The Stancarian Controversy
From the May / June 1996 issue of The Concordia Lutheran
THE STANCARIAN CONTROVERSY
Francesco Stancaro, the man responsible for the Stancarian Controversy, was born in Mantua, Italy, in 1501. He was about 45 years old at the death of Dr. Martin Luther and was evidently unknown to the great Lutheran reformer. Francesco studied for the priesthood in Italy where he was exposed to scholastic theology. His first accession to prominence was in 1543 at Chiavenna, and later, in 1546, he published a Hebrew grammar at Basel. Having adopted certain protestant views, and having been seized as an heretic, Francesco escaped and fled to Germany. In Koenigsberg he taught in the high school where, after 3 months, he was dismissed because of strife between himself and Osiander (see Osiandrian Controversy, treated elsewhere in this issue). At Frankfort-on-the-Oder, Stancaro continued to defend his position in his “Defense against Osiander”–Apologia contra Osiandrum. In 1553, Melanchthon also became involved in opposing the false teachings of Stancarius which threatened the doctrine of the Trinity and of the personal union of the two natures in Christ. Stancaro then moved to Poland, Hungary, and Transylvania, but returned to Poland in 1558 where, in Pinczcow, he associated with such men as Blandrata and contended that Christ is a mediator with God only in his human nature. (Blandrata openly embraced unitarianism and taught that the doctrine of the Trinity endangered the doctrine of the unity of God.) In Poland, Stancaro was accused of Nestorianism. (The Nestorians were a peculiar sect in the early church, around the 5th century, which divided the person of Christ into two entities. They taught that it is wrong to call Mary the “mother of God”–making her, in effect, the mother merely of a nature without personality. We teach that Mary is indeed the mother of God according to His human nature for in that human nature all the fullness of the Godhead dwells–as St. Paul says in Col. 2:9.)
The false teaching of Francesco Stancaro was therefore in the area of the doctrine of Christ–specifically affecting the doctrine of the Personal Union of the two natures in Christ. Where Osiander taught that Christ is our Righteousness according to His divine nature alone, Stancaro, on the other hand, taught that Christ is our Righteousness only according to His human nature. These two teachings are obviously opposed to each other–yet they are similar in this that both teachings separate the two natures in Christ. This is why our orthodox Lutheran fathers, in setting forth the true teachings of Scripture, mention both of these divergent false doctrines of Osiander and Stancaro at the beginning of the same article, namely Article III of the Formula of Concord (Triglotta, p. 791, Epitome; p. 917, FC).
As Almighty God from all eternity, the Son of God is above the Law and not subject to humiliation or exaltation. As such He could not be our Savior and Redeemer. But, according to God’s plan of salvation, the eternal Son of God took into His divine person a truly human nature in order that He, the Son of God, might take our place under God’s Holy Law (Gal. 4:4,5), keeping it perfectly as the Substitute for every man, woman and child ever to be born into this sin-cursed world, for the Bible plainly says, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous,” Rom. 5:19. (This we refer to as Christ’s active obedience.) So also, the eternal Son of God was made man in order that He, the Son of God, might be able to suffer everything that we and all sinners from Adam to the last person ever to be born deserve to suffer because of our sins, namely, everlasting torment in hell, in our place on the accursed tree of the cross, for the Bible plainly says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” Gal. 3:13. (This we refer to as Christ’s passive obedience.) He, the eternal Son of God, could do this for us ONLY IF HE WERE ALSO TRUE MAN. So it is the complete Christ, not only the divine nature (Osiander) or only the human nature (Stancaro), but God and man in One Person who redeemed us lost and condemned creatures, purchased and won us “from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death” (Luther). It is His righteousness, the righteousness of the Son of God, true God and man, which is imputed to us and which is ours by faith in Him as our only Savior and Redeemer.
Therefore, according to His divine nature alone, Christ could not have been our Savior for, in that case, He would not have been under the Law nor would he have been able to suffer and die on the cross. Likewise, according to His human nature alone, Christ could not have been our Savior because, in that case, His fulfilling of the Law could not have been imputed to all people and His suffering and death would not have been a sufficient ransom for our redemption. He could not have removed the guilt from the shoulders of all people, nor could He have suffered the punishment of hell in the stead of all mankind, nor could He have freed us from the slavery of sin and Satan. It is because it is the eternal Son of God who kept the Law in our place and suffered the torments of hell as our Substitute that our Redemption has been effected. Stancaro takes away from Christ’s redemptive work the very thing that makes it so precious, namely, that it is God who kept the Law in our place and it is God’s blood which was shed on Calvary for the sins of the whole world.
People are oftentimes offended by all of the controversies with which external Christendom has been plagued down through the ages even from the days of the Apostles to this present time. Yet, in reality, it has been through controversy that the pure Word of God has been permitted to shine forth in all its pristine beauty and splendor without the admixture of human reason. Thus in the controversy before us, brought about by Osiander and Stancarus, our Lutheran fathers have been enabled, by God’s grace, to set forth what the Word of God plainly teaches about the personal union of the two natures in Christ and the communication of the attributes of the divine and human natures so that wherever Christ is as true God He is also there as true man and whatever He does as true man He also does as true God. Since His incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the eternal Son of God is true God and true man in ONE undivided and indivisible Person, (see Catechism, Ques. 128). Scripture passages are therefore allowed to mean exactly what they say without human interpretation, as when the Lord Jesus says to Nicodemus, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the SON OF MAN which lS lN HEAVEN” John 3:13, or when the angel Gabriel declares to the Virgin Mary, “Therefore also that Holy Thing which shall BE BORN of thee shall be called THE SON OF GOD” Luke 1:35, or when Peter admonishes the Jews with the words, “Ye killed the Prince of Life” Acts 3:15, or when St. John states in the prolog of his Gospel, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” and, in his first epistle ascribes blood to God’s Son which “cleanseth us from all sin,” or when the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “God was manifest in the flesh” I Tim. 3:16, and to the Colossians (2:9) that “In Him (Christ) dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Yes, if only God, and He alone, would be allowed to speak in the plain words of Scripture in all the churches throughout the world which call themselves Christian, people would be led to a perfect Savior in Christ, the Son of God, true God and Man, in whom alone “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” Eph. 1:7, and who alone is the “Author and Finisher of our faith” Heb 12:2, and not to rely in the least on their own good works or merits for “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” Eph. 2:8,9.