Mark Twain, rightly celebrated for his quintessential American novels “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn,” also penned the quite English tale entitled “The Prince and the Pauper.” In this work Henry VIII’s son Edward Tudor is quite accidentally thought to be Tom Canty, son of beggar and thief Andrew Canty. And vice versa. The novel traces the adventures of the two young men in their reversed positions until the mix-up is finally rectified and the rightful Edward is crowned king and the wiser Tom faces life in London. Despite outward appearances, Edward always was a prince and Tom always was pauper. In this case, clothes did not make the man.
There were times in early Christian history when Jesus Christ was thought to have undergone a similar experience. Believers certainly wrestled with the Biblical notion that, as St. John wrote, “..the Word was God.” And yet, at the same time, Christians pondered the words of St. Paul, “…a man like us in all things save sin.” Was Christ a God pretending to be a man? Or was Jesus a man assuming the role of God? Author J. Warner Wallace has made a handy list of the assorted controversies that plagued the Church from the second to the seventh century. Some radical thinkers accepted Jesus as basically human but later acquiring some Divine traits. Adoptionism, Arianism, Nestorianism, and Monophysitism inclined toward this view. Other heresies embraced Jesus as uniquely Divine, yet partially having some human qualities. These errors were labeled Docetism, Apollinarianism, and Monothelitism. Insightful Popes and determined Ecumenical Councils happily put these views to rest centuries ago. Modern Unitarians however, seriously inclining toward a quite human Jesus, could easily be allied with Arianism.
Of course Sacred Scripture itself is responsible for some of this confusion. Isaiah exuberantly boasts of the Messiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” On the other hand, Psalm 22 certainly gives no hint of a Divine Messiah: “But I am a worm, not a man, scorned by men, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me: “He relied on the LORD — let him deliver him; if he loves him, let him rescue him.” And Jesus Himself indeed muddies the water when he presents himself in this Sunday’s Gospel before his cousin John to accept the preacher’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins!” Here, the alleged Son of God mingles with tax collectors and soldiers and greedy Temple priests who are beginning to see the error of their ways. Who and what is Jesus Christ?
St. Luke today insightfully offers some clarification on the true nature, or rather true natures, of Jesus Christ. “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus could rightly take his place alongside the hurting populace of Jerusalem. He was indeed fully human. But Jesus could also be ranked with powers of heaven. Christ was fully Divine. The ancient Nicene Creed recited throughout the Christian world every Lord’s Day neatly says it all: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
Jesus was indeed “begotten of God;” he was fully Divine. Yet, he was also “incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.” He was fully human. Jesus was always one person; indeed he was the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. But he fully enjoyed two natures: God and man, Divine and human. Christ was not God pretending to be man, nor was he man pretending to be God. He was fully possessed of both natures, the ideal intermediary between heaven and earth, eternity and time, the favored and the flawed. Jesus is near to the human family offering mankind courage; but he is also near to God offering mankind hope. In Christ, the prince and the pauper must be accepted as one; there is no second guessing the Incarnation.