The Extra Calvinisticum: That Calvinistic Extra

One of the most amazing acts of God in history is the Incarnation of the Son of God. At that moment in time when “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14) and the baby Jesus lay in the manager, He did not cease to be who He has always been.

At the Incarnation, the Logos remained omnipresent and active in sustaining the universe while his human nature became localized on earth. In Reformed theology, this doctrine is known as the Extra Calvinisticum.

The Extra Calvinisticum is the doctrine that after the Incarnation the Eternal Word continues to be present and active also beyond the flesh united to himself.[1] It is based on Calvin’s Christology found in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“Here is something marvelous: 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!”[2]

The Lutheran vs Reformed Christology Wars

Why does a beautiful truth have to have such a strange name? We can thank the early Lutherans for this! It was used by them as a derogatory term meaning “that Calvinistic extra.”

In the Christological wars of the Reformation, the Lutherans taught the Logos is not beyond Christ’s flesh. They believed (and still believe) that everywhere the Logos is, there is Christ’s humanity.[3]Consequently, Lutherans believe that Logos’ omnipresence is communicated to His human nature, meaning that His humanity (flesh and blood) is omnipresent.

This is what gave Lutherans the foundation for their belief of that in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ human nature is present is “In, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine. Some have wrongly called this consubstantiation, which to be fair, Lutherans vehemently deny. But Lutherans do believe that the human nature of Christ is omnipresent.

At the Incarnation,the Logos remained omnipresent and active in sustaining the universe while his human nature became localized on earth. In Reformed theology, this doctrine is known as the Extra Calvinisticum.

Chalcedonian Christology

But truly, the Extra Calvinisticum is not a novel teaching. It is found in Athanasius and was taught in Chalcedon’s very definition of orthodox Christology:

“The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. When He moved His body He did not cease also to direct the universe by His Mind and might.” Athanasius[4]

Christ was “made known in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union [of the divine and the human].” Chalcedon[5]

It’s hard to see how Lutheran Christology doesn’t compromise this definition. Whereas Reformed Christology maintains the two natures as distinct without confusion or separation, Lutheran Christology seems to cross the boundary of the two natures by confusing and altering them.

Following Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism affirmed and taught the Extra Calvinisticum:

“the Godhead is incomprehensible and everywhere present, it must follow that it is indeed beyond the bounds of the Manhood which it has assumed, but is yet…remains personally united to it.”[6]

Why is it Important To Uphold The Extra Calvinisticum?

As Reformed Christians, we believe the Logos is not confined within the bounds of a localized human body. Christ is omnipresent in His divinity, but He is not omnipresent in His humanity.

Because He is God, Christ transcends the bounds of His human body and upholds the universe at every moment. Yet, we always maintain the unity of the Person of Christ (human and divine) without confusion.

As Reformed Christians, we believe the Logos is not confined within the bounds of a localized human body. Christ is omnipresent in His divinity, but He is not omnipresent in His humanity.

The Extra Calvinisticum is important because it echoes Chalcedonian Christology and gives us an excellent framework for understanding the union of the two natures of Christ.


[1] Extra Calvinisticum. In Encyclopedia of the Reformed faith (p. 132).  

[2] Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2 Institutes 2.13.4

[3] Dogmatic theology (Shedd, W.G.T., p. 955).

[4] Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word of God (3.17)

[5] Pocket dictionary of theological terms (p. 25). InterVarsity Press.

[6] Heidelberg Catechism (Q.48)

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