Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Human Psychology of Jesus in Aquinas

More from the article:


In the Summa, Aquinas concentrates strongly on the psychology of the man Jesus.  In Tertia Pars this primarily finds expression in the explication of the various forms of habitual grace that adorned the Savior’s human soul and their imparted noetic and moral capacities. According to Aquinas, the human nature of Jesus is endowed with a superabundance of habitual created grace.[1] Created graces (gratia creata) in medieval and subsequent Roman Catholic theology are created capacities that God gives his creatures in order to make them capable of freely cooperating with him in the lengthy process of salvation.[2]  These created capacities are considered gratuitous in that they are not part of the natural composition of human nature, even prior to the Fall.[3]  In that created grace is infused in the human subject, it becomes a possession and predicate of human nature, thereby giving the human subject an autonomous capacity to work out his redemption. Beyond these created capacities, Jesus also possessed the uncreated grace (gratia increata) of the Holy Spirit.[4]  What it is important here to recognize is that for Aquinas it is essential that the man Jesus be given an autonomous capacity to act over against his divine nature.   
Because his soul was directly united with the Second Person of the Trinity, even in his earthly life the speculative intellect (intellectusspeculativus) of the man Jesus enjoyed a direct vision of God’s essence (visio beatifica).[5]  As a comprehensor (i.e. one who has attained the beatific vision), the Savior possessed an unmediated knowledge of the divine being from the moment of his conception.[6]  For this reason, although in his earthly life Jesus possessed the virtue of love, he lacked those of hope and faith.[7]  This is because faith for Aquinas represents a kind of pre-knowledge of the beatific vision.[8]  As a virtue it stands as a “mean” (in the Aristotelian sense[9]) between scientific certainty and mere opinion.[10]  When faith is replaced by a direct vision of the divine essence it is unnecessary as a habit or virtue.  This is also true of hope.  As a virtue, hope longs and anticipates the vision of the divine essence apart from the medium of created forms.[11]  It is the ethical mean between the pride of the flesh and abject despair.[12]  Therefore, as a comprehensor, Jesus also lacked a need for the virtue of hope.[13]  As noted above, he did nevertheless possess and exercise the virtue of love.  Love draws and unites the wayfarer (viator) with God and it remains forever in the beatified’s enjoyment of God.[14]  Consequently, love has no ethical mean and, as a virtue, is not only found in wayfarers, but also in comprehensors.  Since the intellect moves the will to action,[15]  the beatific vision is necessary for Christ to possess in order that he might act in the most morally perfect capacity.[16]
It should be emphasized that Christ’s possession of the beatific vision[17] does not mean that his practical intellect (intellectuspracticusdid not learn carpentry from his stepfather Joseph or other mundane tasks.  Neither does the Angelic Doctor wish us to believe that Christ was shielded from the normal vicissitudes of post-lapsarian earthly existence.  Although, according to his speculative intellect, Jesus was already glorified, in his earthly ministry he was sent to save sinners who were no yet privy to a direct vision of the divine essence. Hence, in order to be able to communicate with and ultimately die for them, it was fitting and necessary that Christ take upon himself the normal infirmities that are experienced in human life after the Fall.  This entailed hunger, thirst, injury, and the like.[18]  He did not take upon himself all human infirmities, since if (for example) he were perpetually ill it would be impossible for him to have conducted his mission of preaching.[19]  Similarly, certain human infirmities contradict one another (such as obesity and thinness), and therefore could not logically be assumed simultaneously.[20]  Along with these, Jesus possessed a practical intellect that was capable of learning and progressing in its comprehension of earthly tasks.[21]  As a result of being saddled with the normal post-lapasarian infirmities of the body and mind, Jesus earnestly desired the glorification of his flesh.  For this reason, Aquinas tells us that it is appropriate to describe Christ as simultaneously being both a wayfarer and comprehensor (viator et comprehensor).[22]


[1] ST, 3a. q. 7, art. 1-2; BF, 49:4-13.  Sed contra est quod super illud Psalmi, sed in lege domini voluntas eius, dicit Glossa, hic ostenditur Christus plenus omni bono. Sed bona qualitas mentis est virtus. Ergo Christus fuit plenus omni virtute.
[2] ST, 1a2æ. q. 110, art. 1-4; BF, 30:108-23.
[3] ST, 1a. q. 95, art. 1; BF, 13:106-11.
[4] ST, 3a. q. 7, art. 5; BF, 49:18-23.  Sed contra est quod dicitur Isaiae IV, apprehendent septem mulieres virum unum, Glossa, idest, septem dona spiritus sancti Christum.
[5] ST, 3a. q. 7, art. 3; BF, 49:12-5. “Sed contra est quod dicitur Heb. XI, quod fides est argumentum non apparentium. Sed Christo nihil fuit non apparens, secundum illud quod dixit ei Petrus, Ioan. ult., tu omnia nosti. Ergo in Christo non fuit fides.  For papers discussing this issue of Christ’s possession of the beatific vision in Thomas, see Atti del IX Congresso Tomistico Internazionale, vol. 5 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1991)
[6] ST, 3a. q. 10, art. 4; BF, 49:114-9.
[7] ST, 3a. q. 7, art. 3-4; BF, 49:12-9.
[8] ST, 2a2æ. q. 4, art. 1; BF 31:114, 116.
Dictum est autem supra quod veritas prima est obiectum fidei secundum quod ipsa est non visa et ea quibus propter ipsam inhaeretur. Et secundum hoc oportet quod ipsa veritas prima se habeat ad actum fidei per modum finis secundum rationem rei non visae. Quod pertinet ad rationem rei speratae, secundum illud apostoli, ad Rom. VIII, quod non videmus speramus, veritatem enim videre est ipsam habere; non autem sperat aliquis id quod iam habet, sed spes est de hoc quod non habetur, ut supra dictum est.
See discussion in Paul Gondreau, “The Humanity of Christ, The Incarnate Word,” in Wawrykow and Van Nieuwenhove, 252-76;  Gratsch, 218-28;  Davies, 307-20.
[9] See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.6 in The Nicomachean Ethics, trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classics Series (Cambridge, Mass and London, UK: William Heinemann LTD and Harvard University Press, 1962), 92, 94.
[10] ST, 2a2ae.  q. 1, art. 2; BF, 31:11-2. “Sed contra, fides est media inter scientiam et opinionem.
[11] ST, 2a2æ. q. 17, art. 2; BF, 33:6-11. 
[12] ST, 2a2æ. q. 17, art. 5; BF, 33:16.  Sed spes consistit in medio praesumptionis et desperationis.
[13] ST, 3a. q. 7, art. 4; BF, 49:14-19.
[14] ST, 2a2ae.  q. 26, art. 13; BF, 34:154-9.
[15] ST 1a. q. 82, art. 3; BF 11:222-7.  See a contemporary Thomistic discussion on the subject of this understanding of human agency in relationship to the obedience of the human Jesus in Thomas Joseph White, "The Voluntary Action of the Earthly Christ and the Necessity of the Beatific Vision," The Thomist 69 (2005): 497-534; Thomas Weinandy', "The Beatific Vision and the Incarnate Son: Furthering the Discussion," The Thomist 70 (2006): 605-15.
[16] See Thomas Weinandy, "Jesus' Filial Vision of the Father," Pro Ecclesia 13 (2004): 189-201.  Weinandy detects a sort of Nestorianism in Aquinas’ position.  He notes that Thomists (particularly Thomas Joseph White, his theological opponent) tend to speak to the human nature acting over against the divine in such a manner as to give them impression that it is a separate subject.  
[17] ST, 3a. q. 10, art. 4; BF, 49:114-9.
[18] ST, 3a. q. 14, art. 1; BF, 49:170-7.
[19] ST, 3a. q. 14, art. 1; BF, 49:176-7.
[20] ST, 3a. q. 14, art. 4; BF, 49:184-5.
[21] ST 3a. q. 12, art. 2; BF, 49:140-45.
[22] ST, 3a. q. 15, art. 10; BF, 49: 218-21.  “Et ideo simul erat comprehensor, inquantum habebat beatitudinem animae propriam, et simul viator, inquantum tendebat in beatitudinem secundum id quod ei de beatitudine deerat.”  Also see full discussion of the knowledge of Christ in Kevin Madigan, “Did Jesus "Progress in Wisdom"? Thomas Aquinas on Luke 2:52 in Ancient and High-Medieval Context,” Traditio 52 (1997): 179-200.

1 comment:

  1. Many years ago I read Thom Hardt's "Om altarets sakrament," which (among other things) argued that Aquinas had a Calvinizing view of the Lord's Supper and that Aquinas (like most theologians in the West since Leo's Tome) had embraced a Nestorianizing Christology, often while paying lip service to Chalcedon. I must say that much of Thomas Aquinas' psychology of Jesus (as you have outlined it here) strikes me as similar to that of the Nestorianizing (if I may speak anachronistically) Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Aquinas' Jesus seems to be an excellent saint who acquired the beatific vision sooner than other saints; after all, most saints had to wait until after their birth to acquire it! He has more graces than other human beings, but He is simply doing what any human could, if we just availed ourselves more of the graces given us. Or so Aquinas and Theodore would have us believe.

    Of course, I understand that both theologians want us to maintain the integrity of Christ's human nature, lest we become Docetists. We are neither Docetists nor Monothelites, and therefore I would argue that it is not inappropriate to consider the question of Christ's human will (and His human psychology in general), especially as we consider His temptations in the wilderness and His agony in Gethsemane. But the relationship between the human will and the divine will in Christ is much closer than that of a perfected saint's will (e.g., that of a saint in heaven) and the divine will. In fact, the two relationships differ not merely by degree, but in kind. Aquinas will have to say much more about that if he wants to be regarded as still within the boundaries of orthodox Christology.

    ReplyDelete