HOUSMAIL HM#087 - THE DOCTRINE OF "CELESTIAL FLESH" 14 September 2001
Late last year, when researching the life of Michael Servetus, I encountered for the first time, the term "Celestial Flesh". (Also sometimes referred to as "Heavenly Flesh") Further research revealed that it was taught by such well known 16th Century names as Melchior Hofman and Menno Simmons. As would be expected, it was normally found only amongst Trinitarians and Arians. Consequently it came as a total surprise to discover that it is also listed amongst the charges brought against Michael Servetus, for which he was tried, condemned and murdered.   (Servetus did not believe in either the Trinity or the personal pre-existence of Jesus.)
According to E.A. Green "it emerged as a Reformation-era explanation of the theological problem of the sinlessness of Christ".
As reported by Green, it appears to be largely just one more clumsy variation of the Catholic doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception of Mary". Depending who you read, it seems to takes various forms, and is not necessarily quite accurately reported by those with an «anti-Anabaptist axe» to grind. Accusers howling for blood, are seldom to be relied on for strict and impartial accuracy!!(Remember? In their desperate attempt to condemn Jesus, the Jews hired false witnesses giving perjured testimony -- didn't they?)
In the Catholic version Mary was claimed to have been born free of the taint of «Original Sin», so that Jesus could derive His flesh from her, without being subject to «Adamic Condemnation» on account of his humanity.
In Calvin's "Reformed Theology", "Original Sin" is replaced by "Total Depravity". Others call it by different names, (such as "sin-in-the-flesh", or "inherited sin" or "sin nature"), but it usually amounts to pretty much the same thing! i.e All men are said to be born with some built in factor, allegedly added to Adam's nature after the Fall in Eden, and passed on genetically to all his descendants. For various reasons, (again depending who you hear it from) this becomes the subject of God's displeasure and requires "Atonement" just as much as personal sin! And since it also says that it prevents men from ever truly overcoming sin in this life, of course it becomes a monstrous excuse for personal sin! (I personally suspect that THIS latter point is the real reason underlying its "invention"!)
Briefly, "Celestial Flesh" explains the sinlessness of Jesus, by saying that he brought His flesh with Him from Heaven, rather than from deriving it from Mary. Thus of course, they can then claim that He had no "Original sin" coursing through his veins! -- and was thereby both able to overcome temptation, and at the same time, be under no personal "condemnation" for His humanity.
The name of this teaching seems to be little known amongst "ordinary believers" in the 21st century. However I have encountered it under different "guises" from time to time, amongst those who wrestle with the question of how Jesus could have been perfectly obedient, when all other men failed. e.g. For many exponents of the doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus has become a two natured god/man, able to overcome because he is "God".
Sadly, some Unitarian believers in the ONE GOD of Moses, have managed to invest Jesus with a specially created, divinely strengthened "genetic make up" derived from His miraculous Divine begettal, which enabled him to resist the temptations in which all other men failed. i.e. Jesus was some sort of "divine/human hybrid", not quite the same as other men! This is just another version of "Celestial Flesh" under a different name!
And. when you think about it, that also, just as much as the Trinity, or Arianism, or Oneness, amounts to another subtle variation of the ancient "Spirit of Antichrist heresy" reported by John in his first Epistle. Although Jesus is said to have "flesh", intellectual honesty will quickly recognise this is mere lip service to words! Specially created genetically different flesh is clearly NOT the same flesh as that of all other men.
And it is to be rejected, along with all other teaching which excuses sin by making the nature of Jesus subtly different from that of other men!
1. "The Complaint
of Nicholas de la Fontaine Against Servetus, 14 August,1553" items XIV
2. However, it
was interesting to note that it was NOT held by Adam Pastor, who was
excommunicated by Menno Simmons for rejection of the Trinity and espousal of "Biblical
3. E.A. Green,
"Heavenly Flesh Doctrine".