Fully God, Fully Man

To Celtic Christians, doctrine mattered. It should matter to us, too.

A Celtic Christian Worldview (5)

The Son in time assumed human flesh that was free from all sin; he possessed a human nature having a soul that was discerning, understanding, and wise, leaving aside [as apart from] his divine nature, so that his humanity might be made complete; the Son who outside time is [the Son] of God the Father assumed this so that he who was in his divinity the Son of God should likewise become in his human nature the Son of Man.

  - The Book of the Order of Creatures I.5[1]

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

- John 1.14

God Who made the world and everything in it was not content that His creation should languish in sin and be destroyed. He sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to accomplish in human flesh a mission only He could fulfill. Fully God and fully Man, Jesus did what no one else could do, bearing our sins away on the cross, and opening access to God the Father through His own righteousness and resurrection from the dead.

Celtic Christians rightly understood, embraced, rejoiced in, and proclaimed this glorious mission as our only hope of salvation.

I prefer Dr. Marina Smyth’s translation of a portion of this excerpt from the Liber de Ordine Creaturarum. Where Rev. Davies has “leaving aside his divine nature,” Dr. Smyth translates the Latin phrase, “excepta divina natura,” as “apart from his divine nature.”[2] I feel certain this is what Rev. Davies intends, but his translation could be taken to imply that Jesus was only a man, albeit a perfect and sinless one, and that nothing of the divine nature was present in Him during His incarnation.

In the fourth century, such an interpretation would have played into the hands of the followers of Arius, the Alexandrian elder who taught that Jesus was only a man, and only became God by His faith and obedience. The Arians insisted that Jesus was a creature like we are; that He was not the only-begotten Son of God, and not even always God; and that He became God after a life of heroic and faithful effort. Thus, he was like God (they used the term, ὁμοιούσιος, homoiousios, like God), whereas the orthodox insisted that Jesus was ὁμοούσιος, homoousios, the same as God (a distinction made by the insertion or omission of one Greek letter; can you see which?).

Thus, the Arians propounded a salvation by good works, as if to say, “Jesus became God and you can, too.”

Rev. Davies does not intend this idea, and I think Dr. Smyth’s translation avoids any confusion. Jesus was fully God and, along with His Divinity, He was fully Man, the Son of God and Son of Man in one unique Person. 

The point for our purposes is that Celtic Christians were careful to make sure that their faith lined up with historic Christianity. They were not heretics. They did not make up their view of the faith as they went along, adjusting what they believed to suit the people among whom they ministered. They stood on solid orthodox ground and preached Christ, just as the Scriptures taught and the Nicene Creed and Formula of Chalcedon had acknowledged Him, against any heretical or pagan teaching to the contrary.

Celtic Christians, like the anonymous author of our treatise, felt no compulsion to bend with the intellectual breezes of the day. When Columbanus, a year from his death, arrived in Italy and established his foundation at Bobbio, he set about immediately to write a defense, now missing, of the orthodox faith against the Arian beliefs of the local king and the Catholic bishops among whom he served. He poked them in the i, so to speak, for he was not about to conform to their heretical view, simply because that’s what everyone believed at the time.

Why do I belabor this point? Simply because the faith of Jesus Christ has been handed down to His people and by His saints, once-for-all (Jude 3). It is settled and unchanging. We are not free to make adjustments to suit the people we’re trying to serve, or to set aside parts of that faith which we find difficult to understand or inconvenient to obey. Every generation of Christians must embrace the once-for-all faith that has Jesus, the Son of God, living, dying, rising again, reigning, and returning to accomplish the good and holy and wise purposes of God for our salvation, without adding so much as a clever or convenient iota to satisfy the demands of some constituency.

If we do not hold fast to the faith of Scripture and the historic teachings of faithful Christians, we will become susceptible to being blown off course by every fickle wind of doctrine that wafts by, feeling breezy and cool. In the confession of our faith, making sure our t’s are crossed and our i’s are dotted, matters. Celtic Christians understood this, and the lesson for us from them is that we must make sure of this, too.

Questions for Reflection
1.  How much do you know about the great creeds of the Christian faith, what they are, how they were arrived at, and why they matter? Is this ever taught in your church? Should it be?

2.  How can you tell whether a teacher or teaching you may be considering is in line with the faith handed down once-for-all to the saints?

Psalm 78.1-5 (Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
Give ear, O my people, attend to my word, 
dark sayings and parables sent from the Lord, 
things we have before by our fathers been told, 
which we would not dare from our children withhold.

The glorious deeds of our God in His might, 
and all of the works He has done in our sight, 
together with all of the words of His Law, 
would we on ourselves and our children bestow.

Teach me Your way, O Lord, and help me to stand firm in the true faith of Jesus, so that I…

What is it to know God?

This is the question addressed in our book, To Know Him. Order a copy for yourself and a friend. Read it together, and learn how you can grow in eternal life with great joy and fruitfulness. Order your copies of To Know Him by clicking here.

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T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe PsalterScripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1]Davies, p. 2

[2]Marina Smyth, “The Seventh-Century Hiberno-Latin Treatise Liber de Ordine Creaturarum. A Translation,” University of Notre Dame, nd., p. 30.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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