Lesson 8: Modern Trends in Christology
The Enlightenment: Jesus, the exemplary moral teacher
Christ appears as the great moral teacher. Christianity is God's education of the human race. Christ teaches us truths which we were too ignorant to know. Christianity is like an introductory book on English grammar: It is necessary when learning how to write, but afterwards one can dispense with it. So too Christianity was necessary to lead man into moral truths, but now that we know them Christianity is no longer necessary. The myth of historical progress: sophisticated modern man no longer needs Christianity. Here there is clearly a naturalization of Christianity. Christ is a man and Christianity merely improves us as men.
"Accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason. That, then, is the ugly, broad ditch which I cannot get across, however often and however earnestly I have tried to make the leap."
In his book, Philosophical Fragments, Soren Kierkegaard challenges this whole Enlightenment trajectory. He affirms the paradoxical character of the Christian faith, but attempts to show how paradox is not any less rational. Paradox fits many of our understandings better. He begins with the Socratic image of the teacher who helps the learner remember what the learner already knew. Kierkegaard then contrasts this with a teacher who teaches the learner a truth that the learner could not have otherwise known. The teacher he is presenting here is the teacher who is both divine and human, Jesus Christ. He is not basing his argument on the Christian faith, but he presents it as a thought experiment of sorts. What if a teacher were to teach us the truth that we could not have otherwise known? This argument does not demonstrate the necessity of Christianity, but it shows the fallacious character of those who say that Christianity is irrational. Contrary to Lessing, Kant, and other Enlightenment thinker, it is not rational to say that one will only admits truths knowable by reason. If other truths appear in history -- for instance, divine revelation in Jesus Christ -- then the rational thing to do is to examine this supra-rational truth to see if it fits with what reason already knows. Christians thus do not reject reason. Instead they reject limiting reason to what reason can know by itself.
"If the Teacher serves as an occasion by means of which the learner is reminded, he cannot help the learner to recall that he really knows the Truth; for the learner is in a state of Error. . . .
Now if the learner is to acquire the Truth, the Teacher must bring it to him; and not only so, but he must also give him the condition necessary for understanding it. For if the learner were in his own person the condition for understanding the Truth, he need only recall it. The condition for understanding the Truth is like the capacity to inquire for it: the condition contains the conditioned, and the question implies the answer. . . .
But one who gives the learner not only the Truth, but also the condition for understanding it, is more than teacher. All instruction depends upon the presence, in the last analysis, of the requisite condition; if this is lacking no teacher can do anything. For otherwise he would find it necessary not only to transform the learner, but to recreate him before beginning to teach him. But this is something that no human being can do; if it is to be done, it must be done by the God himself." pp.17-17
His famous book, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, tries to see what can be left of orthodox Christianity when it is submitted to the demands of reason. Christ becomes the moral teacher who teaches us what we should have already known by human reason alone. Christ is not the prototype upon which all of us are made, but merely the archetype, the first of many to come.
"Now if it were indeed a fact that such a truly godly-minded man at some particular time had descended, as it were, from heaven to earth and had given men in his own person, through his teachings, his conduct, and his sufferings, as perfect an example of a man well-pleasing to God as one can expect to find in external experience (for be it remembered that the archetype of such a person is to be sought nowhere but in our own reason), and if he had, through all this, produced immeasurably great moral good upon earth by effecting a revolution in the human race -- even then we should have no cause for supposing him other than a man naturally begotten. (Indeed, the naturally begotten man feels himself under obligation to furnish just such an example in himself.) This is not, to be sure, absolutely to deny that he might be a man supernaturally begotten. But to suppose the latter can in no way benefit us practically, inasmuch as the archetype which we find embodied in this manifestation must, after all, be sought in ourselves (even though we are but natural men). And the presence of this archetype in the human soul is in itself sufficiently incomprehensible without our adding to its supernatural origin the assumption that it is hypostasized in a particular individual. The elevation of such a holy person above all the frailties of human nature would rather, so far as we can see, hinder the adoption of the idea of such a person for our imitation. For let the nature of this individual pleasing to God be regarded as human in the sense of being encumbered with the very same needs as ourselves, hence the same sorrows, with the very same inclinations, hence with the same temptations to transgress; let it, however, be regarded as superhuman to the degree that his unchanging purity of will, not achieved with effort but innate, makes all transgression on his part utterly impossible: his distance from the natural man would then be so infinitely great that such a divine person could no longer be held up as an example to him. Man would say: If I too had a perfectly holy will, all temptations to evil would of themselves be thwarted in me; if I too had the most complete inner assurance that, after a short life on earth, I should (by virtue of this holiness) become at once a partaker in all the eternal glory of the kingdom of heaven. . . . Similarly the idea of a demeanor in accordance with so perfect a standard of morality would no doubt be valid for us, as a model for us to copy. Yet he himself could not be represented to us as an example for our imitation, nor, consequently, as a proof of the feasibility and attainability for us of so pure and exalted a moral goodness."
The father of liberal protestant theology. Schleiermacher (whose name literally means fog-maker) turned to the subjective experience of man in order to find God. There were no objective ways to God, but each man was aware of a feeling of absolute dependence upon something. This Feeling was both the proof of God's existence and the location of religion. In liberal protestant form, religion is located primarily in subjective experience and not mediated through external forms including the written form of creeds or the Bible, or the matter of the Sacraments. Christ is the man whose self-consciousness was supremely "God-consciousness," that is, supremely possessed by the Feeling of Absolute Dependence in its purest form and His coming awakens in all who experience the influence of Christ's supreme "God-consciousness" this subjective form of religion. There is no need for him to be God to save us since Schleiermacher has defined salvation as subjective experience.
Transcendentalist Theology: Karl Rahner
Christology as Anthropology. When the human being acts in the world, he or she becomes aware of the infinite possibilities realizable in action. This experience of freedom leads to a recognition of the capacity for the transcendent. Christ is the man most fully aware of the capacity of the divine and as such can be said to be the Incarnate Word. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Rahner reduces Christology to anthropology since nothing ultimately is said about Christ that could not be said about man. Rahner thus continues the liberal protestant trajectory for Christology of Schleiermacher and Kant and places this liberal construction in the heart of much contemporary Catholic Christology as it has been taught in seminaries and Catholic colleges and universities over the past 35 years since Vatican II. Rahner still confesses Jesus as God and man, but the nature of man is exhaustive. Almost a reverse monophysitism -- from two natures, we are left with the one human nature of Christ. An overreaction against what Rahner and others thought was a traditional monophysitism in Catholic doctrine, spirituality, and piety, in the Catholic Church prior to Vatican II. (Vatican II was held from 1962-1965.)
"This, then, is what is supposed to be expressed by the Christian dogma of the Incarnation: Jesus is truly man with everything which this implies, with his finiteness, his materiality, his being in the world and his participation in the history of cosmos in the dimension of spirit and freedom, in the history which leads through the narrow passageway of death. . . .
But when God brings about man's self-transcendence into God through his absolute self-communication to all men in such a way that both elements constitute a promise to all men which is irrevocable and which has already reached fulfillment in one man, then we have precisely what is signified by hypostatic union."
-- Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, pp. 197, 201.
The Priority of Experience: Edward Schillebeeckx
Christology as the experience of the Lord Jesus. Cannot be confined to dogmas as linguistic formulations. Not Christ as one Person in two natures divine and human, but the experience of tremendous suffering that is overcome. This begins in a "contrast experience" in which the sufferings and hardships of life jump out to the sensitive observer as wrong, as violations of some order. Yet, the human spirit is not satisfied with negation and seeks meaning and triumph through this. Thus Jesus' death expresses utter failure -- the "contrast experience" -- but the disciples regain confidence through their experience of Jesus in the midst of each other. It is not clear whether a physical resurrection is necessary. Such resurrection experiences are independent of the Christian Gospel and could be found amidst oppressed peoples anywhere.
"The death of every individual puts radically in question the concept of human experience which is salvation from man. It seems to make complete and universal salvation impossible. From our point of view, any human salvation breaks off at death, which is the disintegration of every man. What ought to signify integration, unity and wholeness as the conclusion of human life is in reality the dissolution of a particular man in history. As a human event death is, to all appearances, the reduction of the individual to an element of society or history. But at the same time that marks the birth of human protest against the absurdity or the scandal of death, above all and in particular with men who for justifiable reasons refuse to understand themselves, with name and surname, as a fleeting, personally insignificant and replaceable element in a history of meaning and meaningless. Nevertheless, the death of man is the exponent of his temporal corporeality.
The fact that Jesus became reconciled to his radical finitude, that in death he became reconciled with himself and with God, already makes it clear to us that within the limits of our history redemption can never be achieved by some heroic transcending of our finitude, but only in a readiness to refuse within our own limits, which can never be fulfilled in history, to accord evil the same rights as good. Therefore from a human point of view redemption essentially implies: reconciliation with one's own finitude, coupled with radical love, even when one sees that it is in vain, in terms of visible success, and is even an occasion for torture and execution."
Write a two-page essay in which you describe 2-3 theological or philosophical views associated with certain thinkers in the Enlightenment and contemporary periods and show how these views are contrary to the Christian faith.
Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments.