Ghost.  He is brave, without fear in the truth, sure of his ground, etc.  But how this can be that Christ is everywhere--you should commend to God and believe to the glory of God, even if you cannot explain it with your reason."

Zwingli and Oecolampadius and Erasmus could only shake their heads over such "riddles and paradoxes" for Zwingli held to the philosophical dictum that the finite cannot contain the infinite.  But as we have already seen, Luther believed that in Christ the finite and the infinite are perfectly joined without either being destroyed.  The law of contradiction simply does not operate here.

...For faith, he insists, is not limited by nor subject to the rules and words of philosophy, but it is free.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House ( All rights reserved. Reprinted with

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