Hello & Welcome! Today we’re talking about the dual natures of Christ! If you’re new to the blog allow me to explain, I’m the pocket theologian and here I like to take a theological or philosophical concept and explain it as concisely as possible. In order to tackle today’s topic we’ll first discuss the history, then talk about some notable figures, then talk some misconceptions, and some key characteristics, before finally summarizing and finishing out. Let’s get started!
So to introduce the concept, in Christianity there has been some extensive debate about what exactly Jesus was. Was he just a man? Was he God? Was he God in a man suit? Was he an illusion? While these questions may not seem important at first glance, just like in our trinity post, these questions help to define God; which in turn determines how a person will perceive God. This will likely echo throughout the rest of the Christians life, so these questions matter! Because they also inform other questions in Christianity, like salvation, holiness and so on.
Since we’re discussing the dual natures of Christ, the history of this concept truly dates back to Christ’s time on the earth and his ascension. Now, during the first century church this question didn’t particularly matter. They had other focuses in their theology, mainly apologetical focuses. But, not long after them different ideals and conceptions started arising regarding Jesus nature and ingredients. Paul is really the first person to fully exposit on the nature of Christ, with passages such as 1 Corinthians 13 and Romans 8 conceptualizing his view.
Now before we leave the biblical period it’s important to note how each disciple had his or her own unique view of Christ, which in turn influences how they perceived Christianity and it’s principals a notable example is Paul and James who’s theological feud is somewhat infamous. And it is the opinion of this theologian that this difference stems from their different views of Christ. Also to link this with some of our philosophical episodes the Evangelist John describes Jesus as the Word, using Platonic philosophy to help explain Christ.
After this period for the next few centuries a few different ideas of Jesus dual natures popped up, These ideals were Docetism, which began in the first century and was defended by Valentinus, and Sabellians which said that Jesus looked human, but was divine the entire time. Next was Ebionism which was begun in the 2nd century, and defended by the Judaizers, which basically said that Jesus was just a man, then had the spirit of God come on him at his baptism, and then leave him after the crucifixion.
After this the idea of Christ was given an added dimension by the Roman emperor Constantine, who painted his men’s shield with the first few letters of Jesus name in Greek. A popular Christian symbol at the time, and attributed his victory to Jesus wanting him to rule. Which allowed him to possibly manipulate Christians into gaining him popular support and making him emperor. An approach that is still used by many politicians today, but we don’t have to talk about that.
Then Arianism arrived, we discussed Arianism a great deal in our trinity episode, and it probably warrants its own episode but like we said Arianism started in the 4th century, was crated and defended by Arius, before being called heresy at the council of Nicea, an important moment for Christianity. But what my viewers may not know is that Arianism didn’t stop there, it continued. Spreading to some of the far corners of Rome’s empire, such as Britain, France and a few other places.
Next was Apolloinarianism which was also begun in the 4th century, which was actually defended by Justin Martyr, and believed that Christ did not have a human mind, but rather his complete godly mind, or the Logos, as it was called. This was condemned at the councils of Antioch and Constantinople in AD 378 and 381 respectively.
These last two were in the 5th century and were called Nestorians and Eutychians and these believed that Christ was merely a puppet controlled by the Godhead, and the other that Christ’s two natures were swallowed up and a third nature was made instead. Something not divine and not carnal but something else entirely. These were each condemned at the synod of ephesis in AD 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in AD 405 respectively.
Now at this point in church history we begin to see the infamous divide, between western and eastern Christianity. This divide can also be seen in the growing separation between the orthodox east and the latin west of the church. As the two sides of the church developed they soon placed different focus on Christ’s two natures. With Orthodoxy focusing on Christ’s divinity, while Latin and soon Catholic theology focused on the humanity of Christ. This dichotomy can be well seen in the Icon “Christ Pantocrator” where Christ is holding a book in one hand and his other hand is making a symbol, referencing the trinity and his dual natures. This divide among other things soon led to the Great Schism of Christianity, in the year 1054, but this was soon not to be, as some very friendly guests soon arrived in the east.
These guests were the nation of Islam, seeking to conquer and convert Christianity to Islam. Byzantine emperor Alexis I called for aid from their newly separated brethren in the west. History says that the west came, but here during an unfortunate period known as the crusades another development for Christology was made. The pope made the decree that warriors that fought to protect the holy land would earn Christ’s favor, and thus be allowed into heaven. This is an ideal, that denominations such as Quakers, would not agree with.
Moving on then, these beliefs formed the majority of Christological thought for some time, with people often using these different ideals of Christ to justify their beliefs. In wars people often claim the wrath of Jesus, or refer to him flipping tables in the temple in order to justify their killing of people, like with Constantine or the crusades. In peacetime people use Jesus teaching to justify not doing anything, such as when he slept through the storm, or didn’t rush to save Lazarus. But, through all of this it is important to remember to let Christ be the basis, not pre-established beliefs and practices. Let Christ be the basis of Christianity, not Christianity bending Christ to fit around whatever agenda they hold currently. Please, my humble readers, keep this in mind.
If your interested to know more, the exact study of Jesus person and character is called Christology and some good sources for it are: Theology and Doctrine by H. Wayne House; The Story of Christianity by Justo L. GonZález and; Word and Deed by Dr. James Shelton.
Some Important Figures:
The Apostle Paul
The first to ever deeply think about who Christ is, and how exactly his divinity and humanity work together, the book of Romans is good for study on this.
The Evangelist John
The writer of the gospel of John, this John used the greek thinking of the day to better explain Christ to the masses. However this also eventually led to Gnosticism, and other incorrect beliefs. Was it for the best? Read the Gospel of John and you’ll know.
The defender of orthodoxy, and an apologists. Athanasius explained the dual natures of Christ in relation to his personhood in the trinity. Explaining that Christ and God the Father could not be so separated, that the term “Father and Son” could specifically apply to them as it does to man. Saying “How could God be an eternal father, unless he was always an eternal son?”
Aquinas in unique because rather than asks “What?” is Christ, he asks “Why?” is Christ. He mostly covers the reason for the incarnation of Christ, and his forays into the subject have provided much of the basis for other theologians to jump off of.
Wright speaks at great lengths about Christology, and has many insightful commentaries on many of the other figures in this section. But Wright provides a good modern perspective, because he advocates for a divine Christ in a material age.
1. NOT only human
As we’ve seen some doctrines believe that Jesus was merely a man. Who like a prophet had the spirit come and possess him or take him over, and that added the Christ to him. This is quiet simply impossible, because in the gospels speaking of Jesus Christ. It is mentioned that he existed before the beginning of the world, and furthermore this is corroborated by multiple sources, such as both Peter and Paul.
Furthermore is apocryphal sources are to be counted, Jesus was making demonstrations of his divinity long before his baptism, the Gospel of Timothy springs to mind. However, placing that aside, Jesus demonstrated in the episode where his parents lost him, a desire to be with his heavenly father, something no ordinary child would have. Because of this it is this theologians humble opinion that Christ quite simply can not be just human.
2. NOT only God
Switching to the other side now. Many have argued for Christ’s preeminence, his divinity and existence. However many believe that Christ is ONLY God, that he was never a man. Appearing as an illusion or a spirit. Disappearing when he was not needed anymore. This is absolutely fictitious. Christ is seen washing the disciples feet, twelve men don’t usually have shared hallucinations as the same time of the exact same man.
Plus Jesus is seen weeping, eating, sleeping and many others things. Especially after his resurrection, Christ is touched and seen, not just seen. Because of this it is clear to me that Christ was HUMAN and GOD, not one or the other. With one trumping or out doing the other. Christ is the perfect hypostatic union of the finite and the infinite. In a package that is at once impossible and possible.
3. That he is the LITERAL son of God (ie God had sexual with Mary)
This one is more housekeeping that deep theology. However, I have been asked this question in the past. Unlike in popular Greek myths, where the gods come down and physically engage in sexual intercourse, which then gives birth to a demi God. Christ was NOT conceived this way. Mary became pregnant by the spirit, which in basic terms means that God self fertilized Mary. There was no sexual intercourse, nor was there anything physical at all. Mary simply became pregnant, hence the immense amount of skepticism that Joseph had. Understandably so. Furthermore, when a god, little g, lays with a human it makes a creature lesser than a god, but greater than a human. When God, big G, gives his son to a woman, his nature is not lesser in any way, than his father.
1. A touch of divinity
As we discussed, Christ was divine constantly, able to predict and perform miracles. Even at the wedding feast in Cana, “before Jesus’ time” he could act divinely. Therefore, is it important when speaking on this topic to always remember that Jesus was in perfect balance between his divine and his human side, speaking of.
2. A touch of humanity
Jesus was human, he was a man, but he was also divine. Jesus wept when he saw Lazarus dead, he became angry when men were cheated in the temple. He became frustrated with his disciples. All the marks of humanity, all the marks of a man. Furthermore, Jesus knew when to be sensitive, when he needed to be delicate, such as with the woman caught in the act of adultery. He didn’t stone her, he condemned the stoners, and told the woman to go and sin no more. Jesus had feelings and emotions, but kept them in perfect submission with his divine essence. Which leads us perfectly into.
3. An Obscure balance
Jesus somehow managed to be divine and human constantly and without issue. In perfect balance, but where exactly is that balance? I’m afraid my dear readers, this is one thing that stumps this theologian. Where the divine ends and the human begins is a question theologians have been asking for centuries. And we are no closer to solving, or are you? With all this out of the way let’s finish up.
To summarize then, the dual natures of Christ is the idea that Jesus Christ from his birth to his ascension was in perfect balance between his human and divine parts. While many different interpretations and ideas of how this could be have been offered, some believing that Jesus was a man with Christ added on. While others believe that Christ made an illusion of Jesus. It is important to note that Christ isn’t just an antiquated concept, but a living breathing person. Who wants to know and be known by you my readers. So don’t forget Jesus is alive, and he is coming again. And he is human, and he is divine.
And that’s all I have for you on the dual natures of Christ, go in peace!