Article 2 — Of the Word or Son of God, which was made Very Man
Posted by Rob Munro, 2 Mar 2017
Rob Munro continues our series of 40 Days in the 39 Articles, by looking at Article 2.
II — OF THE WORD OR SON OF GOD, WHICH WAS MADE VERY MAN
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt but also for all actual sins of men.
Christianity is uniquely distinguished from any other faith, not only in its teaching about the Trinity articulated in Article 1, but particularly in understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the subject of Article 2.
Historically, this article substantially reproduces the 3rd article of the Augsburg Confession of 1530. This was intended to summarise the teaching about Jesus from the Nicene and Athanasian creeds, with the addition of the phrase about eternal generation and consubstantiality added in 1563 from the Wurtemberg Articles (when Cranmer’s original 42 articles were trimmed to 39). Only in its last phrase, referring to the atonement, does it address an area of controversy with respect to Roman Catholicism. In its historical context it was more concerned to articulate the universally agreed creedal truths about Jesus over and against some Anabaptist revisiting of ancient heresies.
What is essential for us to know about Jesus Christ, according to the Article? Three things: how he is truly God, how he is also truly human, and how he is our Saviour.
Jesus is truly God because his essence or substance is divine, he has a whole and perfect divine nature. Yet, although complete in his Godhead, he is in eternal and perfect relationship with the Father. He is begotten from everlasting; this is his “eternal generation”, which means that he is wholly God and yet distinguishable in relation to the Father, as a Son.
Sonship here emphasises, not that he was ‘birthed’ in time by the Father — which is the ancient heresy of Arius against which the Nicene Creed was written in 325AD — but rather that he is God in the same way that the Father is God. Neither does Jesus’ Sonship imply that he is inferior to the Father; the analogy of the order of Father and Son is not something constraining the Son in relation to the Father, but is the free and eternal expression of their relationship in the Trinity. We are only aware of this relationship because, as the “Word” of the Father, the Son perfectly and completely expresses the one will and revealed purpose of God.
For human beings to be able to be in a real personal relationship to this living God, it is necessary that Jesus is also truly human. Jesus became wholly and perfectly human by incarnation, by a miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin (by which she was “blessed”). He thereby acquired an essence or substance that is really, wholly, and perfectly human. By incarnation, two whole and perfect natures came together in one Person. This understanding was the fruit of centuries of reflection by the church, expressed in the Article.
The Son is “very God” (i.e. truly God). Arius denied this in 325, but a divine creature is not worthy of worship nor a true revealer of God. The Son is “very Man.” This is asserted against the Apollinarian heresy (c. 360) which denied Christ’s true humanity by saying he was only a divine mind in a human body — which made the righteousness of his life irrelevant to us and fruitless for us to follow.
The Son is “one Person, never to be divided”, against Nestorianism in 431, which denied the unity of the Person of Christ, saying he was two persons united in a ‘marriage’ of sorts — thus Jesus’ humanity becomes only a good human example to us, not a divine revelation.
The Son is “one Christ, very God and very Man”, against Eutychianism in 451 which denied the distinction of the two natures of Christ — which would have meant Jesus had a different sort of nature to ours and thereby would be unable to take our place in the atonement.
Having established Jesus’ perfect divinity and humanity, the Article summarises how he is uniquely and perfectly the Saviour of his people. Salvation is first rooted in the real historical events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. In his human nature, Jesus “truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried”, against Docetic heresies that said it only seemed that way.
Jesus’ resurrection is affirmed later in Article 4, but Article 2 establishes that the climax of the work of Christ is by his death, and it comes us at great cost to him, which reveals the great depth of his love for his people. Jesus’ death primarily achieves two things: reconciliation and atonement. Jesus’ purpose in dying was “to reconcile his Father to us”, which is an unusual phrase as Scripture more commonly talks of us being reconciled to God. However the Article establishes the point that our real problem Jesus dies for is not in us — that we have fallen out with God, but rather that our sinfulness deserves God’s righteous anger, and only the death penalty will satisfy our violation of his holiness.
That is why Jesus is our Saviour by being “a sacrifice”. A suitable, perfect sacrifice dying in our place — a substitutionary atonement — satisfies God’s justice not only for “original guilt” (which is the same as “original sin” seen from God’s perspective), but also our “actual sins”. This last reference is specifically addressed against the Roman Catholic view that while Jesus’ death dealt with original sin, it required the sacrifices of Masses to deal with our actual sins. However, the Article implies Jesus one perfect sacrifice is sufficient in itself to atone. This also underlines that Jesus’ atonement does more than make salvation a potential for anyone to tap into; rather it dealt with our specific real and actual sins — his atonement is objective and definite.
In summary, Jesus Christ is unique. There is no other person who is both perfectly God and perfectly human, and thereby able to truly reveal God to us and able to identify wholly with us. Only he can be a Mediator between us and God (Article 7). He alone thereby is qualified to be the sacrifice that atones for our sins, bringing us reconciliation and forgiveness. The Article establishes how the slogan is true: NO CHRIST=NO GOD; KNOW CHRIST=KNOW GOD.
Revd Dr Rob Munro is the Rector of St Mary’s Cheadle, Rural Dean of Cheadle, and Chairman of the Council of the Fellowship of Word and Spirit.
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