Tag Archives: Chalcedon

Consoling the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Part I – 14 September 2015

“Jesus knew and loved us each and all during His life, His agony and His Passion, and gave Himself up for each one of us” (CCC 478)

Jesus, as a divine human being, had both a human nature and a divine nature. As such, He also had two modes of knowledge, one human and one divine. Traditional Catholic teaching on the types of knowledge that Jesus possessed fall into three categories: (1) Acquired knowledge; (2) Infused knowledge; (3) Beatific Vision. The knowledge Jesus possessed by way of His human nature and His human intellect is referred to as Acquired knowledge. This is the same experiential learning common to all humanity. The Gospel of Luke mentions this incidentally in reference to the childhood of Jesus when it says He “grew in wisdom and in years.” (Lk. 2:52) There are other inferences in the Gospels that allude to His humanly knowledge, such as when He asks His disciples how many loaves of bread there are; Or, when He asks His disciples who the people say He is. This acquired knowledge is part of Jesus being fully-human. He acquired human knowledge, as any human being does. As the letter to the Phillipians says, “but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form.” (Phil. 2:7)

But, this was not the only knowledge that Jesus possessed. He also had divine knowledge. By way of the hypostatic union, His human nature was united with the divine Word of God. Jesus, as the divine Word, had two different types of divine knowledge. One level of His divine knowledge was an Infused knowledge; that is, Christ knew “the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans He had come to reveal.” (CCC 474) Jesus was given to know all things necessary to His redemptive mission and for our salvation. Such is clearly the case when Jesus foretells that He must “undergo great suffering,” “be rejected by the elders,” “be killed,” and “after three days rise again.” (Mk. 8:31) He made other similar prophecies in the Gospels concerning His future passion, death and resurrection. The scripture also says Jesus knew “all the things that were coming upon Him.” (Jn 18:4) He announced beforehand Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. The scriptures point to Jesus also as being able to know peoples’ hearts and thoughts; for example, Jesus “knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe.” (Jn. 6:64) Again, after Jesus cures the paralytic, He reads peoples hearts, “and He said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” (Mk 2:8) When Jesus is speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, He knew her background entirely without her telling Him. Jesus had direct knowledge, at first meeting, of people, their history, and their thoughts and hearts. He knew about their past, their present, and what they would do in the future. He also knew what was happening elsewhere. He was consistently telling His disciples about situations as they exist, or will exist, in other locations; such as, when He tells the disciples to “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. (Mk.11:2) Again, when Jesus was calling His apostles, He shows His divine insight in calling Nathanael. “Nathanael asked Him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1:48-49)

The second form of divine knowledge Jesus possessed was the Beatific Vision; that is, Jesus saw God face to face, and had direct knowledge of the Father. Jesus realizes from a young age the grace of union He has with the Father in the Beatific Vision. At the age of twelve, after Mary and Joseph could not find Him for three days and then subsequently find Him in teaching in the Temple, Jesus says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Jesus is already aware of the unique relationship that He has with the Father. St.John clarifies this repeatedly, hinting at a beatific knowledge. Later, in His public ministry, Jesus says, No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.” (Jn 1:18) And again, “The one who comes from heaven is above all.  He testifies to what He has seen and heard.” (Jn 3:31-32) Then, in declaration of His divinity, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” (Jn 10:30). The other Gospels also allude to the Beatific Vision: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son.” (Mt.11:27 & Lk.10:22) Of course, there are the numerous “I Am” statements too when Jesus equates Himself with the Hebraic name of God: I Am Who Am, Yahweh. “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8:58) The scandal of Jesus’ divinity and the intimacy of His Beatific Vision are too much for some to handle. This is when the Pharisees begin to plot to kill Him. And for that matter, numerous modern theologians try to strip Him of His divinity. Yet, Jesus is telling us a truth about His divine nature and His divine knowledge. In His human nature, Jesus is united together with the eternal Word of God. And as the Word of God, Jesus is united together with the Father and the Holy Spirit in their eternal beatitude.

Who better to understand the nature of Christ than the angelic doctor, St.Thomas Aquinas? St.Thomas discusses in depth in his Summa Theologica the various levels of knowledge within Christ. In regard to Christ’s knowledge via the Beatific Vision, the angelic doctor refers to Colossians 2:3, that in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (S.T. III, Q.9.,a3)   St.Thomas continues to answer the question of what Christ knows, as the eternal Word of God united with the Trinity in their eternal beatitude. He says, “When it is inquired whether Christ knows all things in the Word, “all things” may be taken in two ways: First, properly, to stand for all that in any way whatsoever is, will be, or was done, said, or thought, by whomsoever and at any time. And in this way it must be said that the soul of Christ knows all things in the Word.” (S.T. III, Q.10.,a.2) Aquinas argues that Christ, as per the dignity of the eternal “Judge,” knows the “essence of every creature” and all that was ever said or done in the past, present or future.

Yet, how can Christ have at once both humanly Acquired knowledge and the Beatific Vision? To answer this, St.Thomas hearkens the idea of the Tome of Leo, a letter written by Pope Leo I (Saint Leo the Great) from the 5th century concerning Christ’s unity of natures. The letter was read aloud at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. In the Tome of Leo, the pontiff enumerates what is now called the “Communication of Idioms (or Properties).” It states, “each of the natures retains its proper character without defect; and as the form of God does not take away the form of a servant, so the form of a servant does not impair the form of God.” St.Leo’s words became, from that point forward, the foundation for all of Christology, and the proper understanding of Christ’s natures. Christ’s human nature retains its humanity, and Christ’s divine nature retains its divinity. St.Thomas tries to show in this vein how Christ can have all three forms of knowledge without impeding upon either His human knowledge or His divine knowledge; in effect all three working harmoniously together. Although St.Thomas argues that Christ knows the essence of all finite creatures, He at the same time concedes, “it is impossible for any creature to comprehend the Divine Essence,” due to the fact that “the infinite is not comprehended by the finite.” (S.T. III, Q.10, a.1) So, according to the Summa, in Christ’s finite human soul He could comprehend the finite power of creatures, but not the full infinitude of God’s power. He states, so likewise, besides the Divine and uncreated knowledge in Christ, there is in His soul a beatific knowledge, whereby He knows the Word, and things in the Word; and an infused or imprinted knowledge, whereby He knows things in their proper nature by intelligible species proportioned to the human mind.” (S.T. III, Q.9, a.3) Therefore, in lay terms, Christ’s Infused knowledge and Beatific Vision would all have been there from the beginning of His life, and throughout His life, but extracting that knowledge would be proportionate to His age, experience and the limitations of His rational, human soul, albeit a perfect soul.

The Theandric Nature of Christ – 5 September 2015

“The Word became flesh.” (John 1:14) 

“Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of His divine person” (CCC 480)

Writing about theology is often a process of recapitulating in a few minutes or hours what the Church has struggled with and elucidated over two thousand years. This is both a blessing and curse. A blessing, of course, because now in the 21st century, we have the luxury of these neatly and elaborately defined dogmas; and a curse, because it’s not always an easy task sifting through the minutiae of two millennia of history and exegesis. These religious ideas and doctrines we take for granted now have been struggled with, debated, fought over, scandalized, held Councils about, and in the cases of the various heresies, called heretical and anathema, but all the while leading to more refined doctrines and creeds of the Church. Such is the will of God, that we should “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt. 22:37-38) Jesus instructed us, by adding to the Deuteronomic quote (Dt.6:5), that we should love God with “all your mind.” And hence, the Church, and the doctors of the Church, theologians and saints have studied the Word of God, the Bible, the teachings of the Apostles, the Traditions of the Church, and life of Jesus, parsing every word and deed to understand the true nature of God. This dialectic struggle within the Church over the two thousand years has resulted in 21 major ecumenical Church Councils, in order to resolve the nearly as many major heretical movements within each century. Loving God with all your mind is easy, but precise exegetical, Church-approved analysis has been long, hard, and arduous. In no area has this been more contentious than Christology, or the study of the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

The “Hypostatic Union” is the theological term positing the fusion of the divine and the human in the person of Jesus Christ. Hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) is the Greek word referring to the “underlying substance” of something, or “concrete existence” of a person. In Christian theology, it refers to the union of the two natures of Christ in the one divine person. Christ had two natures, one human and one divine; as well as two intellects and wills, or “modes of operation,” one human and one divine. Taken together, the two natures and the two intellects, and wills or operations, they form in perfect union the one divine man, Jesus Christ. It seems so straight-forward to us now. What was so difficult? I jest, yet this simple phrase had a long, struggled history. The struggle began back with the first ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 AD. This Council was called to deal with a heresy involving a popular priest named Arius. Arius believed that Jesus was not consubstantial with God the Father, but was rather “homo-i-ousios,” or of “like or similar substance and being,” in effect, Jesus was less than the Father. A huge schism was created in the Church between those who believed in homo-i-ousios and those who adhered to “homo-ousios,” or that Jesus and God the Father were “of one substance or being.” As Edward Gibbon had noted the world was divided over “one iota.” Thus, the Council met and then issued the Nicean Creed. This declared Jesus “homo-ousios,” or “consubstantial” with God the Father, the same creed we repeat in mass to this very day.

After that, the Christological struggle to define the exact nature of who Jesus is continued on for centuries. In the fifth century, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, had felt uncomfortable calling Mary “Theotokos,” (in Greek Θεοτοκος) or “God-bearer,” since he did not think she was the cause of Jesus’ divinity. As such, he ended up devising a doctrine, Nestorianism, that essentially divided Jesus into two persons, one divine (Logos) and one human (son of Mary). This, of course, in response led to the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. The Council proclaimed Mary is not the cause of Jesus’ divinity since He’s consubstantial with the Father for all eternity. As well, it proclaimed Mary is not the cause of Jesus’ human soul since that is also from God. Yet, the Council reaffirmed the hypostatic union of a divine nature and a human nature in the one divine person of Jesus Christ. Being that Mary bore the divine person, Jesus, and not just His human nature, it is in fact true to call her the bearer of God.

A couple of decades later a Byzantine monk, Eutyches, had began advocating that there was really only one nature in Christ; or that His human nature was absorbed by His divine nature. This heresy was termed “Monophysitism,” or that Christ only had a divine nature. In 451 AD, the Church called the Council of Chalcedon to deal with this. The Council declared Jesus had “two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” They reaffirmed that Jesus was one person and one hypostasis with two natures, one human and one divine. In the 7th century, the Monothelitism heresy posited that Christ only had one will and one natural operation; eliminating the distinctly human will in Christ, in favor of His divine will. In response to this, the Church called the Third Council of Constantinople in 681 AD. The Council eventually declared, in reiteration of the Chalcedon declaration, that Christ possessed “two natural wills and two natural energies, without division, alteration, separation or confusion.” (III Council of Constantinople) The Hypostatic Union had finally triumphed! Jesus Christ, the God-man, is one divine person, of one substance with the Father, with two natures, human and divine; two wills, human and divine; and two modes of operation, human and divine.

Yes, there are two natures and two wills in Christ, yet they always act in harmony together. Jesus was perfectly one with Himself, undivided. He is the perfect model for us to align our human nature and our human will with the divine nature and the divine will. In us, our nature and our will resist the divine nature and the divine will. In Christ, His human nature and His human will were in perfect obedience and submission to the divine. We, because of Original Sin, are divided; He, without sin, is one. The Catechism quotes the Council of Constantinople III in this respect saying: Christ’s human will “does not resist or oppose but rather submits to His divine and almighty will.” (CCC 475) As the Church Fathers teach us, the obedience of Christ atoned for the disobedience of Adam. Only Christ could have done this. Jesus is in a sense properly defined as “theandric.” Theandric taken from the root Greek words, “theos,” (θεός) meaning “god;” and “andros,” (ἀνδρός) meaning “man.” Christ properly understood is both God and man united as one person, or literally, the God-man. In the 7th century St.John of Damascus wrote, “Thus, the theandric operation shows this: when God became man, that is to say, was incarnate, His human operation was divine, that is to say, deified. And it was not excluded from His divine operation, nor was His divine operation excluded from His human operation. On the contrary, each is found in the other.” The divine operation and the human operation are independent and separate, yet they subsist – one in the other – in Jesus Christ. St.Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages wrote, “Dionysius* places in Christ a theandric, i.e. a God-manlike or Divino-human, operation not by any confusion of the operations or powers of both natures, but inasmuch as His Divine operation employs the human, and His human operation shares in the power of the Divine.” (Aquinas) Thus, what Aquinas argues is that because of the dual nature of Christ as both human and divine, it appears as though He operates with a single, theandric operation. Yet, what is really happening is the two distinct natures of Christ are operating in perfect communion with each other, so much so as to appear as a single, theandric operation.

“Everything that Christ is and does in this nature derives from ‘one of the Trinity.’ The Son of God therefore communicates to His humanity His own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In His soul as in His body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity.” (CCC 470) The Catechism shows that, although separate, the divine is part of His human nature and the human is part of His divine nature. Christ’s humanity was a deified humanity. As in the healing of the leper, Christ uses the divine operation to heal, but He also uses His humanly operation to touch. In the raising of Lazarus, He uses His divine operation to resurrect, and His human operation to speak it. In these instances, as in all the others in His life, the divine operation is made manifest in perfect harmony with the human operation. And the human operation acts in perfect obedience to the divine operation. In the epistle to the Hebrews, St.Paul calls Christ, “the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (Heb.1:3)** That is, Christ is God made manifest in the flesh. The life of Christ is the human biography of the Trinity. Since the human and divine, though distinct, work in perfect operation together in Christ, His operations are, in effect, theandric. Each of His humanly actions are in conjunction with Godly actions. It can be surmised then that each of His actions is of infinite merit and grace. For the divine is operating within the natural. The Catechism says, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption.” (CCC517) The smallest of His actions take on divine efficaciousness. There are no small actions in the life of the God-man. Because of this, Aquinas can say, “Consequently, Christ did merit in the first instant of His conception.” Then, all of Christ’s actions throughout His life are of divine worth imbued with supernatural grace. Hence, when Christ reaches the climax of His life with His Passion and Crucifixion, His death takes on infinite value, capable of saving all of humanity from sin, and even death itself. The infinite dignity of God, offended by the sin of man, is now satisfied by the infinite sacrifice of Christ, the God-man.     

*Dionysius refers to the fifth century monk Gaius, a theologian who operated under the name Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. He was one of the first to refer to Christ’s actions as “theandric.” He said, “by virtue of being God-made-man He accomplished something new in our midst – the activity of the God-man (ie, the theandric activity).” The error in his thought is by proscribing in Christ “one” mode of operation, not two.

**This line includes the use of the Greek word “hypostasis.”