Study of Christian belief and practice
Top 7 Christian theology related articles
- 1 Christian traditions
- 2 Systematic theology
- 3 Prolegomena: Scripture as the basis of theology
- 4 Theology proper: God
- 4.1 Attributes of God
- 4.2 God the Father
- 4.3 Christology and Christ
- 4.4 Pneumatology: Holy Spirit
- 5 Cosmology: Things created
- 6 Hamartiology: Sin
- 7 Soteriology: Salvation
- 8 Ecclesiology: Church
- 9 Eschatology
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 External links
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Christian theology varies significantly across the main branches of Christian tradition: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. Each of those traditions has its own unique approaches to seminaries and ministerial formation.
Christian theology Christian traditions articles: 4
Systematic theology as a discipline of Christian theology formulates an orderly, rational and coherent account of Christian faith and beliefs. Systematic theology draws on the foundational sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophical evolution. Inherent to a system of theological thought is the development of a method, one which can apply both broadly and particularly. Christian systematic theology will typically explore:
- God (theology proper)
- The attributes of God
- The Trinity as espoused by trinitarian Christians
- Biblical hermeneutics – the interpretation of Biblical texts
- The creation
- Divine providence
- Theodicy – accounting for a benign God's tolerance of evil
- Hamartiology – the study of sin
- Christology – the study of the nature and person of Christ
- Pneumatology – the study of the Holy Spirit
- Soteriology – the study of salvation
- Ecclesiology – the study of the Christian church
- Missiology – the study of the Christian message and of missions
- Spirituality and mysticism
- Sacramental theology
- Eschatology – the ultimate destiny of humankind
- Moral theology
- Christian anthropology
- The afterlife
Christian theology Systematic theology articles: 30
Prolegomena: Scripture as the basis of theology
Revelation is the revealing or disclosing, or making something obvious through active or passive communication with God, and can originate directly from God or through an agent, such as an angel. A person recognised as having experienced such contact is often called a prophet. Christianity generally considers the Bible as divinely or supernaturally revealed or inspired. Such revelation does not always require the presence of God or an angel. For instance, in the concept which Catholics call interior locution, supernatural revelation can include just an inner voice heard by the recipient.
- General revelation occurs through observation of the created order. Such observations can logically lead to important conclusions, such as the existence of God and some of God's attributes. General revelation is also an element of Christian apologetics.
- Certain specifics, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, as revealed in the teachings of the Scriptures, can not otherwise be deduced except by special revelation.
The Bible contains many passages in which the authors claim divine inspiration for their message or report the effects of such inspiration on others. Besides the direct accounts of written revelation (such as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments inscribed on tablets of stone), the Prophets of the Old Testament frequently claimed that their message was of divine origin by prefacing the revelation using the following phrase: "Thus says the LORD" (for example, 1 Kgs 12:22–24;1 Chr 17:3–4; Jer 35:13; Ezek 2:4; Zech 7:9; etc.). The Second Epistle of Peter claims that "no prophecy of Scripture ... was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" The Second Epistle of Peter also implies that Paul's writings are inspired (2 Pet 3:16).
Many Christians cite a verse in Paul's letter to Timothy, 2 Timothy 3:16–17, as evidence that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable ..." Here St. Paul is referring to the Old Testament, since the scriptures have been known by Timothy from "infancy" (verse 15). Others offer an alternative reading for the passage; for example, theologian C. H. Dodd suggests that it "is probably to be rendered" as: "Every inspired scripture is also useful..." A similar translation appears in the New English Bible, in the Revised English Bible, and (as a footnoted alternative) in the New Revised Standard Version. The Latin Vulgate can be so read. Yet others defend the "traditional" interpretation; Daniel B. Wallace calls the alternative "probably not the best translation."
Some modern English versions of the Bible renders theopneustos with "God-breathed" (NIV) or "breathed out by God" (ESV), avoiding the word inspiration, which has the Latin root inspīrāre - "to blow or breathe into".
Christianity generally regards the agreed collections of books known as the Bible as authoritative and as written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant (totally without error and free from contradiction, including the historical and scientific parts) or infallible (inerrant on issues of faith and practice but not necessarily on matters of history or science).
Some Christians infer that the Bible cannot both refer to itself as being divinely inspired and also be errant or fallible. For if the Bible were divinely inspired, then the source of inspiration being divine, would not be subject to fallibility or error in that which is produced. For them, the doctrines of the divine inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy, are inseparably tied together. The idea of biblical integrity is a further concept of infallibility, by suggesting that current biblical text is complete and without error, and that the integrity of biblical text has never been corrupted or degraded. Historians note, or claim, that the doctrine of the Bible's infallibility was adopted hundreds of years after the books of the Bible were written.
The content of the Protestant Old Testament is the same as the Hebrew Bible canon, with changes in the division and order of books, but the Catholic Old Testament contains additional texts, known as the deuterocanonical books. Protestants recognize 39 books in their Old Testament canon, while Roman Catholic and Eastern Christians recognize 46 books as canonical. Both Catholics and Protestants use the same 27-book New Testament canon.
Early Christians used the Septuagint, a Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. Christianity subsequently endorsed various additional writings that would become the New Testament. In the 4th century a series of synods, most notably the Synod of Hippo in AD 393, produced a list of texts equal to the 46-book canon of the Old Testament that Catholics use today (and the 27-book canon of the New Testament that all use). A definitive list did not come from any early ecumenical council. Around 400, Jerome produced the Vulgate, a definitive Latin edition of the Bible, the contents of which, at the insistence of the Bishop of Rome, accorded with the decisions of the earlier synods. This process effectively set the New Testament canon, although examples exist of other canonical lists in use after this time.
During the 16th-century Protestant Reformation certain reformers proposed different canonical lists of the Old Testament. The texts which appear in the Septuagint but not in the Jewish canon fell out of favor, and eventually disappeared from Protestant canons. Catholic Bibles classify these texts as deuterocanonical books, whereas Protestant contexts label them as the Apocrypha.
Christian theology Prolegomena: Scripture as the basis of theology articles: 48
Theology proper: God
In Christianity, God is the creator and preserver of the universe. God is the sole ultimate power in the universe but is distinct from it. The Bible never speaks of God as impersonal. Instead, it refers to him in personal terms– who speaks, sees, hears, acts, and loves. God is understood to have a will and personality and is an all powerful, divine and benevolent being. He is represented in Scripture as being primarily concerned with people and their salvation.
Attributes of God
Some attributes ascribed to God in Christian theology are:
- Aseity—That "God is so independent that he does not need us." It is based on Acts 17:25, where it says that God "is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything" (NIV). This is often related to God's self-existence and his self-sufficiency.
- Eternity—That God exists beyond the temporal realm.
- Graciousness—That God extends His favor and gifts to human beings unconditionally as well as conditionally.
- Holiness—That God is separate from sin and incorruptible. Noting the refrain of "Holy, holy, holy" in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8,
- Immanence—That although God is transcendent and holy, He is also accessible and can be dynamically experienced.
- Immutability—That God's essential nature is unchangeable.
- Impassibility—That God does not experience emotion or suffering (a more controversial doctrine, disputed especially by open theism).
- Impeccability—That God is incapable of error (sin).
- Incorporeality—That God is without physical composition. A related concept is the spirituality of God, which is derived from Jesus' statement in John 4:24, "God is spirit."
- Love—That God is care and compassion. 1 John 4:16 says "God is love."
- Mission—That God is the supreme liberator. While the Mission of God is not traditionally included in this list, David Bosch has argued that "mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God."
- Omnibenevolence—That God is omnibenevolent. Omnibenevolence of God refers to him being "all good".
- Omnipotence—That God is supremely or all-powerful.
- Omnipresence—That God is the supreme being, existing everywhere and at all times; the all-perceiving or all-conceiving foundation of reality.
- Omniscience—That God is supremely or all-knowing.
- Oneness—That God is without peer, also that every divine attribute is instantiated in its entirety (the qualitative infinity of God). See also Monotheism and Divine simplicity.
- Providence—That God watches over His creation with interest and dedication. While the Providence of God usually refers to his activity in the world, it also implies his care for the universe, and is thus an attribute. A distinction is usually made between "general providence" which refers to God's continuous upholding the existence and natural order of the universe, and "special providence" which refers to God's extraordinary intervention in the life of people. See also Sovereignty.
- Righteousness—That God is the greatest or only measure of human conduct. The righteousness of God may refer to his holiness, to his justice, or to his saving activity through Christ.
- Transcendence—That God exists beyond the natural realm of physical laws and thus is not bound by them; He is also wholly Other and incomprehensible apart from general or special self-revelation.
- Triune—The Christian God is understood (by trinitarian Christians) to be a "threeness" of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that is fully consistent with His "oneness"; a single infinite being who is both within and beyond nature. Because the persons of the Trinity represent a personal relation even on the level of God to Himself, He is personal both in His relation toward us and in His relation toward Himself.
- Veracity—That God is the Truth all human beings strive for; He is also impeccably honest. Titus 1:2 refers to "God, who does not lie."
- Wisdom—That God fully comprehends human nature and the world, and will see His will accomplished in heaven and on earth. Romans 16:27 speaks about the "only wise God".
Some Christians believe that the God worshiped by the Hebrew people of the pre-Christian era had always revealed himself as he did through Jesus; but that this was never obvious until Jesus was born (see John 1). Also, though the Angel of the Lord spoke to the Patriarchs, revealing God to them, some believe it has always been only through the Spirit of God granting them understanding, that men have been able to perceive later that God himself had visited them.
This belief gradually developed into the modern formulation of the Trinity, which is the doctrine that God is a single entity (Yahweh), but that there is a trinity in God's single being, the meaning of which has always been debated. This mysterious "Trinity" has been described as hypostases in the Greek language (subsistences in Latin), and "persons" in English. Nonetheless, Christians stress that they only believe in one God.
Most Christian churches teach the Trinity, as opposed to Unitarian monotheistic beliefs. Historically, most Christian churches have taught that the nature of God is a mystery, something that must be revealed by special revelation rather than deduced through general revelation.
Christian orthodox traditions (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) follow this idea, which was codified in 381 and reached its full development through the work of the Cappadocian Fathers. They consider God to be a triune entity, called the Trinity, comprising the three "Persons"; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, described as being "of the same substance" (ὁμοούσιος). The true nature of an infinite God, however, is commonly described as beyond definition, and the word 'person' is an imperfect expression of the idea.
Some critics contend that because of the adoption of a tripartite conception of deity, Christianity is a form of tritheism or polytheism. This concept dates from Arian teachings which claimed that Jesus, having appeared later in the Bible than his Father, had to be a secondary, lesser, and therefore distinct god. For Jews and Muslims, the idea of God as a trinity is heretical– it is considered akin to polytheism. Christians overwhelmingly assert that monotheism is central to the Christian faith, as the very Nicene Creed (among others) which gives the orthodox Christian definition of the Trinity does begin with: "I believe in one God".
In the 3rd century, Tertullian claimed that God exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the three personae of one and the same substance. To trinitarian Christians God the Father is not at all a separate god from God the Son (of whom Jesus is the incarnation) and the Holy Spirit, the other hypostases (Persons) of the Christian Godhead. According to the Nicene Creed, the Son (Jesus Christ) is "eternally begotten of the Father", indicating that their divine Father-Son relationship is not tied to an event within time or human history.
In Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is one being who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a mutual indwelling of three Persons: the Father, the Son (incarnate as Jesus), and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). Since earliest Christianity, one's salvation has been very closely related to the concept of a triune God, although the Trinitarian doctrine was not formalized until the 4th century. At that time, the Emperor Constantine convoked the First Council of Nicaea, to which all bishops of the empire were invited to attend. Pope Sylvester I did not attend but sent his legate. The council, among other things, decreed the original Nicene Creed.
For most Christians, beliefs about God are enshrined in the doctrine of Trinitarianism, which holds that the three persons of God together form a single God. The Trinitarian view emphasizes that God has a will and that God the Son has two wills, divine and human, though these are never in conflict (see Hypostatic union). However, this point is disputed by Oriental Orthodox Christians, who hold that God the Son has only one will of unified divinity and humanity (see Miaphysitism).
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead. The doctrine states that God is the Triune God, existing as three persons, or in the Greek hypostases, but one being. Personhood in the Trinity does not match the common Western understanding of "person" as used in the English language—it does not imply an "individual, self-actualized center of free will and conscious activity.":185–186. To the ancients, personhood "was in some sense individual, but always in community as well.":p.186 Each person is understood as having the one identical essence or nature, not merely similar natures. Since the beginning of the 3rd century the doctrine of the Trinity has been stated as "the one God exists in three Persons and one substance, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
Trinitarianism, belief in the Trinity, is a mark of Catholicism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy as well as other prominent Christian sects arising from the Protestant Reformation, such as Anglicanism, Methodism, Lutheranism, Baptist, and Presbyterianism. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes the Trinity as "the central dogma of Christian theology". This doctrine contrasts with Nontrinitarian positions which include Unitarianism, Oneness and Modalism. A small minority of Christians hold non-trinitarian views, largely coming under the heading of Unitarianism.
Most, if not all, Christians believe that God is spirit,[John 4:24] an uncreated, omnipotent, and eternal being, the creator and sustainer of all things, who works the redemption of the world through his Son, Jesus Christ. With this background, belief in the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is expressed as the doctrine of the Trinity, which describes the single divine ousia (substance) existing as three distinct and inseparable hypostases (persons): the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ the Logos), and the Holy Spirit.[1 Jn 5:7]
The Trinitarian doctrine is considered by most Christians to be a core tenet of their faith. Nontrinitarians typically hold that God, the Father, is supreme; that Jesus, although still divine Lord and Savior, is the Son of God; and that the Holy Spirit is a phenomenon akin to God's will on Earth. The holy three are separate, yet the Son and the Holy Spirit are still seen as originating from God the Father.
The New Testament does not have the term "Trinity" and nowhere discusses the Trinity as such. Some emphasize, however, that the New Testament does repeatedly speak of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to "compel a trinitarian understanding of God." The doctrine developed from the biblical language used in New Testament passages such as the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19 and by the end of the 4th century it was widely held in its present form.
God the Father
In many monotheist religions, God is addressed as the father, in part because of his active interest in human affairs, in the way that a father would take an interest in his children who are dependent on him and as a father, he will respond to humanity, his children, acting in their best interests. In Christianity, God is called "Father" in a more literal sense, besides being the creator and nurturer of creation, and the provider for his children.[Heb 1:2–5] [Gal 4:1–7] The Father is said to be in unique relationship with his only begotten (monogenes) son, Jesus Christ, which implies an exclusive and intimate familiarity: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."[Mt. 11:27]
In Christianity, God the Father's relationship with humanity is as a father to children—in a previously unheard-of sense—and not just as the creator and nurturer of creation, and the provider for his children, his people. Thus, humans, in general, are sometimes called children of God. To Christians, God the Father's relationship with humanity is that of Creator and created beings, and in that respect he is the father of all. The New Testament says, in this sense, that the very idea of family, wherever it appears, derives its name from God the Father,[Eph 3:15] and thus God himself is the model of the family.
However, there is a deeper "legal" sense in which Christians believe that they are made participants in the special relationship of Father and Son, through Jesus Christ as his spiritual bride. Christians call themselves adopted children of God.
In the New Testament, God the Father has a special role in his relationship with the person of the Son, where Jesus is believed to be his Son and his heir.[Heb. 1:2–5]. According to the Nicene Creed, the Son (Jesus Christ) is "eternally begotten of the Father", indicating that their divine Father-Son relationship is not tied to an event within time or human history. See Christology. The Bible refers to Christ, called "The Word" as present at the beginning of God's creation.[John 1:1], not a creation himself, but equal in the personhood of the Trinity.
In Eastern Orthodox theology, God the Father is the "principium" (beginning), the "source" or "origin" of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, which gives intuitive emphasis to the threeness of persons; by comparison, Western theology explains the "origin" of all three hypostases or persons as being in the divine nature, which gives intuitive emphasis to the oneness of God's being.
Christology and Christ
Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature, person, and works of Jesus Christ, held by Christians to be the Son of God. Christology is concerned with the meeting of the human (Son of Man) and divine (God the Son or Word of God) in the person of Jesus.
Primary considerations include the Incarnation, the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature and person of God, and the salvific work of Jesus. As such, Christology is generally less concerned with the details of Jesus' life (what he did) or teaching than with who or what he is. There have been and are various perspectives by those who claim to be his followers since the church began after his ascension. The controversies ultimately focused on whether and how a human nature and a divine nature can co-exist in one person. The study of the inter-relationship of these two natures is one of the preoccupations of the majority tradition.
Teachings about Jesus and testimonies about what he accomplished during his three-year public ministry are found throughout the New Testament. Core biblical teachings about the person of Jesus Christ may be summarized that Jesus Christ was and forever is fully God (divine) and fully human in one sinless person at the same time, and that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life via his New Covenant. While there have been theological disputes over the nature of Jesus, Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human in all respects, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, yet he did not sin. As fully God, he defeated death and rose to life again. Scripture asserts that Jesus was conceived, by the Holy Spirit, and born of his virgin mother Mary without a human father. The biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include miracles, preaching, teaching, healing, Death, and resurrection. The apostle Peter, in what has become a famous proclamation of faith among Christians since the 1st century, said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."[Matt 16:16] Most Christians now wait for the Second Coming of Christ when they believe he will fulfill the remaining Messianic prophecies.
Christ is the English term for the Greek Χριστός (Khristós) meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), usually transliterated into English as Messiah. The word is often misunderstood to be the surname of Jesus due to the numerous mentions of Jesus Christ in the Christian Bible. The word is in fact used as a title, hence its common reciprocal use Christ Jesus, meaning Jesus the Anointed One or Jesus the Messiah. Followers of Jesus became known as Christians because they believed that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah, prophesied about in the Old Testament, or Tanakh.
Trinitarian Ecumenical Councils
The Christological controversies came to a head over the persons of the Godhead and their relationship with one another. Christology was a fundamental concern from the First Council of Nicaea (325) until the Third Council of Constantinople (680). In this time period, the Christological views of various groups within the broader Christian community led to accusations of heresy, and, infrequently, subsequent religious persecution. In some cases, a sect's unique Christology is its chief distinctive feature, in these cases it is common for the sect to be known by the name given to its Christology.
The decisions made at First Council of Nicaea and re-ratified at the First Council of Constantinople, after several decades of ongoing controversy during which the work of Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers were influential. The language used was that the one God exists in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); in particular it was affirmed that the Son was homoousios (of one substance) with the Father. The Creed of the Nicene Council made statements about the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus, thus preparing the way for discussion about how exactly the divine and human come together in the person of Christ (Christology).
Nicaea insisted that Jesus was fully divine and also human. What it did not do was make clear how one person could be both divine and human, and how the divine and human were related within that one person. This led to the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries of the Christian era.
The Chalcedonian Creed did not put an end to all Christological debate, but it did clarify the terms used and became a point of reference for all other Christologies. Most of the major branches of Christianity—Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Reformed—subscribe to the Chalcedonian Christological formulation, while many branches of Eastern Christianity—Syrian Orthodoxy, Assyrian Church, Coptic Orthodoxy, Ethiopian Orthodoxy, and Armenian Apostolicism—reject it.
Attributes of Christ
God as Son
According to the Bible, the second Person of the Trinity, because of his eternal relation to the first Person (God as Father), is the Son of God. He is considered (by Trinitarians) to be coequal with the Father and Holy Spirit. He is all God and all human: the Son of God as to his divine nature, while as to his human nature he is from the lineage of David.[Rom 1:3–4] The core of Jesus' self-interpretation was his "filial consciousness", his relationship to God as child to parent in some unique sense (see Filioque controversy). His mission on earth proved to be that of enabling people to know God as their Father, which Christians believe is the essence of eternal life.[Jn 17:3]
God the Son is the second person of the Trinity in Christian theology. The doctrine of the Trinity identifies Jesus of Nazareth as God the Son, united in essence but distinct in person with regard to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (the first and third persons of the Trinity). God the Son is co-eternal with God the Father (and the Holy Spirit), both before Creation and after the End (see Eschatology). So Jesus was always "God the Son", though not revealed as such until he also became the "Son of God" through incarnation. "Son of God" draws attention to his humanity, whereas "God the Son" refers more generally to his divinity, including his pre-incarnate existence. So, in Christian theology, Jesus was always God the Son, though not revealed as such until he also became the Son of God through incarnation.
The exact phrase "God the Son" is not in the New Testament. Later theological use of this expression reflects what came to be standard interpretation of New Testament references, understood to imply Jesus' divinity, but the distinction of his person from that of the one God he called his Father. As such, the title is associated more with the development of the doctrine of the Trinity than with the Christological debates. There are over 40 places in the New Testament where Jesus is given the title "the Son of God", but scholars don't consider this to be an equivalent expression. "God the Son" is rejected by anti-trinitarians, who view this reversal of the most common term for Christ as a doctrinal perversion and as tending towards tritheism.
Matthew cites Jesus as saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (5:9)." The gospels go on to document a great deal of controversy over Jesus being the Son of God, in a unique way. The book of the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of the New Testament, however, record the early teaching of the first Christians– those who believed Jesus to be both the Son of God, the Messiah, a man appointed by God, as well as God himself. This is evident in many places, however, the early part of the book of Hebrews addresses the issue in a deliberate, sustained argument, citing the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible as authorities. For example, the author quotes Psalm 45:6 as addressed by the God of Israel to Jesus.
- Hebrews 1:8. About the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever."
The author of Hebrews' description of Jesus as the exact representation of the divine Father has parallels in a passage in Colossians.
- Colossians 2:9–10. "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form"
John's gospel quotes Jesus at length regarding his relationship with his heavenly Father. It also contains two famous attributions of divinity to Jesus.
- John 1:1. "the Word was God" [in context, the Word is Jesus, see Christ the Logos]
- John 20:28. "Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'"
The most direct references to Jesus as God are found in various letters.
- Romans 9:5. "Christ, who is God over all"
- Titus 2:13. "our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ"
- 2 Peter 1:1. "our God and Savior Jesus Christ"
The biblical basis for later trinitarian statements in creeds is the early baptism formula found in Matthew 28.
- Matthew 28:19. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name [note the singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. See also Great Commission.
Person of Christ
- Only divine?
Docetism (from the Greek verb to seem) taught that Jesus was fully divine, and his human body was only illusory. At a very early stage, various Docetic groups arose; in particular, the gnostic sects which flourished in the 2nd century AD tended to have Docetic theologies. Docetic teachings were attacked by St. Ignatius of Antioch (early 2nd century), and appear to be targeted in the canonical Epistles of John (dates are disputed, but range from the late 1st century among traditionalist scholars to the late 2nd century among critical scholars).
The Council of Nicaea rejected theologies that entirely ruled out any humanity in Christ, affirming in the Nicene Creed the doctrine of the Incarnation as a part of the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, that the second person of the Trinity became incarnate in the person Jesus and was fully human.
- Only human?
The early centuries of Christian history also had groups at the other end of the spectrum, arguing that Jesus was an ordinary mortal. The Adoptionists taught that Jesus was born fully human, and was adopted as God's Son when John the Baptist baptised him because of the life he lived. Another group, known as the Ebionites, taught that Jesus was not God, but the human Moshiach (messiah, anointed) prophet promised in the Hebrew Bible.
Some of these views could be described as Unitarianism (although that is a modern term) in their insistence on the oneness of God. These views, which directly affected how one understood the Godhead, were declared heresies by the Council of Nicaea. Throughout much of the rest of the ancient history of Christianity, Christologies that denied Christ's divinity ceased to have a major impact on the life of the church.
- How can he be both?
- What sort of divinity?
Arianism affirmed that Jesus was divine, but taught that he was nevertheless a created being (there was [a time] when he was not [in existence]), and was therefore less divine than God the Father. The matter boiled down to one iota; Arianism taught Homoiousia—the belief that Jesus's divinity is similar to that of God the Father—as opposed to Homoousia—the belief that Jesus's divinity is the same as that of God the Father. Arius' opponents additionally included in the term Arianism the belief that Jesus' divinity is different from that of God the Father (Heteroousia).
Arianism was condemned by the Council of Nicea, but remained popular in the northern and western provinces of the empire, and continued to be the majority view of western Europe well into the 6th century. Indeed, even the Christian legend of Constantine's death-bed baptism involves a bishop who, in recorded history, was an Arian.
- What sort of amalgamation?
The Christological debates following the Council of Nicaea sought to make sense of the interplay of the human and divine in the person of Christ while upholding the doctrine of the Trinity. Apollinaris of Laodicea (310–390) taught that in Jesus, the divine component took the place of the human nous (thinking– not to be confused with thelis, meaning intent). This however was seen as a denial of Jesus' true humanity, and the view was condemned at the First Council of Constantinople.
Subsequently, Nestorius of Constantinople (386–451) initiated a view that effectively separated Jesus into two persons—one divine and one human; the mechanism of this combination is known as hypostases, and contrasts with hypostasis—the view that there is no separation. Nestorius' theology was deemed heretical at the First Council of Ephesus (431). Though, as seen by the writings of Babai the Great, the Christology of the Church of the East is highly similar to that of Chalcedon, many orthodox Christians (particularly in the West) consider this group to be the perpetuation of Nestorianism; the modern Assyrian Church of the East has at times shunned this term, as it implies acceptance of the entire theology of Nestorius.
Various forms of Monophysitism taught that Christ only had one nature: that the divine had either dissolved (Eutychianism), or that the divine joined with the human as one nature in the person of Christ (Miaphysitism). A notable monophysite theologian was Eutyches (c. 380–456). Monophysitism was rejected as heresy at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which affirmed that Jesus Christ had two natures (divine and human) joined in one person, in hypostatic union (see Chalcedonian creed). While Eutychianism was suppressed into oblivion by the Chalcedonians and Miaphysites, the Miaphysite groups who dissented from the Chalcedonian formula have persisted as the Oriental Orthodox Church.
As theologians continued to search for a compromise between the Chalcedonian definition and the Monophysites, other Christologies developed that partially rejected the full humanity of Christ. Monothelitism taught that in the one person of Jesus there were two natures, but only a divine will. Closely related to this is Monoenergism, which held to the same doctrine as the Monothelites, but with different terminology. These positions were declared heresy by the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council, 680–681).
The Incarnation is the belief in Christianity that the second person in the Christian Godhead, also known as God the Son or the Logos (Word), "became flesh" when he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The word Incarnate derives from Latin (in=in or into, caro, carnis=flesh) meaning "to make into flesh" or "to become flesh". The incarnation is a fundamental theological teaching of orthodox (Nicene) Christianity, based on its understanding of the New Testament. The incarnation represents the belief that Jesus, who is the non-created second hypostasis of the triune God, took on a human body and nature and became both man and God. In the Bible its clearest teaching is in John 1:14: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us."
In the Incarnation, as traditionally defined, the divine nature of the Son was joined but not mixed with human nature in one divine Person, Jesus Christ, who was both "truly God and truly man". The Incarnation is commemorated and celebrated each year at Christmas, and also reference can be made to the Feast of the Annunciation; "different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation" are celebrated at Christmas and the Annunciation.
This is central to the traditional faith held by most Christians. Alternative views on the subject (See Ebionites and the Gospel according to the Hebrews) have been proposed throughout the centuries (see below), but all were rejected by mainstream Christian bodies.
- Description and development of the traditional doctrine
In the early Christian era, there was considerable disagreement amongst Christians regarding the nature of Christ's Incarnation. While all Christians believed that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the exact nature of his Sonship was contested, together with the precise relationship of the "Father," "Son" and "Holy Ghost" referred to in the New Testament. Though Jesus was clearly the "Son," what exactly did this mean? Debate on this subject raged most especially during the first four centuries of Christianity, involving Jewish Christians, Gnostics, followers of the Presbyter Arius of Alexandra, and adherents of St. Athanasius the Great, among others.
Eventually, the Christian Church accepted the teaching of St. Athanasius and his allies, that Christ was the incarnation of the eternal second person of the Trinity, who was fully God and fully a man simultaneously. All divergent beliefs were defined as heresies. This included Docetism, which said that Jesus was a divine being that took on human appearance but not flesh; Arianism, which held that Christ was a created being; and Nestorianism, which maintained that the Son of God and the man, Jesus, shared the same body but retained two separate natures. The Oneness belief held by certain modern Pentecostal churches is also seen as heretical by most mainstream Christian bodies.
The most widely accepted the early Christian Church made definitions of the Incarnation and the nature of Jesus at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the Council of Ephesus in 431, and the Council of Chalcedon in 451. These councils declared that Jesus was both fully God: begotten from, but not created by the Father; and fully man: taking his flesh and human nature from the Virgin Mary. These two natures, human and divine, were hypostatically united into the one personhood of Jesus Christ.
- Fortuitous and Necessary Incarnation
The link between the Incarnation and the Atonement within systematic theological thought is complex. Within traditional models of the Atonement, such as Substitution, Satisfaction or Christus Victor, Christ must be Divine in order for the Sacrifice of the Cross to be efficacious, for human sins to be "removed" or "conquered". In his work The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, Jurgen Moltmann differentiated between what he called a "fortuitous" and a "necessary" Incarnation. The latter gives a soteriological emphasis to the Incarnation: the Son of God became a man so that he could save us from our sins. The former, on the other hand, speaks of the Incarnation as a fulfilment of the Love of God, of his desire to be present and living amidst humanity, to "walk in the garden" with us.
Moltmann favours "fortuitous" incarnation primarily because he feels that to speak of an incarnation of "necessity" is to do an injustice to the life of Christ. Moltmann's work, alongside other systematic theologians, opens up avenues of liberation Christology.
In short, this doctrine states that two natures, one human and one divine, are united in the one person of Christ. The Council further taught that each of these natures, the human and the divine, was distinct and complete. This view is sometimes called Dyophysite (meaning two natures) by those who rejected it.
Hypostatic union (from the Greek for substance) is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of two natures, humanity and divinity, in Jesus Christ. A brief definition of the doctrine of two natures can be given as: "Jesus Christ, who is identical with the Son, is one person and one hypostasis in two natures: a human and a divine."
The First Council of Nicaea declared that the Father and the Son are of the same substance and are co-eternal. This belief was expressed in the Nicene Creed.
Apollinaris of Laodicea was the first to use the term hypostasis in trying to understand the Incarnation. Apollinaris described the union of the divine and human in Christ as being of a single nature and having a single essence– a single hypostasis.
The Nestorian Theodore of Mopsuestia went in the other direction, arguing that in Christ there were two natures (dyophysite) (human and divine) and two hypostases (in the sense of "essence" or "person") that co-existed.
The Chalcedonian Creed agreed with Theodore that there were two natures in the Incarnation. However, the Council of Chalcedon also insisted that hypostasis be used as it was in the Trinitarian definition: to indicate the person and not the nature as with Apollinarius.
Thus, the Council declared that in Christ there are two natures; each retaining its own properties, and together united in one subsistence and in one single person.
As the precise nature of this union is held to defy finite human comprehension, the hypostatic union is also referred to by the alternative term "mystical union."
The Oriental Orthodox Churches, having rejected the Chalcedonian Creed, were known as Monophysites because they would only accept a definition that characterized the incarnate Son as having one nature. The Chalcedonian "in two natures" formula was seen as derived from and akin to a Nestorian Christology. Contrariwise, the Chalcedonians saw the Oriental Orthodox as tending towards Eutychian Monophysitism. However, the Oriental Orthodox have in modern ecumenical dialogue specified that they have never believed in the doctrines of Eutyches, that they have always affirmed that Christ's humanity is consubstantial with our own, and they thus prefer the term "Miaphysite" to refer to themselves (a reference to Cyrillian Christology, which used the phrase "mia physis tou theou logou sesarkomene").
Other Christological concerns
- The sinlessness of Christ
Although Christian orthodoxy holds that Jesus was fully human, the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example, states that Christ was 'holy and without evil' (7:26). The question concerning the sinlessness of Jesus Christ focuses on this seeming paradox. Does being fully human require that one participate in the "fall" of Adam, or could Jesus exist in an "unfallen" status as Adam and Eve did before the "fall," according to Genesis 2–3?
- Kinds of sinlessness
Evangelical writer Donald Macleod suggests that the sinless nature of Jesus Christ involves two elements. "First, Christ was free of actual sin." Studying the gospels there is no reference to Jesus praying for the forgiveness of sin, nor confessing sin. The assertion is that Jesus did not commit sin, nor could he be proven guilty of sin; he had no vices. In fact, he is quoted as asking, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" in John 8:46. "Secondly, he was free from inherent sin ("original sin" or "ancestral sin")."
- Temptation of Christ
The temptation of Christ shown in the gospels affirms that he was tempted. Indeed, the temptations were genuine and of a greater intensity than normally experienced by human beings. He experienced all the frail weaknesses of humanity. Jesus was tempted through hunger and thirst, pain and the love of his friends. Thus, the human weaknesses could engender temptation. Nevertheless, MacLeod notes that "one crucial respect in which Christ was not like us is that he was not tempted by anything within himself."
The temptations Christ faced focused upon his person and identity as the incarnate Son of God. MacLeod writes, "Christ could be tempted through his sonship." The temptation in the wilderness and again in Gethsemane exemplifies this arena of temptation. Regarding the temptation of performing a sign that would affirm his sonship by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple, MacLeod observes, "The sign was for himself: a temptation to seek reassurance, as if to say, 'the real question is my own sonship. I must forget all else and all others and all further service until that is clear.'" MacLeod places this struggle in the context of the incarnation, "...he has become a man and must accept not only the appearance but the reality."
- Communication of attributes
The communion of attributes (Communicatio idiomatum) of Christ's divine and human natures is understood according to Chalcedonian theology to mean that they exist together with neither overriding the other. That is, both are preserved and coexist in one person. Christ had all the properties of God and humanity. God did not stop being God and become man. Christ was not half-God and half-human. The two natures did not mix into a new third kind of nature. Although independent, they acted in complete accord; when one nature acted, so did the other. The natures did not commingle, merge, infuse each other, or replace each other. One was not converted into the other. They remained distinct (yet acted with one accord).
- Virgin Birth
The Gospel according to Matthew and Gospel according to Luke suggest a virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Some now disregard or even argue against this "doctrine" to which most denominations of Christianity ascribe. This section looks at the Christological issues surrounding belief or disbelief in the virgin birth.
A non-virgin birth would seem to require some form of adoptionism. This is because a human conception and birth would seem to yield a fully human Jesus, with some other mechanism required to make Jesus divine as well.
A non-virgin birth would seem to support the full humanity of Jesus. William Barclay: states, "The supreme problem of the virgin birth is that it does quite undeniably differentiate Jesus from all men; it does leave us with an incomplete incarnation."
Barth speaks of the virgin birth as the divine sign "which accompanies and indicates the mystery of the incarnation of the Son."
Donald MacLeod gives several Christological implications of a virgin birth:
- Highlights salvation as a supernatural act of God rather than an act of human initiative.
- Avoids adoptionism (which is virtually required if a normal birth).
- Reinforces the sinlessness of Christ, especially as it relates to Christ being outside the sin of Adam (original sin).
- Relationship of Persons
The discussion of whether the three distinct persons in the Godhead of the Trinity were of greater, equal, or lesser by comparison was also, like many other areas of early Christology, a subject of debate. In Athenagoras of Athens (c. 133–190) writings we find a very developed trinitarian doctrine. On the one end of the spectrum was modalism, a doctrine stating that the three persons of the Trinity were equal to the point of erasing their differences and distinctions. On the other end of the spectrum were tritheism as well as some radically subordinationist views, the latter of which emphasized the primacy of the Father of Creation to the deity of Christ and Jesus's authority over the Holy Spirit. During the Council of Nicea, the modalist bishops of Rome and Alexandria aligned politically with Athanasius; whereas the bishops of Constantinople (Nicomedia), Antioch, and Jerusalem sided with the subordinationists as middle ground between Arius and Athanasius.
Approaches to Christology
Theologians like Jurgen Moltmann and Walter Kasper have characterized Christologies as anthropological or cosmological. These are also termed 'Christology from below' and 'Christology from above' respectively. An anthropological Christology starts with the human person of Jesus and works from his life and ministry toward what it means for him to be divine; whereas, a cosmological Christology works in the opposite direction. Starting from the eternal Logos, a cosmological Christology works toward his humanity. Theologians typically begin on one side or the other and their choice inevitably colors their resultant Christology. As a starting point these options represent "diverse yet complementary" approaches; each poses its own difficulties. Both Christologies 'from above' and 'from below' must come to terms with the two natures of Christ: human and divine. Just as light can be perceived as a wave or as a particle, so Jesus must be thought in terms of both his divinity and humanity. You cannot talk about "either or" but must talk about "both and".
- Cosmological approaches
Christologies from above start with the Logos, the second Person of the Trinity, establish his eternality, his agency in creation, and his economic Sonship. Jesus' unity with God is established by the Incarnation as the divine Logos assumes a human nature. This approach was common in the early church—e.g., St. Paul and St. John in the Gospels. The attribution of full humanity to Jesus is resolved by stating that the two natures mutually share their properties (a concept termed communicatio idiomatum).
- Anthropological approaches
Christologies from below start with the human being Jesus as the representative of the new humanity, not with the pre-existent Logos. Jesus lives an exemplary life, one to which we aspire in religious experience. This form of Christology lends itself to mysticism, and some of its roots go back to emergence of Christ mysticism in the 6th century East, but in the West it flourished between the 11th and 14th centuries. A recent theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg contends that the resurrected Jesus is the "eschatological fulfillment of human destiny to live in nearness to God."
- Political approaches
The Christian faith is inherently political because allegiance to Jesus as risen Lord relativises all earthly rule and authority. Jesus is called "Lord" over 230 times in Paul's epistles alone, and is thus the principal confession of faith in the Pauline epistles. Further, N.T. Wright argues that this Pauline confession is the core of the gospel of salvation. The Achilles' heel of this approach is the loss of eschatological tension between this present age and the future divine rule that is yet to come. This can happen when the state co-opts Christ's authority as was often the case in imperial Christology. Modern political Christologies seek to overcome imperialist ideologies.
Works of Christ
- Resurrection of Jesus
The resurrection is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the life of Jesus Christ. Christianity hinges on this point of Christology, both as a response to a particular history and as a confessional response. Some Christians claim that because he was resurrected, the future of the world was forever altered. Most Christians believe that Jesus' resurrection brings reconciliation with God (II Corinthians 5:18), the destruction of death (I Corinthians 15:26), and forgiveness of sins for followers of Jesus Christ.
After Jesus had died, and was buried, the New Testament states that he appeared to others in bodily form. Some skeptics say his appearances were only perceived by his followers in mind or spirit. The gospels state that the disciples believed they witnessed Jesus' resurrected body and that led to the beginning of the faith. They had previously hid in fear of persecution after Jesus' death. After seeing Jesus they boldly proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ despite tremendous risk. They obeyed Jesus' mandate to be reconciled to God through repentance (Luke 24:47), baptism, and obedience (Matthew 28:19–20).
- Offices as Prophet, Priest, and King
Jesus Christ, the Mediator of humankind, fulfills the three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. Eusebius of the early church worked out this threefold classification, which during the Reformation played a substantial role in scholastic Lutheran Christology and in John Calvin's and John Wesley's Christology.
Pneumatology: Holy Spirit
Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is Greek for "breath", which metaphorically describes a non-material being or influence. In Christian theology pneumatology refers to the study of the Holy Spirit. In Christianity, the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) is the Spirit of God. Within mainstream (Trinitarian) Christian beliefs he is the third person of the Trinity. As part of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is equal with God the Father and with God the Son. The Christian theology of the Holy Spirit was the last piece of Trinitarian theology to be fully developed.
Within mainstream (Trinitarian) Christianity the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity who make up the single substance of God. As such the Holy Spirit is personal, and as part of the Godhead, he is fully God, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and Son of God. He is different from the Father and the Son in that he proceeds from the Father (or from the Father and the Son) as described in the Nicene Creed. His sacredness is reflected in the New Testament gospels which proclaim blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as unforgivable.
The English word comes from two Greek words: πνευμα (pneuma, spirit) and λογος (logos, teaching about). Pneumatology would normally include study of the person of the Holy Spirit, and the works of the Holy Spirit. This latter category would normally include Christian teachings on new birth, spiritual gifts (charismata), Spirit-baptism, sanctification, the inspiration of prophets, and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity (which in itself covers many different aspects). Different Christian denominations have different theological approaches.
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith in Jesus and gives them the ability to live a Christian lifestyle. The Holy Spirit dwells inside every Christian, each one's body being his temple.[1 Cor 3:16] Jesus described the Holy Spirit[Jn 14:26] as paracletus in Latin, derived from Greek. The word is variously translated as Comforter, Counselor, Teacher, Advocate, guiding people in the way of the truth. The Holy Spirit's action in one's life is believed to produce positive results, known as the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables Christians, who still experience the effects of sin, to do things they never could do on their own. These spiritual gifts are not innate abilities "unlocked" by the Holy Spirit, but entirely new abilities, such as the ability to cast out demons or simply bold speech. Through the influence of the Holy Spirit a person sees more clearly the world around him or her and can use his or her mind and body in ways that exceed his or her previous capacity. A list of gifts that may be bestowed include the charismatic gifts of prophecy, tongues, healing, and knowledge. Christians holding a view known as cessationism believe these gifts were given only in New Testament times. Christians almost universally agree that certain "spiritual gifts" are still in effect today, including the gifts of ministry, teaching, giving, leadership, and mercy.[Rom 12:6–8] The experience of the Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as being anointed.
After his resurrection, Christ told his disciples that they would be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" and would receive power from this event,[Ac 1:4–8] a promise that was fulfilled in the events recounted in the second chapter of Acts. On the first Pentecost, Jesus' disciples were gathered in Jerusalem when a mighty wind was heard and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. A multilingual crowd heard the disciples speaking, and each of them heard them speaking in his or her native language.
The Holy Spirit is believed to perform specific divine functions in the life of the Christian or the church. These include:
- Conviction of sin. The Holy Spirit acts to convince the unredeemed person both of the sinfulness of their actions, and of their moral standing as sinners before God.
- Bringing to conversion. The action of the Holy Spirit is seen as an essential part of the bringing of the person to the Christian faith. The new believer is "born again of the Spirit".
- Enabling the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is believed to dwell in the individual believers and enable them to live a righteous and faithful life.
- As a comforter or Paraclete, one who intercedes, or supports or acts as an advocate, particularly in times of trial.
- Inspiration and interpretation of scripture. The Holy Spirit both inspires the writing of the scriptures and interprets them to the Christian and church.
The Holy Spirit is also believed to be active especially in the life of Jesus Christ, enabling him to fulfil his work on earth. Particular actions of the Holy Spirit include:
- Cause of his birth. According to the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, the "beginning of His incarnate existence", was due to the Holy Spirit.
- Anointing him at his baptism.
- Empowerment of his ministry. The ministry of Jesus following his baptism (in which the Holy Spirit is described in the gospels as "descending on Him like a dove") is conducted in the power and at the direction of the Holy Spirit.
- Fruit of the Spirit
Christians believe the "Fruit of the Spirit" consists of virtuous characteristics engendered in the Christian by the action of the Holy Spirit. They are those listed in Galatians 5:22–23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." The Roman Catholic Church adds to this list generosity, modesty, and chastity.
- Gifts of the Spirit
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit gives 'gifts' to Christians. These gifts consist of specific abilities granted to the individual Christian. They are frequently known by the Greek word for gift, Charisma, from which the term charismatic derives. The New Testament provides three different lists of such gifts which range from the supernatural (healing, prophecy, tongues) through those associated with specific callings (teaching) to those expected of all Christians in some degree (faith). Most consider these lists not to be exhaustive, and other have compiled their own lists. Saint Ambrose wrote of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out on a believer at baptism: 1. Spirit of Wisdom; 2. Spirit of Understanding; 3. Spirit of Counsel; 4. Spirit of Strength; 5. Spirit of Knowledge; 6. Spirit of Godliness; 7. Spirit of Holy Fear.
It is over the nature and occurrence of these gifts, particularly the supernatural gifts (sometimes called charismatic gifts), that the greatest disagreement between Christians with regard to the Holy Spirit exists.
One view is that the supernatural gifts were a special dispensation for the apostolic ages, bestowed because of the unique conditions of the church at that time, and are extremely rarely bestowed in the present time. This is the view of the Catholic Church and many other mainstream Christian groups. The alternate view, espoused mainly by Pentecostal denominations and the charismatic movement, is that the absence of the supernatural gifts was due to the neglect of the Holy Spirit and his work by the church. Although some small groups, such as the Montanists, practiced the supernatural gifts they were rare until the growth of the Pentecostal movement in the late 19th century.
Believers in the relevance of the supernatural gifts sometimes speak of a Baptism of the Holy Spirit or Filling of the Holy Spirit which the Christian needs to experience in order to receive those gifts. Many churches hold that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is identical with conversion, and that all Christians are by definition baptized in the Holy Spirit.