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August 17, 2005

Ch. XVIII. Q. 107. Communicatio Idiomatum

IN THE New Testament divine predicates are sometimes applied to Christ when the name by which He is identified is human, and elsewhere human predicates are applied to Him when He is identified by a divine name. This juxtaposition of names, derived from one nature with predications applicable only to the other is explained by the doctrine of communicatio idiomatum, ἀντίδοσις, which is as follows: Inasmuch as all our Lord's names, however derived, denote one and the same indivisible Person, and since both the Godhead and the Manhood belong to that Person, the “idioms” or predicates which pertain to either one of these natures are properly ascribed to Him even when the name by which He is signified is derived from the other nature.1

2. No confusion of natures is here involved, for we neither apply divine predicates to our Lord's Manhood nor human predicates to His Godhead. In all cases the subject of reference is the invisible Person of the God-man, and the variation of personal names does not change the reference. Moreover, when we apply divine predicates to Jesus we apply them only as touching His Godhead, and when we apply human predicates to very God we apply them only as touching His Manhood.

3. Historically this doctrine was involved in the Nestorial controversy, and gained formal status in Catholic theology through the decision that to be borne by the Blessed Virgin is properly predicable of God—i. e. as touching the nature which He took of her. This is the meaning-of her being called Θεοτόκος. 2

4. But Martin Luther gave the communicatio idiomatum a novel interpretation and application. He made it signify the transfer of the predicates of one nature of our Lord to His other nature, and held that the Incarnation has involved the infusion of divine properties into our Lord's Manhood. Modern German Christology, even when rejecting the scholastic form of this new doctrine, has been controlled by it as an implicit postulate.3

5. That this is so is shown by the novel form which the central problem of Christology has assumed. In Catholic Christology the problem has been, How can perfect Godhead and perfect Manhood meet and act in communion with each other in one divine Person or Ego. The modern problem—really disturbing, and not at all suggested by the Catholic doctrine of the hypostatic union—is, How can the divine be imparted to the human without nullifying the human. The kenotic theory, that the divine had to be reduced, is the inevitable logic of such an irrelevant line of enquiry.

6. With our finite understandings we may not hope to explain how infinite Godhead and finite Manhood can be united and function without mutual interference in one Ego. But this problem involves no stultification of faith in the hypostatic union. Inasmuch as the Godhead does not function in the human manner, and its operation cannot emerge as a confusing phenomenon within human consciousness, we can acknowledge our Lord's full and uninterrupted exercise of His divine functions, without invalidating our belief that in His Manhood He really submitted to the necessary limitations of earthly human life.4

1 Incarnation, chh. ii. 7. 10 and vi. 4-5; K. Theory, pp. 40-46; W. Bright, Sermons of St. Leo, 5, 63; St. Thomas, III. xvi, esp. art. 4; A.P. Forbes, Nicene Creed, pp. 206-208; Rich. Hooker, Eccles. Polity, V. Iii. 3, liii. 3-4.

2 Cf. Q. 105.2, above.

3 Incarnation, chh. i. 6; ii. 10; vi. 5.

4 Idem, chh. vi. 5-8, 11-12; vii. 3, 5, 9.

Posted by AKMA at August 17, 2005 02:36 AM