The Incarnate

What remains for this chapter is the formidable task of filling out some themes which we judge to belong to Catholic (and other) teaching on Jesus Christ. One could dedicate pages to the personal pre-existence of the Incarnate Son in eternal relationship to the Father and the Spirit, or to an event that inaugurates the trinitarian story of Jesus: the virginal conception which took place through the power of the Spirit and revealed, in particular, the divine origin of Christ as the Son of God. Then one might take up the question of the sinless life of the incarnate Son of God, the knowledge he enjoyed in his human mind (see what was reported from Aquinas in Ch. 2), his freedom, and other aspects of his earthly story. Since one of us has already treated these and related issues in several books,90 we have decided to limit ourselves to two central issues: the possibility of continuing to use the language of 'one person in two natures', and possible interpretations of Christ's work as redeemer.

1. The teaching of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) about the one person or subsistence (hypostasis) of Christ in two natures has remained normative for mainstream Christianity. Hypostasis as signifying one individual had and has a wider application than 'person' as signifying a rational individual. Every person is a hypostasis but not every hypostasis (e.g. an individual dog or tree) is a person. One might sum up the contribution of Chalcedonian teaching by saying that the incarnate

See e.g. O'Collins, Christology , 237—44, 254—78. That book also indicates what would happen if Christ were only human or were only divine; it is decisive for Christian faith that he is both human and divine (ibid. 154-8, 228, 230-1).

Word of God is only one individual (person) but has two 'things', his divine and human natures. He is one 'who' but has two 'whats'. The 'oneness' we acknowledge with reference to the person, the 'twoness' with reference to the natures (see Ch. 1 above).

Hence the incarnate Son of God is and was a human being (or better has and had a human nature), but is not a human person. Let us expand this vital point, especially for readers who may jump at once to the conclusion that if he was/is not a human person, he cannot have been a 'real' human being. The Son of God took on or assumed all the natural endowments of a complete human being, but did not become a human person. In addition to the characteristics of divinity that he already possessed from eternity, the Word of God acquired around 5 BC (when Mary conceived Jesus) all the essential characteristics of a fully authentic human being. That made him and continues to make him a genuine human being. His loving 'descent' from heaven 'altered' him by adding the human nature through which he could operate visibly and humanly. But his humanity did not and does not have the independence that would constitute a second (human) person alongside the divine person of the Word of God.

If in the incarnation, the Son of God had, so to speak, 'teamed up with' an already existing person, he could not truly have 'become flesh' (John 1: 14) or assumed the full human condition (Phil. 2: 7—8). What would have resulted would have been a very special, even uniquely special, relationship between two individuals: a divine subject (the person of the Son of God) and a human subject (the person of the Son of Mary), who was very intimately related to the Son of God but not strictly identical with him. Any such 'two-sons' view in effect excludes a genuine incarnation and pictures Christ as a kind of temple of the divine Word or as a person filled with the divine Spirit. Such a Christ might differ in degree from others so graced by God, but not in kind.

As has normally been the case with general councils of the Church, the Council of Chalcedon used the terms 'natures' and 'person' or 'subsistence', without stopping to define them. What is two in Christ it called the 'natures', what (or rather who) is 'one' it called the person or subsistence. Instead of being the proper work of an ecumenical council, the analysis and definition of terms belong rather to philosophers and theologians.

Prosopon, after initially indicating a mask worn by an actor on stage to signify some character, began to denote the visible manifestation or 'face' of someone, or—one might say, someone's public 'persona'. Without too

Fig. 7. Birds and a rabbit join two little angels in worshipping the Christ Child in this Chinese nativity scene from 1947. (The Art Archive/Missions Etrangères Paris/Dagli Orti.)

Fig. 7. Birds and a rabbit join two little angels in worshipping the Christ Child in this Chinese nativity scene from 1947. (The Art Archive/Missions Etrangères Paris/Dagli Orti.)

much trouble, through the third into the fifth century prosopon (in Greek) and persona (in Latin) came to indicate an individual human being, while often maintaining the overtones of such an individual as visibly manifested.

For centuries, however, as we pointed out in Ch. 1, hypostasis was dogged by controversy, in particular when translated into Latin as substantia or 'that which stands under'. To begin with, hypostasis could, among other things, denote either (a) an essence or (common) substance in the Latin sense, or (b) an individuating principle. The ambiguity for Romans in the meaning of the Greek hypostasis emerged in a furiously indignant letter from St Jerome (d. 420) to Pope Damasus. About thirty years of age, Jerome was then living among some hermits in the Middle East. He had met some Greek-speaking Christians who shocked him by their terminology for the Trinity: '[They] are trying to extort from me, a Roman Christian, their unheard-of formula of "three hypostases"...I ask them what "three hypostases" are supposed to mean. They reply, "three persons subsisting". I reply that this is my belief. They are not satisfied with the meaning; they demand the term' (Epistob, 15. 3). Less than a century later, however, by endorsing the teaching of Chalcedon, St Leo the Great and Latin Christians did just what had outraged Jerome: they accepted hypostasis as meaning a subsistent subject rather than the basic essence or substance.

The Chalcedonian definition obviously took the two 'natures' as equivalent to (a) 'divinity' and 'humanity', (b) being 'truly God' and 'truly man', or (c) being as God homoousios (of the same substance/essence) with the Father and as man homoousios (of the same substance/essence) with us. In the case of 'consubstantialit/ with the Father, the Council had in mind a numerically identical substance or being. Here it understood 'same' in the sense of 'identical' or 'one and the same'; there is only one divine substance, essence, or nature. But in the case of 'consubstantialit/ with us human beings, the Council used the term in a generic sense. There are innumerable instances of the human substance or being. We share the 'same' substance with Christ, but we do not share an 'identical' substance with him. Our being is not 'one and the same' substance with his.

By supplying right at the heart of its particular contribution to teaching on Christ three sets of equivalents for 'two natures' (see a—c above), Chalcedon refrained from rigidly imposing just one way of speaking about the duality in Christ. The principal churches in both East and

West accepted the language of 'one person in two natures', but some groups of Christians would not do so and at times suffered for not endorsing the complete Chalcedonian teaching. Better relations between Christian communities in the twentieth century led to agreements about faith in Jesus Christ that followed Chalcedon but, out of respect for certain religious and cultural sensitivities, avoided some of the Council's terminology. Thus the May 1973 christological declaration signed by the (Oriental Orthodox) Coptic pope, Shenouda III of Egypt, and Pope Paul VI officially set at rest one cause of the schism that arose in the fifth century when some Christians in Egypt and elsewhere refused to accept the language of 'two natures'. The 1973 declaration, recalled in Ch. 1, avoided that language, but said what is functionally the equivalent by confessing Jesus as 'perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his humanity'. The declaration went on to say: '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' (ND 671a). Thus the declaration could say what Chalcedon taught by using the God—man and divinity—humanity language (a and b above).

But how well have the characteristic terms from Chalcedon, 'person' and 'natures', worn over fifteen centuries? The overwhelming majority of Christian teachers repeated the Council's language about the 'two natures' of Christ. At times they forgot the infinite qualitative difference between the uncreated divine nature and the created human nature, falling into the mistake of treating the two natures as if they were two of the same kind or two more or less equal species of the same genus, 'nature'.

Some modern authors claim that this term has changed or enlarged its meaning too much to be any longer serviceable. In short, what people in the twenty-first century mean by 'nature' is not what the bishops at Chalcedon meant in the fifth century. Unquestionably 'nature' is used in a variety of ways nowadays: as denoting, for example, scenery and the countryside (e.g. 'I love walking in the woods and getting back to nature'), or as denoting the universe (e.g. 'the laws of nature apply everywhere'). But modern languages also still use 'nature' in the sense of the essential features or properties of something, a usage that stands in continuity with Chalcedon's teaching about 'the character proper to each nature' of Christ (DH 302; ND 615) and finds an echo in the 1973 joint declaration, which speaks of 'all the properties' of the divinity and the humanity. The problem is not so much with Chalcedon's two-nature talk (which remains useful and intelligible), but with its teaching of one 'person'.91

In the third century Tertullian had written of 'three persons in one substance' to account for the unity and threeness of God. 'Person' pointed to the distinctive identity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—an identity in a dynamic relationship derived from the one source (the Father), as suggested by Tertullian's trinitarian images of the fountain, the river, and the canal or the root, the shoot, and the fruit. Augustine, as we saw above, conceived of the relations between the three divine persons in terms of the psychological analogy of human memory, understanding, and will. At the same time, he recognized 'the great poverty from which our language suffers'. 'The formula of three persons', he pointed out, 'has been coined not in order to give a complete explanation by means of it, but in order that we might not be obliged to remain silent' (De Trinitate, 5. 10). Up to the time of Augustine, Christians developed their thinking about 'person' in order to frame their doctrine of the Trinity. By the time of Chalcedon, the challenge for teaching and terminology concerned rather the one subject or person, who is Jesus Christ.

More than half a century after Chalcedon, Boethius (d. ¿.524), in a work entitled On the Person and Two Natures of Christy defined 'person' as 'an individual substance of rational nature' (no. 3). This influential account of 'person' highlighted the individuality and rationality of the reality that is the centre of action and attribution. Boethius' rational individual is the 'someone' who acts and who is also the subject to whom we attribute things. This definition had nothing as such to say about the loving freedom, interrelatedness, and dignity of persons.

Thomas Aquinas added some footnotes, as it were, to Boethius' notion of person—in particular, about the supreme value of personhood. What proved more challenging was the way René Descartes (1596—1650) furthered the notion of person as a unique subject of consciousness and self-consciousness. More than a century later, a concern for freedom and morality prompted Immanuel Kant (1726—1804) to stress 'person' as the subject of freedom, a moral end in itself and never a means to an end—a view that recalls Aquinas's stress on the unique dignity of persons. Their different justification for this dignity, however, kept Aquinas and Kant

On the development in the notion of 'person' and an initial bibliography, see H. S. Pyper, 'Person', in The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought , 532—3.

significantly apart. Where Aquinas based personal dignity on God, who regards human beings 'with the greatest respect' (Summa contra Gentiles., 3. 112), Kant argued that the very nature of persons 'marks them out as ends in themselves' and beings to be treated always with dignity and 'never simply as means' (Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 65—6). The philosophical input from Descartes, Kant, and John Locke (1632—1704) led to the emergence of a (but not the) typically modern notion of person as the subject of self-awareness and freedom—in brief, person as the self-sufficient ego or the conscious and autonomous self ('I think and am free; therefore I am a person').

From Chalcedon and Boethius to Aquinas, there is a good deal of common ground in the notion of 'person' as a rational, subsisting, individual subject. But has usage in modern times broken completely with fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-century usage of prosopon and hypostasis? Not altogether. Nowadays many highlight the interrelatedness of persons and stress how persons are interpersonal. This insight reaches back through Richard of St Victor's reflections on the communion of love (see above) to the Capaddocian Fathers in the fourth century (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa). Their teaching on the Trinity, which paved the way for the fuller version of the Nicene Creed professed at Constantinople I and endorsed at Chalcedon, shows a strong sense of persons being interpersonal and in communion. Their understanding of hypostasis and prosopon anticipated something of a modern stress on the interrelatedness of persons.

Much more problematic is the widespread identification of persons with minds. One could say that such a modern equation does no more than push Chalcedon's teaching on Christ's 'rational soul' (DH 301; ND 614) to an extreme. If so, it does this in a way that would be excluded by Chalcedon. If to be a person is to be a mind or conscious self, then Christ's human mind entails his being a distinct human person. With such a move, we would be endorsing something excluded by Chalcedon: two distinct (even separate) persons, one human (corresponding to the human mind) and one divine (corresponding to the divine mind) in Christ. This is not to deny that being 'minded' should belong essentially to any account of what it is to be a person or what a person has. We are challenging the simple equation: to be a mind is to be a person, and vice versa. Such an equation, when pushed further, would mean that the absence or loss of normal consciousness would involve the absence or loss of personal status.

Then unborn children, as well as adults who are asleep or in a coma, would not enjoy the status, dignity, and rights of persons.

All in all, medieval and modern themes about persons as interrelated, 'minded', free, and supremely valuable beings move beyond the conceptuality of Chalcedon and its times. Nevertheless, the objection that those who still follow Chalcedon in declaring Christ to be 'one person' have kept the word without noticing that it has simply changed its meaning is not on target. Despite the many centuries of development that the term has undergone, there are still some common elements between the use of 'person' in the fifth century and the twenty-first century: as a rational individual that is the centre of action and attribution and exists in relationship (in Christ's case, primarily to the Father and the Spirit). That justifies retaining the Chalcedonian formula of 'one person in two natures', so long as we challenge some of the ways in which 'person' is understood and used in the modern world: for instance, as a mind or as a conscious, autonomous self who aims to live a self-sufficient (or should we simply say 'selfish'?) existence. Such modern notions invite scrutiny and criticisms. Some prefer to speak of Christ as one 'subject' or 'individual'. The drawback here, however, is that personal language is the best and highest language we have. When we name Christ as one 'person', there is a sense of dignity and value automatically involved that may be lacking with the language of 'subject' or 'individual'. The latter language can even be compatible with treating people as 'non-persons'—something that happened to Christ in his passion and death but which his dedicated followers could never bear to happen to him or to any other person.

2. While never giving Christ the title 'Redeemer', the NT calls him 'our redemption' (1 Cor. 1: 30) and sixteen times names him 'Saviour' (e.g. Luke 2: 11). His redemptive activity, which can be summarized as (a) deliverance from evil, (b) expiating or cleansing from sin, and (c) reconciling through love, marks the whole story of Jesus from his incarnation, through his ministry, to his resurrection from the dead, the sending of the Spirit, and the final coming in glory.

Apropos of (a), NT and post-NT Christians understand Christ's redemptive activity to break the curse of death and the power of sin, so that death has now been turned into a passage from the dominion of sin into eternal, utterly satisfying life. The viciously cruel crucifixion of Jesus, while symbolizing the weakness and failure of suffering, has become the means of human redemption. By dying and rising, Jesus has overcome all sin and evil and effected a new exodus from bondage. To celebrate this deliverance, Christian liturgies have taken over songs with which Moses and Miriam led the Jewish people in praising God for their victorious liberation from bondage (Exod. 15: 1—21). The manumission of slaves in Greco-Roman society and the ransoming of prisoners of war also shaped the original setting in which Christians proclaimed Christ as having 'bought' or 'liberated' those who were captive. St Paul writes of the human race being, along with the whole creation, 'in bondage to decay' and 'groaning' for redemption (Rom. 8: 18-23), of Jews being slaves to the law (Gal. 4: 1-7), and of Gentiles being enslaved to 'gods' and 'elemental spirits' (Gal. 4: 8-9). Christ redeemed or 'bought' us out of such a situation.

At times the NT authors speak of Christ 'buying' us at 'a price' (1 Cor. 6: 20), 'ransoming' us with his 'precious blood' (1 Pet. 1: 18-19), and 'giving his life as a ransom for many' (Mark 10: 45). But nowhere does the NT speak of this 'price' or 'ransom' being paid to someone (e.g. God) or to something (e.g. the law). Some Christians have expanded the content of this metaphor for redemption, taking 'ransom' as if it literally described some kind of transaction, even with a specific price paid to someone. Those who have failed to observe the limits of the metaphor at times even spoke of human beings as in the possession of the devil, whose 'rights' of ownership were 'respected' by the price of Jesus' blood being paid to release them from bondage.92 For the NT, however, the act of redemption was 'costly', in the sense that it cost Christ his life. The beneficiaries of this redeeming action became free (e.g. Gal. 5: 1) or, by coming under Christ's sovereignty, 'slaves' to him (e.g. Rom. 1: 1). Nowhere does the NT accept or imply that Satan has any rights over human beings. The metaphor of 'redemption' represents Christ as effecting a deliverance and not as literally paying a price to anyone. St Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109) vigorously objected to any talk of the devil's rights, and through Cur Deus Homo established 'satisfaction' as a long-standing term for Christ's saving work when understood as expiation.

Concerning (b), 'every sin', Anselm argues, 'must be followed either by satisfaction or by punishment' (Cur Deus Homo, 1. 15). God does not wish to punish but to see the good project of creation 'completed' (ibid. 2. 5).

In the fifth century St Gregory of Nazianzus vigorously protested against the whole idea of redemption as a price paid to the devil (Oratio , 45. 22), but for the time being this protest failed to carry the day.

Satisfaction, Anselm explains, requires from human beings not only that they should stop sinning and seek pardon but also that they do something over and above their existing obligations: a work of supererogation that will satisfy for the offence. However, since all sin offends the 'honour' of the infinite God, the reparation must have infinite value—something of which finite human beings are incapable. Moreover, they have nothing extra to offer God, since they already owe God everything. Thus Anselm concludes to the 'necessity' of the incarnation. Only the God-man can offer something of infinite value; the personal union with the incarnate Son confers such value on the human acts of Christ. Only the God-man has something to offer: being without sin, Christ is exempt from the need to undergo death and hence can freely offer the gift of his life as a work of reparation for the whole human race. Anselm illustrates the redemptive 'cash value' of Christ being in himself both divine and human.

Anselm laid a fresh stress on the humanity and the human freedom of Christ, who spontaneously acts as our representative and in no way is to be construed as a penal substitute who passively endures suffering to appease the anger of a 'vindictive' God. Anselm's theory of satisfaction may be vulnerable on other grounds,93 but it still retains its grandeur and fascination.94 Some prefer to express the expiatory dimension of salvation in terms that more closely follow the Letter to the Hebrews: Christ the great high priest and victim offered a unique sacrifice that once and for all purified a sinful world and brought a new and final covenant relationship between God and human beings.

Sadly such language has been misconstrued, especially from the late Middle Ages, to mean that Jesus was a penal substitute, who was personally burdened with the sins of humanity, judged, condemned, and deservedly punished in our place. Through his death he 'satisfied' the divine justice and propitiated an angry God. Thus Anselm's theory about Jesus offering satisfaction or reparation to meet the requirements of commutative justice and set right a moral order damaged by sin acquired, quite contrary to Anselm's explicit statements, elements of punishment and vindictive justice. Such penal additions to Anselm's theology of satisfaction turn up, briefly and in passing, when the Council of Trent expounds the sacrifice of the Mass (DH 1743; ND 1548), and at greater length in the

93 See O'Collins, Christoiogy , 200—1.

94 See P. Gilbert et al . (eds.), Cur Deus Homo , Studia Anselmiana, 128 (Rome: S. Anselmo, 1999).

writings of Luther and Calvin. Catholic preachers such as J. B. Bossuet (d. 1704) and L. Bourdaloue (d. 1704) went as least as far as the Protestant Reformers in vividly picturing God's vengeance and anger being appeased at the expense of the crucified Son. As a victim of divine justice, Christ was even held to suffer the pains of the damned! Themes from this penal substitutionary view linger on in the works of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and some other modern theologians.95

Many Catholics and other Christians now reject this language as entailing an unacceptable vision of God, supported by misinterpretations of the scapegoat ceremony on the Jewish Day of Expiation, of the fourth suffering servant son (Isa. 52: 13—53: 12), of Jesus' cry of abandonment on the cross, and of some dramatic passages from Paul's letters (e.g. 2 Cor. 5: 21; Gal. 3: 13). Victimized by human violence and not by a vindictive God, the non-violent Christ, through his self-sacrificing death as our representative (not penal substitute), removed the defilement of sin and restored a disturbed moral order.

With respect to (c), one must insist that the NT never speaks of redemption altering God's attitudes towards human beings and reconciling God to the world. The sending or coming of God's Son and the Spirit presupposes God's loving forgiveness (e.g. Luke 15: 11—32). Through Christ and the Spirit, God brings about redemptive reconciliation by renewing us; it is our resistance to God that needs to be changed. Both John (e.g. John 3: 16; 1 John 4: 10) and Paul (e. g. Rom. 8: 6—11; 2 Cor 5: 18—21) bear eloquent witness to the loving initiative of God the Father in the whole story of the redemptive reconciliation of human beings and their world.

The language of loving self-sacrifice expresses the costly self-giving of Christ who let himself be victimized by the powers of this world. Over and over again the Synoptic Gospels show us how he valued every individual, and not simply the man of great wealth (Mark 10: 21), as unique and irreplaceable. Through love Christ made himself vulnerable, and his loving self-sacrifice produced life and growth; this sacrifice brought a renewed communion between human beings and the tripersonal God.96 Through a sacrifice that comprises Christ's incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, along with the coming of the Holy Spirit, human beings were made fit to enter a new, loving fellowship with the all-holy God. Here

See B. Sesboué, Jésus-Christ l'unique médiateur , i (Paris: Desclée, 1988), 67—79, 360—5.

In presenting Christ's passion as a 'meritorious sacrifice', Thomas Aquinas stresses how, from beginning to end, it was inspired by love (ST III q.48 a.3.)

the root of the term proves illuminating: by Christ's sacri-ificium or 'holy making', men and women have been made holy. His 'sacri-fice' enables them to join him in entering the very sanctuary of God (Heb. 9: 11—12, 24) and enjoy the heavenly 'banquet' (e.g. Matt. 8: 11).

In short, love seems the primary, albeit not exclusive, key for interpreting salvation. Those who prefer this key follow the lead of Dante's story of human redemption in his Comedy. His masterpiece ends by celebrating the divine love that 'moves the sun and the other stars'.

This chapter has ended by summarizing what we as two Catholics understand to be an appropriate way of interpreting Christ's redemptive activity. But do all human beings need redemption? And is Christ the unique (that is to say, unparalleled in fact and in principle) Saviour of all men and women of all times and places? The first question finds its response in what we say about universal sinfulness in our next chapter. The second question will be addressed in our final chapter.

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