The Christ of Revelation and the Christ of History
Vlassios I. Phidas The Greek Orthodox theological review v. 43, n. 1-4, Brookline Massachousetts 1998, p. 421- 431
1. Karl Barth's theological conclusion to the question of the divine revelation was that God's sole revelation is in Jesus Christ and that the Word of God is His one and only means of communication with human beings. In this spirit Barth asserted in 1968 that "anyone who says 'yes' to Christ must say 'no' to the division of the churches." This conclusion is more or less a recapitulation of the whole discussion of the divine revelation between Christian theology and deistic thought during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During this confrontation the gnosiological approach of the divine revelation led to the suppression of its soteriological meaning in the history of salvation. The absence of common criteria about the function or the purpose of the divine revelation made all definitions equally arbitrary.
It has been traditional in the discussion of Christian revelation to distinguish between a general and a special revelation. The first type refers to the knowledge we gain about God from observing the natural universe. The second type refers to the knowledge we gain about God from the Bible, which is considered as a sufficient summary of what we need to know about God. Nevertheless, both ways of divine revelation accepted some specific presuppositions in order to elaborate their theoretical basis. The general revelation presupposes that there is an overall continuity between the ways human beings come to know about the world and the ways they come to know about God. The special revelation assumed that there are acts of knowing which could not be considered as a result of our general knowledge of God.
In this perspective revelation per se does not specify the limits either of knowability or of disclosures, although Christian revelation does, by relating the aspects of such knowledge to the salvation of human beings.
The naturalistic temptation of western revelational theology lost the traditional soteriological purpose of divine revelation, which is more fully shown in its fullness in the mystery of the incarnation of the Word of God. The theological deviation of the eighteenth century is a direct consequence of the dichotomy introduced between creation and incarnation. It has been accepted that there is a continuing divine-human relationship on the basis of creation, according to which knowledge of God is not merely an inference from the created world, but is immediately given along with self-consciousness, and becomes in turn a crucial factor in any knowledge whatsoever. This function of human knowledge is for the propose of enabling man to glorify the Creator, through worship and obedience, and to possess Him as the source of every blessing.
Today it becomes more and more clear that, for Christians, what is central in the divine revelation is the interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ as God's ultimate act of salvation in and for the world. The slow reconstruction of the doctrine of the supernatural and Christocentric character of divine revelation becomes clearer in modern Protestant theology. Through the rejection of natural theology the way of general revelation lost its crucial significance for the knowledge of God. In Barth's teaching, divine transcendence means that God is wholly other than human beings and as such is utterly unknowable by humans, except through the self-disclosing acts of the preached word, the biblical word and the living Word (Christ)... Specifically, this means that no genuine, much less saving, knowledge of God is discoverable within creation itself by means of human reason... Human finitude, radically compounded by and ultimately indistinguishable from human sinfulness, completely annihilates the possibility of discovering God from below. God's self, identical with Christ, can be revealed only through Christ.
A Christocentric understanding of divine revelation leads theology to the dilemma of the relationship between the Christ of revelation and the historical Christ of the Christian tradition. This dilemma is already critical in R. Bultmann's dialectical theology about the biblical "myth of Christ," which is interpreted as an artificial creation , partly from Hellenism and partly from Jewish apocalyptic literature. This dichotomy between the "historical Jesus" and the Christ of the theological tradition is essential to the affirmation of H. Conzelmann . He argued that there is a gap between the Jesus of history and the kerygmatic Christ of the apostolic community, or between the preaching Jesus, and the preached Christ or between the self-consciousness of Jesus and the faith of the community (1).
2. It is quite clear that through the contemporary restoration of a Christocentric understanding of divine revelation we can overcome any fragmentary approach of the so-called literary types of biblical Christology. The Mysterium Christi is shown in the NT writings as the completion and perfection not only of the divine revelation of God, but even of the first creation. Through the incarnation, of the Son of God the renewal of the whole creation has become a new reality and the salvation of the whole of humanity has become possible. Through the incarnation the Logos of God became not only a mere or a perfect man in his humanity, but the Man par excellence, who recapitulated in Himself the whole humanity and the whole creation. The Pauline teaching concerning the Adam-Christ typological relationship is to be understood in the history of salvation as a renewal of the whole creation between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise in Christ. According to St. Irenaeus , who also developed the Pauline teaching concerning the old and the new Adam, Jesus Christ "recapitulated in himself the ancient creation, because, as through the transgression of one man sin entered the world and through sin death, likewise through the obedience of the one man righteousness was brought in and bore fruits for the life of those men who were dead" (2).
This soteriological interpretation of the recapitulation and the renewal of all things in the perfect humanity of the incarnate Logos poses clear and sharp questions to our theological interpretations of the unique Mysterium Christi in the history of salvation. Biblical and Patristic tradition considered the incarnation, the teaching, the death and the resurrection of the Son of God as the historic realization of the divine economy for the salvation of mankind. In the Mysterium Christi the synergy of all three persons of the Holy Trinity is clearly manifested, since in the plan of the divine economy in Christ all things were done by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. The fulfillment of God's promise was brought about "by the Father's good pleasure" through the incarnation of the Son of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the incarnation is the completion of the original creation and would be impossible without the activity of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, which is the eternal creative source of everything.
Within this Trinitarian frame, the Biblical and Patristic tradition understands that there is a specific activity of the Holy Spirit in the incarnation of the Logos of God, and thus in the history of the revelation of God and of the salvation of mankind. It is true that in the history of scholastic theology the Mysterium Christi is more or less analyzed without any specific reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in the incarnation and in salvation. But in the Patristic tradition it is clearly declared that the incarnation was to be realized only through the specific work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot have Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit, neither the sending of the Holy Spirit without the incarnation of the Son. The Holy Spirit appears already in Genesis (6:3ff) as the creative power of the original world, and, after the fall, as remaining in the world but not resting on human beings, because they were flesh. At the incarnation he came to the Virgin Mary, so that what was impossible in the history of salvation might be accomplished. It was by means of the creative work of the Holy Spirit that the Virgin Mary was purified and was enabled to become a worthy vessel for the Son's tabernacling , through which the transfiguration in her person of the old fallen humanity was accomplished and the birth of the new humanity in Christ became possible.
St. John of Damascus summarized the thinking of the whole Patristic tradition concerning the absolutely unique role of the Holy Spirit in the incarnation. "After the consent of the holy Virgin," he says, "the Holy Spirit came upon her according to the Lord's word, which the angel announced, purifying her and granting her the power of receiving the Logos of God and also of giving birth to him. It was then that the enhypostatic Wisdom and Power of the Most High overshadowed her, namely the Son of God, who is homoousios with the Father, like a divine seed, and constructed for Himself, from her immaculate and most pure blood, a flesh ensouled with a rational and mind-endowed soul, a first-fruits of our own lump; by way of creation through the Holy Spirit...." (3)
The Holy Spirit, then, is creatively related to the tranfiguration of the old humanity in the person of the holy Virgin and to the perfecting of the original creation through the new creation in Christ. Thus, (lie incarnation of the Son was accomplished according to the good will of God the Father "by way of creation through the Holy Spirit." It is through this purificatory and creative work upon the Virgin Mary, I that the Holy Spirit came once again to rest upon human beings in I order to restore and complete the order of the divine creation, which I had been disturbed through the fall, while the Virgin Mary became I the new centre of the power of the Most High which overshadowed her.
It is quite clear that, according to the Christian tradition, through the incarnation of the Son the divine revelation is completed, because the whole Trinity was operating in it. St. Maximus the Confessor provided an excellent summary of the synergy of the three Persons in the historical manifestation of the divine economy: "This mystery was foreknown before all the ages to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. To the one (= Father) by way of good will ( kat ' eudokian ); to the other (= Son) by way of personal action ( kat ' autourgian ); and to the other (= Holy Spirit) by way of synergy ( kata synergeian ). For neither the Father, nor the Spirit were ignorant of the Son's incarnation, because the whole of the Father was by way of substance ( kat ' ousiari ) in the whole of the Son, who was personally working out the mystery of our salvation through the incarnation, not by becoming incarnate, but by expressing His good will for the Son's incarnation; the whole of the Holy Spirit was by way of substance in the whole of the Son, not by becoming incarnate, but by working out in synergy with the Son the ineffable incarnation for us" (4).
So, if in the incarnation of the Logos of God we have the completion and the confirmation of the divine revelation, we may conclude that the synergy of the three divine persons in the incarnation is of crucial importance not only for affirming the specific ministry of the Holy Spirit in the history of divine revelation, but also for clarifying the inner relation between the Christological and the Pneumatological approach of the history of salvation. Paul's words, that "no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit" (I Cor . 12:13), may be understood in this sense. Thus, there is no possible dichotomy between the Paschal mystery of Christ and the Pentecostal mystery of the Holy Spirit. The interpenetration of both mysteries is clearly shown in the role of the Virgin Mary in the incarnation. That is why in the Patristic tradition the Annunciation is interpreted as the supreme prefiguration of the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. At the Annunciation the activity of the Holy Spirit gave Christ to the world. At Pentecost Christ sent the Holy Spirit to the new creation.
3. The specific relation of the Virgin Mary to the Holy Spirit and to the incarnate Logos of God leads us to a better understanding of another typological relation, which was dominant in the Christian spirituality of the Patristic era. Through the activity of the Holy Spirit the Virgin Mary was able to become a temple for God and a type of the Church. The motherhood of the Virgin Mary and the motherhood of the Church are interrelated, because both are energized through the activity of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the motherhood of the Virgin Mary and the ministry of the motherhood of the Church are basically Pneumatocentric , because both the Virgin and the Church receive the Spirit through whose activity Christ is born and the offspring of the new humanity are brought into the world. I
However, the activity of the Holy Spirit is Christocentric in preparing for, in bringing about, and in transmitting the Mysterium Christi. The Holy Spirit plays an absolutely crucial role in the whole plan of the Trinitarian divine economy. It is the same Spirit who foretold the incarnation in the Old Testament. It is the same Spirit who acted upon the Virgin Mary so as to bring about the incarnation. It is the same Spirit who glorifies Christ and through being sent at Pentecost bears witness to Christ in the world. It is the same Spirit who gives birth to the historical Body of Christ, which is the Church. It is the same Spirit who brings about the communion of believers both between themselves and with the Head of the ecclesial body, who is the incarnate Christ Himself. It is the same Spirit who inspires the Church to be the authentic witness of Christ to the world and to testify that Jesus Christ is the Lord and the Saviour of all mankind and of all creation. It is the same Spirit who leads the Church to the realization of the Kingdom of God in the eschaton . It is the same Spirit who summons all Christians to the confession of the same Christ and into communion in the same faith. It is the same Spirit who communicates to us in the Church the very life of Christ through Word and Sacrament. It is the same Spirit who unites Word and Sacrament in the living experience of the Church.
Nevertheless, a major problem in theological discussion has always been how to unite Word and Sacrament in the life of the Church. It is the fundamental mission of the Church, as the Body of Christ, not only to grapple as faithfully as possible with God's transcendence and immanence, but also to live and witness to the new being in Jesus Christ. The content of this message lies in the Holy Scriptures and in the Holy Tradition. The Bible's authority is realized in the concrete encounter of the Church with the divine revelation in Christ. Thus, the Holy Tradition displays the same inner experience as the Body of Christ, to which the Biblical message and the authentic continuity of ecclesial experience bear witness. So, the same truth of divine revelation is common to both the Bible and the sacred Tradition, because both of them strive for the sharing of all believers in the same divine life of Christ.
It is evident that, since Christ entered our human history, he became the centre of the history of salvation. The incarnation is an historical event, which unites time and eternity. Jesus Christ, fulfilling the Old Testament history, became the source of the New Testament history and of the new reality of the world. From the moment Christ intervened in man's historical condition his life became the indissoluble and essential condition of the life of the Church. Christ's life is historically normative for the Church not only because the people to be saved live in history, but also because Christ himself entered into and was affected by history. Under this Christocentric understanding, the Old Testament promise and the New Testament fulfillment of the promise of God are connected indissolubly through the incarnation in time, which became the recapitulation of the whole history of mankind and the source of our salvation. This unity of the biblical Christocentric message is clearly expressed in the conscience of the Church, which recognized that "in vetere testamento estoccultatio novi , in novo estmanifestatio veteris ." The differentiated activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments is connected not only to the incarnation of the Word of God, but also to the specific role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. According to St. John Chrysostom the Law of the Old Testament "was merely given by the Spirit, but this one (the Law of the New Testament) bestowed the Spirit himself richly to those who accept it."
Thus, the Spirit of truth himself, who comes from the Father and bears witness to Christ, remains in the Church, the Body of Christ, and bears this witness by means of the Church. Believers are led to meet Christ in the sacramental experience of the Church and so are enabled to be His witnesses to the world, because the Holy Spirit witnesses to Christ in their hearts. This activity of the Holy Spirit in the Church unites Word and Sacrament in the same ecclesial experience. According to St. Irenaeus , "our teaching is in full agreement with the eucharist , and the eucharist confirms the teaching." The authentic expression of this unity between Word and Sacrament is guaranteed by the presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Church throughout the history of salvation. Because of this, the Holy Spirit secures Christ's presence in the Church, and makes the truth of the divine revelation in Christ accessible to his historical body, which is the Church. The Holy Spirit preserves the Church from temporal Utopias or one-sided eschatological perspectives, and transforms the historical truth of the Mysterium Christi into the historical truth of ecclesial experience. He maintains within the Church the authentic balance between the continuity and the updating of the communication of the divine revelation through Scriptures and Tradition, and leads the Church to the fulfillment of its mission in the history of salvation.
4. The crucial task of our Joint Commission is not simply to give a convergent theological interpretation of the inner relationship of the Holy Trinity with the creation or the incarnation. We are engaged in this spiritual battle for truth in order to serve our common desire for the restoration of ecclesial communion. Thus, we must focus our theological convergencies upon the difficulties in ecclesiology which we can already identify. Through our common approach by means of the Patristic tradition we may try to distinguish between essential and secondary difficulties in order to reconcile existing diversities. It becomes more and more clear that if we are ready to accept the Mysterium Christi as the center of the whole divine revelation and of our salvation, we are obliged to accept its implications for our understanding of the nature of the Church.
The variety of our ecclesiologies stems from our differences in understanding the prolongation of the Mysterium Christi in the history of salvation. If we accept that the Church is really the historical Body of Christ, then we are obliged to accept a Christocentric ontology of the church, since the ecclesial body becomes the extended and realized Body of Christ in the history of salvation. In this way Christological convergences can shape new presuppositions for approaching ecclesiological questions.
Our ecclesiological difference springs more or less from the different interpretations made of the interelationships between the Paschal mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The problem is how to keep an authentic balance between these two mysteries in the history of our salvation, especially with regard to the variety of ways in which the saving grace of God is reaching us. Since we agree that the redeeming work of Christ is extended by the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, which is the historical Body of Christ, then the Church cannot be distinguished from Christ with respect to the bestowal of divine grace. This means that the salvific work of Christ is not exhausted in His earthly life, but it is extended, realized and active in the whole history of salvation. But, if no separation between Christ and the Church is possible in the history of salvation, this is, as we have shown, the result of the continuous work of the Holy Spirit in the historical Body of Christ. Thus, through the work of the Holy Spirit divine grace is granted by the Church to all members of the Body of Christ, since the unity of the Paschal mystery and the mystery of Pentecost is indissoluble in the history of salvation.
The bestowal of divine grace to members of the ecclesial body is the common denominator of the authentic balance in the synergy of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit in the history of salvation. But, it has always been difficult to specify the appropriate work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the living experience of divine grace. The Patristic tradition of the first millennium teaches that Christ, through his overall redeeming work, is the source ( ðçãÞ ) of the divine grace and the Holy Spirit is the bestower ( ÷ïñçãüò ) and operator ( ὁ ἐíåñãῶí ) of divine grace in the faithful. This Patristic understanding of the synergy holds that divine grace is perpetuated in the historical body of Christ and is granted to the faithful by the Holy Spirit for the continuous realization of the Body of Christ in the history of salvation up to the end of the ages.
Nevertheless, scholastic theology, which relied on St. Augustine ' s doctrine as its starting point, developed a different view concerning the relationship between the Paschal and the Pentecostal mysteries. It set out Christ as both the source ( ðçãÞ ) and the bestower ( ÷ïñçãüò ) of the divine grace, while it ascribed to the Holy Spirit the mere role of the operator ( ὁ ἐíåñãῶí ) of the already granted divine grace. This theological difference emphasized the Christomonist tendencies of scholastic theology and led to an approach which created a dichotomy between Christ and Church in the history of salvation. Indeed, if Jesus Christ, through his overall redeeming work, is not only the source ( ðçãÞ ) but also the bestower ( ÷ïñçãüò ) of divine grace, then it stands to reason that, because of the universality of the saving work of Christ, divine grace is automatically granted to all believers, irrespective of their relationship to the Church and becomes active through the activity of the Holy Spirit. If, however, divine grace is granted to all, because of the universality of Christ ' s redeeming work, then, it stands to reason that it is bestowed also on those persons, who are not members of the ecclesial body. But, the Pauline and Patristic tradition insists on the unity of the Body of Christ, which is realized in the history of salvation through the activity of the Holy Spirit. If it is so, then all believers do not become "many bodies but one body," because "there is no other body than this one," which is nourished by the flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (5).
If the Body of Christ is one and the same in the incarnation and in the history of salvation, then the unity of the Church is not merely a question of structure, but an essential element of the apostolic faith, as it is confessed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. In this Spirit the oneness of the ecclesial body becomes a question of salvation, because in the oneness of the Body of Christ there is recapitulated the whole of mankind from the creation to the eschaton . Bearing in mind the respective apostolic tradition, St. John Chrysostom declared that all believers of all ages and of all places, i.e. "those who are such, those who become such and those who enter into such a condition" do not become "many bodies, but only one body" (6). "To be or not to be body is to be united or not to be united with the body" of Christ (7) . This is why the primary mission of the Holy Spirit is to work out the unity and the function of this body in the history of salvation. This means that our convergence in Christology could effectively serve the cause of unity through a converging movement in ecclesiology, where a common understanding of the Christocentric ontology of the Church could lead to a common understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the history of salvation. This is the ultimate aim of our dialogue, which we must always keep in mind as we go about our discussions.
(1) Gegenwart und Zukunft in der synoptischen Tradition, ZThK , 54, 1957, 279 ff.
(2) Adv. Haereses , 111,21,9-10
(5) St. John Chrysostom : Hom , I (Or. 24:2).
(6) Hom . on Eph. 10:1; Hom I Cor . 24:2.
(7) Hom , on I Cor . 30:2.