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Pop Quiz Redux

In 1993 I composed for This Rock “The World’s Toughest Catholic Quiz.” I first had given it to members of Legatus, an organization of well-to-do Catholic business leaders and their spouses. Even with sub rosa “sharing” between spouses, few got more than half of the twenty questions right. The high score was seventeen, which was impressively good. Some folks got seventeen questions wrong.

Later I gave the quiz to other groups, with similar results. After the quiz appeared in the magazine, a few people wrote in to say they had aced it, but thousands of subscribers did not reveal their scores at all, which made me think that most readers had reason to keep the results to themselves.

Let me give you just one of the questions—the one that caused the most consternation among readers. Let’s see how you do. Here it is:

At the Crucifixion
a. Jesus’ human nature died on the cross.
b. Only the human person of Jesus, not the divine person of Jesus, died on the cross.
c. God died on the cross.
d. Jesus’ human and divine natures both died on the cross, but the universe was kept going by the Father and the Holy Spirit until Jesus’ Resurrection.
e. None of the above.

Here is the answer I provided:

a. Wrong, because natures aren’t put to death—persons are. When you die, it is not your human nature which dies but you as a distinct person.
b. Wrong, because there is no human person in Jesus. There is only one Person, the divine, who already (by definition) had a divine nature and who took on a human nature.
c. Correct, because the Person who died on the cross was a divine Person, commonly called the Son of God. Since that Person is God, it is proper to say that God died on the cross, even though that sounds odd and may make some unthinking people conclude that it means that God ceased to exist, which, of course, was not the case. (If you were sure this answer could not be right, don’t fret—you’re in good company. Most people miss this question because the correct answer “just doesn’t sound right.”)
d. Wrong, first because natures don’t die, persons do, and second because the answers suggests Jesus couldn’t keep the universe going, as though he ceased to be God between the time of his death and his Resurrection.
e. Wrong, because (c) is correct.

So how did you do on this one-question quiz? Did you ace it, or did you say to yourself, as so many people did over the years, that (c) was the most obviously false possibility?

Don’t fret. This was the toughest question in “The World’s Toughest Catholic Quiz,” and I deliberately made it so because I wanted to startle quiz takers and to help them see that we need to parse arguments carefully. When it comes to theology, nuances really do matter.

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