Question—Some recent books on theology seem to say -that Christ had no human self, but other books say that he had supreme human self-government. There appears to be a contradiction here and I wonder if you would tell me what a Catholic is supposed to believe. J.M.C., London, S.W.3.
Answer —Gladly. Jesus Christ was the most wonderful man who ever lived. He had a supremely attractive and lovable personality and his character profoundly inspired all who knew him. The Jesus of the New Testament is nothing like the insipid, weak figure of so many holy pictures and stained-glass windows. From the Gospels and from the Letters of St. John it is obvious that his friends and followers regarded him as the perfect human being— one whom they were proud to know.
At the same time he was much more than mere man. Perfectly human, he claimed to be God and by his Resurrection he proved it. "I and the Father are one" .. . "Ile who sees me sees the Father also." When they followed out his command and preached the Gospel no matter what the cost to themselves, the Apostles showed that they accepted Jesus' claims and that they regarded him as not only the ideal man, but as true God.
These truths have been summed up in the Creeds where we profess that Jesus is one person in two natures, true God and true man. Needless to say, this mystery of the person and natures of Jesus has no parallel elsewhere. A preacher may rack his brains for some familiar illustration to use as an easy example but there is none that is really satisfactory.
Of course we can try to think up some mythical or legendary being who, let us suppose, is half-animal and half-human. With a lively imagination we may imagine such a creature, perhaps from science fiction or from what we know of prehistory, but it really takes us nowhere nearer imagining the stupendous wonder of Jesus of Nazareth.
Our Saviour was not simply a mixture, half-God and half-man. So far from his Godhead rendering him less perfect man or his manhood detracting from his dignity as God, he remained perfectly both. As the early Church Councils were at pains to spell the doctrine out, neither were his divinity and humanity so separated as to make him two distinct persons, nor were they so mixed as to make him half-God and half-man. This one person, Jesus Christ, was the remains both fully one of the Holy Trinity and fully one of our human family, equal to God the Father but also our brother in everything except sin.
It follows that we may quite properly say that God walked in Galilee; in his human nature he did just that. We can say that on a helpless babe the whole of creation depended because the person who was the babe was also God. Mary is the mother of God. The man who sat exhausted beside Jacob's Well is the one who gives power to the whole of creation.
Now, to answer directly the question of whether or not Jesus had a human self. If by having a human self we mean that Jesus had human knowledge and a will like ours, the answer is "Yes," for he was a man among men. If by having a human self we mean that Jesus the man was a separate individual from the Second Person of the Trinity, the answer is "No."
Jesus was and is both man and God, but in one person. Our faith requires us to speak of him as being perfectly divine and perfectly human but, unless we make these laborious distinctions, it is misleading to speak of him as having a human self.