When God became human

As we celebrate Advent, we can see that Jesus came to earth and assumed human nature. But because he was in union with the Word, he was able to reveal God’s nature through his human heart: the divine love, compassion, mercy and concern especially for the meek, the least and the lost in human sight.

Dec 16, 2019

The other day, a friend of mine sent me a conservative Catholic video highlighting what an Italian journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, 95, said: that the Bishop of Rome told him he (Francis) believed that Jesus of Nazareth was just a man, not an incarnate God.

Those were Scalfari’s words of what Francis apparently told him, and the video used those words to add fuel to some conservatives’ view that Francis was some kind of heretical pope.

The Vatican has of course rejected Scalfari’s claims.

This is not something new. As controversies and heresies abounded in the first few centuries AD, the early Church had to reflect and try and make sense of who Jesus really was/is.

What does the divinity of Jesus mean? Was Jesus more divine than human (Gnostic Docetism heresy)? Or was Jesus a human body attached to the divine Son (Nestorian heresy)? Or did his human nature cease to exist when the divine Son assumed it (as the Monophysites assumed)?

Perhaps Advent would be an appropriate time to reflect on this. What do we mean when we say Jesus is “inseparably true God and true man”? How is it possible to be both, without negating or diminishing the other? For instance, if Jesus was a human being, did he have the unlimited knowledge of the divine?

And if Jesus was God, could he really feel physical pain and suffering and torture and thirst while on Earth, the way we do? Would his suffering have been different from that of other human beings if he knew he had the ability to make it stop at any time?

And, as a human being, did Jesus have unlimited divine powers and if so, did that knowledge undermine his experience of what it was like to be truly human?

So clearly a lot to think about, and we can easily see why Scalfari could get confused about what Francis had tried to explain to him — especially if it was true that the journalist was not taking notes during the meeting.

We can see how difficult it would be to grapple with what it must have been like for Jesus growing up, making sense and discovering his role in the world.

The controversies and heresies actually played a useful role in forcing the early Church to crystalise its understanding of who Jesus really was/is. Guided by the Spirit, the Church came to realise that “Jesus was begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father”.

But how was it possible to be true God and true man at the same time? “Because human nature was assumed, not absorbed,” in the mysterious union of the Incarnation. This led the Church to proclaim “the full reality of Christ’s human soul, with its operations of intellect and will, and of his human body”.

So the Son of God assumed — rather than absorbed — human nature.

“In parallel fashion, she (the Church) had to recall on each occasion that Christ’s human nature belongs, as his own, to the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it.”

But then, did the Christ the divine Word replace the soul or spirit, as Apollinarius of Laodicaea insisted?

The following bit in the Catechism is key to our understanding of what Jesus’ human experience was like: “This human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time.”

What this means is that Jesus’ soul had human knowledge, limited by his human condition. Faced with such a limitation, Jesus probably would not have had the knowledge of Google Search (had it existed at the time).

The Catechism explains “this is why the Son of God could, when he became man, ‘increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.’” Jesus of Nazareth would “even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience.”

I suspect this was what Francis was trying to explain to Scalfari, that Jesus was  limited by the historical conditions of his human experience.

Does that mean Jesus’ human knowledge, his human experience, was totally cut off from the divine?

Not quite. “This truly human knowledge of God’s Son expressed the divine life of his person. ‘The human nature of God's Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God.’”

In other words, as the Son, Jesus had an intimate knowledge of the Father, and so “his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had pinned to the secret thoughts of human hearts.” And because he was so attuned to the Father, his human will “does not resist or oppose but rather submits to his divine and almighty will.”

To sum up, “Christ, being true God and true man, has a human intellect and will, perfectly attuned and subject to his divine intellect and divine will, which he has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”

As we celebrate Advent, we can see that Jesus came to earth and assumed human nature. But because he was in union with the Word, he was able to reveal God’s nature through his human heart: the divine love, compassion, mercy and concern especially for the meek, the least and the lost in human sight.

Jesus was able to rise above the letter of the law and manifest the divine Wisdom and Love incarnated in the world in human form. And in doing so, he showed us we too are meant to rise to greater heights, through acts of great love and justice and compassion, and transform a broken world.

Total Comments:0

Name
Email
Comments