Lesson 11: Personhood and Incarnation

1) After Vatican II it was popular to construct Christology "from below" in order to emphasize Jesus' humanity and to overcome the popular Monophysitism (the heresy that absorbed Jesus' humanity into his divinity). But Christologies from below evade the real mystery, namely, that Jesus is truly human yet he is not a human person, but a divine person, the Son of God, who reveals the still deeper mystery that God is a Trinity of Persons. While reason can never demonstrate the truth of this mystery known to faith alone, it is the task of theology to prove that it is not absurd, that is, that it is not contradictory. This requires a critical, metaphysical understanding of spiritual existence. In the foundations of natural science Aristotle showed the necessary existence of a spiritual First Cause of all reality and hence the possibility of a valid metaphysics of both material and spiritual being. Since for this necessary First Cause or God existence and essence (nature) must be identical (otherwise it would not necessarily exist), essence (nature) and existence in the material and spiritual creatures that are God's effects, must be really distinct. Thus Jesus' human nature was really distinct from his personhood, since by "person" we mean the very existence of a being who has spiritual intelligence and free will. The metaphysical solution is to be found in the analogical concept of "person" as one existent with two essences or natures, total divinity and total humanity. Because the existence of the human nature is the existence of the Son of God in whom essence or nature and existence are identical while in humanity they are distinct, there is no contradiction in saying that Jesus' humanity as one of his essences is complete and perfect, yet that existentially he is not a human person but a divine Person, the Son of God. Thus it is literally true that God suffers as we suffer, although he suffers not in his divine nature but in his human nature, analogous to the fact that when I have a tooth ache it is in my body that I suffer not in my intelligence, since I may be quite confident that the dentist will soon fix that tooth and take away the pain; yet it is truly I who suffer that excruciating pain.

2) It might also seem absurd to say that God is truly One God in Three Divine Persons. That this mystery, utterly beyond our comprehension, still is not contradictory but very meaningful also becomes evident when metaphysics helps us to apply the relational implications of the analogous terms "person" to God. To be a human person is not only to exist but also to be capable of personal relations, since a person is intelligent and capable of love and what any person chiefly knows and loves are other persons with whom that person enters into relationship. When we know and love another intimately we enter into community with that other person, giving ourselves to that other and become, as it were, "of one heart and one mind." Hence it is not contradictory to see that in God who is supreme Intelligence and Love this self-giving of the Father eternally pours out into the Son, and between the Son and the Father there is a total equality of life, knowledge, and love in the Holy Spirit. In a human relationship such self-giving and receiving can never be complete, since each person retains its own limited existence, but in God there is no contradiction in this community being so complete that all Three Persons have one single existence and essence as God.

3) As Karl Rahner has pointed out, the economic (in the sense of the historical plan of God) Trinity reveals the ontological (inner life of the) Trinity, in that as the Father is manifest in Creation, the Son is manifest in the historic Incarnation, and the Holy Spirit is manifest in the historic work of the Church. Thus world history is a manifestation of the eternal outpouring of life and love within God. In this way the study of human history can assist theology in helping us to understand something of the mystery of God. The introduction of evolutionary biological and cosmological theories far from making this task more difficult for theology makes it easier. It helps us understand the whole plan of God in creation, its fall into disorder through sin, and its reordering through redemption by grace in a goal-directed, dynamic way instead of the static way that was fostered by Platonism or monism in which time becomes either an illusion or an eternally repeated cycle. While from a rational viewpoint, as was said in the last lecture, history is just "one damn thing after another" riddled with chance, its factual understanding when illumined by revelation and prophetic theological reflection begins to make sense.


Read Jaki, The Savior of Science, Chapters 4-6, pp. 89-241.


1) What is a Christology "from below"?

2) What in Christian doctrine is a "mystery"? Why isn't it logically contradictory?

3) Why must all our terms that refer to God and the order of grace be analogical? What is an analogy?

4) Is Jesus Christ a human person? If not how is he "like us in all things but sin" as the New Testament teaches?

5) Why are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not three Gods?


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