In the Incarnation the man Christ is united to God in a unique way. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, has assumed to Himself a human nature and thus become man. The Word was made flesh. The Virgin Mary was overshadowed by the Most High conceived of the Holy Spirit and brought forth a son whom she called Jesus. That human being, however, caused by the creation of a human soul in a human body was not born to exist apart from God's own existence. In its very being it is united to a divine person, the Second Divine Person, God the Son.
The divine being is communicated to the human nature of Christ by means of a terminative, not an informing, union - if it were informing it would be received in a subject and thus be limited (but God is pure act). It would also mean that the divine reality was the form of Christ's human nature - which is a contradiction. The form of Christ's human nature is his human soul. This human soul, however, as is the case with everything in Christ's nature, belongs to God; it is owned by a divine person. Whatever Christ does, God does.
Since the person, not the nature, is the "be-er", the one who "bes" and acts, the primary "be" of Christ must be divine. A person's nature exists only in as much as the person exists. It is the beneficiary of the person's existence. Therefore, Christ "bes" by the divine being; he lives by the divine life. This does not mean, however, that he does not have his own proper existence and life as a human being. But it is not an independent existence and life; it is assumed as it were into the being and life of God.
Jesus Christ, the man, is to be adored not because he is a man but because he (the person) is God. The Second Person of the Trinity has a human nature, and everything is to be attributed to the person. The person, Jesus Christ, is both human and divine. Who is Christ? The answer is God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. What is Christ? The answer is God and man.
Did Jesus Christ always exist? As God, yes; as man, no; for his human nature came to be only at the time of the incarnation. When we refer to someone we are referring to the person and the person we know as Jesus Christ is eternal, even though we only came to know him through his human nature (which was created in time).
The union of the divine and human natures in the Second Divine Person is called hypostatic. Hypostasis means that which exercises existence (or subsists) which in the case of something spiritual is called a person. Hence the humanity of Christ is united with God by a personal union. After the Trinity this is the greatest mystery of Faith. How this is or is even possible is beyond our understanding. The assumption by the Second Divine Person of human nature marks no change in the divinity (for it is changeless). The relation of the human nature of Christ to the divinity is real on the side of this nature but not on the side of the divine nature.
As Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange says:
"By the substantial grace of personal union with the Word, the humanity of Christ is sanctified, with a sanctity that is innate, substantial and uncreated. By the grace of union Jesus is united to God personally and substantially, by that grace He is Son of God, the well-beloved of the Father, by that grace He is constituted as the substantial principle of acts, not merely supernatural but theandrical, and by that grace He is sinless and impeccable."
Thus the fact of union with God sanctifies Christ's human nature. The grace of this union is uncreated, for it is nothing other than God himself. The created grace which Christ's human soul also has, which in us is sanctifying grace, making us adoptive sons and daughters of God, is overtaken as it were by this grace of union, so that it is not sanctifying (for he is already sanctified) nor constitutive in his human nature of adoptive sonship since he is the natural son of God.
Andrew Nimmo is a lecturer at the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.
This article posted April 2000. It was published in Universitas, Vol 2 (1998), No. 1.
Permission is granted to copy or quote from this article, provided that full credit is given to the author and to the
Centre for Thomistic Studies, Sydney, Australia.
We would be grateful to receive a copy of any republication.