OHPT: Thoughts on the Incarnation (Chapter 20)

My brain is so tired. This semester is kicking my booty a little, work is busy, Chris’s life is busy and stressful, we have to do a lot of shuffling and reshuffling and moving to make way for our apartment building to do a big (overdue) plumbing retrofit… so I don’t have much to share on this chapter. BUT the surprising thing (to me) about this chapter was how much I … what’s the word… agreed?… with it? I thought I’d have a lot more criticisms of the arguments for Christ being both fully human and fully divine, but it turns out I found one to be pretty satisfactory. Color me surprised.

But first, the intro! This chapter was written by Dr. Richard Cross, Rev. John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He came to Notre Dame from teaching at Oxford (swoon) and, according to his faculty page, “specializes in medieval philosophy and theology, with a particular focus on Duns Scotus. He also works on philosophy and theology in the Patristic and Reformation periods, about on the history and philosophy of disability.” (Also, what a perfectly “Oxford jaunty” faculty photo he has! Off to update my own heads shots.) Side note: I haven’t read much Duns Scotus, but I see him referenced often in the things I do read, so I should probably add a little D.S. to my reading life.

Also, look at this new word I learned! I will never use this again.

Cross takes us through several attempts to explain, in a philosophically satisfactory way, the way Jesus Christ was able to be fully human and fully divine. The question looming is how one being can have two natures, or two minds. He reviews and shows the difficulties or weaknesses in several, but I found the last one, the Two-Minds Solution, to be surprisingly effective.

The Two-Minds Solution relies on the distinction between someone being “fully but merely” human and someone being “fully human.” A person (and I am still surprised no chapter has been devoted to exploring the claim that the Trinity is composed of persons) who is fully human is someone who exemplifies and inhabits a human nature, but that that is not the only nature she can exemplify. A person who is “fully but merely” human has a human nature, but does not have access (my word) to another kind of nature (aka, the divine nature). On this distinction, humans are “fully but merely” human and Christ would be “fully” human.

The Two-Minds Solution also takes on the kenotic Christology that claims Christ “gave up” some of his divine attributes (like omniscience and omnipotence) when he inhabited his human nature. (“Inhabited” doesn’t seem to be the word I want here, but brain = mush so whatever.) This means that the divine Christ can still have omniscience necessarily; he also has the ability to choose not to experience or have omniscience as part of his being in his human nature. Quoting Thomas Morris, Cross says “God has ‘the property of being omniscient-unless-freely-and-temporarily-choosing-to-be-otherwise'” (465).

With these two in place, one can explain Christ’s “divine humanity” as being akin to someone with multiple personalities: he has two minds (one divine, one human) and one of the minds (the divine) has access to the other (the human) but the access is asymmetrical. To me, this doesn’t require two minds per se; just different, and differently bounded, experiences of one mind. It’s two kinds of experiences, not two minds. BUT I am a fan of the “emergent complexity” argument for consciousness, so someone assuming duality (as I assume most Christians do) may not find the same drive to explain it as a single mind because they won’t be saying the mind is a product of the brain.

This seems reasonable and relatively satisfying to me. Also, Cross admits that this view does require us to give up certain claims to divine unchangeableness and inability to suffer or feel pain. It’s the drum I continue to beat: we can’t have everything in our theology. Certain explanations will require we give up certain things we want to retain, but if we are bring intellectually honest about our theology, we will have to admit that philosophy is more a zero-sum game in certain respects than we would like. It’s the price for wanting our beliefs to make sense — we can’t have a and not-a. Are you tired of me making this point yet?? Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll make it at least 7 more times (6 more chapter posts and 1 overall OHPT review to go!).

Finally, Cross quotes several women theologians/philosophers in his work, and I really appreciated his effort at inclusivity. This book is SO overwhelmingly “white male” that even finding women quoted in a chapter stood out. Theologians: be more like Cross.

Favorite quote:

We do not know–and certainly do not know in advance of the doctrine of the Incarnation–what the complete list of divine and human essential attributes consists in. So we do not know in advance whether or not the list [of divine and human attributes] contains contradictory pairs.

Cross 454

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s