Impeccability of Christ

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It is a defined dogma of faith that Jesus Christ in His humanity never committed a sin (Council of Florence, H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer [32d ed. Freiburg 1963] 1347). He was sinlessHe knew neither mortal nor venial sin, neither original nor personal sin. As the earlier Third Council of Constantinople also firmly had asserted, "Christ has two volitions or wills, and two natural operations, without division or change, without partition or commingling. And the two natural wills are not opposed (by no means!) as the godless heretics have said; but the human will is compliant, and not opposing or contrary; as a matter of fact it is even obedient to his divine and omnipotent will" (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 556; The Church Teaches, tr. J.F. Clarkson et al. [St. Louis 1955] 187).

The conciliar teaching is a careful reflection of the testimony of Sacred Scripture. "Which of you can convict me of sin?" (Jn 8.46). "I will no longer speak much with you, for the prince of the world is coming, and in me he has nothing" (Jn 14.30). Or, as the Epistle to the Hebrews affirms emphatically, "For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, set apart from sinners" (7.26).

Although not defined, it is of Catholic faith that Jesus Christ was in His humanity not merely sinless but impeccable; that is, He could not sin; He did not have the power to sin. It is theologically certain (from the consensus of theologians) that such impeccability was antecedent and internal. By antecedent is meant that the impeccability of Christ was effected by the will of God before, so to speak, God consulted His own knowledge of the futuribles. By internal is designated that kind of impeccability that flows from the very ontological constitution of the creature, at least as an exigency of that constitution. That is, it is an impeccability that, if it is not effected by the very ontological constitution itself, is at least demanded by the ontological constitution.

Conciliar affirmations such as that of constantino ple III cited above and equivalent ecclesiastical affirmations are the basis of the theological qualification "of Catholic faith" given to the fact of Christ's impeccability. The consensus of theologians concerning the antecedent, internal character is based on the facile reasoning that any sin of the human will of Christ would be attributable to the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Such an attribution is inconceivable and hence the firm note of "theologically certain."

As to how the impeccability is actually effected, that is, as to what psychic means are present in the humanity of Christ whereby impeccability is brought about, two principal schools of thought exist. Thomists hold that the impeccability is brought about by the beatific vision possessed by Christ from the first moment of His life. According to them, the beatific vision by itself always renders sin absolutely impossible. Scotists say otherwise. According to them the will remains free even though the intellect sees God face to face. God, however, knowing that no happiness can be perfect unless it is to endure forever, "prevents," in the radical sense of going before or guiding, the will so that it never interrupts its act of enjoying God, and as long as this act continues, sin is impossible. Theologians commonly differ from the Scotistic view, but the view may not be censured.

A theological question closely connected with the explanation of Christ's impeccability is the problem of the mandate.

See Also: jesus christ, articles on.

Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) Tables générales 2:222527. l. scheffczyk, "Unsündlichkeit Christi," Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 10:527528. l. lercher, Institutiones theologiae dogmaticae, v. 3 (5th ed. Barcelona 1951). i. solano, Sacrae theologiae summa, ed. fathers of the society of jesus, professors of the theological faculties in spain, 4v. (4th ed. Madrid 1961) 3.1:329369.

[e. a. weis]