Subsistence (In Christology)

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The use of the term "subsistence" in Christology is highly dependent upon philosophy, especially the developments of medieval scholasticism (see previous article).

Subsistence Christology is the name given to the second of the three main trends peter lombard identified in theological attempts to explain the incarnation. This line of thought sought to protect the unity of person in Christ and in doing so found its firm anchor in the tradition in the dogmatic statement of the Council of Chalcedon. Gilbert of Porrée was its strong advocate in the 12th century. He distinguished between the id quod and the id quo of any being. The id quod refers to the existent being: the subsistent, existing reality. The id quo refers to the qualities that enable a subsistent being to be that particular being. In the incarnate Christ there is one id quod, the person of the Word of God. After the incarnation the Word existed through two id quo, two modes of being, the divine nature and the human nature. Critics of this position questioned whether Christ was truly human if he were not a particular subsistent reality as a human being. However, if in his humanity Christ is a subsistent human being, then there are two beings in Christ, a position in which the echoes of Nestorianism were heard.

Thomas Aquinas refined this position in the 13th century and eventually claimed that it was the only orthodox position of the three Peter Lombard outlined. Aquinas reworked the position by further refining Boethius's definition of a person as an individual substance of a rational nature. He recognized that in most beings there is only one nature which subsists in that particular being as its essence. However, in some beings there also exist things beyond the essence, either accidents or individuating matter. Thus a person can include things beyond its essential nature. In becoming human, the Word did not become a second being, a second subsistence. He remained the subsistent reality of the Word of God but took on the mode of being which is appropriate to human nature. This human mode of being subsists in the one being of the eternal Word of God.

The shift away from scholastic categories in the 20th century has resulted in this theory falling out of use. Those who seek to reinterpret and explain the Chalcedonic formula struggle with a major shift in terminology which would force further developments in any modern version of the subsistence theory. The term "person" has undergone great modification because of the development of such themes as self-consciousness, personal freedom, the psychological self, and the temporal nature of the human. To the modern mind human nature implies personhood. To affirm that the humanity of Christ possesses no created subsistence or personality appears to many to rob it of any genuine participation in the life of man.

St. Thomas's solution parallels that found in the Greek tradition, especially in the thought of Leontius of Byzantium. The humanity of Christ is not hypostasis, nor is it anhypostatos ; it is enhypostatos. Similarly one may say: the humanity of Christ is not desubsistentialized by the hypostatic union but subsistentialized-in-the-Word. Far from representing privation, this subsistence-in-the-Word brings consummate fulfillment (cf. Summa theologiae 3a, 4.2 ad 2). The ultimate reason why this is possible is the transcendent perfection of God, the fullness of creative being. "God is not opposed to anything; therefore, in taking over all that is in human nature, He does not exclude or impair anything" (Mersch, 220; cf. St. Augustine, Fid. et Symb. 7; Patrologia Latina 40:185). It is the prerogative of the divine creativity to be able to constitute the creature in an autonomy that is in direct, not inverse, proportion to its total dependence on God (cf. Rahner, 162). In Jesus the human person comes to its fulfillment through its union with the divine. The point is of the highest relevance for Christian life as well as for Christian thought, for it assures the Christian that the Incarnational economy, far from withdrawing a human individual from human existence, invites a person to exercise it more fully.

Bibliography: e. mersch, The Theology of the Mystical Body, tr. c. vollert (St. Louis 1951) 202216. f. malmberg, Uber den Gottmenschen (Quaestiones disputatae 9; Basel 1960) 4461. k. rahner, "Current Problems in Christology," Theological Investigations, v. 1, 149200. k. rahner, "On the Theology of the Incarnation," Theological Investigations, v. 4, 105120. w. kasper, Jesus the Christ, 238252. w. pannenberg, JesusGod and Man, 295296. d. lane, The Reality of Jesus, 109129.

[t. e. clarke/

m. b. raschko]