« AnteriorContinuar »
of the Person of Jesus as understood and interpreted by the needs, aspirations, hopes, of the human soul. We can know Him only through the impressions His exalted Personality makes upon us when it is brought into connection with the deeper elements of our nature. The truth thus known is eternal, as all truths of faith are, and independent of the details or circumstances of His earthly life, but, at the same time, it is truth that rests on history; it is truth respecting Him in those deeper relations and wider aspects which the study of every great historical character more or less reveals, when, abstracting from outward details, we grasp its idea or spiritual content.
In this respect all the three forms of Christological doctrine in the New Testament differ from the Christology that has been formed by the application of human thought to the subject of the Person of Christ; and it is necessary to emphasise the distinction between the religious conception that we find in the New Testament and the intellectual or dogmatic one that is the product of ecclesiastical theology. At an early period in the history of the Church, the necessity arose for safeguarding its faith from the inroads of error. To preserve the truth of the revelation that had come through Christ, the Church was compelled to give intellectual expression to its faith, and to state in the terms which were current at the time, and were supplied by the Greek philosophy, which then moulded the thinking of men on the highest subjects, what it believed to be true regarding the different aspects of the Person of Christ, as these became matters of debate in the conflict with heresy. Now it was the reality of the Divine Factor in the Personal Christ that was endangered by speculation, now it was the truth of His humanity; again, it was the integrity and reality of the union between the Divine and the Human. Error on these matters was serious; religious interests were at stake; the issue was, had men really in Christ the salvation they believed they had, a real revelation of God expressed in the terms of a genuine human Life? Accordingly, the Church was occupied during the early centuries of our era in denning its faith against false opinion. And as the monument of the gigantic labour spent upon this task, we have the great Dogmatic decisions of the Councils on the Person of Christ, culminating in the formula of the Council of Chalcedon of " the two natures in one Person."1 The work had to be done, and it is not easy to see how it could have been better done. But the result was by no means an unmixed gain. The faith was cast into the mould of intellectual formulae that really added nothing to the knowledge of Christ, and were never intended to add to it, their sole purpose being to fence round the knowledge of faith so as to protect it from error. But it was inevitable that men who were so much occupied in defining should attach to the definition the importance that belonged to the truth itself.2 It became to them the equivalent of the latter. The intellectual conception thrust into the background the religious, and belief in the dogma was substituted for the faith that rests on intuition. That this has indeed been the result we may see from the answer to the one question in our own Shorter Catechism that deals with the Person of Christ, "Who is the only Redeemer of God's elect?" "The only Redeemer is the Lord Jesus Christ, Who, being the Eternal Son of God, became man, and so was and continueth
1 Properly speaking, of course, the last stage of the development of the dogma was not reached till, as the result of the Monothelite controversy, the doctrine of the Two Wills in the Person of Christ was affirmed by the Sixth General Council more than two hundred years after that of Chalcedon. This doctrinal finding, by which the last effort of the Monophysites to make good the unity of the personal life of our Lord was overcome, brought out into clear light the contradictions contained in the formula of Chalcedon, for two wills means two subjects, or egos, in which they reside, and thus we are landed at once in a double personality. The unity was reduced to a mere abstraction.
2 See Fairbairn, Christ in Modern Theology, p. 89, and Gore's Dissertations, p. 173.
to be both God and man in two distinct natures, and one Person for ever,"—where the dogmatic definition, the result of the evolution of centuries of theological thought, which was originally intended to serve as a bulwark of the faith against error, is represented as the very truth of the faith itself. By being thus treated as sources of information about Christ, the dogmatic statements absorbed the interest that was properly due to the Christ of history and Christian experience. In the final form given to them, they made the understanding of the historic Christ an impossibility, for the Divine element in His Person had been defined in a way that when applied to the interpretation of the historic Christ, involved the sacrifice of the human element, and destroyed the naturalness of the Picture in the Gospels. That injury has been inflicted on the life of the Church by the tendency of dogma to emphasise the Divine at the expense of the Human in men's thoughts about Christ, is admitted even by those who naturally are disposed to attach the highest importance to the dogmas of the ancient Church. "There is no doubt, I think," says Gore, " that the genuine teaching of the Catholic Church for many centuries about our Lord has removed Him very far from human sympathies, very much farther than the Christ of the New Testament" 1 It was to be expected that as soon as an interest in historic inquiry arose, and men sought, unfettered by theological opinion, to reconstruct from the Gospels the image of the historic Christ, that they would discover the inadequacy of the formulated dogma of the Church, and would either reject it altogether, and along with it the faith which had been translated into the creed, or they would endeavour so to modify the dogma as to leave room for the understanding of the Jesus of history and the maintenance of the faith that had been based upon Him. And this is just what has happened. In modern 1 Dissertations, pp. 205, 206.
times the growth of the historic spirit has led to an amount of attention being given to the study of the records of Christ's earthly life and of His human Personality that has greatly enriched our knowledge. But the result has been to confirm the impression of the insufficiency of the Christological dogma. Some proclaim the hopeless variance between the Jesus of history and the Christ of dogma, and, accepting the purely humanitarian position, ignore the religious significance of the Person of our Lord. Others continue to maintain the old faith of the Church in Him as the Divine Christ, but frankly admit that the dogmatic statements in which that faith has been set forth call for revision or modification, and that something is needed to bring into harmony the findings of faith and the facts of the evangelical narrative. This is the object of the labours of the many students who have in recent years done good work in this department of theological research. One serious attempt has been made, and it is the most notable result of the Christological movement in modern theology, to develop the dogma of the ancient Church so as to leave room for the understanding in a human way of the life of Jesus. I refer to the theories of Kenosis, which under various forms of statement agree in regarding the Divine nature in the Person of our Lord as having in the Incarnation undergone a change resulting in its being contracted within the limits of humanity, and in the suspense of those Divine attributes whose presence and exercise are incompatible with a genuine human consciousness.
These theories are deserving of our earnest sympathy, for they are the efforts of believing men who aim, in consistency with their faith in the Higher Nature of Christ, at doing justice to the condescension of Divine Grace in the assumption of our human nature. And theologians of this school do succeed in presenting to us a Picture of Jesus that is distinguished by its fidelity to the record.1 The serious difficulties, however, connected with nearly every form in which the theory of the Kenosis has been advocated by modern theologians, have prevented its general acceptance as a satisfactory solution of the problem. It is at least doubtful whether instead of being a development of the ancient dogma it is not an entire subversion of it. Few readers of the article in his Dissertations, in which Mr. Gore espouses the theory and compares it with the opinions of the Greek Fathers, will regard him as successful in the endeavour to show its harmony with the dogma as formulated by them, or with the theoretic presuppositions on which they work. And the fresh speculation to which we are driven to make out the consistency of such a doctrine of the Person of Christ with the Catholic dogma, speculation in a region where all is so uncertain, points to the wisdom of suspending our judgment on the matter in dispute. But if we are not satisfied with the last effort to save the old Christology, what is there left to us but to return to the New Testament and recover if possible the intuition of the apostles? Giving up the attempt to construct an intellectual conception of the Person of Christ that will satisfy speculation, we must learn to content ourselves with the understanding of His religious significance, and the knowledge of His nature that is gathered from the life of faith. On this view the Personality of Christ will come before us, not so much as a problem to be solved, as a fact to be apprehended and interpreted; and this happily is the attitude that seriousminded men in our generation are disposed to take toward the subject under discussion. They are less interested in the explanation of the Person of Christ than in the interpretation of It. How is He to be understood? What is