POSTED - 5/5/2001
The Person of Christ
- A. A. Hodge
It is the grand distinction of Christianity that all its doctrines and all its forces centre in the Person of its Founder and Teacher. In the case of all the other founders of philosophical sects and religions, the entire interest of their mission centres in the doctrines they teach, the opinions they disseminate. This was obviously true in the case of Zoroaster, Confucius, and Buddha, of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, of Moses and Paul. In the case of each of them the question was not what they were, but what they taught. But in the case of Christianity, the entire system, from foundation to superstructure, rests upon and derives its life from the Person of its Founder. The question of questions is what he was, rather than what he taught.
This can be proved
In this age, in which secular philosophy oscillates between materialism and pantheism, when advanced thinkers disdain all the old questions of theology, natural or revealed, even the most inveterate sceptics acknowledge the necessity of presenting some solution of that miracle of all ages, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. It is impossible to explain that unique phenomenon which emerged on the hills and valleys of Judea eighteen hundred years ago, whose life, character, and works are truly inexplicable unless we accept the account of his nature and his origin which is given to us in the Word of God. The press groans with Ecce Homos and Lives of Christ, and with new versions of rationalistic theories, mystical and legendary. Thus the infidel is constrained to unite with the believer in bearing testimony to the greatness of that mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.
- From an examination of each of the doctrines of Christianity separately. All that the Scriptures teach of the Mosaic dispensation and its typical character; of the burden of all the prophets; of the new birth; of repentance and faith; of justification and sanctification; of holy living and of the Christian Church; of the state of the soul after death; of the resurrection from the dead; of the general judgment; and of heaven itself -- takes its meaning and force from its relation to the person, offices, and work of Christ.
- From the experience of Christians. We believe Moses and Paul, but we believe in Christ. To be a Christian is to be in Jesus. To live a Christian is to have fellowship with the Father and the Son. To die a Christian is to sleep in Jesus.
- The same is proved, in the third place, from the present attitude of the great controversy between Christianity and its opponents.
And here, in the very heart of our religion, all true Christians agree. The entire historical Church, in all its ages and in all its branches -- Greek and Roman, Lutheran and Reformed, Calvinist and Arminian -- are here entirely at one.
While this is true, as far as the public faith of the Church is concerned, as expressed in its great confessions, liturgies, and hymns, a great variety of opinion and diversity of speculation and definition have prevailed at different times among the various schools of theology. This diversity of speculation naturally arose from the following facts:
Before proceeding to the historical illustration of this doctrine, I call your attention to the following general remarks:
- The Person of the incarnate God is unique. His birth has had no precedents and his existence no analogy. He cannot be explained by being referred to a class, nor can he be illustrated by an example.
- The Scriptures, while clearly and fully revealing all the elements of his Person, yet never present in one formula an exhaustive definition of that Person, nor a connected statement of the elements which constitute it and their mutual relations. The impression is all the more vivid because it is made, as in a picture, by an exhibition of his Person in action -- an exhibition in which the divinity and humanity are alike immediately demonstrated by the self-revelation of their attributes in action; and
- This unique personality, as it surpasses all analogy, also transcends all understanding. The proud intellect of man is constantly aspiring to remove all mysteries and to subject the whole sphere of existence to the daylight of rational explanation. Such attempts are constantly ending in the most grotesque failure. Even in the material world it is true that omnia, exeunt in myseterium. If we cannot explain the relation which the immaterial soul sustains to the organized body in the person of man, why should We be surprised to find that all attempts to explain the intimate relations which the eternal Word and the human soul and body sustain to each other in the Person of Christ have miserably failed?
1. The doctrine of the Person of Christ is intimately associated with the doctrine of the Trinity. It is obviously impossible to hold the orthodox view with respect to the divine-human constitution of our Lord unless we first believe the orthodox doctrine that the one God exists as three eternal Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. At the same time, few hold the true doctrine as to the tri-personal constitution of the Trinity without at the same time holding the corresponding catholic doctrine as to the Person of the God-man.
Indeed, I happen to know that the great objection which the most able and influential Unitarians entertain to the Trinitarian system is not originated by their difficulty with the Trinity, considered by itself, but because they regard the doctrine of the Trinity to be inseparable from that of the Person of Christ as held by the Church, which to them appears impossible to believe.
And undoubtedly we freely admit just here that in the constitution of the Person of the God-man lies the, to us, absolutely insoluble mystery of godliness. How is it possible that the same Person can be at the same time infinite and finite, ignorant and omniscient, omnipotent and helpless? How can two complete spirits coalesce in one Person? How can two consciousnesses, two understandings, two memories, two imaginations, two wills, constitute one Person? All this is involved in the scriptural and Church doctrine of the Person of Christ. Yet no one can explain it. The numerous attempts made to explain or to expel this mystery have only filled the Church with heresies and obscured the faith of Christians.
2. The Scriptures do not in any one place, or by the means of distinct, comprehensive formulae, give us complete definitions either of the doctrine of the Trinity or of that of the Person of Christ. They do give us, most explicitly and repeatedly, all the elements of both doctrines, and then leave us to put all the several teachings relating to the same subject together, and so to construct the entire doctrine by the synthesis of the elements.
Thus (1) as to the Doctrine of The Trinity. The Scriptures tell us, first, that there is but one God. Then we would naturally conclude that if there is but one God, there can be but one divine Person. But, again, the Scriptures teach us that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are that one God. Then, again, we would naturally conclude that the terms Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are only different names, qualitative or official, of one Person. But yet again the Scriptures prevent us, and teach us that these names designate different subjects and agents. The Father is objective to the Son, and the Son to the Father, and both to the Spirit. They love each other and are loved. They converse, using to and of each other the personal pronouns I, thou, he. The Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Spirit, and they, in that order, act as agents, proceed from and return to, and report.
The Scriptures also teach that there is an eternal constitutional relation of order and origin between three Persons. The Father is the fountain of Godhead. He eternally begets the Son (the process is without beginning, or end, or succession), and the Father and Son eternally give origin to the Spirit. (2.) In the very same manner the Scriptures teach us all we know of the Person of Christ. Pointing to that unique phenomenon exhibited biographically in the four Gospels, the Scriptures affirm -- (a) "He is God." Then we would naturally say, if he is God, he cannot be man; if he is infinite, he cannot be finite. But the Scriptures proceed to affirm, pointing to the same historical subject, "He is man." Then, again, we would naturally say, if that phenomenon is both God and man, he must be two Persons in reality, and one Person only in appearance. But yet again the Scriptures prevent us, In every possible way they set him before us as one Person. His divinity is never objective to his humanity, nor his humanity to his divinity. His divinity never loves, speaks to, nor sends his humanity, but both divinity and humanity act together as the common energies of one Person. All the attributes and all the acts of both natures are referred to the one Person. The same " I " possessed glory with the Father before the world was, and laid down his life for his sheep. Sometimes in a single proposition the title is taken from the divine side of his Person, while the predicate is true only of his human side, as when it is said, "The Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." The same Person is called God because of his divinity, while it is affirmed that he shed his human blood for his Church. Again: while standing among his disciples on the earth, he says, "The Son of man, which is in heaven." Here the same Person, who is called Son of man because of his humanity, is declared to be omnipresent -- that is, at the same time on earth and in heaven -- as to his divine nature. This, of course, implies absolute singleness of Person, including at once divine and human attributes.
Again: the Scriptures teach us that this amazing personality does not centre in his humanity, and that it is not a composite one originated by the power of the Spirit when he brought the two natures together in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It was not made by adding manhood to Godhead. The Trinity is eternal and unchangeable. A new Person is not substituted for the second Person of the Trinity, neither is a fourth Person added to the Trinity But the Person of Christ is just the one eternal Word, the second Person of the Trinity, which in time, by the power of the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of the womb of the Virgin, took a human nature (not a man, but the seed of man, humanity in the germ) into personal union with himself. The Person is eternal and divine. The humanity is introduced into it. The centre of the personality always continues in the eternal personal Word or Son of God.
Let me illustrate this by your personality and mine. We consist of soul and body, two distinct substances, but one person. This personality, however, is not composed of the union of soul and body at birth. The personality from the first to the last centres in the soul, and is only shared in by the body.
By soul we mean only one thing -- that is, an incarnate spirit, a spirit with a body. Thus we never speak of the souls of angels They are pure spirits, having no bodies. Put a spirit in a body, and the spirit becomes a soul, and the body is quickened into life and becomes a part of the person of the soul. Separate soul and body, as death does, and the soul becomes a ghost and the body becomes a corpse. When death takes place the body passes out of the personality, is called "it," and is placed in the grave; while the soul, still continuing the person, goes at once to be judged of God. At the resurrection the same personal soul will return and take up the same body once discarded, and, receiving it again into its personality, will stand before God a complete man.
So the divine Word, which from eternity was the second Person of the Trinity, did eighteen hundred years ago take, not a human person, but a human nature into his eternal personality, which ever continues, not a human person nor a divine-human person, but the eternal second Person of the Trinity, with a human nature embraced in it as its personal organ.
3. There is one obvious respect in which the doctrines of the Trinity and of the Person of Christ agree, and one in which they no less obviously differ. They agree in that both alike utterly transcend all experience, all analogy, and all adequate grasp of human reason. But they differ in that, while the mystery of the Trinity is that one Spirit should exist eternally as three distinct Persons, the mystery of the Person of Christ is that two distinct spirits should for evermore constitute but one Person.
4. If you give due attention to the difficulties involved in each of these divinely revealed doctrines, you would be able a priori to anticipate all possible heresies which have been evolved in the course of history. All truth is catholic; it embraces many elements, wide horizons, and therefore involves endless difficulties and apparent inconsistencies. The mind of man seeks for unity, and tends prematurely to force a unity in the sphere of his imperfect knowledge by sacrificing one element of the truth or other to the rest. This is eminently true of all rationalists. They are clear and logical at the expense of being superficial and half-orbed. Heresy means an act of choice, and hence division, the picking and choosing a part, instead of comprehensively embracing the whole of the truth. Almost all heresies are partial truths -- true in what they affirm, but false in what they deny.
Take, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity. One eternal Spirit exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three distinct Persons. This the rationalists cannot understand, and therefore will not believe. They proceed, therefore, to deny one or other element of the whole truth, and try to hold the dead fragment remaining.
Take, for another instance, in like manner, the doctrine of the Person of Christ. The mystery is that two spirits -- one divine, the other human -- two minds, two wills, are so united that without confusion or change or absorption of one in the other they constitute but one Person. Scrutinize this, and you can predict beforehand all the possible heresies or one-sided half-truths.
- they attempted to cut the knot by denying the divinity of Christ, and had pure, lifeless Mohammedan Unitarianism left;
- they pressed the unity so close that they had but one Person as well as one God, and the terms " Father," " Son," and " Holy Ghost " became different descriptive or official titles of the same Person: as Grant while in office was one person, and yet at the same time was husband and father, commander-in-chief of the army and navy, and President of the United States, so the Sabellians say Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are different titles of the same Person in different characters and functions;
- or, lastly, they ran to the other side of the enclosure and pressed the distinction of Persons to such a degree that they had three Gods instead of the mystery of one God in three Persons.
Let us proceed to the historical development of the doctrine in the consciousness of the Church.
- The Unitarian cuts the knot by denying half the facts of the case and leaving out the divinity.
- The Gnostics held that a man Jesus was temporarily possessed by the supernatural Aeon or Angel Christ.
- The Docetae cut the knot by denying the other half of the truth, that Christ was a man, holding that the reality was a simple divinity and the humanity a mere appearance.
- The Eutychians pressed the unity of the Person to such an extent that they confounded the natures, holding that the human was absorbed in the divine.
- The Nestorians went to the other extreme of emphasizing the integrity of the several natures after their union so very far as to dissolve the unity of the Person, and to set forth Christ, not as a God-man, but as a God and a man intimately united. These, if they do not cover, at least indicate the direction and spirit of all possible heresies relating to these two fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
I. In the Council of Nice, A.D., 325, there were three parties. The Arians, led by Arius, maintained that the superhuman element in the Person of Christ was heteroousion--- of a different substance from God the Father. The semi-Arians, led by the two bishops Eusebius, held that the superhuman element was homoiousion -- of a like substance to that of the Father. The Orthodox, led by Athanasius, held that the divine nature of Christ was homoousion -- of identically the same numerical substance with that of the Father. This last doctrine was embodied in the creed of that council, which, in the form afterward perfected at the end of the fourth century, is received by all Christians, Catholic and Protestant. From this time the doctrine of the Trinity and that of the absolute divinity of Christ have been universally held in the Church.
II. But from that time forth men began to question how the substance of God could be united in one Person with the substance of humanity.
Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea, in all sincerity attempted, about A.D. 370, to maintain the truth by the following explanation, which really sacrifices an essential part of it. He supposed that the Scripture, (1 These 5:23) and true philosophy teach that every natural human person is composed of three distinct elements -- soma, body; psyche, soul; and pneuma, spirit that the psyche is the seat of the animal life and appetites and the emotions and logical understanding, and the pneuma is the seat of the reason, the will, and the moral and spiritual nature. These three put in personal union make one complete human person. He held that in the Person of Christ the soma and psyche are human and the pneuma is divine.
But this view secures the unity and simplicity of Christ's Person at the expense of the integrity of his humanity. If Christ does not take a human pneuma -- that is, a complete human nature -- he cannot be our Saviour, our High Priest, who feels with us in all our infirmities, having been tempted like us. Indeed, the view of Apollinaris degrades the doctrine by maintaining that the eternal Word took not a complete human nature, but an irrational human animal into personal union with himself.
III. During the fourth and early part of the fifth centuries, theological speculation in the Eastern Church revolved around two great centres, Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria. The tendency of the Alexandrian school from Origen to Cyril and Eutychius was mystical and theosophical. With this school the divinity of Christ was everything, and into it the humanity was represented as absorbed. The tendency of the school of Antioch, whose great representatives were Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, was to rationalistic clearness -- to the emphasis of moral duties and of the distinctness and independence of the human will. The Alexandrian party generated Eutychianism, which absorbed the humanity in the divinity, in order to maintain the unity of the Person and absoluteness of the divinity; while the Antiochian party generated Nestorianism, in which the unity of the Person is sacrificed to the separate integrity of the natures, and especially of the human nature. Nestorianism was condemned by the ecumenical council held at Ephesus, A.D. 431, and Eutychianism was condemned by the council which met at Chalcedon, A.D. 451.
IV. In these decisions the whole Church, Eastern and Western, concurred. The advocates of Eutychianism endeavoured for a time to maintain, as s compromise position, that although the two natures in Christ remain entire and distinct, nevertheless that as they coalesce in Christ in one single Person, so that Person can possess but one will, divine-human, and not a divine and a human will combined in one personality. This party was then known as the Monothelite, the one-will party. After this heresy was condemned at the sixth ecumenical council, held in Constantinople in 681, the controversy was closed, and the faith of the Church remained as represented by the old definitions until the time of the Reformation.
V. After the Reformation the Lutherans, in order to establish their doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's human nature in the Lord's Supper, introduced a new view as to his Person. The Eutychians taught that the humanity of Christ was absorbed in his divinity. The Lutherans taught that his humanity was exalted to an equality with the divinity. This they attempted to explain by the Communicatio Idiomatum -- that is, the communication of attributes from one nature to the other, or the communion of one nature in the attributes of the other. The Lutherans held the formula Communicatio idiomatum utriusque nature ad naturam -- that is, the communication of the attributes of each nature to the other nature. The Reformed Churches, on the other hand, admitted that the attributes of each nature are communicated only to the one Person, which was common to both natures. The Lutherans thus held that at the moment of the incarnation, in virtue of the union between the divine and human natures, the human nature of Christ became omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.
This doctrine is evidently not supported in Scripture --- is not consistent with the integrity of Christ's human nature; for that which is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent is divine and not human, and is plainly inconsistent with all the facts related in the Gospels as to our Lord's earthly life. He is there represented in all respects, as to knowledge, power, and space, as literally finite as other babes and men.
This theory originated in the desire to lay a foundation for their doctrine that the body and blood of Christ are always present in, with, and under the bread and wine in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But it is evident that this foundation, instead of supporting, invalidates the sacramental presence, If his body and blood are omnipresent, then they are in, with, and under all food and drink, and indeed in and under all material forms of every kind in all worlds. What they needed was not essential, constant, universal omnipresence, but "voluntary multi-presence"-- that is, the power upon Christ's part of rendering his body and blood present at many places at the same time at his own good pleasure.
To reconcile their doctrine with these facts, one school of Lutheran theologians -- namely, that of Tubingen, led by John Brentius -- held that while on earth the human nature of Christ was really omnipotent and omnipresent, only that he hid the use of these attributes from man, like a king traveling incognito. Another school, that of Chemnitz, held that the use of these divine attributes of Christ's humanity was dependent upon his human will -- that in his estate of humiliation on earth he voluntarily abstained from their use.
This speculation of the Lutherans was the latest and most elaborate attempt ever made by theologians to explain how the two natures of Christ can coalesce in one person.
VI. The Eutychians held that the human nature was absorbed in the divine; the Lutherans, that the human nature was exalted to equality with the divine; the Reformed held that the eternal divine Person humbled himself to be united with humanity; the advocates of the modern German doctrine of Kenosis hold that the eternal Word himself became man -- that Christ was and is both God and man, but that he is but one single nature as one single Person. They build on such texts as John 1:14 and Phil. 2:7, "He emptied himself." Kenosis means the act of emptying or the state of being emptied. They start with the orthodox doctrine that the Person of the Word, or Son, is eternally generated of his own substance by the Father. This generation makes the Son partaker of all the fulness of the divine nature, and is, they say, dependent upon the will of the Son, his voluntary act conspiring with the act of the Father. At the incarnation the eternal Son, of his voluntary act, emptied his person of the divine fulness, and became an unconscious human germ in the womb of the Virgin. From that point, and under the ordinary conditions of human birth and life, this divine germ developed through all the stages of human experience -- infantine, youthful, and mature. After his death and resurrection, this same nature, the self-emptied Word, the divine germ, developed as a man, again expands into infinity, and fills all things as God. His nature hence is one, because from first to last it is the divine substance communicated by the Father to the Son, who in turn voluntarily empties himself of all except the merest point of existence, which after his glorification expands again into infinity. He is one Person because he is one single nature. He is from first to last God as to substance, but he has become, by passing through the womb of the Virgin Mary, man as to form, Thus he ever continues God in the form of man -- always God, because he subsists of the one eternal, self-existent Substance; always man, because retaining the human form and experience acquired on earth.
This, confessedly, rests upon the assumption that the divine nature is capable of taking upon itself humanity, and that the human nature is capable of receiving the properties of divinity. Hence it is evidently of a pure pantheistic descent. God is immutable, incapable of becoming unconscious and of passing through the limitations of the finite. To be man is to be finite and dependent; to be God is to be infinite and self-existent. Christ was both at the same time, because his Person embraced two distinct natures, the divine and the human.
VII. The common doctrine of the Church, then, is as follows:
l. As to the incarnation.
2. As to the effects of the incarnation.
- Substance is that which has objective existence, permanence, and power. Attributes are the active powers of their respective substances, and are inseparable from them. Only a divine substance can have divine attributes; only a human substance can have human attributes. In the Godhead the one infinite divine Substance eternally exists in the form of three equal Persons.
- In the incarnation the second Person of this Trinity established a personal union between itself and a human soul and body. These substances remain distinct, and their properties or active powers are inseparable from each substance respectively.
- The union between them is not mechanical, as that between oxygen and nitrogen in our air; neither is it chemical, as that between oxygen and hydrogen when water is formed; neither is it organic, as that subsisting between our hearts and our brains: but it is a union more intimate, more profound, and more mysterious than any of these. It is personal. If we cannot understand the nature of the simpler unions, why should we complain because we cannot understand the nature of the most profound of all unions?
The best illustration of this mystery is afforded by the union of soul and body in the unity of our own persons. The body is matter, the soul is spirit. Matter and spirit are incompatible -- as far as we understand as incompatible as divinity and humanity. Matter is inert, extended, and the vehicle of force; spirit is spontaneous, unextended, and the generator of force. Yet they form in us, under certain circumstances, one person. This is the person of the soul, not of the body, as shown before. The soul by this union is virtually confined to and extended in space, for wherever the body is, there the soul lives and feels through their union. The body, which is of itself inert and dead, is through its union with the soul palpitating with life, throbbing with feelings, and instinct with energy.
- The attributes of both natures belong to the one Person, which includes both.
- The acts of both natures are the acts of the one Person.
- The human nature is greatly exalted, and shares in the love, adoration, and glory of the divine nature. It all belongs to the one Person.
- The human attributes of our Redeemer are the organ of his divine Person, and are, through the divinity, rendered virtually inexhaustible and ubiquitously available for us. When you put your babe to bed and leave him, to go your own way to a distant place, you say, "Love, fear not; Jesus well be with you while I am gone." You know Jesus will be with you also at the same time, and with all believers. By this you do not mean simply that Christ's divinity will be with you and the babe. You mean that the Person who is very man as well as very God will be with you both. You want his human love and sympathy as well as his divine benevolence. If he were a mere man, he could be only at one place at one time, and his attention and sympathy would soon be overwhelmed by our demands. But he is at once God and man, and as such, in the wholeness and fulness of both natures, he is inexhaustible and accessible by all believers in heaven and on earth at once and for ever.
Every act of each nature is also the act of the one person, and both natures concur in our actions, organic and voluntary. Even digestion is possible to the body only through the indwelling of the soul. But in all our higher actions, when the orator speaks or when the singer pours forth his soul in melody, both soul and body penetrating each other, yet distinct, constituting one person, yet unconfused -- both soul and body act together inseparably. As human voice and instrument blend in one harmony, as human soul and body blend in each act of feeling, thought, or speech, so, as far as we can know, divinity and humanity act together in the thought and heart and act of the one Christ.
I adore a Christ who is absolutely one -- who is at the same time pure, unmixed, unchanged God, and pure, unmixed, unchanged man -- and whose Person, in its wholeness and its fulness, is available throughout all space and throughout all time to those who trust him and love his appearing.
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