Who is Christ? a year-long conversation with theologians
by Elizabeth Solsburg
Jesus as the Word
Why is that one of his titles?
This year, the St. Augustine Catholic is exploring
Christology - the study of Jesus Christ. We asked several eminent
seminary professors some questions about Jesus. Their answers are
enlightening and thought-provoking.
SAC: What does John mean when he calls Jesus “the
Word”? How is that relevant to us?
Father Stevens: There are so many ties to the Old Testament in this.
The Jewish people became a nation after the Exodus, but it took more
than just this event. The absence of slavery is not freedom. People
need a shape, a form for their lives. The Torah did this for the
Israelites - it gave them the Word. The giving of this word
establishes the people. The Jewish imagination moved from that
experience to the recognition that everything came from the word,
debar. We are not created out of God’s struggle with demonic forces,
not a people built on the body of a slain dragon, but rather the
loving creation of God’s spoken word. Whenever God speaks, he
creates something new. When he speaks to a prophet, that person
becomes a prophet. The word from which everything came is not an
impersonal word - it is the Word, the son of God.
Father Acklin: There are three personifications of God in the Old
Testament: word, wisdom and spirit. They are not yet fully revealed
as persons. The Word, as we find out in John’s Gospel, is the son of
God. Through him all things are made. In the Old Testament, the
spirit of the Lord descends upon a prophet or king. But in the New
Testament, it is revealed that the Holy Spirit and Jesus are
individual and divine persons. John makes it particularly clear that
the Word is the son who comes from the Father. This is the mystery
of the Trinity - God is, in himself, a communion of love. Our one
God is a communion of three individual hypostases. There are three
individual divine persons, whose self-giving love to each other is
totally given to the other in their respective ways: the Father
eternally begetting, the Son eternally begotten and returning all to
the Father, the Spirit saying nothing he does not hear from the
Father and Son. The interpenetrating love is so total that they are
Father Muller: This particular identification of Jesus only occurs
in the prologue of John’s Gospel. It contains the echoes of the Old
Testament’s constant refrain: The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah,
to Isaiah, to all the prophets. If you look at the Septuagint, the
Greek for that Old Testament experience is translated as, “The word
became.” It’s that language that John picks up in his Gospel. In
saying this, I differ from what some older scriptural exegetes saw:
an infusion of Hellenistic philosophy. I think John is summarizing
and integrating the Old Testament in his reference to the Word. “The
Word became flesh” is an interesting statement, because the first
mention of flesh in Scripture is the story of Adam and Eve - “flesh
of my flesh and bone of my bone.” It’s as if John is saying that
Jesus entered into a nuptial relationship with his people.
theologian of the month
of Alexandria (c. 298-373)
Athanasius was the patriarch of Alexandria in the fourth
He is famous for his defense against the heresy of Arianism
which some theologians believe almost prevailed. Athanasius
countered Arius’ teaching that there was a time when God
existed, but Jesus did not.
Athanasius attended the Council at Nicea, where the famous creed
was developed, and he is one of the doctors of the church.
Athanasius is the first person to identify the canon of the New
Testament as being the 27 books we use today.
Athanasius was originally buried in Alexandria; his body was
then transferred to Italy. In 1973, Pope Shenouda III (Coptic
Orthodox Church) met with Pope Paul VI, and Athanasius’ relics
were restored to Egypt.
what does that symbol mean?
The fish is probably the oldest symbol used by the early
Christians. The symbol derives from the letters of the Greek
word for fish, ichthys, which are the first letters of the
statement, Iesous Christos Theou Yios (Jesus Christ, Son of God,
|Arianism: Jesus not human or divine
This is the granddaddy of the early church’s heresies about the
nature of Jesus Christ. It was pervasive, with a huge following
- some scholars think it almost carried the day. Arianism is a
system of thought based on the teachings of Arius of Alexandar.
Arius believed that God the Father embodied the only true divine
nature. He was too pure to appear on earth - and so he created
Jesus as the first and best of all things in the cosmos. Like
the adoptionists, Arius held that the Son was not of the nature
of the Father, he was adopted. Some of his followers also
believed that the Son created the Holy Spirit in the same way.
This heresy occasioned the first great ecumenical council, that
of Nicea, in 325, where Arianism was condemned. Its chief
opponent was St. Athanasius. The statement of beliefs that was
developed at Nicea is recited the world over at Sunday Mass - it
is called The Nicene Creed.