The Coherence of Christian Theology IX

[Note: This completes this series of posts. The entire series can be found here on this blog. I have also posted it here as a single html document.]


It may not be hyperbole, nor redundant, to say that for Christianity everything is in some way a reflection of Christology. Ecclesiology is founded on a proper Christology; what you say about the Church you effectively say about Christ. What you believe about the Mysteries (or Sacraments) is an outgrowth of what you believe Christ has come to do. The reverence or inattention you give to Mary comes from your vision of Jesus. Whether or not you believe the classical dogma of the Trinity will determine what you believe about Jesus. Christology is the dogma upon which hang all the unique beliefs and practices of the Christian Faith.

The divisions among Christians are not so monstrous simply in terms of a lack of institutional unity. Rather such divisions are so hideous because they divide not a Church, they sever Christians from one another not merely over whether baptism is necessary to salvation or not, no, such divisions are hideous because they attempt blasphemy: the division of Christ within himself. Whether or not the Church is to have bishops is not a matter of Church polity, it strikes at the heart of what we believe about Jesus. If we believe differently about the Church, we believe differently about Jesus. The implication is inescapable: to preach a different Church is to preach a different Christ. The Incarnation is that central to every particle of our faith.

These several doctrines of Christianity make sense only in light of the Incarnation. Philosophy does not comprehend Christian theology. Philosophy attempts to reduce talk of God to logical syllogism and rational category. But no person can be reduced to a logical formula or defined in a single concept, or even a group of concepts. And if this is true of human persons, how much more the Second Person of the Trinity. Philosophy must reduce God to a concept. But God is not a concept. God is a Person, indeed a Trinity of Persons. Philosophy cannot synthesize this. Confronted by the Incarnation, philosophy is burst asunder, unable to hold together the paradox. Theology shares this same ultimate failure when theology takes its cue from philosophy rather than from prayer, worship and poetry.

But one thing philosophy can witness to is that on Christianity’s own unique terms, which is to say, on the terms of the Incarnation, it is coherent. Philosophy may not accept the cornerstone of Christianity, the Incarnation of Christ. But philosophy can attest that having been built on and from that cornerstone, the lines are straight. The various patterns are woven expertly together into a whole so beautiful, so pure, so real that one is left speechless and penitent.

Christ himself has appeared to us. Glorify him.

The Coherence of Christian Theology VIII

The Incarnation and Mary

We have already seen how the Incarnation is not just an isolated point of doctrine among a list of other points of doctrine which Christians are called to believe. Rather, the Incarnation is the foundation and limit of all our doctrines, from the Holy Trinity, to salvation, to the Church and Sacraments. But most especially is this so in terms of Mary, our Lord’s mother.
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The Coherence of Christian Theology VII

[Note: It’s been over a month since my last entry in this series. The entire series can be found here. Once complete, I will format the entire series into a single html document and will post the URL for those interested.]

The Incarnation and the Sacraments

When one turns to the Sacraments, or the Mysteries, one has not ceased to have to do with the Church. There are two extremes one may fall prey to here, both of them a separation of the Sacraments from the Church, and both of them denials of the fullness of the Incarnation.
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The Coherence of Christian Theology VI

The Incarnation and the Church

The Incarnation is not only the dogmatic center from which the spokes of the Trinity, union with God, and the Resurrection extend, but it is the doctrinal foundation of the Church as well. In fact, I do not think it too hyperbolic to state that ecclesiology is Christology. What we believe about the Church is, and ought to be, a reflection of our belief about Christ. And because the Incarnation is the foundation of our soteriology, what we believe about the Church will also reflect what we believe it means to be saved. That is to say, the doctrines about salvation and the Church are essentially linked to one another, in and through the dogma of the Incarnation.
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The Coherence of Christian Theology V

The Incarnation and the Resurrection

The bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead follows necessarily from the Incarnation. If it was essential to God’s work of accomplishing our salvation that Jesus be fully human and fully divine, that is to say, if it was essential that Jesus have a human body, then the human body is essential to the afterlife. We are not, after all, going to be disembodied spirits in heaven. If our salvation is accomplished bodily, then our resurrection from the dead will be a bodily one. This is borne out in the several resurrection narratives in the New Testament. In Luke 24:39-43, Jesus asks his disciples to “handle him” to see that it is he. He asks them for a piece of broiled fish, which he eats in their presence. In John 20:17, Jesus exhorts Mary Magdalene not to “cling to him” which she could not have done if he were an immaterial spirit. Later in the chapter, at 20:27, he encourages Thomas to put his fingers into the nail marks in his hands, and to place his hand into side. Given Thomas’ reluctance to believe Jesus had risen from the dead without tangible proof, one would be hard pressed to understand Jesus’ words in any other way than to indicate he is, indeed, a bodily presence. We may well question how it was the nail marks and the spear wound remained as tangible signs of the crucifixion in his resurrected body, but this does not take away from the central point: Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Paul himself continues in this tradition, in 1 Corinthians 15, explaining that the resurrection from death is essential to the Christian gospel, and that such a resurrection involves a body, though such a body is a spiritual one, different, if continuous, with our flesh and blood body.

More to the point, without the Incarnation, the Resurrection is a useless and unnecessary addendum. If there were no Incarnation, then either through moral striving, or through noetic enlightenment, or both, we have our salvation. We need no Resurrection because we need no bodily salvation. It is the bodily aspect of the Incarnation that demands a bodily Resurrection, even if that body is of a kind Paul can only describe as spiritual and heavenly.
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The Coherence of Christian Theology IV

The Incarnation and Union with God

The Incarnation is the lynch pin to the Christian understanding of union with God. In some religions, union with God is accomplished through the acceptance of esoteric doctrines regarding God. In other religions, union with God is accomplished by the divesting of the illusion of selfhood and personhood, the melting, as it were, of oneself into the divine and impersonal essence. But in Christianity, union with God is accomplished only through the God-man, Christ. As Christ, himself, declared: No one comes to the Father, except through him (John 14:6). Union with God is accomplished in and through a particular Person.
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The Coherence of Christian Theology III

The Incarnation and the Trinity

Without the Incarnation, we would have no certain knowledge of the Trinity. We would have hints and indications, for our Christ-centered reading can now see them in the holy texts of the Old Testament. But we would have no clear revelation from God. Only the revelation of God in Christ makes known to us the fact that God is a Trinity of Persons. In the Son, God is revealed as the Father; in the Son we are given the promise of the Pentecostal advent of the Holy Spirit. Christ, himself, testified that he and the Father are one (John 10:30), and took on himself the holy Name, “I AM” (John 8:58). In Christ’s birth, the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:35). In Christ’s baptism, the Holy Spirit manifested himself with the Father and the Son (Luke 3:21-22). Apart from Christ there is no revelation of the Trinity.
Continue reading “The Coherence of Christian Theology III”