Thoughts for Our Day

As human beings, the inner life of God is beyond our understanding. The Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom in the Divine Liturgy prays, “For you are God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing, yet ever the same.” What we know of God is what he has told us about himself. We have seen in previous articles that there is one God and as the commandments tell us, “You shall not have other gods beside me.” (Exodus 20:3) The one God has revealed himself as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit, “three in one … three persons, and yet a single power and essence and Godhead.” (Doxasticheron, Psalm 140, Pentecost) As human beings, in our pride we foolishly try to imagine the divine life, and inevitably make mistakes, as the dogmatic history of theological error clearly reveals.

The second great mystery is the Incarnation. We profess this in the Creed at every Divine Liturgy. “For us and for our salvation, [the Son of God one in essence with the Father] came down from heaven, and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became man.” “Incarnate” means literally “in flesh,” but it means more than that the Son of God took on human flesh, but that he became in human being in every way, with a human body, a human mind, a human will, a human soul, yet he remained one person in two natures, perfect God and perfect man. God remains God and humanity remains humanity, but in Jesus the eternal enters into time, and God is revealed to us in human form, as proclaimed by the Letter to the Hebrews, “in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.” (Hebrews 1:2-3)

As is the case with the Trinity, we cannot understand how one person can at one and the same time be God and yet exist as a created man. Theologians have given this mystery the term “hypostatic union,” that is, that Christ’s humanity and divinity are united in one person, one individual existence. Yet again, as human beings, we feel we must try to understand, and again inevitably fall into misconceptions. Today, those who are more conservative tend to imagine the inner life of Jesus as a kind of “apollinarianism.” They are certainly not heretics, as Apollinaris was, for he thought that Jesus did not have a rational human soul, but was the divine spirit functioning in a human body. Nobody would now believe that, but in our imagination we see the divinity of Jesus completely overpowering his humanity. Those less conservative may tend to the opposite extreme, emphasizing the practical ways in which Jesus is entirely like us, some even denying that he really is the Son of God. The correction to these is the vision of the apostles. They lived with Jesus, and experienced the reality of God’s love in him as he interacted with us and drew us to the Father. Jesus revealed this to Phillip, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” that is, has seen God. (John 14:9), and as Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

This mystery is important for us. Because Jesus is a human being, like us in every way except sin, he can give us a model of how to live a full human life. This is why the goal of the first seven ecumenical councils was to define who Jesus the Messiah (Greek: Christ, “the anointed one”) is so that we could imitate him. The main message of the councils was that Jesus is truly God, the Son and Word of God, and that he is truly a human being, as the Council of Chalcedon (451) said, “one in essence with the Father and one in essence with us.” The seventh council was the high point and conclusion of this process, and said that we could depict Christ in icons, because he had taken human form and that in some way we come to the Father, as Jesus taught Phillip, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”(John 14:9) As he is a human being, we, in our human nature, can imitate him, as he taught, “whoever would be my disciple must take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) In this way, since Jesus is the express image of the Father, (Hebrews 1:2) by imitating him we can be, as he commanded, “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

If it is important that we, as human beings, imitate Christ, it is equally important that we know that he has a complete human nature, with a human body, a human mind, a human will, a human soul, which the councils insisted on over and over again. Since we are “only human,” however, we tend to speculate on what the inner life of Jesus was like. This speculation is useless, unnecessary and impossible, just as we are unable to comprehend the inner life of God, one in the Holy Trinity. What we do know is from revelation. Jesus lived a full human life from infancy to adulthood. As a child, he was obedient to Mary and Joseph, and grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:51-52). As God, he knew what we do not know, “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.” (Matthew 11:27) As a human being, his knowledge was limited, as for the last days, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32) As God, he has the power to heal the sick and to raise the dead, and to see what is hidden, but as a human being asks, “Who touched me? … Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me. ” (Luke 8:45-46) As a human being, he is tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), but he was completely without sin. The fathers and teachers of the Church often speculated about these revelations, but have always come up with the same answer: Jesus is perfect God and perfect man. As a human being, he had to suffer the pain of death, as do we all, but as God, he was not subject to corruption, and trampled upon death by his death. As for us today, it is necessary to open ourselves up to Christ as he is revealed in the gospels, and to love him and follow him without reservation.