The scheme of this paper is as follows. I first explain the central concepts in which the Doctrine is framed. Then I give an account of both the orthodox doctrine and a number of alternatives, for comparison. In passing, I give my own view - for what it's worth - on the continuing "monophysite" controversy. I also speculate on the psychology of the Christ, because I think that some understanding of this is a necessary pre-requisite if the central question addressed here: "What was the point of the Incarnation?" is to be sensibly answered. I conclude with a Platonic-style dialogue based on the very questions that provoked this paper. I thank Dr Miller for his comments on this dialoge and his help in refining it.
In most of the text I have spoken about Jesus in the past tense, as if He was no longer alive. This is solely in order to postpone consideration of contemporary issues relating to Our Lord and His life until their proper place. The use of the past tense should only be understood as referring to Jesus when He had a physical life in Judaea, Samaria and Galilee for thirty or forty years ending in about 33AD.
Some sections of this paper are abbreviated because the topics are dealt with at greater length elsewhere. Links are given to the appropriate texts.
I suspect, but would not wish to definitively assert, that Jesus did not suffer from any identifiable disability. On the other hand, I do not think that Jesus was "super human": excelling in every regard - a master mathematician, lawyer, poet, physician, linguist, scientist, historian, philosopher, psychologist, theologian, musician, athlete, carpenter, mason, potter and orator.
Moral worth does not attach to anyone's humanity: their nature, but rather to their moral agency. The fact that someone has a deficiency does not make them in any sense less to be esteemed as a person. Of course, we all have deficiencies of one degree or another (I am short-sighted and bald and my vision is far from perfect) and some people with great disabilities have superlative abilities in other areas of their lives, for example: Professor Hawking.
Moreover, all (material) things that exist can only be what they are by a remote and imperfect participation in Divinity. The main and universal derogation from full participation in "Necessary Being in itself" is that no (material) thing is necessarily what it happens to be: all things are contingent.
God has no reason or mind or memory as we know these things. God does not know that something is true rationally. He does not make decisions or draw conclusions by considering and evaluating observations and experience. God is spirit and knows exactly what something or event is immediately, intuitively and absolutely.
On the one hand, God is always the direct cause of any thing. He is always immanent to it - totally within it, and therefore fully knowledgeable about it; as well as transcendent of it - totally remote from it, and therefore objective about it. On the other hand, God cannot experience anything, because this would mean being affected by the thing in question, and this is impossible. This means that God cannot properly sympathize with created beings, simply because to sympathize with someone's predicament, it is necessary to have some first-hand personal familiarity with a similar situation.
Of His own Divine being, God cannot be delicate, kind or tender. This is because God is Holy: absolute, unchanging, unyielding, and uncompromising. This is why God is generally presented in the Old Testament as unapproachable and why even Moses is warned not to look at God's face, but only the "back of his glories" in the heart-rending story of the desire of Moses to know his Friend fully [Ex 33:12-34:10]. This is why God became Man.
When it is said that "Jesus was God", it is meant that He fully shared in the activity of God. In particular, as God He had immediate knowledge of all things by being the cause of all things.
It will almost inevitably seem at this point that the statements "Jesus was Man" and "Jesus was God" are incompatible because they directly contradict each other. This is because the characteristics of "being Man" and "being God" are utterly disjoint. For example: how could Jesus both always know - as God - everything, and yet still come to discover and learn and understand things that once He didn't know - as is characteristically human? Before considering this, it is necessary to discuss the concept of person, moral agency or spirit.
I know that my consciousness amounts to something entirely different and more significant than this. I am convinced that is an ontological reality, not just a behavioural phenomenon. However, I am entirely unable to describe it: simply because my consciousness is entirely different from any thing of which I have ordinary experience. To this extent, it reminds me of God, for neither my consciousness nor God are material things with parts and neither is in process of change. Both are just what they are and remain unaffected by what goes on around them. Of course, my mind and my body are affected by my circumstances and my experience. Of course my consciousness is conscious of how they are affected: in joy or sorrow; but my consciousness is not itself affected. It is just the same now as it was when I was a child and will be the same when I lie me down to die. My consciousness is who it is for me to be me. It is like a singular and invariant point of view on the world.
If a being is capable of what I shall now call 'ontological consciousness', then it is personal: it has a spirit in addition to its material life. If it is incapable of ontological consciousness it is impersonal, the only soul it has is material: animal and in some cases rational. I do not think that self-consciousness is particularly important, except that it may be that it is impossible for a creature to be conscious in the ontological sense of the term without being self-conscious in the phenomenological sense.
First, and most importantly, the answer is yes: because everything that can be said about what is typical of humanity - except sin - can be said about Jesus.
Second the answer is no: because Jesus was not just human, but also God.
Third the answer is no: because the person of Jesus is eternal. His identity pre-existed the physiological conception of the Christ, and in fact dwelt with Holy Spirit in the Bosom of the Eternal Father before and beyond all Space and Time. However, this does not make Jesus either less or greater than human, it just adds a dimension to what He is.
Because of the two "no"s explained here, theologians generally avoid saying that Jesus was "a human being" or "a man", but just say that "Jesus was (hu)man".
The matter that constituted his body was ordinary matter and was organized and patterned in accordance with standard human anatomy. He had a normal physiology and metabolism (traditionally called the animal soul) with a normal brain which gave him a normal mind (traditionally called the rational soul) of which the will is an aspect. Similarly, the connectivity of his brain was not out of the ordinary as compared to the general variability of the human population. Our Lord knew what it was to love, to reason, to remember, to debate and to argue. He knew what it was to feel tired, angry, pleased, hungry, happy, sad, fearful and uncertain. He finally knew what it was to be betrayed, to be lonely, to feel despair and to die.
This is not to say that Jesus was humanly aware of all that He knew as God. His mind was no less finite than yours or mine. It could not possibly encompass the quantity of information that would correspond to the Divine Intuition of Reality! No, Jesus had objective episteme (perfect and certain knowledge) in His Divinity and subjective ortho-doxa (true opinion) in His Sacred Humanity. He possessed each properly, but in different ways: because the proper characteristics of episteme and ortho-doxa are entirely different. How and to what degree His common ownership of these two natures, made it possible for one to affect the other is a mystery: but only in a manner analogous to the mystery of how an ordinary human consciousness or spirit affects the workings of the material soul and hence the body.
You or I can never simultaneously recollect all the information that we know. Our conscious minds simply do not have the capacity to hold it. We somehow choose what knowledge it is we will recall and consider and manipulate. This was just as true of Our Blessed Lord as it is for us. He had a rational human soul - a mind - of the same kind as you or I. How a (wo)man recalls what it is that (s)he brings to mind from memory is mysterious, but this process is the subject of psychology and neuroscience not Christology. The only complication is that whereas you and I can recollect - or bring to the fore of our mind - approximate and compromised data (doxa) only from that part of our human nature which we call our memory, Jesus could also chose to bring to His human mind accurate data (ortho-doxa) which He had access to only by virtue of His divine nature as episteme.
Jesus always reasoned and argued with His human mind, simply because the divine nature is incapable of such a limited and limiting activity. He did not know everything with His human intellect: though by a divine act of inspiration He could bring Himself to know with his human intellect anything that it was capable of understanding. Equally, He could specifically chose not to do this, and this was in fact the norm. We see this in the brief report of his pre-adult life, where Jesus is described as 'growing in wisdom', and also when He states directly that He does not know certain things about the future: not that He could not know: from some inadequacy, but that He does not know: because it is not His present business to know.
Some say that Jesus "had it easy": because He always received sufficient grace, it was impossible for Him to sin. This argument can mean two things:
"If you do well, will you not be accepted?The second argument would be true if Jesus had continually enjoyed in His human mind an over brimming consciousness of His Divinity. In this case He would have been spaced out every moment of His life and blissfully aware of much - if not everything - going on around Him in the material world. He would have been no good to anyone and I suspect that He would have forgotten to eat! He would certainly have been impervious to suffering, because it would have been impossible to distract Him from the ecstatic beauty, wonder, joy and glory that is God. Clearly, He would also have been impervious to temptation.
And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door;
its desire is for you, but you must master it." [Gen 4:7,8]
Needless to say, this is not the Jesus that we meet in
the Gospels. On occasions (especially when He is returning to speak with
his Apostles after prayer) we catch a glimpse of a gleeful, exuberant,
certainty in Jesus; but this is not normal. Perhaps it was Jesus' times
of intense prayer where His Humanity was caught up for a brief while in
the Eternal Ecstasy of the Divine Trinity that sustained Him through His
trials and difficulties. In any case, for most of Our Lord's waking hours,
He was not in this frame of mind, He did not fall back into the contemplative
furnace of episteme that was open to Him at any and all times. Instead
He remained fully attentive of the physical world and of the people whom
He met there. It and they were the prime concerns of His Life.
It was only because Our Lord generally chose to "empty Himself" of the intuition of His divinity, that His Incarnation was of any use to us humans. If He was to "become Man for us and for our salvation", then He had to authentically relate to and with us: He had to be one of us and "be like to us in all things, but sin". This opened Him to uncertainty, suffering and pain. This open-ness itself made Him vulnerable to temptation. This we see graphically portrayed in the Gospel accounts of the "temptation of Christ in the wilderness" that immediately followed the inauguration of His public ministry by John Baptist and also in His "Agony in Gethsemone".
For Our Blessed Lord, temptation was not easier than it
is for us. Rather it was indefinitely more difficult. Not in the sense
that He would generally succumb to temptation where we generally resist
it: quite the opposite! No, it was more difficult for Jesus precisely because
He was unable to succumb - and because of how this inability was guaranteed.
For you and I, temptation is generally a slight annoyance. Either it is
something that has little attraction (for example, I have no interest whatever
in the smoking of tobacco and vanishingly little in the abuse of other
narcotics) or it is something that we find so attractive that we readily
give way - and may not even notice when we do so that what we have chosen
is wrong! Only in a minority of (generally unfamiliar) cases, where habit
has not yet established unthinking patterns of response do we struggle
and perhaps agonize.
For Jesus, I suggest, every case could be like this. It seems to me that Jesus' experience of conscience must have been much more acute than ours. While Our Lord never enjoyed actual Episteme in His mind (because this is a contradiction in terms), the dynamics set up by the Eternal Word in His Incarnate being were such that:
Only in this way could the tension implied in His role as the "Perfect and Just Man" be maintained. If He had insufficient clarity, then He would fail, if He had total clarity then He would not be human.
His (human) intellect always knew just barely and clearly enough to ensure the outcome that His (human) will always chose what was right.
Our Blessed Lord could never give in to the easy option, because He would always intuit - by the divinely inspired enlightenment of His human mind - that this choice was misguided and counter-productive. This would not make it any less keenly attractive, though. Indeed it might seem to us that the desire that it should be right would grow indefinitely bright alongside the conviction that it was not at all right - until something must break! One can only presume that in every case, the thing that in the end broke was the finite (though perhaps subtle and profound) deception which every temptation entails. Even the most well crafted of lies will in the end be manifest as falsehood, if enough light is cast over it; but the personal cost of subjecting most temptations to the requisite scrutiny is beyond that which most of us are willing to contemplate. Too often, we accept the lie: even sometimes suspecting that this is exactly what we are doing, and that it will do us no long-term good; for Jesus this was never an option. For this He suffered greatly.
Jesus never "walked away" or gave up on anyone or any situation. Where there was sin and darkness, He brought Light: never flinching, though He hated discord and disorder. With those who needed encouragement, he was kind; with those who needed hope, he was compassionate; with those who needed to be brought to their senses he was stern and demanding. Jesus sympathized with the poor and oppressed and sick and marginalized. He hated to see people rejected and left lonely and isolated. This is why He cured lepers and cast evil spirits out of the deranged. He hated ignorance. This is why He preached the Good News to all that would listen to Him. He said of Himself that: "For this I came into the World: to bear witness to the Truth." Above all, He hated death, after all He was Life Itself: this is why he raised Jairus' daughter and prevented Peter's Mother-in-Law and the Centurion's boy from dying.
In all these ways, Jesus was fully human. Our Beloved Lord was not any kind of plaster saint. He was not detached from the world or disinterested in other people. Rather He flung Himself into the world, seeking to remake it once more as His Own. He was intensely interested in the lives of others. He regularly used the common experience of ordinary folk as a medium to convey His Gospel to them.
parables are full of irony, mischief and humour. He used absurdity to ram
home simple truths which were so obvious that most folk had forgotten they
ever knew them - if indeed they ever had! Salt that lost its savour. Lamps
placed under baskets. The blind leading the blind. A fellow with a lump
of wood in his eye trying to remove a splinter from another man's eye.
The persistent widow who pestered the grumpy judge until she was heard.
The woman who had had all seven brothers as her husbands. The dishonest
steward who defrauds his own master of his cash. The necessity of being
more righteous than the Pharisees. Painting tombs white to make them sanitary.
These all sound like snippets from Monte Python, or the Goon Show: if only
we will open our ears to hear Our Lord's chuckle and open our eyes to catch
the glint of laughter in His eyes.
Though He was a King, and much more than a King, He never had time for formality or slavish respect. If any-one was to be a servant, it would be He of others. In this regard He was humble. While He had a plenitude of authority, He would only use it to release captives and proclaim freedom, never to punish or admonish sinners - except those in positions of human authority who sought to oppress and victimize those trapped beneath their yolk! Towards these types He was impertinent and audacious.
People naturally deferred to Him: but He was likely to laugh it aside and welcome them into His arms - if only they were sincere in their search for justice. Whenever someone offered Him true love, He accepted it gladly: whether the caress of the Magdalene's hair on His feet or the tender fellowship of the Beloved Disciple's head on His breast towards the end.
Jesus' greatest value was love, and more particularly: friendship. He said explicitly:
"There is no greater love, than that a man lay down his life for his friends.His Apostles were his intimates, and of these: James, John and Peter were specially close to His Sacred Heart. John was known as "the beloved disciple". Our Lord also loved the strange family who provided a home-from-home for him at Bethany: Mary, Martha and especially Lazarus.
You are my friends .... for I have made known to you all that I have heard from My Father."
Jesus came into this world to gather friends to himself. Be sure to respond to His offer of unconditional intimacy when He makes it to you.
"....Equal to the Father, as to his deity, less than the Father, as to his humanity; and though he is both God and Man, Christ is not two persons but one. One, not by changing the deity into flesh, but by taking the humanity into God; one, indeed, not by mixture of the natures, but by unity in one person; for just as the reasonable soul and flesh are one human being, so God and man are one Christ." [The Athanasian Creed]Pope Clement Vth, taught in Oecumenical Council at Vienne:
"But the holy Church of God .... recognizes the union of God the Word with the flesh according to synthesis, that is according to hypostasis. For in the mystery of Christ the union according to synthesis preserves the two natures which have combined without confusion and without separation."
[Commentary on the Fourth Anathema of the Second Council of Constantinople]
[We teach that]... that the... Son of God... assumed... the parts of our nature... namely the human, passible body and the intellectual or rational soul truly of itself and essentially informing the body....In the above texts, the image is of two natures coming together - or being synthesized - under the aegis of a single hypostasis.
we reject... every doctrine... rashly asserting that the substance of the rational or intellectual soul is not of itself and essentially the form of the human body, or casting doubt on this matter...
we define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially, is to be considered a heretic.
[First Decree of the Council of Vienne 1311-1312 AD]
An alternative manner of speaking (which I find at best difficult to understand) is that the two Natures are associated with each other in together constituting a single person, by synthesis.
"..... the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.....The image here is of two natures - Humanity and Divinity - the sum of which is identical with the person of Christ.
[The Chalcedonian Creed]
This form of words has the supposed advantage of not setting the Person of Christ either against or apart from His Sacred Humanity and Divinity: as if He owned them accidentally - as tools or implements - and could act independently apart from them. However it seems to imply that the person is nothing other than the combination of the two natures. In which case, for any personal entity that only has a single nature - such as myself - there is no way to distinguish between a person and a nature. In which case it is at best difficult to justify this distinction when talking about Our Blessed Lord. Moreover, it seems to imply that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is in some sense partly "composed of" the humanity of Our Blessed Lord: such a notion being impious in the extreme.
This form of words can be stretched to mean that the "person" here is not just "the spiritual soul" or consciousness per se but rather every thing that can be associated with it. Unfortunately, this use cannot be transplanted to Trinitarian language. If it were, it would mean that God had three distinct natures to go with the three distinct persons: for else the persons could not be distinct!
While I am not convinced that the second mode of speaking is strictly Aristotelian, the first mode is Platonic in tone. My reader should be aware that Aristotelians and Thomists regularly criticize Platonists as being guilty of:
"Although the Old and New Testaments teach that man has one rational and intellectual soul, and all the Fathers and teachers of the Church teach the same opinion, there are some who think that he has two souls, and by certain irrational arguments they strengthen their own heresy. Therefore, this holy and Oecumenical Synod loudly anathematizes the originators of such impiety and those who agree with them; and if anyone shall dare to speak contrary to the rest, let him be anathema."This, together with the teaching of the Oecumenical Council of Vienne would seem to exclude the kind of analysis I am presenting here. In fact it does not.
[Fourth Council of Constantinople, 869-870AD, canon 11, Denz 338]
Patripassionism: This is the belief that it was a monadic God that became Man. No distinction is made between the agency or motivation or person-ness of God and the nature or activity or being of God. Hence Jesus is conceived as some kind of transformation of God per se and it is concluded that God as God suffered and died. This heresy is motivated by the wish to make the notion of God accessible to ordinary human thought. It is felt necessary that God as God be able to feel emotions and suffer. This idea is central to the theology of Rev Moon's "Unification Church". Docetism: This is the belief that Jesus was really a dis-embodied apparition or else something akin to an angel, with a body made of subtle matter. On this account, the incarnation was a fiction, and the Passion of Christ a deceit. The motive behind this heresy was a horror of the idea that God could really stoop to get mixed up with the messy material world. After all, a real Jesus would have had to eat and drink and evacuate his bowels! Adoptionism: This is the belief that Jesus was a good man who became enlightened (as Buddha is supposed to have been) and by God's inspiration ascended to a higher state of being, gaining an exquisite participation in the Form of the eternal Logos without actually Being that Form.
- This heresy has the same motivation as the previous one, but puts forward a theory that avoids any charge the the incarnation was any kind of fraud.
- Unfortunately, on this account the incarnation never happened, as Jesus is no more than a great, holy and wise man: a saint.
- According to Catholic theology it is the destiny of every (wo)man to become exactly the kind of being that this heresy says that only Jesus was.
- Many contemporary liberal Protestants espouse doctrines indistinguishable from this.
Arianism: This is the belief that although the person of Jesus was pre-existent and identical with the Logos, that Logos was itself a created thing rather than a constituent person of the Divine Trinity. This heresy was motivated by the same reluctance to have God involved directly in the physical world. In its most elevated "semi-Arian" form, it admitted that the Logos was of "exactly similar being" to the Being of God, but insisted that it was a thing distinct from God. The Orthodox insisted that the Logos was "exactly the same being" as the Being of God. Nestorianism: This is the belief that although the Divine Logos did posses the Human Nature of Jesus, so did a human person. In fact, the two manners of possession were quite different. Whereas the human person possessed the human nature normally, the Divine Person only possessed the human nature by some kind of moral or legal association. This meant that Mary could not be said to be the Mother of God, but only the Mother of "the Son of God", the "Son of God" being the human person Jesus Christ.
As heirs and guardians of the faith received from the Apostles as formulated by our common Fathers in the Nicene Creed, we confess one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity who, in the fullness of time, came down from heaven and became man for our salvation. The Word of God, second Person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in assuming from the holy Virgin Mary a body animated by a rational soul, with which he was indissolubly united from the moment of his conception.
- This doctrine is difficult to distinguish from Adoptionism except that the association of the Logos with "the human being Jesus Christ" resulted entirely from God's action and began at his very conception.
- Many contemporary conservative Protestants espouse doctrines indistinguishable from this.
- It is not at all clear that those communities today called "Nestorian" now believe this doctrine, or that in fact they ever have done so, or that Nestorius himself did. My personal judgement is that Nestorius was, in fact, Orthodox.
- Quite recently, a theological agreement was signed between the "Nestorian" Churches and the Vatican, and more recently a form of intercommunion was agreed.
Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity, consubstantial with the Father and consubstantial with us in all things but sin. His divinity and his humanity are united in one person, without confusion or change, without division or separation. In him has been preserved the difference of the natures of divinity and humanity, with all their properties, faculties and operations. But far from constituting "one and another", the divinity and humanity are united in the person of the same and unique Son of God and Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of a single adoration.
Christ therefore is not an "ordinary man" whom God adopted in order to reside in him and inspire him, as in the righteous ones and the prophets. But the same God the Word, begotten of his Father before all worlds without beginning according to his divinity, was born of a mother without a father in the last times according to his humanity. The humanity to which the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth always was that of the Son of God himself. That is the reason why the Assyrian Church of the East is praying to the Virgin Mary as "the Mother of Christ our God and Saviour". In the light of this same faith the Catholic tradition addresses the Virgin Mary as "the Mother of God" and also as "the Mother of Christ". We both recognize the legitimacy and rightness of these expressions of the same faith and we both respect the preference of each Church in her liturgical life and piety.
[Common Declaration of Pope John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church (1994)]
The core issue is as follows. Given that Christ is both God and Man, is it safe - or even necessary - to say that His Humanity and Divinity are together a single synthetic nature, or is this dangerously misleading or even directly false? Those who maintain that it is proper or necessary to say that Christ has a single synthetic nature refer to themselves as "Non Chalcedonian, Coptic or Syrian Orthodox" and are termed "Monophysites" by those who deny this. Those who maintain that Monophysitism was condemned by the Oecumenical Council of Chalcedon, can be described as "Chalcedonian Orthodox" and are largely made up of the "Byzantine Orthodox" and "Roman Catholic" jurisdictions.
Chalcedonians argue that it is necessary to keep a clear distinction between the Humanity and Divinity of Christ, or else there is a tendency for the the finite Humanity to be seen as subsumed into (or confused with) the infinite Divinity, and any real sense of Jesus being properly human be lost.
"As the word union has many meanings, the followers of the impiety of Apollinaris and Eutyches, assuming the disappearance of the natures, affirm a union by confusion."This is clearly a danger, and a conclusion certainly to be avoided. However, it is not clear that this danger follows inevitably from the notion that Christ had a synthetic nature.
[Commentary on the Fourth Anathema of the Second Council of Constantinople]
"We will not therefore grant the existence of one natural operation of God and the creature, lest we should either raise up into the divine nature what is created, or bring down the pre-eminence of the divine nature into the place suitable for things that are made." [The Creed of the Third Oecumenical Council of Constantinople]
Non Chalcedonians argue that just as Jesus' human nature can be sub-divided into material body, animal soul and rational soul: and that these three elements exist in harmony together as a single nature; so Jesus' divinity and humanity function together in perfect harmony and can be construed as a single nature - at least for all practical purposes. Indeed they argue that if the two aspects of Christ's activity are not a single activity - though occurring in two dimensions, as it were - then it is difficult to see how the incarnation amounts to very much. Moreover, nature is "that Form by which an agent acts". The fact that an agent happens to act in ways that can be analysed in terms of various sepperable modes of activity - Forms - otherwise characteristic of identifiable classes of agents, does not imply that that agent has multiple natures. Rather it means that the agent in question had a complex nature (synthetic Form) made up of two or more distinguishable parts (constituent Forms).
"In accordance with our apostolic traditions transmitted to our Churches and preserved therein, and in conformity with the early three ecumenical councils, we confess one faith in the One Triune God, the divinity of the Only Begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word of God, the effulgence of His glory and the express image of His substance, who for us was incarnate, assuming for Himself a real body with a rational soul, and who shared with us our humanity but without sin. We confess that our Lord and God and Saviour and King of us all, Jesus Christ, is perfect God with respect to His Divinity, perfect man with respect to His humanity. In Him His divinity is united with His humanity in a real, perfect union without mingling, without commixtion, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without separation. His divinity did not separate from His humanity for an instant, not for the twinkling of an eye. He who is God eternal and invisible became visible in the flesh, and took upon Himself the form of a servant. In Him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of the humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union."
[Common Declaration of pope Paul VI of Rome and pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, 1973]
To this a Chalcedonian might reply that the Divine and Human wills of Our Lord are so radically different in character that they can hardly be conceived of in the same thought, let alone identified! The Divine will is not deliberate or decisive - being neither contingent nor within time - whereas Our Lord's human will is undoubtedly deliberate and decisive.
For in the same manner that His all holy and spotless ensouled flesh, though divinized, was not destroyed, but remained in its own law and principle also His human will, divinized, was not destroyed, but rather preserved, as Gregory the divine says: "His will, as conceived of in his character as the Saviour, is not contrary to God, being wholly divinized." [The Creed of the Third Oecumenical Council of Constantinople]
"But the holy Church of God... recognizes the union of God the Word with the flesh according to synthesis, that is according to hypostasis. For in the mystery of Christ the union according to synthesis preserves the two natures which have combined without confusion and without separation."but confuse the issue by sometimes referring to this synthetic unity of Natures as if it were itself the Person of the Christ, rather than having been brought about under the Person of Christ. In fact, this synthetic unity is the overall or composite nature of the Christ: which is compound not by some kind of admixture or averaging process but by orthogonal combination.
[Commentary on the Fourth Anathema of the Second Council of Constantinople]
Recent theological conversations between Rome and the Coptic Church of Egypt: the main element of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and the main contemporary proponent of Non Chalcedonian Orthodoxy, have concluded that whether or not there had been substantive Christological disagreement in the past, the issues at stake now are merely linguistic and of little account.
First, the question before us must be clarified. It could mean any or all of the following:
So in brief,
- God is Holy.
- God hates all deviation from obedience to His Laws.
- Man is sinful.
- Man is entirely incapable of obeying God's Laws.
- God is just.
- God must revenge Himself for all law-breaking and disobedience.
- God is infinite.
- The gravity of even a single and apparently slight instance of disobedience to God is infinite.
- Hence, all sins are mortal.
- The only punishment fit for any sin is eternal suffering in Hell.
- God is loving.
- God wants to find some way to effect a reconciliation with Man.
- Hence, God sends His Son into the world.
- As a victim sufficiently robust spiritually to be able to suffer an infinite punishment.
- With the specific purpose of arranging for His Son to be crucified.
- This gives God the opportunity to vent His pent-up wrath on His Son.
- This enables God to divert His hatred for sin from run-of-the-mill sinners onto Christ.
- An analogy is drawn with the scape goat of Leviticus.
- God is a legalist.
- God then decrees that whereas it was His sinless Son that suffered His wrath, this is to be accounted as the due penalty for all the sins of (wo)mankind.
- This makes it possible for ordinary folk to avoid God's vengeance.
- God further decrees that any-one who "accepts Jesus as their Saviour" will be forgiven.
- God imputes Christ's righteousness to them even though they themselves remain sinners.
- However, even though God's vengeance has been assuaged by the punishment that He inflicted on His Son, any (wo)man who fails to "accept Jesus as their Saviour" will still rot in Hell, eternally.
The purpose of the incarnation was to provide a sadistic god with a whipping boy on which he could take out all his animosity and anger and so calm down enough to begin to behave rationally again.I realize that this is a parody, and that few if any evangelicals would recognize it as their belief; but it is my best rationalization of what I have heard from a number of their pulpits and read in a number of their texts.
It seems to me that the truth of the Incarnation and Atonement can be nothing like this. The doctrine I have just presented is shear poison. It is incoherent in its own terms and contradictory of any possible principles of Justice. Moreover, it makes the Impassible God into some kind of petty and vindictive demon.
My purpose in rehearsing this unpleasantness is to exorcise a few demons that may be lurking. I think that a lot of people suspect, deep down inside, that something roughly along the lines of this profanity must be true. This is partly because of the insidious and near ubiquitous influence of the "Protestant Reformation" and partly because St Paul does, on occasion, use terminology that is apt to be misinterpreted in such ways.
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction [between Jews and Gentiles]; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation [or propitiation] by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that He himself is righteous and that He justifies him who has faith in Jesus."Facing up directly to this heresy will, I believe, help us forcefully to rebut it.
“If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God's most righteous wrath .... except by the faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ.”and seems to have understood the redemtion in terms of a vindictive God who had to be appeased.
of Hippo: "On Nature and Grace"]
My second Protestant myth is rather different. This is based on the notion that Man somehow got Himself legally indentured to Satan by the Fall, and that Jesus' suffering and death was the price or ransom demanded by Satan of God before he would relinquish his title to sinners. This is the story behind the death of Aslan in C.S. Lewis' book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". While this story has the advantage of dissociating God from any form of vindictiveness or "Child Abuse", it does rather bring into question His omnipotence. How could Satan come by such a claim: one that God would have to honour, and honour in such a bizarre manner? I accept that this isn't absolutely out of the question, but it does seem to me rather fanciful.
Now let us turn from an account of heresy to an attempt at orthodoxy.
Unlike them, He claimed to be mainly teaching about Himself and His own character. He further claimed that in doing so He was revealing to the world - by giving it an Epiphany: Putting On a Show, if you like - the character and purposes of God. This was especially clear in the Transfiguration before Peter, James and John, and His final Ascension just before Pentecost. Jesus didn't simply teach about ethics, but proposed Himself as an authentic example of how properly to be human: a purpose-built "audio-visual aid", the uniquely and precisely appropriate "education resource" that would best facilitate ordinary people coming to a good knowledge of and love for God and their fellow (wo)men.
".... having reached the required age for a teacher, He came to Jerusalem, that all should have a fair opportunity to hear His teaching. He did not appear to be other than what he really was, as they say who hold that His appearance was illusory. No; He appeared as he really was. Thus as teacher He was of a teacher's age; He did not reject humanity nor go beyond its limitations; He did not abrogate His laws for humanity in His own case: rather He sanctified each stage of life by a likeness to Himself.While God had commissioned many witnesses to testify to Him in the past, and inspired them with His words: still none of them could ever say that their words were God's words as such, nor their thoughts God's thoughts, nor their actions God's actions. Jesus could and did. In Jesus, God found a way of achieving what otherwise would seem impossible. He found a way of truly answering the need that friends have for intimacy. He found a way of getting up close and personal with ordinary folk without frying them alive with the force of His Divinity. In Jesus, God found HimSelves able to chat and laugh and cry and hug and kiss and caress; and be hugged, kissed and caressed.
He came to save all through His own person; all, that is, who through Him are re-bom to God; infants, children, boys, young men and old. Therefore He passed through every stage of life. He was made an infant for infants, sanctifying infancy; a child among children, sanctifying childhood, and setting an example of filial affection, of righteousness and of obedience; a young man among young men, becoming an example to them, and sanctifying them to the Lord. So also He was a grown man among the older men, that He might be a perfect teacher for all, not merely in respect of revelation of the truth, but also in respect of this stage of life, sanctifying the older men, and becoming an example to them also.
And thus He came even to death, that he might be 'the first born from the dead, having the pre-eminence among all' [Col 1:18]; the Author of Life, who goes before all and shows The Way."
[St. Iranaeus, Bishop of Lyons c 130 - 200 AD: "Adversus Haereses", II. xxii. 4]
One thing that God could make clear in Jesus, and in no other way, was the fact that He was totally and unconditionally committed to (wo)mankind, no matter how far from Justice they strayed. God did this by not flinching when He was betrayed by a friend's kiss and by accepting the worst that the secular and religious authorities of His day could throw at Him. Our Lord prayed that the very soldiers who nailed him to His cross should not suffer any ill consequences for their actions. Jesus, our God, died after passing through a moment of darkest despair. At no point in His agony did God renege on His love for the very folk who were both in particular and in general assaulting Him and effecting His death.
While it was not strictly necessary for God to launch this "experiential learning activity" to teach us a lesson that we should have known all along, still anyone who has meditated on the events of Christ's Passion will have felt in their heart the powerful vocation towards confidence in God's Love that it can effect.
"The only begotten Word, who is always present with the human race, united and mingled with His handiwork, according to the Father's pleasure, and incarnate, is Himself Jesus Christ our Lord, who suffered for us, and rose again for us, and is to come again in the glory of The Father to raise up all flesh to manifest salvation, and to apply the rule of just judgement to all who were made by Him. Thus there is one God the Father, as we have demonstrated, and one Christ Jesus our Lord who came in fulfilment of God's comprehensive design and consummates all things in Himself [cf Eph 1:10].
Man is in all respects the handiwork of God; thus He consummates man in Himself: He was invisible and became visible; incomprehensible and made comprehensible; impassible and made passible; the Word, and made man; consummating all things in Himself. That, just as in things above the heavens and in the spiritual and invisible world the Word of God is supreme, so in the visible and physical realm He may have pre-eminence, taking to Himself the primacy and appointing himself the Head of the Church, that he might draw all things to Himself [cf Jn 7:32] in the due time."
[St. Iranaeus, Bishop of Lyons c130 - 200 AD: "Adversus Haereses", III. xvi. 6]
"The Lord leads into the Paradise of Life those who obey His teaching, 'consummating in Himself all things, things in heaven and things on earth' [Eph 1:10]. 'Things in heaven' are spiritual things, 'things on earth' refers to his dealings with man. He consummated all things in Himself by joining man to Spirit and placing Spirit in man. He himself became the source of Spirit, and he gives Spirit to be the source of man's life. For it is through Spirit that we see and hear and talk.
He effected the consummation, and declared war on our enemy, and crushed him who in the beginning had led us captive in Adam... The victory over the enemy would not have been rightly won had not his conqueror been born as man from a woman. For it was through a woman that the devil held sway over man from the beginning, when he set himself to be man's adversary. Therefore the Lord confesses himself to be the Son of Man, restoring in himself that Original Man from whom is derived that part of creation which is born of woman; thatas it was through a man that our race was overcome and went down to death,
so through a victorious man we may rise up to life:
and as through a man death won the prize of victory over us,
so through a man we may win the prize of victory over death.
Nor would the Lord have made an end [cf Eph 1:10, 2:15] in His own person of that original enmity between man and the serpent .... had He come from another Father."On this view of the matter, Jesus - the Messiah - came into the world primarily to stake His claim to sovereignty and to found a new State or Kingdom - The Church - with Himself as its head, within which to gather together all those who would respond to His vocation. Again, from this point of view it was not the sufferings of the Messiah that matter - except that He would not exempt Himself from them - in effecting the redemption of (wo)mankind, but rather His resurrection: because in the resurrection Jesus is manifest as Victorious King and acts as a rallying point for humanity. The Messiah then stands forth for all (wo)men as the source of "Spirit", the Eternal Life that comes from intimacy with God. Note that Iranaeus affords no place in his theology for any hint of Divine vengeance or anger, but only of God's benevolence towards mankind.
[St. Iranaeus, Bishop of Lyons c130 - 200 AD: "Adversus Haereses", V. xx. 2 - xxi. 2]
The scholastic theologian Duns Scotus based his view of the Incarnation - that it was not primarily ordered to the need to effect an atonement between God and Man, but would have happened even if mankind had not fallen - on this doctrinal thread.
Beyond this, the notion of holiness points to the entire otherness and transcendence of God. God is perfect and unchanging Harmony and Beauty. God is no-thing and does not ex-ist. God is absolute Being-in-HimSelves and is no kind of safe or comfortable context for contingent being. God is dangerous, magnificent and fearful: rather like a quasar, but rather more so!
Sadly, all that finite and fallible creatures can easily do is make messes. Even if they learned how to be good and so stopped making any more messes, their only proper legacy would be one of folly and error. No matter what they did of themselves, they could never do anything better than stop making things worse than they already were. The wasted years could never be recovered and the lost time never regained. They could neither put things right - because what has once been done wrong has been done wrong - nor do anything "extra" in order to compensate for past failings. The best that they could do is try to "forget the past and move forward". As anyone who has tried to do this will know, it is not easy. Regret and guilt and sadness are debilitating. When one carries such a load it is difficult to be self-confident and proud and so difficult to succeed.
Even if Man was not sinful he could not be intimate with God, simply because God is Holy: not just good, but !!Good!!
If a sacrifice is meant as some kind of after-the-event "thank you" rather than a before-the-event "please", it is a "thanksgiving offering" or "Eucharist".
If a sacrifice is meant more as a celebration of belonging and identity and fellowship, then it is a "communion offering".
If forgiveness is sought for some infringement of ritual or morals, and the sacrifice is conceived as a form of apology and recompense, and/or as a sign of repentance, the sacrifice is an expiatory "sin offering". [To expiate is to make up or compensate for some offense] If the sacrifice is intended to appease an angry deity otherwise intent on inflicting vengeance by deflecting the god's wrath onto another victim, then that sacrifice is a propitiatory "sin offering". [To propitiate is to render favourable, or calm-down, an agent who has become angry as a result of having been offended.]
If a sacrifice is meant as a direct expression of devotion and love and an exuberant celebration of what God is in HimSelves, then it is a "worship offering" or holocaust.
"While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man - though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.Our Lord's conscious obedience to God's will by a free act of righteousness, the dedication of his life to the purpose of redeeming (wo)mankind at all costs, knowing that this would mean death for Him directly effected reconciliation between (Wo)Man and God because it was as an act of such valour and virtue that - considering also that it was an act of one who was God as well as Man - it was superlatively momentous and meritorious.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life... If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. [from Rom 5:6-19]
Equally, it wasn't strictly necessary from Man's point of view. If Enoch, Jethro, Abraham and Moses could become "friends of God" then so could any-one else, in principle.
God makes it clear over and over again in the Old Testament that He is always willing to forgive repentant sinners. There is no hint that He is interested in standing on ceremony and insisting on His - undoubted - rights to be "infinitely offended" by the slightest of sins. After all, what would be the point of His doing so?
Most people were only capable of conceiving deity as:
This is the root of what is meant by saying that Man was alienated from God. It was this endemic psychological malaise that God had to tackle if (wo)mankind was to be made whole. Forgiveness isn't the point here, at least not in the sense of a "willingness on the part of God to let bygones be bygones". This kind of forgiveness was always available - and simply didn't help the situation: it simply didn't relate to the need. True forgiveness involves both parties and always involves repentance, a change in direction, on the part of one or both.
In the Incarnation God "repented" of His "old ways" - not that God had anything to be guilty about - in order to challenge and invite us (wo)men to repent of ours. He showed just how wrong we were about Him, by acting out for us what was in fact the truth. The Incarnation was a great Dramatic Presentation - an Epiphany or Showing - of the Truth: as Jesus said just before - and of - His Death "For this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the Truth."
The Incarnation was The Sacrament above and beneath all sacraments. It was The Effective Sign. It showed The Perfect Man offering expiation to His Father on behalf of His sinful brothers and sisters. Moreover it was this. It showed God refusing to renege on His commitment to sinners. Moreover it was this. Jesus showed us God. Moreover He was God.
There is another, less ancient, tradition that Mary experienced no pain at the birth of Jesus, and that she was still a physiologically intact virgin afterwards. I strongly doubt the veracity of this tradition on the following grounds:
I suggest that the Ascension should be seen as another stage on the process by which Jesus consummated and ratified the Aronic ritual. In the Ascension, The Lamb of God "Went Up to Heaven", so that the Eternal Offering of Our Lord's Sacred Humanity would always be in the presence of God. In this way, He fulfilled and gave symbolic rationality to the Worship Offerings of the Aronic Ritual.
Jesus' trip into the (Heavenly) Holy of Holies was, clearly, made after his resurrection. The reason he told Mary not to touch him was that he had not yet ascended to take His blood to Heaven consumate the atonement. The High Priest would have been made unclean for this task of making atonement by touching a woman - such was the state of holiness required - however Jesus' male disciples were allowed to touch him only a little later.
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." [Heb 4:14-16]
Primon: "Ah, there you are, Pharsea. I'd been hoping
to catch you. I wanted to ask you about this article you've just written."
Pharsea: "Dear Primon, it is good to see you, as always. I suppose that you are intent on asking lots of questions."
Primon: "I think I understand the Protestant version of the doctrine, and don't like it. I don't think I fully understand the Catholic version yet."
Pharsea: "Please, don't expect to 'fully' understand it! I'm pretty sure that I don't. In any event, I expect that your questions will direct me to explore issues that I hadn't even noticed before."
Primon: "You won't get around me as easily as that, Pharsea!"
Pharsea: "You can't blame me for trying, dear boy! It is true that I find our discussions valuable and enlightening, and I am keen to give you every incentive to continue them!"
Primon: "Enough then! The point is that I'm not sure that what you have written totally makes sense to me."
Pharsea: "Adequate sense would be good enough, I hope!"
Primon: "Some of the things you write suggest that there were lots of ways God could have acted in some sense, as far as being loving to us and giving us a good shot of getting to heaven, but He chose to act in a certain way which was the 'best way' on some metric; as of course He must, in another sense."
Pharsea: "Yes. Exactly so. Thomas Aquinas tells us that for the God-Man to shed a single tear would have been adequate recompense for all the sins of humanity. I find that a wonderful idea. Especially given the profligate way in which Jesus cried over Jerusalem and how he groaned in agony over the death of his beloved Lazarus."
Primon: "But seriously, why did God become Man?"
Pharsea: "I'm not sure that I'll be able to offer a satisfactory answer to your question. If you find that I can, then let us rejoice together and still question whether what we are content with should really satisfy our hearts. If you find that I cannot, then let us strive together to track down as best we may the prize that as yet evades us."
Primon: "That sounds fine to me."
Pharsea: "Good. Then, as best I see it, this question is all to do with God's respect for mankind and the fact that He wanted to be our friend, not just our master. He wanted to be able to see things from our point of view and to gain an understanding of suffering."
Primon: "Both these arguments seem wrong. If God were omniscient, He could see things from any view He wanted and He would understand everything anyway!"
Pharsea: "Yes and no. There is theoretical knowledge on the one hand and experiential knowledge on the other. It is one thing for an observer to claim to account for and describe every aspect of someone else's experience. It is quite another for them to claim that they have experienced something similar themselves."
Primon: "I suppose so, but why does this matter?"
Pharsea: "Well, consider a psychiatrist who is an expert on Depression but has never been depressed herself. She may know all the biochemistry and psychology and physiology, and be able to diagnose depression very accurately - and also effectively cure it: but unless she has herself been depressed she cannot say that she understands what it is to be depressed."
Primon: "But why does this matter, if she has the skill and knowledge to help her patient?"
Pharsea: "Of course, as a professional it doesn't. It is supremely unimportant as to whether she knows what it is to be depressed. All that matters is whether she can help someone who is depressed to become not depressed any more! But God doesn't want to have a professional relationship with us, God wants to be our friend."
Primon: "Well enough, but what's to stop God from being our friend?"
Pharsea: "God cannot suffer or indeed experience in HimSelves any kind of change. While he knows what change and suffering are, objectively, He has no personal experience of either. He doesn't need to have any such experience: either for His own good or even in order to help us. But, He wanted to totally identify with us. He wanted to make it clear that He does understand just what it is to be human and to change and to have passions and to be tempted and to be betrayed and to suffer and to die. He chose to experience all these things in Jesus. Hence, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that Jesus is a compassionate High Priest who can sympathize with us in our weakness."
Primon: "So you're saying that without the Incarnation, Man and God don't have enough in common to be friends?"
Pharsea: "Yes, exactly so. God wanted to 'muck in with us' rather than just observe and issue orders. Also, it is only because of the Incarnation that we can sensibly pray along the lines: 'you know what it's like, Lord: I can't put it into words, but I know that you've been through something along the same lines and that you feel for me in this situation'. Neither a Jew nor a Muslim can pray like this."
Primon: "God could help us as much as He likes - if this is what you mean by 'mucking in with us' - without having to choose between 'just observing and issuing orders' and becoming human."
Pharsea: "Of course. But God isn't ever about what He could do but about extravagance, over-brimming generosity and enthusiasm! God is infinite and never does anything by half measures. If there is something that He could do, then He'll do it: because He has infinite resources and infinite time and infinite patience. Hence, I am rather inclined to the view (along with Origen, who was excommunicated after his death for holding it!) that most people are saved, one way or another, in the end."
Primon: "So you're saying that it is wrong to understand the incarnation in terms of what God had to do, but instead marvel at what in fact He chose to do?"
Pharsea: "Yes, you have it. God wanted to show us directly what it is to be good, rather than just to use some intermediary: a prophet or holy book."
Primon: "This seems reasonable, but if some other perfectly human person - such as Mary - is already good, there is no need for someone else who is God Himself, to set us 'an example'."
Pharsea: "There are degrees of independence from God. Mary was incapable of sinning, because She was constrained by God's continual support and 'hand holding' from ever making a wrong decision. Also, She was protected from many assaults on Her integrity by God's providence. This is not a viable plan for dealing with every human being. It was certainly not the case for Her Divine Son!"
Primon: "But I also think that you are saying there is more to the Incarnation than God setting us an example. It is the rest of the package that really bothers me."
Pharsea: "Yes, there is more to the Incarnation than just an education programme! God also wanted to identify and ally with us absolutely in the face of the worst that sin and the devil could throw at Him."
Primon: "I'm not sure how becoming human comes into this. Couldn't 'sin and the devil' throw anything at Him if he were not human?"
Pharsea: "Of course not. That is part of my point! He became man precisely so that they could! Apart from the Incarnation, nothing could harm God. Nevertheless, something had to be done about the awkward fact that the Cosmos - God's Work of Art - needed remedial action."
Primon: "If God is perfect anyway, what does it mean for 'sin' to throw anything at Jesus? Wasn't it all rather of a sham?"
Pharsea: "The fact that Jesus was not just The Ideal Man, but God, made temptation worse for Him. We generally "give in" before temptation gets too hard to handle - unless circumstances rescue us. Jesus simply was incapable of giving in to temptation, but He didn't defeat temptation by using His Divine Omniscience to inform his rational soul with episteme. Rather He simply chose to up the stakes, bid by bid. As Satan deployed more and more persuasive arguments, Our Lord called upon more and more of His Divine Wisdom to counter them: but only just enough to do so. In this way, every temptation seemed to be exquisitely irresistible while in fact it was just barely resisted. Hence, Jesus came to know first hand more about what temptation feels like than any of us can begin to imagine."
Primon: "All right, but what did you mean by saying that God 'wanted to identify and ally with us'?"
Pharsea: "Just by becoming Man, God tore up the 'bill of divorce' that Adam and Eve had initialled on our behalf at the beginning of the human race. Only God-made-Man could do this. No human being - even if sinless and of superb virtue and holiness could do this."
Primon: "But this is part of the point. If God can do it, he can do it without being human. If a perfect human can do it, then again it does not need God to become human."
Pharsea: "You are correct, but your syllogism misses the point. The truth is that no perfect human could 'do it'. While God could 'do it' without becoming human, He chose 'to do it' by becoming human because it was - in His judgement - the very best way of 'doing it'.
Primon: "Are you sure about this? This seems to me to be crucial! If God is able to forgive us without the incarnation, why did He bother with the whole messy rigmarole?"
Pharsea: "God could always let us off for our wickednesses large and small. Of course, He always did do so, in practice: but - more than this - He wanted to abolish the power of sin per se."
Primon: "I always heard he was only allowed to let people off in the Old Testament because of Jesus. Because the Incarnation was a timeless event, it does not matter whether sin came before or afterwards, the fact that Jesus 'abolished' the power of sin, was once for all time."
Pharsea: "You really shouldn't pay so much attention to idle gossip! The idea that God 'was not allowed' to do something is obviously silly. I am sure that you know this and can also see why it is silly."
Primon: "I suppose you're right: but about this 'abolishing the power of sin': if God can do it, why did He need to become human to do so? Also, when you say that Jesus 'defeated the power of sin' in some sense, I am not sure in what sense this is true. Sin holds power over plenty of people's lives and seems rampant in the world."
Pharsea: "As to 'why did He had to become human', I have already answered this: He didn't have to from necessity, but chose to because it was the best way for us. As to in what sense Jesus 'defeated the power of sin', He did so in denying us any excuse for thinking that 'we are not good enough' for God. This idea keeps many people back from God. By His Incarnation, God demonstrates that His love and forgiveness and offer of healing and wholeness and holiness is unconditional, free and without precondition. While you are right that, sadly: 'sin holds power over plenty of people's lives and seems rampant in the world', none of us have any excuse not to turn to God for forgiveness and healing and wholeness. We can have total confidence that He is benevolent and not vengeful."
Primon: "But protestants say that God hates sin and that His sense of justice impels him to take vengeance. Isn't this part of the Catholic teaching?"
Pharsea: "Bless my soul, certainly not! Of course God hates sin: He sees injustice in all its forms for exactly what it is, and it is never attractive. However, the idea that He is vindictive and vengeful is a wrong and debilitating view that came out of a twisted interpretation of both the Natural and Mosaic Laws."
Primon: "So you're saying that the Jews got the wrong end of the stick?"
Pharsea: "Not quite. I'm saying that St Paul tells us that some Jews and some Gentiles twisted the Mosaic Code and the Natural Law from being guides and reminders of Justice into sentences of guilt, and in doing so lost all reasonable hope of salvation."
Primon: "So you don't think that God punishes wickedness?"
Pharsea: "It is certainly true that 'the wages of sin is death': that injustice rebounds on the evil-doer and that this is only right and proper: but God's wish is only for the repentance of the sinner so that they can be forgiven and saved from the natural consequences of their own actions."
Primon: "It still seems to me that repentance and a request of God to help remove the sin is necessary."
Pharsea: "Yes, always, but not because of some arbitrary rule: rather because of the nature of the case. Without repentance, nothing can be done to start the healing process and unless the soul asks God for help, God will not impose a cure."
Primon: "So it's like a cancer patient committing himself to giving up smoking and signing a 'consent to treatment' contract?"
Pharsea: "Yes, except that God doesn't just wait for the sinner to ask for help (that would be semi-Pelaganism), but continually pesters and badgers and encourages him to do so. Moreover, God also undertakes to help and support the sinner in his programme of conversion of life that he freely undertakes."
Primon: "So would repentance and then a request to God that he help purify us from sin not be possible without the Incarnation?"
Pharsea: "No! This was always possible under the Mosaic Covenant, no more and no less than under the earlier covenants made with Noah and Abraham! By His Incarnation, God acted to make things easier for us, to give us more encouragement and incentive: to make us bolder in seeking His love and forgiveness and help."
Primon: "You make God sound like a weak willed parent colluding with an incorrigible child!"
Pharsea: "Well, I hope it's not quite like that, but certainly God does want to entice us towards righteousness at any cost and by using any technique that He can call to his disposal!
Primon: "This is all very flattering, I suppose!"
Pharsea: "That's as maybe. What is certainly true is that God wanted to give to us rights and a certain dignity. He wanted to make us 'co-heirs with Christ', so that we would not have to keep on asking for 'special consideration' and mercy. In practice, of course, we still pray for God's mercy: mostly I think because we can't really believe what Jesus has in fact done for us!"
Primon: "I'm still not sure of precisely what He has in fact done that would mean we do not need to pray for such things."
Pharsea: "He has written us a blank cheque, if you like. We should accept this and stop asking him for further advances."
Primon: "But I know that I am not perfect, and I believe I need to be perfected before I can enter the Kingdom."
Pharsea: "You can enter the Kingdom without being perfect: perfection relates to reaching the fullness of the Kingdom. Incidentally, what you say here shows that you are already very close to the Kingdom."
Primon: "Has Jesus somehow already perfected me without me knowing it?"
Pharsea: "No, what a strange idea! But there is no doubt that if you simply allow God's grace to work in your life, by 'relaxing and not fighting' and allowing yourself to be seduced in His strong but gentle arms, then you will be healed of all moral disorder and certainly become the best man that you can."
Primon: "It seems then that I still should pray for God's help in the process, as I can't do it alone."
Pharsea: "Of course! But the praying that is required is not so much a request for God's help as an opening of your heart to God's gentle manipulation and caress."
Primon: "But surely, I still should ask for God's forgiveness and mercy?"
Pharsea: "One sense of forgiveness and mercy relates to an escape from due punishment: being 'let off', if you like. It is this that we really shouldn't pray for: because God has already let us off anything that there might have been to be let off from: if there was anything to be let off from in the first place, which I doubt! We don't need to ask for this except as a kind of inverted 'thank you' that acknowledges what is already the case. On the other hand, 'mercy' can also mean kindness: being helpful towards another person. For example it is merciful to help someone in distress. In this sense, the Good Samaritan was merciful to the man who had been set upon by brigands. In this sense we should continually cry out 'Kyrie, eleison!' - 'Lord, have mercy!" - confident that God will here our prayers (which He himself inspires) and come to our aid!"
Primon: "Would I be unable to pray without the Incarnation? Would God be unable to listen?"
Pharsea: "Of course not!"
Primon: "That's well enough: but in which case, I don't see how the Incarnation helps."
Pharsea: "The Incarnation should help you by giving you a greater confidence in prayer. It shows God's absolute commitment to the "Primon Perfection Project". After all, God invested His Life, Love and Death in it!
Primon: "But I still think you're holding back on me. The Protestant story is all about God punishing Jesus instead of sinners. Does this have no counterpart in Catholic Theology?"
Pharsea: "No, not as such."
Primon: "But you have written that the Protestant story is a distortion of Catholic theology, what did you mean by that?"
Pharsea: "The Catholic story is that Jesus offered an apology to God on our behalf not that He offered Himself as a proxy or substitute, to be punished instead of us. Jesus' apology 'made up for' the infinite offence that we mere mortals do towards God's infinite dignity every time we sin. It means that we can be proud before God: basking in the glory of our brother and friend and team-mate Jesus, not being forever ashamed and self-conscious of the ill that we have ourselves done."
Primon: "It seems that you are saying the sin of a mere mortal is of infinite badness but the prefect life of a human is only of finite goodness in some balance."
Pharsea: "Yes, this is exactly what I am saying. It's obvious if you think about it a little. The gravity of sin must take account of the infinite dignity of God, whereas the value of a perfect human life is at best finite."
Primon: "Who decides these scales?"
Pharsea: "The scales don't have to be calibrated by anyone, the facts are just as they are. The scale is absolute."
Primon: "I'm not so sure about that, but let it pass. How do you say that Jesus made this apology, then?"
Pharsea: "Jesus as God-Man was able to do a deed of superlative glory: As a man and for mankind, but raised to an infinite level of value and significance by the fact that it was a Divine Person who acted and experienced that act in the Human Nature He had assumed."
Primon: "But what is the 'deed' and why did it have to be done?"
Pharsea: "Jesus' deed was His whole Life, culminating in His death and resurrection. Jesus obeyed God, whereas Adam had disobeyed God. Jesus broke the bonds of sin by showing what was true about God and His attitude towards mankind. God didn't want Jesus to die, and took no pleasure in it. Objectively, Jesus' execution was the greatest sin of all time! It was offensive to God, not pleasing! However, God the Father was supremely pleased that God the Son stood by mankind even when He was betrayed by His friend and when leaders of mankind conspired to murder Him."
Primon: "What do you mean by 'breaking the bonds of sin'? I need something less figurative."
Pharsea: "This is a reasonable request. I will do my best to explain."
Primon: "Fair, enough. So: what are 'the bonds of sin'?"
Pharsea: "The psychological isolation from God and the debilitating loss of hope that a knowledge of failure and self inadequacy brings with it."
Primon: "How were these bonds, that you say exist, broken?"
Pharsea: "By Jesus showing that God will not accept any excuse as valid grounds for us being isolated and alienated from Him."
Primon: "Could they have been broken in another way?"
Pharsea: "Perhaps: after all, who am I to say? It seems to me, however, that the Incarnation was a pretty neat answer to the problem situation!"
Primon: "What is the difference to us between them being broken and unbroken?
Pharsea: "We have great grounds for hope!"
Primon: "What is the difference to God?"
Pharsea: "He has another seduction technique at His disposal!"
Primon: "I'm not convinced. It seems to me that if I run away when called upon, knowing that another human actually did respond to the call does not reduce my sense of shame. In some ways, it makes things worse for me: as it shows what is possible; whereas if I were a mouse, and incapable of controlling my urge to flee from fire, I might feel less ashamed!"
Pharsea: "Indeed, but there is a difference between subjective feelings of guilt and shame and any objective basis for such feelings. God's very purpose in becoming Man was to offer a cloak of dignity to sinners. To that extent, Luther was correct."
Primon: "I can't believe my ears, you're actually saying that Luther was right about something?"
Pharsea: "Indeed I am! God does impute to sinners the merit of Christ. God does look at us in an especially kind manner saying that:
With this cloak of dignity being freely offered, there are no objective grounds for shame or guilt. It is just like the tender care shown by God for Adam and Eve as they were 'cast out' of Eden to make their way in the world of ethical choices. God HimSelves 'sewed' His beloved children garments to clothe their nakedness and to represent His approval of them and His commitment to them."'Since it was one like you - though He is my Divine Son too - who honoured me,
by honouring humanity: my masterwork of love,
and so repaired the necessary breach of trust that dogged our relationship;
I will accept you as associated with that honour and in turn I will honour you.'
I too have always belived that God became man in order to reveal Himself to us, and to experience humanity, so that we would have no excuse to reject God by claiming that He does not understand us. That He performed His wonders, cured the ill and raised the dead in order to confirm His almighty Godhood, and to show us His good will towards us. He is the man-lovimg God, after all. That He allowed Himself to be crucified in order to prove His love in the most absolute way, leaving no doubt, and in order to experience humanness in its totality, in its best and in its worst. That by 'taking away our sin' is meant conquering death for us, by dying himself and rising again, and undoing what misled Adam had done.
God was born, lived, died and rose out of love for us. The scholastics speculated that He would have become man even if man had not sinned, just out of love for us, wanting to share our nature with Himself and His with us. (That is what love is about, sharing with the other what one is and has.) Original Sin and the dire state to which its consequences had reduced mankind was the excuse that God needed to do what He had wanted to do.
I was very glad to read a coherent, orderly and well-thought out article incorporating these very ideas and many more, for which I had no concrete words.
I cannot conceive of the sacrifice of the Cross as an attempt to appease an angry God. Christ is Himself God, Who offered His own Self to Himself in order to satisfy our human need to offer sacrifice to God, yet never able to find the appropriate or sufficient sacrifice: which just made us feel even guiltier than we already were; which is what Satan, of course, sought.
The great deceit is that God hates us, and that we are not good enough for God just as we are. So God Himself became our last and perpetual Sacrifice. This perpetual Sacrifice is re-presented in earthly space and time at Holy Mass, but even more illustratively, as in the Mass God is not only present and offering Himself to us with His divinity and crucified/glorified humanity, but adding yet another dimension to His Everlasting Sacrifice - He presents Himself as a host, reducing Himself even further in size, the Unlimited making His Sacred Humanity even more limited, the Highest making Himself even lower, the Greatest making Himself even smaller in order to offer His humanity and by analogy ours - to the Blessed Trinity - which includes Himself - and in order to have sacred intercourse with us.
I can only understand Holy Communion, wherein Christ comes
into my body, stays a while, then leaves without being consumed by me -
as only the accidents are consumed - as a sort of intimate or spiritual
coitus. In coitus too, the two are joined for a while, give each other
pleasure and comfort, then take leave of each other without having been