Saturday, March 12, 2016

The possibility of multiple incarnations

A classic theological question is whether it was possible for one person of the Trinity to be simultaneously multiply incarnate. The question is particularly important if it turns out that there are other non-human rational animals--namely, aliens--in need of redemption.

Here is an argument for this possibility:

  1. An incarnation of a divine person is possible.
  2. If an incarnation of a divine person is possible, multiple sequential incarnations of one divine person are possible.
  3. If multiple sequential incarnations of one divine person are possible, multiple simultaneous incarnations of one divine person are possible.
  4. So, multiple simultaneous incarnations of one divine person are possible.

Premise (1) is this: according to revelation an incarnation is actual, hence it is possible. Premise (2) is, I think, quite plausible. After all, if an incarnation is possible, it would also be possible for this incarnation to come to an end--a divine person could become incarnate as a mortal being, which perishes qua that kind of mortal being. But then it is very plausible that another incarnation could follow. And so on.

That leaves premise (3). Here I have two lines of thought. The first is the intuition that since God is outside of time, it really shouldn't matter with respect to possibility whether multiple incarnations are in sequence or simultaneous--in each case, the multiple incarnations create a relationship between a timeless being and several locations of spacetime. The second involves time travel. Suppose that there are two sequential incarnations. Then the rational animal that results from the second incarnation could travel back in time and meet the rational animal that results from the first incarnation, and then there would be two simultaneous incarnations.


Mark Rogers said...

If multiple incarnations are necessary for the redemption of rational creatures in various geographical locations in the universe, then we must question whether the incarnation in this world was sufficient for all in this world.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's not so much the geographic location that's at issue as species membership or ancestry.
A standard idea is that God saved humanity by becoming human. One might try to take "human" here not to mean our particular species but rational animals in general. But Scripture emphasizes how like us Jesus is. That suggests that "human" is more specific than "rational animal".
There is also the thread that family relationship is important: Jesus saved the descendants of Eve by himself being one of them. But Martians presumably wouldn't be descendants of Eve.
That said, God certainly could save nonhuman rational animals through Christ. And there is the strand of the tradition about the universality of redemption for creation.

Mark Rogers said...

The incarnation entailed a great sacrifice. How many times can a necessary being cease to exist?

Richard Davis said...

In C S Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord is incarnated as a Lion in one world (Narnia) while being incarnated as human in another world (Earth). The picture there always seemed quite intuitively plausible to me. On the other hand, Aslan was never (as far as I can tell) *born* in Narnia, which might make a difference.