Tag Archives: Redemption

St. Irenaeus and the Gnostics – June 28, 2016

How common is it today to hear someone say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” A very Gnostic-esque statement. One need only to glance at your local bookstore’s religion shelves to see that Gnosticism, that ancient heresy and foe of Christianity, is alive and well in the modern world. There you would find a smorgasbord of spirituality, with topics on “New Age,” transcendentalism, astrology, reincarnation, and ways of attaining a “secret knowledge.” Cults and belief systems for attaining secret knowledge, or gnosis, were all the rage back in the second century as well. Gnostic sects were in direct competition with the nascent Christian Church. It was amidst the threat of Gnosticism that perhaps the greatest Church Father of the second century emerged, Saint Irenaeus.

Irenaeus was born in 130 A.D. in Smyrna (modern day Turkey), and died in 202 A.D. in Lyons, France, where he had become the bishop. In his youth Irenaeus was a disciple of Saint Polycarp, who was martyred in 155 A.D, but who had himself been a disciple of the Apostle Saint John the Evangelist. Thus, Irenaeus’ close historical connection to John lends a distinct apostolic credence and weight to all his writings. His greatest work is the massive five-volume set of books Adversus Haereses, or Against Heresies, a refutation of the doctrines of Gnosticism. In addition to his close proximity to John and the Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus’ writings are all thoroughly Catholic. It is as if we are reading the modern Catechism (on such topics as the Real Presence of the Jesus in the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, Apostolic succession, and Mariology) inserted within the second century.

The heretical Gnostic movements led Irenaeus to develop Church sacramental theology and Christology, or an understanding of exactly who Christ is. Irenaeus developed the idea of the necessity of a bodily atonement and redemption through Jesus’ sacred humanity. This is simply the “Recapitulation theory of Atonement.” In order to understand this better, we should first look at the false teachings of Gnosticism.

The Gnostic sects emphasized a secret, pseudo-mystical knowledge that had to be gained for salvation, and generally reserved only for the few who were deemed spiritually worthy. As such, Gnosticism became associated with elitism. Most Gnostic myths, relying heavily upon Greek pagan philosophy, taught that worldly things were created by a wicked demi-god, Demiurge, and thus, evil. The evil material universe is then at odds with the goodness of the Supreme Creator and the spiritual world. Gnosticism descended into a form of Dualism, where the body and all matter are evil, and all that is spiritual is good. The world, and all that is in it, is to be rejected. Man is seen as a spark from the spiritual God, but entrapped in the evil material world and imprisoned in the body.

This is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Christianity. Man is not simply a spiritual being, who discards the body at death. Man is a composite being of body and soul. In the Book of Genesis, God calls all creation “good,” and later, on the sixth day, when God creates Man, He calls him “very good.” (Gen. 1:31) Orthodox Christianity’s major objection to Gnosticism focused around its denial of the goodness of the material world. St. Irenaeus fought such heresies vigorously, including the denial of the physical atonement of Jesus as well as the rejection of the material sacraments.

Before long, the Gnostics had devolved into a form of Docetism that denied the corporeal incarnation of God into the world. To them, Jesus only “appeared” to be human, and wore a body like a mask or shell. By their beliefs, it made no sense that God would enter into an evil material universe.

Irenaeus, in response, seized upon the teachings of St. Paul that Christ did unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph. 1:10) St. Irenaeus taught that Christ had to enter into the world, and into humanity, in order to atone for the sins of the world and redeem humanity. In his theory of Atonement by Recapitulation, Irenaeus says, “The Word, becoming man, recapitulates all things in Himself, so that just as the Word is foremost in things super-celestial, spiritual, and invisible, so also in things visible and corporeal He might have the primacy.” Jesus lived a life in the body like one of us, redeeming our humanity through His divine-humanity. Irenaeus goes further in saying that Jesus lived through all the stages of man, from birth, to infancy and childhood, maturity, old age and even unto death, thereby sanctifying all the stages of a man’s life. Here the Catechism concurs stating, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption… and a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation.” (CCC 517-518)

Just as the Gnostics professed that God as Spirit would not incarnate into the evil world, so too, according to their belief, would His Spirit neither enter into the material sacraments of the Church. According to their teachings, God would not enter into bread and wine, or water, oil or chrism. St. Irenaeus fought vociferously against this heresy with an explicit defense of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He writes, “For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist . . . so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible but have the hope of resurrection into eternity.”

When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we are reminded of the early Church’s constant spiritual battle with Gnosticism. We say God is the creator of heaven “and earth.” Jesus was physically born into the world, physically suffered and died. We believe in the “resurrection of the body.” The Creed reveals a constant push back against those who denied the goodness of the material world, the body, and the corporeal redemption by Jesus. As one of the earliest and greatest defenders of the faith, St. Irenaeus counteracted the polymorphic pagan influences of Gnosticism, dispelling their dualism and wishy-washy spirituality, which St. Paul refers to as the profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.” (1 Tim. 6:20) And so, as we remember St. Irenaeus on his Feast day, June 28th, we should retain the true faith, clinging to the doctrines of our Apostolic religion, believing in the sacred humanity of Jesus, crucified on the Cross, and whose Real Presence is in the Eucharist. May He resurrect us bodily to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Incarnation of God into Our Lives – December 25, 2015

The Incarnation of God as man is a scandal. The first century Jews were expecting a Messiah, but did not conceive that he would be the Son of God Himself. They expected a messianic political leader. Jesus, being the second person of the Trinity, could very well have descended from Heaven ablaze in His divine power and majesty to establish His kingdom. Yet, we know this is not what happened. The Son of God came in obscurity, humility and poverty. This is the second scandal of the Incarnation. The divine being was born as a baby, completely dependent and helpless, to a poor family in a small village, placed in an animal manger. God came as the least among us. Chesterton called this “an idea of undermining the world.” This is the great paradox of Christianity, God as man, and even, God as an infant, the divine hidden in the ordinary, the exalted humbled. So intimate is His love for us that the Creator entered His creation, coming personally in search of us. How few recognized the extraordinary baby in their midst in that most ordinary scene in Bethlehem? How often still do we fail to see God in our ordinary circumstances each day?

The Incarnation is, at its most basic and profound level, a love story. It is the love of an infinitely merciful God for a broken and lost humanity. God came into our world on a search and rescue mission, to save us from our sins. Jesus did not come as the expected conquering king, rather, He came as the unexpected suffering servant. He chose to enter into our state of life, to follow the same path as all of us, of being born, growing up, laboring as an adult, and ultimately, dying. In doing so, He chose to take on the lowliness of our human nature, the ordinariness of our circumstances, and the drudgery of our every day lives. This is truly an amazing thing to contemplate. Jesus, the divine being, chose to spend most of His life, approximately thirty years, living a private, ordinary existence just like yours and mine. God chose to live like us in the small, mundane details of our lives. But why?

We know the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation is the Redemption, culminating in Jesus’ passion and crucifixion. Yet, to state the obvious, Jesus was God even before His public ministry. When He worked as a carpenter in Joseph’s workshop, He was God. When He obeyed Mary His mother, He was God. Jesus’ redemptive mission did not begin with His public ministry. It began with His Incarnation and birth, and continued along the spectrum of His whole life. As the Catechism states, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption.” (CCC 517) One aspect of Jesus’ mission was to restore humankind to its original dignity and vocation. Jesus recapitulated within Himself all of our ordinary human actions, our daily routines, our human institutions, such as the family, our sufferings, our jobs, and our ordinary human vocations. Jesus lived all of this. God deemed no stage or circumstance of life unworthy of His presence. He lived these in order to sanctify them, consecrate them, and restore them.

Each of Jesus’ actions were performed with the salvific power of the Godhead, infusing them with infinite moral value not limited by time or space. We can be united, even now, with Jesus in our humanity. This is part of the on-going love story, and is perhaps the third scandal of the Incarnation. We can partake in Christ’s mysteries, and He can continue to live them in us and through us. If we do so, in communion with the Church, the infant Christ of Bethlehem will be born again into our hearts and our souls. And, we too, like the Magi in the Epiphany, can recognize Christ in our midst and adore His presence in our lives each day.

The Sanctifying Humanity of Jesus – December 17, 2015

“For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in Him.” (Col.2:9)

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn.10:10)

Can you take a moment and try to imagine yourself standing before Christ while He was alive here on earth, or maybe imagine that He is standing in front of you right now wherever you are. What would He look like? He would appear as a man, for Jesus is a man, as the Creed says He became man. Jesus looked like you and like me. There did not seem to be anything noticeably or discernably different between Him and us. We can take Jesus’ neighbors from Nazareth as evidence of this. When Jesus had begun His public ministry, and began to reveal who He truly was, they “took offense at Him” and “were astounded” saying “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?” (Mt. 13:54,57) Jesus, it seemed to them, was an ordinary man, and only a man. They did not recognize that Jesus was something more. They did not fathom that He was even a prophet, much less the Son of God. Isaiah prophesied of Christ’s ordinariness writing, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Is.53:2) Jesus looked common, nothing special in appearance. He was of humble social status too. Jesus performed the humblest type of work as a daily laborer. He was the son of a carpenter, and He Himself was a carpenter. Again, Jesus’ neighbors were perplexed by Christ asking, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” (Mt.13:55-56) They could not reconcile the juxtaposition of the ordinary neighbor who had lived among them with the great wisdom and power He was manifesting now. By every measure, according to His neighbors in Nazareth, Jesus was just a man. They, in fact, were partially right. As the Councils and Catechism declare, Jesus was “true man.” (CCC 464)

The part they missed, however, is that Jesus was also “true God.” He was both true God and true man.” (CCC 464) Jesus was not just an ordinary person that stood and lived in their midst. He was also the Son of God, the Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Jesus the man was also the divine being, God-become-man. They saw perfectly the humanity of Christ, but failed to see His divinity. Yet, Jesus was fully God. As scripture says, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:9) The fullness of the Trinity dwelt in Christ. His earthly life was the autobiographical life of the Incarnated God. The thoughts of God were communicated through the voice of Christ. In the mystery of the hypostatic union, Christ’s earthly nature was united with His divine nature. The two natures together, human and divine, form the one theandric, divine person. The Catechism reinforces this saying 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) It is for this reason that St.Thomas can exclaim to the risen Christ, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28)  

Now, because the fullness of divinity dwelt in the person of Christ, every event, every circumstance, every word, every deed, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, takes on a divine significance and importance. There are no small actions for a God-man. Everything He would have done or said would be of divine significance. The divine Sonship of Christ imbued all of His actions with infinite value. The Catechism alludes to this saying “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.” (CCC 517) For Christ’s whole life, the infinite God performed finite human tasks, living as an ordinary man.  For thirty years, Jesus labored as a carpenter in silence and obedience to Mary and Joseph. The infinite vastness of Jesus’ divinity remained hidden under the auspices of His ordinary humanity, only to be revealed occasionally, and progressively, when He so chose, in His miracles and His healings, in His words, at the Transfiguration, in the Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus communicated His divinity to us through the lens of His humanity. He was able to save the human race precisely because He took on a body and soul as a human being when the Word became flesh. (Jn. 1:14) The mystery of redemption took place in the body of Christ, in His humanity, and because of His divinity. The Catechism calls this “His holy and sanctifying humanity.” (CCC 774) All of humanity and human nature was made holy and sanctified because God took on our nature and lived as one of us. The Church teaches, “The saving work of His holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments.” (CCC 774) Jesus’ human nature is the instrument for redeeming our human nature, which is why the Church calls it His “sanctifying humanity.” In Jesus’ sanctifying humanity, He performed finite actions, limited to a particular time and space. Yet, these finite actions were performed by a divine person, by which, giving them infinite moral value and efficaciousness, for all time and for all people.

Sanctifying grace is the true source of greatness for the believer. Without sanctifying grace our faith is meaningless. It is the transformative and life-giving power that Christ won for us in His life that can transform our ordinary lives and actions. Sanctifying grace is primarily conferred upon us through the sacraments. Baptism and Confirmation confer the Holy Spirit into our lives making us adopted children of God. Reconciliation and Eucharist sustain us with sanctifying grace from one day to the next, divinizing all of our activity in imitation of Christ for the glory of God. However, just as Christ’s divinity lay hidden in the workshop in Nazareth, so our life, as adopted sons and daughters, lay primarily interior and hidden. As Jesus tells us “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk. 17:21) St.Paul echoes this too, saying “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) The Christian life is truly a supernatural life. It is our participation in the mysteries of Christ, making us partakers in the divine nature. (2 Pet.1:4) We are drawn into Christ’s mysteries through our faithful love and adoration of Christ, in contemplation, in reading the Bible, in the mass and liturgy, in the sacraments, in our prayer life, in our actions, in doing them with intentionality to please God. As John says, “from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (Jn.1:16) So that, through our contemplation and worship of the life of Christ and all His words and deeds, He may be able to reproduce them in us by the special grace attached to each of His deeds and actions. Christ’s whole life is a type of sacrament, imparting His sanctifying grace upon us in each of His actions. As Jesus walked through the masses of people “the crowd were trying to touch Him, for power came out from Him and healed all of them.” (Lk 6:19) Christ is a living Christ, with this same grace and power He had then, which still emanates forth from Him now into those that draw near to Him and dare to reach out for Him in faith.

The Catechism lucidly describes Christ’s sanctifying humanity and our communion with His mysteries. It is worth quoting at length:

All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property.” (Redemptor Hominis, 11) Christ did not live His life for Himself but for us, from His Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to His death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us. He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before Him all that He lived and suffered for us.”

In all of His life Jesus presents Himself as our model. He is “the perfect man” who invites us to become His disciples and follow Him. In humbling Himself, He has given us an example to imitate, through His prayer He draws us to pray, and by His poverty He calls us to accept freely the privation and persecutions that may come our way.

Christ enables us to live in Him all that He Himself lived, and He lives it in us. “By His Incarnation, He, the Son of God, has in a certain way united Himself with each man.” We are called only to become one with Him, for He enables us as the members of His Body to share in what He lived for us in His flesh as our model:

“We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and His mysteries and often to beg Him to perfect and realize them in us and in His whole Church. . . For it is the plan of the Son of God to make us and the whole Church partake in His mysteries and to extend them to and continue them in us and in His whole Church. This is His plan for fulfilling His mysteries in us.   (St.John Eudes)

The mysteries that Christ lived in the flesh are our mysteries too. They are meant for us. We can unite ourselves each day with them. His divine, sanctified humanity, which conquered death, gives eternal life to our mortal humanity. This is the whole point. We are doomed to die, but in Christ we have the blessed hope of resurrection and eternal life. And, how should we live? We can habituate ourselves to try to please God in all things, even the smallest of our actions, in order to be united with Christ in all that we do. This is a key to the sacramental life, living with the intentionality of pleasing God. This will orient all of our activity towards God, and unite our lives with the life of Christ. He will recreate His mysteries within us. Just think, even more so than adoring the life of Christ, Christ’s very own sanctifying humanity – His divine essence as manifested in His flesh – lives on with us, even now, He is still here, in the real presence of the Eucharist. We can merge ourselves with His sacred humanity and His sanctifying grace by consuming His body and blood in reception of the Eucharist, our Holy Communion. Then, Christ will live within our dying bodies and souls, His sanctifying humanity transfiguring our humanity, and resurrecting us to eternal life.

The Mystical Body of Christ – October 30, 2015

A real symbol is both a symbol and a reality. It symbolizes a reality, but it also has the real presence of the reality it symbolizes. The symbol, in a real symbol, is so intimately identified with the reality of it that the symbol makes present the reality. It is more than just a representation. The symbol and the reality are one. Yet, even though the symbol and the reality are inseparably bestowed, they are also identifiably distinct from each other. The best illustration of a real symbol is the human body. The human body is the real symbol of the soul. It both symbolizes the reality of the soul and it actually makes present the essence of the soul, or the reality of self. In St.Thomas’ words, the soul is the substantial “form” of the “matter” of the body. (Summa, I, q.76, a.1, a.4) When we think of a human person, we think of a united being of body and soul, forming one human substance. We know that the human person is more than a physical body. It is also a rational, immaterial, and immortal soul created directly by God that lives on after the death of the body. The body and soul are distinct. Nevertheless, the body is not simply a cocoon possessed by the soul. Rather, the body individuates the soul, permanently. The two principles, body and soul, are forever linked and conformed to each other. Man is a composite being, in which body and soul are separated at death, but reunited, in eternal form, in the final Resurrection. (CCC 366) The corporeal matter of the body and the spiritual form of the soul make one human person. As the Catechism teaches, “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united; but rather their union forms a single nature.” (CCC 365) Human nature is the body and the soul together. Therefore, the body is the real symbol of the soul, because it symbolizes the soul and also makes the soul present in reality.

The Church is the real symbol of Jesus Christ. The Church symbolizes the continued presence of Christ in the world, and it also makes present Christ in reality. Just as the soul animates the body of a person, so too, the Holy Spirit animates the body of the Church. (CCC 797) As the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, or “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” makes clear, the Church is a body (MCC, 14), and specifically, the Body of Christ. (CCC 805) She is both visible and invisible, and human and divine. (CCC 779) She is the physical symbol of a hidden reality. In that sense, the Church is like a sacrament. (CCC 775) She is the visible sign in communicating God’s invisible grace. She is the efficacious instrument, and real symbol, of Christ’s redemption by which man is reconciled with God. (CCC 780) The Holy Spirit “forms,” as it were, the “matter” of the body of the Church. Just as the body is formed in the likeness of the soul, so too, we are formed into the likeness of Christ. We are recreated in His image. (Rom.8:29) This is begun at Baptism and continues in a lifelong process, so that we “may become daily more and more like to our Savior” (MCC, 56), and are being “transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Cor.3:18) This self-communication of Christ to His believers is primarily through the sacraments, where we are “united in a hidden and real way to Christ in His passion and glorification.” (LG, 7) In Baptism, we are conformed to His likeness; in Confirmation, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit; and in the Eucharist, we are brought into communion with Him and with each other. Christ is as intimately connected with His followers as the soul is with the body. Lumen Gentium puts it this way, “For by communicating His Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as His body those brothers of His who are called together from every nation.” (LG, 7) The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. (CCC 779) It is for this reason that when the risen Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus, who is on his way to persecute and kill members of the Church, Christ says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) Christ is actually present, under veiled form, in His community of believers, the Church. As Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them.” (Mt.18:20)

Hidden divine realities are often times expressed in the world through symbolic reality, as has been discussed in regards to the soul and the Church. In a similar way, Christ is the real symbol of the eternal Word of God. In His humanity, Christ symbolizes, in bodily form, the manifestation of the divine and eternal Word, but He also is, in reality, the Son of God. In a similar fashion, within the Church, grace is primarily conferred on us through the symbolic reality of the sacraments. This is most especially true in the Eucharist. Christ is symbolically present under the veiled species of bread and wine, but Christ is also actually present in reality in the Eucharist. At consecration, with the transubstantiation, His body and blood, soul and divinity truly become present, even though our “eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk.24:16) Christ is the primordial sacrament from which grace is bestowed upon the Church; itself, a type of analogous sacrament; which, in turn, confers grace upon us in the actual sacraments themselves. Sanctifying grace flows from Christ, to the Church, and to the sacraments. We, the community of believers, initiated and sustained by the sacraments, are thence drawn into the symbolic reality of Christ. We become symbols of Christ and manifest His real presence in our lives. We are taken up into the mysteries of His life. (LG, 7) As such, we, the Church, who are the Body of Christ, are drawn into close union with Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Body. (MCC, 81) St.Paul reveals this to us saying, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor.10:17) Since we all partake of the one Eucharistic “bread,” we are united into communion with Christ, and consequently, with each other. (LG, 7) This is a constant theme of the New Testament. As St.Paul teaches the Romans, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom.12:5) The effect of the Eucharistic sacrament, or in Thomistic terms, “the Res Tantum,” or the “final reality” produced by the sacrament, is our unity with God and with each other, i.e., the coalescing of the Mystical Body of Christ. As Jesus Himself testified, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn.6:56) We are made one in the symbolic reality of Christ’s Body.

To this point, the main purpose of the Church is to be the “sacrament of the inner union of men with God” and the “sacrament of the unity of the human race.” (CCC 775) In Gethsemane, Jesus prays to the Father for the Church’s communion with God and with one another, or in other words, for the Communion of Saints, “so that they may be one, as We are one.” (Jn. 17:22) As part of this oneness, the Church’s mission is to take care of each other, and not just corporeally, but also, spiritually. God wills that the Church take part in the redemptive mission of Christ, and become “as it were, another Christ.” (MCC, 53) Christ’s redemptive work merited superabundant grace for us, of which the Church contributed nothing. (MCC, 44) Yet, Christ’s passion and death “merited for His Church an infinite treasure of graces.” (MCC, 106) God could have chosen any way possible to distribute those graces, but He chose that the Church should take an active role in the work of redemption; thus, conferring a special dignity upon His members. The magisterium teaches “not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. This is a deep mystery..” (MCC, 44) This deep mystery pervades every member of the Body of Christ. For, Christ wills that His Mystical Body, we, the Church, carry on His salvific mission here on earth until the end of the world. It is an utterly serious responsibility, for “the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances” of her members. (MCC, 44) We can petition God to apply our own prayers and mortifications, our “spiritual sacrifices,” in union with the infinite grace of Christ’s Passion, towards the salvation and sanctification of other souls, and in particular, on behalf of sinners. We can be co-redeemers. Again, this is not from anything we have done or earned or merited. We can do nothing without Christ. All grace is from Him. Christ simply wills that we should share in His work. The encyclical says we must offer our “prayers, works, and sufferings” every day to the Eternal Father. (MCC, 109) In this way we resemble Christ (MCC, 47) in our intercession and mediation for the whole human family. Being one body, we must have “the same care for one another.” (1 Cor.12:25) As individual members of the Mystical Body of Christ we must be rustled up from our slumber with a “supernatural charity” for the good of all men. (MCC, 97) We can do this by remaining faithful to the Church. When we abide as members united in His Mystical Body, He too abides in us by the Holy Spirit. We become a living symbolic reality, where Christ is truly present in the world again.

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.”