Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Christology (Notes of 2012)

Christology (Notes of 2012)

Introduction to Christology: Searching for the Historical Jesus

1.    Christianity is rooted in history. We say that whatever is from God is not in an imagination. Christianity sees God as having historically engaged—in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is a historical person for the Christian.
2.    Archaeology is one branch of science that helps us see the historical world during the time of Jesus. But who exactly is Jesus? What was in his thoughts, in his way of living, in his understanding about himself?  Archaeology cannot help with these questions.
3.    We can look at documents. There are non-Christian documents. These are not plenty. Once a “Pilate Stone” was discovered with the name of Pontius Pilate in it. This stone is a block (82 cm x 65 cm) of limestone with a carved inscription. It reads:  “To the Divine Augusti  Tiberieum ...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea...has dedicated [this]”. This is proof that Julius Caesar was a true historical man.
4.    There is another Roman document from a historian named Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117). He was a historian (and senator) of the Roman Empire. He wrote one book, Annals. In this book (15/44), written at around 116 AD, Christ and Pontius Pilate are mentioned. There was a mass execution of Christians. Tacitus wrote: “…Nero …inflicted the most exquisite tortures on…Christians by the populace. Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus….”
5.    There was a Roman historian named Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. He is more known simply as Suetonius (ca. 69/75 – after 130). He was historian and a good horse-rider. He wrote a book Life of Claudius (25/4) and there he wrote about the emperor Nero expelling Jews from Rome: "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." Suetonius spelled Christ as “Chrestus”.
6.    And then there was another Roman historian named Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (61 AD – ca. 112 AD). He is better known as “Pliny the Younger”. He was a historian and lawyer. Why was he called “the younger”? Well, someone was older: Pliny's uncle was “Pliny the Elder” who helped raise and educate him. Pliny the Younger wrote, in around 110AD, about Christians: “They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god….” (Epistulae X.96)
7.    The Jews themselves had their own historians, one of which was Flavius Josephus. He wrote a text sometime in the 90-95, also very close to the time of Jesus. In his books he mentioned the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. He mentioned Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus. He mentioned “James the brother of Jesus”. He even mentioned the “Essenes” of the Qumran community. In his book Antiquities (20.200), he said that in AD 62, the high priest Ananus (or Ananias) had assembled “…the Sanhedrin. He had brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, who was called James, and some other men, whom he accused of having broken the law, and handed them over to be stoned”. See, he mentioned Jesus Christ.
8.    There are a few other documents referring to the time of Jesus and the people around Jesus, but those texts were written already in the 10th century. Historians find them important for the historical studies about Jesus, but we need not mention them here.
9.    Let us conclude: From the non-Christian documentary point of view, there are evidence of the historical truth about Jesus Christ. But these non-Christian documents only mention Christ. They do not give more information than that. The best documents we have about Jesus Christ is the New Testament, and in particular the gospels.
10.  Experts note that the oral Aramaic at times found its way in the Greek writing. When gospel authors recall the words of Jesus, they would write in Greek but with the Aramaic turns of Jesus. So, this tells us how historically “near” the gospel texts are to the man himself, Jesus.
11.  Let us not forget that the gospel accounts were written for the communities of the evangelists. Mark had his community to write too, Matthew, Luke and John had their own communities. So when the gospel authors were writing, they had in mind the context and the needs of their communities. They organized their text according to those needs. This explains why they are versions of the same event—the Jesus event. In our synoptic class we spoke about “the Jesus for Mark”, “the Jesus for Matthew”, “the Jesus for Luke”. It is not that there were three Jesus, but it was that they showed profiles—versions—of Jesus.
12.  The gospel texts were primarily confessions of faith. They were expressing the faith of the authors and the communities. So, in a way, it would be difficult to see them as “historical texts”. The authors did not write the Jesus-history like modern historians. They wrote with the influence of faith. In fact, they wrote to promote and support the faith. So we cannot—and should not—read the texts as historical texts in the modern style. But through them we can discern the historical Jesus.
13.  Jesus had such an impact on the lives and minds of people. So when people shared their faith in Jesus, they also kept memory of his presence. Through the faith colour of the texts we therefore can see how people—the early Christians—had historical memory of Jesus. We can see the impact Jesus had on their lives—and the impact was so powerful that it left a mark on the written texts.
14.  The gospel texts, therefore, cannot be considered purely “non-historical”. No. In and through them the memories of the early Christians were stamped.
15.  Do not forget that in the early times—a little before the resurrection of Jesus—the early Christians believed in the presence of Jesus. Jesus had risen from the dead and although he was not visible he was still present. How? There was the belief in the Spirit. But then also, through the apostles and through St. Paul, the words and gestures of Jesus were still present. The activity of the Apostles, including St. Paul was preaching or proclaiming about Jesus: kerygma. There was still a strong sense of the presence of Jesus among the communities through those preaching. In fact whenever the early Christians would make major decisions, they would call for the inspiration of the Spirit and ask what would Jesus do in their situations.
16.  People kept memory of Jesus. They recalled the Passion and death as a Prelude to the Resurrection. The risen Lord suffered and died…and then rose again. So it was one big story: Passion-Death-Resurrection. It was a story of someone present in their lives.
17.  But then over time the Apostles started to die. Those who actually saw Jesus were also dying. Memory had to shift. Suddenly, the early Christians began to realize that they were having a memory of the “past”. The kerygma had to be supplemented by didache, or “teaching”. It was then from proclaiming to teaching and giving lessons. In the time of preaching there was a strong sense of Christ being present among the communities. When the time of didache came, it became important to make that sense of presence felt and accepted. This time, it was no longer the words and gestures of the Apostles that made Jesus present. It was the time of the gospel texts. They had the role of making Jesus actual in the lives of the communities.
18.  The communities needed a “foundation story”—the Jesus-event story. The words and deeds of Jesus were recorded so that the early communities could have reference and make Jesus actual in their lives. So the gospel texts were marked by a memory of the historical Jesus actualized in the faith of the people.
19.  The Jesus that the gospels were referring to was living sometime in the 1st century Palestine. There is a large agreement among experts that Jesus died under Pontius Pilate. It was perhaps in the year 30…and some would specify the date as April 7,30. This is still a matter of verification, as experts are still working out the dates. Jesus became known, and therefore started his ministry, at around the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Tiberius. As for the date of the birth of Jesus, a lot of researches are still on going. There are indications that Jesus was born a little before the death of Herod the Great.
20.  Let us leave the debate on details to the experts. Let our data be enough for us. The experts read the Gospel texts and try to make dates comparing with the historical dates outside the Bible. It is a technical job. One thing is for sure: Jesus was a historical man. He lived and died at the time of Pontius Pilate, at the time of Herod Antipas, and at the time of the Baptists—the Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots, Essenes etc. In other words, Jesus really lived in the 1st century Palestine

“…keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb.12/2)

1.    Today, many people—Christians in particular—are very critical about their faith. It is not anymore very automatic to simply accept things about Jesus and the Church without some questions arising.  Take the example of questions we saw in the last meeting in class. There were questions about the virginal conception and the adolescence of Jesus. There was a question about the “sexual impulses” of Jesus—putting to question his divinity. It seems that to accept without questions the things that the Church and our Catechism teach us does not happen automatically. In fact, maybe many of us say we believe—but with some doubts and questions.
2.    How did Christians, and specifically the disciples of Jesus, arrive at their belief that Jesus is Christ and God?  What was behind their act of faith?
3.    Is our faith credible—is it really believable? This is our main concern for our Christology class. We have been taught and told many things about Jesus. We have been living a “Christian life” assuming that the beliefs will be followed. But maybe we need to see what is behind our belief in Jesus Christ. What led Christians to accept the belief in him?
4.    To do this we need to go to the source—and this is Jesus Christ himself. He showed something about himself. Then later his disciples dais something about him—and what they said was rooted in what he showed about himself. What the disciples of Jesus said about him came from their experiences about him.
5.    What exactly were the experiences? Later we will go into details about the experiences. Right now let us just say that the experiences were about the humanity of Jesus. People encounter Jesus as a human person—as a man belonging to the Palestine society of the 1st century.
6.    Actually even during the time of the early Church—and the time of Paul—this was already a topic of discussion. So it is not so modern as we think. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews already wrote: “while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Heb.2/2). In other words, if we want to know what exactly it is that we believe in, then it is best to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Everything started with him anyway.
7.    Jesus was known to have been someone who invited disciples to follow him. The invitation involved “taking up the cross”. In following Jesus the disciple would be assured of joining God! By following Jesus, one “picks up the cross” and be sure of going to God.
8.    So already during the time of Paul and the early Church it was clear that to understand the faith it was necessary to “keep the eyes on Jesus”. Jesus was a true historical man—a man of the 1st century Palestine. So the belief had historical roots. We cannot separate the two: belief and history.
9.    What does this have to do with our Christology? We will look at how our faith traces itself back to Jesus and what Jesus revealed. Only this way can we realize the credibility of our Christian faith.
10.  Most of us may have been formed in knowing Jesus “from above”. Jesus, for many of us, already sits on the throne and is so glorious and even powerful. We are so accustomed to this that we feel uneasy about the human side of Jesus. In our class we saw the uneasiness when we presented our questions about Jesus. How much did Jesus know? Did he get involved with sex? Did he really do miracles? Etc. We are so used to the aspects “from above”, we are not sure about who is Jesus “from below”—from the human side.
11.  What happens to people who get fed up with the Jesus “from above”? What can happen is that they may start emphasizing the Jesus “from below” and putting him on a motorcycle, smoking marijuana, playing a guitar and smiling to girls. Jesus then becomes exclusively human, “from below”. It is really not easy to see how Jesus is “from above” and “from below” at the same time. Our Christian faith actually says that Jesus is both at the same time. If we want to know what this means, then we need to “keep the eyes on Jesus”.
12.  Jesus met his disciples. The disciples encountered Jesus. All this happened in concrete life—in concrete space and time: 1st century Palestine. It did not happen in thin air. This tells us that our Christian faith did not happen from thin air. There was a process in the development of our faith. Christian faith did not arise in a flash. It had a beginning in concrete history. Individuals  encountered Jesus and later they confessed that he was the Christ, that he was the Son of God and that he was God! Beginning with the concrete human—“from below”—experiences, the confession of faith that Jesus is “from above” took shape. Beginning with experiences of Jesus “from below”, the believer confesses that Jesus is “from above”.
13.  Our course in Christology then will begin with the experiences that the disciples had when they encountered Jesus. Those experiences led them to believe that Jesus was Christ and God. There were two stages in the experiences. The first stage was the stage of living and moving around with Jesus up until the crucifixion. This was the “before Easter” stage. Then the second stage happened after the disciples met the risen Jesus. Jesus was met living again after the death on the cross. This was the “after Easter” stage. At this point, the confession of faith about Jesus began to crystallize and take a more formal feature. The Acts of the Apostles expressed this faith like this: “God has made him both Lord and Christ (Messiah), this Jesus whom you crucified” (Act 2/36).
14.  Then we will move to look at the formal statements about Jesus. We will end the semester with discussions of major Christological issues: the resurrection, the miracles, the virginal conception, and the human-divine knowledge of Jesus. You yourselves have raised these issues at the start of our semester, and it is wise to look at them with more depth.

Before Easter: Part I

1.    “God made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus who you crucified” (Act.2/36). This is the expression of faith of the disciples of Jesus. This is the expression of faith of the early Christians.
2.    It is actually a “from below” faith expression. Why “from below”? It starts with the concrete experiences with Jesus. The disciples met Jesus—a man of 1st century Palestine. The disciples claim to have seen him risen from the dead. So when the disciples made their confession of faith, they were bringing with them all that they have experienced from encountering the human Jesus. They started “from below”.
3.    The person who the disciples say was resurrected was the very same person who walked with them, lived with them in Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem. It was the very same man who lived and was later crucified.
4.    In the Acts, Peter makes the statement about Jesus. Peter himself knew Jesus, he was close to Jesus. He knew Jesus in concrete life. Peter passed through time with Jesus…and later made his confession of faith. It was not in a flash that faith happened. Rather it was through time. The gospel stories show this to us. The stories in the gospels show the development of faith. Through time Jesus was making himself known to the disciples—and it was also marked by certain misunderstandings. The climax of the story was in the crucifixion and faith found its definite expression after the resurrection.
5.    The fact that the gospels were written in story form—or “narrative” form—shows the concern of the early Christians to express their faith in historical terms too. The gospels point that there was a historical understanding of the faith. So even if we say that the gospels are texts of faith, they are also attempts to show that the faith started and grew in historical time. Something really happened, an event really happened—the “Jesus event”. Faith passed through an encounter with the historical Jesus.   
6.    Now, what did Jesus say and do that made his disciples say who he was—Lord and Christ? What was in the life of Jesus that led the disciples to conclude that he was Christ and Son of God?
7.    It all started with encountering him. Certain individuals accompanied Jesus…and their lives changed. Their lives took a new meaning. Jesus had an effect on them.
8.    Of course there were the crowds. But those who were most especially impressed with Jesus were the disciples. The accompanied Jesus. They saw closely how Jesus lived. (Later, these same disciples will say that they saw Jesus risen from the dead).
9.    So people met Jesus. The fact that Jesus gathered around him the “Twelve” is already an unquestioned historical fact. The disciples entered into company with Jesus.
10.  They saw Jesus as someone just like anybody else. Like any pious Jew, Jesus prayed. Like any human person, Jesus was hungry and thirsty, happy and sad, tender and angry. Jesus was absorbed by a “life-plan” He had a mission. He was so pre-occupied by the mission, he moved with confidence that he was placing his life in the hands of God.
11.  In principle, anyone could have been that way. There were also very pious and engaged Jews at that time. Many Jews were passionate about their religion. But still….there was something different with Jesus. He was a unique case. His presence raised eyebrows—and questions. “Who is this man”, many would ask. Jesus had an impact—a very particular impact.
12.  His impact divided people. There were those who went hostile against him. There were those who entered in faith. Jesus was unique—and mysterious for many people.
13.  Let us not forget that Jesus and his disciples lived as Jews. Their culture was very Jewish—with a strong religious tradition. It was the tradition of the belief in the Covenant with God. It was a tradition marked by the Torah and the prophets and the psalms.
14.  During that time, there was also a high sense of expectation—an “apocalyptic” expectation. People in Palestine were hoping for the restoration of Israel. (People were quite fed up with the imperial powers pressuring them all the time—and the memories of the Greek times were still fresh). So for the people there was the question of who will finally free Israel and install a solid nation? This was the mental frame of the time of Jesus.
15.  Jesus was in the heart of this heightened expectation. It should not be a surprise, therefore, that his own disciples were marked by this. The disciples themselves longed for a new national-political life that the Acts recorded a question they raised: “Is it now that you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” (Act.1/6).
16.  Let us look at this companionship between Jesus and his disciples.

Christology Mr. Pop’s Christology 3

Before Easter 2: The Side of Jesus

The Liberator
1.    From the very start of his ministry, Jesus already announced the Kingdom of God. This was not anything new. Even in the times of the prophets, the Kingdom of God was a topic. God will reign. God is King. God will rule. God will lead and liberate. It was a prophetic themes and Jesus was in the same line. But there was something different and unique in Jesus.
2.    If we look closely, we will notice how the Kingdom was so linked with the person of Jesus. The presence of Jesus somehow revealed something of the Kingdom. If the Kingdom meant the Lordship of God, the manifestation of the glory of God, the saving concern of God for all—the liberation of people—then Jesus himself was a perfect witness and example of that reign and liberation. We will see more of this later.
3.    Right now let us observe that Jesus was so absorbed by this preaching of the Kingdom—it was a personal work. He took it personally. This may explain why, later in history, Christians would focus more on Jesus than on the Kingdom. They saw in Jesus the Kingdom. They saw in him the liberation he was talking about. The early Christians could not separate Jesus from his message!
4.    Jesus used a lot of parables to reveal the Kingdom. Parables showed the very concrete experiences of Jesus himself. He spoke, for example, of the sower. Jesus himself was preaching and sowing his message to people. He had success and failures. What he was saying fell on “good soil” and fell on “rocks and thorns”. So the parable of the sower was also about him—he was the sower! Jesus and his message could not be separated from the parables.
5.    There was a kind of “authority” in the way Jesus spoke in parables. So people would say, “What is this…he is teaching something new”. “He speaks with authority not like the scribes” (Mk.1/27). Jesus not only spoke about his own experiences. His words also affected people.
6.    Jesus had the reputation of someone doing good things (see Mk.7/37). He was impressive in his words, in his parables. But he was also impressive in his actions. Both his words and his actions revealed the message of the Kingdom. His words and his actions we expressive of his message. He was indeed impressive. Let us take some examples.
7.    He approached publicans and sinners. He allowed them to approach him. He ate and drank with them. This was so impressive that it was a scandal to religious authorities. How can this man mix around with “dirty” people? But Jesus showed how free he was. He was not tied to the complexities of cultural biases of his time. He showed a free attitude that could only come from the message of God’s love. The arms of God were so wide open—God was willing to share with even publicans and sinners. Jesus had the message of the liberating love of God—even in your sins God comes to you.
8.    Another impressive element in Jesus was his miracles. We will discuss the theme of the nature of miracles later on. It is enough for us to note here that historically Jesus had the reputation of doing extraordinary actions. Bible experts agree that the gospel stories of miracles can only be explained by the fact that Jesus must have done wondrous deeds. Jesus had the reputation of healing, for example. It was an undeniable event. Jesus did some actions that really surprised people—and the memories of those people found their way into the writing of the gospels.
9.    Now, the extraordinary actions of Jesus were always linked with his message of the Kingdom. Jesus never acted wondrously without associating his gestures with the Kingdom. Both actions and Kingdom went together.
10.  What was particularly impressive in his extraordinary actions? In a word we say “liberation”. In his actions Jesus showed signs of liberation—liberation from illness, liberation from psychological suffering, liberation from the hold of evil, liberation from what made people suffer. This was precisely a sign of what the Kingdom meant. In Jesus and in what he was doing, the Kingdom was present—liberation was true and real. “If by the finger of God I cast out devils, then know that the Kingdom of God is with you” (Lk.11/20).
11.  In the actions of Jesus we discern something “apocalyptic”. In his actions was the opening up of a new creation. It was the opening up of a new future that was to participate in the glory of God. Sin, illness, confusion, darkness—these had not place in the future opening up.
12.  Let us note then that in Jesus there was the presence of liberation. It was such a unique form of liberation associated with the Kingdom. It was a liberation starting with the people who were the least appreciated and desirable in society. Publicans and prostitutes, for example, experienced the love Jesus offered them. What is also striking is that Jesus also liberated the physically ill. His actions affected others physically too. Jesus was so concrete in his presence. (Of course at that time, these were still perceived as “signs”. We will have to wait for the final confirmation after Easter). 

The Authority of Jesus: forgiving
13.  In his words and actions Jesus showed a kind of “authority”. No, it was not the authority associated with “VIP” or “big-time” people. The form of authority of Jesus was different; it was unique. Let us look at this closely.
14.  Jesus was known to have forgiven sins. The memories of people state that he forgave the sins of others. “Your sins are forgiven”, Jesus would often say. (There are many passages in the gospels regarding this, you can check them out. Try looking at Lk.7/36-50). The reputation—forgiving sins—was so unforgettable. Why? One reason is because it was a scandal to religious authorities. At one point, for example, scribes saw Jesus forgive sins, they said, “Who can forgive sins but God” (Mk.2/7). For the religious authorities it was a blasphemy to forgive sins. Only God could forgive sins. A man like Jesus had no right to do this. (Blasphemy, as we know, is an insult done to God, it is a sign of contempt and irreverence towards God!) Bible experts say that this reputation of Jesus cannot be historically denied. He really had the reputation—and it was to be one of the major accusations against him later. Jesus left memories in the minds of people as someone who blasphemed and scandalized religious authorities.
15.  What exactly was the nature of the blasphemy? Simply put, it was the fact that Jesus was acting in the place of God. Only God forgives—and if Jesus forgave, then was he playing some kind of “God-role”? (Just think also of what effects Jesus did. To forgive a prostitute, for example, was something that another person might not want to happen. In that society at that time when some people felt they were so ritually clean and holy, it was intolerable to give proper social space for “dirty” people—like prostitutes and publicans. By placing the responsibility of forgiving on the shoulders of God, “holy” people gave themselves the chance to continue condemning and excluding “dirty” people.)
16.  Let us recall the different parables of the “lost and found” in Luke 15. There is the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of “the prodigal son”. In all of these Jesus was always insisting on the forgiveness of those who are “lost” in sin. Jesus was showing that the Kingdom was a matter of forgiveness—that God himself would be forgiving. What Jesus was doing in forgiving was what God himself would be doing. For others it was a blasphemy—Jesus placed himself in the same line as that of God. What was worse, for the critics of Jesus, was that God himself was willing to mix with sinners. God was willing to feast with them. In the parable of the prodigal son we see that the father had a feast with the lost son. That was unthinkable for many people at that time. How could it be that God would stoop down in all humility to eat with sinners? But, for Jesus, this was exactly a message of liberation. God loves even the most detested member of society.

The Authority of Jesus: correcting the Law
17.  Another profile in the authority of Jesus can be seen in his relationship with the Law. Let us not forget that “Law” (or Torah) meant, for the Jews, rules and regulations coming from God. The Torah was the centre of Jewish life. The Torah guided all behaviour and practices. Jesus however went beyond the Law. Look at the story of the Sermon on the Mount. There we read that Jesus would remind people of what their tradition held. “You have learnt what was said to our ancestors”. So the tradition had laws and people knew. Suddenly, Jesus would say, “…but I say to you”. Jesus showed what could go contrary to the Laws and tradition. And Jesus placed himself in the position to counter Laws and tradition by attesting, “I say to you”. Imagine the guts of Jesus. There was a whole world of tradition and Law—installed in society over many centuries. All of a sudden Jesus would counter all that by assuming his own authority: I say to you. Jesus was assuming that in himself was an authority that could counter tradition. He was correcting the Law that people believed came from God! (Imagine a classmate telling the class about his or her own version of a school rule. “You have heard the rector say that no one should wear slippers in class…but now, that is not correct. Now I say to you, start wearing slippers”.)
18.   In the Jewish tradition, a teacher or rabbi would comment on a precept of the Law by referring to other rabbis and commentaries. Never would a rabbi assume a correction or commentary by referring to himself. Never. It was unthinkable that, in the time of Jesus, someone would interpret the Law by emphasizing “I say to you”. It was not “recipe” behaviour.
19.  Look at how Jesus treated the divorce Law. In the Jewish culture, it was acceptable to go for divorce. Jesus disapproved! He explained why he disapproved. “Because you were hard headed”. Divorce was allowed because people were hard headed…the law as then accommodated. What did Jesus say? He said that the Law was not exactly like that. “It was not like this from the very beginning. Now I say this to you….” (Mt.19/7-9). What did Jesus do? He changed the Law—the Law that was supposedly coming from God. Jesus even showed that he knew what God really wanted—“it was not like this from the beginning”. What God really wanted was different. So Jesus was going to correct that Law: “Now I say to you”. This was scandalizing—it shocked religious leaders.
20.  But Jesus was actually deepening the Law. He was showing the liberating aspects of the true Law—the will of God. Jesus, in his authority, was expressing the real intention of God to really free people from their chains. In the mind of God behind the Law, there was something more true, more authentic and more liberating. … And Jesus knew it! He had the guts to correct the Law because he knew what God really wanted. Imagine how this would strike religious authorities who followed the Torah to the smallest details!
21.  (See Excursus: “Jesus Temple and Law” below)

The Authority of Jesus: “follow me”
22.  Another feature of the authority of Jesus can be seen in his “guts” to call individuals to leave everything behind and follow him. Jesus called persons to follow him together with the demand of “picking up the cross”. What authority Jesus must have had.  (Imagine someone in the streets of Marikina calling you, saying, “Follow me, leave everything you do and all you have…follow me….of course, pick up your cross too”.)
23.  To follow Jesus meant giving up everything and to start a new path of faith centring on him. It required an implicit conversion. At that point Jesus was quite unknown, yet he was presenting a mission. The implicit conversion would lead to picking up the cross…the path was not easy. The implicit conversion required an unconditional following. What authority Jesus must have had to call people this way.
24.  What did it mean to give up all? Of course, it meant dropping the nets of one’s work. It also meant preferring Jesus over one’s own family (see Mt.10/27)! It meant giving up one’s own life for the sake of Jesus and his mission (see Mt.10/39)! The demand of Jesus was so radical! Now imagine the authority of Jesus to make such a demand.

The Authority of Jesus: Intimacy with God
25.  Jesus showed a very strong intimacy with God. In fact, he called God “Abba”—“daddy”. Remember that Jesus called God Abba as he was on the cross. This was unthinkable for a Jew to do. Jesus habitually called God his “daddy”—he was so intimate with God. He spoke about God as if God was his Father and he was Son. (See Mt.11/27 and Lk.10/22 for examples.)
26.  Here is one verse (historically attested) that has stimulated many debates in Christology: “…of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk.13/32). We will discuss the debates later. What we can say here is that it is an affirmation of Jesus regarding his “sonship”.
27.  Look at the parable of the murderous tenants in Mt.21/33-46. Jesus here designated himself as the son of the landowner. He spoke of this parable at the time when the conflict with religious authorities was very intense already.
28.  Jesus really showed an intimacy with God—and the memory got stuck in the minds of the early disciples. The whole life of Jesus showed a very unique relationship with God. Jesus called God his Father and Jesus acted as Son of his Father. In his words, actions, and prayer the intimacy with God was undeniable. Jesus lived as a Son obeying the Father in showing the Love of the Father to the people.

Jesus and he Cross
29.  As the situation became worse and the mission of Jesus faced more and more resistance, the identity of Jesus became more evident. Jesus faced threats to his life—and he did not change his course. He did not back out. He did not run away to say, “Bye bye Abba, bye bye mission”. Jesus stuck to the end. He did not change his style. He knew that at one point there were people who wanted him dead.
30.  Jesus stayed faithful to his path—his mission to proclaim the love of God in the Kingdom. Jesus was consistently a “man-for-others”. He ate even with the man who was to betray him—Judas Iscariot. Jesus put a seal to his life in the Last Supper. There he showed that he was a “man-for-others”. He was a man in the promotion of the Kingdom of God. He was willing to give up his life to assure that he was serious with his message. Even if religious and political leaders rejected his message, he was willing to die for it. He gave his life to show the real liberation for the world. Jesus showed what liberation meant. At the time of his agony Jesus did not refuse the “cup” which corresponded to the will of his Father: “’Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will’” (Mk.14/36).
31.  He scandalized people. He showed an authority that was blasphemous. He linked himself too much with God. His authority threatened the authority of the leaders. So the consequence was the threat to his life. Up the cross (the crucifixion is undeniably historical) Jesus behaved as Son, and he called God his Abba. He proclaimed his faith and he was so certain about his Father.

The Son of Man
32.  This is one theme that we come across regularly in the gospels. Jesus is identified with this. In fact, if we read the gospels, we will notice that the expression comes from the lips of Jesus. The Son of Man was an apocalyptic figure associated with the end of time. Some bible experts think that this expression may have been taken from the Book of Daniel. Let us not enter into this technical discussion. For us, it is important to note that “Son of Man” expressed “destiny”. The Son of Man will come “from above” to liberate humanity. The transformation of the world and the accomplishment of the Kingdom will happen “from above”. The Son of Man was to be someone “greater than Jonas and Solomon” (see Mt.12/41-43).
33.  Jesus may have used this expression too. It may have been his way of saying who he was. (Biblical experts note that “Son of Man” had no Greek equivalent. But it had an Aramaic equivalent—and so with more chances of really coming from Jesus). Jesus saw in himself, while using the expression, as the victor for all humanity. He was indeed Son of Man.
34.  Our next discussion will still touch on pre-Easter but this time from the side of the disciples. How did they interpret Jesus?


1.    The Temple was an important centre of religious practices among the Jews. It had institutional practices already. The Temple was the place of offerings to God. There, also, Jews would go for daily morning and afternoon offerings and special offerings on Sabbath and other holidays. The Temple recalled a long history of Jewish life, from Solomon to the reform of Josiah, to the destruction and reconstruction. The Temple was in the heart of Jewish-religion life.
2.    If we consider the historical conditions, it was true that, surrounding the Temple, there were vendors, sellers, money changers…there were those selling animals for Temple sacrifices. There was an open area for these “business” people, including Gentiles like Romans. A little further inward was a section where administrative quarters were set. A separation was already marked—a wall—that prohibited non-Jews from entering. Then further inward was a court reserved only for priests. Finally, in the heart of the Temple was the holiest place where the animal sacrifices were made. It was the “Holy of Holies” where the Temple vessels for sacrifices were placed. There were vessels for incense too.
3.    What did Jesus do? He made a mess of the place. Now note Mk.11/16, and we cite: “He did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area”. This is a surprising verse. Why did Jesus do this? Let us look at one Jewish document, namely the Mishna Berakoth. (A Mishna was a Hebrew text recording the oral tradition of the Law. Pharisees themselves knew this text.) In 9/5 we read a verse: “One may not enter the holy mount with his staff, or with his sandal, or with his belt-pouch, or with dust on his feet, and do not make a shortcut, and spitting is forbidden, as deduced from lesser to greater”. Note: do not make a short cut.
4.    Mark 11/16 was referring to the “short cutting” made by some to the holy mount. From the court of the Gentiles, there was this short cut. In the original Greek text of Mark 11/16, we read that Jesus did not allow bringing “vessels” (skeuos) through. Vessels, in this case, meant the vessels for the Temple sacrifices. The Old Testament attests to this word of vessels: “Every vessel in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the LORD of hosts. All who come to sacrifice will take them and cook in them. No longer will there be merchants in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day” (Zec14/21). (We read: “…wherewith the priest was adorned and all the holy vessels (skeuos) of the tabernacle” from 2Apocalypse Baruch 6/8. This book, in Syriac, was written in the time of Jesus and a Greek manuscript was later found.)
5.    So Jesus prohibited short-cutting and the bringing of “vessels”. Look. Jesus made trouble in the market area and then stopped the carrying of the vessels. In other words, Jesus stopped that movement from the market to the Temple. All the materials bought in the market could no longer enter the Temple area because Jesus was there to block the way! Imagine how authorities would be irritated by this.
6.    At this point, there was a move to get Jesus killed. He was going too much! By what authority did he do that? Notice how Jesus responded. He took reference from the Baptist! “Jesus said to them, ‘I shall ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me’” (Mk.11/29-30).
7.    We see the attitude of Jesus regarding the Temple. This should not be a big surprise, though. The Temple was not free from criticism at that time. Many Jews were saying that true sacrifice was in the heart. The sacrifice agreeable to God was spiritual. No, they did not fully oppose the sacrifices in the Temple, and there were documents of high approval for these animal sacrifices. In general the attitude toward the Temple was really ambivalent. One reason was that the Temple was a construction supported by foreigners—pagans. There was even a time when Herod the Great made big additions to the Temple, and this Herod was a pagan, son of an Idumean. This explains a passage from Mark noting that the Temple was “made with human hands” (see Mk.14/58).
8.    Herod’s own renovation of the Temple was a big burden to the people. Herod wanted to leave a mark of permanence—and this was his idea of renovation. Architects from Greece, Rome and Egypt were hired. The old Temple was not so extravagant and it was still a bit “run down”, so to speak. Up a mount trenches had to be made and huge stones were laid. Some stones weighed over 100 tons! Because it was to be built on a mound, it meant struggling with gravity. Parts of the mount had to be carved to facilitate the carrying of the stones. What is more surprising is that some stones had to be imported from abroad. Now, to construct such an immense building meant that people had to be taxed. Aside, therefore, from the heavy work some had to do, there was also weight against people’s pockets. So the Temple was not exactly something of “happy memories”.
9.    The Temple was in the heart of Jewish life, yet it was marked by tensions and criticism. Jesus must have awakened the minds of people when he “purified” it. He spoke against it and put an “eschatological meaning” to its destruction. Something deep must have been going on. Let us try to decipher it.
10.  Notice that Jesus made trouble. To do this was to provoke religious authorities. Why? Of course there was the “business” side of it. To stop the cult practices meant a disruption in business. But there was a religious-theological problem too.
11.  What was the position taken by Jesus regarding the Temple? He spoke of the destruction of the Temple. Then, after that destruction would be tribulation and the darkening of the heavens. The destruction of the Temple will be followed by a sacrilege—a “desolating abomination” until finally “‘…the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory” (Mk13/26). This way of looking at the Temple recalls the book of Daniels in which the prophet described the end of time: “I saw coming with the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man” (Dn.7/13).
12.  What about the “desolating abomination”? Not so very long before the time of Jesus, Greeks were ruling the region. A Greek leader named Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the big man at that time. Once he was in Egypt when rumours about him spread saying that he was dead. So some Jews rose to fight against the leaders in Jerusalem. Antiochus defeated the small rebellion and decided to make Greek culture penetrate into all aspects of Jewish life (and it might interest you that Hellenist Jews participated). Jewish practices were outlawed and the worship of the Greek God, Zeus, was imposed. Pigs were allowed in the place. Sabbath was not followed. Sacrifices to Greek gods were made. Circumcision was prohibited. Then we read that Antiochus “…erected the desolating abomination upon the altar of burnt offerings….” (1Mac.1/54). Historically this meant that a statue of possibly the Greek God Zeus was placed in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple. So the words “desolating abomination” refer to the sacrilege done by the Greeks to that Holy place. It meant the end of Temple worship.
13.  Jesus must have awakened the memories of that ancient time when the Temple was defiled. It was a scandal! Now what exactly was the position of Jesus? He spoke of desolating abomination, to imply the end of Temple worship, and the coming of the Son of Man. In other words, the Temple will be destroyed, its practices will stop and nothing else will be done to the Temple. It is the end of the Temple. What will come next will be the Son of Man.
14.  So Jesus was really going against a whole institution of the Temple. He was speaking of the end. That should provoke. That should irritate persons associated with the Temple. But why should that really irritate? So what if Jesus went against the Temple?
15.  Jesus must have taken a very hard stand here. In Mk.1/40-45 we get an idea of what was happening. Jesus “purified” the leper. He declared pure what was not pure. That was something that only priests can do (see Lev.2/32). And then we read that Jesus said to the healed man: “…‘show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them”(Mk.1/44). The leper was healed, but was he accepted in the social world? By sending the leper to the priest Jesus was manifesting his opposition to the tradition of breaking social links. The leper was healed and purified for Jesus, but not for the priest. Jesus had to demonstrate to the priest: “accept this man in society”. Jesus assumed an attitude opposing a whole tradition that made it difficult for people to be together as a society and as a “family”. The Temple was very symbolic of this traditional mentality. Jesus was not simply defying an institution, he was defying a tradition that dehumanized the human.
16.  Another indication of the attitude of Jesus can be glimpsed in Matt 17/24-27. This passage indicates the view regarding tax. A Jew, in principle, would have rights to the Temple and had to be considered part of the whole society revolving around the Temple. Yet the Temple imposed taxes on people—there was a Temple tax. Priests did not pay taxes. They saw themselves exempted. People paid, but not priests. It was clear elitism. So Jesus made his disciples pay to take the side of the many who paid. It was a way of declaring that the priests exempted themselves from the burden of the people. But, not for Jesus nor his disciples. They did not belong to the side of the priests. Again we see the position of Jesus regarding the institution surrounding the Temple. The Temple, not only signified social elitism, but also weight to be carried by people. Jesus was not supporting any of that.
17.  During the trial of Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles, one accusation was raised. The accusation said that Stephen was spreading the news about Jesus who will “change the customs that Moses handed down to us” (Act 6/14). In fact. Why were the Christians in the very early times persecuted? Paul himself admitted that they were persecuted because the Christians were already taking a stand against the Jewish tradition—the “ancestral tradition” (see Gal.1/14). Jesus had the reputation of someone who challenged the Jewish tradition and in particular the Law.
18.  Let us look at the situation of the 1st century Palestine. Already during that time there were particular individuals who were already raising questions about the Jewish tradition. In an early Jewish writing of the time of Jesus, there was a mention of a group of Jews who refused to follow a prescription. Some 200 men rebelled saying: “…‘What if a law which we cannot bear is ordained for us?’” (from Psudo-Philon, Book of Biblical Antiquities, 16/1). Also there were some Jews of the Benjamin tribe who raised a question about the authenticity of the Law. Did the Law really come from God or was it simply a text from Moses? We read: “… ‘We desired at this time to examine the book of the law, whether God had plainly written that which was therein, or whether Moses had taught it of himself’” (from Psudo-Philon, Book of Biblical Antiquities, 25/13).
19.  So at that time Jesus was not alone in raising questions. Some Jews would even say that the Law really came from Moses through the help of angels. Already we read this in Paul: “Why, then, the law? It was added for transgressions…it was promulgated by angels at the hand of a mediator” (Ga.3/19).
20.  Regarding Jesus, we have some examples. In John’s account we read that Jesus talks about the Law as “your Law”, or the Law of the Jews—see Jn.8/17. At one point Jesus answered those talking to him: “…’Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods’? (Jn.10/34). Etc. Jesus seemed to be taking a distance from what the other Jews were following.
21.  Here is another example in Mk.10/1-12. It is the story of the problem of divorce. Pharisees tested Jesus by asking if it was lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. Legally it was permitted. However, note how Jesus replied. “…’Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment’” (Mk.10/5). This is a striking statement. Jesus seemed to be saying that he knew what was the reason why the precept was written. God really did not intend divorce, but because of the stubbornness of people, Moses had to allow divorce. This was a big surprise. Why? It looked as if he knew what was in the mind of God from the beginning of Creation. What gave Jesus the guts to speak like that?
22.  At that time, there were conservative people, like the Sadducees, who believed that the Torah said everything. The Torah was their main authority. Others would say that the priests had authority. The high priest has the power to give laws. The Pharisees had their views of the Law. For them oral tradition was also important. This was crucial because for them, authority came from the Torah and from oral interpretations. This removed the central role of priests. Others—scribes and rabbis—can also make their valid interpretations. Scribes and rabbis expounded on and debated on the Law, and some of them even had private notes.
23.  Jesus had his place in all these. He was known to have been a man of authority! “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes…All were amazed and asked one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him’.” (Mk.1/22 and 27). He was not like the other people—not like the Sadducees nor like the scribes and Pharisees and rabbis. So what exactly was this “authority” of Jesus?
24.  What authority did Jesus have to behave that way and make trouble in the Temple and question even the Law. Jesus did not rely on the Torah—it was not his source of authority. He did not rely on the oral tradition. A passage from the 4th gospel can amaze us too: “The Jews were amazed and said, ‘How does he know scripture without having studied?’ Jesus answered them and said, ‘My teaching is not my own but is from the one who sent me. Whoever chooses to do his will shall know whether my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own’” (Jn.7/15-17). Jesus relied on God! He appealed directly from God. Now, this was something unusual and never known in Palestine at that time. Scribes and Rabbis, for example, would rely on the teachings of other scribes and Rabbis. Nobody would say: my authority is from God. That was blasphemy. To claim knowledge of God’s will was to pass through scriptural passages or through well-educated thinkers. Nobody would say: my authority is from God. That was blasphemy.
25.  The style of Jesus was exceptional. He would look at the reality of the people and then speak of the design of God. (Look at how he did the miracles and how he taught the disciples). This design or will of God passed through Jesus. This was the style of Jesus. He showed so much freedom from the tradition of the Law. It was remembered by the disciples. So we read the gospel writers mention the way Jesus questioned Sabbath.
26.  The Sabbath was a very important religious practice at that time. It obliged rules intended to lead daily life and worship of the Jews. Look at some rules to observe: Do not sew, do not plough, do not reap for harvest, do not bind sheaves, do not thresh and winnow, do not select farm products, do not grind, do not sift dough, do not bake, do not shear wool, do not was wool, do not beat and wash wool. Do not spin and weave. Do not make loops and threads. Do not tie or untie anything. Do not stitch and sew, not even tear a cloth for sewing. Do not trap any animal. Do not write. Do not build or tear down a construction. Do not make fire nor kill fire. Do not hit with a hammer nor transport an object from one place to another (see Mishna Sabbath 7/2).
27.  Jesus questioned these. He went beyond these. He was remembered to have worked during Sabbath, like picking grain (see Mk.2/23-28). He cured the sick on a Sabbath day (see for example Mk.3/1-5). He really did things prohibited on a Sabbath day (see also Jn.5/1-18 and 7/19-24). For the Jews at that time, if on a Sabbath day one performed work of any kind, one was guilty and sinning at every single act (see Mishna Sabbath 7/1).
28.  In the gospel of Matthew we see the way of Jesus regarding the Law. He was showing the so-called “thesis and anti-thesis: “it was said that…but I say to you”. For example, we read: “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King” (Matt.7/33-35). Jesus was rectifying the tradition cited in Leviticus: “You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God. I am the LORD” (Lev.19/12).
29.  What exactly was Jesus doing? He was saying that in the past there were things said. But now, I say to you. In other words, now the tradition is already Jesus himself. Jesus presented his precepts and there was nothing to go between him and those precepts. There was no Torah, no oral tradition, no priest, no rabbi, no scribe between him and what he said. He was the source of what he said—and he took from God.
30.  So we understand better the freedom of Jesus in front of the Temple and the Law. Jesus was not taking authority from anything else but himself—and his direct link with God! This was a shock and a scandal at that time. Christians will never forget that—and the memory found its way in the New Testament writings.
31.  So Jesus got into trouble because of his way of facing the Temple. He got into trouble because of his treatment of the Law. He still had to confront other issues of that time.

EXCURSUS: Jesus and God, his Father—studying Mk 9/2-10

1.    The God of Jesus was not an abstract God—not even God “according to the Scriptures” or “God of Creation”. The God of Jesus was someone he related to! The early Church was struck by this intimacy of Jesus with God. They saw that for Jesus, God was his God—or more precisely his Father. For the culture of that time, it would be a scandal—a heresy!
2.    Jesus had the guts to call God “ABBA”. It was totally unexpected at that time. (Theologically this means something for us: By calling God as Abba, Jesus allowed us to be brothers/sisters to one another. God is “our Father” too. St. Paul saw this: Gal 4/5- Rom 8/15 2Co 11/31 Rom 15/16. That God is “Abba”, Jesus is brother to us. We all become adopted children of God).
3.    Problem: How is it possible that God is “my Father” for Jesus, and yet The Lord’s Prayer states “our Father”! Remember that it is a prayer Jesus taught to the disciples. If Jesus says, “this is the way you should pray”, then clearly the prayer becomes our Father.
4.    Mk 10/18 and 13/32 may be awkward. Remember Jesus was in a time of expectations and there were quite a number of people doing calculations of when the end would come. (Want to see the texts ?Here are some: Apocalypse Syriac of Baruch 2Bar 21/8; Pseudo Philon LAB 19/1; IV Esdras 14/11). In front of this phenomenon—as usual—Jesus refused to play the game.
5.    If Jesus was someone the disciples could recognize, he too was someone who showed marks of radical differences. He was “someone else” too. This was the mark of the religious experience of the disciples. Add to this experience was the experience of seeing Jesus so close to the Father, calling God as his Father. The religious experience found its way to influence the writing of the Gospel texts. In other words, the texts are signs of the memories of the early disciples of Jesus…Let’s study Mk 9/2-10 and see how the verses illustrate the experience.
6.    Verse 2: Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John.  This shows that a distance is being made. Six days later-now we enter into new time away from the previous times. Jesus “took with him” the three. He puts them in a distance.
7.    and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. The mountain is high, again a distance set (spatial). Up there they are alone, again a distance (from society).
8.    And he was transfigured before them, verse 3, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. Jesus enters a distance. He “changes”. Even his clothes change.
9.    Verse 4: And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  To be the two-Moses and Elijah—means to be in a distance from all time. It is now “the end of time”.
10.  Verse 5: Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Verse 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  This “terror” is much like the terror of the women in the tomb, seeing Jesus gone. See Mk 16/8. It is terror of difference!
11.  Verse 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" An affirmation from above is given. It is an exclusive affirmation—again a distance.
12.  Verse 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Verse 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Verse 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Now is the return to the “normal” daily life with the distance reducing. Want to see the OT and other literatures?
13.  2 Six days later: see Ex 24/1 (Targum Tg J 1 on Ex 19/1)
14.  Peter and James and John: See Ex 24/1 24/9
15.  and led them up a high mountain: See “Life of Moses by Philon 2/70”. Well, even if we do not go that far, the high mountain is clearly “Sinai”.
16.  And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. In TgN on Ex 34/29 we read: “Moses did not realize the glory of his brightened face after having spoken to Yahweh”.
17.  Elijah with Moses: See 1Kg 19/9-13; Ex 19/16
18.  Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!": This is a parallel to Mk’s Baptist account. Voice: new revelation. God affirms. Jesus is beloved Son. But unlike the Baptism story, here we see “listen to him”. This is a re take of Dt 18/15. In Sinai Moses heard the word of God. Here in Transfiguration, Jesus is now the word. Jesus is the Lord of the new Sinai.
19.  John 1/14 summarizes all what we say here: we have seen his glory.

EXCURSUS: Jesus as Prophet

1.    During that 1st century, the domination of Herod and the domination of the Romans were very present in society. So it was not possible to talk so much about the “messiah”—because “messiah” had a political meaning to it. But there were some Jewish writings that gave this idea of Messiah. The texts were, however, very rare. There was, for example, the Psalms of Solomon written around the time of Herod the Great: “Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David…that he may reign over Israel Thy servant and gird him with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers. He (shall be) a righteous king, taught of God, over them, and there shall be no unrighteousness in his days in their midst, for all shall be holy and their king the anointed of the Lord” (Psalms of Solomon, 17/23-36). This Messiah, according to the Psalm, will reign by his words and justice.  Some scarce passages in Qumran texts refer to the messiah.
2.    Many Pharisees, at that time, were expecting the “anointed one” Messiah—a son of David. The nation was no longer ruled by a monarchy—and so the idea of someone coming from the family of David was a high hope. God would surely find someone from that family, one way or another. The title Son of David had a political color to it—it was about someone who would not come from other political groups—like the Herodians and Hasmoneans. This explains a passage in Mark: “As Jesus was teaching in the temple area he said, “How do the scribes claim that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the holy Spirit, said: ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘lord’; so how is he his son?” [The] great crowd heard this with delight” (Mk.12/35-37). The passage tells us that there is no strict connect between “messiah” and Son of David. Could Jesus have rejected the connection?
3.    Jesus may have been careful. The title “Son of David” may have had too much political colors to it. Also, much later, in the Christian Church, Jesus was going to be remembered more for his being “Son of God” and not for being from David. The Messiah was not to be strictly identified with the Davidic line. One thing is clear, however, Jesus avoided too much politics.

4.    If there was the growing notion of a messiah, so too was there about prophet. At that time—1st century Palestine—the term “prophet” awakened thoughts of the prophets of long ago. There were many stories about the ancient prophets—like Isaiah and Elijah. In fact, in the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem, there were tombs that served as veneration for the old prophets. So the early Jewish people had images for prophets.
5.    At that time too, there was an expectation for a prophet to come. There were texts from the Hebrew Scriptures that reminded the people of Elijah: “Now I am sending my messenger—he will prepare the way before me; and the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; the messenger of the covenant whom you desire—see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts. … Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day” (Mal.3/1 and 23).
6.    We see the same expectation in some other texts: “They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple mount, until the coming of a prophet who could determine what to do with them” (1Mac.4/46); “…and that the Jewish people and their priests had decided the following: Simon shall be their leader and high priest forever until a trustworthy prophet arises” (1Mac.14/41).
7.    So we see that the 1st century Palestine was marked by “expectations”. Could there be someone who will finally restore the nation and bring it to full liberation? Indeed, during the time of Jesus, there were individuals who were awakening people to their expectations.
8.    During the time of Jesus, there were persons who felt that they were very close to the prophetic line. Some rabbis who were “men of the synagogue” were said to be such: “Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue. They said three things: ‘Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Law’” (Mishna Avot 1/1). So some Rabbis felt that, like the prophets, they had the right to speak on behalf of God. Revelation was still going on.
9.    Flavius Josephus mentioned a certain man named Athrogeus who made trouble in Judah after the death of Herod the Great: “At this time it was that a certain shepherd ventured to set himself up for a king; he was called Athrongeus. ... He put a troop of armed men…and made use of them as his generals and commanders, when he made his incursions, while he did himself act like a king…. (War of the Jews 2/4). Athrogeus did not, however, consider himself prophet. Flavius Josephus also mentioned a certain Judas of Galilee who led a revolt against the Romans who were taxing a lot. Flavius Josephus wrote that Judas of Galilee, together with a Pharisee named Zadok founded the Zealots, sometime in the year 6. This group claimed that God alone was the ruler and people did not have to pay taxes to Rome (see Antiquities of the Jews 18/23). Neither was Judas of Galilee considered prophet. In the year 45, two sons of Judas of Galilee were crucified by the Romans.
10.  It was only sometime later when a man named Theudas who “…persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it….” (Antiquities of the Jews 20/5). The movement of Theudas failed and he himself was beheaded.
11.  During that time, many things were going on. Trouble was going on inside Judah and Jerusalem itself. Flavius Josephus mentioned people who he considered were “fakes”: “And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God” (Antiquities of the Jews 20/8). In other words there were individuals who were leading the people—and they seemed like “prophets”. Are we not reminded of John Baptist, a voice crying in the desert, as he called people to the desert?

12.  If we look at the gospel text of Mark, we read: “Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many. False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead, if that were possible, the elect” (Mk.13/5-6 & 13/22). The verses indicate the on-going tensions at that time.
13.  The country, said Flavius Josephus, was “filled with robbers and impostors”. The word “robber”, for example, was commonly used at that time. Barabbas himself was a “robber”. We also see therefore a strong “nationalism” going on at that time. (See also Act.21/38). It was a nationalism marked by the desire to return to religiosity.
14.  We must admit, however, that even with the events going on, at the time itself of Jesus, the tension was not so intense yet. It was only much later, after Jesus, that a rebellion will happen. (Zealots would become more aggressive a few years after the death of Jesus). So during the time of Jesus the link with Rome was not very disturbed. The Romans were still “tolerated”. But even so, there was one major source of tension during the time of Jesus, around the early 30’sPontius Pilate was a cause of irritation.
15.  Pilate had an aqueduct built in Jerusalem. This was to bring water from a distance (about 70kms). Jews in the city rioted and Pilate had it controlled by “secret police”. Many Jews who rioted and were killed. What also hurt the Jews was that money for the construction of the aqueduct was partly financed by money for the Temple (see Flavius Josephus The Jewish War book 2 and Jewish Antiquities book 18). Pilate was doing summary killings daily (see Philo of Alexandria, Embassy to Gaius 28/303).

16.  How then do we situate Jesus in all this context? Before we even go directly to Jesus, we shall note that prophecy and the Baptist movement seemed very similar. After Jesus “cleansed” the Temple, his authority was questioned. How did Jesus reply? He made a reference to John-Baptist: “Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me” (Mk.11/30). Why? John-Baptist already had a reputation: “they all thought John really was a prophet” (Mk.11/32). At one point, however, Pharisees said that John was not exactly a prophet: “They asked him, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet’?” (Jn.1/25). Yet there was a lot of association between prophecy and the Baptist group. Remember that the Baptists were proclaiming “a new era”, a “fulfilment of time”. Baptists were giving a sense of urgency to the people—“repent” because the time was coming. This was clearly a prophetic way of speaking. Jesus, remember, was a good “student” of Baptists.
17.  In the gospel texts we notice how many people saw Jesus as prophet. In fact, the gospel account of Mark, for example, tended to appreciate the prophetic character of Jesus. Note how Mark presented the event during the Baptism of Jesus: “On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him, and a voice came from the heavens, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mk.1/10-11). The language used by Mark was the same language used for Isaiah the prophet.
18.  Let us look for example at this passage from Isaiah: “Where is the one (God) who brought up out of the sea the shepherd (Moses) of his flock? Where is the one who placed in their midst his holy spirit” (Is.63/11). Then notice the tearing apart of the heavens: “Too long have we been like those you do not rule, on whom your name is not invoked. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you” (Is.63/19). How about the descent of the Spirit? “The spirit of the LORD guided them. Thus you led your people (to the desert), to make for yourself a glorious name” (Is.63/14). What about the dove? “Who are these that fly along like a cloud, like doves to their cotes?” (Is.60/8) “Dove” could mean the people of Israel. But people of Israel are “children of God”. ““They are indeed my people, children who are not disloyal” (Is.63/8). A dove could symbolize a “child” of God.
19.  One point can be seen in all these: Jesus in the Baptism account is recognized as prophet. The heavens break open, a new era is coming. The Spirit descends—and it is the Spirit already linked in the prophetic tradition. The Spirit descends on Jesus—the prophet “dove”.
20.  There are more elements showing Jesus as “someone special”, so to speak. Remember his entry to Jerusalem? He was riding an ass, an image found in Zechariah. “Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you, a just saviour is he, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zec.9/9). Mark adds a cry, using Ps. 118/26 and a reference to King David: “Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!”
21.  It may interest us to situate Jesus and the context of his time—like recalling Judas of Galilee. Remember that this Judas was revolting against the taxation of the Romans. He co-founded the Zealot movement. This man, Judas of Galilee, was exactly as presented in Mk.12/13-17. (Let us read it). A question was raised by the Pharisees: “Should we pay or should we not pay (taxes)?” (Mk.12/14). Judas of Galilee was promoting a non-payment of taxes. Memories of Judas of Galilee were strong then (see Acts 5/37). How did Jesus reply? If he said, “yes, go ahead and pay” then he would be taking a pro-Roman stand. If he said, “no do not pay”, then he would be aligning with the position of Judas of Galilee. Jesus replied with a surprise to it.
22.  Jesus asked for a piece of money—a denarius. This meant that he had no money with him. Then he replied: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mk.12/17). Jesus used the word “repay”—to “render back”. He did not say “pay” nor did he say “do not pay”. He simply said, “give it back” to its owner. Jesus did not exactly answer the question of the Pharisees. He simply mirrored back the question. It was the style of Jesus. Clearly he was not following the line of Judas of Galilee and he was not playing the game of power.
23.  So, how then do we see Jesus as prophet? He may have been similar to those “famous” individuals of his time—like Judas of Galilee. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, Mark noted people shouting: “Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk.11/9-10). But those individuals were political and they were disturbing politically. Was Jesus in the same line? Remember when people wanted to make him king? He withdrew. “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone” (Jn.6/14-15).
24.  Well, the popularity of Jesus was going to be a reason for his crucifixion. He already disturbed the Temple. Then up the cross a title would be placed: “King of the Jews”. Surely there was a political reading of the ways of Jesus. Jesus, however, was clearly taking a distance from the well-known individuals of his time. He would see them as “fake” too—as “false prophets” (see Mk.13/32). He would not accept the violence of these individuals who had “messianic” tendencies: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force” (Mt.11/12). It could be that Jesus was also taking distance from those, inspired by John-Baptist, were rebelling—as recorded by Flavius Josephus.
25.  Jesus must have taken the “non-violent” approach. The Kingdom was not to be achieved violently. In fact, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk. 10/15). The Kingdom is received by a child, not by violence. It does not surprise us, therefore, that because Jesus did not take the path of power and violence, the notion of prophet in Jesus was marked by suffering and death.  
26.  Indeed, Jesus was perceived as prophet—but not in the line of power and violence. Hence the gospel tradition would ascribe to Jesus a title “prophet”—but a badly treated prophet: “A prophet is not without honour except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house” (Mk.6/4). “For Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honour in his native place” (Jn.4/44). Let us not forget the parable of the Tenants. The, man owning the vineyard sent his son. The tenants, however, “…seized him and killed him” (Mk. 12/8). So the title “prophet” applied to Jesus was tied not to glory and power but to suffering and death.

27.  Among the ideas associated with “prophet” was the “eschatological prophet”. We get a glimpse of this in the gospel account of Mark: “King Herod heard about it, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.’ Others were saying, ‘He is Elijah’; still others, ‘He is one of the first prophets’. But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up” (Mk.6/14-16). Look at other verses: “Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ They said in reply, ‘John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets’” (Mk.8/27-28). Let us go to the 4th gospel. There we read that some religious authorities asked John-Baptist about his identity. The Baptist replied: “I am not the Messiah.” So they asked him, ‘What are you then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not’. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No’ (Jn.1/20-21). Notice the mention of John, Elijah and “the Prophet”. What are these all about? One thing is clear, Jesus is more or less associated with the names. Yet, he is distinct from them.
28.  Let us look at this: “the Prophet”. We go back to the book of Deuteronomy where Moses spoke: “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen” (Dt.18/15). A few verses after we read what God had said to Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kindred, and will put my words into the mouth of the prophet; the prophet shall tell them all that I command” (Dt.18/18). So this “prophet like me” or “prophet like you” is Moses. This finds its way to the New Testament. After the multiplication of bread done by Jesus, people were amazed and thought of “the Prophet”: “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world’” (Jn.6/14). (See also Act3/22).
29.  Moses was actually the first of the prophets. He was “the Prophet”. So if there was anyone to come later, he could be a prophet like Moses. Jesus was perceived to be, perhaps, that expected one. So was Jesus John-Baptist “living again”? Was he like Elijah? Was he like Moses? Jesus was being placed among these names, and the people at that time had to find out. Early Christians themselves, as they spoke and wrote about Jesus, had to make things clear. Jesus may have been associated with the names—but the associations with the names could not exhaust everything about him.
30.  In the Jewish tradition Elijah was the prophet of the end of time—the time before God really reigns. “Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, Before the day of the LORD comes” (Mal.3/23). Elijah, according to the tradition, did not really die. He went up to heaven (see 2Kg.2/1-18; Sir.48/1-12). His return was to signal the “end”, the day of judgment.  If people put the names of John-Baptist and Jesus with Elijah, they may have been sensing the idea of “end of time”. John-Baptist was similar to Elijah; he also wore rough clothes, for example.
31.  During that time the idea of “end of time prophet”—or “eschatological prophet”—was becoming more and more a messianic notion. Somehow both the expected messiah and the expected eschatological prophet were blended in the minds of people. There had to be a link between the two.
32.  In the Baptist group, this was strong. There was even a belief that John-Baptist himself was Messiah-Christ: "Yea, some even of the disciples of John, who seemed to be great ones, have separated themselves from the people, and proclaimed their own master as the Christ" (Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1.54). “And, behold, one of the disciples of John asserted that John was the Christ, and not Jesus, inasmuch as Jesus Himself declared that John was greater than all men and all prophets. 'If, then', said he, 'he be greater than all, he must be held to be greater than Moses, and greater than Jesus himself. But if he be the greatest of all, then must he be the Christ'” (Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1.60).
33.  This finds its echo in the New Testament. Note from Luke’s gospel account: “Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah” (Lk.3/15). In the 4th gospel, however, the author pointed out that John was not the Christ. John-Baptist was the voice crying in the desert—making way for the Christ (see Jn.1/21-25). Could be associated with the eschatological prophet Elijah, as Mark and Matthew were ready to admit? Let us see.
34.  Was Jesus the Elijah prophet returning from above? Elijah, according to the Jewish tradition, was to return and re-establish the nation. It was a powerful mission. Jesus, however, took a reversal: he was to suffer and be rejected. The picture Jesus gave was the inverse of the expectation about Elijah. We see this in Mark: “Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He told them, ‘Elijah will indeed come first and restore all things, yet how is it written regarding the Son of Man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (Mk.9/11-13).
35.  Notice what Jesus said. For him Elijah had already come. Elijah had suffered when he came. Jesus upturned time! Elijah, a prophet to open the “end of time” had come. So Jesus implied that the “end of time” had already been inaugurated. The work of Elijah had been completed. The restoration of all things was to happen through a painful process in which the Son of Man must suffer and be treated with contempt!
36.  Here comes the role of John-Baptist. In Matthew (11/14-15) and Mark (9/11-13) Jesus identified John-Baptist with Elijah. Let us cite from Matthew: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come.”
37.  Clearly then Jesus could not be Elijah. What about Moses? A prophet like Moses was to come, according to the tradition. The prophet was not to be Moses re-born. It was to be some like him. In Pseudo-Philo we read: “Who now will go and report unto Moses the righteous, that we have had forty years a leader like unto him?” (Biblical Antiquities 24/6). Also we read about the prophet Samuel who was also like Moses: “And it came to pass when God called unto him, that he considered first, and said: Be hold now, Samuel is young that he should be (or though he be) beloved in my sight; nevertheless because he hath not yet heard the voice of the Lord, neither is he confirmed unto the voice of the Most Highest, yet is he like unto Moses my servant” (Biblical Antiquities 53/2).
38.  These find echo in the New Testament. When John-Baptist was in prison, he sent messengers to Jesus: “When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come?’” (Mt.11/2). After the multiplication of bread, people said: “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world” (Jn.6/14). When Stephen was martyred, in Acts, we read what he said: “It was this Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you, from among your own kinsfolk, a prophet like me’” (Act.7/37).
39.  So how was Jesus associated with this prophet like Moses? When Jesus spoke about the signs of the end, he said: “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many” (Mk.13/6). In the Acts, when Paul spoke about John-Baptist he said: “As John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I amI am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet’”(Act.13/25). In the account of Mark, the disciples went to the lake and were hit by storm. Jesus came walking on water: “They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” (Mk.6/50). In the Passion of Jesus we see that a question was asked about his identity: “The high priest asked him and said to him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?’ Then Jesus answered, ‘I am’ (Mk.14/61). What do these strange verses mean? Why is this so common: “I am”? Later, when we will discuss the notion of “Son of Man” we will see that the “prophet like Moses” opens up to the figure of “Son of Man”.
40.  What is important for us here is to say that for Jesus Elijah had come—and the prophet like Moses is already at work. It is now “the end of time”—the eschatology. But as the gospel writers wrote about Jesus, and as they associated Jesus with the eschatological prophets, they did not completely identify Jesus with these prophets. Instead of a powerful approach to restoring the nation, the gospel writers wrote of a suffering approach. Jesus may have been associated with the prophets—but he was “more than” them. Surely the early Christians may have been in expectation too—but they saw a crucified Lord instead. Their memory of Jesus showed that although they were not disappointed, the result was not as they actually expected. Jesus was remembered to have been prophetic fixed on the cross.
41.  Hence Acts would declare: “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts2/27). The man crucified was, for the early Christians, the one whom God had made Lord and Messiah.
42.  This was a move that allowed Christians to move on without fear. The man Jesus was crucified—he was prophetic and made Christ by God. Now the Christians really have a leader—a “prophet”, a “king”, a “Lord”.

Before Easter: the Side of the Disciples

1.    Recall the story of the confession of faith of Peter. Jesus asked his disciples who people thought he was. Then came the question: “Who do you think I am?” (Mt.16/15) Peter came forward to answer: You are the Christ. Then Jesus authenticated the reply.
2.    The story tells us about what happens in encountering Christ. In front of him persons have to adjust themselves and situate themselves. If we look at the gospel stories, we will notice that the crowds changed opinions from time to time. The religious authorities hardened their resistance against Jesus. The disciples opened up in faith.
3.    Faith was needed to understand Jesus. But the faith had to be expressed in specific ways. For the disciples they relied on the Hebrew tradition—notably the tradition of the Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible proposed figures that where the expectations and hopes of the Israelites. Israel was looking forwards to a fulfilment and they saw in the prophets of old, for example, signs of that fulfilment. Possibly Jesus was in the same line; but none of the figures of the Hebrew tradition corresponded exactly with Jesus. For example, the disciples may have applied to Jesus the notion of “prophet”, but the notion had to be refined and corrected. Jesus showed to be “more than” prophet.
4.    How did the disciples interpret Jesus? They tried to apply in him the tiles they knew from their tradition. Then they gave new meaning to the titles. Jesus was “more than”…
5.    The faith of the disciples, as we already said before, took stages of development. It did not happen in a flash. So during the time they were with Jesus before Easter, they were figuring out who exactly was Jesus. Slowly they were applying the tiles they knew. It was only after Easter when their titles made full sense.

Jesus as “eschatological prophet”
6.      Before Easter, this tile was already importantly applied to Jesus. (See excursus on Jesus the prophet). Look at Dt.18/15, for example. This was part of the Hebrew tradition that someone—a prophet—like Moses was to show up one day. The disciples looked at Jesus and thought that maybe, just maybe, this was the prophet like Moses. (The figure of Elijah was also an important application). In other words, the time of fulfilment was coming. An “eschatological prophet” notably linked with Moses and Elijah will surely come to make the fulfilment come true.
7.    This notion of an “eschatological prophet” was very strong during the time of Jesus. But even if Jesus was perceived as prophetic, he was still understood to be “more than” that. He was greater than Moses and Elijah. The disciples had to re-evaluate and correct their title about Jesus as prophet.
8.    Look at the gospel according to Mark. Mark refused to say that Jesus was John the Baptist (6/16). He refused to consider Jesus as Elijah (6/15) and as a prophet like Moses (6/15). Jesus was “more than” them. He was absolutely prophet who would absolutely reveal the plan of God.

The Messiah—the Christ
9.    One other title applied to Jesus was “Messiah” or “Christ”. This was “the anointed one”. Already this was a notion in the Old Testament. It had political colour to it. During the time of Jesus there was an expected Messiah—but on a political line. When the disciples looked at Jesus, they have thought of him as a possible liberator Messiah.
10.  Jesus seemed to have been distant from this title. This was because of the political risk. Those who accused Jesus played with the political line; even the Roman governor—Pilate—was disturbed. Jesus was seen to be associated with this. Hence, we understand the distance he took—he did not want to be a political Messiah. Yet, up on the cross a mark was nailed: “King of the Jews”. This was to imply the political perception about Jesus.
11.  Let us return to the story of Peter’s confession of faith. When Peter said, “You are the Christ”, he did not yet have the full understanding of what “Christ” meant. (See Mt.16/16; Mk.8/29; Lk.9/20). Peter associated “Christ” with politics—he did not want to accept that Jesus was o suffer and die. Jesus had to purify the perception of Peter—he corrected Peter. Indeed Peter had to learn that the Christ appropriate to Jesus had to really suffer and die.
12.  Linked with Messiah was the tile “Son of David”. In fact, the belief of the Jews then was that the Messiah was to come from the family of David. To understand the Messiah was to link him with David (see Mt.9/27, 15/22, 20/30-31. See also Mt. 21/9; Mk.11/10).

Then there was the title of Son of God
13.   This is not easy to situate—primarily because it seems to be an after-Easter title given to Jesus. It is hard to say if the title was applied to Jesus before Easter. “Son of God”, in the Hebrew tradition, was applied to the people of Israel (see Ex.4/23-25) or the “people of God” (see Ps.2/89 and Ps.110). It was also an application to the Messiah. But in the Old Testament the title suggested adoption—thet the Son was adopted by God. It was not a natural paternity of God.
14.  Jesus did not seem to make an official statement using the title attributed to him. This is why Bible experts think that the title was an after-Easter application. Let us not enter into this technicality. What is decisive for us is that Jesus was perceived to be so intimate with God—he really called God his Father: Abba.  Already this was clear in the before-Easter time.

15.  We end our discussion of the before-Easter time. Later we will look at the Resurrection. Preaching about Jesus will become more explicit and official. The titles that the disciples applied to Jesus before-Easter will now make themselves very clear. Indeed, Jesus and the titles connect. The identity of Jesus would find a high tension point during the crucifixion. Up the cross there was only a dying Jesus. At that point what did all the titles mean? It was necessary that the Resurrection happen to bring things to light. The Resurrection was to be seen as the “signature” of God over the life and message of Jesus. It was to confirm all that Jesus said and did.
16.  Soon the title “Christ” will be attached to Jesus as a “second name”. The title “Son of God” will be so clear—so clear that Jesus will be understood in terms of divinity. So all throughout the before-Easter time, Jesus was showing something about himself. It was like a “teaching” process…and the disciples had a “learning” process. Faith took time to develop, with its ups and down. In Jesus, the revelation of God was happening and it took time for the disciples to comprehend.   

After Easter: a general overview of the Christology of the early Christians

1.    We have been raised in a tradition in which our belief in Jesus has already been “ready made” and transmitted with fixed ideas. But the starting point in history was different. The central figure was Jesus who lived. He was known to be from Nazareth—he was Jesus the Nazarean. He passed through certain encounters with disciples and crowds and social leaders. Then he was put to death on the cross. During all this time the disciples also had to pass through some stages in their views and opinions about Jesus. “Who is this man…who is he with this way of speaking and acting? Who is this man with a very unique attitude towards people and God? Who is this man who is taking his mission about the Kingdom so seriously? Who is this man who claims to be so intimate with God, calling God his Father? Who is this man with so much authority—but an authority so unique, he seems to know what is in the mind of God? Who is this man who is prophetic?” Many questions have been going on in the heads of the followers. At what point were the questions answered and clarified?
2.    The resurrection was the crucial moment. We will discuss the details of the resurrection later in this semester. Right now let us just say that Jesus was seen alive again by the disciples and his appearances enlightened everyone regarding their pre-Easter questions. “Ah, now I see!” So the disciples re-read their pre-Easter experiences. They looked back—in retrospect—into the times they were with Jesus. But now their retrospect was in the light of the new event of the resurrection. It was then the point of a clear Christology.
3.    Note then that it all started “from below”—the human encounter with Jesus the Nazarean. The disciples concluded their view of Jesus saying that he was “from above”. The “from above” Christology happened after the “from below” experiences. Now, it is important that the “from below” is never separated from the “from above”.  Never! Now, let us first look at our faith today.
4.    We are used to seeing Jesus “from above” that we forget that this came much later in the development of the Christology of the disciples. Forgetting this can run the risk of believing in a “preferred” Jesus.
5.    We might say that we “prefer” a “from above” Jesus who is already glorified and all mighty and sitting on the throne of God. Yet, remember that our faith is based on revelation. The revelation of Jesus was not just “from above”. He was encountered—he came “from below” in historical concrete ways. It will be a distortion to stay with just one aspect. We cannot prefer a specific form of Christology. Jesus Christ is both “from above” and “from below”.

6.    The after-Easter experience of Jesus was marked by the resurrection. The theme of the resurrection was the running thread in all talk about Jesus. We can see this in the statement of Peter. “This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death….” (Act.2/23-24). We can also see this in the statement of Paul: “…Christ died for our sins…that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day….” (1Co.15/3-4).
7.    The resurrection implied the exaltation of Jesus. He was “exalted at the right hand of God” (Act.2/33) and “therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Act.2/36). Exaltation meant that the risen Jesus went to the right hand of God and was made Christ and Lord. So Jesus became known as Jesus-Christ. “The right hand of God” meant equality with God. The title “Lord” was the same title given to God himself. God is Lord. Jesus is Lord.
8.    Paul had his formula for this: “…established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom.1/4). Jesus risen from the dead, in relationship with God, is confirmed as Son of God. The resurrection confirmed the divinity of Jesus. Jesus was not just a prophet. He was Son of God—equal to God.
9.    The resurrection accomplished the fact that God “…has brought to fulfilment for us…by raising up Jesus” (Act.13/33). God has definitively revealed in Jesus. (Review what we studied in the intimacy of Jesus with God. See the excursus on Transfiguration. See also Mk.14/36; Mt.11/27; Lk.10/22.)
10.  If the resurrection clearly identified the divinity of Jesus, it also had sense for the end of time. The resurrection signified the end of the world! Jesus sat on the right hand of God, he was made Lord and Christ. This indicated that time had ended—it has been “healed”. God had definitively intervened in history—all is clear now. All has meaning. All has direction. The “next coming” of Jesus was what was expected—and yes, Jesus will return again but time and history is now no longer lost. How do we interpret this? Let us look at Paul.
11.  Paul wrote that “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (1Cor.15/17). Without the resurrection, time and life will continue rolling in darkness and uncertainty. We will still be groping and looking for a way out of the dark. We would still be in sin. But with the resurrection…darkness has been conquered. Sin is no longer the destiny of humankind.
12.  The resurrection, therefore, has shown the true meaning of liberation. No, liberation was not just temporal and political. It was “eschatological”. The darkness in human life does not hold permanence.  The slavery of sin will pass away and it is now possible to join God. Humankind can join God because the chains of sin and darkness are cut.
13.  The recognition that Jesus is Lord and Christ and Son of God is a “going up” movement—it is a “from below” Christology. Faith follows the Nazarean who was crucified…faith follows him to God. To say that Jesus is Christ and is Lord is the result of seeing Jesus the Nazarean. The end of the earthly life of Jesus started the definite intuition of the identity of Christ. Christology, if we may say, started at the end of Jesus’ life. The resurrection triggered all of this.

14.  Now, the life/death of Jesus and the resurrection form a unity. This is very important to remember. They are two faces of one truth. The resurrection presupposes the life/death of Jesus. Jesus really lived and went up the cross—and this same Jesus was risen from the dead. It is one and the same Jesus all throughout. Jesus lived and took seriously his message about the Kingdom—about the reign of God. He took it so seriously that we was willing to lose his life for the truth of his message. He gave his life for the love of his Father. So then the Father rose Jesus from the dead in recognizing and affirming the obedience of Jesus. So see the unity: Jesus obeyed the Father and the Father gave him life again.
15.  There is a reciprocity between the life of the Nazarean and the risen Lord. The resurrection has given sense to the life of the Nazarean. The unity was in the same person Jesus. The risen Jesus was the same Jesus of Nazareth.
16.  The early Church saw this and held it as faith. It is the faith that stays with us until today. Without the unity of the two—the Nazarean and the risen Lord—faith will be a distortion. Later on in history a lot of people will attach different interpretations about Jesus. But the core intuition must be held. The “from below” and the “from above” form a unity.
17.  We will next discuss in detail the intuition of the early Church as it is spelled out in the New Testament texts.

After Easter: A Retrospect on the Life of Jesus
in the light of the Resurrection

1.    The resurrection was the resurrection of someone who lived and died. There is, thus, a correspondence between the life/death and resurrection. Just think about our won idea of the Paschal message. Do we not say that we “must die” and then “live again”? To “live again” presupposes a “dying” first. This, we say, is in following the same path that Jesus took.
2.    The early Church asked about the life of Jesus and she saw that everything in that life was integral to the whole revelation of Christ. The early Church “retro-spected”—she looked back at the life of Jesus. There was a correspondence between the life of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. Let us discuss this.
3.    For the early Christians, Jesus manifested according to the flesh and according to the Spirit. (This is just another way of saying “from below” and “from above”).  Jesus is from the line of David—and therefore “flesh”—and he was established Son of God—and therefore according to the Spirit. Let us read Paul: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom.1/3-4). Both, Jesus “according to the flesh” and Jesus “according to the Spirit” complement each other. He who was established Son of God was already Son of God even “according to the flesh”.
4.    ALWAYS remember that the starting point for all these insights is the resurrection. Starting with the resurrection reflection moves retrospectively because the resurrected man is also the same man who lived in Palestine.
5.    The New Testament texts moved retrospectively. The authors put in writing memories about the life/death of Jesus in the light of the resurrection. For the New testament authors, the resurrection showed that Jesus WAS already Son of God. In other words, while Jesus was still alive in Aplestine before Easter he was already Son of God. The realization, however, was confirmed only by the resurrection. Before the resurrection, people who encountered Jesus were still asking and figuring out things about him.

The gospel authors
6.    Let us then look at the gospel authors and see their style of retrospect.  Mark started his gospel account with this verse: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. So Mark was to show Jesus already as Christ and as Son of God …but with “hidden” characteristics. Jesus was a “hidden Messiah” in Mark. The Son of God was humble and even weak. Yet the tile Son of God would be repeated over and over again. For example we see the tile during baptism (1/11) and during the transfiguration. Both stories are clearly anticipating the glory of the resurrected Jesus.
7.    In the parable of the tenants who murdered the son of the vineyard owner, we see Mark saying that the tenants killed “the beloved son” (see 12/6). And who was this son? He was “…the stone that the builders rejected and has become the cornerstone” (12/10). So Mark was referring to the resurrected Jesus and applying it to the rejected stone. This clearly tells us the retrospect of Mark.
8.    Matthew himself had the same style. In the story of Peter’s confession of faith, we read Peter saying: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (16/16). So for Matthew, the title “Christ Son of the Living God” was being applied to the Jesus in his times in Palestine. The glorified title of the resurrected Jesus was attached to the earthly Jesus—again a retrospect.
9.    Luke also had the same style. A big membership of the community of Luke was Greek in upbringing. Luke would show them that Jesus, while living on earth, cannot be understood apart from Jesus resurrected. In Luke we find many stories in which Jesus is already considered “Lord”. (An Excursus on the “meals” in Luke is being constructed—and hopefully finished by this week…if it comes out read it to see how Luke applies a retrospect of the resurrection in the meals stories.)
10.  The synoptic gospels also show an earthly Jesus manifesting power. The miracle stories tell us about how people were surprised about Jesus. The gospel authors showed the identity of Jesus through the miracles…up to the point in which the disciples proclaim: “Truly, you are the Son of God” (Mt.14/33).
11.  The synoptic gospels also show a tension between humiliation and power. Remember what we said before about the “authority” of Jesus. It was an authority that would get him into trouble—and eventually be hanged on the cross.
12.  The synoptic gospel authors wrote of the scenes in the life of Jesus as “gospel”—that is, as “good news” about the Kingdom and liberation. Clearly the “good news” was about the identity of Jesus. The retrospect of the authors rested on the conviction that Jesus was not adopted Son of God at the time of the resurrection. In other words, the authors were emphasizing that even as Jesus lived and walked the roads of Palestine and met people and spoke and acted, he was already Son of God. There was no discontinuity between the “before Easter” and the “after Easter”.

A modern question
13.  A modern mind might question this. Could it be that the gospel authors put in their views of Jesus and made additions, thereby invalidating the historical reality? Let us say this point: among all the literary works in the world, the gospels are the most scrutinized and studied and researched on. There is a general agreement among Bible experts that the behaviours, words and actions of Jesus have been historical enough to mark the writing of the gospel accounts.
14.  Jesus really lived in a specific—and original—way that made an impact on the memories of those who encountered him. The memories found their way into the writing of the gospel texts. The life of Jesus really triggered people to apply titles to him. People did not just arbitrarily create titles. Jesus could never be called Christ if he himself did not awaken in people’s minds the “Christ”. The historical fact that he was accused as “King of the Jews” is proof about how he must have impacted people’s minds.

The retrospect
15.  The retrospect of the gospel authors were their attempts to correlate the “before Easter” with the “after Easter” experiences. This is important also for us if we want to understand why, in our Church, Jesus has those titles. His earthly life has already been triggering the application of the titles. It was the resurrection tat sealed the confirmation.
16.  The gospels invite us to re-live the times of accompanying Jesus. What was happening then between Jesus and the disciples? Of course we are already marked by the “after Easter” and glorified Jesus-Christ. But we can always try to re-live the moments that led to that and re-live the retrospect that the early Christians undertook to say who Jesus really was.

Special Study on Eschatological Meals in Luke

1.    We take the meaning of eschatology in the sense of Christ risen and is sitting at the right hand of God. Let us first look at what meal was during the life of Jesus. In the second part we will focus on the last meal—the Paschal meal.
2.    The meal during the life of Jesus
3.    Luke seems to be more interested—more than Mk and Matt—in meals where Jesus participated. “Meals” often symbolized the anticipation of the Kingdom of God. Luke—and Luke alone—mentions three meals of Pharisees inviting Jesus (Lk 7/36-50; 11/37; 14/1). Then with Mk and Mt he writes about the meal with the mother-in-law of Peter (Lk 4/39; see Mk 1/31; Mt 8/15) and meal with Levi (Lk 5/29-32; see Mk 2/15-17; Mt 9/10-13). Then he writes about the meal with Martha and Mary (Lk 10/38-41) and meal with Zachaeus (Lk 19/6). Like Mk and Mt, Luke writes about the last meal (Lk 22/14-20; see Mk 14/22-25; Mt 26/26-29). Luke continues to mention two meals after the resurrection—one in the Emmaus story and the other with the Eleven Apostles (Lk 24/29-32; 24,41-43).
4.    Let us mention also the meal where Jesus is the host who satisfies the crowd (Lk 9,10-17; see Mk 6/30-45; 8/1-10; Mt 14/13-21; 15/32-39; Jn 6/1-15).
5.    Unlike Mk and Mt, Luke wrties that Jesus, before the resurrection is already “Lord”. Luke already calls Jesus Lord early enough (see 7/13.19; 10/1.39.41; 11/39; 12/42; 13/15; 17/5.6; 18/6; 19/8.34; 22/61). It is possible that Luke makes the meals of Jesus already anticipate the eschatology.
6.    In the three meals with the Pharisees, the Lord gives a teaching important for the after-Easter community. The Pharisees invite Jesus—implying that Jesus is someone who obeys the laws of purity. Paradoxically, Jesus takes the opportunity in the invitations to teach about breaking away from the practices that exclude the marginalized.
7.    The Pharisee who invites Jesus (see Lk 7/36-50) is scandalized in seeing Jesus allow a sinner woman to touch him (Lk 7/39). Jesus “reads” his thoughts and teaches a parable about debt and the creditor. Then Jesus compares the Pharisee—Simon—with the person who had debts, and Jesus concludes, ““Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (Lk 7/45-47). Jesus here speaks with an authority that is like that of the resurrected one—an authority that anticipates the authrotiy of the risen Lord.
8.    At another time, Jesus eats again with a Pharisee (Lk 11/37-52). The Pharisee is surprised that Jesus does not follow the ritual of cleansing. In Lk 11,39-44 Jesus criticizes strongly the interest of Pharisees because their interest is so external and nasty with nothing interior. Jesus takes the opportunity to express his criticism: ““Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them” (Lk 11/46). In the end Jesus criticizes them about the “key of Knowledge”: “You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter” (Lk 11/52). Imagine speaking like this during a “friendly” meal! It shows an image of Jesus who is not trapped in niceties when it comes to giving a teaching.
9.    In the third meal with a Pharisee (Lk 14/1-24), Jesus shifts the importance of Sabbath by healing a sick. Here he criticizes the hosts and gives a teaching about taking places during meals. Jesus then gives a teaching on the place of the poor (see Lk 14/15-24). Again we see the freedom of Jesus to speak courageously about the Christian community. In the tradition of that time, having poor and sinners during meals risks contaminating hosts. Jesus criticizes this—and even fights against the practice. It is not the sinner who contaminates, rather it is Jesus who contaminates the sinner with justice and love.
10.  If we look at the meal with Mary and Martha (Lk 10/38-41), we see a model for the community. After showing the parable of the “good Samaritan”, Jesus talks about the command to love God. Mary, at the feet of the Lord, represents the disciple who stays faithful in listening closely to the words of the Lord. She has chosen the better part.
11.  The meal with Zacchaeus (Lk 19/1-10) tells us about the tax collector who changes his life in welcoming Jesus to his home. Like the sinner, he receives forgiveness and salvation. The crowds whisper against Zacchaeus, but the Lord does not hesitate to have a meal with him. It is, agains, jesus who contaminates the sinner. The Son of Man, after his death, will come and seek the lost (see Lk 19,10). The salvation is given now for this house (Lk 19/9). This is precisely the eschatology!
12.  Look at the Emmaus story. (see Lk 24,13-35). It is filled with Eucharistic symbols. Jesus takes the bread (see also 9/16; 22/19). He pronounces blessing (see also 19,16). He breaks the bread (see also 22,19). He gives the bread (24,30). Luke uses Eucharistic language. Like in Ac 2/42.46 & 20/7.11, the breaking of the bread allows the encounter with the risen Lord. The early Christians linked the apparitions of the risen Lord with meals (see Lk 24/41-43; Ac 1/4; 10/41; see Mk 16/14; Jn 21/12).
13.  The effect of the action of Jesus is noted: “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him….” (Lk 24,31). The meal is an occasion to recognize the identity of the risen Lord. Then this allows the disciples to interpret what Jesus was saying earlier: ““Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” 24/32). The burning heart was awakened by Jesus and the gift of the Eucharist.
14.  There is still one more meal of the risen Jesus with Simon (Lk 24/13). This is part of the apparition to the Eleven (24/36-49). There is even an emphasis. Jesus tells the disciples to look at him, see his wounds, touch him—he showed them his hands and feet (vv. 39 etc.)
15.  Jesus shows the continuity between the “before-Easter” and the “after-Easter”. Luke emphasizes the body aspect of the risen Lord.

16.  In Lk 4/31-44 and Mk 1/21-39 we sense that the Kingdom of God re-establishes people integrally. In Lk 4/38 Jesus enters the house of Simon (Peter)—and there is a meal after. Then starting with 5/1-11, Simon becomes part of the path of Jesus.
17.  The story on the fever of the mother-in-law of Simon (Peter) is part of a series of healing in which Jesus fights against evil—of the devil. So we read in Lk. 4/34 that the spirit of an unclean demon cries out, calling Jesus “the Holy One of God!” (4/34). Earlier in Luke, when the Angel visited Mary, we read: “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (1/35). In the annunciation jesus is declare “the holy one”. Now, in chapter 4, this holy one shows an authority to command a devil with an impure spirit.
18.  In 4/41 we read: “And demons also came out from many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God’. But he rebuked them and did not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Messiah”. In Luke, evil possession is an illness (see Lk 11/14; 13/11; Ac 10/38; 19/12). So when Jesus healed the mother in law of Simon (Peter) he was in battle against demonic power. Once she is healed—she serves at meal! Liberated from darkness, she is able to serve.
19.  Let us look at the story with Levi. Levi—or “Matthew”—in Luke becomes a disciples of Jesus. He just does not accompany Jesus, he becomes a real disciple. In Lk 5/29 Levi invites Jesus for a meal—a feast. In that feast we find all sorts of people—mainly tax collectors. They are, for Pharisees, “sinners” (see Lk.5/30). The Pharisees and their scribes criticize the collectors of taxes—the “sinners”. What do we read next? We read about a teaching on who is Jesus and what is his vocation. “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (5/31-32). Jesus affirms his role as “doctor” to the ill—which is Messianic in the tradition of the prophets expecting the Messiah (see Is 25/8; 35/5 and following; 65/19.) The suffering Just puts over him our illness (see Is 53/4-9). Jesus is the “doctor” coming from God (see Ex 15,26); he is the one who heals (see Dt 32,39).
20.  The meal with Levi follows the healing of a leper (Lk 5/12-16) and of a paralyzed (Lk 5,17-26). Note the forgiving of sins. What we see then is Jesus calling sinners to follow him and accept the feast offered by a sinner—like Levi a tax collector. Conversion of the sinner is, for Luke, a dear theme (Lk 13/1-5; 15; 24/47; see 7/36-50/ 19/1-10; 23/40-43).
21.  Let us look at the multiplication of bread. Jesus is the host who satisfies the crowd (see Lk 9,10-17). Here we see a miracle regarding abundance! The Kingdom of God is a matter of abundance. Sit down and have a whole meal. There is bread and fish. The story recalls Ex 16. Israel was so filled and satisfied while still in the desert. There was food coming from heaven. The people of God received food from the Lord God enough to be strong in receiving teachings in the desert. Jesus goes beyond this: “Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Lk 9,16). The meal here anticipates the meal—the feast—in the Kingdom.

22.  We might want to ask: what is the teaching that Luke shows about Jesus during meals when Jesus participates?
23.  The forgiveness of sin is a central themes. The love that the sinful woman had for Jesus, for example, valued her forgiveness. The publican Zacchaeus is an example of the conversion. Levi—and other tax collectors—follow Jesus. Levi becomes disciple. Mary at the feet of Jesus is an example of love and mindfulness towards the Lord (even if she is not said to be sinning).
24.  Jesus comes for the sinner—and sinners convert. The Kingdom is always present. The meal is consequent of all. It is the meal of fullness—heavenly full.
25.  Let us add one more. Remember the parable of the “prodigal son”. It ends with a meal. The elder brother is unhappy. (Lk 15/11-32). It is about inviting the poor, the lost to meal. The good news is really announced to them. Interior purity and conversion is more important than external signs. Sabbath must give place for healing. The “Holy One of God” can command spirits of impurity. And during all this time, the identity of the Resurrected Lord is evident—as someone who eats in body way…chewing and swallowing.

26.  But why connect the teaching with meals? In Luke—and in the OT—all meals are human gestures with deep meaning. A meal is marked by politeness: “’Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them (Lk 24/29). A meal is a sign of recognition, eating and drinking “…with tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk 5/30). A meal is a sign of reconciliation (see Lk 15/22-32). It is an action of grace: “He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God” (Ac 16,34). Yet, a meal can degenerate among the wealthy (see Lk 12/19-21; 16/19).

27.  Meal has been recorded in the Old Testament—and there are scared meals there. The sacred means confirm the covenants engaged by different clans (see Gn 31,53 etc.) Or a meals can be a covenant entered between the Lord God and the people of God (see Ex 24/11; Dt 27/7). In Dt, the meal is accompanied with feast celebrating the presence of the Lord God (see Dt 12/4-7.11 etc.18; 14/22 etc.; 15/20; 16/10-17; etc.).There is joy in the assembly. See Ps 120-134.
28.  Let us read Lk. 22/14-20. Note here interesting traits—very much of Luke. For Luke “the hour has come” (v.14). The betrayal will be treated after the Eucharistic institution (vv. 21-23). In Luke we find the statement of Jesus: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer….” (v.15). There is something here of the paschal lamb. The desire of Jesus is accomplished by the meal in which he participates. There is a direct link that Jesus makes between his words and his passion. He is to suffer—to die (see Lk 24/26.46/ Ac 1/3; 3/18; 17/3); it reminds us also of the suffering servant of Is 53/4.8-12. To “eat the Passover with you” is to emphasize also the Eucharistic institution in the context of Passover. The intention of Jesus is clarified when he says: “…for, I tell you, I shall not eat it [again] until there is fulfilment in the kingdom of God” (v.16). The meal of Passover commemorates the liberation from Egypt—liberation from slavery. Here in Luke, therefore, it signals an anticipation of eschatology. The eschatology is the moment when the people of God will have received the fullness of salvation with God. The Eucharist is in this perspective—it is a “memory” of the sacrifice of the messiah and the end of time.
29.  Luke continues: “Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you [that] from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’” (vv.17-18).
30.  V.16 and 18 mention the “Kingdom of God”—indicating not just the “place” where God reigns but also the Lordship of God. In the end of time God is fully Lord.
31.  The symbol of “fruit of the vine” designates, likewise, the Kingdom and Lordship of God. Now, Luk 22/14-20 has two “traditions”: 22/14-18, (the Passover meal) and Lk 22/19-22, the Eucharist. The Passover meal is a “goodbye” meal. The Eucharistic meal will come after.
32.  The Eucharistic institution is a “memory of” the death of Christ—who says “goodbye” in the Passover meal. He will return, however. In Luke, there is also a sense of memory of liberation—liberation from darkness, sin, slavery—just as it happened in Egypt. The end of time means liberation by the death—sacrifice—of Jesus.
33.  The “new Covenant” (in v.20) may recall the covenant spoken of by Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 31/31-33 we read about a new covenant where the Lord God is really master—God will be God for the people and the people will be truly people for God. The “blood shed for you” may recall the “ransom” theology and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53/12.
34.  So Luke emphasises the link between Eucharist and covenant. There will be communion after the “goodbye” and death of Jesus where everyone will eat and drink together—an eschatological meal. The cross anticipates the meal of the end of time.

Christology after Easter: a Retrospect on the Origin of Jesus Christ

1.    To say that Jesus is Lord and Christ raises another question: the origin of the Lord. As the early Christians looked back in retrospect on the life of Jesus, questions went further back to fix the link between the exaltation and the origin of Jesus Christ. This meant the whole itinerary of Jesus Christ from start to end.
2.    What motivated the early Christians to do this? Jesus, established with a divine status in the resurrection, is Son of God. But what does this imply? It can be mistaken as saying that Jesus became God after his death, when he rose from the dead. (This can be called “adoptionist”—that Jesus was “adopted” by God to be Son of God.) Could it be that Jesus was, from the very beginning, divine already? So it was necessary for the early Christians to ask not just about the link between exaltation and earthly life, but also between exaltation and origin.
3.    Doing a retrospect on Jesus, the New Testament would affirm that Jesus was sent by God on a mission and so Jesus existed before his manifestation in concrete history. It was his Son that God sent. The Son was, in the beginning, with God and was already God. What was in the end (the exaltation) was already in the beginning (origin). Affirming the fulfilment of time (eschatology) also calls for affirming the beginning (proctology).

The gospels of Matthew and Luke
4.    So, let us see what the New testament affirms, following the movement of Jesus first as exalted, then as living with the disciples and finally as originally from God. Let us see what the New Testament affirms.
5.    Check out the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Mark does not dwell on the infancy. He goes straight to the public life starting with the baptism. Both Matt and Lk add a “pre-gospel” part to their gospel accounts. Both tell the story of Jesus before his public life.
6.    If we look at Matt, we notice that in the annunciation to Joseph, the virginal conception affirms the prophecy on the Davidic line (see Is.7/14). Joseph wanted to divorce Mary so as not to shame her, but the angel tells Joseph—who is son of David—that the virgin will bear a child and will be called Immanuel—from the Davidic line, still (see Mt. 118-23). Lk, this time, emphasizes during the annunciation to Mary that Jesus was to be born holy and will be called Son of God (Lk.1/35). Both Matt and Lk discern the double origin of Jesus. The virginal conception is a sign that Jesus is from God and that therefor Jesus Son of God did not just start to exist at birth. He already pre-existed.
7.    The infancy narratives of both Matt and Lk try to show the link between the end and the start of the life of Jesus. Jesus is like all humans—he was born from a woman’s womb. Like with  all humans, he died a normal physical death. Yet, at the same time, in his birth and death is transcendence that is of God: Jesus goes to God in exaltation and Jesus comes from God in the virginal conception. No human caused his birth and no human made him rise from the dead. Unlike all humans, Jesus escaped corruption after death. Unlike all humans, Jesus was not conceived from a human father’s seed.

Paul’s Letters
8.    The story of Paul’s faith starts with the story of the road to Damascus. There he saw the risen Lord (see 1Cor.9/1 and 15/8). Paul was therefore in the same line as the other Apostles—he too saw the Lord. In the preaching of Paul, both the resurrection-parousia (see 1 and 2 Th) and the death-resurrection (see Gal.1; 2 Cor.; Rom) are together intertwined.
9.    The hymn to the Philippians (2/6-11) is a good example of how Paul saw the origin of Jesus. The exaltation of Jesus, for Paul, was the end of a process which started with the “emptying” of Jesus—“he emptied himself”. This emptying was known as kenosis. So the movement of the hymn would start with Jesus in divine condition but emptying himself and dying on the cross—to end up being exalted. Paul therefore emphasized the ire-existence of Jesus. Jesus was in a divine condition and accepted to be human.
10.  In the other letters of Paul we see that Jesus was sent by God: “God sent his Son, born of a woman and subject to the Law” (Gal.4/4). God sent his Son in the condition of human flesh (see Rom. 8/3). So in Paul, the Son pre-existed and took the human condition.
11.  In the letters to the Colossians and Ephesians, the same theme is developed. In the hymn to the Colossians Jesus is the head of all universe (see 1/15-20). The primacy of jesus over salvation is at the same time his primacy over all creation. Thanks to his giving of his blood he installed peace. Both redemption and creation are in the primacy of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ existed before all things and all things owed their existence in Jesus.
12.  To owe existence to Jesus is to say that Jesus is the “wisdom of God” (see 1Cor.1/30). Of course this idea of “wisdom” is from the Old Testament—from the Jewish tradition. In the OT wisdom is before the origin of the world (see Pr.8/22). Wisdom mirrored the creative action of God (see Wis.7/26). Wisdom is the excellent image of God (see Wis.7/26). Wisdom represents the height of God’s revelation (see Pr.8/22-31; Job 28; Bar.3/9-4/6; Sir. 24; Wis. 7). Now, in Paul Christ was this Wisdom of God in person. The OT notion of wisdom found its concrete affirmation in Christ. All creation owes its existence thanks to Wisdom—Christ. Yet, for Paul, Christ was to be more than just the OT Wisdom. For Paul, Christ had a status properly divine—equality with God. In the OT, Wisdom did not have this same status. Indeed, Jesus Christ was Wisdom—and more.
13.  The letter to the Ephesians (see 1/3-14) tries to go as far back as possible into the plan of God even before all creation. God had a plan and chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Everything is recapitulated in Christ: “…a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth” (1/10). In other words, Christ was the plan of God.  

Letter to the Hebrews
14.  It is now agreed that Paul might not necessarily be the author of this letter. The letter views Christ with the “eyeglasses” of the OT, especially the psalms. The Son, in whom God spoke, is inheritor of all. God spoke to us in his Son who is appointed top inherit all. Through the Son God made everything.
15.  The glorification/exaltation of Jesus leads to recognize his pre-existence. Jesus is “far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (1/4). Jesus “…is the radiant light of God’s glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word…he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1/3). Notice the link between exaltation and origin.

16.  John has done his own retrospect. He goes as far back into the origin of Jesus. In his gospel—the so-called “4th gospel”—there are recurrent questions about the identity of Jesus: “Who are you” (4/10; 5/12-13; 8/25; 12/34.) “From where are you” (3/8; 7/27-28; see 8/14; 9/29-30; 19/9). “Where are you going?” (8/14).
17.  John would retrospect to offer the reply.   He goes to the pre-existence of Jesus. The life of Jesus—especially the sacrifice on the cross—shows from where Jesus comes from. “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man” (3/13). “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (6/62). In his priestly prayer Jesus said: “Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began” (17/5).
18.  So, in the 4th gospel we see the link of Jesus with his divine pre-existence. Jesus returns to the Father—and the return reveals the origin.
19.  The prologue of John—the 1st chapter of the 4th gospel—has become so central to Christology. It is a meditation on the origin of Jesus Christ—the Word. The prologue is about the beginning of the Word who was “with God” and “was God” (1/1). What did the Word do? “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1/14). This would be another way of expressing the now common term: incarnation.

20.  The Christology of the NT looks at the relationships: the end/exaltation and the earthly life and the origin. These are the three moments of Christology. Already this was how the early Church would do its Christology—and we will see this in our later discussion of the Christological Councils.
21.  Remember what we have been saying about Christology “from above” and “from below”. In the NT both are always together. Both always complement each other. 
22.  If we drop the “from below”, we make a mythological Christology and we will not be faithful to the NT sense of the historicity of Jesus. If we drop the “from above”, we will be refusing to recognize the intuitions of the NT authors and we will risk making a “adoptionist” position regarding Jesus Christ. So, we cannot have a preferential Christology—we do not choose what kind of  Jesus Christ we want. A proper Christology in the line of the New Testament asserts that Jesus really belonged to God—he returned to God  and he was always God.

The Church Fathers—the “Patristic” era—also followed the same New Testament Christological intuition. We will have more to say about this when we start discussing the Councils.
Meanwhile, let us look at history…the history of theology and our Christian formation.

The Experience of Salvation: A motivation

1.    Why be concerned about the “who” of Jesus Christ? In the early Church history, the “who” was associated with “what did he do”. The Christology was linked with soteriology. In other words, together with “who is Jesus Christ” is the question about “how could he have saved us”. The Christ, had to be Saviour.
2.    This was already intuited in the New Testament. Remember Paul. He said that if Christ never rose from the dead, then foolish will be our faith. We will continue in our sins (see 1Cor.15/13-17). Paul affirmed that the reality and the meaning of the resurrection are one and the same.
3.    This intuition continued with the early Christians, notably the Church Fathers who played a very important role in establishing an “official Christology”. All of them were convinced that our salvation depended on the humanity AND the divinity of Christ. The reason why the Word became flesh is so that we, humans, can become adopted children of God. Let us quote Irenaeus of Lyon: “For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God” (Against Heresies III, 19/1).
4.    If anyone questions the identity of Christ, he/she will also strike at our salvation. If Christ was never human—if anyone doubts his humanity—then God would never have been one of us. Now, if Christ was never divine—if anyone doubts his divinity—then Jesus could never have communicated to us the life of God and we will never be God’s children. So the early Church took seriously the identity of Christ because it had something to do with our own salvation. Christ had to be both human and divine so that we can be saved.
5.    If we keep the gap between the human and the divine, then the gap between God and us will stay. In Christ the gap has been linked.
6.    If we say that Christ is “from above”—divine—it is because of the experience of having encountered him in history. If was because people met him “from below” that they saw him coming “from above”.  

How did we learn about Christ

1.    After the time of the Church Fathers, theology and Christian formation turned abstract. Thomas Aquinas was still looking back to the Church Fathers and he still referred to the Scriptures. But he became a theologian of the “from above” trend.
2.    When modernism came—in the 16th and 17th centuries—theology took a protective stand. Remember that modernism was heavily scientific. Many theologians felt that the faith had to be conserved and protected. So they became very abstract, complex and focused more and more on the “from above” Christology.
3.    During the height of modernism, the Bible was put into scientific scrutiny. Many theologians felt uncomfortable with this. They started to focus more and more on “dogmatic” thinking with a growing distance from the Scriptures. Eventually, the theology and the Christian formation became marked by this distance from Scriptures and an over-emphasis on the “from above” Christ. A gap was so wide between Scripture studies and dogmatic theology (like Christology).
4.    Recent developments show efforts to bridge the gap. More and more, today, we see how it is possible to do Bible studies  touching on Christ. This is why we notice, today, resurgence on Christ “from below”. Bible references showing the historical Jesus can be linked with the dogmatic beliefs about him. And so, many theologians have been entering into dialogue with Biblical studies. Let us name a few of the trends.
5.    The Protestant theologians has beautiful things to say. One of them was Wolfhart Pannenberg. He said that if we look at the present, we will notice how the future influences it. (This is obvious. Look at your goals and you will see how your goals motivate your present life.) If we apply tis to Christology we will realize, said Pannenberg that the future (resurrection and fulfilment of time) explained the historical life of Jesus. The identity of Jesus—the “present” historical Jesus—was established in retrospect beginning with the resurrection and the fulfilment of time. Beginning with the “future end”, everything about the historical Jesus was clarified. The “after Easter” explained the “before Easter”.
6.    At the time, added Pannenberg, the “before Easter” began to appear as something anticipating already the “after Easter”. There was a circle: both the after and the before Easter were influencing each other. 
7.    Another Protestant was Jurgen Moltmann. He said that the joy of the resurrection re-oriented the disciples to look back—retrospect—on the life of Jesus. The weight of the resurrection, implying the fulfilment of time, obliged a retrospect on the historical Christ. If Jesus is Lord, who could he have been in his life? This was the question that the disciples had.
8.    Let us look at Catholic theology. It says the same thing. Karl Rahner, a Jesuit, saw the link between the resurrection with the origin of Jesus. The origin of Jesus could only be understood by the light of the resurrection. Then, in the origin is found the meaning of the resurrection. Again we see the circle. What was valuable in the resurrection clarified the origin. Then the origin told us about the whole idea of the resurrection.
9.    Cardinal Walter Kasper had this to say. He saw that the New Testament affirmations about the pre-existence of Jesus are rooted in the fulfilment of time (eschatology) opened by Christ. Kasper said that we can recognize the eschatology in Christ by looking back to his life and his pre-existence. There is a correlation between the fulfilment of time and the pre-existence of Jesus. It is all a matter of salvation history. In Jesus Christ God revealed himself definitely. By looking at Jesus, raised from the dead and Jesus sent by God, we see the whole circle of salvation—from creation to the end of time.  
10.  God loved to world he sent his Son. The Son came from above. He suffered and died and returned to God. In that movement time has been healed—an eschatology.
11.  Theology—and hopefully Christian formation—today is a good blending of the intuition of the New Testament and a mediation on Christ.


1.    Let us conclude this first section of our Christology. Jesus came to preach the Kingdom. His life and his person revealed the Kingdom…so much so that both his person and the Kingdom seemed to be one and the same. This was the experience of the disciples.
2.    The Kingdom meant the fulfilment of all time—the healing and reconciliation. That Kingdom was present in the historical Jesus. That plan of God was evident in the historical Jesus.
3.    Jesus rose from the dead, establishing his being Lord and Christ. He has shown that darkness has no hold on us—he has shown that time is healed. We can be fulfilled. In his return all will be definitely “fixed”.
4.    But wait. This Kingdom of God has been in God’s plan from the very start. God took the initiative to communicate it to us through Jesus Christ. In that message of the Kingdom we realize how we have already been elected as children of God…from the very beginning. We were already in Christ from the start. This is because Christ has pre-existed. God’s plan in Christ came at the beginning. What we see here is a circle. The whole “history of Salvation” is in the plan of God with Christ already with and in him…and Christ becoming human, rising from the dead to show to us what was in the plan of God from the very beginning.

A remark on our faith

1.    We have been doing a biblical understanding about Jesus Christ. We saw that the faith in him started “from below”. The disciples encountered Jesus, lived with him and saw him risen from the dead after his crucifixion. The disciples had a historical experience of Jesus. It was all “from below”.
2.    By retrospect into the origin of Jesus, the early Christians started a “from above” view of Jesus. We saw this in the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. We saw this in the “emptying himself” in Paul’s letters. We saw this in the “Word made flesh” in the gospel according to John. All these were based on the original historical encounter with Jesus risen from the dead. The resurrection, we said, “triggered” the later meditations about the “from above”.
3.    Yes, we admit that in our own Christian formation Jesus was presented to us already “from above”. We may not have learned about Jesus starting “from below”. Hopefully, with our Christology class, we deepen our understanding and we can articulate our faith with a “from below” point of view too.
4.    Now, let us not forget—and let us never forget—that faith is not exclusively personal. It is also ecclesial—it is the faith of the Church. It has come down to us over centuries. Faith has been transmitted to us. We did not invent it on our personal ways. We say “yes”—and the “yes” is a personal act. But the content of our faith is not a private and exclusive thing.
5.    The roots of our faith are found in the New Testament and in the Apostles. There were those disciples who really met Jesus. Their experiences and their witnessing found the way into the written texts of the New Testament—especially the gospels. So, if ever we are to verify our faith, we need to return to the sources. The intuition of the New Testament texts and of the Apostles has been transmitted to us.
6.    If we find ourselves struggling with our faith, it is wise to look back into what exactly the New Testament and the Apostles saw about Jesus Christ. We cannot believe but separated from them.
7.    In definite form, our faith tells us what the early Christians already believed. Jesus is God, he came “from above”. No he was not human who later became divine. The Apostles and the New Testament writers made a retrospect of their historical experiences and they declared that Jesus was, from his origin, “from above”. He was divine who became human. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God offered not just a Son but he offered his Son.
8.    In the class we felt unease about certain matters regarding the origin of Jesus. We struggled with the “virginal conception”. How can a woman be integral before, during and after the birth of her child? We will discuss this topic again later in the semester. But for now let it be clear that the virginal conception is the faith of the early Church and it has been intuited by the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Mary was virgin all the way and thanks to this we have a sign that Jesus was really “from above”. This is the faith of the early Church, it has been transmitted to us over a long period of time. For the Church, it is non-negotiable.  

Even before the big councils meditating on Christ, two “heresies” already arose. One questioned the reality of Jesus as human. The other questioned the virginal conception of Jesus—if he was truly divine.

1.    What if after the time of the Apostles all…all…the Christians were killed? Then they left behind some manuscripts. Scientists might use the manuscripts for academic studies. But it will be very hard to say if the faith could continue. Thanks to the continuity of tradition, the faith could be passed on.
2.    The Church has put the Scriptures in our hands. For the scriptures to come to us they passed through the process of “canon”. The “canon” of texts was an attempt of the Church to stay as faithful as possible to the “Jesus Christ event”.
3.    To make “canon” is already an act of interpretation of the Church. The Church interpreted the Scriptures and decided which will be part of the community and which will be set aside. Of course the Church was doing this in faith.
4.    Over time the Church was obliged to dialogue with different cultures. So on one hand the Church had to stay faithful to the “Jesus-event”. The Church had to stay faithful to the Christology of the New Testament. This had to be translated to the new cultures encountered. New questions kept on arising over time and the Church had to face them one after the other. The Church had to be creative yet faithful. She had to be creative in order to face new questions and she had to be faithful to the New Testament.
5.    Questions kept on coming out regarding Jesus Christ. The Church had to organize councils to reply. But there was a time when it was not possible to have councils—because the Church was still under a lot of persecution. That was the first two or three centuries of Church history. Check it out with your class in history. Let us take a look at one of the first big questions.

1.    The first big question was about the “flesh” of Jesus. Now when we see this word “flesh” we have to understand it as “humanity” or “human condition”. A question arose as to the humanity of Jesus. Could the Word really be flesh, as the prologue of the 4th gospel would say (See Jn.1/14). It was, for some people, a scandal that God become “flesh”, human. It was a scandal that God took the human condition.
2.    So there were those who started to say that God did not really become “flesh”. He only APPEARED to be human. The Word only appeared to be human but was not really human. The Word kept his divinity without ever becoming human. This was a movement that became known as “Docetism” (from dokein, Greek for “appear”). So what did Docetism say?
3.    For Docetism, God appeared human so that humanity will see something about God. But whatever that appearance was, it was mere appearance. It was impossible that God became human. It was unthinkable that God be born from a womb—with all that blood and body fluids! Yech. It was impossible for God to suffer and die up the cross—with all that blood and body fluids! Yech. What a shame! What a humiliation! Never for God.
4.    It would be a scandal that the Word become flesh. It is a promiscuity that can never happen to God. 
5.    There was a philosophical view of the world that Docetism held. The world, it would say, is a created world. Humanity and human flesh is created. To be created is to be inferior to the creator. To be creature is not good. So if God is creator, God cannot go low enough and become human. 
6.    Between humanity and divinity, Docetism dropped humanity. So Docetism was ready to accept a “from above Christology” but without the “from below”. Jesus Christ was quasi magical. His presence was just “appearance of being human”…but not real human. Jesus Christ escaped all human conditions. He was God taking a walk on earth appearing like a man.
7.    Already there were reactions from the Church. Take one reaction. Ignatius of Antioch wrote: “Our Lord Jesus Christ … was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, (Romans 1:3) and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled (Matthew 3:15) by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard (Isaiah 5:26, Isaiah 49:22) for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, I).
8.    If only the Church could organize a council…but it was not possible. So theologians—like Church Fathers—had to come in. Church Fathers insisted that Jesus Christ came and died and rose again. His death could never happen if he was never born. If there was no birth, there would be no dying on the cross and no rising from the dead. Jesus did not just appear to be born. He really was born as human. He really took the human condition. Here is Tertullian writing: “Christ, however, having been sent to die, had necessarily to be also born, that He might be capable of death; for nothing is in the habit of dying but that which is born. Between nativity and mortality there is a mutual contrast. The law which makes us die is the cause of our being born” (The Flesh of Christ VI).
9.    It was not enough to talk about the identity of Jesus as human. It was also crucial that Jesus had to be human to save us! If Jesus never became human he could never have saved us. The incarnation is the solidarity of the Word with humanity. Tertullian, for example, would say that when God was making us, humans, he was thinking of Christ because the Word will one day become flesh! Again Tertullian continued: “We know by experience the goodness of God… Now, as He requires from us love to our neighbor after love to Himself, (Matthew 22:37-40) so He will Himself do that which He has commanded. He will love the flesh which is, so very closely and in so many ways, His neighbor… (Resurrection of the Flesh VIII). God so loves us—he loves the flesh! The flesh could not be naturally bad. So the holy humanity of Jesus made our humanity liberated from sin and darkness. Our humanity was united to the humanity of Jesus—and this could happen only because Jesus became human himself. God united with us—the Word became flesh.
10.  Let us not forget that the Church, from the earliest times of her history, was trying to be faithful to the New testament Christology. So when we look at her responses to Docetism, we will note the influence of the ideas, for example, of St. Paul who introduced this notion of our becoming “adopted children” of God (Gal.4/5). We are adopted thanks to the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Born of a virgin?

1.    We are still in the first three centuries of Church history when the Christians were still having a hard time finding their places in society. Persecution was going on. During this time a new question arose: could Jesus have been born from a virgin? There were people who said that it was impossible for Jesus to have been from a virginal conception. This time, the divinity of Jesus had to be dropped. (Docetism dropped the humanity of Jesus. Here, it is the divinity that is dropped).
2.    Many believed that the virginal conception was a fable—like Greek stories of gods linking with humans. For a Jew named Trypho, the story of Jesus born from a virgin was pure myth, just like in Greek myths. Trypho said: “In the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower. And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and [you should] rather say that this Jesus was born man of men” (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 67).  
3.    A man named Celsus accused Jesus of lying. Jesus, he said, ‘invented his birth from a virgin,’ [but actually] ‘born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God’” (Origen, Contra Celsus I, 28). Celsus, in other words, saw Mary as having committed adultery and was thrown out of the household of Joseph. She illegitimately gave birth to Jesus.
4.    A certain Cerinthus, said “…Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation, while he nevertheless was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men” (Ireneus of Lyon, Against Heresies I,26). This man, Cerinthus, was a member of the Christian community at that time.
5.    Docetism people were happy with this criticism against the virginal conception of Jesus. Why? Well, they would agree that Jesus was not born from a virgin because he was never born at all!
6.    The virginal conception, according to critics, was not good. It was bad. It was false. It was inappropriate. It was not natural. Of course the Church stood up against this position. The Church, in other words, defended her faith. Ignatius of Antioch had this to say: “For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost” (Epistle to Ephesians 18). Jesus, according to Ignatius, “was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, (Romans 1:3) … He was truly born of a virgin…” (Epistle to Smyrnaeans, I). These statements of Ignatius will again be repeated in the ecumenical councils later on.
7.    The Church relied on New Testament Christology. Jesus, for the Church, was born from his virgin mother, Mary. Truly, according to the early Church, Jesus is Christ, the Son of God. Truly, Jesus came from God. The virginal conception was then understood as proof of the origin of Jesus. He was not from human seed but from God. In Matthew this is affirmed: “…an angel of the Lord appeared to him (Joseph) in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’” (Mtt.1/20). The virginal conception was understood as sign of the Word becoming human.
8.    In the thoughts of St. Paul, Jesus is the “2nd Adam”. Jesus was made parallel to Adam. Adam disobeyed, while Jesus—the 2nd Adam—obeyed. The Church Fathers extended this reflection by saying that Mary is parallel to Eve through the birth of Jesus. Justin would then say: “For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God” (Dialogue with Trypho, 100). If Adam came from the virgin earth, Jesus came from the virgin Mother. Tertullian had this to say: “As, then, the first Adam is thus introduced to us, it is a just inference that the second Adam likewise, as (Paul) has told us, was formed by God into a quickening spirit out of the ground—in other words, out of a flesh which was unstained as yet by any human generation” (The Flesh of Christ, 17).
9.    Still, in faithfulness to the New Testament, the Church Fathers continued to be motivated. In the New testament we read: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn.1/13). Tertullian would say: “Christ is the Word of God, and with the Word the Spirit of God, and by the Spirit the Power of God, and whatsoever else appertains to God. As flesh, however, He is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man, because it was by the will of God that the Word was made flesh…We thus understand that what is denied is the Lord's birth after sexual intercourse, not His nativity from a woman's womb…Pray, tell me, why the Spirit of God descended into a woman's womb at all, if He did not do so for the purpose of partaking of flesh from the womb. For He could have become spiritual flesh without such a process—much more simply, indeed, without the womb than in it. He had no reason for enclosing Himself within one, if He was to bear forth nothing from it. Not without reason, however, did He descend into a womb. Therefore He received (flesh) therefrom; else, if He received nothing therefrom, His descent into it would have been without a reason, especially if He meant to become flesh of that sort which was not derived from a womb, that is to say, a spiritual one” (The Flesh of Christ 19). This long citation—sorry for citing such a long one—tells us how Tertullian would understand the virginal conception of Jesus. Jesus had to be born in the virgin flesh so that we can be born again in the Spirit. The Spirit did not descend into Mary for nothing.
10.  The Church, until today, would say that the question of the virginal conception concerns also our humanity. It is about the Incarnation of Jesus who, later in his life will rise again in the resurrection. Christian faith cannot deny the fact of God coming and incarnating by the virgin Mary because it is through God’s becoming one-with-us that we are assured that we will, one day, rise too from the dead.

EXCURSUS: Born of the Virgin Mary

1.    The virginal conception is in the heart of Christology and, in a way, a foundation for the way we live the Church life. Remember this part of the Apostle’s Creed during mass? “Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary”. In the olden times, when one was baptized a question was asked to the “catechumenate”: “Do you believe in Jesus-Christ, the Son of God, born of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary?”
2.    This was in the faith of the early Church from the very start—from the first century onward. It was already professed by Matthew and Luke in their gospel accounts. Could it be that even before Matthew and Luke there was already belief in virginal conception? Could it not be the case with Greek and Jewish traditions? What historical fact is there in the virginal conception—and what is the theological weight?
3.    One thing is clear. Ancient Christian tradition never spoke of the virginal conception without, at the same time, speaking of divine filiation of Jesus. It was only in the confession that Jesus is Son of God that the virginal conception made sense. To speak of the virginal conception outside the divine filiation was a distortion. Scriptures and the Church confession of Faith never accepted virginal conception with its link with divine filiation. When the early Church spoke of the virginal conception, she always included the “conception by the Holy Spirit”. Both we inseparable. So when we think of what we believe in, let us remember that this faith in the virginal conception was already in the faith of the Church—and in the biblical tradition. The virginal conception already had meaning then…and it was transmitted to us today.
4.    But before we look at the faith in the Scriptures, let us try looking at Greek and Jewish traditions.  

The Jewish and non-Jewish contexts

5.            God became human in Jesus Christ. The Jesus-event was new—very new. But the way of speaking about it may have been taken from human culture and tradition…notably the Jewish and non-Jewish traditions. Let us recognize this as normal. The biblical authors had to write in a certain language with certain words and ideas taking from the cultures around. If they did not do this they will then have invented a new language completely unknown to their readers. It is normal to discover parallels between the ideas of the early Church and the other ideas.

The Non-Jewish ideas

6.            Take the example of a certain woman named Atia: “…Atia, upon attending at midnight a religious solemnity in honour of Apollo…fell asleep on her couch in the temple, and that a serpent immediately crept to her, and soon after withdrew. She awaking upon it, purified herself, as usual after the embraces of her husband; and instantly there appeared upon her body a mark in the form of a serpent, which she never after could efface… Augustus, it was added, was born in the tenth month after, and for that reason was thought to be the son of Apollo” (Suetonius, Life of Twelve Caesars, OCTAVIUS CAESAR AUGUSTUS 94). There is a similarity with the Gospel texts, right? But if we look closely at the Matthew-Luke accounts, there is no erotic image. The birth of Jesus is the fruit of the word of God.
7.    During the 2nd century of Church history, we read about Justin, a Church Father, who mentioned Greek fables: “Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower. And you (Christians) ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather [should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ, [it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 67).
8.    So already there were already ideas about births caused by gods like Apollo and Zeus. Surely they were not unknown to many people during the time of Jesus.  

Miraculous births in the Jewish tradition

9.            The theme of miraculous birth has been widespread among the Jews. The accent on virginal birth was quite unknown.
10.  Curiously, the ancient people of that region did not automatically put the link between the sexual contact and conception. For those people, a child was a gift—a gift from God. In ancient Jewish times there was no notion of “soul-and-body”. There was no notion of “soul” from God and “body” from human conception. For the Jews the human was a unity. And so the action of God concerned the whole human person—all in the unity of the person—and not just a part of the person. The accent was on the goodness of God in creation. Each creature was part of God’s plan.
11.  In terms of conception and birth, it is God who opens the womb—especially when it concerns the first born. See Ex 13/ 2.12. God opened the wombs of Leah and Rachel in Gn 29/ 31; 30/ 22 etc.. The theme of birth from sterile women was well known in the Bible. There the insistence was on the gift of God. So God made Sarah, for example, “capable of posterity” (He l l/ 11). The extraordinary births did not stop the biblical authors to write about the sexual contact, of course, between husband and wife.
12.  This mentality was present even in the time of Jesus. Here is a verse from Pseudo-Philon: “God enlarged the fruit of the womb of men, and hath set up a light that that which is in darkness may see” (Biblical Antiquities 22/3). In a text of Philo of Alexandria, Abraham and Sarah, in joy, laughed. The gift of Isaac was given. “…what is here said has some such meaning as this, ‘The Lord has begotten Isaac’. For he is the father of perfect nature, sowing and begetting happiness in the soul” (Allegorical Interpretation 3, 219).
13.  What about virginal birth? Curious but virginity was not a “hot” topic in Judaism. We might think of a verse from Isaiah: “A virgin is pregnant” (7/14). The idea of a Messiah coming from a virginal birth may have been a theme in ancient Judaism long before Jesus. But in general, virginity was not a “hot” topic in Judaism.
14.  Yet, there was some kind of value given to it, nonetheless. Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish writer of the first century, wrote that Sarah, Leah, Rebecca and Zipporah represented virginal virtues. They conceived virginally by the power of God: “…virtue received the divine seed from the great Cause of all things…Isaac addressed his supplications to God, Rebecca, who is perseverance, became pregnant…Moses, who received Zipporah, …winged and sublime virtue…found that she conceived by no mortal man” (Philo, Treatise on the Cherubim, 46-47). What do we see? Virginal conception represented a divine act on persons of virtue. The gift to a virgin would be the most radical act of gift giving.
15.  We might want to look at the New Testament itself. The letter to the Hebrews mentions Melchizedek who was “without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever (He 7/3).
16.  As we see, Christian language took from the cultures around but developed them in a way proper to Jesus Christ. In the Jewish tradition, however, there was more of an emphasis on miraculous birth precisely because virginity was not a very relevant topic.

What then can we say about virginity in the 1st century Palestine—in the very time of Jesus?

17.          The culture did not give high value to virginity. Yet there were texts that opened the door to it. Some members of the Essene community were known to be virgins. (See Pliny, Natural History V,17 and Flavius Josephus, War of Jews 2,119, 121).
18.  Close to the tradition of Essene was the group of “therapeutics of Egypt” where there was a recorded group of men and women who stayed chaste in search for “wisdom” (see De Vita Contemplativa 68).

Jesus, Son of God, Son of Mary

19.          Let us first return to Pseudo-Philo. He wrote about Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel. And Anna would not pray aloud as do all men, for she took thought at that time saying: Lest perchance I be not worthy to be heard, and it shall be that Phenenna will envy me yet more and reproach me as she daily saith: Where is thy God in whom thou trustest? And I know that it is not she that hath many sons that is enriched, neither she that lacketh them is poor, but who so aboundeth in the will of God, she is enriched” (Biblical Antiquities 50/5).
20.  What is affirmed here is the pre-eminence of the love of God. Luke, in his presentation, shows Jesus as a kind of “new Samuel”—as if to make a link with the priestly tradition. The Magnificat of Mary is similar to the hymn of Hannah. In Luke all is prepared for the mystery of the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a young woman named Mary.
21.  So, in the New Testament intuition Jesus is Son of God. This is the essential confession to which everything converges. The infancy narratives were written to reveal the identity of Jesus as Son of God. In Paul we see similar texts too: “…established Son of God with power…by the resurrection” (Rm l/4). For Mark, Jesus is Son of God (Mk 1/ 1.11; 9/ 7; 14/ 61 et 15/ 39); in John Jesus is the “begotten one of God” (1 Jn 5/ 18), etc.
22.  One point needs to be emphasized. Before there was even the idea of virginal conception, the idea of the pre-existence of Jesus was already widespread. The hymn to the Philippians is one evidence in which Paul attests to the pre-existence of Jesus. The hymn is said to be historically one of the oldest New Testament texts. The hymn sang already in the communities of believers and Paul picked up from there. Christian meditation on the mystery of Jesus saw in that birth the humility of God: “He, being equal to God…emptied himself…became man” (Ph 2/6-7). The emphasis was on the kenosis or the “emptying of self”.

Son of God and coming from Israel

23.          If Jesus was indeed Son of God, certain issues had to be clarified. One issue was the link between Son of God and “from Israel”. Paul was vigilant about the link between “Son of God” and “born of a woman, subject to the Law” (see Ga 4/4); or this: “His Son”…“from the line of David according to the flesh (Rm 1/3-4). In John we read that Jesus is “son of Joseph” spoken of by Moses and the Prophets and the one whom Nathaniel named “the Son of God” (see Jn l, 45.49). The struggle was therefore this: how would one say that Jesus was originally from God—divine—and yet coming from Israel, the people of God. How could the two be linked?
24.  The infancy narrative of Matthew, for example, was an attempt to answer this. Joseph accepts the parental role—the inheritor of David and the New Moses belong to the people of God. So the infancy narrative of Matthew can be interpreted as a reply to the “Son of God” and “from Israel” issue.

Who he was and what he appeared

25.          Then there was the problem. Jesus was human—he appeared human—and he was Son of God. We remember the story of the crowds questioning about Jesus: “Is he not the son of Joseph? Do we not know the father and the mother?
26.  Remember also the question of the people of Nazareth: “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary? (Lk 4/22). In fact Jesus was “…son, the son of Joseph” (Lk 3/23). There was a question between “who” Jesus was and “what he appeared”. Who exactly was he? Was he “simply” human—son of Joseph and Mary? Luke had to underline the superiority of Jesus. Already in his infancy narrative he put in the miraculous conception of John the Baptist, son of Zachary, “his father” and the virginal conception of Jesus.
27.  Luke continued. Of course Joseph is father of Jesus, but still even Joseph was surprised about the other dimension of Jesus: “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him” (2, 33) and “…when his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety’” (2, 48). We see the struggle to gap the “who” and “what he appears”; between “your father” (Joseph) and “…be in my Father’s house” (see Lk. 2/48.49). We might interpret the attempt of Luke to answer the issue—and say that indeed, Jesus is from God, his Father. He appears human and is truly human. This is who he is. He is son of Joseph, he is son of Mary, he is son of a carpenter….etc. Yet, even the parents are astonished—surprised. Jesus is also at the same time Son of the Father from above. In John we read that Jesus is also “he who came from God…he saw the Father” (Jn 6/42.46).

Father and Son

28.          There is another issue to address: the “Father-Son” issue. This is the fundamental issue, actually. Paul already recognized this: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom.1/1-3). John saw it (see 6/42-46). Mark saw it (see 8/ 38; 13/ 32; 14/ 36). Matthew saw it (see 1/ 18; 2/…and Matthew never said that Joseph was “father” but always insisted on Mary as “his mother”. Luke saw it (see 2/49; 23/46).
29.  Matthew, returning to him, did not call Joseph as “father”. In fact he reported this: “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven” (Mt 23/9). We see something similar in John: “…who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God” (Jn 1/13).
30.  That which applied to Jesus applies also, to an extent, to the Church. The radical gift of God expressed in giving birth from a virgin, extends to the community of believers. Paul saw it (see Ga 4/21-31). The believer has become child of a free woman, the child is no longer a child of the flesh but of the spirit (see Gal.4/29). The Church is the Jerusalem from above: “But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother. For it is written: ‘Rejoice, you barren one who bore no children; break forth and shout, you who were not in labour; for more numerous are the children of the deserted one than of her who has a husband’ (Gal. 4/26-27 citing Is 54/1).
31.  What we see here is the application of a sterile woman who receives the action of God. This is in the heart of ancient Christianity. The early Christians deepened their understanding of the Church discovered from looking at Mary. The inverse has become true too. From Church to Mary to Mary to Church. The discovery of Mary is important to see what the Church is. Hence we call Mary as “Mother of the Church”.

Virginal Conception: “the sign of the Father”

32.          Both the theme “Son of God” and the theme of virginal conception are inseparable. This, at least, is clear with Matthew and Luke. God is involved in the birth of his Son. This is a theological truth. This truth cannot be proven by historical investigation but by faith.
33.  Historically we cannot deny the existence of belief. Not only did the communities of Matthew and Luke believed, even the communities before already believed (assuming that Matthew and Luke took from older sources).
34.  The theme of the virginal conception already circulated in some Jewish-Christians of the diaspora. These communities carried with them the Jewish tradition of miraculous births and the value given to virginity. Nothing could be historically denied about this belief. This contributed to the Christian faith that Jesus is Son of God.
35.  Look at Church history. In the early times, the believers were still associated with the synagogue. They also read about Moses and the Prophets and they applied their reading to Jesus. In Acts we read: “After the reading of the law and the prophets, the synagogue officials sent word to them, “My brothers, if one of you has a word of exhortation for the people, please speak” (Act 13/15). Then Paul stood to talk about Jesus.
36.  Among the readings of the synagogue was Gen 16, the Prophets, the birth of Samuel, Gn 21, etc. We can see this in Paul. In Ga 4/21-31, Paul referred to Gn 16, he cited Gn 21/10 and Is 54/1 (see Ga 4/27 &30). Paul’s letter reflected the practice of the time in which Christians were meditating on the mystery of the Church linked with the birth of the Saviour.
37.  We can then go further and recall Mary herself. Look at Luke and even John. The proclamation that Jesus is Son of God—“his Father”—is linked with the event of the life of Mary. People did not separate the filial relationship with God and the virginal conception. The belief—and the theology—of Christians emerged within history. In both the resurrection and in the incarnation the whole self of Jesus was involved. The early Christians saw it and recognized it. They designated Jesus as Lord risen from the dead and Son of God—“his Father”. There is no other way by which the birth of Jesus could be understood. For the early Christians it was the gift of God.
38.  From the very beginning of Christianity, the Church proclaimed the virginal conception as the expression of the reality on Incarnation and the sign that Jesus is Son of God. We inherit this transmission—this tradition. What do we do with it, then?

Some errors to be careful with  when discussing the virginity of Mary
1.       One error is to make her virginity the centre of our faith. Remember that the centre is Christ—he who dies and rose from the dead. In fact, Mark—which was the oldest text of the gospels—never bothered to mention the virginity of Mary. The 4th gospel was discreet [see Jn 1/13]. So in catechism, for example, Mary’s virginity is not the first thing to talk about.
2.       Another error is to try proving physically-biologically the virginity of Mary. The gospel texts were very discreet and they never went to efforts of doing a biology of Mary.
3.       Another error is to block the affirmation that Jesus is “Son of God” by using the topic of Mary’s virginity. The virginal conception is not a proof of the divinity of Jesus. In fact, Jesus was not known first as Son of God by his birth but by his resurrection [see Rm 1/4; Ac 13/32-33]. Jesus is not human by the mother and divine by God. He is not a “half God”. He is true man and true God.
4.       Another error is to eliminate virginity because it is disturbing. The temptation is to say that it is a topic of difficulty so it is simply symbolic. The gospels did not see this as symbolic [see Lk 1/27-34; Mt 1/18-25].
5.       It is also an error to say that sexuality is “bad” because Mary was virgin. No. Sexuality is ok. Like other aspects of our humanity, sexuality can be perverted. But it can also be a spiritual experience! Yes, indeed! The Church never said that celibacy was better than marriage. Both have their specific ways of vocation.

Regarding the “brothers” of Jesus and the virginity of Mary

Often the virginity of Mary is contested by the mention of the fact that Jesus had brothers. The Catholic Church believes that in giving birth, Mary's real and perpetual virginity was not diminished. So how do we place the brothers of Jesus?

Witnessing of the Scriptures
  1. Yes, did the Scriptures say Jesus had “brothers”? Mark mentioned it—twice even. In Mk 6/3, the names of James, Joseph, Simon and Jude are mentioned. In Mk 3/21 an allusion is made—and Mk 3/31 gives the reply: his mother and brothers arrive.
  2. In Mathew we see this in Mt 12/46-47 and Mt 13/55. Luke tells us the same thing in Lk 8/19-20 and in Act 1/14.
  3. Paul mentions in 1 Co 9/5. Then he mentions James, the “brother of the Lord” [Ga 1/19].
  4. In John, we read mention of brothers too [see Jn 2/12; Jn 7/3-10]. John even tells about their unbelief: “Even his brother did not believe in him” [Jn 7/5].
  5. So, what does the word “brothers” mean? (The Greek is adelphoï). It can mean spiritual relationship  [see Mt 25/40]…and can therefore imply the disciples (for example Mt 28/10; Rm 8/29).
  6. Yet, it can also mean relationship by flesh and blood, implying a union between Mary and Joseph. “Brothers” cannot be “cousins” because the Greek has a word for “cousin”—anepsioï.
  7. There are those who might want to insist that “brothers” can mean “cousins” or even “parents”—to imply a larger sense of “brothers”. Why…because there is no indication that “brothers” mean “sons of Mary” (unlike in Mk 6/3). In fact when Mary was with the others, she was always called “mother of Jesus” [see Ac 1/14].
  8. There is an agreement among many scholars that “brothers-sisters” cover a large area. A “brother”—from a Hebraic viewpoint—can mean someone related by blood or by “half-brother” [see Gn 42/15; Gn 43/5]. It can mean “nephew” [see Gn 13/8; Gn 14/16] or simply cousin [see Lv 10/4; 1 Ch 23/21-22]. It seems that the Semitic languages have different ways of calling “uncle” or “cousin”, etc. So the Hebrew words were later translated into a general form in Greek: adelphos. The anepsios, or cousin was avoided. So when the New Testament was written, the word adelphos covered even cousins. It is all because of the nuances in the Hebrew.
  9. The word anepsios, for cousin, is mentioned once to refer to Mark cousin of Barnabas. But in general, the gospels were written in Greek but the authors were Semitic—and likely Aramaic.
  10. We can note that when Jesus was up on the cross he surprisingly confided Mary to John and not to his “brothers”.  

Church teaching
11.          The Church Fathers have all insisted on the perpetual virginity of Mary. This was the faith of the Church.
12.          Today, the belief remains—and it is found, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#499-500): “The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth ‘did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it.’ And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the ‘Ever-virgin’” (#499). Then the text contionues to mention the “brothers”: “Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus’, are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary. They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression” (#500).
13.          So, there we have it…

The Council of Nicaea

Councils are assemblies of the Church hierarchy and theological experts to discuss and regulate matters of church doctrine and discipline. Councils show the ruling powers of the Church for decisive action regarding matters of faith. Councils are an effort of the Church to clarify and defend her faith. Councils have already been done during the very early times of the Church, starting with the Jerusalem Council in the time of the Apostles. Whenever faith or morals are threatened, councils are convened.
There are different types of council assemblies. Ecumenical Councils are councils to which the bishops, (and others with the right to vote) are assembled from the whole world (oikoumene). The Pope presides. Decrees bind, in principle, all Christians. Vatican II was the 21st ecumenical council. The First Council of Nicaea (325) was the 1st ecumenical council.

1.    This Council of Nicaea had a strong significance for Christology. There was a crisis in the 300’s. A man named Arius questioned how Jesus was divine. How could Jesus be Son of God? It was a “from below” question. How could this man from Nazareth ever be proclaimed as God and divine? How could this man—born, suffered and died and rose from the dead—be truly divine? Arius raised serious questions.
2.    This questioning had something to do with the idea about God. Arius was a Christian and he was from Alexandria, Egypt. At that time, Greek thinking was the strong influence of culture—even in Egypt. Arius tried to understand Jesus from a Greek point of view.
3.    In Greek thinking—which was very philosophical—God was an Absolute Being, transcendent and beyond all things. God was seen as “complete” and did not have to change and move. God, for the Greek mentality, was a kind of “unmoved mover”. God can start things to move. Everything stars from God—God is the source of all. Anything that comes from God is inferior to God. It depends on God for its existence. God started it. A creature, therefore, cannot be God. God himself cannot depend on something else to make him move or to start him doing things. If God is moved by something else, then God is inferior to that something. If God must be God, he is the start of all and he cannot be inferior to anything else.
4.     Arius thought about Jesus and believed that Jesus was a creature of God. Jesus was a result of God’s own doing. So, logically for Arius Jesus cannot be God—he cannot be divine. It would be curious if not absurd if God suffered and died and underwent humiliations. It would be strange that God underwent changes from childhood to adulthood to crucifixion and resurrection. These implied changes. But changes have no part in the Absolute God. The real Absolute God is perfect and complete—God need NOT change. With Jesus, there were changes. Jesus was just a creature of God—he was simply human. Oh yes, he was a great human person…very gifted. But he remained inferior to the Absolute God.
5.    It was not only about the “who” of Jesus that the ideas of Arius attacked. There was also the question of salvation. If Jesus was simply human, how could he have saved us? So the ideas of Arius put to question also the Saviour aspect of Jesus.
6.    This was a crisis and a council had to be convened. This was the Council of Nicaea. We can note that the style of the Council was to rely on the intuition of the New Testament. What would the New Testament offer in front of a criticism like that of Arius? What was the thinking of the council?

7.    Let us consider the word “begotten”. A father “begets” a child—say, a son. Both father and son are the same. They are both humans and both capable of thinking, walking, eating, learning, etc. So in a way the father “begets” a son—and begetting means having a son like the father. Now, apply this to Jesus and Father. The Father has begotten his Son, Jesus Christ. But this begetting was different from the simple human begetting. In human begetting the father and the son are distinct from each other. They are separated from each other. The son is not his father. In the case of Jesus and Father, both are the same. Son and Father are one and the same. To say this, the council had to rely on the New Testament.
8.    The New Testament affirmed Jesus as Son of God and as Word. Jesus Christ is Son of the Father, the Word from God, with God and God himself. Jesus is Word and is therefore God himself. The gospel text of John affirmed this already.
9.    God really beget a Son. In this begetting the unity of the Father and the Son is not affected. Bot are equal. God is always Father and Son at the same time. To refuse this—as what Arius did—is to make Jesus a creature inferior to God.
10.  So the council emphasized the true filiation of Jesus to the Father. In the filiation Jesus was united with the Father. In the crucifixion Jesus gave himself to the Father. In the resurrection the Father gave himself to the Son. The paschal mystery was the constant exchange showing that the Father is Father and the Son is Son—and that the Father is Father to the Son, the Son is Son to the Father. Psalm 2 said that “you are my Son, today I have begotten you”. This psalm was part of the proclamation about Jesus Christ (see Act.13/33; Heb.2/5). The council saw this and saw it in the New testament. For the council, reading the New Testament, Jesus has been begotten by the Father as Son.
11.  One of the Church Fathers, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, wrote that the council contained the sense of the Scriptures. Expressing the sense of the Scripture, the council conveyed it “to those who have their hearing unimpaired for religious doctrine” (De Decretis 5/21). Note how important the Scripture—especially the New Testament—was for the council.
12.  So if we read parts of the council, we will notice a phrase: “that is”. Let us read: “We believe in one God the Father all powerful, maker of all things both seen and unseen. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten begotten from the Father, that is from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father…”.
13.  Notice how the creed expresses its faith. It begins with the title about Jesus—we believe in Lord Jesus Christ. This is the Son of God, the only begotten Son of God. So far we notice the intuition of the New Testament, notably that of the gospel according to John. But then the council puts in the phrase: “that is”. It is a kind of “in other words” phrase. The council adds this in order to show how the New Testament speaks to the Greek mentality. Greek thinking had a problem with who was Jesus and who was God. The council used Greek language and Greek way of thinking to highlight that Jesus was one with the Father—of the same substance and not created.
14.  The “that is” phrase was a way of putting the New Testament in front of Greek mentality and reiterating through Greek terms what was in the New Testament. The resistance of Greek thinking was addressed, it was courageously faced. The council put the New testament within the context of Greek thinking and showed that the New Testament held on.
15.  The Arian crisis was new. The Greek categories were quite new. But the council readily took the same terms and showed the New Testament through the terms. It was the same New Testament faith but in a new language—the new categories of Greek philosophy.
16.  What about salvation? Arius took away the divine in Jesus. Arius made him purely creature. But the New Testament and the Apostles believed that through the death and rising of Jesus, the Father (through the Spirit) took us in as adopted children. Jesus could save us and make us God’s children only if he himself was divine.
17.  Jesus had to be mediator (and not just intermediary) between God and humanity. So Jesus had to be God. He cannot be exterior to God. For the council the Son came to save us. The Son was the Word who became human—he assumed humanity. He was truly divine and assumed human life. Let us read from Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who confronted Arianism: “…if the Son were a creature, man had remained mortal as before, not being joined to God; for a creature had not joined creatures to God” (Discourse 2 Against the Arians, 69). If Jesus were purely human and purely creatures, he could never join us with God. So the council affirmed the divinity of Jesus and thus clarifying how Jesus could save us.

18.  Let us just conclude with one point that can be relevant for us today. Arius was philosophizing. He was so absorbed by his philosophy. True, God, for the philosopher, can be an absolute being out there—perfect and immobile, complete and not needing anything already. Fine, that’s ok. That’s philosophy. But is it revelation? Arius wanted his philosophical insights predominate up the point that he wanted God to stay up there—absolute and complete. Arius, in his philosophy, was prohibiting God to go down.
19.  Even if God is Absolute, this does not prohibit him from going down. Arius made this mistake—he wanted a God of philosophical features but not of revelation. But revelation shows that God “emptied himself”—he went down. He exercised love in the way he wanted. The absolute transcendence of God still allowed God to communicate with us. He sent his Son—of the same substance with him. That was God’s prerogative. Do not stop him from doing it. Jesus is God and God really decided to send him.        


The Council of Ephesus (431)

1.    About a century after Arius, a man named Nestorius showed up. He asked about the divinity of Jesus. Yes, he had a similar question. But it took a new turn. Nestorius wondered how God, divine, could be Jesus, human. Let us see.
2.    Nestorius was worried about the "nearness" of the divinity to the human. He was worried that the eternal Word could undergo the same experiences and conditions as human. Is is possible, he would ask, that the divine should be born, suffer and die? If the divine incarnated, it seems like a scandal for Nestorius.
3.    Nestorius did not want that the human events--like birth and death--should happen to the divine. Nestorius refused that the human conditions should affect the divine. But look at Jesus Christ. Christians say he is "Word made flesh" (Jn1/14). Jesus is divine becoming human. So Nestorius felt that there was a confusion there. "Divine" and "human" could they be linked? If the divine cannot have the human condition, what do we do with the divine?
4.    Maybe, according to Nestorius, there is a confusion between the divine and the human in Jesus. Again we repeat:there is a confusion between the divine and the human in Jesus.
5.    Ah! Nestorius came out with his idea. Ok, so Jesus has divinity and he has humanity. Accept! But the two do not mix. For Nestorius, Jesus had two sides, the human and the divine. There was a gap between the two. They cannot mix. They cannot be united. They were just "glued". The Word cannot be human, for Nestorius. In Jesus there was the human part and the divine part. The divine was set apart and protected from human conditions. If we look at Jesus we can say he has two parts "glued" (conjoined) together.
6.    The Church reacted. Again she had to rely on the New Testament. The Church insisted: "The Word became flesh" (Jn1/14)...the Word participated like us in flesh and blood (see Heb.2/14)...the Word was "born from a woman" (Gal4/4). 
7.    Jesus said, "Before Abraham was 'I am'"(Jn8/58). For the Church this was an affirmation of the pre-existence of Jesus. Whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (Jn14/19) because Jesus and the Father are one (Jn10/30). So the Word really underwent the human conditions--the Word became flesh. It would be wrong to accept Nestorius who said that the divine had to be protected from the human life. "No", said the Church, "No no no". If the Word became flesh, then there are no two separate parts. The divine himself became human. The divine and the human are united--and not simply glued--in Jesus.Jesus is BOTH HUMAN AND DIVINE.
8.    The divine did not have a humanity. The Word BECAME human. The Word IS human, in Jesus. Nestorius was also like Arius, using Greek thinking. The divine, for Nestorius, could not be born, suffer and die. So Nestorius prohibited the divine from becoming human. The Church took from the New Testament and said that the Word was born, suffered and died.
9.    So Jesus was both human and divine. 
10.  So what? Well, remember that the council was not just interested in the "who" of Jesus. It was also interested in how Jesus could save. The unique mediator between God and humanity (see 1Tim2/5) could not be sliced into two glued parts. The Word made flesh could save because he was both human and divine.

The Council of Chalcedon (451)

1.    The Council of Ephesus has declared the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. It could have been enough for us. But suddenly, a new question arose. The question went like this: How exactly are the two—divinity and humanity—together? Ok, so the Word became flesh. He divine became human…and in Jesus both are present. But when the divine became human, what happened to the human? Did the human dissolve in the divine?
2.    One big name here is Eutyches. Eutyches was a little into Docetism and was doing a reversal of Arianism. Remember that Arius denied the divinity of Jesus and thought that it was impossible for God to be creature. Eutyches wanted to protect the divine by questioning the human nature of Christ. For him, the humanity of Christ was affected by the divinity. When the Word became flesh, a confusion took place. Jesus did not really become “of the same substance” with humanity. Instead the humanity of Jesus was “absorbed” in the divinity. The humanity of Christ was one person with one nature: divine-human. These are not two natures, they form one.
3.    How can they form one? The absorption of the human into the divine, in the way of Eutyches, could be like a drop of sweet honey…just one drop…that is put in the sea. What happens to that little sweet drop of honey? It really disappears—it is absorbed—into the big wide salty sea. So the human side of Jesus was absorbed by the divine so that a confusion of human-divine nature arose. Jesus was not 100% human…a change happened to his humanity. We really cannot see that humanity since it got absorbed—so Jesus had only one nature. His human nature was "dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea". Notice how this is so close to Docetism.
4.    Eutyches was among many individuals before him who tried to preserve God and keep God from getting involved with the human world. It was just unthinkable that God, divine, can become flesh, human.
5.    Of course the Church had to react. The Church had to show that the divine nature and the human nature of Christ were united without confusion and without separation! No change happened to the humanity of Christ. The Word—divine—became flesh, human. Yet, the divine stayed divine, the human stayed human.  A council was needed to explain this. This was the Council of Chalcedon of the year 451.
6.    The Council of Chalcedon claimed that it was always faithful to the past councils and to the New Testament. It claimed that it was not adding anything new to the insights of Scripture and Tradition. Let us take a look at the central declaration of the council.

·         So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of  one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ:
·         the same perfect in divinity  and perfect in humanity,
·         the same truly God and truly man…;
·         same consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity;
·         like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity,     and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity;
·         One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten,
·         acknowledged in two natures which undergo
·         no confusion, no change, no division, no separation;
·         at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being;
·         he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ…as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

7.    Let us take a “closer view” of the declaration. First we can note that the declaration—which is also a confession of faith—starts with the unity of Jesus: the one and the same Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Then in the middle is again a declaration of the unity of Jesus: One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten. The Council of Chalcedon is repeating the confession of the Council of Ephesus. Remember that in Ephesus the divinity and humanity had to be one and not “glued”. In Ephesus there had to be one Jesus Christ with one person in him—not two persons, one divine and the other human. So the Council of Chalcedon re-emphasizes the unity.
8.    Ok, so there is unity. But in this unity there are two of the same substances. Jesus is of the same substance as God and same substance as human. Jesus is 100% divine and 100% human: sameconsubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity. There are also distinctions in Jesus—the human and the divine. They are distinct while at the same time they are united. They are and the same in Jesus.
9.    If we go back to the question of Eutyches (what happened to the humanity of Jesus) the response would be: the humanity stays. It does not change. It is not absorbed. It stays as the sameconsubstantial with us. Jesus is always human.
10.  The council had to make sure that sin is not in Jesus. It took inspiration from Heb2/17 and 4/15. Jesus remains human even if without sin.  
11.  There are two in Jesus Christ: the divine and the human. As divine he was begotten before the ages from the Father. In the last days, however, he is serving as Savior. He was the same for us and for our salvation from Mary for the last days.
12.  In the middle part, we see, is again the theme of unity: One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten. Then the council takes a new turn by emphasizing the two natures of Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly human and truly divine. Notice that the council does not say that there is a one person Jesus and natures. The way the council expresses the faith is by saying that the two natures are IN Jesus. Jesus is acknowledged in two natures. The human-divine unity stays and it is a unity in two natures. The council is being so careful with its use of words. The Word became flesh and in this unity the divine remains divine while the human remains human. The human remains in-tact. Divinity is divinity, humanity is humanity. They are in one and the same Jesus Christ. The nature of the divine is not human and the nature of the human is not divine. The differences are not suppressed.
·         This is why the council says: no confusion, no change, no division, no separation.
·         “no confusion, no change”: This means that there is nothing changed in the human nor in the divine…no mixing and no absorbing
·         “no division, no separation”: This means that the human and the divine are not “glued”, there are no two persons in Jesus joined together. In one and the same Jesus is the human and the divine. The humanity is in the same Jesus Christ. The divinity is in the same Jesus Christ.

13.  So Jesus Christ is one person of two natures. Or he is two natures in one person. Divinity is divinity. Humanity is humanity. In Christ they are one with no confusion, no change, no division, no separation. The Council of Chalcedon excluded the mixture of the natures human-divine andincluded their unity.
14.  Are you scratching your head? Well, this is the council that explains to the full our faith in Jesus Christ. It is the council to which all Christian Churches refer. Technically, if a church or community using the name of Christ does not refer to this council and does not hold the faith of this council, that community or church is not “Christian” in the full sense of the term. Yet, surely we need time to digest what the Council of Chalcedon is saying. Cyril of Alexandria himself once said, regarding the discussions of the council: “it is absolutely incomprehensible”. Yet the council stays faithful to the revelation of the New Testament. It may be hard to comprehend, but it has been the way Jesus Christ was revealed in the Scriptures.

The Chalcedon Council for us

1.    Some Christians find the council too abstract and too complicated. They feel that the council has nothing to do with us…it is purely for the seminary classroom. Well, maybe. But give it a chance. A council is organized to make a “declaration”. It is organized at a time of conflict regarding the faith. When the faith is threatened, the Church organizes a council. So a council is not meant to add anything to the faith. It is meant to interpret the faith.
2.    Faith presupposes revelation. This means that God showed something…he communicated something and the believer gives an assent of faith: “Yes I believe”. The council of Chalcedon may be very difficult to understand with the use of our heads, but it claims to be rooted in what God revealed. A revelation may be hard to understand, but it is described and laid open before the believer. A believer can say, “I cannot understand why...but this is what the evidence shows”. So the council of Chalcedon was simply laying out before the believer what it saw as revealed truth about Jesus Christ.
3.    But then the question still remains: what has the council have to do with us? One important contribution of the council is that the divinity and humanity of Jesus-Christ do not suppress our humanity. If Jesus is 100% human, that humanity is maintained. It is not changed, it is not “absorbed” into the divine. It stays human as human.
4.    The Word became flesh. Jesus Christ is the Word who “went down” and “emptied himself”. The divine did not become an inverse of the human. The Word became flesh, the divine became human without losing his divinity and without changing the human.
5.    We might have the tendency to think that as soon as there is God, his divinity—his absoluteness—is opposite us. We think that we are very “small” as opposed to God who is “very big”. So in our way of thinking we oppose the divine from the human.
6.    But Chalcedon expressed it differently. The divine and the human are not inverse to each other. The divine and the human are not opposed to each other. For the Chalcedon council, the human and the divine are made equal in Jesus Christ! The human does not change, it is not transformed, it is not absorbed. The human stays human. This has big consequence for our faith--and self esteem!
7.    It is very attractive—and dramatic, as we might add—to drop the human and absorb it in the divine.  We like to think—and dramatize, if we may add—that as soon as there is God, the human should “dissolve”. (Docetism has something like this, right?) Some might even say that there is a “divine transformation” of the human. Why? What is wrong with the human? Why try to set it aside? Why put it down in front of God? (It is so dramatic to put the human low…but is it revealed?)
8.    The Chalcedon council has affirmed the greatness of the human. It has affirmed the immense value and goodness of the human. So it did not see why we should drop the human…why we should change it...why we should deny it. When the Word became flesh, he did not drop, change or deny the human. The nearness of God does not dissolve the human.
9.    Our usual tendency is to step out of our humanity and try to be someone else when we come to God. The council of Chalcedon affirms that the human is really ok. The Word became flesh—what is wrong with that? Nothing! The human is so worthy and valuable. Jesus of Nazareth was co-substantial with us in humanity—nothing added, nothing taken away.
10.  The Council also emphasizes that Jesus was without sin. Notice, he became human and kept integral this humanity. Yet, he was without sin! Again the dramatic tendency in us might say: “Oh no…no… no…, I am a sinner”. There is an old expression (in Tagalog) that says, “I am only human...therefore I sin”. So to be human is to be by nature sinful. The council of Chalcedon, removing dramatic tralala, does not see sense in this. Jesus was human before any possibility of sin. It is therefore possible to be human and without sin! Sin is not universal, it is not integral to human nature. It is not a result of creation. God did not create the human as sinful, bad and distorted. Sure, if we want drama, we can say we are “truly sinful”. But the reality is that we were created good. Sin is a result of our use of freedom…Sin is a sign of our “captivity” and not the sign of our nature.
11.  Jesus was truly human and he was truly free to choose his mission. He was also tempted, remember? But he said “no”. It was possible for him to disobey, but he obeyed. By becoming human, Jesus showed that our defeat can be changed to victory. Take St. Irenaeus of Lyon. He said wonderful things on this…but we cannot quote all. Let us look at one passage from his works from Against Heresies, V, 21, 1:
§  “…"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman." Galatians 4:4
§  For indeed the enemy would not have been fairly vanquished, unless it had been a man [born] of a woman who conquered him.
§  For it was by means of a woman that he got the advantage over man at first…comprising in Himself that original man out of whom the woman was fashioned…
§  in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life again through a victorious one;
§  and as through a man death received the palm [of victory] against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death”.

Faith in the resurrection of Christ

1.    Historians are not able to prove the historical rising of Jesus. But historians agree on the historical reality of the AFFIRMATION  about the resurrection. This affirmation put disciples on the path to starting the life of the Church. The resurrection of Jesus is in the heart of the proclamation of the Good News. The conviction of the disciples—that Jesus has risen from the dead—has given the disciples the force to reach out to the far corners of the world. This conviction had given them the courage to risk their lives for the Good News.
2.    The resurrection of Christ signified for the disciples the definite victory of life over death, light over darkness. It is a victory for them shown by what happened to Jesus.
3.    For the disciples, the resurrection meant that Jesus shared the life of the Father—totally. The New Testament writers expressed this in many ways. But for them, the resurrection of Jesus was not the same as the immortality of the soul.
4.    The disciples met Jesus in Galilee, in Palestine. It was a very « body encounter ». They ate and drank with him. The passed through happy and rough moments together. Jesus was put to the cross—clearly also a body reality. Then they affirmed the presence of Jesus after the death of Jesus. They really saw—and touched—and ate and drank with Jesus. All, again, were « body realities ».
5.    The New Testament thus showed a continuity between the Jesus before death and the Jesus at the resurrection. The man of Nazareth and Palestine was the very same man who rose from the dead. Yet, the New testament report a « break ». Something new took place. Those who met Jesus after the resurrection did not recognize him immediately. At one point Jesus had to show the scars of his wounds suffered on the cross.
6.    Christians would say that Jesus is risen and is living. He is glorified with the Father. This implicates the Christians too ! For the Christian, the resurrection of Jesus Christ means that the human person is called to rise with Jesus.
7.    Now, let us go slowly here. The word « flesh », remember, is not in the Greek sense. Nor is it in the modern scientific sense (minerals, atoms, cells and genes). « Flesh » is human person, embodied. Remember Marcel’s notion of « having » a body and « being » my body.
8.    For the Christian, the resurrection does not just affirm the return to earthly life—to the life before death. It also means a new life—a life IN GOD.
9.    The Church knows the difficulty involved when speaking of the « resurrection of the body ». Remember the Apostles’ creed prayed during mass where we say : «I believe in…the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting ».  Originally, in the Nicene council, it is written as « resurrection of the flesh » or « of the body ». The Church went through long reflections on this phrase. It was not easy. Let us look at St. Paul and see how he can help.
10.  St. Paul, in his 1Corinthians, affirms the reality of the resurrection. But he also says that we cannot imagine what that « after life » could be. Let us read the crucial passage—which is not easy to fully appreciate because of the vocabulary :
« But someone may say, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?" You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind;  but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body. Not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for human beings, another kind of flesh for animals, another kind of flesh for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another.
11.  The brightness of the sun is one kind, the brightness of the moon another, and the brightness of the stars another. For star differs from star in brightness. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.  It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. So, too, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one. » (1Cor. 35-49)
12.  St. Paul seems to be extremely abstract here—although we have encountered parts of this in our study of miracles. One of the difficulties is in his use of the words «natural body » and « spiritual body ». St. Paul, however, is frank and honest enough to admit that we cannot imagine the form that we would take at the rising again. His faith in the resurrection is based on his certainty about the resurrection of Jesus. 
13.  St. Paul is convinced that this resurrection of Jesus concerns us too—you and me and everybody else—and it is NOT JUST ABOUT THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL. If Jesus rose as one total Jesus Christ, so too we.
14.  Do not forget that St. Paul was semitic—a Jew. So he was not dualist like the Greeks or modern people. For St. Paul, each of us is « my body », a «body reality » in full and not just partial. So we are called to resurrection in full, just like Jesus.
15.  St. Paul also notes that there is continuity and break. A seed, for example, « dies » to become sprout and then plant and then tree. The tree or plant is not the seed anymore—there is a break. There is the path from death of the seed to the emergence of the plant. Yet, the tree or plant started from the grain—there is continuity. The body that St. Paul wrote about is not just a mass of cells and genes. It is body as I am—or more precisely, body that I have AND I am…the paradox. It is the body that gives me my identity and puts me in relationship with the world.
16.  Again : When St. Paul wrote about the body, he mean the person—the entire person. The body is what makes me who I am, distinct from others. It is my identity. It is the core of my communication, my relation. It is beyond « just skin » or « just clothes and things I own ». I am called to rise again, just like Jesus, all together of who I am.
17.  In your study of the Church, you might have to see how the body of Christ resurrected is the Church. But we leave that to your class in Ecclesiology—or Church theology.

1.    Reincarnation means “return to flesh”—“re” and “incarnate”. So one becomes flesh and human again. There are many forms of belief here and in general they all say that a non-material element in the human continues to live after death in another bodily life. Sometimes reincarnation is interpreted as a “transmigration” of the non-material element (soul or spirit).
2.    Many experts say that India is one of the major countries that has produced this idea of reincarnation. From the early aboriginal times in India, reincarnation was already a dominant religious theme. When new waves of cultures entered India, reincarnation was assimilated in the beliefs. Sometime in the 5th century BC, an Indian mystic named  Yajnavalkya gave a more coherent explanation of reincarnation.
3.    He said that reincarnation is a result of our actions. What we do now has its effects later. Our actions often are never completed. They continue to have effects later. This is why we reincarnate. Reincarnation is a result and a continuity of actions.
4.    My actions now is to be a good man and a good father to my children. The actions are not totally finished—I still have to become better. But I die. So what happens? I reincarnate into a new life to continue the unfinished actions.
5.    The human being dies, of course. But the actions cause new rebirth. The next life inherits the unfinished actions of the past. If actions of the past are bad, then, sorry, the next life will have to continue the results of evil. If actions are good, then, luckily, the next life will be good.

6.    Although India is famous for this, Ancient Greece also has its share. The ancient greeks believed a lot in a substance “soul” in the human being. They would say that when a person dies, the “soul” goes to another body.
7.    Already in the early Greek myths reincarnation has been mentioned. Well, some historians think that the notion was originally inspired by Hinduism when Greece got into contact with India. Anyway, the Greek idea  is that the “soul” enters into other bodies. Some ancient Greeks, like Phyrecide (around 500BC) said that the soul is immortal…it just moves from one body to another. The “soul” is always in movement.
8.    All living creatures are “fraternal”—souls are brothers and sisters. Any soul can move to a new body. The Greek philosopher, Plato, believed that the soul is purified as it goes from one to another body. But there is also the need to know how to manage emotions and passions. If one is a very angry man now, the chance is his soul will “transmigrate” to a new body in angry form. Maybe the new life will make him a tyrant.
9.    In the catholic-Christian tradition, reincarnation is not accepted.

Was the resurrection of Jesus historical?
1.    It was both historical and non-historical. It was non-historical because nobody was there at the tomb to see him rise. Nobody also could really explain how dead body cells come to live again. It is un-explainable by science and history.
2.    Yet it was historical because it really happened. It happened in a particular time and in a particular place. Jesus really rose from the dead.
3.    Clear traces of the resurrection are given. There were people—notably the Apostles—who saw Jesus appear again after death. So the witnessing of the Apostles count as historical. Indeed there were people who claimed that they saw Jesus alive again—risen from the dead. This is historically undeniable!
4.    To say that there were witnesses to the appearance of Jesus is to speak historically. To say that Jesus rose from the dead—this is a matter of faith. It is faith that relies on the words of the witnesses. Faith says that the words of the Apostles are credible.
5.    If this is an act of faith it is also a conversion. Earlier, right after the death of Jesus, the disciples were scattered and confused. They just could not accept that their friend and leader could die. Was he not the Messiah? Was he not to restore Israel? But then, when they saw the appearances of Jesus, they were converted. They had a change of mind and heart. The message of Jesus when he was still in Palestine before death—the message suddenly made sense in the resurrection.
6.    Because of this faith the Christian disciple becomes a “ressurectional Christian” (Sesboue). The words, gestures, actions and choices are in the light of the resurrection. The life of the Christian is a life of the light—saying that darkness is not what determines life. Hence, the Christian is “resurrectional”. This is so even in contacts with others—the Christian spreads the light of the resurrection.
The Knowledge of Jesus

1. Many of us might ask: did Christ know everything or did he have limited knowledge? Some
might ask if Jesus knew, from the start that he was God. In the early Church councils, this was
not exactly a burning issue. The councils accepted the humanity of Jesus and would say that Jesus
knew things in a human way. Church Fathers were ready to accept limitations in Jesus—that he
had ignorance too. Cyrile of Alexandria wrote:

2. “The Word has been made flesh… charging His own flesh to proceed by the paths of its own
nature; and it belongs to human nature to advance in stature and wisdom… to spring upward
conjointly with the measures of the body: for it is one in babes, other again in those that are
now children and upwards. For it were not impossible or impracticable to the Word from forth
of the Father as God, to rear on high even from the very swaddling-clothes the body which was
united to Him and to bring it up to the measure of perfect stature…” (That Christ is One http://

3. The ancient Fathers agreed that Jesus had a sense of human self. His knowledge was incarnated, it
was human knowledge. The self of Jesus—his “I”—was Word made flesh.

4. Jesus had authority that made him “more than the prophets”. He however, knew through time
and development. His human condition did not allow him to have an absolute knowledge
incompatible with human knowledge.

5. The issue was not stressed. But by 600’s, something new arose—a question. Agnoetae arose. It
was a belief that denied divine knowledge of the incarnate Christ. (Agnoeo, is Greek for “to be
ignorant of”). Passages in the gospels triggered this: “…when you see these things taking place,
you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass
away. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but
only the Father” (Mk.13/29-32). Look at verse 32: “But of that day or that hour no one knows,
not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”. This is a very important day—it
is the day of judgment. How is it possible that Jesus did not know that day, when it will come!

6. This triggered a crisis. A series of theological reflections took place…and it was never…never
easy for the Church. The reaction was to move to the side where Jesus must have known
everything. Jesus was in touch with divine knowledge from the very start. Although we has a man
growing up in life, he comprehended everything already. A Latin phrase became famous: simul
viator et comprehensor. Jesus was simultaneously growing and fully knowing.

7. By the middle ages—Medieval times—theologians generally accepted this. At this point it was
agreed that Jesus had three knowledge: Beatific-divine, infused-angelic and acquired-human.

8. Beatific Vision: Jesus "saw" God immediately in His essence. He beheld Him face to face as the
blessed in heaven. The basis for the beatific vision enjoyed by the human nature of Christ is its
union with the Word. This union implies a plenitude of grace and of gifts in both intellect and
will. Such a fullness does not exist without the beatific vision. Jesus, even as man, was the natural
son of God, not a merely adoptive child. It would not be correct to say that Jesus did not deserve
seeing the face of his father. Jesus Christ must have seen God face to face from the very first

9. Jesus, with beatific vision, speaks as an eyewitness of things divine. Knowledge of God inferior
to beatific vision is imperfect and cannot belong to Christ. Jesus repeatedly asserts that he knows
the Father and he knows what the Father knows. So, in a summary form, beatific vision is
actually divine knowledge.

10. Infused knowledge: God, according to Medieval Theologians, “infused” into Christ's human
intellect a knowledge similar in kind to that of the angels. To have infused knowledge is to see
things as they really are--without getting to know them slowly. Knowledge of this is not by
progression, it is immediate. This is knowledge has been “poured into” Christ in one flood. Jesus
Christ must have possessed all knowledge except that which is incompatible with his beatific
vision. Infused knowledge is not incompatible with Christ's beatific vision.

11. Christ cannot be deprived of a privilege granted to the angels who have vision of things in
themselves. Now, beside the divine and the angelic knowledge, most theologians admit in the
human intellect of Jesus Christ a knowledge infused in an extraordinary comprehension of things
which might be learned in the ordinary way, similar to that granted to Adam and Eve. So, in a
summary form, beatific vision is actually angelic knowledge.

12. Acquired knowledge: Jesus Christ had also knowledge acquired by the natural use of his thinking
capacities. He had knowledge just as in the case of common human knowledge. This knowledge
naturally grew in Jesus in the process of time, according to the words of Luke 2:52: "And Jesus
advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men". Jesus had a real development in
his acquired knowledge. He gradually came to know, in a human way, some of the things which
he had known from the beginning by His divine and infused knowledge. So, in a summary form,
beatific vision is actually human knowledge.

13. But then, as history moved, modernism came. As we know, modernity carried with it the
sciences—like psychology. The modern idea of the human person—applied to Jesus—is that the
human person knows through development and growth. It is not possible to have direct “infused”
knowledge of things, must less to have beatific vision. So Jesus, as human, had to go through
the normal human processes. Well, the Vatican had to respond. Here is one document that stated
arguments as follows:

14. “It is not established that there was in… Christ … the knowledge which the blessed and the
comprehensors have. [It is not] certain …that Christ was ignorant of nothing, but from the
beginning knew all things in the Word, past, present, and future, or all things that God knows by
the knowledge of vision. The opinion … on the limited knowledge of … Christ is to be accepted
in Catholic schools no less than the notion of the ancients on universal knowledge”.

15. How did the Church reply: “The Most Eminent and Reverend Cardinals, general Inquisitors
in matters of faith and morals, the prayer of the Consultors being held first, decreed that the
answer must be: In the negative”. (Denzinger 2183-2185)
SourcesofDogma22.php. In other words, Vatican had to say NO, NO, NO to the modern approach
to the knowledge of Jesus. Vatican had to make sure that in seminaries errors be avoided. So it
was really a concern for the students of theology.

Taking cue from Modern Theologians—like Karl Rahner

1. A movement of thinking arose among theologians—like Rahner, Schillibex, Nendoncelle, etc.
The point they emphasize is that we should respect the human condition of Jesus. The unity of
Jesus with divinity should not mean that his knowledge is “out of time” and already absolute.
These theologians took a new look at the New Testament.

2. Contemporary understanding of the gospels show—and we have studied this earlier—that there
was a “retrojection” into the historical Jesus the features of the risen Jesus. Gospel authors
looked back at the life of Jesus with the eyes on the exalted Jesus. So what we read in the gospels
are features of a “growing” knowledge of Jesus—with limits and ignorance. But because of
the experience of encountering the exalted Jesus, the gospel authors included in their texts the
more “absolute” and “exalted” knowledge of Jesus. The tension is clear in the New Testament.

3. Mark seems to have been very keen in showing a limited Jesus who had to face different
situations. Jesus asked questions, he did not know everything. And yet, Mark was also sure in
showing the intimacy between Jesus and the Father (see 1/11). Here we see a Jesus with authority
with full knowledge of the revelation of God. He was not like the scribes (1/21), he could read
hearts of people (2/8) and he was impressive with wisdom (6/1-2).

4. The tension also can be seen in Matt and Lk. But these two seem to have more inclination
towards a Jesus with superior knowledge. Both, for example, show the mutuality between Father
and Son (Mtt.11/27 and Lk.10/22). This does not deny the limitation of Jesus. In Mtt (like in Mk)
Jesus does not know the day of judgment (Mtt.24/36). In Lk we see that Jesus grew in knowledge
and wisdom (Lk.2/40 and 52). The tension is in Mtt and Lk.

5. Well, in the 4th gospel, we read that the Word became flesh. The pre-existent Word entered into
history. The pre-existent Word decided to take human limits. So we can see the dimension limited
and human in the knowledge of Jesus (see Jn4/6-7; 11/33-35; 12/27). But John really emphasized
the superior knowledge of Jesus (see for example 1/14; 2/24-25; 3/11; 8/38 etc). He looked at the
historical Jesus with the influence of the exalted Jesus. The glory of the resurrected Jesus shine on
the earthly Jesus.

6. The gospels really had in mind the earthly-historical life of Jesus. Bible experts note from the
gospel accounts that when Jesus was facing his death, he “knew” it will happen. But it was in a
way that Jesus saw the consequence of his mission. He will really face resistance and rejection.
The consequence was he was to be killed. It became clearer over time. In a way Jesus slowly
discovered that his mission was what the Father really wanted for Israel and all humanity. It
became necessary to be faithful to that mission—and Jesus knew the consequence.

7. The tension we see in the gospel accounts is not incompatible with Chalcedon. In fact, the tension
is a sign of what the councils have been saying—the tension between the divine and the human
natures of Jesus.

8. Let us look at what one theologian, K. Rahner, would contribute to this question of the
knowledge of Jesus. Let us admit, he would say, that Jesus had a very close relationship with the
Father—so much so that Jesus had a “beatific vision”. So this is accepting the line of Medieval
theology. However, this beatific vision was part of the “non-thematic” side of Jesus. Rahner
introduced this notion of “thematic/non –thematic”.

9. Thematic is that which we focus on, that which is in the scope of our attention. So when we are
reading something, like the newspaper, the news are thematic. We pay attention to them. What
about the “non-thematic”. These are the elements outside our attention but they accompany our
attention. It is hard to seize the non-thematic because it is always outside our attention. We do
not pay attention to them. Take the example of looking. When we look at something—say an
object—we see the object. But accompanying what we see is the activity of the eyes, the act of
looking and seeing. The act of looking is non in our focus, it is not in our attention. The object is
the theme but the act of looking is non-thematic.

10. So, if applied to Jesus, the immediacy with God is there present in him—but it is non-thematic. It
accompanies Jesus always but it has not gone into his attention at once. Yes, Rahner would say,
there is no denial of the fantastic knowledge of Jesus. Ok, he had a beatific vision. Let us not take
away the Medieval theologian’s interpretation. But this knowledge was not in the focus of Jesus.

11. Jesus needed to grow and develop, like any human. The non-thematic had to become
thematic…in time. In other words, Jesus slowly developed an understanding of who he was. He
did not see iot immediately. It took time.

12. Rahner would compare the situation of Jesus with that of a child. A child—a baby—cannot
thematise many things. It does not know, thematically, what it means to “be human”. Yet the
baby “knows” he/she is human. It is underneath all that the baby does. Slowly, in the course of
time, the baby encounters experiences in which he/she takes more notice of his/her being human.
The baby has always sensed his/her human self…but development had to happen for the baby pay
more attention to his/her humanity. Slowly the non-thematic became thematic.

13. Jesus, Rahner would say, grew up this way. But he was different too. Not only did he know he
was human, he also knew he was Son of God. It was accompanying him non-thematically. It took
some time before he could really start seeing it in a thematic way.

14. Slowly Jesus grew in wisdom, as Luke would report (2/52). The obscure knowledge began to
grow and develop. Jesus grew up and underwent the same conditions as the children of his time.
Rahner would say that the sense of being Son of God had to slowly grow. The fact that he was
Son of God is not the issue. But even if he was not yet so aware of it, he was completely Son of
God. The development did not stop him from being Son of God.

15. In the Temple when Jesus was asking questions, we might say that it was an indication of the
growing up of Jesus (see Lk.2/46-47). At this point he was sensing his Sonship with the Father.
As Jesus grew up and became adult—including his encounters with people, his awareness of his
identity became more and more clear. There was always a mutual comprehension between Jesus
and his Father.

16. This is not just about Jesus, by the way. Jesus clearly had a mission and it was to make known
the Kingdom. From the start Jesus wanted to propose the kingdom to the people. He had to face
too the freedom of the people—the people had the choice to accept or to reject his proposal of the
kingdom. This meant ignorance on the part of Jesus. It was an ignorance that had full respect of
the liberty and freedom of people’s choice. If Jesus “knew everything” he could not have been
respecting people’s choice—accept or reject the message of the kingdom.

17. The reflections of theologians like Rahner are not to avoid the divinity of Jesus. (Medieval
theologians preferred to emphasize a lot the divinity.) The point is to realize the mystery of the
humanity of Jesus in full respect of the Chalcedon council.


1.    Is miracle an imaginative story? Is it a myth? A modern mind may have difficulties accepting a miracle of Jesus in the gospels. Of course modernity is marked by science and technology. So how can miracle fit in science and technology?
2.    At the time of Jesus a miracle meant something different from a modern view. Let us look at St. Paul: “And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory” (1Cor 15/37-41). The grain becomes a plant and then a tree; there is transformation. God is the author of the transformation. God is behind what is happening. The sun, moon, starts, the human being…God is behind these all.
3.    God is like a musician who makes music from his…guitar…. “Behind” the music is a musician. The music is an expression—a SIGN—of the musician’s creativity. So when we say “miracle” during that time, we have to consider the sign. A miracle is a sign from God.
4.     If something unusual happens, it is understood as sign. It has the value of a message. So, during the time of Jesus, attention was focused more on what God might be saying in an event…focused less on the event itself.
5.    Over the centuries theologians have been thinking in the same way. But now comes modernity. Modernity likes science and technology a lot. The modern view of the world is in terms of “laws of nature”. Everything is explained by citing laws of nature. Can there be a “miracle” for the modern mind?
6.    Ok, a modern person does not have to give up God. But modernity has a way of looking at a miracle as a transgression of a law of nature. If there is a miracle, it means that God has to break a law of nature. So for modernity a miracle is an event that goes against the law of nature. It is opposed to nature. It is opposed to what science can say. Science is therefore surprised at a miracle.
7.    There is a problem here, however. If we say every time a miracle happens the laws of nature are transgressed, then it means we know all of the laws of nature. It means we have understood everything in nature already. But science is still evolving and changing. Science does not claim to have complete knowledge of nature.
8.    From a theological point of view, modern understanding refuses to accept God as God. Why? If God must do a miracle, says modernity, he has to oppose nature. So God is still in need of “permission” from nature.
9.    Also, if we say that a miracle breaks nature, it means we can say when a miracle is really happening. We can say that, at this point, nature is not working and miracle is at work. Sometimes this attitude is found in a doctor who says to a hopeless patient, “It is a miracle”. The patient is sick, there is no more solution. Suddenly, the next day, that person is ok…no more illness. “It is a miracle”.
10.  Did the doctor see how it really happened? No, because it is “outside” the scope of nature—and outside the scope of medical science. How can the doctor say it is a miracle if, as a doctor, the event is not in science? Maybe the doctor is now talking not as a scientist but as a “believer”. While staying in the scope of medical science, the doctor is correct to say: “As far as medical science allows, your healing cannot be explained”. If the doctor says, “Ah, it is a miracle”, the doctor steps out of medical science to become a believer. The doctor speaks as a believer.
11.  So must a miracle really transgress nature? Maybe it is possible that God uses nature—he orients nature to do a miracle. We are not sure of what exactly is happening in nature as God orients it…so we have to be prudent.
12.  If someone says that the whole universe is governed by laws of nature, this is a philosophy. It is not exactly science anymore. It makes a presupposition that everything is conditioned by laws of nature. So what happens to a mineral happens to a living creature, like a plant. Then what happens to a living plant happens to an animal. Etc. Let us see how Karl Rahner would respond to this.
13.  He says that we cannot conclude that the “higher” is a result of the “lower”. For example, biological life is "higher than" the mineral. Thinking is "higher than" biological life. But biological life is not accounted for by the mineral. Thinking is not accounted for by the biological life. The domain of human freedom and thinking, for example, is not in the domain of the biological. When cells and genes move, they do not do it as thinking and reasoning and acting out freely. (Do you understand? We shall discuss this in class). In fact, according to Rahner, the presence of the “higher” is miraculous. Miracle is in the non-deductibility of the "higher" from the "lower".  (Do you understand? We shall discuss this in class).
14.  If we try to use science in interpreting an event that is extraordinary, we still need prudence. There is no absolute certainty that it is a miracle. There is something in nature that we have not seen. We cannot conclude that there is a miracle.  So when we see something happening—and it is extraordinary—we may conclude that it is a “miracle”. But we say it out of faith.
15.  To recognize a miracle, again in faith, is to see the event in its context. This context is the kingdom.  A miracle is a sign of the kingdom. We say this in faith—not in scientific thinking. A miracle is a “speaking gesture” (Sesboue). It is a sign—it is speaking to us. So we must be careful and prudent to make a scientific conclusion and say what God has actually done with nature. No. How God acts and intervenes may stay mysterious to us.
16.  If we appreciate the ancient people during the time of Jesus, we might even see the ordinary as miraculous already. If all that happens in nature is sign of God’s will and plan, then even the more extraordinary is “ordinary” in God. The ordinary events too—like the rising of the sun—can be miraculous.  
From Karl Rahner’s “Foundations of Christian Faith”: On Miracles
1.    Jesus was known as a miracle-worker. Rahner asks: what is the significance of the miracles for our faith? A proper understanding of miracles means that miracles be seen as signs which reveal a particular truth and the signs are addressed to us.
2.    It may be true to say that miracles interrupt the so-called laws of nature. But it would be better to say that we do not fully understand these “laws”. The laws of material reality and biology are integrated into the spiritual in ways we do not fully understand. A better understanding of miracles regards them as material signs of an experience that would be better described as spiritual. So when something happens, it is also important to look at the spiritual receptivity of the witness.
3.    Miracles, according to Rahner, are a “call” from God. The call may come through wonders. It may also come through the most ordinary means. It is a call that invites faith. For Rahner, the greatest miracle is the resurrection. It is the foundation of our faith.
4.    Again, Jesus was a miracle worker. Rahner would say that Jesus saw in his miracles a sign that a new closeness to God’s kingdom was being brought about in his person.
5.    Miracles, said Rahner, are not outside the reality speak about. They confirm the reality. A miracle, says Rahner, is dependent on what it is supposed to show. Each miracle of Jesus shows an aspect of God’s saving activity. Finally, miracles are addressed to a person—like to us.
6.    Rahner admits that miracles can be interruptions in the laws of nature, if by that we mean that God exists in sovereign freedom and omnipotence. No “laws” can bind God.
7.    But problems arise here. It is hard to show that the laws of nature have been suspended. If we can really show, then we have already perfectly understood everything in nature. This is not the case. Science is still an evolving discipline. So Rahner asks: can we talk about miracles without the idea of suspending the laws of nature? Can we?
8.    Rahner thinks we can. First, he says, we must admit that we do not know all the laws of nature. We do not completely understand them. We are accustomed to think that the laws of nature govern the "lower dimensions" of matter and biology. We assume that the "higher dimensions" of freedom and thought are different. But Rahner states that there is no break between the lower and the higher.
9.    Matter and biology are united with freedom and thought. They are "open to" each other. The lower dimensions can be included into freedom and thought. And when that happens, the lower dimensions are not changed but expanded.
10.  The world of matter and biology can reveal the world of freedom, history, and thought. The "lower" is integrated with the "higher," and does not thereby lose its own laws and structure. Moreover, the meaning of our freedom and thinking cannot be derived from the material and the biological. Human spirit takes the material and biological into its service.
Miracles in the Gospels
1.    It would be hard to explain why the gospels were written if Jesus never did miracles. From the start of preaching about Jesus, early Christians would insist that he was truly a healer. For example: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know…” (Act2/22). “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; … he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Act10/38).
2.    Jesus really had the reputation of being a healer. All historians studying him will agree to this. There was something historically happening to which the gospel authors referred. Looking at the different miracle stories, many of them were really historical. Experts are unanimous on this. Of course, because of the “retrospection” that we discussed before, there were “exaggerations” in some stories. There must have been a theological reason for doing this. Miracle stories affirm the salvation brought by Jesus. It is very important to look into each miracle story to extract this theological view.
3.    The life of Jesus was not a life of a magician. Jesus did not do miracles to entertain…or just for the heck of it. In fact, compared to Jewish and Greek stories of miracle stories, the accounts about the miracles of Jesus are less spectacular.
4.    Jesus never did miracles for his own profit. He would even consider the people involved—the people he encountered. How would they receive his gestures. At times Jesus never did miracles when the faith of others was absent. Jesus did not allow himself to fall in the trap of others.
5.    There are many types of miracle stories—we do not have the time to look into all of them. Let us just mention: exorcism, healing, miracles with nature. What we can discuss is the meaning of all the miracles. Let us not forget that a miracle is a sign. Since the gospels were written in the light of Easter, miracles were written as “memory aids” to show that the life of Jesus was a work of salvation. By miracles Jesus was already saving.
6.    Miracles are also messianic signs of salvation. They are always linked to the Kingdom. The people have been expecting something—a liberation. Miracles show the accomplishment of expectations done by Jesus.
7.    The Kingdom is “at hand”. A “new creation” has been inaugurated. Miracles are signs of this renewal. St. Paul expressed it well: “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom.8/21).
8.    The Kingdom, however, is never separated from the person of Jesus. Miracles therefore are works of Jesus, Son of God. Miracles reveal who Jesus is.
9.    Miracles are not abstract signs—they have a content. They have a very concrete content: the human body. Miracles declare what is the destiny of the human body: we are to be entirely renewed and glorified. Of course this will be better understood in the light of the resurrection.
10.  Miracles and faith are related. Jesus, in doing a miracle, would often pray to the Father. So a miracle would reveal the faith of Jesus. What about others—like us? Miracles have two ways of linking with our faith. First, we need faith to recognize a miracle. “Your faith has saved you”, Jesus would often say. Miracles, also, deepen our faith. They can lead to faith too! The point here is that miracles are done in the face of human freedom to accept or not accept believing in the saving gestures of Jesus. Hence miracles are really signs and not just proofs.

Problems to Consider before we move on:
1.    The problem of the universality of Christ’s mediation can depend on the context of the people to whom we want to go on mission. It is one thing to speak of Jesus for all humanity and it is another to show how Jesus of Nazareth is received within a specific culture. How will a people with a specific culture and religion appropriate the Christian message? What is the impact of Christ in the concrete cultural religious lives of people? A person from your country is aware of his/her identity in a cultural point of view. You bring Christ—or you speak of Christ—to him/her. How do you do it?  It is a big task, actually.
2.    The problem can be rooted in “who is Christ”. In other words, it can be a “Christological” issue. Christology, in general, is about Jesus Christ. Put it in a cultural context, it will mean encountering Christ within a culture, within a society with its sets of living—including the religion of the people. This means that we need to take into account the concrete existence of people. We are not dealing with a “humanity in general”, but with concrete men and women with their sets of life-styles, religiosity and other cultural elements. Let us look at three basic elements: religiosity, socio-political reality and institutional reality.
3.    Religiosity: Long before Christ is made known to a particular people—like those in your countries—the people have been having their religions…religious beliefs and practices. The people have been formed within a religious mentality. They have their own “mediators” of salvation, their own worships, their divinities, etc. Anthropologists can show that religiosity is basic to the human life. Social life is so marked by the religious mentality of people.
4.    Now, here comes the missionary—the Christian missionary, talking about Jesus Christ. The missionary introduces into the belief-set of the people something different. The missionary will talk about Jesus as the unique mediator, the “one and only Savior”. Aha…how will that interest the people who already have their own beliefs—their own saviors? One possibility is to see where Christ can fit in their existing beliefs. Another possibility, which is not the same as the first, is to see how the existing religion of the people can fit into Christ. Will the missionary try to “transform” the savior of the people into Christ as their savior? Or will the missionary tell the people to give up their savior to accept Christ?
5.    This is a question of dialogue on the level of religion.  This topic is important to discuss, and we will do so in due time. What is important for you now is to see the problem which is about “method”. We have no problem with the theology—we agree that Christ is the “one and only”. But what method do we use when we enter a society with its own religious beliefs? Do not forget that before Jesus is presented to people, those people have been having their own savior(s). Will the missionary ask the people to abandon their beliefs? Will the missionary ask Jesus to adapt to the people?
6.    It might interest us to note that even today, many of those who have been converted and baptized as Christians continue to refer to ancient practices where “mediators” possibly exist still. In other words, the Jesus Christ that theology and the Councils profess may not be the same Jesus Christ that many people “know”.
7.    The social-olitical dimension: Let us not forget that most of us…if not all of us…come from colonized countries. We were once under the rule of foreign countries—Spain, Britain, France, USA, Germany…etc. Colonialization might have ended, the colonial exploitation of our lands might have ended, but hunger, thirst, poor health, poverty….these continue.  We continue to experience our very own ethnic struggles. Corruption is a “national sport” in many of our governments.  Human rights are still violated. We cannot always point the finger at our colonizers because we too have our responsibilities in our situations today.
8.    Talk about international debt. Talk about global economies and marginalized economies. Talk about the business of weapons. Talk about refugee problems. Talk about environmental degradation. Talk about AIDS. Talk about women rights abused. Talk about children’s rights abused. Ah….we have many problems on the social-economic level. These have something religious in them too.
9.    From the point of view of Christology the problems are big because the message of Christ is also about liberation. How is this message given to our people today? How relevant will the message of Christ be in the cultures we go into?
10.  There is one slight problem here. Vatican II will say that the mission of the Church “is not of the political order, nor economic and social. The goal assigned to the Church is of the order of religion” (GS42). The problem is interesting. The Church leaders are, often, accused of “idealism” and “floating spirituality” with feet off the ground. Christ is not without witnesses…and witnesses are ready to pursue the combat for justice too. Will mission be a matter of “idealism” and “floating spirituality”…or will it involve “liberation” on the level of politics? This is an important question.
11.  What is the place of mission in places where, more than “talk about religion” there is the reality of social-political injustice? It will be important to consider this. Can we go on mission without the socio-political aspect?
12.  The institutional reality: This involves the “ministerial aspect” of mission. Christ “arrives” (is presented by missionaries) in our countries, but already institutionalized. Christ is not just in one institution, he is in many institutions. It is like Christ has been “chopped up”. He is seen “westernized”. He has come with western institutions. He has come with Western ways of thinking—like Western metaphysics. Organisations, structures, ways of worship are all introduced to our countries. These are marked by institutions coming from the cultures of the missionaries. The ecclesial structures have come with the introduction of the gospels.  
13.  Is the access to Jesus Christ through the institutions given by the missionaries? The westernized Christ is introduced to our eastern-pacific cultures. Then we are told to “believe”. By going through the institutional gestures, do we say we now have faith? The missionary must be aware of this.
14.  Part of the problem is that Christ was introduced by the Catholics….and the Episcopalians…Baptists….etc. In other words, there is not just a Catholic Christ. How do we resolve this in mission? Do we tell people that the Christ “in my Church” is the “real” one?
Jesus and the World Religions
J. A. Di Noia
Is Jesus Christ the unique mediator of salvation? I was one of five panelists assigned to address this question at a recent meeting of Catholic theologians. I was the first to speak and, as it turned out, the only panelist prepared to advance an unqualified affirmative response to the question. Why is this? Why would a group of Catholic theologians decline to affirm what, until recently, would have been considered an unquestionable tenet of ecumenical Christian faith?

As the session unfolded, it became clear that their reluctance to do so was motivated at least in part by a desire to avoid giving offense to religious people of other traditions. The underlying premise of their remarks and of the ensuing discussion seemed to be this: To ascribe a uniquely salvific role to Jesus Christ would constitute a denial of the salvific role of other religious founders (like the Buddha and Muhammad) and thus would be an affront to their communities.

The way that many theologians think about this issue has been influenced by the pluralist theology of religions popularized by John Hick, Paul Knitter, and others. Indeed, Paul Knitter was one of the panelists at the session mentioned above. In a nutshell, pluralists claim that in one way or another all religions aim at salvation. In John Hick's influential definition, salvation is the movement from self-centeredness to “Reality-centeredness.” Since, according to pluralists, ultimate Reality is incomprehensible and ineffable, no one religious description can claim primacy over rival descriptions, and no tradition can claim exclusive rights to the means of salvation.

In the pluralist perspective, therefore, each religious founder must be regarded as in some sense a savior. Exclusive or unique status with respect to the knowledge of, provision for, or access to, salvation can no more be claimed for Jesus of Nazareth than it can be claimed for Gautama the Buddha or for Muhammad. Naturally, pluralists do not deny that these founders were unique historical personalities. What they deny is that any one of them could provide a uniquely privileged or exclusive access to salvation.

It follows for pluralists that Christian theologians cannot give a simple affirmative answer to the question, Is Jesus Christ the unique mediator of salvation? On the basis of their study of religious traditions, pluralist philosophers and theologians contend that salvation, though diversely mediated, is nonetheless universally accessible. It is not just in order to avoid giving offense to other religious people that pluralists have championed this view. Pluralists argue on empirical and philosophical grounds that a soteriological structure underlies all religious traditions and thus variously orients their adherents to “Reality” as it is diversely figured in these traditions. Only in this way can Christian theologians affirm the universality of salvation and of religious truth, at least as possibilities, without giving offense to other religious people.

To be sure, pluralists are not the only theologians who have been concerned with the salvation of persons who are not Christians. According to the typology prevailing in current theology of religions, the chief alternative positions on this issue are represented by exclusivism and inclusivism. In contrast to pluralists, both exclusivists and inclusivists would have no difficulty in giving an affirmative answer to the question, Is Jesus Christ the unique mediator of salvation? For all their sharp differences, exclusivists and inclusivists concur in their avowal of the uniquely salvific role of Christ. But exclusivists deny the possibility of salvation for non-Christians who do not before death explicitly profess faith in Christ. Inclusivists, on the other hand, allow for the possibility of salvation chiefly on the grounds of some form of implicit faith in Christ, combined with a morally upright life, on the part of non-Christians.

The Christian concern not to give offense to other religious people is a praiseworthy one, while the concern to allow for the possibility of their salvation is a doctrinally crucial one. But suppose that, far from being an affront to other religious traditions, a strong Christian affirmation of the uniqueness of Christ's salvific role were fundamental to traditional Christian universalism. Suppose, in other words, that the particularity of salvation in Christ were nonexclusive. Suppose, further, that an affirmation of this nonexclusive particularity of salvation in Christ were not an obstacle to but a condition for genuine respect for other religious people.

This position, which I have long argued for, rests not only on central Christian doctrines but also on the suggestion that “salvation” is not a term that encompasses what all religions seek, but is a properly Christian designation for that which should be sought above all else in life. Salvation has a distinctively Christian content: transformation in Christ with a view to ultimate communion with the triune God. Even where other religious communities employ the term “salvation,” their conceptions of the aim of life differ from one another and from that espoused by Christian communities. By framing the agenda of theology of religions primarily in terms of the possibility of extra-Christian salvation, pluralists and inclusivists often fail to give enough weight to the specificity and distinctiveness of religious aims. Inclusivists fail to notice their distinctiveness because they tend to reinterpret non-Christian patterns and aims in Christian terms. More at the center of attention here, however, are pluralists who make salvation an all-encompassing designation for the variety of aims that religious traditions espouse and commend.

If the issues at stake were framed differently, it might turn out that to affirm Christ's unique role in salvation is not to exclude persons who are not Christians but to embrace them. In other words, it might turn out that we could give a strong affirmative answer to the question, Is Jesus Christ the unique mediator of salvation? and still both show respect for other religious people and include them in the final consummation of all things for which we have reason, only in Christ, to hope.

In order to reframe these issues, and at the same time to identify what seems to be the weakness especially of typical pluralist approaches to them, let us engage in an experiment. Let us compare the question, Is Jesus Christ the unique mediator of salvation? with the question, Is the Buddha the unique revealer of the Dharma?

Suppose that I pose this second question to a Buddhist friend. Along with most other Buddhists, she will answer it affirmatively. The Dharma comprises all that concerns Nirvana and its attainment. Even though Buddhists commonly insist that knowledge of the Dharma is in principle accessible to anyone, still they regard Gautama's discovery and teaching of the Dharma as unique in this era.

Consider how the conversation might proceed at this point. If my Buddhist friend should caution me that I will never attain Nirvana by following the course of life laid out for me by the Christian community, I do not feel anxious about this. I have not been persuaded that seeking Nirvana is what I should be doing. If I did begin to be persuaded of this, then I should undertake to discover the path and try to make my way along it. I would, in other words, have begun to be a follower of the Buddha. I might even then join a Buddhist community, or at least become an inquirer. Some Catholics I know have done this very thing. But if I continue to be convinced that it is salvation that I should be seeking and that Christ is the unique mediator of this salvation, then I would continue on the Christian path.

One thing to notice about this hypothetical encounter between me and my Buddhist friend is that I have not felt affronted by her warning that I shall not attain Nirvana unless I follow the Excellent Eightfold Path taught uniquely by the Buddha. On the contrary, my initial reaction is that what she has said to me makes perfect sense. If the Excellent Eightfold Path is the way to Nirvana, and if I do not choose to pursue this path, then it follows that I may not reach Nirvana. But, since I have as yet no desire to attain and enjoy Nirvana, I am not offended by this reasoning. I have not been persuaded that Nirvana is what I should be seeking.

Without trying to field a “definition” of religion-something that has proven notoriously difficult to do-we could say that the Christian community and the Buddhist community (with their various subcommunities) each seems to have some conception of an ultimate aim of life and has developed a pattern of life geared toward attaining it. Other major religious communities share this tendency as well. What is ultimate, whether it be a transcendent agent or an as yet unrealized state of being, invades life at every moment, and summons the community's members to order and shape their lives in view of this aim. The world's religious communities differ in their descriptions of the aims that are ultimate in this sense (e.g., the extinction of the self or communion with the triune God) as well as in their provision for the cultivation of patterns of life ordered to the attainment and enjoyment of such aims (e.g., the Dharma or the gospel). But they seem to agree in espousing and commending comprehensive aims of life, and in striving to shape the lives of their members with a view to those aims.

We can now formulate a preliminary result of the consideration of the hypothetical conversation between me and my Buddhist friend. If the assertion “The Buddha is the unique revealer of the Dharma” is not offensive to me, then why should the assertion “Jesus Christ is the unique mediator of salvation” be offensive to Buddhists, or, for that matter, to Muslims, Vedantists, or Jews? A rabbi once said to me, revealingly: “Jesus Christ is the answer to a question I have never asked.” This remark suggests that we might be on the right track in our reflections. Salvation in the Christian sense, it implies, is not what the rabbi is seeking. Asking the question to which Jesus Christ is the answer commits oneself to an inquiry (logically speaking) that may lead to the adoption of a Christian way of life. At least in part, this will mean that what Christians aim for, as expressed by the umbrella term “salvation,” has begun to look appealing or even ultimately important. One might conclude: This is what I should be aiming for in my life. But what would this be?

When Christians try to answer this question, we find ourselves becoming quite specific. When we try to say what comprises salvation, we find ourselves talking about the triune God; the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; grace, sin, and justification; transfiguration and divinization; faith, hope, and charity; the commandments and the moral virtues; and many other characteristically Christian things as well. We should not be surprised if, in trying to answer a cognate question, a member of another religious community, say a Buddhist, should also become very specific about Nirvana and all that bears on its attainment. We should not be surprised, furthermore, if the descriptions of salvation and Nirvana do not coincide. But, for the moment, let us continue the experiment by sketching some of the things that a Christian description of salvation might have to include.

Allowing for variations across its various subcommunities, we can understand the ecumenical Christian community to teach that the ultimate aim of life is a communion of life-a communion of life with the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. According to ecumenical Christian faith, this is a truth proclaimed by Christ and a destiny made possible for us by his passion, death, and resurrection. This is what Christians mean by salvation: the term embraces both the goal of ultimate communion and the empowerment to attain and enjoy it.

Human beings are called to nothing less than communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with each other in them. Indeed, Christianity affirms that the triune God could not bring about a more intimate union with created persons than that which has already been initiated in baptism and will be fulfilled for us in Christ. Ultimate communion involves nothing less than becoming part of the trinitarian family. The principle and agent of this communion for us is Christ. Just as Christ is Son by nature-a member of the divine family of the Trinity in virtue of his being the Son of the Father-so human persons are to be sons and daughters by adoption. Our fellowship with Christ and with each other in him brings us into the divine trinitarian family.

But if we are destined to enjoy this ultimate communion, then we must change. We must become fit for it. Interpersonal communion with God is only “natural” to uncreated persons; for created persons, who are also sinners, such communion is possible only through justification and grace. Through the redeeming grace of Christ and, specifically, through the transformation that this grace makes possible, we are rendered “fit” participants in the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our transformation will be a conformation: the more we become like Christ, the more surely do we discover our true selves, the unique persons created by the triune God to share in the divine life and to enjoy the personal life of the Trinity. As Catholics pray in one of the Sunday prefaces, “Father . . . You sent him as one like ourselves, though free from sin, that you might see and love in us what you see and love in him.”

However, this conformation does not amount to a mere conformity. The conformation to Christ that is the principle of our transformation is not a mere cloning but the realization of our distinctive and unique personal identities. This must be so, for otherwise the communion to which this transformation is directed could not be consummated. The image of God in us consists precisely in the spiritual capacities for knowing and loving that make interpersonal communion possible. But authentic interpersonal communion presupposes the full realization of the individual persons who enter into it. Thus, if Christ is to be the principle and pattern of our transformation, in being conformed to him we must each discover and realize our own unique identities as persons, and be healed of the sinful dispositions that obstruct the flourishing of our true selves.

This is the force of the astonishing saying of Christ:

If a man wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his life? Or what will he give in return for his life? (Matthew 16:24-26)

None of us, whether as teachers, parents, or pastors-no matter how inflated our conceptions of ourselves or how confident our sense of our abilities-would ever dare to say to anybody in our charge that they will find their true selves by imitating us. In effect, Christ asserts that an indefinite number of human persons will find their distinctive identities by being conformed to Christ. A moment's reflection shows us that only the Son of God could make such an assertion. No mere human could do so. Only the inexhaustibly rich perfect Image of God who is the Person of the Son in a human nature could constitute the principle and pattern for the transformation and fulfillment of every human person who has ever lived.

When Christians affirm that Jesus Christ is the unique mediator of salvation, something like the above can stand as a summary of what they mean. Leave aside for a moment the question whether such a description includes or excludes persons who are not Christians. What we need to consider first, as we continue to reflect on my hypothetical conversation with a Buddhist friend, is whether such a description of what Christians mean by salvation is offensive to persons who are not Christians-Buddhists, for example. Informed of what a Christian means by salvation, would there be reason for a Buddhist to feel excluded by the assertion that Jesus Christ is the unique mediator of salvation?

We have seen that salvation has a specific content for Christians: It entails an interpersonal communion, made possible by Christ, between human persons and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At least at first sight, this seems to be something very different from what Buddhists can be supposed to be seeking when they follow the Excellent Eightfold Path that leads them on the way to realizing enlightenment and the extinction of self in Nirvana. At least on the face of things, what Buddhists mean by “Nirvana” and what Christians mean by “salvation” do not seem to coincide. This does not mean that they are opposed; it remains to be seen whether seeking salvation and seeking Nirvana are complementary to each other or related in some as yet unspecified manner. However, it seems clear that interpersonal communion is a very different thing from the extinction of the self entailed in Nirvana. Many forms of Buddhism are concerned to cultivate dispositions that increasingly unmask the illusoriness of personal identity. As noted above, however, Christians understand personal identity to be of permanent, indeed eternal, significance because eternity centrally involves interpersonal communion.

Let us return to my hypothetical conversation with a Buddhist friend. We left the conversation at the point when she cautioned me that I would not reach Nirvana unless I followed the Excellent Eightfold Path. But this warning was not disturbing to me, for I do not want to attain Nirvana. Suppose that when the conversation resumes I offer a description of what Christians mean by salvation, a description not unlike the one presented above. Would we be surprised to find that my Buddhist friend wants no part of this? It is difficult for us to understand and accept that what we regard as most important-more so than anything else, absolutely speaking-other religious people challenge or repudiate. Buddhist communities in all their variety possess highly ramified teachings about the true aim of life and about the means to attain it. These teachings do not, at least on the surface, coincide with what Christians teach about these matters. Buddhists do not want ultimate communion; they do not seek it, and, insofar as they think about it, they may regard us as misguided for wanting and seeking it. For, by wanting and seeking ultimate communion, we remain, from a Buddhist point of view, incorrigibly attached to the very conceptions of personal identity that constitute the chief obstacle on the way to Nirvana.

Gautama the Buddha is the authority on these matters. He discovered and taught the Dharma, and through it attained enlightenment. His role in revealing the Dharma to others is regarded by most of his followers as something original, at least in the pres-ent epoch. Hence, while it makes good sense for Buddhists to affirm that the Buddha is the unique revealer of the Dharma, it makes little sense for them to be offended when Christians describe Jesus Christ as the unique mediator of salvation. Buddhists regard Christian beliefs about this as misguided and perhaps only partially true, but they will not be anxious or offended by such a Christian affirmation. They are not interested in seeking and attaining salvation as Christians understand it.

To be sure, some people-pluralists in particular-want to define “salvation” so broadly that it includes both what Christians mean by it and what Buddhists mean by Nirvana. On this account of things, my hypothetical encounter with a Buddhist friend would not present either of us with a choice between seeking Nirvana and seeking salvation. Some would say that to think that there is a serious choice here is, religiously speaking, overly literalistic and even simpleminded. Indeed, pluralists contend, precisely at this juncture the superiority of pluralist theology of religions is displayed. Pluralists argue that all religious communities advance their members toward specific aims-communion or enlightenment, as the case may be-that are surpassed or transcended by a more ultimate, but indescribable, aim. All religious communities seek this yet more ultimate aim with varying degrees of clarity and success. Not only is this conception closer to the truth of the matter, it also provides the basis for the sympathetic understanding, fruitful dialogue, and mutual respect that are desperately needed today.

In fact, however, this basic premise of pluralist theology of religions will not stand up under close scrutiny. Even if religious communities were prepared to accept some such description of what they are about it still remains true that they espouse and commend specific aims that differ from one another. Furthermore, these specific aims call forth distinctive patterns of life in each of the major religious traditions and in local traditions as well. Certain kinds of life are understood to foster the enjoyment of certain kinds of ends of life, and others to obstruct this enjoyment. This seems to be an ineradicable feature of the characteristic discourse and ethos of most religious communities. Individual lives come to be shaped by the ultimate aims that are sought. So even if the true aim of life were one that transcended the particular aims of all religious traditions, no one could seek it. No one could undertake to order life in such a way as to attain and enjoy an ultimate aim of life of which no description could be given.

But this goes directly against the grain of characteristic religious affirmation and conviction. Religious people, by and large, believe themselves to be in possession of understandings, incomplete though they may be, of what is ultimately important in life and how to orient life in its direction. Significant disagreements obtain among the major and local religious traditions about these matters. Pluralist theology of religions does not so much explain these disagreements as explain them away. In this way, pluralism seems to offer a massive redescription, rather than an interpretation, of religious beliefs and practices, and of the arresting differences among them.

Thus the following statements are not problematic in the way that many people, like those I joined on the theological panel, seem to think. “Jesus Christ is the unique mediator of salvation” and “The Buddha is the unique revealer of the Dharma.” Were representatives of Christian or Buddhist communities to retreat from advancing such claims, it is not clear what they would have to offer to the world. There would be no compelling, or even interesting, reasons to persevere in membership in these communities, or indeed to seek it.

The great challenge facing present-day Christian theology of religions and interreligious conversation is to avoid minimizing the distinctive features of the major religious traditions through a well-intentioned universalism. Christian confidence in the universal scope of salvation rests on convictions about the historical career and perduring agency of Jesus Christ. Only if his identity is affirmed in its fullness-in accord with the holy Scripture, the great councils, and the Church's liturgy-as the Son of God who became man and died for us can the hope of Christians for themselves and for others be sustained. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

If the salvation that the triune God wills for the entire human race entails ultimate communion with the three persons, then the creaturely and sinful obstacles to this communion must be overcome. It has never been claimed that anyone but Jesus Christ could overcome these obstacles. Through him we are both healed and raised to an adoptive participation in the life of the Trinity. The obstacles to this participation are either overcome or not. If they are not overcome, then Christians have nothing for which to hope, for themselves or for others. In that case, they will hawk an empty universalism on the highways of the world. When Christians abandon the proclamation of Christ's unique mediatorship, they have no other mediatorship with which to replace it.

How persons who are not now explicit believers in Christ are to share in the salvation he alone makes possible is a large topic that I have not addressed here. But if Christians no longer confess Christ's unique mediatorship in making ultimate communion a real possibility for created persons, then the problem of how non-Christians can share in it is not resolved: it simply evaporates. True Christian universalism depends on the affirmation of the nonexclusive particularity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

J. A. Di Noia, O.P., teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., and is author of The Diversity of Religions: A Christian Perspective. A slightly different version of this essay appears in Either/Or: The Gospel or Neopaganism, Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, eds., just published by Eerdmans.

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