I recently explored the Cosmological Argument of St. John of Damascus (or what I would now call the “Damascene Ontological Argument”) and have realized something in the argument that needs clarification, namely, how could God remain unchanged in light of the Incarnation? (Much thanks to my friend Vic and commenter CK for bringing this problem up)
My first proposition looks like this:
(1) All things are either created or uncreated
(1a) If they are created then they are changeable
(1b) If they are uncreated then they are unchangeable
For God to be eternal, this means that He must be unchangeable, but how can this be so in light of the Incarnation? Wouldn’t this indicate “change”?
St. John sheds light on what he means by “change” when he argues that an angel or human can “change” by doing something moral or immoral. A human can have another human, thus increasing the quantity of humans, indicating a change. A human also changes physically. Thus, humans change. Christ, who is God, was also a human. The question then becomes, how could Christ be both man and God, but not change? If Christ didn’t change, then He isn’t human. If He did change, then He isn’t God.
The problem with such a critique is that it assumes the Divine nature and human nature somehow fused in the Incarnation. This, however, did not occur. A “third thing” was not created when Christ became human, likewise, though the fullness of the Deity dwelt within Christ, the whole of the Deity (that is, all three persons of the Holy Trinity) were not within the flesh. Thus, it was the person of Christ becoming human and not the whole of God becoming human.
The best way to explain this is to look at two different illustrations.
The first example summarizes the way the objection is formed (“how could God remained unchanged in the Trinity?”):
The problem with the above view is that it puts the wholeness of the Deity into the Incarnation. This leaves us pondering how Christ could have been raised from the dead by the Spirit or how God could have forsaken Christ on the cross when all three were actually present in the flesh. It should also be noted that if the above example truly represented what occurred in the Incarnation, then we are left with a changeable God.
However, the appropriate view looks more like this:
Notice that in the above example, only the Son took on the human nature and not the Divine nature (located in the middle of the three ovals). Thus, the person of Christ added a nature, which does not indicate a change in the Divine nature nor in the other two persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus, God did not change in the Incarnation.
But does the fact that the Word became flesh indicate a change in who He is? John 17:5 (along with other passages) would indicate the opposite. In John 17:5, Jesus lays claim to pre-existence with the Father. Though Christ took on the human nature, such a nature did not change Christ’s personality or who He was as Christ (whereas much of what we humans encounter in this life can change our personalities or who we are as individuals).
In fact, the ancient “Hymn to the Only Begotten Son” by St. John Chrysostom reads:
O only begotten Son and Word of God, Who, being immortal, Deigned for our salvation To become incarnate Of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, And became man without change; You were also crucified, O Christ our God, And by death have trampled Death, Being one of the Holy Trinity, Glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit— Save us!
It appears that this problem faced early Christians and they dealt with it by also saying that the Word did not change in the incarnation, but merely took on a human nature. While Christ may have limited certain properties of His divinity (e.g. foreknowledge, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc), who He was as God did not change.
We must never forget that “change” means “to become different.” This means that whenever Christ changed His mind as a human or even in the Old Testament examples of God changing His mind, God did not become different. He merely changed His course of action on how He would bring about His Will, but who He was as God never changed and what He planned with His Will never changed. The essence of God never changed, even when the person of Christ took on the substance of matter, He still remained God while also being man.
Thus, God did not change and has never changed, indicating that He is the only uncreated Entity in existence.