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Eschatology, Geography, and the Advancing Jesus Movement

It will be useful to return to the theme of time and space, which we noted in our second chapter on the New Testament materials.  We recall that the orientation to the divine Ground transforms temporality into history, and space into place.  At the same time, neither time nor space is simply “there” for humans to manipulate or use in an arbitrary fashion.  In some sense, time remains time and not history, and space remains space and not simply place.  Jesus and his movement exist within these complicated coordinates, as all humans do, and we noted something of the way in which the Jesus event revalorized each of these coordinates.  Inasmuch as Jesus through and with his new community mediates a more personalized relationship with the divine Ground, history becomes even more fully packed with the promise of personal meaning and space becomes even more fully an hospitable home/place for the advancing Jesus movement.  But the issue is really more complex, and returning to it offers us the possibility of adding greater texture to the themes covered in this chapter.  It will also likely bring greater ambiguity to our proposals.  But such would seem to be the way of reality.

Apocalyptic and Eschatology

“Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!,” some were apparently complaining at the time of Second Peter (3.4), one of the later New Testament writings.  Earlier Paul himself had to contend with similar concerns, for he counsels his Thessalonian community “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here” (2 Thes 2.2).  Apparently Paul’s considered view on this matter, after perhaps expecting the Lord’s return in his lifetime (1 Thes 4.17), settled into thinking that Christ and his earthly work represent the “first fruits,” to be followed by his later “coming” for “those who belong to him,” which will then be the signal that the “end” will come (1 Cor 15.23-24).  One notices in this perspective the absence of any precise date (see also Mk 13.32; Mt 24.36).  But the grumbling recorded by Second Peter indicates that not everyone had come around to Paul’s more considered viewpoint.  The experience of Jesus, particularly in the light of the resurrection appearances and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, apparently gave some the impression that the victorious reign of God which Jesus had preached was now so “present” that its futurity was soon to be a thing of the past.  It would take some time to sort things out in a more differentiated manner, and Paul’s considered view was a sober assessment immensely aiding this effort of differentiation.

Paul, we might say, has eschatologized apocalyptic elements in the Jesus tradition.  That is, some of the expected acts in the typical apocalyptic scenario (suffering, struggle, death, resurrection, judgment, establishment of the victorious reign of God, etc.) are taken over by Paul, but assimilated into and thought through in the light of Jesus himself and his own resurrection vindication.  Apocalyptic’s harsh dualism, which pits a new world against an utterly corrupt old one, the elect against the reprobate, is ameliorated to some extent, any precise time calculations are omitted, an anxiety stemming from a destructive alienation in the world is relaxed by a sense of faith, hope, and love, and responsible action in the world in an expectant manner is called for.  Paul believes that what has come with Jesus is a fullness (Gal 4.4; Col 1.19; 2.9-10) which somehow prefigures the end/eschaton, but the manner in which this will be worked out within the constraints of history remains rather mysterious: “For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8.24-25).    Paul also, at his most profound, has a sense of how the dualism of good and evil cuts across all, including himself.  It is not a question of simply good people in an apocalyptic battle against utterly corrupt people.  “For I do not do the good I would …”; the Spirit helps us in our weakness …” (Rom 7.19; 8.26).

Paul is working with the already/not yet tension we noted earlier in Jesus’ proclamation of the new community.  Eventually he seems to sense its qualitatively new dimension of fullness, that is, a new personalized relationship with God is “at hand.”  But this personalism that is at hand does not abolish the already/not yet tension.  Rather, it transforms it into a potential kairos.  Some others, in the early period of the advancing Jesus movement, seem to have lost, or nearly lost, all traces of this tension.  Paul also seems to have become keenly attuned to the kenotic nature of the reign of God mediated by Jesus, that is, it comes humbly, in a servant mode, appealing to our response, slow as that may be in coming.  This reign is not another of the many empires of domination.  Jesus, Paul wrote, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave . . . he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2.7-8).

We recall the imperial style of Christology and soteriology developed by Eusebius (d. c. 340).  We will not be surprised, then, to find that this carries its implications for the theology of history.  Referring to the Emperor Constantine’s building of the Savior’s church at the site of the resurrection in Jerusalem, Eusebius suggests: “And it may be that this was that second and new Jerusalem spoken of in the predictions of the prophets, concerning which such abundant testimony is given in the divinely inspired records.”[1]  Eusebius, apparently, has a rather complicated apocalyptic eschatology, in which Emperor Augustus’ Pax Romana was the kingdom of peace spoken of by the prophets (Is 2.1-4; Mic 4.1-4), and the Emperor Constantine and his heirs were “the holy ones of the Most High” (Dan 7.18) who would govern Rome, the fourth kingdom (Dan 2.31-45), up to the final tribulation, which would bring the world’s destruction and the last judgment.  He followed Origen, apparently, in holding that immortality would be a form of life in a realm beyond the cosmos, but he was apocalyptic in his other perspectives.  The final apocalyptic events just noted were to occur sometime between several generations and several centuries after his own life, according to Glenn Chesnut.[2]

Eusebius is representative of the earlier apocalypticism noted in Second Peter and in the early Paul, and he manifests its lingering appeal in the later Church.  Irenaeus (second century) would offer another example, but a more cautious one.  For example, he suggests that “Lateinos has the number six hundred and sixty-six; and it is a very probable [solution], this being the name of the last kingdom [of the four seen by Daniel].”  He goes on to say that “the Latins are they who at present bear rule …,” but he cautions: “I will not, however, make any boast over this [coincidence].”  He also prefaced this entire section with the caution that “it is more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfillment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises …”[3]

Paula Fredriksen offers us one explanation of how these apocalyptic number calculations emerged.  First, we should note the biblical tradition “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Pt 3.8; Ps 90.4).  If we combine this with the seven days of creation in Genesis 1 along with the thousand year reign of the saints promised in Revelation 20, we arrive at a 6000 year period (the six days of creation, each day viewed as a cosmic week/age of the world of a thousand years), followed by the millennium of a thousand year reign, which then brings on the final end.  In one of his sermons, Augustine writes, “Behold, from Adam all the years have passed,” some Christians of his time are crying, for Rome had fallen in 410; he continues: “and behold, the 6000 years are completed, and now comes the Day of Judgment!”[4]  Obviously different writers offered different dates.  Fredriksen writes: “Calculations for the year 6000 fell variously between anno domini dates of 400 to 500, the latter prevailing in the West.”[5]

Origen (d. c. 254) offers us an example of how one can react to this misguided apocalypticism through spiritualizing and even interiorizing the apocalyptic passages of the New Testament.  Joseph Trigg, for example, tells us “that there is not the slightest trace of apocalyptic eschatology, the notion that Christ will in fact reappear to establish God’s reign on earth, in Origen’s understanding  of the kingdom of God, ‘the blessed state of the reason and the ordered condition of wise thoughts.’”[6]  His commentary on Matthew follows suit, psychologizing and allegorizing apocalyptic passages.  Christ’s (the Son of Man’s) “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 24.30) can be taken to mean “his appearance to the perfect in their reading of the Bible.”  Christ’s two comings express his coming to the Christian beginners and the Christians of more perfect spiritual attainment, respectively, by way of further example.  Trigg notes that Origen nowhere explicity denies “vivid apocalyptic expectations”; still the practical effect is their individualizing and spiritualizing.[7]  Origen’s approach prefigures the tendency of the Hellenistic Christian tradition of Alexandria to spiritualize biblical texts.  The reader may wish to refer back to our earlier comments on patristic interpretation of the Bible in our second chapter (supplement for further study).

Origen’s approach brings out something of the qualitatively kairotic nature of eschatology, that is, the present moment is a moment of new opportunity through grace.  In this way it has a certain attractiveness and relevance.  As G. Filoramo notes, Origen’s perspective should not be confused with a doctrine of the last things, although Firolamo thinks it commonly is.  Origen offers us, rather, an “immediate expectation of the end.”[8]  When eschatology becomes simply a speculation about what happens to the individual after death (the “last things”), then we have really begun to evaporate the eschatological tension, along with simply individualizing it.  But with Origen we can sense something of the tension in its kairotic dimension.  Still the cost is somewhat expensive, for the social, collective punch of apocalyptic and eschatology, and their futurity, seem greatly missing.

In Eusebius’ case, we can sense something of the danger of a Christian imperialistic triumphalism, along with an ecclesiology which is rather politically subservient.  This seems to have been the typical danger of the Church in the eastern, Byzantine Empire, although the eschatological thrust of Eastern monasticism provided something of a dialectical balance and critique of Byzantine caesaropapism.  Irenaeus’ case seems more difficult.  One wonders if in his case it is not simply his “reverence for ‘apostolic tradition’” which causes him to hold on to his speculations regarding the millennium (the thousand year reign of Revelation 20.4-5), as Jaroslav Pelikan seems to hint.[9]

It is not easy to gauge just how difficult it was for the early Church to follow up on Paul’s hints and work out a more differentiated eschatology.  Justin (second century) seems to have thought that his period was that of the millennium of Revelation 20, but he also seems to have admitted that “many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.”[10]  This would indicate a largeness of mind willing to learn from the lessons of historical experience.  It may also be that the already/not yet tension was healthily maintained by liturgy and creed, as Pelikan suggests, thus enabling a transition to a more differentiated eschatology with relatively little angst.[11]  We have already noted how the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople confesses the first coming of the incarnation and the second coming of judgment at the end.  “…the references to the ‘coming’ of Christ in the scraps of early liturgies that have come down to us,” writes Pelikan, referring to the Apostolic Constitutions and the Didache, would seem to affirm this.  “When the ancient liturgy prayed, ‘Let grace come [or ‘Let the Lord come’], and let the world pass away,’ its eschatological perspective took in both the final coming of Christ and his coming in the Eucharist.”[12]

One loses the eschatological tension either by pushing the reign of God too far off into a distant future, or by phantasizing that it is more present than it truly is.  A view of eschatology as simply a doctrine of the “last things” which we await tends toward the former, while apocalyptic’s keen sense of imminence tends toward the latter.[13]  True hope resides in the creative tension between both poles.  Augustine would meet this standard in the West, when he interpreted the millennium as a symbol for “the period beginning with Christ’s first coming,” explicitly ruling out, as he wrote, “any reference to that kingdom which he is to speak of at the end of the world . . . ”  He counsels: “It is vain, therefore, that we try to reckon and put a limit to the number of years that remain for this world, since we hear from the mouth of the Truth that it is not for us to know this.”

In this period, the Church can be considered the “kingdom of Christ,” in the sense that it is a mixed reality of sinners and saints, whereas the “kingdom of heaven” is the final realm of the saints alone.  “And so even now his saints reign with him, though not in the same way as they will then reign; and yet the tares do not reign with him, although they are growing in the Church side by side with the wheat.”[14]  The symbols of the “city of God” and the “earthly city,” which govern his classic City of God, complexify this schema of the kingdom of Christ/kingdom of heaven,” just noted.  For the love of God (= the city of God) is a force at work within and without the borders of the earthly Church, in a mysterious way known only to God, although it is more forcefully at work within the earthly Church, apparently.  And likewise, the (inordinate) love of self (= the earthly city) is a force at work within both the earthly Church and beyond its borders, although apparently a force not equal in effect to the power of love of God.[15]

With Augustine, then, the tension between the already and the not yet of Jesus’ new community (reign of God) is given a multilayered interpretation.  The tension is an historical one, namely, the earthly pilgrimage of the heavenly city as it realizes its predestined purposes within history, encountering struggles with the opposed earthly city, on its way toward the final realization of the kingdom of heaven.  The already/not yet is thus a historical tension between divine love and creaturely selfishness.  That tension is, secondly, a communal one, playing itself out within both the earthly church and within society (of all kinds).  Thirdly, that tension is a personal one, playing itself out in the mysterious depths of each individual, as she or he through grace and free will is formed or deformed by the various possible objects of love chosen on the pilgrimage.  The Christological kairos, namely, the challenge of a personal and interpersonal relationship with God through Jesus, is the decisive feature of this personal level of the already/not yet tension.  “ . . . in order to give man’s [sic] mind greater confidence in its journey towards the truth . . .  God the Son of God, who is himself the Truth, took manhood without abandoning his godhead . . . As God, he is the goal; as man, he is the way.”[16]  Fourthly, there is even a hint of the spatial dimension of the tension, that is, the pilgrimage occurs within space, and not simply in an abstract, spiritual interior.  In this regard, the crucial factor is the symbol of the “city,” whether of God or of evil.[17]

Geography and the Jesus Movement

Augustine’s “hint” of the spatial dimension of Christian and human existence is an appropriate place to offer some observations on this theme.  Scholars usually stress the temporal and historical insights of the early Church, given the role of historical consciousness in messianic traditions like Judaism and Christianity, but as we recall, space cannot be separated from time, and so there will likely be reverberations between them all along the line.  The already/not yet tension has its correlate in a Christian form of here/there tension.  In becoming flesh, the Divine valorizes the space upon which flesh dwells, and makes it into a home.[18]  The Divine “dwelled among us” (Jn 1.14) and in so doing showed us a way to convert space into a dwelling of hospitality and inclusive love.  Our “here” becomes a “home,” in other words.

At the same time, Christianity accents the personal and interpersonal, through its attunement to Jesus and his new community.  This means that space is not the center.  Home is where the personal occurs, and that is potentially everywhere.  No “here” is absolute.”  The “there” of inclusive love is the key, and in the end this “there” is the transcendent reign of God, only the first fruits of which we enjoy now.  On the one hand, then, the “here” is valorized: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn 14.23).  This love is what enables space to be place and home.  On the other hand, the eschatological “there” is also prominent: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14.2)  The Christological kairos of space is its potential for becoming a place that is home.

Augustine’s master image of the “city” in his City of God indicates an attunement to space and place, for a city is a space that presumably is a home/place for society.  Naturally Augustine was intensely aware of how ambiguous our human efforts at making truly human homes are, given the plight of sin.  The quality of the city will depend upon the quality of the objects of love of its citizens.  He also seems to have been acutely aware of the “there” in the here/there tension, likely matching his acute sense of the wounded nature of our earthly homes.  “And yet we cannot keep silent about the joy of our hope . . . and it was from the bottom of a heart on fire with holy love that these words came: ‘Lord, I have loved the beauty of your house.’”[19]  The house metaphor is intriguing, as he thinks of its eschatological perfection in eternity.

Corresponding to this is Augustine’s choice of the theme of peregrinatio (pilgrimage) for the person living with the love of God within the already/not yet and here/there tension.  As Peter Brown explains this, the person on the pilgrimage of life is a “resident alien” or a “temporary resident.”[20]  If we stress the former, that of the alien, the accent falls upon the “there,” the eschatological longing for the heavenly city.  If the accent falls upon the latter, that of being a resident, albeit temporary, there is at least something more of an appreciation for the “here,” for the appropriateness of finding a shelter and home as we make our way along the pilgrimage.  Brown suggests that withdrawal from the earthly city is not an option in this perspective.  Augustine proposes “something far more difficult: … maintaining a firm and balanced perspective on the whole range of loves of which men [sic] are capable in their present state: ‘It is because of this, that the Bride of Christ, the City of God, sings in the Song of Songs: “Ordinate in me caritatem”, “Order in me my love”.’”[21]  Augustine’s pilgrim journeys with an “ordered love.”  Presumably this kind of love lovingly moves along the way.  One lesson one may draw from this is to say, with Philip Sheldrake, that the Christian impulse is to live in a tension between particular places and all places, between particularity and universality.  For the love of the heavenly city draws us beyond our narrow horizons.  Our little places and cities and countries are not the absolute; we must keep them open and inclusive, as we learn to love along the way of our pilgrimage into the reign of inclusive love.[22]

But this tension is truly a tension, and not everyone experiences its poles in the same way.  Pelikan recounts the different sensitivities of Gregory of Nyssa and Constantine’s mother, the Empress Helena, in this regard, both in the fourth century.  Nyssen was more of an apophatic mystic, stressing the transcendence of the divine Beyond and the corresponding inability to trim it into something finite.  Naturally he would be inclined to think of God as beyond space, and this sensitivity emerged after his own pilgrimage to Jerusalem, possibly in autumn of 379.  Empress Helena had visited Palestine in 326 and was credited with the discovery of the holy sepulcher as well as the true cross.  Her influence was also credited with fostering the tradition of pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  (The reader will recall Eusebius’ pointing to the building of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem as an apocalyptic sign of the end times.)  So perhaps Nyssen’s own pilgrimage is somewhat under her earlier pilgrimage’s influence.  However, he recounted how his “faith was not increased any more than it was diminished.”  Following the apophatic tradition of Eastern mysticism, according to which the Divine is “neither in place nor in time, eluding all limitation and every form of definition,” Nyssen articulates the principle that “Change of place does not effect any drawing near to God.”  Nyssen also had his critical comments to make about the object of the pilgrimage as well.  He argued that one could not believe that Jesus Christ was “living, in the body, there [in the Holy Land] at the present day,” nor, as Pelikan puts it, “that the Holy Spirit was present in abundance at Jerusalem but was unable to travel elsewhere.”[23]

Time, Geography, and the Forms of Participation in the Jesus Movement

Philip Sheldrake begins his suggestive book on the theme of space in the Christian tradition with a review of significant literature on space’s connection with such themes as place and social crisis, place and belonging and commitment, and place and conflict.[24]  Sheldrake wants to recover the significance of space as a theological category, redressing somewhat the unbalanced emphasis upon time and history in contemporary theology and philosophy.  At the same time, all of these themes connected with space have their reverberating effects upon time/history as well.  They also have their impact upon our forms of participation, for all of these latter exist within the space/time tension.  When the tension is over-tense or under-tense, we may expect corresponding responses from individuals, groups, and people in general.  For example, a healthy sense of the presence of the new community of love at work within history ought to inspire a hopeful confidence and an ethics of responsible love.  Too little a sense of that presence results in alienation; too much, in triumphalism.

The Jesus community of inclusive love by its very nature is connected with the themes of place and home and belonging.  When people have a sense of community, they are bonded through an experience of likemindedness.  They feel that they belong, and this inspires a sense of commitment to work on behalf of the community.  Where the community is becomes a home, not simply an empty space inspiring no commitments.  At the same time, this sense of community, if it be healthy, recognizes that its presence is not absolute.  Community, such as we know it now, is foretaste at best of the heavenly city toward which we journey.  We are still fragile, imperfect, and even sinners.  We have a tendency to absolutize our community structures, confusing forms of institutionalizing with the deeper reality of loving likemindedness, which is the deeper bond and creator of community.  The Christological kairos is the ever-present challenge to realize personally this inclusive love through our very personal relationship with Jesus and his advancing community of co-participants.  At the same time, given the rootedness of this community in the divine Ground, our efforts at community formation have a healthy joy to them, inspired by the confidence of a greater grace at work in and with our fragile human efforts.  This deeper source of rootedness makes us feel rooted where we are, and thus at home.  We avoid a crisis of place, in other words.  But we stay this side of smug and blind self-satisfaction, following the impulse to work for the greater realization of the new community and so to extend this home to as many as possible.

Living in this geographical and historical tension, with its christic, kairological twist, is difficult, requiring a particular form of discernment and pastoral prudence.  Already Matthew’s Jesus had counseled: “… be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (10.16), and all forms of Christian discernment are developments of this counsel.  It is the keeping of these two together that produces the tension.  Always the pressures of reality incline us toward a relaxing of these poles.  We can sense the poles at work in the writings of the New Testament.  Besides the eschatological “not yet”/“there” strains at work in the Gospels, we have the Book of Revelation, with its strong eschatological and even apocalyptic “not yet”/“there” tone.  Over against this we find the sociopolitical “already”/“here” accomodationism of parts of Paul (1 Cor 11; Philemon) and the epistles of Timothy and Titus, which take over some of the ethical traditions of the Hellenic culture, some of which are rather repressive for women and slaves (for example, 1 Tim 2; 6; Titus 2).  The challenge of the New Testament is its interfacing of all of these strains, suggesting the need for a critically discerning dialectic between both poles, as we make our journey somewhere between them.  Where the accomodationism has gone too far, the other, eschatological strain of the need to push further in the interests of the new reign needs to come to the fore.  The already/here pole needs the corrective of the not yet/there pole, and vice versa.

We can speak of “compromises” between these poles, or their capacity for mutual “absorptiveness.”  These terms, which I borrow from political philosopher Eric Voegelin, are provocatively ambiguous, suggesting something of the confusing reality of the eschatological tension.[25]  “Compromise” suggests more of the serpent’s shrewdness than of the dove’s innocence, but real life at times feels like that, or at least makes it difficult for us to render a precise judgment about the matter.  “Absorptiveness” suggests something of the ink blotter effect: taking something in and domesticating it.  What then happens to its critical edge?  Is there a way to absorb without domesticating, all the while recognizing the constant temptation?

Our suggestion has been that individuals, groups, and the larger Christian community as a whole live out this tension in varying manners, and each contributes significantly to keeping the tension healthy.  Sheldrake, for example, offers a stimulating analysis of monasticism, which is suggestive of how charismatic individuals and groups can be sources of eschatological and geographical renewal in the Christian community and beyond.  Monasticism is particularly fascinating, since it emerges in great force approximately simultaneously with the emergence of the Constantinian settlement and Christianity’s “winning” of the empire.  In this light, monasticism is something of a corrective to the Eusebian tendency to accommodate too much, by way of thinking the reign is here in its final shape in the victorious empire.  If Eusebius overstresses the already/here, monasticism moves in the other direction of the not yet/there.  The emergence of monasticism is a good example of how a swing too far in one direction has a tendency to generate its corrective from the other direction.

While all sorts of mixed motives were likely at work in the monastic movement, like most things human (desire for security, fear, desire for social prestige, simple social escapism and an overpowering alienation, among others), still the theological core of monasticism is its witness (“white martyrdom”) to the values of Jesus’ alternative community, attempting to do so with the fervor of the earlier martyrs of the Church.  In this way, the earnestness of the “red” martyrs is extended into a later ecclesial period, albeit in the changed form of the “white” martyrs.  The leading charismatic hermits or monks/nuns (like Antony, Basil, Pachomius, Benedict, Scholastica, Macrina) provided guidance and established an ordered regularity, so as to offset and perhaps neutralize the destructive effects of those darker motives just noted, while at the same time articulating a vision and practice which evoked the new Jesus community at its most earnest.

The monastics are intriguing because time and space are featured in important ways.  The movement to the edges of civilization (often the desert) symbolizes an alternative configuration of space to that offered in the urban centers.  The monastics seek to establish an image of the heavenly community, where the stranger is offered hospitality, and where each actively contributes to the kind of community-building coming from the values of the reign of God.  Humility and self-awareness were especially important in helping the nuns and monks to yearn for the “not yet.”  Benedict’s Rule can offer us a representative text:

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.  You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge.  Rid your heart of all deceit.  Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.  Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”[26]

The monk and nun live on the edge, liminally.[27]  The monastic space is not yet the fullness of the new community.  Nuns and monks are at the portal, so to speak, and have not yet fully entered.  In this way the eschatological tension remains.  Accordingly, toward the end of his rule, Benedict offers a prayer that Christ “may bring us all together to everlasting life,” and he asks the question, “Are you hastening toward your heavenly home?”[28]  At the same time these frequent references to Christ bring out the Christological kairos of the eschatological tension.

Monasticism is featured here only as a significant and continuing example of how the eschatological edge is kept alive in the Jesus movement.  Analogous forms of moving to the edges, by individuals and groups, are a constant phenomenon, it would seem, indicating something of the naturalness of this dynamic for the health of the alternative community of Jesus.  Perhaps the vast majority of people, if Pitrim Sorokin is correct, cannot literally move to the deserts, at least not in any permanent manner.  But they can do so spiritually, and even geographically on regular occasions and special pilgrimages.  Often they do so by going to the more established monastic communities in a kind of mutual enrichment of both parties.  If not, then they can, as Sorokin suggests, “select” the community of friends and influences around them in such a way that they effectively do in their own lives what the hermits, monks and nuns strive for in their own.[29]  Even the members of the more established monastic communities must do this, if they are to remain healthy, for they do not stay “fixed” in their “heroic phase,”[30] so to speak, but themselves are in need of constant renewal.

One final question: Is the eschatological impulse dangerous?  Eschatology as such, that is, a faith-grounded forecast of humanity’s ultimate orientation and destiny, insofar as that is available to us within the limits of history and the clues provided us by revelatory experiences, would seem to be a necessary dimension of Christian existence.  For example, if one accepts in faith the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, one is then committed, it would seem, to a belief in the final victory of life over the forces of death, of love’s victory over evil.  Jesus’ resurrection is a decisive clue as to the destiny of humanity as a whole.  Paul, I believe, was engaging in such an eschatological forecast in arguing that Jesus’ resurrection was the “first fruit” of the full harvest to come.

On the other hand, eschatological forecasts can always misfire, claiming more knowledge than is available.  They can also misfire when they foster destructive purposes.  For example, the eschatological forecasts found within the apocalyptic texts available to us often speak with a violent rhetoric, and sometimes with a preciseness of detail, which can carry dangerous consequences.  Apocalyptic, of course, is generally recognized to be a specific form of eschatology, one characterized by a more extreme urgency, whose likely origin is thought to be often one of experiences of social dissatisfaction and destructive alienation.  On the one hand, it is argued that apocalyptic can function in a liberative way, offering hope, galvanizing courage, and stimulating social change.  On the other hand, its violent language, it is argued, can foster an ethic of hatred along with social and political destructiveness.  For example, Johann Metz is a well known modern defender of apocalyptic’s power to challenge the kind of too gentle eschatology which blinds us to history’s non-linear brokenness and regressions, to socially and cosmically destructive powers, and to the “dangerous Jesus” with his message of hope to the suffering and oppressed.[31]   On the other hand, Eric Voegelin has written of the “blood-dripping Word of God” of Revelation 19.11-16, and he is a well known advocate against an “apocalyptic strand of violent phantasy that can degenerate into violent action in the world.”[32]  Voegelin has in mind, not only traditionally religious apocalyptic movements down through history, but also secularized mutations, especially Nazism and Communism, which, in Voegelin’s nomenclature, represent the more extreme alienation characteristic of apocalyptic’s morphing into Gnosticism.

I have juxtaposed the positions of Metz and Voegelin because there would not seem to be a simple resolution of the matter.  The New Testament, by including the book of Revelation in the canon, a book whose Greek word “apocalypse” has given its name to the apocalyptic genre[33], is indicating that there is something important about the apocalyptic experience that needs to be heeded.  In this sense, the anguish of the suffering, the sociopolitical and even cosmic factors implicated therein, and the need of the suffering to maintain hope and find a way out of their misery, insofar as that is possible in history, is given dramatic expression in apocalyptic.  On the other hand, a reading of Revelation within the context of the entire biblical canon and a later Christian participatory hermeneutic, a hermeneutic centered in Jesus’ inclusive and loving alternative community, would rather severely critique the elements of violence, dualism, vindictiveness, and unrealistic phantasy present in apocalyptic.  This might be called an eschatologizing of apocalyptic, a phrase we used earlier, as long as the deeper lessons of apocalyptic are truly integrated within our eschatology.  A related issue, but one which we will more appropriately visit in our final chapter, is whether the contemporary pluralistic horizon is challenging Christianity’s understanding of history’s openness to the future, as well as its geography, in some new ways, perhaps demanding some further differentiations of our understanding of space and time, place and history.[34]

Further Notes on the Christological Creeds and Creedal Theologians

For convenience, I have listed here the seven councils traditionally considered ecumenical, given their more or less full acceptance by East and West in the first millennium, along with a brief Christological characterization.

Nicaea I (325): Meets the Arian challenge; its creed confesses the full and complete divinity of the Logos of Jesus.  Jesus’ divinity/logos is not inferior to the divinity of God the Father.

Constantinople I (381): Meets the challenges of Apollinaris, who denies Jesus’ human intellect, and of the deniers of the Holy Spirit’s full divinity; adds a supplement on the Spirit’s fully divine activity to the Creed of Nicaea.  Henceforth the Creed will be known as the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople.

Ephesus (431): Meets the challenge of Nestorius, on whether Mary, Jesus’ Mother, can be named the “Mother of God” or Theotokos.  The Council views the Nestorian position as dangerously dividing Jesus’ humanity from his divinity.  If Mary be Jesus’ Mother, she must be in some way Mother of both divinity and humanity, or else Jesus is split into two beings.

Chalcedon (451): Adds clarifications about the distinct but not separate natures of Jesus’ divinity and humanity.  Immediate precipitating occasion is the challenge of Eutyches, who teaches a form of monophysitism.

Constantinople II (553): Issues some teachings which are generally thought to emphasize the oneness of Jesus Christ (the “hypostatic union”) more than the distinction of natures, although the latter were not simply neglected.  The emphasis on the oneness is typically thought to be more of an Alexandrine focus, rather than the focus of Antioch and the Far West (Rome).

Constantinople III (680): Issues clarifications against the denial of Jesus Christ’s two wills and operations or energies (divine and human), the heresies known respectively as monothelitism and monergism (or monoenergism).

Council of Nicaea II (787): Takes up the challenge of iconoclasm and defends the making and venerating of holy images on the basis of the incarnation.[35]

It would be foolish to say that the Christological positions explored by the fathers, mothers, theologians, and Councils from 325 to 787 exhausted all the fruitful and unfruitful possibilities, but it might be fair to say that later positions that have emerged at least “rhyme” (Mark Twain) with these earlier efforts.  For this reason it would be equally foolish to ignore this patristic and conciliar contribution.  It offers us a trustworthy map into the up to then largely unmapped territories of Jesus Christ and his movement.  Like maps of other territories, this particular map offers alternative routes that might take one to one’s destination, detours, dead ends, and indications of much lush but unmappable territory.  Much of the territory will and should remain unmapped, for it is a mystery impenetrable.  The function of the map in this case is to point us in the direction of the mystery.  And the map, naturally, indicates only roads into the territory – the roads are but a thin slice, so to speak, of a much richer reality.   So too, doctrines and theologies are a thin slice of the denser reality of the Jesus event witnessed to in the scriptural tradition and ongoing movement of Jesus’ followers.

Hopefully we have concentrated on the map’s center in our focusing upon the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople, viewing the other councils as official commentaries upon that creed.  Still, there are important clarifications to be had by a fuller consultation of all of this patristic and conciliar work, and hopefully the reader will pursue some of this via the help of the footnotes.  Here allow me to offer several important supplementary comments.

The Alexandrine Trajectory

First, one will typically encounter the distinction between the Alexandrine (Alexandrian) and the Antiochene (Antiochian) traditions of Christology.  With some cautions, this remains a helpful perspective, delimiting a special focus upon the two crucial dimensions of Jesus’ divine and human natures respectively.  Alexandria, in Egypt, may well have been dominated by early Christian gnostics throughout much of the second century.  Simonetti tells us that “Gnosticism, presented as a source of higher knowledge than that of the ordinary Christian, was taken up especially among the educated, intellectually more ambitious members of Christian society, who were also those of higher social status.”  He recalls Eusebius’ noting an episode involving the young Origen, a rich matron, and a Gnostic named Paul as an example of the likely daily contacts between Gnostic and “ordinary” Christians in those higher social circles.[36]

Origen (d. c. 254), who was among those charged with developing an alternative to the Gnostic view of Christianity, used themes within the Platonic stream of philosophy, establishing some of the major features of the Alexandrine approach to theology.  We earlier noted the use of the spiritual (allegorical) approach to Scripture as a principal feature.  Besides that, Simonetti notes the use of a “Logos-theology and trinitarian doctrine of the three hypostases, depreciation of Christ’s humanity in comparison with his divinity, dualistic Platonic anthropology, spiritualized eschatology, etc.”[37]  Origen’s use of Platonism met with opposition, to be sure, resulting in a crisis of sorts, and certainly after the problem of Arius the new leader of the Alexandrine School, Athanasius (d. 373), adhering to the Council of Nicaea, rejected any subordinationist interpretation of the Logos.

The problem here was the tendency, certainly in later developments of Platonic philosophy, to exalt the realm of the spiritual at the expense of the corporeal.  The closer to pure spirit a being is, the more perfect.  The “Logos” is typically thought to be the first, in descending order, of the emanations from the purely spiritual “One.”  Thus, the interpretation of the trinitarian hypostases within this perspective led to the view of the Son (Logos) as inferior to the One (Father), and the Spirit as even more inferior to the preceding.  The Council of Nicaea, as we saw, rejected this line of thought.  Cyril (d. 444) would be the last principal Alexandrine, and his strong emphasis upon the hegemony of the Logos in the divinity-humanity unity of Jesus “assured the unity of the theandric composition much better than the man/God bipolarity of Antiochene Christology, and met the needs of popular piety better.”[38]

It was this Cyril (of Alexandria, to be distinguished from the older Cyril of Jerusalem) whose second letter to Nestorius was received and approved at the Councils of Ephesus (431), which resulted in a condemnation of Nestorius’ thought at the time, and of Chalcedon.  Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople’s teaching on the impropriety of referring to Mary as the Theotokos (God-Bearer or Mother of God) was considered by Cyril to undercut the unity between divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus.  Cyril was uneasy with descriptions of the reality of Jesus which seemed to undercut or weaken his unity of person.  Referring to the divinity as “dwelling” in Jesus, or referring to the Logos as “assuming” humanity, eventually seemed to Cyril “to present the union in too extrinsic a form, and he preferred to speak, with John 1.14, of the Logos which became man.”  Eventually he settled on the famed formula, “one nature of the Word of God, incarnate,”[39] although he could speak of a “single hypostasis”[40] as well.  In any case, without the precautions introduced by Chalcedon, this Cyrillian formula could lead in the direction of monophysitism, which denies the duality of natures of Jesus, although Cyril did not intend this, so far as we can tell.  However, Simonetti thinks that he “was in fact the father of monophysite Christology, and it was with good reason that the monophysites went back to him as to the supreme authority.”[41]

The Antiochene Trajectory

Nestorius of Constantinople, just noted, forms a convenient bridge to our discussion of the Antiochene Christological tradition, for the patriarchate of Constantinople “had always been closely related to it.”[42]  Apparently not as organized into a school as the Alexandrine tradition, it revolved around certain leading thinkers forming a scholarly circle, namely, around such as Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, John Chrysostom, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, all active in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.  We had already noted its role in promoting a more literalist approach to Scripture, although it did grant some place to typological exegesis.  Antiochene theologians were in varying ways Nicene Christians, and so anti-Arian, but more and more they came to emphasize “the integrity of the human nature assumed by the Logos,” against what seemed like an excessive Alexandrine emphasis upon the Logos’ hegemony.  However, an Antiochene difficulty, noted above in Cyril’s dispute with Nestorius, was a tendency to exalt “the humanity so high as to consider it another person alongside the Logos, with the risk of compromising Christ’s unity.”[43]  Studer, for example, characterizes Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Christology as one which does indeed speak of Jesus, divine and human, as one prosopon, although “he sees in this prosopon the result of the union, rather than its origin.”  This might imply more of a moral rather than an ontological union, and Studer goes on to say precisely this, noting Theodore’s use of synapheia, or loving union, in witness.  The difficulty, Studer adds, is that this does not bring out the manner “in which the Word took the initiative and which will never cease.”  In Studer’s view, Nestorius’ way of writing of the prosopon is within this trajectory as well.[44]

Certainly Theodore of Mopsuestia’s intentions are of the purest sort, and he is writing without the benefit of the later theological precisions and differentiations of Chalcedon.  So, for example, he honors the divine initiative: “It seems evident, we shall say, that the indwelling should fittingly be described as taking place by good pleasure . . . [which] means that best and noblest will of God, which he exercises when he is pleased with those who are zealous to be dedicated to him, because of their excellent standing in his sight.”  Note, too, how he endeavors to articulate the uniqueness of the incarnation: “We do not say that God’s indwelling took place in Christ [as in the apostles or just persons generally] … the indwelling took place in him as in a son … [which] means that having indwelt him, he united the one assumed as a whole to himself and equipped him to share with himself in all the honor in which he, being Son by nature, participates, so as to be counted one person in virtue of the union with him …”[45]  Here we see the typical Antiochene stress upon the full integrity of the humanity (“the one assumed as a whole”), while at the same time the language leaves one unsatisfied about whether the union is ontological, for does the Word originate and ground the union, or does a “moral” union between God and humanity in Jesus bring this about, as if the moral will of Jesus’ humanity is a co-equal source?  This seems to be Studer’s concern, and it certainly was the concern of Ephesus and Chalcedon, as we have seen.

This is the heritage in which Nestorius was working, and Frances Young appropriately suggests that “he carried the can for all the faults and difficulties of the Antiochene position while actually seeking ways to resolve them.  That he was thoroughly misrepresented by his enemies cannot be doubted, though he may have asked for it by making manifestly provocative statements.”[46]  It is a matter of wonderful progress, ecumenically and theologically, that the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognized the concern of the Antiochenes to safeguard Jesus’ integral humanity, while they through their descendants, the Assyrian Church of the East, have recognized the Roman Catholic concern to safeguard the unity of divinity and humanity along Chalcedonian lines.  The recent declaration between Pope John Paul II and Patriarch K. Mardinkha even acknowledges the “legitimacy and rightness” of each tradition’s manner of speaking of Mary, namely, for the Assyrians, that the Virgin Mary is “the Mother of Christ our God and Savior,” and for the Roman Catholics, that she is “the Mother of God” and also “the Mother of Christ.”[47]  The reader will recall that Nestorius had originally argued against the appropriateness of referring to Mary as Theotokos: “Everywhere in Holy Scripture, whenever mention is made of the saving dispensation of the Lord, what is conveyed to us is the birth and suffering not of the deity but of the humanity of Christ, so that by a more exact manner of speech the holy Virgin is called Mother of Christ, not Mother of God.”[48]  His descendants have now recognized the existence of an appropriate way to use that latter title, as long as, we surmise, one does not think that God is “being born” in a literal, physical sense.  Jesus as human is born, but as he is so, his divinity is present, for the Savior is one being of divinity and humanity.  Such seems to be the Declaration’s position.

A Note on the Distinction between Logos-sarx and Logos-anthrōpos

Aloys Grillmeier proposed, “as a kind of working hypothesis,” that one might usefully distinguish between two models of Christology beginning to develop between Origen and Nicaea, namely, that of the Logos-sarx and that of the Logos-anthropos.[49]  The first views the Logos as entering into union with Jesus’ human sarx, the term sarx remaining somewhat undifferentiated.  At times it may imply both flesh and human intellect, while at others, as in the case of Apollinaris, it denies such a human intellect in Jesus Christ.  Athanasius’ Christology, for example, has been varyingly defended as teaching the full humanity and so flesh and intellect of Jesus, or as at least implying it, or even alternatively as calling it into question.  Part of the difficulty here is that sarx can take on the narrower, Hellenistic meaning of human flesh or body apart from intellect and will when it loses its connection with the holistic Hebraic anthropology present in John’s Gospel (1.14).  The Logos-anthropos model, on the other hand, more clearly differentiates the full humanity (body and human soul) of Jesus, for anthrōpos gives expression to what is fully a human being.

Grillmeier, to be sure, noted that these models only partly “coincide with the usual distinction between “Alexandrian” and “Antiochene” Christology . . .,” for “the real state of affairs . . . is far more complicated than the division between Alexandria and Antioch might suggest.”  He also notes that, from the Councils of Ephesus to Chalcedon, that is, after the period when the Church reached a consensus on the full humanity of Jesus and shifted its focus to the issue of the nature of the union between divinity and humanity in Jesus, the discussion is no longer along the lines of those two models, but shifts more to a contrast between “the classical types of “Alexandrian” (i.e. Cyrillian) and “Antiochene” Christology.”[50]

We note Grillmeier’s categories here because they have been found to be very helpful as something of a guide to an amazingly complex forest of authors and writings, and because they have been widely followed, especially by those of us who are not experts in the patristic literature and must necessarily rely upon the experts in these matters.  Still, it is good to note Grillmeier’s qualifications, something which those relying upon him may not always do.  Frances Young has contributed some helpful insights here as well.  She notes that these models “are useful up to a point . . . [for] the two sides tended to use overlapping terminology and not stick to a consistent set of terms.”   Her complementary proposal is to suggest that we frame the discussion among the Alexandrians and Antiochenes as one of, “Who was the subject of the incarnate experiences of Jesus Christ?”

For the Alexandrians the subject remained the Word, who though transcendent accommodated himself to the conditions of the human nature; for the Antiochenes, the corollary of Nicaea was that the Word could not possibly be regarded as the immediate subject of the incarnate experiences without a blasphemous denigration of his essential divinity.  Naturally this produced a dualistic Christology in which the unity of the Christ as the Word incarnate was dangerously undermined.  Neither Christological tradition was without its difficulties.[51]

I find this useful, and even compelling, because it forces us not to project our own later sensitivities back onto a thought pattern which was plausibly quite different from our own.  That is, it would seem that the overriding concern of the Church thinkers was not so much a modern fascination for matters human, like the full humanity of Jesus, but rather the august transcendence and spirituality of God.  This would seem more likely within a Hellenistic framework, with its tendency toward a spirit-matter dualism, but it would also be somewhat characteristic of at least the strain in Judaism which wants to avoid any regression into polytheism.  God remains beyond all images, and is not caught in the vortex of matter, time, or history.  This would help explain why it was so difficult to come to terms with the incarnation, for it seemed so counter-intuitive to the reigning presuppositions.

Nonetheless, attunement to the New Testament teaching and the formative Christological and salvific experiences which engendered those Scriptures eventually exercised sufficient cognitive pressure to bring about an intellectual breakthrough and a more differentiated Christology.  The demands of salvation particularly played not a small part in this.  Pope Leo expressed the compatibility between humanity and divinity in the mysterious person of Jesus in his assertion that in the incarnation what the Logos “did was to enhance humanity not diminish deity … [this] was a drawing-near in mercy not a failure in power.”[52]

Pope Leo’s insight is quite helpful.  Why, for example, would Apollinaris not think it appropriate for Jesus to possess a human intellect?  Of course, we must remember that he is writing after the declaration by Nicaea of the full divinity of Jesus’ Logos.  If we follow Leo’s suggestions, somehow Apollinaris would think that a human intellect would diminish the Logos’ godness.  Apollinaris could not deny at least the existence of Jesus’ human flesh (sarx), for at least this much was scripturally assured.  But he could interpret the incarnation along the lines we are suggesting here.  And indeed he seems to:

“Therefore, the human race is saved not by the assumption of an intellect and of a whole human being but by the assumption of flesh, whose nature it is to be ruled.  What was needed was unchangeable Intellect [i.e., that of the Logos] which did not fall under the domination of the flesh on account of its weakness of understanding but which adapted the flesh to itself without force.”[53]

The Antiochenes as well would have been troubled by any potential diminishment of the goodness of the Logos, if Young’s proposal is cogent.  Hence the tendency to keep the union between divinity and humanity in Jesus loose enough to avoid any unwarranted entrapment of the Logos within the boundaries of the human.  “This unity,” wrote Theodore of Mopsuestia, “is effected by the indwelling according to good pleasure . . . God the Word is [not] degraded to be similar to [man] in nature, but . . . by good pleasure there will be a unity with him wherever he is, since through him the Logos accomplishes everything.”[54]

A Glance at the Western and Syriac Traditions

The thought of Pope Leo, just briefly noted, alerts us to the richness of the theological horizon of the early Church, one which extends well beyond simple dualities like Alexandrine and Antiochene.  Pope Leo represents the Western tradition, which Studer characterizes, insofar as it displays a “coherence of its own,” as “between the two Eastern traditions.”  By this he means that the West shared the Antiochene concern to differentiate the two natures, and the Alexandrine concern to preserve the unity of Jesus’ person, primarily though stressing, “more than the Antiochene[s], the communicatio idiomatum.”[55]  Tertullian (d. early 3d cen.), Ambrose (d. 397), Jerome (d. 419), and Augustine (d. 430), for example, all have elements of this in their thought.[56]

Grillmeier thinks that the reception of Nicaea’s anti-Arian teaching pushed the West, like the East, toward differentiating the two natures.  Equivalently this resulted in a sensitivity to the duality of natures not unlike that of the Antiochenes.  On the other hand, an Alexandrine-like hegemony of the divinity manifested itself in teaching the “communication” of the divine attributes to the whole being of Christ, as in the “transfiguration-theology” of Hilary (d. c. 367), for example, in which any Arian subordination of the Logos to humanness is avoided.  It is the divinizing, transfiguring Word who is acting here, not an Arian, inferior deity entrapped by human weakness:

“Taking upon himself the weakness of our flesh, and remaining both his and ours, he performs, prays, professes, looks for all those things that are ours in such a way that those things which are his own are also commingled with them: at one time he speaks as a man, because he was born as a man, suffered and died as a man; at another time he speaks completely as God the Word . . .”[57]

This transfiguring and divinizing Logos is an example of the Western manner of preserving the unity of divinity and humanity, one which operates through a communication of properties.  Of course, Hilary was writing in only a descriptive way, without the benefit of the technical language of Chalcedon (namely, the one hypostasis in two natures), but we can see how his thought, although dangerously on the edge of reducing Jesus’ humanity to puppet status, is similar to the concerns of the Alexandrine tradition.  Texts from other Latins are easily available as well.[58]   In any case, by the time of the intervention of Pope Leo (d. 461) in the affair of Eutyches (d. c. 454), we find these typically Western concerns articulated, but with a better precision of terminology, given the developments from the Council of Ephesus and the soon-approaching Council of Chalcedon:

“Because of this unity of person, which must be understood to subsist in a twofold nature, we read that the Son of man came down from heaven (since the Son of God took on flesh from the Virgin of whom he was born), and conversely we say that the Son of God was crucified and buried (even though he endured these things not in that divine nature in virtue of which, as Only Begotten, he is coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, but in the weakness of his human nature).”[59]

This is about as clear an example of the Western communicating of properties as one can find, although Studer thinks that Leo “simplified too much the joint activity of the two natures.”[60]  Nonetheless, the Confession of Chalcedon basically cited Pope Leo on the matter: “the difference of the natures is not destroyed because of the union, but on the contrary, the character of each nature is preserved and comes together in one person and one hypostasis.”[61]

The Western Christological tradition, at least up to Augustine, seems to have moved in a somewhat parallel fashion to the central Eastern traditions of Antioch and Alexandria.  Parallel does not mean identical, but there was a striking similarity of concerns.  Perhaps “the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Empire,” at least up to Augustine, had much to do with this.  “The principal Western theologians, Hilary, Ambrose, and Jerome, formed part of a spiritual elite which moved at ease in Greek culture.”  Ambrose apprenticed under Origen, while “Jerome and Rufinus opened the West to Greek exegesis and theology.”  As Adalbet Hamman, whom we are following here, put it: “The East remained not only the cradle but also the womb from which proceeded the thought and spirituality that fecundated the West.”  However, he also notes “a rupture between the third and fourth centuries at the moment when Latin began to assert itself in pastoral and liturgical life.”[62]

The reader may be interested to note that the hinterland of Antioch, at least until the late fifth century beginnings of Hellenization, produced a Syriac tradition of spirituality and theology which was strongly Jewish in its exegetical and liturgical traditions, even while unfortunately anti-Judaic to some extent, the Syriac language being described “as a language very close to the dialect used by Jesus of Nazareth to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God.”[63]  This tradition memorably expressed itself through poetry/hymnody and symbolism, and manifested a strongly apophatic style of theology.  So, while the West might be characterized as greatly influenced by Hellenistic thought in its formative period, only more or less developing its distinctiveness from Augustine’s time onwards, the Antiochene outlier was more distinctive in its formative period, joining the mainstream in its later period.

Ephrem the Syrian (d. c. 373) will have to serve us as our representative of this Syriac Christology.  His attraction to the genre of hymns is suggestive of one of the themes of our book, namely the rootedness of theology in the engendering revelatory experience.  Theophanic experiences have a depth to them, which only the language of symbolism seems to keep one attuned to.  Perhaps one of the central contributions we can take from Ephrem’s hymnic Christology is the sense of the wholeness of the theophanic engendering experience, with its freshness and vitality and depth.  Particularly in the midst of all the rather heavy speculation on the natures and oneness of being of Jesus, as that was pursued in the Christological debates we have just surveyed, one needs to keep one’s rootedness in the larger matrix.  For no preciseness of thought will ever eradicate the depths of the mystery under consideration.  At some point, theological preciseness needs to move toward both silence and song.

We can concentrate on the “harp” hymn from the Hymns on Virginity, for here we come upon a strophe which beautifully illustrates the centrality of the incarnation in Ephrem’s thought, but within the wider context of the engendering experience of revelation.

The Word of the Most High came down and put on

A weak body with hands,

and He took two harps

in His right and left hands.

The third He set up before Himself

to be a witness to the [other] two,

for the middle harp taught

that their Lord is playing them.

The Word of the Most High is the fully divine Logos, for Ephrem and his tradition had received the teaching of Nicaea.  The two harps held by each hand are the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, while the third is the cosmos itself, the world of nature.  Thus we have the revelatory experiences of nature, and of the Jewish and Christian traditions.  Intriguingly the harp of the cosmos occupies the middle, and according to the next strophe, this “third harp was harmonious and completed the [other] two.”  It is the incarnate Word who “is playing them” and so bringing out the harmony between them.  There is something of an anti-gnostic and anti-Marcion background here; anti-gnostic, in that the Word takes on our body, albeit a weakened one, evoking the Word’s solidarity with a sinful and broken world; anti-Marcion, given the harmony between the Scriptures, which Marcion denied.  In the second strophe, writing of the Word’s raising of Lazarus, Ephrem satirically writes that Jesus’ Father, whom Marcion (like a Gnostic) considers an “Alien” in this world, is really “like the Creator” of the cosmos and not alien to it.  Scripture and cosmos come alive and reveal their harmony only when “played” by Jesus.  The symbol of playing evokes the engendering experience of revelation, the participatory dimension, in the context of historical (the Scriptures) and cosmic experience in its wholeness.

What is it about the middle harp, the cosmos, which “taught that their Lord is playing them” (the harps)?  Ephrem writes, we recall, that “that third harp was harmonious.”  Ephrem is suggesting that the harmonic wholeness of the cosmos witnesses to the harmony of the Scriptures, and that the Word’s playing each brings this out.  One thinks of the Word of the prologue of the Gospel of John, in which the Word through whom everything came into being became flesh (Jn 1.3).  This creative Word is also the incarnate Word witnessed to in Scripture.[64]

Ephrem is writing before the metaphysical subtleties from Ephesus to Chalcedon and later have emerged.  One wonders if his statement that “the Wise One Who allied and joined divinity and humanity . . . mingled the natures like pigments, and an image came into being: the God-man,” would have found a warm reception in the atmosphere of the dogmatic polemics surrounding Chalcedon, when the language of “mingling” might lend itself to a monophysite reading.[65]  If not, one might draw the conclusion, correctly, in my view, that theological and doctrinal developments have become dangerously detached from the engendering experiences of revelation, to the detriment of each.

The Hypostatic Union

We recall that Cyril of Alexandria had written of a hypostatic union (henosis kath’ hypostasin[66]), and that the Chalcedonian confession had received this line of thought and expression, but with its own qualifications.  Objections against what some regarded as ambiguities in the Chalcedonian formula, as well as pressures from the monophysite wing in the Church after Persia’s occupation of Syria and Egypt, combined to cause a focus to be brought even more on this issue of the nature of the union of divinity and humanity in the incarnate Word.  To avoid stirring up needless animosity against a now Persian-controlled territory, it was deemed helpful by the Roman Emperor and Constantinople’s Patriarch to seek as much agreement with the monophysites as possible.  Rome, as well, was brought into the issue.  Inevitably, then, Cyril of Alexandria’s theology of the hypostatic union, influential among the monophysites, regained prominence.  At the same time, as Studer suggests, there was a multi-layered “inner dynamic” at work, having to do with the unity of Christ, which in turn reflected the trinitarian dynamic of Father and Son, as well as the “vivid longing for an inner union with God, which had always rendered Alexandrine theology so attractive, and to which all monophysite tendencies, on their part, owed their whole vigour.”[67]

The exploration of the wills and operations of Christ, affirmed at the Third Council of Constantinople (680), reflects this concern over the nature of the unity of Christ.  It is not the kind of unity that obliterates either nature, the Council taught, but at the same time the human will was said “to be subject to the divine will, according to the all-wise Athanasius.”  Monophysitism was avoided, but one can see the more Alexandrine-like stress on the hegemony of the Logos as well as its divinizing of the humanity: “ensouled flesh, though divinized . . . remained in its own law and principle, so also his human will . . ..”[68]  However, Studer thinks that the “main concern [of Maximus the Confessor, d. 662], that of the autonomy of the human will, was . . . taken too little into account.”[69]

Although the concern for union with God, Studer’s final issue of concerns within the multi-layered inner dynamic at work, permeated all of the early Church’s Christological labors, for it is the issue of how salvation and Christology are interlocked, still one might say that the Second Council of Nicaea (787) brings this concern to a concentrated focus in its grappling with the question of icons. Arcane though it may seem, the veneration of icons touches on the question of our very human and embodied contact with the divine Ground.  “. . . that the incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth as real and not merely phantastic,” teaches Nicaea II, the pious use of images is warranted.[70]  John of Damascus (d. c. 750) succinctly put the Christological argument forward: “I do not worship matter; I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in matter; who worked out my salvation in matter.”[71]

The Second Council of Constantinople (553) might fairly represent the trinitarian aspect of the inner dynamic at work, and perhaps that dynamic’s deepest presupposition.  One can plausibly sense the Cyrillian influence in this Council’s declarations, even while it recognized the authoritative view of Chalcedon, with its balanced appreciation of the duality, divine and human, of Jesus the Christ.  Canon four, for example, is pertinent, reflecting Cyril’s influence: “If anyone . . . does not confess that the union of God the Word with flesh ensouled with a reasonable and intellectual soul took place by composition, that is, by hypostasis, as the holy Fathers taught – and because of this his hypostasis [is] one, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, one of the Holy Trinity – let him be anathema.”[72]  Despite some obscurity in the text, this has generally been taken as meaning that the hypostasis of the incarnate Jesus Christ is the one trinitarian hypostasis of the divine Word.  The human nature, as such, does not possess a human hypostasis, or human concrete, individuating principle, but rather the concretely individuating principle or foundational cause is that of the triune Logos itself.  In this way, the Jesus event is linked with the Trinity, namely, it is the hypostasis of the Son who becomes incarnate.  The Jesus event is also, while an incarnate happening in history through a human being among other humans beings, differentiated from other human beings, namely, this human’s hypostasis in this one instance is that of the triune Son, not that of an ordinary human being.[73]

We should also note the language of enhypostasis or anhypostasis used among the theologians.  Associated, but with somewhat different nuances, with the thought of both Leontius of Byzantium (d. c. 543) and Leontius of Jerusalem (6th cen.), this has generally been taken to mean: Jesus’ hypostasis or concretely individuating principle is that of the divine Logos “in” which the human nature exists (= enhypostasis); or conversely, the human nature is “without” its own human hypostasis (= anhypostasis).  Much has been made of the en (in) in the word enhypostasis, as offering something of a crucial clarification of Chalcedon, but the word enhypostasis may be just another way of saying hypostasis.  If so, it is not the term itself which is particularly significant, but the overall context of discussion forming the background and afterground of Constantinople II, as well as the canons, such as canon four cited above.[74]

To sum up, it would seem that Constantinople II is teaching that Jesus Christ is one being or “person,”[75] that that one “person” is constituted by the hypostasis or grounding reality of the triune Son, and that this reality is a uniquely unrepeatable reality differentiating Jesus’ humanity from all other humans.  At the same time, if we view this Council as a commentary on the creed of Nicaea and Constantinople and on Chalcedon’s decree, then it would simultaneously be maintaining the integral humanity of Jesus, namely, its “being like us in every respect apart from sin” (Chalcedon).  If we take our bearings from a later authoritative commentator in the East, namely John Damascene (d. c. 750), we find that he views Jesus’ humanity as a fully particularized, individuated one:

And the Person of the Word which formerly had been simple was made composite.  Moreover, it was a composite from two perfect natures, divinity and humanity.  And it had that characteristic and distinctive property of sonship by which God the Word is distinct from the Father and the Spirit, and also had those characteristic and distinctive properties of the flesh by which He is distinct both from His Mother and from the rest of men.  It further had those properties of the divine nature in which He is one with the Father and the Spirit, and also had those features of human nature in which He is one with His Mother and with us.  Moreover, He differs from the Father and the Spirit and from His Mother and us in yet another way, by His being at once both God and man.  For this we recognize as a most peculiar property of the Person of Christ.[76]

In other words, the “lack” of a human hypostasis is not really a lack at all, for whatever else the hypostasis of the incarnate Word means, it does not mean (or it was not taken to mean by John Damascene, for example) that Jesus’ humanity is somehow without any of the features constituting a full human being, extending unto integral individuation and union with all creatures.  When all is said and done, it would seem that the conciliar teaching is striving to protect, in the manner of all good doctrine, the integrity of the reality of Jesus Christ, a reality which is constituted as a unity of being (hypostasis), differentiated into the duality of both complete divinity and complete humanity, a unity which is constituted uniquely by the unique Son of the triune God, in such a way that it is that unique Son who meets us in the incarnation.  Unity of the most profound, ontological kind; differentiated presence of full divinity and humanity; and the uniqueness of the incarnation as the presence of the unique triune Word  – these are the three dimensions being protected by the doctrine.  But the language takes it bearings from the engendering experience of the revelatory event of Jesus, and the more technical the language becomes, the more it needs to maintain its rooting in that deeper revelatory matrix, recognizing that the terms only point to a mystery that in many ways is beyond precise telling.


The seemingly arcane debates over the nature of the hypostatic union were, at their theological best, driven by a concern to safeguard creation’s salvation. Just as the New Testament never separates Jesus from his new community of inclusive love, so the formative period of the Church’s Christological “settlement” at its best returned time and again to the guiding role of a concern to protect creation’s integral salvation.  Symbolic of this, we noted, was the placing of the soteriological motif within the center of the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople, as well as within the center of the decree of Chalcedon.  This was also connected with the further clarification of the saving work of the Holy Spirit, completed in an adequate way by Constantinople I, for it is by the Spirit that humanity and creation as a whole is enabled to participate in the saving work of Jesus the Christ.

The early Church came to the view that hypostatic union and Holy Spirit need to be contemplated together.  The profound depths of the union between humanity/creation and God are protected by the doctrine of the hypostatic union.  That union’s dynamism, unleashed and rendered maximally participable through the Holy Spirit, is protected by the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  Through a bit of historical hindsight, we can predict two likely consequences, were these teachings not to be thought in mutual relation.  Were one to sever that union from the Spirit, then the union would tend to become an abstruse consideration of an isolated human Jesus’ “unity of being” with the Logos.  Were one to sever the Spirit from that union, then the inclusive community of love would tend to become an autonomous community separated from the triune God, while the Spirit would tend to become reduced to the vague “spirit” animating human individuals and the human community.[77]  Such are two of the results of severing doctrines from their engendering, revelatory matrix.  Hence, we spent our time, in the central body of our third chapter, on representative engendering experiences (friendship, martyrdom, mysticism) which guide us to this richer, experiential manifold in which dimensions are found always interrelated.

It might be fair to say, however, that among the Church writers and theologians the concern for salvation was increasingly more or less backgrounded, while the exploration of the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ was increasingly more or less foregrounded.  The trinitarian and especially pneumatological dimensions of Christology and soteriology were also increasingly backgrounded, at least in the West, except perhaps among some of the mystical writers.  History never seems fully “balanced”!  If you will, perhaps we can say that salvation’s nature remained relatively more compact, while that of Christology grew more differentiated.  But therein lies a danger, for the temptation of increasing differentiation and focus is to lose sight of the larger matrix of the whole.  There is a standard view among scholars that just this happened in an increasing way among the theologians and official Church teachings up until our contemporary reattunement to the mystery of salvation and Trinity in the context of the increasing need for harmony and love (= the Trinity) in a world devastated by so many horrors and atrocities (= the need for salvation).  We will return to some of this in our final chapter.  For now, let us, unfortunately too briefly, note some central contributions to the theme of salvation in the period of the early Church’s Christological settlement.

Because the material is so thick, we can conveniently focus our attention upon the diagnostic and therapeutic dimensions of salvation.  Diagnosis has to do with assessing the problematic side of human and creaturely existence, that is, what it is that is in need of salvation.  Therapy has to do with the proposed remedy for the assessed affliction.  At the same time, it is impossible to arrive at diagnosis apart from some preliminary understanding of the therapy, for one’s view of what maintains health determines, in the end, what manifests the symptoms of disease.  Given the logic of this interplay between diagnosis and therapy, it would seem prudent to keep both dimensions in view as we proceed.[78]

This is the natural practice of the New Testament as well, namely, cross and resurrection, or repentance and believing in the reign of God, are major themes pointing to our dialectic.  Cross and repentance evoke the regions of sickness, evil, sin, and the demonic which either bring about our crucified suffering or cause our need for repentant conversion.  Resurrection and the reign of God evoke the therapeutic life and wholeness freed from the former and alone able to free us from the former.  The New Testament, building on the Hebrew Testament, utilizes a number of images or symbols to evoke these two dimensions, besides the ones we have just mentioned.  Sometimes the images express one or the other of the poles of diagnosis or therapy; sometimes, one symbol or image evokes both poles simultaneously, but perhaps with slight differences of emphasis.  For example, “salvation” implies what is in need of healing, but stresses the remedy (Mt 9.21); “reconciliation” (Col 1.20) implies rupture (the diagnosis side), but stresses oneness (the therapy side); “redemption”[79] (Rom 3.24) implies bondage (diagnosis) but stresses freedom (therapy); “sacrifice” (Heb 10.12) stresses the suffering caused by evil and sin (diagnosis), but implies the love of the one willing to suffer on another’s behalf; “union” (Jn 17.21) evokes the experience of love (therapy); “light” (Jn 1.9), that of therapeutic luminosity; “darkness” (Jn 1.5), that of the lostness which blinds (diagnosis), etc.  It seems important to stress the symbolic nature of these images.  These symbols, as well as their contextualization within the narratives and letters of the Bible, seek to place us within the dense and rich engendering experiences of revelation and salvation, reminding us that later attempts to theorize these matters, helpful as they may be, are always highlighting relatively thin strips of a much thicker phenomenon.

We might hazard the suggestion that, in their era, the Church fathers and mothers were increasingly drawn toward a greater differentiation of the depths of intimacy and union made possible by the incarnation.  To be sure, this intimacy is already a biblical datum, but coming to appreciate its depths and ramifications, especially under the pressure of various contrary positions and heresies, was a slowly emerging reality.  In some ways, it was counter-intuitive.  The long Jewish and Hellenistic movements away from polytheism favored the stress upon divine transcendence rather than immanence.  The struggles with  Gnosticism, docetism, Arianism, Apollinarianism, monothelitism and monenergism can be seen as caused by this trend toward the transcendent pole of the divine Ground.  The danger to be feared was, of course, that of a regression to polytheism, or various forms of reduction of the divine Ground to immanence.  Nonetheless, the irruption of the incarnation pushed reflection toward an appreciation for the movement of divine “descent” and identification with humanity and cosmos.  Somehow divine transcendence and divine immanence are not contraries, but need to be thought together, just as they were experienced together in the early, formative, Christian theophanic experiences.  The divine intimacy, becoming luminous in its profound depths in Christian experience, is, if you will, the divine therapy in the light of which one might come to a more differentiated diagnosis of what sickens humans and cosmos.

Gregory of Nyssa (4th cen.) evokes this divine intimacy in his flame image:

“It belongs to the nature of fire to shoot upwards; and no one would think it wonderful for a flame to act naturally.  But if he saw a flame with a downward motion like that of heavy bodies, he would take it for a marvel, wondering how it could remain a flame and yet contravene its nature by its downward motion.  So it is with the incarnation . . . We marvel at the way the sublime entered a state of lowliness and, while actually seen in it, did not leave the heights.  We marvel at the way the Godhead was entwined in human nature and, while becoming man, did not cease to be God.”[80]

In a way, the Jewish and Hellenistic movement toward the differentiation of the divine transcendence is expressed by the fire shooting upwards.  This is not left behind, but it is complexified now, by the complementary stress upon the divine descent in intimacy, the “flame with a downward motion.”  To be sure, there are expressions of this in the Hebrew and Greek traditions, but it breaks into a triumphant song in the formative Christian experiences.

Nyssen moves from image (primary theology) to noetic differentiation (secondary theology) when he explains that the “reason, moreover, that God, when he revealed himself, united himself with our mortal nature was to deify humanity by this close relation with Deity.”  This deification can also be described as love: “If, then, the love of man [sic] is a proper mark of the divine nature, here is the explanation you are looking for, here is the reason for God’s presence among men [sic].”  Nyssen is deeply attuned to the Christological foundations of this, when he explains that, “by [Christ’s] intimate union with humanity, he shared all the marks of our nature.”  He is also attuned to the trinitarian and especially the pneumatological foundations as well: “. . . God has a Spirit, which accompanies his Word and manifests his activity . . . a power really existing by itself and in its own special subsistence . . . not able to be separated from God in whom it exists, or from God’s Word which it accompanies.”[81]

In the light of this therapy of deification by love in the Spirit, Nyssen is able to diagnose something of the depths of our human predicament.  This is a contrast experience: by knowing love’s intimacy in deification, we are able to diagnose its contrary.  That contrary “something” is that from which we need to be liberated.  Apparently the depths of intimacy now expressed in the incarnation extend to “all our characteristics.”  Why is this, if not that God’s “cleansing power had to penetrate [our human life] entirely . . . [for that life was] from beginning to end and throughout stained with sin”?  Gregory heaps one contrast upon another: people trapped in darkness need light; prisoners need a ransom; slaves seek freedom.  “He who had ceased to participate in the good needed someone to bring him back to it.”[82]  The nature of sin and evil, to be sure, remain only dimly differentiated here, but Nyssen is suggesting that they are constituted by the inability to participate in varying ways in the divine Ground.  The depths of intimacy from God’s side provide us with the standard in the light of which we may grasp the depths of evil and sin, that is, what it means to lack participation in God.

I am simplifying the matter, however.  Nyssen is a person deeply informed by more than the Christian revelatory experiences.  He is steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures, and he is deeply formed in the Platonic tradition of participation in the true, good, and beautiful.  All of these, to be sure, also provide significant elements of insight into the divine intimacy.  They also provide insight into the depths of evil and sin, that is, what happens when participation in the divine intimacy is defective.[83]  We must imagine a complex mutual feedback between the Christian experiences and all of these sources as providing Nyssen’s insights into the nature of salvation, in both its diagnostic and therapeutic dimensions.

We have chosen Nyssen as our representative example, because his work is truly representative of the contribution of the period of the fathers and mothers, East and West.  It draws on the sources they drew upon in varying ways.  It reflects the guidance of the creedal tradition, as that took shape in the Christological and trinitarian struggles.  It also uses the major symbols employed in the tradition to express the mystery of salvation in an adequately equivalent manner.  Notice how Nyssen, in evoking the therapeutic side of salvation, has mentioned union (between God and humanity), deification[84], love, participation (in God), light, and freedom; in his diagnosis of our malady, he has mentioned darkness, slavery, and ransom, along with evil and sin.  Each of these salvation symbols evokes a rich tradition of insight on these matters, extending back through the fathers and mothers into the biblical and classical traditions.  Nyssen, we should note, also employs the symbols of the cross and resurrection in an attractive way.  The resurrection is a life-giving power, overcoming our bodily corruption and death, and through it the cross takes on a mystical meaning.  Its shape into the four parts, expressive of the four dimensions of the cosmos, converging in the middle, symbolizes the union of all through the risen Jesus:  “Now He who was extended upon it . . . in his death is the one who binds all things to himself and makes them one . . . [bringing] existing things into one accord and harmony.”[85]   If you will, the descent of the intimate love of God in Jesus fans out, becoming the bond of love uniting all creation.  This is expressive of the inclusive community of love preached by Jesus.

As is well known, Eastern Christianity seems to have preserved more of the plurality of soteriologies noted here, while the West moved in the direction of emphasizing soteriologies of ransom, sacrifice, satisfaction to God for humanity’s sin, and Jesus’ becoming a victim for our sins and substitutionally taking on our sins in some nonculpable manner, so that we could be freed from their effects.[86]  In one way or another, the western focus seemed to be upon sin, our bondage to it, and the need for a Savior to enter into our plight and break us free.  Anselm’s medieval satisfaction theory has become something of the signature example of this western focus.  Only a payment or ransom which would be adequate to an offense against God would be able to bring adequate satisfaction, but who other than God could do that?  But only a human being ought to render the satisfaction, for only humans are in God’s debt.  The God-man unity of the incarnation combines the two seemingly irreconcilable poles: adequate satisfaction, but through a human being.  That is why God became man.

Numerous factors no doubt played important roles in this western tendency: the medieval penitential system, notions of feudal law and order, the difficult conditions of the rugged western Church with its need for order and discipline, a legitimate insight into the serious disorder of sin and its costly overcoming, the influence of Augustine’s teaching on original sin, combined with an equally legitimate insight into the role of God’s grace in our salvation.  Substitutionary approaches to the atonement are especially representative of the Reformation struggles regarding the primacy of grace over our sinful human condition.  But at the same time, even with the important qualification given by Anselm that “[he does] not deny that God is merciful,” still the love of God seems to rest rather uneasily with the divine justice in these western soteriologies.[87]  It is not accidental that Abelard’s love soteriology also emerged, as something of a corrective balance.[88]  At the same time, the Eastern tradition of deification and union could be found among some of the western mystic authors and theologians, and these, too, were balancing correctives.[89]

This will have to do for now.  To be sure, our modern and postmodern contexts raise numerous questions about salvation, extending even to whether we are in need of it at all, or if we are, whether it is really available. These questions ricochet back upon the legacy we have been considering.  At the same time, a hermeneutics of suspicion has developed, arguing that we need to attend to the violence present in and perhaps fostered by such symbols as ransom and cross.  But we can conveniently return to these concerns in our concluding chapter.



[1] Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, 3.33 (A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2d ser. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969], 1:529).  The reference may be to Rev 21.2: “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God …” (idem, n.1).

[2] Glenn F. Chesnut, “Eusebius of Caesarea,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:675.

[3] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.30.3 (ANF, 1:559).  “666” is the number of the apocalyptic beast in Revelation 13.18.

[4] Augustine, Sermon 113.8, as rendered by Paula Fredriksen, “Apocalypticism,” in Augustine through the Ages, ed. Fitzgerald, 51.

[5] Fredriksen, “Apocalypticism,” 50, 51.

[6] Origen, On Prayer, 25.1 (trans. John Ernest Leonard Oulton, Library of Christian Classics, vol. 2 [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954], 289); Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-century Church (Atlanta: John Knox, 1983), 162.

[7] See Trigg, Origen, 212-13.

[8] G. Filoramo, “Eschatology,” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. Di Berardino, 1:286.

[9] Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 1: 124: “Irenaeus, with his reverence for ‘apostolic tradition,’ described in glowing terms the transformation of the cosmos and the animals during the millennium; as his authority he cited Papias, who was a man of hoary antiquity, had heard the apostle John (writer of the Book of Revelation), and had been associated with Polycarp.”  See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.33.4.

[10] Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 81, 80 (ANF, 1:240, 239); see Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 1:125.

[11] Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 1:126-27.

[12] Ibid., 126, referring to Const. App., 7.26.5 and Didache 10.6.

[13] A pure doctrine of the last things would be the notion that the eschaton simply happens later, without much regard for how it qualifies our present existence now, personally, collectively, and even cosmically.  In fact, the view likely did not exist in such purity.

[14] Augustine, City of God, 18.53; 20.9 (Knowles, ed., 914-15).  The references are to Acts 1.6-7 and to the parable of the wheat and the tares in Mt 13.24-43.

[15] Ibid., 11.1; 12.1; 15.1, etc. (Knowles, ed., 429-31, 471, 595).  John von Heyking, Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World, Eric Voegelin Institute Series in Political Philosophy (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001), is suggestive on the interplay between the heavenly and the earthly cities, and offers a stimulating defense of Augustine’s qualified endorsement of political action in a Christian epoch.  Voegelin, in my view, seems rather to think that Augustine basically or at least largely ignored the poltical realm, given his attention to and absorption in the transcendental inrush of Christian revelation.  See, for example, among others, Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, 335, or The New Science of Politics, 184.  Voegelin uses the phrase saeculum senescens (“an age that grows old,” ibid.) as characteristic of Augustine’s relative lack of interest in the world and politics.  This precise phrase may be an inversion of  Alois Dempf’s senescens saeculum  in his Sacrum Imperium: Geschichts- und Staatsphilosophie die Mittelalters und der Politischen Renaissance (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1962), 119, 129.  I have not been able to find the exact phrase in Augustine’s works, as of yet.

[16] Augustine, City of God, 11.2 (Knowles, ed., 430-31).

[17] Ibid., 11.1, for Psalms 87.3; 48.1,2,8; 46.4 (for the city of God) (Knowles, ed., 429).

[18] The early Christian debate with Hellenism over the resurrection of the body, as against simply the soul’s immortality, to some extent based upon a somewhat narrow view of the range of Plato’s thought, is a related discussion over the incarnation’s valorization of space, for our bodies are our link with space.

[19] Augustine, City of God, 22.21 (ed. Knowles, 1064).

[20] See Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 323-24; see 323-29.

[21] Ibid., 325, referring to Cant 2.4, and rendering City of God, 15.22.

[22] Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 46, 64, 115-18.

[23] Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture, 112-13, rendering Gregory of Nyssa, Ep. 2.7-15, and Orationes de beatitudinibus, 3, along with Socrates, Historia ecclesiastica, 1.17.  Also see Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 49.

[24] See Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 1-32.  I have been influenced in this section by Sheldrake’s stimulating suggestions.

[25] For “compromise,” see Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, vol. 1, Hellenism, Rome, and Early Christianity, Collected Works, vol. 19, ed. Athanasios Moulakis (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 169-72, writing of “the compromises of Paul” (with history, with human weakness in the Christian community, with the need for ethical guidance, with the need to confront social problems like slavery, with the need to recognize governmental authority).  For “absorptiveness,” see Eric Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, vol. 4, Renaissance and Reformation, Collected Works, vol. 22, ed. David L. Morse and William M. Thompson (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 136-43, with some further comments on Paul’s compromises.

[26] The Rule of St. Benedict in English, 4.20-28, ed. Timothy Fry (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1982), 27.

[27] See Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, 90-118, for this and other themes, with pertinent texts from the primary sources.

[28] The Rule of St. Benedict in English, 72.12; 73.8.

[29] Sorokin, The Ways and Power of Love, 251-54.

[30] Sorokin’s phrase, ibid., 232-54, esp. 247, 249, 253.

[31] Metz, A Passion for God, 47-49.  See Martinez, Confronting the Mystery of God, 68, 74, 202.  Bernard McGinn, trans. and ed., Apocalyptic Spirituality, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist, 1979), esp. 1-16, notes the double-edged nature of apocalyptic, but seems more inclined to retrieve its potentially positive aspects.  My view of eschatology as a forecast is influenced by Karl Rahner, “The Hermeneutics of Eschatological Assertions,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 4, trans. Kevin Smyth (Baltimore: Helicon, 1966), 323-54.

[32] Voegelin, “The Gospel and Culture,” 206, 205; cf. his In Search of Order, 47-48, where he distinguishes between “metastatic speculations” which look for a transfiguration of pragmatic history through the “magic phantasy” of an “act of faith”; the “apocalyptic” type of speculation, following upon the failure of the metastatic, “which expects disorder of catastrophic magnitude to be ended by divine intervention”; and the “gnostic type,” representing the most extreme form of world-alienation, in which creation is considered “a mistake to begin with and the end of the Gnostic story will bring it to its End.”  Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), is along Voegelinian lines.

[33] Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, 774; cf. 774-80, for his analysis of the apocalyptic genre.

[34] We will take up this issue in chapter four (supplemental “for further study”) by dialoguing with Eric Voegelin’s notion of historiogenesis.

[35] One can conveniently find the decrees of these councils in both their original languages and in English translation in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 2 vols., ed. Norman P. Tanner, various trans. (New York: Sheed and Ward; Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 1:1-156.

[36] M. Simonetti, “Alexandria,” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. Di Berardino, 1:23, referring to Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.2.13-14.  Unless otherwise noted, our description of Alexandrine theology follows Simonetti, 22-23.

[37] Ibid., 23.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Cyril of Alexandria, Ep. 46 [ad Succensum 1] (mian phusin tou theou logou sesarkōmenēn) (The Later Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Cyril of Jerusalem to St. Leo the Great, ed. and trans. Henry Bettenson [New York: Oxford University Press, 1970], 262) .  Cf. M. Simonetti, “Cyril of Alexandria,” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. Di Berardino, 1:215.

[40] “The Third Letter of Cyril to Nestorius” (Christology of the Later Fathers, ed. Hardy, 352).

[41] Simonetti, “Cyril of Alexandria,” 215.

[42] Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 200.

[43] M. Simonetti, “Antioch, V. School,” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. Di Berardino, 1:50.  We are largely following Simonetti’s characterization here.

[44] Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 201-2, citing esp. Theodore’s Catechetical Homilies, 6.3 (see 201, nn. 14 and 15).

[45] Theodore of Mopsuestia, On the Incarnation, 7 (The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 115, 116-17; the term “person” here is prosopon; see The Later Christian Fathers, ed. and trans. Bettenson, 168).

[46] Frances Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and its Background (Philadelphia; Fortress, 1983), 239.

[47] “Declaration between Catholic Church and Assyrian Church of the East (Nov. 11, 1994),” in The Pope Speaks 40 (1995): 115; see 114-16.

[48] “Nestorius’ Second Letter to Cyril” (The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 137).

[49] Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, 2 vols. (vol. 1, 2d ed.; vol. 2, in two parts), trans. John Bowden, Pauline Allen, and John Cawte, vol. 2/part two with Theresia Hainthaler (Atlanta: Westminster John Knox, 1975-1995), 1:218.

[50] Ibid., 1:445-446.

[51] Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon, 180.

[52] “Pope Leo I’s Letter to Flavian of Constantinople,” 3 (The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 148).

[53] Apollinaris of Laodicea, “Fragments,” 76 (The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 109).

[54] Theodore of Mopsuestia, On the Incarnation,7 (The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 118-19).

[55] Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 207.  The communicatio idiomatum, as it eventually was clarified, is the teaching that, “because of the hypostatic union the properties of both natures can and must be predicated of the one person Jesus Christ” (Rahner and Vorgrimler, Theological Dictionary, 90).  For example, ibid., when one says “The Word of God was crucified,” the “was crucified” is a property of the human nature which is predicated, not of the divine nature, but of the hypostatic person of the Word, who grounds the union of divinity and humanity in Jesus.  The unity in the unity in duality of the incarnation makes this communication possible. For more on this, see William Thompson-Uberuaga, “Jesus’ Self-Consciousness,” America 197 (Sept. 17, 2007): 17-18; John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Washington: Corpus Books, 1969), 127-31, and his Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (New York: Fordham University Press, 1979), 154-57; and John Anthony McGuckin,  The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), “Communion of Proprerties (Communion of Idioms),” 70-71.

[56] See Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, 1: 122 (Tertullian), 392-413, 464-67.

[57] Hilary, Tract. In Ps. 54 (PL 9, 348B; CSEL 22, 147-48), as rendered by Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, 1:400; see 1:397, for “transfiguration-theology.”

[58] See Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, 1:397, 400, and esp. the pages noted in n. 56 above, for all of this.

[59] “Pope Leo I’s Letter to Flavian of Constantinople,” 5 (The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 151).

[60] Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 210.

[61] “The Council of Chalcedon’s ‘Definition of Faith’” (The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 159; see 148 for Leo’s “Tome” or Letter to Flavian).

[62] Adalbert Hamman, “The Turnabout of the Fourth Century,” in Patrology, 4 vols. (vols. 1-3 by Johannes Quasten; vol. 4, ed. Angelo di Berardino, trans. Placid Solari) (Utrecht: Spectrum/Westminster: Christian Classics, 1950-1994), 4:5-6.  Symbolic of the growing rupture between East and West was the western addition of the filioque to the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople; see Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, 3:53-54, 199-214.

[63] F. Rilliet, “Syriac,” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. Di Berardino, 2:809; see 809-11, for much of the material in this paragraph.  Ephrem and Aphraates (d. c. 345) are the two central writers.  By outliers, we mean the old Antioch of the further East, like ancient Persia, or modern day Syria, Iraq, and parts of southeast Turkey.  See Trigg, Biblical Interpretation, 36.

[64] Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, Classics of Western Spirituality, ed. and trans. Kathleen E. McVey (New York: Paulist, 1989), 390-391, for portions of the harp hymn (Hymn 29, Hymns on Virginity) cited; see 9, 43.  McVey’s introduction, 3-48, is quite substantial and has oriented my interpretation.

[65] Ephrem, Hymn 8 (Hymns on the Nativity), ibid., 32.

[66] For example, the “Second Letter to Nestorius,” 2.10 (The Later Christian Fathers, Bettenson, ed., 254 n. 1); see Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 205, 226-27.

[67] Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 229-31.

[68] “The Statement of Faith of the Third Council of Constantinople (Sixth Ecumenical)” (Christology of the Later Fathers, ed. Hardy, 383, 384).

[69] Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 231.

[70] Cited in Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils, 309.

[71] St. John of Damascus, On the Divine Images: Three Apologies Against Those Who Attack the Divine Images, 16, trans. David Anderson (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980), 23.  For the entire background and due clarifications, especially regarding the difference between adoration (of God) and veneration (of the saints), see Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 2:91-145.

[72] “The Anathemas of the Second Council of Constantinople (Fifth Ecumenical)” (Christology of the Later Fathers, ed. Hardy, 379).

[73] See Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 236, and 232-38 for the larger background and later developments.

[74] See Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 213; B. Studer, “Enhypostasis,” and L. Perrone,” “Leontius of Byzantium,” “Leontius of Jerusalem,” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. Di Berardino, 1:272, 480-481; Brian E. Daley, “‘A Richer Union’: Leontius of Byzantium and the Relationship of Human and Divine in Christ,” Studia Patristica 24 (1993): 239-65; and Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, 2/part two, 137-229, 271-312 .

[75] Recall that persona (person) is the customary Latin term functioning as an equivalent in varying ways for the Greek prosopon and even hypostasis.

[76] Saint John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 3.7 (Writings, Fathers of the Church, vol. 37, trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr. [New York: Fathers of the Church, 1958], 282).  The person of the Word also participates, albeit sinlessly, in our fallen state: idem, 3.27-4.1, 332-35.  See Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, 120-127.

[77] Many, myself included, have been especially alerted to this issue of not confusing the Holy Spirit with the human spirit, but not separating them either, by reading through the writings of Karl Barth.

[78] See Voegelin, Israel and Revelation, 24, for the notions of diagnosis and therapy in philosophy.

[79] At times this term has functioned among theologians as a code word for “the whole of Christ’s saving work”; strictly, however, it “is equivalent to the ransom paid by Christ to free men from the forces of evil” (B. Studer, “Redemption,” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. Di Berardino, 2:731).

[80] Gregory of Nyssa, “An Address on Religious Instruction,” 24 (Christology of the Later Fathers, ed. Hardy, 301).

[81] Ibid., 37, 15, 2 (pp. 321, 290, 273).

[82] Ibid., 27, 15 (pp. 304, 291).

[83] Ibid., introduction, 1-8 (pp. 268-86), for Nyssen’s dialogue with the Hebrew and Greek sources regarding the nature of the Divine and the problems of evil and sin.  Nyssen borrows the Platonic notion of evil as the privation of the good (which should be present).

[84] For more on this, see Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[85] Ibid., 32 (pp. 310-11).

[86] See Rausch, Who Is Jesus?, 174-81; Thompson, The Jesus Debate, 343-66, and idem, The Struggle for Theology’s Soul, 174-98.

[87] Anselm, Why God Became Man, 24, in Eugene R. Fairweather, ed. and trans., A Scholastic Miscellany: From Anselm to Ockham (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 144.

[88] Peter Abailard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (An Excerpt from the Second Book), 3, in Fairweather, ed. and trans., A Scholastic Miscellany, 283-84: “… we have been justified by the blood of Christ and reconciled to God…he has more fully bound us to himself by love…our redemption through Christ’s suffering is that deeper affection…so that we do all things out of love rather than fear…”

[89] For example, Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1, 12, 5; 3, 16, 3; Pierre de Bérulle and Jean-Jacques Olier, from within the seventeenth century Bérullian tradition (“French School”): see Bérulle and the French School,  ed. Thompson, 35-47, and 140, 142, 148 (from Bérulle’s Discourse on the State and Grandeurs of Jesus).  The Bérullians (35-47, and throughout) also greatly stress the theme of participation in the mysteries of Jesus.


This excerpt is from Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid to be Partners (University of Missouri, 2006). Also see Eugene Webb’s review of “Your Kin-dom Come” and William Thompson-Uberuaga’s “Interview,” “Mapping the Different Approaches,” “Participation and Interpretation Theory,” Being, Becoming, and Metaphysics,” “History and Place, Historiogenesis and Geogenesis,” and Craig Baron’s “The Postmodern “Christian” Theology of William Thompson-Uberuaga.”

William Thompson-Uberuaga

William Thompson-Uberuaga is an Emeritus Professor of Theology at Duquesne University and past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He is author of eight books and a co-editor, with David L. Morse, of Eric Voegelin's Collected Works Volume 22: History of Political Ideas - Renaissance and Reformation.

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