Lecture 6: A Possible Model of the Incarnation
Lecture 5: A Possible Model of the Incarnation
We’ve been talking about church historical reflection on the doctrine of the incarnation.
We come at last today to a proposed model of the incarnation.
I believe that on the basis of the historical precedence that we’ve briefly surveyed, we can craft a model of the incarnation which is logically coherent and biblically faithful.
Before I present this model, let me emphasize that this is presented simply as a possible model of the incarnation.
No one can presume to penetrate the mystery of the incarnation as to say exactly how God did this.
But if we can give a coherent model of the incarnation – a possible account – then this will defeat any objections brought against the doctrine of the incarnation by those who say that it is simply logically incoherent to say that Christ could be truly God and truly man.
My proposed Christology has three planks or postulates to it.
1. I propose that we postulate with the Council of Chalcedon that there is one person who exemplifies two distinct and complete natures – one human and one divine.
When the framers of the Chalcedonian statement affirmed that in Christ there are two natures they were not talking about individual essences, that is to say that set of properties that makes you uniquely you and different from anybody else (your individual essence).
Rather, what they were talking about were kind essences or natures that serve to demarcate natural kinds of things.
For example, according to Aristotle, every human being belongs to the natural kind “rational animal.”
That expresses the nature that is common to every human being – that natural kind.
In affirming that Christ had two natures, the church fathers were saying that Christ has all of the properties that go to constitute humanity and he also had all of the properties that go to make up deity.
In that sense he had two natures, and so he belonged to two natural kinds – God and man.
Each of us belongs simply to one natural kind – man, or humanity.
But in the case of Christ we have a person who belongs to two natural kinds – God and man.
Only the divine nature belongs essentially to the Logos, that is to say the second person of the Trinity.
In the incarnation the Logos assumed contingently a human nature as well. So the Logos possesses the divine nature essentially, but he possesses his human nature only contingently.
There was a time when the Logos did not have a human nature – before the virginal conception in Mary’s womb.
In affirming that Christ had two natures – complete and distinct, human and divine – I am rejecting any form of Kenotic Christology which suggests that in the incarnation the Logos gave up or divested himself of various divine attributes.
If the Logos (Christ) divested himself of any attribute that is essential to divinity, then that means that in the incarnation he ceased to be God.31
That is incompatible with the biblical data as we’ve seen, and therefore it is not acceptable as a Christian theory of the incarnation.
On the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, God did not turn himself into a human being.
Rather, he was simultaneously human and divine.
The incarnation is not a matter of subtraction from the divine nature to turn the Logos into a man. It is a matter of addition. In addition to the divine nature he already has as the second person of the Trinity, the Logos assumes a human nature as well.
So contrary to Kenotic Christology, the incarnation is not a matter of subtraction but of addition.
So it seems to me that the Kenotic theologian is forced to say, He was only mortal and died in his human nature, but attributes like these are still preserved in his divine nature.
But then why not say the same thing for the other attributes as well, like omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence?
Christ can be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and so and and so forth, in his divine nature but not in his human nature.
But then you’ve abandoned Kenotic Christology and you are right back to Chalcedon again, namely, that Christ has two natures each complete and distinct.
In my opinion, Kenotic Christology is theologically unacceptable and really incoherent in the end.
Therefore, the first plank in any acceptable Christology is to agree with the Council of Chalcedon that Christ has two complete and distinct natures – one human, and one divine.
The second plank in my proposed model is that we postulate with Apollinarius that the Logos (the second person of the Trinity) was the rational soul of Jesus of Nazareth.
What Apollinarius maintained was that if we are to avoid a duality of persons in Christ, the man Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Logos must share some common constituent that unites those two individual natures.
The orthodox Christological view is that there is a single hypostasis (or property-bearer or individual) which exemplifies or bears those two natures.
That hypostasis is identified as the person that Christ is.
There is a person who exemplifies or has these two individual natures – one divine and one human.
The question is: how can this be? How can there be two complete individual natures that are possessed by one person?
If there exists a complete individual human nature in Christ and a complete individual divine nature who is the Logos then how can there not be two persons – one human person and the other the divine person?
You will remember that Apollinarius proposed that the Logos replaced the human mind of Jesus so that there was in Christ a single person – the Logos – who was united with a human body, much in the same way that a soul is united with its body in an ordinary human being.
On Apollinarius’ view it is easy to see, I think, how a single hypostasis or person can exemplify the properties which are proper to each nature – the human mind of Christ just was the Logos.
Unfortunately, as you’ll recall from our survey of church history, Apollinarius’ view was defective as it stood.
A complete human nature requires more than just a hominid body.
On Apollinarius’ view the incarnation seemed to be a matter of Christ’s assuming not humanity but mere animality – he assumed an animal nature but not a human nature.
Moreover you will remember that the opponents of Apollinarius rightly charged that such a view also undercuts the work of Christ as well as his person.
Because if Christ did not have a truly human nature then he could not have redeemed humanity. If he had merely an animal nature then he could not have represented humanity before God and so redeemed humanity.
So Apollinarius’ view is defective and was condemned as heretical.
But is there room for an amendment? I think there is.
Apollinarius argued that the Logos was not only the image of God but he was also the “archetype of man.”
The Logos was the archetypal man.
In this sense he already possessed human nature in his pre- incarnate state.
Apollinarius’ opponents like Gregory of Nazianzus understood Apollinarius to mean that the flesh of Christ was pre-existent – that in his pre-incarnate state Christ somehow already possessed human flesh, which would be absurd. But Apollinarius might have been more subtle than this. That may not have been what he meant. What he may have meant is that the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypally in his own divine nature. The result of this was that by assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ’s animal nature just those properties which would serve to make it a complete human nature. Thus the human nature of Christ became complete precisely in virtue of the union of the flesh with the Logos. As a result of the union, Christ did indeed have a complete human nature comprised of body and soul, for that nature was made complete by the union of the flesh with the Logos who is the archetype of humanity.
This understanding of the incarnation draws strong support, I think, from the doctrine that man is created in the image of God, or as the Latin theologians put it the imago dei (the image of God).
Man is created in God’s image.
Clearly that is not a reference to our animal bodies.
Human beings do not bear God’s image in virtue of our animal bodies because we share these sorts of bodies with other members of the biosphere – the animal kingdom.
Rather, it is in virtue of being persons that human beings uniquely reflect God’s nature.
God himself is personal, as we’ve seen in our discussion of the Trinity and of the attributes of God.
So insofar as we are persons we resemble God.
We reflect his nature.
Thus God already possesses the properties necessary for human personhood even prior to the incarnation.
All he lacks is corporeality.
The Logos already possessed in his pre- incarnate state all of the properties necessary for being a human self.
In assuming a hominid body he brought to it all that was necessary for a complete human nature.
For this reason, in Christ the one self-conscious subject who is the Logos possessed both divine and human natures which were each complete.
For on this view, Christ is both truly God and truly man.38
That is to say, he is all that God is and he is all that man is or ought to be. All he lacks is sin since his individual human nature, like Adam’s, is uncorrupted by sin.
This also goes to show why Jesus is called “The Second Adam”.
Because Christ has a complete human nature and thus has fully identified with our humanity, then his atoning work on behalf of mankind is efficacious.
So I think that this rehabilitated Apollinarian Christology does lie safely within the bounds of orthodoxy that are marked out by the Council of Chalcedon even if it differs from what some of the framers of the Council of Chalcedon themselves may have held.
That is the second plank of the model.
The principal problem with the proposal as I’ve described it thus far is that it seems to founder upon the human limitations evinced by Jesus of Nazareth according to the Gospel accounts.
The church has typically dealt with the problem of Christ’s evident limitations by means of the device of reduplicative predication.
As I explained last time, according to reduplicative predication properties are predicated of the person with respect to his individual natures.
This, I think, makes good sense with respect to some of the attributes.
For example, you can say that Christ is omnipotent with respect to his divine nature but he’s limited in power with respect to his human nature. That seems to make perfectly good sense. Or you could say that Christ is eternal and necessary with respect to his divine nature, but he is mortal and contingent with respect to his human nature. So I think this device of reduplicative predication makes good sense for many of these attributes.
I want to suggest, as my third plank in this model, that we postulate that certain divine aspects of Jesus’ personality were largely subliminal during his state of humiliation or this condition of emptying that we just spoke of.47
Certain divine aspects of Jesus’ personality were largely subliminal during his state of humiliation.
What this means is that in the single person who is Christ, the Logos mind was Jesus sub conscience, while his human mind was his consciousness.
This 3rd point is 100% speculation and it very new - because it draws on the very new and modern field of Psychoanalysis.
Similarly, in the incarnation, at least during his earthly state of humiliation, the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of Christ’s waking consciousness which were compatible with a typical human experience.
The bulk of his knowledge lay submerged with his other cognitive perfections like an iceberg beneath the water’s surface, submerged in subconsciousness.50
On this model Christ is one person but in that person conscious and subconscious elements are differentiated in a theologically significant way.
Unlike Nestorianism this does not imply that there are two persons anymore than the conscious aspects of your life and the subconscious aspects of your life constitute two different persons.
It is one person but you have both conscious and subconscious elements.
I think this model provides a satisfying account of Jesus as we see him described in the Gospel portrait.
For example, in his conscious experience Jesus grew in knowledge and wisdom in the same way that an ordinary human child does.
You don’t have the monstrosity of the baby Jesus lying in the manger contemplating the infinitesimal calculus.
He had a genuine infant consciousness.
In his conscious experience, moreover we see Jesus genuinely tempted by the devil even though he is in fact impeccable (that is to say incapable of sin).
But the enticements of sin were really felt. He really was tempted.
They weren’t just blown away like smoke.
Rather, resisting temptation required spiritual discipline and moral resoluteness on Jesus’ part.
Moreover, in his waking consciousness, Jesus is actually ignorance of certain facts.
Even though I think we can say he is kept from error and often supernaturally illumined by the divine subliminal.
Even though the Logos possesses all of the knowledge of the world from quantum mechanics to auto mechanics, nevertheless there is no reason to think that Jesus of Nazareth would have been able to answer questions about those subjects because he had stooped so low in condescending to take on the human condition.
Moreover, on this model, in his conscious experience, Jesus knew the whole gamut of human anxieties and worries. He felt physical hurt and fatigue.
This model, moreover, will also preserve the integrity of Jesus’ prayer life. Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane were not just charades.
He really struggled in his consciousness with facing the cross.
It also explains how Jesus was capable of being perfected through suffering.
Like us, Jesus of Nazareth needed to be dependent upon his heavenly Father moment by moment in order to live victoriously in a fallen world and to carry out successfully the mission that his Father had given him.
All of the traditional objections, I think, to the Apollinarian perspective that the Logos is the mind of Christ seem to melt away before this understanding of the incarnation because here we have a Jesus who is not only divine but who also shares the human condition.
It is not just that he has a human nature, but he shares the human condition with us as well in this sort of emptying or state of humiliation.