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Kenosis

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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(κένωσις ), a Greek term signifying the act of emptying or self-divestiture, employed by modern German divines to express the voluntary humiliation of Christ in his incarnate state. It is borrowed from, the expression of Paul, " But made himself of no reputation (ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, emptied himself)," etc. (Philippians 2:7). The same self-abasement is indicated in other passages of Scripture; e.g. the Son laid aside the glory which he had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5), and became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9). This term touches the essential difficulty in the doctrine of the incarnation. That difficulty seems to consist in the supposition that the Logos in his absolute infinitude of being and attributes united himself in one personality with an individual created man. On the other hand, it has been alleged as an objection to the kenosis theory that "to assume any self-limitation on the part of God is inconsistent with the unchangeableness of the divine Being." But God's immutability is that perfection by virtue of which his will and nature remain in constant harmony. Every change must, as a matter of course, be rejected that would bring God's will or nature in conflict with each other. But any act on the part of God, affecting his existence internally or externally, that is in harmony with the divine will and being, is consistent with the divine immutability. To deny such acts on the part of God is to deny the living God Himself. A God without a motion internally or externally would be, according to the Scriptures, a nullity, a dead God, an idol. "The very idea," says Ebrard, "of God as the living one implies the possibility of a self- limitation or change of self, of course of such a change by which God continues as God, and out of which he has at all times the power of asserting his infinitude. In the divine Being this is possible through the Trinity.

As the triune God, there is in his being the possibility for him to distinguish himself from himself also in time, i.e. to receive within himself the difference between existence within time and out of time." That the Son of God can become a man without thereby destroying his true divinity even the fathers of the Church taught. Tertullian says: "God can change himself into everything and yet remain (in substance) what he is." Hilary says: "The form of God and the form of a servant can indeed not unqualifiedly become a unity; they rather exclude one another as such. But how does their union become a possibility? Answer: Only by giving up the one, the other can be assumed. But he that has emptied himself, and taken upon himself the form of a servant, is therefore not a different person. To give up a form does not imply the destruction of its substance. Exactly in order to prevent this destruction the act of self-emptying goes only far enough to constitute the form of a servant."' Ebrard makes the fitting comparison: " If a crown prince, in order to set others free, should go for the time being into voluntary servitude, he would be, to all intents and purposes, a servant, and, as he has not forfeited his claims to the crown, also a prince, so that he could with propriety be called both servant and a prince: in the same manner Jesus was the true and eternal God, and at the same time a true and real man; and it can be said with propriety of him, the Son of God is man, and the man Jesus Christ is God." To this is added by the author of Die biblische Glaubenslehre (published by the "Calwer Verein"): "The same is the case with man, who, notwithstanding the various changes of his circumstances here, and the great changes which he shall undergo in the resurrection, is still the same person. We meet even in God with a change of conditions. He rested before and after he had created the world; does not this imply a self-limitation on the part of God? And what self- limitations does not God impose upon himself with regard to human liberty! The omnipresence of God is no infinite diffusion, but has its definite starting-point; and if God is not as near to the wicked as he is to the pious, this is likewise an act of self-limitation on God's part over against the ungodly. Again, the personality of God, what else is it than a self-comprehension of the infinite ? Yet in all these self-limitations God remains God. Should, then, the Son not be able to remain in substance what he is, if, out of compassion for fallen humanity, he becomes a man, and, in order to become a mal, lays aside his divine glory?"

This leads us, then, to the main question, What have we to understand by the divine glory which the Son laid aside during his sojourn on earth ? To this question the Christologians who adopt the kenosis return different answers. We are met here again by the old difficulty to unite the divine and the human in one self-consciousness. The question is this, Whether the self- consciousness of the Godman is the divine self-consciousness of the eternal Son, or the self-consciousness of the assumed human nature? Gess (Gesch. d. Dogmatik) takes the latter view, and says that, in order to do justice to the true humanity of Jesus Christ, it is necessary to consistently carry out the self-emptying act of the Logos, so that the Son of God in the act of the incarnation laid aside the divine attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, together with his divine self-consciousness, and regained the latter gradually in the way of a really human development, in such a manner as not to affect the true and real divinity of Christ. Whether a temporary laying aside of the divine self-consciousness is consistent with the immutability of the divine Being we need not discuss here. The argumentation of Gess is very acute, and may appear to the metaphysician the most consistent and satisfactory analysis of the personal union of the divine and the human in the person of Christ; but exegetically it seems to us untenable, nor is it fit for the practical edification of the Christian people, and a theology that cannot be preached intelligibly from the pulpit is justly to be suspected . We conclude with Liebner and other Christologians that by the glory which the Son of God laid aside during his sojourn. on earth we must not understand his divine self-consciousness, not the fulness of the Deity, as far as it can manifest itself in a human nature. On the contrary, it is said of this very glory, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, a glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.... And of his fulness we all have received grace for grace." This divine fulness the Son did not give up at his incarnation, but it followed him as his peculiar property from heaven, from out of the Father's bosom, to legitimate him as the Logos, as the only begotten of the Father, yet so that he turned it into a divine-human glory, acquired in. a human manner. Only the form of God, the divine form of existence, consequently the transcendent divine majesty and sovereign power over all things, united with uninterrupted glory, he exchanged, at his incarnation and during the time of his sojourn on earth, for his human form of existence, for the form of the servant. Into this his antemundane glory, however, he re-entered (John 17:5) on his going home to his Father (John 6:62), also in the capacity of the exalted Son of man (Philippians 2:9).

But in every stage of his divine-human development the Son's oneness of being and of will With the Father remained, and by this very fact he was in his human teaching and conduct the express image of the invisible God, the personal revealer of him who had sent him, the Son of God in the form of human existence. According to this view, the immanent relation of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost did not suffer any change by the laying aside of the divine form of existence on the part of the Son, nor during the time of his existence in human form. Only according to this view also have the words of the incarnate Son of God their full force: "Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; if not, believe me for the very works' sake. The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (John 14:10-11). If it be objected that the really human development of Jesus is inconsistent with or excluded by the continuance of the eternal self-consciousness of the Logos in the incarnation, we answer that this inference does not necessarily follow. There is nothing self-contradictory in the assumption that the incarnate Logos had in his one Ego a consciousness of his twofold nature. Even if we cannot explain how the Logos was conscious of himself as the eternal Son of God, and yet had this. self-consciousness only in a human form, yet the. consciousness of his twofold nature was necessary for the mediatorial office of the incarnate Logos; he was to know himself according to his absolute divinity and his human' development; and if we suppose that of his divine self-consciousness only so much as was necessary for his. mediatorial office passed over into his human self-consciousness, this double self-consciousness is in perfect agreement with his purely human life and with his mediatorial office. As to the divine attributes or powers that are connected with the divine self-consciousness, there is nothing. self- contradictory in the supposition that the divine Ego of the Logos acted in concert with the powers of human nature, with human self-consciousness, and human volition, if we adopt the above-mentioned relative self limitation of the divine knowledge and will as necessary for the mediatorial office. But even if by this view of the personal oneness of the divine and the human in Christ the metaphysical difficulty should not be fully removed, we would prefer confessing the unfathomable depth of this mystery to any philosophical solution of the problem which we could not fully reconcile with the plain teachings of the Word of God.

One of the latest and most striking presentations of this self-abnegation on the part of our Lord is that found in Henry Ward Beecher's Life of Jesus (i, 50), which we here transcribe, omitting its monothelitism and anthropopathy: "The divine Spirit came into the world in the person of Jesus, not bearing the attributes of Deity in their full disclosure and power. He came into the world to subject his spirit to that whole discipline and experience through which every man must pass. He veiled his royalty; he folded back, as it were, within himself those ineffable powers which belonged to him as a free spirit in heaven. He went into captivity to himself, wrapping in weakness and forgetfulness his divine energies while he was a babe. 'Being found in fashion as a man,' he was subject to that gradual unfolding of his buried powers which belongs to infancy and childhood. 'And the child grew and waxed strong in spirit.' He was subject to the restrictions which hold and hinder common men. He was to come back to himself little by little. Who shall say that God cannot put himself into finite conditions? Though a free spirit God cannot grow, yet as fettered in the flesh he may. Breaking out at times with amazing power in single directions, yet at other times feeling the mist of humanity resting upon his brows, he declares, 'Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.' This is just the experience which we should expect in a being whose problem of life was, not the disclosure of the full power and glory of God's natural attributes, but the manifestation of the love of God, and of the extremities of self-renunciation to which the divine heart would submit, in the rearing up of his family of children from animalism and passion. The incessant looking for the signs of divine power and of infinite attributes in the earthly life of Jesus, whose mission it was to bring the divine Spirit within the conditions of feeble humanity, is as if one should search a dethroned king in exile, for his crown and his sceptre. We are not to;look for a glorified, an enthroned Jesus, but for God manifest in the flesh; and in this view the very limitations and seeming discrepancies in a divine life become congruous parts of the whole sublime problem."

Most theologians, however, will see in this progressive development of Jesus rather the growth of the human faculties as shone upon by the inward sun of divine life; and in the alternate lights and shades of the Redeemer's career, not so much the vicissitudes imposed upon the enshrined Deity by the earthly abode, as the :mutual play of the divine and the human natures, now one and now the other specially manifesting itself. Indeed, the theory of a somewhat double consciousness, if we may so express it, or at least an occasional (and in early life a prolonged) withdrawal of the divine cognitions from the human intellect, and thus of the full divine energies from the human will, seems to be required in order to meet the varying aspects under which the .compound life of Jesus presents itself in the Gospels. Certainly the union of the divine Spirit with a mere 'human body is a heathen theophany, not a Christian incarnation. Indeed, the "flesh" which the Saviour assumed, in its Scripture sense, has reference to human nature as such, its mental and spiritual faculties not less than its physical. The problem, therefore, still is to adjust the God to the man. This, of course, can only be done by conceiving of the infinite as assuming finite relations, and this, in short, is the meaning of Kenosis. (See HUMILIATION).

This topic became a subject of controversy in the first part of the 17th century between the theologians of Giessen and those of Tubingen; the former (Menzer and Feuerbourn) contending that Christ during his state of 'earthly humiliation actually divested himself (κένωσις proper) of omnipotence, omniscience, etc.; while the latter (Luke Osiander, Theodore Thummius, and Melchior Nicolai) maintained that he still continued to possess these divine attributes, but merely concealed them '(κρύψις ) from men (see Thummius, De ταπεινωσιγραφίᾷ sacra, Tubing. 1623; Nicolai, De κενώσει Christi, ib. 1622). For details of the controversy, see Herzog, Real Encykl. 7:511 sq.; 14:786. On the doctrine itself, see Dorner, Doct. of the Person of Christ, I, ii, 29; Schrbckh, Kirchengesch. 4:670 sq.; comp. Bib. Repos. July, 1867, p. 413; Amer. Presb. Rev. July, 1861, p. 551; Meth. Quar. Rev. Jan. 1861, p. 148; April, 1870, p. 291. The treatise of Bodemeyer, Die Lehre von der Kenosis (Getting. 1860), is of a very vague and general character. (See CHRISTOLOGY), vol. ii, p. 281, 282.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Kenosis'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​k/kenosis.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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