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Julian of Halicarnassus (d. 527) was condemned at a council in Constantinople in 536. In denying a distinction between ousia (common essence) and physis (particular nature), Julian was faced with the problem of explaining how the one nature of Christ (which was both human and divine) could suffer, since impassibility was a natural property of the divine nature. He argued that since the corruption of sin is the source of suffering and weakness, the Son took on human nature as it was before Adam's sin (a prelapsarian humanity), and therefore His body was incorruptible from the moment of the Incarnation—before as well as after the resurrection. He maintained that it was not the necessity of nature that compelled Christ to suffer the weaknesses of human nature, but that He had subjected Himself to them for the economy of salvation.

Many moderate Monophysites were uncomfortable with his extreme solution to this question, because it strongly suggested that Christ's humanity was only an appearance and seemed to lead to Gnostic docetism. Severus of Antioch, a Miaphysite, became one of Julian's most vocal critics, arguing that Christ's human nature before the resurrection was corruptible and passible because He took on our fallen human nature as it was after Adam's sin from the Theotokos.

In Lutheran and Calvinian Christology, although Christ took on human nature fully, it was a human nature without sin. Whereas Adam became subject to suffering, death and corruption after his sin, Christ was born of the virgin Mary, by taking on human nature as it was before Adam's sin. In this way He was not enslaved by sin, nor was His human body corruptible. From the very beginning of His Incarnation His sinless human nature was perfectly united with His divine nature without confusion or change, and for this reason one in being with God can be said of the Son. After His resurrection, Christ appeared glorified in the flesh. This glorification was not something which was added after the resurrection. Instead, it was only after the resurrection that His perfect humanity, which He had possessed from the very beginning of the Incarnation (and which was revealed to the disciples on Mount Tabor), became apparent to all.

Historically speaking only extreme Monophysites who hold Aphthartodocetism, even Severus a Miaphysite condemned this heresy. The basis of this heresy is not in the incorruptibility of Christ's flesh but in its insistence that He took on human nature as it was before Adam's sin. It's this later view which was held and shared by Luther and Calvin, including all early reformers.

Were Luther and Calvin Aphthartodocetists?

To answer this question I can think of two plausible approaches:

First by arguing to the contrary that they believe Christ took on human nature as it was after Adam's sin (a postlapsarian humanity)

Or:

By arguing that a belief in Christ took on a prelapsarian humanity is not Aphthartodocetic. Plausible difficulty one needs to face if choosing the first approach is to explain how from a Lutheran or Calvinian theology a postlapsarian Christology wouldn't make Christ guilty of original sin, while if choosing the second approach I believe it would be even harder to show.

[W]e want to discern what evidence we may find within the history of Christology and soteriology which would found, advance, and confirm our proposition that Jesus was born of the fallen race of Adam and that such a condition was absolutely indispensable for our salvation.

Thomas Weinandy, In the Likeness of Sinful Flesh: An Essay on the Humanity of Christ, 1993, p. 21.

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    The Catholic theology that Luther and Calvin inherited and reacted to taught that Jesus got his humanity from Mary, but Mary was immaculately conceived, so Jesus inherited a humanity that was not tainted by original sin. This would correspond to a prelapsarian position. However, Catholicism is definitely not Aphthartodocetistic. Christ took on a fully functional human nature like our own in all things except sin. That includes the ability to feel all our emotions and suffer as we suffer. Jesus is fully two natures in one person. – King David Mar 18 '15 at 14:27
  • Mary was what? "Immaculately conceived"? Huh? – Ruminator Apr 12 at 18:15
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    @Ruminator hahahaha, they just slip that in there don’t they? – Autodidact Apr 12 at 19:43
  • The "Trinity" and "geocentricity" are two examples of situations where the Catholics failed to apply Ocam's Razor, both with disastrous results. – Ruminator Apr 12 at 20:01
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The Augustinian tradition, going back to the early anti-Pelagian writing On Nature and Grace, distinguishes between the human nature and the defect of original sin. We have a defective nature, therefore, and that is what we pass on to our children, but Christ is still consubstantial with us even though He was always without sin. Sin is not part of human nature any more than cancer is part of human nature.

The Formula of Concord (the final Lutheran Confession, 1580) handles this well in its first article. Here's the part that's most immediately relevant:

44] Now, if there were no distinction between the nature or essence of corrupt man and original sin, it must follow that Christ either did not assume our nature, because He did not assume sin, or that, because He assumed our nature, He also assumed sin; both of which ideas are contrary to the Scriptures. But inasmuch as the Son of God assumed our nature, and not original sin, it is clear from this fact that human nature, even since the Fall, and original sin, are not one [and the same] thing, but must be distinguished.

In the Aphthartodocetist controversy, the East phrased the matter in a typically Eastern way (in terms of corruption), just as Augustine phrased it in a typically Western way (in terms of sin). The East sees corruption (the vitiation of our natural powers) as hereditary and sin as the inevitable result in every child of Adam. The West sees sin itself as the hereditary corruption, and everything else as a symptom of that. You can say that Christ took a vitiated nature and lived a perfect life with it, but you can't say that Christ started out as a sinner and then lived a perfect life anyway.

The Lutherans and Calvinists and the whole Augustinian tradition do, however, affirm that Christ took His humanity from Mary, and not from some reservoir of abstract, unfallen Humanity. He is the Son of Mary and the Son of David, and hence also the Son of Adam on His mother's side, even though He is the Son of God on His Father's side (and hence coordinate with Adam, who is also called the son of God in Luke 3:38, and greater than Adam by as much as His Sonship is greater). As such, He took and made use of all the weakness that is characteristic of human nature as we know it, except that He did not yield to temptation. "Like us in every way, save without sin."

In your second-to-last paragraph you confuse Christ's glorification with the revelation of the perfect humanity He had always possessed. In Lutheran theology, at least, His glorification is the revelation of the divine prerogatives that He had always possessed, but had not made use of.

  • Thank you for this answer, let me go through briefly. Formula of Concord does distinguish human nature and original sin, neither Catholic nor Orthodox do otherwise. I didn't confuse Christ's glorification with the revelation of the perfect man as a divine person. You can check the questions (Did Christ assumed our fallen nature and Does Original Sin include Guilt) I linked above to understand why St. Augustine and the West prior to Protestantism never conflated sin with guilt. Metropolitan Ware (EO) and Fr. Weinandy (RC) both affirmed in unison that He took our fallen humanity and healed it. – Adithia Kusno Mar 11 '15 at 15:35
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    Yes, He took our fallen nature and healed it. But in Him it was not sinful. By taking it sinlessly, and maintaining it sinless, He made it new. – Eric Phillips Mar 12 '15 at 6:33
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    Neither Catholic nor Orthodox argue that Christ became sinful by taking our fallen human nature because we distinguish sin from guilt. Sinfulness is guilt. Both Luther and Calvin denied St. Augustine's tranducianism. By proposing that the Logos created new humanity for Him to assume, then He never healed our nature because the one he took wasn't identical with ours. Creationism is default position of Protestantism because sin is conflated with guilt. In Catholic and Orthodox Christ assumed our fallen humanity without guilt because we distinguish the two. Please check three links I've provided. – Adithia Kusno Mar 12 '15 at 18:40
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    Of course no one argues that Christ became sinful by taking our fallen human nature. But distinguishing between "having sin" and "being sinful" is hardly the way to explain it. There is no difference. And even if there was, the Scriptures clearly testify that Jesus was "without sin." – Eric Phillips Mar 13 '15 at 5:29
  • There is no difference between having sin and being sinful but there is a difference between fallen nature and guilt. The question presupposed Church Fathers view that Christ assume our fallen nature. Once the question is reopen you can give your answer there. The Fathers distinguish fallen nature with guilt. This way babies were born with fallen nature yet guiltless. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/38743/… – Adithia Kusno Mar 14 '15 at 4:56

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