Does Jesus Have ‘Two Minds?’ Thomas Morris on the Incarnation
Thomas V. Morris’ 1986 work The Logic of God Incarnate represents an important account of the incarnation offered by the analytic tradition. Following peers such as Brian Hebblethwaite, Morris seeks to render an account of the union of divinity (or the divine Word) and humanity that is logically coherent and still faithful to Chalcedonian orthodoxy — or, as he puts it, to demonstrate the coherence of Chalcedonian “two natures” Christology.
I’ll have to save a fuller engagement for another time and place (read: doctoral thesis), but I did want to offer a brief response here and see if any fair readers — and particularly the analytically inclined — want to push back or otherwise clarify the argument for the “Two Minds” view of Christ’s hypostatic makeup.
Morris summarizes this view:
In the case of God Incarnate, we must recognize something like two distinct ranges of consciousness. … The divine mind of God the Son contained, but was not contained by, his earthly mind, or range of consciousness. That is to say, there was what can be called an asymmetric accessing relation between the two minds. (pp. 102-3)
The ecumenical councils of the early church specified, for a variety of important reasons, that as the incarnation of God the Son, Jesus Christ is single with regard to his person (or subject) and dual with regard to his natures (divinity and humanity). But what aspects of existence should be associated with which? What of will, or agency, or knowledge, or — as in Morris’ case — mind? In the seventh century the Third Council of Constantinople affirmed that Jesus has two wills and two energies of operation (one divine and one human), since it had reasons to conclude that these aspects of existence are more properly predicated of one’s nature than one’s person. And his natures are what Jesus had two of.
Morris extends this dyothelite (two wills) position to an analytic concept of the mind. Now today I think we are more likely to associate mind with personhood — if there are two minds within me, then there are two agents who may not think, know, or will the same things (analogous to multiple personalities disorder, which we tend to think of as two discrete ‘persons’ in one body — but imagine that in Jesus the two are real persons and not the manifestations of a psychological disorder). This would be clearly Nestorian, and Morris knows that.
A better term than “two minds” is his “two ranges of consciousness.” This is not so misleading; “two minds” suggests that we must either modify the ordinary sense in which we understand the mind, or be Nestorian. But all men and women have multiple ranges of consciousness (at least according to modern psychological theories) — a conscious mind and a subconscious. Another analogy Morris suggests is the dreamer, who can become aware that he is dreaming and so become consciously dissociated from the agent he is in the dream.
Two ranges of consciousness in Jesus Christ, then: the divine consciousness of the Word and the human consciousness of the human Jesus. Think of them as “nested” (not parallel or partially overlapping): the divine consciousness fully contains the human, so that the Word has full access to what the human knows and wills. But this “accessing relation” is asymmetric: the human consciousness does not have reciprocal access to his omniscient range of consciousness. This human “mind” is what is on display in the gospels: though he is God incarnate, Jesus grows in wisdom (Luke 2:52) and does not know the day or hour of his return (Mark 13:32).
In my analysis what Morris has suggested is a noetic version of the classical doctrine of the extra Calvinisticum. In this way the fathers, and later the Reformed tradition, argued that the divine Word of God is both fully present within the life of the human Jesus and also outside that flesh (etiam extra carnem). Jesus is fully the Word of God made flesh — but the Word is not so restricted in His infinite existence that He sets aside divine attributes (as in kenoticism) or temporarily vacates the throne of heaven, from which He rules and continually sustains the universe (cf. Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). In the same way, on Morris’ view, the divine mind is personally united with the human mind but not contained by it.
Morris’ solution to the conundrum presented by Mark 13:32 is apparent: Jesus, speaking from his human range of consciousness, did not have access to that which the omniscient Word of God knows. (In his explication of ‘mind’ Morris seems largely concerned with knowledge.) This is entirely coherent and, I think, in line with the way in which the ancient councils attempted to explicate Jesus’ metaphysical singularity and duality.
Like the tradition that he defends from the charge of incoherence, however, Morris does not deal with the root problem of fully relating the Word to His human existence. As we have seen, Jesus is thought to be speaking in Mark 13:32 strictly from his human range of consciousness, without access to his divine. Yet he remains a single subject — so that divine range of consciousness belongs to this One, as well. Does the human Jesus ever have access to that mind? Does he control when he accesses it? What is the identity of the One who has said, “I do not know?” Or has Jesus foresworn access to his divine consciousness and knowledge during his time on earth? And, if this is indeed the case, how is Morris’ view all that different from the kenoticism he believes he has supplanted?
There is, in other words, a functional division between the two natures — at least at such key moments as this, which look to us to be so very human. Jesus is in possession of both minds, both ranges of consciousness, in some sense; but practically speaking this works out to his ability (or necessity?) to act here strictly according to his humanity — not merely without but to the exclusion of his divinity.
Morris falls into this trap, I think, because he has not properly understood dyothelitism, and the communication of operations, as articulated by Constantinople III and its defenders. He believes that orthodox theologians, in order to avoid monothelitism, “must hold that the divinity of Christ … played no actual causal role in his rightly resisting temptation. The decision arrived at in his earthly consciousness not to sin was not causally imposed on him by his divine nature” (p. 150). Now Morris is certainly right that the divine will did not impose itself upon the human in a way that rendered the latter impotent. But the Council by no means suggested that the divinity of Christ played no causal role. Instead, the orthodox position argues that both natures are involved in all that Jesus does. No act or decision is only human or only divine, but a result of his two wills and two energies of operation being actualized in theandric unity.
There may be a way to correct the “Two Minds” view to account for a right understanding of orthodox dyothelitism. It is certainly consistent with the extra Calvinisticum. As a noetic account of this doctrine, however, it remains vulnerable to the same critiques to which Reformed Christology has been subject.