Friday, July 25, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - On Christ's Assumption of Human Nature

Having at least a mild grasp of my own limitations, I don't intend to cover everything that St. Thomas says about the Incarnation - a subject too deep for me. However, he does say some interesting things that I think I do grasp (at least a little) in his discussion of the union of the divine and human natures.

The single point I want to mention in this post is that Christ did not assume human nature in general, but rather a specific human nature.
The Word of God "did not assume human nature in general, but 'in atomo'"--that is, in an individual--as Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii, 11) otherwise every man would be the Word of God, even as Christ was (ST III Q2 A2 ad 3).

Now some might object that this means the Word assumed a person, because being a person is part of human nature. But St. Thomas says otherwise.
Yet we must bear in mind that not every individual in the genus of substance, even in rational nature, is a person, but that alone which exists by itself, and not that which exists in some more perfect thing. Hence the hand of Socrates, although it is a kind of individual, is not a person, because it does not exist by itself, but in something more perfect, viz. in the whole. And hence, too, this is signified by a "person" being defined as "an individual substance," for the hand is not a complete substance, but part of a substance. Therefore, although this human nature is a kind of individual in the genus of substance, it has not its own personality, because it does not exist separately, but in something more perfect, viz. in the Person of the Word.

This is consistent with Chalcedonian theology: "the union of the two natures took place in the Person."


Martin said...

Ok. When I first read this post I wondered how this would ever interact in my life. Then I was listening to a radio? commentary by Archbishop Sheen entitled, "Humanity of Christ". (

Two minutes into the lecture he says something I'm not sure I understand,(from memory)"Remember that the person of Christ is not capped with a personality".

He goes on to develop this point in that as Christ adopted a human nature thus everyone is an "implicit Christian" (he used the word "implicit" many times and with great emphasis.)

Archbishop Sheen would seem to be on the flip side of, "...The single point I want to mention in this post is that Christ did not assume human nature in general, but rather a specific human nature".

Martin said...

That url as a "tinyurl" is

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

I'm having a bit of difficulty at the moment putting my finger on the Church publication that says the same thing (I know I've seen it, but I can't remember where right now, and Google isn't helping much), but Maritain says something similar about non-Christians as Sheen - that they are either implicitly or potentially Catholic. You can see some snippets to this effect here.

I suspect, however - good Thomist that he was - that Maritain would not agree with Sheen if the Archbishop really did think that Christ assumed human nature generally. I don't know how one would escape the issues raised by St. Thomas about that. Since human nature implies having a body, and since Christ didn't have a body in some general sense but rather had a specific body, I can't see a way to avoid the problems associated with claiming otherwise. But maybe I'm just under-educated. :-)



Reginald de Piperno said...

Upon further reflection and re-examining what I wrote, I can't help but think that "specific" may be a lousy word choice, as though your human nature might differ from my human nature - which is crazy unless we're talking about the fact that my body differs from your body. The same would go for Christ - the point being that he was fully human, of course.

Sorry for the confusion.



Martin said...

Sigh, So little time. So few brain cells.

Maybe one question and a comment. What does St. T mean by the words, "personality" and "person"?

My understanding of St. T's words would be that he is refuting a pantheistic view, "we are all God because God assumed our nature".

My understanding of Abs. Sheen's words would be that Christ died for all thus all are (conditionally) saved. What his words hang on is "what conditions"? I could envision someone saying that all are saved unless explicitly rejecting Christ (as He has died for all our sins). Or perhaps all who implicitly accept Christ are saved. As the Church has remained deliberately quiet on this issue I'm not aware of anyone truly working out the "how" of how Christ would save the non-Christian.

In short, I now think St. T and Abs. Sheen are not talking to exactly the same issue.