Subjectivity and the Hypostatic Union


One of the major difficulties in thinking through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the problem of single or dual subjectivity. The first holds that the subject of every action in the Incarnation is the divine Word of God. Thus we say that God is born, God eats, and God dies and rises. If we were to ask Jesus who He is, in His response of “I AM…” the “I” is the “I” of the Logos, the second person of the Trinity.

This causes some problems and seems to lead us toward a deficient humanity in Christ. The human “I” that each of us is, seems to be lacking in Christ. There is an “I” but it is a divine, not a human self. We find ourselves slipping into a kind of Apollinarian viewpoint in which the self-determining rational mind of Christ is replaced by the Logos.

To check this, we do all we can to buttress the humanity of Christ, insisting on a human spirit and mind, but then finding ourselves in a position in which we are now very close to seeing this collection of elements that make up a human person, doing exactly that. Jesus’ humanity, it seems, must be self-determining to be really human. The “I” of the human Jesus appears to need to be the “I” of a human person otherwise we lose the full humanity of Christ.

But of course, if we follow this well trodden road, we now have two subjective elements, the divine “I” and the human “I”. This falls into the serious problem of the nature of the union between God and our nature. How is it accomplished? If the “I” of Jesus is not divine, how does his life, death, and resurrection help us?

Doctrinally, of course, the Church holds to the Neo-Chalcedonian enhypostatic formula of the human nature of Christ being personal (a person, a subjective ‘I’) in the Logos. A single subject. Yet, if we are sympathetic, we can hear the validity of the concerns of the “two-sons” theology of Antioch.

Perhaps of course, the answer to our conundrum does not lie in trying to refine our formulas to try to explain which elements are maintained and which are lost in the union. Perhaps the answer lies in the deeper mystery of divine Subjectivity.

The “I” of human nature appears to be fundamentally exclusive. It is the “I” that says that I am I and you are you. I am I by not being the “I” that you are. This is, of course, a source of terrible suffering, for selfishness, domination, and abuse all come from the over emphasis of this distinction. But it also is the opportunity for all charity, altruism, and empathy. I cannot have charity if there are no others to love.

This firm distinction of self, however, may not be what is at the base of all creation. The Triune God who is the Father’s self-giving to the Son and Spirit, dwells as the root and base of all self. In the Trinity all self is wholly given away, nothing held back, and no boundaries set up. Distinction, not separation, is the law of love in the Trinity. While we must affirm the “non est” of the Father/Son distinction, we must also more firmly hold to the Dominical mystery that “I and the Father are One.”

One God, not three Gods who share a divine nature. One mystery of three interpenetrating selves giving themselves away wholly and with abandon, patterned on the Father’s foundational gift of self to the Son.

The Self then in the divine life is wholly integrated into the other, or the one who is distinct. We can see the pattern played out Christologically in the Dominical commandments to love our enemies, to give all we have to those who ask, and to love all as brothers and sisters. The divine broadness of selfhood is also revealed in the mystery of the last judgment in which all good and evil done to the least are done to Christ.

It is through these lenses then that we must consider the hypostatic union of single subjectivity that preserves and maintains the fully humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. Only by thinking the whole self-giving and self-identification of the Trinity, and thinking the whole self-giving and self-identification of the Christian life, can we begin to contextualize the mystery of a single subject in Christ.

The subjective “I” of the Logos does not unite itself to any reality to expel that reality from itself. Grace comes to complete, not to destroy. Far be it then that the Logos, in its most perfect union with human nature, should cast out any element, even the human way of saying “I.” Indeed, the Logos unites itself so closely to our nature that our nature can say “I” in the person of the Logos in the way that it says “I” in every other human being. It’s psychology, though unfallen, functions as a human psychology, not driven out by the Logos, but in perfect union with it.

It is a mystery. The perichoretic selves of the Trinity, and indeed the perichoretic selves of Christians, tear down the diabolical demand that I and Thou must always mean different things, while resisting the misunderstanding that they must wholly collapse into each other. Distinction without division is the rule.

These, then, appear to me to be the tools with which we must work at our understanding of the Hypostatic Union of Christ. Let the doctrines of Trinity and Christian love shine a light on the doctrine of the incarnation so that it might shine greater light in return on them.


Trinity Sunday Sermon 2012 – The Minstrel

Everything comes from somewhere.  If something seems novel to you, you should suspect that it came from, or was at least inspired by something else.  As Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Let me tell you a story, a tall tale.

Long ago there was a town.  A boring, dry, drab little town that worked and lived and worked and went to church and lived.  It was a town where people walked, or ran, but that was all they did with their feet.

Until one day, a man came to the town bearing a miraculous tool, one which, when he put it between his hands and squeezed, made the most amazing sound.  He called the sound music, and the instrument an accordion.  And when he played it, and the music came out, his feet did the strangest thing.  They moved, but they did not walk.  They trotted, but they did not run.  His elbows went up and down, and his knees bent.

He called it dancing.

And soon, with a generous heart, he had given accordions and flutes and drums to the children of the town, and taught them how to play and dance.  And then, one night, he stole away and left the town by himself, humming softly in the night air.  

Now some people, both good and bad, thought the man was something of a magician.  They even thought that he had conjured the sweet or terrible new magic called music all on his own.  So one very brave boy followed him as he left the town, to see what he would do next.  He followed him for days, until the man came to a huge city that positively rang with music.  And he was greeted at the gate as the prince of that land.  The boy looked on and saw that everyone there in the city sang, danced, or made music with an instrument. And he knew that the man, magician though he might be, was not the source of the music.  The man made sense to the boy when he saw his home.

Today is Trinity Sunday.  It is a Sunday on which we can talk about that most wonderful mystery in the Church, the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is a day when we can wax Theological about how the Son is begotten by the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (or not).  It is a day when the Nicene Creed is especially poignant when we take a moment to say “Ah, yes, we believe in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  Good for us.”

It is a day when pastors either attempt to wrestle with that great and difficult idea of three persons and one God, or to shy away from it totally.  To show you how they are all One God, and yet three persons.  Or to tell you about how your church “Trinity” came to be.

I will do none of those things.  I will tell you that ideas come from somewhere.

The Father Loves the Son.  I have said it before.  Let me say it until I die.  The Father Loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father.  The Spirit Loves the Father and the Son, and the Father Loves the Spirit, and the Son Loves the Spirit.  They share all things with each other.  The Father shares His very being with the Son and the Spirit.  In the west, we say that the Love between the Father and the Son is the Spirit.  In the East, the Spirit is understood to come forth from the Father in a different way than the Son.

We know from John’s Gospel over the last few weeks that all that the Father has, is the Son’s.  The Father gives his being, life, light, knowledge, and love to the Son.  The Spirit sends the Son into the world, and makes the Father known.  The Father sends the Spirit into the world, and the Son sends the Spirit.  It is a jolly eternal joy in the Trinity where all that is had is shared.  Nothing is held back, and there is only self and the giving of self to another.  All that is the Spirit’s belongs to the Father and the Son.  All that is the Son’s is the Father’s and the Spirit’s.  All that the Father has, is, you see of course, given to the Son and the Spirit.

Nothing, nothing is held back.  All is revealed, all is loved, all is returned to the one who loves.  There is no shadow of doubt, no restraint, no distance.

There is only love.

Now the problem with Trinity Sunday is that we have a very hard time figuring out how to relate the Trinity to our daily lives.  Why should we care?  Why should the Trinity matter to us at all?  How is human life different because the Trinity is the Trinity?

Because everything comes from somewhere.

Let me tell you another story about a visitor.

He was…is…a man.  He came into the world and taught us to love one another.  To hold nothing back from one another, to love without barrier, without limit, without shadow or distance.  He taught us, naive and foreign as these ideas are, to give all we have to each other and to return all to the one who gives to us.  He taught us to live such that our lives are shared, communal, and always lived with another in mind.

He says “love one another.”  He says “give to one another.”  He says “be at peace with one another.”  And then he lays His life down for all of us.

And if you followed that man home…back to his eternal kingdom, what do you think you’d see, there, in the Trinity?  The heart that made all things, that made the stars, and humanity, and all that we have.  What would you see?

You would see that every moment of Jesus’ life and every teaching that he delivers makes sense when you see his home.

Because everything comes from somewhere.