After all, we are told that he is two natures in one person. It shouldn't be too difficult to understand the man per se, nor the divinity. But how do the two relate? In other words, it's one thing to say that he was a man, just like any other. Bueno. But when you throw in that he also happened to be God, doesn't this make the first statement a little problematical?
By the way, before we proceed any further, I hope that what follows will be of interest to non-Christians. I should think that anyone interested in religion, or even just our humanness, or the foundations of western civilization, will find it provocative, even though I don't yet have any idea what I'm about to write.
At any rate, please bear in mind that this is from the perspective of an "outsider" -- or perhaps border-dweller at the edge of O -- or more to the point, an "explorer" who is surveying this intriguing landscape for the first time. Only an impertinent newcomer could ask such stupid questions. And whatever this post happens to be about, it feels important, and is eager to be written. So get on with it!
I also realize we're covering some very old ground here. But hey, it's new to me. In particular, the first few ecumenical councils between 325 and 680 were called in order to try to nail down this mystery, and to exclude various false formulations too numerous to mention. But few of the heresies that were repudiated along the way were exactly "stupid" or outright wrongheaded, let alone malicious. To this day, many Christians still embrace one or another, e.g., Assyrians and Coptics.
The majority of heresies were honest attempts to grapple with an issue that is not only difficult, but sui generis. In other words, there is nothing else to compare it to, plus, in reality, it's inconceivable anyway. This means that the early Fathers were essentially trying to achieve the impossible, to define with words what words cannot define.
In a very real sense, it was more of an apophatic than cataphatic endeavor, in the sense that the eventual formulation -- one person and two natures, without confusion and without division -- was designed so as to prevent traversing down certain fruitless avenues.
It reminds me of a map with clearly drawn boundaries around a completely mysterious center. Just because we know the boundaries, it doesn't mean we have any idea of what's going on within them. I know that Judaism has many similar boundaries that are designed not so much to disclose the mystery as to protect it.
But think for a moment how long it took to nail this bit of theological jello to the ecumenical wall. The first Council wasn't called for nearly 300 years after the death of Jesus. That's longer than the existence of the United States. It would be analogous to the Constitutional Convention still going on today, with different factions arguing over the meanings of "liberty" or "equality."
Which, of course, is still going on today, with the two factions as bitterly divided as ever. You might say that for constitutional conservatives, the left is a heresy. But for leftists who believe in a "living constitution," we are obviously the heretics and even terrorists.
In any event, the reason I've been thinking about this is because I've been reading Cardinal Schönborn's new work of Christology, God Sent His Son. This follows my usual highly disciplined pattern of reading whatever happens to fall into my hands, whether it is a cereal box or a work of metaphysical speculation.
Schönborn is apparently one of the cardinal's heavy hitters; among other things, he was editorial secretary of the catechism of the Catholic Church, and he obviously moves in the same theological circles as luminaries such as Balthasar and Ratzinger (although I don't find his writing to be nearly as exalted -- much more dry and scholarly).
Much of the book comes down to a somewhat tedious, if necessary, history lesson about this 2000 year long debate. Is there anything fresh that can be added to it? We have been given the fence. That's not going to change. But is there any new or better way to think about what's going on inside that fence?
In other words, I fully understand that certain things must be taken "on faith," not only because faith is a prelude to understanding, but also because minds much finer than ours have already thought this through, so that we don't have to reinvent the spiel each generation.
Nevertheless, I am not the sort of person who just wants to jettison everything we've learned about the world over the past two millennia. In fact, I don't happen to think that we should try to adapt our thought to premodern modes (nor could we anyway).
Rather -- and this is one of the mysteries and miracles of revelation -- I have discovered, to my surprise, that it is eminently possible to adapt revelation to whatever history happens to toss up, without in any way compromising the revelation.
This is indeed a mystery. Why should words uttered by some anonymous peasant 2000 years ago have any relevance whatsoever to contemporary human beings? No doubt most all of what was thought, said, and written back then is of no interest or relevance to us.
And yet, we have this fellow Jesus, whose words are still pored over for meaning which is too superabundant to be contained by any generation that has followed him. If nothing else, this argues for a very peculiar type of mentality. It's a little depressing when you think about it. Is anything you have said or written going to be debated in 2000 years? Will I still have cyberstalking trolls in 4011? I can only hope.
As Schönborn writes, "even if Jesus' period and his environment left their mark on him, it is still more true that he has left his mark on his, ours, and all other ages and on our whole world.... Only a unique and incomparable consciousness can be at the source of Christ's work of revelation and redemption" (emphasis mine).
What I would say is that there can be no effect without a cause. The effect of Jesus is clear enough. I don't think it can be gainsaid -- by believer and non-believer alike -- that he has been the most "efficacious" person in history, the most influential, impossible to ignore.
That being the case, what is the cause of this outrageous effect? Obviously the question is impossible to even approach in the absence of a framework that permits transnatural and nonlocal causation. The alternatives are just too banal to take seriously.
The most readily accessible information about Jesus is contained in the Gospels, but even -- or especially -- there, we are always confronted with a Mystery, which is again why it took hundreds of years to even place some kind of boundary around it. So let's dive into the Mystery, and see if we can't pull out a live one.
One of the purposes of theology is to facilitate thinking about -- or in -- God. Structurally speaking, this is no different than science or psychology, which provide us with models to think about what otherwise cannot be thought.
Thus, the question is not necessarily whether this or that scientific theory is "true" in the ultimate sense -- indeed, we know going in that no relativity can be absolute -- but whether it is fruitful, whether it answers questions, whether it pulls together diverse phenomena, and whether it generates new and deeper questions. This is how we should think about theology, not as absolute truth, but as a way to think about the Absolute in our relative sphere.
To be continued....