So when the eternal Son was incarnate as the real human Jesus of Nazareth, and if in being incarnate he didn’t remove or leave behind or switch of any of his divine attributes, then was he still really omnipresent? Was he still upholding the universe by his powerful word?
The answer is yes. But the next question is: how could that be the case?
The way that the Lutherans answered in the Reformation was that the attributes of the divine nature were communicated to the human nature, and so Jesus as a human was omnipresent and filled the universe. We looked at this idea here.
But that idea has some serious problems that it brings with it.
Calvin’s answer to how the Son could still be omnipresent, while also exercising other divine prerogatives, is this:
“They thrust upon us as something absurd the fact that if the Word of God became flesh, then he was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body. This is mere impudence! For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvellous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!” Institutes of Christian Religion, II.13.4, 481
The Lutherans mocked this, calling it the extra calvinisticum, the Calvinistic addition. And the thought has been mocked in this way in various circles ever since. The problem is it’s not a particularly Calvinian idea. It’s not unique or innovative on Calvin’s part. It is the normal view found all over the early Church Fathers. Here’s two examples from some Patristic heavyweights:
“And we think that something impossible to believe is told to us about the omnipotence of God, when we are told that the Word of God, by whom all things were made, took flesh from a virgin and appeared to mortal senses without destroying His immortality or infringing His eternity, or diminishing His power, or neglecting the government of the world, or leaving the bosom of the Father, where He is intimately with Him and in Him.” Letter to Volusian
“For he was not, as might be imagined, circumscribed in the body, nor, while present in the body, was he absent elsewhere; nor, while he moved the body, was the universe left void of his working and providence; but, thing most marvelous, Word as he was, for far from being contained by anything, he rather contained all things himself; and just as while present in the whole of creation, he is at once distinct in being from the universe, and present in all things by his own power – giving order to all things, and over all and in all revealing his own providence, and giving life to each thing and all things, including the whole without being included, but being in his own Father alone wholly and in every respect – thus, even while present in a human body and himself quickening it, he was, without inconsistency, quickening the universe as well, and was in every process of nature, and was outside the world, and while known from the body by his words, he was none the less manifest from the working of the universe as well.” On the Incarnation of the Word
Some have said it should really be called the Extra Catholicum, because it was taught by the whole church before Calvin talked about it.
The Lutherans followed an Aristotelian view of space as a container or receptacle. That there’s a strong link or interdependence between the container and its contents, and that the container is always in immediate limiting contact with its contents.
The Church Fathers like Athanasius rejected this container view of space, and instead viewed space as relational. It’s all a bit complicated really, but they thought that space wasn’t a container as such, space isn’t an entity in itself at all, but is related to whatever agents are operating in it. What they were doing was they were thinking out from the Bible, passages like 2 Chronicles 2:6.
6 But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him?
What the Lutherans were trying to protect was to keep the incarnation from becoming a form of Nestorianism, of separating the divine and human natures. But in doing so they just jumped into a form of monophysitism where the human nature is absorbed by the divine nature. See here for a cheat sheet on these technical terms.
The extra calvinisticum isn’t some strange innovation made by Calvin but is what the church had always taught.
It also protects the incarnation from Kenoticism because it ensures that while the divine Son is really incarnate in the man Jesus, the human nature does not limit or change or reduce the eternal Word in any sense as though the Word is now solely enclosed with the human body of Christ for all time.