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Christology Notes

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'Chalcedonian Christology is incomprehensible and meaningless today'. Discuss. Chalcedonian Christology: the doctrine of two natures ('Hypostatic Union'), declared at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Declares Christ to be fully human and fully divine.

John Hick - Jesus and the World Religions (in The Myth of God Incarnate) In terms of 'subjective intentionality', a vast number of different entities have been worshipped under the name of 'Jesus Christ' across the world, throughout the last nineteen centuries, each appealing to various elements and strands of the NT - 'implacable judge', 'divine psychologist', liberator, law-giver, all-powerful and divine, common and suffering 'man for others', etc. Christ-figures are produced who meet the needs of their devotees (a la Feuerbach)- the kind of inversion of the process of God's revelation that Barth opposes. Hick asks whether the exaltation of Jesus the man to divine Second Person of the Trinity is the supreme example of this behaviour - by analogy with the example of the Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism, Hick suggests that this behaviour is a natural tendency of the human religious mind but the resurrection claims about Jesus mark him out as distinct from the Buddha in this sense. The resurrection of Jesus was not a result of his inherent divinity but was an act of God apart from Jesus (Acts 2.22, 36). Thus at this stage Jesus is not divine, merely marked by God for a special purpose, that of Messiah. George Caird: suppose an acquaintance you were sure had died had in fact been seen alive by reliable witnesses. One would probably revise one's views about a lot of things, but would likely stop short of stamping a mark of authority and authenticity upon that man's every word subsequently. Although this is not really a fair comparison at all (given the scientific ignorance of the inhabitants of C1st Palestine and the fact that Jesus had spent at least some of his time making claims to divinity..), it does make the point that there is a further step to be made between apprehension of an apparent 'resurrection' event and asserting the absolute divinity of that resurrected individual in the way that the Christian tradition does, and has for a substantial period of time. The high Christology of the fourth gospel can likely not really be attributed to Christ himself (as it was developed in Ephesus in the late C1st), and we can be reasonably confident that such Christology is far removed from that actually taught or envisioned by Jesus the man. Hick sees Christ as a man so open to the divine life that his own human life powerfully resonated with the divine, such that, had we met him, our lives would have been powerfully challenged and affected by his presence. Hick's picture of a 'working-class young man' uniquely conscious of his own religiosity and the ways in which it transcended powerfully that of the men and women to whom he preached, and the religious authorities who made use of such authority to retain certain privileges. His acceptance of titles such as 'Son of Man' and 'Messiah', perhaps inspired by his awareness of his own intimate awareness of God, must have led to the development, over the subsequent 60 or 70 years, through the Gospel of Mark's references to the 'Son of God' through to the Gospel of John's picture of Jesus as the 'Word', walking amongst men fully and consciously divine. We can see in the NT attempts to express various titles for Jesus, characterising particular aspects of his teaching or nature, that have either 'taken off' or failed to catch on - 'Second Adam', for example, and 'Son of Man' is not used outside of Jesus' own teachings. Early cultures did not draw the same modern distinction between metaphorical and literal status as 'Son of God'!

Where and when did the transition occur from 'Son of God' to 'God the Son'? Fourth Gospel - Jesus' teaching is no longer reported as having been chiefly centred around the Kingdom and its immanent coming but rather focused exclusively upon himself, and makes him unequivocally divine. Hick suggests that it was 'natural' that the early Christians living in the immediate aftermath of Jesus' transforming time on earth, basking in the experience of atonement and divine forgiveness, would have begun to feel that for Jesus' sacrifice to have meant so much, and been sufficient atonement for their worldly sins and those of all mankind, he must have been divine. The language of the fourth gospel is an example of this sentiment's slow transition into Jesus' metaphysically reinforced divinity. If Jesus' message had spread east, and not west, he would have been seen as a divine Avatar, or a Bodhisattva - these are the equivalent cultural expressions of the same spiritual reality!
Lay Christians rarely consider what is at stake when they express that 'Jesus was God the Son incarnate' - is this meant literally, or metaphorically, or mythologically, or poetically, or symbolically, or..?
We are forced to consider this now, as our socio-cultural sphere has become increasingly philosophical and analytical. This questioning should be directed at the empirical-metaphysical 'two-natures' doctrine which has become orthodoxy in the Christian tradition. The doctrine has to be considered as literal, as opposed to metaphorical, in that Chalcedon did certainly not intend at its conclusion to assert that God was merely metaphorically divine, or metaphorically human. He was not poetically-speaking God, but literally, actually God, and similarly, he was truly and genuinely a man. We can accept what it means for Jesus to be man - finite in physical form, part of the genetic stream of human life and evolution, and a part of his social, cultural and historical milieu. But what does it mean to say that this same man was the Second Person of the Trinity? The early church could not satisfactorily resolve this problem - adoptionists left no room for Jesus to be 'of the same substance' as God, and neither did the claim that Jesus was a man uniquely inhabited by the Holy Spirit. That Jesus was a man unique in his complete and perfect response to God's will did not seem to appropriately acknowledge his divine status and pre-existence as the Logos (another example of an expression of Christ suited to the ends of the believers in question - namely the theologians, in this case). That Jesus' rational soul was replaced by the Spirit, making him bodily human but essentially divine clearly sacrifices the essential humanity that the importance of the story of Jesus' life demanded. The orthodox response is to insist upon the full and essential existence of both natures, but has however never been able to put substance to this insistence: to say Jesus is both a man and God is, without content, as useless as to say that a circle drawn on paper is both a circle and a square. Chalcedon makes no attempt to interpret the formula upon which it insists! This would seem to suggest that the value of such statements about the incarnation is not indicative, but expressive - it expresses a valuation or significance rather than asserting empirical fact. The doctrine of the incarnation, then, is a mystery in that classical Christian sense of the word - not something to be figured out and worked through empirically, but an expression and evocation of an appropriate attitude toward the figure of Christ, and his relationship to the figure of God. Hick means by myth a story which is told, which is not literally true, or an idea or image applied to a concept to which it does not literally apply, inviting a particular attitude or response from the audience, rather than expressing a factual assertion. Thus the incarnation is not literally true, since it makes no literal sense to say that the historical Jesus of Nazareth was both fully man and fully God, but is a mythological assertion equivalent to the ascription of divine sonship to Kings of Israel - it gives us the means to express Jesus' importance to the world through our cultural experience, and allowed the disciples to express their devotion to Christ and his teaching. The expressions synonymous with that of the 'Logos made flesh' have served Christianity well for over a thousand years, such that it did not matter that these statements became considered literally, since they did not at that stage impact upon or impede human understanding or experience of the world. However, from

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