Monday, August 24, 2009

Jesus on the Road to Nicaea 1: the controversies

This is the beginning of a new series of posts following the previous series called Creating Jesus. In that series, we looked at the foundational stories and three major emergent christological paradigms in the earliest literature.

The Jerusalem paradigm was the earliest, viewing Jesus as a human being born of human parents who was possessed by the spirit at his baptism. He died the death of a Jewish martyr and received the reward of the martyr: resurrection from the dead and exaltation as an angelic being, in his case, the Angel of YHWH. Baptism cleansed of previous sins, anointing gave the spirit, and eucharist was an apocalyptic party anticipating the Messianic banquet in heaven and the coming of Jesus as the YHWH angel of Judgment. Pious living in imitation of Jesus the Righteous One is the heart of salvation. This paradigm became very popular in the east, particularly moving through Mesopotamia and eastern Syria, although it appears to be the ground for the other two paradigms and was not unknown in the west.

The Antiochean paradigm developed quickly. Although I am not certain if it first fermented in Jerusalem and then was taken to Antioch, or if it originated in Antioch, it became the dominant paradigm in Asia Minor and western Syria. It also traveled west to Rome and became exceedingly popular there. In this paradigm, the possession is moved back to the womb. The Angel YHWH possesses the fetus from the time of conception or the quickening. Mary becomes a virgin who bears a child who already is divine. Jesus is a full human being with an additional aspect to his soul, a special angelic augment. This is an embodiment christology. Baptism and anointing deliver the spirit of Jesus to the believer, so that the person has already been resurrected as Jesus was. Jesus' death functions as a universal atonement. Eucharist is a sacrificial renactment of Jesus' death and is a serious ceremony of mourning rather than a celebratory party.

The Alexandrian paradigm is the final one. In it, we move back further to a pretemporal "moment" when the Logos existed as God. The Logos was the mind of God and this is what descends into flesh and becomes Jesus. This is an ensoulment christology where the mind of God functions as the "human" soul of Jesus. Jesus is YHWH walking on earth as a human being. Baptism is rebirth, a transmutative process that recreates the believer in God's image. Eucharist involves consuming a divine body which acts as the medicine of immortality. The person who eats the sacred body finds that his or her own body-soul is slowing transformed into that same sacred body. It is a process of glorification or theosis: becoming god.

Now these are the three foundational christological and ritual paradigms which fuel the controversies of the second century and eventually lead to Nicaea. Keep in mind that the second century authors do not necessarily know of these as separate paradigms. Each author will have a tradition that he learned which usually corresponds to his geographical location and the paradigm of the school he attended. But he will also know the paradigms embedded in the things he had available to read and consider "scriptural." Sometimes these authors will mix elements together from the different paradigms, or they will impose upon other paradigms the dominant paradigm they have learned, or they will develop one and not discuss the others at all. It is necessary for us to be flexible and read our sources carefully to determine what is actually going on.

The three controversies that become bound up with christology are the Jewish-Christian controversy (How Jewish are we as Christians?); the Gnostic controversy (Should we as Christians worship YHWH or another god who lives beyond this universe?); the Monarchian controversy (How monotheistic are we as Christians?).

Next time we will begin to look at the Jewish-Christian controversy (although I hope you notice that all three of the controversies I have outlined are REALLY Jewish-Christian controversies).

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