The Theanthropic Nature of Christ

A profound theologian reflects on Christology.


[Here is an abbreviation of Dr. Shedd's discussion on Christology from his monumental work Dogmatic Theology. He was for many years a pro­fessor in the University of Vermont. He held the chair of systematic theology in several theological seminaries. Zondervan Publishing House has pro­vided a classic three-volume reprint edition of Dr. Shedd's very helpful work. These volumes provide much valuable material which could be used by our workers. For a complete treatise on the above sub­ject see Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, pp. 261-308.1--Editors]

Incarnation must be distinguished from transmutation, or transubstantia­tion. The phrase "became man" does not mean that the second person in the trinity ceased to be God. This would be transub­stantiation. One substance, the divine, would be changed or converted into an­other substance, the human; as, in the Pa­pal theory, the substance of the bread be­comes the substance of Christ's body. See Anselm: Cur deus homo, II. vii.

In saying that "the Word was made flesh" (John 1:14), it is meant that the Word came to possess human characteristics in addition to his divine, which still re­mained as before. The properties of the divine nature cannot be either destroyed or altered. A human nature was united with the divine, in order that the resulting person might have a human form of con­sciousness as well as a divine. Previous to the assumption of a human nature, the Logos could not experience a human feel­ing because he had no human heart, but after this assumption he could; previous to the incarnation, he could not have a finite perception because he had no finite in­tellect, but after this event he could; previ­ous to the incarnation, the self-conscious­ness of the Logos was eternal only, that is, without succession, but subsequent to the incarnation it was both eternal and temporal, with and without succession. . . .

Prior to the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity could not have human sensations and-experiences; but after it he could.

The unincarnate Logos could think and feel only like God; he had only one form of consciousness. The incarnate Logos can think and feel either like God, or like man.

When, therefore, it is said that "God be­came man," the meaning is that God united himself with man, not that God changed himself into man. Unification of two na­tures, not transmutation of one nature into another is meant. . . . In the God-man, the divine nature remains divine in its prop­erties, and the human remains human.

The distinctive characteristic of the in­carnation is the union of two diverse na­tures, a divine and a human, so as to constitute one single person. . . . by the incarnation, not a God, not a man, but a God-man is constituted. A theanthropic person is a trinitarian person modified by union with a human nature. . . .

It is the divine nature, and not the hu­man, which is the base of Christ's person.

The second trinitarian person is the root and stock into which the human nature is grafted. The wild olive is grafted into the good olive, and partakes of its root and fatness.

The eternal Son, or the Word, is personal per se. He is from everlasting to everlasting conscious of himself as distinct from the Father, and from the Holy Spirit. He did not acquire personality by union with a human nature. The incarnation was not necessary in order that the trinitarian Son of God might be self-conscious. On the contrary, the human nature which he assumed to himself acquired personality by its union with him. By becoming a constituent factor in the one theanthropic person of Christ, the previously impersonal human nature, "the seed of the woman," was personalized.

If the Logos had obtained personality by uniting with a human nature, he must have previously been impersonal. The incarnation would then have made an essential change in the Logos, and thereby in the Trinity itself. But no essential change can be introduced into the triune Godhead, even by so remarkable an act as the in­carnation.

If the human nature and not the divine had been the root and base of Christ's person, he would have been a man-God and not a God-man. The complex person, Jesus Christ, would have been anthropotheistic, not theanthropic. This was the error of Paul of Samosata, Photinus, and Marcellus; according to whom, Christ was an CiVOQW50.; NOSOC, a deified man: the base of the com­plex person being the human nature. Christ is humanized deity, not deified hu­manity. . .

Infancy and Manhood of Christ

Compare the infancy of Jesus Christ with his manhood. When Christ lay in the man­ger at Bethlehem, the eternal Logos was the root and base of his person as much, and as really, as it was when he appeared at the age of thirty on the banks of the Jordan and was inaugurated to his office. Christ in the manger was called the messi­anic King, and was worshipped as such by the Magi. Even the theanthropic embryo (TO ysvvth[lEvov) 1S denominated the "Son of God," Luke 1:35. In Heber's hymn, the "infant Redeemer" is styled "Maker, and Monarch, and Saviour of all." But the Logos, though present, could not properly and fittingly make such a manifestation of knowledge through that infant body and in­fant soul, as he could through a child's body and a child's soul, and still more through a man's body and a man's soul. It would have been unnatural, if the Logos had empowered the infant Jesus to work a mir­acle, or deliver the sermon on the Mount. The repulsive and unnatural character of the apocryphal gospels, compared with the natural beauty of the canonical gospels, arises from attributing to the infant and the child Jesus acts that were befitting only a mature humanity.

During all these infantile years of the immature and undeveloped human nature, the Logos, though present, was in eclipse in the person of Jesus Christ. By this is meant, that the Logos made no manifesta­tion of his power through the human na­ture he had assumed, because this human nature was still infantine. When the infant Jesus lay in the manger, the Logos was present and united with the human nature as really and completely as he is this in­stant, but he made no exhibition of him­self. There was no more thinking going on in the infant human mind of Jesus, than in the case of any other infant. The babe lay in the manger unconscious and inac­tive. Yet the eternal Logos was personally united with this infant. There was a God-man in the manger as truly as there was upon the cross. . . .

Prior to the incarnation, the trinity con­sisted of the Father, the unincarnate Son, and the Holy Ghost; subsequent to the in­carnation, it consists of the Father, the in­carnate Son, and the Holy Ghost. Yet it would not be proper to alter the baptismal formula, and baptize "in the name of the Father, and of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Ghost," because the incarnate Christ is the mediator between the triune God and sinful man, so that the primary trini­tarian designation Son, not the secondary mediatorial designation Christ, is the fitting term in the baptismal formula.

Though beginning in time, the thean­thropic personality of the Redeemer con­tinues forever. This is taught in Rom. 9:5, "Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed forever:" in Col. 2:9, "In him dwelleth [now and forever] all the fulness of the Godhead, bodily;" in Heb. 13:8, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day and forever:" in Eph. 2:6, "Believers sit together in heav­enly places in Christ Jesus:" in Heb. 4:14, 15, "We have a great high priest who hath passed into the heavens."

Assumption of Human Nature by a Divine Person

The incarnation makes no change in the constitution of the Trinity. It leaves in the Godhead, as it finds in it, only three per­sons. For the addition of a human nature to the person of the Logos, is not the addition of another person to him. The second trini­tarian person, though so much modified by the incarnation as to become a God-man, is not so much modified as to lose his proper trinitarian personality, because in­carnation is not the juxtaposition of a hu­man person with a divine person, but the assumption of a human nature to a divine person. The incarnation produces a change in the humanity that is assumed, by exalt­ing and glorifying it, but no change in the deity that assumes.... "We must consider," says Usher (Incarnation, Works, I. 580), "that the divine nature did not assume a human person, but the divine person did assume a human nature; and that of the three divine persons, it was neither the first nor the third that did assume this na­ture, but it was the middle person who was to be the middle one [mediator] that must undertake the mediation between God and us. For if the fulness of the Godhead should have thus dwelt in any human person, there should have been added to the Godhead a fourth kind of person; and if any of the three persons besides the second had been born of a woman, there should have been two Sons in the Trinity. Whereas, now, the Son of God and the Son of the Blessed Virgin, being but one person, is consequently but one Son; and so, no alteration at all made in the relations of the persons of the Trinity."

Yet the Trinity itself is not altered or modified by the incarnation. Only the sec­ond person is modified. The Trinity is not divine-human; nor is the Father; nor is the Holy Spirit. But the Eternal Son is. For this reason, the Son stands in a nearer relation to redeemed man than either the Father or the Spirit can. Neither of them is the "elder brother" of the redeemed. Nei­ther of them is the "head" of which the church is the "body." Neither of them is the divine person of whom it can be said, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones," Eph. 5:30.

The union of the Logos with a human nature does not disturb either the trinitar­ian relation of the Logos, or his relation to the created universe. When the Logos con­sents to unite with a human nature, he consents to exist and act in "the form of a servant." But, as previously remarked, this does not imply that he ceases to exist and act "in the form of God." Incarnation is not transubstantiation. Consequently when incarnate, the Logos is capable of a two­fold mode of existence, of consciousness, and of agency. Possessing a divine nature, he can still exist and act as a divine being, and he so exists and acts within the sphere of the infinite and eternal Godhead without any limitation. Possessing a human nature, he can also exist and act as a human being, and he so exists and acts within the sphere of finite and temporal humanity and under its limitations. . . . He has consequently a twofold consciousness: infinite and finite.

He thinks like God; and he thinks like man. He has the eternal, all-comprehending, and successionless consciousness of God; and he has the imperfect, gradual, and sequacious consciousness of man. In this way, the trini­tarian relations of the second person re­main unchanged by his incarnation. The divine nature, though it condescends to exist and act in and through a human soul and body, and to be trammelled by it, at the same time is existing and acting in an untrammelled manner throughout the uni­verse of finite being, and in the immensity of the Godhead....

Incarnation a Union With Human Nature, Not a Human Person

The Westminster Confession (VIII. ii.) accords with the Ancient, Mediaeval, and Reformed Christology, in its statement that "the Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, did take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties thereof; so that the two whole perfect and distinct natures, the Godhead [Godhood] and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person." . . .

In another passage (Trinity Vindi­cated), Owen is still more explicit. "The person of the Son of God, in his assuming human nature to be his own, did not take an individual person of any one into a near conjunction with himself, but pre­venting the personal subsistence of human nature in that flesh which he assumed, he gave it its subsistence (i.e. its personality) in his own person, whence it hath its in­dividuation, and distinction from all other persons whatever. This is the personal un­ion." . . .

An American theologian, Samuel Hop­kins, I. 283, adopts the Catholic Christology... The Word assumed the human nature, not a human person, into a personal union with himself, by which the complex per­son exists, God-man. Hence, when Jesus Christ is spoken of as being a man, 'the Son of man, the man Christ Jesus,' etc., these terms do not express the personality of the manhood, or of the human nature of Jesus Christ; but these personal terms are used with respect to the human nature as united to a divine person, and not as a mere man [i.e. as merely human nature]. For the personal terms, He, I, and Thou, cannot with propriety or truth be used by, or of, the human nature considered as dis­tinct from the divine nature of Jesus Christ."

Wollebius (I. xvi.) says that "Christ as­sumed not man, but the humanity; not the person, but the nature."

Incarnation Sanctified Human Nature

The human nature assumed into union with the Logos was miraculously sancti­fied, so as to be sinless and perfect. John 1:14, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth." John 3:34, "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him." Isa. 11:2, "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord." Heb. 4:15, "Christ was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Heb. 7:26, "Such an , high priest became us, who is holy, harmless. undefiled, separate from sinners." Luke 1:35, "That holy thing which shall be born": literally, "which is being conceived" (TO ,,,Evythp.Erov). Isa. 7:14, 15, "Butter and honey shall Immanuel eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good." Heb. 10:5, "A body hast thou pre­pared for me." Matt. 3:17, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." 1 John 3:5, "In him is no sin."

In accordance with these texts, the sym­bols affirm the perfect sanctification of the human nature, in and by the incarnation. The Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 37, teaches that "the Son of God became man by being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance, and born of her, yet without sin." . . .

Athanasius (Contra Arianos, II. lxi.) ex­plains the clause, "first-born of every crea­ture,- Col. 1:5, as meaning the same as "first-born among many brethren," Rom. 8:29; and adds that Christ "is the first­born of us in this respect, that the whole posterity of Adam lying in a state of per­dition by the sin of Adam, the human na­ture of Christ was first redeemed and sanc­tified (&Ftheri %fit eriXEueE,Q6011), and so became the means of our regeneration, redemption, and sanctification, in consequence of the community of nature between him and us."

. . Says Pearson (Creed, Art. III.), "The original and total sanctification of the human nature was first necessary to fit it for the personal union with the Word, who out of his infinite love humbled him­self to become flesh, and at the same time out of his infinite purity could not defile himself by becoming sinful flesh. Therefore the human nature, in its first original, with out any precedent merit, was formed by the Spirit, and in its formation sanctified, and in its sanctification united to the Word; so that grace was co-existent and in a manner co-natural with it." Says Owen (Holy Spirit, II. iv.), "The human nature of Christ, being thus formed in the womb by a creating [supernatural] act of the Holy Spirit, was in the instant of its conception sanctified and filled with grace according to the meas­ure of its receptivity.". . .

That the human nature derived from Mary, in itself and apart from the agency of the Holy Ghost in the incarnation, was corrupt, is proved by Rom. 8:3, "God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh." This means that the "flesh" as it existed in the mother, and before its sanctification in the womb, was sinful. John 3:6, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." ...

The possibility of a perfect sanctifica­tion of the human nature of Christ appears from considering the mode of his concep­tion, and comparing it with that of an ordinary man. The individualizing of a portion of human nature is that process by which it becomes a distinct and separate person, and no longer an undistinguish­able part of the common species. A part of human nature becomes a human person by generation. . . . By ordinary generation, human nature is transmitted and individu­alized without any change of its character­istics, either physical or moral. The indi­vidual has all the qualities both of soul and body which fallen Adam had. There is no sanctification of the nature possible by this mode. Ordinary generation transmits sin. "That which is born of the flesh [in this manner] is flesh." But in the instance of the conception of Jesus Christ, the God-man, there was no union of the sexes, and no sensual appetite. The quickening of a por­tion of human nature in the Virgin Mother was by the creative energy of God the Holy Ghost. This miraculous conception, conse­quently, was as pure from all sensuous quality as the original creation of Adam's body from the dust of the ground, or of Eve's body from the rib of Adam. As the dust of the ground was enlivened by a miraculous act, and the result was the in­dividual body of Adam, so the substance of Mary was quickened and sanctified by a miraculous act, and the result was the hu­man soul and body of Jesus Christ....

"We do not represent Christ as perfectly immaculate merely because he was born of the seed of a woman unconnected with any man, but because he was sanctified by the Spirit, so that his generation was pure and holy, such as it would have been before the fall of Adam." [Calvin (Inst., II. xiii. 4)] The doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ is, thus, necessarily connected with the doc­trine of the miraculous conception by the Holy Ghost. The one stands or falls with the other. . . .

Although the human nature of Christ was individualized and personalized by a miraculous conception, and not by ordi­nary generation, yet this was as really and truly a conception and birth as if it had been by ordinary generation. Jesus Christ was really and truly the Son of Mary. He was bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh. He was of her substance, and of her blood. He was consubstantial with her, in as full a sense as an ordinary child is con­substantial with an ordinary mother. . . . All the stages in the process of generation and growth are to be found, from the em­bryo up to the mature man. The union of deity with humanity was first embryonic, then foetal, then infantine, then that of childhood, then that of youth, and lastly that of manhood. The God-man was con­ceived in the womb, grew in the womb, was an infant, a child, a youth, and a ma­ture man....

The properties of finite reason and finite will, potential in the human nature, now manifest themselves actively in the single self-consciousness of the God-man. He rea­sons like a man, thinks like a man, feels like a man, and wills like a man. These are truly personal acts and operations of Jesus Christ. But, unlike the case of an ordinary man, these are not the whole of his personal acts and operations. Over and besides these, there is in his complex the­anthropic person another and higher series of acts and operations which spring from another and higher nature in his person. He thinks, and feels, and wills like God. And these are also, and equally with the others, the personal acts of Jesus Christ.

In the one person of Jesus Christ, conse­quently, there are two different kinds of consciousness or experience: one divine and one human. But these two kinds of consciousness do not constitute two per­sons, any more than the two kinds of ex­perience or consciousness, the sensuous and the mental, in a man, constitute him two persons. There can be two general forms or modes of conscious experience in one and the same person, provided there enter into the constitution of the person two na­tures that are sufficiently different from each other to yield the materials of such a twofold variety. This was the case with the God-man. If he had had only one nature, as was the case previous to the incarnation, then he could have had only one general form of consciousness: the divine. But hav­ing two natures, he could have two corre­sponding forms of consciousness. He could experience either divine feeling, or human feeling; divine perception, or human per­ception. A God-man has a twofold variety of consciousness or experience, with only one self-consciousness. When he says "I thirst," and "I and my Father are one," it is one theanthropic ego with a finite human consciousness in the first instance, and an infinite divine consciousness in the second. . . .

At the very time when Christ was con­scious of weariness and thirst by the well of Samaria, he also was conscious that he was the eternal and only-begotten Son of God, the second person in the trinity. This is proved by his words to the Samaritan woman: "Whosoever drinketh of the wa­ter that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. I that speak unto thee am the Messiah."

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December 1957

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