Chapter Nine: Incarnation and Redemption within the Cosmic Process
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Part Three Christian Doctrinal Questions 127 9 Incarnation and Redemption within the Cosmic Process At the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, the church fathers declared that Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God was “of one substance” with the Father and thus divine as well as human.1 But only at the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon in 431 and 451 CE, respectively, was it made clear that Jesus as the incarnate Son of God is a divine person with two natures, one divine and the other human. The divine nature does not absorb the human nature, nor does the human nature fully encompass the divine nature. Each nature is distinct and yet is inseparably united with the other. 2 Christ as a divine person thus has a true human soul, has a real human intellect and will, and performs genuinely human actions. Beyond this definition of terms, the church fathers wisely did not venture. Instead, they left to subsequent generations of theologians down to the present day the job of further explaining how one and the same person can, without confusion, exist within and effectively exercise two natures that are so utterly different from one another. In this chapter I will offer a process-oriented explanation of how Jesus is both divine and human at the same time. My explanation will be based on the panentheistic model of the God-world relationship, in which the three divine persons of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and all their creatures share a common space for their life together; together they structure that common space by their individual decisions from moment to 1. Enchiridion Symbolorum: Definitionum et Declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, ed. Henricus Denziger and Adolfus Schönmetzer, SJ (Freiburg: Herder, 1973), no. 125. 2. Ibid, 301–2. 128  Part Three: Christian Doctrinal Questions moment. Within that frame of reference, the doctrine of the incarnation is no longer a huge speculative puzzle. For if every created subject of experience keeps its own individuality, its own finite field of activity, even as it collaborates with the three divine persons in giving form or structure to a common field of activity (the ongoing kingdom of God), then the claim that Jesus as the incarnate Son of God functions in two distinct fields of activity, one divine and the other human, which sufficiently overlap so as to create a common divine-human field of activity, is really not all that remarkable. Instead, the problem may be how to distinguish Jesus as the incarnate Son of God from all other created subjects of experience who have an intersubjective relationship to the three divine persons. My answer to this objection is that, unlike other created subjects of experience, Jesus in his human consciousness not only experienced union with the three divine persons in a general way but experienced in a special way an ontological unity with just one of those persons, the divine Word, who is the self-expression of the Father within the divine life. Thus, the difference between a psychological union between two or more separate subjects of experience and the ontological unity of two interdependent subjectivities or psychic agencies within one person is what makes Jesus in his human nature completely different from all other created subjects of experience. 3 Whereas all other created subjects of experience feel, in varying degrees, the presence of God as other than themselves and thus can only aspire to greater union with God, Jesus felt the presence of the divine Word in his human consciousness to be the same as himself. That is, during his public ministry, when he spoke and acted, he felt himself to be in fact God’s Word, the Father’s emissary here and now, to the people of his generation. Furthermore, as the Gospel writers commented, his hearers invariably caught Jesus’ extraordinary sense of self-assurance, his unique self-identity, since they marveled that he spoke with such authority, not like the scribes and Pharisees (e.g., Matt 7:29). From a philosophical perspective, however, how is this to be explained? I believe that my reinterpretation of Whitehead’s understanding of the God-world relationship can provide us with at least a plausible explanation . In his analysis of actual entities, momentary self-constituting subjects of experience, Whitehead claimed that a self-constituting actual entity is always guided in its “concrescence” by what he called its “subjective 3. Joseph A. Bracken, The Triune Symbol: Persons, Process and Community (Lanham...



Subject Headings

  • Causation.
  • Cosmology.
  • One (The One in philosophy).
  • Many (Philosophy).
  • Philosophical theology.
  • Providence and government of God.
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