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Basic Christian Doctrines V: The Doctrine of Christ & Christological Language.

Updated: Jan 11

Christological Language: Substance

This paper will define the traditional language of substance in giving an account of the two natures (divine and human) of Jesus Christ. There will also be a brief look at some modern interpretations of the God/Christ relationship. The paper will conclude with my Christology using an alternate language to explain the relationship between God and Jesus Christ.

Traditional Language of the two natures of Jesus Christ

Divine and Human

The traditional language of Christology focuses on the person of Christ and may be summarized by the formula: Christ became like us (human) so we could become like him (divine). It is the perfection (God) united with imperfection (world). It is a Concept of two natures combined in one individual as a kind of mediating reality between God and humanity. To Saint Athanasius (296-373), the Son's totality is the totality of the Father and in this way the Father carries out his beneficial care for all things through the Son.

The Great Dilemma

Early debate centered on how the divine and the human natures were joined in Christ. Was the divine in Jesus his soul and the human part his body? That was rejected on the grounds that if Jesus did not have a human soul, he could not save the souls of others. Thus the principle: What is not assumed is not redeemed. which means: To substitute some nature of the human person by a divine feature would leave the humanity incomplete and only a complete humanity could save complete persons.

Could we likewise ask that God be totally present in the mediator? That seemed inconceivable. How could the infinite, all knowing creator, be in a finite, apparently limited, single human being? These arguments were to last more than three centuries with opponents regarding each other as heretics jeopardizing the faith.

Traditional Language

The Council of Nicaea (325 CE.) stated that Christ's obedience to God did not make him less divine or that his role as mediator make him more than human, but less than God. It was reasoned, that Salvation requires Christ's full and distinct humanity. However, Salvation also requires that the human somehow be united with the divine, since what was not united with God was not yet saved.

The final creedal formulation of the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE.) notes a seemingly insurmountable ambiguity in its instance that two natures are in fact one. Basic metaphysical problem: How can two unmistakably different things be the same thing? Solution: For a mediator to function salvifically, this union was deemed essential.

Chalcedon held that Christ did not simply take on the appearance of humanity, but became truly human in both mind and will. A careful balance was struck in the formula of 'One person in two natures'. In conjunction with the tradition of pre-existence, self-emptying, and glorification, Christ was portrayed not as a formula but as a narrative, which is moral in its implications and yet cosmic in its scope.

But Why Two Natures?

Saint Anselm (1033-1109) in his Cur Deus Homo (Why God became human) offered a legal correlation to explain how Jesus's death was salvific. He argued that the true sin of humanity was its offensiveness to divine majesty. The enormity of Sin is to be understood not from some human moral principle, but rather from the infinity of the majesty that is transgressed.

That being the case, no human death or sacrifice could ever be enough. No finite act could compensate for an offense to infinite majesty. Only an infinite (Jesus) compensation would suffice. Anselm asserted that only the sacrifice of God could compensate for an offense to divine majesty. Thus, God became human in order to pay the infinite price. Though accepted in practice, the Church has never made this doctrine of Atonement an official document.

The Apologists recognized that it is Christ as God who secured Salvation for all believers. To Saint Irenaeus (130-202), Christ became flesh in order to enable humanity to become part of the inner life of God. He is in full agreement with Saint Paul's (05-65) declaration, that God's intent is to unite all things in him. All things in Creation would then be linked together through Christ the Redeemer by way of the Redemption.

The Glorification of Jesus is in the ontological state and is largely determined by the notion of honour. The Apostles' Creed (340) speaks of Jesus, 'at the right hand of the Father', in a place of eminence at the royal table. It is His death on the cross, resulting in Salvation, that makes Jesus a figure who is truly worthy of the church's worship. Long before the Councils, Christians affirmed the belief that Jesus was to be worshipped as God. This implicitly became part of the Christian Faith.

Today's Language: Process

American Philosopher and Protestant Theologian John B. Cobb (1925-) understands Christ in the context of being at the head of the entire process of cosmic creativity. Roman Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner (1904-1984) interprets the incarnation of God as the unique supreme case of total fulfillment of human reality, which consists of the fact that we are, in as much as we give ourselves to God.

Without question, the language of process and creativity is a broad and balanced approach which is future orientated. The entire universe has a creative purpose by the enticement of God. Thus human activity does not exclude divine initiative and divine activity properly understood as persuasive and never coercive.

This genuine relationship of the divine and human, arguably obscured by the substantilist metaphysics of the traditional creeds, seems to find its paradignamic perfection in the Person of Jesus Christ. The static language regarding 'two natures' is balanced by a language of process, allowing it easier to make the soteriological point. For the narrative encourages us to speak not simply of two realities united in one person, but also the saving process of change.

For Swiss Reformed Theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), Christology is conceived in conjunction with a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity. He portrays the figure of Christ, as being open to others during the darkest moments of His earthly Ministry. In the Trinity, we see the obedient Jesus on the Cross uniting with God the Father as One entity. Christ's Spirit at Pentecost is then bestowed on the Church in order for the faithful to carry out His mission until the end of time, thus making this to be a Trinitarian event.

German Reformed Doctrinal Theologian Jurgen Moltmann (1926-) states that we have to tell the story of Jesus as the story of God and to explain it as the historical event which took place between Father, Son and Holy Spirit which revealed who and what God is. This means that God's very being is historical and continuously exists throughout history. For many of these theologians and philosophers, the language of process and creativity eliminates the necessity to interpret God and Christ in terms of the divine and human nature.

The important thing to remember, however, is that humanity must keep the door open to God. It is in unity with the Blessed Trinity that we enter in to the divine world. Language is an interpretative tool and it will not remove the necessity to understand God and Christ in terms of the divine and human nature. This is because it is the best way to explain how one so divine and so human could play such a salvific role for humanity.


Originally entitled Doctrine of Christ-The Person of Christ Christological Language: Substance vs. Process

was submitted to Dr. William Close

as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement

511v-Basic Christian Doctrines St. Stephen's Theological College University of Alberta

Published on November 12th, 1996.

{Revised September 12th, 2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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