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Although it is true that there was a basic difference between Jesus' message of the kingdom and the post Easter church's message of him as the saving act of God, all of Jesus' words and work imply a Christology. Thus the critical quest for the historical Jesus yields a sufficient basis for the message of the post Easter church and is therefore necessary to legitimate it.

Message of the Post Easter Church

The Christology of the earliest Palestinian Christian community apparently had two focuses. It looked backward to the earthly life of Jesus as prophet and servant of God and forward to his final return as Messiah (Acts 3:21). Meanwhile Jesus was thought of as waiting inactively in heaven, to which he was believed to have ascended after the resurrection (Acts 1:9).

Soon their experience of the Holy Spirit, whose descent is recorded in Acts 2, led the early Christians to think in terms of a two stage Christology: the first stage was the earthly ministry and the second stage his active ruling in heaven. This two stage Christology, in which Jesus is exalted as Messiah, Lord, and Son of God (Acts 2:36; Romans 1:4), is often called adoptionist. It is not the Adoptionism of later heresy, however, for it thinks in terms of function rather than being. At his exaltation to heaven Jesus began to function as he had not previously. Another primitive Christological affirmation associates the birth of Jesus with his Davidic descent, thus qualifying him for the messianic office at his exaltation (for example, Romans 1:3). This introduced the birth of Jesus as a Christologically significant moment.

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As Christianity spread to the Greek speaking world between AD 35 and 50, further Christological perspectives were developed. The sending - of - the - Son pattern was one of them. This pattern is threefold: (1) God sent (2) his Son (3) in order to. . . (with a statement of the saving purpose - for example, Galatians 4:4 - 5). The birth narratives of Matthew and Luke combine the Davidic descent with the sending - of - the - Son Christology. Another major development of this period is the identification of Jesus as the incarnation of the heavenly wisdom of Jewish speculation (Prov. 8:22 - 31; Sir. 24:1 - 12; Wisd. 7:24 - 30).

Hence a three stage Christology emerges: the preexistent wisdom or Logos (Word), who was the agent of creation and of general revelation and also of the special revelation of Israel, becomes incarnate in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and then in the resurrection and exaltation returns to heaven (html. 2:6 - 11; Col. 1:15 - 20; Heb. 1:1 - 3; John 1:1 - 14). With this three stage Christology there is a shift from purely functional interpretation to the question of the being or person of Jesus. Thus the later phases of the New Testament lay the ground for the Christological controversies of the Patristic Age.

Christological Controversies of the Patristic Age

The rise of Gnosticism as a Christian deviation began in the 2d century and led to the development of Docetism, the view that the humanity of Jesus was apparent rather than real. Catholic Christianity insisted on his true humanity - hence the statement in the Apostles' Creed, "conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary."

In the 3d and 4th centuries there were some who continued to question the full humanity of Jesus and others who questioned his full deity. When Arius (Arianism) denied that the preexistent Son, or Word, was fully God, the Council of Nicea (325) formulated a creed (the Nicene Creed) containing the phrases "of one substance with the Father" and "was made man." Next, Apollinarius, anxious to assert the Son's deity, taught that the Logos replaced the human spirit in the earthly Jesus (Apollinarianism). This teaching was condemned at the Council of Constantinople (381).

Next, the theologians of the School of Antioch were so anxious to maintain the reality of Jesus' humanity that they seemed to compromise his deity. Thus Theodore of Mopsuestia and his pupil Nestorius separated the deity from the humanity almost to the point of denying the unity of his person. To preserve this unity the Council of Ephesus (431) affirmed that Mary was the "God bearer" (Theotokos, later popularly rendered as "Mother of God"). Eutyches from the Alexandrian school then claimed that the two natures of Christ were, at the incarnation, fused into one. This view was ruled out at the Council of Chalcedon (451), which insisted that Christ was one person in two natures (divine and human) "without confusion, without change, without division and without separation."

Modern Christologies generally start "from below" rather than "from above," finding Jesus first to be truly human, and then discovering his divinity in and through his humanity: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:19).

R H Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (1965); F Hahn, The Titles of Jesus in Christology (1969).


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NT Christology

In the NT the writers indicate who Jesus is by describing the significance of the work he came to do and the office he came to fulfill. Amidst the varied descriptions of his work and office, always mainly in terms of the OT, there is a unified blending of one aspect with another, and a development that means an enrichment, without any cancellation of earlier tradition.

Jesus in the Gospels

His humanity is taken for granted in the Synoptic Gospels, as if it could not possibly occur to anyone to question it. We see him lying in the cradle, growing, leaning, subject to hunger, anxiety, doubt, disappointment, and surprise (Luke 2:40; Mark 2:15; 14:33; 15:34; Luke 7:9), and finally to death and burial. But elsewhere his true humanity is specifically witnessed to, as if it might be called in question (Gal. 4:4; John 1:14), or its significance neglected (Heb. 2:9, 17; 4:15; 5:7 - 8; 12:2).

Besides this emphasis on his true humanity, there is nevertheless always an emphasis on the fact that even in his humanity he is sinless and also utterly different from other men and that his significance must not be sought by ranking him alongside the greatest or wisest or holiest of all other men. The virgin birth and the resurrection are signs that here we have something unique in the realm of humanity. Who or what he is can be discovered only by contrasting him with others, and it shines out most clearly when all others are against him. The event of his coming to suffer and triumph as man in our midst is absolutely decisive for every individual he encounters and for the destiny of the whole world (John 3:16 - 18; 10:27 - 28;12:31; 16:11; 1 John 3:8).

In his coming the kingdom of God has come (Mark 1:15). His miracles are signs that this is so (Luke 11:20). Woe, therefore, to those who misinterpret them (Mark 3:22 - 29). He acts and speaks with heavenly regal authority. He can challenge men to lay down their lives for his own sake (Matt. 10:39). The kingdom is indeed his own kingdom (Matt. 16:28; Luke 22:30). He is the One who, in uttering what is simply his own mind, at the same time utters the eternal and decisive word of God (Matt. 5:22, 28; 24:35). His word effects what it proclaims (Matt. 8:3; Mark 11:21) as God's word does. He has the authority and power even to forgive sins (Mark 2:1 - 12).


His true significance can be understood only when his relationship to the people in whose midst he was born is understood. In the events that are set motion in his earthly career God's purpose and covenant with Israel is fulfilled. He is the One who comes to do what neither the people of the OT nor their anointed representatives, the prophets, priests, and kings, could do. But they had been promised that One who would rise up in their own midst would yet make good what all of them had utterly failed to make good. In this sense Jesus of Nazareth is the One anointed with the Spirit and power (Acts 10:38) to be the true Messiah or Christ (John 1:41; Rom. 9:5) of his people. He is the true prophet (Mark 9:7; Luke 13:33; John 1:21; 6:14), priest (John 17; Heb.), and king (Matt. 2:2; 21:5; 27:11), as, e.g., his baptism (Matt. 3:13ff.) and his use of Isa. 61 (Luke 4:16 - 22) indicate.

In receiving this anointing and fulfilling this messianic purpose, he receives from his contemporaries the titles Christ (Mark 8:29) and Son of David (Matt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; cf. Luke 1:32; Rom. 1:3; Rev. 5:5).

But he gives himself and receives also many other titles which help to illuminate the office he fulfilled and which are even more decisive in indicating who he is. A comparison of the current messianic ideas of Judaism with both the teaching of Jesus himself and the witness of the NT shows that Jesus selected certain features of messianic tradition which he emphasized and allowed to crystallize round his own person. Certain messianic titles are used by him and of him in preference to others, and are themselves reinterpreted in the use he makes of them and in the relationship he gives them to himself and to one another. This is partly the reason for his "messianic reserve" (Matt. 8:4; 16:20; John 10:24; etc.).

Son of Man

Jesus used the title "Son of man" of himself more than any other. There are passages in the OT where the phrase means simply "man" (e.g., Ps. 8:5), and at times Jesus' use of it corresponds to this meaning (cf. Matt. 8:20). But the majority of contexts indicate that in using this title Jesus is thinking of Dan. 7:13, where the "Son of man" is a heavenly figure, both an individual and at the same time the ideal representative of the people of God. In the Jewish apocalyptic tradition this Son of man is regarded as a preexistent one who will come at the end of the ages as judge and as a light to the Gentiles (cf. Mark 14:62).

Jesus sometimes uses this title when he emphasizes his authority and power (Mark 2:10; 2:28; Luke 12:19). At other times he uses it when he is emphasizing his humility and incognito (Mark 10:45; 14:21; Luke 19:10; 9:58). In the Gospel of John the title is used in contexts which emphasize his preexistence, his descent into the world in a humiliation which both conceals and manifests his glory (John 3:13 - 14; 6:62 - 63; 8:6ff.), his role of uniting heaven and earth (John 1:51), his coming to judge men and hold the messianic banquet (John 5:27; 6:27).

Though "Son of man" is used only by Jesus of himself, what it signified is otherwise expressed, especially in Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15, where Christ is described as the "man from heaven" or the "second Adam." Paul here takes up hints in the Synoptic Gospels that in the coming of Christ there is a new creation (Matt. 19:38) in which his part is to be related to and contrasted with that of Adam in the first creation (cf., e.g., Mark 1:13; Luke 3:38). Both Adam and Christ have the representative relationship to the whole of mankind that is involved in the conception "Son of man." But Christ is regarded as One whose identification with all mankind is far more deep and complete that of Adam. In his redeeming action salvation is provided for all mankind. By faith in him all men can participate in a salvation already accomplished in him. He is also the image and glory of God (2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Col. 1:15) which man was made to reflect (1 Cor. 11:7) and which Christians are meant to put on in participating in the new creation (Col. 3:10).


Jesus' self identification with men is brought out in passages that recall the suffering servant of Isaiah (Matt. 12:18; Mark 10:45; Luke 24:26). It is in his baptismal experience that he enters this role (cf. Matt. 3:17 and Isa. 42:1) of suffering as the One in whom all his people are represented and who is offered for the sins of the world (John 1:29; Isa. 53). Jesus is explicitly called the "servant" in the early preaching of the church (Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30), and the thought of him as such was also in Paul's mind (cf. Rom. 4:25; 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21).

In the humiliation of his self identification with our humanity (Heb. 2:17; 4:15; 5:7; 2:9; 12:2) he fulfills the part not only of victim, but also of high priest, offering himself once for all (Heb 7:27; 9:12; 10:10) in a self offering that brings about forever a new relationship between God and man. His "baptism," the fulfillment of which he accomplishes in his early career culminating in his cross (cf. Luke 12:50), is his self sanctification to his eternal priesthood, and in and through this self sanctification his people are sanctified forever (John 17:19; Heb. 10:14).

Son of God

The title "Son of God" is not used by Jesus himself to the same extent as "Son of man" (though cf., e.g., Mark 12:6), but it is the name given to him (cf. Luke 1:35) by the heavenly voice at his baptism and transfiguration (Mark 1:11; 9:7), by Peter in his moment of illumination (Matt. 16:16), by the demons (Mark 5:7) and the centurion (Mark 15:39).

This title "Son of God" is messianic. In the OT, Israel is the "son" (Exod. 4:22; Hos. 11:1). The king (Ps. 2:7; 2 Sam. 7:14) and possibly the priests (Mal. 1:6) are also given this title. Jesus, therefore, in using and acknowledging this title is assuming the name of One in whom the true destiny of Israel is to be fulfilled.

But the title also reflects the unique filial consciousness of Jesus in the midst of such a messianic task (cf. Matt. 11:27; Mark 13:32; 14:36; Ps. 2:7). This has the profoundest Christological implications. He is not simply a son but the Son (John 20:17). This consciousness, which is revealed at high points in the Synoptic Gospels, is regarded in John as forming the continuous conscious background of Jesus' life. The Son and the Father are one (John 5:19, 30; 16:32) in will (4:34; 6:38; 7:28; 8:42; 13:3) and activity (14:10) and in giving eternal life (10:30). The Son is in the Father and the Father in the son (10:38; 14:10). The Son, like the Father, has life and quickening power in himself (5:26). The Father loves the Son (3:35; 10:17; 17:23 - 24) and commits all things into his hands (5:35), giving him authority to judge (5:22). The title also implies a unity of being and nature with the Father, uniqueness of origin and preexistence (John 3:16; Heb. 1:2).


Though Paul also uses the title "Son of God," he most frequently refers to Jesus as "Lord," This term did not originate with Paul. Jesus is addressed and referred to in the Gospels as Lord (Matt. 7:21; Mark 11:3; Luke 6:46). Here the title can refer primarily to his teaching authority (Luke 11:1; 12:41), but it can also have a deeper significance (Matt. 8:25; Luke 5:8). Though it is most frequently given to him after his exaltation he himself quoted Ps. 110:1 and prepared for this use (Mark 12:35; 14:62).

His lordship extends over the course of history and all the powers of evil (Col. 2:15; 1 Cor. 2:6 - 8; 8:5; 15:24) and must be the ruling concern in the life of the church (Eph. 6:7; 1 Cor. 7:10, 25). 2:6 - 8; 8:5; 15:24) and must be the ruling concern in the life of the church (Eph. 6:7; 1 Cor. 7:10, 25). As Lord he will come to judge (2 Thess. 1:7).

Though his work in his humiliation is also the exercise of lordship, it was after the resurrection and ascension that the title of Lord was most spontaneously conferred on Jesus (Acts 2:32ff.; Phil. 2:1 - 11) by the early church. They prayed to him as they would pray to God (Acts 7:59 - 60; 1 Cor. 1:2; cf. Rev. 9:14, 21; 22:16). His name as Lord is linked in the closest association with that of God himself (1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; cf. Rev. 17:14; 19:16; and Deut. 10:17). To him are referred the promises and attributes of the "Lord" God (Kyrios, LXX) in the OT (cf. Acts 2:21 and 38; Rom. 10:3 and Joel 2:32; 1 Thess. 5:2 and Amos 5:18; Phil. 2:10 - 11 and Isa. 45:23). To him are freely applied the language and formulas which are used of God himself, so that it is difficult to decide in a passage like Rom. 9:5 whether it is the Father or the Son to whom reference is made. In John 1:1, 18; 20:28; 2 Thess. 1:12; 1 Tim. 3:16; Titus 2:13; and 2 Pet. 1:1, Jesus is confessed as "God."


The statement, "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14), relates Jesus both to the Wisdom of God in the OT (which has a personal character, Prov. 8) and to the law of God (Deut. 30:11 - 14; Isa. 2:3) as these are revealed and declared in the going forth of the Word by which God creates, reveals himself, and fulfills his will in history (Ps. 33:6; Isa. 55:10 - 11; 11:4; Rev. 1:16). There is here a close relationship between word and event. In the NT it becomes clearer that the Word is not merely a message proclaimed but is Christ himself (cf. Eph. 3:17 and Col. 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:3 and 23; John 8:31 and 15:17). What Paul expresses in Col. 1, John expresses in his prologue. In both passages (and in Heb. 1:1 - 14) the place of Christ as the One who in the beginning was the agent of God's creative activity is asserted. In bearing witness to these aspects of Jesus Christ it is inevitable that the NT should witness to his preexistence. He was "in the beginning" (John 1:1 - 3; Heb. 1:2 - 10).

His very coming (Luke 12:49; Mark 1:24; 2:17) involves him in deep self abasement (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:5 - 7) in fulfillment of a purpose ordained for him from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). In the Gospel of John he gives this testimony in his own words (John 8:58; 17:5, 24).

Yet while his coming from the Father involves diminution of his Godhead, there is nevertheless a subordination of the incarnate Son to the Father in the relationship of love and equality which subsists between the Father and the Son (John 14:28). For it is the Father who sends and the Son who is sent (John 10:36), the Father who gives and the Son who receives (John 5:26), the Father who ordains and the Son who fulfills (John 10:18). Christ belongs to God who is the Head (1 Cor. 3:23; 11:13) and in the end will subject all things to him (1 Cor. 15:28).

Patristic Christology

In the period immediately following the NT, the apostolic fathers (A D 90 - 140) can speak highly of Christ. We have a sermon beginning: "Brethren, we ought so to think of Jesus Christ, as of God, as the Judge of the quick and the dead" (2 Clement). Ignatius with his emphasis on both the true deity and humanity of Christ can refer to the "blood of God." Even if their witness falls short of this, there is a real attempt to combat both Ebionitism, which looked on Christ as a man born naturally, on whom the Holy Spirit came at his baptism, and also docetism, which asserted that the humanity and sufferings of Christ were apparent rather than real.

The apologists of the next generation (e.g., Justin, c. 100 - 165, and Theophilus of Antioch) sought to commend the gospel to the educated and to defend it in face of attacks by pagans and Jews. Their conception of the place of Christ was determined, however, rather by current philosophical ideas of the logos than by the historic revelation given in the gospel, and for them Christianity tends to become a new law or philosophy and Christ another God inferior to the highest God.

Melito of Sardis at this time, however, spoke clearly of Christ as both God and man, and Irenaeus, in meeting the challenge of Gnosticism, returned also to a more biblical standpoint, viewing the person of Christ always in close connection with his work of redemption and revelation, in fulfillment of which "he became what we are, in order that he might make us to become even what he is himself." He thus became the new Head of our race and recovered what had been lost in Adam, saving us through a process of "recapitulation." In thus identifying himself with us he is both true God and true man. Tertullian also made his contribution to Christology in combating Gnosticism and the various forms of what came to be known as monarchianism (dynamism, modalism, Sabellianism), which has reacted in different ways against the apparent worship of Christ as a second God beside the Father. He was the first to teach that the Father and Son are of "one substance," and spoke of three persons in the Godhead.

Origen had a decisive influence in the development of Christology in the East. He taught the eternal generation of the Son from the Father and used the term homoousios. Yet at the same time his complicated doctrine included a view of Christ as an intermediate being, spanning the distance between the utterly transcendent being of God and this created world. Both sides in the later Arian controversy, which began c. 318, show influences which may be traced to Origen.

Arius denied the possibility of any divine emanation, or contact with the world, or of any distinction within the Godhead. Therefore the Word is made out of nothing before time. Though called God, he is not very God. Arius denied to Christ a human soul. The Council of Nicaea (325) condemned Arius by insisting that the Son was not simply the "first born of all creation" but was indeed "of one essence with the Father." In his long struggle against Arianism, Athanasius sought to uphold the unity of essence of the Father and Son by basing his argument not on a philosophical doctrine of the nature of the Logos, but on the nature of the redemption accomplished by the Word in the flesh. Only God himself, taking on human flesh and dying and rising in our flesh, can effect a redemption that consists in being saved from sin and corruption and death, and in being raised to share the nature of God himself.

After Nicaea the question was raised: If Jesus Christ be truly God, how can he be at the same time truly man? Apollinaris tried to safeguard the unity of the person of the God - man by denying that he had complete manhood. He assumed that man was composed of three parts: body, irrational or animal soul, and rational soul or intellect (nous). In Jesus the human nous was displaced by the divine Logos. But this denied the true reality of Christ's humanity and indeed of the incarnation itself and therefore of the salvation. The most cogent objection to it was expressed by Gregory of Nazianzus: "The unassumed is the unhealed." Christ must be true man as well as true God. Apollinaris was condemned at Constantinople in 381.

How, then, can God and man be united in one person? The controversy became focused on Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, who refused to approve the use of the phrase "mother of God" (Theotokos) as applied to Mary, who, he asserted, bore not the Godhead but "a man who was the organ of the Godhead." In spite of the fact that Nestorius clearly asserted that the Godman was one person, he seemed to think of the two natures as existing side by side and so sharply distinguished that the suffering of the humanity could not be attributed to the Godhead. This separation was condemned, and Nestorius's deposition at the Council of Ephesus (431) was brought about largely by the influence of Cyril in reasserting a unity of the two natures in Cyril in reasserting a unity of the two natures in Christ's person so complete that the impassible Word can be said to have suffered death. Cyril sought to avoid Apollinarianism by asserting that the humanity of Christ was complete and entire but had no independent subsistence (anhypostasis).

A controversy arose over one of Cyril's followers, Eutyches, who asserted that in the incarnate Christ the two natures coalesced in one. This implied a docetic view of Christ's human nature and called in question his consubstantiality with us. Eutychianism and Nestorianism were finally condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (451), which taught one Christ in two natures united in one person or hypostasis, yet remaining" without confusion, without conversion, without division, without separation."

Further controversies were yet to arise before the mind of the church could be made up as to how the human nature could indeed retain its complete humanity and yet be without independent subsistence. It was Leontius of Byzantium who advanced the formula that enabled the majority to agree on an interpretation of the Chalcedonian formula. The human nature of Christ, he taught, was not an independent hypostasis (anhypostatic), but it was enhypostatic, i.e., it had its subsistence in and through the Logos.

A further controversy arose as to whether two natures meant that Christ had two wills or centers of volition. A formula was first devised to suit the monothelites, who asserted that the God - man, though in two natures, worked by one divine - human energy. But finally, in spite of the preference of Honorius, Bishop of Rome, for a formula asserting "one will" in Christ, the Western church in 649 decreed that there were "two natural wills" in Christ, and this was made the decision of the whole church at the sixth ecumenical council at Constantinople in 680, the views of Pope Honorius I being condemned as heresy.

Further Development

The theologians of the Middle Ages accepted the authority of patristic Christology and allowed their thought and experience to be enriched by Augustine's stress on the real humanity of Christ in his atoning work, on his important as our example in humility, and on mystical experience. But this emphasis on the humanity of Christ tended to be made only when he was presented in his passion as the One who mediates between man and a distant and terrible God. In their more abstract discussion of the person of Christ there was a tendency to present One who has little share in our real humanity. The humanity of Jesus, however, became the focus of mystical devotion in Bernard of Clairvaux, who stressed the union of the soul with the Bridegroom.

At the Reformation, Luther's Christology was based on Christ as true God and true man in inseparable unity. He spoke of the "wondrous exchange" by which, through the union of Christ with human nature, his righteousness becomes ours, and our sins become his.

He refused to tolerate any thinking that might lead to speculation about the God - man divorced either from the historical person of Jesus himself or from the work he came to do and the office he came to fulfill in redeeming us. But Luther taught that the doctrine of the "communication of attributes" (communicatio idiomatum) meant that there was a mutual transference of qualities or attributes between the divine and human natures in Christ, and developed this to mean a mutual interpenetration of divine and human qualities or properties, verging on the very commingling of natures which Chalcedonian Christology had avoided. In Lutheran orthodoxy this led to a later controversy as to how far the manhood of the Son of God shared in and exercised such attributes of divine majesty, how far it was capable of doing so, and how far Jesus used or renounced these attributes during his human life.

Calvin also approved of the orthodox Christological statements of the church councils. He taught that when the Word became incarnate he did not suspend nor alter his normal function of upholding the universe. He found the extreme statements of Lutheran Christology guilty of a tendency toward the heresy of Eutyches, and insisted that the two natures in Christ are distinct though never separate. Yet in the unity of person in Christ, one nature is so closely involved in the activities and events which concern the other that the human nature can be spoken of as if it partook of divine attributes. Salvation is accomplished not only by the divine nature working through the human but is indeed the accomplishment of the human Jesus, who worked out a perfect obedience and sanctification for all men in his own person (the humanity being not only the instrument but the "material cause" of salvation). This salvation is worked out in fulfillment of the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king.

There is here a divergence between the Lutheran and Reformed teaching. The Lutherans laid the stress upon a union of two natures in a communion in which the human nature is assumed into the divine nature. The Reformed theologians refused to think of an assumption of the human nature into the divine, but rather of an assumption of the human nature into the divine person of the Son, in whom there was a direct union between the two natures. Thus, while keeping to the patristic conception of the communicatio idiomatum, they developed the concept of the communicatio operationum (i.e., that the properties of the two natures coincide in the one person) in order to speak of an active communion between the natures without teaching a doctrine of mutual interpenetration.

The importance of the communicatio operationum (which also came to be taken up by Lutherans) is that it corrects the rather static way of speaking of the hypostatic union in patristic theology, by seeing the person and the work of Christ in inseparable unity, and so asserts a dynamic communion between the divine and human natures of Christ in terms of his atoning and reconciling work. It stresses the union of two natures for his mediatorial operation in such a way that this work proceeds from the one person of the God - man by the distinctive effectiveness of both natures. In this light the hypostatic union is seen as the ontological side of the dynamic action of reconciliation, and so incarnation and atonement are essentially complementary.

Since the early nineteenth century the tendency has been to try to depart from the Chalcedonian doctrine of the two natures on the ground that this could not be related to the human Jesus portrayed in the Gospels, and that it made use of terms which were alien both to Holy Scripture and to current modes of expression. Schleiermacher built up a Christology on the basis of finding in Christ a unique and archetypal consciousness of utter filial dependence on the Father. In Lutheran Christology there was a further important development, the attributes of the humanity of Jesus being regarded as limiting those of his deity, according to the "kenotic" theory of Thomasius. On this view, the Word, in the incarnation, deprived himself of his "external" attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, yet still retained the "essential" moral attributes. Though always remaining God, he ceased to exist in the form of God. Even his self consciousness as God was absorbed in the single awakening and growing consciousness of the God - man.

Ritschl, too, stressed the importance of the ethical attributes of the person of Christ and of refusing to speculate beyond the revelation of God found in the historic Jesus, who must have for us the value of God and whose perfect moral nature is both human and divine. Early in the twentieth century modern conceptions of personality and scientific and philosophical doctrines of evolution enabled theologians to produce further variations in the development of nineteenth century Christology.

The middle years of the twentieth century saw a return to the use of the Chalcedonian doctrine of the two natures, particularly as interpreted in the Reformed tradition, and a realization that this apparently paradoxical formula is meant to point toward the mystery of the unique relationship of grace set up here between the divine and human in the person and work of the God - man. This mystery must not be thought of apart from atonement, for it is perfected and worked out in history through the whole work of Christ crucified and risen and ascended. To share in this mystery of the new unity of God and man in Christ in some measure is also given to the church through the Spirit. This means that our Christology is decisive in determining our doctrine of the church and of the work of sacraments as used in the church. Our Christology must indeed indicate the direction in which we seek to solve all theological problems where we are dealing with the relation of a human event or reality to the grace of God in Christ. In this Christological pattern the whole of our theological system should find its coherence and unity.

Nor must this mystery be thought of in abstraction from the person of Jesus shown to us in the Gospels in the historical context of the life of Israel. The human life and teaching of the historical Jesus have to be given full place in his saving work as essential and not incidental or merely instrumental in his atoning reconciliation. Here we must give due weight to modern biblical study in helping us to realize both what kind of a man Jesus was and yet also to see this Jesus of history as the Christ of faith, the Lord, the Son of God. Through the study of his office and work we come to understand how his humanity is not only truly individual but is also truly representative.

Modern theological discussion continues to be a witness to the centrality of Jesus Christ himself in matters of faith and is dominated by the two closely related questions: "Who is Jesus Christ?" and "What has he done for the world?" The context in which these questions are raised has, however, changed. In the nineteenth century many of the radical restatements of Christological belief were often felt to imply a rejection of orthodox faith, and were argued for as such. It is often claimed today, however, that restatements of this type, if they arise from a sincere response to Jesus, deserve to be regarded as valid modern interpretations of the same truth to which the older statements bore witness in their day. Those who formulated the earlier creeds, it is held, were expressing in their statements simply their own contemporary experience of being redeemed by Jesus. Their statements need not be interpreted literally in order to be confessed truly, even if their language continues to be occasionally used.

It is held, moreover, that modern man with his secular and scientific outlook cannot possibly be asked seriously to think of the universe as providing the background necessary to give credibility to talk of a preexistent Son of God descending into our midst from heaven and finally ascending. The early church, when it affirmed such things of Jesus, was simply using the pictures given by current religious myths of the time in order to give expression to the new liberty and self understanding given to them as they found themselves addressed by God as Jesus, especially in the proclamation of his cross. Some church theologians believe that what the early witnesses meant by their statements can today be adequately reexpressed without recourse even to talk of an incarnation. Discontent continues to be expressed, exactly as it was in last century, with words like "essence," "substance," and "nature." It is claimed that these are now mere dictionary terms of no current use in making meaningful statements.

In the midst of such desire to express the meaning of Christ in new ways, Jesus is often spoken of simply as an agent through whose mediation and example we are enabled to find authentic self expression and new being, and enter into a meaningful experience of reality and the world. Doubt is raised about our need for his continuing work and ministry. Even when we are directed to his person, it is as if to One who is symbolic of something else, and who points entirely beyond himself. We seem at times to be confronted by an Arianism content to affirm that the Son is simply "of like substance" with the Father, at times with a docetism for which the reality of the human nature is of little importance.

Much recent NT study has, however, been undertaken in the belief that the Gospels do provide us with sufficient historical detail about Jesus to give us a reliable picture of the kind of man he actually was. The importance of regaining such a genuine understanding of his humanity as a basis for our Christology has been stressed. Wolfhart Pannenberg has criticized Karl Barth and others who have followed him for beginning their Christological thought from the standpoint of God himself: i.e., by first assuming the Trinity and the incarnation, and then arguing downward, viewing the humanity of Jesus against this transcendent background. Pannenberg himself believes that such initial presupposition of the divinity of Jesus will involve us inevitably in a Christology marked by disjunction and paradox, and will pose insoluble problems in relation to the unity of his person. Moreover, it will obscure our understanding of his true humanity.

Pannenberg seeks to form a "Christology from below," moving upward from Jesus' life and death toward his transformation in his resurrection and exaltation through the grace of God. Pannenberg believes that there are legendary elements in the Gospel history (e.g., the virgin birth). He stresses the need to interpret Jesus and his death from the standpoint of our own experience of history as well as from the standpoint of the OT. Karl Rahner, on the Roman Catholic side, also pursues a Christology beginning with the humanity of Jesus and based on anthropology.

We have to question whether the NT accounts of Jesus allow us to make such a one sided approach and to follow such a method. Consistently Jesus is presented in the Gospels as one who is both truly man and truly God. The first witnesses did not try to present him to us in a manhood existing apart from the mystery of his unique union with God. It does not seem possible, therefore, that we ourselves should have access to the reality to which they are pointing unless we try to gasp him in the strange interpenetration of these two aspects that seems to mark their accounts of him. That the "Word became flesh" seems to imply that we cannot have the flesh apart from the Word nor the Word apart from the flesh.

What the Gospel writers intended to give us in their witness must therefore determine both our own approach and the method we adopt in our investigation. Hans Frei has more recently produced a study in Christology in which he attempts to face the problems of our approach to the Gospel narratives. He insists that Jesus Christ is known to the Christian believer in a manner that includes personal knowledge but also at the same time surpasses it mysteriously. Moreover, "we can no longer think of God except as we think of Jesus at the same time nor of Jesus except in reference to God." Frei also insists that while we can think of other people rightly without them being present, we cannot properly think of Jesus as not being present. We cannot indeed know his identity without being in his presence.

R S Wallace
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

H R Mackintosh, The Person of Christ; D M Baillie, God Was in Christ; O Cullmann, The Christology of the NT; E Brunner, The Mediator; L B Smedes, The Incarnation, Trends in Modern Anglican Thought; H Relton, A Study in Christology; K Barth, Church Dogmatics; R G G , I; H Vogel, Gott in Christo and Christologie; M Fonyas, The Person of Jesus Christ in the Decisions of the Ecumenical Councils; W Pannenberg, Jesus, God and Man; H W Frei, The Identity of Jesus Christ; E Schillebeeckx, Christ, Jesus, and Jesus and Christ; R A Norris, The Christological Controversy; J A Dorner, History of the Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ.


Catholic Information

Christology is that part of theology which deals with Our Lord Jesus Christ. In its full extent it comprises the doctrines concerning both the person of Christ and His works; but in the present article we shall limit ourselves to a consideration of the person of Christ. Here again we shall not infringe on the domain of the historian and Old-Testament theologian, who present their respective contributions under the headings JESUS CHRIST, and MESSIAS; hence the theology of the Person of Jesus Christ, considered in the light of the New Testament or from the Christian point of view, is the proper subject of the present article.

The person of Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Son or the Word of the Father, Who "was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man." These mysteries, though foretold in the Old Testament, were fully revealed in the New, and clearly developed in Christian Tradition and theology. Hence we shall have to study our subject under the triple aspect of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Christian Tradition.


From what has been said we understand that the Old Testament is not considered here from the viewpoint of the Jewish scribe, but of the Christian theologian. Jesus Christ Himself was the first to use it in this way by His repeated appeal to the Messianic passages of the prophetic writings. The Apostles saw in these prophecies many arguments in favour of the claims and the teachings of Jesus Christ; the Evangelists, too, are familiar with them, though they appeal less frequently to them than the patristic writers do. Even the Fathers either state the prophetic argument only in general terms or they quote single prophecies; but they thus prepare the way for the deeper insight into the historical perspective of the Messianic predictions which began to prevail in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Leaving the statement of the historical development of the Messianic prophecies to the writer of the article MESSIAS, we shall briefly call attention to the prophetic predictions of the genealogy of Christ, of His birth, His infancy, His names, His offices, His public life, His sufferings, and His glory.

(1) References to the human genealogy of the Messias are quite numerous in the Old Testament: He is represented as the seed of the woman, the son of Sem, the son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the son of David, the prince of pastors, the offspring of the marrow of the high cedar (Genesis 3:1-19; 9:18-27; 12:1-9; 17:1-9; 18:17-19; 22:16-18; 26:1-5; 27:1-15; Numbers 24:15-19; 2 Samuel 7:1-16; 1 Chronicles 17:1-17; Jeremiah 23:1-8; 33:14-26; Ezekiel 17). The Royal Psalmist extols the Divine genealogy of the future Messias in the words: "The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee" (Ps. ii, 7).

(2) The Prophets frequently speak of the birth of the expected Christ. They locate its place in Bethlehem of Juda (Micah 5:2-14), they determine its time by the passing of the sceptre from Juda (Genesis 49:8-12), by the seventy weeks of Daniel (ix, 22-27), and by the "little while" mentioned in the Book of Aggeus (ii, 1-10). The Old-Testament seers know also that the Messias will be born of a Virgin Mother (Isaiah 7:1-17), and that His appearance, at least His public appearance, will be preceded by a precursor (Isaiah 40:1-11; Malachi 4:5-6).

(3) Certain events connected with the infancy of the Messias have been deemed important enough to be the subject of prophetic prediction. Among these are the adoration of the Magi (Ps. lxxxi, 1-17), the slaughter of the innocents (Jeremiah 31:15-26), and the flight into Egypt (Hosea 11:1-7). It is true that in the case of these prophecies, as it happens in the case of many others, their fulfilment is their clearest commentary; but this does not undo the fact that the events were really predicted.

(4) Perhaps there is less need of insisting on the predictions of the better known Messianic names and titles, seeing that they involve less obscurity. Thus in the prophecies of Zacharias the Messias is called the Orient, or, according to the Hebrew text, the "bud" (iii; vi, 9-15), in the Book of Daniel He is the Son of Man (vii), in the Prophecy of Malachias He is the Angel of the Testament (ii, 17; iii, 6), in the writings of Isaias He is the Saviour (li, 1; lii, 12; lxii), the Servant of the Lord (xlix, 1), the Emmanuel (viii, 1-10), the Prince of peace (ix, 1-7).

(5) The Messianic offices are considered in a general way in the latter part of Isaias (lxi); in particular, the Messias is considered as prophet in the Book of Deuteronomy (xviii, 9-22); as king in the Canticle of Anna (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and in the royal song of the Psalmist (xliv); as priest in the sacerdotal type Melchisedech (Genesis 14:14-20) and in the Psalmist's words "a priest forever" (cix); as Goel, or Avenger, in the second part of Isaias (lxiii, 1-6); as mediator of the New Testament, under the form of a covenant of the people (Isaiah 42:1; 43:13), and of the light of the Gentiles (Isaiah 49).

(6) As to the public life of the Messias, Isaias gives us a general idea of the fulness of the Spirit investing the Anointed (xi, 1-16), and of the Messianic work (Iv). The Psalmist presents a picture of the Good Shepherd (xxii); Isaias summarizes the Messianic miracles (xxxv); Zacharias exclaims, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion", thus predicting Christ's solemn entrance into Jerusalem; the Psalmist refers to this same event when he mentions the praise out of the mouth of infants (viii). To return once more to the Book of Isaias, the prophet foretells the rejection of the Messias through a league with death (xxvii); the Psalmist alludes to the same mystery where he speaks of the stone which the builders rejected (cxvii).

(7) Need we say that the sufferings of the Messias were fully predicted by the prophets of the Old Testament? The general idea of the Messianic victim is presented in the context of the words "sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not" (Ps. xxxix); in the passage beginning with the resolve "Let us put wood on his bread" (Jeremiah 11), and in the sacrifice described by the prophet Malachias (i). Besides, the series of the particular events which constitute the history of Christ's Passion has been described by the prophets with a remarkable minuteness: the Psalmist refers to His betrayal in the words "the man of my peace . . . supplanted me" (xl), and Zacharias knows of the "thirty pieces of silver" (xi); the Psalmist praying in the anguish of his soul, is a type of Christ in His agony (Ps. liv); His capture is foretold in the words "pursue and take him" and "they will hunt after the soul of the just" (Ps. lxx; xciii); His trial with its false witnesses may be found represented in the words "unjust witnesses have risen up against me, and iniquity hath lied to itself" (Ps. xxvi); His flagellation is portrayed in the description of the man of sorrows (Isaiah 52:13; 53:12) and the words "scourges were gathered together upon me" (Ps. xxxiv); the betrayer's evil lot is pictured in the imprecations of Psalm 108; the crucifixion is referred to in the passages "What are these wounds in the midst of thy hands?" (Zechariah 13), "Let us condemn him to a most shameful death" (Wisdom 2), and "They have dug my hands and my feet" (Ps. xxi); the miraculous darkness occurs in Amos 8; the gall and vinegar are spoken of in Psalm 68; the pierced heart of Christ is foreshadowed in Zach., xii. The sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 21:1-14), the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:1-28), the ashes of purification (Numbers 19:1-10), and the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:4-9) hold a prominent place among the types prefiguring the suffering Messias. The third chapter of Lamentations is justly considered as the dirge of our buried Redeemer.

(8) Finally, the glory of the Messias has been foretold by the Prophets of the Old Testament. The context of such phrases as "I have risen because the Lord hath protected me" (Psalm 3), "My flesh shall rest in hope (Psalm 15), "On the third day he will raise us up" (Hosea 5:15, 6:3), "O death, I will be thy death" (Hosea 13:6-15a), and "I know that my Redeemer liveth" (Job 19:23-27) referred the devout Jewish worshipper to something more than a merely earthly restoration, the fulfilment of which began to be realized in the Resurrection of Christ. This mystery is also implied, at least typically, in the first fruits of the harvest (Leviticus 23:9-14) and the delivery of Jonas from the belly of the fish (Jonah 2). Nor is the Resurrection of the Messias the only element of Christ's glory predicted by the Prophets. Psalm 67 refers to the Ascension; Joel, ii, 28-32, to the coming of the Paraclete; Is., Ix, to the call of the Gentiles; Mich., iv, 1-7, to the conversion of the Synagogue; Dan., ii, 27-47, to the kingdom of the Messias as compared with the kingdom of the world. Other characteristics of the Messianic kingdom are typified by the tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-9; 29:43; 40:33-36; Numbers 9:15-23), the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:17-22; Psalm 79:1), Aaron the high priest (Exodus 28:1; 30:1; 10; Numbers 16:39-40), the manna (Exodus 16:1-15; Psalm 77:24-25), and the rock of Horeb (Exodus 17:5-7; Numbers 20:10-11; Psalm 104:41). A Canticle of thanksgiving for the Messianic benefits is found in Is., xii.

The Books of the Old Testament are not the only source from which the Christian theologian may learn the Messianic ideas of pre-Christian Jewry. The Sibylline oracles, the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Psalms of Solomon, the Ascensio Moysis, the Revelation of Baruch, the Fourth Book of Esdras, and several Talmudic and Rabbinic writings are rich depositories of pre-Christian views concerning the expected Messias. Not that all of these works were written before the coming of Christ; but, though partially post-Christian in their authorship, they preserve a picture of the Jewish world of thought, dating back, at least in its outline, centuries before the coming of Christ.


Some modern writers tell us that there are two Christs, as it were, the Messias of faith and the Jesus of history. They regard the Lord and Christ, Whom God exalted by raising Him from the dead, as the subject of Christian faith; and Jesus of Nazareth, the preacher and worker of miracles, as the theme of the historian. They assure us that it is quite impossible to persuade even the least experienced critic that Jesus taught, in formal terms and at one and the same time, the Christology of Paul, that of John, and the doctrines of Nicæa, of Ephesus, and of Chalcedon. Otherwise the history of the first Christian centuries appears to these writers to be quite inconceivable. The Fourth Gospel is said to lack the data which underlie the definitions of the first ecumenical councils and to supply testimony that is not a supplement, but a corrective, of the portrait of Jesus drawn by the Synoptics. These two accounts of the Christ are represented as mutually exclusive: if Jesus spoke and acted as He speaks and acts in the Synoptic Gospels, then He cannot have spoken and acted as He is reported by St. John. We shall here briefly review the Christology of St. Paul, of the Catholic Epistles, of the Fourth Gospel, and the Synoptics. Thus we shall give the reader a complete Christology of the New Testament and at the same time the data necessary to control the contentions of the Modernists. The Christology will not, however, be complete in the sense that it extends to all the details concerning Jesus Christ taught in the New Testament, but in the sense that it gives His essential characteristics taught in the whole of the New Testament.

(1) Pauline Christology

St. Paul insists on the truth of Christ's real humanity and Divinity, in spite of the fact that at first sight the reader is confronted with three objects in the Apostle's writings: God, the human world, and the Mediator. But then the latter is both Divine and human, both God and man.

(a) Christ's Humanity in the Pauline Epistles

The expressions "form of a servant", "in habit found as a man", "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Philippians 2:7; Romans 8:3) may seem to impair the real humanity of Christ in the Pauline teaching. But in reality they only describe a mode of being or hint at the presence of a higher nature in Christ not seen by the senses, or they contrast Christ's human nature with the nature of that sinful race to which it belongs. On the other hand the Apostle plainly speaks of Our Lord manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), as possessing a body of flesh (Colossians 1:22), as being "made of a woman" (Galatians 4:4), as being born of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3), as belonging according to the flesh to the race of Israel (Romans 9:5). As a Jew, Jesus Christ was born under the Law (Galatians 4:4). The Apostle dwells with emphasis on Our Lord's real share in our physical human weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4), on His life of suffering (Hebrews 5:8) reaching its climax in the Passion (ibid., 1:5; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24). Only in two respects did Our Lord's humanity differ from the rest of men: first in its entire sinlessness (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:17; Romans 7:3); secondly, in the fact that Our Lord was the second Adam, representing the whole human race (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

(b) Christ's Divinity in the Pauline Epistles

According to St. Paul, the superiority of the Christian revelation over all other Divine manifestations, and the perfection of the New Covenant with its sacrifice and priesthood, are derived from the fact that Christ is the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1 sq.; 5:5 sq.; 2:5 sq.; Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 1:12 sq.; 2:9 sq.; etc.). The Apostle understands by the expression "Son of God" not a merely moral dignity, or a merely external relation to God which began in time, but an eternal and immanent relation of Christ to the Father. He contrasts Christ with, and finds Him superior to, Aaron and his successors, Moses and the Prophets (Hebrews 5:4; 10:11; 7:1-22; 3:1-6; 1:1). He raises Christ above the choirs of angels, and makes Him their Lord and Master (Hebrews 1:3; 14; 2:2-3), and seats Him as heir of all things at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:2-3; Galatians 4:14; Ephesians 1:20-21). If St. Paul is obliged to use the terms "form of God", "image of God", when he speaks of Christ's Divinity, in order to show the personal distinction between the Eternal Father and the Divine Son (Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15), Christ is not merely the image and glory of God (1 Corinthians 11:7), but also the first-born before any created beings (Colossians 1:15), in Whom, and by Whom, and for Whom all things were made (Colossians 1:16), in Whom the fulness of the Godhead resides with that actual reality which we attach to the presence of the material bodies perceptible and measurable through the organs of our senses (Colossians 2:9), in a word, "who is over all things, God blessed for ever" (Romans 9:5).

(2) Christology of the Catholic Epistles

The Epistles of St. John will be considered together with the other writings of the same Apostle in the next paragraph. Under the present heading we shall briefly indicate the views concerning Christ held by the Apostles St. James, St. Peter, and St. Jude.

(a) The Epistle of St. James

The mainly practical scope of the Epistle of St. James does not lead us to expect that Our Lord's Divinity would be formally expressed in it as a doctrine of faith. This doctrine is, however, implied in the language of the inspired writer. He professes to stand in the same relation to Jesus Christ as to God, being the servant of both (i, 1): he applies the same term to the God of the Old Testament as to Jesus Christ (passim). Jesus Christ is both the sovereign judge and independent lawgiver, who can save and can destroy (iv, 12); the faith in Jesus Christ is faith in the lord of Glory (ii, 1). The language of St. James would be exaggerated and overstrained on any other supposition than the writer's firm belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

(b) Belief of St. Peter

St. Peter presents himself as the servant and the apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1), who was predicted by the Prophets of the Old Testament in such a way that the Prophets themselves were Christ's own servants, heralds, and organs (1 Peter 1:10-11). It is the pre-existent Christ who moulds the utterances of Israel's Prophets to proclaim their anticipations of His advent. St. Peter had witnessed the glory of Jesus in the Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16); he appears to take pleasure in multiplying His titles: Jesus Our Lord (2 Peter 1:2), our Lord Jesus Christ (ibid., i, 14, 16), the Lord and Saviour (ibid., iii, 2), our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (ibid., i, 1), Whose power is Divine (ibid., i, 3), through whose promises Christians are made partakers of the nature of God (ibid., i, 4). Throughout his Epistle, therefore, St. Peter feels, as it were, and implies the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

(c) Epistle of St. Jude

St. Jude, too, introduces himself as the servant of Jesus Christ, through union with whom Christians are kept in a life of faith and holiness (1); Christ is our only Lord and Saviour (4), Who punished Israel in the wilderness and the rebel angels (5), Who will come to judgment surrounded by myriads of saints (14), and to Whom Christians look for the mercy which He will show them at His coming (21), the issue of which will be life everlasting. Can a merely human Christ be the subject of this language?

(3) Johannean Christology

If there were nothing else in the New Testament to prove the Divinity of Christ, the first fourteen verses in the Fourth Gospel would suffice to convince a believer in the Bible of that dogma. Now the doctrine of this prologue is the fundamental idea of the whole Johannean theology. The Word made flesh is the same with the Word Who was in the beginning, on the one hand, and with the man Jesus Christ, the subject of the Fourth Gospel on the other. The whole Gospel is a history of the Eternal Word dwelling in human nature among men.

The teaching of the Fourth Gospel is also found in the Johannean Epistles. In his very opening words the writer tells his readers that the Word of life has become manifest and that the Apostles had seen and heard and handled the Word incarnate. The denial of the Son implies the loss of the Father (1 John 2:23), and "whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him and he in God" (ibid., iv, 15). Towards the end of the Epistle the writer is still more emphatic: "And we know that the Son of God is come: and he hath given us understanding that we may know the true God, and may be in his true Son. This is the true God and life eternal" (ibid., v, 20).

According to the Apocalypse, Christ is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega, the eternal and the almighty (i, 8; xxi, 6; xxii, 13). He is the king of kings and lord of lords (xix, 16), the lord of the unseen world (xii, 10; xiii, 8), the centre of the court of heaven (v, 6); He receives the adoration of the highest angels (v, 8), and as the object of that uninterrupted worship (v, 12), He is associated with the Father (v, 13; xvii, 14).

(4) Christology of the Synoptists

There is a real difference between the first three Evangelists and St. John in their respective representations of our Lord. The truth presented by these writers may be the same, but they view it from different standpoints. The three Synoptists set forth the humanity of Christ in its obedience to the law, in its power over nature, and in its tenderness for the weak and afflicted; the fourth Gospel sets forth the life of Christ not in any of the aspects which belong to it as human, but as being the adequate expression of the glory of the Divine Person, manifested to men under a visible form. But in spite of this difference, the Synoptists by their suggestive implication practically anticipate the teaching of the Fourth Gospel. This suggestion is implied, first, in the Synoptic use of the title Son of God as applied to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God, not merely in an ethical or theocratic sense, not merely as one among many sons, but He is the only, the well-beloved Son of the Father, so that His son-ship is unshared by any other, and is absolutely unique (Matthew 3:17, 17:5; 22:41; cf. 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9); it is derived from the fact that the Holy Ghost was to come upon Mary, and the power of the Most High was to overshadow her (Luke 1:35). Again, the Synoptists imply Christ's Divinity in their history of His nativity and its accompanying circumstances; He is conceived of the Holy Ghost (Luke, 1, 35), and His mother knows that all generations shall call her blessed, because the mighty one had done great things unto her (Luke 1:48). Elisabeth calls Mary blessed among women, blesses the fruit of her womb, and marvels that she herself should be visited by the mother of her Lord (Luke 1:42-43). Gabriel greets Our Lady as full of grace, and blessed among women; her Son will be great, He will be called the Son of the Most High, and of His kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:28, 32). As new-born infant, Christ is adored by the shepherds and the Magi, representatives of the Jewish and the Gentile world. Simeon sees in the child his Lord's salvation, the light of the Gentiles, and the pride and glory of his people Israel (Luke 2:30-32). These accounts hardly fit in with the limits of a merely human child, but they become intelligible in the light of the Fourth Gospel.

The Synoptists agree with the teaching of the Fourth Gospel concerning the person of Jesus Christ not merely in their use of the term Son of God and in their accounts of Christ's birth with its surrounding details, but also in their narratives of Our Lord's doctrine, life, and work. The very term Son of Man, which they often apply to Christ, is used in such a way that it shows in Jesus Christ a self-consciousness for which the human element is not something primary, but something secondary and superinduced. Often Christ is simply called Son (Matthew 11:27; 28:20), and correspondingly He never calls the Father "our" Father, but "my" Father (Matthew 18:10, 19, 35; 20:23; 26:53). At His baptism and transfiguration He receives witness from heaven to His Divine Son-ship; the Prophets of the Old Testament are not rivals, but servants in comparison with Him (Matthew 21:34); hence the title Son of Man implies a nature to which Christ's humanity was an accessory. Again, Christ claims the power to forgive sins and supports His claim by miracles (Matthew 9:2-6; Luke 5:20, 24); He insists on faith in Himself (Matthew 16:16, 17), He inserts His name in the baptismal formula between that of the Father and the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19), He alone knows the Father and is known by the Father alone (Matthew 11:27), He institutes the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19), He suffers and dies only to rise again the third day (Matthew 20:19; Mark 10:34; Luke 18:33) He ascends into Heaven, but declares that He will be among us till the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).

Need we add that Christ's claims to the most exalted dignity of His person are unmistakably clear in the eschatological discourses of the Synoptists? He is the Lord of the material and moral universe; as supreme lawgiver He revises all other legislation; as final judge He determines the fate of all. Blot the Fourth Gospel out of the Canon of the New Testament, and you still have in the Synoptic Gospels the identical doctrine concerning the person of Jesus Christ which we now draw out of the Four Gospels; some points of the doctrine might be less clearly stated than they are now, but they would remain substantially the same.


Biblical Christology shows that one and the same Jesus Christ is both God and man. While Christian tradition has always maintained this triple thesis that Jesus Christ is truly man, that He is truly God, and that the Godman, Jesus Christ, is one and the same person the heretical or erroneous tenets of various religious leaders have forced the Church to insist more expressly now on the one, now on another element of her Christology. A classified list of the principal errors and of the subsequent ecclesiastical utterances will show the historical development of the Church's doctrine with sufficient clearness. The reader will find a more lengthy account of the principal heresies and councils under their respective headings.

(1) Humanity of Christ

The true humanity of Jesus Christ was denied even in the earliest ages of the Church. The Docetist Marcion and the Priscillianists grant to Jesus only an apparent body; the Valentinians, a body brought down from Heaven. The followers of Apollinaris deny either that Jesus had any human soul at all, or that He possessed the higher part of the human soul, they maintain that the Word supplies either the whole soul in Christ, or at least its higher faculties. In more recent times it is not so much Christ's true humanity as His real manhood that is denied. According to Kant the Christian creed deals with the ideal, not with the historical Jesus; according to Jacobi, it worships Jesus not as an historical person, but as a religious ideal; according to Fichte there exists an absolute unity between God and man, and Jesus was the first to see and teach it; according to Schelling, the incarnation is an eternal fact, which happened to reach in Jesus its highest point, according to Hegel, Christ is not the actual incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth but the symbol of God's incarnation in humanity at large. Finally, certain recent Catholic writers distinguish between the Christ of history and the Christ of faith, thus destroying in the Christ of faith His historical reality. The New Syllabus (Proposit, 29 sq.) and the Encyclical "Pascendi dominici gregis" may be consulted on these errors.

(2) The Divinity of Christ

Even in Apostolic times the Church regarded a denial of Christ's Divinity as eminently anti-Christian (1 John 2:22-23; 4:3; 2 John 7). The early martyrs, the most ancient Fathers, and the first ecclesiastical liturgies agree in their profession of Christ's Divinity. Still, the Ebionites, the Theodotians, the Artemonites, and the Photinians looked upon Christ either as a mere man, though singularly enlightened by Divine wisdom, or as the appearance of an æon emanating from the Divine Being according to the Gnostic theory; or again as a manifestation of the Divine Being such as the Theistic and Pantheistic Sabellians and Patripassians admitted; or, finally, as the incarnate Word indeed, but the Word conceived after the Arian manner as a creature mediating between God and the world, at least not essentially identical with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Though the definitions of Nice and of the subsequent councils, especially of the Fourth Lateran, deal directly with the doctrine concerning the Most Holy Trinity, still they also teach that the Word is consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and thus establish the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate. In more recent times, our earliest Rationalists endeavoured to avoid the problem of Jesus Christ; they had little to say of him, while they made St. Paul the founder of the Church. But the historical Christ was too impressive a figure to be long neglected. It is all the more to be regretted that in recent times a practical denial of Christ's Divinity is not confined to the Socinians and such writers as Ewald and Schleiermacher. Others who profess to be believing Christians see in Christ the perfect revelation of God, the true head and lord of the human race, but, after all, they end with Pilate's words, "Behold, the man".

(3) Hypostatic Union

His human nature and His Divine nature are in Jesus Christ united hypostatically, i.e. united in the hypostasis or the person of the Word. This dogma too has found bitter opponents from the earliest times of the Church. Nestorius and his followers admitted in Christ one moral person, as a human society forms one moral person; but this moral person results from the union of two physical persons, just as there are two natures in Christ. These two persons are united, not physically, but morally, by means of grace. The heresy of Nestorius was condemned by Celestine I in the Roman Synod of A. D. 430 and by the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431, the Catholic doctrine was again insisted on in the Council of Chalcedon and the second Council of Constantinople. It follows that the Divine and the human nature are physically united in Christ. The Monophysites, therefore, believed that in this physical union either the human nature was absorbed by the Divine, according to the views of Eutyches; or that the Divine nature was absorbed by the human; or, again, that out of the physical union of the two resulted a third nature by a kind of physical mixture, as it were, or at least by means of their physical composition. The true Catholic doctrine was upheld by Pope Leo the Great, the Council of Chalcedon, and the Fifth Ecumenical Council, A.D. 553. The twelfth canon of the last-named council excludes also the view that Christ's moral life developed gradually, attaining its completion only after the Resurrection. The Adoptionists renewed Nestorianism in part because they considered the Word as the natural Son of God, and the man Christ as a servant or an adopted son of God, thus granting its own personality to Christ's human nature. This opinion was rejected by Pope Adrian I, the Synod of Ratisbon, A.D. 782, the Council of Frankfort (794), and by Leo III in the Roman Synod (799). There is no need to point out that the human nature of Christ is not united with the Word, according to the Socinian and rationalistic views. Dorner shows how widespread among Protestants these views are, since there is hardly a Protestant theologian of note who refuses its own personality to the human nature of Christ. Among Catholics, Berruyer and Günther reintroduced a modified Nestorianism; but they were censured by the Congregation of the Index (17 April, 1755) and by Pope Pius IX (15 Jan., 1857). The Monophysite heresy was renewed by the Monothelites, admitting only one will in Christ and thus contradicting the teaching of Popes Martin I and Agatho and of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. Both the schismatic Greeks and the Reformers of the sixteenth century wished to retain the traditional doctrine concerning the Word Incarnate; but even the earliest followers of the Reformers fell into errors involving both the Nestorian and the Monophysite heresies. The Ubiquitarians, for example, find the essence of the Incarnation not in the assumption of human nature by the Word, but in the divinization of human nature by sharing the properties of the Divine nature. The subsequent Protestant theologians drifted away farther still from the views of Christian tradition; Christ for them was the sage of Nazareth, perhaps even the greatest of the Prophets, whose Biblical record, half myth and half history, is nothing but the expression of a popular idea of human perfection. The Catholic writers whose views were derogatory either to the historical character of the Biblical account of the life of Christ or to his prerogatives as the God-man have been censured in the new Syllabus and the Encyclical "Pascendi dorninici gregis".

Publication information Written by A.J. Maas. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


For Christology consult the following:

Patristic Works: ATHANASIUS, GREGORY NAZIANZUS, GREGORY OF NYSSA, BASIL, EPIPHANIUS wrote especially against the followers of Arius and Apollinaris; CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, PROCLUS, LEONTIUS BYZANTINUS, ANASTASIUS SINAITA, EULOGIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, FULGENTIUS, opposing the Nestorians and Monophysites; SOPHRONIUS, MAXIMUS, JOHN DAMASCENE, the Monothelites; PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ETHERIUS, ALCUIN, AGOBARDUS, the Adoptionists. See P. G. and P. L. Scholastic writers: ST. THOMAS, Summa theol., III, QQ. I-lix; IDEM, Summa contra gentes, IV, xxvii-lv; In III Sentent.; De veritate, QQ. xx, xxix; Compend, theol., QQ. cxcix-ccxlii; Opusc., 2; etc.; BONAVENTURE, Breviloquium, 1, 4; In III Sentent.; BELLARMINE, De Christo capite totius ecclesioe controvers., I, col. 1619; SUAREZ, De Incarn., opp. XIV, XV; LUGO, De lncarn., op. III. Positive Theologians: PETAVIUS, Theol. dogmat., IV, 1-2; THOMASSIN, De Incarn., dogm. theol., III, IV.

Recent Writers:

FRANZELIN, De Verbo Incarn. (Rome, 1874); KLEUTGEN, Theologie der Vorzeit, III (Münster, 1873); JUNGMANN, De Verbo incarnato (Ratisbon, 1872); HURTER, Theologia dogmatica, II, tract. vii (Innsbruck, 1882); STENTRUP, Proelectiones dogmaticoe de Verbo incarnato (2 vols., Innsbruck, 1882); LIDDON, The Divinity of Our Lord (London, 1885); MAAS, Christ in Type and Prophecy (2 vols., New York, 1893-96); LEPIN, Jésus Messie et Fils de Dieu (Paris, 1904).

See also recent works on the life of Christ, and the principal commentaries on the Biblical passages cited in this article. For all other parts of dogmatic theology see bibliography at the end of this section (I.).

Also, see:
Jesus Christ
Arising of Jesus

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