Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Hypostatic Union of Christ: How His Two Natures Relate

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

How did Jesus’ human knowledge interact with His divine/omniscient knowledge?! How did they coexist?

We have seen that Jesus is God Incarnate; truly God and truly man. What was it like for Jesus to live with two natures? The best answer is: we do not know! This is the mystery of mysteries; the psychology of how Jesus lived by moment as both God and man is an impenetrable mystery with no human analogy. Incarnation is movement from God to man, and not man to God.

However, we can say a few things without fear of overstepping proper biblical boundaries. ‘Hypostatic union’ refers to the combination of Jesus’ two natures in one Person (Gk. Hypostasis) Perhaps it would be appropriate to start with the best statement on the dual nature of Christ, written over 1,500 years ago at the Council of Chalcedon. It does not attempt to actually explain the mystery in positive way; a psychological elaboration, which is impossible!

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως – in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεόν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

This Creed was accepted by Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestants. It is less a definition than a denial of certain errors. It sets up-guard rails against unwarranted speculation and heresy. At the time certain groups were either tending to unite or divide the two natures of Christ in such a way that was not acceptable. The four famous adverbs: without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation addressed these concerns. Current preachers need to re-familiarize themselves with these truths when preaching on Christ because, unwittingly, some preachers come close to transgressing one of the boundaries (e.g. saying Jesus knew advanced Calculus as a child—touching His human nature, He did not even know what that was). The first two accent the distinctness of the two natures of Christ, and the second two accent the inseparability/unity of Jesus’ Person.

This language reverses the language used in discussing the Trinity; three Persons with one Nature. Chalcedonian Christology affirms on Person with two natures. A nature (physis) is a group of attributes; a person is a being who has those attributes. So, Jesus has human attributes and divine attributes.

It is supremely perplexing as to how deity and humanity can exist in the same person. It is significant, that contrary to the ‘we’ language of the Trinity, Jesus always spoke of Himself as ‘I’ or the singular attributed to Him—even though He has two natures. As a general pattern, since the purpose of the Incarnation was His humbling, Jesus usually limited His specifically divine attributes. Amazingly, He lived for the better part of 30 years in Nazareth (other than when He was in Egypt) and nobody had a clue as to His divinity. He cloaked it very well! The cross beckoned and that was a call to weakness and humiliation. Exaltation—humiliation—back to exaltation is pattern. While working hard with His dad in the carpentry shop, He simultaneously upheld the universe and was omnipresent (and all the divine attributes—just the outward glory was cloaked).

Touching His human nature, Jesus did not know the timing of His return, but His divine nature did. It is hard to fathom, with all the divine knowledge at His disposal, that He could be ignorant of the timing of His own return. The important thing to know is that the self-limitation is voluntary. If you think about it, there is a certain logic to it—a true human would not have that kind of knowledge. And He was truly human. I cannot think of an appropriate analogy; it is the sacred mystery of mysteries.

This has led to discussions of the communication of attributes (koinonia idiomaton, communicatio idiomatum) This is the question of how Jesus’ unique hypostatic union affects His being, individual natures, and particular attributes. For example, we have seen that Jesus has a human and  divine attribute of knowledge. But how incredible that one person should have two distinct faculties of knowledge! And do they sit beside each other like two separate compartments? It is hard not to imagine His omniscience ‘seeping’ into His human brain, as when discussing in the temple as a 12- year-old boy. But we must resist divinizing His human mind or humanizing His divine attributes…kind of ‘superman’. As a sinless human,  the boy Jesus had a crystal clear mind that was unaffected by the Fall/sin. (see more on my upcoming discussion of ‘Temple Discussion’)

If we are not careful with our answers we will commit the very heresies that give rise to the Chalcedonian statement itself. VII. “Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.” The WCF distinguishes between two classes of actions, each ‘proper to’ one nature or the other. I think that miracles are proper to His divine nature and hunger to His human nature. But we must remember that natures as such do not do anything. A nature is a collection of attributes (which don’t act)—only persons, who possess those attributes, act. Bottom line, it was Jesus Himself that did miracles and it was Jesus Himself who hungered. We should not say ‘His divine nature did so and so’, and ‘His human nature did so and so’. It was Jesus Himself acting or thinking, sometimes emphasizing one nature. His divine and human natures enabled Him to do/experience various things, but it was Jesus Himself (not His attributes or natures) who did them.

Is there a sense in which the two natures affect each other? This is difficult to answer. We need to remember that even in Jesus there is Creator/creature distinction-- more intimate than anywhere else in universe, but His divinity and humanity are distinct. The 2 natures cannot be changed or confused but they cannot be divided or separated either. They constitute one Person. In closing let me give an example. Jesus’ body (human nature) resides in heaven, and cannot (contrary to Lutheran sacramental theology) be omnipresent. His body cannot be ubiquitous. But Jesus is with us always, until the end of the age (Matt 28) because He is also divine. What a blessed and comforting mystery: Jesus is in heaven praying for us, and here with us personally. Amen!

Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.