Christ’s Theandric Role in our Sanctification

Here is the assignment: “The Church teaches that Christ is truly human and truly divine. Comment on the significance of each of the aspects of the mystery of Christ with regard to our sanctification and our salvation.” The title I gave it for the blog uses the word “theandric,” which Father John Hardon, S.J. , defines as follows:

“Literally ‘God human,’ referring to those actions of Christ in which he used the human nature as an instrument of his divinity. Such were the miracles of Christ. Other human activities of Christ, such as walking, eating, and speaking, are also theandric, but in a wider sense inasmuch as they are human acts of a divine person. The purely divine acts, such as creation, are not called theandric.”

In The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God, Father Paul M. Quay, S.J., speaks of two inadequate kinds of Christology: that of modern theology, with its Subordinationist and Adoptionist tendencies, and the more common misunderstanding of “devout Catholics,” who sometimes tend toward Monophysitism.[1] These Christological errors, which detract from the divine and human natures respectively, are a particular concern for Father Quay because his systematic treatment of the spiritual life is an amplification of St. Irenaeus’ profound doctrine of the “recapitulation” (anakephalaiosis).

St. Irenaeus’ theology is a development of Saint Paul’s doctrine in Ephesians (1:10) of the “recapitulation” of all things in Christ: All human history, from Adam to his last son, are “recapitulated” in Christ so that what went wrong in Adam will be made right in the Second Adam. The first man, created in grace, was made in God’s image and likeness. Original sin made him forfeit the likeness (his participation in divine nature by grace, i.e., his divine adoption), while he retained the image (his rational nature). In Christ, man is restored to his participation in the divine nature via a divine Person’s assuming human nature. Jesus being the “deified man” par excellence, he restores man to God in himself.

This one passage from the Bishop of Lyons will suffice to show the dependence his notion of recapitulation has on orthodox teaching concerning the two natures:

“For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that might receive the adoption of sons?”[2]

It is plain from this passage that St. Irenaeus excels by far any minimalist notion of salvation which makes man merely “forgiven” by virtue of Christ’s atoning death. Yes, regenerated man is forgiven, but more, he is restored to communion with God. By the activity of the one “mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,”[3] men are “made partakers of the divine nature.”[4]

This mediation of Christ is absolutely dependant on the real integrity of his two natures. To vitiate the divinity would make the agent (Christ) inadequate to the task of divinizing. Since this redemption in its fullness is a communication of the divine nature to man, the mediator has to be truly God, a truth powerfully asserted by St. Athanasius: “He became man so that we might be made God.”[5]

On the other hand, to detract from the full humanity would render this divine agent no real mediator. A common patristic utterance, variously stated by different fathers, holds that “What Christ did not assume, he could not redeem.”

The patristic teaching on deification (or theosis, as it is called in the Eastern Churches) is fully incorporated into St. Thomas’ rich theology of grace. In his Summa Theologiae, he cites St. Augustine in a turn of phrase similar to that of St. Athanasius’ just referenced: “The full participation of the Divinity… is the true bliss of man and end of human life; and this is bestowed upon us by Christ’s humanity, for Augustine says in a sermon: ‘God was made man, that man might be made God.'”[6]

The old Missale Romanum gave liturgical expression to this in its offertory prayers. In that rite, when the celebrant adds water to the wine, he prays: “Grant that by the Mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His divinity, who vouchsafed to be made partaker of our humanity, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Thy Son…”

When St. Thomas speaks of deification being “bestowed upon us by Christ’s humanity,” he introduces a theme that will receive fuller development in the Summa. This he does by way of sounding the depths of St. John Damascene’s assertion that Christ’s humanity is “the instrument of his divinity.”[7] As the Master of Aquino thereby treats the mechanics of how the two Natures of Christ work together in our sanctification and salvation, we find his thought particularly ad rem to the present question. We say this because St. Thomas’ theology seamlessly weds Christology to Mystical Theology, rather than compartmentalizing them into separate “tracts.”

The Dominican Doctor was not satisfied to speak of Christ’s humanity simply as an instrument: it is a “joined instrument,” (like a hand) as distinguished from a “separated instrument” (like a hammer or chisel). According to Father Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., this concept of the “joined instrument” developed in the mind of the Doctor to such an extent that grace was conceived not simply as “divine grace” but “Christian grace”: “in all the later work [of St. Thomas], grace is not only divine, it is ‘Christian'”[8] If a wood worker employs a chisel to fashion a piece of wood into a beautiful piece of workmanship, the woodworker is the primary agent, but the chisel will leave its marks in the character of the final product, no matter how flawlessly the artisan employs it. Christ, the divine artist, leaves his human “marks” on those to whom he mediates grace. Truly, then, grace makes us “Christ-like.”

For Father Torrell, this leads into a consideration of St. Thomas’ theology of the mysteries of Christ’s life, and our participation in those mysteries.

If it is principally his Passion that effects our salvation, it is no less true to say that Our Lord saves us by his every little act, all of his mysteries, since the entire Incarnational economy is “for us men and for our salvation.” Because they are the acts of an eternal Person, these mysteries bear an everlasting character and are not merely moral models leaving their impress in history, but are present ontological realties which can be communicated to us by grace.

Abbot Marmion made this doctrine his own in saying that “The mysteries of Jesus have this characteristic that they are ours as much as they are His.”[9] He postulates three reasons why this is the case:

  1. “Because Christ Lived them for us.”
  2. “[I]n all of them, Christ shows Himself to us as our Exemplar.”
  3. “[A] deeper, and more intimate [reason]… in His mysteries, Christ makes but one with us.”[10]

The third reason is bound up with the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, whereby, in the words of St. Augustine, Christ the Head and we, his members make up “The Whole Christ.” The members of this Body, are “in Christ,” as St. Paul states so many times. At the Mass – the social worship of the Mystical Body – we can therefore glorify the Father, “through him, with him, and in him.”

For Dom Marmion, our sharing in Christ’s mysteries is a fruitful doctrine of the spiritual life. Christ’s Mysteries are things past, but their power endures, and we can partake of the virtue of all his acts – of his whole earthly – life through prayer. His theology takes on a particular refinement when the Blessed Abbot asserts that each mystery upon which we meditate imbues us with grace specific to a certain end, much as each sacrament carries with it a specific “sacramental grace” a pledge of actual graces which bear a certain relation to the sacrament (e.g., the grace of state for Orders or Matrimony, the grace of penitence and contrition for Penance, etc.). According to the Abbot of Maredsous, meditation on the Passion will gain for the Christian a certain share in Christ’s fortitude and self-giving; reflecting on his Nativity and infancy mysteries will help us to become more childlike; while prayerful consideration of the glorious mysteries makes us “alive unto God.”[11]

This is a fuller development of what Father Joseph Koterski touches upon this in the class notes: “It is God’s will that we be united ever more closely with Christ (see Ephesians 4:12-15) so that we can be transformed in Christ. His actions in history retain their salvific efficacy for all eternity, for He has ascended in glory and still intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.”[12]

The core doctrine of Christ in His Mysteries practically enters the life of the Christian by a real participation in the Mysteries of Christ during the annual cycle of the Church’s Liturgy. This is the basis for that school of piety called “liturgical,” which gives us such spiritual masters as Dom Marmion’s fellow Benedictine Abbot, Dom Prosper Guéranger (The Liturgical Year), and, later, the Augustinian Canon Regular, Dom Pius Parch (The Year of Grace). These spiritual writers were deeply imbued with the doctrine of Christ’s Mystical Body and their works seek to lead the reader to salutary considerations of the events of Christ’s life as ever-fruitful springs of sanctification.

Another practical consideration of the instrumentality of Christ’s humanity concerns the sacraments. While Christ’s sacred humanity is used as an instrument by the divinity, the sacraments are its own instruments – “separated instruments” – which impart Christ’s deiform grace to Christians. Thus, the inner life of the Trinity is communicated – as gratia Dei – to the humanity of Christ (an instrument joined to the Logos), and in turn, comes to man as gratia Christi via the separated instruments of the seven sacraments. In this light, the old offertory prayers, referenced earlier, have a certain fittingness inasmuch as the divine partaking they speak of is presented to the mind of the worshipping priest and faithful moments before that partaking is to be effected liturgically and sacramentally in the consecration and subsequent communion.

The Blessed Virgin’s role in our sanctification and salvation follows from this intensely Christological approach to Mystical Theology. As Mater Digna of the Incarnate Word, she is Mother of God and Mother of (regenerated) man; Mother, in short, of the “Whole Christ.” “Mary’s divine maternity is necessarily linked to her spiritual maternity as Mother of grace, which follows as a logical consequence from the fact that she is Mother of Christ.”[13]


Aquinas, Thomas, St., Summa Theologiae, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Online Edition: Kevin Knight, 2003. Online, available at:

Aumann, Jordan, O.P., Spiritual Theology. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1980.

Jurgens, William A., The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. I. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1970.

Marmion, Right Rev. Dom Columba, O.S.B., Christ in His Mysteries. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1931.

Torrell, Jean-Pierre, O.P., Saint Thomas Aquinas, Vol. 2, Spiritual Master, trans. Robert Royal. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003.

[1] Quay, Paul M. S.J., The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God (New York: Peter Lang Publishing , Inc., 2002) p. 245. (This is not a book I recommend!)

[2] Irenaeus of Lyons, St., Adversus Haereses, Book III, Chapter 19,

[3] 1 Tim. 2:5.

[4] 2 Pet. 1:4.

[5] Athanasius, St., Treatise on the Incarnation of the Word, in William A Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. I, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1970) p. 322. Elsewhere St. Athanasius uses this notion as an apologetic against the Arians. The doctrine of theosis being common to heretics and orthodox alike, the Saint was appealing to the common doctrine to show the inadequacy of a non-divine agent of divinization.

[6] Aquinas, Thomas, St., Summa Theologiae, IIIa Q. 1, A. 2, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (Online Edition: Kevin Knight, 2003)

[7] Summa Theologiae, Ia IIae Q. 112 A. 1, cited in Torrell, Jean-Pierre, O.P., Saint Thomas Aquinas, Vol. 2, Spiritual Master, trans. Robert Royal (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003) p. 128.

[8] Torrell, op. cit.

[9] Marmion, Right Rev. Dom Columba, O.S.B., Christ in His Mysteries, trans. a nun of Tyburn Convent (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1931) p. 10 (Italics in original).

[10] Ibid., pp. 11-13

[11] Rom. 6:11.

[12] Class notes for Lecture Three: “Life in Christ: the Way, the Truth, and the Life,”

[13] Aumann, Jordan, O.P., Spiritual Theology (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1980). Online; available at: