Ten Perspectives on Christology

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit
Share on email

By Will Deatherage, Executive Director

The following is a collection of mini-essays on ten different Christological texts, from Historical Jesus studies to conciliar documents, to Liberation Theology. A summary of each author’s text is given, as well as their significance and a reflection.

William Loewe: The History of Historical Jesus Studies

Summary

In his essay From the Humanity of Christ to the Historical Jesus, William Loewe describes how Catholic theologians argued for the relevance of historical Jesus studies to Catholicism and responded to scholars who weaponized such studies against the Church. One major catalyst for this third wave of historical Jesus scholarship was the Jesus Seminar, in which a group of scholars voted on which Gospel passages could be attributed to the historical Jesus. This series of seminars sought to strip Christianity of its dogmatic theology and use the authentic sayings of Jesus as the religion’s new foundation. Perhaps predictably, these scholars not only concluded that Catholic doctrine was incompatible with the historical Jesus, but that the real Jesus could not be found in scripture at all. Among Catholic theologians to react against the Jesus Seminar were David Tracy and Elizabeth Johnson. The former rebutted its attempt to undermine dogmatics by asserting that the foundations of Christianity are the Apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, rather than the literal words of Christ, Himself. Thus, Tracy argued that historical Jesus studies were not very relevant to theology. While Johnson agreed with Tracy’s focus on Apostolic witness, she argued that certain attributes of the Apostolic Jesus, such as His existence, were contingent on a historical Jesus, while touting the benefits of historical Jesus studies on gaining a better understanding of Jesus’s human nature. Finally, she urged caution when using “historical Jesus” as a fixed concept, since there are several competing sources portraying Jesus’s life, and their interpreters will inevitably find a Jesus who conforms to their own biases.

Significance

After being rattled by the first two waves of historical Jesus studies, the first driven by Enlightenment secularists and the second by Protestants, Catholicism needed to defend its Christological foundations. Johnson and Tracy were crucial in equipping theologians to better argue for aspects of Christ’s nature, such as His existence and divinity, that once relied on assumptions. They also renewed attention to Christ’s human nature, which had been obfuscated by crypto-monophysitism, the tendency to focus exclusively on His divinity. Additionally, Johnson’s observation regarding the impossibility of an objective historical Jesus helped to expose the anti-dogmatic biases that the preceding quests had. Both theologians not only defended the integrity of Christology, but they, especially Johnson, helped to Catholicize historical Jesus studies. 

Reflection

Throughout most of my life, I was exposed to two extreme opinions regarding the historical Jesus: one insisted that the historical Jesus is not worth investigating, and the other claimed that the historical Jesus was fundamentally different from the Jesus that Catholics worship. Even today, I often hear my conservative peers deem historical Jesus studies as fruitless because they originated from anti-Catholic sources. To these critics, I respond that the efforts of Johnson and Tracy are excellent examples of the Augustinian mission to despoil the Egyptians by interpreting the findings of secularists and Protestants in a Catholic light. Historical Jesus studies help Christology appreciate Christ’s human nature and equip Catholics to respond to the fundamental questions people from other religions or cultures might have about Jesus. Thus, the historical Jesus is an invaluable asset to Christology when it is used as a tool, rather than a foundation, for learning more about Jesus.

Gerhard Lohfink: The Historicity of Jesus’s Miracles

Summary

In chapter nine of Jesus of Nazareth, Gerhard Lohfink debunks the narrative that Jesus’s miraculous abilities were identical to those of His contemporary exorcists and healers. These magicians, both Hellenistic and Hebrew, were far less prevalent than many modern historians admit. Regarding the Greeks and Romans, Lohfink contrasts how Apollinaris of Tyna, Vespassian, and the cult of Ascelpus in Epidaurus relied on spells, magical objects, and the invocation of higher authorities for their miracles to work, whereas Jesus never used spells or magical objects and invoked His own authority when healing and exorcising. Even Jewish miracle workers and exorcists like Eleazar and Hani the Circle Drawer were reliant on trinkets and invocations for successful miracles. For example, Hani would perform his rain ritual for extended periods of time before it worked, a far cry from Jesus’s immediate command over nature. Furthermore, whereas most magicians benefited from their miracles, Jesus had little to gain from His astonishing works, which were performed in response to faith and to symbolize the new Israel. If anything, Jesus’s commitment to the symbolic nature of His miracles, as well as His refusal to perform them on command, led to His execution. Finally, Lohfink critiques the Enlightenment misunderstanding that miracles are a violation of the laws of nature. The proper understanding of a miracle is an event through which God extends His grace in the form of a symbolic perfection of nature. A miracle is, therefore, no freak of nature or arbitrary flex of power; it is God’s grace-filled response to an act of faith. 

Significance

Lohfink’s chapter is perhaps the most impressive rebuttal to the modern interpretation of Jesus’s miracles I have ever read. Whereas many modern secular scholars attempt to reduce Jesus to a variation of His magician contemporaries, Lohfink invokes several historical examples to show how Jesus was distinct from his counterparts. I also found his commentary on the false dichotomy between natural and divine action quite compelling. His emphasis on God acting through the world shows parallels with the sacraments; just as sacraments are natural symbols that draw humans to our supernatural God, miracles also use phenomena to invite us into a relationship with our Creator. Lohfink’s reminder that the Ancient Jews understood all of creation to be miraculous is sobering to our modern culture, which has reduced miracles to flashy magic tricks, thus greatly diminishing our capacity to see God acting in the world. 

Reflection

“Why aren’t there miracles anymore?” is a question I hear too often from friends and family. Loftink’s suggestion of a return to an ancient concept of the miraculous in creation helps to answer this question. The explanation of miracles as events that defy the laws of physics makes God seem distant and removed from the creation that He was once so involved with in the Old Testament. When our expectations of miracles shift from God’s response to faith to extraordinary events that break the laws of physics, we set our faith up for disaster. Ironically, our demand for God to show us signs so that we might believe is precisely what Jesus rejected when His executioners demanded He show them God’s power. Even in His final moments of life, Jesus refused to perform miracles to convert people; such displays would nullify our freedom to choose God. Therefore, we should stop questioning why earth-shattering miracles do not seem to happen and instead reflect on the extraordinary moments in our lives God invites us to participate in the miracle of His relationship with us.

Richard Price: The Council of Chalcedon

Summary

In “The Council of Chalcedon: A Narrative,” R. Price gives a vivid description of the dramatic events that led to, constituted, and followed the Council of Chalcedon. What began as a condemnation of Nestorius’s denial of the Virgin Mary’s title of Theotokos (or God-bearer) by Cyril of Alexandria, who was eager to diminish the authority of Constantinople, led to a decades-spanning debate over Christ’s natures. Nestorius’s refusal to believe that a human could birth God led to Cyril’s accusation that Nestorius believed in two beings, one human and one divine, of Jesus. This culminated in the condemnation of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus. Cyril’s  successors in Alexandria followed suit by viciously attacking Antiochene bishops who professed similar beliefs to those of Nestorius, which led to the Second Council of Ephesus’s condemnations of several theologians who professed a Christ with two natures (a belief deemed too similar to that of Nestorius). These condemnations, however, were not endorsed by Pope Leo, which led to yet another council: Chalcedon. This council is a landmark because, unlike Nicaea whose canons alone were documented, most of its activities were transcribed. The council was quite heated, as it struggled to prosecute wrongdoers from the previous councils and offer a satisfactory definition of Christ’s natures. Finally, the Council Fathers agreed that Christ had two natures, one human and one divine, that were united by a single hypostasis.

Significance

Price’s depiction of Chalcedon shows how the canons and dogmatic statements of Church councils do not disclose the complex debates and procedures that led to their promulgation. It is impossible to grasp the intentions of the leaders of any council without appreciating the meticulousness and controversies involved in crafting doctrinal expressions. Furthermore, a superficial glance of Chalcedon’s dogmas might suggest that its topics had been totally settled. The arguments, tensions, and politics that flowed throughout and lingered after the council, set the need for future councils into motion. Thus, without understanding the process by which these dogmas were formulated, it is difficult to grasp why future councils were required. Price’s emphasis on how Chalcedon was the first council whose activities were catalogued in detail helps historical theologians better understand how the closure of Chalcedon set the stage for the following ecumenical councils.

Reflection

Conciliar fundamentalism is a massive problem for young theologians. The tensions between Catholicism and modernity have produced a reactionary tendency among young people to pursue extrinsic rules as a remedy for what they perceive as the world’s perceived nihilism. It is tempting to appeal to conciliar statements as dogmatic handbooks because it makes Catholicism seemingly easy to grasp. Ironically, doing so only complicates matters more because a literal reading of Church councils leads to contradictions. Conciliar fundamentalism ironies are thickened by the fact that these people mock Evangelicals for interpreting the Bible literally when they do the exact same thing to conciliar documents. Canons and anathemas are meaningless without knowing the intent and context of their authors, as well as their audiences. Narratives like Price’s are important in contributing towards our understanding of these Church councils; without them, we risk compromising the dynamic nature of our faith and reducing Catholicism to a static laundry list of rules.

Francis Schussler Fiorenza: A History of Redemption Models

Summary

Francis Schussler Fiorenza’s entry on redemption in the New Dictionary of Theology provides a comprehensive yet condensed overview of the Church’s historical understanding of redemption. He begins by defining redemption as liberation from one state to entering another. In the Hebrew context, this most often meant liberation from slavery or resolution of a person’s distress. Redemption establishes relationships; in the Old Testament, it united God to His people. Fiorenza then crucially establishes that no Church council or ecclesial document has endorsed a specific redemption theory before giving a detailed account of such theories throughout history. He mentions how the New Testament authors agreed that Jesus’s life and death were redemptive, though they disagreed precisely how. Whereas Paul focused on the role Christ’s death and resurrection play in our cosmic redemption, the Gospels like Luke and Mark emphasized the redemptive activity of Jesus and His disciples in their ministries. Furthermore, John sees Christ’s Incarnation, before His ministry and death, as redemptive in itself, while Hebrews casts Christ’s death in sacrificial terms; He is the high priest who, through His sacrifice, purges His temple of sin. Finally, revelation uses metaphors to portray God’s full command over sin and death. The early Christians often focused on the redemptive nature of Christ’s teachings. Jesus was a model for ethical conduct, and His divine wisdom brought light into a world enslaved by darkness and sin. Several theologians also situated Christ’s redemptive activity in a battle between God and Satan over the fate of humanity. The medievals, particularly Anselm, criticized this approach, which they thought gave too much power to Satan. In response, they considered redemption as a satisfaction of a debt we owe God because of our original sin. This was later critiqued for relying too much on feudal notions of satisfaction. The Reformation shifted this focus to Christ as a substitute for the punishment God owed us. While Christ suffered, He brought us closer to God, thus through the cross, both God’s wrath and love were fully revealed. Since then, many modern theologians have focused on redemption as a fulfillment of our desire for conscious awareness and self-knowledge. Sin is an impediment on our relationship with God, ourselves, and the world, and Jesus is the historical ideal whom we must follow. 

Significance

Fiorenza’s entry is a helpful summary, albeit a very dense one. It seems to pay more attention to certain time periods over others, such as liberation theology towards the end, though his ability to fit so much information into one entry is impressive. While his descriptions of the differences between redemption in New Testament texts is helpful in illustrating the nuances of each text, his section on the modern focus on consciousness could have used some additional explanation. Still, Fiorenza provides a useful primer for Catholics seeking a brief, yet comprehensive, overview of soteriology.

Reflection

The Church’s varied understandings of redemption theory illustrates the necessity for theological expression to evolve over time. As demonstrated by the later criticism directed at Anselm’s satisfaction theory, the way a society interprets Jesus’s redemption can vary between cultures. What might seem just to a medieval feudalist society might not seem fair to a modern one. Because of this, perhaps it is wise that the Church has avoided endorsing a singular model of redemption. As our understanding of ourselves in relation to society continues to change, so will our ideas regarding what about us requires redemption. Given today’s environmental crisis, perhaps there will be more redemption theories that focus on restored harmony with the environment. As developing countries that were once (or are still) taken advantage of by their first world counterparts continue to be Christianized, perhaps future redemption theories will focus on global equity. The beauty of Christian redemption is that it provides theologians with a fixed reality that we are redeemed by Christ but leaves the precise nature of what such redemption entails open for interpretation.

Thomas Aquinas: The Incarnation as Optimal but not Necessary

Summary

In Summa Theologica article one of question one of book three, St. Thomas Aquinas responds to objections regarding the incarnation. He first is challenged by claims that the Incarnation is unfitting of God because it would contradict God’s eternity and perfection, since flesh implies temporality, humanity is infinitely lower than God, and flesh is evil. Aquinas replies that the most fitting things are those that are visible, and His Incarnation is the most fitting way for God to physically manifest His victory over evil. He also replies that God’s eternal status was not changed by the Incarnation and that evil does not come from flesh but comes from going against our nature. In fact, it was necessary for God to become Incarnate not because He had to save us through the Incarnation but because it was the optimal way to do so. Aquinas also refutes the claim that Christ came to take away actual sin alone, rather than original sin, as well as the idea that Christ should have come at the beginning of human history. He uses the analogy that medicine should only be administered to those who are sick, so it would not have been as fitting for Christ to come before Adam’s sin.

Significance

Thomas Aquinas’s treatise on the Incarnation impressively builds upon and integrates the other parts of Summa into rebuttals of objections to Christ’s human nature. Because of this, it is crucial to understand Aquinas’s pre-established definitions of concepts like perfection, infinity, body-spirit relations, and nature before one can adequately grasp the ideas expressed in book three. In this respect, Aquinas’s text is daunting and rigorous, but its coherence makes it a monumental academic work. His unification of diverse scriptural passages and ideas from theologians like Augustine brilliantly illustrates the importance of tradition and continuity in Catholicism, so an understanding of these sources also helps to better appreciate Aquinas’s ideas. He condenses hundreds of years of Christology into a single chapter, which means that every term and source he invokes is packed full of meaning. Therefore, while reading Aquinas’s Christology is strengthened by a familiarity with the other parts of the Summa, scripture, and earlier Christologies, these prerequisites help to further illuminate Aquinas’s ideas so that readers are not confused by his terminology.

Reflection

For some readers (including my undergraduate self), it may seem fruitless to speculate about ideas like the necessity of the Incarnation if humanity had not sinned or if Christ could have come at a different point in history. However, it is important to realize that Aquinas’s responses were necessary to defend his metaphysical system from challenges that, if unaddressed, could have undermined the rest of his theology. We must also escape the tendency to divorce speculative from practical reasoning, since the two are intertwined in Aquinas’s theology. For example, if one accepts that Christ should have come into being at another point in human history, it would imply that God did not save us in the optimal manner, thus threatening His perfection. The later accusations of Aquinas’s theology as too speculative are nullified by the fact that they have very real ramifications about our understanding of God’s nature, activity, and relationship to us. 

John Galvin: Christology in the 20th Century

Summary

John Galvin’s From the Humanity of Christ to the Jesus of History details how Twentieth Century Christology’s shift from studying Christ’s personhood (e.g. His human and divine natures and relation to the Holy Trinity) to His person in history (e.g. His intentions for His disciples and His self-understanding) impacted systematic theology. First, he explains how modern theology sought to avoid what Karl Rahner describes as a “hidden monophysitism” that emphasized Christ’s divinity so much that it nearly eclipsed His humanity. Galvin identifies two agendas that propelled this movement: the quests to integrate fundamental theology with dogmatic theology and to revisit the foundations of Christological dogmas. Regarding the former, Galvin shows how modern theologians sought to examine and explain several characteristics of Christ, such as His existence and divinity, that were previously assumed as true in dogmatic theology. Similarly, modern theologians sought to interrogate the biblical sources that were used to justify conciliar statements. These investigations yielded interest in several topics, such as Christ’s personhood, His omniscience, the nature of His Kingdom, His understanding of His death, and the origins of His sacraments that had been neglected by theologians for years.

Significance

Galvin’s historical overview is important because he highlights how the Christology of the early Twentieth Century’s reliance on presumptions called for renewed investigations and explanations of Christianity’s core fundamentals. He also vividly illustrates the impact this new Christology had on Systematic Theology, as well as Theology as a whole. He shows the significance behind a Christianity that must justify its core assumptions to a world that calls its foundations into question. That said, I would have appreciated a more in-depth overview of the global context that inspired these changes. Nevertheless, Galvin provides an excellent survey of the impact these Christological shifts had on systematic theology.

Reflection

In an increasingly globalized world, Christianity cannot expect other belief systems to instantly accept the ideas its tradition uniquely experienced and accepted as true. Christ’s intention for His disciples to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth requires a robust systematic theology that argues for the fundamentals of Christianity. Furthermore, as modern philosophers like John Stuart Mill asserted, failing to question our beliefs not only inhibits us from dialoguing with other people, but it leads us to forget why we deem our beliefs as true, thus creating dead dogma. If theology develops in response to a changing world, then the rise of globalization and pluralism in the Twentieth Century was a blessed, not a tragic, phenomenon that can help us deepen our own understanding of Christ, as well as spread His Gospel to the ends of the Earth.

Bernard Lonergan: Constructing a Subjective Christology

Summary

In his Christology, Bernard Lonergan attempts to recover the Thomistic method of theology as understanding rather than certainty, and he tries to reconstruct Christ’s humanity through modern ideas of identity and personhood. A person, according to Lonergan, is an identity, oneness, and certain capabilities to know the world in a way that is unique compared to other creatures. Experience, understanding, critical reflection, and judgment construct a person’s subjective identity, which is changed through self-reflection. He discusses psychology, history, philosophy, a religious and theological Christological method, and the meaning of Chalcedon. His foundation in psychology allows him to build a Christology on consciousness rather than metaphysics, and it enables him to develop a theology of transformative love. He then reflects on the meaning of presence and discusses how humanity’s concept of history has changed over time. Lonergan concludes that the subjective identity of Christ is that of a divine, eternal consciousness that was manifest in time as a human consciousness. He embraced the same sensitive, intellectual, rational, and moral operations that all human beings enjoy. Finally, Lonergan suggests that we understand the Trinitarian processions as relations between consciousness.

Significance

Lonergan’s analysis is particularly valuable in a culture that focuses on personhood and the subjective rather than metaphysics and the objective. It demonstrates that God is not simply found in speculative theology but is accessible to the average human’s experience, judgment, and self-reflection. His attempt to derive a consciousness of Christ are invaluable to a field that for so long focused almost exclusively on His divinity. Whereas metaphysics’s dominance of Christology yielded a crypto-monophysitism, Lonergan’s Christology of consciousness restored balance to His humanity. Because metaphysics was confined to a Western-European tradition, Christology was largely inaccessible to other cultures and modern ways of thinking. Lonergan’s emphasis on Christ’s humanity, on the other hand, appeals to consciousness, which is shared by people from all cultures, thus he renders Christology not only more accessible to people from other faiths and backgrounds but also for Christians who may not have a rigorous understanding of metaphysics but share the common experience of consciousness.

Reflection

Lonergan’s consciousness-based Christology reminds us that Christianity is not about a pursuit of intellectual certainty, rather it is about the exercise of conscious understanding that comes through encounter with God through the world. We must recall that the greatest Saints were hardly master theologians (many were barely literate) but instead participated in the same filial love that Christ shared with God. In fact, a significant part of Christ’s mission was to fight against the overly rigid speculative theology of the Pharisees, so we must also avoid the tendency to preach a Christianity that is dependent on a mastery of metaphysical principle. Thus, while the metaphysical distinctions of Christ’s nature are important, an over-emphasis on them risks alienating Christianity to an elitist school of thought.

Karl Rahner: Universal Christology

Summary

William Dych describes how Karl Rahner’s Christology aims at expressing Christ’s divinity and humanity in a manner that is intelligible in today’s pluralistic world. Rahner criticizes the traditional approach of relying on ancient doctrinal statements for Christology because our understanding of God evolves throughout history and the language theologians used to describe Christ centuries ago is often outdated or irrelevant to the average layperson today. Rahner combats the staticness of a descending Christology that relies on the assumed truths of revelation by shifting to an ascending Christology whose foundations are in the conditions for encountering Christ. Essentially, rather than starting from Christ’s identity according to ancient and medieval philosophy, Rahner’s Christology starts with the conditions that allow us to encounter God in the first place. Rahner’s Christology leans more towards anthropocentrism than theocentrism to avoid an overemphasis on Christ’s divinity. That said, Christ’s perfect union with God, in stark contrast to our insatiable craving for union with Him, can only be accomplished by the one who gives us our longing for God in the first place. Therefore, Christ must be fully human and fully God to experience and perfect the relationship God intended to have with His hylomorphic creation. 

Significance

Rahner’s text can be difficult to read, especially without a basic familiarity with phenomenological and existentialist terms. This makes Dych’s commentary invaluable to young theologians, since he excellently translates Rahner’s main ideas into more easily understandable language. Rahner’s ideas are key to addressing Christ’s relationship to all people because they are built on the religious impulse that transcends all cultures and creeds. By building a Christology on the foundations of universal encounter, Rahner’s Christology is more easily accessible to both Christians who are unfamiliar with Greek philosophy and non-Christians. His cosmic Christology is also instrumental in addressing how religions that were once considered adversarial to the Church have elements of truth and goodness in them. Finally, by affirming that only a being that is God Himself could attain perfect unity with God Rahner avoids the opposite extreme of overemphasizing Christ’s humanity.

Reflection

In my opinion, it is far easier to evangelize a Christ who is rooted in the universal religious impulse than a Christ whose definition is strictly confined to terms and philosophies that are centuries removed from our modern context. Greek philosophy is not only foreign to most modern Christians, but its definitions can come across as dry and static, making Christ seem distant and abstract, rather than close and approachable. A Christology that is rooted in the transcendent religious encounter is far easier to introduce to people from other cultures. Its foundation in universal experience embraces Vatican II’s call to spread the Gospel through finding common ground with others rather than focusing on our differences with them. Thanks to a Rahnerian Christology, the non-Christian or even Atheist does not have to learn ancient metaphysics to understand Christ but must instead merely begin by reflecting on his or her capacity for transcendence to begin pursuing Him.

Elizabeth Johnson: Liberation Christology

Summary

In chapter six of Consider Jesus, Elizabeth Johnson advocates for a Christology that focuses on Jesus as a liberator for the oppressed, rather than as a mighty king who legitimizes earthly power and authority. She observes that most influential theologians in the 20th Century belong to a narrow elitist class, which means that more attention must be paid to the perspectives of underprivileged and neglected peoples. She describes liberation Christology as a theology that recognizes the suffering of an oppressed group, focuses on praxis, is highly conscious of humankind’s social nature, involves social analysis, is concerned with not just understanding faith but changing unjust situations, and sees the kingdom of God as imminent. Its methods include the identification of oppressive situations as sinful, the recognition of how Christianity has contributed to that oppression, and a discernment of methods to alleviate such oppression. She is concerned about a difficulty many Christians have with identifying Christ with the poor and oppressed, since Western civilization has too often focused on Christ as a king, whose representatives govern by divine right. Finally, God’s liberation of the oppressed is not merely the byproduct of His eschatological plan but is the means by which the Kingdom of God is manifest throughout history.

Significance

Johnson importantly continues modern Christology’s project of humanizing Christ by shifting its focus from Christ as a mighty divine ruler to Him as liberator of the lowly. This is particularly useful to a Church that is no longer the temporal powerhouse it once was. By embracing a Christology of liberation, the Church can return to its roots as a religion concerned with praxis and service rather than sheer speculative theology (for all of its worth). Additionally, by observing how Christology has been shaped by a minority of the human population, she opens the possibility to understand Jesus through a more diverse array of perspectives. Furthermore, by including the crucial step of identifying ways Christianity has oppressed others Johnson’s method gives liberation Christology a way to evaluate its own progress.

Reflection

Johnson’s liberation Christology offers Christians an excellent opportunity to focus on praxis when we can often slip into a faith shaped by prayer or academic theology alone. All too often, I come across Catholics whose response to injustice is simply praying about it rather than acting upon it. Likewise, as an M.A. student, I know peers and professors whose idea of salvation seems contingent on perfect knowledge of theology and metaphysics. Especially in an age of mass exploitation, Johnson’s theology is a powerful reminder that we are called to live out, not merely study or reflect on, the Gospel message. That said, I am cautious about using the language of oppression. While it is evident that certain classes of people have dominated every society, it is important to not reduce all human history to class struggle (the Marxist reading of history), and we must exercise caution when putting people into categories of oppression. As someone with American and Mexican parents, I have sometimes been accused of belonging to an oppressive class while other times I have been treated as if I need extra assistance because of my race. While Johnson does not advocate for such a reductionist approach to systemic oppression, I believe it is something to keep in mind when considering how to actualize liberation Christology.

Gavin D’Costa: Christology and Religious Pluralism

Summary

In his chapter “Christ, the Trinity, and Religious Pluralism,” Gavin D’Costa proposes an inclusivist theology of other religions that avoids exclusivism and pluralism. He describes how the communications between the three persons of the Trinity can provide blueprints for how Christians ought to approach their non-Christian brethren. God communicates His universal qualities in the particular event of the Incarnation that is interpreted throughout history with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Because God is incomprehensible, humankind’s process of receiving His communications is never complete until the Parousia. Thus, Trinitarian theology forges a middle ground between exclusivism, which forgoes God’s mysterious nature by claiming He is exclusively comprehensible to the Church, and pluralism, which claims that God’s mysteriousness makes it impossible for any religion to claim exclusive knowledge of Him. D’Costa cites Athanasius’s emphasis that whatever is said of the Father is said of the Son, although they are not the same. He accuses exclusivists of conflating the Incarnation with the Father because they designate Christ’s particular historical event as the only time when the Father has revealed Himself to us. Likewise, He rejects pluralism’s overemphasis on the legitimacy of all religious revelation (universalism) by stressing the Gospel’s claim that whatever is said of the Father is said of the Son. Both exclusivism and pluralism ignore the Holy Spirit’s role in guiding humanity towards understanding of God that grows from historical reflection on the particular event of the Incarnation, which is refined by engaging with other religions.

Significance

D’Costa’s chapter is crucial in developing a Christian theology of other religions that is demanded by modernity. Globalization and social media have vastly expanded humanity’s capacity for peaceful interreligious dialogue, which is unique to the modern world since, in the past, intercultural dialogue was difficult, if not impossible, to occur on a global scale. Hundreds of years ago, cultures and the religions that were intertwined with them saw each other as existential threats and totally other. The continual elimination of cultural and political barriers presents the Church with the opportunity to understand other religions better. Given this expanded capacity for intercultural and interreligious dialogue, it would be uncharitable, unjust, and imprudent to apply older theologies of other religions, which were derived from vastly different historical contexts, to the modern world. Thus, D’Costa’s Trinitarian Christology, which recognizes the value of other religions while not compromising the framework for dialogue that the Incarnation provides, is indispensable to interreligious dialogue.

Reflection

I find D’Costa’s relation between Trinitarian theology, Christology, and the theology of other religions valuable because it keeps the three fields of study relevant to the modern world. For example, the Chalcedonian explanation of Christology would not likely seem relevant or attractive to non-Catholics. By presenting the Trinity as a mechanism to achieve greater intercultural unity, Christians can better introduce their counterparts to our ideas. Additionally, by interconnecting Trinitarian theology with Christology to tackle the problem of other religions, D’Costa’s work demonstrates theology’s holistic nature. Each discipline impacts the others, which I find refreshing in a culture of hyper-specialization, where professionals and academics alike seem increasingly confined to one narrow field of work or study.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 366 other subscribers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 366 other subscribers