Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Question of Nature(s)

A friend asked me on another site:

Which reminds me, Oggerz -

I guess that's the hardest thing for me to grasp about the Trinity. There's a few sequences that seem to indicate a disconnect between the substance - will or knowledge of the Father and Son. Sometimes, upon further examination, there's a perfectly sensible reason ("Eloi Eloi lema sabachthani" being a reference to Psalm 22), but I haven't found one for the cup of suffering sequence ("nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt"), or the difference in knowledge between the Father and Son of the date or the end times, or "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God" from the story of the rich man.

I promised him a fuller answer ...

I promised him a fuller answer than the one I gave him, which for reference's sake is:

I think you must remember that Christ had two Natures that were neither co-mingled nor subordinated to the other. And yet, in the words of the Athanasian Creed "Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood." Once you appreciate that, and you begin to reflect on the rĂ´le He was playing in Salvation History when He said those lines, I think it becomes clearer.

But perhaps that wasn't as clear as it could be, and so I will try to do a better job of explaining it. I also hope that some of my theological friends will help me out if I still seem to be lacking in the perspicacious department.


One of the first things to remember is that there were numerous purposes to writing Scripture and numerous layers and levels in which to read it. My chief beef with Christians who believe that Scripture is perspicacious is that claiming it is so robs Scripture of much. If you read a Scriptural passage and come away thinking you understand it very well, you have missed something. Now, granted, some passages are clearer than others, and some are more opaque. Otherwise, why would Peter have observed "in [the writings of St Paul] there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures"? (2 Pet 3:16) So this is the first lesson to keep in mind: Scripture is meant to be challenging and to challenge, but it isn't really supposed to be "clear."

So, I think I want to take some of these scenes independently before wrapping it up.

Let's take the introduction from Rich Man scene:

Matt 10
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"18 Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

If we read it carefully, we realise Jesus isn't denying He's God. Rather he senses that the rich man is calling Him good for other reasons. Rather than list all the possible ways, it should be clear rather from context that the man is trying to worship someone he fully believes to be a human like him. His kneeling down is a kind of attempt to flatter and honour someone in the way one ought to do so for God. Christ's rebuke of the man is therefore, pretty easy to grasp. We perceive it, removed from it as we are, as ironic. But I think the lesson for the man when it happened was more immediate: there's no need to flatter me, give due honour to God. Or you are right but for the wrong reasons. Was Christ being Kantian here, judging the man's intentions?

So that episode seems the least challenging to me on this subject. But what of the episode with the cup being taken away?

Mark 14
36 He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will."

The NAB has a note calling us to take heed of the complete surrender of Christ's Human will to the Divine Will of the Father. I think that's the answer to my friend's difficulty. Note that even as the thought ends, the two wills willing become one will willed. But there's more to this scene, too, and it's why I picked the Marcan version. Earlier in this Gospel, (10:38) Jesus makes reference to this cup. It will be a cup of baptism - his suffering on the cross will be His baptism, that washes away the stains of everyone else's guilt. But this cup, as understood from the OT, is one of punishment. Christ is also mentioning here His innocence. He is asking to be taken note of as the innocent lamb, who does not deserve death, but will do so "as the Father wills."

Similarly, I think there is much more going on in the "has not been revealed to the Son" episode:

Matthew 24
36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

It is worth noting that many textual witnesses are divided as to whether "the Son" should be in this text. Mk 13:32 omits it. But let us suppose this quote is authentic, because I am certainly comfortable with that. Again, aside from the Human will versus the Divine will, I think something else is also going on here. Mark and Matthew present Christ differently for a reason. In Matthew Christ is the new Moses, the new Lawgiver. It is important in Matthew that none of the New Dispensation be "Man-made" so to speak. So, even the "hour" must be ascribed totally to the Divine will for Matthew. In Mark, the context is different, being more immediate and visceral. In Mark, Christ wants his disciples to be mindful (as does Matthew, to be sure), but Mark lacks Matthew's need to present Christ as a lawgiver. In Mark, Christ is the Messiah plain and simple. So to Mark, the Son's ignorance or lack thereof it not the point whatsoever, rather that the disciples must be mindful takes centre stage.


I hope that answers the question in greater depth than did my quick response to my friend. It is true that Scripture lacks the conciliar articulations of Christology. All of John wrestles with this right up until the end. It is in John we get "The Father and I are one," "Before Abraham was I AM" and the like. The other Evangelists have much different perspectives and much different "points" they're trying to make. If they intended to present discourses about Trinitarian beliefs, they likely would have all four of them written the Gospel of John. But they didn't, because they each had four very different things to say about Christ.

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