Grace and Christology in the Early Church

Grace and Christology in the Early Church

Grace and Christology in the Early Church

Grace and Christology in the Early Church

Synopsis

Was there a genuine theological consensus about Christ in the early Church? Donald Fairbairn's persuasive study uses the concept of grace to clarify this question. There were two sharply divergent understandings of grace and christology. One understanding, characteristic of Theodore andNestorius, saw grace as God's gift of co-operation to Christians and Christ as the uniquely graced man. The other understanding, characteristic of Cyril of Alexandria and John Cassian, saw grace as God the Word's personal descent to the human sphere so as to give himself to humanity. Dealing with,among others, John Chrysostom, John of Antioch, and Leo the Great, Fairbairn suggests that these two understandings were by no means equally represented in the fifth century: Cyril's view was in fact the consensus of the early Church.

Excerpt

Without a doubt the central affirmation of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ is both divine and human. On this truth all Christians are agreed, since indeed one who denies this can scarcely bear the name 'Christian' in any meaningful sense at all. But in what sense may one say that the man Jesus was and is God? This question has proved to be a source of debate throughout Christendom's two millennia, and the debate has been especially prominent in the last 200 years, as a proliferation of new exegetical and theological approaches to the New Testament has produced a bewildering array of pictures of Christ.

How is one to choose among so many different modern christologies, most of which claim to be faithful to the biblical witness? Many Christians would agree that the doctrinal writings and creeds of the early Church should play a major role, perhaps even a normative role, in our efforts to evaluate the modern christologies that confront us. This prominent role is related to an idea or sentiment that could be called 'historical authority'. If there was a single dominant way of understanding Christ's deity and humanity in the early Church, and if a certain modern view is consistent with that early consensus, then that modern view gains such historical authority. On the other hand, if there was no such early consensus but rather a variety of ways of describing Christ's person, then one could argue that no modern view deserves preferential consideration, but rather that many (or even all) views may stake a claim to validity. Modern interpreters who wish to see their own views as following in the footsteps of historic Christianity will naturally hunger for historical authority to back up their positions, and they are likely to look for a strong consensus in the early Church. In contrast, interpreters who wish to distance themselves from the Church's historical dogma or even to discredit it will be prone to find no consensus in the early Church, no view of Christ that could claim such universal adherence in

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