(This series was originally given as a talk on Christology for my Lay Dominican chapter meeting. The talk was composed for Palm Sunday, so it began with selections of the agony and passion from the Gospel according to St. Luke )
This is the third and final installment in our series on early Church debates on Christology. So far, we’ve looked at various attempts to understand the Sonship of Jesus, as well as debates on the nature(s) of Christ. Today, we conclude with a question that every reader of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden has to contend with: does Jesus Christ have two wills or one? If Jesus IS the Son of God and is fully divine, how could He ask that not His will, but the Father’s be done?
How Many Wills Does Christ Have?
Monothelitism, a teaching that came out of Syria and Armenia in the first half of the seventh century, posited that even though the Son was homoousious with the Father and had a divine will, because of the hypostatic union (two natures in Christ), we have to say that Jesus could not have had a human will. Here is how the argument works:
- The “will” is the power of the soul which directs our action.
- Jesus Christ is a single person, or a single actor.
- Therefore, Jesus Christ could only have one will.
- Furthermore, it is proper that the lower should be subjected to the higher.
- The divine will is higher than the human will.
- Therefore, Jesus Christ’s one will must be divine, not human.
The monothelitists asked: how could a single person with two wills act at all? In order for Jesus Christ to act, his person (which is singular) needed to be moved by a singular will. And since it was fitting that the lower (human) should be subjected to the higher (divine), Jesus Christ had a single, Divine Will.
This argument makes a lot of sense, at least I happen to think so. Yet it has one strange gap: I’m trying to imagine an incarnation that either excluded a human will from the moment of conception, or supplanted the human will with a divine one at some point along the way. If the former, I see no way that we could say Christ was fully human. But if the latter were the case, when did that happen? Can we pinpoint a moment when that exchange took place? We are taken right back to one of the topics in my first post, in which the Adoptionists tried to pinpoint a time at which Jesus “became” the Son. So it seems we have to say that Christ has two wills, but how does that make sense? And on what authority can we claim such an unfathomable thing?
It’s a tricky question, let’s hear our brother Thomas on the issue:
Summa Theologica: Tertia Pars, Q 18, Art 1:
Obj. 1: It would seem that in Christ there are not two wills…
Sed contra: Our Lord says, ‘Father if thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me. But yet not My will but Thine be done’ And Ambrose, quoting this to the Emperor Gratian says: “As He assumed my will, He assumed my sorrow; and on Luke he says: “His will, He refers to the Man—the Father’s, to the Godhead. For the will of man is temporal, and the will of God is eternal.”
We find ourselves right back at Luke—at the first sorrowful mystery. We humans can talk around in circles all we want about natures and hypostases and the philosophical necessity for singular wills, but in the end: the answer comes from the most authoritative source—the Word Himself. Jesus Christ had to possess two wills: one human and one divine. Thomas says in his reply to Objection 1: “Whatever was in the human nature of Christ was moved at the bidding of the Divine will; yet it does not follow that there was no movement of the will proper to human nature, for the good wills of other saints are moved by God’s will… for although the will cannot be inwardly moved by any creature, yet it can be inwardly moved by God.”
We can never know what it is like for Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is homoousious/consubstantial with the Father, to be perfectly united in one person with his Divine and human natures—we can never imitate that. Yet this insistence of the Church upon two wills in Christ, this is something we can and should try to imitate, even if imperfectly. For St. Paul says in Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) We should try to unite our will with that of God, so that even in our hour of distress, when we rightly approach God with our fears and our sufferings, we can imitate Christ in sincerely praying: “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Now that you’ve made it through all three of these posts, I present you with a little treat:
Below you’ll find the visual guide I produced for our chapter meeting, which attempts to summarize the various debates and arguments. Christological questions are notoriously difficult to trace and comprehend, but they are even trickier to try and illustrate! I’d love your feedback on the visual guide, if you get the chance!
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!