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Related answered questions: Chalcedonianism is a moderate between Nestorianism and Monophysitism?, What does it mean that the two natures of Christ cannot be separated?, and Does the Chalcedonian definition mean Christ has two minds?

Related unanswered question: How would miaphysites approach monothelitism versus dyothelitism?

I know the Sixth Ecumenical Council affirms the orthodox position of the two wills of Jesus and rejects monothelitism. And the Chalcedonian definition states

One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ.

My understanding is that the indivisbility of the two natures means we can't attribute particular adjectives or actions that apply to the Person of Christ to the individual nature, though that may be its source. Such as, it would be incorrect to say that "Jesus' human nature died on the cross, but his divine nature did not." Or even "Jesus' divine nature is omnipotent, but his human nature is not." Though we may know that the source or origin of his omnipotence from his divinity, we cannot attribute omnipotence to Jesus' divine nature but the person as a whole. It seems the Chalcedonian definition supports this, unless "the properties of each Nature being preserved" implies the opposite of that.

By "attributing" a property, or perhaps "identifying" a property to be of one nature, I am referring to the accuracy of statements such as "Jesus' human nature slept, but Jesus' divine nature was always awake" (because "God never sleeps", Psalm 121:4). If we can't attribute a property to a particular nature, then we must stop at saying "Jesus slept" (the person of Christ) and cannot say anything in particular about what each individual nature experienced, though we perhaps could say that the origin of Jesus' ability to sleep is from his human nature. The same applies with Jesus' omnipotence. Perhaps we could say that the origin of Jesus' omnipotence is his divine nature, but we can only say that Jesus is omnipotent (not saying 1/2 of his natures is omnipotent).

The communication of properties between Jesus and God seem to come into play here, as well. If we can say that Jesus slept, then that means God slept. But, if only His human nature slept while His divine nature was awake, then perhaps we could escape concluding that God slept? Except that the Bible seems to be denote the person of Jesus with actions or adjectives, rather than an individual nature.

It seems like this being the case, we could only attribute the will of Jesus to the person of Jesus, and not either individual nature when the two are inseparable. It seems like the same arguments apply for His wills as for various adjectives. "Jesus wouldn't be 'fully' human if he didn't have a human will." "Well, Jesus wouldn't be 'fully' human if he wasn't limited in knowledge, and yet he possesses omnipotence." Or something like that. Take the claim "Jesus can't be fully human without a human will;" why can't Jesus be fully human because He has a will as a person? As in, a will that is attributed to the person of Christ rather than to his individual human nature. I don't get how that wouldn't fulfill the "fully human" requirement. It seems that to say otherwise is just based on how we define what "human" is (which of course would be important).

If we can't attribute adjectives or actions to either individual nature, why can we attribute wills to the individual nature? How is that not separating the two natures that should be indivisible? From a typical orthodox Trinitarian view, I want to know how this doctrine is properly formulated in light of these concerns, whether through Church creeds or early church fathers or theologians of the day or through someone's explanation.

Edit: suggested from comments below, how do do we know it is acceptable to attribute a property to one nature and not the other given that the two natures are inseparable? What does it mean for them to be inseparable if you can identify properties of each individual nature rather than the Person?

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    My understanding of standard Catholic doctrine (and scholastic philosophy) is that the will is an aspect of one's nature. (The intellect is also an aspect of one's nature.) In contrast, the actions that one performs are actions of a person, not of a nature. – Andreas Blass Sep 18 '18 at 17:41
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    "It seems the Chalcedonian definition supports this, unless "the properties of each Nature being preserved" implies the opposite of that." I think it is the opposite, because you can definitely say he died in his human nature, is not omniscient in his human nature, etc. – curiousdannii Sep 18 '18 at 22:32
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    How do we know it is acceptable to attribute a property to one nature and not the other given that the two natures are inseparable? What does it mean for them to be inseparable if you can identify properties of each individual nature rather than the Person? – Alex Strasser Sep 19 '18 at 1:49
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    @AlexStrasser Those would be good questions to add into the post. It would also help a bit if you could add some quotes that get to the issue of attributing, because that language isn't in Chalcedon, I don't think. – curiousdannii Sep 19 '18 at 2:43
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    I don't think so, the questions are all closely connected. – curiousdannii Sep 19 '18 at 3:42
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Since I answered one of the original questions, I'll try answering here in a similar vein.

First:

Take the claim "Jesus can't be fully human without a human will;" why can't Jesus be fully human because He has a will as a person? As in, a will that is attributed to the person of Christ rather than to his individual human nature. I don't get how that wouldn't fulfill the "fully human" requirement. It seems that to say otherwise is just based on how we define what "human" is (which of course would be important).

Indeed that is an option. Some modern philosophers have decided that the council got it wrong and have decided to opt for monothelitism instead, while still accepting the hypostatic union. For example, William Lane Craig and JP Moreland in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, and Garret J. DeWeese's essay One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation, where he quotes A. H. Strong:

The Logos did not take into union with himself an already developed human person, such as James, Peter, or John, but human nature before it had become personal or was capable of receving a name. Christ's human nature realized its personality only in union with the divine. At Jesus' conception the two natures vitally united to form one person with a single consciousness and will. Jesus' consciousness and will were ... always theanthropic -- an activity of the one personality which unites in itself the human and the divine.

In that same essay DeWeese admits that this model is explicity monotheletic, but suggests that the council may have had a different metaphysical understanding of "will" and so says: "it is not at all clear that this proposed contemporary model entails the view that was condemned in 681." (though this is a controversial claim and an active area of debate)

Now onto some of the questions:

If we can't attribute adjectives or actions to either individual nature, why can we attribute wills to the individual nature? How is that not separating the two natures that should be indivisible?

I agree when you said

it would be incorrect to say that "Jesus' human nature died on the cross, but his divine nature did not."

However we can say "Jesus died on the cross (in his human nature)" or "Jesus died on he cross (through his human nature)" In fact holding these things in tension is essential for Christian theology. "Jesus died" and "God is the only eternal, necessary being" are both true. The hypostatic union is an attempt to unravel that apparent contradiction.

But, if only His human nature slept while His divine nature was awake, then perhaps we could escape concluding that God slept? Except that the Bible seems to be denote the person of Jesus with actions or adjectives, rather than an individual nature.

Yes indeed. There are two ways to tackle this:

  1. Divine Kenosis: whereby the Word voluntarily gave up divine attributes and emptied himself to assume human attributes

  2. Divine Krypsis: whereby the Word voluntarily self-limits himself and only takes advantage of human attributes

    DeWeese again:

    the contemporary model explains the "self-emptying" as Christ's voluntary self-limitation to exercise his personhood through his human nature, gaining information about the world through the perceptual faculties of his human body, learning and storing memories through the instrumentality of his human brain, living a perfect human life by his perfect obedience and complete dependence on the Holy Spirit

(Radical kenosis has theological and philosophical problems that make it incompatible with Orthodox Christology)

So to come back to the question, we can attribute actions to an individual nature, but not merely a nature, but to a person through a nature.

Oliver Crisp (whose book I cite in the previous answer) offers one way to understand nature in this context:

(1) Human natures do not exist independently of human beings. (Human natures are concrete particulars) (2) Christ has a human nature in addition to a divine nature (3) The human nature of Christ exists because the Holy Spirit brings it into being. (4) This human nature of Christ does not exist independently of the theanthropic person of Christ.

Here it is the case that human natures do not exist independently of human persons, because human natures are concrete particulars. And this is the case for all human natures, not just the human nature of Christ. What is assumed at the Incarnation, according to this view, is a particular human nature, not merely human nature per se.

There are other ways of understanding "nature", but I think this view may help answer your questions:

How do do we know it is acceptable to attribute a property to one nature and not the other given that the two natures are inseparable? What does it mean for them to be inseparable if you can identify properties of each individual nature rather than the Person?

The two natures are joined in the one person of Christ. We can separate them theologically to try and understand them (to some degree), and we can nuance our theological language, but they can't be separated in reality. When the word became flesh the divine nature and the human nature were linked together, and that link will never be broken. When Christ rose again and ascended into heaven, he didn't lose his human nature.

And the human nature that Christ assumed never had (and never will have) an independent existence. Human natures cannot exist apart from human beings. And since the Word, the second persons of the trinity, had a divine nature before the Incarnation, the divine and human natures of Christ must coexist.

So they can't be separated, but we also have to be careful about confusing them. Because, as you said, properties of the human nature can't be applied to the divine, and vice-versa, properties of the divine nature can't be applied to the human.

But we can apply those properties to the one person who has both natures, in the careful, nuanced way Chalcedon is trying to get at.

  • Really good answer. I was just doing some more reflection on it. So, am I correct in understanding that "kenosis" in the most general sense is accurate, but what I've seen termed "kenotic theory" and what you have termed "radical kenosis" is the problematic view? Or would you suggest forget kenosis altogether for a proper understanding of krypsis? (Edit in answer would probably help future readers too) – Alex Strasser Oct 30 '18 at 11:49
  • Kenosis comes from Philippians 2: "Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." Krypsis is a theologically conservative philosophical interpretation of the verse meant to preserve Christ's divine attributes. The fundamental problem with a radical kenosis, is that if Christ loses his divine attributes, he can no longer be divine, since those attributes are necessary for divinity – Caleb Oct 31 '18 at 1:47
  • so you're saying that "radical" kenosis is the one that says Jesus lost his divine attributes or his divinity..? I know the loss of divine attributes or divinity is wrong. But just saying "kenosis" does not imply a loss of divine attributes, is that correct? Your definition in the answer says that kenosis means that Jesus gave up his divine attributes, which would imply that kenosis is always wrong. – Alex Strasser Oct 31 '18 at 4:39

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