Christology for Joe

Christology is that branch of sacred theology that studies the Incarnation. All theology is the study of God, for that is what the word means; this branch specifically studies the Man-God. Keeping in mind the precedence of the intellect to the will, we can say that knowledge of this science can help us with the arts of praying well and serving our Lord well. Remember: science applies to knowing, art to doing. Summarily, the study of Christology helps us to know Jesus better, that we may love and serve Him better.

Inspired by Chesterton’s Economics for Helen, I named this little piece “Christology for Joe” because it really is the answer to some questions that a man of that name sent me. Not all of the questions have to do with Christology. Joe’s email began with questions about the saints and ended up with questions about Our Lord. What most interested me was the way his questions about the saints formed a rational lead-in to the Christological considerations, since his focal point was the sacred Humanity of Jesus.

Because his questions were good ones, I thought (and Joe agreed) that it would be a good idea to turn our exchange into an article on our site.

Saint Worship

I will excerpt the questions from Joe’s email:

I had read in one of the St Benedict Center’s newsletters a while back about different forms of worship/veneration, one of which is called “latria.” I am interested to know exactly what this and the other forms of worship/veneration are, what they mean, and how they operate/how we put them to use. For instance how do we distinguish worship from veneration. Because I also read there are different forms of worship, the highest form of course due to God alone.

How would I go about explaining the term veneration to somebody in regard to the Saints (to hold in high esteem etc?) IN other words, how is it actually performed… I assume praying to the saints would be a form of veneration. But what is the idea behind this: “to venerate.”

And, are there different levels of veneration and/or worship among different saints? I assume Mary would undoubtedly receive the most veneration, and then Joseph.

A non-theological set of observations will help me to answer these questions. They are important, though, as they pertain to the language in which I am expressing myself. The Germanic language known as English — from the Angles, the Germanic tribe that invaded Celtic Britain — developed substantially under Catholic influence. St. Augustine’s missionary monks were in England in the early seventh century, introducing many Latinisms into the developing language of the British Isles. The Norman invasion in 1066 enriched its vocabulary by the introduction of many French words, and gave it another Catholic influence. Until the Anglican Schism of the sixteenth century, England was a major part of the Catholic world, and its humane letters had a place of dignity in the literature of Christendom. Chaucer was a Catholic; the Arthurian Legends were Catholic; Shakespeare was possibly Catholic himself, and if not, certainly did not “Protestantize” the language. In short, our vocabulary grew and our literature developed while Merry old England was still Mary’s Dowry. Words like lord, lady, worship, adore, and pray had meanings and connotations more deeply rooted in the Catholic culture of England.

But Protestants — not so much Anglicans as Calvinist Puritans — gradually altered the usage of these words, if not by direct effort, then by simple use.

In these United States (whose early colonists included many Puritans), there was a direct effort to divorce our language from the Mother Tongue. It was the continuation, you might say, of the War for Independence. (Noah Webster compiled his dictionary largely for this politico-ideological purpose.) American English, especially of Noah Webster’s New England variety, was more “democratic” and less “monarchical” a language; and even the aristocrats (lords and ladies) took a beating in the developing language of our Republic. Because of all this, concepts of hierarchy — Catholic concepts — were downplayed. Eventually, a bishop or magistrate was no longer “my Lord”; one did not “pray” to a judge (“prithee, milord!”); and nobody was “your worship” except God Himself. All this had the net effect of abstracting a purely religious use, sanitized of Catholic concepts, for certain words. True, some holdovers still exist in the language, as when we call a property owner who rents to us a “landlord,” or when we read older versions of Scripture, but there is a prevalent Calvinism in much of our language that serves to prejudice the American ear in religious matters. (Orestes Brownson’s provocatively entitled “Mary Worship” and “Saint Worship” may have been so named to challenge this prejudice.)

All the foregoing is background to establish that, to our Catholic (and even Anglican) English-speaking forebears, to “pray” to someone other than God, to “worship” a man, and to call upon those in the ecclesiastical and even the civic hierarchy as “lord” did not smell in the slightest of brimstone. Today, however, we have the burden of explaining to a people whose common tongue has been religiously deconstructed what these things mean.

Catholic devotion to Our Lady and the Saints never put creatures on a par with the creator. This is amply proven in numerous works of an apologetical nature (see, for instance, my own “Praying to the Saints,” under the heading “Confirmed by Tradition”). Those who claim that we Catholics give saints the same worship we give to God have the burden of proving it from Catholic sources. The total absence of a smoking gun belies the falsity of their assertions.

There exists in the Catholic theological lexicon the following fourfold distinction:

Latria (cultus latriae) — We usually call this, in English, “adoration.” This is the worship given exclusively to the Blessed Trinity. It comes from a Greek word that the Latins liked so much they imported it. When we say cultus latriae, we are saying that to God is due the “cult of latria [or “of adoration”].” The word cultus has at least three meanings: “to till or cultivate; to protect or nurture; and (in an applied sense) to worship or honor.” From it, we get the words “cultivate,” “agriculture,” “horticulture,” etc. From it also, we get the word “cult,” as in religious veneration. At, one can see the different meanings of the word “cult.” This proper religious use of the word is the first listed meaning, while the popular meaning of the word is No. 6. (Knee-jerk reactions to the word “cult” — “Ah! So, you Catholics admit you’re a cult!” — would provide yet more examples of the linguistic bias I wrote of earlier.)

Dulia (cultus duliae) — Coming from the Greek word for “servant” or “slave,” this category denotes the veneration shown to the saints, God’s “servants.” In this distinction, one can see that there is a difference between the reverence shown to God and that shown to God’s slave. The honor shown to a master (in this case, the Master of all) is obviously greater than the honor shown to a slave. Clearly, the old social convention of servitude serves as the point of reference for this distinction, just as it was employed by St. Paul to illustrate other concepts in Scripture.

Hyperdulia (cultus hyperduliae) — Because the Blessed Virgin Mary is a saint, she receives the genus of veneration we call “dulia.” However, because she is over all the saints, she is given the highest species of that devotion. So, we unite hyper, the Greek word for “over,” (its Latin equivalent is super) to dulia. The Mother of God receives the highest degree of reverence of any mere creature (excepting, that is, Christ’s sacred Humanity, which is a creature; more on that in a bit).

Protodulia (cultus protoduliae) — A further distinction of some authors employs the Greek word for “first,” prôtos. This is the devotion given to St. Joseph, who is revered “first” among the saints. (But Mary is honored “over” him!)

(A more detailed explanation of the division of latria and dulia can be found in my “On Worshiping Mary and the Saints.”)

Christ’s Sacred Humanity

Now we come to the Christology part:

And the most important part of this whole thing: our Lord, Jesus Christ. Of course we know He is true God and true man, unbegotten, the alpha and omega, in existence forever and all time as God.

But then He entered time as man. So are there different forms of worship due even to Jesus Christ, one as God, and another as man?

The short answer to this is “No,” but I will explain it in some detail below.

I believe He is King of the universe as man, correct?

Yes, it is as man that Our Lord is King of the universe. God’s Kingship is analogous, but Christ’s Kingship is literal, as Pope Pius XI taught in Quas Primas (No. 7).

So, is there a distinction at all with regard to our relationship to Him, as God, and as man? Or are they both one and the same?

Our relationship to the Second Person is something that simply would not exist outside of the order of the Incarnation, for the very revelation that there is such a Person depended on His Holy Incarnation. It is a theological principle that “knowledge of and belief in the Triune God is dependent on knowledge of and belief in the Son of God.” And for that knowledge and belief to exist, God sent His Son into the world in our flesh. St. Paul would seem to have this in mind in his opening words of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1:1-3): “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high.”

Also, with regard to how we view him as man — He is the creator, not a creation, of course. But the Holy Ghost formed him in Mary’s womb at a certain point in time. So would his Humanity/soul be considered a creation? His actual material body is indeed a creation, it seems.

Yes, the sacred Humanity of Our Lord is a creature.

But his soul? Does he have a human soul just like ours? If it is like ours, was this created, or has it existed forever and ever.

This sacred Humanity includes His human body and his human soul. His soul was created.

How do we define a soul? Would it be just His essence, or being, as our soul is, being our essence, or existence after we die. So that if this is true, his soul is different than ours, in that it has like an infinite superiority to our souls? This is all very confusing to me.

A soul is the principle of life in a material being. Plants and brute animals have souls, but not rational, immortal souls like humans. The same Latin word for “life,” anima, is also the word for soul. (We get the words, animate, animation, etc., from it.) The human soul of Our Lord Jesus had a superplenitude of sanctifying grace — a finite degree, for sure, for His Humanity is not infinite, but the highest degree that can exist in a soul. Additionally, the human soul of Our Lord had what the theologians call “the grace of union,” which is the utterly unique grace of the Man Christ Jesus, namely, that He is united in a perfect personal union with a Divine Person. The technical name for this union is the “Hypostatic Union.”

Marvelous mosaic of Christ Pantocrator (“ruler over all”) from the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul. It is the central figure of the so called Deësis mosaic (Δέησις, “Entreaty”) which probably dates from a relatively late 1261. It is considered by many to be the finest mosaic in Hagia Sophia. Photo by Dianelos Georgoudis, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Latreutic Worship of the Man, Christ?

As has just been said, Christ’s Humanity is hypostatically united to the Word of God (the Logos), that is, to the Second Person of the All-Holy and Undivided Trinity. Because of this fact, the sacred Humanity of Our Lord is worthy of the same cult of latria that the Son of God deserved for all eternity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the God-Man, is entitled to divine worship (latria). This is dogma. The Council of Ephesus (431) defined, “If anyone dare to assert that the man assumed into the Divine Logos must be adored as a Person distinct from the Logos… and that Emmanuel is not worshiped by one and the same act, … according as the Word was made flesh, let him be anathema.” The great defender of the union of two natures in the one Person, St. Cyril of Alexandria, addressed the heretic Nestorious with these words: “We do not adore a man who is the bearer of a God, but God made man.” It was St. Cyril who was the hero of the Council of Ephesus.

The Second Council of Constantinople (553) further dogmatically defined, “If any one say that Christ is adored in two natures, separately as the Divine Word and separately as man, or if any one do not adore God the Word Incarnate together with His own flesh by one act of worship, … let him be anathema.”

Pope Pius VI condemned the proposition of the heretical Jansenist Council of Pistoia (1794), which said that “direct adoration of the manhood of Christ is equivalent to rendering divine honors to a creature.” The Jansenists hated devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and they worked hard to have it suppressed. Their influence on otherwise orthodox Catholics retarded the spread of the devotion. Indeed, one of the purposes of the Sacred Heart revelation to St. Margaret Mary was to end the coldness of the Jansenist spirit.

Explaining the matter with utmost precision, Monsignor Joseph Pohle writes that, “Because of its Hypostatic Union with the Logos, the Humanity of Our Lord is entitled to divine worship in itself, though not for its own sake” (emphasis added). This means that it is only by virtue of its union with the Divinity that the Humanity is adorable. Another way that the theologians explain this is to say that Jesus’ Humanity is the “material object” of the worship of latria, but the “formal object” of this worship (the immanent reason or motive for which this honor is rendered) is the Logos, or the Divinity of Our Lord.

I can’t help but throw in some patristic passages Monsignor Pohle uses in his book, Christology. They are wonderfully self explanatory, theological, and devotional:

St. Athanasius: “We by no means adore a creature; this is an error of the heathen and the Arians. But we do adore the Lord of the creature, the God-Logos made flesh. For although the flesh is of itself something created, it has become the body of God. But in adoring this body we do not separate it from the Logos, nor do we detach the Logos, when we wish to adore Him, from His flesh… Who, then, is so foolish as to say to the Lord: ‘Depart from Thy body, that I may adore Thee’?”

St. Epiphanius: “Let no one say to the Only-begotten: Put away Thy body, that I may adore Thee, but adore the Only-begotten One with the body, the Uncreated One with the temple which He assumed at His decent.”

St. John Damascene: “The Flesh is not to be adored in its own nature, but is adored with the Incarnate Logos, not indeed for its own sake, but for the sake of its Logos, with whom it is hypostatically united. For we do not profess that it is the naked, simple flesh which is adored, but the flesh of God, or God made flesh.”

The Sacred Humanity Worthy of Dulia?

There were theologians who argued that the Humanity of Christ, considered independently of the grace of union with the Divinity, was worthy of the cult of dulia (or hyperdulia). The problem with this theory is that, in practice, it would be unthinkable to offer to the adorable Flesh of the Man-God a cult of worship lower than what it deserves by virtue of the Hypostatic Union. It is also unthinkable to abstract the Humanity of Jesus from his Divinity, as if the two existed separately. The book of the Apocalypse tells us “The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and Divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction” (5:12).

What about Relics?

An interesting side issue in this study is the distinction of “relative” and “absolute” latria, dulia, hyperdulia, and protodulia. Do we “adore” (with latria) the relics of the true Cross, the nails, the Shroud of Turin, and other relics of Our Lord? The answer is yes. They are objects of “relative latria” because they are connected, not with a saint, but with the cult of the God-Man. So, too, the relics of the saints are objects of relative dulia, the relics of Our Lady (e.g., her veil) receive the relative cultus hyperduliae, and the relics of Saint Joseph (e.g., his cord) are venerated with relative protodulia.