Monday, July 15, 2013

The Early Church III-1: Introduction to Christology

Enjoy learning about the early Church? See parts I here and II here.


The study of the person, actions, and significance of Christ can be a daunting task. The number of opinions out there about Him, whether one believes or not, are so numerous it seems as if there could never be a consensus on who Jesus actually was or what He actually did. This problem is not a new one, however, but a very ancient one. We see that even when Jesus performed His earthly ministries many were unsure as to His true identity. When Jesus asked his Apostles who others said the Son of Man was they told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets” (Mt 16:14). When Jesus addressed them, those who had witnessed him firsthand, Peter took charge and said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16).

Our difficulty is twofold at this point. First, Jesus claims that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (16:17). Knowledge of Christ is ultimately subject to revelation, experience, and grace. Secondly, when Peter got it right he showed us how we can still get it wrong.

Peter spoke truly and in the Spirit, but when he heard Jesus say that He must suffer and die at the hands of wicked men Peter was taken aback. He rebuked Jesus—how could the Messiah suffer? How could God Himself die? Jesus called Peter 'Satan' because he is acting as a deceiver. Recall Genesis in this instance, where the serpent says “You certainly will not die!” (Gen 3:4).

Peter only understood so much, as we might expect. Christ's mission was not yet complete. He had not yet suffered, died, risen, and ascended to the Father. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, no man declares that Jesus is the Son of God until he dies on the cross. Even if we come to believe in these things they still remain a great mystery. We may ask “why did Christ have to do it this way?” but it stands that this was the manner God chose to redeem us. There is always something that can be revealed about a person and his intentions when  he has a number of means and options open to him. That he chooses a specific way can teach us if we endeavor to accept it.

Much like the Trinity, the person of Christ is a mystery of the highest kind. The depths of God's love, mercy, power, and person all remain unplumbed. It takes time to rest in these mysteries and allow them to reveal their hidden truths to us. Much like Scripture, these mysteries are present to us in all of our emotions, affections, and states of being. They are ever-ready to reveal something new to us if we are willing to listen to them and trust in them. As Peter himself shows, sometimes that's difficult. One who experiences loss may find it difficult to believe God loves—but what if they were to believe this despite their loss? What would they learn of God's love? What would they understand from their loss?

We may not gain understanding of these things by our efforts—only the Holy Spirit can give us this—but we grow in wisdom by being with Wisdom. Wisdom is, after all, “the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness” (Wis 7:26). Proverbs says it more directly: “The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom; at the cost of all you have get understanding” (Prv 4:7). In order to understand, become wise, to know and be with Christ we must desire it. Christ says “follow me” and we decide to follow. Love compels us to follow, wisdom keeps us safe as we travel. Another way of looking at it is this: wisdom is the benefit, the reward, of love.

We learn from the imperfections He subjected Himself to for our sake. We learn that it's okay to be imperfect.

The purpose of the following is meant to be an introduction and in no way an academic analysis. I have purposefully kept this examination in the early Church in order to show the ambiguity and struggle that many holy men experienced. In the early 300s more articulate language developed in response to honest dialogue as well as heresy. The same is true of the Trinity.

In both cases, while I will focus on the subject at hand, I would like all who read to consider the collaboration, faith, and wisdom of the many bishops, theologians, and saints who made our present-day expression of faith possible. These were men who willingly walked into the darkness of many mysteries and avoided the guile of reducing such things to human and earthly terms. They deflected ideas which rejected the apostolic teaching or those claims which contradicted Scriptures—they were truly masters of both. Let us, in a small way, sit at their feet in order to correct and safeguard our own ways of thinking.

(See III-2 here!