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Fully Human, Fully Divine

Friday, February 1, 2019

Jesus: Human and Divine

Fully Human, Fully Divine
Friday, February 1, 2019

Francis of Assisi emphasized an imitation and love of the humanity of Jesus, without needing to first “prove” or worship his divinity (which Jesus never told us to do). In most of Christian history we have emphasized the divinity, omnipotence, omniscience, and “almightiness” of Jesus, which makes following him—or loving him—largely unrealistic. We are on two utterly different planes that are rather hard to connect. A God who is “totally other” alienates humanity and creation.

I doubt this will surprise you, but many Christians are not really Incarnational Christians. That’s not a moral judgment; it’s a description. Many Christians simply believe in “a Supreme Being who made all things,” and their Supreme Being just happens to be Jesus (not recognizing that he was anything but almighty!). He was the available God­ figure in Europe and the Middle East, so we pushed him into that position, while ignoring most of Jesus’ concrete message: that power and powerlessness can and probably must coexist. Jesus is actually a “third something,” fully human and fully divine. This is hard for the dualistic mind to grasp or even imagine; it seems like a self-canceling system, a contradiction in terms, an irreconcilable paradox. In Byzantine icons and many later paintings, Jesus is shown holding up two fingers, indicating, “I am fully human, and I am fully divine at the same time.” This paradox is just too much for the rational mind to grasp. Maybe only art and prayer can help us understand it!

For most Christians today, Jesus is totally divine, but not really human. When we deny what Jesus holds together, we can’t hold it together in ourselves! And that’s the whole point: you and I are also children of heaven and children of earth, children of God and children of this world. Both are true simultaneously, which defies all reason and logic. The Incarnation overcomes the split in us and creation.

Christianity is saying that we need a model, an exemplar, a promise, and a guarantee (words used in Pauline letters) to imagine such a far-off impossibility. For us, that living model is Jesus. In Scholastic philosophy, we call this an “Exemplary Cause”; which is exactly how Jesus “causes” our salvation. He models it and it rubs off on us when we gaze long enough. Salvation is not a magical transaction accomplished by moral behavior or joining the right group. The only salvation worthy of the name is a gradual realization of who we are already in this world—and always have been—and will be eternally. Salvation is not a question of if nearly as much as when.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 82; and
The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 3 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Image credit: Salvator Mundi (detail), Titian, circa 1570, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus is the archetype of Everything. . . . In Byzantine art and many later icons, Jesus is shown holding up two fingers, indicating, “I am fully human, and I am fully divine at the same time.” —Richard Rohr
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