Jesus Is In His Person the Only Possible Mundane Fulfillment of the Law

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Matthew 5:17-18

Jesus is the Logos. So is he himself, in his very Body, the Law.

The Law is infinite in its ramifications; it is the infinite Logos, and the Logos is the eternal knowledge and actualization of the perfectly coherent – NB, “perfect” means “complete” – infinite Gödelian stack of logical calculi, which alone suffices to that establishment of the totality of Truth, upon which any lesser portion of the Truth depends for its derivative truth, and so for its being, its factuality, and thus its salience to creatures, ergo its efficacy. Then only an infinite being might comprehend the Law, or enact it. And only by enacting it could it be fulfilled, or for that matter suasively Lawful; i.e., only were it actualized could it be Law in the first place; for only thus could it be a real character of an actual entity; only as actual and real could it be apprehensible to other actualities, or influential in their development. So, only the Logos himself can be the Law; and, so, Nomos is implicit in and entailed by Logos.

To know the Law perfectly is to be the Law. But of all men only Jesus knows the Law perfectly, or can therefore be it, effect it and thus forthward embody it. Only Jesus can fulfill the Law. For, only Jesus *is* the Law.

So then: if you find that you have to *try* to be Lawful, you have not succeeded, nor can you. Such is the tragic circumstance of the Pharisee, and of the earnest honest hero of Greek tragedy. Such is the source of their anxiety, and their complaint.

Likewise, of ours; of mine. We should not be too hard on the Pharisees. That would be to fall prey to the delusions and grievous egregious errors and misprisions that follow upon psychological projection.

*We* are the Pharisee. This is the crux of all the parables about him.

To try to be righteous is to fail thereat. So God taught us to pray that we should be saved from the trial.

To be saved from the trial is to be saved from the predicament of the Pharisee, aye of Sisyphus and of Tantalus, that they cannot by themselves escape. It is to be hauled bodily from the Pit.

Success in righteousness comes, not from scrabbling at the walls of the Pit, but from letting go of trying, and from surrendering to the Logos; from turning to the shining golden rope he has let down to us, and grasping it as it were the Pearl of Great Price.

That shining rope Ladder is our only hope. As all finite, no creatures of the Logos can possibly approximate thereto; for, finity and infinity fall under utterly different and therefore radically incommensurable categories. Only the Law himself – its angel and archetype – can do so. Only the Law himself can be fully Lawful.

Only in the actual fulfillment of the Law by the Logos can there be righteousness, or therefore salvation, for any being whatever. For, the Law establishes for all beings the very nature and character of their righteousnesses, in all their myriad legion details, under his omniscient purview. The Logos himself then is the substance of salvation, the matter of it, the ambrosial manna of it, and the Body and the Bread; and creaturely enjoyment of salvation is enjoyment of him. To be saved is to partake of God’s enjoyment of himself. And this is done by partaking of his very Body.

Finity cannot effect infinity. Our salvation then cannot – ontologically cannot – be effected in virtue of our works qua ours – which, after all, have any virtue or power in the first place only on account of the divine intervention that began us, and so endowed us with whatever potential virtues we might then have actualized – but rather only in virtue of our participation in his. He does all the work of salvation. Our only relevant act lies in wu wei: in getting out of his way, so that our works become more originate in him than in us.

It is his work that saves us. Saving us, he makes his work ours; accepting his salvation, we make his work ours. These are not two motions, but rather two aspects of the same motion (John 10:14).

Our works do then however effect our salvation – or rather, just are the ontological outworking of our salvation – but only insofar as they originate in him, as his work for us – only, that is, insofar as our works qua ours vanish in favor of his works in and by us. When we let him make his works ours, he works in us, to our salvation. We become then his angels, more and more. So then eventually do we assume our angelic bodies.

Otherwise are we bound for devilry.

Is the Law for man then more than is possible to man? No. It is possible to man, but not in virtue of man’s own ontological resources, especially as Fallen. Indeed, man’s attempt to fulfill the Law under his own ontological steam just is his Fall.

Man is ever possibly Lawful only as participant in the Logos and his work.

Finity cannot effect infinity. But infinity effects all finities. Infinity then is implicit in any finity, as its first forecondition. So then can finity apprehend infinity as logically implicit in its own actuality; and, so doing, partake it.

Any creature that turns away from infinity turns away from itself, and so damns itself. For, infinity is the source and ground of all finity. Infinite being is the basis and matter of finite being. To turn away from infinity toward oneself then is to turn away from *everything,* including oneself. Thus to turn to infinity and so lose the self is to gain the whole world, *including the self.*


I really must get to Mass more often.

14 thoughts on “Jesus Is In His Person the Only Possible Mundane Fulfillment of the Law

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    • Alas, would that it were so. I know my wickedness, and my sin is ever before me. I am very far from my father’s house. But, perhaps, I have begun to get my first foot out of the muck of the sty. I see well at any rate that I must at all costs get out of it altogether, and onto the high road home.

      • Jesus said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” to the teacher of the Law who understood that the two great commandments were “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Why was he not far from the kingdom of God? Because knowing the sum of the Law leads to a knowledge of one’s self. “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of God.”

    • I’m not sure how to answer that question, or how “finity cannot effect infinity” seems Calvinist. I’d be grateful if you would flesh out both sentences of your comment a bit.

      • In the dogmatics I studied at seminary, “finitum non est capax infiniti” was always put forth as a Reformed idea, their reason for denying that the body and blood of Christ could be present in the bread and wine, and also for denying that the attributed of Christ’s divine nature were communicated to His human nature. I forgot that I made this comment on your blog post. I actually read the whole thing that day and found in interesting and wondered if it reflected normal Catholic teaching on justification, because some parts of it sounded amazingly Lutheran. What I remember is thinking that it was very interesting overall. My main reservation was that you seem to find our inability to fulfill the law in our being finite, where I would say the inability lies in the corruption of our nature. We certainly would not have comprehended the Logos in His totality even prior to the fall, yet we would have fulfilled the Law because we had no guilt and no corruption. Maybe it’s not right to say “we would have fulfilled the Law” because at that point no law had been given. I will have to read it again. But I wondered, as I said, if this was orthodox Catholicism, because some parts of it read as if someone lifted them from Luther.

      • Thanks, Father Hess. I do, certainly, know my wickedness all too well, and so I suppose in that sense only the thinnest of membranes separates me from salvation. Or rather, I separate myself from my salvation, and from the Kingdom, by only the thinnest of membranes. But, boy oh boy, is it ever a tough membrane! As tough for me as the crystal of the Firmament.

        Finitum non est capax infiniti can be understood in at least two ways. If capax means “capable of comprehending,” then the Calvinists are correct that both transubstantiation and confusion of the human and divine natures in the hypostatic union are impossible. If on the other hand capax means “capable of apprehending,” then the finite can apprehend, and so participate, the infinite (this should not surprise us: infinity is implicit in 5, so that in apprehending itself, 5 is apprehending infinity implicitly). It is Patristic, Catholic (and Orthodox, and Anglican, and (so far as I know) Lutheran) doctrine that mens capax dei. This does not mean that we can comprehend God, but that we can apprehend him. It seems a fairly noncontroversial notion.

        I note in passing that orthodox doctrine has not ever supposed that there was any confusion of natures in the hypostatic union. On the contrary. A brief review of the relevant bits of the Athanasian Creed will make this pretty clear:

        For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood into God. One altogether; not by confusion of Substance [Essence]; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ …

        Nor for that matter does the Catholic Church suppose that there is confusion of finite and infinite natures in the transubstantiated host. On the contrary, the transubstantiated host as a synecdoche and portion of the Body of Christ is then a synecdoche and portion of the Incarnation, which is to say, of the hypostatic union. The nature of the bread and the nature of the Logos are no more confused by Transubstantiation then than the nature of man and the nature of the Logos were confused by their hypostatic union in Jesus of Nazareth.

        God appears to us as limited to a bit of bread or of manhood. But in these appearances, the Godhead is not encompassed by the bread or the man. It’s the other way round.

        Transubstantiation and Incarnation seem incredible only insofar as we take finite creaturely nature to be basic, and so as setting the limit of the possible. But obviously it is a mistake to take finity as basic, for this would be to take finity as ultimate. Which, clearly, it is not. Once you remember that infinity is ultimate, and so basic, then you realize that finity cannot limit infinity. The limitation runs the other way.

        So then, finity cannot effect infinity; but infinity can effect finity. And all finity is effected first by infinity. Finity then can understand infinity as the source of its own being, simply by introspection (this is the foundation of Plato’s notion of anamnesis); just as, in understanding the Law, the teacher of the Law understood himself, and so understood the Kingdom. The Teacher could not have gauged the depth of his own wickedness in the absence of a cognition of the proper measure thereof, which is to say, in the absence of a cognition of the height of Heaven – of the Lawfulness proper to his nature as created – to which he as Fallen fell characterologically short. To know one’s own defects is to have at least a glimmer of what life would be like in their absence. And we all have that glimmer; this is why we all feel the sehnsucht that Lewis picked out – that sweet, almost unbearable nostalgic longing for a homeland we have never yet seen. It is why, as mortals, we feel that mortal life is essentially tragic. It is why, beneath all the celebrations and enjoyments of life’s true goodnesses, we feel sad.

        My main reservation was that you seem to find our inability to fulfill the law in our being finite, where I would say the inability lies in the corruption of our nature. We certainly would not have comprehended the Logos in His totality even prior to the fall, yet we would have fulfilled the Law because we had no guilt and no corruption. Maybe it’s not right to say “we would have fulfilled the Law,” because at that point no Law had been given.

        Yes. When our first parents were fulfilling their nature in Eden, there was as yet no Law that touched them. If you are fulfilling the Law, it is of no matter to you, for you are then bound upon what is possible to those who are actualizing the good that is proper to them, given their nature. A bird that can fly with no problem is not concerned with defects in his ability to fly. He rather just flies.

        Law came in with the Fall, precisely in virtue of Adam’s decision to make his own Law; of his decision to Fall away from his nature and the office proper thereto. Adam clipped his own wings, thinking to fashion Daedalian wings that could carry him better; and then found he could no longer fly.

        Before his Fall, Adam was fulfilling the Law, and this made the Law irrelevant to him. He fulfilled it without trying, and without knowing he was doing so. After his Fall, the Law became relevant, he became conscious of it – this is why he and Eve were ashamed – and he could no longer fulfill it, no matter how hard he tried. No finite creature who finds that he needs to fulfill the Law and must try to do so on account of his Fallen nature is capable of fulfilling that Law under his own steam. The ontological abyss that yawns between Fallen man and his proper nature is infinite. No finite creature could pass it, unaided. So infinity came down and filled it for us.

        So far as I know, none of the foregoing is unorthodox. If any of our Catholic readers think it might be, I’d sure be grateful to learn of their misgivings.

        It does not surprise me that much of what I have written sounds as though it was lifted from Luther. Almost all of what Luther and the other Protestants taught is orthodox. Their point of departure from Catholic doctrine was … Catholic doctrine. I have found over the years that much of what Protestants object to in Catholic doctrine is not in fact Catholic doctrine, but rather a misprision thereof.

      • I have to read your response more carefully, but as an initial response: the Lutheran teaching on the two natures in Christ is that, of course, the divine and human natures of Christ are distinct and cannot be mingled together, but they are nevertheless united in one person. Where Lutherans and Calvinists differ, (and also Lutherans and at least counter-reformation Catholic theologians like Bellarmine), is in the teaching of the communication of the divine attributes to the human nature of Christ; Calvinists (and Catholics, I believe) reject this, while Lutherans affirm that some of the divine attributes–omnipresence, for instance–are communicated to the human nature of Christ, so that, contra Calvin, the human nature of Christ is not exiled from earth after the ascension, and incapable of being present in the holy supper. Thus, while the human nature of Christ remains, of itself, not omnipotent or omnipresent, by virtue of the personal union it receives divine power by communication. I learned that to say otherwise, as Calvin does, is essentially a return to Nestorianism, where the divine and human natures are conceived as having the same sort of union as two boards that are glued together; they are united and bound together, but it amounts to a tacit denial of the unity of Christ’s person. Whereas the Lutheran confessions use the image of metal being heated by fire to picture the union of divine and human natures in Christ. And I believe they have lifted this similitude from John of Damascus. My understanding is that on this particular article of doctrine the Lutheran teaching is closer to, or substantially the same, as the orthodox view, whereas Calvin’s is more scholastic and largely the same or similar to the Tridentine view.

      • Avoiding the confusion of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ is easier if we remember that a nature is a form, while a person is an actuality, a concrete substantial being that has and can take forms, and then integrate them in and as one thing. E.g., the person of Kristor has a male nature and a human nature. Humanity and maleness are different; they *cannot* be confused, because they are different forms. They can however be combined integrally in a single person and subject.

        Say that human : male :: divine : human :: subvenient : supervenient. In the male person there is no extra calvinisticum of humanity that remains untouched by maleness. Likewise, in the person of Christ there is no extra calvinisticum of divinity that remains untouched by humanity (or maleness), nor is there any extra calvinisticum of humanity (or maleness) that remains untouched by divinity. Humanity and manhood and Godhood are integral (without confusion) in Jesus in just the way that humanity and manhood are integral (without confusion) in Father Hess.

        The person of Jesus of Nazareth, then, is omnipresent, not because the human part of Jesus became mixed up with the divine part of Jesus, but because the whole person of Jesus is fully God, and the whole person of Jesus is fully man.

        NB: this is something like what happens with us, and our bodies. Our persons are expressed and our various natures concretely manifest in particles distributed across relatively vast expanses of empty vacuum.

        In like manner, the Person of Jesus is distributed everywhere, and concretely manifest in this or that particular consecrated host, this or that particular gathering of two or three in his Name. Every such concrete manifestation of Jesus is a concrete manifestation of the hypostatic union in its entirety. And, every such particular manifestation partakes him completely.

        So, there is no necessity that the divine nature be communicated to the human nature in order for the Person of Jesus to be present here or there in the created order. Jesus can be seated on the right hand of the Father in Heaven and also present on my tongue at Mass in the same way that I am at a calcium atom in my left little toe and at a potassium atom in my right index finger.

        Moreover, the divine and human natures cannot – logically cannot – be confused or communicated to each other, any more than we could possibly intercommunicate or confuse 5 with 4.

        In fact, if the hypostatic union is to be soteriologically efficacious, the human and divine natures *cannot* in it be confused. The Lamb *must* be human, entirely; he *must* be God, entirely. If the natures had been confused in Jesus, he’d have been something inhuman and ungodly; as 4.5 is neither 4 nor 5.

      • Not that the divine nature itself is communicated to the human nature, but the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature. Or as the Greeks say, the “energies” of the divine nature. John of Damascus: “The flesh of the Lord was enriched with divine operations (energeias) on account of its complete personal union with the Word, in no way having suffered loss with respect to those things that are by nature its own.” (lib. 3 cap. 17) “For although [the soul of the Lord] was of a nature that it was ignorant of the future, nevertheless, being personally united to God the Word, it had the knowledge of all things, not by grace, but on account of the personal union.” (lib. 2 cap. 22)

      • You write:

        Not that the divine nature itself is communicated to the human nature, but the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature.

        The latter formulation is problematic. Human nature – the form of humanity – has many attributes. Omniscience (e.g.) is not among them, and cannot logically be among them, for that would introduce to the human nature a logical contradiction. So the attributes of the divine nature *cannot* be communicated to the human nature in such a way as to be added thereto. As a matter of metaphysical logic, the human and divine natures are *radically incommensurable,* qua purely formal specifications.

        I note in passing that to say that the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature of Jesus is different than to say that the energies of God are manifest in Jesus. The former statement is logically incoherent, the latter is not. The divine energies certainly are manifest in Jesus, even if only insofar as they are manifest in every thing whatever. But of course, the Incarnation is more than a manifestation of a divine effect upon a creature via the divine energies. It is a manifestation of God himself, not just in his energies, but in his essence.

        The divine and human natures cannot – logically cannot – be confused, any more than 4 can be confused with 5. The attributes of the divine nature can however be communicated to the human *body* of Jesus (as John Damascene avers) in virtue of God’s integration in one substantial being – i.e., the person of Jesus – of the divine and human natures. The body of Jesus is the body of a man who is God. So, naturally (so to speak), the body of Jesus has attributes both of the divine nature and of the human nature.

        When we say then that the flesh of the Lord was “enriched with divine operations,” we mean not only that his flesh was acted upon by God (although of course it was, as being conformed to the divine nature and Will by God’s pervasive information of that flesh), but that in virtue of the hypostatic union the operations of his flesh *just were* the operations of God. The flesh of Jesus was the flesh of God. This is to say that the flesh of Jesus is God. The flesh of Jesus can then do what only God can do.

        This all depends of course upon the dogma of orthodox anthropology that the proper human person is an integrity of matter and form – of flesh and soul – in one substance.


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