The question of the eternal Son is twofold. It involves the question of the eternal future of the Son and the question of the Son's eternal past. The first question concerns the post-existence of the eternally Exalted One, and it also includes the question of the presence of this Exalted One. The second question leads to reflections on preexistence, which is formulated in the Nicene Creed with the words "eternally begotten of the Father."
In his extensive work entitled Geboren vor aller Zeit?,316 Karl-Josef Kuschel examines the topos of the preexistence of Christ. He traces the treatment of this topic—from Adolf von Harnack to Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Karl Rahner, Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann, among others, and, finally, to Walter Kasper and Edward Schillebeeckx—and gives an account and an interpretation of christological statements in the Bible having to do with preexistence. Kuschel then tries to provide starting points for a fruitful interreligious dialogue on this topic, and for the dialogue with scientific cosmology, with art and literature, and also—within theology itself—with liberation theology and feminist theolo-gy.317 Unfortunately, Kuschel's perspectives for dialogue, especially with regard to the natural sciences, are basically limited to text references and to admonitions "to think situationally and contextually";318 apart from that, however, he presents a wealth of valuable material.
Kuschel initially notes: "The New Testament does not know of pre-existence [of Jesus Christ] as a speculative theme."319 Rather, in light of the New Testament texts, a preexistence Christology would have to be relativized. Jesus himself never spoke of his own preexistence. In twenty New Testament writings, Jesus as the Son of God is mentioned without this being tied to notions of preexistence. In the places where statements about preexistence appear, for example, in Colossians and Hebrews, as well as in the Johannine writings, they are relativized by statements rooted in a theology of the cross and a theology of the Incarnation.320 Above all, however, one should remember that statements on preexistence have a retrospective character. They are eschatological statements that originated in the Easter experience and are therefore secondary in relation to resurrection Christol-
ogy or exaltation Christology.321 Thus, just as one dared in the Old Testament to draw conclusions from the exodus experience for creation history,322 "so too now Christians argued back from the experience of the God who creates anew (indeed he had liberated Jesus from death) to the God of primal creation."323 It is therefore also clear that there can be no statement about preexistence that "can pass over the figure of the historical Jesus."324 Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal Son. The assertion of preexistence has a clear function, namely, "to make comprehensible it's the historical depth and universal significance of the 'event of Jesus.'"325
Against this background, the eternity of the Son means that Jesus himself is the way God relates to human beings. This statement expresses the fundamental experience that the source of all existence lies in the concrete person of Jesus; and it makes clear that the person, the purpose, and the fate of Jesus Christ belong definitively to the definition of the eternal essence of God.326 This makes the reality of God dynamic.327 "If, in Jesus Christ, God revealed not only a part of divinity, but rather God's very essence in a definitive and unconditional manner, then Jesus Christ—as spirit and in the Spirit— is also present at all times, simultaneous with all times, and free from all times. Nothing else is expressed when we use the words 'preexistence of Christ.'"328 According to this, preexistence then implies that God's humanity has always belonged to God's divinity.329
Precisely this interpretation of preexistence is also found in Jungel's work: "God does indeed come from God and only from God, and he is determined by nobody and nothing other than by himself; however, he determines himself to be God, not without man. That is the sense of the New Testament statements about the preexistence of the Son of God identified with Jesus."330 At this point, however, Jungel does not include the Spirit, but rather argues exclusively in light of the self-definition of God as an expression of divine freedom. This self-definition of God, namely, not to be God without human beings, should be seen in the context of God's self-definition as the one who, through divine initiative, is both lover and loved one,331 namely as God and as the dead Jesus.332 In a critical response, Kuschel complains to Jungel that this self-definition is not actually necessary and that, by suggesting it, Jungel widens the gap between exegesis and dogmatics.
But when Kuschel pleads both from the viewpoint of biblical theology and dogmatics for a process for reaching conclusions, he has a similar problem: Is his necessity for reaching conclusions (about the self-consistent essence of the eternal God) a better necessity than Jungel's theological necessity (of the self-definition of God)? Kuschel is unable to completely escape the problems that he himself apostrophizes—citing Karl Hermann Schelkle,333 namely, that it is questionable to use the formula of preexistence in order to relate divine eternity to human time and then to calculate from that point. In such a process, he says, the phase of salvation history is extended backwards and drawn out into infinity. But the preexistent "before" and the time of salvation history should neither be separated nor added on to each other; instead, they are present in each other, Schelkle states. In light of the self-determination of God, Jungel's approach indeed avoids this before-and-after difficulty, but is this advantage perhaps gained at the price of a neglected theology of time? Would a theology of time elevate Jungel's formulations above the suspicion of clever play on words?
This suspicion of puns is not expressed frivolously or ironically at all; Kuschel also remarks that the language here has reached its limitations: "Holding Jesus' preexistence, existence, and post-existence together conceptually . . . requires a language of simultaneity, which is perhaps possible for the ciphered language of modern poetry, the tonal language of music, or the color-filled language of painting, but it is not possible for the language of reflection and discourse."334 Modern science may be able to contribute metaphors and/or models that can be helpful for formulating a theology of time.
In Pannenberg, the eternity of the Son becomes conceivable primarily in his role as mediator of creation. The origin of everything that is different from the Father lies within the Son. "[God's creatures] become the object of the Father's love because the eternal Son is manifested in them."335 With respect to his creaturely existence, Jesus remains different from the eternal Son. The eternal Son is the ground of his own being and the being of all created things.336
Otherwise, Pannenberg sees the life of the earthly and resurrected Jesus—his post-existence—closely tied to the work of the Spirit. In the act of the Incarnation and Resurrection, which, from the perspective of eternity, is one and the same event, the Son was merely an object of the creative dynamic work of the Spirit. The Spirit also participates in the return of Christ, but now in such a way that the work of the Spirit is consummated in Christ's parousia.337 The Incarnation is already the dawning of God's future, the dissolution of the opposition of time to eternity,338 and the entrance of eternity into time. Essentially, neither the Resurrection nor the parousia can add anything to this. Only from the human perspective is there an escalation: The Resurrection provides the foundation for the confession of the Incarnation; the parousia ultimately provides the public confirmation of the Easter event. Just as the Resurrection is the prolepsis of eschatological salvation, so is the pre-Easter work of Jesus the prolepsis of the coming reign of God.339
Was this article helpful?