|Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathedral of Cefalù|
Photo by Andreas Wahra (via Wikimedia commons)
At issue are the "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" dimensions of our atonement -- what Christ does on our behalf apart from our appropriation of salvation and what the Savior effects within us, respectively -- and how the two poles might be related. As an astute Protestant outsider, Hunsinger invites the question: To what extent, according to Roman Catholic theology, is our salvation a process brought to fruition within the lives of believers? As Hunsinger reads him, von Balthasar, amid the complexities and ambiguities within his tradition on this questions, takes a firm stand in favor of affirming Christ's saving death as an objective event in its own right -- an event whose reality and power are not dependent upon our knowledge or appropriation of it. Von Balthasar, then, holds to a "high" view of Christ's person that is concomitant with a high view of his saving work. Hunsinger writes:
The work of Christ is regarded as materially decisive, because it brings about our reconciliation with the God toward whom we as sinners are hostile and by whom we stand otherwise condemned. A high view of Christ's person is logically indispensable to this work (p. 264).
Matters are different with a middle Christology; in this kind of perspective, an attenuated view of the human plight goes hand-in-hand with a relativizing of the claims for Christ's uniqueness. Perhaps Christ finishes and perfects some sort of process already underway in common human experience. Hunsinger continues:
The work of Christ is again regarded as materially decisive for our salvation, but the definition of that work has changed. Sin is now more merely a matter of bondage than of guilt, so that what we are saved from is more nearly sin's power than its penalty. Consequently, the word of Christ is significant for us, because what it effects is more nearly our re-empowerment than our complete recreation (ibid.).
In this middle-C scenario (as I'm calling it), it is more accurate to say our problem is estrangement from God than standing under an objective condemnation based, say, on some violation of an external moral law. Consequently, the restoration of the human being in salvation is more aptly to be viewed in terms of subjective personal experiences wherein this estrangement is overcome than it is to be seen in juridical terms, as a transaction that occurs out there, objectively on the cross. Jesus is seen as the "redeemed Redeemer" who enables this process of transformation within us. And here, for our purposes, is the central issue for a middle Christology:
This person [of the Savior] would be materially decisive, because the work he actually accomplished is efficacious for us. But he is not logically indispensable, because it would seem at least in principle that any other human being, if sufficiently empowered, might have accomplished or might yet accomplish much the same thing. The person of Christ required by a middle Christology is unique but not unique in kind (p. 265).