An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


A Greek term which means “emptying.” It appears in the christological hymn of Phil 2:6-11, where it means the giving up of divine glory by the eternal Son of God when he became incarnate. The Anglican theologian Charles Gore (1853-1932) popularized the term in Anglican theology as an explanation of the limitations of our Lord's human knowledge. Theologians had become acutely aware of these limitations through biblical criticism. Gore suggested that in the Incarnation the eternal Son of God voluntarily abandoned or emptied himself of certain divine attributes such as omnipotence and omniscience. This view was originally outlined in Lux Mundi, which Gore edited in 1889. Later, in response to criticism, Gore modified his position to say that the Son restrained his use of certain divine attributes. Arthur Michael Ramsey (1904-1988) noted that the real source of the kenotic doctrine of Christ's self-emptying is not the Philippians passage but consideration of the historical data of Jesus' life, considered along with belief in his deity. Although the doctrine of kenosis was helpful at the time in enabling Anglicans to come to terms with biblical criticism, it is less favored today. We accept the full humanity of Jesus, with its limitations. Jesus' embracing the fullness of our human nature did not compromise his divinity. We confess that God was uniquely and salvifically present and active in Jesus' humanity.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.