Just a few days ago, my father celebrated his birthday. Thus began the birthday season of my family. The next birthday is mine, followed by my mother, my aunt, and then my sister. Another aunt of mine just had a birthday a few days before my father. As with every birthday comes the need to buy presents. We give gifts to the person whose life is a gift to us. At Easter time, we celebrate the most marvelous exchange of gifts: Jesus gives us His Divinity in exchange for our human sinfulness. This is the most wonderful of doctrines of the Church.
We take for granted the doctrines of Jesus Christ. We think that we understand them enough, but do we really? When I was at St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, PA, I was blessed to study these doctrines more carefully. I did not understand them enough prior to seminary, and many people do not grasp their value. I would like to share with you the doctrine of “hypostatic union”. This doctrine teaches us that Jesus Christ possessed 100% divine nature, and 100% human nature, all at once within His “Divine Person”. Make sense?
Why is this doctrine important? Remember that doctrines are written not because a Bishop made it up out of thin air. Doctrines are written after careful examination of the witness of Jesus’ life. We receive that witness testimony through the Apostles who were present during Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection. They saw Him Ascend to Heaven. They received authority as Church leaders, receiving the Holy Spirit for this purpose. This eyewitness testimony was passed down orally and then written down. This eyewitness testimony about Jesus served as the criteria for which New Testament writings were included in the Scriptures, and which were not. Therefore, the Scriptures are a sure standard for understanding who Jesus was and is. The Apostolic witness and the Scriptures teach us Hypostatic Union.
Let’s break down Hypostatic Union, and examine its importance:
Jesus is 100% Divine (God): The person of Jesus Christ – the one who was conceived of Mary, walked the Earth, died, Rose, and Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven – is God. Through Christ, all things were made – all things visible and invisible. Jesus Christ is eternal. Christ always had the vision of the Father in sight (we call this the Beatific Vision). Jesus had foreknowledge. Jesus commanded the powers of control over nature. Jesus had the power to overcome death. Jesus is just as much God as His Father (remember He said, “The Father and I are one – that is – one in being – consubstantial).
Jesus is 100% Human: Jesus Christ was like us in all things, but sin (and that is because He chose not to sin. He could have sinned, as demonstrated in His Temptation by Satan). Jesus took His humanity from His Mother, Mary (a perfect humanity without original sin from the Immaculate One). Jesus ate, slept, cried, laughed, made friends, was rejected, scraped his knees, tripped over his feet, was an object of all range of human judgments and emotions, etc. Jesus had to be raised as a child like any other. He had to work like any other person. He had to have the same experiences of any other man of his day. His death was a human death. His Body really died on the Cross (while His Divinity did not). His human body rose again physically from the tomb. He was no ghost. His Body Ascended to Heaven. In heaven, at the Father’s right hand, Jesus is present, with the glorified body that rose from the tomb that first Easter day. Jesus will come again in that same glorified body (I wonder if it will look the same?).
How do we bring these two things into harmony with each other? How can someone be eternal, yet born in time? How can someone know all things, yet need to be taught by parents? How can someone control nature, yet be executed? How can an eternal Divine Person have a body in Heaven? How could a Divine Person die? How could one with a human nature rise from the Dead?
These are great questions! We will discuss them in part 2 of this article, which will be published on Easter Sunday. May these theological questions at the heart of our Christian faith lead you to more profound prayer during this Holy Week. God bless you!