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Christology

by Gary P. Gillum

Christology is the theological study of the human and divine natures and roles of Jesus Christ.

It developed soon after the death of the apostles in the first century, as conflicting teachings arose over the proper understanding of Christ. Christology served both as a response to heresies and as a development of a systematic theology that orthodox Christians could accept. Eventually these teachings were discussed in councils and formulated into creeds, for instance, at Nicaea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381), and Chalcedon (A.D. 451). These creeds insisted upon a full communion of Christ's divine and human natures, as opposed to the teaching that he was either divine or human, or part one and part the other. In every sense, the councils concluded, Christ is God and of the same substance (homoousios).

Various Christologies competed in the early Christian church. Docetists taught that Jesus Christ only seemed to suffer on the cross, since he only appeared to have a body. Modalists taught that there is only one God in three modes; Arianism, that there are three persons united in purpose. Nestorianism insisted upon two separate wills in a dyadic unity, while Apollonarianism taught that Jesus' human body was inhabited by a divine soul.

Over the years, others have insisted that Jesus Christ is merely the ideal man for humanity, since Jesus often called himself "the Son of man." They have felt that he seldom drew attention to his divinity, as Albert Schweitzer argues in his famous Quest of the Historical Jesus (1911).

Some modern Lutheran theologians believe that Jesus was not simultaneously on the earth as a human and in heaven as God. Under this view, Jesus was divine in the Pre-existence but gave up his godly status and divine properties, except moral attributes, and took upon himself flesh and became a man. This is called the "kenotic" theory.

John Hick, a British philosopher-theologian, feels that Christianity should return to the earliest Christology, the "grace" theory, which teaches that Christ was transformed into a being sharing the divine properties by being infused with his Father's grace.

Although the term "Christology" is not frequently used by Latter-day Saints, the doctrine of the Church can be described in the following manner: Jesus Christ descended from his high pre-existent station as a God when he came to earth to die for mankind's sins (see Jesus Christ: First Born in the Spirit; Condescension of God). He was Jehovah come to earth in a physical body as the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh (see Jesus Christ: Only Begotten in the Flesh). While on earth he was still God, but he received from his Father "grace for grace," as do God's other children (D&C 93:12; see Jesus Christ: Ministry of). The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants speak forcefully of the divine sonship of Christ and also of his humanity (Mosiah 15:2-3; Alma 6:8; 11:38; 13:16; 34:2; 3 Ne. 11:7, 28:10; D&C 93; see Jesus Christ, Fatherhood and Sonship).

Like Jesus Christ, all mortals live in a state of humiliation, but through the mediation of the Christ they may progress to a state of exaltation (see Deification; Godhood). There is no ultimate disparity between the divine and human natures; Joseph Smith asserted that mankind is of the same species as God, having been made in God's image (theomorphism) and being eternal, with unlimited capacity (TPJS, pp. 345-46). One early LDS leader proclaimed, "As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may be" (Lorenzo Snow). Latter-day Saints speak of man as a God in embryo and of Jesus Christ as mankind's elder brother. A favorite LDS children's hymn is titled "I Am a Child of God."

Latter-day Saint doctrine can be understood to have appreciation for Christ and applications for man that go beyond traditional Christology. It is LDS teaching that all the Father's children possess the potential to strive toward the same godhood that the Godhead already has; because in their humanity there is a divinity that is progressing and growing according to the faith, intelligence, and love that abound in their souls. Like the attribute of perfection, divinity is not a static absolute but a dynamic progression (see Eternal Progression).

(See Daily Living home page; Teachings About Jesus Christ home page; Interfaith Relations home page)

Bibliography

Brown, Raymond E. "Christology." In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer, and R. Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1990.

Hick, John. "An Inspiration Christology for a Religiously Plural World." In Encountering Jesus: A Debate on Christology, ed. Stephen T. Davis, pp. 5-22. Atlanta, 1988.

O'Collins, Gerald. "Jesus." ER 8:19-23.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Christology

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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