Wednesday 20 September 2006

Jesus as God and human

“God’s identification with Jesus can only be understood in the tension of Jesus’ death and resurrection and thus in the tension between Jesus Christ’s Easter exaltation and his earthly humiliation. Only this historical tension in the being of Jesus Christ constitutes the unity of his being as true God and true human.”

—Eberhard Jüngel, “Thesen zur Grundlegung der Christologie,” in Unterwegs zur Sache: Theologische Bemerkungen (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1988), p. 278.


Anonymous said...

I like to make complicated ideas simple.
I've thought about this issue for many years. As I did this without reference to anybody else, somebody will no doubt tell me who thought of it before me. I don't care, I enjoyed the thinking about it.

Taking the text, "The Word became flesh," I have decided the following gives me an understanding of Christ which gives rise to the least number of complications:

Before the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary:
One person - divine, The Word.
One nature - divine, The Word.

Between the conception and the resurrection of Jesus:
One person - divine, The Word.
One nature - human, Jesus.

After the resurrection:
One person - divine, The Word.
One nature - the divine/human, Christ.

This is based on the simple idea that when "a person" changes its nature it still remains the same person. A caterpillar turning into a butterfly is a poor metaphor. A person suffering brain damge is another poor metaphor. However, they're the closest I can get with earthly examples to describe an unearthly/earthly event.

This means that Christ's achievements on earth, especially those that seem to have a divine nature, were possible because of his infilling with the Holy Spirit and his closeness to God, not because he had the powers he possessed, when he had the nature of The Word, prior to his conception.

The one person, divine/one nature, human model allows Jesus to be fully representative for humanity whilst still having the worth of a divine sacrifice.

Well, it works for me.

David W. Congdon said...

Ben, thanks for the quote.

Madpriest, what do you gain by jettisoning the orthodox affirmations of Christ's two natures? Becoming a monophysite does make things simpler; it also makes you a heretic (who tried to make things simpler and more rationally clear). For example, by reducing Jesus to one nature, you threaten the concrete assumptio carnis in which the divine Word fully takes on the human nature. You also reify the concept of "person" such that you end up with a divine Logos which is abstracted from the human nature.

How exactly can you dichotomize between person and nature? I think what you are actually trying to accomplish is precisely what the church fathers meant by one person in two natures. You want to keep the personal agency rooted in the Logos, but you also want to affirm the full humanity of Jesus. You can do this with the Chalcedonian definition. The only problem — and this is a serious problem, as with all of this — is with your post-resurrection ontology. When you conflate the divine and human natures, you no longer have a real human person nor do you have the true God. Instead, you are left with a hybrid. If nothing else, you absolutely must retain the full humanity and the full divinity of Jesus after the resurrection, otherwise you are both a monophysite and a docetist.

Chris TerryNelson said...

Thanks Ben.

I appreciate how neither the death nor the resurrection can be cleanly understood as Jesus Christ as God and Jesus Christ as human. Perhaps its just my "pomo-love" for tension. But really its the fact that God in his freedom can love as both God and human being.

It sounds like Jungel's position is so exclusively caught between the history of death and resurrection that he cannot allow any identification of God-with-Christ to be understood in terms of Christ's post-resurrection life, i.e. his contemporaneity with us, his presence with us today.

John Webster makes the point: "Jungel speaks readily of God 'with' or 'for' or 'among' us through the resurrection of Jesus; but this language is less humanly specific than that of, for instance, encounter with Jesus in which Jesus himself is the constitutiv shape and agent of God's approach and address to the world" (Webster, "Jesus in Modernity," in Word and Church (New York: T&T Clark, 2001).

Can Jungel add Christ's contemporaneity (and mediation) to his Christology of tension without any problems? Or does this jeopardize something else that Jungel is after?

Anonymous said...

Can't anybody discuss anything without starting a shouting match in this business. I really am unimportant. I am not a threat.

The problem is, I don't understand the Chalcedon definition, and I like to understand things especially if I'm supposed to be selling them.

I think I might be a reversed monophysite.

You get accused of being heretical about so many things by so many "authorities" nowadays, I don't think one more will make that much difference to my eternal destiny.

Ben Myers said...

G'day Madpriest -- sorry about that. We do try to avoid "shouting matches" here at Faith & Theology, and I'm sure DWC didn't mean it to sound that way (I thought his tongue was in his cheek when he called you a "heretic"!).

Anyway, you're right that the Chalcedonian definition doesn't clear up every problem -- it really just states the basic problems in a very sharp form!

Katerina Ivanovna said...

This quote strikes me as somewhat adoptionist, reminiscent of the medieval Spanish heresies started by Elipandus and Felix (for more on this see Pelikan's The Christian Tradition, vol. 3 and Cavadini's Last Christology of the West). To say that the union of divine and human in Christ centers on his death and resurrection seems to ignore the Christological traditions of the early Church and the Greek Fathers where the drama of the hypostatic union is centered on the unanticipated and extraordinary event of the Incarnation. To suggest otherwise may be a venture beyond Nestorianism and into adoptionism.

Anonymous said...

Is the job of the theologian to defend the past or to make the Gospel understandable in the present? We are not from a Greek, Platonic culture anymore. However, if, for example the Chalcedon definition is the best we can come up with shouldn't we be trying to work out how we can make it sensible to "ordinary" Christians. I've tried and I can't do it. I have come to the conclusion that the Definition was a clever bit of political fence-sitting. They came up with something that sounded good but didn't actually mean anything - the ideal definition for everyone to agree to.

The fact that it is not credal is telling. My reversed "monophysite" suggestion (see above) is completely in line with the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed. Nobody, I notice, says "and became man and equally god etc etc."

I have an advantage over many other priests in that on various occasions in my life, I have gone mad. I have experienced what it is like to remain the same person but to become a different nature. Therefore, that the Word BECAME flesh, without losing the personhood of the Word, is a perfectly logical idea to me.

There is also no effect on either the Incarnation or the Atonement. I must admit the person and nature of Jesus after his resurrection is more problematic.

David W. Congdon said...


I really didn't think I shouted, but I was deeply disturbed by what you proposed. I think the problem here is that we simply cannot "translate" the mystery of the incarnation into non-paradoxical terms. It is admirable for you to want to communicate the creedal understanding of Jesus Christ into contemporary language, but you will only undermine this intention by attempting to squeeze a divine mystery into modern categories and analogies. For example, speaking of your own personal experience of being the same person but a different nature is interesting but not applicable. Why should your personal experience determine how the church should understand the incarnation, singular and unique event that is unrepeatable?

I can't spend much more time on this comment, but I would suggest a few things: First, try to understand what the church tradition means by "person" and "nature." It seems clear to me that you have very different definitions for these words. Second, you have to avoid monophysite definitions of Christ, just as you must avoid Nestorian definitions. It is in this mysterious middle that we must stand.

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