Monday, March 23, 2009

Angels on the Head of a Pin, Shakin' Dey Booty

I know this doesn't matter much to most contemporary Big Stadium Christians, but I find myself struggling now and again with the question of Christ's pre-existence. This tends to come after I've done any significant reading in the Gospel of John. Christ is the Word, the Logos that is God's own creative power and self-expression. This, I get. Fine.

But in what way does that relate to Jesus of Nazareth? This is Jesus the human being, who wept and taught and laughed and went potty like the rest of us. Without the event of that particular life, I can't see any way to meaningfully parse out where the pre-existent Christ begins and the Holy Spirit ends. I can't say Christ without seeing Jesus, nor do I think that term has any meaning without the specific phenomenon of his life.

Part of my wrestling is that I do grasp...and conceptually embrace...the foundation of Trinitarian doctrine in Aristotelian categorical structure. Yeah, I know. Take a deep breath, and try to bear with me. When the early church was struggling to articulate who Jesus was, the Cappadocian fathers (following Tertullian) used the philosophy of their day to show how he was essentially united with God. That ancient articulation, found in the fourth Century Nicene Creed, used the Aristotelian principles of "substance" and "accident" to express how the persons of the Trinity interrelate. When they say that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father, we're saying that He shares an ineffable "Godness" with God the Father. At his very core, he is God. All of the particulars of who Jesus is are "accidents." His height, his skin tone, his genetic composition, the way his vocal cords vibrated to produce Aramaic in his unique voice...all of those things do not get us to his "Godness," to his substance, which is shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is in those "accidents" that we are able to distinguish the persons of the Trinity.

As I assess the role of Christ in my faith, I find that all of the accidents that define "Christ" revolve around the life, death, and strange return of that first century Judean. Without the particularity of those events and that life, I have great difficulty seeing my way to a meaningful Trinitarian faith. How do I resolve this? More later...

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