In its most simple meaning, "Christocentrism" indicates that the humanity assumed by the Son of God is in all its mysteries, from the incarnation to the ascension into heaven, efficacious for the salvation of humankind and for the radical renewal of creation. Christ is therefore the only Redeemer and absolute exemplar.
In the New Testament. The New Testament is the primary source of our profession that Christ is the beginning, the center and the eschatological goal of human existence and of the universe. The Letter to the Philippians states that in his divinity and in his resurrected humanity Christ saves and recapitulates all things (2.6–11). Other letters of Paul confirm this: Eph. 1.10 (Christ sums up all in himself); Col. 1.15–16 (he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; … in him all things in heaven and on earth were created); Colossians 1.20 (through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven). The witness of John's Book of Revelation cannot be ignored: 23.13 (Christ is the beginning and the end, alpha and omega). According to the prologue of the Gospel of St. John (1.1–14), all things exist through the eternal Word of God who became flesh and came to what was his own (1.11). Indeed, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Mt. 5.18).
Christocentrism acquired its eschatological character in the New Testament. According to his good will, God the Father "dispensed in the fullness of times to reestablish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth" (Eph. 1.10). In the words of the Letter to the Philippians, "at the name of Jesus every knee must bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father" (2.10–11).
In the Patristic Era. For St. Clement, Christ is the cosmic Word. According to St. Ignatius of Antioch, Christ descended to the underworld to free his disciples. It is in this cosmic context that the former phrase of the Creed "descended into hell" came to express the faith that Christ visited the lower world to free those who awaited him there. According to St. Irenaeus, all things are therefore recapitulated in Christ. By this, he meant that even before the beginning of the world all human beings and creatures were preordained for the Logos Christ who recreates and renews his creation.
Christian art from its earliest period in the catacombs and in basilicas celebrated Christ as Pantocrator, the universal creator who sustains, renews, and recapitulates all creation. Some of the more famous mosaics of the "Pantocrator" in domes or in triumphal arcs must be mentioned: Hagia Sophia, Salonika, Greece; San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy; San Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy; 12th to 13th century immense Byzantine mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily; St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, Rome; and, the 4th-century basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica, Rome, Italy. The defense of the Christological dogmas of Nicea, Chalcedon and Constantinople III inspired much of this art and devotion to Christ. His Christocentric primacy is represented in the mosaics of those times.
In Theology. Saint Bonaventure and others occasionally speak of Christ as center simply in terms of his divinity: the Son of God being at the center of the Trinity. More commonly, Christocentrism involves a focus on the mystery of the incarnation. Spirituality from the earliest centuries has been Christocentric, and the imitation of Christ is the oldest form of Christocentrism. Christ is the center of salvation, for the sacred humanity of the Word made man is the "pivotal hinge" of salvation (caro cardo salutis ).
Christ is by the very character of the incarnation theocentric and anthropocentric at the same time. K. Rahner maintained that in terms of historical transcendentality, the primacy of Christ is Christocentrism. He held further that the free incarnation of the Logos creates the order of grace and of nature as his own.
Special interest in Christocentrism was inspired by Franciscan Scotists beginning in the 16th century. They maintained that even after sin, the incarnation of the Son of God is divinely willed previous to any reference to the fall of humankind. The reason for their position was simple: nothing may constrain God to will to do something on behalf of sinful human beings. Only the eternal and infinite love of the triune God is the motive for his redemptive acts. Thus the Incarnation of the Son of God is willed not primarily in reference to the sin of humankind, but for the sake of Christ's cosmic primacy and for his renewal of humankind and creation. Questions raised in the 19th century concerning certain aspects of the Scotistic doctrine of redemption and of the incarnation of the Son of God as independent from the motive of human sin [cf. Hilary of Paris 'Cur Deus Homo (1867)] were addressed by R. Garrigou-Lagrange, G.M. Roschini and J.F. Bonnefoy, among others.
The Second Vatican Council described the promotion of unity in quasi-sacramental terms: "The promotion of unity belongs to the innermost mission of the Church, because it is in Christ in the nature of a sacrament or sign and instrument of the intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind" (Gaudium et spes, n. 42). This unity is thoroughly Christocentric. The declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church" (Dominus Iesus ), issued on Aug. 6, 2000, reprises this theme. Picking up also on Lumen gentium 48, it illustrates the unity of the Church with Christ and defends the unicity of the relationship which Christ and the Church have with the Kingdom of God (nn. 18–19). In truth, Christocentrism and the Church are truly inseparable.
In the Liturgy. In implementing the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council and reducing the number of Christ's feasts, Pope Paul VI nevertheless maintained that every liturgical celebration and every prayer of the People of God is truly the prayer of Christ and of his people. Christ is the center of the Church's liturgy, from the beginning of the advent season to the last Sunday of the year when his solemnity as King of the Universe is celebrated. He is the priest and the head of his people. He prays in them, as their God, and he is the object of the prayer of his people (cf. Apostolic Constitution Laudis canticum, 1970, nn.7–8).
Bibliography: p. benoit, Pré-existence et Incarnation in Rev-Biblique 77 (1970) 5–29. b. d. chilton, God in Strength: Jesus' Announcement of the Kingdom (Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt, Series B; Louvain 1979). o. cullmann, Christ and Time (Philadelphia 1964). m. de jonge, Jesus as Prophet and King in the Fourth Gospel A (nalecta Lovaniensia biblica et orientalia, Series V; Louvain 1973). j. a. fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers (New York 1982); The Biblical Commission and Christology, in Theological Studies 46 (1985) 407–75. International Theological Commission, Quaestio de Iesu Christo (Vatican 1980); International Theological Commission, La conscience que Jesus avait de lui même et de sa mission, in Gregorianum 57 (1986) 415–27; j. mouroux, The Mystery of Time (New York 1964). f. x. pancheri, Il Primato universale di Cristo, in Problemi e figure della Scuola Scotista del Santo (Padua 1966). b. przewozny, Church as the Sacrament of the Unity of All Mankind (Rome 1979). j. t. sanders, The New Testament Christological Hymns: Their Historical Religious Background (Cambridge 1971).
[b. j. przewozny]