The Natures, Minds, and Wills of Christ in Christian Philosophy

Andrew Ter Ern Loke

This article surveys the controversies concerning Jesus’ natures, minds, and wills. It begins with an overview of the debates concerning the exegesis of relevant scriptural passages; the historical controversies leading up to the landmark Chalcedonian Definition (451 CE); and significant post-Chalcedonian developments, as illustrated by the contributions of Leontius of Byzantium, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, the debate between Lutheran and Reformed theologians, and the rise of ontological kenoticism. This is followed by a discussion on the abstractist versus concretist view of Jesus’ natures, its relation to two parts versus three parts Christology, and how apparently contradictory divine and human properties can be predicated of Christ (communicatio idiomatum). A comparison is then offered between two-consciousnesses versus one-consciousness models (including ontological kenotic model and divine subconscious/preconscious model), and the use of psychological analogies for some of these models is examined. It will be shown that the acceptance of different models of Jesus’ mind(s) is motivated by different conceptions of essential divine properties (e.g. the affirmation of divine simplicity, essential divine atemporality, and a strong notion of divine immutability by strict classical theism verses alternative conceptions), essential human properties, the unity of the person, and the doctrine of kenosis (ontological versus different forms of functional kenosis). Subsequently, this article discusses the controversy between monothelitism and (different forms of) dyothelitism (‘human will moved by divine will’ versus ‘one Logos who is the subject of divine willing and human willing’), and its relation to the controversy concerning Jesus’ impeccability. Finally, this article explains the relevance of the topic for the Christian community.

1 Sacred texts and tradition

1.1 Relevant scriptural passages and exegetical debates

Traditional Christian theology affirms that Jesus Christ is truly human and truly divine. This doctrine is grounded in historical evidence and biblical exegesis (Loke 2017b). In particular, New Testament passages such as Rom 1:18–25 indicate that the Creator–creature divide was of great importance for the earliest Christians, and 1 Cor 8:6 indicates that Jesus was thought to be on the Creator side of the divide. To elaborate, all things were said to have come through (Greek dia) the one God (Rom 11:36; 3:30; cf. Isa 44:24), and Paul says elsewhere that all things came through (dia) Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 8:6). This implies that Christ was not regarded as a lesser divine being but as within the being of the one true Creator God, and thus Paul was in fact ‘splitting’ the Shema’s affirmation that ‘the Lord our God, the Lord is one’ to include both the Father and Jesus. In view of this context, the phrase en morphē theou (‘in the form of God’) in Phil 2:6 should be understood as expressing the ontological idea that Christ has that which characterizes the reality of God (Fee 2007: 377–385). Thus, the term ‘truly divine’, which denotes the Creator side of the Creator–creature divide and equal ontological status (i.e. divine nature) as God the Father, is used here to describe how Christ was regarded by these earliest Christians (for replies to objections, see Loke 2017b). There was evidence of widespread agreement among the earliest Christian leaders concerning the divine status of Christ, and the best historical explanation for their unified Christology is that it originated from Christ himself and was regarded to have been vindicated by God raising him from the dead (Loke 2017b). This is in line with the Gospels’ portrayals of Jesus self-understanding as the Danielic Son of Man (Mark 14:61–64) and as divine Lord (Rowe 2009), which indicate that he was regarded to be more than a merely human messianic figure.

The word ‘being’ (used above) is defined as an entity, something that exists and possesses properties. The word ‘person’ is defined as a centre of consciousness, with the property of being a subject who possesses various characteristics such as moral agency, rationality, language, intentionality, self-consciousness, and ability to enter into suitable relationship with other persons (Audi 1999: 662). The above definitions fit the portrayals of God and Jesus in first-century New Testament texts. For example, Paul wrote of the oneness of God having the property of being the Creator of the universe (Rom 1:20; 3:30). When Jesus prayed ‘not my will but yours be done’ (Mark 14:36), his prayer evinced moral agency, rationality, language, intentionality, and self-consciousness: he evidently had a mind that was able to be consciously aware that he was not talking to himself but to another person – the Father – whose will he was willing to obey (see also Phil 2:8). In light of this, 1 Cor 8:6 should be understood as claiming that there is a plurality of persons within the one being of God. This is consistent with the textual evidence of divine plurality within unity in the Old Testament (Keiser 2009). Moreover, as Maximus the Confessor observed, the Gospels apply the term ‘will’ (thelō) to Christ’s volitional capacity and desires (Bathrellos 2004: 118).

While there are differences between the language, formulation, and thought patterns of the later Greek creedal statements and those of the New Testament, the above-mentioned textual evidence from the Pauline epistles (which reflected even earlier Christian traditions) indicates that the highest Christology of the creedal statements is a development in understanding of what was already essentially there at the beginning of the Christian movement (Loke 2017b). Hence, there are good reasons for thinking that the earliest Christian leaders would affirm with the pro-Nicene theologians that the Son and the Father are ‘of equal ontological standing’ (Ayres 2004: 236) and within one divine being, even though they did not use the same terminology but instead (in large measure) expressions from biblical/Jewish tradition which are perhaps more understandable to their immediate audiences. (The Jews in the late Second Temple period did not often talk about divine nature, but they had well-known ways of defining the one God by contrasting him with ‘all things’ and affirming him as the sole Creator of all things [Bauckham 1999]).

Other passages in the New Testament claim that the divine Logos, who was involved in the creation of all things (John 1:3), came (egéneto) on the scene as human (John 1:14; egéneto is used in the same sense as John 1:6). This is consistent with the traditional view of the incarnation which affirms that ‘became’ (in John 1:14) ought to be interpreted as ‘manifested in’ or ‘assumed’ flesh (cf. 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7; 1 Tim 3:16), rather than ‘turned into’ flesh (Loke 2014: 103).

Against the divinity of Christ, it has been objected that the New Testament portrays Christ as being apparently limited in knowledge (Mark 13:32; Tuggy 2023: 6). However, the Greek word oiden that is translated as ‘know’ in Mark 13:32 means ’to have realized, perceived, to know’. This word is often used in the New Testament in a general way, e.g. to know a person, to be able to understand/apprehend/recognize. In view of its semantic range, oiden can be legitimately rendered as ‘aware’ in Mark 13:32, which can be read as: ‘But of that day or hour no one is aware, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone’ (added emphasis). This reading fits the context perfectly: the disciples would be hoping that the Son would reveal to them the day of his coming, but no one can reveal what he/she is not aware of. Such an unawareness of the Son can co-exist with divine omniscience in the same person, because omniscience does not require a conscious awareness of all the things known (Loke 2014). Others have replied that, even if oiden is rendered as ‘know’ in Mark 13:32, this does not imply that Christ is not divine, for Christ could be limited in knowledge in respect of his human consciousness but is omniscient and truly divine in respect of his divine consciousness. Another group of scholars have replied that omniscience is not essential to divinity. These different replies offer different possible models of Jesus’ natures, minds, and wills, which will be discussed below (see section 3).

It should be noted that, in order to rebut the accusation that the incarnation is incoherent, it is not required that the Christian come up with the actual model of the incarnation. Rather, all that is required is that he or she suggests a possible model to show how contradictions do not result. An example by analogy: suppose my father told me he is going to buy a round-shaped ice cream and later told me he is going to buy a triangular-shaped ice cream. My friend claims there is a contradiction. To rebut this claim, it is sufficient to suggest it is possible that my father is buying a cone-shaped ice cream (even though he did not explicitly say that, and there are other possibilities, e.g. he may be buying two ice creams). Likewise, to rebut the claim that the incarnation is incoherent, it is sufficient to suggest a possible model and say, ‘for all we know, this is how it could have happened’. Since the sceptic claims that the incarnation is incoherent, the burden of proof would be on the sceptic to rule out all possible models.

From the above paragraphs, it can be seen that, while the terms nature, mind, will, and consciousness are defined as saying something similar to what the scriptural texts are saying, the elaborations of these terms are different for different possible models and go beyond what scripture is saying. It might be objected that formulating such possible models imports metaphysical ideas into scripture. However, such an accusation confounds task (A) ‘interpreting the biblical authors’ with task (B) ‘formulating a possible model for the purpose of showing that what the biblical authors say concerning Jesus is not contradictory’ (for an explication of these different tasks, see Loke 2014: chapter 1). It is true for example that the Bible nowhere mentions that a divine person possesses omniscience in his preconscious. Nevertheless, the Bible is not intended to be a philosophical-theological textbook; rather, it presents the data and evidence concerning the incarnation, which philosophical theologians can then try to make sense of. If someone is proposing a model for task (A), one should ask for positive evidence to show that the proposal was what the biblical authors intended. However, for task (B) it is perfectly legitimate to propose a possible model that the human biblical authors may not have thought of, as long as the possibility is defensible and not contradictory to what these authors expressed. The traditional doctrine of the divine inspiration of scripture does not require the human biblical authors to be omniscient as the divine author is, and it does not require God to reveal to the human biblical authors an exhaustive knowledge concerning everything they wrote. While psychological models such as those discussed in section 3 may not be what the biblical authors had in mind or what they mandated, this is not the same as being contradictory to what they expressed. A divine omnipotent person, if he exists, could act in ways that transcend the philosophical and psychological concepts available in the first century or the twenty-first century. The burden of proof would be on those who claim that an omnipotent person cannot incarnate to rule out such possibilities.

1.2 Christological controversies in the early church leading up to the Council of Chalcedon

As explained in section 1.1, understanding the historical context of the ancient Jewish monotheistic background of the earliest Christian leaders is very important for understanding their highest Christology. Lacking such a historical context and being influenced by Greek philosophical-theological viewpoints, ‘hard passages’ in the scripture concerning Christology, and/or the desire for accommodation to the views of surrounding cultures, some later Christians drifted from the above-mentioned apostolic position and embraced various alternative views. The Greek philosophical-theological viewpoints include ‘strict classical theism’, with its strong notion of divine immutability, impassibility, simplicity, etc., while the ‘hard passages’ in scripture include those concerning the apparent limitation of Jesus’ knowledge (see section 1.1) and his apparent suffering (passibility) on the cross. Because of these difficulties, the truth was not always obvious to everyone in the church. Hence, it is unsurprising that various alternative views later emerged, such as those which affirm that Christ was:

  • truly divine but not human (Docetism; which probably originated in the late first century)
  • truly human but not divine (Ebionitism; second century); or truly human but quasi-divine (Arianism [fourth century], some form of Adoptionism [second century])
  • quasi-human but truly divine (Apollinarianism, fourth century)
  • quasi-human and quasi-divine/neither human nor divine (i.e. a tertium quid; Eutychianism; fifth century)
  • truly divine and truly human, but there were two separate persons (Nestorianism; fifth century).

The adoption of Greek viewpoints could also be seen in those who attempted to defend the apostolic position; for example, in the works of second century apologists (e.g. Aristides and Justin Martyr) who began appropriating Greek ideas of ‘strict classical theism’ – such as the strong notion of divine immutability – in Christian discourse. This preceded the emergence of many of the alternative views mentioned above. For example, as Hanson (1988: 856–869) observes, these ideas impacted those theologians (e.g. Origen) who were influential in the development of trinitarian doctrines, resulting in the view that the Son was ontological subordinate to the Father, from which Arianism subsequently emerged. One of the scriptural texts which was much used by Arian writers was 1 Cor 8:6 (Wiles 1996: 14, citing Basil of Caesarea’s report in Adversus Eunomium 1.4 that such a usage traced back to Arius’ dispute with Alexander). The Arians interpreted it as saying that the ‘one Lord’ is included among the ‘all things’ that came from the ‘one God’, but is unique as the medium through whom ‘all things’ (i.e. all other than himself) have their existence (Wiles 1996: 14). Such an interpretation ignores the ancient Jewish monotheistic background of the text (highlighted at the beginning of this section), in particular the Shema and the ancient Jewish monotheistic affirmation that all things were said to have come through the one God and Lord alone (Isa 44:24; Rom 11:36; see section 1.1). There are some other biblical passages that were highly relevant to the Arian controversy (e.g. Arians claimed that the wisdom mentioned in Prov 8:22 was Christ and was created) but which are not regarded as critical in the mind of contemporary biblical scholars, who regard Prov 8:22 merely as a literary personification of God’s wisdom which is evident in creation (Loke 2017b: 55).

From a very early date, patristic exegeses observed that the New Testament on one hand attributes divine glory to the man Jesus while on the other it attributes human imperfections to the divine Son of God (Pannenberg 1968: 296–297). Early church fathers such as Ignatius used similar expressions such as ‘the blood of God’, ‘the suffering of my God’, ‘God was conceived by Mary’, etc. (Kelly 1977: 143). The Alexandrian theologians who advocated a ‘Word-flesh’ Christology emphasized the unity of Christ’s person, and thought primarily of the penetration of the human nature by the divine. On the other hand, the Antiochene theologians who advocated a ‘Word-man’ Christology emphasized the distinction of Christ’s divine and human natures. They allowed only a communication of the attributes from both natures to the person common to them, but not to an exchange of attributes between the natures themselves (see section 2.3). Prominent theologians of the fourth century such as Athanasius defended the divine Christology affirmed by the Nicene Creed against the Arians, and subsequent debates concerning Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism refined the understanding of the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ.

Apollinarianism originated from the Alexandrian Apollinaris of Laodicea, who denied that the incarnate Word possessed a full human psychology, in opposition to dyoprosopic Christology (the doctrine that Christ embodies the union of two distinct and individually complete personal entities each with its own centre of consciousness; Spoerl 1994). Other theologians objected that Apollinarianism is virtually Docetic, for if Christ lacked a human mind it is absurd to call him a man. Furthermore, Apollinarianism is contrary to the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus who underwent various human experiences.

Nestorius was not a Nestorian in the classic sense, given that he found the doctrine of two Sons abhorrent. He was a thoroughgoing Antiochene who objected to the Alexandrian habit of speaking of God being born and dying, and emphasized that Christ lived a genuinely human life. The real problem, however, was his inability to provide a deeper explanation of the substantial unity of the incarnate Logos (Kelly 1977: 312–317). Nestorius’ refusal of the Alexandrian practice of designating Mary as mother of God resulted in a controversy with Cyril of Alexandria. Against the Antiochene ascription of the human experiences of Christ to the human nature treated as a distinct subject of attribution, Cyril (Third Letter to Nestorius) attributed all the human experiences to the divine Son as their one and only personal subject (Price 2005: I.64–65).

Eutychianism was the error attributed to Eutyches who was condemned for refusing to concede that Christ existed in two natures after the incarnation, but the actual sentence against him makes no clear reference to anything actually said by him (Price 2005: 28 [Part 1], note 97).

In response to the above views, the early church fathers formulated models of the incarnation in their attempt to avoid these perceived heresies. For example, hints of the two-consciousness model (TCM; see section 3.1) can be found in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen (Morris 1986: 102 note 20). An early reference to functional kenosis (see section 3.2) may be found in Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310–c. 367 CE) who, in his commentary on Psalm 68, speaks of the voluntary renunciation by the Logos, during his life on Earth, of the public manifestation and splendour that belong by right to him as God.

1.3 Chalcedon and post-Chalcedonian developments

While the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE) rejected the perceived heresies with its affirmation that Christ is ‘one and the same Son […] in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation’, it does not show how this could be the case, and the debate continued after Chalcedon (the council’s decision was rejected by the non-Chalcedonian Church of the East, which constituted a significant number from the fifth to the fourteenth century).

It has been claimed that, following the ancient Greek philosophers, almost every theologian up to the fifth century CE (including those who stated the formulae of Chalcedon) understood the term ‘nature’ to be an abstract universal and not a concrete particular (Swinburne 1994: 211). Such claims neglect the textual evidence such as Pope’s Leo’s Tome (endorsed at Chalcedon) which affirms that ‘it does not belong to the same nature to […] hang on the cross and […] to be pierced by nails’ (Pawl 2016: 39). This implies that Christ’s human nature was a concrete particular (rather than an abstract universal) that was hung on a cross and pierced with nails (Pawl 2016: 34, noting that ‘some argue that luminaries, including St Thomas, go back and forth between understanding the human nature as something common to many and as something not common to many’). While the Definition of Chalcedon does not say what exactly Christ’s human nature is, the texts endorsed at Chalcedon indicate that Christ’s human nature was regarded as a concrete particular with human properties (Pawl 2016: 45). While this usage of the term ‘nature’ is idiosyncratic to the contemporary ear, it is common in scholastic philosophy (Pawl 2016: 36). This usage was firmly established by Leontius of Byzantium in the sixth century, who also originated the idea of Christ as a composite person (Daley 2002: 164–196, citing Leontius’ Epaporemata). These ideas subsequently influenced John of Damascus, and through John the medieval theologians who developed them further and who influenced the Protestant scholastics (Cross 2002; 2019; see section 2.1 and 2.2 below).

Another significant contribution was made in the seventh-century debate between Monothelites and Dyothelites such as Maximus the Confessor. For Maximus, the faculty of the human will encapsulates both the desirous aspect (e.g. the desire to eat) and the rational, self-determining aspect of the human soul (Bathrellos 2004: 122–126, see Maximus Opusc. 1, 12C–13A; Opusc. 16, 192B, 196A). Louth (1996) observes that the terms which the Monothelites used for ‘will’ admit of ambiguity, an ambiguity that, according to Maximus, lay behind the plausibility of their views. ‘Will’ can refer either to a process – willing – or the result – the deed willed. Maximus exposed this ambiguity by drawing a distinction between the natural level and the personal level. So far as the process is concerned, ‘will’ belongs to natural level, but so far as the result is concerned, ‘will’ is an expression of the personal. Maximus argued that in Christ there were two processes but one result, hence there were two wills at the natural level but one will at the personal level (Louth 1996: 56–57). Maximus’ concern was to maintain the completeness of the divine nature and the human nature; hence he would insist (against the Monothelites) that there were two wills at the level of the natures (Maximus, Letter 15, 19; Opusc. 4,7; Disputation with Pyrrhus). After a long struggle, monothelitism was condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (see section 4).

During the medieval period, theologians developed the reduplicative strategy, which involves attributing inconsistent divine and human properties to different aspects of Christ (e.g. Christ was ignorant qua human but omniscient qua divine). Medieval theologians sought to explain how these properties can be attributed to different aspects of Christ by developing the concrete-nature view mentioned earlier. In particular, they believed that there were good reasons for supposing that Christ’s human nature was a concrete individual, and they worked out elaborate metaphysics of the incarnation to try to explain how the concrete individual nature is to be distinguished from a person, and how it could be united to a divine person without resulting in the incarnation of other divine persons (Cross 2002; see section 2.2)

The controversy between the emphasis on the unity of Christ’s person and the emphasis on the distinction of Christ’s divine and human natures flared up again during the sixteenth-century Reformation. The Reformed theologians denied the Lutheran view that Christ’s human nature shared divine omnipresence, which the Lutherans used to explain how Christ can be ‘in, with, and under’ the bread and wine of the Eucharist (see section 2.3). Impacted by the heightening of historical critical methodology during the nineteenth century, some German theologians developed ontological kenoticism (which postulates that that the Logos relinquishes certain divine properties at the incarnation) in their attempt to construe the person of Christ in his historical and unitive integrity (Thompson 2006: 76–77). They emphasized the need to consider the consciousness of Christ, arguing that the problem with earlier Christologies is that ‘the consciousness that the Son has of himself and of his universal governance does not come together as one with the consciousness of the historical Christ […] this seems to destroy the unity of the person’ (Thomasius 1965: 46). This is related to the concern to affirm that the pre-existent Logos ‘descended’ into this world to share in our sufferings (Evans 2002; McCormack 2021: 268), rather than postulating that the divine mind of the Logos remains ‘up there’ in an essentially timeless and impassible state even while he took up a human nature at the incarnation. Subsequently, some other theologians such as William Sanday and William Lane Craig developed a one-consciousness divine subconscious model which affirms functional kenosis, i.e. God Incarnate retained his divine powers but did not use all of them (Moreland and Craig 2017: chapter 32). A variant of the divine subconscious model is the divine preconscious model (DPM), which seeks to avoid the criticisms against the models of Sanday et. al. (Loke 2014: chapter 3; see also section 3).

From the above historical survey, it can be seen that various proposals have been offered concerning Jesus’ natures, minds, and wills. These proposals will be discussed in the following sections.

2 Jesus’ natures

2.1 Abstractist and concretist views

As noted in section 1.3, the term ‘nature’ can be understood as abstract or concrete (Crisp 2007: ch. 2). On abstractism, natures are fundamentally properties (i.e. on this view, the human nature was a property assumed by the Logos; this view does not deny that Christ had a concrete body and human soul). On concretism, Christ’s human and divine natures are fundamentally concrete particulars (this view does not deny that the particulars have their respective human and divine properties; Crisp 2007: 41–46, 68).

‘Compositionalist’ models are a subset of concretist models which affirm that the assumed concrete parts become parts of the person of Christ (Hill 2023: 262). As noted in section 1.3, this model was originated by Leontius of Byzantium in the sixth century. This contrasts with an example of a non-compositionalist concretist model, such as the model of the sixth-century theologian Severus of Antioch which can be interpreted as affirming that Christ’s human nature is like a stick used by a blind man to find his way around (Torrance 1988: 92–95). The stick is not part of the blind man, which implies that Christ’s human nature is not part of Christ’s person (Hill 2023: 262). The problem with this account is that, unlike a stick, Christ’s human nature is supposed to have a (human) mind. To deny that this mind is part of Christ’s person would imply that it is the mind of a separate person, which implies two persons (Nestorianism). Most concretists would reject this and embrace compositionalism. For example, Aquinas proposes that God the Son uses Christ’s human nature like a hand, which is part of a person in a way an axe, for example, is not (Summa contra Gentiles IV.41.11). It has been objected that compositionalism is affected by the metaphysical problem concerning the paradox of increase (Le Poidevin 2022: ch. 2). It has been replied that this paradox can be resolved by a postulating a modified hylomorphic theory of immaterial individuals, according to which a particular restriction on the specific form of non-compound ‘soul-stuff’ is the ‘individual essence’ (Loke 2014: 105–112).

2.2 Natures and parts Christology (two-parts versus three-parts view)

Concretist models (such as those proposed by the medieval theologians) have often been regarded as ‘one which holds that God the Son became human by “assuming” the parts that make up a human being’ (Hill 2023: 261; citing Plantinga 1999). It is then objected that what gets assumed is indeed a human being, which implies Nestorianism or Adoptionism.

Such a characterization of concretist models overlooks Crisp’s observation that the concretist and abstractist views can be subdivided depending on whether Christ is conceived of as consisting of either two or three parts, thus yielding four possibilities: (i) concretist-two-part-Christology; (ii) concretist-three-part Christology; (iii) abstractist-two-part-Christology; (iv) abstractist-three-part Christology (Crisp 2007: 41–45). On the two-parts view, Christ was composed of the pre-existent divine particular and a human body; on the three-parts view, Christ was composed of the pre-existent divine particular, a human body, and a human soul distinct from the pre-existent divine particular (Crisp 2007: 41–42).

Moreover, there may be no real difference between the concretist and abstractist views concerning which part(s) was assumed. For example, proponents of (ii) concretist-three-part Christology and (iv) abstractist-three-part Christology may be affirming exactly the same parts which were assumed. Thus, a ‘concretist’ model should not be characterized by the parts that were assumed. Rather, the essential distinction between concretist and abstractist views should be understood as merely a matter of reference: whether one is referring to a concrete particular or a property when one uses the term ‘nature’ (Loke 2021). Thus, contrary to some critics of concretism noted at the beginning of this section, concretism by itself does not imply Nestorianism or Adoptionism.

On a concretist-two-part-Christology, what gets assumed is not the parts that make up a human being, but a human body without a human soul, with the divine particular taking the place of a human soul (Crisp 2007: 45–46; citing Apollinarianism as an example). A three-parts-Christology which was developed by the medieval theologians has the advantage of avoiding Apollinarianism without implying either ontological kenoticism or a tertium quid.

On the other hand, it has been objected that three-parts-Christologies entail Nestorianism. Medieval theologians replied that, while what is assumed is a concrete particular composed of a human body and soul, it is not a human being apart from the Logos (Crisp 2007: x, 38). It is argued that the relation which holds between the Logos and Christ’s human nature is special. The Thomistic view proposes that Christ’s human nature lacks a necessary ontological component required for being a person, while the Scotistic view proposes that, ‘for a nature to be a person, it has to be unassumed. Since Christ’s human nature […] is assumed, it does not count as a person’ (Pawl 2020: 19–21). Contemporary defenders of these medieval views typically hold to TCM (see section 3.1).

An alternative three-parts-Christology which postulates that Christ has one consciousness is offered by DPM. It states that the Logos had a mind without a body prior to the incarnation. At the incarnation, the mind of the Logos came to include a conscious and a divine preconscious, and certain divine properties such as omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence were possessed by the Logos in the divine preconscious. At the same time, a human preconscious and a human body were created. In addition, his conscious acquired human properties that were newly created. This acquisition included a certain aspect of his conscious’ capacity to function being made dependent on the human brain, resulting in the capacity to experience physical pain, to feel hungry, etc. The incarnate Logos had a complete concrete human nature in virtue of the aspect of his conscious that had human properties, the human preconscious and human body. The Logos had a complete concrete divine nature in virtue of pre-existing from eternity as the second person of the Trinity and having the aspect of his conscious having access to the divine preconscious. He remained a single person by having one self-consciousness and being a single subject of divine and human properties. By postulating that the divine preconscious was not part of his human nature but was part of his divine nature, and that the divine nature and human nature were concrete and distinct parts of Christ, DPM avoids a monophysite mixture. Moreover, it avoids Apollinarianism by postulating that Christ had a human preconscious and an aspect of his conscious having human properties, and it avoids Ebionitism by postulating that Christ has a divine preconscious (Loke 2019).

2.3 Communicatio idiomatum

The doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, or communication of attributes, concerns how apparently contradictory divine and human properties can be predicated of Christ (Crisp 2007: 5). Lutheran theologians held that some (e.g. omnipresence) of the divine attributes were transferred from the divine to human nature (the Lutherans call this the genus majestaticum; Crisp 2007: 14–17). Reformed theologians held that there is attribution of the properties of each of the natures to the person of Christ at the same time, without transference of properties between the natures (Crisp 2007: 7–8). In Karl Barth’s treatment of the hypostatic union, he attempts to make positive use of the genus tapeinoticum, which postulates the transference of the weakness and limitation of the human nature to the divine nature (Church Dogmatics IV/2). Others object that Barth ‘could not have the genus tapeinoticum on the basis of a direct communion of the natures without also affirming the Lutheran genus majestaticum at the same time’ (McCormack 2021: 118). Coakley (2006: 258–259) holds up Gregory of Nyssa’s idea of a gradual transfusion of divinity into the human; this presupposes that the human and divine natures of Christ were initially distinct, prior to the transfusion, as the Reformed held. Pannenberg describes the Reformed-Lutheran dilemma as follows:

The Reformed polemic was right in objecting that the Lutheran doctrine of the communication of divine attributes of majesty to Jesus’ human nature called the authenticity of his humanity into question. However, if the consequences of the mutual interpenetration of the natures were not drawn to include the communication of the divine attributes of majesty to Jesus’ human nature, one would be left with a juxtaposition of the two natures as a merely superficial linking up without ultimate unity. (Pannenberg 1968: 301–302)

In response to the problems mentioned above, concretism has the advantage of providing a clear explication of how contradictory divine and human properties can be exemplified by Christ in two different respects (‘in respect of his divine nature and in respect of his human nature’) without confusion of natures. To give an analogy: a lollipop can be both red and not-red – not-red in respect of its stick, and red in respect of its edible top. In this instance, the stick and the edible top are two concrete parts of the lollipop (Cross 2008: 177–178). The lollipop has a part that is red and another part that is not-red. Likewise, Christ can have different parts (concrete divine nature and concrete human nature), each of which exemplifies contradictory properties (e.g. non-physicality and physicality). For Christ to exemplify a property (e.g. physicality) in respect of a particular nature (e.g. human nature) is for Christ to have a concrete part (e.g. his concrete human nature, which includes his human body) which exemplifies that property. In this case, the property does not spread to the whole person, but only belongs to a part of the person, just as the property of redness does not spread to the whole lollipop, but only belongs to a part of the lollipop (its edible top). Thus, Christ was material in respect of his human nature (his body) which he had assumed, but remained immaterial in respect of his divine nature. Similar moves can be found in the writings of Athanasius, Cyril, Leo, and medieval and Reformed theologians (see Cross 2019).

To think of the contradictory properties as being exemplified by Christ in two different respects would not be to deny that Christ was the one subject and property-bearer of all the properties of the complete divine and human natures. On the contrary, just as the lollipop has the properties of redness and non-redness in different respects, and properties of each of these respects are its properties, similarly Christ had the properties of divinity and humanity in two different respects (i.e. the concrete divine and human natures), and the properties of each of these respects were his properties. A one-consciousness three-parts-concrete-Christology model (e.g. DPM) shows how Christ can be the one subject of these properties; there is no mere superficial linking up of the two natures without ultimate unity since the unity is provided by the one unified consciousness (see section 3.1).

3 Jesus’ minds

3.1 Two-consciousnesses versus one-consciousness models

In line with Chalcedon’s ‘one person, two natures’ formula, many theologians throughout history have affirmed that Christ is one person with two minds – a divine mind and a human mind. A mind is defined as that which thinks, remembers, and wills, and which enables a person to be aware of the world. As noted in section 1.1, this fits the portrayal of God, humanity, and Jesus in the scriptures, and many theologians would argue that the mind is an essential aspect of the divine nature and the human nature.

The view that Christ has two minds is affirmed by TCM and DPM. The difference between these two models lies in the number of consciousnesses they postulate of Christ. The consciousness is the aspect of the mind which, when it is active, exhibits a mental condition characterized by the experience of perceptions, thoughts, and awareness of the external world (Colman 2001: 160). Whereas the preconscious is a subset of the subconscious; it is defined as mental contents that are not currently in consciousness but are accessible to the consciousness by directing attention to them (Colman 2001: 574). While TCM postulates that the divine mind and human mind of Christ has one consciousness each (thus constituting two consciousnesses), DPM postulates that the divine mind and human mind of Christ share one consciousness which has distinct divine and human aspects.

As noted in section 1.2, hints of TCM can be found in the writings of some early church fathers. It should be noted that TCM is not a monolithic view. Rather, it encompasses a variety of different models which have been defended by various theologians and philosophers using different philosophical tools and psychological analogies. The common feature of these different models is the affirmation that the incarnate Logos had two distinct consciousnesses:

  1. The divine consciousness encompassing the full scope of omniscience, and which includes a conscious awareness of everything.
  2. A human consciousness that came into existence and grew and developed as the boy Jesus grew and developed, and which does not include a conscious awareness of everything. (Morris 1986)

The following are some examples of different models of TCM utilizing different philosophical tools and psychological analogies. Cross (2002) utilizes some aspects of medieval metaphysics (see section 2.2) together with TCM, while Pawl (2016) utilizes what he calls ‘revised truth conditions’ (see below). Others have utilized recent philosophical discussions on the ‘extended mind thesis’ which postulates that the external cognitive enhancements and prostheses though which a person acts may be regarded as his/her parts (Marmodoro and Hill 2011; Arcadi 2018). Arcadi proposes that this is analogous to how the Logos acts in the world through Christ’s human nature, and that this instrumentality is ‘private’ in the sense that only the Logos acts through Christ’s human nature. Alternatively, Rogers (2013) suggests that Christ’s human nature may be likened to an avatar in a video game which someone (Nick) controls, and that ‘we imagine video game characters possessed of intellect and will’ (Rogers 2013: 269) i.e. a distinct consciousness from Nick’s. Thus, this is a TCM, although it is distinct from other TCM by saying that the human nature (analogous to the avatar) is not part of the person of Christ, i.e. there is no person composite, only an action composite. Rogers denies that the consciousnesses of the avatar implies that the avatar is a person distinct from Nick, because the avatar has consciousness only as a character played by Nick (Rogers 2013: 259). Morris (1986) and Swinburne (1994) have claimed that there are other analogies which suggest that one person can have two consciousnesses, but others have objected that these analogies are false (Loke 2014: 48–49). For example, it is debatable whether cases of multiple personality ever involve the simultaneous existence of two separate streams of consciousness in a single subject (Bayne 2009).

TCM has no problem affirming (in line with Chalcedonian Christology) that Christ has complete divine and human natures. Moreover, it allows for the affirmation that the Logos remains essentially timeless, immutable and impassible while incarnate, and hence appeal to strict classical theists (Duby 2022).

On the other hand, TCM has been widely criticized for its proximity to Nestorianism (two consciousnesses in Christ seem to imply two persons in Christ; Grössl 2021: 218). It has been objected that, on TCM, Christ would have two contradictory self-consciousnesses, SC1 (‘I am aware of myself being consciously aware of the day of my coming’) and SC2 (‘I am aware of myself being consciously unaware of the day of my coming (Mark 13:32)’ (Loke 2014: 47). Pawl (2016: 224) replies by distinguishing between a thing which is self-conscious (the person), and the faculty in virtue of which the person is self-conscious. He challenges the claim that SC1 and SC2 are contradictory by suggesting the following revised truth conditions:

  • s is consciously aware of p just in case s has a nature that has an occurrent mental state (of the right sort) of p
  • s is consciously unaware of p just in case s has a nature that does not have an occurrent mental state (of the right sort) of p.

Likewise, it has been argued on behalf of TCM that the implication of an additional (human) person at the incarnation can be avoided by claiming that the human intellect is included in the human nature, rather than what individuates a person (Duby 2022); i.e. one should not conflate consciousness with personhood.

It has also been objected that on TCM the human consciousness and the divine consciousness could address each other in an I-thou relationship, which implies Nestorianism (DeWeese 2007). Pawl (2016: 226) replies that the ‘consciousness’ is not referring to the supposit, but to the nature or faculty by which the supposit is conscious, and since neither is identical to a person, Nestorianism does not follow.

There are ongoing debates concerning whether TCM can provide an adequate account of how Christ would think of himself in both consciousnesses (Bayne 2001: 136), and whether this would result in two contradictory self-conscious perspectives (one of which was aware, one of which was unaware) concerning the day of his coming, and imply two selves/persons (Loke 2014: 47–48; Loke 2017a; Loke 2018; compare Cross 2002: 319–321; Pawl 2016: 224; Arcadi 2016).

There are also ongoing debates concerning whether TCM can provide a metaphysical account of the way in which only the body of Jesus (but not other bodies) belonged to the Logos (Merricks 2007), whether TCM is consistent with a proper interpretation of Mark 13:32 (Nemes 2023), and whether TCM can provide an adequate account of the pre-existent Logos who ‘descends’ into this world to share in our sufferings (McCormack 2021: 268).

The above debates are avoided on one-consciousness models, which attempt to provide a better account of the unity of Christ’s person compared to TCM. However, these one-consciousness models face the question concerning whether they can offer an adequate account of the divine and human natures of Christ that is in line with Chalcedon’s ‘one person, two natures’ formula. This issue will be discussed in the following sections.

3.2 The unity of the person and the doctrine of kenosis

The word kenosis is derived from Phil 2:7: ‘[Christ] emptied himself (ekenosen)’ (Thompson 2006: 102). The nineteenth-century kenoticists interpret this ekenosen as a real self-relinquishing, limiting, or emptying of divine attributes, powers, prerogatives, and/or glory by the pre-existent Logos upon the event of incarnation. This constituted a different interpretation from that of the inherited exegetical tradition, which interprets the ekenosen as a krypsis or voluntary concealment of divine powers by the pre-existent Logos (Thompson 2006: 74–75). The above account of kenosis and krypsis should be distinguished from the account used in the Lutheran debate in the 1620s between the schools of Giessen and Tübingen. These Lutherans affirmed that there is a transference of Christ’s divine properties (including ubiquity) to the human nature (see section 2.3), and their debate concerns whether the incarnate Christ’s ubiquitous humanity was merely concealed (krypsis – Tübingen) or actually relinquished of use (kenosis – Giessen; Thompson 2006: 80, note 14). What follows shall set aside this antiquated Lutheran debate and focus on the above account of kenosis and krypsis which is of much broader theological interest and contemporary relevance.

The early church fathers affirmed that the Logos did not cease from possessing divine powers at the incarnation (e.g. Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate 3.16). This position was maintained by the medieval theologians, and was also affirmed by the Reformed theologians in the form of the so-called extra Calvinisticum (the view that Christ was not confined within the limits of a human person; see Calvin, Institutes II.13.4, II.14.2, IV.17.30). It should be noted that ‘emptied himself’ does not have to mean ‘emptied himself of something’; rather, it could be a metaphor, meaning something like ‘he made himself nothing’ in becoming human (Fee 2007: 383–384). Hence, this passage should not be taken as warranting the conclusion of ontological kenoticism, though it does not exclude it either.

Crisp (2007: 118–147) proposes that kenotic Christology can be subdivided into ontological and functional kenoticism. Ontological kenoticism can be subdivided into (i) ‘strong ontological kenoticism’, which claims that at the incarnation the Logos relinquishes his divinity altogether; and (ii) standard ontological account, which claims that the Logos relinquishes certain divine properties which are not essential to divinity. By contrast, functional kenoticism defends the weaker claim that the incarnation involves the Logos not exercising certain divine properties (Crisp 2007: 120). Defenders of kenotic Christology are not always as clear as they might be about whether they are defending an ontological or a merely functional account (Crisp 2007: 144 note 43). For example, Gore (1891: 159) seems to be affirming a functional kenosis by speaking of Christ as not exercising divine attributes such as omniscience; but others have observed that Gore wavers between a theory of divine abandonment and self-limitation (Torrance 2001: 212–213).

Strong ontological account is classically proposed by Gess (1856: 304–305), who suggests that the Logos ceased to be divine when he became a human at the incarnation. However, the postulation that a divine person ceased to be divine contradicts biblical theism (Ps 90:2), and the postulation that a mere human died on the cross jeopardizes the efficacy of the salvation which the Son had come to accomplish.

The standard ontological account is defended by Thomasius, Brian Hebblethwaite, Stephen Evans, Stephen Davis, and Ronald Feenstra. Davis (2006: 175–188) argues that looking at the incarnation is one fruitful way of discovering which properties of God and humans are essential and which are accidental. He proposes that properties like omnipotence, omniscience, etc. are essential properties not of being divine but of being divine simpliciter (i.e. being divine without also being human), and that Christ was truly divine but not divine simpliciter. Thus, Davis proposes that the Logos emptied himself, during the period of Jesus’ earthly life, of those properties that normally characterize divinity but which are inconsistent with humanity, but remained divine.

Ontological kenoticism offers a very simple solution for how Jesus could be divine and yet not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent at the same time. It also conveys ‘the great religious power and meaning that is intrinsic to the idea of a God who sacrifices and suffers with and on behalf of his creatures’ (Evans 2002: 249).

Nevertheless, it is contrary to scriptural passages which affirm that Christ is all powerful and all knowing, which implies that he did not give up the possession of these powers while incarnate. For example, Col 1:17 states that in him all things hold together, something which only an all-powerful person can do, while John 16:30 and 21:17 indicate that Christ has knowledge of all things. Nevertheless, Christ’s divine powers were largely ‘hidden’ during the incarnation, and he only chose to use some of his divine powers publicly on certain occasions to reveal his glory (e.g. John 2:1–11; Mark 4:35–41 and parallels). On many other occasions, Jesus’ mighty acts were said to be done in dependence on God the Father (e.g. John 5:19) and the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:28; Luke 4:16; 5:17; Acts 2:22; 10:38). By freely refraining from utilizing his omnipotence on these occasions and choosing to do these in dependence on God the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus demonstrated his unity with the will of YHWH (contrary to the accusation of the unbelieving Jews, he did not intend to displace the God of Israel but did things in his name), and to set an example in his role as a human being for believers to likewise rely on the power of God for their ministries.

Moreover, on the understanding of God as the greatest possible being for whom ‘all things are possible’ (Gen 18:14; Matt 19:26; Luke 1:37 etc.), many people would (justifiably) think that if a divine person was no longer omniscient and omnipotent he would no longer be divine. Hence, using ontological kenoticism as the ‘control’ for the doctrine of God in the way that Davis proposed seems problematic.

By contrast, according to functional kenosis, God Incarnate retained his divine powers but didn’t use all of them. As noted in section 1.2, an early reference to functional kenosis may be found in Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310–c. 367 CE). Functional kenosis is also indicated by Duns Scotus’ (Opus Oxoniense [Ordinatio] , I.3, dist.14, q.2, note 20) suggestion that Christ could have been aware of the time of his return, had he chosen, but he did not so choose. Likewise, Calvin’s Commentary on Matthew 24:36 states that the divine nature ‘did not at all exert itself’ and was (at least partially) ‘concealed’.

DPM can be regarded as a functional kenotic-kryptic account which develops Calvin’s insight. A divine person can refrain from exerting his omnipotence when he carries out certain activities, such as walking to a town in Samaria. One can therefore suggest that the Son of God did this by the finite strength of his human body instead of utilizing his divine powers, hence he could share in our human experience of fatigue as portrayed in John 4:3–6. Likewise, knowledge can be understood as a kind of power which one can refrain from utilizing. For example, a person might have knowledge of calculus, even though he might not be consciously thinking about calculus all the time. This knowledge of calculus can be said to be in his preconscious: when he chooses to utilize this knowledge by directing his attention to it, that is, when he chooses to consciously think about calculus, he can become aware of calculus. Since having knowledge of a certain thing such as calculus does not require a constant conscious awareness of that thing, the knowledge of all things by a divine Person does not require a constant conscious awareness of all things by him. Thus, it could be the case that a divine Person chose to let his knowledge of all things reside in his divine preconscious at the incarnation, and he freely chose not to utilize all of the knowledge in his preconscious, so as to consciously experience our human limitations. A divine person can use his omnipotence to ensure the restriction of the scope of his conscious awareness as well as the utilization of his omniscience, such that the Son was genuinely unaware of the day of his coming in this state of self-restraint. Thus, it was not a sham (Loke 2014: 140–141; cf. Tuggy 2023: 6).

3.3 The minds of Jesus and essential divine and human properties

As explained earlier in section 3.1, many theologians throughout history have recognized that the affirmation that Christ has a complete divine and human nature requires the affirmation that Christ has two minds, divine and human. TCM has no problem affirming that Christ has all the essential divine and human properties, but faces objections concerning the unity of Christ’s person. One consciousness ontological kenotic model faces problems maintaining that Christ has a divine mind. One consciousness functional kenotic model such as DPM affirms that Christ has a divine mind and a human mind, and the unity of Christ’s personhood is maintained in virtue of one unified consciousness. His experiences of, say, hunger, are to be regarded as part of his human mental life, while his experiences of, say, the ability to utilize his divine omnipotence are to be regarded as part of his divine mental life. Thus, the human and divine mental lives of Christ are distinct but not separate from one another. There was attribution of experiences to one personal subject (since only persons can have experiences; natures in their own right cannot), but these experiences were experienced through the divine or human natures. The question facing DPM is whether it can adequately maintain that Christ has a divine mind and a human mind with all the essential divine and human properties respectively.

Concerning human properties, Morris (1986) had earlier made the important distinctions between common and essential properties and between merely human and truly human, and he suggested that, while Christ might not have common properties of mere humans, he could still have the essential properties of humans and thus was truly human (but not merely human, because he was also truly divine). Different philosophers have different views concerning what is essential to human nature, and most Christian theologians would argue for the need for divine revelation to help us determine what the essential human properties are (Loke 2014: 78–79). The image-of-God properties, such as having the function and capacities for dominion over the earth and for fellowshipping with God, would be examples of such properties, and DPM affirms that Christ has these properties (Loke 2019: 53). Nevertheless, there are ongoing debates concerning whether DPM’s postulation that Christ’s conscious awareness of his ability to access the divine preconscious was miraculously sustained in him throughout his earthly life (Loke 2014: 132) is coherent with the biblical picture of Jesus and of humanity (Evans 2019; Crisp 2019; for response, see Loke 2019: 52–54).

Concerning divine properties, Loke (2014: 116) proposes that the incarnate Logos could have restricted his conscious awareness while still exercising control of all things (and hold everything together; Col 1:17) through his divine preconscious. He argues that the rich experience of unlimited conscious awareness is not essential to divinity; rather, the ability to have such an experience would be good enough, and according to DPM the incarnate Logos retained this ability. The giving up of such a rich experience can be understood as an act of sacrifice that is performed for our sake, which exemplified divine love and is in line with the scripture that ‘though he [Christ] was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9). Thus, DPM maintains the religious power of the kenotic theory which Evans (2002: 249) speaks about (see section 3.2). Nevertheless, strict classical theists who are committed to a strong notion of divine immutability, essential divine atemporality, and divine simplicity would not be able to accept DPM’s proposal concerning divine properties. Moreover, DPM (which uses the definition of a person as a centre of consciousness) seems to imply social trinitarianism. It is debatable whether this is compatible with Nicene thought. Those who hold to strict classical theism would answer in the negative, while others would argue that social trinitarianism is implied by various scriptural passages and is consistent with the Nicene Creed. See for example the discussion in Loke (2017b: 19–20); Ayres (2004); Hasker (2013); Nemes (2023); see also the discussion on the relationship between the concrete divine nature of Christ and other members of the Trinity in Loke (2014: 100–101).

4 Jesus’ wills: monothelitism versus dyothelitism and the controversy concerning Jesus’ impeccability

Despite the affirmation of dyothelitism at the Sixth Ecumenical Council, some Monothelites have continued to object that, if ‘will’ is understood as including a self-defining aspect of the soul, to assert that Christ had two wills would imply that Christ had two self-determining faculties. Having two self-determining faculties seems to imply having two selves, which would divide Christ into two persons. As Pannenberg argues: ‘With the doctrine of Christ’s two wills […] the perception of the concrete vital unity of Jesus was basically lost’ (1968: 294). Robert Jenson attempts to maintain this unity by claiming that

the one Christ lives his life as God and as a man, divinely and humanly, and his doings and sufferings cannot be sorted out into two differing sets of doings and sufferings […] Thus the role played by Jesus in the human story is at once a divine role and a human role. (Jenson 2005: 67)

The problem with Jenson’s view is that certain roles cannot be attributed to both natures. For example, being the sustainer of the universe (Col 1:17) can only be a divine role, not a human role, while submission to the authority of his human parents in his childhood (Luke 2:51) can only be a human role, not a divine role.

Bathrellos (2004: 174) proposes that the solution to the above dilemma is to maintain dyothelitism and avoid the consequence of Nestorianism, by employing the distinction between nature (and natural will) and person perhaps a little more consistently than Maximus the Confessor sometimes did. He notes that there are two different ways of interpreting Maximus. The first is to take Maximus as saying that the human will of Christ is moved by the divine will (Opusc. 3, 48A). Against this, Bathrellos suggests that Maximus identifies the Logos with his divine nature according to hypostasis and according to nature, which may have made him at times a little careless in distinguishing between the two (Bathrellos 2004: 172, note 410). He favours the second interpretation: the human will and the divine will are both moved by the willer (the enfleshed Logos). As Maximus writes: ‘[The enfleshed Logos] as God by nature willed the divine and fatherly [deeds] according to nature […] and the same again as man by nature willed the human [deeds] according to nature’ (Bathrellos 2004: 182, citing Maximus, Opusc. 7, 77C–80A). Hence, there are two self-determining faculties (the human and divine wills), but only one-self (the ‘willer’). This is consistent with scriptural passages, as well as the ‘Chalcedonian logic’, which imply dyothelitism, and it avoids Nestorianism.

The first interpretation fits TCM, while the second interpretation fits DPM’s postulation that Christ had one conscious and thus was one ‘willer’. Christ had a human will because the conscious had human properties that allowed the ‘willer’ to be influenced by desires natural to human nature (e.g. feeling of physical pain), and to act through his human body (e.g. through his hands and feet). Christ had a divine will, in that he had divine desires and determination as when he accessed a part of his divine preconscious and willed according to it. Therefore, the one ‘willer’ had a human self-determining faculty (in virtue of his conscious and part B of his preconscious) and a divine self-determining faculty (in virtue of his conscious having access to part A of his preconscious). Because he was one person, all the acts of Christ were the acts of his whole person. Nevertheless, some acts were willed and done in accordance with his human properties, e.g. eating, drinking. Some were willed and done in accordance with his divine properties and divine role, e.g. holding all things together (Col 1:17; this is not a human act according to scripture, contrary to McCormack’s [2021: 258] claim that ‘the God-human never acts otherwise than humanly’). Some were willed and done in accordance with both, e.g. the work of redemption. Critics question whether the second interpretation of Maximus can answer difficult questions concerning the freedom of Jesus’ human will and impeccability (Grössl 2021; for response see Loke Forthcoming). For further discussion on whether Christ’s human nature is fallen or unfallen, see Pawl 2020.

5 Relevance for the Christian community

The incarnation is foundational to the Christian understandings of God, creation, humanity, and salvation. These issues constituted an important setting for early christological debates. For example, the church fathers opposed the Gnostic disparagement of the physical world and body by defending the incarnation against their objections. The relevance for soteriology is indicated by Athanasius’ arguments (against the Arians) that Christ cannot save us unless he is truly divine and truly human, as well as Gregory of Nazianzen’s venerable claim that ‘for that which he has not assumed he has not healed’ (Letter to Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius). In this world of suffering, the gospel’s message that the divine Son of God came into the world to share in our sufferings and redeem us brings immense consolation and hope (Evans 2002), while the scriptural teaching concerning solidarity with Christ through participation in his suffering (1 Pet 4:12–19) provides an important response to the presence of evil. Thus, a lot is at stake for individual believers and the community of faith concerning the controversies surrounding the affirmation that Christ was one person with complete divine and human natures, minds, and wills. This importance was recognized by many church fathers, including Maximus, who was willing to sacrifice his life rather than renounce dyothelitism when persecuted by the monothelite emperor who cut off his tongue and hand. The topic is also relevant for the interpretation of the Eucharist, a central rite of Christian worship, as indicated by the controversy between Lutheran and Reformed theologians concerning the mode of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper (Arcadi 2018).

The person in the pew who seeks a deeper understanding of the Christian faith concerning the above-mentioned issues would be interested to consider the models which have been discussed previously. The acceptance of different models concerning Jesus’ mind(s) (two-consciousnesses versus one-consciousness model, ontological versus different forms of functional kenosis) hinges on the debates concerning different conceptions of essential divine properties (strict classical theism verses alternative conceptions of Christian theism), essential human properties, the unity of the person, and the doctrine of kenosis, and whether the model is able to answer the various difficulties such as those mentioned in this article. On the other hand, it might be argued that the incarnation is the culmination of divine revelation, and therefore ought to inform our understanding of God and humanity. Thus, if a particular conception entails a model of the incarnation that is shown to be inadequate on other grounds, then this counts as evidence against that conception.

A Christian might argue that the doctrine of the incarnation is grounded in historical evidence and scriptural revelation and thus should be accepted, while affirming how the incarnation happened is a mystery. Nevertheless, offering a defensible possible model of the incarnation can be helpful for addressing the accusation of incoherence by sceptics. It can aid the Christian’s understanding of scriptural passages relevant to the incarnation, and protect Christians against heretical notions. It can also be helpful for resolving longstanding interdenominational disagreements concerning the incarnation, such as those between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches, Dyothelites and Monothelites, and Lutherans and Reformed theologians, resulting in greater unity within the body of Christ. Hence, further work on this topic should be encouraged.


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  • Further reading

    • Bathrellos, Demetrios. 2004. Byzantine Christ: Person, Nature, and Will in the Christology of St Maximus the Confessor. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Crisp, Oliver D. 2007. Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Cross, Richard. 2019. Communicatio Idiomatum: Reformation Christological Debates. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Daley, Brian. 2020. God Visible: Patristic Christology Reconsidered. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Evans, C. Stephen. 2006. Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.
    • Loke, Andrew. 2014. A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation. London: Routledge.
    • Loke, Andrew. 2017b. The Origins of Divine Christology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Marmodoro, Anna, and Jonathan Hill (eds). 2011. The Metaphysics of the Incarnation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Morris, Thomas. 1986. The Logic of God Incarnate. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
    • Pawl, Timothy. 2016. In Defense of Conciliar Christology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Works cited

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    • Arcadi, James. 2018. An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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    • Ayres, Lewis. 2004. Nicaea and Its Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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    • Bathrellos, Demetrios. 2004. Byzantine Christ: Person, Nature, and Will in the Christology of St Maximus the Confessor. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Bauckham, Richard. 1999. God Crucified. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
    • Bayne, Tim. 2001. ‘The Inclusion Model of the Incarnation: Problems and Prospects’, Religious Studies 37: 125–141.
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