Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What is Christology?

Christology is the theology of Jesus Christ: his what and who—natures, person, obscurity, ministry, consciousness, etc. WHENEVER we ask and reflect about the who and what of Jesus Christ, we are doing Christology.

We have a hierarchy of truths. Among these truths, it is more important to know who Jesus is than it is to know how many sacraments there are or whether Christ is really present in the Eucharist—and these truths, one must grant, are exceedingly important matters in themselves.

There are two basic types of Christology—

Christology “from below” or Ascending Christology.

Christology “from above” or Descending Christology.

Christology “from below”

  • ž Starts with Jesus of Nazareth, that is, the Jesus of history, and tends to emphasize his humanity.
  • We begin with Jesus, a human being like us in all things but sin, living out his early life in obscurity and who, by his unique proclamation of the Kingdom of God, stands out from the rest of humanity.
  • He is led to Calvary and the Cross by his lifelong giving of himself in service to others
  • God raised him up and exalted him.Notice how Christ’s life proceeds according to this Christology? It ascends.


This Christology is the emphasis of the theology we find in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Christology “from below” is the dominant approach to in Catholic Christology today. It is useful—but what do you think happens if you take this Christology too far? Too much focus on Christology “from below” tends to suggest that Jesus is only human and not really divine. He fulfills a unique role in the history of human beings, calling us to the demands of the Kingdom of God.

Christology “from above”

  • ž This Christology begins with the preexistent Word (Logos) with God in heaven and tends to emphasize his divinity.
  • The Word “comes down” to assume human flesh on earth and to accomplish our redemption by dying on the cross, rising and returning as Lord to heaven.
  • ž Notice how Christ’s life proceeds according to this Christology.

The Christology “from above” is the emphasis of the theology we find in the Fourth Gospel and that of Paul. Christology “from above” was the dominant approach to Catholic Christology from the medieval period up until Vatican II. It is useful—but what do you think happens if you take this Christology too far? An exclusive or exaggerated Christology “from above” tends to imply that Jesus is not really human, but only appears to have taken on our human condition.

Question: Of taking these positions to their extremes, to which have Christians historically more often been inclined?

Answer: CHRISTOLOGY “from above.” Why? Our humanity is VERY uncomfortable. We really don’t like associating it with God. It’s much easier for us to see Jesus as Superman than man. In the pre-Vatican II Church, one might often hear statements like, “when Christ walked the earth disguised as a man.”

Catholics strive to be “both-and” Christians, not either-or. Jesus is both God and man. He is both from above and from below. We need the full apostolic witness to see this. Theology is an outcome or fruit of faith. Christology is where anthrop

ology and theology meet. The first theological questions are:

Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?

Who is Jesus Christ? In all the literature about Jesus ever written you will never find a neutral account. Study his life and teachings and it w

ill be IMPOSSIBLE for you to maintain a credibly indifferent posture. Either you will accept him in faith in more or less conformity with the faith of the Church OR you will deflate his importance or discredit his person in one way or another.

What about modern skeptics? Modern skeptics and their claims are UNORIGINAL. It was not modern theologians and book writers that invented the idea of the extramarital conception of Jesus—it was insinuated by some of his contemporaries (Jn 8:41). Reimarus did not invent the notion of Jesus’ body being stolen from the tomb; it was a well-known rumor by the time of Matthew’s composition (Mt 28:11). D.F. Strauss was not the first to reject the mystery of the Incarnation as unworthy of educated human b

eings; Celsus and Porphyry, pagan philosophers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries derided it well before.

But that does not mean that the Early Church was a group of fundamentalists! It would be wrong to insinuate that the Church of the 2nd and 3rd centuries—which determined the biblical canon—shared 21st century Christian fundamentalist anxiety for historical accuracy. The biblical canon attests the Church’s conviction that the four Gospels together, in their relative differences and essential complementarity provide the full, authen

tic portrait of Jesus and the full, authentic depository of his teachings. By preserving four DIFFERENT VERSIONS of the same story the Church expressed that the truth of the “Quadriform Gospel” does NOT depend on the historical accuracy of the contradictory details among the four documents called “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John.”

To speak of the Godman Jesus Christ is to speak of ultimate mysteries, the complementary mysteries of “God” and “Human being.”

John 17:3

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.

What follows is not just a mental exercise. This is encountering a MYSTERY, a dive into the LIGHT.

John 4:42

[The Samaritan villagers] said to th

e woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world

This mystery, the mystery of Christ, the human mind can never exhaust. The “knowledge” here is like the knowledge between Adam and Eve, between Christ and Church.

John 20:28ff

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

God calls us in Christ to a mystical intimacy and divine eros. This is more than a head thing. This is a PRAYER thing. Pray.


All things praise you in your Son

By your Spirit conform all things to

Jesus Christ

Grow our faith to illuminate our reason

And grant us reason to critically appropriate

Our faith.



Bernie305 said...

Hey Bill. Looks like we're blogging again. I wanted to ask you about fundamentalism. So here are my questions: How is fundamentalism is defined? What are the characteristics or the symptoms of fundamentalism? Thanks!

Your brother in Christ,


benjamin said...

realy interesting , to know about christ and his mission

Bill Harvelle said...

Thanks for your comment Benjamin. Glad you found the site! Peace.