05 January 2009

Christ, human and divine (UPDATED)

From the Catholic Encyclopedia (1910), "The Incarnation":

Did union with the Divine nature do away, with all bodily imperfections?. . .Catholics hold that, before the Resurrection, the Body of Christ was subject to all the bodily weaknesses to which human nature unassumed is universally subject; such are hunger, thirst, pain, death. Christ hungered (Matthew 4:2), thirsted (John 19:28), was fatigued (John 4:6), suffered pain and death. "We have not a high priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities: but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). "For in that, wherein he himself hath suffered and been tempted, he is able to succour them also that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18). All these bodily weaknesses were not miraculously brought about by Jesus; they were the natural results of the human nature He assumed [. . .] Weaknesses due to old age are common to mankind. Had Christ lived to an old age, He would have suffered such weaknesses just as He suffered the weaknesses that are common to infancy. Death from old age would have come to Jesus, had He not been violently put to death. The reasonableness of these bodily imperfections in Christ is clear from the fact that He assumed human nature so as to satisfy for that nature's sin. Now, to satisfy for the sin of another is to accept the penalty of that sin. Hence it was fitting that Christ should take upon himself all those penalties of the sin of Adam that are common to man and becoming, or at least not unbecoming to the Hypostatic Union [. . .] Theologians now are unanimous in the view that Christ was noble in bearing and beautiful in form, such as a perfect man should be; for Christ was, by virtue of His incarnation, a perfect man.

Reread the last sentence in light of the initial statement about the nature of Christ's bodily weaknesses. Christ was subject to "bodily weaknesses to which human nature unassumed is universally subject." This means Christ did not assume in his person any human weakness that is not found universally in all humans.

Later in the same article, we read:

One of the most important effects of the union of the Divine nature and human nature in One Person is a mutual interchange of attributes, Divine and human, between God and man, the Communicatio Idiomatum. The God-Man is one Person, and to Him in the concrete may be applied the predicates that refer to the Divinity as well as those that refer to the Humanity of Christ. We may say God is man, was born, died, was buried. These predicates refer to the Person Whose nature is human, as well as Divine; to the Person Who is man, as well as God. We do not mean to say that God, as God, was born; but God, Who is man, was born. We may not predicate the abstract Divinity of the abstract humanity, nor the abstract Divinity of the concrete man, nor vice versa; nor the concrete God of the abstract humanity, nor vice versa. We predicate the concrete of the concrete: Jesus is God; Jesus is man; the God-Man was sad; the Man-God was killed. Some ways of speaking should not be used, not that they may not be rightly explained, but that they may easily be misunderstood in an heretical sense.


For a great book on Christology (the theological study of the person of Christ), you can't do better for clarity, solid research, and readability than Fr. Gerald O'Collins,' Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ, 1999. This book was my salvation when I was writing 20 page essays every week for my Christology tutorials at Blackfriars, Oxford! You might also check out his latest book, Jesus Our Redeemer: A Christian Approach to Salvation, 2007. I've not read this one, but everything I've read of his has been extraordinarily enlightening. . .even though he's a Jesuit (mumble mumble mumble).


  1. I really do not see how my viewing that Christ would not have tantrums is out of line with what you quoted. Because I have never denied that he wasn't subject to being tired, hungry, etc. But I do hold that he is a perfect man (as is stated), and with that, hold the belief that where we have defects in our wills and intellect he would not. All the while being truly Man and truly God always acting in complete unison with the the Trinity. Now, that is a blessed Mystery.

    Thank you.

    God bless you.

  2. Opey,

    First, I have to say how pleased and proud and somewhat awestruck that you are thinking about these seriously. Most Catholics would shrug and call for the next bingo number!

    So, good job!

    From the beginning of the conversation...at least my first remark...the question has been whether or Jesus, as a child, would throw a fit in the market.

    It's clear you understand THAT Jesus is one person with two natures, but I'm not so clear that the you understand HOW he is one person with two natures. The difficult part here is the part I've bolded and highlighted in the first paragraph. The author of the article is very careful to make sure we understand that the 2nd Person of the Trinity assumed into a God-Man every flaw, sin, defect, etc. common to all non God-Man human beings.

    Why do we need to say this? The Patristic tradition holds that everything human that Christ assumed in this person has been healed by that assumption. So, if it has been healed in humanity, it is b/c Christ assumed it in his person.

  3. Emmett10:06 PM

    "it was fitting that Christ should take upon himself all those penalties of the sin of Adam that are common to man and becoming, or at least not unbecoming to the Hypostatic Union"

    Let's be clear: Christ was sinless. Right? So while He felt all the temptations common to all men (does that mean He had concupiscence?), He never would have broken the commandment to honor His father and mother (or to covet His neighbor's goods, or whatever). So the child Jesus couldn't have thrown temper tantrums of any significance. Or does that sort of thing not count as sin before a certain age?

  4. I suppose he'd have tantrums just like any kid... but he'd cut it out when his mother told him to :).

  5. I'm gonna weigh in with FT

    well said!!

  6. I have always thought of the nature of Christ as answering the "what" he is human & God. Likewise the "person" of Christ would be the who, God. So it puzzles me, since the person is the one acting not the nature, that Christ would have a tantrum.

    Thank you for the book recommendations. I hope to be able to check them out.
    If anything I write is in the least way heretical please correct me.

    I am just a simple mom trying to learn more.

    God Bles

  7. If Christ did throw a tantrum, it would have to have been one without sin, proceeding merely from human weakness common to man. Am I understanding the Catholic Christological Answer position?

    I was telling my 11 and 9 year old sons about the Hypostatic Union. This would have been a good way to bring it home to them.

    If a rigorous Catholic philosopher of the Thomistic school were asked to consider whether or not, and in what cases, a temper tantrum is or is not a sin, in a young child of a certain age (let us say, three years old) how would he or she reply?

    I know for certain that I would enjoy the thoroughness with which that philosopher would happily trace the bifurcated paths where this and that, and the other thing, and drawing on several other concepts that would be a complete surprise to me, would at last emerge, with a question that would be a reasonable answer. The short form of that answer could be distilled down to: "We can't be sure unless we know a lot more about this situation than the bare sketch we have been provided."