In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word Messiah is translated Christos, the anointed one. Since the Christian community believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the anointed one, Christology is then the teaching about Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. Prior to Jesus, there were various Jewish hopes of a new age, often involving intermediary or redeemer figures. The Christian community focused these hopes in Jesus of Nazareth, and consequently proclaimed him as the Christ. In the second century, Ignatius could then talk about "our God, Jesus Christ" (Eph. 18:2; Rom. 3:3) implying a unity between God and Christ. Christians believe that the reason for this elevated status of Christ comes through his resurrection because, as Paul claims, "if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and our faith has been in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14).
For Christians, Jesus' resurrection indicated a duality of the risen one. Jesus "was descended from David according to the flesh," but he was also "declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3–4). Through his resurrection Jesus became the Son of God who stands beside his Father and participates in the power the Father delegated to him. According to Christians Jesus became the Lord of all and the resurrection became the foundation of Christology.
The Christian belief that Jesus is the Christ entails a connection between Christology and the origin, structure, and destiny of the physical world. In the opening sentences of John's Gospel, a rephrasing of the Genesis priestly creation account occurs. "In the beginning was the Word [Logos ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him, not one thing came into being" ( John 1:1–3; cf.Gen. 1:1). John asserted that Jesus' coming as the redeemer provides an exact parallel to the creation. Moreover, the Logos, similar to the Jewish personification of wisdom, is the mediator of this new creation, as the Logos was the mediator of creation at the beginning of time. In Jesus, "the Word became flesh and lived among us" ( John 1:14). This emphasis on Christ as the first-born of all creation and its mediator is expressed again in Colossians 1:15–17, which states that Christ is not only prior to all creation, but also that all earthly and cosmic powers were created through and for him.
Christ is also presented as the goal of creation and as being present in creation. Underlying this claim, affirmed as early as Justin Martyr (c. 100–165), is the identification of the Logos with reason. So taught the Stoa (initially a Greek school of philosophy), the implications of which were that creation was understood as both reasonable and governed by God as manifested in Jesus Christ. It also allowed Christians to accept whatever they found reasonable in non-Christian insights, such as in Greek philosophy.
Paul Tillich (1886–1965) picked up this correspondence of the universal and incarnate Logos in the twentieth century. Delineating the respective tasks of theology and philosophy, however, Tillich states that theologians do not use the universal Logos as their source of knowledge. Rather, the Logos became flesh, manifesting itself in a particular historical event. The medium through which theologians receive the Logos is not reason but the church, its traditions and its present reality.
Although Paul did not develop general cosmic or metaphysical speculations (1 Cor. 8:6), he did concentrate on the meaning of Christ's lordship. Since Adam was "a type of the one who was to come," the righteousness of Jesus "leads to justification and life for all people" (Rom. 5:18), and therefore nothing "in all creation" can separate human beings from "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:12–39). For Paul, God exalted Jesus that at his name "every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth" (Phil. 2:9–11). In and through and for Jesus all things were created, and "by the blood of the cross" all things can be reconciled to Jesus (Col. 1:15–20). This means that personal salvation and the salvation of the whole world are tied together.
With reference to Colossians 1:15–20, at the Third Plenary Assembly of the Ecumenical Council of Churches at New Delhi, India, in 1961 the Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler (1904–1987) referred to the cosmic Christ, claiming that "a doctrine of redemption is meaningful only when it swings within the larger orbit of a doctrine of creation. For God's creation of earth cannot be redeemed in any intelligible sense of the word apart from a doctrine of the cosmos which is his home, his definite place, the theatre of his selfhood under God, in corporation with his neighbor, and in caring-relationship with nature, his sister" (Sittler, p. 179). Since nature and humanity are threatened by annihilation, it is not plausible, according to Sittler, to proclaim Christ as the light of the world without incorporating the natural world into that proclamation.
The Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) picked up the concept of a cosmic Christ, claiming in his essay "Note on the Universal Christ" that "the universal Christ of the New Testament is the organic center of the entire universe" (p. 14). If Christ is universal, Teilhard concludes, then redemption and the fall must extend to the entire universe. Therefore the whole of evolutionary activity is centered in a process of communion with God.
Finally, process theology picked up the notion of a cosmic Christ. In Christ in a Pluralistic Age (1975), John B. Cobb, Jr. (1925–) claimed: In the Christian tradition "the Logos is the cosmic principle of order, the ground of meaning, and the source of purpose, and is identified with the incarnate form of the transcendent reality, the Christ" (p. 71). From this he concludes: "Christ is the incarnate Logos. As such Christ is present in all things" (p. 142). Since the Logos is the order, "Apart from Christ there is no hope for a better future" (p. 186).
See also Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre
cobb, john b., jr. christ in a pluralistic age. philadelphia: westminster, 1975.
lyons, j.a. the cosmic christ in origen and teilhard de chardin: a comparative study. oxford: oxford university press, 1982.
schwarz, hans. christology. grand rapids, mich.: eerdmans, 1998.
sittler, joseph. "called to unity." the ecumenical review 14 (1962):177–187.
teilhard de chardin, pierre. "note on the universal christ." in science and christ, trans. rené hague. new york: harper, 1965.
teilhard de chardin, pierre. the heart of the matter, trans. rené hague. new york: harcourt, 1978.
tillich, paul. systematic theology, vol. 1. chicago: university of chicago press, 1951.
In traditional systematic theology, Christology is the study of the Person and attributes of Christ, in particular the union in Him of divine and human natures. The study was motivated by a solidly practical interest for the worship of Christ is the life of the Church. Consequently the Church has ever been under the necessity of explaining, both to its own faithful and to those without, how worship of Jesus, a man, can be combined with monotheism.
In the unsystematic fashion characteristic of Sacred Scripture, the authors of the New Testament had bequeathed to the primitive Christian community a double premise, viz, that Christ as a Person was indivisibly one and that He was simultaneously fully divine and fully human. The necessity of showing how these two affirmations could be held together in synthesis (the central problem of Christology) was not immediately felt. Confronted with the crude dissents of Ebionitism and Docetism, the Apostolic Fathers and the apologists simply repeated the gospel message either word for word or in carefully chosen equivalent terms.
Toward the close of the 2nd century, a new group of thinkers, steeped in Greek philosophy, entered into the life of the Church and rapidly propelled Christology into its most decisive epoch. Later historians (e.g., A. von Harnack, O. Cullmann) profess to find at this juncture a major setback for authentic Christianity, charging that the Hellenic influence diverted faith from its true object and turned the Church down the path of sterile speculation. In rebuttal it can be shown (1) that the passionate theological debates that raged from the 3rd to the 7th century could have been avoided only by a universal agreement to refrain from thinking about the central Figure of Christian worship and (2) that, given the right to think and the possibility of thinking incorrectly (a possibility that was repeatedly verified in fact), the Church was compelled to ponder ever more profoundly the gospel message in order to produce an apt reply to each freshly appearing heretical subtlety. The epoch opened in 318, when Arius published his daring conclusion that the Son was not God but merely a creature. There followed: Apollinarianism, which sought to mutilate the humanity of Christ by denying Him a rational soul; Nestorianism, which beheld in the Incarnation a merely affective, extrinsic union between two persons, one divine and the other human; monophysitism, which coupled belief in the one Person of Christ with the contention that He therefore possessed only one nature; and monothelitism, which confessed two natures in Christ while denying Him two wills. To list those who struggled in the orthodox cause against these mischievous heresies would be to reproduce almost the entire roster of the Fathers of the Church. The outstanding champions, however, were St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Pope St. Leo the Great, and St. Sophronius in Jerusalem. Under their respective leadership the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea I (325), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), and Constantinople III (680) fashioned the dogmatic definitions that to this day remain the clearest expression of the Church's faith in its Lord.
Medieval Christology strove to make explicit and to systematize the theological truths latent in the earlier dogmatic pronouncements. Christ's several kinds of knowledge, His possession of various types of grace, and the freedom of His human will received large attention. The attempt to interpret metaphysically the hypostatic union aroused much dispute among the schools. These preoccupations of the medieval scholastic theologians formed the basis of Catholic works on Christology until the mid-20th century.
Since then Christology has undergone a paradigm shift. No longer simply explicating the hypostatic union, it seeks to recapitulate the entire development of the Christological tradition in order to mediate Christ's redemptive significance in the contemporary cultural context.
See Also: jesus christ (in theology); jesus christ, articles on; theology; theology, history of; theology, influence of greek philosophy on.
Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–), Tables générales 2:2548–2655. a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 7.2:1445–1539. a. grillmeier Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (Freiburg 1957–65) 2:1156–66. g. sevenster et al., Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (Tübingen 1957–65) 1:1745–89. w. sunday, Christologies Ancient and Modern (New York 1910). h. m. relton, Studies in Christian Doctrine (New York 1960). h. m. diepen, Douze dialogues de christologie ancienne (Rome 1960). k. rahner, "Current Problems in Christology, " Theological Investigations, tr. c. ernst, v. 1 (Baltimore 1961) 149–200. t. e. clarke, "Some Aspects of Current Christology" in j. e. o'neill, ed., The Encounter with God (New York 1962) 33–58. b. leeming, "Reflections on English Christology" in a. grillmeier and h. bacht, Das Konzil von Chlakedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3 v. (Würzburg 1951–54) 3:695–718.
[j. j. walsh/
w. p. loewe]
The answers given to those questions are necessarily speculative. They range across a spectrum (in the history of the Church) from a view that he was a remarkable teacher and healer who was promoted by the faith of the early Christians into God, to the view that the pre-existent Son is God as God always is, and that the eternal and unchanging nature of God was truly present to the humanity of Jesus, both as co-agent of his activity and subject of his experience, without the humanity being obliterated or the divine nature compromised. The former are known as Euhemeristic or Adoptionist Christologies (see e.g. ARIUS). The latter culminated in the Chalcedonian definition, which sees the person of Jesus as (in the words of Aquinas) instrumentum coniunctum divinitatis, the conjoined instrument of the Godhead.