All That I Have Written Is Straw. . .

Meanderings of a Catholic Devout

Battling out heresy.

with 8 comments

A few days ago, a couple of colleagues of mine were debating before our final exam about Christ. Believe it or not, the debate was intentional to help us understand the exam. I made a comment that sounded heretical from a Christological point-of-view, for which my colleagues thankfully corrected me. I still want to jot out my thoughts on the matter because perhaps what I said may have been heretical-sounding, but my intention was not.

The thought I was reflecting upon concerned freedom and obedience of Christ. In Christology, one comes to study such questions and all the profound interpretations of it. In Catholicism, we (I) believe that Christ is completely free and he is also 100% obedient, too. My colleague K— expressed her frustration with understanding how that statement could be logically true: If Christ has divine knowledge, or even just Beatific vision in the least, then he was obedient out of necessity and not truly free to choose sin.

Thomas Aquinas, Bernard Lonergan, etc. all argue that Christ could NOT have sinned, for it is impossible for God to sin. Good cannot be non-existent, so if God is good, then He cannot choose evil. And if Christ = God and God = Christ, then Christ could not have sinned.  If such is the case, how then, could Christ be free? Of course, there are discourses on this matter alone. My thought is that we are misunderstanding freedom.  I think K— was defining “freedom” as the “choice” to do whatever, particularly in this case, to sin. But that isn’t what “freedom” really is. . . [I digress on another matter. . .]

Then I thought of Jesus hanging on the cross. I was expressing to her the awe I felt about reflecting on the incredible “self-restraint” Jesus must have had when the passers-by mocked him and demanded that if he was the Son of God, he should save himself and come down. But his obedience to the Father’s plan kept him there, in agony. I said that I bet his human will wanted to come down (to which they accused me of making a heretical statement because that would be equivalent to stating that Christ had two wills that wanted different things—that his human will was inferior to his divine will and that, they believed, put my statement on par with the most infamous Nestorians.)  But, of course, I don’t believe that. I was only pondering if Jesus, as a human being, ever had a thought to come down from his cross in fear, or maybe in some righteous type of “I’ll-show-you” moment.  But also, that comes full circle.  That thought is rather vindictive, not righteous at all. And vindictive anger is sinful anger. And, as I mentioned above, Christ could not have sinned.

So I still ponder, what did Christ the man feel on the cross about being mocked?


Written by Written Straw

May 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Just for conversation sake, how would one answer the question about Jesus praying for the cup that he was going to face to pass (the cup that led to the cross), but nevertheless for the Father’s will to be done?

    Eugene Adkins

    May 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    • I don’t doubt that Jesus, the man, felt fear. Fear isn’t sinful. But his human will absolutely had to align with his divine will, otherwise it wouldn’t have been a free choice to accept his cup, his Passion, and perhaps meaningless. Does that make sense or am I just wandering down a dark path?

      Written Straw

      May 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm

      • No, I agree with you that fear in and of itself isn’t sinful. It’s the fear that overcomes and not the fear that is overcome that becomes sin (Rev. 21:8).

        What do you think of the fact that Jesus’ will had to align with the Father’s will to begin with, as can be seen in our conversation, when it comes to his freedom of will?

        What I mean is that I believe whole heartedly that Jesus was tempted to not go through with his passion. Just look at his first prayer in the garden, and also how Jesus told Peter – “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt. 26:53) If it were not possible I do not believe Jesus would have mentioned it.

        Of course Jesus immediately answered this possibility by saying, “How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Mt. 26:54) For sure no less than two things kept Jesus on the cross through the pain and torment of it all – the fact that the scriptures could not be broken (John 10:35; Luke 24:44-46), and his love for lost souls (Luke 19:10, 23:24).

        I think you’re right that it took incredible self-restraint to take the scourging and remain on the cross (Hebrews 5:8,9). But still yet, do you think the fact that Jesus’ will had to align, and was not “automatically” aligned (as we both agree to be true) means that Jesus could have refused to do the Father’s will? What I am saying is, in light of Hebrews 4:15, could Jesus had refused by giving into the temptation to not go to the cross or stay on it?

        I’ll stop here because I don’t want to write a book 🙂

        Eugene Adkins

        May 11, 2012 at 5:39 am

  2. What you ask is exactly the objections that my colleague and I were struggling with. If Jesus necessarily had to obey the Father’s will, then how is that freedom? If knowing what the Father’s will is–Beatific vision–are you still free to disobey? Also–what was the point of Jesus being tested by Satan if he wasn’t capable of sin? In my Christology course, we were discussing this scenario and the example my professor, who is a Lonergan expert, gave was this (based on Lonergan): At Gethsemane, Jesus was not tied to a rock waiting to be arrested. He could have fled. Would fleeing have been sinful? No–it wouldn’t have hurt anyone. For all we know, it might have only prolonged his ministry, more people might have been healed. . . we can speculate all we want. It was his human choice to stay. . . to align his will to the Father’s plan. I think that choice of his confirms his sinless human state all the more.

    As to my thoughts on why Jesus needed to be tested by Satan (Mk. 1:12-14), I will never truly understand, I don’t believe. I speculate the scenario to be much like a game, though, and I trust that God is just. What I mean to say is that when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to disobey through pride, Satan spat in God’s direction. It obviously wouldn’t have been just if God just smited Satan when he fell as it wouldn’t have been just if God simply banished Adam and Eve from mere existence at their disobedience. So to defeat Satan at his own game, God had to incarnate himself to make it a level playing field for it to be truly just. Thus, when the Son of God is Incarnate, he was subject to the emotions of human kind and Satan knew this. I think Satan understands the weakness of the flesh very well, but not quite as well as God. How merciful is that, that God would “desecrate” (for lack of a better word) himself to take our diminished form and defeat evil in our capacity? Not only is Satan “shown up,” but so are we, in a way. To do it any other way would have been less just. I get this image of a victorious gladiator defeating a lion with one hand tight tied behind his back. You probably get the point. . .

    I once read in OSV (I think): The cross is where justice and mercy meet. Because God is just, the price for sin had to be paid. But because God is merciful, he paid the price himself.

    Me, too–I could write a speculative book!!

    Written Straw

    May 11, 2012 at 8:34 am

    • I believe when it came to doing the Father’s will upon the cross Jesus did have a choice: save mankind from sin or leave us in it. There was only one way to save us and that way (because of the prophecies) led to the cross.

      If Jesus would have had no choice I do not believe he would have said, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).

      I believe if Jesus had fled from the garden then our chance of salvation, according to the scriptures, would have been lost. Think about all the prophecies that were hinging on this one moment. The prophecies about Judas’ betrayal and all the aspects surrounding it, the disciples fleeing, his justice being taken away, the Jews and gentiles coming together to take counsel against God’s annointed, the timing of the holy day of the Passover that led to specific actions toward Jesus’ death and even after he died, and even later on the day of Pentecost and the establishment of the church, and so, so much more all hinged on whether or not Jesus stayed or left the garden.

      I believe as you, at least I think you believe, that it would have been pointless for Jesus to be tempted/tested if it were impossible for him to fail it. Either Jesus was 100% human or he was not. If he was 100% human then he could have failed, but if he was not 100% human then how could Hebrews 4:15 and Hebrews 5:7-8 be completely honest.

      Your last paragraph reminded me of Romans 3:25-26 – “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

      Although I know that we would not agree on very many other things I have enjoyed the conversation, so thanks for the dialouge.

      Eugene Adkins

      May 11, 2012 at 7:46 pm

  3. As to what he did say — that is, as to his positive teaching about the will of God — it seems likely that although it was related closely to his thinking about the coming kingdom, it was not in the usual sense eschatologically conditioned; indeed, quite the contrary. Jesus’ ethic was a universal, not an “interim,” ethic. Far from belonging to the moment, it belonged to eternity. Jesus is concerned with the absolute, pure will of God without compromise in view of the conditions of human life and without concessions to human finitude and sin.(I have found helpful Dibelius’ statement on pp. 47 ff. of The Sermon on the Mount [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1940]). The meaning of perfect goodness, it is safe to say, will never be seen more clearly or described more adequately than he saw and described it. The supreme greatness of Jesus as an ethical teacher does not lie in his skill as a casuist — that was a role he did not essay — but in his vision of the perfect will of God and in the clarity with which he saw that man in every moment of his existence is amenable to no standard short of that perfect will.

    mercadeo internet

    May 12, 2012 at 2:47 am

    • Interesting reference–I will check the book out. This really is an issue that I struggle to understand and I want to be able to have a firm, non-heretical grasp on it. I believe so that I may come to understand.

      Written Straw

      May 22, 2012 at 8:25 am

  4. I wanted to follow up with the comments from the professor of this class after I forwarded this blog to him:

    “Of course, Christ did have two natural wills, a divine will and a human will. The contrary would be monothelitism, a heresy in the line of monophysitism. But they were always ordered together.

    The essence of freedom is being able to choose between different real alternatives, which may both be good. The possibility of sin does not make the free choice free; in other words, it doesn’t have to be a choice between good and evil, but between two possible goods.There are, of course, special problems with Christ, because (1) he cannot fail, since a divine person cannot embrace what is evil, and (2) he knows his own future in his beatific knowledge (at least, he does if you believe, as I do, that he enjoyed beatific knowledge in his earthly life).”


    Written Straw

    June 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

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