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Does Jesus Have ‘Two Minds?’ Thomas Morris on the Incarnation

June 23, 2012

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.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2012 3:34 pm

    Darren, you remind me of the many reasons I am glad that nothing binds me to accept councils after Chalcedon as normative! Ah, the things we must do to accept the literary character of Jesus as the anachronistic theological construct of the Trinitarian Son.

    It seems to me like this mind/knowledge issue as Morris does it is a version of the time-traveller’s dilemma. Part of the problem is the deterministic nature of the assumption of divine foreknowledge, such that nothing that happens in creation can be a surprise. Jesus, to be what he is attested to have been, must not know everything that the omnipresent and omniscient deity knows. The man Jesus acts as though what is happening around him is actually happening for the first time. In critical moments, he has a sort of temporal concordance that says “Judas will betray you, and Peter will deny you,” for example, but most of the time he’s in the event shadow, and he acts like how we get there is flexible. That’s Kage Baker’s terminology; for the Doctor, in the new run, they came up with the idea of “fixed points” that cannot be altered without the universe destabilizing, while everything else is “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.” [I pity theologians that lived before science fiction. Really, I do!]

    The problem I see with the extra Calvinisticum is that it inevitably leads to the assertion that the divine Word is not actually fully present both inside and out of the man Jesus. There is more of God outside, and in whatever narrative-necessary manner, less of God inside. Kenosis is just checking those bits at the door, because the theology declares that the finite simply can’t hold them. But this is because of prior categorical assumptions about what the nature of deity is! For a God who is genuinely sui generis, the divine nature cannot be an abstraction; it has to be a description of the character of this One. The infra Lutheranum may have its own problems, but it at least understands that the creation is neither metaphysically alien to, nor restrictive of, the full presence of the Creator.

    If Jesus is the being of the intersection of these two genera, what unpleasant things are we really led to say about YHWH because Jesus has let us down? Would it really kill us to suggest that God experiences the freedom of the whole creation as it happens?

  2. June 23, 2012 10:34 pm

    So Darren,

    Are you Reformed, Lutheran, or Barthian on seeking to answer this? It seems, as I just re-listened to McCormack’s Kantzer Lecture #5 last night, that there is a way (a “Barthian” way, maybe) around this apparent conundrum by grounding the Theandric person of Jesus in a pneumatically shaped mode of receptivity; such that when Jesus acts in enfleshed humanity in the incarnation he does so in a way that has always been commensurate with whom God always already has freely chosen to be, in Christ, in his Self-election as Triune. So the problem posed by the logic of Chalcedon is circumscribed or reified by understanding predication of the natures as the function of the work of the Holy Spirit and thus the two natures ceases to be the problem that Morris is trying to repair because the two natures in Christ have always already been a mode of who he has eternally been in his election—because the totus Christus moves and breathes in the Spirit (which would seem to be a more constructive reframing of this than Morris will avail himself of as an ‘Analytic’ V. ‘Dialectic’).

  3. June 23, 2012 11:44 pm

    Bobby: I’m still thinking my way through the implications (and possible counter-solutions) to the extra Calvinisticum, but I think that my inclinations lie in that Barthian direction. You’re right that McCormack’s “Reformed kenoticism” circumvents the problem that is suggested by Chalcedonian ‘two natures’ logic: the Son’s (eternal) receptivity to his humanity allows Him to exist as a human subject in a way that does not conflict with divine attributes (or force Him to surrender them).

    My thesis is that the key to Barth’s own Christology is the simultaneity of the status duplex, two ways of existing (exaltation and humiliation) that are two movements in the same event. The dialecticism itself may permit the “both/and” that neither the traditional Lutheran or Reformed views can tolerate. The Son is humble and obedient, even human, and this is His glory as God-for-us. When we work that out in terms of divine attributes, something like McCormack’s thesis may be inevitable. But I’d like to keep the language of mutually conditioning states at the fore.

  4. June 24, 2012 12:54 am

    Darren, I remember you mentioning your desire to emphasize the status duplex as the key to unpacking this in a faithfully dialectically Barthian way. And so, I eagerly await the completion and publication of your doctoral thesis (though I hope that once you are able you will just send me a a Pdf of your thesis, instead of me having to wait for its inevitable publication ;-). Thanks, Darren. I think you chose your thesis topic wisely; you get to think about Jesus all the time!

  5. June 28, 2012 2:40 pm


    This is a very interesting discussion. It is insightful to see Morris’ view as a noetic version of the extra Calvinisticum; I’ve thought the same thing. Further, given my own dissertation topic, I’ve been trying to think about whether Morris’ view (or two minds views in general) is an entailment of affirming the extra Calvinisticum or whether other models of the incarnation can satisfy what the extra asserts.

    Furthermore, I think you hit the nail on the head in pointing out the issue with which contemporary models of the incarnation must deal, namely, the relation of the Word to the Jesus of Nazareth (on which Marmadoro and Hill’s article on composite Christologies provides a helpful typology). You are right that Morris does not do much in discussing this relation; in fact, if I recall, he appeals to mystery at this point.

    I think Sturch’s reply to Bayne in defense of Morris/Swinburne addresses some of your concerns about the identity of the “I” in the life of Christ–though, you may be more sympathetic to Jedwab’s article in the Marmadoro/Hill volume.

    Have you considered Bayne’s “restricted inclusionism” as a broadly two-minds view that satisfies orthodox dyothelitism? It at least addresses some of your concerns about Morris’ view.

    I’m a bit unclear on your own view of the two minds model. Are you wanting to say that Jesus did or did not have a divine and human mind?

    Other questions to you for clarification:

    1) What is the relation between the Word and Jesus Christ, on your view? Is Jesus Christ identical to the Word?

    2) Who is the subject of the incarnation? The Word? The human person Jesus? The composite theanthropic person?

    3) If the subject of the incarnation is the second person of the Trinity, then how does the human nature assumed by the Word not instantiate a second person (or mind/consciousness)?

    Of course, these are the major questions with which any Christology must deal, so it is helpful for me to get clear on how actualist Christologies would answer them.

  6. June 28, 2012 3:59 pm

    James: I’ll see if I can get my hands on Baynes (thanks for the tip). Do you think he renders an account of a ‘Two Minds’ view that attends to dyothelitism, then?

    I’m generally content with dyothelite Christology — though, as I said in the post, two “minds” is terribly misleading language in the twenty-first century. It begs for a subjective distinction between Jesus and the Word that in my view is simply Nestorian.

    Some of your questions on my own position get to the heart of my thesis, so I want to keep them close to my chest a bit longer. But with regard to the relation of the Word and Jesus Christ, my inclination is toward what Bruce McCormack calls “indirect identity.” On the one hand, God the Son does not become identical with His humanity but remains veiled in His unveiling (the “indirect” part of the phrase); but, on the other hand, what we see in the unveiling really is God Himself (the “identity” part). Jesus is the Son of God.

    This is an epistemological distinction, however (i.e., how Jesus reveals the God who is present). So with regard to the identity of the agent of the incarnation (by which I mean broadly the life of Jesus, or the “Christ event”) I tend to actually favor the language of direct identity. This is to say that Jesus is the Word or, more appropriately put, the Word is Jesus Christ.

    That distinction is maybe worth a post down the road, though I suspect you and I may be the only ones all that interested in it!

  7. June 28, 2012 4:07 pm

    But back to Morris, et al: I find it significant that he is largely motivated by his rejection of kenosis (and thus a desire to find a metaphysically satisfying alternative to it), yet on my reading ends up walking right up to the edge of a kenosis of his own (viz. the human Jesus’ inability to access the Word’s knowledge). That’s where the logical rubber meets the exegetical road.

    It seems to me that the extra Calvinisticum itself trades on the Cyrilian distinction between the immanent and the economic “modes” of God’s existence. Morris, on the other hand, only has the economy on his horizon. Since he has no transcendent mode of Christ’s being to which he can appeal, I’m not sure if he can avoid being either a kenoticist or a docetist.

  8. June 28, 2012 4:17 pm


    I’m not terribly happy with Bayes’ view; I don’t think it does enough work, and the work it does entails some conclusions I’m not happy with. Nonetheless, it seems more in line with kenotic and Barthian sympathies.

    I understand the desire to keep stuff close to your chest with regards to your dissertation! I’m trying to do the same thing. I’m hoping your thesis will be submitted and available before I have to hand mine in! Does BLM actually use the term “indirect identity”? And if so, do you recall where?

    With regard to the identity question, are you familiar with Stephen Webb’s Jesus Christ, Eternal God? It is a bit of a fringe/test case for a lot of the questions related to Barthian Christology.

    I’m at least partially convinced that a lot of contemporary Christological disagreements arise out of a conflation of notions of divine and human personhood. Hopefully these discussions can help clarify the variation positions. So, thanks for posting this and for your response. It was helpful.

  9. June 28, 2012 4:22 pm

    Re Morris: I think you’re exactly right. He wants to have a way to account for the human actions of Jesus that we in Scripture without the ontological entailments of Kenoticism (or actualism).

    I also think you are right with regard to Morris’ sole focus on the economy. But are you suggesting that the “extra” aspect of the extra refers to God’s immanent life only?

    For what it’s worth, I want, if at all possible, to avoid having to buy in to the two-steams-of-consciousness view. Though, it remains to be seen if that’s a possible option for me.

  10. June 28, 2012 4:37 pm

    I’ve heard of this “heavenly flesh” notion, but wasn’t aware of Webb’s book. Offhand, I can’t see how it’s a test case for Barth’s Christology. My guess would be that Barth rejects most of what this guy’s presuppositions will be regarding the nature of human existence. But I’ll be sure to dig deeper.

    I’m certainly over-simplifying the extra here; one of the tradition’s concerns is to emphasize that the Word does not cease from His work of ruling and sustaining creation when He becomes incarnate, which is obviously a work ad extra. But it seems to me that the immanent-economic distinction is at least the grammar with which it works. It’s almost as if that distinction has been replicated within the economy — so that we have a “Word in Himself” (though still for us) and a “Word with us” distinction. (I’m not criticizing that here — merely attempting to describe it.) But I’m kinda shooting from the hip.

    I’ll e-mail you the McCormack references.

  11. June 28, 2012 4:48 pm

    Thanks for clarifying your point on the extra, Darren. I’ll have to withhold my comments, for now.

    What is interesting about Webb is that he sees himself as in line with Barth’s main emphasis of doing theology completely Christologically and subsequently avoiding all “speculative” and abstract concepts and reasoning. It’s definitely worth checking out. My own opinion is that–methodological concerns aside–Webb’s position is the logical conclusion of McCormack’s view.

  12. June 28, 2012 5:06 pm

    That may be a bit much — his main thesis seems to be on “heavenly flesh,” which McCormack (and Barth) is able to explicitly reject without inconsistency. (By “heavenly flesh” I assume Webb has in mind something like “The Word brings his flesh / human nature with Him from heaven.”) They may have some important things in common, but the history of theology is replete with examples of two thinkers who started at or close to the same point and ended up in vastly different territory. (Look no further than Barth and Brunner.)

    If I may once again whip out the Ambiguous Rhetorical Trump Card, getting Barth’s Christology right requires a proper understanding of his actualism, and how this (as both a methodology and a theological ontology) changes everything. Most critics, I have found, misread Barth here because they bring to the CD their own categories and presuppositions. And if those presuppositions were true of Barth, I think the criticisms would stick. The analogy I would draw is to the difference between base-10 and base-8 (or base-16, take your pick) math: when read according to base-10 the equation on the blackboard doesn’t add up. The greatest challenge in reading Barth is to recognize that he is not doing base-10 theology.

  13. June 28, 2012 5:29 pm

    Maybe I should have said it is the “next logical step” past McCormack’s argument, because I don’t want to make a claim that McCormack’s argument entails Webb’s argument. I agree that McCormack’s argument can perhaps be internally coherent without any recourse to the kind of argument Webb makes (though, I’m biased to van Driel’s critique).

    Webb claims that McCormack actually fails to be Christological enough in not allowing even his views of matter to be Christologically determined.

    Point taken about actualism–which is why I’m exceedingly happy you and others are doing work on Barth’s actualism to help us analytically inclined to understand it better.

  14. September 13, 2015 9:16 pm

    Of course, to say that Jesus is theandric smacks of the monophysite heresy. I would recommend that you read Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s book, The Trinity and then read his final book, The Incarnation. Both are available at the Trinity Foundation website.

  15. September 13, 2015 9:23 pm

    Human inability? Jesus is fully human. To say that Jesus as a human being is omnisicient is to commit either Apollinarianism or the monophysite error. Morris’s solution and the solution offered by the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark in his book, The Incarnation, is a viable one as you yourself acknowledged. Dr. Clark’s solution is similar but not exactly the same. Just as the three persons of the Trinity think distinct propositions that the other two cannot think, so Jesus in his human mind and person cannot think every proposition the Logos thinks. The two are overlapped in one direction only. The Father cannot think He is the Son. And so Jesus the man can be ignorant while the indwelling Logos is omniscient and sovereignly controls what information the human person of Christ knows.

    God is omniscient while humans are linear and discursive in their thinking. God does not have passing thoughts because He transcends time. He is eternally immutable and so are all His decrees and plans. God never learns anything new. He knows all the propositions there are to know.

    • André permalink
      June 2, 2018 9:08 am

      But Clarks model has problems also, it appear to make a chasm between logos and Jesus.His modell implies that Logos did not suffer or died on the cross, only the man Jesus, but in that case what is the point of claiming that *God* has died for our sins?

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