Questions Concerning the Existences of Christ

In Friedman Emery (ed.), Philosophy and Theology in the Long Middle Ages: A Tribute to Stephen F. Brown. Brill (2011)
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According to Christian doctrine as formulated by the Council of Chalcedon (451), Christ is one person (one supposit, one hypostasis) existing in two natures (two essences), human and divine. The human and divine natures are not merged into a third nature, nor are they separated from one another in such a way that the divine nature goes with one person, namely, the Word of God, and the human nature with another person, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. The two natures belong to just one person, and the one person has two distinct natures. Chalcedon‟s justly-famous formula brought the debate into sharper focus and ruled out certain options, but of course it did not bring the arguments to a complete end. More councils,more debates, and more questions were to follow, although the range of disagreement tended to narrow. In the medieval Latin West, Peter Lombard (†1160) identified in book III of the Sententiae three “opinions” on the topic, but by the middle of the thirteenth century, it was widely agreed that only one of them was orthodox teaching. This relative unity of thought provided the space within which more detailed issues could be debated, and one of the most interesting of these concerned existence (esse): how many existences are there in Christ? Since Christ is only one person, it might seem that he has only one existence. On the other hand, he has two natures, so perhaps instead he has more than one existence. In this one paper, my goal is rather modest. I discuss only a few of the relevant authors, and I focus primarily on which questions they were asking. I proceed as follows. I first look at Thomas Aquinas, whose remarks on these topics had such a large influence on the debate later in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Crucial will be certain distinctions that Thomas makes, distinctions we can see as disambiguating the question we began with, namely, „How many existences are there in Christ?‟. After that I will look at how one of those distinctions makes its appearance in the writings of two post-Thomistic authors, Giles of Rome and Godfrey of Fontaines.

Author's Profile

Michael Gorman
Catholic University of America


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