(Un)holy Things: Jesus Christ
In his work, Holy Things, Gordon Lathrop states that, “authentic continuity requires responsible change” (p. 5). This is to say that the discussions we have today regarding faith are not ones that we ought to take lightly. Rather, what we discern in contemporary discussions of evolution versus seven-day creation is going to inform future generations. Furthermore, the faith we have been given in the 21st century is not the same of the Early Church.
For example, the Apostles’ Creed alludes to that Jesus was simultaneously fully human and fully divine. Today, Christianity accepts this as true. However, this was not fully accepted throughout the early Church. Rather, there were varying opinions of who Christ was. Two highly discussed, yet denied concepts were Docetism and Arianism. Docetism stated that Jesus was only human in appearance. Derived from the Greek words “to seem or to appear,” Docetism believed that Jesus was not fully human and thus, did not share the characteristics of the rest of humanity.
Although Docetism allows Jesus to be divine, it voids the power and mystery of the resurrection. Conversely, Arianism denies the divinity of Christ by stating that there is a distinct separation between humanity and the divine. While neither of these concepts was accepted as doctrine, they were central discussions to Christianity. Between the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Chalcedon (451), the debate of Jesus’ identity was deeply debated. Therefore, in like manner, contemporary Christianity is called to be dynamic, but in a responsible and authentic manner. This being said, can you ride a metaphorical fence and conceive of Jesus, the Son of God, that is simultaneously human and divine?
In like manner to fourth century Christians, this is something that I struggle with. If you are like me, your first introduction to Jesus was in the illustrations of your childhood Bible. Here Jesus appears in a pure linen robe. His hair is curled, beard trimmed, eyes blue, and complexion is perfect. In the words of Brian Hartley, “everything is wrong with this portrayal.” Consequently, when we conceive of Christ and subsequent theologies, we view it through these unblemished lenses. This being said, this conception of Christ voids the fact that Christ was fully human. Rather, it accentuates his divinity, not his dirty human nature.
In all reality Jesus was fully human in a dirty context. He likely was not above 5’2” and did not likely weigh over 140 pounds. Needless to say, he would not appear to be one who would cause you to commit your life to Him. Thus, conceiving of Jesus through fully human lenses forces one to realize that the Christian faith may be more powerful and mysterious than before.
Jesus was and is simultaneously fully human and divine. Thus, we conceive of Him in the most holy of ways. However, could we, in our 21st century context, follow him if we were to see what he actually looked like? In the Passion of Christ, we are given a picture of the prisoner Barabbas. He is nasty. Hair ratted, teeth rotten, and skin dirty. We instinctually think of him as one who needs to be condemned. However, what if that is what our Lord, the one who takes away our sins, truly appeared? What happens to our convictions that he is Lord and we need to follow His way? This is a question that the early Christian Church had to address and we too today have to discern. Not only is our conception of Christianity at stake, but also the strength of our conviction in Jesus, the fully human and divine Son of God. When we reflect on this reality, we connect ourselves to the early Church, but also realize that what we discuss in contemporary Christianity over meals in the dining commons or in our classrooms will inform our faith and the faith of generations of Christians after us. Therefore, take this responsibility with the utmost appreciation and reflect on how what may be theory today may become a real doctrine of faith in years to come.