By Contributor Dr. Karin Heller
Dear Dr. Heller,
What Catholic Council decided that Jesus, as a young man, had to discover that he, in fact, was God by reading scriptures and that he did not innately know? And what scripture does it cite to enforce its doctrine?
Thank you for your message.
A council did not “decide” this. A council always responds to questions raised by Christians during a certain time period. It comes up with responses subject to discussions and better understandings throughout the centuries. The specific question you relate to concerns the relationship between the divine and the human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. These relationships were in debate at the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century. So, here is what the council teaches (sorry for the technical language, but that’s how councils work and here you see that councils do not merely decide this or that!).
“Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as once complete in godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body, of one substance with the father as regards his godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from his sin; as regards his godhead, begotten of the father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, son, Lord, only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, (emphasis mine!); the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same son and only-begotten God the word, Lord Jesus Christ…,” the Council of Chalcedon reads.
So, in a nutshell, the Council of Chalcedon teaches the unity of one person and the distinction of two natures in Jesus. The two natures in Jesus are not subject to change. His divine nature, in particular, could not overrun his human nature or give him some advantage over his human nature. Paul himself teaches by quoting a Christian hymn handed down to him that Jesus, “did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself, to assume the condition of a slave … ” (Philippians 2:6-7). In other words, with the Incarnation, Jesus gave up all of his divine privileges. Therefore, Jesus fully assumed a human physical, psychological and spiritual life. He discovered the world like any baby of this world. He learned to speak, to read and to write, interacted with his father and mother, went to school, learned a profession and asked the three existential questions each human being asks: Where do I come from? Who am I? Where do I go? Jesus turned to his teachers, the pharisees, with such questions, who in turn taught him about salvation history in Scripture. Through the Scriptures Jesus discovered his particular identity as son of God, called to save human kind through his human nature. It’s through Jesus’ human nature that we are saved, not on account of a magic Jesus mixing divine and human elements.
Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University.Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years. Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.