Friday, May 30, 2008

A remark on kenotic Christology

According to kenotic christology, not only did the second person of the Trinity become a human being, but during the time that he was human, he ceased to be divine. One motivation for kenotic christology may be to avoid the difficulties of "qua" talk about Christ: "Qua human, he is only in Jerusalem, but qua God, he is omnipresent; qua human, he does not know every mathematical truth, but qua God, he is omniscient."

But this is a bad reason to adopt kenotic christology. For consider Christ's present state. Either he is still emptied of his divinity, or not. If he is still emptied of his divinity, then it is false that God is now a Trinity: God is now only a Binity. (It is, by the way, also a problem that according to kenotic christology, God was not a Trinity in 15 AD. But since God is now worshiped as Trinity but we have no record of his having been thus worshiped in 15 AD, this is not as serious a problem as God's now being a Binity.) Besides, Christ now has the "name above all other names" (Phil. 2:9), which is surely the name of God. Thus, Christ is now divine.

But Christ is also human now. The phrase "the Son of Man" is used in eschatological texts. Thus, during the eschaton, Christ will be human ("son of man" meant "human being" in ordinary Aramaic, though in eschatological contexts it had an additional layer of meaning on top of it). It would be odd, however, to posit a second incarnation. Furthermore, in the Eucharist, Christ's body is present. Surely this body is both human and alive (it would be theologically mistaken to suppose that in the Eucharist we receive Christ's dead flesh). Hence, Christ is now human and alive.

Therefore, even the kenotic christologist should admit that presently Christ is human and divine. But if the problem of the "qua" was what drove her to kenosis, she is in trouble, since it will be just as true right now as it was in 15 AD that Christ is not on Mars qua human but is on Mars qua God.

Of course, a kenotic christologist may have other motivations for positing Christ's ceasing to be divine. But the metaphysical problem of the "qua" should not be among them. For that problem is one that all Christian theologians face.

And it may be that if the "qua" problem is solved (and personally, I find a Thomistic solution quite plausible), then the other reasons for kenotic christology will also disappear.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Surely this body is both human and alive (it would be theologically mistaken to suppose that in the Eucharist we receive Christ's dead flesh). Hence, Christ is now human and alive."

Living, human things, if eaten, are no longer living and no longer human.

I just don't understand the motivation to make sense of something like this. If you want to accept it as a mystical truth, beyond reason, who can argue with you? But why do you think this could all possibly make sense, that it is open to reasoned argument and analysis?

Frankly, posts like this read like satire.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That human beings perish upon being eaten is not a metaphysically necessary truth (e.g., tapeworms survive being eaten all the time; likewise, a small human being--say, an eight-cell embryo--wearing a protective suit would survive being eaten) so there is no absurdity in the denial.

Why do I believe Christ's body is present in the Eucharist? For much the same reason that I believe a lot of ordinary things: people whom I have reason to trust have said so.

Tim Lacy said...

I wonder how believers in kenotic christology account for the miracles that occurred at the command of Christ?

On Christ's present state: The problem with the kenotic solution also lies in its contradiction with sacred scripture. We learn from scripture that all Christians today are proxy Christs due to the Holy Spirit. This is a mystery, a tenet of faith. But this can't be unless Christ is also eternal, or divine.

- TL

Anonymous said...

"For much the same reason that I believe a lot of ordinary things: people whom I have reason to trust have said so."

Why not just take their (his?) word for it, then? Why try to make sense of something that obviously doesn't make sense? "Ordinary things" do make sense, or we don't believe them. You are dealing with extraordinary things, they apparently follow very different rules than ordinary things.

Do you think that these things MUST be amenable to reason (God makes them real, he gave us reason to understand things like that, so we must be able to understand it)? Or do you hope they are? Or is it just curiosity as to whether they are?

I'm honestly curious as to your perspective.

As far as tapeworms and embryos in protective suits go, in both cases you can extract them after being eaten and inspect them to verify that they are still alive. Also, in neither case are you talking about human flesh, which IS easily digestible.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If something is true, then all its logical consequences must be true as well. Moreover, at least typically a part of knowing what a proposition is affirming is knowing what some of its logical consequences are.

So, yes, I have no problem with the idea of drawing out logical consequences of extraordinary claims. Moreover, doing so enhances our partial and foggy understanding of the extraordinary claims, and this is worthwhile.

enigMan said...

I qua human am hitting the keys of this keyboard; but my fingers are hitting them, whilst I qua brain am making them do that; and I qua mind am merely willing that they do it (having learnt to type years ago). That's straightforward, but how can the Eucharist be live flesh? Or, if it can, then surely a foetus could be a dead rock! Like anonymous, I am puzzled by your logic...

Alexander R Pruss said...

It can look (and feel and taste and so on) like on thing is present, but another is present. A fetus can't be dead rock, but it could look like there is a dead rock there, while in fact there is a fetus there.

Michael S. said...

I'm not a proponent of KC, but in response to the quesiton, "I wonder how believers in kenotic christology account for the miracles that occurred at the command of Christ", a proponent of KC could suggest that it was by the power of the Spirit. Even those who deny KC but like to think exegetically will surely want to make much of Jesus operating in the Spirit's power. The Gospels are chalk full of statements regarding Jesus being led and empowered by the Spirit. In fact, many NT scholars, regardless of christological position, maintain that Jesus did his miracles, not via his divine nature, but via the Spirit's power. So, I don't think this point raises serious trouble for the proponent of KC.

Anonymous said...

And I thought Derrida was bizzare...

What's next? Critiques of the "silveristic" theories of the Leperchaun's "Pot-o-Gold"?

enigMan said...

Things can have deceptive appearances, but is God a deceiver? Maybe; but a foetus is normally defined in terms of its structural (including the genetic) similarity to, and its spatio-temporal continuity with, those of its kind. So a foetus could be a dead rock if something with the structure of, and spatio-temporal continuity with, a bit of bread could be live flesh, why not?

Anonymous said...

There are two different anonymouses posting here, btw. I am the original.

Moses didn't do his own miracles, I don't see why you need to think that Jesus did his own either.

enigMan said...

Hmm... and Christians are supposed to be able to move mountains and generally do similar miracles, via the Spirit...

Apologies for veering off-topic, but the thing about foetuses is that the miracle of the Eucharist is based on the Last Supper, a singular and apparently non-miraculous event (with the word of Jesus taken literally, something which elsewhere would lead to such docrines as reincarnation).

Similarly the breathing of life into clay that has been given the form of Man, to make Adam, was a singular event, of comparable significance (which indicates similarly ensoulment late in foetal development). Human priests decide when the bread is flesh, and human lovers make similar choices about making babies, about when that miracle will happen (although more chancily). And so forth...

Alexander R Pruss said...

The truth can indeed be surprising, strange and counterintuitive. It is by now pretty clear that any solution to the problem of material constitution will have strange consequences (consequences such as that there are always many things in one place, or that cats cease to exist when they lose a hair, or that hearts don't exist, vel caetera). Likewise, it seems likely that any correct account of time will have counterintuitive consequences. (Certainly Relativity Theory does.)

Anonymous said...

"Likewise, it seems likely that any correct account of time will have counterintuitive consequences. (Certainly Relativity Theory does.)"

Relativity theory isn't counter-intuitive, if you have the proper background knowledge. That is why thought experiments were so important in its development.

Man-made wafers turning into live human flesh, however, is a curious phenomenon. It occurred hundreds of millions (billions?) of times in one small part of the world for 1,000+ years, while never happening in other parts of the world. It's curious that something so important was denied to so many people for so long. You'd think a better PR plan could have been devised by its originator. But, like you say, lots of things are counter-intuitive.

Brandon said...

Relativity theory isn't counter-intuitive, if you have the proper background knowledge. That is why thought experiments were so important in its development.

This is an odd sort of argument; physicists themselves pretty regularly deny that relativity theory is intuitive, and it's clear that the reason thought experiments were so important in its development is not that it was intuitive but instead that it is possible with the basic ideas in hand to devise sufficiently precise thought experiments and track their consistency accurately. Relativity is what you get when you modify Newtonian physics in order to keep Maxwell's equations from being modified; there is nothing intuitive about this (although it was pretty clear from the beginning that modifying Newtonian physics rather than Maxwellian physics is far and away the simpler route). There is nothing especially intuitive about this (as opposed to, say, Galilean relativity). No one thinks it's obvious that the beam from a high-speed train and the beam from a stationary lamp will move (assuming the same medium) at the same velocity; it just appears to be what you have to concede in order to be consistent with some basic facts and desiderata for theory, and this is a different thing.

belatedly said...

(That those beams should move at the same speed would be intuitive were an ether supposed, for the light-waves to move through.)

Brandon said...

No; there is nothing intuitive about that, either. Who thinks that the behavior of the luminiferous ether was intuitive? This was precisely my point in the previous comment: something doesn't become intuitive automatically because it is a natural consequence of starting points you accept. (If that were the case then anything whatsoever could be intuitive, given the right starting points, and the original argument would have been pointless.) This is true, in fact, even if your starting points are intuitive, since remote consequences of intuitive starting points are often not intuitive by any stretch of the term at all; if your starting points are unintuitive it's anyone's guess what consistency will require of you.

But I concede the basic physics point I think you were making; I wasn't thinking properly when I wrote that example, which was badly chosen; and, moreover, given the acceptance of certain starting principles it would be 'obvious', contrary to what I said.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Time dilation and the non-existence of an absolute simultaneity and of an absolute present are clearly counterintuitive, in the sense of being against the intuitions of the vast majority of people.

Sure, given the right set of postulates they fall out.

Likewise, with the right set of background beliefs, transsubstantiation is not at all strange or surprising.

Alexander R Pruss said...

As for the deception question, first note that there is a symbolic value to the appearances of bread and wine.

Moreover, there is no deception if something that looks different from how it really is happens in a context where it is explicitly proclaimed that it is different from how it really is. But in the Mass, it is clearly and explicitly proclaimed that what is present is Christ's body and blood.

Finally, on the predominant Catholic view of the Eucharist, there is no deception because the accidents (or tropes) of bread and water are what we see, and these accidents are really there, except they are not attached to any substance. This involves a realism about accidents. So we correctly see whiteness and roundness from among the accidents of bread, tingliness from among the accidents of wine, and so on, because these "things" are really there.

who was it who said...

So something with the substance of live human flesh can have the accidents of bread. But what rights should it have? Would stealing the host be a case of kidnapping, for example? Should burning it be treated as a case of causing bodily harm, or would that only change the accidents from bready to ashen? It is odd though, that the accidents change as though the substance was bread; why are the miraculous accidents not maintained, while the actual flesh burns (or is metabolised, in the normal way of things)? What is the symbolic significance of actually consuming a substance that is as immutable as a bullet?

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. Actually, on the standard Catholic view, it is not Christ's body that has the accidents of bread. Rather, these accidents do not inhere in a substance. That is, indeed, a difficult idea. (On my view of time, it's OK to make them inhere in a pastly existing substance.)

2. Stealing the host would be sacrilege, morally a crime worse than kidnapping.

3. Only the accidents are affected by the burning--Christ himself is not affected, since they are not his accidents on the standard view. However, when the accidents cease to be present, Christ ceases to be present bodily.

4. The accidents nourish physically. Christ's body nourishes spiritually.

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. Actually, on the standard Catholic view, it is not Christ's body that has the accidents of bread. Rather, these accidents do not inhere in a substance. That is, indeed, a difficult idea. (On my view of time, it's OK to make them inhere in a pastly existing substance.)

2. Stealing the host would be sacrilege, morally a crime worse than kidnapping.

3. Only the accidents are affected by the burning--Christ himself is not affected, since they are not his accidents on the standard view. However, when the accidents cease to be present, Christ ceases to be present bodily.

4. The accidents nourish physically. Christ's body nourishes spiritually.

Anonymous said...

What type of substance is a chunk of normal, typical human flesh the size of a wafer? My understanding is that if you cut off a chunk like that, there would be blood in it. Is the blood a different substance from the flesh part?

Does the substance of Jesus's live flesh have the same dimensions (extensions) as the (apparent?) size of the wafer? Or is the extension of the wafer a mere accident?

Tankadin said...

Undoubtedly, Jesus used the phrase "son of man" in reference to himself.

There is direct support for this in Mk. 14:62 by way of numerous critical/historical criterion. First, Christians did not conjoin Dan. 7:14 with Ps. 110:1, and neither did Jewish exegesis do so in the same way Jesus did in Mk. 14:62 (criteria of dissimilarity). Secondly, the prophecy was unfulfilled during the time of writing. Jesus is not seen by the religious leaders to be seated at the right hand of God coming in the clouds of heaven (criteria of embarrassment). Finally, Jesus alludes to these same passages in other texts taken to be reliable by the formgischicte school (Mk. 12:36; 13:26; criteria of consistency).

I think though that Dr. Pruss is wrong in his admission that ho huios tou anthrĊpou means "human" or "man". The phrase at least on the lips of Jesus in reference to himself, and from the pens of the new testament authors probably means something more robust, especially in apocalyptic literature.

Ben Witherington has noted:

“we can see why Jesus’ choice of Son of Man terminology had definite political overtones for those who were not tone-deaf to the resonances of apocalyptic literature and its key phrases.”

The Christology of Jesus (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 12.

I would argue as others have that this phrase implies the highest role in the eschatological drama viz., sitting upon God's chariot throne (cf. Mark 14:53ff).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Anonymous:

The extension of the wafer is traditionally taken as an accident.

I have different story about the extension. I think extension and shape are only relational properties. I think this follows from relativity theory. So there is no absolute fact of the matter as to the size of an object.

I don't really know exactly what to say about the presence of the blood. The traditional language is that the bread changes into the body of Christ, and the blood, soul and divinity of Christ come to be present "by natural concommitance" (i.e., where there is body, there is also blood, soul and divinity). Likewise, the wine changes into the blood of Christ, and the body, soul and divinity of Christ come to be present "by natural concommitance". I am afraid this isn't an issue I've thought about enough to have anything more informative.

Tankadin:

I agree that "son of man" has an eschatological meaning. But I think this meaning adds to the literal meaning of the phrase which, in Aramaic, is just "human being". Thus, "son of man" in the NT should be analyzed as "human being" plus eschatological meaning. Thus, that Christ is the son of man entails that he is human and entails that he has an eschatological role.

Strider said...

I find it helpful, when discussing the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, to first highlight the "errors" which the doctrine seeks to exclude. The doctrine does not seek to provide a rationalistic explanation of the eucharistic mystery but rather to protect the mystery. At least that is how I read the matter. But I concede that the doctrine has sometimes been presented precisely as an "explanation."

If we accept Thomas Aquinas as our guide, then we see that the popular objections, as stated above by "anonymous," simply do not obtain. Aquinas goes out of his way to make clear that the body of Christ is not dimensively present. This is the whole point of Aquinas's (inconceivable?) separation of substance and accident. Clearly our language is breaking down at this point.

I have found the reflections of Herbert McCabe particularly helpful, especially on the question of "deception."

Strider said...

I forgot to mention in my previous comment that my own attempt to summarize the analysis of McCabe can be found here.

Alexander R Pruss said...

We definitely need to distinguish between the theological doctrine of transsubstantiation, and its specific Thomistic working out. According Pope Paul VI, the heart of the doctrine is the real absence of bread and wine and the real present of Christ's body and blood.

There is a specific Thomistic working out of it. I think it goes beyond the safeguarding of the mystery: it has some very specific things to say about what happens to the accidents after the bread and wine change into Christ's body and blood (for instance, all the accidents are grounded in the dimensive quantity of bread and wine which persists after the cessation of the existence of bread and wine, and Christ's body and blood are present through the dimensive quantity of the bread and wine). I don't know what a "rationalistic explanation" would be.

When in this thread I referred to the "traditional" account, I meant by that this Thomistic working out of the doctrine.

My own preferred view differs from Thomas's, though as far as I know it is compatible with the teaching of Church. (If it is shown not to be such, then, given God's grace, I shall abandon my view.) For instance, while Thomas opts for something in between local presence and some kind of metaphorical presence, I go for full-blown local presence. (I am inclined to think the medievals were mistaken to think that the same object could not be locally present in multiple places at the same time.) I am also not completely sure of the numerical persistence of accidents without a substance. Trent only says that the "species" (appearances) persist, a weaker claim than the claim that the numerically same accidents persist. As a B-theorist, I also kind of like the idea that the accidents of bread and wine might continue to be present in and through the pre-consecration substance of bread and wine (just as the appearances of long-gone stars can still be seen in the sky).

Strider said...

Dr Pruss, I would love to see your argument for a full-blown 'local' presence. I certainly would want to push the sacramental 'embodiment' of our Lord in the Eucharist as strongly as the dogma allows. I would argue that the eucharistic piety of the Church demands such a construal. Certainly some folks (e.g., Michael Dummett) have wondered whether Thomas's particular construal of transubstantiation actually undercuts the Church's faith that the risen Christ is "there," i.e., where the consecrated bread and wine are.

As far as Thomas's claim that the accidents are grounded in the dimensive qualiies, etc., I will admit that I find all such theories to be "rationalistic" and unhelpful. It makes it sound like we actually know what we are talking about, when of course we do not. What I find interesting is the fact that Thomas's eucharistic faith forces him to think such strange thoughts.

Alexander R Pruss said...

If you email me, I'll send you a copy of the paper. It's forthcoming in Thomas Flint and Michael Rae (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Mani said...

Hi Alex,

I came across this old post and found it puzzling. The description of the kenotic view in the first sentence seems to me mistaken. I take it that kenosis is not the view that Christ ceased to be divine at the incarnation. It is the view that Christ gave up many of the omni attributes at the time of the incarnation *and yet retained his divinity.* The task for the proponent of the kenotic view is to explain how this is possible, and there are a number of different strategies. One is is to argue that properties like omnipotence are not essential for divinity; what's essential are properties like being-omnipotent-unless-freely-and-temporarily-choosing-to-be-otherwise. Another strategy argues that there are no necessary and sufficient conditions for divinity, just as there are none for humanity (which I am told is a popular view in philosophy of biology); what is required for inclusion in a natural kind is a family resemblance: bearing *enough* of the characteristic properties. Regardless of whether any such strategy is promising, I take it that this *type* of strategy -- arguing that Christ retains divinity even while temporarily relinquishing omni attributes -- is what the defender of kenosis intends.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But then we have another problem.

For the Father is the same God that the Son is. There is, after all, only one God.

If the God that the Son is was not omniscient, then the God that the Father is was not omniscient, which is absurd.