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Historical Christology

Chapter II
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.

Synoptic Tradition

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 the decalogue.

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 also…To him who asks of you, give; and from him who would borrow, do not turn away."(5)

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 for themselves.

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 impossible.

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 be….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 Christ.

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 kind.

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." (11)

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 answer.

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 supra-human qualities.

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 intellect.

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 nature.

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 deeds.

Pauline Christology

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." (26)

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. (30)

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 of me."

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 forever.
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 infinite.

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)

Epilogue. All 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 his death.

Joannine Christology

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 Christ.
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." (55)

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." (56)

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). (57)

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.

Soteriology. 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

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