The Mirror of Christ OutsideFATHER ANTONIUNUS WALL, O.P.
At the Last Supper, when Our Lord was speaking intimately to his followers for the final time before his death, he informed them that he would shortly be leaving them to return to the Father.
The "me" that Philip and the others heard, saw, touched and were touched by–and with whom they were then breaking bread–was obviously the man Jesus. He was the human being with whom they walked daily. His human nature was a finite, created, mortal, human reality, identical with the humanity of his followers. How, then, could Jesus say, referring to his human nature, when you know me, you know the Father? The Father is divine, uncreated, eternal, infinite, and immutable.
For the first five centuries of her existence, the Catholic Church struggled to understand more clearly the mystery of the Incarnation. She strove to understand that Jesus was both human and divine, created and uncreated, finite and infinite, mortal and immortal, man and God. As happens today, the Church turned for understanding to Jesus' words in Scripture and to the words of other followers taken from the oral tradition.
One of the early heresies in the Church was known as Monophysitism. The name derived from the Greek monos (one) and phusis (nature). Monophysitism taught that Christ had one nature, one reality possessing human and divine properties. Variants of the doctrine were that the human nature is absorbed by the divine, or that the divine Second Person of the Trinity disappears in the humanity of Christ, or that a unique third nature was created. The Church condemned this doctrine and declared solemnly that Jesus was truly human as well as divine, man and God, with each nature distinct from the other while united in the person of the Word. 
The Church has consistently affirmed that Jesus was truly, fully human, as human as his followers. It taught that he had a human body, psyche, imagination, memory, intellect, and will. As Saint Paul asserts, Jesus is like us in everything but sin. 
At the same time, the Church has taught that Jesus was truly divine, truly God, eternal, uncreated, immutable, infinite, the perfect being who is the source of all beings. Further, the Church asserted that the human and divine in Jesus are radically distinct. The church taught that the same infinite, qualitative difference that separates humans from the divine, likewise separates the humanity of Christ from his divinity. When the human nature of Christ acted, it was truly a human action, but the person acting was the Word of God. His human acts were instruments of his divine wisdom, power, and love.
Finally, the Church affirmed that the Second Person of the Trinity assumed the human nature of Jesus. It was not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, but the Son, the Word of God, who rendered the human nature of Jesus individual and subsistent.
Given this solemn teaching of the Church, what did Jesus mean when he said to Philip "He who has seen me has seen the Father"? How did he equate in himself the human and divine? It may appear that Jesus is guilty of the heresy of the Monophysites condemned at Chalcedon. It should be noted, however, that the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon was arrived at by examining the meaning of these statements of Jesus.
The reflection of the Church was, of course, based on both oral and written traditions. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the following understanding evolved. All the words and actions of Jesus came from his human nature. That human nature operated as the instrument of his distinct divine nature acting in and through his humanity. Therefore, in the human words and actions of Jesus, the otherwise invisible, intangible, inaudible presence of the divine nature became visible, tangible, and audible.
In their experience of the human nature of Jesus acting as the instrument of his separate divine nature, Philip and the other Apostles were seeing, hearing, and being touched by the divine. Further, the person they encountered in these human words and actions was the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word of God acting through his assumed humanity.
Finally, the presence of that human nature of Jesus involved the immediate, direct presence of God. When Jesus spoke, it was the Word of God speaking. When Jesus reached out and touched them through his genuinely human touch, it was the Word of God touching them. When they experienced the very human acts of love of Jesus, they were experiencing a human love suffused and transformed by divine love made visible, tangible, and audible through his human nature. The Person loving them was the Word of God. Any contact with the human reality of Jesus placed his followers in a direct, unmediated, personal encounter with the Word of God.
Let us imagine Jesus speaking intimately with Philip in response to Philip's plea "show us the Father." Imagine Jesus' words describing what we now know through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of the Church.
Jesus' followers grew in awareness of the true meaning of his human words and actions. They recognized in the presence of Jesus a revelation of the divine presence and action. His followers gradually came to see that they were encountering in him a mirror reflecting the divine. With this awareness, they reached the second stage of their journey to the face-to-face encounter with God.
The first mirror of the divine is nature when seen through the eyes of Jesus. As wonderful as are the reflections of God's presence in the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the miracle of little children, far more wonderful are the reflections of divinity that we encounter in the human nature of Christ. No part of creation more wonderfully reflects the wisdom, love, beauty, joy, and power of God than does the human nature of Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The grace of Christian Faith is necessary for one to recognize in the human nature of Christ this second mirror of the divine. Without this gift, Jesus is no more than a unique historic person. Without it, one will not recognize that he is the Son of God. With the gift of Christian Faith, one acknowledges Jesus is the Word made flesh, and the perfect mirror of the divine. It is only those persons graced with this awareness who reach the second stage of the journey to God.
When did Jesus' followers awaken to the full reality of the Incarnation? How did the disciples come to see a mirror of the divine in Christ's humanity? Scholars argue about how and when the awakening took place. While these are interesting and important questions, the question of vital interest to us is, What is the relevance of the Incarnation in regard to our journey to God?
Two thousand years have passed since Jesus walked the earth. Unlike the disciples of Jesus before the Ascension, we can no longer see the human nature of Christ. We cannot hear his human voice speaking to us, or experience His human words of forgiveness. Christ in his human nature, as a second and more perfect mirror of divinity, moved his followers along the journey to God. Are we left only with the first mirror, that of nature, and a record of Jesus' words and actions in the Gospels? According to the teaching of Catholic Faith, this is not the case. The human nature of Christ is still accessible to us as it was to his followers two thousand years ago.
The resurrected Christ told his disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." 
 Cf. John 14:8-11.
 These and other variants were condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.
 Cf. 2 Cor. 5:21.
 Matt. 28:18-20.
Father Antoninus Wall, O.P. "The Mirror of Christ Outside." Chapter 7 in The Journey to God (Antioch, CA: Solas Press, 1999): 53-62.
Reprinted by permission of Father Antoninus Wall and Solas Press.
Father Antoninus Wall, O.P., a native of San Francisco, is the son of Irish-born parents, and the brother of the late Fr. Kevin Wall, O.P. Fr. Wall attended St. Ignatius prep in the Bay City and St. Mary's College of California. Entering the Dominican Order, he pursued his sacred studies at St. Albert's College in Oakland and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1950.
Fr. Wall has had a career rich in pastoral and academic experiences. He has served as associate pastor in Seattle and as Professor of Theology at Immaculate Heart and Dominican College. He negotiated the entry of the Dominicans into the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and served two terms there as President of the Dominican School. He currently resides at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, California. Father Wall is the author of The Journey to God. Father Wall may be reached by phone at 510-596-1800 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2010 Solas Press
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.