Jesus of Nazareth, Son and Spouse of Israel

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Mario Imperatori, SJ

 Mario Imperatori, SJ / Church Thought / 17 September 2020


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The multiple challenges of human nature assumed by the Son

In contemplating and reflecting on the mystery of Jesus Christ, every age emphasizes certain dimensions in relation to its precise historical context and the challenges it poses to the Church’s evangelizing mission. This happened in the patristic era when the Church had to face the challenge of Neoplatonic triadic philosophy.

Trinitarian theology and patristic Christology were born in response to this challenge. They re-read the mystery of the Incarnate Son in the light of the metaphysical categories of nature and person matured through critical confrontation with Neoplatonism. They constituted the backbone of the Christological-Trinitarian doctrine of the Ecumenical Councils, which became normative for all the Christian Churches that recognize themselves bound by these Councils. Thanks to this effort, the Church succeeded, among other things, in safeguarding and specifying ever more clearly the human nature assumed by the Son of God against the dangers of its practical denial induced by the widespread monophysite mentality of late Antiquity.

Modern research has never denied the historical humanity of Jesus. On the contrary, it has amply confirmed it. But it has often done so in open conflict with those asserting the divine nature of the Son of God, affirmed by Christian Tradition. This has shifted the challenge to the historical and anthropological terrain, where it is no coincidence that much of the effort of contemporary Christology has been concentrated since the middle of the last century.

The relationship between Jesus of Nazareth, the object of historical research, and the Christ confessed by the Church as Lord since the most ancient New Testament texts, the possibility and limits of an investigation into the human self-consciousness of the Son, not to mention the re-centering of Trinitarian theology in terms of Christology and Easter: these are just a few of the themes that have become central in every intellectually serious treatment of the Christian mystery. The great and complex challenge has been that of having to measure, on the basis of a historical-critical approach to Scripture, the metaphysical statements of classical Christology on a more precise historical and anthropological terrain, so as to make the true humanity of the Savior and the Trinitarian mystery that founds it significant also for people today.

That the first volume of the authoritative Histoire du Christianisme entrusted the ample introduction to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth to an exegete of unquestioned reputation such as Daniel Marguerat, says how much water has fortunately passed under the bridges of a contrast between history and theology, which no longer has any scientific, let alone theological sense.[1]

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