"Burke's presentation is well-taken. I may add and emphasize that the best starting point is neither Christology from above nor Christology from below. A Christian should start from Christology at the center where he experiences Jesus in the here and now, at the Eucharist, with his brothers and sisters, with the events in his life, from live faith of the church, from the revelations of the human-divine realities. Only with a strong religious experience of the reality of the Risen Jesus can someone make sense of the other starting points."
It is my position that a more healthy Christology is an Integral Christology which considers all other starting points of Christology, viz., christology from above, christology from below, christology from behind, christology from ahead or from beyond, and christology at the center. My emphasis on Christology at the center is to give weight to the practical effects of faith to one's everyday life.
----- Original Message ----From: Michael E. Miller
"Christology is a complex discipline. It requires an intricate balancing act among assertions perennially in tension with one another. One of my first theology teachers, Brian Daly, S.J., emphasized this point in a course tellingly entitled "The Christological Controversies. " He noted how every orthodox Christological claim tends toward one or another heresy and needs to be complemented by other claims. Moreover, this process of complementing and balancing involves more than rehearsing the facts of church doctrine, for the language of faith often explodes like a riot of color in a wild garden or a true poem. As such, Christology involves evocation. Its arguments turn on the subtlest of metaphors.And the work is always unfinished. Theology itself has to grow to stay alive. Theologians betray their vocation if they simply repeat word-for-word definitions taken from Scripture or doctrine, as if formulas could contain faith or words exhaust mystery. Every age, every culture needs to find access to Jesus Christ from within its own distinctive language and worldview. But the future of theology does not undermine the importance of its past. Theological growth needs direction to remain authentically alive. It needs Scripture (the normative witness to apostolic faith) and the Christological dogmas formulated by the theologians of the early church. However, the teachings of Scripture and tradition are not self-interpreting. For this reason, Christology is not only complex but dangerous. Even devout believers can lose their way in the thickets of Christological reasoning. Even clear and apparently unambiguous statements like "Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ" need to be interpreted in relation to other statements. Taken in isolation, without reference to the full humanity of Jesus, this statement is misleading and potentially harmful. In contrast, the classic formula developed at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, affirms the full divinity and full humanity of the one person, Jesus Christ, "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation." And even this profound and balanced definition is not the end of the matter, for inquiring minds want to know: How do we make sense of this? In the effort to make sense of the language of faith, the choice of where to begin is crucial because it shapes the way we imagine Jesus. This, I believe, represents the key difference between the Christology of Jon Sobrino, S.J., and the logic of the Vatican notification that criticizes his work. The notification implies that theology should start "from above," with the Nicene Creed's affirmation of Jesus' divinity ("one in being with the Father"). Sobrino, by contrast, begins "from below" where the synoptic Gospels begin, with Jesus as he appeared to his contemporaries ("Is this not the carpenter's son?"). The one approach starts with doctrine. The other begins in history.On the surface, starting from doctrine appears to be the strongest way to safeguard the faith. But throughout Christianity' s history, it is the return to Jesus that consistently protects theology from the greatest danger of all—the temptation to use its own logic to misrepresent God. Concern for this danger lies behind the commandment forbidding false images of God: God cannot be described by analogy to what we think a god ought to be like. For his part, Sobrino is wary of the assumption that "we already know what divinity is" when we apply the term to Jesus. Rather, Jesus reveals what divinity means. Starting with Jesus and moving from there to an interpretation of his being the eternal Word of God unmasks the temptation to manipulate his image (and thereby God's image) for our own ends. Furthermore, Sobrino begins with Jesus precisely to "make sense" of Christian faith in a world burdened by "senseless" suffering, especially the suffering that results from inhuman poverty and violent oppression. Starting with Jesus and his scandalous love for the poor provides the best way today to lead people to authentic faith in Jesus Christ. It empowers Christians to live as disciples of Jesus while confirming their claim to be advocates of a universal, integral justice. Finally, it provides a credible way of holding the tension between the divine and the human natures of Jesus. Sobrino directs the imagination to that which is most easily imaginable: Jesus as he appeared to his contemporaries. He then leads it beyond its normal limits, as theology must, in order to give a complete account of Christian hope.The Vatican notification warns that Sobrino's method might scandalize believers who are not sophisticated enough to follow his subtle theological ascent. If people begin by imagining Jesus in his humanity, they might remain there, with a "merely human" Jesus. Of course, a corresponding risk exists for those who start with the Nicene Creed and utilize a dogmatic imagination. This approach can lead simple believers into a heretically high Christology like Docetism, in which Jesus, the Son of God, only appears to be human.Christology wrestles with difficult questions. In-deed, its own use of reason can be dangerous. But not every danger can be addressed by authoritative pronouncements. More-over, while it may be prudent to warn believers about the possible dangers of Sobrino's Christology, it seems equally necessary to call attention to corresponding dangers in Christologies that begin with Jesus' divinity. At the very least it is a mistake to think that Christologies "from below" pose the only or the greatest danger to Christian faith.
~ Kevin Burke, S.J., America, September 17, 2007. Kevin Burke, SJ. Burke is academic dean of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.