Jesus Christ, the Person
1. Who is Jesus?
Often today, when asked the question "Who is Jesus?" Catholics reply: "Jesus is the son of God". While such a statement is true as far as it goes, it does not explain fully enough who Jesus really is. The problem is that we are all sons and daughters of God yet we are not God. So, while Jesus is the son of God, He is also God the Son. It is the second part of the statement "...God the Son..." which gives the real clue to understanding the person of Jesus. Unfortunately, some theologians today have downplayed Jesus' divinity. They stress His human qualities; His compassion, love, justice, social conscience and so on. In doing so they deny the fact that Jesus was not just a good man, not just someone chosen by God to do a special mission in Palestine. In fact, Jesus is God Himself.
The name Jesus means in Hebrew "God saves". The name Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word "Messiah" which means "Anointed". Saint John tells us that this is the divine name which alone brings salvation (John 3:5). Kings, priests and prophets were anointed as a sign of their special calling. Jesus was unique in that he was at one and the same time priest, prophet and king. Jesus is a member of the Holy Trinity, truly God. St. Irenaeus of Lyons would say: "...in the name of Christ is understood he who anoints, he who has been anointed, and the anointing itself by which he has been anointed: He who anoints in the Father, he who has been anointed is the Son, and he has been anointed in the Spirit, who is the anointing." (Adv. Haer, III,18,3)
2. Jesus Christ is True God and True Man
This teaching is, to our human minds, impossible. It is a mystery of the Faith, one which we will never fully understand. Nevertheless, through His Church, Jesus has taught us about this profound mystery.
The Church teaches that Jesus Christ is one person having two natures. This, itself, is contrary to our human experience. We see everything around us as having a nature, but only one nature: the tree has the nature of a tree, the man has the nature of a human being, a rock has the nature of a rock. The nature of a thing indicates the kind of thing it is. Logically, every created thing has one nature, its own particular nature. No created thing has two natures or it would be two things at one time, which is impossible.
Accordingly, the tree does not have the nature of a man, nor the man a rock's. Nevertheless, we are taught by the Church that Jesus has two distinct natures in one person. We are taught that Jesus Christ has a Divine nature, as God; and a human nature as man. Just as the tree is not a rock, so the natures of man and God are distinct, not blurred together. Yet the Church teaches that in one person, in all time, since His conception in the womb of a human mother, these natures are united by being in the person of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus possesses fully the nature of God and the nature of man we can describe Him as true God and true man.
Because Jesus possesses fully the nature of a man, He has a human body and soul. Furthermore, His human soul, like ours, has intellect and will. (He is like man in all things but sin). But Jesus has the infinite intellect and will of God as well as the intellect and will of a man. He is one divine person having two natures, the human and the divine. As the fifth century Athanasian Creed put it:
"He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in His divinity but he is inferior to the Father in His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two but one Christ.And He is one, not because His divinity was changed into flesh, but because His humanity was assumed into God. He is one, not at all because of a mingling of substances, but because He is one person."
In the gospels we see Jesus demonstrating that He possesses the divine knowledge and will of God when He said, "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58). Yet He shows His human will when, in agony in the garden of Gethsemene, He cries, "Not my will but thine be done." Luke 22:43)
In the year 553 AD, the Second General Council of Constantinople decreed:
"We think that God the Word was united to the flesh, each of the two natures remaining what it is. This is why Christ is one, God and man; the same, consubstantial (homoousios) with the father as to the divinity and consubstantial with us as to the humanity." (D.S. 430, N.D.620/8).
It is intriguing to consider that one letter in a word can make a great difference. Arianism, one of the most devastating heresies to befall the Church, focussed on the difference of one letter in one word. As can be seen from the above quotation the Greek word homoousios means that Jesus is "one in substance (i.e. nature)" with the Father; clearly being God as the Father is God. The Arian heretics, on the other hand, wanted the word homoiousios. By inserting the mere letter "i" into the word, its Greek meaning became "similar in substance" with the Father (homo = same, homoi = similar). This denied the certainty of Christ's divinity.
Incidentally, the Arian heresy, that Jesus was not eternal God, but only a creature made out of nothing, swept through the entire Church in the fourth century, affecting in one way or another almost every Catholic, lay, priest and Bishop. The Council of Nicea (325), attended by some 220 bishops, condemned this heresy and gave us the creed which is now called the Nicene Creed.
3. Did Jesus Know He was God?
A belief which is occasionally challenged, even today, is that Jesus knew that He was God. Some argue that Jesus grew in the knowledge that He was God, but was not born knowing this. As can be seen from the argument above about Jesus being truly and fully God from His conception, since Jesus was truly God knowing all things, He must have been born knowing all things, including that He is God. If He were born not knowing this, then He could not be God.
The only real objection to this belief is based on the human idea that a baby is born knowing virtually nothing. How, people ask, could Jesus be a baby and yet know that He is God? The answer is that it is just as easy for God to be a baby as it is for Him to be an adult man. In each case, the infinite God takes on a limited, weak human nature at the same time that He is infinite God.
Pope Pius XII taught, in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis ("The Mystical Body" - 1943): "By means of the Beatific Vision (the sight of God in Heaven), which He enjoyed from the time when he was received into the womb of the Mother of God, He has for ever and continuously had present to Him all the members of His mystical Body, and embraced them with His saving love." (N.D. 661).
In other words Jesus possessed, in His human soul, the same immediate vision of God which all the saints and angels in heaven have. This means that Jesus was, at the same time, both a pilgrim on earth like us and a possessor of the immediate vision of God. Even His human nature is endowed with an abundance of supernatural gifts. He knows all things - past, present and future.
Jesus, throughout the Gospels, claimed to be the Son of God. When He spoke of His relation to God He said "My Father" (Matthew 25:34 and 26:29; Luke 2:49 and 24:49; John 20:17.) When He spoke of the disciples' relation to God, He said "Your Father". Even when teaching the "Our Father", He told the disciples how they were to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9).
Jesus knew that He was sublime over all creatures, men and angels.
He transcends the Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament (Matthew 12:41).
The angels are His servants. They appear and minister to Him (Matthew 4:11, Mark 1:13).
In Matthew 23:34 and Luke 11:49, He asserts of Himself what in the Old Testament is said of Yahweh, making Himself equal to God.
He describes Himself as the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5)
There can be no doubt, from a reading of the gospels and study of the Church's interpretation of these passages. Jesus clearly claims to be God.
4. Jesus claims to be God:
Mt16:13ff "Who do, people say I am?....Who do you say I am? Blessed are you....."
Mt 26:63ff " Caiaphas: "I adjure you by the Living God that you tell us if you are the Christ the Son of God. Jesus said: Thou hast said it.... and you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God."
Jn 19:7 The Jews said: "He ought to die because He made himself the Son of God."
Lk 10:22 He claimed equality with God. "All things are given to me by my father; no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom He chooses to reveal Him."
Mt 25:31 He claimed to sit in judgement on all mankind. "The son of Man will come in His majesty and all the angels with Him ... and all the nations shall be gathered together before Him, and He shall separate them one from another."
Mt 5:22 "You have heard it said ... but now I say to you."
Jn. 10:30-33 "I and the Father are one" The Jews were about to stone Him because "being a Man He made Himself God."
Jn 5:17-21 "He said God was His Father, making himself equal to God."
Jn 5:18 to Nicodemus. "He who does not believe, believes not in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
5. A Deeper Understanding
When we understand the two natures of Jesus we can come to a deeper personal understanding of Him and commitment to Him in prayer and sacrifice. We can see how God could truly die for us, the greatest act of self-giving any person can make. Yet we know that God cannot die; that it was only after becoming man that Christ was able to die. In fact it was in order to die for us that God did become man.
On the other hand, it is as God that Jesus is also the Creator of the Universe. He is the unique personal union (Hypostatic Union) of God and man intimately bound supernaturally and mystically. The perfect man upon whom to base our lives. Yet He is a real person who experienced human life, suffering and death and is thus able to share our human pain and worries.
Listening to a cassette tape about the Blessed Eucharist recently I was struck by the story told by a American speaker. He asked his audience what they would do if they heard on the six o'clock news that Jesus was going to come to their neighbourhood that night. He would actually be out in the street just down from their home. Naturally they would race out to enjoy the privilege of seeing Him and talking to Him.
We who believe in the divinity of Christ have that unique privilege. We know that although Christ is spiritually present as God everywhere around us, He is also physically present nearby in His Body and Blood, God and man. In every tabernacle in every Catholic Church in the world, this same infinite, eternal, omnipotent and all-loving God/man is really physically present just as He was after the Resurrection. He is available to us. We can enter His physical presence and be as close to him as the Apostles were during His life. Whereas they saw Him with their eyes, we can see Him with the eyes of faith. We need only enter a Catholic Church and we enter the physical presence of the mighty king, Lord of the Universe who lived as a humble village carpenter, suffered, died and rose again for us.
Perhaps we could visit Him more often.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity