Academic journal article Theological Studies

Revisiting the Franciscan Doctrine of Christ

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Revisiting the Franciscan Doctrine of Christ

Article excerpt

KARL RAHNER, in his remarkable essay "Christology within an Evolutionary View of the World," noted that the Scotistic doctrine of Christ has never been objected to by the Church's magisterium, (1) although one might add, it has never been embraced by the Church either. According to this doctrine, the basic motive for the Incarnation was, in Rahner's words, "not the blotting-out of sin but was already the goal of divine freedom even apart from any divine fore-knowledge of freely incurred guilt." (2) Although the doctrine came to full fruition in the writings of the late 13th-century philosopher/theologian John Duns Scotus, the origins of the doctrine in the West can be traced back at least to the 12th century and to the writings of Rupert of Deutz.

THE PRIMACY OF CHRIST TRADITION

The reason for the Incarnation occupied the minds of medieval thinkers, especially with the rise of Anselm of Canterbury and his satisfaction theory. While Bernard of Clairvaux had been a more powerful spokesman of medieval devotion to Christ and Thomas Aquinas a more balanced exponent of satisfaction theology, Anselm's combination of deep devotion and theological innovation made him the special catalyst of the distinctive Latin view of the role of the God-man. (3) In his Cur Deus Homo Anselm considered redemption as the remission of sins within the context of satisfaction. He defined sin as an affront to God's honor, that is God's transcendent being, so that divine justice demands recompense either by satisfaction or by punishment. (4) The infinite magnitude of the offense of sin, Anselm claimed, requires a like satisfaction that can be achieved only by one who is both (and therefore can make such satisfaction) and also a human being (who is bound to make it). (5) Following the satisfaction theory, Western Christology has focused on the sinfulness of the human person, the guilt incurred by sin, and the saving work of Christ. While this theory assumed prominence in the West, other medieval thinkers were discussing the Incarnation less in juridicial terms and more in a cosmological context. The medieval theologian Boethius, for example, wrestled with the relationship between Creation and Incarnation, as did Rupert of Deutz who affirmed that Christ would have become human even if Adam had not sinned. (6) On the whole, however, it is the Franciscan theologians who argued most convincingly in favor of the primacy of Christ against the Anselmian notion of satisfaction. The term "primacy of Christ" is based on the Pauline notion that Jesus Christ is the "the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature" (Colossians 1:15). (7) While the term is unconventional in contemporary Christology, it is operative in Franciscan Christology to describe the predestination of Christ. (8) Its basis is due in part to Francis of Assisi whose insight to the beauty of Creation as a gift from God centered on the preeminent gift of Jesus Christ.

Just as Francis grasped an integral connection between Christ and Creation, so too Franciscan Christology is marked by its cosmological context. The notion of cosmic Christology, rooted in Scripture, particularly in John's Gospel as well as in Colossians 1:15-16; Ephesians 1:20-23, attained a flowering of thought in many of the Greek writers from Origen to Maximus the Confessor. (9) One of the first theologians in the Franciscan tradition to expound the relationship between Christ and Creation was the renowned Alexander of Hales who was Bonaventure's principal mentor. Alexander's theological foundations of Christology began not with the person of Jesus Christ but with the question of God and the possibility of a divine nature united to a human nature. In the early Church, the question of Incarnation in view of monotheism posed a problem for early Christians. The formulation of a trinitarian understanding of God was a response by the early Christian community to the question of whether the divine nature could unite itself to human nature. …

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