The Two Natures of Christ: The Pro-Life Cause

Author: Fr. Thomas Knoblach

The Two Natures of Christ & the Pro-Life Cause by Father Tom Knoblach

Mary set out, proceeding in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leapt in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice: "Blessed are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb. But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby leapt in my womb for joy. Blest is she who trusted that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled. -Luke 1:39-45

The cornerstone and bedrock of the pro-life cause is the dignity of the human person, created in the image of God. Since life itself is a gift, entrusted in stewardship to us from a loving Creator, every life must be respected and indeed reverenced as an icon, a living image of the divine Author of that life. Each person incarnates the Father's will that this person be. It is this fact of being, quite apart from the age or condition of the human individual, that is the basis for the inviolability of that individual's life.

The foundation for being pro-life presented in the preceding paragraph will, I believe, make perfect sense to believers in God. However, we realize that not all persons with whom we debate the issues surrounding life in fact believe in God. Others may possess a certain inchoate faith, one that has defined notions in theory but which has not been translated into an ethical stance. Because of this, pro-lifers have tried to marshal many arguments from a variety of perspectives to make their case. There are arguments from science and biology, from natural law and appeals to conscience, even from a utilitarian kind of viewpoint. Some of these arguments are valid and effective, others are less persuasive or even seriously flawed, such as any pro-life position that advocates violence as an acceptable means to the goal of protecting life.

For Christian believers, the Scriptures afford an invaluable point of reference for discovering both the roots and the branches of reverence for life. In the pages of the Bible, timeless revealed truths about God and about humanity are taught, often in profound symbolism and perennially valid stories, which cast light upon the unchanging patterns of the human heart. In particular, the Bible teaches the prohibition of murder and abuse, since humans are created in the divine image.

But beyond these direct references, episodes from the Scriptures reinforce reverence for life by implication. For our purposes here, the Scriptures speak several times about life in the womb. Psalm 139:13-15 affirms this beautifully: Truly You have formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I give You thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works. My soul also You knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to You when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth. Psalm 22:9-11 refers to the same idea: You have been my guide since I was first formed, my security at my mother's breast. To you I was committed at birth, from my mother's womb You are my God. God tells Jeremiah of His ageless plan for the prophet: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you (Jeremiah 1:5). Exodus 21:22 establishes a penalty for causing miscarriage (though this is not to be directly related to abortion, since the situation presented is an unintentional harm, and the social context of the day considered the child as a "possession" of sorts of the father). The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us of our ignorance of the wonderful works of God, saying: You know not how the breath of life fashions the human frame in the mother's womb (Ecclesiastes 11:5). God speaks reassuringly to the collective personality of the nation of Israel: Thus says the Lord Who made you, your help, Who formed you from the womb (Isaiah 44:2). This message was heard by the Servant of Yahweh, who speaks in Isaiah 49:5: The Lord has spoken, Who formed me as His servant from the womb.

Christians find in the Old Testament prophetic foreshadowings of the mysteries of Christ's life and Person. Jesus Christ is the true Servant of the Lord, the "prophet like Moses" (see Deuteronomy 18:18) sent by God to all the nations. There are innumerable passages in which figures and events of the Old Testament find their full meaning in Jesus.

Luke's Gospel gives us the most detail of the events surrounding the conception and birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus. In fact, Luke carefully weaves his telling of these events to show their parallels: angelic announcements to Zechariah and Mary, both childless; these announcements use very similar language, telling them not to be frightened, that Mary and Elizabeth will each bear a son, who will bring joy and gladness and rejoicing at birth and that the children will be great in the eyes of the Lord. Relatives and friends assemble for the circumcisions of the children, and the name commanded by the angel is given to each first-born son: John and Jesus.

A small but significant number of people believed that it was John, the prophet, ascetic and martyr for the moral truth, who was the Servant of the Lord and the Promised One. The evangelists were increasingly careful to show that John was not the Messiah, but His forerunner. In John's Gospel it is crystal clear; the Baptist tells the priests and Levites from Jerusalem flat out: "I am not the Messiah." A re-reading of those New Testament passages about the Baptist will make this point clear.

In his Gospel, Luke's concern was to show the differences between John and Jesus, precisely by focusing on the parallels-that is, seeing how they might seem to be the same clearly reveals how they are different. Elizabeth conceived naturally, though at an advanced age; but Mary was a virgin. John would be filled with the Holy Spirit, but Jesus was the very Son of God. John would lead back the estranged children of Israel to God, but Jesus would sit on the very throne of God to receive these exiles. Zechariah is struck dumb for his questioning of the angel; Mary gives voice to the Magnificat. John leaps for joy at the presence of Jesus while both are still in their mothers' wombs.

What does all this Scriptural background have to do with the pro-life movement? Just this: in defending pro-life principles by using the Scriptures, one must be careful to preserve both the humanity and the divinity of Christ. The scene of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) clearly teaches the presence of the Person of the Son in Mary's womb from the moment of Mary's acceptance of the gift of life in her answer to the angel. But this Person is not a human person, but rather the very Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. This fact is precisely our hope. In assuming our common human nature and uniting it with His divine Nature in the Incarnation He assured our hope of redemption. The key to understanding how salvation is effective for us, and shared with us, revolves around this concept of the "hypostatic union," the union of Christ's two natures in the one divine Person of the Son of God.

Because of this union, we can truly say that every moment of human existence, from conception to death, is redeemed. The entire process of our generation in this life, and our regeneration in the eternal life of heaven, is sanctified by the presence of God Himself, Who has condescended to undergo this very same process. In us, God creates a new human soul, which He infuses in the body biologically generated by our parents. This soul is eternal, and determines our identity.

"The soul is the form of the body," as Saint Thomas Aquinas put it. For us human persons, the body and the soul are two components of our one being. They can be separated conceptually, but neither the soul alone nor the body alone is a human person: a human person comprises the body and soul. That is the whole reason for the Resurrection of Christ. He did not need to rise again in the body as the Son of God; but He did need to do so as the Son of Man, as a human being. We must come to share in His redeemed humanity in order to share in redemption; and this is done precisely through the human More... Continue Stop Continue nature we share in common with the Son of God, which He received from Mary, His mother.

In making pro-life arguments from the Scriptures, it is important to keep these facts in mind. The conclusions are solid and valid, but the argumentation must be valid as well, lest those who oppose our conclusions point to the faults in our arguments and accuse us of errors in logic. Since the pro-life cause depends so heavily on logic, reason and clear thinking, it is vital for us to be careful in our reasoning and argumentation, lest we remove our own foundation.

Thus, it is true that it was the same Person Who was announced to Mary and accepted by her Who came to dwell in her womb, Who taught the crowds, Who healed and did miracles and raised the dead, Who suffered and died and rose from the dead. But Jesus never was a human person. It is true that personal identity, or human personhood, begins at conception. The spiritual reality of the soul can never be detected by any empirical, sensory or technical means. This fact has many implications for other issues as well, particularly with patients who are declared to be in a "persistent vegetative state"; but that is a topic for another article.

Theologically, then, Christ is our Savior precisely because He is not a human person, but rather the divine Second Person of the Trinity. It is true that He had a human nature, a human soul, a human will and a human intellect, as well as a human body from Mary. He also had the one divine nature, shared in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He had therefore the one divine intellect and will. But He was not two persons. Jesus Christ was one divine Person with two natures, as the Triune God is a community of three Persons with one Nature. This may seem like hair-splitting. However, it is anything but that. The first seven centuries of Christianity were marked by continual disputes over just this point; and at one time, the Arians who denied the one divine Personhood of Christ were in the majority. But claiming that Christ is a human person undermines the whole of our Christian faith and our promise of salvation.

The Incarnation is a unique, singular event in human history. While it is instructive for us on a wide variety of points, one must be careful in extrapolating too indiscriminately from it. Christ did share our human nature, really and truly, but He did not become a human person, any more than the life of grace, which does indeed allow us to become sharers in the divine nature (cf. II Peter 1:4), makes us into divine persons. We remain who and what we are: and that is the greatest sign of God's love for us of all.

Afterword by Fr. Denis O'Brien, M.M.

We are very grateful that Fr. Knoblach pointed out that the infusion of the soul is not a subject of scientific inquiry. The complete text may be found in the Declaration on Procured Abortion, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (footnote 19), published on November 18, 1974:

This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (1) supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed; (2) on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.

The 11th Council of Toledo (a.d. 675) stated:

We likewise believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have one substance; yet we do not say that the Virgin Mary gave birth to this one undivided Trinity, but only to the Son who alone assumed our nature into union with his own person . . . This form (of a servant, cf. Phil. 2:7) was joined to him in a personal union, that is, in such a way that the Son of God and the Son of Man are the one Christ.

c 1995 Father Tom Knoblach ****************************************************************************

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