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Christology is that part of Christian theology that studies and defines who Jesus the Christ was and is. It is generally less concerned with the minor details of his life; rather it deals with who he was, the incarnation, and the major events of his life (his birth, death, and resurrection).
Important issues in Christology include:
- His human nature
- His divine nature
- The interrelationship between these two natures; how they interacted and affected each other
Christology may also cover questions concerning the nature of God like the Trinity, Unitarianism or Binitarianism, and what, if anything, Christ accomplished for the rest of humanity. There are almost as many Christological views as there are variants of Christianity. The different Christological views of various Christian sects have led to accusations of heresy, and, infrequently, subsequent religious persecution. In many 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.
Controversies concerning those who deny Christ's divine natureEdit
Some important controversies have included the controversy with Arians over Christ's divinity and relationship with the Father, which led to the adoption of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed; the controversy over Nestorianism, and that over Monophysitism (and its derivates Monothelitism and Monoenergism) which led to the first Seven Ecumenical Councils and their many decrees, canons and professions of faith. The adoption of the Chalcedonian view of Christology was, as Karl Rahner would say, key to the beginning of Christological Discussion. Other controversies in Christology included the Docetists and the Adoptionists.
We can describe most of these in terms of whether they believed Christ had a divine nature, human nature or both; and if both, in terms of how the two natures coexisted or interacted. All of these views will be presented in simplified form.
One of the earliest dispute within Christianity centered on whether Jesus was God. A number of early Christian sects believed that Jesus was not divine, but was simply a human Moshiach prophet promised in the Old Testament, see Deuteronomy 18. This doctrine, originating in the Judeo-Christian community in Nazareth, that believed that Jesus was simply a prophet as promised in the Old Testament, and not truly One with the Father, as the Second Person of the Trinity, True God and True Man, came to be known as the Ebionite heresy by the prevailing orthodoxy, perhaps due to their utter lack of Biblical support. The inclusion of the genealogies of Jesus Christ at Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 are used to explain the belief that Jesus is the Christ from the line of David. An alternative explanation is that Christ's natures were in opposition to each other, that Jesus Christ only had the illusion of a human body and, thus, no human ancestry at all. This doctrine is thought to have been part of the Gnostic Christians, who were later labeled as heretics by orthodox church authorities. The belief that Jesus was only human was also opposed by church leaders such as Paul and also came to be held as heretical, with mose sects soon subsumed by orthodox churches, causing these beliefs to diminish greatly.
A position that is held by many people whom this article has failed to define who believe in Binitarianism is that Jesus was the Word, and thus God (John 1), before His birth, that He was not fully God while on Earth in the sense that He could do nothing of Himself (John 5:19,30;8:28), and that Jesus became fully God after the resurrection with all authority (Matthew 28:18) and power of God as He had prior to His incarnation is also considered by most Orthodox Christian scholars as a modern day heresy, which is no surprise due to it's un-Biblical nature and it's lack of consideration for the Duality of Christ.
The Chalcedonian view is summarized by the creed of Nicea-Constantinople which was ecumenically accepted at the Council of Chalcedon. This view is that Christ "possesses two natures," divine and human, which are united in the one person of Jesus Christ without either nature losing any of its properties nor uniqueness but without any separability. This creed was adapted at the Council of Chalcedon, and was greatly influenced by the Tome of Leo which Pope Leo I sent to be read at that council. It is the dogma of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and is also the view of the Anglican church, and many Protestant churches. One of the doctrines relating in depth to the nature of Jesus while on earth is kenosis.
Some other views lessen the extent to which Jesus was divine, one of which is the Arian view that Christ is not fully divine, but was created by God for the purpose of accomplishing salvation.
Controversies concerning those who deny Christ's human natureEdit
Yet other views made the claim that Jesus was fully divine but not fully human. The strict Monophysite view is that the human nature of Christ was dissolved or consumed by the Divine, whereas the Miaphysite view is that Christ exists as a hybrid nature, simultaneously human and Divine, unique in the universe. The Docetist view is that Christ was never fully human, but only appeared to be human. Semi-docetism only partially denies humanity, usually by asserting that Christ was not subject to temptation nor to any of the normal human frailties of hunger, fatigue, or fear of death.
Other views support the idea of Jesus as a man, for example, the Nestorian view is that the divine, and the man, shared the same body but retained two separate personhoods. The Adoptionist view is that Jesus was born a man only, but became God's son by adoption when he was baptized in the Jordan, whereas Psilanthropism is the view that Jesus is literally "only man", and not in any way divine.
There is also the Messianic Jewish view that Yeshuwah and YHWH are the same entity, with Ruach haQodesh and 'Elohiym being separate parts of the Godhead. YHWH appears in the TaNaKh, while Yeshuwah is the incarnate form of YHWH found in the Briyth Chadashah. In this view, Yeshuwah is born fully man and becomes fully God upon His baptism by Ruach haQodesh (symbolizing our inclusion into the family of God upon our own baptism with Ruach haQodesh).
It could also be argued that Roman Catholics and Calvinists, who believe in a strict concept of original sin also fully or partially deny the human nature of Christ. The Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary is but one of several necessary doctrinal bulkheads implemented in the wake of the dogma of original sin.
Roman Catholics and Calvinists follow St Augustine’s teachings on original sin in believing that human beings inherit not only the tendency and urges to sin, but the actual guilt of sin as well. They commonly cite Paul’s statement "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned." (Rom 5:12 NRSV). However this leaves the question of Jesus Christ in an untenable position. If we are all born with the actual guilt of sin, then Christ was also born a sinner.
In order to get around the concept that Jesus was born a sinner, the Catholic dogma on the immaculate conception of Mary took shape. This doctrine should not be confused with the virgin birth of Christ, which is commonly but incorrectly called the immaculate conception.
According to common Catholic understandings, Mary the mother of Jesus was preserved by God from the stain of original sin by being born totally sinless. Mary is then said to have never sinned ever in her life. The net result of this doctrine is that when Jesus was born, he did not inherit the same sinful nature as the rest of humanity. He was born with the nature of Adam before the fall, not after the fall like the rest of us.
The problem of this is it denies Christ the same frail post-fall human nature we all have to live with. It also appears inconsistent with a number of other statements by the Apostle Paul:
- "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4).
- “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for[f]the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18).
Other Christians such as Eastern Orthodox or Protestants like Seventh Day Adventists would claim that Roman Catholics and Calvanists fail to understand the real nature and origin of sin. They would claim that there is a big difference between the tendency or urge to sin (i.e. temptation) and the actual act of sinning (see section on original sin).
Eastern Orthodox and Adventists would argue that Paul is stating that Christ, like any other human being, inherited the same frail human body as the rest of humanity. Christ nor any other human inherits the actual guilt of sin. What Christ inherited was the tendency and urge to sin. Christ’s temptation is testament to this. He felt the same kind of hunger, the same weaknesses.
- "For this reason [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17).
An Eastern Orthodox and Adventists might argue that understanding Christ’s human nature is just as crucial to understanding His mission and earthly ministry as understanding His divine nature.
- “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).
Christological views reflected in names and titles of JesusEdit
(see Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament for the views of critical scholars)
Christ the KingEdit
In Roman Catholic theology, one title given to Jesus is "Christ the King", and there is a feast day associated with this title. This title is meant to say that Christ should rule over all aspects of life, including political life. Thus, this title is opposed to secularism.
King of Kings and Lord of LordsEdit
King of HeavenEdit
There is a long tradition of using this title for both Christ and God the Father, especially in medieval Catholicism. For instance, St. Joan of Arc used phrases such as "King Jesus, King of Heaven and of all the world, my rightful and sovereign Lord" (in a letter she dictated on 17 July 1429).
In Exodus 3 when God appeared in the burning bush, Moses asked by what name he should be called. In the Septuagint translation God replied «ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ Ὤν». «Ὁ Ὤν» (HO ON) translates the Hebrew «אהיה», but a rendering in English has been seen as problematic. It is variously given as "I AM", "The Existing One", "He Who Is", "THE BEING", or similar senses. In Eastern Orthodox icons Jesus is usually portrayed with a cross inscribed in his halo, and by way of identifying him with the God who revealed himself to Moses the letters ὁ, Ὤ, and ν are often written in its branches.
Starting in the third century the nomina sacra, or names of Jesus, were sometimes shortened by contraction in Christian inscriptions, resulting in sequences of Greek letters such as IH (iota-eta), IC (iota-sigma), or IHC (iota-eta-sigma) for Jesus (Greek Iēsous), and XC (chi-sigma), XP (chi-ro) and XPC (chi-rho-sigma) for Christ (Greek Christos). Here "C" represents the medieval "lunate" form of Greek sigma; sigma could also be transcribed into the Latin alphabet by sound, giving IHS and XPS. Some of these Greek monograms continued to be used in Latin during the Middle Ages. Eventually the correct meaning was mostly forgotten, and erroneous interpretation of IHS led to the faulty orthography "Jhesus". Towards the close of the Middle Ages IHS became a symbol with the "H" appearing as a cross and underneath it three nails, while the whole figure is surrounded by rays. IHS became the accepted iconographical characteristic of St. Vincent Ferrer and of St. Bernardine of Siena. Bernardine, at the end of his sermons would exhibit this monogram devoutly to his audience for which he was criticized and even brought before Pope Martin V. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) founder, Ignatius of Loyola adopted the monogram in his seal and it became the emblem of his institute. IHS was sometimes wrongly understood as "Jesus Hominum (or Hierosolymae) Salvator", i.e. Jesus, the Saviour of men (or of Jerusalem=Hierosolyma).
- Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to New Testament Christology. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994. ISBN 0809135167
- Chemnitz, Martin. The Two Natures in Christ. J. A. O. Preus, trans. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970. ISBN 0570032105
- Karkkainen, Veli-Matti. Christology: A Global Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. ISBN 0801026210
- Matera, Frank J. New Testament Christology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999. ISBN 0664256945
- Norris, Richard A. and William G. Rusch. The Christological Controversy. Sources of Early Christian Thought Series. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1980. ISBN 0800614119
- O'Collins, Gerald. Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0198755023
- Outler, Albert C. Christology. Bristol House, 1996. ISBN 1885224087
- Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph. Introduction to Christianity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1969. ISBN I-58617-029-5
- Scaer, David P.. Christology Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics Vol. VI Northville, SD: The Luther Academy, 1989. ISBN 0-9622791-6-1
- Marchesi S.J., Giovanni. Gesu di Nazaret:Chi Sei? Lineamenti di cristologia. San Paolo Edizioni. 2004. ISBN 8821552187
- Christology: Beliefs about the Nature of Christ - ReligionFacts.com
- Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings from Before the Beginning Historical and biblical arguments favoring binitarianism.
- What is Christology?
- Rosicrucians: Jesus and Christ Jesus (esoteric Christian view)
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