Saturday, September 22, 2007

N.T. Wright on Person and Nature

Bishop Wright is attempting to navigate difficult academic questions by reformulating Christology. He puts the difficulty this way.

I think it offers a way through the impasse between saying either ‘Jesus knew he was the second person of the Trinity’ or ‘Jesus was just a human being who had no thought of being divine’. But to pursue this further we must come to the substantial topic.

He goes on to show again his distaste for traditional formulation of Chrisology especially the formula of Chalcedon. Again using his words:

I simply don’t think it’s good enough to talk about two minds (or one), two natures (or one), or about the various combinations rind permutations of persons and substances. Any such discussions should be grounded in Jesus himself. But when we try to talk about Jesus himself we may find that, in the first instance at least, our enquiry leads in quite a different direction.(Jesus Self Knoweldge)

Before we examine Bishop Wright we should see what the Ancient Councils have to say about Christ’s person. Here is the relevant portion of the Formula of Chalcedon.

recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation;
the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union,
but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence,
not as parted or separated into two persons,
but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ;

Chalcedon makes the claim that Jesus has two nature, one divine the other human, but is only one person. The question immediately comes up what is the difference between nature and person. I believe the creeds are fairly consistent on this point, and looking at some of the others we can discover what is meant. Chalcedon itself mentions that Christ has a ‘human body and reasonable soul.’ So we can chalk reason and physical bodies up to nature. The controversy erupted and was settled in the next ecumenical council about whether or not Christ had one will or two. The answer given by the church (from Scripture of course) is that Jesus had both a divine will and a human will. Chalk the will up to nature.

Other creeds give us more a glimpse of what is considered part of the nature or substance when we examine the Trinity itself. God is three persons in one substance or one nature, ie. divinity. The The Athanasian Creed states that the one nature of God includes three persons. That shared divine nature includes the glory, majesty, and power of God. All of that is found the substance, not in the person. What then is left to the person? It seems something akin to consciousness. It seems in the Trinity (remembering this is a bit of a mystery that we will not know until the Lord comes again) there are three consciousness that are distinct and separate, but share one will, one power, and one glory because they share one nature, the divine nature.

So we can apply that to Christ, and say that Jesus Christ has only one consciousness, but two wills, two powers (a divine power and human weakness in this case), so on and so forth. It is this that I believe Bishop Wright has openly violated. Asking the question what does the human Jesus of Nazareth know about being the Son of God is denying that Jesus Christ has one consciousness. It is implicitly saying, the human nature of Jesus is not conscious or aware of the divine nature within him. It necessitates two consciounesses in Jesus Christ, one for the ‘unaware’ human and one for the divine second person, assuming of course N.T. Wright believes Jesus to be both. Simply by the statement of Bishop Wright’s question he has already rejected the Chalcedonian formula.

Admittedly this leaves us a little in the dark as to what Bishop Wright would ascribe to nature and what he would ascribe to person, if he would even hold to such a position. I have not been able to find anything online where he dives into that topic. However, he does show us that much of his position is motivated by a rejection of Western Ideas of knowledge, in favor of his First Century Judaism view of things. Notice also the inability of Bishop Wright to answer a question straight, which should be enough to worry us all. It is one thing to be scholarly and understand words may have meant other things in bygone days, it is another to use that excuse to duck the obvious questions asked of him.

It seems obvious that from here we must now proceed to an examination of Bishop Wright’s methodology since he uses it to exclude the historic orthodox Christian position.


Jay said...

I'm a little confused on some of the terminology. You say toward the end of the post that "the one nature of God includes three persons." The Athenasian Creed seems to be talking about one "substance," not one "nature." Meanwhile, the Chalcedonian formula you quoted uses the term "nature" to describe Jesus' divine and human nautres. Is there a distinction between nature and substance that we should be clear on here? Does it matter for your purposes here?

Lee said...

I do not think there is a difference between substance and nature. I probably should have made that clear. I used the term that each creed uses to be historically accurate, but I believe the two terms to be the same.