Christology or the doctrine of Christ is not simply one topic or part of systematic theology but the basis of the whole.
According to Karl Barth, “Dogmatic must actually be Christology and only Christology.” D. M. Baillie is of the view that, “if we have not a sound Christology, we cannot have a sound theology either.” Christology is not an attempt to reconcile the attempt of incarnation with a doctrine of God, rather as far as Christian theology is concerned; it is the basis of our doctrine of God.
Early Christian theology is in reality almost exclusively Christology. In so far as it concentrated its whole theological interest for several centuries on Christological discussions, the early Catholic Church remained close enough to the early Church.
In the discussion of Christology, theologians they differ as what aspect of Christ i.e. his person or his work that should be discussed first. Brunner claims that the work of Christ should be treated before the person of Christ, because we know who Christ is, through what Christ does. Melancthon and Forsyth also follow Brunner in this assertion. In fact in the New Testament and the primitive church the knowledge of Christ moves from the work to the person. The earliest Christological titles indicated Christ’s work or function rather than Christ’s being or nature.
In Systematic Theology however, it is the discussion of agent of salvation which should be treated before treating the act or work of salvation i.e. to treat in the order of being first rather than in the order of knowing. Therefore, Soteriology comes after Christology.
In any case we cannot separate the person and work of Christ; they are a unity. “The being of Christ is his work, and his work is his being.” According to Brunner “Christ is what he does and does what he is.” We cannot conceive of Jesus being the Christ without being the savior, nor can we conceive of his being the savior without being the Christ.
Where anthropology deals with human being, created in the image of God and endowed with true knowledge, righteousness and holiness, but through willful transgression of the law of God despoiled of their true humanity and transformed into a sinner, thus creating an ethical gulf or distance with God. Christology is in part an answer to that cry. It acquaints us with the objective work of God in Christ to bridge the chasm, and to remove the distance.
II. Various attempts to define the Person of Christ
There has been a great diversity in the views concerning the person of Jesus Christ. Some of the most outstanding views are mentioned below.
1. The Ebionites
- They are the remnant of the extreme Judaizers.
- They deny the deity and virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Such a belief according to them would be to go against the basic tenets of a monotheistic belief that Christians inherited from the Jews.
- According to them the consciousness of he being a Messiah chosen by God came at the time of baptism, when he received the Holy Spirit. The criterion for him to be chosen as the Messiah was primarily because he fulfilled the Mosaic Law completely.
2. The Gnostics
- Where the Ebionites represented a Jewish strand of thought, the Gnostics, they represented a Gentile perversion.
- They had a dualistic understanding of reality: the higher and the lower, the spirit and the flesh, the good and the evil.
- Because flesh was considered evil, surely God could not become flesh. So how do they explain the personality of Jesus Christ?
- Where some taught that the divine Christ ascended upon him at the time of baptism and departed from him shortly before his death, the docetics especially taught that Jesus was actually a kind of phantom, and only had the appearance of flesh.
- These beliefs were in the air even in the first century and we see in the scripture glimpses of their impact and attempt on the part of the disciple in refuting these teachings. Col. 1:15-18; 2:9; Heb. 2:14; 1 Jn. 2:22f; 4:2-6,15; 5:1-6; 2 Jn. 7.
- In the early part of the fourth century, Arius of Alexandria held that though Christ may be called God, he was not true God and in no way equal with God in essence or eternity.
- He in fact clung on to what Origen once said, that there was time when Christ was not i.e. before the creation of time in eternity past, Christ was created.
- He, the Logos of God, was the first-born of all creation, and the agent in fashioning the world.
- In the incarnation, the Logos entered a human body taking the place of a human spirit i.e. Christ was neither fully God nor fully man.
- The Nicean Council, held in 325, rejected Arianism as heresy and declared that Jesus Christ was begotten, not made, and was of one substance with the Father.
- This controversy was shaped in the wake of confusion that raged between the two natures of Christ.
- There was a danger of two extremes; on the one hand, the divine nature could so absorb the human that the human would lose its identity, or on the other hand, the identities of the two natures could be so separate that Christ virtually would be two persons.
- Appollinaris, took the former position. He argued that Jesus had a true body and animal soul, but not a rational spirit or mind. The logos filled the place of human intelligence.
- This views though it did honor to the deity of Christ, but it had the effect of destroying his full humanity.
- The first council of Constantinople, held in 381, condemned this as heresy.
- Attributing to Christ the status of a ‘mere man’, upon whom God’s spirit had descended. This is also called adoptionism.
- Theodoti and Artemas were the proponents of adoptionism. Paul of Samosata also tied along with this same view.
- “Paul of Samosata contended that the divine Word which decended on the man Jesus and dwelt in Him was not a distinct hypostasis but was in God in the same way as a man’s reason exists in Him.” Though the Modern Scholars considered Paul as an early exponents of Word-Man Christology, “contemporary evidences” however “as represented by the synodal letter condemning him reproduced by Eusebius, alleges that in his doctinal teachings Paul, ‘denied his Lord and God and repudiated the faith he himself had previously held’. That ‘he refused to acknowledge that the Son of God came down from heaven’, declaring that ‘Jesus Christ was from below’, and finally that he ‘revived the abominable heresy of Artemas.’”
- Nestorius the proponent of this view denied the real union of the two natures of Christ into one person and implied a two fold personality.
- According to him, the Logos dwelt in the man Jesus, so that the union between the two natures was somewhat analogous to the indwelling of the Spirit.
- This however, endangered the true deity of Christ, since he was distinguished from other men in whom God dwelt only by the plenitude of his presence and the absolute control that the divine in Christ exercised over the human.
- The Ephesian council in 431 condemned his teaching.
- They were led to the opposite extreme from the Nestorians
- Eutychus, the proponent of this view, proposed that there were not two natures but only one nature in Christ. All of Christ was divine, even his body.
- The divine and the human in Christ were mingled into one, which constituted a third nature.
- The Eutychians were also called as the monophysite, because they virtually reduced the two nature of Christ to one.
- The council of Chalcedon, in 451, condemned this doctrine.
- He also rebelled against the belief that Mary was the mother of God i.e. ‘Theotokos’. According the title that should be conferred on her is ‘Anthropotokos’ which means mother of a Man.
III. The Biblical Basis
The Old Testament
- To deal with the biblical basis of the doctrine of the person of Christ really amounts to dealing with the whole Bible, since most of it is related in one way or another to this question.
- One of the main elements of the Old Testament revelation is hope for the final fulfillment of God’s covenant promise in a new age of blessedness. Occasionally this fulfillment is seen as taking place through a human agent, an ideal ruler in the Davidic line or a heavenly figure.
- In the intertestamental period this hope becomes more apocalyptic, and God is sometimes seen as acting directly to inaugurate the kingdom.
- The other main element of the Old Testament revelation which forms the basis of New Testament Christology is that of differentiation in the godhead.
- The God of the Old Testament though referred to as a unity is not a simple unity but a complex, organic, or differentiated unity.
- Certain divine attributes or powers, such as Spirit, Word and Wisdom, are distinguished and tend to be personalized. These terms refer to extensions of god’s personal presence and powerful activity in relation to the world.
- They are not systematically related in the Old Testament, and they overlap in function.
- They point to a differentiation in the godhead which is similar to that referred to in the New Testament by the terms Father, Son and Spirit.
- The Word and Wisdom are applied to Christ, and Old Testament texts concerning the Spirit of God are applied to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
The New Testament
- The New Testament authors understood the relation of the Son and the Spirit to the Father in roughly the same way as the Old Testament authors understood the relation of Word, Spirit, and Wisdom to Yahweh.
- This differentiation in the Godhead is simply the testimony of the Old Testament that God is a living God.
- New Testament Christology is based on a combination of these traditions of messianic hope and hypostatic differentiation.
- Although the problem of Christology has always been at the center of New Testament studies, it is especially so today as the result of Bultmann’s program of demythologization and also the so-called new quest for the historical Jesus.
- There are two main Christological problems in regard to the New Testament. What did Jesus believe and teach about his own person and his relation to God? What did the New Testament authors affirm about the person of Christ?
- Since there is very little historical evidence it may not be possible to determine as to what did Jesus believe and teach about his own person and his relation to God, but since the purpose of the testimony of the disciple was served by preserving some of the historical evidence, it may be possible tentatively to determine Jesus’ understanding of his person.
- The results of historical research seem to be that Jesus was aware at the end of his ministry that he stood in an intimate and unique relation to God and that his mission was closely associated with the coming of the Kingdom.
- According to Oscar Cullman, “The early Church believed in Christ’s messiah ship only because it believed that Jesus believed himself to be the Messiah.”
- Now, as regards the affirmation of the New Testament authors, the two options was to study the New Testament material on the person of Christ and analyze them under the titles ascribed to Jesus, under the various New Testament authors, or historically by stages.
- Oscar Cullman he discusses the title which refers to Jesus’ earthly work, future work, present work, and pre-existence.
- Fuller distinguishes Jesus’ self-understanding, the Christology of the earliest church of the Hellenistic Jewish mission, and of the Hellenistic gentile mission.
- There are however passages which affirms the highest Christology without using any of the traditional titles (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15,9; 2:9; Phil. 2:6; Heb. 1:3).
IV. The Chalcedonian formula
- The formal confession of faith that was set for in the Council of Chalcedon was:
In agreement, therefore, with the holy fathers, we all unanimously teach that we should confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son, the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the same of a rational soul and body, consubstantial with the Father in godhead, and the same consubstantial with us in manhood, like us in all things except sin; begotten from the Father before the ages as regards his Godhead, and in the last days, the same, because of us and because of our salvation begotten from the virgin Mary, the Theotokos, as regards His manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, made known in two nature without, confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union, but the property of each nature being preserved and coalescing in one prosopon and one hupostasis– not parted or divided into two prosopa, but one and the same Son, only-begotten, divine Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets of old and Jesus Christ Himself have taught us about Him and the creed of our father has handed down.
- What is the significance of the orthodox Christology as we find it in the Chalcedonian definition?
- Here the church is attempting to express its understanding of the bible and the Christian message in the language of the day.
- The one God who is revealed in the law and the prophets is finally and fuly reealed in Jesus Christ for humanity’s salvation.
- Orthodox Christology does not attempt to explain the substance of Christology, i.e. how the two natures are united in one person. Rather it attempts to indicate where the mystery lies, so to speak, and to defend the mystery against the attempts to dissolve it into a neat formulae which would distort it.
- Orthodox Christology gives the only possible answer to the question posed by the various heresies:
Is Christ just an inspired man like the prophets? (Adoptionism) No, Christ is one of the substance with the Father.
Is Christ God masquerading as a human being? (Apollinarianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism) No, Christ is fully human, true humanity.
Is Christ linked to the Word of god in a perfect moral union? (Nestorianism) No, Christ is one person.
Is Christ an intermediary being, semi-divine and semi-human? (Arianism) No, Christ is truly god and truly human.
- In order to make this affirmation as clear as possible and to protect it from distortion, the church rejected all attempts to qualify it.
Lest it be suggested that in Christ we see something less than God, the church affirmed that the Son is of one substance with the Father.
Lest it be though that god’s action in Christ might not be effective for all of human being and for all people, they affirmed that Christ was fully human, a complete human being.
Lest God’s action in Christ be though to be temporary or partial, the church affirmed a full and perfect unity of the divine and human in Christ.
Lest it be though that there was anything accidental or contingent or simply dependent upon human initiative in Christ, the church affirmed that the actual reality of Christ (hypostasis) was perfectly united with that of God the Son.
- Thus the Chalcedonian definition does not make much sense in itself unless it is seen as the church’s answer to the various distortions of Christian faith which arose in the first five centuries.