Summa III, Question 16 (Updated and Completed)

Here are the forthcoming articles to be considered.

Question 16. Things which are applicable to Christ in his being and becoming

  1. Is this true: “God is man”?
  2. Is this true: “Man is God”?
  3. May Christ be called a lordly man?
  4. May what belongs to the Son of Man be predicated of the Son of God, and conversely?
  5. May what belongs to the Son of Man be predicated of the Divine nature, and what belongs to the Son of God of the human nature?
  6. Is this true: “The Son of God was made man”?
  7. Is this true: “Man became God”?
  8. Is this true: “Christ is a creature”?
  9. Is this true: “This man,” pointing out Christ, “began to be”? or “always was”?
  10. Is this true: “Christ as man is a creature”?
  11. Is this true: “Christ as man is God”?
  12. Is this true: “Christ as man is a hypostasis or person”?

I thought it important to leave the original post, which can be seen at the bottom of the page after the footnotes. Here I present the essay:

We must use care when predicating terms of Christ, because He is uniquely one person with two natures.  Any time we speak of things beyond our ordinary experience, we run the risk of speaking falsely; we can barely speak clearly of the things we experience every day. The key to almost every issue we will encounter will be the distinction between concrete and abstract terms, and so we first turn to this, that we may better understand what it is we are doing when we say “A is B.”

We abstract by taking the universal from the particular. Thus we speak of flesh without having to mean “this flesh.” Once we speak of “this flesh,” however, we are predicating a universal to a concrete thing.  We can say of my skin that it is flesh, but we cannot say of “fleshness” that “it is my skin.” We easily recognize here that an abstract can be said of concrete things in some ways but not in others.

It must be observed concerning this communication that concrete names, such as God, man, in opposition to abstract names, such as Godhead, humanity, signify directly the suppositum, and indirectly the nature.1

When we therefore ask if phrases such as “Man is God,” “God is Man,” and “Christ as man is God,” we must distinguish abstract and concrete terms, and care must be taken to affirm that the terms can be predicated of the subject. Many heresies have come about by improper predication of terms to Christ, either because something about Christ was explicitly denied, or because, unintentionally, these things were not thought through.

We are concerned here with what is technically called the communication of idioms. “Idiom” is derived from the Greek and means the same as property in Latin.2 We will see that, when using concrete terms, we can often predicate concrete terms of concrete subjects, but not so when it comes to abstract words of abstract subjects.

We will look at two examples before looking at some of the specific words that can or cannot be predicated of the Incarnate Word.  First, we see this problem when one wishes to say that “Socrates is man” and “Socrates sits,” and then further, asks if one may say that “man sits.”  If the term man signifies a certain man, Socrates, it may well be true.  But we likewise affirm that Socrates is man because of the human nature.  We cannot, in saying that “man sits,” somehow affirm that “humanity sits.”

Secondly, we can and must say, therefore, that Mary is the Mother of God.  We certainly say that God is three persons.  Mary, however, is not the mother of three persons.  The syllogism “Mary is the Mother of Jesus, Jesus is God, therefore Mary is the Mother of God” is therefore true.  The syllogism “Mary is the Mother of God, God is three persons, therefore, Mary is the mother of the Trinity” is certainly not true.

A solid grasp of the reason for the truth of the first syllogism and the falsity of the second will clear up almost all the problems faced when answering the questions posed in Question 16 of the Third part of the Summa Theologica.

However, a failure to understand these distinctions will result, and has resulted, in many an error, as the heresies confirm.  All Christians accept that God is now a man, but not all understand the proposition in the same way.3 Some, failing to understand this as pertaining to a nature of Christ, understood Christ to not be truly God.  Others made the opposite error, seeing Him as a man only “apparently.”

St. Thomas begins his treatment of the Incarnation in the Summa Contra Gentiles by discussing these various heresies.  It cannot be stated too clearly that understanding the way that a word is predicated of the subject, and whether that subject be the Person of Christ or one of His natures, is of extreme importance in properly speaking of the Word Incarnate.

If we speak of the Person of Christ, we may speak of either nature, as long as we do not limit the Person to that nature.  For example, we may affirm statements such as God is man and Man is God, because in each, we are referring to Christ as Person and a nature of Him. In the phrase “God is man,” The word  “man” signifies the suppositum that subsists in the human nature. Likewise, in the phrase “man is God,” the term man stands for the Person of Christ, “For this word “man” may stand for any hypostasis of human nature; and thus it may stand for the Person of the Son of God, Whom we say is a hypostasis of human nature.4

We see then that we may predicate something specific to one nature to the Person of Christ.  We can say, then, as in Article 4, that  what belongs to the Son of Man belongs to the Son of God, because “since there is one hypostasis of both natures, the same hypostasis is signified by the name of either nature.”5

We may not, however, predicate something of one nature to the other.  We cannot, for example, say that “Christ as man is God,” for it is not in virtue of the fact that He is man that He is God, but because of the divine nature, and the fact that He is a Divine Person. Thus the answer to article 5 is in the negative: “in the mystery of Incarnation the Divine and human natures are not the same; but the hypostasis of the two natures is the same. And hence what belongs to one nature cannot be predicated of the other if they are taken in the abstract.”6

In the next two articles, we examine whether one may say that “God was made man” and “Man was made God.” We see that we may affirm the first, but must deny the second. This is because the Person, the second of the Trinity, has always existed, but the Incarnate Christ, and thus His human nature, has not.  God was made man, for Jesus, always and eternally God, became man, and so was made man.

Why can we not say that man became God? A wall that has always existed can be made white, but white cannot be “made a wall,” for white must exist in something.  Now, we do not predicate Christ’s humanity as a metaphysical accident, but we do affirm that its existence is in the Person of Christ.  For man to be made God, we would have to adhere to the heresy of Nestorius, for a man cannot exist without a person existing, and so either this person would have to have been annihilated when He became Christ, or else there would be two persons in Christ. For this reason, we affirm that Mary is the Mother of God, for she is the mother of Christ, the Person.

Nestorius’ preferred title for Mary was Christotokos, and not Theotokos. Of course, many protestants today prefer the title used by Nestorius.  Old heresies reaffirm themselves because of a lack of proper understanding, and when we do not divide Christ into parts as if the man and God were separate. Thus, “the holy virgin gave birth in the flesh to God united with the flesh according to hypostasis, for that reason we call her Theotokos… If anyone does not confess [this], let him be anathema.”7 The title belongs to Mary, but its most important purpose is what it affirms of Christ.

We likewise cannot say that Christ is a creature, or that “this man, pointing to Christ, began to be.”  This is because, when speaking of Christ, we ought to be speaking of the person.  We do not point to someone in speaking of a nature, but of the person.  If we fail to do likewise here, we risk the error of Arius. Christ has a created nature, but Christ is not created, and therefore did not “begin to be.”

When we say something of Christ, speaking simply, we affirm or deny something of Him as Incarnate Person.  However, we may specify that we are speaking of Christ “as man.” We can, say that Christ, as man, is a creature.  For His human nature is created, and thus, as any particular existing instance of human nature, is a creature. We may not say that Christ as man is God.  For the human nature is distinct from the divine, and thus “as man” cannot be equated with “is God.”  The same follows when it is asked if Christ, as man, is a hypostasis or a person.  We must deny this, because the Person is the divine Person, the second of the Trinity. This last question, however, is not so simple, for “man” could be taken in a certain manner, since, as said above, it belongs to a human nature to be in a person. Nevertheless, Thomas suggests its avoidance because of the danger of a Nestorian understanding of the phrase.

It should be clear at this point that care must be taken when predicated one thing of another, for we must know exactly what the term we are predicating is being predicated of. The danger always exists of saying “A is B,” where A is not clearly understood.  If we mean by “A” a nature, and it is understood as being said of the Person (or vice versa), the correct doctrine of the Incarnation can be entirely distorted. History has shown this, and Thomas has done us a great service in clearly laying out not only what may and may not be said of the “Things which are applicable to Christ in his being and becoming,” but the reasons for making such distinctions as well.

Footnotes:

  1. LaGrange, Christ the Savior, pg. 421
  2. Ibid, pg. 420
  3. McDermott, Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation (pg. 496)
  4. Aquinas, ST III, q. 16, a.2
  5. LaGrange, pg. 423
  6. ST, III, q. 16, a.5
  7. St. Cyril, 3rd letter to Nestorius

Original Post:

This is the future site, to be edited of course, of Question 16, which will be treated differently than the general summaries.  My plan here will be to articulate the terminological issues in detail, so important to understanding what we mean in speaking of Christ, Christ “as man,” etc, and terms such as “God is man” and “man is God” when referring to the Incarnation.

Here are the forthcoming articles to be considered.

  1. Is this true: “God is man”?
  2. Is this true: “Man is God”?
  3. May Christ be called a lordly man?
  4. May what belongs to the Son of Man be predicated of the Son of God, and conversely?
  5. May what belongs to the Son of Man be predicated of the Divine nature, and what belongs to the Son of God of the human nature?
  6. Is this true: “The Son of God was made man”?
  7. Is this true: “Man became God”?
  8. Is this true: “Christ is a creature”?
  9. Is this true: “This man,” pointing out Christ, “began to be”? or “always was”?
  10. Is this true: “Christ as man is a creature”?
  11. Is this true: “Christ as man is God”?
  12. Is this true: “Christ as man is a hypostasis or person”?

I post this now because “it is the office of the wise man to order,” but I , being far from wise, will soon post the summaries of Questions 17-19…and then return to post my essay on Question 16.

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