instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

And now for something complete

So now let me give you one complete email Donald has written in response to the comments previous excerpts have generated:
Dear Tom,

Thank your comboxers on Disputations for some interesting comments. It is useful to know how well one is expressing oneself in trying to discuss matters that pertain to Christ's consciousness and humor (apparently, I'm not doing so well). I did not realize that I would start a fight over what Christ knew, although the matter of humor does involve what one modern theory calls, "knowledge states," in interpreting or creating a joke, and so, Christ's knowledge is a legitimate question.
It's almost impossible to know what is going to start which fight. Who woke up last Friday expecting a clerihew fight?
What does it mean to "get the joke" or to "make a funny"? Humor researchers call this a matter of "joke competence," and it depends on several factors, such as the knowledge that the listener has of the matter under discussion, the interaction (and cueing) from the audience as to what is funny, etc. For example, I once reviewed a book of mathematical humor (yes, there is one, called, Comic Sections, by the Irish mathematician, Desmond Machale) where the punchline to one joke in the book was, "Okay, assume a Borel space..." Now, unless you happen to know some topology or advanced statistics, you might not find this joke funny (except as an example of absurdity). You would have no joke competence for this joke. In order to "get a joke" one has to be able to access the knowledge necessary and actually imagine (at least as an observer) that one is in the possible worlds of the joke.

As I pointed out in my original e-mail, there are some knowledge areas (such as sin) that Christ is not able to access in a direct fashion (although he does know evil by its lack) and there are some knowledge areas which the pre-resurrection apostles did not appreciate (such as walking on water). Jesus can see sin in front of him (such as the woman caught in adultery or the hypocrisy of the Pharisees), but he cannot participate in sin, nor cause another person to sin. We have God's word on it:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Those desires that we have that lead to sin (and form the possible worlds of dirty jokes), Christ cannot have.

The problem here with Chris Sullivan's argument that I have limited Christ's humanity is not that it proves too little, but that it proves too much (by the way, Basil Hall is a colleague and humor research I know from New Zealand, in case Chris want to try to track him down). Christ is fully God and fully man, but Christ is not just fully man, he is The Man (Ecce Homo), the perfect moral man -- he has no moral flaws or imperfections. This must be the case, otherwise, he could not be the "new Adam." He is a man like us, except for sin (as Adam was, originally). Jesus could not tell dirty jokes; I can. My range of possible worlds includes sinful worlds.

Christ cannot have access to those without degrading his human perfection. Christ is excluded from telling dirty jokes. Period. Is this a limitation on his humanity or does our ability to tell dirt jokes reveal a degradation of ours? The problem is not one of his limitations, but of his perfections.

Perfection is itself a limiting process. We hone and strip away all that is not perfect. Jesus is the best of moral men, not the most average. That is the meaning of the sentence, "A MAN like us in all things, but sin. He is the best of us in all things that pertain to the moral life (it is an open question whether or not Christ would be the world's best speed skater if he tried). Jesus is not limited in his ability to tell jokes; rather, his ability to tell jokes is in the nature of that perfection which should belong to all men. That perfection seems like it imposes limitations to a fallen man, who can also sin, but it is the sinful man who has too much room, not Jesus who has too little room to maneuver.

The inability to tell dirty jokes or misjudge people is not just a choice on Christ's part as a man, but it is a necessity of his two natures because of a theological doctrine which comes from the Eastern churches called, perichorisis (or circumincision or co-inherence). Perichorisis is a doctrine which is used to explain the inner life of the Trinity. It says that there is such a loving bond between each member of the Trinity that they share all knowledge and all will. The only thing they do not share is that particular aspect which we would call relationship. Thus, there can never be a disagreement within the Trinity. The term is also used to explain the relationship within the inner life of Christ. He is one person, but two natures, but just as in the Trinity the will of three persons is united, in the hypostatic union the will of Christ's two natures (and to the extent possible in the distinction between finite and infinite beings, the knowledge) are so united in love as to form a perichorisis between Christ's human and divine natures. Thus, whatever will Christ's divine will has, his human reasonable will exactly conforms to it. There are two wills in Christ (to say otherwise is a form of the monothelitism heresy), a divine and a human will, but we may also say that there are sub-categories to that human will and it is only the rational part which necessarily shares a perichoretic nature with divine part.

St. Thomas says in the Summa:
I answer that, As was said (Articles [2],3), in Christ according to His human nature there is a twofold will, viz. the will of sensuality, which is called will by participation, and the rational will, whether considered after the manner of nature, or after the manner of reason. Now it was said above (Question [13], Article [3], ad 1; Question [14], Article [1], ad 2) that by a certain dispensation the Son of God before His Passion "allowed His flesh to do and suffer what belonged to it." And in like manner He allowed all the powers of His soul to do what belonged to them. Now it is clear that the will of sensuality naturally shrinks from sensible pains and bodily hurt. In like manner, the will as nature turns from what is against nature and what is evil in itself, as death and the like; yet the will as reason may at time choose these things in relation to an end, as in a mere man the sensuality and the will absolutely considered shrink from burning, which, nevertheless, the will as reason may choose for the sake of health. Now it was the will of God that Christ should undergo pain, suffering, and death, not that these of themselves were willed by God, but for the sake of man's salvation. Hence it is plain that in His will of sensuality and in His rational will considered as nature, Christ could will what God did not; but in His will as reason He always willed the same as God, which appears from what He says (Mt. 26:39): "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt." For He willed in His reason that the Divine will should be fulfilled although He said that He willed something else by another will.
The distinction between the sensual will and the rational will answers another question beyond humor. Although Christ is a man like us in all things, but sin, this does not mean that he is a man like me in all particulars. This is one of the flaws in using the Evangelical formulation of, "What would Jesus do," to solve problems in life. The question only applies in the moral (reasoning) sphere, not the sensual sphere. Whatever kind of car Jesus would buy would be the perfectly prudent car for him, but not necessarily for me (I might be too short to reach the gas petal or I might not like the color he choses). I might (say) be allergic to wheat; Jesus was not. Jesus could eat the Passover bread; me, it might kill. A woman might be pregnant; Jesus could not be. Christ can will to let suffering touch him, but that will is contingent on his humanity. Unless Jesus were willing to be all manner (i.e., have all possible attributes) of men simultaneously (which would then make him something other than simply man), then we have to say that Christ's suffering in his humanity was his own suffering and not mine, in a unique sense. Christ's sensitivity to sunlight as he was when he walked the earth was probably not what mine is. My (say) easy ability to get a sunburn did not exist in the set of things that Christ suffered in his humanity qua humanity (i.e., in his sensual appetites). Christ does will to understand and share all human pain, including those he had no sensual experience of, such as the pain of pregnancy, but he understands and participates in those suffering that are not uniquely his because he has all knowledge as a direct apprehension in his state of perfection. In fact, due to the way in which he obtains this knowledge, his knowledge of the pain of pregnancy is more direct and clear than that of even the pregnant woman, herself. I don't know if I have stated this clearly enough. In other words, Christ can have particular preferences, even in humor, where the rational will can allow the sensual will some latitude. It cannot in the case of dirty jokes. It can in other forms of wordplay. Thus, Christ's humor is limited more than ours because it runs into the barrier of a perfect rational will which must conform with the divine will.

Thus, my point is that in understanding the range of Christ's humor, we have a tool for probing what it means to be holy.

Donald Casadonte

P.S. On the subject of Christ's consciousness, beyond the link to the Catholic Encyclopedia article already cited in the combox, I would recommend an article at EWTN's website:

The Double Consciousness of Christ

as well as the book by Fr. William Most, The Consciousness of Christ Arlington, VA: Christendom College Press, 1980 . In addition, Ott's, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, has some good articles on the beatific vision and Christ's development. Tom, please thank everyone on the comboxes. These "disputations" have helped to clarify my own thinking. I hope I have given people who read the blog something to think about. I am sorry that I could not give a detailed discussion about how humor operates (there are several theories). Perhaps that would have helped explain what philosophers mean by the use of possible world logic and counterfactual reasoning which is so essential in at least one theory of humor and forms part of my discussion in earlier posts.