Father Vincent Hawkswell

How can Jesus be fully man and fully God?

Voices Aug. 6, 2018

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. From the beginning, people have tried to answer the question of Jesus’ humanity and divinity with heresies that denied either the human or the divine. (Joachim Patinir, Wikimedia)

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 
First Reading: 1 Kgs 19:4-8 
Second Reading: Eph 4:30 - 5:2 
Gospel Reading: Jn 6:41-51

“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” the people ask in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading. “How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

The difficulty was that Jesus, who was clearly a man, was claiming to be God. And Christianity is riddled with such difficulties.

“God, who created everything, also rules everything,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He not only gives created things “being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds them and sustains them in being” and “enables them to act.” On the other hand, he has given humans the power “to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions” on our “own responsibility.”

How can “God does it” and “humans do it” both be true?

“God is the Author of Sacred Scripture,” the Catechism says, for he “inspired” the evangelists. However, “while he employed them in this task,” they “made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written.”

How can “God wrote it” and “men wrote it” both be true?

The Bible says that after “much discussion” about the conversion of the Gentiles, the apostles declared, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too ...”

How can “God decided it” and “men decided it” both be true?

The Church is a body of sinful, fallible humans. However, Christ her Head is God the Son and God the Holy Spirit preserves her from error.

How can the Church be both divine and human?

From the beginning, people tried to answer such questions with heresies that denied either the human or the divine. Some claimed that Jesus was not fully man; that he lacked a human mind and will. Others claimed that he was not fully God, but only a good man whom God adopted.

(Today, perhaps, we downplay the divine. For example, we rightly stress the fellowship at Mass, but perhaps ignore the sacrifice of Christ on the altar.)

In the words of the Athanasian Creed, the Church maintains that Christ is “God and Man”; “consubstantial” with God the Father, “begotten before the worlds,” and “consubstantial” with his mother, “born in the world”; “equal to the Father” in his godhead and “inferior to the Father” in his manhood; “one” Christ “by unity of person,” not “by confusion” of divine and human.

It is a mystery we cannot fully understand, but we should meditate on it.

Humans compete with each other; for example, if A occupies this space, B cannot. We can also be compared and contrasted with each other; for example, A may be taller and B wiser. Competition, comparison, and contrast are possible among humans because we are all the same kind of being.

But God is our Creator; he is different from us in a way which utterly transcends any difference that can exist among created things. We cannot be in competition with him, therefore; we cannot even be compared or contrasted with him.

Accordingly, God’s presence in his creation is non-contrastive, non-interruptive, non-competitive, non-invasive, and non-violent, says Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles in his book The Priority of Jesus Christ. It does not push us out of the way; it literally lets us be.

Bishop Barron cites the “discussion of this problem” by St. Thomas Aquinas, which ends with a quotation from Isaiah: “O Lord, ... all that we have done you have done for us.”

“There it is stated clearly and unapologetically,” the bishop says: divine and human causality are “placed side by side without the slightest attempt to explain the anomaly of their juxtaposition. We have really done certain things, and yet they have been accomplished in us by God.”