Mystery or Speculation
Tuesday of Pentecost 8
6 August 2019
Faithful Christian theology is truly useful. Christian theology should never be merely speculative for speculation's sake. Theologians should never succumb either to mere intellectual curiosity, or to obtuseness. In no area of theology is this more important than the church's teaching on the person and work of Jesus. For this is our salvation. In the fifth century, Leo the Great made an enormous contribution to the church's teaching on the person of Christ. Leo, who was a hard-nosed church politician, as a perusal of his correspondence shows, kept out of the theological controversies of the church in the East. Finally, however, after being goaded by the need for clarity and the failure of Eutyches, he wrote a letter to Flavian, the Archbishop of Constantinople, expounding the Christological formula of two natures in one person. The letter, although not particularly long, provided the grounding for the definition of Chalcedon (451), the last of the major Christological councils of the ancient church.
This letter to Flavian from Leo was later denominated "Tome;" indicating its enormous authority. Despite its authority it is a tightly organized little gem of Christology. Leo fully understood that this work could not be a high flown work of speculative theology. Its content was deeply practical because clarity about Christ is essential to the right understanding of our salvation. In that sense, Christology is always "apotelesmatic;" having a deeply practical goal of portraying to us the work of salvation in Christ. Or at least it needs to be.
Leo emphasized that each of the natures retaining their own unique properties. He who is God of God is not diminished in the full possession of Godhead by the incarnation. He retains all His divine properties even and especially in the personal union in which He who is Creator becomes a creature born of Mary. Those divine properties are not impaired by the incarnation, but rather they are ordered by the God-Man to condescend to our need. In the same way, a truly great man might stoop to wash, feed, and nurse back to health a filthy derelict left at his door, without any diminishment to his greatness. Such condescending service does not lessen but burnishes his greatness. Our Lord did not merely help the beggars, but by reason of the incarnation becomes one of them, but this in no way diminishes the perfect glory of His divinity. He remains fully divine that He might defeat the reign of our enemy and He is fully human that He might take up our sins and sorrows, freeing us from both the devil and death. Such a great salvation is not speculative nor a relic of ancient Byzantine theology. It portrays the mystery of our salvation: Christ.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Leo the Great
"Without detriment to the properties of either nature and substance which came together in one person in the incarnation, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt belonging to our condition inviolable nature was united with nature capable of suffering, so that, as suited the needs of our disease, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and not die with the other. Thus in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true God born, complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours. And by "ours" we mean what the Creator formed in us from the beginning and what He undertook to repair. For what the deceiver brought in and what deceived man committed, had no trace in the Savior. Nor did He share our faults, because He partook of man's weaknesses. He took the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7) without stain of sin, increasing the human and not diminishing the divine. Because that emptying of Himself (Phil 2:7) whereby the invisible One made Himself visible and, Creator and Lord of all things though He be, wished to be a mortal, was the bending down of pity, not the failing of power. Accordingly, He who while remaining in the form of God made man, was also made man in the form of a slave. For both natures retain their own properties without loss. As the form of God did not do away with the form of a slave, so the form of a slave did not impair the form of God.
"For inasmuch as the Devil used to boast that man had been cheated by his guile into losing the divine gifts, and bereft of the gift of immortality had undergone sentence of death, and since he had found some solace in his troubles from having an accomplice in delinquency, and that God also at the demand of the principle of justice had changed His own purpose toward man whom He had created in such honor, there was need for the issue of a secret counsel, that the unchangeable God whose will cannot be robbed of its own kindness, might carry out the first design of His Fatherly care towards us by a more hidden mystery; and that man who had been driven into his fault by the treacherous cunning of the devil might not perish contrary to the purpose of God." 

Leo the Great, Tome, 3
Hebrews 1:1-14

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire." But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end." And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, by Your incarnation majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: inviolable divinity was united with a nature capable of suffering, so that, as suited the needs of our disease, You could both die with the one and not die with the other. Grant us that we would both believe this mystery with our whole heart and confess its truth in the world. Amen.
For Kirstyn Harvey, who is recovering from surgery, that she would experience a full recovery and give thanks to God
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that he would confess faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ unto the salvation of those who hear him
For the electors of Concordia University Portland as they choose a president to lead the university into the future God has for it, that they would be led by the Spirit of Christ
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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