INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTOLOGY
Through the centuries the portraits of Jesus have varied from age to age and place to place: ‘Good shepherd’ during the early church persecutions; ‘cosmic ruler’ during the triumph of Christianity in the
Roman Empire; ‘the crucified’ in the guilt-ridden late Middle Ages.” – John Miller
“Jesus is a much underrated man. To deprive this man of his humanity is to deprive him of his greatness.” – Albert Nolan
“Jesus Christ, his son, who is his word proceeding from silence.”
– Ignatius of
Antioch (ca. 100 C.E.)
“’There was a great teacher, and gathered around him was a small group of faithful followers. They listened to his message and were transformed by it. But the message alienated the power structure of his time, which finally put him to death but did not succeed in eradicating his message, which is stronger now than ever.”’ That description would apply equally to Jesus and Socrates. But nobody’s ever built a cathedral in honor of Socrates. -Jaroslav Pelikan
“There is no historical task which so reveals someone’s true self as the writing of a Life of Jesus.” – Albert Schweitzer
“Who do you say that I am?” -Jesus of
Nazareth (Mark 8:29)
1) To develop an appreciation of (a) the distinctive Christology of each of the New Testament authors, with special attention to the Synoptic Gospels, John, and Paul; (b) the Christology of the Early church with special attention to the Apostolic Fathers and the apocryphal Gospels; c) a survey of the Christology of twenty centuries of Christian devotion and theology; (d) the Christology of the arts, with special attention to the novel and film; (e) the Christology of contemporary Jesus historians.
2) To develop an acquaintance with the present state of biblical scholarship and the critical arms of research on the Jesus question that have developed over the past half century, including an examination of the Gospel story and the work of Jesus historians, Borg and Crossan, and psycho-historians Capps and Miller, in the perspective of the constructive critique offered by Hal Childs in The Myth of History and the Evolution of Consciousness.
3) To take a step forward toward understanding the “historical Jesus” whose words, acts, person, and presence gave rise to twenty centuries of Christological art, architecture, theology, music, literature, creeds, educational institutions, hospitals, and agencies of human service.
4) To work toward a better understanding of why it is that Jesus of Nazareth has exercised such a catalytic effect on the human psyche/soul , as evident not only within the Christian church and its institutions, but in world religious tradition and the arts.
5) To sort out one’s own perspective on Jesus and the Christological tradition and to consider the implications this might have for the way I get out of bed tomorrow.
Consult with instructor on “make-ups” if absences are unavoidable.
1. Regular attendance and weekly reading assignments (1/7 of the grade).
2.One Book Review presentation. Select two or three titles from the attached list of books available in the library, from which you will select one in the “raffle” assignment at the first class session, when the date of your review will be assigned. The review is to include the following: (a) a clear précis or overview of the book in relation to this course, (b) a brief discussion of up to ten ideas you have found helpful or informative, explaining why, and (c) the presentation of one important issue for class discussion. The reviewer is encouraged to prepare some “visuals” (hand-outs, powerpoint, overhead projector transparencies, etc.) to enhance communication. (Proposed length: 5 pages) (3/7 of the grade)
3. A Final Project on a theme of the student’s choice, due last class session. (3/7 of the grade) (proposed length, 15- 20 pages).
All academic papers are to conform to conventional technical, grammatical and stylistic standards referred to in the General Guidlines for a Research Paper.
- The Gospel According to Mark: God’s Son of Man and Wounded Healer
- The Gospel According to Matthew: A New Moses, a Higher Wisdom
- The Gospel According to Luke – Acts: The Spirit-Filled Savior, Then and Now
- The Gospel According to John : The Word at the Heart of Being
- The Gospel According to Paul: Second “Adam,” Image of God, and Lord
- The Gospel according to the Catholic Epistles and Revelation: From Shepherd of the Soul to the Invincible Lamb
- “The Other Gospels:” Gnostic Christology and the DaVinci Code
- The “Great
Church”: From the Apostolic Fathers to Nicea and the Trinity
- Jesus Through the Centuries: From Nicea to the Twentieth Century
- Jesus at the Movies: Christology through the Camera’s Eye
- Revisioning the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Crossan, Borg, Capps, Miller
- A Time for Christological Re-conception
Christology is a field of study within Christian theology which is concerned with the nature of Jesus the Christ. In particular, how the divine and human are related in his person. Christology is generally less concerned with the details of Jesus’ life than it is with how the human and divine co-exist in one person. Although this study of the inter-relationship of these two natures is the foundation of Christology, some essential sub-topic within the field of Christology include:
Christology is related to questions concerning the nature of God like the Trinity, Unitarianism or Binitarianism. However, from a Christian perspective, these questions are concerned with how the divine persons relate to one another; whereas Christology is concerned with the meeting of the human and divine in the person of Jesus.Throughout the history of Christianity, Christological questions have been very important in the life of the church. Christology was a fundamental concern from the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) until the Third Council of Constantinople (680 AD). In this time period, the Christological views of various groups within the broader Christian community led to accusations of heresy, and, infrequently, subsequent religious persecution. In some cases, a sect’s unique Christology is its chief distinctive feature; in these cases it is common for the sect to be known by the name given to its Christology. TrinityThe early Christians first defined how Jesus is related to God the Father, a doctrine known as the Trinity. Many of the Trinitarian controversies of the first four centuries AD had direct implications for later thinking about how the human and divine are related within the person of Jesus.The Trinitarian controversies known as Arianism, Adoptionism, and Ebionitism – groups that in one manner or another denied the divinity of Christ – led the early Christians to affirm that Jesus was fully divine. Other groups, in particular those that adhered to Docetism and Gnosticism, denied the humanity of Christ, leading the early Christians to strongly affirm that Christ was also fully human.The Trinitarian controversies came to a head at the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD), at which the church defined the persons of the Godhead and their relationship with one another. The language used was that the one God exists in three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit). The Creed of the Nicene Council made statements about the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus, thus preparing the way for discussion about how exactly the divine and human come together in the person of Christ (Christology).
Chalcedonian and Hypostatic unionThe Council of Nicaea defined that Jesus was fully divine and also human. What it did not do was make clear how one person could be both divine and human, and how the divine and human were related within that one person. This led to the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries of the common era.The most important event in these controversies was the Council of Chalcedon, held in 451 AD. The Council promulgated a Christological doctrine known as the hypostatic union. In short, this doctrine states that two natures, one human and one divine, are united in the one person of Christ. The Council further taught that each of these natures, the human and the divine, was distinct and complete. This view is sometimes called Dyophysite (meaning two natures) by those who rejected it.The Chalcedonian Creed did not put an end to all Christological debate, but it did clarify the terms used and became a point of reference for all other Christologies.
Historical controversies concerning the denial of Christ’s divine nature
As noted above, there were theologies rejected by the Trinitarianism of Nicaea that denied the divinity of Christ. The Adoptionists taught that Jesus was born fully human, and was adopted as God’s Son because of the life he lived. Another group, known as the Ebionites, taught that Jesus was not God, but the human Moshiach prophet promised in the Old Testament. Arianism affirmed that Jesus was divine, but taught that he was less divine than God the Father. Some of these views could be described as Unitarianism (although that is a modern term) in their insistence on the one-ness of God. These views, which directly affected how one understood the Godhead, were declared heresies by the Council of Nicaea.Most Christology following the Council of Nicaea sought to affirm the divinity of Christ (thus adhering to the Nicene Creed), and controversies centered on also preserving the humanity of Christ. Throughout much of the rest of the ancient history of Christianity, Christologies that denied Christ’s divinity ceased to have a major impact on the life of the church until the modern era.
Historical controversies concerning denial of Christ’s human nature
The Council of Nicaea rejected theologies that entirely denied the humanity of Christ, affirming in the Nicene Creed the doctrine of the Incarnation as a part of the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, that the second person of the Trinity became incarnate in the person Jesus and was fully human.This understanding of the Trinity rejected theologies that denied the humanity of Jesus. Included among these was the understandings of some Gnostic groups, who held to a Docetic theology. Docetism (from the Greek verb “to seem”) taught that Jesus was fully divine, and only “seemed” or appeared to be human.Following the Council of Nicaea, theologians often sought to make sense of the interplay of the human and divine in the person of Christ while upholding the doctrine of the Trinity by denying, in part or in whole, the humanity of Christ. Various forms of Monophysitism taught that Christ only had one nature; that the divine had either dissolved or taken the place of the human in the person of Christ. Notable Monophysite theologians included Eutyches (c. 380-456 AD) and Apollinaris of Laodicea (d. 390 AD).Monophysitism was rejected as heresy at the Council of Chalcedon. As theologians continued to reach a compromise between the Chalcedonians and the Monophysites, other Christologies developed that partially rejected the full humanity of Christ. Monothelitism taught that in the one person of Jesus there were two natures, but only a divine will. Closely related to this is Monoenergism, which held to the same doctrine as the Monothelites, but with different terminology. These positions were declared heresy by the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council, 680-681 c.e.).
Other Christological Concerns
The controversy concerning the sinlessness of Christ focuses upon the human nature which Christ assumed. The question must be asked if it is possible to be fully human and not be a participant in the “fall” of Adam? Adam and Eve existed in an “unfallen” status before the “fall” according to Genesis 2-3.
The sinless nature of Christ involves two elements according to MacLeod, “First, Christ was free of actual sin.” Studying the gospels there is no reference to Jesus praying for the forgiveness of sin, nor confessing sin. The assertion is that Jesus did not commit sin, nor could he be proven guilty of sin; he had no vices. In fact, he is quoted as asking, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” in John 8:46. “Secondly, he was free from inherent sin [or “original sin“].”
The temptation of Christ presented in the gospels affirms that Christ was tempted. Indeed, the temptations were genuine and of a greater intensity than normally experienced by human beings. He experienced all the frail weaknesses of humanity. Jesus was tempted through hunger and thirst, pain and the love of his friends. Thus, the human weaknesses could engender temptation. Nevertheless, MacLeod notes that “one crucial respect in which Christ was not like us is that he was not tempted by anything within himself.” The temptations Christ faced focused upon his person and identity as the incarnate Son of God. MacLeod writes, “Christ could be tempted through his sonship.” The temptation in the wilderness and again in
Gethsemane exemplifies this arena of temptation. Regarding the temptation of performing a sign that would affirm his sonship by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple, MacLeod observes, “The sign was for himself: a temptation to seek reassurance, as if to say, ‘the real question is my own sonship. I must forget all else and all others and all further service until that is clear.’”MacLeod places this struggle in the context of the incarnation, “…he has become, a man, and he must accept not only the appearance but the reality.”
The communion of attributes (Communicatio idiomatum) of Christ’s divine and human natures is understood according to Chalcedonian theology to mean that they exist together with neither overriding the other. That is, both are preserved and coexist in one person. Christ had all the properties of God and humanity. God did not stop being God and become man. Christ was not half-God and half-human. The two natures did not mix into a new third kind of nature. Although independent, they acted in complete accord; when one nature acted, so did the other. The natures did not commingle, merge, infuse each other, or replace each other. One was not converted into the other. They remained separate (yet acted with one accord).
The kenotic theory states that the logos laid aside some of God’s characteristics when God became human. Typically, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence were laid aside, since these characteristics seem incompatible with a being a human. This also attempts to solve the problems when Jesus appears to show incomplete knowledge (Matthew 24:36), presence (Luke 13:33), or ability (John 4:6). Reformed theology suggests that Jesus put self-imposed limitations on himself. Jesus chose to only be in one place at a time, to limit his power, and to limit his knowledge.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke clearly attest to a virgin birth for Jesus Christ. Some now disregard or even refute this doctrine. We turn to consider the Christological issues surrounding belief or disbelief in the virgin birth.A non-virgin birth would seem to require some form of adoptionism. This is because a human conception and birth would seem to yield a fully human Jesus, with some other mechanism required to make Jesus divine as well.A non-virgin birth would seem to support the full humanity of Jesus. William Barclay: states, “The supreme problem of the virgin birth is that it does quite undeniably differentiate Jesus from all men; it does leave us with an incomplete incarnation.” Barth speaks of the virgin birth as the divine sign “which accompanies and indicates the mystery of the incarnation of the Son.” Donald MacLeod gives several Christological implications of a virgin birth:
- Highlights salvation as a supernatural act of God rather than an act of human initiative.
- Avoids adoptionism (which is virtually required if a normal birth).
- Reinforces the sinlessness of Christ, especially as it relates to Christ being outside the sin of Adam (original sin).
The resurrection is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the life of Jesus Christ. Christianity hinges on this point of Christology, both as a response to a particular history. Some Christians claim that because he was resurrected, that the future of the world was forever altered. Most Christians believe that Jesus’ resurrection brings reconciliation with God (II Corinthians 5:18), the destruction of death (I Corinthians 15:26), and forgiveness of sins for followers of Jesus Christ.Many people are dependent on Scripture to provide details of the resurrection. Most Christians hold to the Bible as a reliable source. The Bible says the tomb he was buried in was empty. Even those in Scripture who doubted his resurrection acknowledge that the tomb was empty, claiming that Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb.After Jesus had died, was buried, and was raised, Christians believe he appeared to others in bodily form. Some skeptics say his appearances were only perceived by his followers in mind or spirit – a sort of collective hallucination. The Bible also states that it was still a physical body because he talked, ate, was touched, and still retained visible wounds from the crucifixion. Some who doubt his resurrection state that Jesus never died in the first place. He merely passed out on the cross and later revived in the tomb – the swoon theory. Some have suggested that those who went to the empty tomb actually went to the wrong tomb. This is refuted by arguing that prominent Jews’ burial sites were frequently visited and not easily forgotten.[One cannot dispute that at the very least, a major world religion began at this point. The gospels tell us that the disciples believed they witnessed Jesus’ resurrected body and that led to the beginning of the faith. They had previously hid in fear of persecution after Jesus’ death. After seeing Jesus they boldly proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ despite tremendous risk. They obeyed Jesus’ mandate to be reconciled to God through repentance (Luke 24:47), baptism, and obedience (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus Christ, the Mediator of humankind, fulfills the three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. Eusebius of the early church worked out this threefold classification, which John Calvin developed[ and John Wesley discussed.
Christ is the mouthpiece of God as the Prophet, speaking and teaching the Word of God, infinitely greater than all prophets, who spoke for God and interpreted the will of God. The Old Testament prophet brought God’s message to the people. Christ, as the Word (John 1:1-18)/Logos is the Source of revelation. Accordingly, Jesus Christ never used the messenger formula, which linked the prophet’s words to God in the prophetic phrase, Thus says the Lord. Christ, being of the same nature, provides a definitive and true exposition of God.The Word/Logos is Light. As the true Light (John 1:1-18), Jesus Christ exclusively enlightens humankind in the office of Prophet. Jesus affirmed his divine identity and ultimate authority, revealing God to humanity, continuing His work into the future as the Light (Revelation 22:3).
Christ, whom we draw near to in confidence, offered Himself as the sacrifice to humanity as High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). Old Testament priests declared the will of God, gave the covenant of blessing, and directed the processing of sacrifices. The priest represented humankind before God. While humankind took the office of priesthood in their weakness, Jesus holds the position with an indestructible power that overcomes the weakness of humanity as described throughout the book of Hebrews. As High Priest, Christ became one with humanity in human weakness, offered prayers to God, chose obedience through suffering, and sympathized with the struggles of humanity.The atoning death of Christ is at the heart of His work as High Priest. Metaphors are used to describe His death on the cross, such as, “Christ, the Lamb of God, shed His blood on the cross as the sin offering for humankind.” Christ made one sin offering as High Priest in contrast to the Old Testament priests who continually offered sacrifices on behalf of humanity. Because of the work of Christ on the cross, humanity has the opportunity to have a living relationship with God. Conversely, the individuals that deny the work of God are described as dead in sin, without God and without hope.
Christ, exalted High Priest, mediates the sin that estranges humankind from the fellowship of God. In turn, He has full rights to reign over the church and world as King. Christ sits at the right hand of God, crowned in glory as “King of kings and Lord of lords.” God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church.
Theologians like Jurgen Moltmann and Walter Kasper have characterized Christologies as anthropological or cosmological. These are also termed ‘Christology from below’ and ‘Christology from above’ respectively. An anthropological Christology starts with the human person of Jesus and works from his life and ministry toward what it means for him to be divine; whereas, a cosmological Christology works in the opposite direction. Starting from the eternal Logos, a cosmological Christology works toward his humanity. Theologians typically begin on one side or the other and their choice inevitably colors their resultant Christology. As a starting point these options represent “diverse yet complementary” approaches; each poses its own difficulties. Both Christologies ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ must come to terms with the two natures of Christ: human and divine. Just as light can be perceived as a wave or as a particle, so Jesus must be thought in terms of both his divinity and humanity. You cannot talk about “either or” but must talk about “both and”.
Christologies from above start with the Logos, the second Person of the Trinity, establish his eternality, his agency in creation, and his economic Sonship. Jesus’ unity with God is established by the Incarnation as the divine Logos assumes a human nature. This approach was common in the early church – e.g., St. Paul and
St. John in the Gospels. The attribution of full humanity to Jesus is resolved by stating that the two natures mutually share their properties (a concept termed communicatio idiomatum).
Christologies from below start with the human being Jesus as the representative of the new humanity, not with the pre-existent Logos. Jesus lives an exemplary life, one to which we aspire in religious experience. This form of Christology lends itself to mysticism, and some of its roots go back to emergence of Christ mysticism in the sixth century East, but in the West it flourished between the 11th and 14th centuries. A recent theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg contends that the resurrected Jesus is the “eschatological fulfillment of human destiny to live in nearness to God.”
The Christian faith is inherently political because allegiance to Jesus as risen Lord relativises all earthly rule and authority. Jesus is called “Lord” over 230 times in Paul’s epistles alone, and is thus the principle confession of faith in the Pauline epistles. Further, N.T. Wright argues that this Pauline confession is the core of the gospel of salvation. The Achille’s heal of this approach is the loss of eschatological tension between this present age and the future divine rule that is yet to come. This can happen when the state co-opts Christ’s authority as was often the case in imperial Christology. Modern political Christologies seek to overcome imperialist ideologies.
The doctrine of Perichoresis is the doctrine of how the three Persons of the Trinity are one in their threeness. Perichoresis is the mutual indwelling or mutual relatedness within the Trinity. Recently Perichoresis has been applied to the two natures, human and divine, of Jesus to help explain how they remain in perfect union yet unconfused, inseparable but not commingled. Further, “perichoretic realities” are considered to be somehow brought down into the world by the Incarnation. Jesus characterizes his relation to his Father in terms of mutual indwelling, “believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (John 14:11). Jesus also suggested that people can participate in these perichoretic realities – “I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us” (John 17:20-21). Baugh S.J., Lloyd. Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ Figures in Film.
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