So what? you ask. (I like our DET readers: Y'all don't just click and share info because it pops up on your computers screens. Y'all want to know why).
(Though I don't read Danish, I reckon from this example it must more closely resemble English than German, at least in terms of capitalization. Unfortunately, the allure of reading S.K. in the original proved insufficient to motivate me to learn the language for myself. "Ah," a schoolmate once reminded me, "but learning Danish will open up to you the world of Ibsen." Quite. Tatsächlich.)
(A quick perusal of my copy of Philosophical Fragments, well-marked up but a bit dusty, suggests S.K. might not have expressed himself in precisely the terms I have above -- particularly the issue about capitalization. S.K. scholars: Please roll with us. We're on a tight deadline here! At any rate, I hope the gist of what I offer here might be deemed, at least, to be within the esprit de Kierkegaard -- that is, within the capital-S Spirit, if not the lowercase-l letter.)
Put another way, as a grad school classmate reportedly groused during a seminar: "There is no small-i incarnation!" The entry of the Son of God into a fully human life is sui generis, and its Subject uniquely divine. We are not, each of us, receptacles containing particles of divinity. We are not divine stardust. Not even David Bowie was. He was just the garden variety sort of stardust.
Furthermore, to invoke another binary -- I like to irk postmodernists by invoking as many of them as possible -- the divide between a low and a high Christology is ineluctable; a fundamental decision is required here. A priest friend of mine once quipped, "Jesus is divine, just as a sunset is divine." On the contrary, I retort: Jesus is divine -- better Divine -- as the second person of the Trinity. To the extent the sunset is divine too, it is derivative; as a prop in the theater of Christ's eternal glory, a mere reflection of that Glory -- at best small-d divine.
In a very fine blog post, J.R. Daniel Kirk defines "low Christology" nicely:
When I use this phrase what I mean is that the person or text in question sees Jesus as Messiah, as Christ, as specially empowered by God to act in God’s name, as specially anointed by the Spirit to work deeds of power over the entire created order–and that the document or person does not simultaneously depict Jesus as preexistent or otherwise divine. That is to say, its understanding of Jesus is a unique human.
Just so. Only, perhaps as a trained New Testament scholar, Kirk has in mind the ancient Ebionites, early Jewish Christians who affirmed Jesus as human Messiah and wonder-worker. Our low-c christologians today tend to be more post-Enlightenment in their thinking. Think, for example, of a deist like Lord Herbert of Cherbury, for whom Christ is subsumed within the universal religion of reason; of an Immanuel Kant, for whom Jesus is at best an exemplar of a universal, categorical moral ideal; of a John Hick, for whom the incarnation serves as a metaphor for a religious experience of transcendence available in principle to any one at any time.
If one follows this path, one might do well to ponder the rigorous consistency of Thomas Jefferson, who excised all supernatural claims in the Gospels to craft a portrait of Jesus as the itinerant teacher who traverses the grainy hills of Galilee dispensing enlightened bon mots upon anyone with ears to hear. (Sorry, but sometimes a French expression is more apropos than a rough equivalent in English. Or perhaps you think I'm just showing off -- if not my own language skills, at the very least my facility with Google translate. Touché.) Thus, low Christologies have abounded, especially in modern times, though they often go by other names -- i.e., "spirit christologies" (though that's a can of worms I'll save for some other times).
On the other side, in what used to be considered the mainstream of Christian thought, many key texts articulate and defend (if that's even possible) a high Christology, stressing the doctrine of the Incarnation as the linchpin for Christian soteriology, ethics, and even perhaps the doctrine of God itself: Athansius' On the Incarnation and Anselm's Why God Became Human, are classics in this genre, along with conciliar statements from Nicea to Chalcedon and, perhaps, beyond. For my money, though, the best text exemplifying this commitment is the New Testament itself. But I'm not going to proof-text you here.
|Kierkegaard refused to mess|
with Mr. In-Between
And yet, despite such caveats, I'm still left with with the stark decision forced by the Lord's vexing question at Caesaria-Philippi: "Who do you say that I am?" For my part -- perhaps your story is different -- but by my lights, a little-c christianity with multiple little-i incarnations just doesn't hold together very well. Those of us who think the doctrine of the Incarnation is crucial for the veracity and viability of the Christian faith -- not to mention the vibrancy of the Christmas-card industry -- having a neat (if facile) linguistic convention to emphasize the need for a high Christology seems, well, apt, (angemessen).
Perhaps I'm painting the picture too black and white, succumbing to a false dichotomy in doctrine. Doubtless some of the Aristotelian Golden Meanies out there -- the majority of whom, admittedly, tend to read blogs other than this one -- might desire some sort of Christological middle way (or, to use the king's English, via media). This desire is perhaps analogous to the plight of the beleaguered voter in the U.S. Presidential primaries seeking in vain for a centrist candidate between the liberal Democrat (Bernie Sanders) and the conservative Republican (Hillary Clinton).
Might there be a "middle c" Christology, lying somewhere between the old-school Incarnation dogmas of the past and the more deflationary accounts portraying Jesus as a mere mortal? Stay tuned: Next time I will consider an alternative.