The Significance of Christ in earth history
Two aspects of the significance of what Christ means in our history and perhaps in the whole life of the Cosmos. Christ as Restorer and Christ as the bearer of New Being.
The Christ event for Restoration
Although the event of the Incarnation can be seen from a Scotus perspective, with its emphasis on the primacy of the incarnation as a reason it itself, we should not neglect the more classic case of the need of a restoration of things and that the Incarnation is also about mediation in the face of failure of things to be as they should be. It seems right therefore to turn back to a more classic expression of this in Bonaventure. Bonaventure while on one hand partly supporting the view that the Incarnation may have come about despite the advent of sin, nevertheless makes the classic case that in incarnation is related to the restoration of humanity. In Breveloquium he makes out a classic argument that the Incarnation was necessary because of human sinfulness.
Bonaventure writes that the “restoration” of the world is no lesser task than that of bringing it into existence. God wants the world to exist fittingly and so it is right that because things have gone wrong in the freedom that humanity lives there is something needed to restore the cosmos to God’s intended destiny. Bonaventure of course takes this from the classic doctrine of The Fall due to the disobedience of Adam and Eve and takes this as literal historical truth. As elsewhere I prefer to view this as a symbolic event of the incompleteness of human and cosmic evolution and the restoration as a completing of the original intended purpose of God in creation out of the divine love. What Bonaventure calls the “restoration” we can call the “re-making” or “completing” towards the divine goal. I proceed to analyse Bonaventure in that way.
The Principle (the Father in relation to the Son) is the “restorative” and hence the completing Principle of all things. Just as God had created all things through the Eternal Word, even so He moves things onward to the end through the Word Made Flesh.
Bonaventure asks “What greater wisdom could there be?” The Incarnation is the most fitting way for God the Restorer to reveal His power, wisdom, and benevolence. It was the most suitable act in accord with the divine wisdom to bring the universe to full perfection by uniting the First and the last: the Word of God, origin of all things, and the human creature. The Master of all comes to the world as a slave. The Incarnation is the self-humiliation of the Word and this is unfathomable goodness.
Although we may think that the coming of Christ is all about Him, The Incarnation is not just the activity of the Word it is a Trinitarian event that includes the acts and purpose of all the three persons in God with the union made between the Godhead and our human nature. It involves the Father as the Principle of re-making as well as the actual incarnation of the Word. It is the Father that seeks to “restore” (complete) things in existence. It also involved the work of the Holy Spirit that overshadows Mary the Virgin. In this way it is the act of the will of all the persons even though it is only the Word that assumes our human nature.
Likewise the Incarnation is the activity of God as Mediator, being the closest and most perfect link between God and humanity (and I would add with the rest of life on this planet). It was right and proper that the Word, as Son of the Father, became the means of this mediation. In other respects of Franciscan theology the Word as produced from the Father as the self-expression of the Father and hence the greatest self-expression of the Father towards creation. It is this self –expression that makes the mediation of the Word so fitting and right. One of the three persons must be the mediator and it was most fitting that the Word be the means of it. There was no better mediator than the one who was produced as the most perfect expression of the Father that He would come and be united with our flesh as part of restoring and completing God’s work of creation and recreation.
This specialness of the activity of the Word is also highlighted by Karl Rahner in his writing on the Trinity. Rahner discusses the question of whether the hypostatic union of God in the person of Christ in the incarnation is a specific property of the Word. Rahner makes the point that Christian faith is not just a belief that “God became man” but that specifically it is the Word that takes on our flesh. Is this something related to the property of the Word even before the Incarnation so much so that such a union is not possible for the Father or the Spirit? It seems an unanswerable question but that is how it may seem. By the nature of the event it is specifically related to the Word and not the others that points to some inner life within the Trinity that creates such a necessity of differentiation in the acts of creation and salvation. The Father is the forever invisible and so God is made visible and present in history in the Word and by the assistance of the Spirit. The Word is always the means of revelation of the Father who otherwise would not be revealed.
Therefore Bonaventure and Rahner would concur the specific activity of the Word, coming into the material nature of the cosmos, becoming part of the needful role of “restoration”, to take account of our failure to be the people God intended. It is the special role of the Word but part of the total Trinitarian action towards completion of life.
Christ as the bearer of New Being
In further relation to the role of the Word Incarnate in historical and cosmic significance we may consider a specific insight and expression of this by Paul Tillich. Much of what Tillich writes about Jesus, The Christ, has an emphasis on Christ as the Bearer of New Being. Having set out in detail the problem of our sinfulness (expressed as “estrangement”) Tillich interprets the work of Christ in the role of the one who shows the overcoming of estrangement by bringing to us the New Being in which we may participate. The New Being is a new state of existence in which our estrangement is overcome. Through Christ we may participate in a new kind of life and existence. While this is related to what we may term “salvation” and considered further under that topic, once again we must consider its wider evolutionary, historical and cosmic significance.
The coming of the New Being into human history is part of the completion of human development and towards the ultimate divine intention that began with the very start of the cosmos. But the New Being to be given to humanity need not be the only focus of what New Being is about for us alone. If New Being is to replace estrangement then we have to acknowledge that this extends to creatures other than humanity for the whole of the created order contains much that is related to conflict, domination and suffering. There is estrangement at every level of organic life and in the interaction of organic life with the physical environment. Isaiah 11 includes in its prophetic vision a re-ordering of relations between natural enemies and this prophetic pointer looks to a new state of existence for all of the natural world as part of the Messianic hope. This new state of existence with the Messiah (the Christ) that is to come is not specifically clear but implies New Being for life beyond humanity.
If we again consider again the potential of life on other planets throughout the cosmos then we are to see in the coming of Christ the very arrival in cosmic history the sign that New Being is present and brought into the material world and indeed will be in many other parts of the cosmos because that is what God is like and what God does. What is shown in Christ is the revelation of the whole interaction of the Word in the world and hence the universal and infinite Word that is also made present as a bringer of New Being to all of life. The New Being is brought to earth but in Christ it is also a sign of its coming and presence in a global and also extra-terrestrial scope. If life exists elsewhere in the universe would not that life also experience estrangement? Since the Word becomes flesh to overcome our estrangement then surely the Word will act elsewhere in the cosmos to do the same. Beings millions of light years away, the other side of the universe could never know the person Jesus the Christ, but the Word that makes Jesus the Christ would be the bearer of New Being for them in another way.