Christ is Everyman and Everywoman

Eastern Christianity

Christ is Everyman and Everywoman
Monday, September 10, 2018

Many passages in the New Testament give a cosmic meaning to Jesus as the Eternal Christ (Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, John 1), but the Eastern fathers of the Church were the first (and last) to make this into a full theology until Bonaventure and Duns Scotus in the thirteenth century and Teilhard de Chardin in the twentieth century. This theology of Christ was never developed in the West, which is why it seems like a new idea to most Catholics and Protestants.

Many of the Alexandrian school in Egypt saw Jesus as a dynamic or interactive union of human and divine in one person. They saw Christ as the living icon of the eternal union of matter and Spirit in all of creation. Jesus was fully human, just as he was fully divine at the same time, but dualistic thinkers find that impossible to process, so they usually choose one or the other. For example, many Christians believe Jesus is divine and we are human, missing the major point of putting the two together! Matter and Spirit must be found to be inseparable in Christ before we have the courage and insight to acknowledge and honor the same in ourselves and in the entire universe. Christ is the Archetype of Everything.

One of my favorite Orthodox scholars, Olivier Clément (1921-2009), helps explain the Eastern fathers’ understanding of Christ:

How could humanity on earth, enslaved by death, recover its wholeness? It was necessary to give to dead flesh the ability to share in the life-giving power of God. He, though he is Life by nature, took a body subject to decay in order to destroy in it the power of death and transform it into life. As iron when it is brought in contact with fire immediately begins to share its colour, so the flesh when it has received the life-giving Word into itself is set free from corruption. Thus he put on our flesh to set it free from death. [1]

The whole of humanity, “forms, so to speak, a single living being.” In Christ we form a single body, we are all “members of one another.” For the one flesh of humanity and of the earth “brought into contact” in Christ “with the fire” of his divinity, is henceforward secretly and sacramentally deified. [2]

Unfortunately, at the Council of Chalcedon, this view—the single, unified nature of Christ—was rejected for the “orthodox” belief, held to this day by most Christian denominations, which emphasizes two distinct natures in Jesus instead of a synthesis. Sometimes what seems like orthodoxy is, in fact, a well-hidden heresy!

Even science confirms that there is no clear division between matter and spirit. Everything is interpenetrating. As Franciscan scientist and theologian Ilia Delio often says, “We are in the universe and the universe is in us.” Christ’s very nature mirrors this universal reality, that we are all one, just as he is one within himself.

References:
[1] Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 2nd ed. (New City Press: 2013), 47. This is a masterpiece of a book, by the way!

[2] Ibid., 46.

Image Credit: Deesis Mosaic (detail), 13th-century, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: An end or consummation is clearly an indication that things are perfected and consummated. We believe that the goodness of God through Christ will restore God’s entire creation to one end. —Origen

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