Christ's Humanity as a Tool of Grace
In another post on the Southwest School of Woodworking, I talked about tools. My talk about tools made me think of a passage in a book about by the French Dominican Jean-Pierre Torrell called St. Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master.
If you're Christian — or just interested in Christianity — you should think about this: God works through things — through tools. He makes use of things to accomplish His ends.
The greatest example of such a "tool" is the humanity of Jesus Christ.
Christ's Humanity as an Instrument –– or Tool — for Grace
In St. Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, Torrell has a section called "Agent and Instrument."
The Latin word instrumentum means tool.
In "Agent and Instrument," Torrell explains what St. Thomas meant by saying that Christ's humanity is an instrument—or tool—for grace.
But first understand: calling something a tool is not to degrade it or to demean it. Calling something a tool just recognizes the way in which that things exists and acts as a cause.
St. Thomas's Example of an Axe
Torrell's quotation of St. Thomas explains what I'm talking about:
The instrument has a twofold action: an instrumental action in which it works, not by its own virtue, but by virtue of the main agent, as well as an action proper to it which belongs to it by virtue of its own form.
Thus, because of its edge, the axe is able to cut, but as an instrument used by an artisan, it is able to produce a piece of furniture.
In any event, it only carries out its instrumental action in working its own proper action; it produces a piece of furniture by cutting.
A tool may not be able to do anything on its own (it needs the artisan as the agent).
But when a tool does something, it does its thing — the thing proper to that particular tool. The chisel is good for chiseling away at wood; the hammer, for pounding things into it.
The tool has a proper dignity.
The Work Bears the Trace of the Tool
Because a tool has its own way of existing as a tool, Torrell says that the tool adds something distinctive and leaves a trace:
We may decide not to use an instrument, but if we use it, it will leave its mark on the effect it produces. True, an instrument does nothing by itself, but it does something, and the final result bears its traces.
God's Work Bears the Trace of the Tool: Christ's Humanity
God could have saved the world in many ways. But He did it through the humanity of Christ as the instrument of His salvific work.
And the handiwork of God bears the traces of the tool: Jesus.
What does this mean?
Think about the axe. You would never (1) praise the axe's ability to produce a piece of furniture while also (2) ignoring the fact that it has a sharp edge. For the axe, its sharp edge is essential to doing the work of furniture making.
For Jesus, you cannot praise him as a savior while ignoring or downplaying his humanity. Christ's humanity is like the axe's edge: it's what makes possible the Artist's work.
Note: Don't be misled by this brief post: Christ's humanity is not an instrument in the exact same sense that an inert, lifeless hammer is an instrument in the carpenter's hand. St. Thomas distinguishes various kinds of tools, including the living instrument. Get St. Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master if you're curious.