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I want to know if there is an official Catholic ruling on the quotes that occur in the New Testament.

The belief is that Jesus is both 100% Man and 100% God.

So when we come across a direct quote from Jesus in the Gospels, do we take it as the speech of a mere human being or as the speech of God?

For example, I heard that Professor James R. White says that when Jesus was asked when the hour was, and he didn't know, and said only the Father knows ("But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." - Mark 13:32, NIV), this is because Jesus, as God, "emptied himself" of that knowledge. From this understanding it means that his quotes in the New Testament are seen as divine speech, and not the speech of a human.

Is there an official Catholic stance on this specific question?

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TL;DR

In short, when Jesus spoke, he did so as both man and God. However, his speech was an action of his human nature, not his Divine Nature.

Regarding the passages that seem to imply a subordination of Jesus to the Father, there is no “official” way to interpret them, but any interpretation must, of course, be consistent with the dogma of the perfect equality and consubstantiality (homoousios) of the Persons of the Father and the Son.

Background: Jesus Christ is true God and true man

As other posters have correctly mentioned, the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ is the Divine Person of the Word (or Son), and that, through the Incarnation, he assumed a human nature. (In this, the Catholic Church shares the exact same faith as all the Eastern Orthodox churches). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) puts it,

The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man (no. 464).

A full treatment of dyophysism (the orthodox view that Christ has two natures) is given in numbers 464-483.

What is a “nature”?

A word must be said about the terms “nature” (Greek: physis) and “Person” (Greek: hypostasis) which are borrowed from Aristotelian philosophy.

“Nature” (physis) in Aristotelian philosophy is a synonym for “essence” or “substance” (ousia, or more precisely, to ti en einai), which means “what a thing is simply because it exists”—in other words, a being that is both concrete and independent, as opposed to an accident or a constituent principle. (See Metaphysics 7, 3.)

Aristotle, however, calls essence physis when he considers it as the origin of of a thing’s actions. A man’s human nature is what produces his speech, his movements, and his thoughts—all of the actions (both spiritual and corporeal) characteristic of a man. (See Metaphysics 5, 5.)

Synthetically, “nature” (along with “essence” and “substance”) answers the question “What is it?” but the term emphasizes the role of the substance as origin of action.

Hence, when the Church Fathers asserted that Christ possesses a perfect human nature, they were simply saying that Jesus is man, and possesses every aspect of manhood (a human body and a human soul, with the capacites that go with them: intellect, will, and all the bodily capacities). Moreover, this human nature is what produced all of the actions that are charistic of human beings (human knowledge, human love, speech, laughter, eating, drinking, sleeping, and so on).

Likewise, when they assered that Christ posseses a Divine Nature, they mean that he is also fully God. That Divine Nature, moreover, is the origin of all the actions characteristic of God: creation, redemption, forgiveness of sins, miracles, and so on.

What is “Person” (“Hypostasis”)?

In Greek philosophy, hypostasis is the term that emphasizes the concreteness of a thing. Whereas “nature” and “essence” can sometimes (as a secondary meaning) be used as generic terms—just as even in modern parlance “human nature” can refer to what all human beings have in common—“hypostasis” always refers to the concrete individual. (See Summa theologiae Ia, q. 29, a. 2.)

In Trinitarian theology, the term hypostasis was assumed by the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa) to refer to what Western Christians call the Persons of the Trinity.

A Person or Hypostasis is a subject who can refer to himself as “I” and can answer the question “Who?”

It took some time for the Church to understand that the Hypostasis of the Word (or Son) is the very same Hypostasis of Jesus Christ (CCC 468).

Communicatio idiomatum

When we ask, “What is Jesus Christ?” the answer is, “God and man.” However, when we say “Who is Jesus Christ?” the correct answer is “God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity.”

Because his human nature is so closely united to his Divine Person—a union we call the hypostatic union, because the principle of unity is the very Person (Hypostasis) of the Word—we can attribute with all properness every one of Jesus’s actions to either one of his natures.

For example, it is perfectly correct to say “Jesus the man created the universe.” Likewise, it is perfectly correct to say “God spoke to the crowds in parables” or even “God died on the Cross on Good Friday.” This is possible because there is only one personal subject in Jesus: the Person (Hypostasis) of the Son.

This common attribution is what the Church Fathers called the communicatio idiomatum (which could be translated as the “communion of properties”).

However (recalling that nature is always the origin of a thing’s actions), Jesus’ actions originate from different natures.

Jesus the man created the universe, certainly, but he did it through his Divine Nature. God spoke and even died, but He did so in His human nature.

Jesus spoke as God and as man

In summary—and responding to the original question—Jesus Christ certainly spoke as both God and man.

He spoke as God, because he is a Divine Person, and that Person is the only personal subject in him. He spoke as man, because he possesses a complete human nature (including human body, human soul, and all the capacities proper to a man).

However, when he spoke, the origin of his speech—what directly produced the speech—was his human nature. Of course what he revealed in that speech came from his Divine Nature.

(Note that the ultimate origin of Christ’s human nature and the actions produced by it is, of course, his Divine Nature, because even Christ’s human nature—not his Divine nature!—was created.)

Regarding passages that seem to imply subordination

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even … the Son (Mt. 24:36)

Although there are many possibilites, the most plausible explanation for this saying (in my opinion) is that it was a Semitic hyperbole. In essence, Jesus is emphasizing (for modern audiences, to a ridiculous degree) that under no circumstanes will he reveal the day or the hour of his Second Coming.

Hence, this saying is to be taken figuratively. It is not intended to be a theological assertion about the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son, nor of the degree to which Jesus in his human nature shares in divine knowledge.

In other words, in my opinion, Jesus did know, but refused to reveal it.

In this opinion, I am following that of the of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament. (See the footnote for Matthew 24:36.)

The Father is greater than I (John 14:28)

This could be understood in two plausible ways:

  1. Jesus is referring to his current condition, in which he voluntarily “empties himself” (in the words of Phil. 2:7) by taking on a human nature. He will do greater works when he ascends into heaven. In other words, he is saying, in essence, “The Father is greater than I, as you are seeing me now, in my human nature.” (Keep in mind that in general Jesus chose not to use precise theologial or philosophical language.)

  2. When Jesus says the Father is “greater,” he is referring to the order of the Persons in the Trinity, not their consubstantiality. It is true that the Father is first, being the ultimate origin of the Processions.

As is typical in the Gospel of John, he may very well have meant both things at once.

(Again, I took this interpretation from the commentary on this verse found in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.)

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According to Catholic theology Christ has two wills (dyothelitism). His human will is distinct from the divine will (which is shared by the 3 persons of the trinity), but the two always act in harmony. From New Advent:

(1) There are Divine actions exercised by God the Son in common with the Father and the Holy Ghost (e.g. the creation of souls or the conservation of the universe) in which His human nature bears no part whatever, and these cannot be called divino-human, for they are purely Divine. It is true that it is correct to say that a child ruled the universe (by the communicatio idiomatum), but this is a matter of words, and is an accidental, not a formal predication — He who became a child ruled the universe as God, not as a child, and by an activity that is wholly Divine, not divino-human.

(2) There are other Divine actions which the Word Incarnate exercised in and through His human nature, as to raise the dead by a word, to heal the sick by a touch. Here the Divine action is distinguished from the human actions of touching or speaking, though it uses them, but through this close connexion the word theandric is not out of place for the whole complex act, while the Divine action as exercised through the human may be called formally theandric, or divino-human.

(3) Again, there are purely human actions of Christ, such as walking or eating, but these are due to the free human will, acting in response to a motion of the Divine will. These are elicited from a human potentia, but under the direction of the Divine. Therefore they are also called theandric, but in a different sense — they are materially theandric, humano-divine. We have seen therefore that to some of our Lord's actions the word theandric cannot be applied at all; to some it can be applied in one sense, to others in a different sense. The Lateran Council of 649 anathematized the expression una deivirilis operatio, mia theandrike energeia, by which all the actions divine and human are performed. It is unfortunate that the respect felt for the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita has prevented theologians from proscribing the expression deivirilis operatio altogether. It has been shown above that it is correct to speak of deiviriles actus or actiones or energemata. The kaine theandrike energeia, of Pseudo-Dionysius was defended by Sophronius and Maximus as referring to the Divine energeia when producing the mixed (formally theandric) acts; theandric thus becomes a correct epithet of the Divine operation under certain circumstances, and that is all.

The physical act of speaking (movement of air through vocal chords) is a product of the human will, but done in harmony with the divine will. Jesus states:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [John 5:19]

In the original ecumenical council, it says this:

He says, “When the Son says to the Father ‘Not what I will, but what thou wilt,’ what doth it profit thee, that thou broughtest thy words into subjection and sayest, It shews truly that his will was subject to his Father, as though we would deny that the will of man should be subject to the will of God? For that the Lord said this in his human nature, anyone will quickly see who studies attentively this place of the Gospel. For therein he says, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.’ Can this possibly be said of the nature of the One Word? But, O man, who thinkest to make the nature of the Holy Ghost to groan, why do you say that the nature of the Only-begotten Word of God cannot be sad? But to prevent anyone arguing in this way, he does not say ‘I am sad;’ (and even if he had so said, it could properly only have been understood of his human nature) but he says ‘My soul is sad,’ which soul he has as man; however in this also which he said, ‘Not what I will’ he shewed that he willed something different from what the Father did, which he could not have done except in his human nature, since he did not introduce our infirmity into his divine nature, but would transfigure human affection.

Most Protestants accept the authority of the first seven ecumenical councils and so would agree with the Catholic church on this issue.

FWIW: If you find this issue confusing you are not alone. If you want to know more about the subject from a philosophical perspective, consider: Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology.

  • I gave a up vote. I'd love a clearer answer such as "when Jesus speaks, he speaks both as man and God, because he is now and forever shall be, both man and God". – Marc Sep 8 '15 at 2:23
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Jesus is taught to be one divine person with two natures, one human and one divine. The two natures of Christ are inextricably bound together and so we cannot say that an action or saying of Jesus can be attributed to only one nature or the other. In Him, humanity and Divinity are perfectly and eternally united.

Because Jesus' humanity and divinity are united, not confused, we can attribute all the human actions of Jesus to his divine person. So, we know that we are encountering divinity in the events recorded in the Gospels, and not only humanity.

It is correct that Jesus has two distinct wills, but his human will is united, or can be can be said to be subject or obedient to, the will of the Father, which of course is in unity with Jesus' divine will as the third person of the Trinity.

Paragraphs 464-482 of the catechism also go into this in more detail.

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