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Jesus Christ Is True Man

General Audience — January 27, 1988

—    Biblical references to Christ's humanity

The mystery of Jesus Christ as true God and true man is central to our faith and is the key truth of our Christological reflections. We propose to seek the basis of this truth in Sacred Scripture, especially in the Gospels, and in Christian Tradition.

We have already seen that in the Gospels Jesus Christ revealed himself as God the Son, especially when he said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30); when he referred to himself the name of God, "I Am" (cf. Jn 8:58), and the divine attributes; and when he claimed that "all power has been given (him) in heaven and on earth" (Mt 28:18). This includes the power to pronounce final judgment on all people; the power over the law (cf. Mt 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44) which comes from God and derives its binding force from him; and finally the power to forgive sins (cf. Jn 20:22-23). Since he received from the Father the power to pronounce the final judgment on the world (cf. Jn 5:22), Jesus came into the world "to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10).

To confirm his divine power over creation, Jesus worked miracles which are signs that the kingdom of God has come into the world together with him.

However, this Jesus who, by means of what he did and taught, bore witness to himself as Son of God, at the same time revealed himself as true man. The entire New Testament, and in particular the Gospels testify unequivocally to this truth of which Jesus was most clearly conscious. The apostles and evangelists also recognized it and transmitted it without the slightest shadow of doubt. In the present reflection we will collect and outline at least briefly the Gospel data on this truth, always in connection with what we have previously said about Christ as true God.

This way of presenting the true humanity of the Son of God is absolutely essential today, given the widespread tendency to regard Jesus as only a man, an unusual extraordinary man, but always and merely a man. This tendency characteristic of modern times is in a certain way the antithesis of the Docetism of the early centuries of Christianity. According to the Docetists, Jesus Christ only appeared to be a man; he had the appearance of a man, but he was solely God.

Faced with these opposite tendencies, the Church firmly professes and proclaims the truth that Christ is the God-Man, true God and true man. He is the one divine Person of the Word in two natures, divine and human, as the catechism teaches. It is a profound mystery of our faith, faceted with so many lights.

1.  Biblical references to Christ's humanity

The Bible has many clear texts on Christ's true humanity. We should like to list them, in order to explain them in later reflections.

The Incarnation is the point of departure. "The Word became flesh," as we profess in the creed. This truth is more strikingly expressed in the prologue of John's Gospel: "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (Jn 1:14). The Greek word for flesh is sarx, which denotes man as he actually is, with his body, and therefore its insecurity, its weakness, and in a certain sense its transitoriness ("All flesh is grass," as we read in the Book of Isaiah 40:6).

Jesus Christ is truly a man in this sense. He took flesh and a human nature from his mother Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. If St. Ignatius of Antioch calls Jesus sarkophoros (Ad Smyrn., 5), this is a delicate indication of his human birth of a woman, who gave him human flesh. St. Paul had said that "God sent his Son, born of a woman" (Gal 4:4).

The evangelist Luke spoke of this birth of a woman when he described the events of the night of Bethlehem: "While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her first-born son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger" (Lk 2:6-7). The same evangelist tells us that on the eighth day after Jesus' birth, the child was circumcised and was "given the name Jesus" (Lk 2:21). On the fortieth day he was presented as the firstborn in the Temple of Jerusalem, according to the Mosaic law (cf. Lk 2:22-24).

Moreover, like every child, "he grew and became strong, filled with wisdom" (Lk 2:40). "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Lk 2:52).

We see him as an adult, as he is more frequently presented in the Gospels. As true man, a man of flesh, Jesus experienced fatigue, hunger and thirst. We read, "He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry" (Mt 4:2). And elsewhere, "Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.... A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me to drink'" (Jn 4:6-7).

Jesus had a body subject to fatigue and suffering, a mortal body, a body that finally underwent the torture of martyrdom through the scourging, crowning with thorns, and eventually crucifixion. During the terrible agony when dying on the cross, Jesus uttered the words, "I thirst" (Jn 19:28). These words contain a final, sorrowful and moving expression of the truth of his humanity.

Only a true man could have suffered as Jesus suffered on Golgotha. Only a true man could have died as Jesus truly died. This death was observed by many eyewitnesses, not merely from among his friends and disciples. St. John's Gospel tells us that the soldiers "came to Jesus, and seeing that he was already dead, did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out" (19:33-34).

"He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." In these words of the Apostles' Creed, the Church professes the truth of Jesus' birth and death. The truth of the resurrection is attested to immediately afterward in the words, "the third day he rose again from the dead."

The resurrection confirms in a new way that Jesus is truly man. The Word was born in time "by becoming flesh," and in the resurrection he returned to life in his own human body. Only a true man could suffer and die on the cross, and only a true man could rise from the dead. To rise again means to return to life in the body. Although transformed, endowed with new qualities and powers, and also glorified (as at Christ's ascension and in the future resurrection of the dead), it is a truly human body. The risen Christ made contact with the apostles; they saw him, looked at him and touched the wounds which remained after the crucifixion. He not only spoke to them and stayed with them, but he also accepted some of their food. "They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them" (Lk 24:42-43). Finally, it was in this body, risen and glorified, but always the body of a true man, that Christ ascended into heaven, to sit "at the right hand of the Father."

Therefore, he is true God and true man, not a man merely in appearance, not a phantasm, but a true man. This is how the apostles and the group of believers of the early Church knew him. This is the testimony that they passed on to us.

We note that there is no opposition in Christ between what is divine and what is human. If man, from the very beginning, was made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27; 5:1), and therefore what is human can also manifest what is divine, how much more so could this be verified in Christ. He revealed his divinity through his humanity, through a genuinely human life. His humanity served to reveal his divinity—his Person of the Word-Son.

At the same time, as God the Son, he was not on that account "less man." To reveal himself as God, he was not obliged to be "less" man. Indeed, by this very fact he was "fully" man, for in assuming human nature in the unity of the divine Person of the Word, he achieved the fullness of human perfection. This is an anthropological dimension of Christology to which we must return later.