Against Asymmetrical Christology: A Critical Review of Rowan Williams’s ‘Christ the Heart of Creation’

by Jordan Daniel Wood, Ph.D.


When I first met him, he had just given a talk on St. Teresa of Avila, I think. I waver because I had brought along my 18-month old daughter and, well, she wasn’t as interested in the subject matter as I’d hoped. I introduced myself with a sort of hackneyed fan-boy opening line, overtired infant in arms. “Dr. Williams,” I muttered, “thank you for your talk [whatever it was about]. Just wanted to say that your book on Dostoevsky remains one of the most theologically influential on my thinking.” He (rightfully) ignored this advance and advanced himself toward my daughter: “And who’s this little one?” Then he furrowed his brows, which proved notable even by my daughter’s high standards for attentiveness.

This is the Rowan Williams many of us have come to know and cherish: an uncommon concoction of erudition, wit, wisdom, prayer, and intellect. His latest work, Christ the Heart of Creation, offers nothing less. I’d drawn up a lengthy list of Williams’s astonish­ingly wide-ranging corpus (I failed to mention to him that day, for instance, that his work Lost Icons informs the way I parent my children), but you likely already know what value lies in the man’s work. So I restrict myself to this bit of adulation: for my part, Williams is perhaps the most formidable theologian writing in English today. That I find myself in significant disagreement with him on several crucial christological points doesn’t detract from that sentiment in the slightest—indeed it tempts me into trepidation. Rather it’s precisely because I regard Williams as representative of the best Christian theology currently on offer that it seems especially salutary to labor over where I think he’s wrong and why.

In the next section I try to summarize Williams’s proposals, noting points of agreement along the way. The third section registers some criticisms. I conclude with some pointed questions of my own.


In characteristic fashion Williams’s argument is at once a constructive proposal and a historical narrative. It’s a historically crafted constructive proposal and a constructively crafted narration of christological thought across the centuries. That’s as it should be, it seems to me. The deep riches of Christian wisdom unfold within and through its historical, living, and thinking tradition(s). That same tradition invites fresh reflection precisely because significant portions of its own makeup comprise highly refined “byzantine” or “scholastic” contemplation. And so Williams glides with ease from moments of sharp syllogism to narrating the flow and development of thought on the mystery of Christ. This also means—a truly praiseworthy trait of this study—that Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, proves magnanimously indifferent to deep party-divisions within Christian tradition: Aquinas plays the great christological synthesizer in this tale, late antique Byzantine theologians his rightful predecessors, Calvin his (perhaps unwitting) successor, Bonhoeffer a premiere theorizer and political practitioner in modern times—all while the Jesuit Erich Przywara and Anglican divine Austin Farrer provide the essential philosoph­ical framework for seeing the God-world relation and its proper disclosure in Christ. One might even get the sense, rare nowadays, that it’s speculation of the truth itself that describes Williams’s principal task here.

I present Williams’s project from two vantages. First I list and describe (almost analytically) his basic theses. Then I review the argument through the story he tells.

Three formal theses. The first and maybe most expansive proposal of the book is that christology is always (or ought to be) an exercise that clarifies the grammar of how we speak about and live within the mystery of Christ. There you have the book’s two constitutive components: sustained reflection on how we should and shouldn’t talk about Jesus (Introduction & secs.1.1-2.1), then the way this reflection informs and is informed by a responsible, ethical way of life (sec. 2.2). Christology grants us not only explanation but “a world to live in” (xi).

Williams’s second formal claim is that thinking about Christ must involve thinking about the God-world relation itself. Christology, we might say, cannot do without metaphysics (and the reverse). This is because in “both creation and incarnation, God has elected to live within the created order without ceasing to be what God eternally is” (107). Williams is quite right that this has been so throughout most of Christian history. There you’ll find that christology and metaphysics effect “mutual illumination”: not only will you encounter the same questions, but clarity about one will necessarily entail revisiting the other (xiii).

Last and most programmatic: classical christolog­ical doctrine both unveils and depends on a metaphysical non-rivalry between infinite and finite agencies. “God’s action cannot be added to the action of some other agent to make a more effective force. And this also means that God’s action is never in competition with any particular activity inside the universe” (xii, emphasis his). That divinity and humanity retain their full integrity in Christ—unconfused, unchanged, undivided, inseparable—verifies and crystalizes for us the fact that God need not suppress anything creaturely in order to be immanent to his creation. Nor does creation need to condition God to secure its relative integrity against the claims of the infinite. In Christ God “refuses, we might say, to be our rival at any imaginable level” (166—the proximate context here is Calvin’s doctrine of Christ’s merits, but the point recurs: cf. xii, 11, 221, passim). It’s exactly because we shouldn’t conceive infinite agency and being as yet another instance of finite agency that we must refrain from adding them together, as if (Farrer’s insight) “more of one means less of the other” (11; cf. 227). And so the title emblazons the essential thesis: “This is the sense in which Jesus Christ is at the heart of creation…as the one in whom the movement or energy of filial love and understand­ing is fully active in and as finite substance and energy” (223). The Creator can enact and self-identify as a creature just because “Creator” and “creature” do not vie for the same metaphysical territory: God acts in and as that man Jesus of Nazareth, and doesn’t for all that deplete his divinity.

So far I find myself in complete agreement. Indeed I unequivocally support the first thesis, though I say little more about it. Williams’s discussion of Bonhoeffer’s christological ethics—especially when it insists that ideology of any sort, radical or conservative, which would reserve for itself some exemption from our concrete complicity in socio-political sin “becomes a strictly Christological error” (206)—is arrestingly insightful. But these are formal theses. As such the differences don’t emerge until you consider the material content of Williams’s christology, particularly with respect to the final two theses. I will below, and there my disagreement emerges.

The story’s argument. First, though, Williams’s overarching narrative and the argument it makes. This story’s plot comprises roughly six Acts (this is my sequence and numbering, not the book’s). In Act I we have the New Testament’s highly compressed and often odd lan­guage surrounding the figure of Jesus. Williams’s really cogent here, particularly when he describes the way Paul’s theology of the Body of Christ moves “well beyond what is normally ascribable to a human individual,” and so proves already generative of christological specu­lation and development (48). Only a casual and false reading of patristic christological controversy imagines that it’s somehow foreign to the earliest Christian kerygma.

In Act II we see how Christ-talk develops steadily (though not easily) over the patristic and medieval eras around “the central issue of the relation of Creator to creation” (117). Chalcedon, to name one defining moment, awkwardly reasserted the full divinity and full humanity in the one Christ. Thus it merely reasserted the inseparability of thinking the God-world relation from thinking the mystery of Christ. Further refinements to the concept of “hypostasis” among Byzantine thinkers such as Leontius of Byzantium and Maximus Confessor provided a crucial “bridge” to the medieval synthesis achieved most brilliantly by Thomas Aquinas (83; cf. 37, 116, 122).

Aquinas is Act III. He perfects the christological results of the Byzantines. Not only, Williams alleges, was his christology closer to Cyril’s and John Damascene’s “than any of his Western predecessors” (116)—which might be news to readers of Eriugena or Hugh of St. Victor!—but Aquinas’s synthesis “can reasonably be thought of as an achievement of both Western and Eastern thought” (122). Williams thinks so for two reasons. First, the main burden of the many counterfactual questions Aquinas raises and addresses (esp. in ST III) is to demonstrate that “the union of divine and human in Jesus is in no way the fusion of two comparable metaphysical subjects” (26). That the Father rather than the Son might have been incarnate, for instance, shows just how unconditioned the Son’s identity is by the event of the Incarnation. And yet, second, the Word’s historical Incarnation demands that there is “nothing that can be said of Jesus of Nazareth that is not in a strict sense spoken ‘about’ the Word of God, considered as the final ground or condition of the historical identity of Jesus” (30-1). So while the Word’s personal esse is what and who it is from all eternity, it is this very same esse that alone makes the man Jesus to exist and to bear the unique character of the Son’s eternal filiation (34-5). Just here emerges Williams’s asymmetrical christology: the life of Jesus cannot be adequately grasped without reference to the fundamental ground and principle of its subsistence in the divine Word, but that same life “contributes nothing extra to that identifying esse” (35; cf. 89-90). If there is no Jesus without the Word—and that in a “unique” act of God the Word (36)—there could very well be the Word without Jesus. This, Williams claims, is basically what the late Byzantine thinkers meant by their doctrine that Christ’s humanity subsists only in his person, i.e. is “enhypostasized” in the Word’s own hypostasis. I return to this misleading claim below.

Acts IV and V ring radically orthodox. In the former the story takes a bad turn: late medievals—Scotus and especially Ockham—weaken Aquinas’s delicate synthesis to the extent that they separate God and world at every point, making every relation “extrinsic” in the extreme (123; esp. 127-141). They overemphasize God-world (and so Word-Jesus) disjunction at the expense of Aquinas’s tensively-poised asymmetry. Then the next Act narrates a mixed reaction among the Reformers. Luther overreacts to the late medieval cleavage between Christ’s humanity and divinity, all but asserting their “simple identity.” For Luther it’s right to say of Jesus, “There goes God down the street!” and “The man Christ created the world and is almighty!” (138, n. 22). Calvin corrects Luther’s pendulum swing by urging that (in Williams’s terms) “there can be no simple identity between divinity and embodied humanity; the unity that we affirm is a unity of action and of person.” The very core of the extra Calvinisticum declares just this: “there is no sense in which the embodied humanity can exhaust the single divine agency of the Word” (152, his emphasis). Thus Calvin “recovers” Aquinas’s asymmetrical christology, which confesses the utter dependence of Christ’s humanity upon his person while denying any hint of some mutual conditioning between the Word’s eternal, divine life and his earthly, temporal one—an unhealthy obsession, say, with the communicatio idiomatum (hence Osiander’s “error” of attributing to Christ’s glorified humanity divine omnipresence, which Calvinists deny).

The dénouement, Act VI, shows how Calvin’s distinctive emphasis on Christ’s “solidarity” with humanity—unto the depths of hell in all its emotional duress—forms an immediate connection to Bonhoeffer’s intuition that the metaphysical non-rivalry Chalcedon commends ultimately issues in the ethical call for the Church to define itself as being-for-the-world (not simply over-and-against it)—a call to radical and self-sacrificing solidarity (Stellvertretung) on behalf of the world in the manner of Christ.1

So much for the narrative and its central constructive proposals. One might quibble with this narration, of course. Williams himself admits that the history of dogma is “rarely if ever a smooth story of advance towards consensual resolution” (127). But I want instead to address more substantive matters of disagreement, above all this business about “asymmetry.”


What troubles me most about Williams’s christology is how keen it is to deny “exhaustive identity” between the Word of God and Jesus of Nazareth (159-60). His asymmetrical framework means precisely to forestall any attempt to perceive in Chalcedon’s “one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten”—”a single hypostasis and a single person”—a simple Word-Jesus identity, still less some kind of symmetrical, mutually reciprocal relation between Christ’s natures. And so for Williams:

the agenda for the theology of the centuries immediately following Chalcedon was unmistakeably the clarification of the vocabulary and assumptions of the definition, so as to underline the asymmetry of the relation between the single hypostasis and the divinity and the single hypostasis and the humanity, and to avoid anything which might suggest that either hypostasis or essence could exist in a purely abstract way…. In fact we are already well on the way in these discussion [sic] to the recognition by medievals like Aquinas that the single esse of the incarnate Word could intelligibly be discussed from two significantly different points of view; and the working through of the asymmetry between Christ’s sharing of the divine essence and his sharing of human nature brought more clearly to light some of the ways in which the classical Christological model both reflected and illuminated fundamental convictions about the asymmetrical relation of creative and created act. (88, my emphasis)

The Chalcedonian Definition unsettles Williams’s schema because, while there’s quite a bit of identity (“one and the same Christ,” “a single hypostasis”) and even symmetry (“the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity,” “consubstantial with the Father…consubstantial with us”), there’s precious little that might be described as “asymmetrical.” This aspect had to be developed. Theologians became increasingly aware of the need to speak about Christ “from two significantly different points of view.” This amounts to the two “perspectives” delineated with utmost clarity in Aquinas: there’s the divine Word who is what and who he is from eternity, and then there’s the human Jesus who is what and who he is from a moment in time, though only because he subsists in that eternal Word’s own person (115-16).

That last elicits the doctrine of “enhypostatization,” which holds that Christ’s human nature has neither subsistence nor natural activity outside of the Word’s hypostasis. It is and is what it is only in his hypostasis—his humanity is “enhypostasized.”2 Crucial here—and what Williams misses—is that distinguishing a hypostasis as such from the nature(s) it “enhypos­tasizes” permits us to discern two remarkable implications of Chalcedon’s portrait of Christ: [1] even if they’re concretely inseparable, a hypostasis and its nature(s) are not simply reducible to one another—they bear different principles or “logics.”3 A “hypos­tasis” says that and who is, a “nature” says what (it is and how that kind of thing acts). This distinction also shows that [2] an “enhypostatic” nature (or accident) designates that nature’s mode of existing—not what it is or even how it naturally acts (i.e. its natural powers), but where it is determinately real and who is the agent of its natural powers. These two features of Neochalcedonian christology yield a basic but significant insight: when it comes to “one and the same Christ,” the person is the mode of real union between the two natures. As Maximus says:

For [one rightly] confesses with the Fathers that the unconfused [natures] from which Christ is composed remained on account of the difference preserved. Apart from the one hypostasis, these realities that differ from each other in their natural principle could never exist, and you could never in any way know them separately [from the hypostasis].4

In Christ, who is the very subsistence of the Word from the Father, divine and human nature subsist. Apart from him they do not exist at all.5 But since the hypostasis is the natures’ sole subsistence (divinity subsists in all three Persons, of course, only as Father, Son, Spirit), it is also the sole and sufficient way they are one. In fact, they can be an identical reality in the Word’s hypostasis exactly because the logic of hypostasis as such contains no essential content that might otherwise require that these two infinitely different natures (and modes) remain as really distinct as they are abstractly distinct. A hypostasis is hospitable to nature because a hypostasis has no natural content in itself. You could list every imaginable property of my (human) nature along with every accident attributable to me at any point in my life—and you would not list me, my very person.6 Identify every predicable characteristic of me; you still have not identified the one thus identified—the irreducibly singular one who bears these identifying characteristics. So too with Christ. Even if we could identify and speak the properties of his divine and human natures (and the accidents variously inhering in the latter), we would not then speak his person, the one who possesses and is both natures at once. The marks that identify are not themselves the one identified. For that, we typically reserve a proper name: “Jesus” (cf. Php 2.9-11).

And so a good deal of my issues with Williams’s christology derive, I think, from the way he often elides the logics of hypostasis and nature. Consider again the italicized part of the quote above: post-Chalcedonian christology had to establish “the asymmetry of the relation between the single hypostasis and the divinity and the single hypostasis and the humanity.” I can see an asymmetry between “divinity” and “humanity” abstractly conceived. The former causes the latter, not the reverse; the former is eternal, the latter bound by time; indeed the former is unconditioned and infinite in agency, the latter conditioned and finite in its action; and so ever on. But notice: humanity and divinity are not the only two terms on each side of the relation here. Is not the “hypostasis” that appears in both terms the very same? Presum­ably so, lest we revert to Nestorianism. But if they refer to the same hypostasis, how could they form part of what is compared and contrasted between each term in order to establish an asymmetrical relation? Isn’t it rather that this very hypostatic identity in which alone each nature subsists and thus subsists as one and the same—isn’t it this very identity that allows for any comparison at all? Isn’t the Word the same Word on both “sides” of the asymmetrical relation? Surely. But then he is not himself an asymmetrical relation. He is the identical relation that grounds whatever asymmetrical relation we abstract from his concrete oneness, his subsistence, his unity, himself.

Again, Williams worries over what seems to be the natural way to take Chalcedon:

There is indeed…a problem in Chalcedon’s language to the extent that it implies that there is a single hypostasis which relates in the same way to two sets of attributes—which is the implication of saying, as the formula does, that Christ is of one essence (homoousios) with the Father as regards his divinity and of one essence with us as regards his humanity. The difficulty is that, taken at face value, this would mean either that the hypostasis somehow pre-exists both ‘natures’ or at least is independent of them in some sense, or that two abstract sets of attributes somehow come together to be unified in one agent. (86-7, his emphasis)

Williams’s failure to distinguish sufficiently the logics of hypostasis and natures lures him into a false alternative: surely we cannot say the Son relates to his natures in the same way, lest we posit either the preexistence of the hypostasis-subject as such before it relates to its natures, or we envisage the hypostatic union as a conjunction of two abstract natures. But why can’t the Word relate to his two natures in the same way—namely as their concrete subsistence and most fundamental personal mode—as him? And this certainly needn’t require preexistence. After all, neither my soul nor my body are the whole of me, Jordan. And yet I am both of them at once, and they would not be at all were they not I. Therefore their logical and metaphysical distinction from me (“independent in some sense,” we might say) does not imply my actual preexistence of them, nor theirs of me.7 Nor does any of this imply a conjunction of abstract predicates. It implies only this: that precisely because a hypostasis bears a logic different from (any) nature, it cannot and need not relate to (any) nature naturally. No amount of comparison between natures as such, then, could ever describe a hypostasis’s relation to its nature(s). A hypostasis is its nature(s) in a mysteriously immediate way, unlike the way a particular nature is its nature (e.g. the way my soul is “soul,” that is, as naturally identical to other instances of the same genus). I do not need any sort of natural mediation to be the concrete identity that is my heart, brain, toe, emotions, soul, thoughts, etc. (They relate to each other that way, but I don’t). That Christ’s divine nature is eternal while his humanity is temporal, for example, says precisely nothing about how their one hypostasis relates to either—for he is both.

Jesus Christ is no more God than man. He is no less man than God. And that’s because he is “neither naked man,” writes Maximus, “nor naked God,” but is “double-natured” and essentially both at once.8 Asymmetrical christology only works if you neglect the immediacy of hypostatic identity and weigh, as it were, one abstract nature against the other and then mistake logical and abstract priority for real, hypostatic priority. Divinity “preexists” time in its eternity; therefore Christ’s divinity comes “before” his humanity, which is in time and thus arrives “after” the divinity he “already” possesses. But this is abstract and imprecise. Since hypostatic identity does not relate to nature as natures relate to one another, we must rather say: one and the same Christ, Son, Word, Only-Begotten, is the “before” and the “after” of both his natures.9

It’s unfortunate, then, that Williams’s principal strategy amounts to observing the many ways divinity is what it is quite apart from humanity (or the infinite apart from the finite), and to conclude from this that we ought not to identify the Word (divinity) and Jesus (humanity) too exhaustively. If there is anything about “being God” that necessarily includes something “outside” (Calvin’s extra) of or beyond reference to Jesus of Nazareth—eternity, infinite agency, omnipresence, aseity, simplicity, etc.—then Williams declares the case closed: obviously the incarnate life of Jesus cannot simply equate to “being God.” But Williams’s case thus depends throughout on an entirely abstract idea of “being God”—abstract even in the infinite concreteness of the tri-hypostatic life of the one God. When Williams summons Calvin to critique Robert Jenson, for instance, he puts it this way:

Even if we follow Jenson’s complex model of Jesus’s realized human sonship as something we must ‘project’ forwards and backwards on to the horizon of God’s life, we still have a question about whether the filial form of divinity is inextricably part of what it is to be God rather than something decided upon by God; and on this issue, Jenson seems to be with the majority view in classical Christology, allowing for some sort of formal extra, even if absolutely nothing can be said of it (except, presumably, that it is whatever is the necessary condition for Jesus being Jesus, for Jesus being the particular human individual he was/is). (160)

Here’s how I understand this argument: if the “filial form of divinity”—that is, the Son—is an essential “part of what it means to be God,” then God is already the Son in eternity, as it were, before the Son becomes Jesus in time; since therefore the Son was the Son in some sense “prior” to when he becomes Jesus, Jesus (i.e. the Word’s incarnate life) is not absolutely necessary to the Son’s identity. Since Jenson presumably concedes that eternal filiation (i.e. the Son) is necessary for God to be God, then this undermines Jenson’s signature thesis that the man Jesus is exhaustively identical to the divine Son.10

Again, Williams’s critique is doubly malformed and thus unconvincing.

First, being the Son is not essential for what it means to be God, since neither Father nor Spirit are Son and yet they are God. More precisely, as soon as we affirm that the Son is “inextricably part” of being God, we’ve moved beyond conceiving “God” in the abstract; but then the moment we move beyond this abstraction into the determinateness of Son (and Father and Spirit), we are indeed identifying the very one, the Son, who alone became incarnate: “Before Abraham was, I Am” (Jn 8.58). Conceiving the Son as inherent to divinity moves our contem­plation in just the opposite direction of Williams’s conclusion. If we think “God” as determinately Son (and Father and Spirit), we already distinguish the divine Person from the divine essence as such. And so this extra turns out not to be outside of the Son’s person at all. The “filial form of divinity” is just him, the Son, the one Lord Jesus Christ—the very same on both sides of the (asymmetrical) relation.

Second and what immediately follows: only a groundless abstraction can weaken the Son-Jesus identity so as to make one (eternal filiation) the “condition” or “ground” of the other (“for Jesus being Jesus,” as he says). Or if we insist on speaking this way, we should rather say that the Son is the ground of himself.11 Then we see once again that it’s the very identity (Son) of the terms (divinity and humanity) that is the real condition for the possibility for their distinction at all. If we deny or even just imagine that we must weaken this identity to secure difference, we’re either reverting to abstraction in order to qualify something real (the person who is just as much man as he is God)—which is never persuasive—or we’ve really just been conceiving “Son” and “Jesus” as two separate subjects all along. And that, of course, is precisely what Williams does not want to do.

Asymmetrical christology, Williams’s included,12 constantly worries that God’s becoming a creature will give the impression that God and world reciprocally condition each other. Conditioned things are finite things. Mutual conditioning would transgress the basic non-rivalry between God and creation Williams seeks: it would make both finite agents pressing on and forming one another. This explains Williams’s naughty list: Luther (101-3), Osiander (143-4), Eberhard Jüngel (158), Robert Jenson (158-60), Bruce McCormack (175-7), etc.13 Each in various ways and to different degrees risks adducing “simple identity” from the Incarnation.

Against this tendency toward identity Williams argues for a before-and-after picture of the Word-Jesus relation (and so also of the God-relation), where “one reality is informed and defined by another which is real at a completely different ontological level” (120), so that the “Word is identified quite independently of Jesus” since there is nothing “but a wholly one-sided relation between Word and Jesus” (77)—an amazing claim. This twin vantage, asym­metrical christology ends up denying (with Calvin and against Luther) that Christ’s two natures and their respective modes “interpenetrate” each other, a claim directly opposed to Gregory of Nazianzus and to the whole of Maximus’s christology (154-5, 163-4).14

Williams best articulates his central concerns in this passage:

If we say that the eternal Word is as he/it is in virtue of the quality of the incarnate life, and that the Word’s self-emptying is simply the Word’s acceptance of this, the question we are left with is whether the incarnate life, ‘imprinting’ itself on God’s eternity, modifies or adds to that life. Are the filial quality of the incarnate life, its compassionate selflessness, its devotion to the Father’s will shaped by temporal contingency and then ‘received’ in Heaven? Clearly there can be no simple ‘then’ about it: the Word timelessly relin­quishes all that is not Jesus in its/his self-defining action. But can we then say nothing about the eternal Sonship of the Word or indeed the eternal act by which the Father is Father in begetting the Son? Because if we do want to affirm this, we are allowing that the divine life is in some vital way the absolute condition of the incarnate; if not, we are left with both a ‘Father’ and a ‘Son’ existing in eternity somehow logically prior to the determination created in the incarnate life of Jesus—and who therefore may be thought to have no intrinsic relation between them as better and begotten. (179)

Consider two (by now familiar) steps of Williams’s argument here.

First, if we can speak of the Son’s relation to the Father in eternity without reference to his incarnate life as Jesus, then this implies that the Son’s eternal, intra-trinitarian identity must be the “absolute condition” for whatever comes after—e.g. his human life. This is another version of the before-after way of framing the infinite-finite relation; indeed it’s their juxtaposition.

Second, if we do not think it possible to speak with integrity of the eternal Son without reference to the conditions of his incarnate life among us, then we’re committed to saying that Christ’s humanity somehow “modifies” or conditions his divinity. This effectively denies that the divinity is “the absolute condition” of the Incarnation itself. Specifically, it would place divinity—what “being God” means eternally—in a reciprocal relation with its own effect (the created life of Jesus), which reciprocal relation undermines the very logic of creation/causality.

But what if both are true exactly because Jesus is identical to the Son? What if, I mean, the identity of the God-man entails both that we can speak of him abstractly as eternal “Word” (just as we can speak of him abstractly as a mere man—as many in fact did!) and that even speaking abstractly of him, to the degree this is really about the Son in his determinate­ness, is not in truth something other than speaking of him always in relation to the Incarnation?

Look again at the way Williams articulates his concerns here about identity. Three things puzzle me. First, he appears to elide person and nature by referring simply to “the eternal Word” “as it/he is”—as he is qua person or qua divine? This then, second, generates a recurrent false alternative: either the Son is complete in eternity or he is completed in time. If he is complete already in eternity, in the “divine life,” then we admit his eternal identity in the Trinity is “the absolute condition” of his incarnate life—and this would contradict a “simple” Word-Jesus identity. But if he is completed in time, this would seem to imagine a preexisting “Son” who is logically prior to his own determination in the Incarnation but must await, as it were, that event in order to be the Son he is (so that this event and not the Father is the determinative relation in the Son’s identity).

But this, third, is a familiar false alternative based on a familiar mistake, evidenced by what Williams does not say here. The Son as such, his person, is no more conditioned in himself by eternity than he is by time (otherwise “being eternal” would make Father and Spirit into the Son). And this is precisely why he can be both at once without contradic­tion: the same filial relation which the Son is, is both eternal (divine) and historical (human). If he is the “absolute condition” (divine) he is also the absolute conditioned (human). For you will find nothing in Jesus of Nazareth that is not concretely the Son—otherwise that thing wouldn’t subsist at all—including Jesus’ creation from nothing and his birth from the Virgin.15

Just here I sense Williams’s own furtive metaphysical rivalry: either the Son himself is the divine Son or the Son is Jesus—but not both at once. And this is, I think, the final rivalry to be overcome christologically. The Son is free to be both Creator and creature—and thus their concrete identity—precisely because his personal identity doesn’t even depend on the contrast between finite and infinite agencies and their respective modalities. More: we can only abstract about those modalities at all because he is both. And so we come upon a most remarkable contemplation: the very fact that we can misapprehend the truth of who he is by beginning with a false juxtaposition is itself a sign that his kenosis is more real than our abstractions. He is so identical to God that we might suppose his real identity simply must lie “outside” his humanity; he is so identical to man that we might regard him as mere man, “accursed by God” (Isa 53.4). We couldn’t properly misapprehend him were he not really identical to both in the most serious, positive, concrete, absolute way. Our very misappre­hension of him proves that he’s more than our misapprehension. It even proves the depths of his love.

Creation and incarnation must finally obey the laws of asymmetry, Williams thinks. In both cases we must be able to say: “God would be God without the world” (222). This might be the direst abstraction in the book. But if Christ’s identity as the (hypostatic) identity of (natural) identity and (natural) difference reveals anything, it’s that a God without his flesh or his world “is a conventional abstraction,” as Bulgakov knew.16 Nothing is more essential or stable or unstoppable or concrete than hypostatic love. It is precisely divine love that “humanizes God.”17


Williams’s entire frame for conceiving “incarnation” seems to be that the divine Word became human. But that’s not the whole truth of Incarnation. The truth is that the divine Word became divine-human. Not, “What does it mean that God became man?” but, “What does it mean that God became the God-man”? Not, “How do we go from eternal Word to temporal Jesus?” but, “How do we go from eternal Word to temporal-eternal Jesus, who is the very Word?” Conceiving Incarnation as if it were simply another instance, however unique, of the way a transcendent “agency” interacts with or encompasses or “activates” or “is signified by” an immanent “agency” already misconceives the heart of Incarnation.

Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that procedure. Indeed it’s difficult to see how it could have developed otherwise in the course of Christian reflection on the mystery of Christ. The problem lies instead in taking such great and uncritical confi­dence in the determinate content of that picture of things—of two “agencies” that are both distinct and yet free of competing for the same logical or metaphysical “space”—that you begin to think that the best we can do is affirm negations. They are not rivals; they are not two instances of some kind; they are not to be juxtaposed; they are not identical; they are “non-dual non-identical” (227).18 And that’s true. But it’s also inadequate to the mystery’s own content.

Neoplatonic metaphysics would happily agree that the One and the Many are “non-dual non-identical” (a decent summary of En. VI.4-5, as it happens). But “Christ crucified” becomes “foolishness” to the world (1 Cor 1-2) only when this is taken to affirm that “God was crucified,” and is crucified still today. There’s little scandal in pure negation; there’s plenty in the affirmation that “God dies.” For Williams this affirmation “depends on admitting that the two natures through or in which different things are true of the Word remain unaltered by its relation” (140). This is once again a half-truth. Affirming “God dies” doesn’t depend simply on keeping the natures intact during the dying; it depends on the identity of the one who dies. Is that man there, hanging on the tree—is he exhaustively God or not?

To the extent that Williams’s operative and determinative thought-picture is one of “two agencies” and not, as in Christ, two agencies that are positively one and mutually interpenetrating in one agent, his picture furtively imports the very premise he wishes to deny throughout: that infinite and finite agencies are not to be conceived as two finite agencies that must impinge upon one another to be united. But is not the very denial of their identity and bi-lateral penetration itself a result of the stipulation that their modal distinction must finally preclude their real sameness? And isn’t this stipulation an admission of at least modal rivalry in the realm of the real? Doesn’t asymmetry in fact require rivalry to be intelligible at all? Isn’t the greatest affirmation of metaphysical non-rivalry exactly the confession that Christ is the concrete identity of both modes in himself—not just that he is not not both? Perhaps the last and greatest metaphysical rivalry as yet unexposed is that in order for the Word to be God, he must not be who he is as human. Must we say that the Word’s divinity is revealed in Christ by the very fact that the Word could have done without Christ?



[1] Here I must quote this remarkable line from Williams: “The irony in the Church’s very being is that it is there to make a universal and comprehensive claim that has nothing to do with any aspirations to be a universal and comprehensive system of control” (202).

[2] For a magisterial but unfortunately neglected study of this doctrine (its absence from Williams’s book isn’t unique), see Benjamin Gleede, The Development of the Term ἐνυπόστατος from Origen to John of Damascus (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

[3] Cf. Leontius of Byzantium, CNE PG 86, 1277D; Epil. 8, PG 86, 1945AB—and Maximus Confessor, Opusc 16, PG 91, 205BC; Opusc 23, PG 91, 264AB; Ep 15, PG 91, 553D; Ep 19, PG 91, 344; Amb 2.2, passim. 

[4] Maximus, Ep 12; PG 91, 484b; my translation.

[5] This leads Maximus to the stunning claim that (anticipated, as far as I know, only by the anonymous Neochalcedonian treatise De sectis VII.2, PG 86, 1241B) the divine nature itself is anhypostasis, “without hypostasis”; cf. Opusc 13.7. 

[6] Cf. Maximus, Amb 17.5.

[7] Cp. Maximus, Ep 15, 552C; and Leontius of Byzantium, CNE 4, PG 86, 1285D-1288A.

[8] Maximus, Amb 5.3 and 18; cf. Ep 19, PG 91, 344.

[9] This is what Neochalcedonians meant when they called Christ a “composite hypostasis” (synthetos hypostasis)—namely that the one, whole hypostasis is his own parts in a way typical part-whole schemas can’t account for (since their relations usually depend on comparing specific qualities or properties, i.e. comparing the essence of one thing with another to determine whether they can be united and make one higher, synthetic nature, as body and soul make “human”). Williams misunderstands this idea to refer solely to the human life that is Jesus, “a finite set of phenomena” (37; cf. 109, 119). But the “parts” of which, in which, and which Christ’s hypostasis is are not confined to his human, temporal life: one of those parts is his divinity. This just rehearses Williams’s systematic error, namely neglecting the peculiar logic of person: the “non-composed” hypostasis of the Word (=divine) is not somehow other than the “composite” hypostasis that is Christ—he is who he is as both parts; see Maximus, Ep 13, PG 91, 296-304; and esp. Ep 15, PG 91, 556A (my translation): “So in this way He is mediator, according to hypostasis, for those parts from which He is composed: He comprises the interval of the extremes in Himself [ἵνα ᾗ καθ’ ὑπόστασιν μεσίτης τοῖς ἐξ ὧν συνετέθη μέρεσι· τὴν τῶν ἄκρων ἐν αὐτῷ συνάπτων διάστασιν].”

[10] For a handy summary of his general outlook, see Robert W. Jenson, “Jesus in the TrinityPro ecclesia 8.3 (Summer 1999): 308-18. 

[11] Cyril of Alexandria, Thes., PG 75, 281C; Maximus, Amb 42.11—This is arguably the necessary way of reading even the narrative logic of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: The very same person—the “one Lord Jesus Christ” who is the “Only-Begotten Son”—was “begotten not made” (οὐ ποιηθέντα /non factum) and “was made man” (ἀνανθρωπήσαντα/homo factus est). On the way this narrative logic drives Cyril’s christology, see R.A. Norris, “Christological Models in Cyril of Alexandria,” Journal of Theological Studies 38.2 (1987): 341-67. 

[12] He is by no means an anomaly, and simply represents what seems to be the majority view in modern theology. Florovsky, for instance, explicitly embraces this view, which is taken up and applied to Maximus by Bathrellos; see Georges Florovsky, Collected Works, vol. 9: The Byzantine Fathers of the Sixth to the Eighth Century. Edited by Richard S. Haugh and translated by Raymond Miller, Annie-Marie Döllinger-Labriolle, and Helmut Wilhelm Schmiedel (Vaduz: Büchervertriebsantstalt, 1987), 231; Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ: Person, Nature, and Will in the Christology of Saint Maximus the Confessor (Oxford: OUP, 2004), 115. And of course adherents of the analogia entis are expressly committed to some form of asymmetry governing christology; e.g. Erich Przywara, Analogia Entis: Original Structure and Universal Rhythm. Translated by John R. Betz and David Bentley Hart (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014 [1962]) 399, 532-6, and Williams discussion of him (226-41).

[13] As noted, Williams also sees Scotus and especially Ockham as wrong in overemphasizing “separation” in Christ, so he does poise asymmetry as a good old Anglican (Catholic) via media.

[14] Gregory of Nazianzus, Ep 101, SC 208, 48: “Just as the natures are mixed, so also the names pass reciprocally (perichorouson) into each other by the principle of natural co-affinity”; cf. Or 29.19).—Maximus constructs his entire christo-metaphysics around what’s known as the tantum-quantum principle (Williams doesn’t discuss this), which claims that in Christ creation becomes God “to the same degree” that God became man; e.g. Amb 7.22: “[the deified person] places himself wholly in God alone, forming and configuring God alone throughout his entire being, so that he himself by grace is and is called God, just as God by His condescension is and is called man for the sake of man [καὶ τὸν Θεὸν εἶναι συγκαταβάσει καὶ καλεῖσθαι δι’ αὐτὸν ἄνθρωπον], and also so that the power of this reciprocal disposition might be shown forth herein, a power that divinizes man through his love for God, and humanizes God through His love for man. And by this beautiful exchange, it renders God man by reason of the divinization of man [διἀ τὴν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου θέωσιν], and man God by reason of the Incarnation of God [διὰ τὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐνανθρώπησιν]. For the Logos of God and God wills always and in all things to accomplish the mystery of His embodiment [ἐνσωματώσεως]”; see too Amb 3.5, 5.14, 10.9, 60.4, QThal 22.4, schol. 3.

[15] Maximus, Amb 5.13, modified: “Thus, ‘though He was beyond being, He came into being,’ fashioning within nature a principle of generation and a different mode of birth [γενέσεως ἀρχὴν καὶ γεννήσεως ἑτέραν [Wis 7:5] τῇ φύσει δημιουργήσας], for He was conceived having become the seed of His own flesh, and He was born having become the seal of the virginity of the one who bore Him, showing that with respect to her mutually contradictory things truly exist together. For she herself is both virgin and mother, innovating nature by a coincidence of opposites, since virginity and childbearing are opposites, and no one would have imagined from nature their combination [ὧν ἐκ φύσεως οὐκ ἄν τις ἐπινοηθήσεται σύμβασις].”

[16] Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God. Translated by Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008 [1933]), 121.

[17] Maximus, Amb 7.22; cf. Amb 5.4.

[18] Williams’s love for the negative sits especially uneasily when he says the Son’s eternal relation to the Father is one of “non-duality and non-identity” (227-8; cf. 244). But surely we must affirm that the Father-Son relation is just as much one of duality and identity. The Son is so hypostatically distinct from the Father that he and not the Father was crucified. The Son is so essentially identical to the Father that “God died.” Negation’s not enough here, and it’s not enough for the mystery of Christ either.

* * *

Jordan Daniel Wood is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology at Providence College. He wrote and defended his doctoral dissertation on the christological metaphysics of Maximus Confessor at Boston College. Most importantly, he’s the husband of an ICU nurse and father to three daughters under age 5.

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34 Responses to Against Asymmetrical Christology: A Critical Review of Rowan Williams’s ‘Christ the Heart of Creation’

  1. Adam Morton says:

    Very interesting review. Thank you much.

    Right now I’m puzzling over exactly what sort of asymmetry the analogia entis, and specifically Przywara’s conception of it, requires (footnote 12) – partially because in Przywara’s later works (post WW2 stuff) he explicitly picks up some of Luther’s more radical Christological formulations, and doesn’t consider this a movement away from the analogy of being, but its concrete expression.

    Liked by 1 person

    • apoloniolatariii says:

      I read this a couple of times, but I am not sure I am quite getting the point and the criticism.
      When I read the “asymmetrical Christology” of Williams, I do think that he wants to deny that there is an exhaustive identity between Jesus and the Son. But what does it mean that Jesus is not exhaustively identical to the Son? That’s the issue. Dr. Wood says:

      “For you will find nothing in Jesus of Nazareth that is not concretely the Son—otherwise that thing wouldn’t subsist at all—including Jesus’ creation from nothing and his birth from the Virgin“

      Sure, but is there something in the Son that is not in Jesus of Nazareth? This post assumes that the divine essence is not identical to the Persons of the Trinity. I am not quite sure they are not identical, and that admitting this identity would not entail modalism.

      He then says:

      “First, being the Son is not essential for what it means to be God, since neither Father nor Spirit are Son and yet they are God.”

      I just read what Williams said differently. To say Sonship is essential to being God means that there can be no God without the Son. In fact, there can be no such thing as God without the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, yes, being the Son is essential to being God if you conceive of the Son as relation. And this relation is identical to God. Again, we’re back to that distinction.

      He also says:

      “And this is precisely why he can be both at once without contradiction: the same filial relation which the Son is, is both eternal (divine) and historical (human).”

      The question is, again, what an “exhaustive identity” means. We can agree that the filial relation of the Son is both divine and human. The question is whether the divine filial relation is numerically identical with the human filial relation. If not, then why not?

      The ground of the Son is the Father. The Son is relation Himself. Is this relation, is this being the Son, numerically identical to the human Jesus’ filial relation?

      Or think of it this way: why is the human will of Jesus not grounded in His divine will? Is there any human will that is not grounded in the divine will? Is the divine will ever grounded in the human will?

      An answer may be: no, the human will is not grounded in the divine will, but in the person of the Son, since when you are talking about the wills, you are speaking about His natures, not His Person. Again, that would assume that the Son and the essence of God are not identical.

      Anyway, I need to reread Balthasar on this.


      • jordandanielwood says:

        Thanks for these important questions. I’ll attempt to clarify.

        You write in response to my claim that there’s nothing in Jesus that’s not the Son:

        ‘Sure, but is there something in the Son that is not in Jesus of Nazareth? This post assumes that the divine essence is not identical to the Persons of the Trinity. I am not quite sure they are not identical, and that admitting this identity would not entail modalism.’

        First, I do not think there’s anything in the Son that is not in Jesus. If we said otherwise, then there just is no real identity between them at all. It’d be as if the “Son” experienced or enjoyed or possessed some aspects that Jesus did not. But if Jesus is not privy to experiences or attributes proper to the Son, that’s just another way of saying that Jesus really isn’t the Son. We’d have one subject, Jesus, who enjoys X set of attributes, and then another, the Son, who enjoys X+ set. But to the extent that Jesus is excluded from the +, he is *different* from the Son, who has them and has them properly–i.e., *as his own*. If the Son has something of his *own* that Jesus does not, then we have two owners, two subjects, and no concrete identity at all. Instead we’d have, as the Neoplatonist Proclus admits, a “secondary identity” between higher cause and lower effect: the effect is the cause (since the cause must have everything in itself, in its own power, that it produces), but the cause is not “exhaustively” the effect. But then we have two different existential subjects.

        Second, I do not think there is any *abstract* identity between the Persons and the divine essence. If there were, then the Son’s death on the Cross would mean the divine nature itself died. And we must remember that whatever we say about their concrete, absolute, essential identity (I affirm all this), the Son as such is so utterly distinct (not separate) from the Father that the Son died and the Father (and Spirit) did not. As Zachhuber has chronicled, one way to understand the massive conceptual reorientations that took place from the Cappadocian fathers straight through Chalcedon to the seventh century, is to realize that christology and Trinity demand [1] that the divine essence not be neither an abstract genus nor a concrete reality in itself (which would form a quaternity), and [2] that the way the divine essence is “universal” or “common” to the Three Persons is only in and through their own acts of origination–that is, in a way completely unfathomable to us, who typically think of universals as either prior “causes” or as abstract concepts or defintions–or indeed both. None of this applies to the Trinity, and in Neochalcedonian hands, this same peculiar logic is univocally applied to the Son Incarnate, since, of course, the Son who is Jesus is the very same Son who is begotten of the Father “before all ages.”


        ‘I just read what Williams said differently. To say Sonship is essential to being God means that there can be no God without the Son. In fact, there can be no such thing as God without the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, yes, being the Son is essential to being God if you conceive of the Son as relation. And this relation is identical to God. Again, we’re back to that distinction.’

        I’d distinguish here between what is “necessary” and what is “essential” to being God. That’s not just semantics, and for some of the reasons I’ve already indicated. We can’t say being Son is “essential” to being God, at least if we mean “being the divine essence.” For the Father is not the Son, but the Father is possesses the divine essence. Therefore “being Son” and “being essentially God/having the divine essence” cannot be the same thing. In fact, conceiving the Son as a relation is already to admit that the Son is not the essence as such, since relations have not essential content (unless they are relations of quality–which pro-Nicenes ruled out as a possibility between Father and Son for the good reason that a difference in quality implies a difference in essence). So yes, the Son qua relation (subsistent relation?) is identical to God, i.e. bears the entire divine essence without diminution, but this identity is not the same as personal identity as such. And that, I think, is the reason why Maximus claims that even in the heart of the Trinity we must distinguish the logics of hypostasis and nature/essence:

        “My account will dare to speak of the greatest: even with respect to the first, anarchic, efficient Cause of all beings, we do not contemplate the nature and the hypostasis as identical to one another” (Ep 15, PG 91, 549CD; my translation)

        So it is indeed necessary for God to be triune, but not being tri-hypostatic is not itself constitutive of the divine essence *considered as such*, abstractly, so to speak.


        ‘The ground of the Son is the Father. The Son is relation Himself. Is this relation, is this being the Son, numerically identical to the human Jesus’ filial relation?’

        If the Son is the relation himself, and if Jesus’ filiation relation is somehow different than the divine filiation, then Jesus is not the Son. They must be numerically identical. If they are not, we are back to Nestorianism. The very same “one Lord Jesus Christ” is also the “Son, Only-Begotten.” Mary’s boy is the same person who was born of the Father.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Tom says:

          Jordan, thanks for this wonderfully written and thoughtful piece.

          What do you make of Athanasius and Cyril’s statements (I’m paraphrasing) that “when Jesus was nursing at Mary’s breast the Word was present throughout the cosmos sustaining it”?

          I think this is what apoloniolatari above was trying to get at – not that there is anything in the Son that is not in Jesus (that would be to effectively say God is not transcendently present throughout Creation), but that the exercise of the Word’s creative activity is both in and exceeds/transcends the finite embodied constraints of the Word’s human nature. The same sustaining presence of the Word – universally present throughout the cosmos and transcending it – is as present in the finite sphere of any part of the cosmos (including his own incarnate existence) as in any other part of it, transcending it all.

          This would not be “as if the ‘Son’ experienced or enjoyed or possessed some aspects that Jesus did not,” if by “Jesus” you mean the ‘person’, who is of course one and the same person as the Word. But it does mean the uncreated/infinite divine ‘nature’ of the Word is not in its concrete actuality exhausted by the Word’s created/finite human nature. The Word is utterly personally present in and as Jesus, but is not ‘naturally’ exhausted by the constraints of his embodied finitude. There is more to the Word ‘naturally’ than there is to the constraints of his created finitude.

          So of course the human consciousness (i.e., human nature) of Jesus is not privy to the experiences, acts or attributes proper to the divine nature, since the latter naturally transcends the former. But this is most certainly not to posit two “persons” since the embodied human consciousness, in its naturally finite and limited exercise, is not itself ‘the person’. But your comments suggested to me that you may be identifying ‘person’ with ‘mind’, which would be a mistake, since we do not multiply minds in God on account of there being three persons. When Paul says, for example, that “in Christ lives all the fullness of divinity in a human body,” he doesn’t mean to exhaust that fullness in the body.



          • jordandanielwood says:

            Thanks, Tom.

            I think I’d want to rephrase your paraphrase to say: “While the Son was nursing at Mary’s breast the same Son was present throughout and sustaining the universe.”

            I still think most of what you’ve said is both unproblematic and yet does not amount to a critique of my perspective. If the point is that divine/infinite action (or Williams’s “agency”) encompasses different and (modally) greater range than human/finite action, I grant it. But the Word himself isn’t reducible to either since he’s both. There’s no contradiction in saying [1] the Word is the sole agent of two naturally different activities (that’s just orthodoxy!) and yet [2] this natural difference doesn’t adequately articulate their concrete identity in and as Jesus Christ. And so I still detect a surreptitious dual-subject even in your comments:

            ‘So of course the human consciousness (i.e., human nature) of Jesus is not privy to the experiences, acts or attributes proper to the divine nature, since the latter naturally transcends the former.’

            Natural transcendence says little about what’s personally (i.e. concretely) real. I balk at predicating anything of “the human consciousness of Jesus” in itself; the question is rather: Who is conscious humanly? There is no “embodied human consciousness” that isn’t the consciousness of a person, the Son. We might even think in the other direction: do we say that the “divine consciousness of the Son [and of the Three]” is not privy to the experiences/acts proper to the human nature (Neoplatonists, esp. Iamblichus, said this of higher causes in relation to lower effects)? It’d be strange to say so, and not simply because “divinity” is infinite and so is not excluded from finite experiences.

            This last points up a crucial development in patristic christology. Athanasius could and did make the argument that the Incarnation isn’t remarkable because God in his transcendence is intimately and wholly immanent to all creation. But that’s a double-edged sword, since the very premises to which Athanasius appeals are the same that made educated Platonists *reject* the Incarnation: you can say (w/ Plotinus) that the One is the most immanent power in every effect, and this on account of its absolute transcendence; but of course it’s this same transcendence that makes it absurd to say “the One was born, grew in wisdom and stature, died.” Finite effects might do those things, and in an asymmetrical sense these effects just are their causes; but the causes qua causes cannot be identical to their effects, or else, as Proclus put it, “there would be no creative procession from the causes at all.” This is why Gregory of Nyssa in the Catechetical orations first reprises Athanasius’s immanence argument for the Incarnation, but then adds crucially: “yet in a different mode.”

            That different mode is precisely what’s at stake in the debates leading up to and succeeding Chalcedon. It’s why Leontius of Byzantium calls the “mode of union” the “entire mystery of religion.” At this point thinkers went one of two ways. Either you make Jesus a complete *exception* to the way God is naturally immanent to all things–i.e. you say that’s “sort of” how it worked in Jesus, but actually something far more profound (this is Dionysius’s way, Leontius’s too, et al.); or you admit that the Incarnation introduces what is for us an exceptional mode of divine identity with the creaturely, but then move from Christ to the cosmos and make this very exceptional mode the metaphysical mode of God’s relation to every creature (this is Leontius of Jerusalem’s way, and Maximus’s too). Whatever the case, though, it’s not enough to say that the divine nature, abstractly conceived as “transcendent of all,” basically gets you to the unique claim of the Incarnation. That uniqueness had to be developed as a “hypostatic” union as opposed to all other “vertical” modes of union, even that of transcendent cause to immanent effect. It’s also why so much labor went into developing and defining “ousia” and “hypostasis,” for centuries. The engine of this operation was precisely that the Incarnation was *not* a Creator-creature identity akin to any metaphysics on offer.

            So the upshot, I think, is this: does the human natural activity of the Son Incarnate exhaust the divine natural activity of the Trinity? Of course not. But the real scandal comes when we affirm, as I think we must, that the very same agent, the Son of God the Father, possesses both kinds of activity as his very own, indeed as *proper* to him (since he is just as essentially man as he is essentially God). So does the human activity exhaust the divine? No, but that’s beside the main point. The real question is: does the even the divine activity exhaust the Son? No, for he is both, both are his own.

            This is why, I think, Maximus insisted on adding something to the typical formula, “Christ is out of two natures and in two natures.” Maximus adds (systematically throughout his corpus): “and *is* two natures.” No amount of comparison and contrast between his two natural activities ever gets to the central, positive mystery here, namely that he himself spans their difference in his own concrete person:

            “So in this way He is mediator, according to hypostasis, for those parts from which He is composed: He comprises the interval of the extremes in Himself [ἵνα ᾗ καθ’ ὑπόστασιν μεσίτης τοῖς ἐξ ὧν συνετέθη μέρεσι· τὴν τῶν ἄκρων ἐν αὐτῷ συνάπτων διάστασιν].” (Ep 15; PG 91, 556a; translation mine)

            Liked by 1 person

        • David says:

          Hi Jordan, and thank you very much for this insightful essay.

          I am trying to unpack the statement that there’s nothing in Jesus that is not the Son, in terms of the divine consciousness.

          I follow the Thomistic definition of God as being pure act – specifically, the pure act of consciousness. Regardless of one’s metaphysics, I certainly take it for granted that God could in some sense be described as conscious – God is pure awareness itself.

          Anyhow, since God is eternal and immutable, it seems that God’s divine consciousness is likewise eternal and immutable (that is just what God is!). It’s not always clear how to parse the threefold nature of that consciousness given the trinity, but it seems that we should say that the Son – to the extent that he is consubstantial with the divine Father – shares in this consciousness.

          Jesus of course was – and presumably remains, even at the eschaton – temporal, i.e. with a human, creaturely, consciousness. But given the hypostatic union and divine atemporality, we must affirm that the person of the Son, the person of Jesus, possesses – is? – two consciousnesses, two ways of existence. So Jesus is therefore also in some sense atemporal.

          i) Is that right? Does Jesus have a moving, temporal consciousness, along with an unmoving, atemporal consciousness?)
          ii) if so, how should we make sense of Jesus’ identity as single subject/agent given this psychological duality?
          iii) is the problem that we have a tendency to use ‘Jesus’ as shorthand for the hypostasis of the Son in his ‘ ‘human consciousness’, when really we should be saying that Jesus is still Jesus whether considered from his human/temporal or atemporal/divine aspects? i.e. the Son’s divine consciousness, with its condescension to unite itself to humanity, can rightly be labelled Jesus. But if that’s right, isn’t that just the Calvinistic ‘extra’? Not in the sense that the Son is something more than Jesus, BUT that Jesus is more than just his visible human form?


        • apoloniolatariii says:

          Thanks Dr. Wood for the reply. I’ve been thinking about this lately and I think I need to reread some things about Christ as analogy of being and also Aaron Riches’ work. Let me try to restate some things.

          I have always understood “the Son” as the divine person and “Jesus” as the human nature of the Son. Or we can put it this way: the Son is the Son as divine and Jesus is the Son as human (of course we can always say “the Son as divine with human and as human with divine”).

          I may be interpreting Williams too charitably, but when he denies an exhaustive identity, I took him to mean that there is something in the Son as divine that is not in the Son as human. Since “each nature wills and performs the things that are proper to it in a communion with the other”, this means that there is something that the Son as human does that cannot be reduced to the what the Son as divine does. The Son as human is subjected to the divine will. I don’t see how the Son as the mode of union between the two natures negates the asymmetry.

          I also don’t see how the being begotten by the Father, being the Son, is identical to the incarnation, the assumption of human nature. That is what I meant by Jesus’ filiation (there are also a lot of scriptural passages where Jesus’ adoption is taught).

          I also don’t know what you mean by “abstract” in your reply and posts.

          Finally: I don’t know why we have to admit that personhood does not have essential content. Why can’t we think of the persons or hypostasis as rich in essential content? I understand that you may want to hold to a real distinction between essence and person, but I’m just not sure that is the case. (Of course this is a long debate already)



  2. cameron freeman says:

    Brilliant. Could we put the main crux of your argument in slightly simpler terms: don’t start with God and then try to work out who Jesus is, start with this Jesus and then work out what God is like?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great essay, Jordan! Since your post was more unpicking Williams’ position than necessarily outlining your own, I couldn’t tell whether you affirm the extra Calvinisticum in the end. What is your position on it?
    And what’s your position on the omniscience of Jesus according to his divine and human nature’s?


  4. Tom says:

    It would have been nice for Milbank to post his responses to Jordan’s article here if only to preserve his response with the article itself, for conversation’s sake, but here are his Tweets (Fr Al, feel free to delete this if you think it inappropriate to bring Milbank’s tweets over here).


    Milbank tweets:

    I would cautiously say that I think this review is roughly right. Rowan is of course right to say infinite and finite are at incommensurate levels even in Christ. So there is no fusion. But just for this reason there can be paradoxical personal coincidence of infinite and finite.

    The curious thing about Rowan’s book is that he so admirably exalts Aquinas for following the true Cyrilline trajectory that insists on the entirely divine character of Christ’s being and unity but underplays the communication of idioms that is part and parcel of this view.

    Thus I think Jordan is right to indicate that he underplays the resulting paradoxical hypostatic unity that is the God-Manhood.

    For me by contrast with Rowan Calvin does not correct Luther’s Christology, but makes the equal but opposite error from a Catholic perspective. The extra Calvinisticum and the reduction of the comm idiomatic to metaphor amounts clearly to near-Nestorianism.

    It follows that what renders Rowan’s book quite hard to follow is the endorsement of Aquinas’ single esse Christology on the one hand and the Extra Calvinisticum on the other. This would seem to read the former as if it meant an ‘excess’ over the Incarnation in the infinite Logos.

    But that indeed as Jordan indicates reverts to a rivalry or ‘Concursus’ view of the infinite/finite relation. For Aquinas that absolutely nothing is ‘added’ to the eternal Son means from all eternity he is absolutely at one with the humanity of Jesus.

    Via a ‘decision’ coterminous with the eternal generation of the Son as such. Just as the decision of God to create is coterminous with this generation for Thomas.

    Nothing in either Luther or Calvin is really like this because of their impoverished theological legacy.

    Rowan’s inclusion of Bonhoeffer is also to me inconsistent with the more Catholic thrust of the book because B after Grotius insists on God’s standing alongside an entirely ‘independent’ finite world. But this *does* assume a kind of rival equality of that world with the infinite

    Whereas the non-rival and asymmetrical view implies no free-standing of the finite and its existence only as analogical elevation and transfiguration by grace.

    Radicalised by the Incarnation this means deification and transformation of the cosmos into the body of Christ through personal unity. Not at all a sort of divine Kenosis towards an independent realm.

    Exactly the lack of rivalry between infinite and finite grants the finite no real independent existence. By pretending to this at the Fall, our salvation can only consist in direct divine personification of our fallen finite nature.

    Thus as at times Rowan himself strongly insists the union of God and Man is not in nature but in ‘style’ and ‘character’ now seen as the most concretely substantive thing at all. Perhaps Jordan makes hypostasis sound too much like a ‘bare’ thing.

    The new thing with Christianity is the merging of solid thing with ethereal personality. The idea that personhood in theology is to do with personality is a mistake is itself a huge mistake.

    Nevertheless Rowan, by endorsing Calvin, seems oddly to back away from the link of the ‘one style’ of the God-Man with the communication of natural idioms.

    He also strangely seems not to see that the Bonhoeffer dialectical ( not analogical) view of the coincidence of outside the world with inside the world us linked to the Lutheran Monophysite ‘container’ view of the Creation he so explicitly refuses.

    One could read all this as Rowan’s attempt to be seriously Anglican. But Calvin and Luther are simply not compatible with the Fathers and Aquinas. All the same later Protestant thinkers often backed off from them in more Catholic ways.

    Thus Hooker is very strong on the communication of idioms and much nearer to Aquinas in his Christology than Calvin is.

    Important to read alongside Rowan’s book also Aaron Riches’ book on Christology. He makes many similar points historically but then concludes in the 17thC with Berulle and then Chardon’s radical Mariology. Surely they are more authentically in the Byzantine line RW celebrates?

    Finally and likely beyond Jordan and even Aquinas I think that just *because* nothing is added to the Logos by the Incarnation that from all eternity God is also the God-Man. It is blasphemous to suppose God might not have ‘decided’ this because he simply ‘is’ this ‘decision’.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Jordan, your article reminded me of the following passage from Paul Griffiths’s Christian Flesh. I’m not sure if it’s relevant to your article, but I thought I’d mention it anyway:

    A speculative position in trinitarian theology is that the flesh of Jesus is an atemporal fact about the LORD, and therefore belongs to the trinitarian economy essentially. Slightly more technically, in the metronomic temporal order, according to which time passes and is measurable by clocks and calendars, there was a time before the incarnation, and, therefore, a time when the second person of the Trinity was not enfleshed. But the triune LORD is not subject to that temporal order—the metronome, time whose law is measure, is time damaged, and the LORD is in no way subject to or responsible for damage—and so in the LORD’s time, the time of the diastolic/systolic circumincession of the three persons, what the LORD does in the world, ad extra, is atemporally, which is roughly to say, in the language of the metronome, always, present to the LORD. This entails that the flesh of Jesus is always present to the LORD as the flesh of that divine-human person. Which is in turn to say that the logos asarkos, the fleshless Word, is a metronomic thought experiment without purchase on the trinitarian economy. There may be reasons for using the locution, but there are none that require Christians to think that it labels anything. (Divisions of Christian opinion about this matter are, without exception, raceable to disagreements about the nature of time.) (pp. 27-28)

    Liked by 2 people

    • jordandanielwood says:

      Fr. Kimel,

      Yes, this is precisely relevant. My suspicion is that much asymmetrical theology–indeed much of the fuss about analogia entis–is furtively or explicitly beholden to just the picture Griffiths here critiques, what I called the before-after picture of eternity and time (and thus of their union in Christ). I know of only a few folks who hold something like what Griffiths here proposes: Barth (on certain reads), Jenson, McCormack, Bulgakov, Fr. John Behr. I think in Maximian terms this would be called the “perichoresis” of Christ’s own natures and their proper activities, which include eternity and time as natural modes–a proposition Williams rejects outright, with Calvin and against Luther. It’s not that in Christ eternity “suffuses” time; but also, and more provocatively but no less necessarily, time “penetrates” eternity. Maximus goes even further and says that this is indeed the eschatological fate of “all the ages and the creatures in those ages,” the deification of the spatio-temporal universe: God will penetrate them and they “the whole of God” (Amb 41.5), and only thus will “God be all in all” (1 Cor 15.28). And, I think, this is to do nothing but render explicit the logic already fundamental to the whole of St Gregory of Nyssa’s In Illud et Filius Ipse.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robertson Gramling says:


        Where do you find a doctrine of an eternally incarnate son in Bulgakov? Given, Bulgakov insists that divine-humanity has always been in God, but I don’t where he speaks of Christ as eternally enfleshed (as Paul would likely put it). Instead he speaks of the Son’s assumption of the human essence indicates by the very fact that it was ontologically possible that he was pre-established. He does go so far as to say that “the hypostasis of the Logos is human from all etnernity” but interestingly, he doesn’t anywhere speak of him being eternally incarnate.


        • jordandanielwood says:


          Thanks for this question/clarification. I was too imprecise to list Bulgakov. I had in mind his reflections on the eternal God-manhood, which, as you likely know, don’t always cache out in the same implications. For that matter, McCmorack’s Logos Incarnandus is probably closer to Bulgakov than to PJG. I don’t always like the way Bulgakov conceives eternity (e.g. as the “noumenon of time”), since it still seems overly stratified (multiple “levels” of being) and often indulges the before-after picture I critique (e.g. in his notion that God “blinded” himself to the world’s future when/as he creates). But Bulgakov also explicitly denies (in LoG, ch. 2) that he conceives “divine eternity in itself” in a Schellingian sense of a movement or simple progression or theogony from the indeterminate depths of divine essence into the manifold determinatedness of the Three hypostases. Instead, Bulgakov argues, the divine essence is “utterly luminous” just because it is completely “hypostasized” at every point. So if one of the hypostases, the Son, completely plumbs the depths of divine essence so that Sophia is also radiance and light; and if that same hypostasis is human from all eternity; then I’m not sure how Bulgakov avoids a stronger sense of eternal incarnation.

          Now, for my part, I think it’s somewhat imprecise to speak of an “eternal Incarnation,” since the “incarnation” part is actually the “transition,” or better, the identity and union of eternity and time itself. It makes little sense to predicate “eternal” of Incarnation, when one of the modes that is Incarnated with and in the Person is eternity itself (which is naturally divine). Better, I think, to follow Maximus and speak of the “interpenetration” of time and eternity in the one Lord Jesus Christ.


          • Robertson Gramling says:

            Thanks for the response, I’m in total agreement about him being contra-schelling with regard to being sort of “meonal potentiality” (to use his term) in God that becomes actualized. But I need to go back and read more on what he has to say about time and eternity. I will say that I’m probably more sympathetic to Bulgakov’s view than PJG’s kind of eternal enfleshment. Not to be to simplistic, but the language of John 1 kind of seems to mitigate against the Word being eternally incarnate.


          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Robertson, when speaking about the event of the divine Word’s enfleshment in and as Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to employ temporal terms. The challenge is not to import this temporality back into the Godhead. Here I agree totally with Jordan. It does not make sense to think of a before and after in the trinitarian life of God. God simply _is_ Father, Son, and Spirit; and we know this because of the temporal events of Incarnation and Pentecost. I believe we make a category mistake if we separate the Father’s begetting of the Son from his Incarnation and the Father’s spiration of the Spirit from Christ’s outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. The latter are simply what the former look like when projected into time. Hence it does make sense to speak of the divine Son as eternally the man Jesus. We can logically distinguish the begetting of the Son from the conception in the womb of Mary, but I don’t think we can separate them. I am relying here on Herbert McCabe’s essay “The Involvement of God.”

            Jordan, do you disagree with the above?


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Let’s add some other names to your list of luminaries—Herbert McCabe, Denys Turner, Brian Davies—and if they are right, St Thomas Aquinas.


  6. Tom says:

    Thanks Jordan! Appreciate the response. A lot to ponder. The columns of text are so thing on the inside of the page I brought this back out.

    Jordan: I’d want to rephrase your paraphrase to say: “While the Son was nursing at Mary’s breast the same Son was present throughout and sustaining the universe.”

    Tom: Totally agree.

    Jodan: If the point is that divine/infinite action (or Williams’s “agency”) encompasses different and (modally) greater range than human/finite action, I grant it. But the Word himself isn’t reducible to either since he’s both.

    Tom: Also agree. But wouldn’t Williams agree with this as well?

    If the mode of Word’s divine being is uncreated and necessary while the mode of his human being is created and contingent, then these are asymmetrically related, for by definition the former grounds the latter (as opposed to ‘constituting’ itself in the latter). So while the Incarnate Word is not reducible to any one of his natures, he does instantiate the divine nature so as to prioritize its concrete personal fullness and actuality over that of his determination to instantiate created nature.

    If ex nihilo is true and creation is contingent and unnecessary, it’s contingent and necessary to the personal-triune fullness and beatitude. So it seems there has to be a sense in which the Word is – concretely – fully who and what he is ‘sans’ (independent of) the determination to create, for whatever else the divine determination to create is, it is freely expressive OF (as opposed to constitutive of) God in his triune plenitude. Divine freedom is no mere abstraction, but has to be the concrete mode of God’s triune actuality. But if it is the triune God in the fullness of his freedom who creates at all – then the fullness of the Word’s identity has to be asymmetrically related to Creation/Incarnation.

    This is my problem with Milbank’s tweeting that “the decision to create/incarnate is co-terminous with the generation of the Son” (depending on what he means by co-terminous of course). This seems problematic. For the Son as ‘generated by’ the Father receives his identity from Father, while creation is a determination of the triune Persons. Also, the generation of the Son is via the divine nature (hence the Son is homoousios with the Father) while Creation, on the other hand, exists via a free (and triune) exercise of the divine will. That is to say, the generation of the Son is constitutive of the very divine identity that freely creates. Hence the asymmetrical relation between the two (as I understand it at least – not sure if it’s what Williams means): God determines his triune identity in the act of begetting (among other triune acts), not in the act of creating. An asymmetrical Christology posits a ‘natural’, not a ‘personal’, asymmetry between World Begotten and Word Incarnate, but this doesn’t mean we cannot conceive of the former in his concrete fullness apart from the latter. On the contrary – if that fullness of identity grounds the freedom of the determination to create, that determination cannot be constitutive of the identity.

    I don’t know what it means to say the decision to create is co-terminous with the generation of the Son except to say that God determines himself in and through creation, which is to say the Word is no more begotten of God than God is determined to create, in which case the concrete modal difference between the Word’s divine/infinite/necessary being and his created/finite/contingent being is vacuous.

    Thanks again! I’m processing the rest of what you said and will be back in a few years!



    • Tom says:

      One additional, quick thought:

      Jordan: Does the human natural activity of the Son Incarnate exhaust the divine natural activity of the Trinity? Of course not. But the real scandal comes when we affirm, as I think we must, that the very same agent, the Son of God the Father, possesses both kinds of activity as his very own, indeed as *proper* to him (since he is just as essentially man as he is essentially God).

      Tom: I think I follow. Thanks for the clarification.

      My initial thought is – yes, the Son does possess both divine and human natures as his very own, even as proper to him, though a necessary asymmetry still abides, for though the Word is as essentially man as he is essentially God, his being essentially man is not essential to his being essentially God, though his being essentially God is certainly essential to his being man, for his being the former (uncreated/necessary) freely grounds and gives being to the latter. Therein lies the asymmetry: God needn’t determine himself to create/incarnate to be God-Begotten in the fullness of *this* divine, filial identity and its beatitude, but he must be this divine person to freely assume a created nature. Here “proper,” it would seem, describes the integrity of the bond between person-and-nature, but what’s proper in each case is at least partly determined by the nature in question.

      What’s proper to the Word’s being divine is not his being human, though I think we must say that his being divine is proper to his being human. Hence he can fully be the proper subject of both natures (asymmetrically related) just in case the fullness of his divine-filial relation to the Father is what grounds the free determination to assume a 2nd nature (to be essential and proper to him, but contingently so). In this sense his being human is not essential to his being ‘a person at all’, though it is proper to his being human, while his being begotten of the Father is proper to his being ‘a person at all’ – hence the asymmetry.



      • Robertson Gramling says:

        Also Jordan’s balking at attributing anything to the human consciousness of Jesus strikes me as correct. This is why I find Aquinas discussion of “Christ’s human knowledge of God” so odd. Aquinas is quite better in other places—but I find those questions off the mark.


        • Tom says:

          I don’t know how we can avoid concluding some things about Jesus’ states of mind – beliefs he had, feelings he experienced, etc., are explicitly attributed to him by Scripture. We can run wild with speculation regarding any person’s belief states, but it’s impossible to not assume anything regarding the beliefs and experiences of another.

          I thought Jordan was speculating along these lines when he said he had issues with Jesus “not being privy” to the divine universal/cosmic choices. That looked to me like he was attributing omniscience to the Word’s human consciousness, but when Jordan clarified this by agreeing that the sphere of agency and knowledge of each nature remained proper to that nature (infinite and omniscient in the case of the divine nature | finite and limited in the case of the human nature), I was then confused by what he might mean by objecting to Jesus “not being privy to” everything about the divine sphere. Of course the ‘person’ of Jesus, the subject of the human nature, is privy to all things via his divine nature. But the human nature cannot be the means by which, or the terms in which, this person is immediately privy to everything regarding God’s actions in the universe.


          Liked by 1 person

          • brian says:

            However one is able to construe the communication of idioms, it doesn’t abnegate the distance that coexists with intimacy between divine and human natures. Hence, the analogia of entis and Christ’s living out of that distance is not merely “fuss.”

            I like Milbank’s last statement, btw: “Finally and likely beyond Jordan and even Aquinas I think that just *because* nothing is added to the Logos by the Incarnation that from all eternity God is also the God-Man. It is blasphemous to suppose God might not have ‘decided’ this because he simply ‘is’ this ‘decision’”. If you understand that, you understand why the “choice model” for creation is deficient. One also ought to understand that creation is always ordered towards Christological consumation and so eschatological speculations should ponder whether calculation and wager doesn’t ultimately imply an inimicable dualism back into the heart of God who creates ex nihilo.

            All of these ruminations upon the relation between time and eternity are intoxicating and I’ve done a lot of this kind of contemplative wrestling myself. I think Wood is correct to suggest that not only does eternity infuse time, but that time “penetrates” eternity, with all due recognition that one is grappling at the limits of human understanding. I wonder if one might see the Annunciation as an historically situated “big bang” that ultimately transcends what Griffiths calls metronomic time.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robertson Gramling says:

            I don’t mean to impugne Christ’s humanity by my comments. Or say that we can’t say anything about His beliefs states of mind etc. I only mean this: attributing something specifically to the human consciousness of Jesus most always be prefaced by a robust insistence that the Son is who knows—the subject. I would caution against saying something like “his human nature is not privy” because properly speaking human nature is not privy to anything only the subject-the person is privy. Better to say, I think, it cannot be by his humanity that Christ is privy to these things. And this is just how the gospel presents the revelation of Christ. The people recognize that he is obviously human but that he does and says things no human can do. As the gospels so wonderfully sum it up—“he preached not like the scribes but as one with authority”. The communication of the idioms comes in because of the wondrous and beautiful fact that Christ can communicate his divinity by humanity without in anyway violating it. This is where Cyril is so insightful. For it was he who tirelessly showed the short comings of a partitive exegesis that crudely tried to speak of Jesus doing certain acts Divinely (usually his miracles are given as an example) others humanly. Instead, every act is a Divine-human one. And the miracles actually end up providing the most powerful instances of this. Take the particularly poignant healing of the blind man in Mark where Christ heals him with his spittle. But more generally one might also think of his literally healing touch. Lastly, it is even in Christ most human and humdrum actions—eating, walking, sweating—that the love of the Divine is most manifest. For in this we see all the more profoundly the depths of the divine love-humility (as Bulgakov would phase it) that would approach us so.


          • Robertson Gramling says:

            Sorry, Tom I read your comments hastily and I see now that I am actually pretty much in agreement with you.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Bob Sacamano says:

      I think this answers a question I was going to ask.

      If the “natural” relationship is not asymmetrical, would it not follow that the created/uncreated difference collapses into univocity?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Tom says:

    Apoloniolatariii: I have always understood “the Son” as the divine person and “Jesus” as the human nature of the Son. Or we can put it this way: the Son is the Son as divine and Jesus is the Son as human (of course we can always say “the Son as divine with human and as human with divine”).

    Tom: You were addressing Jordan, so forgive me to intruding with a thought.

    I’ve expressed things along similar lines (the ‘Son’ is the divine person and ‘Jesus’ is the human nature). But in spite of seeing an asymmetry at work in the Union, I do feel like the way you’ve put it faces some possibly dangerous ambiguities. I think part of Jordan’s burden is to guard against any partitioning of identity along the lines the define the distinction between the two natures, as if “Jesus” is merely the human nature which names that “part of” the Son who is doing human things and “Son” (or “Word”) merely names the divine nature. That seems problematic to me. I hear Jordan saying there’s no such partitioning. The Son is fully/completely (Jordan’s word was ‘essentially’ I think) human and fully/completely divine. And I agree that’s something important to maintain. The Word gives the divine filial identity entirely to being human, making it possible to say of the same Son in his divinity that *this* Son is human, and of the “Jesus” who is suffering that *this* Jesus is divine.

    I wonder if the copula “is” is where the ambiguities are hiding – for where the “is” connect the divine and human natures with respect to personal identity – they’re unrestricted, i.e., the ‘personal identity’ *is* perfectly convertible, in the sense I might say of myself that the person who is married to Anita is the person who is typing this post.

    That said, “is” may also supervene upon the relation between the natures themselves, in which case “is” has to be restricted/limited with respect to the infinite incommensurability between being divine and being human. So obviously (I think!) this distinction between natures defines the one undivided person; i.e., the distinction is natural, not personal. I’m not sure yet, but I think Jordan sees Williams and other asymmetrical Christologies as dividing/partitioning the person/identity. But I don’t think Williams is doing that. I think William’s is just locating the asymmetry between the natures as that incommensurability is owned and embraced by the Word. The person is undivided, but the incommensurability of natures is irreducibly his.

    As Milbank tweeted: “Rowan is of course right to say infinite and finite are at incommensurate levels even in Christ. So there is no fusion. But just for this reason there can be paradoxical personal coincidence of infinite and finite.”

    But I disagree with Milbank when he says “the extra Calvinisticum (EC) amounts to near-Nestorianism.” The EC is no such thing, for if the incommensurability of natures is concrete (as it must be, for the natures are concretely hypostatized by the Word who is really divine and really human, not abstractly either), then we must say that the Word who (via his human nature) is nursing at Mary’s breast is (via his divine nature) present immanently with Father and Spirit enjoying an infinite beatitude. This is as Milbank says the “paradoxical personal coincidence of infinite and finite,” and the EC is how we ‘say’ this.


    • apoloniolatariii says:


      Thanks. I was trying to understand what the council said about how “ each nature wills and performs the things that are proper to it in a communion with the other.” The interesting thing about this sentence is that it affirms difference within a unity. Here it says that 1) it is the nature that wills and that 2) what the nature wills is proper to its nature, which means that there cannot be an exhaustive identity between the divine will and the human will in the sense that they are numerically identical. The human will is subjected to the divine will. At the same time, the natures perform things in communion with the other, which I interpret as: in the Person of the Son, there is a union between the two natures and wills. Williams’ assymetrical Christology is in the level of nature, as he says:

      “The essential content of the doctrine [extra calvinisticum] is that there can be no simple SUBSTANTIVE identity between divinity and embodied humanity; the unity that we affirm is a unity of action and of person.” (Pg 152)

      So Williams’ assymetrical Christology is on the level of nature, and put that way, it doesn’t entail two subjects or two persons. He also read Riches’ work so it might be helpful to see what he says there.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. jordandanielwood says:

    Tom et al.,

    Sorry to be selective in my responses. Time slips away. I must for now avoid the discussion of Christ’s human consciousness. As you all know, the literature on that (in no small part due to Lonergan) is vast. And I think my essential points accommodate various options in that dispute. Were I to address it properly, I’d begin with Maximus’s distinction between “condescension” and “kenosis” in the Incarnation, the former indicating what things the Word assumes because they are proper and natural to human existence, the latter what things he assumes in order to heal and rectify (e.g. “he became sin and a curse for us”). That would lead to a discussion about human consciousness as such, what we think is “essential” to it and why. But I must leave off that path, alas!

    Instead I respond to two of Tom’s points. Schematically, Tom, you seem to raise two objections: [1] creatio ex nihilo, which says God’s creative act is free rather than necessary, seems to require the Word’s identity be “complete” or independent of whatever further relation to creation (even his own humanity) he acquires; [2] the Son’s generation from the Father is natural, not free, and so can’t be “co-terminous” (Milbank’s term) with his Incarnation/conception in the Mother’s womb. These are two ways of seeing the necessity of “asymmetry” between Christ’s two natures.

    You write:

    ‘If ex nihilo is true and creation is contingent and unnecessary, it’s contingent and necessary to the personal-triune fullness and beatitude. So it seems there has to be a sense in which the Word is – concretely – fully who and what he is ‘sans’ (independent of) the determination to create, for whatever else the divine determination to create is, it is freely expressive OF (as opposed to constitutive of) God in his triune plenitude. Divine freedom is no mere abstraction, but has to be the concrete mode of God’s triune actuality. But if it is the triune God in the fullness of his freedom who creates at all – then the fullness of the Word’s identity has to be asymmetrically related to Creation/Incarnation.’

    Three problems here, at least in my view.

    First, “contingent” and “necessary” seem to be attributes derived from considering natures as such. Some attributes are “necessary” if they must be present to complete or make a being *what* it is (e.g. its essence/nature). Some are “contingent” if they are not necessary for a being to be what it is (e.g. accidents, inherent or extrinsic). These two predicates are correlative: they mutually imply one another and therefore *must refer* to one another to have any sense. It’d make little sense to call a property “necessary” if I didn’t have a concept that this means “not contingent,” and the reverse. But surely God’s nature/essence and the act this is, is not dialectically constructed by two opposed but correlative properties. In God, rather, these are completely and utterly one. That’s one reason Platonists from Plotinus to Avicenna, and Christians like Dionysius, Eriugena, Bulgakov, etc., prefer *not* to choose one or the other property and make that the more proper of divinity. For divinity is their simultaneity, or indeed their identity. But if freedom and necessity are one in God, I can’t see how one can deduce from the freedom of God’s creative act a simple *non-necessity* of that same act. Bulgakov calls this God’s “eros” (following Dionysius) or just “love,” which neither “completes” God’s essence in some mechanistic sense nor is arbitrary, e.g. it doesn’t imply a “decision” to create or not to create. When I love my daughter, I don’t feel like I have a choice. But I don’t feel unfree either. Indeed, one might say I’m *most* free precisely when I’m in love, or “moved” by beauty (notice the passive voice), etc. If the world and all the human faces (and animal ones!) are in any sense an object of God’s love, I can’t see how the creative act is anything other than necessary and free. So I’d say that “necessary” and “contingent” don’t shift so drastically in meaning when predicated of God’s acts ad intra or ad extra that they set up the sort of either-or your remark presumes.

    Second, I still can’t see the justification for treating God’s intra-trinitarian acts of origin (which just are his actus purus, in my view) as straightforwardly “before” the act of creation that putatively comes “after.” For one thing, that misconceives the eternity-time relation (in much the same way Williams does). Eternity is not the “time before time”; it’s not right to conceive as an episode or an event that ends, as it were, “before” other “events” like creation and Incarnation take place. That’d be to reduce the “event” of, say, the Son’s generation to an event like other events–a univocity of events, so to say. But to distinguish eternity from time is precisely to say that “eternity,” whatever it is, does not bear the character or logic of time–eternity is not serial, does not transition from one moment to the next, is not adventitious, does not presuppose a subject “underlying” a stream of happenings that come and go. If time is “the measure of motion” (as Aristotle had it), or something of the like, then surely the “before” and “after” by which we measure time’s flow is not itself applicable to the transition or relation between eternity and time itself. There’s even a sneaky misconception in the idea that God is “independent of” his act of creation: if you hold that God just *is* his act of being, and you say that creation is indeed an act of this same God–then how could creation itself *not* be simultaneous, indeed necessary, in the sense that it is so completely expressive of God’s own being that it carries the same inevitability as God himself? A catch-22: either creatio ex nihilo is really an act *of God*, and as a divine act is really identical to the divine being; or its “freedom” renders it somehow *extrinsic* to God himself, and so is no longer meaningfully an act *of God*. I grant the necessity to deny two things: creation nature as such does not *complete* divine nature as such, and nothing forced God to create, as it were. But these negations do not really say what is *positively* true about God’s act of creation: as an act of divine love, creation is just as necessary as divine love. And, I’d add, that love is kenotic–it’s an “overflow” of divinity (as Gregory Nazianzen put it) and a “divine ecstasy” where God “goes out of himself” (as Dionysius put it), and indeed this takes the very precise form of God’s cosmic and historical Incarnation in/as the logoi of all things (as Maximus put it). Creation doesn’t complete divinity abstractly conceived because it’s of the very essence of the God who is love to draw himself out of his own essence–to put it paradoxically. For these and other reasons, you’d have to quite a bit more work to show [a] that predicating “necessity” and “contingency” in roughly dialectical ways to ad intra and ad extra divine acts makes sense, and [b] that this therefore demands a somehow “prior completion” of the Word’s identity in a basically straightforward sense: *first* the Son was born of the Father, *then* he was born of the Virgin “later,” as it were. I accept neither.

    Finally, I think it’s misconceived to say that “the Word’s identity has to be asymmetrically related to creation/Incarnation.” The Incarnation, at least, isn’t something fundamentally something *other* than the very identity you say it’s related to. The *natures* might relate (abstractly) asymmetrically. But surely the Son does not relate to himself asymmetrically: the Son is *one* term, not two, and so could not himself be composed, as it were, of a relation between two terms. On some views, the Son himself *is* a relation (filiation). But even then, what would it mean to say that the “relation of filiation” (Son) is itself related to the “filiation of relation” (Incarnate Son)? What is this relation that mediates between the eternal relation of filiation and the human relation of filiation? Is it a tertium quid? And what is this distance in the heart of the one hypostasis that needs mediating? The Word’s identity–the Word himself, his person–is the sole mediator (Maximus likes to cite 1 Tim. 2.5 in this respect). He needs no mediation. Indeed, there would not even be a relation between Christ’s two natures (and activities and wills) if the Word was not himself the very identity between–for his humanity subsists nowhere except in and as him, so that the very difference that can be abstractly related at all is itself *generated* by the identity the Word is. Another way to put it: in the Theotokos’s womb the Son creates himself (cf. my n.11 above), so that he *is* both the cause and the effect. I know of no asymmetrical metaphysics of any kind–certainly not any that think *dependence* is the most basic God-world relation–that would abide that sort of thing. In the Incarnation God shows that not even the necessary laws of causality are the laws of what is in fact *real*.

    Last and quickly, you write:

    ‘What’s proper to the Word’s being divine is not his being human, though I think we must say that his being divine is proper to his being human. Hence he can fully be the proper subject of both natures (asymmetrically related) just in case the fullness of his divine-filial relation to the Father is what grounds the free determination to assume a 2nd nature (to be essential and proper to him, but contingently so). In this sense his being human is not essential to his being ‘a person at all’, though it is proper to his being human, while his being begotten of the Father is proper to his being ‘a person at all’ – hence the asymmetry.’

    I think “being divine” means different things throughout this paragraph. For instance, if it means possessing the entire divine essence, then this statement, “we must say that his being divine is proper to his being human,” seems wrong, since that would mean that Christ’s humanity, qua “proper” to “being divine,” is itself a property of divinity. What you seem to mean here is that the Son must be “divine” in the unique way the Son is God, i.e. qua his person (filiation). Or again, if “being divine” means possessing the entire divine essence, then this statement, “his being human is not essential to his being ‘a person at all’,” is just as true of his being divine: being divine is not “essential” to his being a person at all, since Father and Spirit are also divine but are not the Son. What you mean by “being divine” is clearer in the final statement: it means “being begotten of the Father,” i.e. his mode of being God that is proper to him and in fact just is his person. But this is either misconceived or it’s a tautology: “his being begotten of the Father is proper to his being ‘a person at all’.” A tautology: since his being begotten of the Father is the very same thing as his person–it’s the personal property that marks off his hypostasis from all others, including Father and Spirit. A misconception: since something can’t be the property *of* the very thing that it is (that would involving subtly imagining two *things* in fact that are *related*–but the property of being Son is the same thing as being Son, so there are no two terms here to be related at all).

    Of course this last points up, I suggest, the furtive mistake throughout Williams’s asymmetrical christology, or really of any variety: we mistake the duality of natures for a duality of subjects or concrete terms that must *then* be “related” somehow, and as long as we’re just considering essences and natures, it’s no surprise that we’ll end up positing an asymmetrical one. But the miracle of Incarnation is precisely that the duality itself (and so any relation between them) *depends* on their identity in and as the Word. Identity, not duality, is the existential priority here, for the very same Son is both God and man, Creator and creature, eternal and temporal, uncreated and created, cause and effect. We must say: the one born of Mary is *just as immediately* born of the Father (this is what Milbank means, at least in nuce)–for he is the exact same term of both births. It betrays the positivity of the mystery of Incarnation to subject the identity of the God-man to any asymmetrical relation, as if abstract laws of nature are final and determinative of what’s in fact real. It seems, rather, that since the very same “one Christ, Lord, Son, Only-Begotten,” is also Reason itself, Logos, that we’d do better to subject our abstractions to him. He, precisely as the God-man and more precisely as “crucified,” has “become for us the very wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1.30).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bob Sacamano says:

      I’ve been thinking about the idea that “creation is just as necessary as divine love,” as you put it. I will admit it kind of shocked me at first, because the revelation that creation (and thus my very own existence) is completely gratuitous (and thus completely *unnecessary*) was like lifting the veil from my eyes in terms of my own personal theological development.

      I just came across an article from Edward Feser which defends the doctrine of divine simplicity, but also upholds the notion that creation is/was unnecessary. He states the following:

      “Now, one way to see what is wrong with this objection is in terms of a distinction drawn by the Thomist philosopher Barry Miller.[3] Suppose Socrates grows a beard. That involves the acquisition by Socrates of a real property. But suppose Socrates becomes shorter than Plato, not because of any change in Socrates himself, but rather only because Plato has grown taller. That involves the acquisition by Socrates of a mere “Cambridge property” rather than a real property. The real change, and thus the acquisition of a real property, is in Plato rather than in Socrates.[4]Now, what the doctrine of divine simplicity claims – contrary to what Mullins supposes (in what he labels premise (9) of his argument) – is, not that all of God’s properties are identical and thus are as necessary as he is, but rather that all of his real properties are. He can have Cambridge properties that are merely contingent. And his having created the world is among these contingent Cambridge properties. That the world comes into being does not entail the acquisition of a real property by God, any more than Socrates’s becoming shorter than Plato by virtue of Plato’s becoming taller entails the acquisition of a real property by Socrates. When we keep this distinction in mind, we can see that divine simplicity does not have the implication that the creation of the world was necessary, and thus does not have the implication that God is not free.[v](Mullins says that his argument establishes three problems for divine simplicity, concerning “God’s freedom, grace, and necessary existence.” But the objection concerning grace is just a special case of the objection concerning freedom, since the alleged problem for simplicity derives from the fact that grace is given by God freely. And the objection concerning freedom in turn rests on the objection concerning God’s necessity. So Mullins’ critique really boils down to the latter objection, which gets off the ground only if one ignores the distinction between real and Cambridge properties and wrongly supposes that the doctrine of divine simplicity claims that all of God’s properties are identical and thus equally necessary. Once that distinction is made, Mullins’ entire critique collapses.)”

      End quote

      Full article here:

      I have to say I don’t see how “Cambridge properties” alters the equation at all.

      Can I say that “God necessarily creates an unnecessary world because God is simply gratuitous, unnecessary love” without contradiction? 🙂


  9. brian says:

    Thanks for this last extended response, Jordan. I’ll have to ruminate upon it, but my initial sense is you’re right about most of this. I read your little article on Hegel. As I’ve read nearly the entire ouevre of Desmond and Balthasar and liked O’Regan’s Anatomy of Misremembering, I’m hardly an unbiased observor, though I agree it’s often easy and unfair to treat Hegel as a convenient bete noire. I still believe Desmond is correct to see titanism in Hegel. Przywara’s analogia entis and Desmond’s metaxological approach are meant to keep open sensitivity to infinite depths of being, to the revelatory power of the other. Hegelian dialectic has too much mastery and not enough prayer by their lights, and I remain convinced they are mainly correct here. In any event, while agreeing with many of your insights insofar as I follow them (and I especially like the refusal of abstract reason in favor of a Christological rendering,) I am left with a perhaps obtuse protest. If one wants to say that the economic, historical expression of Christ is identical or symmetrical with the imminent, eternal dynamism of the Son’s act, I am with you. However, I don’t think it’s right to dismiss analogy of being as a function of misconceived Christology. Even identity of person does not abnegate the “crossing” between divine and creature, the constantly renewed and inventive work of “translation” accomplished by Incarnation. It seems to me that this is what analogy of being is protecting — along with Balthasar’s paradoxical sense of “Supertime” and event in the eternal perichoresis which founds creaturely drama.

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    • jordandanielwood says:

      Thanks for this reflection and protest–not at all “obtuse”! Of course what you say opens upon other vast horizons, ones well worth roving, no doubt. For now I’ll say only a few things of Hegel and the theological consensus against him. Then a word on analogy and Incarnation.

      I’m not at all confident most theologians have really grasped either Hegel’s dialectic or its relation to his logic. I realize that’s a rather large assertion. But just to the extent that titanism and subjective mastery over “reality” (y compris God) typically plays the main role, I simply reject this critique of Hegel. For one thing, it ignores Hegel’s own theological arguments (a few of which I mention in that little piece, but there are many more). It’s Paul, not Hegel, who says “but we have the mind of Christ” and the Spirit who searches “even the depths of God.” He doesn’t say we *will* have it. We already do. Origen and Maximus will call this “faith,” which is the Word himself born in us. He searches his own depths in us. For Hegel our logos is never severed from the Logos (pace Schindler). It’s never a matter of a putatively autonomous “reason” storming the arcana of Heaven. It still baffles me that Hegel, who critiques Kant and Fichte on exactly these points, has himself become suspected of holding them. My hunch is that French readings of Hegel (esp. atheist ones) have influenced folks like Desmond and O’Regan more than, say, Hodgson’s far more careful textual work. But again, that’d take much to substantiate properly. I also think many tend to read the PhG as Hegel’s straightforward ontology or philosophy of history typically conceived. They pay too little attention to either the Encyclopedia or to the Science of Logic, which, by Hegel’s own lights, is where you get closer to his own constructive views. Because of what I take to be these fairly fundamental misunderstandings, I’ve grown incredibly wary of most theological critiques of Hegel. That’s of course not to deny that some can and should be made. Just that most aren’t exegetically convincing.

      As for analogy and Incarnation, I certainly wouldn’t say identity of person abnegates the “crossing” between the divine and the creaturely–indeed I’d say identity of person is the very condition for their to be anything to be related or crossed at all, the condition for “two” to exist that are neither rivals nor modal modulations. What I challenge in the Przywaran/Balthasarian use of analogy is first, what it denies, and second, what it presumes to know in advance about such a “crossing.” I must recall that it’s Przywara and Balthasar–not Barth or Jüngel or me–who summon analogy to *deny* any identity b/t God and world, and who make even Christ subject to this law. For Przywara every false philosophy and theology (esp. modern ones, but he also indulges some “Orientalism”–as does Balthasar–by positing some “eastern religious sense” of the identity of all things) illicitly presumes a “principle of identity” (esp. in “Analogy as the Catholic Form…”). Balthasar calls this same identity principle “the original sin” of all false human speculation (esp. in his 1939 Patristik, Scholastik, und Uns–but also in the 2nd ed. of KL). On one level it makes sense that Christians, whose central and distinctive mystery involves claiming that God and a creature are one, would anxiously wish to qualify would otherwise looks (and still looks to nearly every other religion!) like an idolatrous collapse of the God-world boundary. But for just that reason it also appears odd: for that identity is what makes Christianity distinctive. So when these thinkers (who, of course, differ even between themselves–here I’m closer to Balthasar’s side) conceive analogy as governing even the Word-Jesus relation, I’m merely responding to a connection they’ve already made and denying it. I have no problem admitting a place for some kind of analogy–esp. if we mean it in a more phenomenological sense, that, I mean, there’s simply no way to behold the mystery of Incarnation apart from an initial grasp of the kinds of natures/realities involved and how they appear to be *necessarily* asymmetrical when abstractly conceived. The correctness of the necessity here serves as relief for the truer, more real, eventual finality of the God-world identity that the Incarnation is and promises. It’s crucial to see how the Incarnation explodes our abstractions; but for that we need to admit all the necessities of those abstractions *on the level of abstraction*.

      The last thing I’d say in protest to your protest (!) is that it’s no less presumptuous to make a basically negative “openness” (or “porosity” or “metaxu”) the absolute and inviolable metaphysical axiom to which every instance of “crossing” must submit than, say, some (misconceived) “dialectical” closer. How do we know what “crossing” will and *will not*–indeed cannot–be like always and everywhere? Maximus, for instance, will say that precisely because in Christ the sole, concrete identity between uncreated and created natures is the person himself, that these are thus free to interpenetrate each other “whole in whole, wholly.” Something like the Transfiguration or of course the Risen Lord’s human body–which occurred in this world–are for him examples of this. But also certain moments in saints’ lives, and of course–though the phenomenology of this varies widely in character (and likely depends on subtleties in the partaker that escape me)–the Eucharist at least bears the potency for this symmetrical, reciprocal, perichoretic, two-way “transitus” anywhere it’s celebrated. So while I agree that the identity of person in no way proscribes the “crossing,” I don’t think analogy in most forms (I know of six distinct forms–or so I’d argue) are actually this modest. Analogy typically presumes to know at least what “crossing” mustn’t be like. I just think that what it precludes is exactly what’s already been done and revealed in Christ. Hence the confrontation.

      Thanks for your insightful comments, though.

      Paix du Christ


      • apoloniolatariii says:

        Dr Wood,

        With regards to analogy and incarnation, your criticism may be valid against Przywara, but not against Balthasar (cf Theology of History, TL 2, TD3 and 5, and Cosmic Liturgy), which I think, you find affinity with. The hypostatic union and the mode of that union in the Son is something mysterious in Balthasar, and I don’t really see him trying to presume what it cannot look like. In fact, Christ as the analogy of being, as God-man, as you say “explodes our abstractions,” not because our true abstractions are no longer valid, but because it surprises us with a depth that we did not think it was possible.

        But what he does say is that a creature, no matter how close he is to God, will never be God. That is to say, a creature’s esse will never coincide with his essence. The nonsubsistent esse of a creature is never identical to the subsistent esse of God, whose esse and essence are identical.

        Even if we grant that in Christ, there is only one esse, his human nature never coincides or is identical to that esse. That’s one of the ways where the analogy of being come to play. Sure, in Christ there is a union of divine and human nature, but that is because the Son, in his divinity, assumed human nature. The incarnation, like creation, is an act of the divine will, and not a generation by nature. So there is a distinction between being generated as the Son and the incarnation, even if the Son who is generated is the Incarnate Son.

        The assymetry comes in when the human nature, with its principles proper to its own, can never assume divinity. However, the Son (who is not empty), as divine, assumed that nature that is also ours by His free act. But that human nature, like all of creation, is created ex nihilo, which is to say, it has its ground and source in the love between the Father and the Son. One can’t say that anything created, like the human nature of the Son, is the ground of the generation of the Son by the Father.

        (Btw, one doesn’t have to speak of before or after as if eternity and time are identical. One can just say that one metaphysically entails the other. So the generation of the Son by the Father entails the incarnation).

        No matter what the Incarnation promises what we will become (we died his death, we are one flesh, we are one spirit with him), our essences will always limit our existence.


        • jordandanielwood says:


          I agree that Przywara’s and von Balthasar’s exact conceptions of analogy differ. They themselves, as you know, disagree, with Przywara criticizing Balthasar for making the analogy “too positive” exactly because the latter wished to make it christological. Przywara himself seems to have developed on this later, and Balthasar too doesn’t seem (to me) consistent on the point. I’ve published elsewhere my criticisms of Balthasar on this score: I don’t see him ever modifying his basic claim in 1939 that the “not-being-God” of a creature is “the most fundamental fact of all”–not in the CL (where he openly worries about Maximus’s constant use of “identity” not only in christology, but in his doctrine of deification), not in the TD (vol. 3, 221-2, where he says analogy’s point is precisely to warn us that we “must not in any way overstep this analogy in the direction of identity”), and not even in the TL (where he still invokes Maximus but then declares that christology “is not concerned with the general relationship between God and the creature distinguished by their immeasurable distance form each other”; vol. 2, 311-12).

          If Christ’s human nature “never coincides with or is identical to that [one divine] esse,” then whatever happens to Christ’s human nature does not happen to God. Therefore “God dies” isn’t true; it’s misleadingly imprecise at best. This is precisely where analogy fails to account for the positive content of the Incarnation itself. And if it’s an absolute rule of all reality that “however close [a creature] is to God, he will never be God,” then either Christ is not God (since he’s a creature), or he is not a creature (since he is God). But, once again, the positive mystery of the Incarnation is precisely that he is both at once. “He created himself”–as Maximus (et al.) said.

          So I don’t think we have a choice about whether to predicate identity of Christ’s two natures. The question is exactly what sort of identity. Obviously not essential identity. But the only way that precludes *real* identity is if what is real corresponds only to what’s essential. The Incarnation disproves that (and creatio ex nihilo too, but I leave that aside for now). Indeed, as post-Chalcedonian thinkers such as Leontius of Byzantium noted, *we* are not even simply reducible to our human/created essence or nature, since hypostasis and nature are not synonymous (even though their also not separable). Nor is person/hypostasis synonymous with existence (as later scholastics understand this). Saying something exists is not the same as saying what it is (essence) or who it is that exists (subsistence/person/hypostasis). Person as such is difficulty to think because it has not essential, formal, or even purely accidental content *as such*. But our persistent mistake, I think, is to therefore not give it the metaphysical weight, as it were, that it deserves.

          Asymmetry depends on their being two terms to relate–typically in a relation of dependence. Even if not a relation of dependence, there must be two somethings: “allos pros allos,” as they say. But the person of Christ is one and the same, identical, and is not at all, as Constantinople II has it, “one and another” (allos kai allos; Canon 3). How could the person who is himself a relation be the term of a relation with his own humanity? What is there in humanity as such to oppose the Son as such (not, notice, simply equivalent to divinity as such)? How then could the humanity the Son *is*, itself be “between” the Father and the Son? What is there between Father and Son anyhow, that’s not just the Son himself?

          At some point one has to ask how much of the distinctive and positively peculiar logic of the Incarnation we must suppress or ignore or sideline just for the sake of assuring ourselves that God himself did not *really* become identical to the very nature born of Mary, the Theotokos–and whether it’s really necessary to do so. What are we saving?


          • apoloniolatariii says:

            Dr. Wood,

            I need to finish your article on Maximus. It’s really interesting. I’ll just respond to a couple of points since if I respond to all of them, it seems like we’re gonna have to discuss the whole tradition of trinitarian and christological theology.

            You said,

            “So I don’t think we have a choice about whether to predicate identity of Christ’s two natures. The question is exactly what sort of identity. Obviously not essential identity.”

            I agree with you there and Balthasar would agree with you as well. For more on this, see also Antonio Lopez’s Gift and Unity of Being ch. 4.

            The problem is the word “identity.” I can say x and y are the same Z but not the same G. So the Father and the Son are the same God but not the same Person, as you know. Geach’s concept of relative identity may be a help here, (although it may not be sufficient). The point, though, is that we can speak of the divine nature of Christ as the same Person as the human nature of Christ, but the divine nature of Christ is not the same nature as the human nature. If that is what you mean by “essential identity” (not being the same nature), then that is what Balthasar means when he says that a creature will never be God. As he says in Patristics, Scholastics and Ourselves:

            “The relation of radical difference as the root of all similarity and community with God is grounded in the essence [!], in the nature [!], of all creatures.”

            So we are speaking, if you like, of “essential identity” in the sense that a created nature will never be a divine nature. That is what Balthasar means by the dissimilarity between God and the creature. A creature will never be God in the sense that its created nature will always be created. The created nature will never be divine or uncreated nature. That is the same with Christ. We can say that the Creator created himself in Christ, but we will never say that the human nature of Christ created the divine nature (it is the nature that wills, as the Council taught us). That’s where the asymmetry and analogy of being comes in. Even the hypostatic union of Christ does not make the human nature not human nature and become divine. That’s where not-being God means since we are dealing with a created nature. Again: the radical difference that Balthasar speaks of is grounded in the level of nature. To say that “not being God” as “not being the Son” misses the point and it’s not what Balthasar was trying to say. You may say: well, a creature “not being God”
            is exactly false because the Son=God and is also a creature. Again: the context of Balthasar’s statement is that the divine nature will never be a human nature and vice versa. That’s even true with the Son’s two natures.

            You said:

            “Asymmetry depends on their being two terms to relate–typically in a relation of dependence. Even if not a relation of dependence, there must be two somethings”

            I don’t know what you mean by “somethings” here. Is it an entity? A substance? (Evil is not a “something”, but depends on being. There is also an asymmetrical relationship there.) Again, the human will, grounded in the created human nature of Christ is “moved by and subjected” to the divine will. And it is the divine will that assumes the human nature, not vice versa.

            You said:

            “If Christ’s human nature “never coincides with or is identical to that [one divine] esse,” then whatever happens to Christ’s human nature does not happen to God. Therefore “God dies” isn’t true.”

            I don’t agree with that at all. What exactly is a human nature if not a created nature? Createdness comes from the non identity of essence and esse. If that were not so, then you must say that human nature is not a created nature. To say that the human nature of Christ is identical to the uncreated, divine esse is to confuse the two natures. I don’t know how we can say anything is created unless we admit the real distinction between (nonsubsistent) esse and essence. God is not created because the divine esse is (numerically) identical to the divine essence. Admitting that the human nature of Christ is identical (numerically) to divine esse is to say that it is numerically identical to the divine essence, which is just false. If you say divine esse=divine essence, you cannot say that the human nature of Christ=divine esse=divine essence.

            the assumption of human nature is not the same as the generation of the Son from the Father since it is an act of the will. I also don’t see how the non identity of the human nature of Christ with the divine esse would entail that whatever happens to the human nature of Christ would not happen to God. The divine will that assumes the human nature in the one person of the Son is sufficient for that.

            You said:

            “How then could the humanity the Son *is*, itself be “between” the Father and the Son? What is there between Father and Son anyhow, that’s not just the Son himself?”

            Leaving the Spirit out as being between the Father and the Son, the assumption of human nature is an act of the divine will. There does not have to be a third thing, but the common will of the Father and Son for the Son to assume a human nature. Of course the generation of the Son metaphysically entails the incarnation. But you cannot admit that they are the same thing, as if the incarnation does not depend on the generation of the Son and His will to assume a human nature. Besides, to make the incarnation and the generation of the Son the same act would entail that the existence of Mary (and her yes) is identical to the generation of the Son.

            There are a lot more things you talked about, such as the relationship between Person, nature, existence, and even relation that I am still figuring out, so I have to leave that out. I would say, though, that I can say “yes” to your emphasis on the personal identity of the divine and human nature of Christ and still hold to Christ as the concrete analogy of being. I don’t think your position entails a negation of that. It just has to be fleshed out more (maybe you can do it better than me?).

            Finally, I just have to quote this part from Balthasar just because it’s beautiful:

            “But this “cleft” between two different natures that love each other is something frightening, and it tempts us to despair when considered abstractly. But as soon as we ourselves are the lovers and stand in the perfection of love, what is frightening is transformed immediately into what gives sweetness and delight. For the eternity of the cleft is at the same time the eternity of the juxtaposition that allows love to happen at all. Only where there is non-identity is love possible. And it is absolutely not true that love requires the abolition of personality, that it craves to be the Thou of the other. Even in the human sphere it wills rather the ever-greater exaltation and ecstasy of the beloved simultaneously with the greatest proximity and communion. How sad it would be if it were ever to turn out that the beloved only possessed our
            measure and form! For only this interplay between presence and distance lets us possess an ever more inexhaustible object of ad- miration and “divinization.”…Yes: Precisely because the supernatural appears here in its unveiled form, as the Logos of God himself, the accent is placed on what is distinctively natural: Christ appears not as the friend but as the servant of the Father. And only by consummating this natural relation of servant-and- lord can the elevation to the relation of being friend-and-child take place. Yes: Because man wanted to overcome what was distinctive about his nature and wanted to shed what specifically belonged to his essence, his corporeality with all its needs, im- poverishments, weaknesses in order to cultivate the spiritual side of his being (to get nearer, so he intended, to God), for that reason the weakness of the flesh (sarx and not just soma) is chosen as the crucial place of redemption, with all of the consequences that this entails: suffering, powerlessness, loss of courage, abandon- ment, pain, and death. God chooses the weak to shame the strong; he chooses the natural and the fleshly to shame the spiritual. For man becomes these latter dimensions, spirit and pneuma, only to the extent that he remains rooted in his fundamental truth, in the truth of his nature.”

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