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Divinity, humanity, and death

  • Thomas V. Morris (a1)


In an article which appeared a few years ago, entitled ‘God's Death’ (Theology, 1977), A.D. Smith launched one of the most interesting of recent attacks on the traditional doctrine of the Incarnation. Focusing on the death of Christ, he claimed to demonstrate the logical impossibility of Jesus having been both human and divine. Each of the premises of his argument was said to be a commitment of orthodox theology. He thus presented his reasoning as displaying an internal incoherence in that way of thinking about divinity, humanity, and the person of Christ. The argument was basically quite simple: According to Christian theology and in concurrence with general thought on the matter, we must hold that human death involves the possibility of annihilation. As a man, Jesus of Nazareth faced and underwent a human death. He thus faced the possibility of annihilation. But orthodox theologians hold God to be of such an ontological status that no divine being could even possibly be annihilated. So no divine person could die a human death. From this follows the impossibility of the traditional claim that the Second Person of the divine Trinity became a man, lived a human life, and died a human death for us and our salvation. The qualitative difference between God and man is such as to render incarnational christology an incoherent theological stance.



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page 452 note 1 These remarks appear in God's Death’, Theology, LXXX, 676 (07 1977), 263–4.

page 454 note 1 On questions concerning the relation between divine sovereignty and the necessity of things distinct from God, see Plantinga's, Alvin Aquinas lecture, Does God Have a Nature? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980). For an exploration of some of the implications of the claim that God necessarily acts in accordance with moral principles, see my paper ‘Duty and Divine Goodness’, forthcoming in the American Philosophical Quarterly.

page 455 note 1 For some clarification on, and a simple delineation of, the sort of modal distinctions I assume here, distinctions which can be of significant use in philosophical theology, see the opening sections of my ‘Properties, Modalities, and God’, to appear in the Philosophical Review.

page 455 note 2 Op. Cit. p. 265.

page 456 note 1 Norris, Richard A. Jr, ‘Interpreting the Doctrine of the Incarnation’, in McDonald, Durstan R. (ed.) The Myth/Truth of God Incarnate (Wilton, CT: Moorehouse–Barlow, 1979), p. 81.

page 457 note 1 McCabe, Herbert and Wiles, Maurice, ‘The Incarnation: An Exchange’, New Blackfriars, LVIII, 691 (12 1977), 552.

page 458 note 1 Here I correct an account appearing at the end of an earlier paper, St. Thomas on the Identity and Unity of the Person of Christ: A Problem of Reference in Christological Discourse’, Scottish journal of Theology, XXXV (12 1982), 419–30.


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