« AnteriorContinuar »
ing different modes of the Divine activity and self-manifestation, but as names for a separate hypostasis of the Divine nature, with Divine attributes and functions towards creation similar to those assigned to the logos in the cognate system of Philo. This idea of an intermediate Being, who makes possible the transition from the uncreated to the created, furnished the mould into which the Christian consciousness of the Superlative Greatness of Christ would pour itself. To Him became transferred those conceptions that had been associated hitherto with an object of religious speculation. Thus there attached itself to the faith of Jesus Christ the belief in His Pre-existence, and in His possession in a pre-incarnate state of such Divine attributes as are ascribed to Him specially in the later Epistles of Paul. In this way the conclusion is reached that the belief, originating in the speculative thought of the age, and rendering a religious idea into language borrowed from that thought, has no objective validity, and does not enter into the doctrine that expresses what is true regarding Christ for all time and for every age.
This view possesses great plausibility, and is attractive to those who are wearied with the metaphysical subtilities that surround the doctrine of the Person of Christ, and long for a return to a simpler faith, to a faith that is confined to what is historically true, and that can enforce its authoritativeness before the bar of reason and conscience. The facts mentioned prove, indeed, how prepared the soil was for the reception of a doctrine of the superhuman origin and pre-existent life of Christ, and may well account for the infrequency with which it is alluded to; for it was not necessary for the writers of the New Testament to dilate on an aspect of truth which was not called in question by their readers, and which it was so easy for them to believe. But the more we consider the matter, the more difficult is it for us to accept as exhaustive an explanation of the doctrine that refers it to what was peculiar in the religious thought of the age. The Christian consciousness has acquiesced in this doctrine as not only consonant to its convictions of the Divine Greatness of its Master, but as required by those convictions to justify them to itself. When we reflect on what the exaltation of Christ means, on the essential grandeur that must belong to a Being who receives such recognition, and the power to rule human destiny that is thereby conferred upon Him, we feel that it is reasonable to believe that He had an origin different from that of all others; and that, when Scripture refers to Him as preexistent and possessed of a nature and prerogatives that are eternal, identifying Him in a peculiar way with the eternal life of God, it presents Him under an aspect which, however difficult to make plain to our minds, is one that has in favour of its truth the antecedent probabilities of the case. One who is so High in the universe of Being, who has been and is so powerful an Agent in the moral and religious renewal of the race, could not at His human birth have begun to be—must have a history antecedent to that which was wrought out on the platform of time. It is a religious datum, or an implicate of our religious consciousness. It seems to originate in the very faith itself, or to be necessitated by it.1
Those speculative systems that repudiate the claim of this doctrine to a place in the creed of the Church acknowledge the necessity of recognising, in one form or another, in the true doctrine of Christ, His connection with a superhuman order of events in the kingdom of God, in order that justice may be done to the consciousness of His supreme religious significance. Proceeding to translate this consciousness into language more appropriate to modern modes of thought, they say: This ascription of pre-existence to the person of Christ comes of mixing up two things that must be kept separate, a religious idea or principle—the relation of sonship to God—and the Historic Person in whom that idea or principle is embodied, Jesus Christ. The preexistence is to be ascribed to the principle or idea ; the Person in whom it is embodied is a Man like any other man, born under similar conditions, pre-incarnate only in thought. He is but the temporal manifestion of the Eternal idea of the sonship of man to God. This is the construction of the Person that is offered by the speculative theology of the school of Lipsius, Biederman, Pfleiderer, and others. It is not pretended that it accords with the representations of Scripture, which assert a real and personal pre-existence ; but it is claimed for it that it does equal justice to the idea of Christ's supernatural worth in which these representations of Scripture originated, and that it conserves the religious interest in a form more consonant to the modern consciousness. The difficulty, however, appears to me insuperable of conceiving how one who is no more, by original constitution, than a human individual, can possess so exclusive an authority over the religious life of men, and an authority which rests not simply on what He said, but on what He personally was; or how such an one could become the recipient or embodiment of the idea in so absolute a sense as to constitute Him the Creative power by whom it is reproduced in others. The mind seems to me to demand that One who is to stand in such a relation to others should be in his own Person distinctive, should be more and greater than they who are to benefit by their connection with Him; and the Scripture representation of Him as eternally pre-existent, descending into a connection with
1 Kähler puts the matter thus : “Christ has, with His Glorification, entered on a state of Activity that embraces the world and penetrates into the hearts of men. That fact points to an Independence of Being in contrast with the ordinary life of Humanity such as cannot by any magic belong to any mere child of man. Such a position can be held only by the Eternal in His Majestic Independence in contrast with creaturehood. His exaltation, therefore, finds its only explanation in unçreated Being” (Die Wiss. der Christ, Lehre, p. 324).
us from a higher life, best meets that postulate, and is most in keeping with the religious conviction of His superhuman greatness and supreme significance for the religious Life of Man.1
But the further question remains, whether the language of the apostle supplies us with the means of formulating a doctrine of the Person of Christ on its metaphysical side ; whether, in addition to the moral and spiritual understanding of the contents of His Person, we can form any definite idea of its original constitution, of His place and rank in the system of Being; whether, in short, we can know Him as He is in Himself, apart from His relations to us which are the proper matter of revelation. We are here called to consider the theories which theologians, on the authority of statements in Paul's Epistles, have formed of the Person of Christ, and by which they have attempted to solve the problem of who and what He is in Himself. And, in approaching these theories, two things are to be kept before us as canons of judgment by which we may test their claim to be based on the teaching of the apostle and to represent his thought. On the one hand, it is to be noticed that it is always of one and the same subject that Paul speaks in his references to the different stages of the Being of Christ. However contrasted these states may be with one another,
Besides, it makes a difference in our conception of the grace of God in the Incarnation whether we regard that grace as manifested in the Son of God leaving heaven that He might enter on the humiliation of our earthly life, or as manifested simply in His Passion and Death for us. There is an added element of condescension in the former case that is absent in the latter. It is not often that Paul speaks of the act of the incarnation itself as a revelation of the love of God, but he does so represent it in two passages at least (Phil. ii. 3-10, and 2 Cor. viii. 9). And it would deprive those of meaning were we to regard him as mistaken in believing in the personal pre-existence of the Son of God, See Rainy on Philippians, p. 127. .
it is one and the same Christ who is the subject of them; the continuity of His life and consciousness unites them as parts of one history extending over the Eternity that is past, the brief episode of His earthly career, and the Eternity that followed. And, on the other hand, there is the no less indisputable truth that, as Paul represents the matter, Christ's experience of these successive states marks the progress of His Personality from what is in one point of view) a less perfect form of Being to one that is perfect and complete. While His life in the flesh was a state of Humiliation compared with His life as pre-incarnate, His state as Exalted involved an increase of personal glory (or personal qualification for the work of our redemption) compared not only with the earthly state, but also with that which was prior to it. The exaltation was not simply His return to a glory He was in possession of before, but an accession of personal greatness for which His earthly career furnished the needed preparation and discipline. What Christ became as Risen and Glorified at once revealed what was distinctive in His eternal and unchanging nature, and crowned it with the perfection for which He was destined from the first. These two points must receive recognition in any theory professing to set forth the more speculative aspect of Christ's Person that would commend itself as Pauline.
There are but three possible views to be taken of this subject, and each of them has received support.
1. The first is that Christ, in Paul's teaching, is in His essential nature a Man, and no more. Starting from the undoubted fact that He who lives in heaven, our Lord and Saviour, is genuinely human, the advocates of this view refuse to claim for Him more, and in predicating preexistence of Christ they hold that the New Testament
1 As Haupt (Philip. Brf., p. 96) puts it, “ Europovos Gottes ist er erst kraft seiner Erhöhung geworden, denn der Platz zur Rechten Gottes bezeichnet die Teilnahme an der göttlichen Herrschaft.”