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Alternative Orthodoxy
Alternative Orthodoxy

The Universal Christ

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Alternative Orthodoxy

The Universal Christ

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Grace had already been granted to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, and now it has been revealed to us in the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. —2 Timothy 1:9-10

It seems we only give attention to that which we are told to give attention. The Franciscan alternative orthodoxy has given me the intellectual and spiritual freedom to quietly but firmly pay attention to different things. For the most part, Christianity has ignored the fact that Christ existed from all eternity, but Franciscan teaching emphasizes the significance of the universal Christ.

The word Christ means “anointed one.” The divine anointing began with the first incarnation when God decided to show God’s self, almost 13.8 billion years ago. We now call it the Big Bang. Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus basically taught that the first idea in the mind of God was Christ. Christ was the Alpha point. Good biblical theology calls creation itself the birth of the Christ, the materialization of God. Whenever matter and spirit coinhere, coincide, you have the Christ Mystery, which is a phrase the Apostle Paul introduces. Paul has a deep intuition of this, which leads to his understanding of the Eucharistic Body of Christ. Paul intuits that this incarnation of Christ is spread throughout creation, human nature, and even the elements of bread and wine. It’s everywhere.

Francis himself was not a theologian, he was not an academic, he was not highly educated. He was just a sincere spiritual genius who intuited these things. When the next generation of Franciscans, including St. Bonaventure (1221–1274) and John Duns Scotus, came along, they created a philosophy and theology to substantiate Francis’ intuitive vision. They homed in on the first chapters of Colossians, Ephesians, John’s Gospel, Hebrews, and the Letter of 1 John which say the Christ existed from all eternity. The universal Christ is a totally biblical notion.

The universal Christ is one of the crown jewels of early Franciscan theology and part of our alternative orthodoxy. It was there from the beginning, but it’s only now becoming widely known, as the study of cosmology itself says that the very shape of the universe is dynamic and relational. It is all about relationship! The mystery of the universe reveals the mystery of a Trinitarian Creator God. So once cosmology becomes the framework for theology, we suddenly recognize the need to name what Christianity has always had—a cosmic notion of Jesus, which is the Christ. [1]

If we don’t balance out Jesus with Christ, I think our theology is going to become a more and more limited worldview that will end up being in competition with the other world religions. Balancing Jesus with Christ gives us a vision that is so big, so universal that it includes every thing and everybody. You don’t even have to use the words Jesus or Christ to contemplate this Mystery.


[1] Visit to learn much, much more about the Universal Christ. Or read my book, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019).

Adapted from Richard Rohr with Tim Scorer, Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy: Richard Rohr on the Legacy of St. Francis, session 3 (Morehouse Education Resources: 2014), Participants’ Workbook and DVD.

Image credit: St. Francis of Assisi (detail), Jusepe de Ribera, 1642, El Escorial.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Francis loved God above all and wanted to imitate Jesus in very practical ways. Action and lifestyle mattered much more to him than mentally believing dogmatic or moral positions to be true or false. Francis directly said to the first friars, “You only know as much as you do!” —Richard Rohr
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