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Reconciliation of Opposites

Monday, January 28, 2019

Jesus: Human and Divine

Reconciliation of Opposites
Monday, January 28, 2019

The dynamic union of opposites (humanity and divinity) that the Christ Mystery is surpasses, undercuts, and has the power to resolve so many levels of denominational argument and partisanship that have divided Christianity over the centuries. We did not realize how large and reconciling our own Christ was, despite being told that “God wanted all fullness (pleroma) to be found in Christ, and all things to be reconciled through him and for him” (Colossians 1:19-20).

Instead of the Great Reconciler, we made Jesus into a clannish god who then had to compete with other world religions (even with his own Judaism!) and with our very humanity—which made humanity hard to sanctify or liberate. As St. Irenaeus (c. 130–202) reflected, “That not taken up within the Incarnation, would not be redeemed.” [1] Without the dynamic terms of incarnation being absolutely clear, Jesus remained only Divine, and we remained only human, thus confusing, severely limiting, and diminishing the process of redemption. We missed the major point which was that God had put the two together in a dynamic way for all to see and trust, but we did not know how to even imagine that either in Jesus or in ourselves. Yes, we had the will and the desire, but did not trust the extraordinary incarnational method that God used, nor its Perfect Exemplar, Jesus.

Truly great ideas, like the dynamic union of humanity and divinity in Jesus, are invariably slow in coming, because the normal mind prefers to think in static dualisms. It allows us to take clean sides and argue from supposedly pure positions. Only contemplative prayer can overcome such splits and artificial separateness. Only inner stillness can absorb and comprehend paradoxes and seeming contradictions, which Eastern Christianity, at least in its early period, seemed to understand much more than the Western church.

I think Jesus was the first nondual teacher for the West, but the West has unsuccessfully tried to understand him with our usual dualistic thinking. Western theology adopted the Council of Chalcedon’s (451 CE) doctrine that Jesus was “made known in two natures.” As Amos Smith says, “If Christ were two natures he would not be God the Son incarnate, but only God the Son dwelling in a human. . . . [Christ’s] is a true mystical union, not a nominal union of ‘two natures, two wills, and two natural operations.’ How can there be union when everything is split in two.” [2]


[1] Irenaeus presents this key idea throughout his treatise Against Heresies, particularly in Book 3, chapters 18 and 19.

[2] Amos Smith, Healing the Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots (Resource Publications: 2013), 289.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Afterword” in Amos Smith, Healing the Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots (Resource Publications: 2013), 237-238.

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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