Tag Archives: Christology

“Prayer and Incarnation”

By Martin Thornton[1]

Contemporary theology is in confusion: which is at least to start with a proposition that nobody is likely to dispute. It is neither my present task, nor is it within my competence, to try to unravel the tangle; I am to be concerned with an examination of incarnational prayer within the contemporary situation. Nevertheless theology and prayer are inextricably bound together; theology without prayer is sterile, while prayer without theology can be over-fertile, giving birth to all sorts of outrageous monsters.

“Theology may be defined as the study which, through participation in and reflection upon a religious faith, seeks to express the content of this faith in the clearest and most coherent language available.”[2] Thus: “ . . . some experience of the life of faith precedes theology and may indeed be said to motivate it.”[3] “Participation in a religious faith,” “experience of the life of faith,” are reasonable definitions of prayer: so prayer precedes and motivates theology. Conversely theology guides prayer, supplying it with an intelligible structure and foundation.

Modern controversy remains peripheral to my purpose, yet in view of this theology-prayer interplay, some attention must be given to it. After that it will be necessary to reverse the process and take a look at contemporary trends in spirituality: how in fact do modern people pray? What is their aspiration and attrait? What sort of questions and problems most frequently confront the spiritual director? Only after such a preliminary skirmish can we get down to our real business: an examination of incarnational-or christological-prayer as it impinges on the experience of the modern faithful.


For present purposes the current debate might be seen as between the “orthodox” (a significant word since it means right worship instead of, or at least as well as, right belief) and the “radical.” This is an oversimplification: radical theologians may come up with a refined and enlightened orthodoxy, while all of the orthodox would be happy to be called radical in the literal sense of getting to the root of the matter; their objection is to the theory that you must cut down and burn the whole traditional tree in order to reach that root. However, the rough distinction should be fairly clear. Let us settle for orthodoxy as sanely conservative, paying humble if not uncritical homage to the wisdom of the past, regarding tradition not as antiquarian but as a living lifeline; as against the tear-it-all-down-and-start-from-scratch school. To narrow the context, we are concerned with those to whom the principles enshrined in the definition of Chalcedon are true, however validly the statement may be criticized, reinterpreted, or put into a different philosophical frame; and those to whom this formula, especially as it touches upon the full divinity of Jesus Christ, is regarded as suspect, inadequate, unintelligible or superfluous.

Given a controversy of this sort, it is impossible for a struggling Christian to remain unbiased; whatever one’s intellectual integrity and logical discipline, it is inevitable that the process of prayer itself, one’s intuition, faith-venture, experience, instincts, or whatever, will incline towards one side or the other. It is more honest to state one’s bias quite bluntly, inviting readers to adjust their response accordingly, than to claim impartiality. I am on the orthodox side, which brings me to a prior objection to the opposing viewpoint.

Much radical theology (another necessary generalisation within the brief compass of this essay) inclines to an arid intellectualism; a kind of neo-rationalism. What cannot be logically demonstrated or intellectually explained must perforce be dismissed. This is not only arrogant but curiously old fashioned; rationalism is itself two centuries out of date, and more recently I thought I heard something like its death knell in James Ward’s Psychological Principles, in F. R. Tennant’s tirade against the “psychologist’s fallacy,” and in A. N. Whitehead’s ‘philosophy of organism.’ Even more curious is that this outlook runs counter to contemporary, existential-and indeed biblical-emphasis upon the synthetic wholeness of human experience. The contemporary stance might be expressed as something like: “I ex-ist, stand out in creation as self-conscious being, therefore I am.” Some of our radicals would appear to go back to quasi-Cartesianism: “I think, so perhaps I am, but nothing will convince me except cerebration.” One suspects this school to be confusing belief with faith, and then failing to see the connection between them: more simply, are they leaving prayer on one side? Or to introduce Professor Macquarrie’s important distinction, are they confusing theology with philosophy of religion?[4]

There is nothing to be said in favour of obscurantism, or in favour of blind faith. There is much to be said for intellectual integrity, but the first step towards it is the admission of intellectual inadequacy, especially when we are dealing with the superior human aspiration like prayer. All of which is not to side with the simple faithful against the professional academic, to set piety against theology, but to insist upon the necessity of their marriage. Moreover, however interdependent the marriage partners, it is prayer, “participation in a religious faith,” that “precedes and motivates” theology. Total faith-experience, not just intellection, is our premise.

My second criticism of much (obviously not all) radical theology is that it is inclined to be narrowly biblicist. The New Testament is placed against its widest contemporary background, all the scholarly tools of the critical trade being brought to work upon it. But it is then abstracted from its ecclesiastical context. If theology is as defined, as the Church clarifying its experience, then the total, ongoing life of the Church cannot be ignored: “the theologian speaks out of the community of faith, the philosopher of religion is an individual investigator.”[5] The biblical interpretations of the Fathers and the Schoolmen may be questioned by contemporary scholarship, but they cannot be ignored, and the doctrinal formulations arising from Patristic and Scholastic interpretation cannot be dismissed. You cannot reach the root by cutting down the tree. I find it difficult to subscribe to the view that the Church, however defined, was infallibly inspired when it wrote the New Testament and formulated the canon, and has been consistently wrong ever since.

It is conceivable that the Church might have interpreted the experience of the Last Supper as a dominical exhortation to a sort of extended, secularised, grace-before-meals, while developing a liturgical extravaganza at the heart of which was ceremonial feet-washing. According to the Fourth Gospel, should not something like this be the central act of Christian worship? But no New Testament scholar however objectively glued to the text, can ignore the fact that throughout its progressive life-history, the Church has thought and acted differently. In fine, you cannot do theology, even biblical theology, without reference to how the Church, that is Christian people, felt, thought, prayed and worshipped, throughout the ages, not excluding our own. Biblicism reduces itself to religious philosophy.

My last dissatisfaction with the radical school is that it appears to be deficient in pastoral perception. This needs explanation. I have no use for the view that all theology ought to be immediately applicable to the practical situation; that books and lectures that do not inspire parish priests to produce next Sunday’s sermon with added zeal are to be dismissed as academic and useless. But if we stick to our definitions, theology should articulate the total experience of the living Church, which includes the prayer and experience of its individual members. If Auntie Emily tells of visions of angels behind the henhouse it is the business of theology to discern, investigate, diagnose and guide. In my experience, which is inevitably both narrow and biased, orthodoxy is surprisingly good at this; its theology may be written in what looks like metaphysical obscurity, yet it manages to keep one foot firmly on the ground, behind the henhouse. Radical theology is inclined to be academic in the wrong sense, which is itself unorthodox. The vast Augustinian corpus for example: De Trinitate, Confessions, Enchiridion, et al, may not be easy reading but it is all pastorally orientated. It is the work not of an academic but of a struggling Christian and a Bishop dealing with a diocese. It is all embedded in prayer and a sunny spot behind the henhouse is not a bad place from which to tackle it. Radical theology looks lost outside the senior common room.


That launches us upon our investigation from the opposite, and primary, position: how do modern people pray? What is their aspiration, attrait, learning, experience, which it is the business of theology to clarify and articulate?

Riding rough-shod over the sophistries, we must begin with some explanation of what I choose to call the existential stance. By this I refer to the instinctive, intuitive, conditioned outlook of modern Western people, especially in so far as it differs from the outlook of the recent past. The change has come about in the last century, perhaps since 1900, perhaps 1914; that is for the sociologists and professional historian-anthropologists to argue about. The point is that modern people think and live according to existential, rather than substantive, principles and interpretations. Modern people in the Western world are existentialists, even if they would be surprised to be so described and even if they have never heard of Sartre or Heidegger. I support this viewpoint by asking a simple question: what is a rolling-pin? The Fathers of the Church, the Schoolmen, the Caroline Divines and the Victorians would answer that it was a cylindrical piece of wood; modern people would define it as a tool you made pastry with. The first is the substantive answer: what is it made of, what are its attributes? The second is the existential answer: what is it for? how is it used and experienced?

The change is recent. The Victorians spoke of gold-sovereigns, we do not talk about paper-pounds, because we are no longer interested in what money is made of, only in what we can do with it, how we can experience its worth.

I am almost forced to change sides and throw in my lot with the radicals, who recognise that our credal formulae, including Chalcedon, are written in language that makes little sense to modern people, and which is no satisfactory guide to contemporary christological prayer. To the modern Christian, a list of the divine attributes is as helpful as a wooden cylinder is to a budding cook. Is Jesus a redemptive presence or a metaphysical complex of natures and persons and substances? My orthodoxy here recognises the genuine strengths of the radical position. But will the radical respond by mitigating his intellectualist, biblicist, and anti-pastoral emphases, and begin at the beginning: how do modern people pray? And which of us can best guide them?

The first result of this change of outlook is an emphasis, either recognised or subconscious, upon total integrated being rather than psychological analysis of the person. In current jargon, prayer concerns the whole being, it is a total response, an absolute commitment. If the movement may properly be called existential, it is also both biblical and dominical: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” But if we recognise the biblical doctrine of man, this must mean all at once not faculty by faculty.

This accounts for the modern reaction against Ignatian-type mental prayer, and consequent movement towards simple contemplation. The one is discursive, analytic and intellectualist—“mental” in fact—while the other is concerned with total synthetic experience. So Ignatian-type mental prayer would appear to be the natural carry over from a good deal of radical theology today, hinting that such theology is not only out of step with contemporary philosophy but also out-of-date for modern pastoral practice.

The emphasis is on relationship, in Christian context baptismal relationship. Modern prayer begins not with something one does but with the acceptance and working out of a status that one has been given. In the next section I hope to show that this, too, fits in very well with orthodoxy, and that we are liable to come to a savage full-stop without incarnational and christological orthodoxy.

If spiritual direction is to be competent, such christological orthodoxy expressed in contemporary, non-substantive terms, can prove a great stimulus, especially with incarnational contemplation. On the other hand, contemporary spiritual guidance would lose much efficiency if Chalcedon were completely thrown away. Despite five centuries of legitimate criticism, the condemnation of the four heresiarchs still offers invaluable safeguards and warnings. When put together, ancient and modern interpretations of orthodox christology combine vital experience with clarity of thought.


Precisely what is meant by incarnational prayer? This question can now be examined in the light of the foregoing, and such examination should throw light on its congruence with radical and orthodox christologies.

I suggest that four main types, or stages, of prayer come under the general heading of incarnational. They overlap, yet they are progressive stages in which incarnational theology needs to become more sophisticated and more important.

The first stage is prayer based upon the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus teach about prayer? Comparatively little, but enough to give some sort of guidance. The Pater Noster itself can be studied and analysed to give rise to specific forms and methods. The example of Jesus is more fruitful: did he himself adopt any specific method, outlook or ascetical structure? This question has been fully examined by many scholars and, despite obvious disagreements in interpretation, a clearer pattern emerges.[6]

The living and praying Christian is guided by the scholars, but he also needs guidance from Christ himself, which means meditation upon his words, works and acts. Some kind of Ignatian-type, discursive exercise comes in at this point.

The christological assumptions of those making this type of prayer will colour its value and authority. Yet it is not wholly incompatible with radical, quasi-Arian interpretation; Jesus is a significant teacher of prayer, who may be studied in the same way as St Bernard can be studied. But there are snags when this sort of christology is placed in its wider New Testament context, and still more when it is widened into the whole ascetical tradition of the Church. The holy women and St Thomas the Twin worshipped Christ; to devout Jews to whom idolatry is the sin of sins, this can only mean that they regarded his as divine: Chalcedon grows out of the experience of the living Church. Moreover, the multifarious and diverse schools of prayer which later arose not only followed Chalcedon, but they would all fall to pieces without it.

The second stage of incarnational prayer is that which sees Jesus as Mediator and Intercessor. This might be stretched into compatibility with an Arian christology: Jesus is invoked to mediate and intercede after the fashion of the invocation of the saints. But more difficulties arise. Why should any mediator between God and man be required—the time-honoured Protestant question? Because of the infinite gulf between them. We are inevitably led into the doctrine of the Trinity without which no christology makes sense. Jesus points to the transcendent Father. The New Testament is clear about that if it is clear about anything, and yet the error of immanentalism is rife in contemporary prayer, life and thought. If man was made but little lower than the angels it is forgotten that the angels were made infinitely lower than God. So any genuine mediator must be considerably more than human: Cur Deus Homo? is still a good question. Perhaps a quasi-Arianism, or some more sophisticated Arian interpretation might still just be possible. But if that is so we have departed from meditation and descended to invocation, or straight intercession. But invocation-intercession, in any Christian sense, depends on the doctrine of the Church, which in turn depends—as we shall see later—on orthodox christology.

The third stage of prayer is that which arises from the idea of encounter. Jesus is neither ancient teacher not remote intercessor but living presence: “Lo, I am with you alway.” Prayer now consists in meeting with the living Christ; eucharistically, recollectively, and by way of continuous personal guidance. We no longer live according to remote and objective Christian principles, neither do we rely on some shadowy faith that Jesus makes continual intercession to the Father for us. Jesus is here, over there, in encounter, to talk to, lean on, argue with; he is our friend and brother, present guide and leader. Right action depends not on principles but on what Jesus commands here and now; right prayer depends on his initiative. We approach the situation-casuistry in ethics and the existential interpretation in prayer: there is Christ and here am I, so let us talk, embrace and work things out from where we are.

That looks as if we are drawing nearer to radical christology, especially the type which argues that if Jesus is God, man, and sinless, then he is too remote to enter fully into the human situation. In fact we are drawing further away from this kind of thinking; there are far more snags than we found before. Living encounter must mean a God-man encounter in two senses: first man meeting God, and secondly man meeting God transcendent through the mediation of a God-man. Because if Jesus is Man, pseudo-god, and possibly sinful, then we might find ourselves on happier terms with him than with the Christ of Chalcedon, but we are on no terms at all with God. So prayer has stopped. Moreover, could one reasonably speak of encounter with the living presence of a Man-possibly-sinful-pseudo-God? We can follow the written teaching of the man-Jesus or of St Bernard; we can ask either to intercede for us with the Father; we can believe in the communion of saints in which St Bernard is in some sort of living intercessional rapport with us, but can we realistically encounter the living and resurrected and glorified Bernard? Perhaps, but there is a difficulty and a difference: you cannot put Jesus at the top of the list. If the invocation of St Bernard means anything it depends upon a doctrine of the Church that depends on a christology something like Chalcedon.

The fourth stage is that which is, for reasons explained in section 2 above, generally adopted in pastoral practice and which seems meaningful and attractive to modern Christian people. This is the concept of prayer based upon the Pauline doctrines of the Church and of our status en Christo: the idea of baptismal incorporation.[7] We do not merely encounter Christ, still less follow his teaching or ask for his mediation: we are “in Christ,” incorporated into the Body of Christ. What does this mean in terms of prayer and day-to-day spiritual experience? It means that the sacred humanity of Jesus is ontologically extended to embrace humanity, and in a particularly creative way, baptised humanity. The whole of our nature, the whole of our being, intellect, senses, emotions, intuitions, appetites, and the rest, are made one with their counterparts in the humanity of Christ: we are wedded to Jesus and the twain shall be one flesh: to taste an apple is to participate in the sacred humanity.[8] Prayer becomes contemplative, non-discursive, total and supra-intellectual.

There is overlap; the prayer of incorporation, incarnational and eucharistic, does not preclude the concept of encounter, although it transcends it, neither does it eliminate the notion of mediation or New Testament meditation. But this common stage in incarnational prayer, common in pastoral guidance and not particularly “advanced” but congenial to the modern temper, is wholly dependent upon orthodox christology. You can learn about prayer from both Jesus and St Bernard, you can invoke both to intercede for you, you might, at a stretch, encounter them both, but it is impossible to speak meaningfully about incorporation into the humanity of Bernard. The Jesus of Chalcedon is nearer than the saints so soon as one’s prayer has got off the ground. The conclusion is that if the neo-Arian christology is adopted then Christian prayer is confined to the kindergarten, from which it has no hope of emerging. We could, and strictly speaking should, go on further to stages five, six and seven: into the realms of Christian and christological mysticism. But space, not discounting this writer’s limitations, forbids.

What I have tried to do in this brief essay, having freely admitted to personal prejudice, is to look at theology, both orthodox and radical, from the viewpoint of spiritual and pastoral experience, and of ascetical theology. I have little use for intellectual obscurantism, for blind faith, and still less for the criticism that the wretched radicals disturb the faith of simple Christians; a little disturbance does simple faith no harm, and if the incarnation is taken seriously and prayerfully, then faith must be severely tested every morning of the year.

From our stance, however, radical theology does not come out of the examination very well, for it would appear to suffer from a threefold restrictiveness: a narrow intellectualism, a narrow biblicism, and a lack of historical perspective. It is nothing very new; all three weaknesses arose in the eighteenth century and led into Deism. Today they go into the opposite direction towards an all-prevailing immanentalism: theology is displaced by religious philosophy, Christ becomes man, the Church is turned into a human society, and religion sinks into moralism. There is no place left for God the Father Almighty, and so for religion. Pastoral prayer—the adjective is superfluous—remains the premise and springboard for theology, and despite the interrelations, it must be the final judge of theology. Its judgement favours orthodoxy because only orthodoxy can support it. Theology is the articulation of the Church’s experience, it is not speculation about God in a vacuum.

[1]. Martin Thornton, “Prayer and Incarnation.” Christian 4, no. 4 (1978), 317-324. Transcribed by Matthew Dallman for the occasion of Martin Thornton’s centenary, 11 Nov 2015; Martin Thornton, pray for us.
[2]. John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, revised edition (SCM Press: London, 1977), l.
[3]. Ibid., 5
[4]. Ibid., 21-25.
[5]. Ibid., 2.
[6]. For example, J. Jeremias, The Prayer of Jesus (SCM Press: London, 1962); Lewis Maclachlan, The Teaching of Jesus on Prayer (James Clarke: London, 1960); William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus (SCM Press: London, 1960).
[7]. See E. L. Mascall, Christ, The Christian, and The Church (Longmans: London, 1946), 77ff.
[8]. G. K. Chesterton, St Thomas Aquinas (Hodder and Stoughton: London, 1943), 57-8.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 5 of 5) by John Macquarrie

“The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ”
In his concluding lecture, John Macquarrie explores what is meant by the claim of uniqueness given to Jesus Christ by the Christian religion. How can we, who are thinking creatures without an “olympian” view upon all of reality, claim absoluteness or uniqueness for Jesus and His Church? Macquarrie points out that such an assertion might actually exhaust the Christian revelation, rather than express it. And how can we, finite beings, pass comparative and total judgement upon other religions without a complete knowledge of them? Given these difficulties, what, then, can be maintained?

What distinguishes Christianity is its claim to ultimate concern, which demands an utter commitment to its object in the fullness of human depth possible for us today. We cannot follow many paths or faiths with any kind of real commitment and knowledge. We must choose one path and follow it completely. Can we be fully committed to Christ yet open to the possibilities of truth being found in non-Christian religions? If Jesus Christ is the Eternal Logos and Word through whom all things are created, then “surely one is bound to acknowledge there must be truth in the many ways that the human mind has grasped something of the divine Word.” Macquarrie acknowledges truths found in Hinduism and Islam that can force us to confront truths found yet perhaps overlooked in the Christian religion. He counsels that we avoid (1) a judgmental approach to other religions, and (2) the aimless relativism of “all religions are as good as any other.”

Our contemporary world demands a spirit of mutual dialogue between Christianity and other faiths. In such a dialogue, both sides seek to learn from each other. Although the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is unlike any doctrine found in any other religion, in other faiths there can be seen pervasively what Macquarrie calls a “groping toward Incarnation” that provides fertile ground for mutual dialogue and sharing in the divine Being. Dialogue, in fact, shows itself as an opportunity for a new kind of Christian mission, which also means humble love of our neighbor whomever that might be.

Rather than the problematic terms “uniqueness” or “absoluteness,” Macquarrie prefers that we Christians proclaim that Jesus Christ is definitive. Christ’s definitiveness is two-fold: (1) Jesus defines what it is to be a human being, and (2) Jesus defines the meaning of the word “God.” He is the goal of a mature, authentic humanity, the inexhaustible fulfillment of human glory. For Macquarrie, this depth of mystery is particularly revealed in the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. This is the consummation of reality that the Church believes Jesus brings, and will continue to bring, to the world. For even after 2,000 years, the Church has not fully explored the glory of His significance. We can, and must, see Jesus’s uniqueness in that sense, but in so doing we must not denigrate other expressions of faith. In Christ, “there is a constellation and concentration of those characteristics that belong to our deepest and most authentic humanity and which open to us also the way to the knowledge of God.” Amen.

keywords: Ascension of Jesus, anthropology, history of religions, (aimless) relativism, Enlightenment, non-Christian religions, Asian spiritual classics, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, Ernst Troeltsch, The Absoluteness of Christianity, Islam, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, ultimate concern, syncretism, sentimentalism, Hinduism, violence, fellowship, religious dialogue, “the holy,” Buddhism, atheism, mysticism, Krishna, salvation, doctrine of Creation, asceticism, Eastern Christianity, John Hick, mission, doctrine of Incarnation, Bodhisattva, Vishnu, Raimon Panikkar, The Hidden Christ in Hinduism, Mother Theresa, Upanishads, Definitiveness, Being, Mystery, Second Coming of Christ, Nicene Creed, Bishop John Robinson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Resurrection

John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 4 of 5) by John Macquarrie

“20th-Century Western Christology: Barth and Bultmann”
This lecture begins with a comparison of the christologies of Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann, and concludes with a riveting contemplation of the Mysteries of Christ’s Preexistence, Nativity, and Descent to the Underworld. Firstly to Karl Barth, who, reversing 19th century theology, began his christology in the Word of God, in Jesus Christ. Christ is the living Word, as well as the written Word and the proclaimed Word. The entire Bible points toward Jesus, and revelation alone discloses the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Barth thereby dismisses anabatic christology (“from below”). Yet Barth’s true contribution to christology is his theology of predestination: for Jesus is the “electing God and the elected man,” hence God has always had humanity in His nature, and all humans are in some sense and to varying degree elected by God and hence saved by Him. Macquarrie acknowledges this later movement in Barth’s theology sometimes overlooked in commentary on his theology. In the words of Barth, “For God, it is just as worthy to be lowly as to be high, to be near as it is to be far, to be little as it is to be great, to be abroad as it is to be home.” This is God being obedient to His own nature, having true integrity to His own self.

Moving to Bultmann, he asked the question, “Where in the New Testament is Jesus Christ explicitly called ‘God’?” Overall, Bultmann rejects metaphysical articulations of Christ’s nature. Only in the confession of the Apostle Thomas is an undisputed assertion so made. Bultmann stresses the event of God’s acting through Jesus’s words, preaching or teaching. Christ’s divinity is only to be confessed, rather than also worked out through systematic theology or philosophical theology. Jesus is the vehicle for the Word, for the kerygma or proclamation of salvation. Yet is Bultmann too dismissive of mystical and devotional aspects of Christian religion? Macquarrie suspects that is the case, as well as being too individualistic and episodic, at times. Yet despite critiquing Bultmann, Macquarrie affirms his insights into the importance of experience, decision, and personal commitment. Bultmann’s theology is a safeguard against any purely objective, impersonal conception of God. Christians are not merely to intellectually behold, but to cooperate, with God and His grace. Christ in His saving work opens a way for us, but inward transformation is required for salvation.

Macquarrie concludes this lecture with a meditation on the Mysteries of Christ. A significant aspect of Christianity is to bring out the tensions about Jesus Christ and to bring us to a new depth of recognition and life. Such depth begins with the astonishingly subtle writing of the four Evangelists. We are to be carried beyond mere literal interpretation into the deeper spiritual significance to which the facts of Scripture bear witness. “Poetry,” for Macquarrie, “is just as much a way to truth as scientific prose.” The Preexistence of Christ, for example, symbolically affirms that the personal life in the expression of the life of Jesus is the same life as that of God of all times and ages. Another is the Nativity of Jesus. This Mystery reveals the continuity and discontinuity of Christ; and in the Gospel of John, such a Mystery applies not merely to Jesus, but to the baptized People of God (Jn 1:13). And the Descent into the Underworld, a neglected Mystery, shows us that God’s saving work in Christ also reached back into the ages before the historical Jesus. The past, then, has not disappeared, but always remains near and present to God—that, following upon and fulfilling Einstein’s scientific insight, Time itself is a mystery.

keywords:  Chalcedonian Definition, anhypostatic, enhypostatic, Cyril of Alexandria, Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, neo-orthodox, fundamentalism, doctrine of Holy Trinity, revelation, predestination, universalism, Christmas, Virgin Birth, Creation, Fall, Baptism, obedience and humility, kenosis, Søren Kierkegaard, conscience, The Christological Confession of the World Council of Churches, Arianism, Nicaea, kerygma, Karl Rahner, anonymous Christians, potency and potentiality, ontology, semi-Pelagianism, Augustine, vicariousness, cooperation with grace, “once for all,” salvation, John McLeod Campbell, sacramental principle, mysteries of Christ, poetry, Alfred North Whitehead, Preexistence of Christ, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Einstain, time, Ascension.

John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 3 of 5) by John Macquarrie

“Christology ‘From Below'”
Macquarrie continues with a description of christology that is “anabatic,” which can be said to be theology about Jesus that is “from below” and “goes up” to the divine nature of Jesus. It is in this approach, Macquarrie argues, that Christ’s humanity comes into its best and most accessible light. The question in this approach is, “How can a man bring to expression the life of God?” This means we place our focus on Christ, the man, and Christ, the event — the individual Jesus as well as the social relationships in which he was embedded. In short, historical analysis gives way to systematic theology. And in anabatic christology, Macquarrie sees the very method found in the experience of the first disciples and the beginnings of the Christian Church. For example, the Transfiguration of Jesus can be interpreted as a definitive moment when the humanity of Jesus was seen in its divine depth, and the preaching of Saint Peter at Pentecost articulates anabatic christology: “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2.36).

Is this form of christology merely primitive, or is it an approach that must be continually proclaimed by the Church? Macquarrie argues for the latter, else the true humanity of Jesus can be obscured, as it has throughout Christian history. The key is the recognition that within the human condition is a principle of transcendence, of absolute being, and the possibility of transcending the human reality in favor of the reality of God. Macquarrie demonstrates that this very notion is present even in the secular, dechristianized and atheistic writings of existentialist philosophers as well as Holy Scripture. He considers Patristic theology from the likes of saints Augustine and Irenaeus, and agrees that the notion of “ready-made” humanity, whether in Adam and Eve, or in us, must be rejected. Ultimately, what we see is the importance of christology both anabatic (“from below”) and katabatic (or “from above”). They are complementary approaches to a single truth about God in Jesus Christ. The former stresses that Jesus was taken up; the latter stresses that God became incarnate. According to either approach, God came among us as a servant to declare Mercy and bring to birth the children of God, and as far as we know, the human being is the locus for the divine self-communication of God’s own presence. In the words of Celtic theologian Eriugena, “Man is both the recipient of theopanies and is himself a theophany.”

keywords: anabatic vs katabatic christology, modern historical presuppositions, Wolfhart Pannenberg, John Knox, Bishop John Robinson, Karl Rahner, Vatican II, Donald Baillie, Edward Schillebeeckx, Rudolph Bultmann, Karl Barth, Transfiguration, Acts of the Apostles, Adoptionism, Docetism, Gnosticism, homoousiosSpirit in the World, Thomas Aquinas, transcendental Thomism, absolute being, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Bernard Lonergan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Marxism, Neo-Marxism, Herbert Marcuse, mysticism, process philosophy, Charles Hartshorne, transcendent anthropology, Augustine, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Deification (Theosis), Pelagianism, Incarnation, Enlightenment Deism, William James, Søren Kierkegaard, Holy Trinity, Dionysius the Areopagite, Mercy, monarachial model of God, neo-Platonist, Celtic theology, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Chalcedonian Definition, 1979 Book of Common Prayer

John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 2 of 5) by John Macquarrie

“The Historical Problem of Knowing Jesus”
Macquarrie begins his inquiry into the Person of Jesus of Nazareth through an analysis of the fruits of historical, source criticism of the New Testament Gospel accounts of Christ. 18th century thinker Samuel Reimarus proposed an account of the historical Jesus whereby he was a political leader who sought political revolution in Jerusalem. As that ended in “failure” on the cross, Reimarus could only interpret the resurrection accounts from the apostles as deception. In the 19th century, David Friedrich Strauss’s analyzed the New Testament as myth, which for him are non-literal accounts that indicate religious, spiritual truth about Christ, truth that had to be interpreted and shaped by the predictions about the Messiah found in the Old Testament. The immediate fruits of this approach, the many “Life of Jesus” apologetic accounts, portrayed Jesus in purely human terms, eliminating anything supernatural. Despite the many problems theologians today have with this era of christology, Macquarrie emphasizes that this era of christology demonstrated the difficulty of finding a human person in the scriptural accounts, difficulty that remains in the more contemporary forms of biblical criticism such as form and redaction criticisms, and difficulty that seems to indicate more about 1st-century society and the biases of the four evangelists than about the person of Jesus himself.

Macquarrie himself seeks to avoid a “counsel of despair” about the problems about the historical reliability of the Gospels about the historical Jesus, because Christianity is in fact a historical religion based upon the Logos of Christ has become flesh, a reality that provides hope and confidence to Christian believers. He advises taking seriously the conclusions of New Testament scholars. He demonstrates such “brinkmanship” with an analysis of the skeptical assertions about the historical Jesus made by Rudolph Bultmann, which Macquarrie sees as ultimately helpful toward rejecting docetic claims about Jesus, and toward affirming that Jesus himself saw true hope in his own identity as the Son of God. This is because historical criticism such as Bultmann’s have given us the sense of renewed reality about Jesus, about the voluntary nature of his death, against the superficiality of interpretations that saw Jesus having foreseen and foreknown all of the details of his life and death, interpretations which actually deny his true humanity: a man of “flesh and blood and feeling.”

keywords: Samuel Reimarus, source criticism, David Friedrich Strauss, Life of Jesus, myth, dialectical method, Gospels as literary genre, “Life of Jesus” apologetics, form criticism, redaction criticism, Bishop John Robinson, clash between theologians and New Testament scholars, Henry Ford, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, Logos, Platonists, Hope and Confidence, metaphysics, ethics, Edward Schillebeeckx, brinkmanship, claims to Messiah, Docetism, “obedience unto death,” Passion and Resurrection, Bishop Charles Gore, John the Baptist, Garden of Gethsemene, Last Supper, Dr Martin Luther King, Søren Kierkegaard.

John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

Ascetical theology and Catholic imagination

When we speak ascetically in the Catholic sense as Martin Thornton did — against and beyond the Anglican ascetical writers of the early 20th century such as Evelyn Underhill, Oscar Hardman, Bede Frost, C.F. Rogers, H.S. Box, and F.P. Harton — we are liberated from their more limited “theology of ascetical practices” into ascetical theology that is wider and far more provocative. Following Thornton, to speak ascetically means “articulating the church’s corporate experience.” As Thornton wrote in 1960 in reference to that former crop of Anglican ascetical writers, “we need an ascetical ascetical-theology”.1 Theirs was too narrow and leaned individualistic. His critique did honor their contributions (he was particularly fond of Harton’s Elements of the Spiritual LIfe), but sought to push reflection on the theology of prayer still deeper, more corporate, and more Catholic.

“Catholic” must mean that the particular is analogous to the whole. The very word means “according to the whole.” If a person, a family, a parish, a church is to be Catholic, then its being in the particular must be a microcosm of the Church, the true whole. In all practicality, this means having a comprehensive and active relationship with the Catholic Faith once for all delivered to the saints. It means having a Catholic imagination.

As Thornton wrote in 1978, doctrine and prayer are two sides of the same coin.2 The “use” of these coins or tokens comprises the doing of theology. This sheds intriguing light upon the term “orthodox”. Following Thornton, to be orthodox really means that the corporate prayer life is in full accord and balance with the doctrines that comprise the Faith of Holy Church.

Ascetic corresponds with dogmatic, in other words. Prayer life that lives into and through Christian doctrine is orthodox. Seen in this way, “orthodoxy” becomes not an intellectual litmus test but an exciting adventure. It is a matter of living! Furthermore, this renders the Benedictine emphasis on “balance” as a still more penetrating insight into the nature of Catholic life. Life is a risk and a struggle, and we often lean too far in one direction, only to be pulled back to the other, else we fall over and must get up. The same applies to the balancing of doctrine and prayer life.

In Acts 2.42, we learn that the first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This threefold framework — respectively, Devotion-Mass-Office — is called by Thornton “Regula“. He appears to be the first Christian writer to do so.

If “Catholic imagination” was alive and active from the first moments of the Church, and why would it not be, then it is clear from the biblical revelation that Catholic imagination and Regula go hand in hand. There is no better example of this than Acts chapter 2: verses 1-41 are Catholic imagination — “baptismal” imagination, if you like. And then comes verse 42: Regula as the response of the community. So to the question, “what is Catholic imagination?”, one must look to the 2nd chapter of Acts as the basis. We ought use Acts 2 prayerfully to open our own hearts to God’s presence in our Christian family.

Hence Regula is not a concept, but rather an articulation the church’s corporate experience. Regula is the heart of ascetical theology in the Thorntonian sense. Or, put another way, Catholic imagination is the “stuff” of Regula. It very well may be a doctrine itself, the doctrine of the Regula. Regula is one side of the token; Catholic imagination is the other.

Hence it makes sense that Catholic imagination has been diminished in the West, because the centrality of Regula has been diminished in the West. You cannot have Catholic imagination without robust Devotional-baptismal commitment out in the world, without a robust Eucharist as the focusing and concentrating of all creation, and without a robust Office that is the daily activity of the People of God, an engine to catalyze devotion and love to God by ordinary Christians, rather than the obligation of the parish priest only!3

We can further reflect upon Catholic imagination when we look at the doctrines of the Trinity, the Church, and the Incarnation.

From the doctrine of the Trinity we can see that Regula is a threefold responding to a Triune God. Divine Office emphasizes praise to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. Mass emphasizes Communion with Jesus who reveals the Father in the Spirit. Devotion emphasizes guidance by the Spirit to Jesus who reveals the Father. And yet, through it all, it is not three prayer lives, but one prayer life that integrates into seamless praise, communion, and guidance: of, with, and by God. This is the basis of Catholic imagination.

From the doctrines of the Church and Incarnation, we see that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the cosmos in order that the Holy Spirit would bring and unite all things to Him and fully reveal the Father. God became man so that man might become God.

Hence in the Church Militant, all things of creation can become sacramental, the God-given exemplars being the seven Sacraments. This process is the basis of our Devotional-Baptismal activity: being Christ’s hands and mind in the world so that the Holy Spirit’s activity can guide all people.

In the Church Expectant, God’s children can become sanctified, or (if you will accept the expression) sanctoral, in the adjectival sense: more and more saintly and holy. God’s adopted children are given the opportunity to continue their growth and reformation into the likeness of Christ. This process is the basis for the Mass, where we commune with the entire Church in a mystical family that shares in the love of Christ which finds consummation (on earth) in the Eucharist.

In the Church Triumphant, all of God’s holy creatures, including those fully sanctified, become angelic, in that all join with the angels in their activity of ceaseless praise and thanksgiving for the primordial God the Father (we do not become angels, but become as like them as possible in our activity). This process is the basis for the Divind Office, where we unite as the Body of Christ (all states of the threefold Church) in praise for Our Father to sing with the Angels, “Holy holy holy”.

In sum, Catholic imagination is spontaneous and organic response by the People of God to the presence of the Holy Spirit who calls us into deeper recognition and working out of our baptismal status. It is the response by Christians whose lives are ordered by the doctrine of Regula. Catholic imagination sums up the activity and processes alive within the Christian family that are preserved (akin to yeast) in the additional core doctrines of Trinity, Church, and Incarnation. Catholic imagination is sacramental, sanctoral, and angelic. And the scriptural basis for this is the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, the Church amid the energy of its baptismal status.

Following Thornton’s reasoning, if a corporate, that is to say parochial, Christian existence cannot be seen to be ordered by Regula — daily Office, weekly (or daily) Mass, constant Devotion — then not only can a community not claim to be Catholic, but it cannot claim to be orthodox either, no matter what its intellectual claims on various Christian doctrines may be.

Why? Because for Thornton, the proof of all doctrinal pudding is in the doing. For a parish family to leave out, ignore, or under-emphasize either Office, Mass, or Devotion — or God forbid, two of them — causes immediate violence to the doctrines of Trinity, Church, and Incarnation. Regula is the living out of those doctrines, a making-real through participation in grace; without regula, these doctrines and all others are little more than interesting intellectual wordplay and emotive wall-building.

All of this is something of what “breaks forth” when ascetical theology is correctly understood.4 It is necessary to see “ascetical theology” not as the theology of ascetical practice, but as the articulation of the Church’s corporate experience. Asceticism presupposes Catholic ascetical theology. And once you step into that terrain and begin to grapple with articulating the Church’s corporate experience, catholicity ensues.

1 Martin Thornton, “Anglican Ascetical Theology, 1939–60,” Theology 63 (August 1960): 313-319.
2 Martin Thornton, “Prayer and Incarnation,” Christian 4, no. 4 (1978): 317-324.
3 See Martin Thornton, Prayer: A New Encounter and The Function of Theology.
4 Thornton continued to reconfigure “ascetical theology” in a more Catholic direction with English Spirituality (see chapter 2). Over his entire career, he continued to develop its characteristics and differentiate it from the former “theology of asceticism”. The formulation “the articulation of the Church’s corporate experience” shows up in a book review he wrote in 1984: Martin Thornton, “Spirituality for Ministry,” Pastoral Psychology 32, no. 4 (Sum 1984) 287-288.

John Macquarrie and panentheism, part 1

A former dean of Nashotah House, Robert Munday, has written a blog post that, in the course of stating his pehttp://akensidepress.com/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=1130&action=edit&message=1rspective and feelings about the recent announcement that the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schiori, has been invited to preach at The House (where I am studying in a distance MTS program), mentions in passing the theology of John Macquarrie.

John Macquarrie by Deborah YetterBecause Akenside Press strongly and unapologetically affirms Macquarrie’s theology as a cornerstone for Anglican renewal and Catholic imagination — for starters, see here, here, here, and here — this post and the next two will respond to this portion of Munday’s post and try to examine the points Munday tries to make about Macquarrie. He actually packs quite a bit of stuff into just a few sentences, and given Munday’s stature in the eyes of many Anglicans, it is worth taking a look at what he wrote to see if there is any merit to his criticism. So in no particular order, that is what I’ll do starting with this post. (Note, I will not spend any time on this blog dealing with the larger controversy between those who support and do not support the invitation to the Presiding Bishop.)

Munday writes that “the fact is that Macquarrie’s understanding of God is best understood as panentheism” (emphasis his). As support, Munday first cites Wikipedia (I suppose to define the term “panentheism”; I know, I know, but we all do it sometimes) and then a passage taken from John Macquarrie: a Master of Theology, which is a work of commentary by Owen F Cummings published in 2002 with a foreword by Macquarrie himself.

The first question is simple: is Munday correct? Is “panentheism” the best way to characterize Macquarrie’s understanding of God? That is the first open question I will deal with.

My own sense, as a student of Macquarrie’s work, would be to say, “No, that is not the best way to characterize Macquarrie’s articulation of the doctrine of God.” It might be “a” way, or “part of a way”, but there are other ways, and Macquarrie doesn’t spend much time with the term, except to mention it, note it, and move on. When I teach Macquarrie’s theology of God, I talk about “Being” and “Holy Being”. Those two terms, which really are one for Macquarrie, provide a surplus of pastoral challenge within an adult catechesis environment. It also matches with Macquarrie’s own approach to the doctrine of God, a focus on “Being”. But that is just my view from the perspective of catechesis, not technical academic theology.

It should be pointed out Macquarrie meant for his systematic theology to be used. That is, he meant for it to be used to teach ordinary Christians the fullness of the Christian faith. He meant it to be supportive of prayerful exploration of orthodox and catholic doctrine — discursively, meditatively, and contemplatively. He wrote his theology always with an eye toward its use for catechesis of actual pew-sitting folk; this is a tremendous gift of his approach and a characteristic that should always been kept in mind when evaluating his theology — that there is a strongly pastoral and ascetical character to Macquarrie’s dogmatics.

John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian TheologyNow, Macquarrie does mention the term “panentheism”. In Principles of Christian Theology (revised, 1977), which is 525 pages of text, there is only one mention of the term. I excerpt below the passage in which its single mention is embedded. In the next post, I’ll generously excerpt from the other book of his books to mention the term (he wrote almost 30 books), which is called In Search of Deity (1984). There, “panentheism” shows up a number of times in discussion. I will try to do an exhaustive search of his other books to see if the term pops up elsewhere. I suspect it does not, but I will see.

Let me also add that Principles ought always be the baseline text to look at first when considering Macquarrie’s theology on any theological doctrine or topic. Depending on the particular Christian doctrine or topic, Principles may or may not constitute Macquarrie’s final word. In the case, for example, of christology, it most definitely does not constitute his final word, as he wrote at least two significant christological works subsequently, those being Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (1990), and Christology Revisited (1998). But in all cases, no matter the doctrine or topic, always first look to Macquarrie’s articulation in Principles as the point of departure. (This is also true for Macquarrie’s sacramental theology; too often people look at his excellent A Guide to the Sacraments without first giving thorough and patient study to Principles, which provides a fuller account of the underlying philosophical framework.)

The following excerpt comes from the end of chapter 5 of Principles of Christian Theology, a chapter called “Being and God”. I’ve added paragraph numbers for reference. The question to consider as one read this is how much emphasis in Principles, his primary dogmatic text, does Macquarrie in his own words give to “panentheism”? To see it in action, skip to paragraph 15.

13. But let us return to our main theme. The assertion “God exists” is not to be taken as meaning that there is to be found a being possessing such and such characteristics. “God exists” is a way of asserting what would perhaps be more exactly expressed as the holiness of being. But it is precisely the assertion of the holiness of being which is denied by atheism, so that our manner of interpreting the expression “God exists” in terms of God as being, makes not the slightest concession to atheism. It does, however, rule out obsolete and untenable mythological and metaphysical ways of thinking of God.

14. If it is allowed that the equation of God with being is not to be identified with atheism (for, rightly understood, it is the very opposite), what are we to say to the charge the our view is a kind of pantheism? Such a suggestion is equally wide of the mark, and rest on a gross misunderstanding. It has already been made clear that Being not only is not a being, but is not the sum of beings or the totality of beings or an all-inclusive being. Being “is” the transcendens, and this term indicates not only God’s distinction from the world but his “wholly other” character as over against whatever is within the world. Yet at the same time, the acknowledgement that there “is” no being apart from beings, and that being “is” present-and-manifest in every being, guards against an exaggerated transcendence of God, such as has been common in recent theology, and seeks to do justice to his immanence.

15. Would then our identification of God with being constitute a variety of panentheism, understood as the doctrine which on the one hand opposes pantheism by holding that God’s being is more and other than the universe, but which on the other differs from traditional theism in stressing the intimacy of God’s relation to the world? Perhaps the view I have been putting forward can be described as panentheistic, but the word is not important, for panentheism is itself really a variety of theism, one which takes care to stress God’s immanence equally with his transcendence.

16. At this point we must try to clarify the notions of transcendence and immanence as applied to God’s relation to the world. In calling God “transcendent” we mean that he is other than the world, indeed, that there belongs to him a different order of being; and further that God’s being is prior to the being of the world. It seems to me that both of these points are adequately recognized in the understanding of God as being. Being is of a different order from the beings, and the dynamic letting-be of being is prior to the derivative existence of the beings, whether persons or things. The concept of transcendence implies therefore that there is an element of asymmetry in God’s relation to the world, and clearly this is essential to any truly theistic view, as opposed to a pantheistic one. But it does seem to me that in much traditional theism transcendence was stressed to the point at which any conception of immanence was almost lost. The traditional view worked with what might be called a “monarchical” model of God, that is to say, God was conceived as an exalted being bearing absolute rule of another being, the world — though admittedly this other being was of a different order. Still, both were beings, and the relation between the two was conceived as entirely asymmetrical: God affects the world, but the world does not affect God; God is entirely self-sufficient, so that the world adds nothing to him; the world is a product of the divine will, quite external to God and with the suggestion that God might have created or refrained from creating and it would have made no difference. It is at this point that the dialectic of theology demands that we take up the question of God’s immanence. If we understand God as being, then his immanence in the world is just as fully recognized as his transcendence; the relation is that of being to the beings rather than that of one being to another, and we have seen that being is present and manifest in the beings. The traditional monarchical model is then qualified by what may be called an “organic” model of the God-world relation. This alternative model allows for some elements of symmetry and reciprocity in the relation of God and the world: God cannot be conceived apart from the world, for it is his very essence (letting-be) to create; God is affected by the world as well as affecting it, for creation entails risk and vulnerability; God is in time and history, as well as above them.

17. All of these matters will receive fuller discussion later, but they are already implicit in the thought of God as being. This is not a confusion of God and the world, but it is a recognition of their intimate relatedness, and this accords in turn with a fully dialectical understanding of the transcendence and immanence of God.

18. The term “God” then is adequately indicated on the frame of reference by the expression “holy being.” It follows that “God” has a twofold meaning: an ontological meaning, in so far as the word denotes being, and an existential meaning, in so far as it expresses an attitude of commitment to, or faith in, being. These two meanings belong together in the word “God” and are inseparable. The word is the key word of religion because it already expresses the basic religious conviction — that fact and value belong together, that being which gives being is also gracious being. The assertion “God exists” may be expressed in another way as meaning that being “is” no alien or neutral over against us, but that it both demands and sustains, so that through faith in being, we can ourselves advance into fullness of being and fulfill the potentialities of selfhood.

19. From now on, I shall use an initial capital for “Being” when the word is used as an alternative for “God”. This will conform to traditional usage and will also distinguish this particular meaning from others. But we must be careful not to let this word “Being” betray us into a static notion of God. We have seen that Being always includes becoming, and that the essence of Being is the dynamic act of letting-be. So our thought of God is parallel to our way of thinking of the self or soul, expounded in an earlier chapter. In both cases, we have abandoned the traditional “substantial” (reified) conceptuality in favor of one that takes time and becoming seriously.

(Principles of Christian Theology, 1977, V.21.13-19)

I hope that is enough to give a sense of both Macquarrie’s own relationship to the term “panentheism” (paragraph 15) — Macquarrie seeks to “stress God’s immanence equally with his transcendence” — as well as a significant taste of his theology of the doctrine of God, with respect to the relationship between God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.

Obviously there is more to say about God theologically, and Macquarrie does so. In chapter 9, Macquarrie moves to the explicit doctrine of the Trinity; in chapter 12, the Person of Jesus Christ; and in chapter 14, the Holy Spirit. And God shows up in some way or another in each and every paragraph of the whole book, and so the whole book does have to be taken into account before one says “Macquarrie’s doctrine of ___________ is ___________.” This is true of any great theological thinker.

In the next post, I’ll excerpt from In Search of Deity. And after that I’ll begin to evaluate Munday’s criticism given Macquarrie’s own words.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 1 of 5) by John Macquarrie

“The State of Christology in the Present Age”

Presiding Bishop John Allin introduces John Macquarrie to the House of Bishops’ gathering. In this first of five presentations over five days, Macquarrie subsequently outlines his entire lecture and previews each of the five areas of christology that he will examine. Christ is at the center of our faith, and seeking to understand Christ — that of christology — is always a central task. Christology, as a discipline, is in a state of transition, he believes, owing to the fact that classic christological theology took an abrupt turn as a result of Enlightenment-era theological thinking. Christology became subservient to Deistic, natural religion and its two-fold axis of reason and experience. He touches on the theological thought of Kant, Schleiermacher, and like humanistic christology. And he presents his own approach to christology as one that begins with the humanity of Christ and then reaches to his deity. He believes we ought understand “who Christ is” through analysis of “what Christ does”. Overall, in his entire five-part lecture, Macquarrie seeks to address the questions of christology that contemporary thought has raised and contemporary theology has attempted to explore.

keywords: Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, Chalcedonian definition, Reformation, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Enlightenment, Rationalism, Deism, natural religion, Immanuel Kant, evil, Friedrich Schleiermacher, liberal-Protestantism, Edward Schillebeeckx, sin, bliss, christological heresies, Bishop Charles Gore, Bishop John Robinson, Hans Küng, two-natures doctrine, legend, mythology, Apostles’ Creed, New Testament, St John’s Gospel, Synoptic Gospels, biblical criticism, Divine Logos, humanity of Christ, Nicene Creed, docetism, incarnation, metaphysics, one substance, Albrecht Ritschl, Rudolf Bultmann, value judgments, existentialism, magic, eucharist, medicine, immortal substance, atonement, interpersonal relations, human solidarity, Vatican II, polemic versus dialogue

John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

Preview of “The Person of Jesus Christ” lecture series

macquarrieThis is an 18-minute audio excerpt of the forthcoming title from Akenside Press. The Person of Jesus Christ is a lecture-series by John Macquarrie from 1984. The entire lecture-series on contemporary christology is nearly four hours long and includes five separate lectures as Macquarrie deals comprehensively with this crucial area of theology from multiples perspectives. And it is crucial, for how we understand Christ is how we understand all of creation, to say nothing about humanity, our own sinfulness and salvation, and Almighty God himself.

This clip is from his third lecture, where he begins to detail a christology “from below”, technically called “anabatic christology”. In an anabatic approach, which does have precedence in the New Testament, one begins from the person of Jesus Christ, and then works toward his divinity.

Enjoy this preview! The full lecture series which you can download in MP3 form will be available soon.

Martin Thornton’s sacramental view of the natural world

This is an extended passage from Martin Thornton’s first book: Rural Synthesis: The Religious Basis for Rural Culture. The book was published in 1948. In this passage, you will note how he builds upon the Church’s understanding of Christology (the nature of Christ and the Incarnation) toward an application to how we understand the natural world Christologically. To my mind, this is utterly fascinating stuff. Enjoy:

Now the orthodox Christian conception of the Incarnate Christ is that He is both perfectly and distinctly God and perfectly and distinctly Man, and that He is One Person. The full significance of this fact is beyond the range of human understanding, and the exact relationship between the human and Divine natures can never be finally ascertained by finite human intelligence, but we can acquire some perception of vital significance by a process of elimination; if we cannot directly explain what this relationship is, we can glimpse much of its meaning by definitely asserting what it is not. The orthodox doctrine as contained in the Chalcedonian Definition has in fact by largely formulated by the rejection of the Christological heresies of the fourth and fifth centuries.

Looking back from the Definition, so to speak, the form of these four errors becomes quite obvious and simple; we can deny that Jesus Christ is perfectly and distinctly God — the heresy of Arius, or we can deny that He is perfectly and distinctly Man — the heresy of Apollinarius. Then we can accept that He is both a human Person and and Divine Person conjoined, that He is in fact two Persons, two Christs, one human and another Divine; this is the error of Nestorius, which was followed by its direct opposite in the heresy of Eutyches, or Monophysitism, which regards Christ as One Person and One Nature, a mixture of both human and Divine, neither of which can be perfect, distinct, and complete.

Now it is plain that all that can be perceived as sacramental is subject to the equivalent four errors: the denial of one or other of the two parts of the sacrament; the failure to relate the two parts together; and the failure to distinguish between them….

The application of the same principles to The Sacramental Land will give us, therefore, similar errors pertaining to the approach to agriculture and rural economy…. Within the unity of The Land we have an ‘outward and visible sign’ consisting of the physical soil, the visible and material world of nature which springs from and is sustained by it: plants, trees, hedges, farms, and buildings; everything, in fact, that we can see within the ‘countryside’. From these surroundings evolves an invisible spirit, a Numinous atmosphere, which results from the uses made of nature by man in communion with God.

Thus, the erroneous approach to The Land, equivalent to Arianism in Christology, would consist of denying the existence of any such spirit; it would regard the soil as a material mechanism rather than a living organism, overemphasize the scientific in agriculture, and suggest that fertility was not a vital force to be cultivated by skillful farming but a material substances to be mined. ‘Land-robbing’ would be justified; and such conception of ‘land-sense’ or ‘rural prophecy’ would be categorically rejected, any sort of skill of vocation in agricultural work would be unnecessary, and the sole qualifications for successful farming would be an academic knowledge and physical strength.

Similarly, Apollinarianism, the opposite Christological heresy, finds expression in rural economy with the attitude of extreme sentimentality, the quest for The Land’s ‘pure spirit’ and the refusal to recognize its practical and material side. It is the approach which converts the countryside into the ‘man-eating orchid’ of Eric Gill, and looks upon the farm-worker as some spiritual idealist possessed of some strange philosophy which scorns such needless things as decent wages and hygienic living conditions. In agriculture, ‘rural Apollinarianism’ shows up in an exaggerated belief in the ‘natural order’, scorning all mechanical and scientific knowledge through refusing to recognize that the soil, whatever it may be besides, has physical and material properties which can be visibly examined and chemically analyzed. It is precisely the same error which misinterprets the idea of ‘faith-healing’, thereby refusing the benefits of medical science.

Nestorianism, or Dualism in philosophy and psycho-physical parallelism in psychology, is reproduced in the tendency to divide The Land into two unrelated values, the practical and the aesthetic. It is the error giving rise to the idea that agriculture is but a useful, practical industry, carried on amid surroundings which for some obscure reason happen to be beautiful and in need of passive protection; the divorcement, that is, of the beautiful visible sign from the spirit which creates it, or the failure to conceive The Land as one cultural whole, wherein beauty and utility go hand in hand.

Finally, both the rural and theological equivalent to Monophysitism in Christology may be expressed by the same single word, namely Pantheism. This is the belief that God and the natural world are one or in agriculture that fertility is God. We find this particular heresy recurring to some extend in all erroneous approach to the rural environment and always leading, by devious routs, to the same unhealthy conclusion: the adoration of nature.

Now we can carry this process of adaptation a stage further: The Person of Christ is the basis of the Christina religion, all its dogma flows from the fact of the Incarnation, and this doctrine, as we have seen, does not oppose the eschatological by the ethic, nor faith by moral practice, but rather tends to co-relate them in correct perspective. This correct ratio, however, does not necessarily grant equal value to the opposing factors, for we can truly say that the eschatological kingdom of God which is to come is a greater human goal than social Utopia in the temporal world; and that good works cannot create faith but flow from it and are therefore subsidiary to it. The Christian faith, embodied in the Church and sacraments, may be regarded as the extension of the Incarnation of the Son, and similarly the perpetual power of fertility may be regarded as the extension of the original creation of the Father.

(from Rural Synthesis: The Religious Basis for Rural Culture, 1948, pp. 70-74)