October 7, 2012

The Divine Personae: Some One Not Some Thing

Jesus Ascending To Heaven
William Hole
This was originally a Facebook post. I believe it warranted retyping here to preserve it for posterity. I have added to it to flesh it out...
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Sometimes, statements from the most unexpected sources knock me into a new paradigm. They cause a paradigm shift that force me to think about things differently. Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) once said that the key marks of personhood is self-possession, which was another way of referring to an understanding of one's individuality and who they are. I agree with him. This is an incredibly important concept when we speak of the fact that a person's greatest self-fulfillment according to the Bible is self-giving love (John 15:13) as Jesus did on the cross. A giving of one's life to save another. In this situation a person would need to know exactly what they are giving up, wouldn't they?

John 15:13 ~ "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

One cannot give fully of themselves unless they are absolutely sure of exactly who they are and are in possession of that knowledge. Therefore, Jesus knew exactly who and what He was, His mission and His purpose. This understanding of Himself allowed Him to do exactly what He did for humanity.

Jesus knew He was the Son of God, one with the Father and Spirit but distinct in function and person but still of One Being ontologically. What's more His will was in accord with the other members of the Trinity. If Jesus' will was to give in self-giving love with full understanding of who and what He was...so too the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our salvation then must be based in self-giving love and is therefore the fullest expression of self-fulfillment in the Trinity. The love of the Father for the Son and love of the Son for the Father. All other love falls out from this Triune archetype. We should be on our knees thanking God for this fact alone. Praise the infinite wonders of Him.

It is after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that His followers realize they had been involved with a phenomenon that was more than just a man. Jesus Himself had told them that when they saw Him they had seen the Father (John 14:7-14). Therefore those who had and will see Jesus…see God.

Trying to convey Who/What they had seen became a serious problem of descriptive possibilities. They eventually turned to the Greek term that meant face-to-face πρόσωπον / prosopon. In Latin this word became persona. By using this word to describe Jesus they were saying that they had come face-to-face with God. These terms had a drawback through. It had been used in Greek theater up to this point and referred to the masks actors wore on stage to indicate which roles they were playing at that given time. If understood in this context, it advocated Modalism / Sabellianism that said God is one person who has revealed himself in three forms or modes in contrast to the Trinitarian doctrine where God is One Being eternally existing in three persons.

Early Church fathers were not comfortable with this definition. Jesus was no actor wearing a mask and performing a given role...or was He? For true Christians, there could be no division between being and acting in God, between whom he was and what he was doing. So, if one listened to the words of Jesus in John 14 as he spoke of the Father, it is clear He was not the Father. He couldn’t be, they had watched Him die on the cross. In so doing, humanity did not wink out of existence as it is He that upholds all of Creation. Something had to have held Creation together. Jesus had also said He was not the Spirit. He had said that He was going back to the One who sent Him and was subsequently sending a helper/advocate but unless Jesus left them, this other One like Jesus would not come. Neither of these individual persons being Him, not the one who sent Him nor the One that Jesus was sending.  It is here we see three distinct personas or three possibilities of being face-to-face with God. We see a Trinity.

So how do early church fathers put all three together and protect the truth? What language could they use? Their only option was to take the language they had which was already quite robust (Greek) and fill the terms with new meaning. And the Greek/Latin derivative of persona or person would now filled that role. To answer the question of who Jesus was, the Church fathers needed to redefine the concept of the persona. What would now be meant by use of the world persona/person is that it is referring to personhood. We have the human analogy of the Father as a distinct personhood, the Son as distinct personhood and the Holy Spirit as a distinct personhood...yet one Being.

Nowadays in Western society we think of personhood as a human reality that is helpful in our understanding of God. This is the wrong approach and must be reversed just like the concept of love mentioned earlier. The concept of human persona comes from God. But when the church fathers said person, they were specifically zeroing in on one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Using the word person or persona to refer to humans came later. In the context of the early church the word person for the church was determined by an understanding not just of Jesus but of the Trinity and specifically the nature of the Son. Had there been no understanding of a Trinity from the very beginning since Christ...there would’ve been no need for distinction of Jesus’ unique character as a person.

What is even more paradoxical is that we are made in the image of God and that Jesus came as one of us. A person. Even more mind blowing is the fact that the terminologies of Father, Son and Spirit can be used to define what besides God? They can be used to define attributes or persona of humanity.

So what’s a person? First, the word is a symbol for a real attribute within the being of God. Person is used to differentiate from the word being. Being is the Oneness of God. Being is what is common to the Father, Son and Spirit. So, to differentiate the Son in the being of God, they chose to describe him as a "person" within the Godhead. This personhood is ironically no better revealed in Scripture than in the Gospel that sets out mainly to show that Jesus is the Son of God and Divine…the Gospel of John. Specifically John, Chapters 14-16.

In the end we see that because of His self-giving love, Jesus had to have had a clear consciousness of his own identity as the Son just as Karol Wojtyla had alluded to. He had to have understood He was indeed human and also part of a divine Trinity...because the proof of this came directly out of His own mouth in the words He spoke as clearly noted above. He also needed to have had a clear awareness that he was distinguished from the Father and the Spirit. Another clear indicator that Jesus knew He was divine and the Son of God is because He clearly states that to see Him is to see the Father (oneness of Being) yet He knew He was distinct from Him in person. Let me restate that again for effect: We see therefore that not only did Christ know He was divine, He also had to know that He was part of a Trinity based on His own statements. If Jesus is truth then He most certainly would've known the truth, wouldn't He? If His Spirit dwell within us then we should be able to discern the truth also, shouldn't we? His is a Spirit of Truth (John 16:13).

There is no question in my mind that Jesus did indeed understand who He was and He certainly understood His importance as He stood as the God-man at the center of time. Those that read the Bible and say Jesus did not know who He was or was unsure of this knowledge do not understand their Bible properly. Nor do I believe that His Spirit truly dwells fully in them that would think or expound on an idea like that as being truth.

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