Christological response

To which I reply that the premises are true - God is incommensurably different from creatures and there is no common logical ground between God and creatures - but the conclusion that therefore no inferences can

34 There are of course no longer, as there once were, minimum height requirements to join the police force in the UK.

be constructed between them is invalidly drawn. And there is a theological reason for rebutting Loughton's objection. For were we to concede to the objection's force as an absolute prohibition of inference from creatures to God, a more drastic consequence would seem to follow. If we had to say that incommensurability precludes inference, then all prospect of defending the coherence of a Chalcedonian Christology would have to be abandoned. Thomas, at any rate, who knows no way at all of making complete sense of Chalcedonian Christology - it is an incomprehensible mystery - is convinced that he can rebut arguments purporting to show that it cannot make sense at all, and that it is contradictory nonsense. And such sense as we can make of that Christology manifestly can and must allow for the possibility of inference from what is true of Jesus the man to what is true of the God Jesus. Hence, at least in this case inferences from what is true of a creature to what is true of God may legitimately be drawn; indeed, the legitimacy of their being drawn would be required by Christological faith. Thomas, therefore, could not have accepted any argument from which it followed that inferences, logically of the same kind as those constructible between Peter's height and Susan's profession, could not obtain; that is, that they involve a contradiction, between the human and divine natures in Christ, even though the divine and human natures are in themselves absolutely incommensurable, there being no 'third' term, common to both, on the ground ofwhich inferences between them may be constructed.

In the first place, then, Thomas's Christology requires no diminution of his emphasis on the absolute incommensurability of God and creatures. On the contrary, the incommensurability between the divine and human natures in Christ is, for Thomas, quite fundamental to his Christology. For Thomas's Christology is faithfully 'Chalcedonian', and he sees that this incommensurability is crucial to the doctrinal formula of Chalcedon which proclaims Jesus Christ to be one person who was fully human and fully God. It is only because of the incommensurability between Creator and creature that the predicates '. . . is human' and '. . . is God', do not, and cannot, refer to natures standing in relations of mutual exclusion. For it is just on account of their incommensurability - on account, that is to say, of their not occupying common logical ground - that exclusion cannot come into it. For one thing to exclude another there must be some 'space' from which they exclude each other. As McCabe puts it:

Being human and being, say, a sheep occupy mutually exclusive territories in the common logical world of animals. It is part of the meaning of being human that one is not a sheep . . . But just what or where is the common logical world that is occupied in mutual exclusion by God and man? . . . a man and a sheep make two animals: God and man make two what? It may be part of the meaning of man that he is not any other creature; it cannot be part of the meaning of man that he is not God. God is not one of the items in some universe which have to be excluded if it is just man that you are talking about. God could not be an item

in any universe.35

And, as he goes on to point out, it is for want of understanding how fundamentally the Chalcedonian formulation relies upon this 'apophatic' doctrine of God (as Thomas puts it, the ratio Dei) that a critic such as John Hick can read the Chalcedonian decree as enmeshed in self-contradictoriness. For, Hick argues, just as of one and the same shape it is contradictory nonsense to say that it is both a square and a circle, so it is also 'as devoid of meaning' to say 'without explanation, that the historical Jesus of Nazareth was also God'.36 The teaching concerning Christ that he is one person who is both truly divine and truly human is, of course, wildly implausible. It is perfectly reasonable to think it false to say this of any historical person. But contradictory it is not, except on some quite idolatrous account of God, which, again, we have already in chapter 9 established reasons for seeing off: God cannot be exclusive of anything at all. For if, as Christians wish commonly to say, the immanence of God is shown most visibly, and dramatically, in the hypostatic union of human and divine natures in the one person of Jesus Christ, that very assertion of immanence resists that devoidness of meaning in which formal con-tradictoriness consists precisely because it is understood in terms of the absolute incommensurability of the human and divine natures.

Conversely, just because, as McCabe puts it, it cannot be part of the meaning of God that being God excludes being man, so it cannot be part of the meaning of God - and therefore of the God Jesus - that he is man. As Thomas points out, what you say of Jesus in so far as he is man cannot be said of Jesus in so far as he is God:37 'Jesus is God' is true, 'Jesus was born of Mary' is true, 'Jesus died on the cross' is true; but it is not in so far as Jesus is God that Jesus was born of Mary or that Jesus died on the cross, for it is on account of his being a man that these things could be true of Jesus. Clearly, to say of Jesus that he is God is not to say the same thing as to say of Jesus that he is man, nor does the former entail the latter, even if both the former and the latter are true. It is just that, as McCabe says, 'what it is to be God' cannot stand in relations of exclusion with 'what it is to be man'.

Likewise, just because it cannot be part of the meaning of man that being human excludes being God, so it cannot be part of the meaning of

35 McCabe, God Matters, pp. 57-8 (emphasis original).

36 John Hick, in idem, ed., The Myth of God Incarnate, London: SCM Press, 1977, p. 178.

37 ST 3a q16 a5 corp. and a11 corp.

man that man is God: 'Jesus is God' is true and 'Jesus is man' is true, but it is not in so far as Jesus is God that Jesus is man. For 'Jesus is the Son of God' is true; 'Jesus is co-eternal with the Father' is true. But it is not on account of Jesus' being man that Jesus is the Son of God or co-eternal with the Father, but on account of Jesus' being God. To say, 'Jesus is truly man', is not to say the same thing as to say, 'Jesus is truly God', and again, even if both are true, the truth of neither entails the truth of the other. It is just that, as McCabe says, 'what it is to be man' cannot be logically exclusive of 'what it is to be God'.

To explicate these logical relations is simply to re-explicate the logic of 'incommensurability' already explained: the 'difference' between Jesus' being human and Jesus' being divine is thus far to be explained in those same terms in which, in general, the 'difference' between God and any creature is to be explained - Thomas's Christology is fully dependent upon his doctrine of God. The which to summarise: that difference is not of that kind which falls within any 'common logical world' such that, first, by virtue of the one nature occupying some part of it, the other nature is excluded from that part; or, secondly, that, by virtue of this 'incommensurability', the distinction collapses into identity. For here in Thomas's Chalcedonian Christology, as in general in his philosophical theology, the pseudo-Denys's formula applies: 'the Cause of all is beyond similarity and difference'; as does Meister Eckhart's formula: 'God is distinct by virtue of ┬┐┬źdistinction'; as does also McCabe's: 'God could not be an item in any universe.' This, for Thomas, is what it is to do your Christology sub ratione Dei.

But, that being said, does it not follow that doubts about the possibility of inference between incommensurabilia are thus far reinforced? Will it not follow, now more clearly than ever - since 'what it is to be God' and 'what it is to be man' are shown to occupy no 'common logical world' - that inference between creatures and God is ruled out? For what could 'inference' from creatures to God mean except that they do occupy some 'common logical world', for inference is nothing but that occupation? For Thomas, at any rate, there is not and cannot be any dilemma here; on the contrary, it is precisely on account of the logic of incommensurability which obtains between them that inferences from the human to the divine are possible in the person of Jesus Christ. From the fact that what is true of God in virtue of being 'God' is not, in virtue of the meaning of man, true of man, it does not follow that you cannot say of the man Jesus what you can say of God, or that you cannot say of the God Jesus what you can say of the human person. For if it is false to say that 'qua God, Jesus died on the cross', still, because Jesus is God, it does follow, if Jesus died on the cross, that 'God died on the cross' is true. And if it is false to say that 'qua man Jesus is the Son of God', still, because the second person of the Trinity became man, it does follow that 'the man, Jesus, is the Son of God'. If it is false to say that 'qua God, Jesus was born of Mary', still, because the baby born is God, it is true and it follows that, as Nicaea says, Mary is theotokos, the 'mother of God'.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment