God Made Man (Part II)

major-roman-cities-mapBetween the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), many controversies erupted from the Alexandrian and Antiochene positions on the person of Christ.[16] The Council of Constantinople (381 AD) condemned the belief of Apollinarius that Christ only had one will, that of the divine.[17] While the Church believed that Christ had a divine will, there was too much scriptural and philosophical support for the position that Christ had a human will as well. How else can one explain Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), and other verses that seem to indicate that Christ had a human will? For God to be the redeemer of man, He needed to include full humanity as Irenaeus and Tertullian had emphasized years before.[18] Continue reading

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God Made Man (Part I)

jesus_catacombC. S. Lewis once said that if the incarnation happened, “it was the central event in the history of the earth.” What is the incarnation? And why has it been such an important area of theological consideration since the earliest days of Christianity? The term ‘incarnation’ may be defined as “a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.”[1] For the Christian tradition, the man who has been understood as deified has been Jesus of Nazareth; but the Christian claim of Jesus as God, not merely as one who embodied God, historically presented a plethora of questions to the early Christian theologians.

In determining what the incarnation means for Christians, the Early Church Fathers sought to determine more concerning the person Jesus. Maurice Wiles writes that “the heart of Christian faith is the person of Christ and what God has done in him.”[2] The orthodox Christian Church has always professed monotheism based upon the Jewish tradition and the scriptures.[3] Given this monotheistic belief however, the early Church viewed Jesus not as a simple messenger of God, but worshiped Him as the Son of God.[4] This is especially evident in the writing’s of Irenaeus, who refers to Jesus as “the Word, the Son of God.” [5] Continue reading

On the Incarnation

incarnation_1600C. S. Lewis once said that if the incarnation happened, “it was the central event in the history of the earth.” What is the incarnation? And why has it been such an important area of theological consideration since the earliest days of Christianity? The term ‘incarnation’ may be defined as “a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.”[1] For the Christian tradition, the man who has been understood as deified has been Jesus of Nazareth; but the Christian claim of Jesus as God, not merely as one who embodied God, historically presented a plethora of questions to the early Christian theologians. Continue reading

Syrian Clothing Terminology and the Goal of the Christian Life

Aramean-Edessa_AbgarThe use of “clothing terminology” by early Christians offers an opportunity to investigate the development of an important theological metaphor, one that would become rife with Christological implications by the fourth century. While Paul certainly employed clothing imagery in several of his letters (one immediately thinks of Romans 13, 1 Corinthians 15, and Ephesians 6), Syrian Christianity seems to have found a particular affinity for this theme. This is especially true for early Syrian documents like the Song of the Pearl and Odes of Solomon, which enhance clothing terminology and connect it with their respective theological teleologies, their understandings of the goal of the Christian life. This reflection will note several uses of clothing imagery in these early Syrian Christian writings before briefly exploring how these concepts may be developed by a later Syrian thinker, Ephrem of Nisibis. Continue reading

Conceptions of the Ultimate in Early Christianity

This post is part of our ongoing series concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the manner in which various world religions understand the Divine. Today’s reflection engages Paula Fredriksen’s discussion of ultimate reality in early Christianity, found in Robert Cummings Neville’s Ultimate Realities.

Catacombs Image of ChristIn this reflection, I want to touch on two facets of her essay: the limited scope of sacrifice within early Christology and the function of holiness as soteriology and eschatology in understanding early Christian conceptions of the ultimate. Fredriksen rightly notes two major influences upon early Christian conceptions of the ultimate: Second Temple Jewish conceptions of the Ultimate and the blood sacrifice themes within the writings of the Apostle Paul. These she helpfully expounds upon, drawing out both the centrality of Christ in Christian attempts to understand the ultimate and also the central role of sacrifice as catalyst for early Christian thought concerning God and community. However, as insightful as her treatment of this theme is, I wonder if it does adequate justice to the full range of ideas within early Christianity concerning the ultimate. That is, how useful is Fredriksen’s (admittedly) narrow foray into conceptions of ultimate reality in early Christianity? Purposefully ignoring New Testament passages that were later favored by the early Church in Christological explanations seems an odd way to go about understanding the early church; and were Fredriksen specifically writing on the development of the ultimate in ancient Christianity, her argument concerning the centrality of blood sacrifice may stand (though this too would likely be problematized by the source materials she ignores). Most vexing, and most problematic for her overarching argument, is Fredriksen’s rejection of Philippians 2:5-11 as a suitable source. Most scholars affirm that this passage reveals a pre-Pauline Christological formula, making it one of the earliest possible Christian statements concerning both Christology and Christological conceptions of the ultimate. It is thus highly surprising that she crafts the scope and contents of her essay without this highly important passage. This leads back to our earlier question: how useful (and accurate) is the portrait of the ultimate in early Christianity when the scope of Fredriksen’s sources has been so narrowly drawn? Continue reading

Ultimate Reality in Chinese Religion

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the manner in which world religions understand the divine. Today’s reflection engages the perspective of Livia Kohn on ultimate reality in Chinese religion.
Kong Fuzi (Confucius)

Kong Fuzi (Confucius)

While finding Kohn’s treatment of the complexities and uniqueness of Chinese religions insightful, I was again struck by the important role of texts in the development and practice of the religions this course has considered. This reflection seeks to note the central role that texts and textual appeals seem to play in Chinese religions, as alluded to throughout Kohn’s essay. The essay begins by noting that ultimate reality is often considered in philosophical, practical, and mythical ways (10), and that through these lenses religious claims about the resolution of the human predicament are made (11). In the Christian tradition at least, philosophical, mythical, and (though to a somewhat lesser extent) practical doctrines and exhortations are almost always recorded and appealed to within the context of a text (at least the ones that are influential in the long-run). This paradigm seems to hold true for Chinese religions as well, with Daoist texts and Confucian sages functioning as the best sources for thinking about Ultimate Reality in the Chinese context (12-13). Kohn also directs us toward considering the problem of language in conceiving of Chinese religions. Not only are there no terms that correlate to the idea of “ultimate reality” (11), but the language that can be used to point towards that idea is confronted by the paradox of Chinese thought, where “If it’s the Dao, you cannot see it; if you can see it, it’s not that Dao” (12). For practioners of Chinese religion, the experience of ridding oneself of passions, emotions, and individual consciousness and seeking to align one’s conscience with the order of the cosmos appears to serve as the path for realization the “Ultimates,” the pluriform ways in which the “unreal, invisible, and intangible” ultimate may be experienced (31). Continue reading

Religious Secularity

This post is part of an ongoing series investigating “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which the world religious approach and understand the Divine. Today’s post engages a chapter of Mark C. Taylor’s work, After God.

Map of the InternetIn this reflection, I want to focus on Taylor’s chapter “Religious Secularity,” specifically his discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity and its implications for understanding Protestant theology’s impact on the formation of the “secular” West. From the perspective of one having been trained in theological method and the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, there are a number of points that Taylor draws out in his discussion worthy of consideration. First, Taylor’s relation of the Trinitarian scheme to visions of the “interplay between God, self, and world” is fundamentally positive, and would seem to serve as an excellent starting point for Taylor’s constructive theological claims for the 21st century (139). This tri-part reality he effectively ties into conceptions of “creative mergence” (later developed by Hegel) as the source of appropriate theologies of nature, history, and culture (142). Continue reading

The Evolution of God

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Conceptions of the Ultimate, the manner in which world religions understand the divine. Today’s article reflects on a portion of Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God, raising several questions concerning the viability of his presentation of Christianity.

The Evolution of God (Wright)In the third part of The Evolution of God, Wright traces the development of early Christianity and its contribution to growing love and toleration within the Abrahamic traditions, arguing that the Apostle Paul, and not Jesus of Nazareth, produced the thinking and methods of inclusive incorporation into Christian communities that laid the foundations for the tradition’s latter success. However, in order for Wright’s summary of Christianity to fit into his overarching thesis concerning the evolution of God, he makes several claims concerning the historical Jesus, claims that I wish to briefly problematize in this reflection. Each of these considerations touches on an important question regarding Wright’s presentation, namely, does his view adequately address the criterion of historical dissimilarity regarding Jesus? Continue reading

Christologies in Conflict: Cyril and Nestorius

Rendition of the Council of Ephesus

Rendition of the Council of Ephesus

The Christological controversies of the early Church are some of the most interesting and historically confusing events within the Christian tradition. The four great Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and the writings of Early Christian leaders, both orthodox and heterodox, provide scholars with a wealth of information concerning the controversies concerning early belief concerning the person of Jesus Christ. At the Council of Ephesus (of which there were actually two) in 431 AD, the theologies of Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Constantinople squared off concerning the person of Christ, whether there were two distinct persons of Logos and man within the incarnate Christ, or if the persons were somehow joined in a union.[1] Continue reading

Images and Darsan

This post is part of our ongoing series of reflections concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which various world religions conceive of and interpret the Ultimate Being of the cosmos.

Darsan in HinduismDarsan means “seeing the divine”, and Diana L. Eck’s book bearing the same name, she discusses the Hindu practice of seeing and understanding the divine image in various Hindu contexts. In this reflection, I focus on the nature of the divine image in the Hindu tradition, especially as this concept relates to Christian conceptions of divine nature and representation. Darsan offers numerous insights into the parallels between Hindu and Christian theologies, providing another useful source for thinking about the relationship between Hindu and Christian theologies. Continue reading