Witness Of The New Testament
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Christians imply more by the term, "New
Testament," than meets the eye. They affirm two levels of God's communication
to the human race, an early witness that spanned the centuries before the coming
of Christ, and a latter testimony which began with the Incarnation but will
continue until the end of time.
Against the background of Jewish Messianism,
we are in a better position to appreciate how truly different this New Covenant
is, even as fulfillment differs from prophecy and the reality differs from hope.
No matter how clearly the prophets had spoken--and they could be obscure--they
would give us only an inkling of the One they predicted.
Our first stage of genetic analysis,
then, traces the witness of the Christian scriptures--the Synoptic Gospels,
St. Paul and St. John--to the person and mission of the Savior. Our purpose
will be as much to discover how the prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ
as to lay the foundation for a more scientific Christology in the later Patristic
and Conciliar age.
As we approach the witness of the New
Testament, a variety of distinctions should be kept in mind, at the risk of
profiting only minimally from the rich treasures of biblical data.
Christology is not the same as Soteriology,
since the one, by definition, is the science (logos) of Christos (the
Messiah); whereas the other is the science of Christ as the Savior (Soter).
Who Christ was and what are the deeper reaches of the Incarnation is the main
concern of Christology; but Soteriology deals with the work of Christ, namely
the Redemption., and implies that God had become Incarnate in order to bring
a fallen human family to its heavenly destiny.
By and large, the mainstream of traditional
Protestantism stemming from the Reformation agrees with Catholic teaching in
basic Christology. But Soteriology, which implies man's justification and the
priesthood, bristles with differences as between the Roman Catholicism and the
inheritors of Luther and Calvin. In ecumenical language, any progress in Christian
unity presumes a better understanding on both sides of the theology of Redemption.
Whatever else the New Testament was meant
to be, its driving intention was to bring men nearer to Christ, and for that
reason its message is strongly personal. The Good News of salvation comes either
as Kerygma (preaching), directed mainly to the will and seeking to motivate
a volitional response to what is Good (Bonum) in the Christian revelation;
or as Didache (teaching), aimed above all at the mind and wanting to
instruct the intellect about what is News (Verum) in the "tidings
of great joy" announced to the shepherds of Bethlehem.
It is impossible to exaggerate the personalist character
of the Christian scriptures, whose object in the words of the Lord at the Last
Supper is, "everlasting life, and that they may know you, the only true
God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ." Everything else is either
presumed or corollary, so that even theological analysis is justified
only on these terms.
The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke are commonly
called synoptic because they give a composite view of the life-story of Jesus
when set in parallel comparison.
Contrasted with the rest of the New Testament,
notably Paul and John, the Synoptics are more archaic in their presentation,
more concrete and empirical regarding factual data. They are correspondingly
less subtle and abstract, and, to that extent, less theological. Unlike Paul
and John, their reflections on the person and work of the Master are less frequent.
For these reasons it is well to start with them as we examine the biblical witness
to Jesus Christ, with stress on His transcendence, which the faith of the early
Church recognized as His divinity and which, for centuries to come, would provoke
a series of Christological controversies that rocked the Catholic Church.
Fulfillment of Prophecy. Too often the person of Jesus is separated from the
doctrine He taught, and yet the two are of one piece. If He was the Messiah
foretold by the prophets, He would also teach as only the Desired of Nations
might be expected to enlighten mankind.
Matthew understood this well. That is
why he went to such pains to recall the Sermon on the Mount with its studied
contrast with the ethics of the Old Law or at least of most Jews at the time
of Christ. Jesus began by insisting that He did not come to destroy the Law
or the Prophets, but to fulfill. Then He proceeded to lay down a standard of
morality that marked for all time the cleavage with former days, and the fulfillment
of a long-awaited Holy One who would sanctify those who believed in his name.
Under the former covenant, Christ reminded
His audience, "You have heard it was said to the ancients, 'Thou shalt
not kill,'" with an obvious stress on external violence to be avoided.
"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be
liable to judgment," (1) He declared for the morality of His own followers.
They were to control the interior movements of the soul.
Still more crucially, "You have
heard it was said to the ancients, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' But I say
to you that anyone who even looks with lust at a woman has already committed
adultery with her in his heart." (2) Again internal restraint of one's
passions with drastic recommendations to pluck out an eye or cut off one's hand
if they are an occasion of sin. Anyone familiar with the conflicts in conscience
that chastity set up for Christians in a non-Christian society will appreciate
the revolutionary interpretation that the Messiah placed on this mandate of
Striking at the root of a grave evil,
the Jews were told, "It was said, moreover, 'Whoever puts away his wife,
let him give her a written notice of dismissal.' But I say to you that everyone
who puts away his wife, save on account of immorality, causes her to commit
adultery; and he who marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery."(3)
Nothing in the Messianic revelation has more deeply divided believers in Christ
from other people, and other religious systems, than this teaching on monogamy.
If Jesus had made no other contribution to human society, He would have been
a lasting benefactor to civilization by raising the standards of marriage
and prescribing monogamy on those who would follow His teaching.
It is instructive to see what the Jewish
tradition was (and is) regarding the dissolution of the marriage bond, and how
radically Jesus changed what is common ethical theory in Judaism. The following
is a summary statement from a current Jewish authority.
The act of dissolution of the marriage-tie
between husband and wife is effected in Jewish law by a bill of divorcement
termed sepher keritut in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 24:3) or get
in the Talmud. This bill, which the husband writes or orders to be written expressly
for the purpose, is handed by him to his wife together with a formal declaration
in the presence of witnesses.
The grounds on which the Pentateuchal
law permits divorce are termed the finding of an "unseemly thing"
in the woman (Deuteronomy 24:1). This cryptic phrase was diversely interpreted
by talmudic authorities. According to the School of Shammai, it means "a
thing of indecency;" hence marriage could be dissolved only on grounds
of unchastity on the part of the wife. The School of Hillel interpreted it to
mean "anything unseemly," i.e., anything that may involve the disruption
of domestic harmony. Barrenness was accepted (on the part of the wife) as sufficient
reason for divorce.
As early as 1000 C.E., Rabbi Gershom
decreed that a man may not divorce his wife without her consent. Maimonides
in his code (Ishut 13:3) extends the woman's rights still further: "if
the husband debars his wife from participating in certain joyous functions,
she may sue for and be granted a divorce." Again, if she pleads that her
husband is repulsive to her and that she cannot cohabit with him, the husband
is forced to divorce her. (4)
The Messiah also introduced the new law
of talion: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye,' and,
"A tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you not to resist the evildoer; on
the contrary, if someone strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the other
To him who asks of you, give; and from him who would borrow, do not turn
Then at the peak of moral generosity,
Jesus recalls the philosophy of the Scribes who interpreted the Law to mean
that a Jew should love people of his own race, but not the Gentiles. "You
have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and shall hate your
enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you."(6)
Writing for the Jews, Matthew synthesized
his Master's teachings in the eight beatitudes and climaxed them in the Lord's
Prayer. Taken together these norms of conduct introduced a new dimension into
human culture and, quite alone, warrant the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth
professed to be more than a human legislator.
The logic behind this conclusion is clear.
Jesus explicitly raised the demands of the Mosaic Law, known to have been given
by Yahweh. He thereby equated Himself with the Lord of the Old Testament because
in His own name, and without apology, He proclaimed such drastic revision of
Judaic morality that even after twenty centuries the Jewish code does not recognize
the change, e.g., in the matter of marriage and divorce.
Yet proclaiming a higher standard of
conduct would have been meaningless unless those for whom it was meant were
assured the moral strength to carry it into effect. At this point, all of Christ's
references to Himself as the source of grace and moral power come into play--synthesized
in the declaration, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and
I will give you relief. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek
and humble of heart. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." (7)
In fact, Christ made His moral doctrine
not only possible but, in many ways, prescriptive. He therefore both described
what His followers might aspire to and legislated what they were obliged to.
His parting words to the disciples were that they might teach all "that
I have commanded you." and His sanction was that those who would believe
and act accordingly would be saved; but those who should refuse to believe,
or refuse to live up to their faith, would be lost.
Moreover, He anticipated that acceptance
of Him as the Messiah would cost His followers dearly, in terms of friendships
betrayed and enemies gained.
Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth; I have come to bring
a sword, not peace. For I have come to set a man at variance with his father,
and a daughter with her mother, and a daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law;
and a man's enemies will be those of his own household.
He who loves father or mother more than me is
not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy
of me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of
me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake,
will find it. (8)
No one but a charlatan, or a person who
speaks with divine authority, could seriously pit himself against a man's dearest
possessions and demand allegiance above everything else. No Isaiah or Jeremiah
would have dared to suggest, let alone require, that loyalty to themselves stood
higher than all human love; and that life itself was cheap and to be sacrificed
We see implied in this teaching of Christ
the whole fabric of Christian spirituality, with stress on the sacraments which
the Savior instituted precisely to help the faithful find His yoke easy and
burden light. Without such means of grace, fidelity to His demands would be
Given this backdrop--of elevated Messianic
teaching, it is no wonder the Synoptics speak of the Savior simply as Messiah
(the Christ) and that Matthew should spend his whole Gospel showing how the
prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.
We know that the name of the Messiah's
followers, "Christians," was already in use at Antioch around 40-44
A.D. (Acts 11:26). According to Tacitus (Annals 15, 44), the title was
current among the populace at Rome in the time of the Neronian persecution (A.D.
64), and was always the official Roman designation of the members of the Church.
During times of oppression by the Empire, it was generally the confession or
denial of this name that was crucial, as in the cases reported by Pliny to the
Emperor Trajan. He is writing as Governor of Bithynia.
This is the course I have adopted in
the case of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if they are Christians.
If they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, threatening
capital punishment. If they persist I sentence them to death.
All who denied that they were or had
been Christians, I considered should be discharged, because they called upon
the gods at my dictation
and especially because they cursed Christ, a thing
which, it is said, genuine Christians cannot be induced to do.
Others named by the informer first said
they were Christians and then denied it
They all worshiped your image and
the statues of the gods and cursed Christ. But they declared that
the sum of their guilt or error had amounted only to this. On an appointed day
they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally
(carmen dicere secum invicem), as to a god, and to bind themselves by
an oath (sacramentum), not for the commission of any crime but to abstain
from theft, robbery, adultery, and breach of faith, and not to deny a deposit
when it was claimed.
Matthew is eloquent in quoting the Savior's prediction
that believing in the Messiah would bring persecution, (9) and Peter makes it
plain that the prediction was being fulfilled: the followers of Isaiah's "Suffering
Servant" were duplicating His experience as Messianists (Christians).
Beloved, do not be startled at the trial
by fire that is taking place among you to prove you, as if something strange
were happening to you. But in so far as you are partakers of the suffering of
Christ, rejoice that you may also rejoice with exultation in the revelation
of His glory. If you are upbraided for the name of Christ, blessed will you
.Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a slanderer, or as
one coveting what belongs to others. But if he suffer as a Christian, let him
not be ashamed; but let him glorify God under this name. (10)
Among the most ancient insults, still extant, in Christian
history, is the legible inscription on one of the walls of Pompeii (before 79.
A.D.): "Christiani saevi olores (Christians, the savage swans)."
It indicates how early the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew "Messiah"
was identified with the religion of Jesus of Nazareth.
Son of God and Son of Man. If the prophecies intimated that the "One to Come"
would have a twofold origin, this duality is reflected in the terms most commonly
applied to Jesus in the Synoptic writers, "Son of God" and "Son
of Man." Both are rich in meaning to fill out the biblical portrait of
In theological language, sonship, implies origin of one
person from another person, in such a way that the one originated has the same
nature as the one originating. This is so true that in the biological sciences
a species is commonly identified by the ability of two mates to reproduce their
The Messiah, therefore, might be expected to profess
both types of filiation, of God as divine and of man as human. Yet between the
two appellatives, the title "Son of Man" is more revealing in the
synoptic tradition than elsewhere in the New Testament.
Various people are called "sons of God" in
the Scriptures. All mankind, created to the image and likeness of God, is related
to Him by the sonship of being like Him in the possession of mind and free will.
The children of Israel are sons of Yahweh by a special claim, because He chose
them as His own and showed them His unswerving care. All the
just who are in God's friendship, "who are born, not of the will of the
flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," are His sons by supernatural
adoption. Their destiny is to be like Him in knowing and loving Him, as He knows
and loves Himself.
Although Jesus never said outright, "I am the Son
of God," He did better (in view of the ambiguity of the term) by revealing
an intimacy between Him and the Father that conceptually could only mean an
identity of nature with the Father. "Everything," He said, "is
entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows
the Father but the Son and those to whom the Son may choose to reveal Him."
This passage is so clear in stating Christ's
unique consciousness, one with Yahweh, that critics who believe that His divinity
was a later development of the Church deny the authenticity of the text and
urge that John (or some Hellenist) interpolated the words. But manuscript evidence
shows only Matthean origin, and is supported by the whole tenor of the first
three Gospels, where Jesus identifies Himself as the only son of the parable,
compared with the servants (prophets) of the master of the vineyard; where He
regularly contrasts "my Father" with "your Father;" and
where He distinguishes between His Davidic origin and being David's Lord.
With one exception (12), the title "Son
of Man" is found only in the Gospels and here always on the Savior's lips.
Several uses may be classified: the "Son of Man" is One who is to
appear at the Last Judgment "coming with the clouds of heaven" (13)
or "sitting on the throne of His glory" as Judge of the world. (14)
These passages derive their meaning from association with Hebrew eschatology.
Again the "Son of Man" relates to the future sufferings, death and
resurrection of the Messiah; (15) or finally to Jesus as simply an individual
speaking in His own name, where parallel texts in another Gospel sometimes have
"I" or "me" instead of the formal term." (16)
Implied in the title, "Son of Man,"
is a transcendence which should be traced to the prophecy of Daniel, (17) and
which Christ appropriated to Himself at the dramatic moment when His fate was
being decided by the Jewish Sanhedrin. Caiphas the highpriest was vexed with
the Savior and puzzled by His silence. He questioned Jesus and received an
The highpriest rose and said to Him, "Have
you no answer to the charge that these witnesses bring against you?" But
Jesus kept silence. The highpriest then said, "By the living God I charge
you to tell us: Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?" Jesus replied, "The
words are yours. But I tell you this: from now on, you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven."
At these words the highpriest tore his robes
and exclaimed, "Blasphemy! Need we call further witnesses?
You have heard the blasphemy. What is your opinion? "He is guilty,"
they answered; "He should die." (18)
Jewish tradition supports the celestial
origin of the Son of Man to a degree that some have urged a Christian rehandling
of known pre-Christian writings, on the score that they too clearly describe
the Messiah as divine. The Songs of Solomon (Second Century B.C.) are
an example. But the classic source is the Book of Enoch, written between
the second and first century before the Christian era.
There are five sections to Enoch, for
a total of 104 chapters, of which the second part (chapters 37 to 71) treats
extensively of the Son of Man. The most revealing pericope begins with
Enoch's description of his vision of the Son of Man.
I saw there one who was the Ancient of
Days, and his head was like white wool. In his company was a person who had
the appearance of a man, and his figure was full of beauty, as one of the holy
angels. I asked the angel walking with me to tell me the secret of this Son
of Man. "Who is he," I questioned, "and where does he come from?
Why does he walk together with the Ancient of Days?"
He answered me and said, "This is
the Son of Man, who possesses all justice and with whom justice dwells. He will
reveal all the treasures of that which is hidden, because the Lord of Spirits
has chosen him, and His choice has won through by the right he has from the
Lord of Spirits for eternity
.Before the sun and the planets were created,
before the stars of the heavens were made, he was already named by the Lord
of Spirits. He will be a staff to support the just, on whom they can lean lest
they fall; he will be the light of nations and the hope of those who suffer
at heart. All who dwell upon the earth will prostrate themselves before him
and adore him." (19)
If the title, "Son of Man,"
is the clearest profession of divine transcendence in the Synoptics, it is
also symbolic of Christ's unique dual nature, at once divine and human. It focuses
on the uniqueness of the Messiah in the history of world religions.
Outside the Jewish tradition, other religious
systems (like the Hindu) also believe in "incarnations." On closer
analysis, however, these avataras, as the Hindus call them, are not believed
to be literal "enfleshments of the Deity." Neither the Oriental "Ground
of Being (Brahman) nor the material body of man are held to be what Christianity
teaches about both; the one is an impersonal Force permeating the universe,
the other is an illusion (maya) that hides what alone is real in the
world, namely monistic Spirit.
Among the Jews, too, there had been epiphanies
in their religious history, as with Abraham, Jacob, Moses and the prophets.
But never had Yahweh become human, and much less claimed lineage by carnal generation
of an earthly mother. It was this human ancestry especially that was stressed
by the title Son of Man, while including under its concept the possession of
Revelation and Miracles. A balanced understanding of Jesus Christ should include
what He said and what He did. Without the first, there would be no reason for
taking Him any more seriously than a philosopher like Socrates; and without
the second, His teaching could be accepted, indeed, but belief in Him and His
mission would not be fully defensible to the mind which demands a reasonable
account of its faith before commitment, even to God.
The two foci of Christ's life, therefore,
are the revelation He purported to be making of God's hidden mysteries, and
the miracles to which He appealed in support of His claims. Both deserve careful
attention, at the risk of seeming to intrude into a doctrinal study of Christ
in the New Testament. But of what value is the Christian faith in its Founder
unless intelligible before the bar of reason or why I should believe in Christ,
rather than in Buddha or Mohammed?
We know that God discloses Himself at
different times and in different ways, and all such divine self-disclosure is
revelation in a generic sense. Literally revelation means an unveiling of a
hidden mystery, an apocalypsis. We further distinguish between the revelation
that God makes of Himself in nature, and the revelation of truths inaccessible
to reason but supernaturally communicated by a special enlightenment of man's
In natural revelation, God tells us about Himself and
the spiritual world by giving us the power of native insight and of reasoning
power. Thus we come to the knowledge of a First Cause from reflection on the
effects that we see all around us.
Revelation properly so called, however,
is not natural. The truths it communicates may be naturally knowable like the
Ten Commandments, or above reason like the Incarnation; but the mode of communication
is not by way of natural intuition or rational deduction. It is always a personal
manifestation from God to man, whereby He speaks and man listens; He breaks
through the normal channels of cognition and addresses Himself directly to
the human person--either by infusing new knowledge or stimulating the senses
or any way He chooses to convey His wisdom without dependence on the laws of
While all revelation is supernatural
in the sense that its manner of communication exceeds the laws of natural cognition,
many revealed truths are supernatural twice over. Not only are they originally
received in a miraculous way--from a heavenly voice or vision or special illumination--but
the contents revealed are beyond the capacity of the human mind to comprehend.
In the order of providence, strict mysteries like the hypostatic union and the
eternal generation of the Second Person by the Father cannot be understood this
side of heaven. At best we can know something of their meaning from analogies
with the natural world, comparing, for example, the persons in the Godhead with
the three-fold aspect of our nature--existence, intelligence and will; or the
hypostatic union of two natures in Christ compared with the substantial composite
of body and soul in man.
Technically we call naturally knowable
truths modally supernatural when revealed by God, and the strict mysteries modally
and substantially supernatural, because they transcend nature both in the mode
of transmission and in the substance or meaning of what is believed.
In recent years, biblical
theology has enriched the meaning of revelation in two directions: by expanding
the concept to include God in the amplitude of His being and not merely a communication
of truth, and by explaining that faith (which answers to revelation) is a response
of the whole man and not only of his mind assenting to certain propositions.
Once the object of revelation is seen to be God Himself, a new vista opens up
in the Christian religion. God is seen to have confronted man at strategic times
through a series of events that extend to the beginning of the gens electa
and up to the death of the last apostle.
This salvation history, which is revelation
in its totality, started with the promise to Abraham (patriarchal period), continued
with the organization of a people with whom God established a special covenant
(Mosaic period), followed by the choice and conquest of the Promised Land (period
of Judges and the first Kings). After David and Solomon, God provided for the
spiritual formation of the Chosen People (period of the prophets) and to prepare
them more intimately for the coming of the Messiah. During this time Israel
was taken into exile and began its diaspora in the world, to universalize its
nationalism and bring the message of Yahweh among the gentiles.
With the coming of Christ, who is God's
revelation incarnate, a new dimension entered salvation history. Unlike anything
revealed before, Christ made known in His own person mysteries that had been
hidden from the foundation of the world. All the divine attributes became manifest:
God's power in the wonders that Christ worked, His mercy in the forgiveness
of sin, patience in suffering unto death, teaching holiness in living, and goodness
in blessings promised and conferred.
Parallel with this expansive view of
revelation, the Christian faith becomes more than an intellectual acceptance
of religious truths--although it always includes that. It is a free orientation
of the whole person, mind and will, body and emotions, towards God who reveals
Himself as our maker and redeemer, as the One from whom we originally came and
to whom we are predestined to go.
Accordingly faith is par excellence a theological
virtue because its object is nothing less than God, otherwise than moral virtues
whose immediate concern is with human actions that may lead to God. It is the
subjective counterpart to divine revelation, where the One revealing is also
the One revealed: as the Way, the Truth and the Life--the Way
by means of example, the Truth by teaching and precept, and the Life by the
grace He infuses in those who believe in His name.
It is one thing, however, to say that
revelation is theoretically possible because God can do all things, and necessary
because of man's deficiency and elevation to the adopted sonship of God. It
is quite different to submit that such revelation was made or that Christianity
teaches this communication from God.
How do we know whether God really spoke
in Christ Jesus, or the Spirit of Christ through the evangelists and St. Paul?
Merely to take somebody's word is not enough. All the great religions of history
make the same claims: that the Zend-Avesta, the Vedas and Koran contain oracles
which the believer must accept without reservation as divine.
We transmit the possibility of establishing
the fact of revelation from internal, subjective criteria. They are helpful
and profound, and for many people are their best justification for accepting
the teachings of Christ. They have learned from experience what it means to
trust in the Savior's promise of peace to those who serve Him. The joy they
find in following Him is enough to convince them that nothing on earth is truer
than Christianity and nothing surer than the faith it demands. On the other hand, if we
approach the matter objectively, the surest guide to a reasonable faith is the
miracles that God works in the context of the revelation He desires to approve.
Seen in this way, the miracles of Christ are the divine warranty that what He
said was indeed from on high.
We may speak of miracles, then, as the
natural bridge by which the mind passes over from reason to revelation and comes
into contact with the secrets hidden in God from eternity, and which at sundry
times and various places--mainly in the Person of His Son--He has willed to
share with the human family.
Briefly defined, a miracle is an effect
produced by God beyond the powers of visible nature. It implies that, in answer
to prayer or great sanctity, God enters the world He created to show His divine
power and witness to the message or holiness of someone speaking in His name.
If the modern world is prejudiced against
miraculous phenomena, the reason is partly that religionists have sometimes
been undiscriminating in their judgment and too ready to believe that everything
marvelous (in a religious atmosphere) was also miraculous. But more commonly
those who wince at the idea of miracles are blinded by their preconception of
a mathematical universe from which Providence is removed and whose governance
is directed by a vague, impersonal Power. Anyone who recognizes the existence
of a personal God and studies the empirical evidence of critical scholarship
will conclude that miracles do occur and that we have as much (and often more)
reason to accept the phenomena of Christianity as any other extraordinary events
of human history.
Miracles are as old as the history of
God's revelation to man. At the dawn of the Old Testament they were the instruments
Yahweh used to organize the chosen people under Abraham; in the time of Moses
and Aaron they were the heavenly aids by which the Jews found liberation from
the bonds of Egypt; in the days of Elijah and Eliseus they were the signs and
wonders which the Lord showed through His prophets to ratify their divine commission.
With the opening of the New Covenant,
miracles served to announce the coming of the Savior. During His public life,
Jesus appealed to His works of power in confirmation of His divinity; and before
He ascended into heaven He gave His Church power to do the same miraculous works,
as a pledge of His assistance and a proof of her authority.
A graphic example of this biblical logic,
among others, is described by Mark when he tells the story of the paralytic
at Capharnaum. There we have the implicit claim by Christ to divine power of
forgiving sins; the claim challenged by His enemies; and the claim validated
by a miraculous cure.
When after some days, He returned to Capharnaum,
the news went round that He was at home. And such a crowd collected that the
space in front of the door was not big enough to hold them.
While He was proclaiming the message to them,
a man was brought who was paralyzed. Four men were carrying him, but because
of the crowd they could not get him near. So they opened up the roof over the
place where Jesus was, and when they had broken through they lowered the stretcher
on which the paralyzed man was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to
the paralyzed man, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now there were
some lawyers sitting there and they thought to themselves, "Why does the
fellow talk like that? This is blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins?"
Jesus knew in His own mind that this was what
they were thinking, and said to them: "Why do you harbor thoughts like
these? Is it easier to say to this paralyzed man, 'Your sins are forgiven',
or to say, 'Stand up, take your bed, and walk?' But to convince you that the
Son of Man has the right on earth to forgive sins"--He turned to the paralyzed
man--"I say to you, stand up, take your bed, and go home."
He got up, took his stretcher at once, and went
out in full view of them all, so that they were astounded and praised God. "Never
before," they said, "have we seen the like." (20)
The same Mark closes his Gospel on a miraculous theme.
After recounting the wonders that Jesus worked to make faith in Him more credible,
he recalls the promise to Christ's followers that they, too, will have power
over nature to help people accept a faith that transcends nature. In this final
scene, the Eleven are together with Christ at table, when He appeared to them
and reproached them for their incredulity and dullness, because they had not
believed those who had seen Jesus risen from the dead.
Then He said to them: "Go forth to every
part of the world, and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation. Those who
believe it, and receive baptism will find salvation; those who do not believe
will be condemned.
Faith will bring with it these miracles: believers
will cast out devils in My name and speak in strange tongues. If they handle
snakes or drink any deadly poison, they will come to no harm; and the sick on
whom they lay their hands will recover."
So after talking with them, the Lord Jesus was
taken up into heaven, and He took His seat at the right hand of God. But they
went out to make their proclamation everywhere, and the Lord worked with them
and confirmed their words by the miracles that followed. (21)
In the centuries to come, few aspects of the life of
Christ will be more seriously challenged than His miracles. Instinctively the
questioning mind looks for divine assurance that a reputed revelation, here
the teachings and claims of Christ, is really from God. What the Savior did
substantiates what He said. His transcendent doctrine was confirmed by His transcendent
As we move from the Synoptic Gospels into St. Paul and
the early Christian community, the first and strongest impression they leave
us is the devotion of the early Christians to the person of Jesus. He dominated
their thoughts, determined their ritual customs, inspired their daily practices
and so completely entered every phase of their lives it is no wonder they were
soon given the simple title of "Christians," as followers of one whom
they called the Messiah and on whom all their religion centered.
It is impossible to read a single letter of St. Paul
without feeling that for him Christianity was Christ. He speaks
of himself as "the servant of Jesus Christ," and of those to whom
he is writing "called to be Jesus Christ's." His preoccupation with
the Savior makes him say, "if any man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ,
let him be anathema." In closing salutations, he writes, "My love
is with you all in Christ Jesus."
When necessary, he vindicates his authority
that he is an apostle, "sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ."
In his suffering, he rejoices that, "I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus
Christ in my body." and in humility he prays, "God forbid that I should
glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul's exhortations were not so much
to virtue as to the following of Christ. "Have this mind in you which was
also in Christ Jesus." His reproaches are less against vice than against
those who "seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ." His
great hope is to be dissolved, and to be with Christ. By comparison with this
treasure, "I count everything loss, because of the excellent knowledge
of Jesus Christ my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things."
And in the apostrophe which summarizes his gospel, he sets the master idea that
he learned from the Savior that Christians in all times, and not only the converts
in Ancient Rome, have needed to remain loyal to their faith.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or
danger, or the sword? Even as it is written, "For your sake we are put
to death all the day long. We are regarded as sheep for the slaughter."
But in all these things we overcome because of Him who has loved us. For I am
sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things
present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depth, nor any other
creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ
Jesus our Lord. (22)
There is a uniqueness about Paul's understanding
of Christ, that sets him apart from the other writers of the New Testament.
Most likely he never met the Savior during His visible stay on earth, which
gives Pauline Christology an interiority not found in others, even in St. John.
Paul thus became the great apostle of the Risen Savior and witness to the Lord's
invisible workings in the early Church.
He was, on his own account, converted
suddenly by the grace of Christ; and he would spend the rest of his days testifying
to the power of that grace in a way not found in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
In the deepest ontological sense of that
term, Paul preached Christ as Savior, and his Soteriology is preoccupied with
man's sinfulness from which he cannot rescue himself unless Jesus comes to his
help. If we would distinguish between the two names of the Lord, Jesus
and Christ, Paul gives us a theology of Jesus= Savior, more than the
others who stress the role of Christ=Messiah come into the world.
While it is impossible to do full justice to Pauline
Soteriology, we can profitably approach his writings about the Savior by classifying
his main letters and specifying those features in each that best illustrate
his concept of the Redeemer.
Christ Our Hope. The two epistles to the Thessalonians, reputedly the earliest expositions
of the New Testament, delineate St. Paul's eschatology in terms of Christ in
a way that added a new dimension to the familiar treatment of the subject in
theological manuals. In Paul's view, man's destiny is indeed to possess God
in the beatific vision, but God Incarnate, who is beheld at once by the soul
in union with its Creator and by the body in the presence of the human Redeemer.
Drawing on language familiar to his readers,
the Apostle spoke of this destiny from several viewpoints. It was to be a Parousia,
arrival, to signify the coming of Christ when a person dies and His coming at
the end of time. It would also be an Apantesis, meeting, to describe
the coming together of Christ and Christian when the arrival takes place. And
finally, it will be an Epiphania, manifestation, wherein Christ reveals
the fulness of His bounty and bestows His beatitude on the people who are saved.
Paul compares the hapless condition of
the pagans who live without hope, with the Christian expectation, and bids the
faithful take comfort from this certitude.
We want you not to remain in ignorance,
brothers, about those who sleep in death. You should not grieve like the rest
of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again.
So it will be for those
who died as Christians. God will bring them to live with Jesus.
For this we tell you as the Lord's word.
We who are left alive until the Lord comes shall not forestall those who have
died; because at the word of command, at the sound of the archangel's voice
and God's trumpet-call, the Lord himself will descend from heaven. First the
Christian dead will rise, then we who are left alive shall join them, caught
up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Console one another, then, with these words. (23)
Time and again, Paul had to caution the
faithful to be patient and not expect the Parousia soon. They were not to be
anxious, and much less cease from labor in the work of the Lord, as though His
advent was nigh. "About dates and times," he warned them, "we
need not write to you, for you know perfectly well that the Day of the Lord
comes like a thief in the night." (24) Or again, "about the coming
of our Lord Jesus Christ and His gathering of us to Himself," he begged
the faithful, "do not suddenly lose your heads or alarm yourselves, whether
at some oracular utterance, or pronouncement, or some letter purporting to come
from us, alleging that the Day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive
you in any way whatever." (25)
Yet, in a true sense, the Adventus
Domini was near to every man with the nearness of his death, with obvious
implications for living the kind of life that believers in Christ's second
coming were expected to practice.
This readiness for the Lord meant that
a Christian loved his fellowman. Always one to encourage virtue before rebuking
vice, St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that "you are yourselves taught
by God to love one another," so that "you need no words of mine."
But there was room for improvement: "We appeal to you to do better still."
It further meant
that he practiced chastity, which marked the true believer and distinguished
him from the infidel.
This is the will of God, that you should be holy.
You must abstain from fornication. Each one of you must learn to gain mastery
over his body, to hallow and honor it, not giving way to lust like the pagans
who are ignorant of God. And no man must do his brother wrong in this matter,
or invade his rights, because, as we told you before with all emphasis, the
Lord punishes all such offenses. For God called us to holiness, not to impurity.
Anyone, therefore, who flouts these rules is flouting not man, but God who bestows
upon you His Holy Spirit. (27)
All of this was to be done, not from
constraint but joyfully. "Be always cheerful" Christians were told
"pray continually; give thanks whatever happens, for this is what God in
Christ will for you." (28)
Life in Christ.
Knowing the past history of the Greeks, it was not surprising that the Corinthians
were no sooner baptized than they were embroiled in the familiar problem of
intellectuals--pride that created factions, and bickering that threatened to
end in schism. In fact; a generation after Paul the Corinthians became so quarrelsome
they evoked the first extant exercise of papal authority outside the Scriptures.
For a people reared in the culture of
Hellenism, they were prone to philosophize to the point of endangering the faith.
They had to be told that human wisdom is folly by comparison with the saving
knowledge of Christ.
If the creed of a Christian is Christ,
the code of morals is self-control. Coupled with pride, the natural man is given
to lust. The remedy for both is the same: to overcome pride, man's spirit must
be subject in humility to Christ and joined with Him in pain; to overcome lust,
his body must be united with His in the mortification of the sex urge.
The longest disquisition on chastity
in the New Testament occurs in this context, where Paul exhorts the faithful
to the practice of sex control on every level of human existence: before marriage
to abstain from fornication; in marriage to remain faithful in monogamy; in
widowhood to forego another marital union in favor of restraint; and for those
not married, and possessed of the grace, to think of a life of consecrated virginity.
Paul's panegyric on chastity should be
read in conjunction with the Savior's Sermon on the Mount: the one supplements
the other. Where Christ raised matrimony between Christians to the dignity
of a sacrament, Paul supplies the reason why a sacrament was needed. How otherwise
could two people remain faithful until death--as Christ prescribed--unless
they received grace from on high to live up to this demand? Where Christ forbade
not only external sins against chastity but even deliberate internal pleasures
of sex outside of marriage, Paul explained the reason--so as not to desecrate
a body that is in mystic union with the Body of Christ. And where Christ offered
counsel of celibacy, Paul details the advantage of this state of life--it gives
the soul more freedom to serve the Lord, i.e., Kurios Christos.
Along with faith and temperance, the
Christian religion has its own worship focused on the person of Christ. He is
the center of its ritual and the purpose of its cult--in the Eucharist--in opposition
to the pagan mysteries and their mythological gods.
His body and blood in the sacrament are
really present, an extension now invisibly (but no less really) of the Incarnate
Presence visibly on earth. His sacrifice is truly enacted--not detracting from
the infinite merits of the cross. His memory continues, as He requested before
He died; and His grace is conferred by doing what He commanded "in commemoration
Then back to the familiar themes: "Every
time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord,
until He comes." (31) The relationship is causal, as Christ had said. Those
who receive His body and blood will enjoy the Parousia; those who reject the
Eucharist condemn themselves.
The Philippians, no less than the Corinthians, were a
factious group. Both had to be spurred to unity by an appeal to Christ. Typically
Paul refers the practice of community to having the spirit of humility after
the example of the Son of God. How can foolish man refuse to live peaceably
with others, through pride, when the Son of Man took on the nature of a slave
to redeem mankind?
Let your bearing towards one another arise out
of your life in Christ Jesus. For the divine nature was His from the first.
Yet He did not think being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied
Himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto men. (32)
Unity among Christians is not a function
of virtue only, as though it depended exclusively (or even mainly) on their
practice of humble charity. It is a given of God's re-creation of the human
race. Through the merits of His Son and the death He suffered on the cross,
mankind who believe in Him are already joined with Him, and therefore to one
another, ontologically by grace--quite independent of their practical humility.
Their contribution is to conserve what Christ has wrought in the human family,
and to grow in the bond of mystic unity that forms with Him, one supernatural
Body. "Now you are Christ's body." Christians are reminded, "and
each of you a limb or organ of the same." (33)
Salvation through Christ. Pauline
Soteriology has become the mainstay of the Church's teaching on the Redemption,
on which especially the Magisterium drew in the Pelagian controversy and, in
the sixteenth century, to answer the challenge of the Reformation.
We may follow the Apostle's teaching
by reviewing the sequence of his thought. He takes a cosmic view of mankind,
from before the fall of Adam, through its condition under the Old Law (and outside
the Law among pagans), and now, after Christ, under the New Dispensation of
grace from the Redeemer.
Before the lapse of our first parents,
man was in a state of righteousness with God. "Through one man," he
says, "sin entered into the world and through sin death." (34) Thus
man's original condition was sinless, and his privilege not to die.
The state of sinfulness affected not
only Adam who disobeyed God, but infected Adam's posterity who derived from
him. Every phase of man's nature suffered from this fall.
First reason was darkened, so that, although naturally
attainable, the knowledge of God was obscured by passion. Darkened reason led
to irrational urges that flared up in myriad ways, but notably in the
lusts of the body.
For this reason God has given them up to the
vileness of their own desires, and the consequent degradation of their bodies,
because they have bartered away the true God for a false one, and have offered
reverence and worship to created things instead of to the Creator, who is blessed
In consequence, I say, God has given them up
to shameful passions. Their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,
and their men in turn, giving up natural relations with women, burn with lust
for one another. Males behave indecently with males, and are paid in their own
persons fitting wage of such perversion. (36)
Sex perversion leads to every kind
of vice. As modern psychology shows, once a man becomes addicted to sins
of the flesh, nothing is sacred to him. No law is too holy or mandate too binding
not to be broken (or breakable) by one who is enslaved by the flesh.
Thus, because they have not seen fit to acknowledge
God, He has given them up to their own depraved reason. This leads them to break
all rules of conduct. They are filled with every kind of injustice, mischief,
rapacity and malice. They are one mass of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery,
and malevolence; whisperers and scandal-mongers, hateful to God, insolent, arrogant,
and boastful. They invent new kinds of mischief. They show no loyalty to parents,
no conscience, no fidelity to their plighted word. They are without natural
affection and without pity. (37)
Against this backdrop of man's unregenerate
nature, Paul asks how, then, will anyone be saved. It cannot be through the
Mosaic Law for, as history shows, the Law only made matters worse for those
who sinned. They sinned once in rejecting the voice of conscience, weakened
by the fall; they sinned again by disobeying the Law revealed to them on Sinai
and interpreted by the prophets.
Only Christ, the Second Adam, can save
mankind fallen from innocence and estranged from the Creator. Indeed, the redemptive
work of Christ more than makes up for the disruptive work of Adam.
Only through the grace of Christ, therefore,
can mankind be saved, and only through faith in Him can anyone hope to attain
eternal life. In broad perspective that is Paul's message of salvation. But
its implications are kaleidoscopic.
Not only is mankind savable, but the
grace that comes through Christ far exceeds the sin that brought about the fall.
Adam's fall occasioned the coming of the Savior--but the Savior's coming removes
the sins of millions of soul. Hence a quantitative disproportion. Yet more impressively,
the offense of Adam (even joined to that of all men) in only finite; whereas
the saving work of Christ, who is God in human form, is by its very essence
This note of optimism pervades the writings
of Paul and characterizes even those of his disciple, Luke. The two go together.
Paul should be read in the light of Luke, and Luke in Paul's. If the latter
gives the theology of man's salvation, the former recounts the history, which
has been rightly called the Gospel of Mercy, every chapter of which breathes
the universal salvific will of God, and the ease (if only men respond) of salvation
through the grace of Christ.
Paul's Soteriology was not born of speculation.
It came as a result of special insight into the conflict that raged in his
own being. And any estimate of Paul apart from this element is untrue. He struggled
in his own person between the antipodes of fallen nature and saving grace,
and expressed for all time the inner conflict of every child of Adam.
I discover this principle, then: that when I
want to do the right, only the wrong is within my reach. In my inmost self I
delight in the law of God, but I perceive that there is in my bodily members
a different law, fighting against the law that my reason approves and making
me a prisoner under the law that is in my members, the law of sin.
Miserable creature that I am, who is there to
rescue me out of this body doomed to death? God alone, through Jesus Christ
our Lord! Thanks be to God! (39)
The Lordship of Christ. Up
to this point, Paul's Christology reveals the Savior as man's Redeemer and the
one Hope of reaching his destiny. But there is more to Him than serving a contingent
function, albeit an important one, to remove what was after all a contingent
element in man's history, sinfulness brought on by Adam and deepened by the
disobedience of his posterity.
Paul's vision of Christ sees Him as the
keystone of the cosmos and the Lord of all creation. By natural right, as the
Son of God, He is ruler of the universe, to whom all nations belong and under
whom everything is subject. And by acquired right, through redemption, He enjoys
dominion over the whole earth.
Two letters especially bring out this
theme. The Epistles to Colossae and Ephesus are almost duplicates, and were
occasioned by the Gnostic speculators who conceived the cosmos as made up of
a universe of hierarchical being, among whom, as a creature, was Jesus Christ.
Their theory was consistent with the popular Oriental tendency to synthesize
the world under one orderly whole, which they called the pleroma.
Paul undertook to place Christ where
revelation sees Him, not inside the world as an aeon or demigod, but as Ruler
of the Universe, of angels and men. To add solemnity to his statement, Paul
writes in the form of a hymn whose literary structure is unsurpassed in either
Testament. It comes as a diptych to set forth two kinds of primacy of Christ
in the world: in the order of natural creation (Collossians 1:15-17), and then
in the order of supernatural recreation which is the Redemption (18-20).
The whole universe, then, with Christ
as Ruler is the true pleroma of Christianity. As a result all things
are permeated with the presence of God, and correspondingly the whole world
shares, also, the fruits of the Redemption. In Pauline terminology, there are
two productive Words of God: one creative, that brought the cosmos into being
out of nothing; another redemptive, that rectifies and sanctifies a created
world that was separated from its God. Christ is that Word of God in both senses,
and so by a double title Christ the King.
Christ's cosmic primacy also makes Him
head of the supernatural society which he founded. He is the invisible head
of the Church, which is His body. While still on earth, He instructed His followers
by precept, counsel and warning what they should do to become and remain incorporated
in Him. He conferred a triple power on His apostles and their successors: to
teach, govern and lead men to holiness; defined by special
ordinances, rights and obligations to make this power the fundamental law of
the whole Church.
Moreover, Christ continues to govern
and guide His Church directly and personally. By this interior guidance, as
Shepherd and Bishop of souls, He not only watches over individuals but exercises
His providence over the universal Church--by enlightening and giving courage
to the Church's rulers (to which Paul constantly alludes in his own role as
bishop); by singling out from the body of the Church people of conspicuous holiness
to become leaders of the faithful, especially in times of crisis; and by constantly
acting in the Church--through sacraments, Sacrifice and sanctity--for the upbuilding
of His body and its extension to the farthest reaches of the globe. "He
is the head," St. Paul summarizes, "and on Him the whole body depends.
Bonded and knit together by every constituent joint, the whole frame grows
through the due activity of each part, and builds itself up in love." (41)
Loyalty to Christ. While the notion of loyalty to Christ pervades all of Paul's correspondence,
his letters to Titus and Timothy are paradigms in this respect. The two epistles
to Timothy are urgent appeals that his disciple might strive energetically against
false teachers and engage zealously in organizing the Christian community.
They reflect the final touch in Pauline
Christology, that the Savior is, indeed, the invisible head of His body, but
He also operates through the visible ministry of the apostles, and their successors.
Christ is in them, and active through them; and salvation comes to men by their
ministry. A new concept of man's relations to God and dependence on His Son,
made man precisely that He might communicate through human instruments the grace
that He won on the cross.
Timothy (and Titus) are reminded they
have authority from Christ to teach and rule in His name. First to recall that
they have the power: "I admonish you to stir up the grace of God which
is in you by the laying on of my hands." (42) Then to encourage them not
to weaken, but "be strengthened in the grace which is in Christ Jesus."
(43) Again to tell them how he, Paul, learned from experience what it means
to be an apostle, "why I bear all things for the sake of the elect, that
they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus." (44)
of which is a prelude to the main lesson, that fidelity to Christ for a Christian
means obedience to the will of Christ, manifested by those who derive authority
from Jesus and teach in His name.
Faith is no subjective fancy, but demands
loyalty to what Christ taught His followers. Hence the Apostle's concern to
Timothy, "It is for you to keep safe what has been entrusted to you;"
(45) and to Titus, "Yours is to be a different message, with sound doctrine
for its rule." (46) And a parting exhortation, "Fix your mind on Jesus
Christ, sprung from the race of David, who has risen from the dead. That is
the Gospel I preach." (47) It was also the Gospel he wanted passed on after
The writings of the apostle, John, are his Gospel, the
Book of Revelations and three letters, all composed toward the end of the first
century and therefore reflective of the Church's faith almost two generations
after the Savior's Ascension.
The Christology of John is consequently more developed
than anything found elsewhere in the New Testament. It is also unique because
it supplements what others had written about Christ, and complements what Jesus
Himself had taught during His visible stay on earth. John wrote under the influence
of more than half a century of divine guidance by the Spirit of Christ in the
infant Church, and he was the recipient of a special communication from Christ,
which he embodied in the Apocalypse.
In a sense there are five Gospels; the
four commonly called such, and a fifth narrating what the invisible Savior revealed
to His beloved disciple.
The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave
him, to make known to His servant the things that must shortly come to pass.
He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John, who, in telling all
that he saw has borne witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus
Happy is the man who reads, and happy those who
listen to the words of this prophecy and heed what is written in it. For the
hour of fulfillment is near. (48)
Even if the Gospel was not the last thing
he wrote (which is likely), it was certainly colored by a lifetime of mystic
communion with the Spirit of Christ. Yet the immediate occasion for writing
it was the rise of two errors that were to vex the Church for centuries to come.
Gnostics and others (like the Ebionites) who denied that Christ existed before
He was born in the flesh; that He was only the natural son of Mary and Joseph--and
Docetists who questioned if Jesus had a truly human nature.
The Humanity of Christ. John wanted to be sure that Docetist theorizing would
not infect the early Church. As a branch of the Gnostics, the Docetae disclaimed
the Incarnation on the premise that since matter was evil, God could not have
become man; and since matter and spirit are in eternal conflict, there can be
no question of conquest of sin by a composite being like Christ. Salvation,
they held, comes only by liberation from matter, not from union of Spirit (in
the person of God's Son) with matter.
His Gospel is a tessera of witnesses
to the truly human nature of Jesus. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among
us. (49) He was weary at the well in Samaria. (50) He showed deep emotion at
the grave of Lazarus. (51) He could be troubled in spirit. (52) In the passion,
He carried His own cross, became thirsty in His agony. (53) And when He died,
proof of His death was that blood and water flowed from His open side. (54)
After the resurrection, His body showed the marks of the wounds and evoked from
the doubting Thomas the profession of faith, "My Lord and my God."
Like the Synoptics, John used the title,
"Son of Man," of Jesus; and like them, he meant to have Christ give
testimony to His human ancestry. But unlike the other evangelists, he developed
a dialectic between Christ's dual sonship that made clear the relationship of
one filiation to the other.
Christ suffered as man, but He was thereby
glorified as God. His humanity was means to an end: to show forth His love for
mankind, and thereby win their love for Himself as divine in return. The
Joannine expression, "lifted up," illustrates this purpose: "As
Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted
up, that those who believe in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting."
Divinity of Jesus Christ. John is so explicit about Christ's oneness with the
Father, and His transcendent divine nature, that critics of the faith are reduced
to dismissing his writings as Hellenist super-impositions on the simple message
of the synoptic Gospels.
He begins the fourth Gospel with a Prologue that leaves
nothing to the imagination. His triad is a close-knit attestation to the person
of Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God (Theos en ho Logos).
And the Word was made flesh, and
dwelt among us (ho Logos sarx egeneto kai eseknosen en humin).
And we saw His glory--glory as of the only-begotten
of the Father (etheasa-metha ten doxan augo--doxan hos monogenous para patros).
The Logos, therefore, is God; the Logos became a human
being; and this Logos as a human being lived among men and was witnessed
by them. Language cannot be clearer, as John intended to leave no doubt who
Jesus Christ really was.
Behind this premise he built the Gospel, the Apocalypse
and his letters. In the Gospel, he quotes the Savior testifying to His oneness
with God the Father and gives the natural reaction of the Jewish people.
The Jews gathered round him and asked, "How
long must you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah say so plainly."
"I have told you," said Jesus, "but you do not believe. My deeds
done in my Father's name are my credentials, but because you are not sheep of
my flock, you do not believe. My own sheep listen to my voice
My Father and
I are one.
Once again the Jews picked up stones to stone
Him. At this Jesus said to them, "I have set before you many good deeds,
done by my Father's power. For which of these would you stone me?" The
Jews replied, "We are not going to stone you for any good deed, but for
your blasphemy. You a mere man, claim to be God." (58)
Consistent with this claim, Christ's miracles (says John)
are signs that manifest His divinity. Their function is to reveal the presence
of God, active in the world and breaking through the laws He Himself had made.
Unlike Paul, who stresses man's sinfulness and need for a Deliverer, John emphasized
man's creatureliness and need of a Sanctifier. No sooner does he introduce the
Logos become flesh, but he must identify the Logos as the Life that was the
Light of men. If the Son of God is divine Life, those who believe in Him receive
a share in this life to become "sons of God--who were born not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (59)
Accordingly, where Paul contrasts two states of man--as
sinner and saved, John
compares two levels of man's existence--as human and divine. The first he receives
from his parents according to the flesh; they give him the physical life of
the body. The second he obtains from Christ according to the spirit; who confers
on those who believe in Him a new life for the soul. Nicodemus had this explained
by Christ in a dramatic passage that synthesizes Joannine Soteriology. The Pharisee
came to Jesus one night to tell Him how impressed he was.
Jesus answered, "In truth, in very
truth I tell you, unless a man has been born over again he cannot see the Kingdom
of God." "But how is it possible," said Nicodemus, "for
a man to be born when he is old? Can he enter his mother's womb a second time
and be born?"
Jesus answered, "In truth I tell
you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit.
Flesh can give birth to flesh; it is spirit that gives birth to spirit."
"God loved the world so much that
He gave His only Son, that everyone who has faith in Him may not die but have
eternal life. It was not to judge the world that God sent His Son into the world,
but that through Him the world might be saved." (60)
The whole edifice of a theology of the
supernatural will be built on these grounds: that there are two levels of being,
the created and the divine. Man unredeemed has only the finitude of his own
contingency, further lessened by reason of Adam's fall and his own personal
sins. But man redeemed is raised to a higher order of reality, where he partakes
of God's divinity and is destined to enjoy nothing less than the undivided Trinity.
How great is the love that the Father
has shown to us! We were called God's children, and such we are. And the reason
why the godless world does not recognize us is that it has not known Him. Here
and now, dear friends, we are God's children. What we shall be has not yet been
disclosed, but we know that when it is disclosed we shall be like Him, because
we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope before him purifies himself,
as Christ is pure. (61)
Everything by comparison pales into significance. Thanks
to the Incarnation, wherein God became man, man is enabled to become like God
with a destiny that parallels the divine. God has eternal life in Himself by
nature--to enjoy the plenitude of beatitude that makes Him God; He became one
of us to give us a share in the same happiness through faith in His love. In
Joannine terms, nature is what we have as creatures; grace is what we get from
Christ as God through Christ as man and to possess Christ the God-man in eternity.
Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life
Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
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Copyright © 2004 Institute on Religious Life