The month of June, with liturgical feasts dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to His Body and Blood (in the Eucharist), is a fitting time to re-visit an age-old stumbling block—the very real human nature of Christ. Heretics throughout Church history struggled with that doctrine, and (in subtle ways) we still do today.
Hope and the Hypostatic Union
The hypostatic union is the doctrine that teaches that, in Jesus, the second person of the Trinity (God the Son), while remaining fully divine, united his divine nature to human nature. There are two natures in Christ (divine and human), but only one subject (also known as a “hypostasis”). This is different compared to the case for us—we possess only human nature, of which we are the subject.
Why couldn’t God just unite himself to one perfect man? Why did he need to unite himself to human nature?
Without delving too deeply into soteriology, suffice it to say that no human could have been good enough to pay the debt of sin. It had to be God who paid it. Only God was good enough to satisfy the magnitude of the debt incurred by the evil of sin. Being all powerful, he could have chosen any way to accomplish this. The perfection of his justice demanded that the debt be paid, but the greatness of his mercy accomplished this in a way that we would never have expected—through the Incarnation.
When God took on human nature, he wedded himself to humanity. He did not just unite himself with one human, but with all of humanity, for all time. The marital union points to the reality of the union between Christ and his Church, but even that intimate union only points to the intimacy of the union between God and humanity. Because God took on human nature, he not only redeemed it, but he elevated it. Think about it—human nature is now forever united to divine nature in the person of Christ. Human nature is now, permanently, taken up into the reality of the love and life of the Trinity—in the person of Christ. He goes before us, making it possible for us to one day experience life in the heart of the Trinity, too.
The union of human and divine nature in Christ is a cause for great hope because it means that we are now able to experience union with God.
Contemplating Christ’s Humanity
I recently stumbled on an internet debate that was triggered by some of the scenes in the series The Chosen. Many have found the style of the show helpful to their prayer and to their contemplation of the Gospels. Others have been scandalized, though, by how very… human Jesus is portrayed. Some found scenes that depicted Jesus making jokes, laughing, brushing his teeth, eating food, going to sleep, etc. to be scandalous. One person even commented in a thread on social media, “I don’t want Jesus to be ‘just like me.’ I want him to be not like me, but to make me like him!” A recent episode had Mary talking about how ordinary Jesus looked when he was born—hungry, cold, needing to be cleaned off from amniotic fluid—and people were outraged at the implication.
We should, in a sense, be scandalized by the Incarnation—not because the contemplation of the very real human nature of Christ is somehow sacrilegious, but because it defies human logic that an omnipotent God would become a helpless baby. In fact, pious tradition holds that the devil was so scandalized by the future Incarnation, that he refused to serve God. What kind of God would become so debased for mere humans? What kind of God would put himself in a situation where he needed to be fed, potty trained, learn to walk and talk, go to the bathroom, get messy, get tired, etc.? Why would someone so great bother with such massive and embarrassing inconveniences?
Love. Love is why God united himself to human nature. And love that great should scandalize us, surprise us, and defy our mere human expectations. We are undeserving of so great a love, and yet, it is what he wants to give us.
Why the Solemnities in June Matter
Two liturgical celebrations in the month of June point specifically to the mystery of the union of humanity and divinity in Christ. Both of these solemnities reveal both the importance of the physicality of Christ in the Incarnation, and how those aspects of his humanity have been elevated through his divinity.
The first of these solemnities is Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The second is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Corpus Christi celebrates the gift of the Eucharist, a physical gift only made possible by the Incarnation. Although the Body and Blood of Christ still retain the accidents of bread and wine in the Eucharist, their substance changes into that of the real Body and Blood of Christ. Although God is gracious enough to allow the accidents (appearance, taste, smell, etc.) of food to remain, occasionally he does permit Eucharistic miracles to happen—incidents in which the host is turned into literal human flesh or bleeds literal human blood (i.e. not just the substance but the accidents of the bread and wine are changed, too).
The Eucharist is not just a symbol. It is not just a re-enactment of a special meal, or a happy reminder that Jesus loves everyone. The Eucharist is a reminder of the “scandal” of God’s incredible love for humanity. The Eucharist is the ongoing manifestation of Christ’s humanity that is made possible only because of his divinity. The two natures are inseparable in the Eucharist. This should shake us and make us uncomfortable. A love like that should pierce us to the heart, even break our hearts, with its intensity and goodness. The all-powerful God longs to be one with us, so much so, that he became one of us. If that doesn’t give us pause, then we probably aren’t taking that mystery seriously enough.
Likewise, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart points both to the fact that, because of the Incarnation, God now possesses a real human heart that beats with divine love for humanity. The Sacred Heart of Jesus bled for humanity—both literally and figuratively. God took on human nature for the specific purpose of having a heart capable of bleeding, suffering, and dying. His Sacred Heart isn’t just a symbol, but a profound reality that reveals the love of God for us.
This June, as we celebrate these feasts, let us more deeply contemplate and allow ourselves to be in awe anew over the great love of God, who united himself to human nature out of love for us.