Psychologists cannot hope to analyse the self-consciousness of Jesus
Patrick Henry Reardon is a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity

Jesus, as he appears in the gospels, resists mans efforts to comprehend him. There is a sense in which this is true of all human beings, but in the singular case of Jesus this resistance to interpretation is marked in a unique way. The ‘who’ of Jesus, which he pointedly put in question form, remains utterly elusive apart from a special revelation [Matt. 16.15-17].

With respect to other men, we have at least some chance of understanding them ‘from within,’ by recourse to what episte-mologists call the principle of inter-subjectivity That is to say, psychologists commence with the assumption of the common structure of self-awareness in all human souls. Each of us goes inside himself and finds a ‘self nor does the experience differ essentially from person to person.

Thus, no one attempts to convince me of anything, except by first supposing that his consciousness and mine share an identical shape. No matter how separate we are, we have at least this much in common, that we can be self-conscious in the same way. Hence, no matter how individual the two of us remain, another person is able to enter into his own soul, examine his own experience, and gain some idea of what is going on in my soul.

Biography works on this basis, and so does a great deal of contemporary biblical scholarship. Exegetes of this persuasion seek to understand Jesus by recourse to the same sorts of internal information used to interpret other individuals in history. Psychology provides a foundation for exegesis.

Modern interpretations

These scholars to explain Jesus in various ways, depending on what influences they think made Jesus tick. Observing his compassion, for instance, they perceive in his soul the impact of the social prophets of the eighth century. Or, taking note of the marked apocalyptic element in Jesus’ preaching, they explain this as part of the general apocalyptic atmosphere of first-century Judaism. And so on.

Moreover, they justify these psycho-biographical efforts by appealing to the testimony that Jesus ‘increased in wisdom’ [Luke

2.52]. That is to say, the soul of Jesus grew and matured like the soul of any other human being. Therefore, his ‘self can be analysed like that of any other person. Those who take this approach believe that the doctrine of the Incarnation is ample warrant for analysing the soul, the subjectivity, the self-consciousness, of Jesus.

Nonetheless, these modern efforts to interpret Jesus through the analogy of subjectivity are problematic at best. The reason is simply this: the ‘subject’ in the subjectivity of Jesus is the eternal Son of God. According to the established theology of the Hypo-static Union, there is no human person in Jesus distinct from the Divine Person. The soul of Jesus, his psyche that these historians want to analyse and interpret, is the human soul of the eternal Son. The saddened subject that weeps at the tomb of Lazarus is God. The weary person who sits at the well and sleeps in the fishing boat is the Creator of the universe.

What is there in Jesus that renders him so impossible to analyse? He tells us: T and the Father are one.’ Again, All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.’ The identity of the man Jesus is rooted in this eternal relationship of the Son to the Father. Self-awareness in Jesus is the consciousness of his eternal relationship to the Father. He has no personal identity apart from that relationship.

No analogy possible

Now I submit that there is nothing else in any human soul even remotely analogous, and this is the reason why psychoanalysis, based on the analogy of subjectivity, is an inadequate and even misleading path to the interpretation of Jesus.

Surely, Jesus’ human awareness of this relationship to the Father grew and developed as he came ‘of age.’ Otherwise, it is not true that the Word became flesh. However, the lines of this conscious development in Jesus are impossible to trace, for the simple reason that there is nothing analogous to it inside our own consciousness, nothing within us that affords us a hint of what it means for a human being to be conscious of himself as God’s eternal Son. T