Creation and incarnation

How is the creaturely to be understood Trinitarianly - that is, by reference to Jesus Christ - to include both ecological society and ecological nature. At issue here, I shall argue, is the matter of creaturely difference and the origin of that difference in the creative act of the triune God in incarnation. From the matter of creaturely difference, the issues of both the common origin and destiny of ecological society and ecological nature and the contingency of creation come into theological focus.


The theme ofincarnation suggests that distinction from God is both part of what it is to be a creature and that, as the perfect 'summary' of creatureli-ness, Jesus of Nazareth, in his perfect practice of obedient self-distinction, is the Word enfleshed of the creator God.3 As the concrete embodiment of the Logos of God, Jesus of Nazareth thereby points to God's intention to create an independent creation and, in Trinitarian perspective, recommends the interpretation that the origin of creation, the source of the creative act, is the differentiation of the Logos from the creator God. Incarnation is not thereby some 'emergency measure' of the creator God (who suddenly appears 'down here' because things cannot be managed properly from 'up there'), nor an action externally related to creation, nor some general process whereby God is reconciled to God,4 but is rather the

3. Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 11 ,p. 34.

4. For such a view, see Hodgson, Winds of the Spirit in which the world is presented as the mode of God's self-differentiation, and Christ as the gestalt moment in that process of differentiation and reconciliation. A similar difficulty may be detected in the work of Jurgen Moltmann in relation to the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth: see Douglas B. Farrow, 'In the most concentrated expression of God's intentions in creation. Creation is thereby intended by God to be independent in and through its origin in the self-distinction of the second person of the Trinity from the first. Creation is then not merely 'other' than God; nor is creation the principle of difference by which the fullness of God is somehow secured. Rather, if incarnation is to be properly acknowledged, creation, of which incarnation is the summary, has its source and ground in the relation of the Logos to the creator.

Both Wolfhart Pannenberg and Karl Rahner have argued along these lines for a Trinitarian account of creation that understands the Logos to be the mediator of creation and the ground of creaturely life. Rightly, in my view, Pannenberg sees the second person of the Trinity as the origin of the difference, the independence of creation. In turn, he traces the differences of creaturely totality to the presence of the Logos in creation. '[T]he Logos of creation', Pannenberg writes, 'gathers the creatures into the order that is posited by their distinctions and relations and brings them together through himself (Eph. 1.10) for participation in his fellowship with the Father'.5 Although his argument is differently organised, in formal terms Rahner makes the same point: 'If God wills to become non-God, man comes to be, that and nothing else.'6 Rahner relates the otherness of the creation to God by reference to a primal difference in God: 'The immanent self-utterance of God in his eternal fullness is the condition ofthe self-utterance ofGod outside himself, and the latter continues the former.'7 Although Rahner is here materially discussing the doctrine of the incarnation in relation to the assumption of human nature and 'change' in God, the usefulness ofhis position for my argument is readily apparent: here the incarnation 'qualifies' creation in the sense ofbeing its inner rationale, origin and destiny. Creation is 'authored' in the distinction of creator and Logos, made known in the incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.8

End is the Beginning: A Review of Jurgen Moltmann's Systematic Contributions', Modern Theology 14:3 (1998), 425-47. See also Pannenberg's discussion of Hegel in Systematic Theology, 11, pp. 27-8,31.

5. Ibid., p. 32. Again, comparison with the work of Peter Hodgson is instructive: see the final chapter of Winds of the Spirit.

6. Karl Rahner, 'On the Theology of the Incarnation', Theological Investigations (New York: Crossroad 1982), iv, pp. 105-20 (p. 116). Cf. Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), pp. 212-28 (p. 225).

7. Rahner, 'On the Theology of the Incarnation', p. 115.

8. In stating the matter thus, I seek to do no more than represent the commitments of John 1.1-18.

Interpreting creatureliness theologically We need now to develop further a vocabulary with which to consider the theme of ecology: the creaturely contours, movements and interactions of ecological society and ecological nature. Rahner's concern lies in the origins of creation in relation to incarnation rather than the creaturely outworkings of God's creative activity. When Rahner does engage in a discussion of anthropology, he reiterates his well-known view of the transcendental openness of the human creature to the mystery of God. Such a resolutely anthropological interpretation of transcendentality is ill suited to the determination ofecological relations.

Difficulties with Pannenberg's position from the perspective of our theme also emerge: the conceptuality proposed is insufficiently detailed to offer an account of the relation between humanity and its habitat. The evidence for such a judgment emerges most forcefully on the occasion of Pannenberg's defence of dominion as a function of the imago Dei. He is careful to make clear that dominion must be understood absolutely as restricted. Yet what dominion presupposes - the transcendence of humanity over its natural conditions - is neither elucidated nor defended. Thus the radicality of Pannenberg's conceptuality is blunted.9 Noting the level of generality with which Pannenberg is content to operate in the domain of ecology is also to make ajudgment on the politics of Pannenberg's theological position.10 A different way is required to set out the relations between humanity and nature in order to speak, for theology, of their common origin and destiny. I return to this task in the following sections.

Contingency of creation We must note that, if the foregoing discussion of the relation of incarnation to creation approximates to the truth, creation must be understood

9. Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 11, pp. 116,131-2,137. In contrast, Moltmann, rightly, notes the importance of the interaction between concepts of polis and eschaton: see The Coming ofGod:ChristianEschatology (London: SCM Press, 1996), p. 133.

10. It is the merit of Jurgen Moltmann's position that he sees this issue clearly. Yet his attempts to engage the matter are, in my judgment, unsatisfactory. For Moltmann links incarnation to creation in resolutely soteriological terms. We may agree with Moltmann on the importance of the social character of the career of Jesus of Nazareth: see Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, pp. 145-50, esp. p. 149. Yet it remains unclear how the'whole' of the career of Jesus of Nazareth qualifies the totality of that which we call nature. Further, although Moltmann seeks to link history and nature in a second Christological sense, yet the result in The Way of Jesus Christ appears to be two Christologies: the suffering God and the cosmic Christ. What, crucially, needs elucidation - which Moltmann does not provide - is the relation between these two. Lately, in The Coming of God, Moltmann places ecological issues in the discussion of cosmic eschatology when, it could be argued, such issues are transgressive of the conventional divisions of eschatology into personal, historical and cosmic.

as having its contingent origin in the loving act of God. Creation emerges, so to speak, not out of an abstract determination to create, but out of the primacy of God's own life as love. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the election of social nature, such election points forward to the completion of nature, human and non-human, in eschatological glory. As contingent, then, the created order lives out of the future of God. To speak of ecological nature as contingent is to say that the creation is not a necessary emanation of God but is rather rooted in God's primary determination, as a loving God, to love. It is also, by holding to the unity of God's acts in creation and fulfilment, to maintain the openness of creation: its orientation to the future and its living 'out of that future.

A highly significant point may be derived from such an eschatological clue: to affirm, as part of the interpretation of the common realm, the eschatological destiny of humanity and nature in God is to press the matter of the eschatological destiny of nature. Against a tendency in some sections of Christianity to deny this point, the eschatological fulfilment of nature cannot be denied, in my view, without severely distorting the basic Christian schema. To argue for an eschatological consummation is not, of course, to argue that the consummation for nature and humanity will be identical. As Bonhoeffer notes, whereas humanity will be reconciled, nature will be set free from its enslavement.11 None the less, in the theme of consummation lies the theological rationale for speaking of the otherness and spatiality ofnature.

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  • genet
    How is human nature and destiny with incarnation?
    3 years ago
  • Rosario Zetticci
    How creation links with incarnation?
    1 year ago

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