Such, in brief compass and shorn of its many historical modulations, is the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. The viability of a Christian doctrine of the incarnation rests in part upon its orderly integration with other tracts of Christian teaching. It needs to be set in relation to the wider scope of the church's Christological confession (especially the resurrection of Jesus) and its immediately neighboring doctrines, the doctrines of the Trinity and salvation. Perhaps one of the major reasons for the growth of moralistic and non-incarnational Christologies in the nineteenth century was the dislocation of Chris-tology from the doctrine of the triune being of God: once the Christian doctrine of God has fallen into disrepair and is no longer operative, the doctrine of the incarnation quickly comes to seem a merely arbitrary bit of speculation, leaving theology free to expound the humanity of Jesus as if it could be an abstraction from his identity as divine agent. Integration into the right dogmatic context, on the other hand, prevents the doctrinal disarray which results from the hypertrophy or atrophy of certain doctrines (anthropology waxes, Trinity wanes), or the deployment of one doctrine to do the job properly assigned to another (ecclesiology takes over the tasks of pneumatology). The effects of this kind of misshaping can readily be seen in an essay by an influential contemporary theologian which suggests that "[t]he gospels can be read, not as the story of Jesus, but as the story of the (re)foundation of a new city, a new kind of human community, Israel-become-the-Church. Jesus figures in this story simply as the founder, the beginning, the first of many. There is nothing that Jesus does that he will not enable the disciples to do" (Milbank 199 7:150). The disease which that (baffling) claim purports to diagnose is Christological and soteriological extrinsicism. But the patient does not survive the cure; when Christology is absorbed into ecclesiology, then Jesus and the event of the incarnation have no shape of their own, no contours and edges, no identity other than that afforded in the repetition of that identity in ecclesial process. We are left with "an ecclesiological deduction of the Incarnation" (1997:159). Many of the same features can be traced in other styles of theology, such as those Protestant soteriologies which make Jesus's identity subservient to his being pro me, and which expound that pro me through a phenomenology of human experience. What is all-important, by contrast, is that the shape of the whole not be distorted by the dysfunction of any one part.

Dysfunction is corrected by attention to the shapely structure of the confession and its biblical foundation. That confession says - with joy and fear and trembling - that the secret of the man Jesus is the majestic, saving self-communication of God. In that act of God Jesus Christ has its basis. And in that act, too, is the basis on which alone Jesus Christ can be known as who he is. He may be seen by all if they care to look; but he may not be recognized without his self-disclosure. And when they have been of sound mind, church and theology have witnessed to that necessity in dogma and prayer. And so: "Let us grant that God can do something which we confess we cannot fathom. In such matters the whole explanation of the deed is in the power of the Doer" (Augustine, Letter 137.2).


1 An important recent example would be Haight (1999).

2 For two (rather different) accounts of this, see Buckley (1987) and Jungel (1983).

3 See, for example, P. Knitter, No Other Name? (1975).

4 See D. M. MacKinnon, "Prolegomena to Christology" (1987:185).

5 I follow the translation in R. V. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon (1953:210f.).

6 For a recent example, see Hanson (1975; 1982).


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