Mind Aflame

Chapter 4: The Human Consciousness of Jesus



In the previous chapter we have looked at the metaphysical axis of Mersch's vision based on the dynamism intrinsic to the human form. Now we have to examine its theological axis, founded directly on the metaphysical, which is the human consciousness of Jesus. First we will look at Mersch's development of this theme more closely, and then examine some of its implications.


This chapter of The Theology of the Mystical Body is, as I mentioned before, much more concentrated than the three that precede it. It functions almost like a summary of the whole book, anticipating what is to come. This effect of concentration and depth was probably enhanced by the fact that this theme had already begun to surface in Mersch's 1917 theological presentation, and he had written about it in a 1934 article in Nouvelle revue théologique, "Le Christ mystique centre de la théologie comme science," but this conciseness is also accentuated by the fact that the 1st French edition has condensed two chapters into one.

Consciousness in its deepest sense must be seen in the light of being itself. It "is a way of existing fully." (1) The more we are the more we know and love and have an interior self-possession of ourselves. "To be conscious, then, is the same as to be." (2) The higher the ontological intensity of a being, the deeper and fuller the consciousness it possesses.

God exists fully, and therefore is fully conscious. Angels are fully conscious of what they are, but not of the mystery of existence that made them be. Human beings do not exist fully either in their forms or in their existence, and their consciousness is accordingly incomplete.

Christ, as a person who expresses Himself, is one person, one subject, one consciousness. But since Christ has two natures, He has "two powers of saying "I" and in this sense He has a two-fold consciousness." (3) It is Christ's human consciousness that Mersch wants to meditate on, his "power of complete reflection or consciousness, without which a man would not be an intellectual being." (4) The whole heart of Mersch's theological work centers on fathoming this unique human consciousness, which is the consciousness of the humanity of the Word of God. It is this human consciousness that is the very "doctrine taught by Christianity." (5)

In short, consciousness is not some chance aspect of being, but is to be identified with existence itself. The more something exists, the greater is its consciousness. The mysteries of Christianity radiate out from the mystery of Christ, and the heart of the mystery of Christ is his human consciousness. Certainly God as Trinity is the source and goal of Christian life, but precisely as a mystery for us, all is contained in Christ's humanity. All the profound and subtle theological work of the subsequent chapters of The Theology of the Mystical Body are meant to allow us a glimpse into this humanity. It is here in this humanity that we discover what it means to be Christians, for we are "intrinsically and ontologically" (6) members of Christ. Christian doctrine is what is the articulation of what we are in our very consciousnesses, for we have a new supernatural being in Christ who has become the very "consciousness of our consciousness." (7) Christ is united to his members "in the substance of their souls where their being is joined to Him and in those intimacies whose voice is their consciousness." (8)


One of the difficulties in examining the theme of the human consciousness of Jesus in Mersch's thought is that we find it almost everywhere under one guise or another, ever spiraling away into the depths and trying to draw us along with it.

At the center of Christian faith is the affirmation of both the divinity and humanity of Jesus, and Mersch wants us not simply to accept these affirmations, but to try to understand them. Jesus must be a true man. If He were not He would not be one of us, still less the very center of the human race. But this humanity is the very humanity of the Word of God. The second person of the Trinity does not change when it takes a human nature, yet this momentous event cannot be without a tremendous impact. The humanity that is assumed is transformed. If it has been traditional to look at the Incarnation from the point of view of the divinity of Jesus, Mersch wants to look at it now from the point of view of His humanity. In this way the Incarnation can be looked at as a "transcendent humanization." (9)

This shift of perspective has some decided advantages. It accords with a modern sense of the human subject, and is humanistic in the best sense of the term. Instead of the Incarnation appearing the least bit alien to human nature, in Mersch's treatment it appears in the very center of human nature, and as its ultimate fulfillment, even though it is a gift beyond the exigencies of human nature taken in itself.

The very person of the humanity of Jesus is the person of the Word, the second person of the Trinity, and so the human nature of Jesus does not find its ultimate center in itself but in the Word. This humanity is not taken up in any mechanical way as if it were some inert object. It is transformed by that assumption so that while it remains a human nature - so that there will be a genuine Incarnation - it is a human nature that takes on an enhanced way of being. This assumption is "the deepest and most intimate reality in it." (10) And it is an assumption that is received by this humanity in its own way. "In the human nature, therefore, there will be something human, something called forth by the divine action, something that will be, so to speak, the received assumption, the passive attraction and joining, the passio unitiva corresponding to the actio unitiva; it will be the terminatio ad Filium." (11)

It is the Incarnation that causes this perfection in the humanity of Jesus, a perfection which is the effect of the union of that humanity with the Word. "The personal unity of the God-man, which makes it absolutely impossible for the human nature to have the slightest personality of its own, nevertheless requires with no less absolute necessity that the human nature should have within itself that which establishes it truly and intrinsically in the unique personality of the Word." (12)

We have arrived at the heart of Mersch's theological vision. In the humanity of Jesus, thus elevated by its union with the Word, he will find the focal point from which to examine all the mysteries of Christianity. This humanity has an entity of union, a special kind of being, which is precisely the being that human nature has when its deepest center is the person of the Word. just as the human body, especially through the eyes, reflects the human spirit because it has "a being of union with the spirit," (13) the humanity of Jesus is flooded and transformed by the new kind of being it receives by being the humanity of the Word. This is a new being that does not make it cease to be a human nature, but perfects it in the very line of humanity so that it becomes a super humanity.

Mersch doesn't try to soften the impact of the affirmation that is at the heart of Christianity: "The man who is Jesus Christ is strictly God." (14) What he does do is to try to help us understand this mystery. Paradoxically, for a man to be God is easier than for a man to be some other kind of creature. If a man were an angel he would no longer be a man, but God is the very author of being so no creature stands in ontological opposition to Him. "God does not exist in a way different than the way man exists, for he does not exist either in one way or in another: he simply is." (15)

The humanity of Jesus is transformed by this union with God. It is an elevation that is at once beyond all the exigencies of human nature, and yet perfectly in line with its deepest structure. As existence makes actual the capacity for existence that essence is, so this union actualizes human nature in its depths. The sun penetrates the crystal of the humanity of Jesus, making it shine with a luminosity that is not its own. "His human nature does not differ from ours except in the intensity of its existence, and that but makes it the more human." (16)

If traditionally Christianity had looked at Jesus' humanity from the point of view of his divinity, it had also emphasized its personal qualities rather than its social dimension. If each human being is one with every other, and with the universe, in virtue of the human form, then what will the God-man be? "As we have remarked, the form in every man has its illimitation in the same measure as it has its act. What, then, will the form be in this Man, who is illimitation and infinity itself?" (17)


All the Christian mysteries can be found in the humanity of Jesus because of the entity of union that this humanity possesses as the humanity of the Word, and ultimately, because of the life this humanity shares in the Trinity. Once again, for Mersch the doctrine of the Trinity is not some esoteric aspect of Christianity that we must simply believe, but the source and goal of all Christian life.

If the ontological structure of things reveals something of the nature of their creator, the mystery of the Trinity reveals the ultimate nature of being. "The dogma of the Trinity reveals to the Christian what Being is in itself." (18)

just as other aspects of theology like original sin, or the nature of redemption, had come to be dominated in various epochs by juridical notions, the very life we have in the Trinity was subjected to similar explanations. In them we somehow have divine life, conferred by the Trinity so that we are adopted sons. But just why and how this takes place and how we actually relate to the Trinity is left in shadow. All the works of the Trinity are viewed as works common to the one divine nature, and thus common to the Trinity as a whole. They are works ad extra. "How are we to conceive the existence of a special and real relation of adoptive sons with the true Son and, through Him, with the Father and the Spirit, Without disregarding the solidly established principle of theology that divine works ad extra are common to the three divine persons? ... In our opinion, scholastic theologians have not solved this problem..." (19)

Mersch will leave the traditional trinitarian formulas intact, yet transform our understanding of them from within. He will distinguish the action by which God wills the Incarnation from its result. The Incarnation has its principle or source of action in the entire Trinity, and so considered in this way, it is a work ad extra. But the humanity of Jesus terminates ad intra in the Son and thus, inside the life of the Trinity.

The being of union that makes the humanity of Jesus the very humanity that terminates in the Son Mersch characterizes as a "drawing to the Word," a "passive conjunction with the Word" (20) and through the Word this humanity is related to the Father and the Holy Spirit. "The sacred humanity possesses, in the Word, all the relations of the Word." (21) But it always possesses them in virtue of its union with the Word, just as the air possesses light by being continually illuminated by the sun.

But if this participation in the Trinity is the deepest mystery of the humanity of Jesus, then through Him it will be our deepest center. "Our incorporation into Him endows our personality with its most intimate and supernatural depths. We are never so much ourselves as when we are in Him, and therefore nothing is so intrinsically ours as what is ours in Him." (22)

Whatever is created by God is a work ad extra and common to the three persons, for it is the creation of a being that is not God. As a result, we cannot reason from created things to God as Trinity. But in the Incarnation the work of creating the humanity of Jesus, while it is a work ad extra, terminates ad intra by this humanity being the very humanity of the Word. In a stroke, Mersch completes the traditional scholastic doctrine, and gives us a new way to look at the humanity of Jesus.

The idea of the entity of union expresses the inner transformation of the humanity of Jesus. But operation follows being. The knowledge Jesus has as a man will be formed by the transformation of his humanity. While theological tradition has refined the notions of person and nature, Mersch realizes that the idea of consciousness remains undeveloped. Jesus is one divine person with both divine and human natures, so He has one consciousness, if that is taken to be ultimate subjectivity, but each nature has its own power of self-reflection and self-consciousness, and in the case of His human consciousness it finds its deepest center in the person of the Word. This human consciousness will express to itself at its deepest level the most fundamental fact of Jesus' humanity, which is that it does not terminate in itself, but in the Word. This knowledge is the beginning and source of Christian revelation, for it expresses the mystery of the Trinity in the human nature of Jesus, and through Him in us. The entity of union gives rise to a "knowledge of union." (23) This knowledge is revelation. "Therefore this is the revelation of revelations; but it is not a doctrine that comes from the outside or a teaching that is wholely exterior. For it is primarily the voice of consciousness, the voice that is even more intimate to the human consciousness of Jesus than His own human nature, the voice by which this humanity, that is one with the Word, expresses nothing but what is in continuity with the act of the Father who utters the Word." (24)

The human consciousness of Jesus stands at the center of the human race, and is the "first principle in the order of human consciousness." (25) It is interior to us, linked with our very consciousness, and it communicates to us that knowledge by which Jesus in His human consciousness realizes His subsistence in the Word, and His participation in the life of the Trinity.

In this way Mersch lays the foundation on the deepest bedrock of Christological dogma for the knowledge we have as Christians. It is not simply a conceptual knowledge coming through the Scriptures, or the teaching of the Church, but a knowledge that is at once interior and exterior. Our incorporation into Christ gives us the ability to discern in the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church His voice. To put it more strongly, we are in a very real way one with Christ, and because of that union, have the ability to see in these conceptual formulations the living mystery of Jesus. "When we know and love a person we recognize him in the sound of his voice, in the way he chooses and accents his words; we catch the vibration of his soul in the vibration of his speech. In the same way they who believe in Christ and love Him and receive His Word in charity, also receive Him, together with the Father and the Spirit." (26)

"For Christ Who teaches these formulas in the Church is identically He who is more interior to Christians than they are to themselves. He is the interior principle of the life they have as sons of God. His voice, which comes from the outside, also comes from within, from those inner depths where He gives them to themselves." (27)


We have looked at the dynamism of the human form, which expresses itself in relationship to the universe, every human being, and the natural beatitude of the human race. This human form is to be found in the humanity of

Jesus, as well, but there it takes on a special intensity, an intensification in the very line of its being because of its union with the Word, an intensification that Mersch calls an entity of union. This means that the humanity of Jesus is the source of a new supernatural dynamism of the human form. There will be a new union of all human beings with each other and with the universe, and a new supernatural destiny and beatitude, all founded on the humanity of Jesus.

These new forms of union are brought about, as I have said, by the entity of union that the humanity of Jesus possesses. But what is the intrinsic character of that entity of union? Mersch describes it under the heading of a "series of theandric realities." The humanity of Jesus has a special relationship with the Word, and through the Word shares in the relationship which the Son has with the Father, and the relationship they both have in breathing forth the Holy Spirit. The humanity of Jesus, in virtue of being the humanity of the second person of the Trinity, possesses a trinitarian entity of union, which is the foundation for a trinitarian consciousness. It is this trinitarian entity of union which intensifies the human form of Jesus so that it becomes the principle for the deeper union we have with each other in Christ and through Christ with the universe, and with the Trinity in the life to come.



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