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Why do Christians believe that Jesus is God and man at the same time?

Aleteia - published on 01/21/13

By becoming “true God and true man,” Christ humbled himself to share in our humanity so that we might be able to share in his divinity.

Through the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh and participated fully in the human experience, while still retaining the fullness of his divine essence. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes many bold claims concerning his closeness – indeed, his oneness – with the Father, speaking and acting with authority. Thus, the understanding of Jesus Christ as “true God and true man” is one that arises from a sound interpretation of Sacred Scripture.

All of the apostles, including St. Paul, were Jews who did not intend at any time to reject the revelation made to Israel: God is one. But they were led to see God in Jesus, without confusing Jesus with the one whom he called Father.

Consider the statement, "Jesus is God and man at the same time." There is a need to verify both terms: truly God and truly man. At present, Jesus' humanity is hardly discussed, but his divinity is questioned. For those who do not believe in God, the answer seems clear, as well as for those who say, "I believe in one God," as Jews and Muslims do. Jesus himself was a pious Jew and founded his Church on the Twelve Apostles, all of whom were themselves Jewish. While Christ never contradicted the central tenet of the Jewish faith, he gradually made known to his disciples that he was one with the One whom he called Father. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, united by the perfection of an infinite and eternal love. To designate a reality that is not of this world, a Latin theologian of the second century, Tertullian, invented a word: "Trinity." But he was not the one who invented the Trinity; it was Jesus who made this reality known to us.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus speaking and acting like God. In his miracles, he acts of his own accord. He speaks with authority and proclaims the forgiveness of sins. He speaks with the Father with total intimacy and asks people to believe in him. Finally, he says: "The Father and I are one."

The twentieth century was a time of great biblical renewal. It was also around the middle of this century that the Church rediscovered her Jewish roots. It is important to know the Old Testament so as not to conceive of the New Testament in a contradictory way. But at the same time, Jesus surpasses the great figures of the Old Testament, including the greatest of them. Abraham was the most perfect of all believers, but he could not save the inhabitants of Sodom. Moses had to take off his sandals when God manifested himself through the burning bush. David was the king to whom Israel will always look back with nostalgia, but he was also a deceitful, lustful and bloodthirsty man. Jesus speaks and acts with the authority of God. He performs miracles by his own power, without having to call on the help of others. He dares to teach above and beyond the Law given by God to Moses: "But I tell you …". While any godly man is aware of the distance that separates him from God, Jesus puts himself on a par with God and calls him Father, "Abba" – an outrageous term in Judaism since it was terribly familiar. He claims to be without sin, while he offers others the forgiveness of their sins. He asks others to follow him, to believe in him, because "the Father and I are one." There are not many possible answers to the question he asked his disciples: "Whom do you say that I am?" A blasphemer? This is the reason why they condemned him. An enlightened one? But he revealed a very great realism. The "Emmanuel," God with us, the only Son who is one with the Father and who became one of us: this is the Christian’s answer.

The Church has faced two questions since her birth: Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit and at the same time, Jesus is, in the fullest sense, one of us.

This affirmation of Christian faith is so paradoxical, that the temptation has always been to "fit it" within more reasonable limits. Three of the first four ecumenical councils protected the Christian faith against these forms of reductionism. At Nicaea (325), they stated: Jesus is neither a superman nor a demigod; He is no more than one with the Father; He is "consubstantial". At Ephesus (431), they stated: Jesus is indissolubly man. Thus his Mother, the Virgin Mary, may be called "Mother of God". At Chalcedon (451), they said: in Jesus, the divine reality and the human reality are both full and whole: he is not half God and half man. How is this possible?

Faith in Jesus – God made man – is no longer a contradiction or an absurdity, because man was created in the image and likeness of God. The entire Bible is the story of a covenant, up until the announcement of Emmanuel, “God with us.”

Jesus said he came not to abolish but to fulfill the law, to bring it to perfection. He is not in contradiction with the Old Testament; on the contrary, he fulfills its gifts and promises. The book of Genesis tells us how, of all the creatures in the vast universe, it is man who is created in the image and likeness of God. Certainly, the distance between God and man is infinite, but at the same time, there is a common point between God and man. Thus man can reason; man can speak – man is an interlocutor for God. The sacred history of the Bible after Abraham is a covenant that is constantly renewed, despite Israel's infidelities. But man's sin does not put an end to divine creativity, if one may say it like that, since the Bible itself frequently uses the language of imagery. The prophets announced that God would intervene personally in one way or another. This form is the Incarnation, in which Jesus – God made Man, the Word made flesh, the perfect "Emmanuel" – came into our world.

Man's vocation is to enter into the divine life and to be made a child of God. This is possible because God became man: the son of Mary, a descendant of David, the new Adam.

For love, there is no need to look for reasons outside of love itself. Therefore, it is important to be wary of arguments that seek to explain it: God could not have done otherwise. But from what God has done for us, we can also discover what we are called to do. The fact that God is Love is what it is all about: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son"; "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end" (another way of translating an expression which at the same time means, "until the end" and "to perfection"). This is our calling. The Church Fathers boldly declared: "God became man so that men could become God." The 1st Letter of Saint John says: "See how great is this present that the Father's love has given us: to be called children of God! And we are!" (I John 3:1). Another text of the New Testament says that we "participate in the divine nature." In God we are like unto the Son, who receives and gives grace. We are not the Father, because the Father is the source. We are in the Son, because He became one of us and sent us the Holy Spirit.

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