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Differences in Christology

Christology is interested in answering important questions about Christ. It seeks to understand who he was, but also what he was and why he performed the actions he did, so far as human reason is able to understand. Although there have been differing answers to these questions, the Church has sought to clarify these answers. During the Protestant Reformation, Luther and Calvin also taught answers to these questions, sometimes in agreement with the Church and each other, but other times in conflict with either or both.

Both Luther and Calvin are in agreement with Catholic teaching regarding the union of the Divine Nature. However, Luther’s conception of the relationship seems to be a bit more fused together. He understands the communication idiomatum to predicate attributes of one of Christ’s nature to the other, in contradistinction to the Catholic position. This also means that Luther taught that the death of Jesus affected God.

Luther and Calvin agree that Christ takes the sins of the world upon himself. They teach that God’s wrath needs to be poured out because of his justice, which are in tension with one another. Thus, Christ redeems us by accepting this wrath and suffering the punishment due to sin, while letting us be acquitted. Thus, he imputes his righteousness upon each person, covering their sin. He suffered and experienced the horror of sin in its totality. Paradoxically, Luther writes that Christ shrank away from this punishment in his human nature, hiding the will to love God underneath. On the other hand, Anselm wrote that Christ offers himself as a sacrifice to atone for our sins- as an act of love and obedience. His life, which he voluntarily lays down, is an offering of infinite value for the redemption of mankind who is then made righteous and sanctified.

In Luther, Christ and the Holy Spirit create a new man whereby the faith of the believer results in good works, but these are in no way meritorious. Calvin teaches that the resurrection of Christ causes new life in us and while righteousness is only imputed, the Holy Spirit sanctifies the elect in the Church united to Christ. Thus, each individual participates in the mystery of Christ as a member of Christ’s body. The Catholic position holds that we are truly righteous, and both the individual and the Church are sanctified through Christ.

Although there are similarities with Catholic teaching on a number of topics, there are also many differences. These differences are found most dramatically in the mission of Christ and what role his purpose served in the salvation of mankind. Rather than revealing a merciful father as both Calvin and Luther taught, their position seems fairly unjust. God is a wrathful God who punishes the innocent and acquits the guilty. Rather, the second Person of the Trinity offers himself as a gift for all of mankind purely out of love and this love restores our ability to return God’s love for us and enter into relationship with Him.


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