The Doctrine Of The Incarnation

The biblical basis for the doctrine of the incarnation rests principally on two passages from the New Testament.2

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 5-8)

The African church father Tertullian (c. 160-220) laid the foundation for the understanding of Christ that eventually took hold in the Christian church with his view of the divine and human natures of Christ as 'two substances'

1 Come (1997: 22 n. 53), points out that Menneske is a gender-neutral term for a human being, whereas 'man' is an ambiguous word that can refer either impersonally to humanity as a whole or personally to a member of the male sex, neither of which accurately expresses Kierkegaard's view of the incarnation.

2 The New Oxford Annotated Bible (2001).

that were conjoined but not confused in 'one person' (una persona) who was at once God and man.3 After centuries of Christological controversy in which one or the other of the two natures of Christ was either denied or compromised by various factions in the church, the early church fathers ratified the Christological definitions of the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) at the Council of Chalcedon (451), declaring definitively that Christ was truly God and truly man, combining the two natures in one person without confusion, change, division, or separation. 4

This definition has remained the orthodox view of Christ but has been subject to various modes of interpretation and criticism over the centuries. A popular mode of interpretation in the nineteenth century was the kenotic (from the Greek kenosis, 'self-emptying') theory of interpretation based on Philippians 2: 5-8 and dating from patristic times.5 Reviving a seventeenth-century Christological debate within German Lutheranism over the question whether and how Christ used his divine powers of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience during his earthly existence, some German Lutheran theologians of the mid-nineteenth century advocated a variant of this theory in the claim that Christ temporarily divested himself of these attributes of divinity in order to become fully human.6 Although the kenotic theory remains controversial in the ongoing attempts of its modern supporters to explain the meaning of Christ's self-emptying in a manner consistent with the formula of Chalcedon,7 it was indicative of a general emphasis in the nineteenth century on the humanity of Christ in Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) theology. While fully accepting the classical dogma of the incarnation, Martin Luther (1483-1546) had advocated a 'theology of the cross' emphasizing the humanity, lowliness, and suffering of Christ in opposition to a 'theology of glory' that attempts to behold God's invisible nature by unaided human power.8 In the early nineteenth century the Reformed theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher rejected the two-natures doctrine of Christ and made a new attempt to construct a Christology from below by relating everything to the redemptive activity of Jesus, who as a historical person exemplified ideal human nature through his perfect God-consciousness and sinlessness.9 The nineteenth century also witnessed the blossoming of Hegelian speculative theology, which

4 Grillmeier (1965: 175-302, 329-487); Kelly (1968: 280-343).

5 See Gavrilyuk (2004: 135-71), on the kenotic Christology of the patristic theologian Cyril of Alexandria (c.378-444).

6 See Thompson (2006); McGrath (1994: 78-80); Welch (1965); Schmid (1961: 389-93).

7 See Evans (2006a).

8 See Hinkson (2001); Althaus (1966: 25-34); Loewenich (1976: 17-49, 112-43).

9 Schleiermacher (1956: 53, 376-424); see also R. R. Niebuhr (1964: 210-28).

interpreted the incarnation as the historical instantiation of the eternal unity of God and humanity. This movement culminated in the left-wing biblical criticism of David Strauss, whose Life of Jesus put the historical object of faith radically into question by viewing him essentially as a mythical representation of the philosophical idea of the eternal unity of the divine and human natures.

Like Luther, for whom paradox was also a hallmark of Christianity, Kierkegaard accepted the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation and stood squarely in the Lutheran tradition's emphasis on Christ's humanity, lowliness, and suffering.10 But he did not get bogged down in the manner of Lutheran scholasticism with trying to explain how Christ can be both human and divine.11 On the contrary, his point was precisely that the incarnation, like original sin, cannot be rationally explained but must be believed. With the advent of rationalist and speculative theology in the modern age, Kierkegaard was convinced that the paradox of the incarnation had been abolished altogether, either by making Christ's teachings rather than his person 'the principal thing', as in rationalism, or by construing the incarnation as the speculative unity of God and humanity rather than the unity of God and an individual human being, as in Hegelian speculative theology (PC 123). Over against these destructive Christological developments Kierkegaard sought to reaffirm Christ as the absolute paradox that cannot be eliminated or rationally comprehended.

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