Stay on the Horse!
Friday of Pentecost 8
9 August 2019
Luther tells the humorous story of the drunken German who, after falling off his horse on one side, climbs back up only to fall immediately off the other side. In that story Luther was illustrating the habit of theologians to err by racing from pillar to post by staking out a position that is opposite to their opponents' and in that way to fall into an opposite extreme. The opposite of heresy isn't always the truth, but often it is more heresy. The theological argument that begins with the words, "Oh yeah! I'll show you..." probably doesn't work out very well.
This is not by any means a new problem. In the ancient church's battles over the two natures and one person doctrine of Christology such equine follies abounded. The classic case was the clumsy attempts of Eutyches to defeat Nestorianism by pushing the doctrines of Cyril of Alexandria too far. Nestorius had taught that the two natures in Christ were relatively unrelated, and so the unity of the person of Christ suffered in favor of the inviolate integrity of the human and divine natures. No union between the human and divine was possible. Nestorius seemed to conceive of the two natures as two boards that had been glued together, as though Jesus was two persons. Today, we would suspect such a Christ of schizophrenia, although even a schizophrenic might be better integrated than the Nestorian Christ. Eutyches thought that he would benefit the church and support Cyril of Alexandria's views by claiming that the Word of God assumed the humanity into a single nature. He was bent upon striking a decisive blow against Nestorius, but of course simply fell off the horse on the other side. Leo the Great was scornful of Eutyches and rightly so.
Leo advocated a middle ground between Eutyches and Nestorius, not because it was the middle ground, but because it stayed in the saddle of the horse called truth. Scripture portrayed the Christ as one indivisible person who is both God and man. This brings us up against what reason considers contradictions and impossibilities. Could God suffer and die? Could a man save the world? That is the mystery of our faith that what is predicated of either nature is attributed to the person. There is no separating the person as did Nestorius, nor mixing the natures into a mélange as did Eutyches. Like Athanasius the century before, Leo was at pains to confess the full humanity of the God-man, for what He did not assume, He did not save. If Christ is not fully man, He would not be capable of suffering and dying. If unable to suffer for us, our redemption would be put in jeopardy. What kind of intercession for us would be possible if He did not share humanity with us? What kind of sympathy would He have for us in our weaknesses if He did not share our flesh? The error of Eutyches falls into a deep ditch on the other side of the horse, a ditch that jeopardizes the integrity of the salvation of us humans.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Leo the Great
"After the Lord's resurrection (which, of course, was of His true body, because He was raised the same as He had died and been buried), what else was effected by the forty days' delay than the cleansing of our faith's purity from all darkness? For to that end He talked with His disciples, and dwelt and ate with them, He allowed Himself to be handled with diligent and curious touch by those who were affected by doubt. He entered when the doors were shut upon the Apostles, and by His breathing upon them gave them the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22), and bestowing on them the light of understanding, opened the secrets of the Holy Scriptures (Lk 24:27). So again He showed the wound in His side, the marks of the nails, and all the signs of His quite recent suffering, saying, 'See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have' (Lk 24:39); in order that the properties of His divine and human nature might be acknowledged to remain still inseparable: and that we might know the Word not to be different from the flesh, in such a sense as also to confess that the one Son of God is both the Word and flesh.
"Of this mystery of the faith your opponent Eutyches must be reckoned to have but little sense. The truth is that being in darkness about the nature of Christ's body, he must also be fooled by the same blindness in the matter of His sufferings. For if he does not think the cross of the Lord fictitious, and does not doubt that the punishment He underwent to save the world is likewise true, let him acknowledge the flesh of Him whose death he already believes: and let him not disbelieve Him man with a body like ours, since he acknowledges Him to have been able to suffer. The denial of His true flesh is also the denial of His bodily suffering. If therefore he receives the Christian faith, and does not turn away his ears from the preaching of the Gospel, let him see what was the nature that hung pierced with nails on the wooden cross, and, when the side of the Crucified was opened by the soldier's spear, let him understand whence it was that blood and water flowed, that the Church of God might be watered from the font and from the cup." 

Leo the Great, Tome, 5
1 John 5:1-12

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is he who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, through Your shameful death on the cross You embraced the guilt of our sin and atoned for our iniquities. Forgive Your servants. Assure us that You have cleansed us of our guilt and taken away our shame that we may rejoice in the freedom of sins forgiven and in Your everlasting peace; even as You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For those who have confirmed their faith in Christ, that they would confess Him before men
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus would bless and keep him
For Mani Swamidass and the child that she is carrying, that the good Shepherd would continue to watch over the sheep of His fold
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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