Whereas the Christian doctrine of the incarnation first came under threat from docetism, which denied that Christ had a real human body, Apollinarianism soon followed, with its denial that that he had a real human psychology.
Apollinaris was, by all accounts, a deeply spiritual man whose theology was in many respects perfectly orthodox. But he was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Constantinople in 381. He taught that although Christ took on a human body, he did not take on a human mind. ‘The logos became flesh’: but it was the logos himself who supplied the soul. Apollinaris appears to have been led to this conclusion by a dislike of the dualist position, according to which the incarnate Christ possessed two natures, one human and the other divine. To suggest that Christ had two minds and two wills would be hopeless incoherent, he claimed.
Although we can sympathise with Apollinaris’ position, its great flaw is that it denies the true humanity of Christ. Christ becomes a divine spirit united to human flesh. He is neither truly God nor truly man; but something in between.
Athanasius (who was a life-long friend of Apollinaris) opposed this teaching (without, it seems opposing Apollinaris himself) as early as 362 or thereabouts. But it was the two Gregories who addressed the problem most robustly. Gregory of Nazianzen, for example, asked how Christ could be regarded as truly human, if he lacked a human intellect, ‘which is the most essential part of man?’
If Christ did not become human, he did not save humanity. In the words of Gregory of Nyssa: ‘He therefore who came for this cause, that he might seek and save that which was lost…both finds that which is lost, and carries home on his shoulders the whole sheep, not its skin only, that he may make the man of God complete, united to the deity in body and in soul. And thus he was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin, left no part of our nature which he did not take upon himself.’
Christian orthodoxy affirms, then, that Christ had a truly human psychology as well as a truly human body. He perceived, remembered, and reasoned in the same ways that we do. His mind was subject to developed just like ours (Lk 2:52). It was subject to the same limitations (Mk 13:32). This latter passage has been something of a storm centre for Christology, with some early theologians regarding it as an Arian interpolation. Cyril of Alexandria affirmed that as the Word, Christ must have known everything. Gregory of Nazianzen agreed, adding that the concept of order within the Trinity teaches us that the Son has knowledge insofar as the Father reveals it to him.
A human intellect
It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus possessed supernatural knowledge (Jn 1:47; 4:18; 11;14; Mt 17:27; Lk 5:4-6; Mk 14:13). But to possess supernatural knowledge is not the same as possessing infinite knowledge. His supernatural knowledge came to him in the same way that it comes to us: by revelation (cf. 2 Kings 6:12). He knew as much as the Father chose to reveal to him. His mind was subject to ignorance, just as his body was subject to pain and fatigue. His mind was the same as ours, with the one vitally important caveat that it was untainted by sin.
But how does the omniscience of Christ as divine cohere with his ignorance as human? First, we must affirm that he was not ignorant of anything that he ought to have known. We need to assume that he knew all about physics, chemistry, history, and so on (or about eschatology!). But, as Mediator, he knew all that he needed to know. And this would have been a gradual, developmental, educative process. We may assume that he did not know the time of the parousia (Mk 13:32) because he and his people did not need to know. [Note also his apparent ignorance of who touched him, Lk 8:45f.] Second, it seems clear that his office of Mediator had to be fulfilled within the limitations of a human body, so it had to be fulfilled within the limitations of a human mind. He was tempted to over-ride these limitations (Mt 4:3) but refused to do so.
The limitation, adds Macleod, was surely
It is a real, though freely chosen, ignorance. And his knowledge, though limited, was unerring. But that is not to adjudicate on the question of whether his knowledge of the cosmos confirmed to ancient, or modern, knowledge.
‘Christ,’ wrote Calvin, ‘has put on our feelings along with our flesh.’ To deny this would be to deny his true humanity. It should cause us no embarrassment that our Lord felt terror in the Garden of Gethsemane. The temptation to be excused the anguish and agony of the cross was a real one.
We identify Jesus as ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’. But we should certainly not regard him as being without joy. He can scarcely have been guilty of the anxiety which he forbade in others (Mt 6:25). He would not have fallen short of Paul’s attainment of being content in all circumstances (Phil 4:11), or of the command to ‘rejoice always’ (Phil 4:4). He could not have been filled with the Spirit and yet lacked the Spirit’s joy (Gal 5:22). He did not give rest and consolation to others if he had remained depressed and miserable himself (Mt 11:28). In fact, we read of his deep and habitual joy in Lk 10:21; Jn 15:11 and Jn 17:13.
Apart from the brief but terrible moment of dereliction on Calvary, Jesus was ‘serene, contented and happy’.
Jesus also knew anger and indignation (Mk 3:5; 10:13). In Jn 11:33 his extreme outrage is best thought of as being prompted by the evil of death (so Warfield).
Then again, because he entered to fully into our human condition and experience, Jesus experienced profound grief and anguish, Jn 11:35; Lk 19:41; Mk 14:33. In Gethsemane, he felt the need for the comfort and prayers of his friends. In the end, in his grief and exhaustion he threw himself upon God, Lk 22:41ff; cf. Heb 5:7, and faced the will of God.
What horror he experienced as God raised his sword against him (Zech 13:7; Mt 26:31); as he identified with the sin of the world (2 Cor 5:21); as he suffered the wages of sin without a hilasmos, ‘totally exposed to God’s abhorrence of sin’; as he faced death without God, ‘deprived of the one solace and the one resource which had always been there’.
To be sure, there was a horror in Christ’s sufferings that he experienced precisely in order for us not to have to experience it. ‘What he faces in Gethsemane (the cost of atonement and redemption) we shall never face’.
Not even Gethsemane plumbed the emotional depths as deeply as did Golgotha itself (Mt 27:46). We cannot fathom the emotional depths of Christ’s God-forsakenness. But we may assume that it involved, among other things, the agony of unanswered prayer (compare the two verses, Psa 22:1f). What this unanswered prayer was, we can only guess:-
A human will
Did Christ have one will or two? This question was fiercely debated in the early centuries of the Christian church, with the Third Council of Constantinople of 680 finally affirming that in Christ there were two wills, distinct and yet inseparable, always working in harmony, with the human invariably subordinate to the divine. The debate is not merely academic: for
So it is that Scripture distinguishes between the will of Jesus and the will of God (Jn 6:38). Our Saviour consults not his own interests but those of others (Phil 2:4). The will of Jesus and the will of God were not identical; and in Gethsemane the dilemma became almost unbearably great. Jesus’ victory came from choosing his Father’s will rather than his own. ‘He willed what he did not want, embarking on an astonishing course of altruism’.
Sharing our environment
As Jn 1:14 teaches: ‘he dwelt among us’. He chose, not simply to be born, but to be born in humble circumstances.
Based on Macleod, The Person of Christ, 158-180.