The Unassumed is the Unhealed

In my previous post, we considered the Recapitulation Theory of the atonement. In my mind, that gives rise to one particular question - something I feel I must ‘tackle’ before going any further. I blithely stated that Christ became human, and that by doing so, he united humanity and divinity.

There is an ancient doctrine of the church, going right back to the early church fathers, which is known, in technical terms, as the ’Hypostatic Union’. At its most basic, it states that Jesus Christ is at one and the same time, both fully God and fully man.

But how does that play out in practice? It’s easy to say, so long as you don’t actually think about it! Once you start to think though, it rapidly turns into a huge ‘can of worms’. It’s incredibly complicated, and gives rise to lots and lots of ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions… Not to mention lots of ways we can ‘get it wrong’ in our understanding and unknowingly believe things which, when examined closely, turn out to be heretical.

Gregory of Nazianzus was a fourth-century theologian, and the archbishop of Constantinople. He, along with the brothers Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, is known as one of the ‘Cappadocian Fathers’. He is most famous for helping to devise the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. He is also known for his work on each member of the Holy Trinity - which is why I mention him here.

He emphasised that Jesus did not stop being God when he became a man, nor did he lose any of his divine attributes when he took on his human nature. Furthermore, Gregory asserted that Christ was fully human, including a full human soul.

And he also, and this is where the relevance to the previous post begins to become obvious, said, when speaking of the incarnation of Christ, that:

"The unassumed is the unhealed."

Expressed slightly more clearly:

"That which is not assumed cannot be healed."

We should probably just establish, briefly, the meaning of ‘assumed’ here. In this context, ‘assumed’ means to ‘take on’, or ‘to become’ - so that we can say of the incarnation that Jesus ‘assumed’ human nature, or that he ‘took on flesh’.

What Gregory was doing here was rebutting the assertion by Apollinaris, that Jesus only took on a human body but not a human mind - retaining, instead, the mind of God. By saying what he said, Gregory is reminding us that, in order for Jesus to fully join the human and divine natures and thereby fully heal humanity, he had to take on (assume) every aspect of humanity, and not just its flesh. If he didn’t/doesn’t have a human mind, He can’t join it to the divine nature in himself, and therefore it can’t be healed, restored and redeemed.

If Christ had only taken on part of our humanity, then only part of our humanity could be saved; if any part of our humanity was not assumed by Christ in the incarnation, then it couldn’t be healed by Him in salvation.

The Apollinarian Heresy is one which, even now, is all too common. It is very easy to see the Jesus of the gospel accounts as somehow ‘more than human’. Lots of people believe that the incarnated Christ had ‘the mind of God’ - that He had ‘special’ knowledge, which wouldn’t have been available to a ‘normal’ human… That, basically, because of His divine nature, his human nature knew everything there was to know, from what colour undergarments his disciples were wearing through to quantum mechanics. This is, actually, to deny that He was fully human…

And…

If that’s the case, then he cannot truly, fully, have ‘assumed’ human form and, therefore, He could not join that aspect of humanity with divinity, and therefore that aspect of us could neither be healed nor redeemed.

Saying that is not to deny that Jesus had remarkable insights, at times, into the lives of those around Him. But we must be careful not to attribute that to a form of ‘leakage’ from His divine nature to his human; instead, I believe, we must think of it as being ‘inspired’ with knowledge from His father by the Holy Spirit.

I think this touches on why the Hypostatic Union is so hard to comprehend. There is that sense in which His human nature can only be human - it can’t be ‘more than’ - it can’t be ‘Clark Kent with blue tights on’ - because Clark Kent in blue tights is Superman, not Clark Kent!

But, at the same time Jesus is a member of the HolyTrinity; he is part of the godhead; he’s intimately linked to both God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

And yet in becoming human, he ‘empties himself’ of everything but love. This is what in Greek is called ‘kenosis’ - self-emptying - and, in a sense, Jesus voluntarily ‘empties himself’ of all His divine power and knowledge… But He is still God. As he says himself:

I and the Father are one. John 10:30

No, I don’t ‘get it’ really either. It makes no sense to me, on any level. But unless His human nature is only human, without also having some (or any) of the ‘go faster stripes’ of His divine nature, then, as Gregory says, humanity can’t have truly been joined to divinity, and therefore our sin is not fully healed. If it’s not fully healed, we’re still lost in our sins, and therefore not saved.

Addendum

Having posted this, it strikes me that the Apollinarian Heresy, or variations on it, are everywhere. Unless Jesus’ human life was entirely normal (apart from him knowing His origin, as the Son of God), he cannot be fully human. A well-known Christmas carol though, sums up just how common this heresy is. The second stanza of ‘Away in a Manger’ goes:

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus! look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

It makes no sense, humanly speaking. Unless Jesus cried, there was no way his mother, Mary, could have known whether he was hungry, tired, soiled, etc. Crying is the main means by which babies communicate! Unless, of course, there’s some sort of assumption that Jesus could talk when he was born - in which case, He was never truly human in the first place. Becoming human, then, must mean that He took on the limits of humanity… He had to learn to talk, and to walk (and presumably fell and cut His knees), got blisters on His hands when learning carpentry from Joseph (and splinters too!). But through all this, as we see from the story of Him as a boy in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52), He seems to have had at least an inkling of who He was.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022