What Is Christology? – Intro. to Christian Studies

Hello, Gene here. I’ve been studying Orthodox Christianity for a little while now, and I’ve recently started reading about Christology.

I’ve enjoyed the topic, and I thought I’d share what I’ve learned with you. It’s important to get this information out there, and writing about the topic helps me remember it better.

So, what is Christology?

Christology is the science of Christ’s divinity. It includes the study of his life, motivations, resurrection, position in the Trinity, and role in salvation. The purpose of Christology is to clearly describe who Christ was so that Christians can properly live their faith.

So, now that the formal stuff is out of the way, let’s get to the interesting part. What does Christology mean for us?

I’ll break it down for you, section by section.

The Person of Christ

This area pertains to the study of Christ’s nature as a divine human. The Orthodox view of this is that Jesus is both perfectly divine and perfectly human. Christ did not sacrifice his divinity or humanity for the sake of the other. The name for this state is the Hypostatic Union. The Hypostatic Union has been the standard view of Orthodox Christians since the fifth century.

Debates over the divine and human natures of Christ were mostly relevant during the first few centuries of Christianity. Many of the first major heresies fixated on this topic.

The early church struggled intensely against the Nestorian view that Christ was adopted by God sometime after his birth. Another was the rejection by the Oriental Christians of the view that Christ had two complete natures; they believed instead that Christ’s divinity and humanity were both incomplete, and they split from the rest of Christendom because of this view. The third major heresy was Arianism, which asserted that Christ was a mortal who later became infused with godhood.

Salvation Through Christ

In Christian theology, humans can be brought closer to God through the process of atonement. In this sense, atonement is the process by which one’s sins are pardoned or forgiven by the death of Christ on the cross and his resurrection. This act enabled God and man to begin moving closer toward one another.

Six theories regarding atonement prevail here.

  • The first is the Ransom Theory, which holds that Crhsit’s death on the cross was a form of payment, either to God or to the Devil, and that this payment enabled man’s atonement
  • The second is the Recapitulation Theory, whcih holds that Christ had enabled atonement by undoing the transgression of Adam. This theory is prevalent throughout Orthodox theology.
  • The third is the Satisfaction Theory, which asserts that Christ was a stand-in for man’s sin and that his crucifixion was equivalent to the crucifixion of sin.
  • The Penal Substitution Theory is a modification of the Satisfaction Theory and holds that Christ’s crucifixion ahd saved man from God’s wrath.
  • The Moral Influence Theory, which holds that Christ’swilling crucifixion was a display of God’s love for mankind.
  • And the sixth is the Moral Example Theory, which holds that Christ’s willing acceptance of death for the sake of man demonstrates the goodness of man doing the same.

Low & High Christology

Two theories regarding Christ’s relationship with God dominate Christology.

Theorists of Low Christology assert that Christ was born human and became divine later in life. High Christological theorists hold that he had always been divine.

Of these two competing theories, the Low form was commonplace during the early years of Christianity. Many noteworthy heresies arose because of it; the most famous of these was Arianism.

Arianism was popular within the Western Roman Empire and among the Germanic peoples who lived at its border. They embraced Arius because his view was consistent with many pagan beliefs.

Pagan mythologies often praise heroes who are chosen and exalted by the gods, and Arius taught the same about Jesus. When this was combined with the pagan tendency to believe in any purported god, Arianism was able to spread rapidly.

The advocates of the two schools of thought were in conflict during the first few centuries of Christianity, and the High Christologists eventually triumphed.

The most persuasive evidence used to support High Christology is often taken to be the opening to the Gospel of John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Here, John clearly states that Christ the Word was there with God in the beginning.

Sources of Knowledge

How did the early church develop its understanding of Christ?

Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians use the first seven ecumenical Councils and the New Testament to understand Christ’s divinity. Protestants generally accept the first four and reject the others.

In each case, the councils united information from the New Testament and church traditions to produce new understandings.

The seven councils yielded the following information:

  • The early Christians declared the existence of the trinity at the First Council of Nicaea (325). They proceeded to create the Nicene Creed here to affirm it.
  • The First Council of Constantinople (381) reaffirmed the conclusions fo the first council and unilaterally condemned Arianism in all forms. High Christology won here.
  • The First Council of Ephesus (431) affirmed that Mary had given birth to Christ and that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. The latter of these two decisions initiated the first schism within Christendom.
  • The Council of Chalcedon (451) reaffirmed the conclusions of the First Council of Ephesus, and dissenting opinions began to disappear form the Roman Christian World.
  • The second Council of Constantinople (553) denounced the metaphysics of Origen and the pre-existence of soul while detailing Christ’s dual nature.
  • The Third Council of Constantinople (681) declared that Christ had two will for his two natures, and his divinity superseded his humanity.
  • The second Council of Nicaea (787) produced an event called “The Triumph of Orthodoxy” when it permitted the veneration of icons.

In the modern era, archaeologists occasionally uncover items which pertain to Christ and may be useful for enhancing our understanding of him.

Related Topics

The following list presents some of the other topics which are commonly addressed in the field of Christology.

  • The Nativity, which addresses the circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth. The dominance of High Christology elevates the importance of Christ’s birth. It does so because High Christology requires that Jesus was God when he was born. If this is not the case, then it becomes invalid.
  • The details of Christ’s crucifixion are relevant to an understanding of salvation, but they also provide important insight on the proper attitude to take when one is facing a hopeless situation. Christ’s resurrection also has important implications for how living in the proper mode of being allows one to endure after death.
  • Christ’s Threefold Office, his existence as a priest, king, and prophet, provides valuable insight into the proper conduct of a ruler.
  • And the study of Mary as the mother of Christ is necessary for Christ to have been God and, therefore, sinless. An understanding of Mary’s relationship with Christ is necessary in order for Him to have been born without original sin while still being human.

“Why does any of this matter?”

Christology matters because we don’t want to accidentally blaspheme against Jesus. Christology helps us avoid both that and heretical teachings.

It also has practical value in the field of apologetics. Christianity is valid only as long as Christ is the Son of God and the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. So Christians must assert both of these and then be able to defend the assertion. Christology allows us to defend Christ’s divinity from those who would like to harm Christianity by attacking Christ’s legitimacy.

Moreover, Christology reveals the proper mode of being to us. The aim of a Christian is to be as Jesus was. So understanding his relationships with himself, God, and society at large allows us to better emulate his example.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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