Torrance’s Incarnation 6.2: The Hypostatic Union in Revelation and Reconciliation

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationThe hypostatic union—the indivisible unity of the divine and human nature in Christ—is a more intimate union than the one flesh union of marriage. This union happens within one person. In this union, these two natures cannot be separated or confused. “God remains God and man remains man, and yet in Christ, God who remains God is for ever joined to man, becomes man and remains man” (191).

We need to consider how this hypostatic union relates to revelation and reconciliation.

a) The hypostatic union of God and man in one person is the heart of revelation and its full substance

Because the Word became flesh, God has revealed himself to us in a way that we can understand—from within our humanity. In taking on our humanity, he has also taken on our language, so that his language about God is genuine revelation.

We can only know God by analogy. However, in Jesus Christ, we have a filled analogy. We understand God in terms of human images precisely because in Jesus Christ, God and man are united.

b) The hypostatic union of God and man in one person is the heart of reconciliation and its full substance

If God were to reveal himself to us in majesty we would die. In the incarnation, God veiled his majesty in flesh, humiliation, and death, so that he might draw close to save us. By veiling himself he “sinlessly assumed our flesh” (195) into himself and saved us. Jesus did this from the side of God and from the side of man.

It’s important here to remember that Jesus’ united nature is indivisible. If we could divide the two, then his human acts wouldn’t be divine, and his divine acts wouldn’t be human. If we could divide the two, then our nature would be unassumed and unreconciled.

c) Outline of the main stages in the development of the doctrine of Christ and of the hypostatic union

There are seven major stages in the church’s understanding of the nature of Christ:

  1. The Council of Nicaea (AD 325): Jesus is truly God.
  2. The Council of Constantinople (AD 381): Jesus is perfectly man.
  3. The Council of Ephesus (AD 431): Jesus is one person.
  4. The Council of Chalcedon (AD 451): Jesus has two distinct natures.
  5. The Council of Constantinople (AD 680): Jesus possessed both a human and divine will.
  6. The Reformation: The doctrine of Christ was stated more in terms of Christ’s saving and reconciling mission.
  7. Early Scottish Theology and Barthian Theology: Anhypostasia and enhypostasia are brought together to stress that the Jesus of history is the Son of God.

Some Reflections

All other analogies are empty, and contain nothing of God, but Jesus Christ is filled analogy, analogy where the content and substance lie in the hypostatic union of God and man in Christ. (193)

Any thoughtful person quickly realizes that we cannot understand God except by analogy. God’s arm is strong to save, but we don’t assume he has a physical arm. That is, until we meet Jesus. In Jesus, the analogies through which we understand God are “filled.” We actually encounter the analogies we use.

The very humanity of Christ is the veiling of God; the flesh of sin, the humiliation and the form of a servant, the death of Christ all veil god – and so God draws near to us under that veil in order to reveal himself, and save us. (194)

When God revealed himself to Elijah, he tucked him into a crevasse in the rock and allowed him to see his backside as he passed by. It was understood that to see God meant death—his glory is simply too overwhelming. When Ezekiel saw a vision of God, he collapsed and could only stand when the Spirit lifted him to his feet again.

In Jesus, we can look on the face of God and live. This veiling of God reminds me of Jesus’ parable about “the least of these.” We look back in time and question why people couldn’t see Jesus for who he really was—God incarnate, God veiled in flesh. I wonder if we are able to recognize him veiled in the faces of those who need our help today?

← 6.1: The Humanity and the Deity of Christ
6.3: The Patristic Doctrine of Christ →

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