Does Jesus Have Parts?

Jul 12, 2023

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

We are pleased to be able to engage with our Souls and Hearts community members on the intersection and the interplay between the natural and the spiritual. Recently Dr. Gerry answered questions from Helen Young, a Resilient Catholic Community member who is deeply considering this intersection and interplay. With Helen’s permission, we are sharing her exchange with Dr. Gerry and I have also added some comment to their conversation. Thank you, Helen for being willing to engage and share with us and with the greater community of Souls and Hearts’ followers.

Thus begins the conversation…

Helen Young:

Dear Dr. Gerry and Dr. Peter,

I was just reading about and pondering in Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen on the topic of God’s simplicity. As I was taught in a moral theology class, God is ultimately perfectly simple (St. Thomas Aquinas deals with this in the Summa). Which to me says, He is perfect unity, there are no parts of God.

I remember being on Dr Peter’s office hours [in the Resilient Catholic Community] and someone asked whether or not Jesus had parts and Dr. Peter, you replied that you think he did. Does that mean when He was here on earth, in His humanity? Does His Divine nature have parts? I would think not since God is “simple.”

I am struggling with the idea of Jesus having parts. I guess if they are fully integrated parts that could make sense. He in His humanity would be perfect humanity – perfectly integrated, a model for us in the path of sanctification. In my understanding so far, I think that the path of becoming a saint is that of fully integrating our parts so that ALL the parts are worshiping, loving, and glorifying God at all times, with the self as the primary conductor of the worshiping, loving and glorifying.

I have attached the pages of Divine Intimacy that got me thinking about all of this. Would love to hear any thoughts you both have on this topic. Thanks.

Helen Young

[From the attached pages of Divine Intimacy that Helen shared]

DIVINE SIMPLICITY 229

PRESENCE OF GOD – O Lord, Thou who art infinite simplicity, simplify my mind and my heart, that I may serve Thee in simplicity of spirit.

MEDITATION

1. God is the unique simple Being because He is one in His essence and in all His perfections. When St. Thomas speaks of God’s simplicity, he presents it as the absence of all that is composite. In God there are not quantitative parts as there are in us who are composed of body and soul. God is simple because in Him there is no matter; He is pure spirit.

Angels are also pure spirits; but angels are composite beings because their essence is like ours, distinct from their existence. The angelic essence does not exist by itself but has only the capacity to exist; in fact, no angel, as likewise no man, can exist if God does not call him to life. In God, on the contrary, there is supreme simplicity, infinitely superior to that of the angels: in Him essence and existence are identical. His essence exists of itself; He is the eternally subsistent Being.

Neither do the innumerable perfections of God create in Him any multiplicity: God is not composed of goodness, beauty, wisdom, justice, but He is, at the same time, the infinitely good, beautiful, wise, and just Being. There is no distinction in Him between substance and quality, because all is substance; His infinite perfections are His very substance. God contains in one, unique and most simple perfection, the perfection of His divine Being, all the multiple perfections we find divided among creatures in addition to thousands and thousands of others, somewhat as a million dollars contains the value of many dollars. God’s simplicity is not, then, poverty, but infinite riches, infinite perfections which we ourselves ought to reflect.

Consider how rich God is in innumerable perfections and how He possesses them all in the same degree. Consider, on the other hand, how poor you are in virtues and if you have any at all, how limited they are, how mixed with faults! Moreover, for one virtue which you possess in some slight degree, how many others you lack! God is simple; you, on the contrary, are complicated!

Dr. Gerry: Hi Helen, Thank you so much for your question and reflections here. This is a fantastic topic and one that I have often asked myself and I’ve had numerous discussions with Dr. Peter and several of our Catholic psychologist friends on this very subject. 

Dr. Peter: I am also glad that you are bringing this up. We are so committed at Souls and Hearts to get our underlying philosophical, theological, and metaphysical principles entirely in accordance with the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church, and these questions are both important and fascinating. This weekly reflection will address concerns that come up about parts work and how to reconcile part work with Catholicism.

Dr. Gerry: My first reaction is to say “yes” to your conclusion. My thought (not an infallible proclamation is that Jesus did have parts as a function of his human nature and not his divine nature. Parts do not have an ontological reality in and of themselves, so they are not separate beings or creatures on their own. I propose that parts are necessary accidents of being human. They correspond to having a human body with a human mind. From a neurobiological perspective I see the parts as operating through neural networks. Jesus had neural networks, emotions, complex thoughts, memories, etc., and therefore, in my view, He had parts. 

We see in the Gospels that Jesus had a variety of emotions and that He experienced temptation and worked out inner conflicts

Jesus modeled for us what it means to appeal to and listen to God the Father. He worked through whatever human conflicts he experienced and His parts ultimately worked together in perfect harmony. Jesus had perfect interior integration. God entered into our humanity, parts and all, in order to show us the way. 

Dr. Peter: I would start by agreeing with you and the Church on the traditional teaching of “divine simplicity.” Fr. John Hardon in his Catholic Dictionary defined the “simplicity of God” as:

The absence of any composition or divisibility in God. According to the Fourth Lateran and First Vatican Councils, God is an “absolutely simple substance or nature” (Denzinger 800). His simplicity is absolute. In him there is no composition of any kind, of substance and accidents, of essence and existence, of nature and person, of power and activity, of genus and specific difference. The theological basis of divine simplicity is that God is pure actuality, which is incompatible with any kind of composition.

One important aspect of divine simplicity is that it tells you who or what God is not – God is not a composite, He is not made up of parts. But divine simplicity doesn’t affirm who or how God is. As Jeff Steele and Thomas Williams describe in their article Complexity without Composition: Duns Scotus on Divine Simplicity:

Unlike other attributes of God, divine simplicity is a negative attribute: it tells us what God is not, namely, that God lacks all metaphysical complexity or composition. God does not have attributes of which he is composed. Rather, God is identical with his attributes. God does not have goodness, he is goodness. God does not have power, he is power. God is an utterly simple being.

I have concerns that we can erroneously flip the negative attributes of divine simplicity into a positive attribute – that divine simplicity means that somehow God is an utterly homogenous or uniform substance that would negate any distinctions among the three Persons of the Trinity in their relationality. It seems to me (and I could be wrong on this) that the relational distinction creates a kind of relational multiplicity among the three Persons that explains how God can love Himself (while all three Persons fully possess one divine nature). Because there is love shared within God, there must be a relationality of some kind within God among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our minds work by composition and division, and, therefore we are limited in our grasp of the Divine Nature. God doesn’t share these human limitations.

The idea of a relational distinction among three Persons in the Trinity does not mean that God in His divine nature has “parts” – God is still one Unity. Protestant IFS therapist and author Jenna Riemersma referred to “One God with three parts” of page 25 in her book Altogether You, reflecting a common misunderstanding among some Christians invested in IFS that God has parts, thereby denying divine simplicity, and engaging in what some call the heresy of partialism. (Riemersma’s book contains some excellent material for Christians interested in IFS, but contains some theological tenets that are incompatible with the Catholic Faith).

In 1078, St. Anselm of Canterbury wrote:

What are You, Lord, what are You; what shall my heart understand You to be? You are, assuredly, life, You are wisdom, You are truth, You are goodness, You are blessedness, You are eternity, and You are every true good. These are many things, and my limited understanding cannot see them all in one single glance so as to delight in all at once. How then, Lord, are You all these things? Are they parts of You, or rather, is each one of these wholly what You are? For whatever is made up of parts is not absolutely one, but in a sense many and other than itself, and it can be broken up either actually or by the mind—all of which things are foreign to You, whom nothing better can be thought. Therefore, there are no parts in You, Lord; neither are You many, but You are so much one and the same with Yourself that in nothing are You dissimilar with Yourself. Indeed, You are unity itself not divisible by any mind. Life and wisdom and the other [attributes], then, are not parts of You, but all are one and each one of them is wholly what You are and what all the others are. Since, then, neither You nor Your eternity which You are have parts, no part of You or of Your eternity is anywhere or at any time, but You exist as a whole everywhere and Your eternity exists as a whole always.

I also recommend an excellent article titled How God is Incomprehensible, Simple, and a Trinity by Francis Beckwith at The Catholic Thing for a more in-depth discussion. For a lighthearted, biting, and funny discussion of common misconceptions of the Trinity and the difficulties of using analogies to capture the essence of our Trinitarian God, check out this 4-minute animation by Hans Fiene of Lutheran Satire titled “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.”

In summary, I agree with you, Helen that God in His divine nature has no parts, even though the three Persons differ in their relations (but not their being or essence). But we have not yet addressed the human nature of Jesus.

Dr. Gerry: I sense that the passage on Divine Simplicity is not referring to the unique and special circumstance of the Incarnation. The fact that Jesus has two natures implies a sort of composite unified within the hypostatic union. God chose the Incarnation as a special moment in time in order to destroy death and create a bridge between us and Him for our salvation. In my thinking this in no way takes away from God’s simplicity but manifests His omnipotence and His love. 

Dr. Peter: I agree with Dr. Gerry that the passages from Divine Intimacy are not addressing the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. (Paragraph 464).

As true man, Jesus’ parts would have accidental form but not substantial form, allowing Jesus in His humanity to be perfectly integrated (see Monty De La Torre’s weekly reflection from April 26, 2023, titled On The Metaphysics Of The Human Person for more on how parts have accidental form but not substantial form). This is a more limited and circumscribed understanding of parts than IFS founder Richard Schwartz proposes, as he believes each part is essentially a separate “person” with a separate innermost self, its own body (see No Bad Parts, p. 18) and its own separate ontological existence.

Jesus was not immune to temptation as seen clearly in Hebrews 4:15, For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. In His humanity, Jesus was like us in many ways. In His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus revealed an interior struggle — And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) – an internal struggle that could reflect tension among His parts.

Dr. Gerry: I’m open to exploring and discussing ways of understanding Jesus as He was in his public ministry versus as He was after the resurrection (and during the transfiguration). However, I would not make conclusions about pre-resurrection and post-resurrection parts in Jesus without further consultation and reflection. It seems Jesus “held back” his divinity while on earth (e.g., the Scriptures repeatedly show Jesus commanding the demons to remain silent — and not to identify him as God) so that we humans could see his perfect humanity, allowing an extraordinary exception when He revealed His full glory on Mount Tabor. His divinity became fully manifested after the resurrection

In any case, we can surely say that Jesus’ divinity and humanity are mysteriously joined in the one person of Jesus. I would say this didn’t so much “change” or “divide” God but it created a way for us to unite with God. I pray that I expressed this correctly and I defer to any eminent and respected Catholic theologians on the topics of the Trinity and Christology. 

I hope my response is helpful. I think this is a very worthy topic. And of course, if you have any reactions to our comments, we’d love to hear them. Agreement is always welcome but I believe a healthy and honest critique only helps all of us get closer to the truth!

Helen Young: Thank you so much for your response. It really helps me to pull together several things I have been thinking about with parts. .Especially thinking about parts and neural networks – this makes so much sense and is how I have been thinking about parts and brain wiring. Would it be correct to say that the dominant parts in us (the ones that show up every day) have deeply wired neural patterns, which is why it may seem more difficult to ask those parts to change their patterns of thinking? And then unburdening would be rewiring the neural pattern?

Your explanation of Jesus and His Parts helps a lot. And the idea that: “Jesus’ divinity and humanity are mysteriously joined in the one person of Jesus. I would say this didn’t so much “change” or “divide” God but it created a way for us to unite with God” is consistent with God being All love and All mercy All the time – and that He is constantly drawing us to Himself.

Would it be correct to say that the dominant parts in us (the ones that show up every day) have deeply wired neural patterns, which is why it may seem more difficult to ask those parts to change their patterns of thinking? And then unburdening would be rewiring the neural pattern?

Dr Gerry: I’m glad my response was helpful! I’m still exploring the connection between parts and neural networks. I think this is a cutting-edge area in the intersection of parts work and neurobiology – so anything I say is speculative and subject to change or require further qualification. But I’d be inclined to agree with you about deeply wired neural networks. I “see” unburdening more as removing a blockage perhaps, freeing up the network to function in a healthier way. I would see “rewiring” as all the work one might do with a part –including unburdening — that helps the part function better and work together with the self and other parts in greater harmony. I think there are also underlying fundamental “affective neural circuits” that need to be reset lest they trigger stronger emotional responses in our parts.

Dr. Peter: Many thanks to our consulting philosopher, Monty De La Torre for reviewing this weekly reflection as well. Dr. De La Torre recommends the following reading for those who want to pursue these themes more deeply:

Edward Feser’s (2017) Five Proofs of the Existence of God — A great resource on the Divine Attributes.

Edward Feser’s (2009) blog post titled William Lane Craig on divine simplicity

Edward Feser’s (2019) blog post titled Scotus on divine simplicity and creation

Thomas Joseph White’s (2022) book The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God

Thomas Joseph White’s (2017) book The Incarnate Lord: A Thomistic Study in Christology


 

Be With the Word for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Four Ways to Hear with the Heart

Come join Dr. Gerry and me for a 34-minute discussion as we invite you to listening more deeply, not just with your ears or your mind, but with your heart. We explore the parable of the sower and the seed and how to be much more receptive to the touches of God in our lives in our 38-minute episode for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Dr. Gerry and I read the Mass readings for this Sunday aloud here.

Conversation hours

Just a reminder that every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern time I am available on my cell (317.567.9594) for private conversations about these weekly reflections and the IIC podcast. We can spend some time discussing themes and the content of the Souls and Hearts human formation resources together.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S. Please keep up the prayers for us at Souls and Hearts, and for all those we serve. Dr. Gerry and I chose St. John the Baptist as our patron because he “prepared the way for the Lord” — which reflects our mission in Souls and Hearts to help you prepare the way for the Lord through human formation. We regularly pray the St. John the Baptist novena prayer for all of us in Souls and Hearts:

O Holy St. John, from all eternity you were chosen to prepare the way for Our Lord Jesus Christ. We implore your intercession for Souls and Hearts, for all of our members in their work and for all those we serve.

Pray for us that we may receive the courage and strength to persevere in announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ, who came to seek and save the lost, to heal the broken hearted and to bind up their wounds.

May we be guided by the Holy Spirit with good words of counsel for those in need. May we be strengthened by your prayers and good example as we prepare the way for the healing power of Jesus to heal and transform those entrusted to our care.

We ask all of this through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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