Friday, November 08, 2019

Whole humanity

I've recently finished reading Rowan Williams' book Christ the Heart of Creation, which was stimulating and also one of the most complex pieces of work I've come across.  This post is not about the book - I'm not confident I understood it well enough - but is about the thought processes it kicked off for me.  I found it particularly helpful to reflect on the fact that we should be thinking of the Creator-creation, infinite-finite dualities on the basis of the Incarnation, and not coming up with an abstract model into which the Incarnation of the Lord then has to be made to fit.  Any consideration of the question which doesn't begin with Jesus will, I think, always fail to do justice to him.  Space cannot be made for him in a system which is not wholly derived from him.  To be honest, from my very limited understanding I'm not sure this book passes the test.  Although it aims to build on Christ, the analogia entis takes over, and the Incarnation seems to become just a specific example of the non-competitive co-existence of infinite and finite.  I'm not sure what the personal union means in this model.

If that didn't make any sense to you, don't worry about it.  I'm not sure it made much to me.

The significant question that I came away asking was this: what is the pastoral/discipleship significance of the fact that in the Incarnation the Word of God took on a whole human nature?  The Word did not replace a part of the humanity, creating a divine-human hybrid; nor did the Word over-ride the humanity of Christ.  In Jesus we have a real and entire human being, living out in time the eternal life of the Word of God.  What does it mean for us that he was a whole human being?

Of course, there is the central issue of salvation: that which Christ has not assumed, he has not healed.  In other words, it is important to us that Christ is a whole human being, because we are whole human beings wholly in need of salvation.  By taking on human nature whole and entire, Christ has redeemed whole human beings, leaving no part of them to the dominion of sin.

Then there is the fact that in taking on a whole human nature, Christ affirms the goodness of human life as created.  It is not as if there is a 'wicked bit' of human nature which needs to be cut away.  This is in fact too small a view of sin: the human as we know him or her is wholly ruined; they do not just need a few parts changing.  It is also too low a view of God's creation: he made humanity good, and though each human being we meet is now a glorious ruin they are nonetheless glorious.

This has an effect on how we think about life.  Think about the caricature of the monk, shutting off various aspects of human life - sexuality, appetite - as the source of temptation.  Or think about the more legalistic aspects of fairly recent evangelical culture, which in their desire for holiness - or perhaps more, their fear of sin - tried to shut out aspects of human existence.  Or think about the new convert who can't see the value in anything which isn't directly 'spiritual'.  That Christ took on a whole human nature is a warning and a rebuke to all these tendencies.

The Gospels seem particularly unembarrassed by Jesus living a normal human life.  It is noteworthy that the Gospel with the most obviously high Christology - that of John - also contains some of the most obviously 'human' in the life of Jesus.  It is not wrong to be human.  It is not wrong to engage in, and enjoy, culture and work and food and family and conversation and...  well, life.  God did not need feel the need to over-ride or over-write the human in Christ; nor does he in you and me.  Live richly and well, and be glad.


  1. I'll skip RW and keep reading your blog.

  2. Hi Dan, just popped by your blog for first time in years and chuckled at this line:

    "just a specific example of the non-competitive co-existence of infinite and finite" - as if such modes of operation or thinking were two a penny before christ was born of mary...

    If it helps, I think he's trying to say that it's *precisely* christology which drives us to understand the creation-creature relation in such terms, and that such a relation, properly understood, only becomes thinkable in light of specifically christological concerns.

    Anyway, merry christmas dan.


    1. Yes, I think that's what he's saying (but seriously, I found the book to be highly opaque, so could have got it all wrong). But that still didn't leave me clear on what Personal union means, or how it differs from the more general mode of divine-creature interaction (which we can only conceive by thinking about the incarnation).

      Ah well. Such complexities. Enjoy the festivities!