Divine Suffering and the Communicatio Idiomatum

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That Jesus Christ is ‘truly God and truly a human being’ was fixed as orthodoxy in the Chalcedonian Definition or ‘two-natures doctrine’ formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Chalcedonian Definition, however, did little to clarify the relationship between Christ’s divine and human natures and how it is possible for Christ to be a single, united person in view of his duality of natures. This issue is particularly acute with regard to Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. Christ’s human nature is clearly involved in these experiences, but what is the relation of his divine nature to the suffering of his human nature? Does the incarnate Christ suffer not only as a human being but also as God? An important attempt to address these issues is the communicatio idiomatum, the view that in Christ’s person there takes place a mutual exchange of the attributes belonging to his divine and human natures. This article considers how the communicatio idiomatum has been employed to think through the relationship of Christ’s divine nature to the suffering undergone by his human nature. After sketching the historical development of the doctrine, this article traces how the kenotic theologians of the nineteenth century developed the communicatio idiomatum into a defence of the view that the incarnate Christ suffered not just as a human being but also as God.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationT&T Clark Handbook on Suffering and the Problem of Evil
EditorsJohannes Groessl, Matthias Grebe
Place of PublicationLondon
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Divine Suffering
  • Communicatio idiomatum
  • kenosis


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