Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thoughts on Clark's Two-Person Theory of the Incarnation

During the fourth and fifth centuries the church was disturbed by many controversies, but the most prominent seems to have been the debate about Christ. Who, precisely, was Jesus Christ? Was Christ both God and man? Was he the first of all creatures? Was he God in a body? Was he one of the modes of God the Father? Was he merely a man? Was he two persons, Jesus of Nazareth and the Second Person of the Trinity? The debate was lively and acrimonious… 
 The relationship that obtains between the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, and Jesus is unique, unlike that between the Logos and every other man who comes into the world (see John 1:9). The Logos did not merely light the mind of Christ; the Logos Himself is fully in Christ. Christ could therefore say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” No mere prophet could make such an astounding claim. Prophets, inspired by God, possess some of the divine propositions. Christ, however, possesses them all, as the author of Hebrews argues in his first chapter. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. 
 If, as seems to be the case, we now have a solution to the puzzles of the Incarnation, a solution that avoids the contradictions and meaningless words of the traditional formulations, a solution that is supported by Scripture itself, we are obliged to accept it. Jesus Christ was and is both God and man, a divine person and a human person. To deny either is to fall into error. Once the key terms are defined and clearly understood, the Incarnation is an even more stupendous and awe-inspiring miracle than the Church has hitherto surmised. (The Incarnation, pgs. 77-78)
So begins and ends Clark’s book on the Incarnation, summaries written by John Robbins but which faithfully represents what Clark himself argues throughout the book: Jesus Christ, was and is both God and man, a divine person and a human person; he, Christ, was two persons, Jesus of Nazareth and the Second Person of the Trinity.

To some extent, Clark et. al. may be justified in complaining that theologians throughout church history haven’t provided precise definitions of “person” or “nature.” As historical theology is not my primary area of interest, I can’t say. More troubling is the point that it seems Clark exchanged one problem for another. 

Consider: if it is a problem to say Jesus is one person with two natures or minds or whatnot, why is it not a problem to say Jesus is one subject? Notice in the above summaries that Jesus Christ is still a single subject, evidenced by the use of singular personal pronouns. He was two persons. Jesus Christ” was and is both a divine person an a human person. 

By rejecting the one-person view of the Incarnation, what means does Clark have by which to unify or identify the human person with the divine person”? To say “Christ is a human person and divine person” is still to imply a single subject, Christ, which somehow unifies or identifies the two persons with each other. Well, how? Further, if Clark or any other advocate of a two-person theory of the Incarnation were to [have] explain[ed] why there can be a single subject, why can’t one simply define “person” according to that explanation?

I recently defined a person as “an ego, a mind or minds capable of reflexive indexation.” (link). I explicitly stated an ego can be “minds...” (plural) with the case of the Incarnation in mind. That is, both minds have the same referent in mind when each affirms statements using the first person pronoun “I.” Of course, the reasons those statements may be true may differ in respect to the natures (or attributes) which the Incarnate Son possesses, but the central point is that “I” is a reference to the ego, not the mind. In other words, I reject Clark’s equation of mind with ego. A mind necessarily implies an ego, but it does not necessarily preclude another mind.

Now, just as in my departure from Clark’s view of the Trinity, I am sure my departure from his view of the Incarnation will leave more cynical Scripturalists wondering why I still identify with Clark at all. For one thing, I think Clark is most well-known for his epistemological views, views with which I am in broad agreement. For another, Clark himself encouraged critical evaluation and modification of his own Trinitarian and Incarnational proposals. Though many of his followers seem to think so, Clark clearly did not consider what he wrote to be beyond revision:
The discussion of the main problem in the doctrine of the Trinity may now be called completed, even if it is not complete. Other students and scholars may add to, subtract from, modify, contradict, or otherwise alter the foregoing. Such responses would be a great improvement over the present almost universal neglect of the doctrine. It would turn the attention of the somewhat faithful churches from their sociological sentimentalism to the basic doctrine of the Bible. (The Trinity, Individuation)  
...I have offered a definition of the term person. Most people will find it queer, Most theologians will find it unacceptable. Well and good, let them formulate and propose a different definition. That is the honest and logical thing to do. Then there will be an intelligible subject of discussion. One can reasonably suppose that it could be a better definition than mine. But even if not, it could not be branded as meaningless nonsense (The Incarnation, pgs. 75-76)
Hopefully, those who disagree with me will follow Clark’s prescription and concentrate on the arguments rather than the arguers. My views are not above revision either, and especially in respect to areas in which I have not put years of study, I am willing to change my beliefs. But for now, what I argue is obviously what makes the most sense to me.


徐马可 said...


Can you show me something you wrote or other wrote on the precise epistemological system of Dr. Clark? (If he has time and space theory, I would like to know that, too)



Ryan said...

Clark didn't write much on time or space. As far as I'm aware, this article is as much as he interacts with time and space. Maybe he covers them somewhat in Thales to Dewey, especially in his section on Augustine.

I've written numerous articles on Clark's epistemology, which you can find by clicking the label with his name on the sidebar. Two of them placed in TrinityFoundation essay contests. Of the two, this one is better. This is the other. You can find the unedited versions on my blog under the same titles.

Patrick McWilliams said...

In your construction, I'm assuming it would be impossible for there to be a communication between the two minds in an "I-you" sense. Correct?

Ryan said...


Patrick McWilliams said...

Why not?

What do you think of Clark's pointing out that nobody had any idea of individual egos prior to Descartes?

Ryan said...

"Why not?"

Because a single mind is not necessarily a person or an ego, as evidenced by the fact both of Christ's minds have the same referent in mind when they assent to propositions in which the word "I" is used.

"What do you think of Clark's pointing out that nobody had any idea of individual egos prior to Descartes?"

It's a fairly sweeping claim for one who was not an empiricist.

Patrick McWilliams said...

Your first answer seems like special pleading. Why are Christ's minds different than other minds, other than you wish them to be?

I'm not sure I understand your second answer. Do you mean Clark could not empirically know the history of philosophy?

Ryan said...

"Your first answer seems like special pleading. Why are Christ's minds different than other minds, other than you wish them to be?"

I didn't say they were different, for I didn't say a mind was a person. I didn't say a mind such as yours or mine refers to itself when it assents to propositions in which "I" is used. The referent of "I" is never the mind but rather the person or ego who possesses the mind.

"I'm not sure I understand your second answer. Do you mean Clark could not empirically know the history of philosophy?"

Yes. In your citation, Clark was clearly just giving his opinion. That's fine, but I don't think it's very relevant to whether my or Clark's position is true.

Patrick McWilliams said...

Actually, you defined an ego as "a mind or minds..." not something which possesses a mind.

Ryan said...

Updated for clarification, thanks. I meant a ego possesses a mind or minds, not that he just is them, as is evident from my statement:

"...the central point is that “I” is a reference to the ego, not the mind. In other words, I reject Clark’s equation of mind with ego."

Patrick McWilliams said...

That does clear up your view, although it leaves you open to Clark's criticism of positing an unknown "substance". Ego no longer has a definition (that I can see), only that it (whatever it is) possesses a mind or minds). If an ego reflexively indexes propositions, how is it not a mind itself?

Ryan said...

In one respect yes, and in another, no. I suggest you read this post in which I explain why Clark's propositional idealism or monism does injustice to Scripture as well as how to account for a physical or mental Ding-an-sich (thing-in-itself) given Scripturalism. Particularly:

//For the Father to think “I am Creator” presupposes a creation, the truthmaker for that proposition. But if God metaphysically just is what He thinks [comment: Clark's view] and one of His thoughts is dependent upon the fact of creation, God is metaphysically dependent on creation.//


The contrast between physical phenomena and spiritual noumena, the assertion that the former is patterned after the latter, and his assertion both are real all seem to coincide with my own views... While I agree that there is no knowledge that is non-propositional (in the philosophic sense anyway), the implication that the created world is a knowable object rather than a Ding-an-sich calls into question just how visible phenomena contrasts with invisible noumena. Is the contrast merely that phenomena is ephemeral whereas noumena is not? Are both propositions? If phenomena is not propositional, is the assertion of such not an assertion of the existence of an unknowable Ding-an-sich?... I think a better definition [comment: than Clark's] would be that a person is an ego, the possessor of a mind or minds capable of reflexive indexation. These words could each be defined and each definition could be true without its being the case that some “real” Ding-an-sich can’t correspond to them. I think the so-called empirical representational theory of truth in which truth images the physical reality to which it merely corresponds scared Clark away from any type of correspondence – hence the seeming propositional monism. As can be seen in his book The Incarnation, it seems to have had significant consequences. But if we maintain the general priority of the noumena over the phenomena – or more broadly, propositional Ideas to things-in-themselves – I think these hazards can be avoided.