A Christology of Love

And for love he made mankind, and for the same love himselfe wolde become man.
— Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love 57

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-born Son.
— John 3:16

[F]or everything that has been done through Christ has been done for our sake.
— Martin Luther, Four Sermons on the Resurrection of the Dead (LW58: 150)

[I]t pleased God to come to aid the lost world, that is, by the death of his Son, in which he allures us to love of God and calls us away from the love of the world.
— Sebastian Meyer, In utramque D. Pauli epistolam ad Corinthios commentarii (Frankfurt: Petrus Brubacchius, 1546), fol. 8r

In these four phrases are the seeds of a whole Christology written around the theme of love.


Barth on the Future Resurrection

This beautiful quote on our future resurrection as a sharing in God’s eternal life comes from late in the Church Dogmatics:

Since, then, God alone can be its future, the life of a creature after death cannot in any sense or circumstances be anything other than its life from God and for God, i.e., the life which is not its own but is given to it by God. God alone is above death and after it. He alone has immortality (I Tim. 616). If a creature is to have immortal life, i.e., the life which defies and overcomes death, which leaves it behind, which is no longer threatened by it, then in no circumstances can this be simply its autonomous continuation in life. It can be only its new life from God and with God. It can be only the eternal life which is given to it by God after the manner of His own life. Its corruptible and mortal, therefore, must as such, as that which it was between birth and death, put on the incorruptibility and immortality which are proper only to God (I Cor. 1553). Its present form is not, then, dissolved or done away with or destroyed, which would mean death, or a future without God. It is taken up into the new form which is not proper to it in its creatureliness but is given to it as that of God its Creator. The past state upon which it enters with death, and which is manifest in death, is thus taken from it by the fact that God, who was its only but true future even in its corruptibility before death and its corruption in death, is present to it in death itself. As what it was before death, it may thus be present and live eternally even after death in the power of His presence, i.e., not of itself, but in the power of the presence of God. (CD IV/3, 310-11)

In this sense, the question of the ‘mortality’ or ‘immortality’ of Adam before the fall, or of Christ’s humanity, is an abstract and meaningless question. We live only as we receive life from God, only as he upholds the universe by the Word of his power (Heb 1:3). God is the life of the creature, its “only but true future even in its corruptibility before death”. It is only as we given life and breath and everything else from God himself that we continue to live, and only ultimately as we are transformed and brought to share in God’s own life that we will one day, after the resurrection, have life forever. This resurrection life will be a “new life from God and with God. It can be only the eternal life which is given to it by God after the manner of his own life.”

Bonhoeffer on the Laws of Creation

In reflecting on the claims of Christian ethics on secular institutions, Bonhoeffer has recourse to the universal Lordship of Christ, which is grounded not only in his creation of all that is, but also in his redemption of all that is. This means that all things find their true meaning and “innate law” in obedience to Christ:

In the proclamation of the dominion of Christ over secular institutions these institutions are not made subject to an alien rule, for “he came unto his own” (John 1.11) and “by him all things consist” (Col. 1.17). [….] Under the dominion of Christ they attain to their own true character and become subject to their own innate law, which is theirs according to the manner of their creation. Nor, on the other hand, are they made subject to the arbitrary rule of a so-called autonomy which is fundamentally nothing but lawlessness, ἀνομία, and sin, but within the world which is created, love and reconciled by God in Christ they receive the place which is characteristic, proper and right for them. Thus under the dominion of Christ they receive their own law and their own liberty. (Ethics, p.323)

It is remarkable how much such a view has in common with the Dutch neo-Calvinism of a Kuyper or Dooyeweerd. All things, including, for Bonhoeffer, especially the four “mandates” of Church, family, government and labour, become properly themselves in obedience to the divine commandment contained within the proclamation of Christ. They do not become something foreign, such that they should be called a “Christian family,” “Christian government” or “Christian labour,” but simply family as it should be, government as it should be, labour as it should be and was created to be by Christ “in whom all things hang together” (Col. 1:17).

Why Does Theology Matter? According to Aquinas

I’ve been reading up on educational theory and practice in order to strengthen my understanding of teaching and learning as I prepare to start a career in higher education. Along the way, one of the most important themes has been helping students to become interested in the subject or find intrinsic value in it. Self-motivated students are much better learners. Authors often suggest connecting the subject to something students already care about or showing how it relates to real-world situations. Asking how this relates to theology got me thinking about Thomas Aquinas.

At the very beginning of his own theology textbook, the Summary of Theology (Summa theologiae)–meant as an alternative to the popular theology textbook, Peter Lombard’s Sentences (see Bernard McGinn, Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa theologiae”)–Aquinas asks, Do we need theology at all? Videtur quod non sit necessarium: It seems that it is unnecessary (1a.1.1 arg. 1). This is a classroom question–not in the sense that Aquinas encountered it in his own classroom, though he may have. Rather, this is the kind of question a teacher in the classroom might be asked, and this right at the beginning of a course. Why do we need to study theology at all? Isn’t it irrelevant? Isn’t there something better we could be doing with our time?

Aquinas’ answer is very different to those commonly proposed today. He doesn’t say that theology helps us understand belief systems in a multi-faith world or that mutual religious understanding helps promote peace and justice–as true as those statements may be. Rather, his answer as a teacher (his “magisterial response”) argues for the utmost importance for the subject. Theology is needed, Aquinas says, because “it was necessary for human salvation” (1a.1.1 resp.). This subject is more interesting and valuable than any other, he claims, because it tells us how we can be saved. This is a much stronger claim for the value of theology as a discipline than any put forward today, but is any theologian willing and bold enough to say it?

(As an aside, it is notable to me, having studied the theology of divine pedagogy–i.e., God’s teaching–that Aquinas frames the subject of theology in this very first article strongly in pedagogical terms. Human beings need to know about God, who is the destiny (finem) of human life, so that they can then live their lives accordingly. “Thus, it was necessary to a human being for salvation, that certain things become known to him or her by divine revelation.” Even in those matters that can be known about God by human reason, it is “necessary” for human beings to be “instructed by divine revelation.” Because the salvation of humanity is found in God, that salvation comes “more comfortably and certainly to human beings” if they are “instructed by divine revelation about divine realities” than if they struggle along without the divine teacher.)

Bullinger on the Inaugurated Reign of Christ

Thus Christ, in whom the Father is glorified and by whose hand he wills to reign, is said to be received at the right hand of the Father, that is, his dominion of heaven and earth inaugurated, he has solemnly taken possession of the administration committed to him and now reigns over all things. In this sense, ‘the right hand of God’ is infinite and is not enclosed in a place. For the power and rule of God is immeasurable, and the kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of all ages and eternal, and he being of the same substance, power and glory as the Father is not bound to any one place, but exists everywhere, working in all things. Since he not only is a true human being, but also true God (indeed finite in terms of his humanity, but immeasurable in terms of his divinity, and he remains in one indissociable person true God and human being), he is king, priest and lord of the worlds. For Peter says, Christ is “at the right hand of God, gone into heaven, having subjected angels, powers and rulers to himself” (1 Pet. 3:22). And Paul, “The Father raised Christ from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavens above every principality and power and rule and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age, but even in that to come; and he put everything under his feet, and made him head over everything for the Church, which is his body, which he fills, who fills all things in every way” (Eph. 1:20-23).

— Heinrich Bullinger, Resurrectio (Zürich: Christoffel Froschouer, 1545), fol. 26r-v

Form and Content in History of Exegesis Scholarship

[M]odern scholars have a tendency to concentrate on form and method to the exclusion of content. (John F. A. Sawyer, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity [Cambridge, 1996], p.22)

Hardly was there a truer sentence written. Sawyer laments that when scholars come to quotes from Isaiah in the New Testament, they usually list the quotations, note the introductory formulae, ask which original language version they correspond to, and how the quotation is treated, etc. I have found very much the same in studying the history of exegesis. Everyone is concerned with what sources commentators used; whether we can pinpoint an edition of the work cited; the chain of transmission; what languages the commentator knew; whether to characterize the interpretation as literal or allegorical or typological or figurative, and so on. For so long, very few were at work on the actual theology so richly present in the history of exegesis: what were these commentators actually saying? This is changing, thankfully. There are theologically-attuned history of exegesis works, such as G. Sujin Pak’s excellent The Judaizing Calvin (Oxford, 2009), and now many essays take this methodology. My own work on premodern commentary in 1 Corinthians 1-4 is strongly focused on the theology developed in those works which, after all, is what the commentators were principally concerned with.

Volpe on Sin, Hope and Desire for God

However else we may want to describe sin, it signals a failure of hope. (p.233)

This is a beautiful line from toward the end of Medi Ann Volpe’s Rethinking Christian Identity: Doctrine and Discipleship (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). In discussing Gregory of Nyssa’s theology of desire for God, she notes that the fundamental nature of sin–‘ontological sin,’ to use the technical term–is desiring created things rather than God (as, too, for Augustine). To desire what God has made over and above God himself is a turning away from God to lesser things; it is, in other words, to give up hope on what is greatest and to settle for ultimately unsatisfying realities. God wills to be had: he gives himself to us in Christ by his Spirit. Yet our sinfulness consists precisely in failing to hope that such infinite goodness could be ours.