from The Collected Works
Christianity’s Decisive Difference
Part 3–Christology, the Trinity, and Mariology
This is the famous long letter written by Eric Voegelin to his closest friend, Alfred Schütz, the distinguished sociologist. It was written exactly 60 years ago this month. It appears here in four parts. Part 1 may be read HERE.
A Letter to Alfred Schütz [continued]
January 1, 1953
[My dear friend,]
So much to justify my distinction between an “essential” Christianity and the gnostic and eschatological components.
It seems to me that in its theology and philosophy Christianity has attained very significant achievements which should not be neglected.
The first of these achievements was attained through Christology. Today this body of dogma is regarded with deep distrust by philosophers of the secularist persuasion because it posits the divinity of Christ, while the Catholic philosophers accept it unquestioningly, without subjecting its meaning to closer analysis.
Both attitudes seem to me inadmissible; the secularist one because it treats the problem anachronistically, the Catholic one because it is uncritical.
The prime condition for dealing with this question is the need to formulate it in the terms of Jesus’ time, not in terms of our time, for which the historical consequences of Christology are “unquestioningly given.”
In the time of Jesus, it should be noted, god-men were no rarity; a whole set of Hellenistic kings were gods, not to mention the fact–a fact which directly influenced Christian symbolism (Norden)–that every pharaoh was born a divine child and was an incarnation of Horus.
What was new, what excited people, was not the divine humanity of Christ but (1) the social status of the incarnated God, and (2) the universality for all mankind of His mediating function.
What was new was that he was not a representative of society, a king who was a god, but a poor devil of proletarian estate who came to a very miserable, ungodlike end. Furthermore he was a mediator performing his function not for a historically existing society but for all men. (This was what caused the tension between the Jewish-Christians of Jerusalem and the Paulinians.)
And finally it was new to have a mediator who was not the incarnation of a god but was God in the monotheistic sense that excludes all other gods. This idea of God is radically universal; the mediating function is radically universal for all men; and its validity is universal for all times.
The experience of divine help, symbolized in all pre-Christian civilizations polytheistically and in national pluralism, was reduced to its essence and made humanly universal through Christology. Christ is the god who puts an end to the gods in history (Holderlin: “The last god”).
For the interpretation of human existence in society this represents, it seems to me, a critical clean-up of the first order; its consequences are readily accepted (without regard for the cause) by those of our contemporaries who do not find Christology much to their taste.
And the horrifying things that can happen when, in the wake of anti-Christian mass movements, this clean-up is forgotten should have been abundantly demonstrated by the rise of the idea of the superman since the 18th century and the appearance of the totalitarian Führer type.