This is part V of “Formed by Divine Teaching”, a 12-part series on the Lord’s prayer. Click here for the main page of the series for updated links for each installment.
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (v. 39)
“My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (v. 42)
These are more than mere statements, whether simple or profound (or both), of obedience. By speaking them, Christ proactively refutes the monophysite and monothelite heresies of the future. They therefore imply the doctrine of the Incarnation.
The monophysite heresy sought to treat of Christ’s humanity as a mere mask for his divinity; their solution heavily emphasized his divinity. Since Christ was God, it was said that the divine could not suffer; therefore, Christ could have suffered only in his humanity. However, since monophysitism claimed that Jesus did not become fully human, it consequently implied that man by his very nature could not be saved, for Christ did not fully bridge the gap between the human and divine. The Council of Chalcedon formally defined the Incarnation– that in the person (πρόσωπον) of Christ there are two natures (ὑπόστᾰσης), human and divine– as a direct response to monophysitism. Chalcedon was hailed by both Rome and Constantinople, but in Alexandria (whence emerged monophysitism), the council was either accepted begrudginly or rejected outright, resulting in a schism which lasts to this day.
The monothelite heresy emerged as a glib effort to bring the non-Chalcedonians back into the greater Church. It proposed that Christ had only one will– a divine will– while remaining both human and divine. In reality, this was just Monophysitism 2.0, but the commotion stirred by the proposal demanded another Ecumenical Council (Constantinople III) to resolve the controversy. In the end, relying on Chalcedon, the Constantinople III concluded that the will is an integral and proper attribute of a nature, and thus, since Christ had a human and divine nature, he therefore had a human and a divine will.
Returning to Gethsemane: in that decisive moment, we glimpse the dramatic internal struggle in the person of Jesus. There is the all-too human desire to avoid suffering; since Christ was fully man, he too experienced this aversion to pain and death. Yet he submits to his Father, and in doing so, his human will becomes consonant with the divine. It is not a questioning of abandoning the human will; in Christ, the human will is transformed and made perfect so that it resembles the divine will.
One cannot complete a free act without, on the ontological level, an a priori operation of the will which desires completion of that act. In every free act there is at least an implicit desire by the actor that the act be done. When Christ says, “not my will but yours be done,” this desire is made explicit. His final decision to endure the Passion is a free choice all his own, in conformity to the divine plan set before him.
The Fall of our first parents and the “glamour of evil” has clouded our consciences to the point that, very often, we believe the lie of the serpent: “you shall be like God”. We delude ourselves to think that we can have full power, freedom, and autonomy to do as we please. We forget our creatureliness. We desire to set up ourselves and our worldly desires as parallel gods, not realizing that only “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and that whenever we try to blaze a path away from the order of creation willed by God, we sever our connection from the Author and Font of Life.
Instead, Christ reveals what is truly human in man. Humanity lives up to its divine potential when, with full freedom, it adheres to the command of God. We have not the pessimism of the monophysites, who have appropriated the mind of our Jewish ancestors, and find it scandalous and impossible that God could suffer. Nor do we possess the [blank] of the monothelites, who deny the ability of man to freely choose God. Rather, like the Apostle Paul, we believe in the scandal of the cross, which overthrows human wisdom, allowing man to look beyond the glamour of evil, and showing to him what it means to be truly human. Man is made for unity with God, and this unity begins when, moved by grace, his desires are transformed in accordance with the divine will. In saying “thy will be done”, the Savior points us towards authentic humanity.
Part VI posted!