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12 October 2012

Baptism and Christianity, Part IV


Christology and Baptismal Faith
            Christian faith operates from the conviction that God has spoken to humanity in an intelligible manner.  The topic now turns from reflections upon Revelation to the subject of Revelation itself, Jesus Christ.  The Christological implications and claims of Christianity form the bedrock of baptismal faith.  As will be seen later, the consequences of this faith manifest themselves in the life and ministry of the Christian, as well in his future hope in the fulfillment of all.  In the person of Christ, the Christian sees the beginning (and, in a sense, the end) of this same hope.  Christ is the fulfillment of the prophets, the one whose followers have become the first fruits of salvation (2 Thes. 2:13).  The primacy of Christ in Christian beliefs distinguishes three areas for further reflection.  First and foremost, Christianity attempts to speak coherently about the very person of Jesus Christ.  Secondly, Christianity uses these insights to formulate doctrine about the believers’ relationship with Christ, both in terms of existential praxis as well as soteriological hope.  Finally, a fully developed Christology comments upon the fate of those who do not believe in Christ.
            The earliest Christian believers needed to confront the difficulty that their beliefs about Jesus did not necessarily coincide with Judaism.  The beginnings of this conflict are seen in the writings of the New Testament, as Paul, the evangelists and others attempted to grapple with just what God had actually done in Christ and what this meant for his disciples.  The meeting of Jerusalem and Athens provided the Fathers with the necessary vocabulary to perform this task (with apologies to Tertullian).  Thus, Christian belief is rooted in Jesus’ consubstantiality with the Father (Athanasius, Council of Nicea).  The Council of Ephesus next reacted against Nestorius, confessing Christ’s possession of two natures (phuseis) (cf. DS §604ff).  Later, the Council of Chalcedon declared Christ possesses one prospopon and one hypostasis, thus maintaining his sharing of one ousia (substance) with the Father (cf. DS §613ff).  The Christian professes that Jesus is God and thus identifies his historical figure with the Word of God.  Because these statements of faith affirm both Jesus’ humanity and divinity, Jesus is named Lord of all.  From this, Christians can look back into the life of Jesus, including his synchronous life, death and resurrection to find the simple brilliance of Jesus’ kenosis (Phil 2:5-11; Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale) as well as the resonance of Easter throughout his life (Flavin/Rausch)   Thus, Christians believe at once simply and paradoxically that Jesus is Lord, uncreated, only begotten and present for all time.  Such conclusions were reached with no small amount of debate and suffering in the early Church and these insights continue to be appropriated in new ways into contemporary times. 
            Statements about Christ relate to the actual import of His Spirit’s abiding presence in the world.  To simply note trite realities about the Jesus, the God-Man, brings little to no good to humanity.  The effect of the entire of Jesus’ Passover from death into life is two-fold.  From this Pasch, the Christian receives forgiveness of sins, as well as the freedom of a child of God (cf. Rom. 8:21).  The mystery of Christ affects both what is happening now, as well as what will happen in the life to come.   Christianity does not profess how we are saved; however, it asserts most basically that Christ’s life death and resurrection is the soteriological event in the history of the world.  This assertion forms the most basic kerygmatic formulas, the proclaimed mystery (sacrament [!]) of faith:  “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free” (3rd ed. Roman Missal).
            Some final words may now be devoted to Christian beliefs about other faiths.  For the moment, we will not take up the sad divisions that exist amongst Christians.  These schisms are no doubt tragic, but in recent days, the salvation of separated Christians has no longer been placed in doubt.  Here again, the importance of baptism is maintained.  Baptism into Christ’s death and thus his life remains the normative way by which humans participate in the same saving acts (cf. Schineller).  Nevertheless, baptism exists to include Christians intimately in the saving work of Christ both now and in the hereafter.  The resulting grace from baptism is not something that may be hoarded.  Rather, the baptismal grace and call, as will be seen in the next section, compels one to call others into the same baptismal life.
Existentially, it seems troublesome to participate in a faith which lacks both an end (salvation) and all the appropriate means for that end (the Catholic Church in which the Church of Christ subsists) [Cf. Dominus Iesus, §16].  Without the Paschal Mystery, Christians would reason, humanity cannot hope to know God as God intended (Schineller, 9).  To state it clearly: Christ is a constitutive element of Christian belief.  Nevertheless, Christians do not ascribe to a God who capriciously condemns non-Christians. At the same time, Christian belief is not reducible to a path among many, thereby minimizing the true import of the Incarnation.  Hence, Christianity attempts to negotiate a middle path in relation to those who do not join them in confessing Christ.  Members of other faiths are by no means condemned, but Christians maintain a fundamental faith in the saving work of Christ.  Thus, in the final accounting, Christians look forward to the day when all will be one (Jn. 17:21) and all tears shall be wiped away (Rev. 21:4).

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