Thomas V. Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation
Ahmad Deedat in one of his debates with carefully chosen pastors – meaning, those who are ill-equipped to match him – retorted that Christ cannot be God since he displayed human characteristics like hunger and need for sleep. At a more sophisticated level, A. D. Smith says: “If Christ is God, then he cannot have begun to exist at a certain point in human history because God (and his Son) are necessarily eternal. But then nothing can count as a man, a creature, which does not have a beginning in time and which is thus coeval with God.”
These objections are of course variations of the common charge that the idea of an incarnate God is incoherent. It must be pointed out that the charge of incoherence assumes we know the exact nature of human and divine properties to be able to assert that there can be no joining together of human and divine properties in an individual.
John Macquarie’s response to such a presupposition is pertinent, “Part of the trouble with the doctrine of incarnation is that we discuss the divinity and even the humanity of Christ in terms of ready-made ideas of God and man that we bring with us, without allowing these ideas to be corrected and even drastically changed by what we learn about God and man in and through the incarnation.”
However, even if one should grant an open mind to resolve the tension between the divine and the human properties, the task of demonstrating the coherence of the incarnation remains. Thomas V. Morris’ landmark book, The Logic of God Incarnate suggests the two-minds model as one possible demonstration of the coherence of the incarnation.
Morris begins by carefully making some conceptual distinctions. First, he differentiates between an individual essence and a kind essence. An individual essence is “the whole set of properties individually necessary and jointly sufficient for being numerically identical with that individual.” Each person’s individual essence would include all the properties true of that person. In Christ’s case, all his divine and human properties taken together would make up his individual essence. The individual essence is distinguishable from kind essence, which Morris understands to be constituted by a shareable set of properties individually necessary and jointly sufficient for membership in that kind.
This distinction enables us to refer to two aspects of Christ’s existence. For example, if we are allowed only to refer to Christ’s individual essence, then we are forced to choose whether to talk only about his divine properties or only about his human properties. This brings back to the familiar charge of incoherence in any description of Christ being both fully divine and fully human.
But Morris’ concept of kind essence suggests a way to describe how Christ can have both divine and human properties. Being fully human, he belongs to the natural kind of humanity, as all humans do. Being divine, he also belongs to the natural kind of divinity. Thus, the person Jesus Christ is a combination of a fully human kind essence. All properties of each nature remain what they are, despite the union of the two natures in one person. The individual essence of the person Jesus Christ contains all the divine and human properties he has by virtue of his having two natures and exemplifying two kind essences.
The critics may retort that it is one thing to say that Christ exemplifies human kind essence, but this doesn’t necessarily ensure that Christ’s humanity is ‘truly’ or completely human. For example, the proposition that Christ was not conceived by a human father seems to cast doubt with regard to his genuine humanity.
Morris therefore introduces a second distinction, the distinction between common human properties and essential ones. A common human property will be a property which is universally shared by all humans alike. We need to be clear that a property being common or even universal for members of a kind does not entail that it is essential for the kind. One could remain human without having all the properties common to human beings.
Morris gives an example: The property of living at some time on the surface of the earth is a common human property. I think it is safe to assume it is now a universal property for humans. But it is not an element of human nature. It is not essential for being human. It is clearly possible that at some time in the future human beings be born, live, and die on a space station or on another planet colonized by earth, without ever setting foot on the earth itself. The property of living at some time on the surface of the earth may now be a universal human property, but it is not an essential one.
In other words, a particular member of a kind may lack what seems a universal property and still remains a member of his kind. It is a matter of identifying what is an essential property and what is not. For example, becoming blind (the absence of sight) doesn’t mean one ceases to be human. On the other hand, one cannot be genuinely human if one lacks some essential properties of humanity, such as the ability to reason.
But the critic can raise a further objection – that even if Christ has the essential properties of human beings, the fact that he also exemplifies divine (non-human) qualities raises reasonable doubts regarding his genuine humanity.
Morris refers to a third distinction between fully human and merely human to answer this doubt. He quotes Herbert McCabe, “A human person just is a person with a human nature, and it makes absolutely no difference to the logic of this whether the same person does or does not exist from eternity as divine.” Morris proceeds to explain that the claim of the Incarnation means Christ has all the properties essential to human beings (fully human), but that he is not merely human. He also has properties of deity.
Morris argues, “But the Christian claim is that in order to be fully human, it is not necessary to be merely human. An individual is merely human just in case it has all the properties requisite for being fully human (the component properties of human nature) and also some limitation properties as well. . . These limitation properties will not be understood as elements of human nature at all, but as universal accompaniments of humanity in the case of any created human being.”
I quote below the full explanation given by Morris:
“Perhaps a few more words should be said about this merely x / fully x distinction. Consider a diamond. It has all the properties essential to being a physical object (mass, spatiotemporal location, etc.). So it is fully physical. Consider now an alligator. It has all the properties essential to being a physical object. It is fully physical. But, there is a sense in which we can say that it is not merely physical. It has properties of animation as well. It is an organic being. In contrast, the gem is merely physical as well as being fully physical. Now take the case of a man. An embodied human being, any one you choose, has mass, spatiotemporal location, and so forth. He is thus fully physical. But, again, there is a sense in which he is not merely a physical object, he has organic and animate properties as well. So let us say he is fully animate. But unlike the alligator he is not merely animate; he has rational, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual qualities which mere organic entities lack. Let us say that he belongs to a higher ontological level by virtue of being human. And if, like you and me, he belongs to no ontological level higher than that of humanity, he is merely human as well as being fully human.”
“To repeat: the kind-nature exemplified distinctively by all human beings is that of humanity. To be a human being is to exemplify human nature. An individual is fully human just in case he fully exemplifies human nature. To be merely human is not to exemplify a kind-nature, a natural kind, distinct from that of humanity; it is rather to exemplify humanity without also exemplifying ontologically higher kind, such as divinity.”
“Now, as I have said, according to orthodox Christology, Jesus was fully human without being merely human. He had all the properties constitutive of human nature, but had higher properties which, from an Anselmian perspective, form the upper bound of our scale. A philosophical anthropology developed from a distinctively Christian point of view will categorize all human properties logically incompatible with a divine incarnation as, at most, essential to being merely human. And, again, the Chalcedonian claim is not that Jesus was merely human. It is rather that he was, and is, fully human in addition to being divine.”
The conceptual distinctions regarding divine and human properties remove negative objections to the coherence of the Incarnation. However, Morris needs to go one step further and provide a positive demonstration on how the divine and human qualities are coherently constituted in the one individual, the person of Christ. Morris offers the two-minds model to reconcile how Christ could be divinely omniscient and yet be limited in knowledge in his historical existence.
The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation
We begin by taking note of how the two ranges of consciousness (and, analogously, the two noetic structures encompassing them) are related – The divine mind of God the Son contained, but was not contained by, his earthly mind or range of consciousness. Furthermore, the relationship between the two consciousnesses is asymmetric. That is to say, the divine mind knew and had access to everything the human mind knew, but Christ’s human mind gained information like any Jewish male of his time. But since Christ was not merely human, the human mind could receive optimal and relevant input of information that no mere human could knew. (Here, relevant refers to what was necessary for him to know in order to discharge his mission while optimal means that knowledge must be consistent with the cultural and linguistic context. Based on this, I can safely assume the historical Christ probably knew nothing about quantum mechanics.) Still, the input from the divine mind means the human Christ possessed a metaphysical and psychological and even spiritual depth that was beyond the reach of people who are merely human.
Morris suggests three analogies to explain the asymmetric relationship. First, “Think, for example, of two computer programs or informational systems, one containing but not contained by the other. The divine mind had full and direct access to the earthly, human experience resulting from the Incarnation, but the earthly consciousness did not have such full and direct access to the content of the overarching omniscience proper to the Logos, but only such access, on occasion, as the divine mind allowed it to have.”
Second, consider those lucid dreams where a dreamer himself is one of the characters in the dream but is somehow aware through what could be called an overarching level of consciousness, that it is just a dream. The twofold consciousness – one “within” the dream, and the other “outside” the dream – simultaneously operating at once in the same person are analogous to the two minds of Christ.
Third, Morris points to 20th psychology that divides the strata of the human mind into that of the conscious and the subconscious and accepts that one person can have different levels of mentality. That being the case means that Christ has extra depth in his consciousness by virtue of being divine.
On the other hand, the model acknowledges the human aspect of Christ’s life that includes intellectual development and helps explain the limited knowledge of Christ when he said he did not know the time of the Second Coming.
It should be emphasized, however, that we are not suggesting any sort of split personality. The properties of omniscience and of limited knowledge are both predicated to one and the same person in a coherent manner.
What the model must constantly guard against is the wrong conclusion that Christ must be some kind of spiritual hybrid who is partly God and partly man. We therefore reiterate Morris’ own emphatic conclusion, “There is one person with two natures and two ranges of consciousness. He [Christ] is not the theological equivalent of a centaur, half God and half man. He is fully human, but not merely human. He is also fully divine.”