The ancient patristic dictum “that which is not assumed is not redeemed” plays an important role in our understanding of who Christ is. We believe, then, that Jesus had to assume every aspect of what it means to be human. We believe that he has a human body, a human soul, a human mind. These different aspects were debated at various councils. One of the last questions that still lingered, however, was whether Jesus has a human will.
The debate is quite straightforward: If there was only “one will” at work in Jesus, then what does that say about our human will? If Jesus does not have a human will, then that means our wills are of no importance, thus what we choose and act upon with our wills plays no role in our salvation. This would destroy all teaching about sin and personal responsibility. Further, it would create an unfair picture of God who, in creating Adam and Eve, punished them for something for which they are not responsible. We can see, just from these simple examples, why the teaching of the two wills of Jesus is so important. If he doesn’t have a will like ours, our will is both unimportant and unredeemed.
The basis for the doctrine of the two wills of Jesus is developed by St. Maximus the Confessor (d. 662) who, in meditating on the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, notes where Jesus asks the Father to take his suffering from him. Yet, Jesus concludes, “But not what I will but what you will” (Mk 14:36). Here St. Maximus notes the two wills at play and states that it is the moment where the Son most perfectly draws the human will into a complete union with the divine will. It is the moment where Jesus as both man and God takes what is ours and unites it ever more perfectly with God. It is a part of his action of redemption of our humanity.
This has implications in many facets of our spiritual lives, but, perhaps most importantly, we see in this scene the remedy for concupiscence. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, concupiscence is our tendency to choose evil over the good (CCC, No. 405). In Jesus’ humanity, we see a human will doing something fundamentally different: it courageously chooses the good of God despite the evil being thrown his way. It is the moment our will is healed, and the grace of this gift is now imparted to us through baptism, which is the beginning of the remedy against concupiscence.
In the human will of Jesus, we see not only what we should imitate, but also what is now imparted to our nature. His humanity is our humanity redeemed and perfected. It follows, then, that his human will can be lived out in and through us. As members of his Body, the Church, we now participate really and truly in his humanity. Thus his will is now to be ours as well, asking him to transform our wills to be like his — always giving ourselves over to the Father. This does, at times, mean the Cross, but it is an assent that ultimately brings life. To say “yes” to God in all things is the direction to which our wills ought to be oriented because, by doing so, it brings us to life, it brings us redemption and it makes our humanity fully alive.
Father Harrison Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter at @FrHarrison.