communicatio idiomatum

Hey there. As a way to keep me sane and slay the threat of vanity, I have decided to keep a weekly series, "Notes from Seminary." Over the next three (and a half) years I will share nuggets from the wild community I just stepped into. My prayer is that in sharing, what I learn in divinity school might bear fruit in more lives than mine. Seminary is awesome, but it means nothing if kept within the tower. So, here we go!

Over and over again these past few weeks in divinity school I have gotten a rush. It has happened in each of my classes, first in New Testament and then most recently in Christian Theology.

I feel excited. Pulled. Rooted. On fire. Extremely curious.

Most imminently, I feel like I am learning something that was meant to be mine all along.

The “little Baptist lady” in me wants to clarify that statement because it sounds like I am actually making a claim to something. Well, I am. I belong here at Wake Forest School of Divinity and I have the goose bumps to prove it.

I feel like a muggle’s kid at Hogwarts and it is amazing.

Being in academic places again feels good. I love the stately buildings and manicured quadrangles (My school has two. That’s right.). Even the breathy rush to class at 7:57 a.m. makes me giddy.

Beautiful Wake Forest! Photo cred:  Amanda Kerr

Beautiful Wake Forest! Photo cred: Amanda Kerr

Sitting in New Testament is opening a world wilder than I ever knew. The history surrounding the realm of my faith’s sacred texts is complex, interwoven, and unresolved. And to beat all, I get to sink my imagination into its midst. I get to play here. I get to talk back to the texts that have been talking to me and my people for centuries.

This is stretching and, at the same time, like coming home. It is like learning that your great-aunt was a renowned artist while you yourself hold a paintbrush, or being handed a wand and an identity that matches your wildest dream.

There is a certain kind of magic in the study of divinity. It is at once study of God and of oneself, one’s tradition, and every creeping thing on the earth. Everything is connected. That connection is visceral and almost like magic.

Miracle, maybe.

The spells. More magical than anything are the spells.  

Theo tokos.

Communicatio idiomatum.


These phrases are weird and elite. They come with baggage and a history be-spotted like everything under the sun. Yet, they pull together meaning and spell out the labor of my faithful foreparents in a way that flashes insight and orthodoxy without a second to lose.

With each phrase I learn not only of the fight and tenacity of my earliest Christian siblings to express the wonder of Emmanuel, but I find myself literally in communion with them, with the saints, in the fellowship of the redeemed—the same words pressed to my lips as centuries of Christians before me.

Whether we knew it or not.

There is the magic. So much of what I am learning is how to summon and configure thoughts, passions, and convictions that I have known or been shaped by my entire life—in a single word or phrase. Naming them, spelling them out, brings clarity and, thus, relief from ideas that do not belong.

For example, take “communicatio idomatum” (just SAY that out loud—does it not sound like a Hogwartian spell?!). It is Latin for “communication of properties,” which does not sound nearly as cool in English, I know. What it refers to, though, is that Jesus’ divine and creaturely natures are so united that what we say about the One, we can say about the Other.

The fifth century was hot with debate over this idea. People wanted to know how Jesus could be both God and human. Some people thought He really was not human. Some people thought He really was not God. Still others thought He was a hokey mix of them both, but not really either; Jesus just “seemed” to be who He said He was…

The early church wrestled with these ideas, and they were not silly little intellectual discussions to these folks. The church was dealing with the core of Christ’s existence and, as such, they were dealing with the core of who we are as the Body of Christ.

Some might shrug shoulders, chalk this up to “churchy language,” and call it a day. These phrases could be reduced to that, definitely. They could even be warped and mis-spelled into curses of exclusion and abuse.

Sometimes folks don’t respect the spells. They memorize the words without working out the implications. If we have learned anything from Harry Potter and his friends, however, it is that a lazy spell is a disastrous one.

But a spell that calls on the whole self, at just the right moment, can banish dementors and evil of all sorts. It can help protect our minds and empower, encourage, and direct our steps. Saying the words can re-mind the Truth in us when Reality seems out of reach.

Like communicatio idiomatum.

This phrase spells out, among other wondrous things, that we can know God. It means we can imagine the touch of God’s hand, the warmth of God’s gaze, and the steady cadence of God’s heart. It means I can imagine the arms of the Creator swooping around me, pulling me tight.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation...
— Colossians 1:15

Because Jesus did that.

God made Godself known in Jesus.

Communicatio idiomatum draws this image to mind, spelling out Truth. 

God is here. God is known to us. We are not alone.