Incarnation: On the Scope and Depth of Christology 978-1451465402

In this volume, prominent scholars take the reader on a journey from New Testament and early church views of incarnation

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Incarnation: On the Scope and Depth of Christology

Table of contents :
Acknowledgments ix
Niels Henrik Gregersen
Introduction 1
1. The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ
Richard Bauckham
2. Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical
and Theological Reflection
Gerald O’Collins, SJ
3. Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”
John Behr
4. Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and
Torstein Theodor Tollefsen
5. Is God Incarnate in All That Is?
Jürgen Moltmann
6. Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology
Elizabeth A. Johnson
7. Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in
the Tradition of Athanasius
Denis Edwards
8. The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic
Interpretation of Deep Incarnation
Celia Deane-Drummond
9. Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation
Christopher Southgate
10. The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of
Deep Incarnation
Niels Henrik Gregersen
11. Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring,
Cruciform: From Information to Incarnation
Holmes Rolston III
12. Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual
Stuart Kauffman
13. Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework
Dirk Evers
14. Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather
of Time
Robert John Russell
15. Afterword: Reservations
John Polkinghorne
16. Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges
Niels Henrik Gregersen
About the Authors 381
Index 385

Citation preview

Incarnation takes the reader on a journey from New Testament and early church views of incarnation to contemporary understandings of Christology. A prominent group of scholars explores and debates the idea of “deep incarnation”—the view that the divine incarnation in Jesus presupposes a radical embodiment that reaches into the roots of material and biological existence, as well as into the darker sides of creation. Such a wide-scope view of incarnation allows Christology to be meaningful when responding to the challenges of scientific cosmology and global religious pluralism.


Exploring the meaning of the incarnation in a scientific age—

Contents Introduction – Niels Henrik Gregersen Part 1: Creation and Incarnation: New Testament and Early Church Perspectives 1. The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ – Richard Bauckham 2. Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: A Biblical and Theological Reflection – Gerald O’Collins, SJ 3. Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation” – John Behr 4. Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation – Torstein Theodor Tollefsen Part 2: Deep Incarnation: Perspectives from Contemporary Systematic Theology

Part 3: Divine Presence and Incarnation: Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives 11. Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform: From Information to Incarnation – Holmes Rolston III 12. Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual – Stuart Kauffman 13. Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework – Dirk Evers 14. Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time – Robert John Russell Part 4: Concluding Reflections 15. Afterword: Reservations – John Polkinghorne 16. Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges – Niels Henrik Gregersen Niels Henrik Gregersen is professor of systematic theology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Gregersen also holds his PhD from the University of Copenhagen. His primary research fields are systematic theology and science and religion. He is author of five books and has edited a dozen volumes in the fields of theology and science and religion, most recently (with physicist Paul Davies) Information and the Nature of Reality (2014). Religion / Christology / Theology and Science


5. Is God Incarnate in All That Is? – Jürgen Moltmann 6. Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology – Elizabeth A. Johnson 7. Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius – Denis Edwards 8. The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation – Celia Deane-Drummond 9. Depth, Sign, and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation – Christopher Southgate 10. The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation – Niels Henrik Gregersen


Incarnation On the Scope and Depth of Christology

Niels Henrik Gregersen, editor

Fortress Press Minneapolis

INCARNATION On the Scope and Depth of Christology

Copyright © 2015 Fortress Press. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher. Visit or write to Permissions, Augsburg Fortress, Box 1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440.

Cover design: Laurie Ingram Cover image: The face of Christ (mosaic), Byzantine School (6th century) / Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy / Bridgeman Images

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Niels Henrik Gregersen


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ


Richard Bauckham


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection


Gerald O’Collins, SJ


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”


John Behr


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation Torstein Theodor Tollefsen



Is God Incarnate in All That Is?


Jürgen Moltmann


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology


Elizabeth A. Johnson


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius


Denis Edwards


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation


Celia Deane-Drummond


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation


Christopher Southgate


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation


Niels Henrik Gregersen


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform: From Information to Incarnation


Holmes Rolston III


Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual


Stuart Kauffman


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework Dirk Evers



Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time


Robert John Russell


Afterword: Reservations


John Polkinghorne


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges


Niels Henrik Gregersen

About the Authors





This volume grew out of a symposium held in Hamlet’s city of Elsinore in August 26–29, 2011, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and organized in collaboration with the Faculty of Theology at Copenhagen University. The provocative title chosen for the symposium was, “Is God incarnate in all that is?” Hereby we wanted to explore the relationship between Christ and cosmos through different approaches. The following questions were addressed: First, what are the connections between a Logos Christology and the informational aspects of the universe—those exemplified in its deep mathematical structures as well as those emerging in biological evolution? Second, what is the relationship between the revelation of the love of God in Christ and other experiences of communicative love and ethical sensitivity? Finally, to what extent does it make sense to argue that the event of incarnation entails a deep incarnation? In this view, when God’s Logos “became flesh” in Jesus (John 1:14), the material world of joy and suffering was also assumed such that the incarnate Logos eventually became coextensive with “all flesh”—kol basar, as it is called in the Hebrew Bible—from grass to human persons. In short, how does “high” and “low” meet and mingle when speaking about God’s incarnation in Christ? ix


During the symposium, the concept of deep incarnation turned out to be a central focus of discussion. As a result, this volume brings together a number of proponents of deep incarnation together with some of its most articulate critics. We hope that this book will be able to elicit continuous discussions on the scope and depth of Christology. The symposium was convened by Dr. Mary Ann Meyers, Director of the Humble Approach Initiative of the John Templeton Foundation, and myself. I am deeply indebted to Mary Ann for her expertise and continuous commitment to this project, and to the Foundation itself for its generous sponsorship. I also wish to acknowledge with gratitude the subsequent support offered by the Centre for Naturalism and Christian Semantics, a center of excellence funded by the Star Research Program of Copenhagen University from 2008 to 2013. Last but not least, I am grateful to PhD student Mikkel Gabriel Christoffersen and students of theology Kristoffer Garne and Søren Frank Jensen for their meticulous and effective editorial work on this volume. It goes without saying that collaborative thinking doesn’t take place without independently thinking collaborators. I thank the contributors to this volume for the energy they have put into their chapters, and for their willingness to be a part of this project from beginning to end. We, the conveners, very much appreciate the fact that this book includes representative voices from Roman Catholic, Eastern





interdenominational, and naturalist traditions. Special thanks go to Sir John Polkinghorne, who was not part of the symposium itself but agreed to offer some critical perspectives on the issues discussed in this volume.



Niels Henrik Gregersen Copenhagen University December 9, 2014



Niels Henrik Gregersen

In contemporary culture, the Christian idea of incarnation stands in a curious twilight. On the one hand, many observers are ready to praise the Christian tradition for being an incarnational faith in which material existence is affirmed from beginning to end: the world of creation is material; God became flesh in Christ; Christian spirituality is sacramental, embedded in material signs; and Christians even expect a resurrection of the body. On the other hand, some of the same observers are critical of the traditional Christian claim that the divine Logos (the eternal Son, Word, or Wisdom of God) became blood and flesh in the life story of Jesus Christ. Is this not the arch-example of a Christian exceptionalism that leads to an ecclesial enclosure of the great Christian idea of God’s ongoing incarnation? Why is Jesus not just one of a billion divine incarnations? The intense symposium behind this volume did indeed start out making room for reflection on the concept of incarnation in its generic form by asking, “Is God incarnate in all that is?” But during our presentations and subsequent deliberations at the Copenhagen



meeting in Elsinore, it became clear that none of us found that a pan-incarnationalism was a workable model for a Christian theology today. We agreed that the focus of our attention should instead be on the relationship between the incarnation in Christ and wider concerns of a theology of creation. It is one thing to say that the incarnate Christ is present in, with, and for all created beings (in particular the victims of creation and creativity); it is quite another thing to say that God is incarnate as a terrorist attack, as a rape, or as a natural disaster. These prepositions (introduced into our discussions by Richard Bauckham) became important for opening up further reflections. Thus many of us wanted to say unreservedly that the incarnate Christ (the embodied Logos) was indeed present in all that is, including prior to the coming of Christ, and also in natural and cultural domains outside the scope of Christianity as a historical tradition. In the heyday of liberal theology in the 1970s, a famous book was published called The Myth of God Incarnate. At that time, it was argued that the notion of incarnation was not necessary for expressing the Christian belief in the special God-awareness of Jesus; moreover, any claim of the uniqueness of Christ was seen as intolerable in a pluralistic and multireligious society.1 Today, the pendulum has swung in favor of speaking of God’s incarnation and embodiment. Similarly, there is also a greater sense of the principal differences between the world religions both in the cultural realm and in the life world of the religions themselves. Nowadays, it is believed that a genuine tolerance should tolerate religious specificity instead of seeking too-facile consensus positions. Some speak about a “deep pluralism,” according to which religious thinkers and representatives 1. See, respectively, Maurice Wiles, “Christianity without Incarnation?” and John Hick, “Jesus and the World Religions,” in John Hick, ed., The Myth of God Incarnate (London: SCM, 1977), 1–10 and 167–86.



should listen and learn from one another rather than seeking a neutral ground, or even prematurely proclaiming the ultimate identity of all religions.2 This volume does not address religious pluralism as such, but it certainly addresses the question of particularity and universality. The task has been to think with the wide scope of the Christian traditions in order to rethink Christology with a special concern for its universal claims and open horizons. What does the incarnation in Christ have to do with the world of star formations, animal suffering, and the restless productivity in nature, as we have come to know cosmic and biological evolution from the sciences? What does God’s incarnation in Jesus have to do with the experiences of nameless men and women in the many cultures around the world? And in what sense are deep existential questions, ranging from sparks of joy to terrifying experiences of anxiety, connected to the Christian belief that God has really conjoined our material and spiritual conditions for life? Three Scandals of Particularity The Christian concept of incarnation has always been a contested area in Christian thought. Since antiquity the Christian view that God’s own Word or Logos (the eternal Son) assumed “flesh” in Jesus of Nazareth and “lived among us” (John 1:14) has been seen as scandalous. While the Greeks found the idea of a deity dragged down to the mess of material existence repelling, Jews and Muslims have taken offense at the implication that the Lord of the universe identified with a human being, in particular a person dying on a cross. 2. See, for example, David Griffin, “Religious Pluralism: Generic, Identitist, and Deep,” in Deep Religious Pluralism, ed. David Griffin (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 3–38. Otherwise, there is (as far as I can tell) no specific link between “deep pluralism” and “deep incarnation.”



The scandal of particularity takes several forms. The first is what we may term the scandal of materiality—the scandal for Platonists and other dualists. The second is the scandal of suffering—the scandal for religious perfectionists who can’t accept the idea that God is involved in the messy lives of human sinners and victims. A third form is the aforementioned scandal of uniqueness. All three seem to apply to Christian belief in the Son of God being born of a woman in a dirty manger, drinking and eating with unclean people and dying on a cross together with criminals. Even if modern intellectuals affirm the great Christian idea that God is involved in and entangled with the messy life of material existence, they may react against the third scandal of particularity. The German Enlightenment thinker Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) spoke of the “ugly great ditch” that he himself could not cross between Jesus as an admirable individual of the past and the metaphysical truths available to any epoch by virtue of their universal rationality: “Accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason.”3 Even if the compass of what Lessing thought of as belonging to the repository of “necessary truths” has in the meantime been shrinking dramatically, his point with respect to history stands, insofar as all historical knowledge is approximate, highly selective, shrouded in ignorance and always under reconstruction. No theologian would therefore today argue that the inner relation between Jesus and God can be “evidenced” by historical methods. All historical reflection can do for us is make more or less plausible a picture of the religious assumptions on which Jesus led his life. Something like God’s incarnational presence does not feature in historical descriptions. We are here, as rightly noticed by Lessing, dealing with another genus of knowledge than that 3. G. E. Lessing, “On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power,” in Theological Writings, ed. Henry Chadwick (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1967), 53.



provided by historical scholarship about putative historical facts. As Søren Kierkegaard asked on the title page of his Philosophical Fragments from 1844, “Can an eternal happiness be built on historical knowledge?” The short answer is No. Accordingly, the fundamental question of Christology remains the following: What is the relation between the particular life story of Jesus and the universal questions of reality, from cosmos to human existence? It seems that positive answers to this question presuppose that God was indeed present in the life story of Jesus—present even to the point of an identity between Jesus and God’s eternal life. This is what comes to the fore in the strong statement about Jesus Christ in the Letter to the Colossians: “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). Beyond the Divide between the Particular and the Universal? The authors of this volume generally find the dichotomy of universal versus particular unhelpful. Incarnation should neither be seen as a general rule nor as a pure exception. Accordingly, most of us follow other pathways for theological thinking. We take our point of departure in the particularity of the Jesus story (in this sense working “from below”) while seeing the story of the incarnation from cave to cross and resurrection as the story of God’s self-revelation (in this sense “from above”), indeed a divine self-identification that also involves an identification of genuine humanity. In Jesus Christ, the particular and the universal are consistently intertwined, so that we have constant movements between the two poles of the encompassing reality of Jesus Christ: the divine Logos and the world of flesh. How Christ and world belong together, while also being different, is a question that is still with us today. In theological tradition, one



sometimes meets the simple answer that Christ is universal according to his divinity but particular according to his humanity. This interpretation of the “two natures” doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon from 451 had the advantage—or disadvantage!—that standard concepts of divinity and humanity were left unaltered as they came to Christianity from Greek antiquity, namely as two contrasting realities. God (and the eternal Son of God) is up there; we (and Jesus) are down here. In one rendering of this view, God indeed touched upon and momentarily entered the world of creation in Jesus, but God’s Logos did not conjoin with God’s world of creation at large. The personal union of Jesus Christ is a miraculous exception to the general rule that the infinite and unchangeable God is somewhere else, beyond time and space, while human beings are defined by their spatial and temporal confinements. (It goes without saying that classical Christology is much richer and subtler than this interpretation suggests.) The liberal strand within Protestantism later came up with a different option. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) argued that God came to mind in the particular life story of Jesus. Jesus had a constant, full, and penetrating awareness of God. Accordingly, he was able to live a life in full congruence with the divine will and to spread his God-awareness among his followers. In this model, the existence of God in Jesus means the existence of a proper Godconsciousness in Jesus.4 Accordingly, Jesus is Christ in the sense that he was an exemplary parable of who God is and what God wants to do for human beings. Observe that this more modest Christology presupposes that God is not really embodied. God remains outside the 4. As Schleiermacher put it in The Christian Faith (1830), § 94: “The Redeemer, then, is like all men in virtue of the identity of human nature, but distinguished from them all by the constant potency of His God-consciousness, which was a veritable existence of God in Him.” The Christian Faith, ed. and trans. H. R. Macintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 385.



material world, though God may be said to be properly made known in the midst of creation though the particular God-awareness of Jesus. A third view that is explored and critically discussed in this volume argues that the historical incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth should also inform what a Christian theology can say, and must say, about the presence of divine Logos in the world of creation before and after the advent of Christ. Logos Christology is here not only about a general presence of a nude deity (logos asarkos) in creation but about the presence of Christ as the embodied Logos (logos ensarkos) in the multifarious world of creation. This book includes several varieties for speaking about a cosmic Christ in this vein. Some go back to the resources of the biblical tradition, as shown by Gerald O’Collins and Bauckham; others to great patristic teachers of the church such as Athanasius and Maximus the Confessor, as shown by John Behr and Torstein Tollefsen. One of the more recent proposals is found in the concept of deep incarnation, explored in quite a number of contributions to this volume. In this view, the Logos of God (the eternal Son) “became flesh” in Jesus, assumed a particular body and mind in him, and hereby also conjoined the material, living, and mental conditions of being a creature in any epoch. God thus became a human being (not only a man), a social being who lived with and for others in a sinful world (not an autistic individual), a living being vulnerable like sparrows and foxes (not just a member of homo sapiens), a material being made out of stardust and earth (not bringing with him a special heavenly flesh), thus susceptible to death and disintegration. Likewise, the divine Logos in Jesus assumed an ensouled human person with human mind, will, and passions (not an omniscient superhuman being). “Assumption” here means not only tolerating all of this but embracing it as part of the condition for being a creature in God’s own world of creation—despite all sin and evil. Incarnation 7


here means to understand human and creaturely conditions from an internal firsthand perspective, and not only from a lofty thirdperson perspective beyond the engagements, struggles, passions, and anxieties of being a human-in-the-world-with-others. Also, as a human being Jesus was living in front of God as a praying animal, sometimes unable to find ways into an unproblematic union with God the Father. This is how Jesus is described in the Gospels. Now, if Jesus is resurrected into God’s eternal life, as Christians believe, they must also say: Thus is the God who was, and is, and will be forever. In other words, if Jesus is the character-description of who God is, then this is also how God is well before and after the years of the historical incarnation. This is deep incarnation in its provisional form. But there are certainly alternative ways to describe what it means to say that God was in Jesus in a self-identifying way—also for God’s relation to other creatures besides humans. Other contributors to this volume prefer to speak of Christ as being related to all other creatures, or to speak of Christ as having a saving relevance or effect on the nonhuman world. But what is common to all these proposals is that the classic christological question, Who is Jesus Christ? can’t be answered apart from the less-discussed questions, Where is Christ in our world of creation? What is the scope of Christ? and How is Christ present for other creatures? Is Christ only active as the structuring or informational principle of cosmic evolution, or is Christ also passive—in the sense of suffering with and standing in for all creatures? These are the issues discussed in this volume. I now invite the reader to go into the chapters of the book and follow the arguments of the individual authors. The articles are often cross-referenced, so a number of lineages between the contributors will soon emerge.



In order to assist the orientation, however, I will conclude this introduction by presenting a typology for different views of incarnation that was also offered to the participants of the Elsinore/ Copenhagen symposium. From Strict-Sense to Full-Scope Views of Incarnation: A Typology The purpose of the final sections of this introduction is to provide a sketch of different aspects of the concept of incarnation relevant for classical, early modern, and contemporary theology. I’m well aware that no schema of this sort can do justice to the subtleties of christological reflection over many centuries. The purpose is only to offer a preliminary orientation and to clarify diverse approaches for thinking about the scope of Christ in relation to the world of creation. The categories used are meant to overlap (in the sense of a typology) rather than contrast (as in a taxonomy). Moving from strict-sense incarnation to what I call full scope-incarnation, for example, does not mean that the latter replaces the former, but serves to clarify the individual steps that different theologians want to go, or refuse to go. The following typology presupposes that God is already immanently present in the world of creation as a whole. The typology here concerns only God’s embodied presence as related to the Christian doctrine of incarnation. Also, the specific concept of incarnation in Christ presupposes that God is already provisionally known and experienced through other embodiments of a more transitory form. In the biblical traditions, one may think of theophanies (such as the burning bush in Exodus 3), divine indwellings of holy sites (stones, mountains, temples, etc.) and the people of God, divine commissions (of prophets), divine inspirations (such as dreams), miracles, and the exemplary lives of men and women. 9


Classical Views of Incarnation I begin by delineating contours of standard meanings of incarnation from the patristic period onward: A: Incarnationstandard doctrinal meaning The eternal Word of God/Logos (the second person of the Trinity) “became flesh” (John 1:14) in Jesus of Nazareth for the purpose of the salvation of humanity. The assumption of the body and flesh of Jesus constituted the one person of Jesus Christ, who at once was fully divine as “the only Son” of the Father (John 1:18) and genuinely human (“tested as we are, yet without sin,” Heb. 4:15).

However, doctrinal developments are not always as clearly delineable as propounded in textbooks. In the early fourth century, Athanasius of Alexandria saw the Logos as the principal agent of Christ, while the human body of Jesus (itself a part of macrocosm) was seen as the temple and instrument for the divine Word. Later in the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus (Letter 101) and the other Cappadocians argued that Jesus had to have a human soul and mind in order to save the fullness of humanity. The divine Logos did not replace the human soul and mind of Jesus (against Apollinarius). In the Chalcedonian Creed (451), this personal union (unio personalis) was defined as consisting of two natures, one divine and one human, neither of them to be separated from one another or confused with one another. In the ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680–681), it was added that Jesus had not only a divine will but also a human will (dyotheletism) in order to account for his experiences of being genuinely tested. It was still the general understanding, however, that the divine Logos was the primary agent of Jesus. In consequence, it was often taught (in a view ascribed to Leontius of Byzantium) that the human nature of Jesus did not exist in itself (it



was “anhypostatic”), but had its genuine identity in the divine nature and will (where it was “enhypostatic”). This classical view may be delineated as follows: A1: Incarnationclassical strict-sense For our salvation, the eternal Word of God/Logos assumed a human body and became flesh, “once and for all,” in the life story of Jesus of Nazareth.

This classical understanding of incarnation has always been meant to imply some notion of an antecedent preexistence of the incarnate Logos—minimally in terms of the preexistence of God’s eternal Logos (including the intention of the preincarnate Logos to become incarnate), maximally in terms of some personal preexistence of the union between Logos and Jesus. Likewise, all doctrinal traditions affirm some form of postexistence of the hypostatic union: The human body and soul of Christ are exalted together with the Logos through the resurrection. Accordingly, we need some amendments to the strict-sense view: A2: Incarnationclassical extended sense: For our salvation, the eternal Word of God/Logos forever wanted to assume the body of Jesus of Nazareth and become flesh (John 1:14) in his life story. While the incarnation took place within God’s world of creation from his birth to his cross, there is a continuous story of incarnation within the life of God. From eternity the Logos was prepared to become incarnate, and from the moment of the resurrection the exalted body and soul of Jesus were assumed into God’s eternal life so that the humanity of Jesus was forever part of God’s own way of existence.

In this extended view, there is a two-way assumptio carnis: The divine Word assumes flesh (in incarnation) and God embraces the incarnate Word (in resurrection). The extended body of Christ, as so far expounded, focuses on the relation between Jesus and God. This 11


places the birth-seat of Christology in the relations between Jesus and his heavenly Father as well as in the relations between Jesus and God’s Spirit on earth. Only much later, with the Chalcedonian Formula, was Christology defined by the internal being of Jesus Christ as composed of two distinct “natures” (the divine and the human) that operate in a perfect and preestablished communion in the one person of Jesus. Yet since the concept of incarnation is intrinsically related to its soteriological purpose, the exalted body and soul of Christ cannot be seen apart from the members of the body of his church (consisting minimally of elected human beings, maximally of all human beings and the transformed cosmos). Accordingly, we need a further amendment to the classical concept of incarnation: A3: Incarnationclassical extended & inclusive sense: For our salvation, the eternal Word of God/Logos forever wanted to assume the body of Jesus of Nazareth and become flesh (John 1:14) in his unique life story. While the incarnation took place within God’s world of creation from his birth to his cross, there is a continuous story of incarnation within the life of God. From eternity, the Logos was prepared to become incarnate, and from the moment of the resurrection the exalted body and soul of Jesus were assumed into God’s eternal life, so that the humanity of Jesus was forever to be a part of God’s own way of existence. Yet since Jesus is the second Adam (Romans 5), his body is corporate (1 Corinthians 12), consisting of many members. The body of Christ thus comprises all those who are reconciled with God and connected to the divine Logos in the Spirit.

Historicist Views of Incarnation Let us move from here into modern discussions, defined as the forms of christological thinking that take their cue from early modern concepts of history as linear and spatiotemporally defined as well as



from an understanding of science as defined by its empirical method. This tendency can be found from the beginnings of the historicalcritical method in the eighteenth century with Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694–1768) and others. It is exemplified by late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thinkers such as Lessing, Schleiermacher, and Kierkegaard, and was ably conceptualized by Ernst Troeltsch at the beginning of the twentieth century. While eschewing metaphysics, historicism and empiricism have themselves defined a metaphysics according to which reality is that which is indexed in time and space. Under these conditions, the classical strictsense view of incarnation is now pasted into the more confined historicist ontology. It may be rendered as follows: B1: Incarnation modernhistoricist strict-sense A relatively new way of speaking of God and a new way of acting on God’s behalf appears to have happened in the life story of Jesus of Nazareth. From a historical perspective, some distinctive features of the teachings and actions of Jesus may be identified. Such features may (or may not) afford a religious interpretation of Jesus as the Word of God.

In this historicist version of the classical strict-sense view, there is an unprecedented focus on the particularity of the person and ministry of the earthly Jesus. Jesus is seen as a historically contextualized individual, hence as a particular phenomenon in the flow of history. On this view, Jesus may still be seen as distinct from other saviorfigures in his own immediate Jewish context as well as in the history of religions in general. But in the end, uniqueness can’t feature in a historicist perspective, just as God and theoretical entities don’t feature within experience. The historicist view of incarnation may nonetheless still be open to religious interpretations, as it were on top of the historicist framework.



B1.1: One of these interpretations is simply to declare, as a matter of faith, that even though Jesus from a historical perspective is only one among many, the particular Jesus story as narrated in the Gospels nonetheless offers the only available epistemic access to the reality of God for Christians as well as for all other human beings. Other religious relations to God are nothing but human guesswork, if not projections. From an external perspective, such insisting on the uniqueness of the Jesus-story (despite its historical dependence) may be seen as an ad hoc maneuver. Nonetheless, a full-blown doctrine of God (including the preexistence of Jesus qua Logos) may nonetheless be reconstructed as the a priori conditions (Immanuel Kant: Möglichkeitsbedingungen) that make possible what Christians a posteriori believe when they say that Jesus was God (e.g., Karl Barth). B1.2: Another religious interpretation of the Jesus-story within the historicist view takes place by simply bracketing the question of the metaphysical whence and whither of Jesus in order to reconstruct, by means of sheer historical inquiry, the particular kind of message of God that Jesus is most likely to have taught and incorporated into his way of life. This bracketing method can be followed by two forms of Christology. The first points to the final unavoidability of a definite religious choice. Even though the message of Jesus and his followers can be fully contextualized historically, his religious message may be translated to contemporary human interpreters (at least concerning his existential attitudes to reality). Confronted with his message, each human person must make his or her own decision: a decision of faith or rejection. In this model, Jesus may be said to be resurrected into his words, subsequently becoming incarnate in our present-day world as the divine Word wherever the message of Jesus is embraced in faith (e.g., Rudolf Bultmann).



The second form of bracketed Christology follows the historicist path to its logical conclusion by arguing that the life story of Jesus may be an admirable approximation to the reality of God, but Jesus stands on par with other great religious life stories by virtue of the historicist principle. Hence Jesus should be compared with, and complemented by, other approximations to ultimate reality (e.g., John Hick). B1.3: Finally, the modern historicist sense of incarnation can be interpreted to exclude the notion of a God or divine Logos while seeing the teachings and actions of Jesus as one candidate among others for an advisable embodied lifestyle and existential orientation. “God” is here merely a symbol for natural or historical processes that are already well-established practices among us (e.g., Gordon Kaufman). A Contemporary Model of Incarnation The aforementioned historicist approaches to Christology appear to be brute, contrived, or bleak. But what if that which emerged with Jesus (the kingdom of God) cannot be identified by the sheer existence of Jesus as an individual being from a remote past? What if the life of Jesus is to be understood rather by the constitutive relations between Jesus and God, and between Jesus and the wider cosmos? The Gospels’ picture of the earthly Jesus cannot easily be accommodated within a historicist construal of “the historical Jesus”; the metaphysics of historicism does not permit the possibility of Jesus having constitutive relations to his heavenly Father, just as historicism does not allow an individual to be internally related to the rest of history. From this perspective, the real problem with historicism is not its bracketing or exclusion of a noetic or divine realm that is supposed



to exist alongside the time-space continuum. Rather, the real poverty of historicism consists in the meagerness of its description of what is going on within time and space and in its negligence of the way in which all things are interconnected. Not only are the connections between Jesus and God severed, but also the constitutive relations between Jesus and the world of creation. But what if that which emerged in the Jesus story was about a personal identity defined by its biological and social relations to other creatures within God’s continuous creation? In the light of evolutionary theory, all human beings share a common genetic heritage, and in the light of the biological and social sciences, a wide spectrum of human relations comes forth also in the lives of individuals who always live in extensive social relations. In this light, even the resources of the natural sciences transcend the historicist framework. After all, the natural sciences do not just collect information about particulars but aim to produce theories about how nature works and how things are intrinsically interconnected. All such relations, for example in quantum mechanics, go far beyond the assumption of a simple localization as in a historicist or purely empiricist metaphysics. What follows is one way of explicating the Jesus story within such a larger framework. The following example of a broad-scale Christology presupposes the classic strict-sense view of incarnation (A1) while also being informed by contemporary historical scholarship (B1): C1: Incarnationsocially extended body: Just as every human being is more than him- or herself by embodying shared genetic and cultural resources, so also Jesus embodied more than his own self. Accordingly, his identity is to be described as defined by his relations to God and lived out in his particular relations to his fellow creatures.



Jesus lived through the common conditions of the human race, yet managed to cope with them in new and unprecedented ways. He overcame the particular problems of genetic-cultural exclusion within his own Jewish setting, and he confronted the general problems of human coexistence: the combination of intra-group nicety with extra-group nastiness. He thus took the role of the outcast and homeless in a world dominated by an intra-group mentality and aggressive identity formation. The distinctive features of the teachings and actions of Jesus (as intimated in historical scholarship) should be seen in this wider biosocial perspective. Accordingly, early Christians interpreted Jesus as the second Adam (Romans 5), the second Moses, the second Job, and the Suffering Servant. Likewise, he was seen as the only true image of God, since his relation to God was constitutive for his teachings as well as for his way of life. In that sense, Jesus was the “only Son of God” all the way from his relations to the heavenly Father into his relations with fellow creatures.

The question is now whether the body of Christ comprises more than his fellow human beings. This point, so essential to the concept of deep incarnation, presupposes that human existence, both in its genetic and social aspects, cannot be divorced from the biological conditions that human beings share with other living beings. This goes for physical processes, such as energy transaction and information transfer (including the need to supply resources from outside the local body of Jesus), as well as for biological processes of growth and decay, and the implied vulnerabilities that go along with them. Here we approach the reasons for speaking, if only tentatively, of the world as included in the body of Christ. C2: Incarnationfull-scale extended body: Incarnation signifies the coming-into-flesh of God’s eternal Logos. In and through the process of incarnation, God the creator and the world of the flesh are conjoined in such depth that God links up with all vulnerable creatures, with the sparrows in their flight as well as in their fall (cf. Matt. 10:29) and with the grass that comes into being one day and ceases to exist the next day.



In Christ, God enters into the biological tissue of creation in order to share the fate of biological existence. In the incarnate One, God becomes Jesus, and in him God becomes human, sharing (by implication) the life conditions of foxes and sparrows, grass and trees, soil and moisture. The most high (the eternal thought and power of God) and the very lowest (the flesh that comes into being and decays) are united in the process of incarnation.

Above, I ended the classic description of the body of Christ (A2–3: Incarnation classic extended & inclusive sense) with a reference to “all those who are reconciled with God and connected to the divine Logos in the Spirit.” The soteriological question is now, Who are they? Only a few elect ones? All human beings? All sensitive beings? Or the transformed cosmos in its entirety? There is no consensus in contemporary Christian theology on this issue. Several theological options are at work on the basis of the aforementioned matrix of classic Christian doctrines. C3.1: Incarnationnarrow-scope inclusive sense: The extended body of Christ consists of a particular group of elect human beings only—those who are elected by God and will persevere in faith.

“Church” here refers either to the elect community in contrast to those living outside the body of Christ or to the community of those that already have been redeemed while others will follow. Three reasons can be given for the narrow-scope view: (1) Scriptural passages speak most often about the community of believers as opposed to this world (“world” here understood in its negative sense). (2) The very concept of a body seems to suggest some sort of organic unity, be it in terms of concrete biological bodies or in terms of social bodies. By comparison, the cosmos at large does not seem to make up such an organic whole; galaxies, supernovas, and black holes exemplify striving forces rather than anything like a body or community. (3) As human beings, we can only speak from a 18


human vantage point, which relies on a first-person perspective, be it in terms of an “I” or a “we.” Therefore, we are not entitled to project soteriological models into a cosmic framework (Kant & his followers). Against these critical points, however, it could be argued that the basic motivation for speaking about ultimate fulfillment is Christ as the realization in material time-space of the loving and relational nature of God. If God is genuinely revealed in the strict-sense incarnation, neither the epistemic confines of human imagination (Kant) nor standard concepts of what it means to be a body (common sense constructs) can overrule the universal scope of the divine Logos assuming flesh. Moreover, when speaking about “the body of Christ,” reference is made to the inclusive nature of Christ more than to the intrinsic properties of human, animal, and other organismic bodies. Finally, apart from central scriptural indications of the universal scope of divine love, it is also, from an experiential point of view, hard to imagine a fulfillment of human life apart from the community of those allegedly standing outside the community of the church: the







(Schleiermacher’s argument for apokatastasis). This leads us to the following view: C3.2: Incarnationbroad-scope inclusive sense: The extended body of Christ consists of all human beings, since God in Christ has elected all human beings “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). Consequently, some are already believers and participate in the body of Christ, while others will participate at a later stage, be it in this life or in a life to come.

“Church” here refers to the deep community in the body of Christ between all human beings: brothers and sisters, contemporary believers and contemporary nonbelievers, friends and foes, Christians



and non-Christians. Obviously, this view of the church presupposes an eschatological view of humanity. The full inclusiveness of the body of Christ may already be realized in the life of God, but it has not yet transpired in the world of humanity at large. The problem for this view is how human beings can come to flourish in a life to come without some form of embodiment and without a sustained relation to a material world that continues to harbor, facilitate, and energize the life of humanity (cf. 1 Corinthians 15). So we end up with a full-scope view of salvation that corresponds to the full extensiveness of the body of Christ: C3.3: Incarnationfull-scope inclusive sense: The extended body of Christ comprises the life of all creatures, including their cosmic nexuses, insofar as “the fullness of deity” was pleased to dwell in Christ (Col. 2:9) and “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.” (Col. 1:20)

What we here see is a full-scope soteriological view of incarnation and the world of creation. There is a match between God having the pleasure of dwelling unreservedly in Christ (strict-sense incarnation) and God having the pleasure of reconciling all things to himself in Christ (full-scope inclusive incarnation). The common link may consist in a theology of the overflow from the fullness of divine love into “all flesh,” when God’s Spirit will be poured out (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21) so that “God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). The second movement (from the incarnation of the divine Word to the world at large) may be said to follow organically from the first movement (from God the Word becoming incarnate flesh). There is thus a high degree of congruence, or “natural fit,” between the notion of deep incarnation and a soteriological universalism. There is, however, no strict logical implication that leads from deep incarnation to universalism, since it would be 20









universalism. Other concerns might have to be taken into account. Some might want to construe the conditions for salvation in such a manner that an inclusion into the body of Christ presupposes a conscious response, and even a positive embrace, by agents of free will. They would argue that free will is actually not exercised by all creatures, but only by humans, and that the human will has the capacity to embrace as well as to resist God’s invitation. In response one might point to the principle of Thomas Aquinas that what is received will always be received according to the mode of the recipient: Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur (Summa Theologiae, I q.75 a.5 resp.). Obviously, being assumed by God and participating in divine life means something different for a sparrow, a bonobo, and for a human being.


1 The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

Richard Bauckham

Some of the most remarkable passages of christological reflection in the New Testament speak of the relevance of Jesus Christ not only to other humans, but also to the whole of the nonhuman creation (especially Col. 1:15-20; Eph. 1:9-10; cf. also 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2-3; Rev. 3:14). How can we articulate such a relationship today? To put it another way, how should we relate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ to the presence and activity of God throughout his creation? In approaching this question, we need first to examine the idea of the presence of God in creation and to distinguish the sense in which God is present in incarnation from other forms of divine presence. Divine Presence—Metaphysical and Personal For God to be present within his creation, he must relate to creatures who exist in both space and time. What is it about God that enables him to do so? Among the metaphysical attributes of God in 25


traditional theism, the most obviously relevant are omnipresence and eternity. These, like all the metaphysical attributes, are best understood as affirming that God is not limited as finite creatures are.1 Creatures are limited by space and time; God is not. The implication is not that God is extended throughout space or throughout time, but that God is free to be present to his creatures anywhere and at any time. Traditionally, the metaphysical attributes have been taken to exclude their opposites: God cannot be spatial, temporal, weak, passible, and so forth. But this interpretation of them seems itself to be a limit on God’s freedom and is difficult to square with many of the claims of Scripture and tradition, not least incarnation. As Karl Barth put it, it makes God his own prisoner.2 However, it is possible to interpret the metaphysical attributes as not necessarily excluding their opposites. God is not limited by space, as finite creatures are, but he can also be present in space. God is not limited by time, as finite creatures are, but he can also be present in time. The “also” in these statements is essential: God cannot abandon his transcendence of all creaturely limits, but he can also have a presence within such limits. This is what the traditional understanding of incarnation has, in effect, affirmed, though the doctrine of the two natures has perhaps tended to obscure it. But there is no need to limit this approach to the incarnation, in which God has a human life wholly within the limits of human existence. We may be able to say that in other ways, too, God enters into the finite existence of his creatures. That God in himself is nonspatial and nontemporal has a very important implication for thinking about his presence within 1. Cf. Hans Küng’s notion of “the dialectic of the attributes” in The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought as Prolegomena to a Future Christology, trans. J. R. Stephenson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1987), 45–60. 2. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956), IV/ 1:187.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

creation: it means that, whereas all relationships between creatures are mediated by space and time, God is unique in being able to relate immediately to his creatures. (This is what is expressed in the claim that “God is nearer to me than I am to myself.”) In this way, the metaphysical attributes seem to be preconditions for God’s presence within creation, but they do not themselves constitute it. Scripture and tradition do not only affirm that God is present to his creatures, but that he can be present with and in his creatures, suggesting something more like participation in their finite existence within time and space. God can and does take part in the spatiotemporal reality of his creation. This means that to understand the divine presence in the world we must move beyond the metaphysical to the personal freedom of God and the personal attributes (the moral attributes) that characterize his “economic” acts and relationships. God’s presence in the world is not an undifferentiated and constant implication of his nature, as some forms (at least) of pantheism imply. It is personal presence.3 God makes himself present in the world in the freedom of his love (and, in a secondary sense, his wrath). This opens the way for understanding God’s presence not merely as universal, but also as historical and particular. There may be many different forms of God’s presence. They include theophany, vision, encounter, word of address, conversation, inspiration, empowerment, providential care, and sacrament, as well as incarnation. The last is of key significance, but God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ is not necessarily a template for other instances of God’s presence in the world. Rather than making incarnation a model for all forms of divine presence, we need to

3. On the characteristics of personal presence, there is a helpful brief treatment in Gerald O’Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 310–13. They include “an infinite variety of possibilities” (313).



develop a more differentiated understanding of the manifold ways in which God is present with and in this highly variegated creation. The Uniqueness of Incarnation The uniqueness of incarnation as a form of divine presence is perhaps most simply stated thus: in incarnation God is not present merely with or in one or more of his creatures, but as the particular human Jesus of Nazareth. To say that God is present in this way, as one of his creatures, would in any other instance be idolatry. To put the matter the other way around, incarnation means that Jesus is the human presence of the eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity. This is the meaning of the hypostatic union, which, in the mainstream theological tradition of churches loyal to Chalcedon, has served to characterize the incarnation as unique. (The so-called Monophysite churches of the East also adhere to the hypostatic union, but the so-called Nestorian churches conceptualize the uniqueness of incarnation differently.) Whether there could in principle be other incarnations—whether God could be present in the world also as one or more other humans—is a puzzling question, to which we shall return. But entertaining the possibility of a plurality of incarnations4 is surely not a fruitful approach to interfaith dialogue, since claims to incarnation in this precise sense are not in fact made by other religions. The key human figures of the various faiths play a variety of religious roles, and the attempt to homogenize them, particularly in the very specifically Christian form of incarnation, can only distort those faiths. Conversely, there is no advantage in assimilating incarnation to the forms of divine presence recognized in other faiths.5 A 4. Multiple incarnations are proposed, e.g., by Raymundo Panikkar, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1981), 31–61.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

particularly interesting case is the difference between the Christian understanding of incarnation and the Hindu notion of avatars. Though the latter is sometimes supposed to come very close to the Christian understanding of incarnation, the two are in fact decisively different. It is noteworthy that one scholar of Hinduism states the difference thus: “Where Hindus do think of the co-presence of divinity and humanity, they believe in God-in-man, not God-asman.”6 In the theology of the modern period there has been a recurrent pattern of Christology, expressed in a variety of ways, that understands the presence of God in Jesus as different, not in kind, but in degree from God’s presence in other humans or even in the rest of reality. Jesus may be unique in the degree to which he embodies or responds to the divine presence (though this christological pattern itself presents no difficulty for claims that there are other equally or even more perfect instances of God’s presence in the life of a particular human), but he is not unique in the form of divine presence entailed. It is only in some such modern “degree Christologies” that the term incarnation (which derives, of course, from John 1:14) has acquired a wider application. God, in this usage, would be incarnate to different degrees in all humanity or in all reality. Jesus as a supreme instance of divine presence may then be seen as an especially clear revelation of the way in which God is generally present or as an encouragement to other people to seek a similarly perfect relationship 5. John Macquarrie, Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (London: SCM Press, 1990), 415–22, is able to include Jesus in a general category of “saviour figures” only because he argues that “the difference between Jesus Christ and other human beings (including the founders of world religions) is not one of kind but of degree” (415). 6. Chakhravarthi Ram-Prasad, “Hindu Views of Jesus,” in Jesus in the World’s Faiths: Leading Thinkers from Five Religions Reflect on His Meaning, ed. Gregory A. Barker (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005), 88. On avatar and incarnation, see also Geoffrey Parrinder, Avatar and Incarnation (London: Faber & Faber, 1970); Martien E. Brinkman, The Non-Western Jesus: Jesus as Bodisattva, Avatara, Guru, Prophet, Ancestor or Healer? trans. Henry and Lucy Jansen (London: Equinox, 2007), 158–63.



with God. When incarnation here retains a quite strong meaning, the result can be that, as for some of the Anglican Modernists of the early twentieth century, the difference between divinity and humanity becomes a matter of degree (God is becoming human throughout the evolutionary process and human history).7 Generally, however, the use of the term incarnation in a broad sense, characterizing the general way in which God is present in the world, involves a considerable redefinition of the word. Thus John Macquarrie sees incarnation as “a process which began with the creation. . . . [I]t is the progressive presencing and self-manifestation of the Logos in the physical and historical world.”8 Special mention should be made here of “Spirit Christology,” since it is necessary to make a distinction. There are two importantly different forms of Spirit Christology. There are Trinitarian Spirit Christologies,9 which take for granted that Jesus is the eternal Son incarnate but stress the role of the Holy Spirit in the human relationship of the incarnate Son with his Father. This kind of Spirit Christology corrects the tendency of traditional incarnational Christology to neglect both the inner-Trinitarian role of the Spirit and the fact that the incarnate Son, as fully human, is related to the Father in a human way. However, other Spirit Christologies, such as that of Geoffrey Lampe,10 substitute the presence of the Spirit in Jesus for the hypostatic union. “Spirit” in this case is simply a term for the presence of God in creation, of which Jesus was a supreme instance. In every such degree Christology, the notion of incarnation loses

7. Arthur Michael Ramsey, From Gore to Temple (London: Longmans, 1960), 25 and 69–74. 8. Macquarrie, Jesus Christ, 392. 9. E.g., Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM, 1990), 73–94. 10. Geoffrey W. H. Lampe, God as Spirit: The Bampton Lectures, 1976 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977). A rather similar approach was taken by Norman Hook, Christ in the Twentieth Century: A Spirit Christology (London: Lutterworth, 1968), a book to which, surprisingly, Lampe does not refer.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

the specific meaning it has in the mainstream Christian tradition: the presence of God, not merely in, but as the human person Jesus. To claim that incarnation is a unique form of divine presence, realized only in Jesus, is not to claim that it is unrelated to other forms of divine presence. For example, the Greek Fathers and the Orthodox tradition even speak of the “divinization” (theosis) of humans as something that is enabled by the incarnation, but this human participation in the divine life is not equated with the incarnation itself, and the difference resides not in the degree of divine presence but in the difference in kind that the hypostatic union represents. If degree Christology is considered “low” by contrast with incarnational Christology in the traditional sense, characterized as “high,” then, in accordance with a common view of the early development of Christology from low to high, one might expect the earliest Christology or Christologies to have been forms of degree Christology. But, even within the historical account of christological development given by this common view, this is not the case. It is quite clear that from the beginning Jesus was distinguished from other godly people primarily by a unique function that he fulfilled on God’s behalf (as Messiah, Savior, Lord). Even if purely functional, this is a difference of kind, not degree. In my own revisionist account of early christological development,11 I have argued that the form of Christology fundamental to all the New Testament texts is a “Christology of divine identity” in which Jesus was seen as belonging to the unique identity of the God of Israel. In Jewish theology, certain divine functions (notably the creation of all things and sovereignty over all things) belonged inalienably to God. When Jesus was believed (as he was, unquestionably, from a very early date) to be seated beside God on the throne of the universe, uniquely 11. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).



participating in the unique divine sovereignty over all things, he was much more than a human Messiah. He shared the unique divine identity. This alone accounts for the worship of Jesus by Jewish Christians who had no intention of departing from the Jewish monotheism that understood worship as appropriate only for the one God. Then the notion of personal preexistence, again attributed uniquely among humans to Jesus at an early stage of christological development, enabled the way Jesus participated in the unique divine identity to be conceptualized as incarnation. The Incarnation as God’s Loving Self-Identification with All People God is not incarnate in all other reality, but he is incarnate for all other reality. At this point I shall confine the discussion to humans, postponing until later the more difficult question of the relevance of Jesus to the nonhuman creation. God’s incarnate presence as Jesus of Nazareth can be understood as both revelatory and salvific, though the two are very closely connected. Revelation in the biblical tradition requires that God give himself an identity in this world by which he may be known.12 Only in this way can the infinite God be identified. In the Hebrew Bible, by electing the patriarchs he becomes known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and by choosing Israel as his own people he becomes known as Israel’s God. At the same time, he gives to his people a personal name (YHWH) by which he can be identified and invoked. He gives himself a localized presence in the temple, where he is accessible to those who know him by name. In this self-identification of God as Israel’s God he, in a sense, particularizes himself and does so by identifying with a worldly reality. Of course, he remains the 12. For a fuller exposition of the ideas in this section, see Richard Bauckham, “Jesus the Revelation of God,” in Divine Revelation, ed. Paul Avis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 174–200.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

universal God, and his association of himself with Israel is not exclusive or exhaustive. But he gives himself the particular identity as YHWH, Israel’s God, not only in order to be known to Israel but also in order to be known to all the nations. His particular identity has universal relevance. The nations are to come to know him as Israel’s God in order to know him also as their own God. Incarnation involves a more radical particularization of God as well as a step from identifying with a worldly reality (Israel) to identifying as a worldly reality (Jesus). God gives himself the identity of the human Jesus and thereby also the Trinitarian identity entailed in being the God of Jesus: he is the Father of Jesus Christ, the Son incarnate as Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. God gives himself a new name—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—by which he may be known. But once again this particularization of God has universal relevance. God becomes incarnate as one human in order to be known to all humans. God’s presence in incarnation is salvific because in this way God is with all people. As God incarnate, Jesus is “God with us” (Immanuel), a phrase that has rich resonances from occasions throughout the Hebrew Bible when God promises to be with his people (e.g., Exod. 3:12; 33:14; Ps. 23:4; Isa. 41:10). This is God’s presence in intimate, loving, and salvific relationship. The incarnation makes God present for all people in the most radically self-involving way: as a human being with other human beings. Jesus, as fully human, enjoys genetic continuity with the whole human race and shares all sorts of features of the common life of humanity. But incarnation is more than that; it is the personal and intentional presence of God. It is God’s unique act of loving solidarity with all people. The category of loving identification with others is very useful at this point. This is the kind of love that is not only benevolent toward the other but enters empathetically into the 33


other’s experience and may even share the material circumstances of the other. It is the most radical kind of being with. Not only is God’s act of incarnation itself an expression of this kind of love, but also it is an essential feature of incarnation that Jesus practices this kind of love for others throughout his life and ministry up to and including the cross. From his baptism to the cross, there is a process of selfidentification with humanity not merely as such, but in the concrete varieties of the human condition, especially in the most needy of conditions, and finally in the extreme degradation and abandonment of death on a Roman cross. This practice of self-identifying love is the way Jesus brings the love of God into the lives of others, including even the most godless and the most godforsaken. Thus we should not suppose that the incarnation somehow automatically or by some quasi-physical process affects other human beings. God’s love must reach people in a personal way, and its expression in the personal love of Jesus for others enables that in the most fully embodied way. Of course, during his lifetime Jesus’ loving identification could in practice only be with those he personally encountered, but in principle it was an open identification with any and all. Paul, who never knew the earthly Jesus, can even say that the Son of God “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20), as though Jesus had Paul in mind on his way to Golgotha. Through his resurrection and the presence of his Spirit, Jesus’ loving identification with others becomes available to all. It is an identification that is open for all and effective for all who accept it by identifying themselves with Jesus. Thus God’s incarnate presence as Jesus enables God’s presence—not as, but with and in the community of Christian believers.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

The Incarnation and the Nonhuman Creation As Niels Gregersen13 and Elizabeth Johnson,14 among others,15 have rightly insisted, the incarnation makes the incarnate One integrally part not only of the human race, but also of the whole of this material reality—not only animals (with whom Jesus shares genetic continuity) but also plants and inanimate nature. This is wholly coherent with the biblical view that redemption is as wide as creation, that it does not abstract humans from their intrinsic and reciprocal connections with the rest of creation, and that it will involve the renewal of the whole creation through participation in the eternal life of God.16 The problem is how to conceptualize the effect of the incarnation in the nonhuman creation. By analogy with the human creation, we should surely expect this to be a matter of God’s loving personal presence with and in his nonhuman creatures, but with the difference that it is not in their nature to respond to God’s love in a self-conscious way. Difficult as the “cosmic Christ” passages in the New Testament are, what they evidently intend to say is that the preexistent One who was active in the creation of all things and remains active in the sustaining of all things in life and order is the same One who became incarnate as Jesus. Some recent scholars17 have strongly questioned 13. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Cross of Christ in an Evolutionary World,” Dialog 40 (2001): 192–207. 14. Elizabeth Johnson, “Deep Christology,” in From Logos to Christos: Essays in Christology in Honour of Joanne McWilliam, ed. Ellen M. Leonard and Kate Merriman (Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2009). 15. Moltmann’s account of the relationship of Jesus Christ to the nonhuman creation does not stress incarnation, but focuses on the cross and the resurrection: The Way of Jesus Christ, 193–95 and 252–56. 16. I have expounded this theme in Richard Bauckham, Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), ch. 5. 17. Gordon D. Fee, “St Paul and the Incarnation: A Reassessment of the Data,” in The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God, ed. Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 72–79; Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 595–630;



the prevalent view that these passages identify the preexistent Christ with the Jewish figure of personified Wisdom, even if some language has been borrowed from traditional descriptions of Wisdom. Rather, in the Pauline passages and Hebrews, the dominant image is of the lordship of the preexistent Christ over and in creation, understood as a precondition of the lordship of the risen and exalted Christ over all things. Certainly, we should not read into these texts the idea of a pervading principle of rationality and order.18 Interestingly, Athanasius, who in his Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione develops at length the idea of the cosmic role of the Word in creation and providence (and regards it as of considerable importance for understanding the incarnation), avoids any notion of an impersonal principle of rationality and order, speaking throughout of the personal agency of the Word. For Athanasius, the important point is the appropriateness of the fact that the world’s redeemer is the one who created and sustains and governs it. The emphasis on the cosmic role of the Word also outlaws any idea that the incarnation is the entry into creation of one previously absent. Nor is it a more concentrated form of the same sort of presence. It is a new kind of presence. The most easily intelligible way to understand the cosmic effect of the incarnation would be to focus on the healing of the human relationship to the nonhuman creation that should result from the redemptive transformation of humans. Certainly Romans 8:19-23 Sean M. McDonough, Christ as Creator: Origins of a New Testament Doctrine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). 18. The extent to which Platonic-Stoic cosmology lies in the background of Col. 1:15-20 is debatable; cf. Vicky S. Balabanski, “Hellenistic Cosmology and the Letter to the Colossians: Towards an Ecological Hermeneutic,” in Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical, Historical and Theological Perspectives, ed. David G. Horrell, Cherryl Hunt, Christopher Southgate, and Francesca Stavrakopoulou (London: T&T Clark [Continuum], 2010), 94–107. However, I think the language is appropriated to express a Christology framed in terms of biblical notions of creation and redemption rather than with a view to identifying Christ with a cosmological principle of immanent divine reason.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

indicates that the creation awaits the full salvation of humans in order to obtain its own liberation from bondage.19 Humans, we might say, who experience God’s loving solidarity with them in Christ should also share in God’s loving solidarity with others, both human and nonhuman. This kind of transformation of the way humans relate to other creatures is surely at least what the cosmic effects of the incarnation entail, but it is doubtful that it adequately represents what the biblical texts—enigmatically and imaginatively—seem to evoke. There are, of course, hermeneutical difficulties in moving from the Bible’s “mythological” or, as it may be preferable to say, “imaginative” view of the cosmos to a contemporary scientific view. But the passages about the “cosmic Christ” seem to require us to think of the effect of the incarnation on “all things” in wider terms than simply as mediated by redeemed human beings.20 The question of how to envisage the relationship between the incarnate and exalted Christ and the creation as a whole has not often been addressed at any length in the history of Christian theology. One answer that has had some currency in the tradition will provide at least a starting point for further exploration. Jesus Christ as Microcosm of Creation? One way in which Christ has been understood as related to the whole of creation, precisely in his humanity, employs the idea of the human as microcosm, a small-scale version of the whole cosmos. This idea was popular in late antiquity,21 and was influentially formulated for 19. In Bible and Ecology, 92–102, I have argued that this passage does not depict the effect of the fall on the nonhuman creation but rather alludes to passages in the Prophets that depict nature devastated as a result of human sin. See also Jonathan Moo, “Romans 8.19-22 and Isaiah’s Cosmic Covenant,” New Testament Studies 54 (2008): 74–89. 20. Cf. David Horrell, Cherryl Hunt, and Christopher Southgate, Greening Paul: Rereading the Apostle in a Time of Ecological Crisis (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), 89–96. 21. It first appears clearly in Aristotle, Physics 252b:26–29 (8.2).



the Western Christian tradition by Gregory the Great. He divided creation into four levels of being, in all of which humans share: Stones exist but are not alive; trees exist and are alive but have no feeling; brute animals exist, they are alive and have feeling, but they have no understanding. Finally angels exist. They are alive, possess feeling and understanding. Human beings have something in common with every creature. They share existence with stones, like trees they are alive, like animals, they feel, and like the angels, they have understanding. If human beings, then, have something in common with every creature, in some sense human beings are every creature.22

Gregory himself did not put this idea to christological use, but one later theologian who explicitly borrowed it for such a purpose was the great Franciscan theologian Bonaventura. Connecting the transfiguration of Jesus with Wisd. of Sol. 16:25, which refers to the transfiguration of all things, Bonaventura writes: Christ, as a human being, shares with all creatures; “Indeed, he possesses being with rocks, lives among the plants, senses with animals, and understands with angels.” Since Christ, as a human being, has something from all of creation, and was transfigured, all is said to be transfigured in him.23

Maximus the Confessor, in this respect the most influential theologian in the Eastern Christian tradition, has a more complex understanding of the human as microcosm. The whole of reality, he explains, is categorized by five divisions:24 (1) between uncreated and created being; (2) within created being, between what is perceived 22. Gregory the Great, “Hom. in Evang. 29,” in Gregory the Great: Forty Gospel Homilies, trans. David Hurst (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990), 227. Gregory is explaining Mark 16:15: “Preach the gospel to every creature” (KJV). 23. Bonaventura, “Sermones dominicales 9.12,” in The Sunday Sermons of St. Bonaventure, Bonaventure Texts in Translation Series 12, trans. Timothy J. Johnson, ed. Robert J. Karris (Saint Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 2008), 217. 24. As Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (New York: Routledge, 1996), 72, points out, he adapts this pattern from Gregory of Nyssa.


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by the mind and what is perceived by the senses; (3) within the sensible realm, between heaven and earth; (4) within earth, between paradise and the inhabited world; (5) within humanity, between male and female. Unlike Gregory’s scheme, this one does not attempt to show how humans embody the levels of sensible being below them (stones, plants, and animals). Its concern is rather to show that the human, as it ascends the ladder of being to unity in love with God, straddles each division of being, uniting the extremities in each case. Indeed, humans were created for this role, “as a kind of natural bond mediating between the universal poles through their proper parts, and leading into unity in itself those things that are naturally set apart from one another by a great interval.”25 Humanity failed to fulfill this God-given task of unifying the cosmos, but Christ was incarnate in human nature in order to do so.26 We should note that, in Maximus’s cosmology, the preincarnate Logos is already intrinsically connected with every kind of creature and every individual creature by their created logoi. But it is only through incarnation as a human being that the Logos can “recapitulate” the whole cosmos in himself, bringing it into unity with itself and into union with God. Is the notion of the human as microcosm still viable in the twentyfirst century in the light of evolutionary science?27 In fact, a remarkably close equivalent has been proposed on the basis of emergence theory, which is a way of conceptualizing the appearance of novelty in the evolutionary process that many have found 25. Maximus, Ambigua 41, trans. Louth, Maximus, 157. 26. Torstein Theodor Tollefsen, The Christocentric Cosmology of St Maximus the Confessor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 102–3. 27. Another modern idea that looks like a version of the old “humanity as microcosm” notion is that in humanity nature becomes conscious of itself (e.g., Karl Rahner, “Christology within an Evolutionary View of the World,” in Theological Investigations, trans. Karl-H. Kruger (Baltimore: Helicon, 1966), 5:169). A “nature” that can be conscious of itself is no more than an abstraction. Cf. also Ilia Delio (echoing Teilhard de Chardin), in The Emergent Christ: Exploring the Meaning of Catholic in an Evolutionary Universe (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011): “We are evolution become conscious of itself.”



especially congenial to the task of relating science and Christian theology.28 Emergence theory, while not necessarily committed to any particular explanation of evolutionary development, proposes that at certain points new functions and properties arise that are not reducible to earlier functions and properties. The emergent level of life is dependent on the older, with the laws that govern it, but also has its own laws that structure it and cannot be simply deduced from the former. Emergence, in this sense, points to real innovation that entails discontinuity as well as continuity in the evolutionary process. Particularly important for reflection on Christology is that emergence theory understands evolution to have produced a hierarchy of levels of being in which the higher levels do not supersede or even merely rest upon the lower levels but incorporate them. The higher level has a feedback effect on the lower levels that it encloses.29 (The use of the term hierarchy, along with talk of higher and lower levels, is not evaluative as such. It merely indicates that the levels are successive—each building on the earlier—and cumulative in that each incorporates the preceding levels.) This is how Arthur Peacocke, in a way that closely parallels the pattern of thought we have observed in Gregory the Great and Bonaventura, proposes that we understand the humanity of Jesus Christ: Human beings can be regarded as consisting of and operating at various levels (the physical, biological, behavioural), which are the foci of the different sciences; these levels emerge into that of human culture and its 28. E.g., Arthur Peacocke, God and the New Biology (London: Dent, 1986), 50–55; Peacocke, All That Is: A Naturalistic Faith for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Philip Clayton (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 12–16; Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Emergence: What is at Stake for Religious Reflection?” in The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion, ed. Philip Clayton and Paul Davies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 279–302. 29. For extensive discussion of the idea of emergence, see the essays collected in The Re-Emergence, ed. Clayton and Davies; and in Evolution and Emergence: Systems, Organisms, Persons, ed. Nancey Murphy and William R. Stoeger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).


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products. . . . Jesus the Christ throws new light on the deeper meaning of the multiple levels of the created world, since these levels were present in him and most of them came into existence through evolution well before the species, Homo sapiens, to which he himself belonged. Thus the significance and potentiality of all levels of creation may be said to have been unfolded in Jesus the Christ.30

Conor Cunningham has explicitly connected this kind of emergence theory with the patristic talk of “recapitulation” and the human as “microcosm,” though with reference to human nature rather than explicitly to Christology.31 Peacocke does not, in this context, specify the levels of being,32 though elsewhere he takes over Ledyard Stebbins’s definition of eight levels of biological complexity, of which humans form the last.33 John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry have argued for a different list of eight “major transitions,” in which humans are again the product of the last. Their criteria for such transitions were aggregation (the successive incorporation of smaller units into larger wholes) and changes in the way information is stored and transmitted.34 Harold Morowitz covers the same ground in seventeen “steps” in emergent evolution.35 Clearly, defining an emergent level of evolution is not straightforward, and some of these theories are more concerned than others with the means by which such transitions are made. For 30. Peacocke, All That Is, 39–40; see also Peacocke, God and the New Biology, 125–27. 31. Conor Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 161, 163, 216, 242, 375. 32. In All That Is, 13, he lists “organelle, cell, multi-cellular organism, ecosystem, etc.” 33. Peacocke, God and the New Biology, 144–45, drawing on G. Ledyard Stebbins, The Basis of Progressive Evolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969). 34. Lucio Vinicius, Modular Evolution: How Natural Selection Produces Biological Complexity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 27–32, drawing on John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry, The Major Transitions in Evolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). 35. Harold J. Morowitz, The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), ch. 3. Morowitz enumerates twenty-eight steps that go all the way from the Big Bang to “the emergence of the spirit” in humans. But in our present context, we are concerned only with his seventeen steps from the beginning of life on earth to the emergence of Homo sapiens.



our present purposes—that is, to determine whether the theory of emergence provides a viable scientific equivalent to the traditional idea of the human as microcosm—it does not matter that some transitions have occurred many times in the history of nature (this belongs to the phenomenon of convergence)36 while others have occurred only once. What matters is whether levels can be distinguished that both adequately cover the diversity of living things produced by evolution and also form a single sequence of successive stages. Only if this is the case could one argue that all the levels of life are present in humans and thereby, as Peacocke claims, in Jesus Christ. Jacob Klapwijk, in his Christian philosophy of emergent evolution (which is scientifically well-informed),37 is not concerned with Christology (which is beyond the scope of his “empirical philosophy”), but he is very concerned to argue that humans stand at the highest level of “a hierarchy of transcending totality structures,” in which each emergent mode of being transforms and integrates the preceding. He proposes five organizational levels of nature, which represent not just a quantitative increase of complexity38 but qualitative advance from one ontological level to another. They are: (1) physical; (2) biotic; (3) vegetative (characterized by the ability to develop specialized body forms that is common to plants and animals); (4) sensitive (characterized by sensory perception and inner experience, which are common to animals and humans); and (5) mental (this labels the uniqueness of humans as self-conscious and spiritual persons). It is crucial to this scheme that each successive level

36. David L. Hull, “Progress in Ideas of Progress,” in Evolutionary Progress, ed. Matthew H. Nitecki (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 33–34. 37. Jacob Klapwijk, Purpose in the Living World? Creation and Emergent Evolution, ed. and trans. Harry Cook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). 38. “Higher levels are often more complex, but this is largely the case because they have the lower echelons as their indispensable infrastructure” (Klapwijk, Purpose in the Living World? 114).


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shares the distinctive properties of the preceding level(s) while also having its own properties that are novel and irreducible. It is easy to see that, in this scheme, humans participate in all the preceding levels of being, and that the scheme is remarkably similar to the one we observed in Gregory the Great and Bonaventura. (Klapwijk does not indicate any awareness of this similarity.) Klapwijk is aware that his “fivefold division is in all probability far too simple a representation of the topic.”39 For our purposes, this is not a problem if it means simply that the levels need to be further subdivided. (For example, the fivefold scheme certainly does not do justice to the development of consciousness in animals prior to the emergence of Homo sapiens.) But it would be a serious problem if the notion of a single sequence of levels could not be maintained. The question that has to be asked is, Might there not be other modes of being that emerge in parallel with those that form this scheme’s sequence, rather than as additional stages within the sequence? For example, the vegetative level is defined by properties common to plants and animals, though the latter also have novel properties that put them on the sensitive level. But suppose the development of photosynthesis—the clearest defining characteristic of the plant kingdom, a property that animals do not have—were considered a transition to a new level of being, as Klapwijk admits might be the case.40 In this case, the hierarchy of being would branch. Crucially for our purposes, even if humans were still considered to constitute a higher ontological level than plants, they could no longer be regarded as subsuming in themselves the defining properties of each lower level. This would require some modification of Klapwijk’s philosophy, but it would be fatal for any attempt to find in emergence theory a scientific equivalent to the idea of humans as microcosm. 41 39. Klapwijk, Purpose in the Living World? 259. 40. Klapwijk, Purpose in the Living World? 262.



Supposing, however, that it were successfully argued that a “branching” development, such as photosynthesis, did not constitute the emergence of a truly new ontological level of being, the same problem would still arise in a different form. In what sense would Jesus Christ, by virtue of his human nature, participate in the life of, for example, trees? The commonality—in Klapwijk’s scheme, the vegetative level of being—is quite minimal. He shares none of the characteristics that are distinctive of trees as trees: photosynthesis, rootedness in the earth, wood. Conversely, they share nothing truly characteristic of human nature. The commonality, while it may constitute an ontological level, is surely altogether too general to make the incarnation as such a participation in the life of trees. The same observation could surely be made in countless other instances, not only among members of the plant kingdom. The problem always existed in the idea of the human as microcosm but was not perceived. This was partly because the vast diversity of living creatures (not to mention inanimate things) was not appreciated before modern times, and partly because of a tendency in the past to understand other creatures in human categories. It does not help to put the matter in terms of evolutionary ancestry rather than ontological levels of being.42 To find the point of connection between the human and the tree requires going back aeons in the process of evolution, and from this point of connection both lines of development, that which led to humans and that which led to trees, continued. Viewed in light of the concrete realities of 41. Dieter Wandschneider argues that there is a progression from plants to herbivores because, although the latter do not photosynthesize, they depend on plants for food, and so “what has been attained at one level is . . . indirectly available at the following level.” Dieter Wandschneider, “On the Problem of Direction and Goal in Biological Evolution,” in Darwinism and Philosophy, ed. Vittorio Hösle and Christian Illies (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 199–200. However, this is a different sort of argument from one that relies on emergence theory. 42. Cf. Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea, 375.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

humans and trees, the connection is a remote one. The human does not “recapitulate” the development of trees. Incarnation in Ecological Perspective The failure of the line of thought attempted in the last section is connected with the fact that it conceives the natural world too exclusively in terms of the development of kingdoms and species across time. It neglects the interrelatedness of kingdoms and species in ecosystems and, ultimately, the whole ecosystem that comprises the whole of creation on this planet at any one time or period. In order to be related to all other species, humans do not need somehow and uniquely to sum up all other created natures in their own nature. Humans are a part of the interdependent web of life (and even of inanimate nature), and human history, though sometimes misunderstood as a process of growing independence from the rest of the natural world, has actually increased the scope and complexity of human interconnectedness with the whole of the natural world on earth. Such interconnectedness also extends backward through the history of nature, as the human use of fossil fuels illustrates. There is something of a parallel in this respect between the human and the cosmic aspects of incarnation. The taking of human nature by the eternal Son of God constitutes a fundamental level of commonality with other humans that is essential to participation in the human world. But it is also no more than the basis for the lived life of Jesus, his participation in human society, his manifold relationships with other humans, and what becomes, through his resurrection, his universal relatedness to all humanity. Similarly, it is important that he shares physicality with all creatures in this world, biotic life with all living creatures, and so forth, but this is no more than his essential point of entry into the dynamic web of relationships that constitute the cosmos. It is not only his physical solidarity with all 45


other creatures that the risen Christ, by virtue of bodily resurrection, retains, but (we should surely suppose) also his participation in the interconnectedness of the created world. I will explore a little more what form that ongoing participation takes. However, it is first worth noting that the notion of ecological relatedness can save us from an overly anthropocentric view of the evolutionary process. Though the contemporary writers I have cited in the preceding section do not mean to say this, thinking only in terms of emergent levels can easily suggest the idea that higher levels, by incorporating the lower levels, supersede the latter. In this respect, it is important to keep the idea of “survival of the fittest” out of this concept of successive levels. Since fitness in evolution is always relative to environment, it makes little sense to equate such levels with increasing fitness for survival. In fact, multitudinous species of every one of Klapwijk’s levels continue to flourish, as he makes clear.43 No living creatures have replaced bacteria, nor could they survive if they did. A subtler form of evolutionary supersession, however, is exemplified by Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of the hominization of the world, which seems to mandate the dominance of humans such that all other creatures are included in the human cultural sphere and thereby improved. Klapwijk, even though he deplores the presentday destruction of nature by humans, seems to come dangerously close to this idea. He appears to leave no place for the independent integrity of nature that is not in any way appropriated by human culture.44 Today it is vital to insist not only that humans have no right to render countless other species extinct, but also that the human role within nature is not merely to transform the rest of nature in the

43. Klapwijk, Purpose in the Living World? ch. 11. 44. Klapwijk, Purpose in the Living World? 227–30.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

many forms of human culture, but also to respect its own integrity and to leave it be. The issue of directionality in evolution is a complex and vexed one,45 but if one point emerges clearly from the discussion it is that there is no one direction of development favored by evolution.46 Recognizing a line of development that leads, through successive emergent levels, to humans does not require it to be the only kind of direction in evolution.47 Nor should we fall for the kind of “progressivist” thinking that values creatures only as stages on the way to further development and so finds evolutionary history to be full of “dead ends” and “side streets.”48 At least from the perspective of a Christian understanding of the world as God’s creation, evolution has been a means of producing countless amazingly diverse forms of life, both diachronically across the aeons of developments and extinctions, and synchronically in the existing ecological web of creation. All these creatures, whether alive or extinct, whether they appeared early or late in the evolution of life, whatever ontological level we might assign them, have their own value in themselves and in the sight of their Creator. If evolution has any empirically observable trends, then a trend toward diversity is even more 45. E.g., William R. Stoeger, “The Immanent Directionality of the Evolutionary Process, and its Relationship to Teleology,” in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger, and Francisco J. Ayala (Berkeley: Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, 1998), 163–90; Wandschneider, “On the Problem;” Bernd Rosslenbroich, “The Notion of Progress in Evolutionary Biology—the Unresolved Problem and an Empirical Suggestion,” Biology and Philosophy 21 (2006): 41–70; Alan Rosenberg and Daniel W. McShea, Philosophy of Biology (New York: Routledge, 2008), 127–56. 46. Cf. Hull, “Progress,” 45: “Biological evolution has not just a direction, but lots of them.” 47. Francisco J. Ayala, “Can ‘Progress’ be Defined as a Biological Concept?” in Evolutionary Progress, ed. Nitecki, 75–96. 48. Here I am inclined to dissent from Moltmann’s notion of the “victims of evolution,” which he uses to critique Teilhard’s progressivism in The Way of Jesus Christ, 292–97. That progress has victims is a valid and necessary assertion in the face of the modern idea of progress in human history, but to apply it to the history of nature is to buy in too readily precisely to modern progressivism’s assimilation of the evolutionary process in nature and the course of human history.



apparent than one toward complexity. More importantly, it is more encompassing than the trend toward complexity or the succession of emergent levels. The various different directions evolution seems to take can all be recognized and valued within an overall appreciation of the diversity it produces. Diversity in the natural world is the point where thinking in terms of evolutionary development meets thinking in terms of ecological interrelationality. It also provides a key connection with the account of creation in Genesis 1, read as imaginative theology. The account repeatedly stresses the multifarious diversity of the creatures in every sphere of the created world and implies God’s own delight in such diversity.49 Humans are given a distinctive place within this diverse creation. If we take the fundamental indications of the divine purposes in creation from this account and relate them to the world as we see it in the light of evolutionary and ecological science, it is not difficult to see that what God desires and what the evolutionary process has now produced is a great community of interdependent creatures, with humans emerging not in order to supersede or to absorb the others but for a role of responsibility that treasures, as God does, the diversity and integrity of other creatures. The community includes creatures of very ancient and very recent origin, each flourishing in the niche to which it is adapted. Competition features within a broader framework of complementarity and collaboration. That humans have a special role of appreciating and looking out for other creatures coheres with the emergent properties that give humans their distinctiveness. These properties also enable the widespread human abuse of other creatures and of the ecosphere as a whole.

49. Richard Bauckham, Living with Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and Theology (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011), 218–19.


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Jesus Christ as the Ecological Center of Creation In light of such a picture of the natural world and of Jesus Christ’s participation in it through his human nature, what can we say of his special role in the creation as a whole? One challenge with which the idea of the cosmic Christ presents us is that of understanding this role not as one that the eternal Son or Logos could fulfill without incarnation, but as one that incarnation enables God to fulfill. But that desideratum presents us, especially in our present worldhistorical context, with another challenge, which is to understand the cosmic role of the incarnate Christ in a way that does not entail an overly anthropocentric view of the creation. I consider an overly anthropocentric view of the creation to be one that supposes, not only that humans have a distinctive role within the creation (as indicated at the end of the last section), but also that it is through humans that the rest of creation must fulfill its purpose in relation to God. Even when it has not been thought that the rest of creation exists for the sake of humans (a recurrent theme in the theological tradition), the habit of hierarchical thinking has promoted the perception of humans as uniquely mediating between the rest of creation (below them) and God (above them). In the modern period, such hierarchical thinking has often been transmuted into progressivist evolutionary terms, as in the work of Teilhard de Chardin. However, it may well seem that the root of this problem lies, not in hierarchical or progressivist thinking, but in the idea of incarnation itself. If it is as incarnate, as the human being Jesus Christ, that God brings the whole creation to the fulfillment he intends for it, does that not imply the kind of place for humanity that I have called overly anthropocentric? In an attempt to avoid that conclusion, the notion of ecological interrelationality, introduced in the last section, can be our starting



point. Incarnation implicated God in the universal interconnectivity of the creation. Just as Jesus’ relatedness to other humans became, through his resurrection and exaltation, a universal relatedness to all other humans, so his wider relatedness to the rest of creation became a universal relatedness to the whole of creation. We can understand this as possible because the exalted Christ participates in God’s divine ability to be present throughout his creation, but does so as a human being who retains his ecological interrelatedness to other creatures. Because incarnation is permanent, he cannot be thought to extract himself from that creaturely interrelatedness. Because he participates in God’s own divine relationship to creation, his creaturely interrelatedness can attain a truly universal scope. This makes his relationship to the whole of creation truly unique. It combines the universality of God the eternal Son with the human and creaturely particularity of Jesus. By keeping the uniqueness of the incarnation clearly in view, we shall avoid any notion that the cosmic role of the exalted Christ is representative or reflects some kind of general human destiny.50 According to Eph. 1:10, God’s purpose is “to sum up (anakephalaiōsasthai) all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (my translation). The verb probably indicates “the summing up and bringing together of the diverse elements of the cosmos in Christ as the focal point.”51 Perhaps, but by no means necessarily, the ana-prefix suggests that the cosmos is re-united, its disintegration healed by Christ in a process of reintegration.52 (This would bring the passage into close correspondence with Col. 1:20, 50. For arguments to the effect that the supremacy of the exalted Christ over all things fulfills the divine promise to humanity of dominion over all things, thus enabling humans to attain this dominion, see James A. Lyons, The Cosmic Christ in Origen and Teilhard de Chardin, Oxford Theological Monographs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 57–58 (on E. L. Mascall) and 62 (on Wilhelm Dantine, inspired by Teilhard). 51. Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, WBC 42 (Dallas: Word, 1990), 33. 52. Lincoln, Ephesians, 34.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

which speaks of the reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth.) We could say that this verse portrays Jesus Christ as the unifying center of the cosmos. There is no suggestion here that he can be the center of creation because humanity is or should be that. This idea would be particularly inappropriate because the heavenly powers, as well as earthly creatures, are emphatically in view. Rather, the point is surely that, precisely because he is not just a human and a creature, but God incarnate as this human person, Jesus, he can mediate between all creatures and God, drawing all into a unity that is found in their relationship to God. A christocentric universe is not an anthropocentric universe but a universe centered on the God who through incarnation participates in the interconnected life of all his creatures. The idea of Christ as “center” has come to prominence from time to time in the history of Christology. In the theology of Bonaventura, the concept of Christ as the center (medium) of all things was part of a complex metaphysic in which he was also, as the eternal Son, the center of the Godhead, and in which humanity was the center of the created order (a notion closely connected with the idea of the human as microcosm). Christ as the center of all things is the Mediator between the two extremes of the divine and the created. But this mediation operates, so to speak, via the human, since the human is capax Dei, capable of union with God, while the other creatures have humanity as their end.53 Bonaventura’s notion of the metaphysical centrality of Christ articulates the close connection between creation and incarnation (such that the incarnation was not merely contingent

53. J. A. Wayne Hellmann, Divine and Created Order in Bonaventure’s Theology, trans. and ed. Jay M. Hammond (Saint Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 2001), 70–77, 94–95; Zachary Hayes, “Incarnation and Creation in the Theology of St. Bonaventure,” in Studies Honoring Ignatius Charles Brady Friar Minor, ed. Romano Stephen Almagno and Conrad L. Harkins (Saint Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 1976), 309–29.



on sin but the eternally intended climax of God’s creative work) in the Franciscan tradition. Some nineteenth-century German Protestant theologians, socalled right-wing Hegelians, wishing to preserve the uniqueness of the incarnation against Hegel and Strauss, proposed that Jesus be understood as the “central individual” of the human race who represents in actuality the total potential of humanity,54 while Isaak Dorner expanded this notion to cosmic scope, presenting Christ as the central individual of the cosmos.55 Teilhard de Chardin then brought a notion of Christ as the center of the created world into relationship to a twentieth-century scientific understanding of the world. For Teilhard, the cosmic Christ is “the personal Centre which the physics and the metaphysics of evolution feel must exist and for which they are looking.”56 As such, the cosmic Christ is also the “physical” center that is at work in the evolutionary process of the universe, moving it always toward both greater complexity and greater unity.57 Bonaventura’s notion of the mediating centrality of the cosmic Christ, as the one who gives creation its unity by drawing all things into union with God, is viable without his overly anthropocentric view of creation. It is all creatures, not just individually but in their ecological interdependence and interconnectedness, that the exalted Christ brings into the relationship to God that has always been their created goal. It seems there can be only one incarnation if the goal is the unity of all things in union with God. And the reason why God became, of all creatures, a human being can be readily found in 54. Eugene TeSelle, Christ in Context: Divine Purpose and Human Possibility (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 105–113; Lyons, The Cosmic Christ, 13–14. 55. Lyons, The Cosmic Christ, 16–18. 56. Quoted in Anthony O. Dyson, Who Is Jesus Christ? (London: SCM, 1969) 115. 57. Christopher F. Mooney, Teilhard de Chardin and the Mystery of Christ (London: Collins, 1966), 71–86; Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 72–77.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

the distinguishing properties of humanity, which enable, so far as we know, only humans to envisage creation as a whole and to appreciate other creatures in their integrity,58 recognizing the intrinsic value God finds in them. By incarnation as a particular human person, God is able to be with all other creatures, human and nonhuman, in their ecological interrelatedness in a way that affirms their immense diversity and makes God himself, incarnate as Jesus Christ, their unifying center. This idea of Jesus Christ as unifying center of the cosmos can be distinguished from the evolutionary progressivism of Teilhard. It does not mean that there is a process of progressive unification to be discerned in the natural development of nature and the course of human history. Nor does it make Christ a physical principle operative in the processes of nature. (If we wish to speak of some kind of divine activity influencing natural process, this would be better explored as pneumatology.) The role of Christ as unifying center is mediatorial, relating all things to God. If we understand the notion of “center” more accurately and precisely than Teilhard (whose theological language is often very imprecise), we can see that it is actually not consistent with Teilhard’s idea of the coextensiveness of the incarnation with the universe (a center is not itself the whole but is related to the whole). In fact, the notion of Christ as center preserves the human particularity of Jesus Christ (as Teilhard also wished to do)59 in a way that, by means of the notion of ecological interrelationality, also enables his universality.

58. Cf. Robert Spaemann, Persons: The Difference between ‘Someone’ and ‘Something,’ trans. Oliver O’Donovan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 4: “Human beings are connected to everything else the world contains at a deeper level than other things to each other. This is what it means to say they are persons.” 59. The tension evident here in Teilhard’s thought is surely (in part, at least) what led him to postulate a “third nature” of Christ; see Lyons, The Cosmic Christ, 183–96.



Instead of Teilhard’s notion of the incarnation as a physical principle of nature, we may see Jesus Christ, in his crucified and risen identity, as the ground of the new creation of all things. For Teilhard, the eschatological goal of creation is the outcome of the evolutionary process envisaged as a continuous process with emergent stages of novelty. Other modern theologians, of course, have also tried to integrate Christology into an evolutionary view of the world by seeing Jesus as constituting and, as it were, pioneering the next step in evolution.60 However, new creation is far too radical a novelty to be seen as one more emergent novelty in the immanent process of the universe. It is a novelty that, by definition, is comparable only with the novelty of creatio ex nihilo. The notion of evolutionary emergence could be seen as providing a preliminary analogy for new creation, in that here too an emergent level takes up and transforms the preceding levels into a new whole. But in the case of new creation, all creatures are taken up and transformed within a universally comprehensive new whole that at the same time preserves the distinctive creaturely being of each. At the same time, the novelty entailed (including the overcoming of all suffering and the transcendence of transience and death) is so radical that we should have to speak of transcendent emergence, conceivable only as directly derived from the creative potentiality of the transcendent Creator of all things.61 Thus the goal of creation is not the result of some immanent process of nature. It comes about through the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, a gracious act of divine self-giving. It comes about through Jesus Christ’s loving presence in and with the whole creation, which is a unique form of divine and human engagement 60. E.g., John Richardson Illingworth, as early as 1889 (Lyons, The Cosmic Christ, 27–29). For emergence theory applied in something like this way, see Delio, The Emergent Christ, 54–56; Peacocke, All That Is, 36–38. 61. See Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett, Evolution from Creation to New Creation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 160–63, 172–73.


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

with the ecological interrelatedness of all things. It proves transformative for the whole creation because the loving selfidentification of the crucified Christ with the whole creation in the tragedy of its disharmony and decay as well as the glory of its profusion and vitality draws the whole creation with him into the eschatological novelty of his resurrection. He himself is the goal of creation in that it will be in relation to him that the whole creation comes to its fulfillment. If, with Jürgen Moltmann, we picture that fulfillment as the mutual indwelling of God and creation (God in all things and all things in God),62 that does not mean that God will be incarnate in all reality any more than it means the dissolution of the distinction between God and creation. Through his unique self-engagement with the world as the human being Jesus, God will be present with and in all things, finally without reservation or impediment, transfiguring all with his glory. Conclusion I have asked the question, How is the incarnate One related to “all things” in such a way as to validate the Pauline vision of the cosmic Christ—the One in whom “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), through whom “God was pleased to reconcile in himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross” (1:20, my translation)? One traditional answer to this, the idea of Christ as microcosm, has proven inappropriate, depending as it does on the idea of humanity as microcosm, even though it could well be translated into the thoroughly modern theory of evolutionary emergence. Not only is this approach overly anthropocentric, but it also fails to provide the full extent of the participation of the incarnate

62. E.g., Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM, 1996), 307.



One in all the diversity of created existence that is required for an adequate understanding of cosmic renewal through Christ. I have also rejected Teilhard’s identification of Christ with the immanent process of evolution and its presumed goal. This bears too close a resemblance to the anthropocentric progressivism of the modern age. Evolutionary science can no longer, even if it once seemed to, discern a unidirectional process in nature, with humanity and the humanization of the cosmos as its immanent telos. Moreover, such an immanent process cannot produce the kind of radical renewal of all things that Christian eschatology envisages. I have suggested that a more theologically appropriate way of envisaging the relationship of the cosmic Christ to all things may result from thinking of the world in terms not only of evolutionary process and emergence but also in terms of diversity and ecological interrelatedness. This may also be more scientifically satisfactory, since the processes of geology and life have actually produced immense and interdependent diversity, within which human beings, in their own complex interrelatedness and interdependence with other creatures, have a distinctive place, but not as themselves the goal of the process. Whereas in the idea of the microcosm things were understood to be “in” Christ by way of a kind of inclusion in his human nature, the idea of ecological relatedness enabled us to unpack this being “in” Christ in relational terms. In incarnation, God participates in his creation by putting himself, incarnate as the particular human being Jesus Christ, within the ecological interrelatedness of all things. In the earthly life of Jesus, he shares the kind of essential interrelatedness to other creatures that all humans have by nature and must negotiate in the whole process of living. But in Jesus this interrelatedness is perfected in loving intentionality and, through his resurrection, universalized. The risen Christ combines the particularity of his humanity with the


The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ

divine ability to be universally present, not so as to abolish human particularity, but so that all things are related to him precisely as the particular human he is. He is the ecological center of all creation, enabling all things, in their interconnectedness, to find their unity and wholeness in relationship to God. That unity and wholeness in perfected relationship to God is creation’s eschatological destiny, to be realized in new creation. The risen Christ, the firstborn of the new creation, is thus also the goal of creation.


2 Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

Gerald O’Collins, SJ

When St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, and other Fathers of the church took up and developed in various ways the theme of Christ as the preexistent Logos or Word of God, now universally present and active in the created world, they could draw on rich scriptural sources. In this chapter I want to reflect on those sources, illustrate how divine wisdom surpassed the divine word, and suggest what word and wisdom might say to contemporary theological and scientific thinking on the universe. The Scriptures on Word, Spirit, and Wisdom The “word” (dābār in Hebrew and logos in Greek) expresses God’s active will at work in the world.1 When acclaiming the powerful creativity of the divine word, the psalmist evokes the Genesis story of



creation: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.” More succinctly: “He spoke, and it [the world] came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6, 9). In a thanksgiving hymn, the returning exiles also praise God for delivering them from sickness: “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction” (Ps. 107:20). Early in Second Isaiah, a passage proclaims that the word of God is permanently valid: “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). A subsequent passage again takes up the imagery of vegetation but this time positively, so as to celebrate the effectiveness of the word of God: For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:10-11)

The book of Wisdom goes further by personifying the word. When recalling how the firstborn of the Egyptians were killed and the Israelites rescued (Exod. 11:1—12:32), it addresses God and presents a grim picture of the divine word as a warrior: “While gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was half gone, your all-powerful word leaped down from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command” (Wis. 18:14-16). The most vivid personification of the word in the Scriptures, this passage puts a face on the word: that of a gigantic, ruthless warrior, who 1. See T. E. Fretheim, “Word of God,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. D. N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:961–68; T. H. Tobin, “Logos,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:348–58.


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

“stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on earth” (Wis. 18:16). As a word from God and a word about God, the divine word also has a revelatory function. It discloses God and the divine promises, blessings, commands, and judgments. With their role in mediating the oracles of the Lord, the prophets visibly embody the word.2 The “word of the Lord came” to them (e.g., Jer. 1:2, 4; Ezek. 1:3). Once called by God, their lives coincided with their experience of hearing the word of God and with their vocation to communicate the divine word to the people. At times the preexilic prophets are said to receive visions, but the texts we now have are primarily concerned with something that was heard and a message coming from God. The eighth chapter of Amos begins with a vision of ripe summer fruit (Amos 8:1-2a), but the text moves at once to God’s words of judgment on the people of Israel (Amos 8:2b-14). The ninth chapter likewise opens with a vision, but the passage also finds its focus in a severe judgment pronounced on the people: I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said: Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape. (Amos 9:1, italics added)

The visions of Amos enshrine the word of God. Isaiah also reports “a stern vision,” but it is a vision that has been “told” to him, an oracle that he has “heard from the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 21:2, 10). With the preexilic prophets, a “vision” may be only a literary convention, a code word to support a genuine communication from 2. J. J. Schmitt, “Preexilic Hebrew Prophecy,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:482–89; J. Barton, “Postexilic Prophecy,” ibid., 489–95.



God. To be sure, Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly throne room (Isa. 6:1-13) seems to recall an actual experience. Yet even in that experience, what the prophet saw remains subordinate to the word he heard: the call from God to intervene in contemporary Judean politics. In the books and, presumably, the lives of the postexilic prophets, visions become longer and more significant means by which God reveals his will. The visions of Daniel by night are a spectacular example of this development. Nevertheless, the revealing word of God remains central in divine communication through the postexilic prophets. The psalms witness to the way God’s word conveys light, understanding, and guidance to human beings. Psalm 119, its 176 verses making it the longest of the psalms, meditates gratefully on God’s law, naming it through an array of synonyms that include “word(s),”







“commandments.” The psalmist declares, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). Hence he can say: “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I put my hope in your words” (Ps. 119:147). The very fact that God speaks is always a transforming and saving gift. The divine word, as in the passage from Isaiah 55 quoted above, brings life and growth. Hence the psalmist can pray, “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Ps. 119:28). God’s word calls its hearers to repentance, faith, and life. It is a healing and nourishing grace that fosters communion with God: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3). In short, God’s word is redeeming and life-giving as well as being effective and revealing. One might say that the power of God’s word shows itself in its revelatory and saving effects.


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

“Spirit” or “breath” (ruah in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek) provides a second way of articulating the creative, revelatory, and redemptive activity of God.3 Thus a poem praises the wonders of God exhibited in the season of winter: “By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast” (Job 37:10). A psalm addresses God, the creator and sustainer of all things, who provides human beings with the rain needed to produce food: “When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground” (Ps. 104:29-30). “Word” and “spirit” (or “breath”), as well as “wisdom,” could be equivalent ways of speaking of God’s manifest and powerful activity in the world. Let us examine their association with one another. In celebrating God’s creative power, the psalmist takes “word” and “breath (spirit)” as synonymous parallels: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6, italics added). Thus the work of creation could also be expressed either in terms of God’s word or in terms of the divine spirit, as Judith’s prayer of thanksgiving illustrates: “Let all your creatures serve you, for you spoke and they were made. You sent forth your spirit, and it formed them” (Jth. 16:14, italics added). When praising personified Wisdom, Ben Sira speaks of her as a word that “came forth from the mouth of the Most High” (Sir. 24:3). Seemingly with reference to passages in a contemporary scroll of Isaiah, the “mouth of the Lord” is set in parallelism with what “his spirit” has gathered: “Seek and read from the book of the Lord: Not one of these shall be missing; none shall be without its mate. For the mouth of the Lord

3. See F. W. Horn, “Holy Spirit,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 3:362–65; J. R. Levison, “Holy Spirit,” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. K. D. Sakenfeld (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 2:859–79.



has commanded, and his spirit has gathered them” (Isa. 34:16). Like the word of God, the divine spirit or breath proves creative. At times the Scriptures speak of the divine spirit as inspiring prophets to proclaim the word of the Lord. Thus an anonymous prophetic figure declares, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isa 61:1-2)

The spirit of God constantly guides and inspires the work of the prophet Ezekiel (e.g., Ezek. 3:12; 8:3; 11:1, 3, 24). After the exile, one prophet announces that the outpouring of God’s spirit will lead to prophecy (Joel 2:28). The prophet Haggai invokes the spirit of the Lord (Hag. 1:14; 2:5). The spirit empowers “the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel” (Zech. 4:6). Looking to the past, Zechariah recalls “the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets” (Zech. 7:12). Thus the prophets brought together the divine “word(s)” and “spirit.” Spirit and wisdom could likewise be associated or even identified. When God gives wisdom, this is equivalent to sending the “holy spirit” (Wis. 9:17). God answers Solomon’s prayer by giving him the “spirit of wisdom”: “I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me” (Wis. 7:7). A passage that glorifies the essence and activity of wisdom does so using a litany of the attributes of spirit: “Wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me. There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle” (Wis. 7:22; there follow sixteen further attributes of


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

spirit). The passage presses on to call wisdom “a breath of the power of God” (Wis. 7:25). Earlier biblical books link and even identify spirit and wisdom. It is not enough to attribute to Joshua some undefined “spirit”; he needs wisdom, and his authority must be specified as making him “full of the spirit of wisdom” (Deut. 34:9). The connection between spirit and wisdom is reversed when we read of “the spirit” (and not, for instance, age) providing wisdom: “It is the spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty that makes for understanding. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged that understand what is right” (Job 32:8-9). A future ruler will be endowed with “the spirit of the Lord,” understood to be “the spirit of wisdom”: “the spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding” (Isa. 11:2). Thus spirit was a way of articulating God’s activity and revelation, as well as the endowments with which he blessed people. We have just seen how spirit was closely associated and even identified with wisdom. Word could also stand in apposition with wisdom. Thus when praying for the gift of wisdom, Solomon’s address to God takes word and wisdom as synonymous agents of divine creation: “O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word and by your wisdom have formed humankind to have dominion over the creatures you have made” (Wis. 9:1-2, italics added). In parenthesis, note in advance how two Gospels represent Jesus as associating a sapiential theme, namely the wisdom of Solomon himself, with the word of God. The Queen of the South came “from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31). Jesus has just declared blessed those who “hear the word (logos) of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28), and he will go on to cite “the people of Nineveh”



who repented at the preaching (kerygma) of the prophet Jonah, the mouthpiece of God’s word (Luke 11:32; see Matt. 12:41-42). In sum, much biblical testimony encourages us to understand word, spirit, and wisdom as roughly equivalent expressions for God’s activity in creation and in the created world. Nevertheless, one should not overlook several advantages of wisdom when compared with word and spirit. Attention to Wisdom In the Scriptures, wisdom (hokmā in Hebrew and sophia in Greek) enjoys much more attention and bears a more distinctive “face” than word and spirit. Along with the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, and the Prophets, we have six Wisdom books (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes [Qoheleth], Song of Songs, Sirach, and Wisdom), along with wisdom themes that turn up elsewhere (in the Psalms, Tobit, and Baruch, as well as in such noncanonical works as 1 Enoch and some Qumran texts).4 Personified Wisdom becomes increasingly related to the divine work of creation, providence, and salvation. Wisdom takes on functions and attributes of YHWH, and within a strongly patriarchal religion, Wisdom emerges in a feminine way. Let us examine details on how Wisdom is presented, going in chronological order.5 The book of Job (to be dated perhaps to the sixth century bc) abruptly introduces Wisdom in a poem that scholars have variously called an interlude, a bridge, a passage that belongs to the book of 4. In Protestant Bibles, Sirach, Wisdom, Tobit, and Baruch are either not included or located in a section of “apocryphal” books. Along with Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics accept these four books as inspired and canonical. See C. A. Newsom, “Introduction to the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, augmented 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 3–10. 5. See R. E. Murphy, “Wisdom in the Old Testament,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6:920–31; S. Weeks, An Introduction to the Study of Wisdom Literature (London/New York: Continuum, 2010).


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

Job but has been displaced, or even a later insertion.6 The poem stresses the mysterious inaccessibility of divine wisdom, which is quite beyond the reach of human beings (Job 28:12-14, 20-21), utterly precious (Job 28:15-19), and accessible only to God (Job 28:23-27). Here wisdom comes across as related to the works of creation, yet distinct from any particular work of creation. God, who controls the wind, the sea, the rain, and the thunderbolts, is alone in seeing the way to wisdom. Although many subsequent characteristics of wisdom do not show up in this poem from Job, one persistent feature emerges: its mysterious inaccessibility. Wisdom will be seen constantly as divine gift rather than human achievement. The books of Proverbs, Sirach, and Wisdom will represent the availability of Wisdom, who invites all to her feast, dwells in Jerusalem, and graciously appears to those who love her. Nevertheless, she takes the initiative, and her mystery remains. By highlighting the mysteriousness of wisdom found in the works of creation, the poem in Job 28 reminds theologians and scientists alike that, while they rightly presuppose reality to be intelligible in itself, it can prove subtle, elusive, surprising, and even paradoxical. Created reality may run counter to spontaneous expectations. The book of Proverbs, dating probably from the late sixth or early fifth century but reworking some older material, has more to say about Wisdom (in particular, about her primordial relationship to God and creation [Prov. 8:22-31]), and personifies Wisdom as a feminine presentation of the divine.7 “Begotten” or “created” long ago as God’s firstborn (Prov. 8:22), Sophia not only existed with God before everything else but also cooperated in, or at least witnessed, 6. On this poem, see D. J. A. Clines, Job 21–37, WBC 18A (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 889–926. 7. On the book of Proverbs and the passages examined here, see Michael Fox, Proverbs 1–9, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), and Weeks, An Introduction to Wisdom Literature, 23–47.



the divine work of creation (Prov. 8:30-31).8 Delighting in God’s company and then in the human community, Sophia is revealed here as profoundly related—to God, to all creation, and, in particular, to human creatures. Finally, Prov. 9:1-6 depicts Lady Wisdom as building her house and inviting human beings to join a feast of food and wine, which symbolize the doctrine and virtue that come from God.9 Lady Wisdom’s house and banquet will provide language for the New Testament and post–New Testament interpretation of Jesus, who is the divine Logos and the divine Wisdom in person. He feeds people with his teaching and transforms their lives. The most extensive example of Jewish Wisdom literature that we have, Sirach, was originally written in Hebrew around 180 bc and two generations later translated into Greek.10 In the heavenly court, Lady Wisdom proclaims herself as divine Word, having come forth “from the mouth of the Most High.” Like God, she is present everywhere (from “the vault of heaven” to “the depths of the abyss”) and has universal dominion (“over all the earth” and “over every people and nation”). She covers “the earth like a mist” (Sir 24:3–7), just as the divine spirit or breath covered the waters at creation (Gen 1:2). In this passage, Sirach implicitly but clearly relates Wisdom to word and spirit, but at once puts Wisdom herself into a dialogue with the Creator that has no counterpart in the case of word and spirit: “The Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’” Living with God from “the

8. In a passage that illustrates how wisdom and prophetical thought could be related, Jeremiah announced that God “established the world by his wisdom” (Jer. 10:12). 9. See C. V. Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1985). 10. See A. A. Di Lella, “Wisdom of Ben-Sira,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6:931–45; and Weeks, An Introduction to the Study of Wisdom Literature, 89–93.


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

beginning” and enjoying eternal existence (“for all ages I shall not cease to be”), Sophia followed the divine choice and made her home in Jerusalem (Sir. 24:8-11). Settled in the holy city, she sends out an invitation to her great banquet: “Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my fruits. For the memory of me is sweeter than honey, and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb. Those who eat of me will hunger for more, and those who drink of me will thirst for more” (Sir. 24:19-21). Proverbs has pictured Lady Wisdom offering a feast; Sirach goes further. Sophia herself is the food and drink, the source of nourishment and life. John’s Gospel will apply this language to Jesus himself, but takes it even further by portraying Jesus as permanently satisfying: “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Before leaving Sirach, we should observe how this book prefigures two aspects of the mission of the Son as divine wisdom. On the one hand, while Lady Wisdom is present to “every people and nation,” by the divine choice she dwells in Israel and finds her home in Jerusalem. A universal presence does not preclude God’s choice of a special dwelling place for her. On the other hand, such a particular divine choice does not mean that she is absent elsewhere in the world and unavailable to the whole human race. Written shortly before Christ’s birth, the Book of Wisdom11 yields much for our theme, especially in the second section (Wis. 6:21—11:1), which describes Wisdom and her operations in the world and celebrates her beauty (Wis. 7:22—8:1). “She is more beautiful than the sun,” we are told, “and excels every constellation 11. See C. Larcher, Le Livre de la Sagesse ou la Sagesse de Salomon, 3 vols. (Paris: Librairie Lecoffre, 1983–85); Weeks, An Introduction to the Study of Wisdom Literature, 95–100; D. Winston, “Solomon, Wisdom of,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6:120–27.



of the stars” (Wis. 7:29). It is no wonder then that Solomon, the archetypal wise person, fell in love with her: “I loved her and sought her from my youth; I desired to take her for my bride, and became enamored of her beauty” (Wis. 8:2). Such was the beauty of the wisdom exercised by God. Sophia is identified with spirit, a spirit that “pervades and penetrates all things” and is thus immanent everywhere. This immanence is balanced by a transcendence, because Sophia is also portrayed as “holy, unique,” “all-powerful” and “all-seeing” (Wis 7:22-24). Wisdom is both immanently “within” and transcendentally “beyond.” From the book of Job, Sophia had been radically related to God. Now her connection is expressed in a manner that even goes beyond “begetting” (Prov. 8:22) or “coming forth from God’s mouth” (Sir. 24:3). In a sort of effusion from the divinity, she emerges as “a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty,” a “reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Wis. 7:25-26).12 High language is also used of Sophia’s work in creating and conserving the world. After calling her “the fashioner of all things” (Wis. 7:22), the author of Wisdom celebrates her role in renewing and ordering all things (Wis. 7:27; 8:1)—that is to say, in upholding and guiding creation. In short, Sophia not only lives with God (Wis. 8:3) but is also associated constantly with all God’s works (Wis. 8:4), and is, for all intents and purposes, a divine attribute. The theme of the unity between Sophia and God reaches a climax in chapter 10, which presents her in terms of the history of salvation. After chapter 9 states that human beings are “saved” by Sophia (Wis. 9:18), the author reinterprets Israel’s history by assigning to Sophia 12. See R. E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 144.


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

the saving deeds normally attributed to YHWH. It was Sophia who was at work in protecting Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, and Joseph. It was Sophia who through Moses delivered the people in the exodus (Wis. 10:15-18). By attributing to Sophia the saving deeds of God, the book of Wisdom makes the identification between Sophia and YHWH closer than ever. Wisdom Applied to Christ in the New Testament In understanding and interpreting Christ, the New Testament uses various themes from the wisdom tradition. Let us recall five of these themes. First, like wisdom, Christ existed before all things and dwelt with God (John 1:1-2). Second, the lyric language about wisdom being the breath of the divine power, mirroring God’s light, and being an image of God appears to be echoed in 1 Cor. 1:17-18, 24-25 (verses that associate divine wisdom with power), Heb. 1:3 (“he is the reflection of God’s glory”), John 1:9 (“the true light, which enlightens everyone”), and Col. 1:15 (“the image of the invisible God”). Third, the New Testament applies to Christ the language about wisdom’s cosmic significance as God’s agent for the creation and conservation of the world: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:3; see 1:10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2-3). Fourth, faced with Christ’s crucifixion, Paul vividly transforms the notion of divine wisdom’s inaccessibility (1 Cor. 2:1-13). The “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:21) is not only “secret and hidden” (1 Cor. 2:7) but also, defined by the cross and its proclamation, downright folly to the wise of this world (1 Cor. 1:18-25). Fifth, through parables and in other ways Christ teaches wisdom (e.g., Matt. 25:1-12; Luke 16:1-8; see also Matt. 11:25-30). He is “greater” than Solomon, the wise person and teacher of wisdom par excellence (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31).13



Up to this point I have been pursuing some strands from the biblical ideas about wisdom that, more or less clearly, are taken up and transformed in New Testament interpretations of Christ. Here and there the New Testament not only ascribes wisdom roles to Christ but also makes the equation “divine wisdom = Christ” quite explicit. Let us examine these places first in Luke and Matthew. Luke reports how the boy Jesus grew up “full of wisdom” (Luke 2:40; see 2:52).14 In a passage about Jesus and John the Baptist drawn from Q, or the sayings source, they are called “children” of wisdom—that is, representatives of God’s own wisdom and children of Lady Wisdom, personified as a mother. In writing, “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35), Luke has added “all” to his source—a way of including as children of Lady Wisdom all those who have listened to John and Jesus and become their disciples.15 In speaking of wisdom’s “children,” Luke seems more faithful to his source than Matthew, who writes that “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt. 11:19).16 Matthew appears to have changed “children” to “deeds” (ergōn) so that he can refer back to the “deeds” of Jesus (Matt. 11:2; see 11:5) and forward to the “deeds of power” (dunameis) worked by Jesus (Matt. 11:20, 21, 23). This paves the way, as we shall see, to identifying Jesus with wisdom. Later, Luke 11:49 probably means to present Christ as “the Wisdom of God” in person when the text reads: “the Wisdom of 13. On Matt. 12:42 see U. Luz, Matthew 8–20, trans. J. E. Crouch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001). On Luke 11:31, see J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X–XXIV, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 934, 937. 14. According to Mark, the people of Nazareth would be astonished at “the wisdom given to him” (Mark 6:2); see J. Marcus, Mark 1–8, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 374, 379. 15. See J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X–XXIV, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1981), 677–82. J. Nolland, however, understands “the children of Wisdom” to be those who “hear the voice of Wisdom” by recognizing as the plan of God (Luke 7:30) what is “happening in John and Jesus” and align “themselves with what they perceive.” Luke 1:1–9:20, WBC 35A (Dallas: Word, 1989), 346–47. 16. On Matthew’s identification of Jesus with wisdom, see J. D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, 2nd ed. (London: SCM, 1989), 197–206.


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute.’” Matthew, with an eye on the story of the early church, pictures Jesus as saying: “I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town” (Matt. 23:34). Here Matthew may also want to present Jesus as divine wisdom, but Luke does so more clearly. But all in all, Matthew more clearly identifies Christ with wisdom. The words of Jesus, according to Matt. 11:28-30, are modeled on Lady Wisdom’s invitation in Sir. 51:23-27: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Craig Keener concludes from this and other passages that, throughout Matthew’s Gospel, “Jesus the sage articulates and epitomizes wisdom.”17 Ulrich Luz disagrees and argues that “Jesus-Sophia” does not determine Matthew’s Christology. However, he has to allow that some texts (in particular Matt. 11:19, 28-39) “indirectly identify Jesus with Wisdom.”18 Long before Luke and Matthew wrote, Paul already named Jesus as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Jesus is the One who “became for us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30; see 1:21). The apostle identifies the crucifixion of Christ as the central event in which God reveals his “secret and hidden” wisdom (1 Cor. 2:7-8). The crucified Jesus, instead of being a figure of utter “foolishness,” has become “the power of God and the wisdom of God” for those who believe in him. A later letter sums up this claim: in Christ “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge lie hidden” (Col. 2:3).19

17. C. S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 343. 18. U. Luz, Matthew 21–28, trans. J. E. Crouch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 152–53.



From all this, what was central to our meeting in Copenhagen was the theme of Christ being involved like Lady Wisdom in the creation and conservation of the world (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2-3). The first Christians knew that Jesus had brought them the new creation of grace through his life, death, and resurrection, the culmination of God’s redemptive activity for the world. As agent of the new creation, Christ must also be, as they recognized, the preexistent, divine agent for the original creation of all things. Likewise, being the central protagonist of salvation history, he was also seen to be active in the unfolding of that history prior to the incarnation (e.g., John 12:41; 1 Cor. 10:4). Church Fathers on Wisdom and Word At times, the church fathers named Christ as “Wisdom.” Thus when rebutting claims about Christ’s ignorance, Gregory of Nazianzus insisted that, inasmuch as he is the creator, re-creator, and goal of all things, he knew and knows everything: “How can he be ignorant of anything that is, when he is Wisdom, the maker of the worlds, who brings all things to fulfillment and recreates all things, who is the end of all that has come into being?”20 Other fathers applied to Christ the name/title of “Wisdom.” The Emperor Constantine set a pattern for Eastern Christians by dedicating a church to Christ as the personification of divine wisdom. In Constantinople, under the Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) was rebuilt, consecrated in 538, and became a model for many other Byzantine churches.

19. On these passages, see J. A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, Anchor Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 151–77; A. C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). 20. Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, 30.15.


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

Nevertheless, prompted at least in part by the Fourth Gospel’s use of Logos in its prologue, Christian writers tended to thematize Christ’s activity before the incarnation, both in creation and in salvation history, in terms of the Logos or Word of God rather than Wisdom. To be sure, the portrayal of the Word in the prologue of John’s Gospel, as we will see, resembles what was said about Wisdom in Prov. 8:22-31, Sir. 24:1-12, and other biblical texts. Yet that poetic prologue speaks of the Word, not Wisdom, becoming flesh, and does not follow Baruch in saying that “Wisdom appeared upon earth and lived among human beings” (Bar. 3:17). Despite the availability of wisdom language and conceptuality, John preferred to speak of “the Word” (John 1:1, 14; see 1 John 1:1).21 Then Justin, Irenaeus, and other church fathers followed suit. Both in creation and in the history of the chosen people, they highlighted the Logos’s preincarnational presence and activity. They tended to interpret as “Logophanies” all the biblical theophanies or appearances of God. The Plus-Value of Wisdom In light of the above, for the reflection at our Copenhagen meeting to have taken up only the theme of Logos and neglected the Sophia material available in the Scriptures would have left many important details out of the discussion. First, note the theme of the mysteriousness of wisdom, something that is not characteristically said of word. Second, like word, wisdom constitutes the agent not only of the world’s creation but also of its conservation. When Col. 1:17 credits Christ with the conserving power of God (“In him all things hold together”), it echoes what Sir. 43:26 says about the conserving power of God’s word: “By his word all things hold

21. For possible or probable reasons for John’s choice, see G. O’Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 19–20.



together.” But the work of wisdom in upholding and guiding creation comes through more vividly: “She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well” (Wis. 8:1). Third, like spirit, as noted above, wisdom “pervades and penetrates all things” (Wis. 7:24). She is immanent and present everywhere from “the vault of heaven” to the “depths of the abyss” (Sir. 24:5)—something that is not said, at least not explicitly, of word. Fourth, wisdom feeds those who join her feast (Proverbs) and is herself nourishment (Sirach, with language taken up by John’s Gospel). The Scriptures do not ignore the life-giving quality of the divine word, most famously in a passage I have quoted above from Deuteronomy: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3). But, once again, more is said about being nourished by wisdom: “She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (Prov. 3:18). “Whoever finds me,” she declares, “finds life” (Prov. 8:35). Fifth, Lady Wisdom is pictured as a loving, gracious woman, whose unique beauty inspires love. Nothing comparable is said about the beauty of word or, for that matter, about the beauty of spirit. The most striking witness to the “plus-value” of various attributes and activities with which the Scriptures credit wisdom comes in the prologue of John’s Gospel. At least thirteen of the attributes and activities of Logos mentioned in that prologue come from wisdom sources.22 Let me cite only the first and the last of these examples. One finds a source for the opening statement of John 1:1, “in the beginning was the Word,” in Prov. 8:22-23 and Sir. 24:9. As for the closing example (“the Word became flesh and lived among us,” John 1:14), the clear source is not a striking statement about word: “While 22. See T. H. Tobin, “Logos,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:353–55. On wisdom motifs in John’s Gospel, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel of John I–XII, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1966), cxxii–cxxv. There he illustrates how John’s Gospel presents Jesus as the culmination of the Jewish wisdom tradition and, indeed, as personified Wisdom.


Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological Reflection

gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped down from heaven, from the royal throne” (Wis. 18:14-15). Here the Scriptures refer, as we saw above, to the powerful divine act that brought the death of the Egyptian firstborn and the rescue of Israel (Exod. 11:1—12:32). For the source of “the Word became flesh,” we should turn rather to Baruch: “Wisdom appeared on earth and lived among human beings” (Bar. 3:17; see also Sir. 24:8). To sum up: John’s prologue may speak explicitly of the Logos, but in doing so it consistently transposes into the key of “word” what has been said of wisdom. It uses “Logos” as an equivalent for the “Sophia” found in Jewish Wisdom literature. Conclusion Christians recognize Jesus as the Word of God. But we need to fill out that faith by drawing on the biblical material that concerns not only the Logos but also Sophia. This material suggests the (a) informational, and (b) transformative characteristics of both Logos and Sophia: (a) Both the divine Logos and divine Wisdom are intelligible, “revelatory” principles, and their presence embedded in the informational, “mathematical” structures of the universe expresses its intrinsic intelligibility. (b) The presence of Logos and Sophia also transforms things. In particular, the unique beauty of Sophia is not only revelatory but also changes the world. As regards the informational and transformative properties of the created universe, the Bible would encourage us to recall both Logos and Sophia. Yet Sophia promises an even richer scriptural background than Logos.


3 Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

John Behr

That the Christian faith is an “incarnational” faith is self-evident. Yet what this in fact means is rarely thought through with rigor. Over the last couple of centuries, and for a variety of reasons, the central elements of the Christian faith have come to be identified with the Trinity and the incarnation: how God exists as a community of divine persons and how one of these divine persons entered into our time and space by the particular event of the incarnation. Defining the latter, the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church opens with the following: The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation affirms that the eternal Son of God took flesh from His human mother and that the historical Christ is at once both fully God and fully man. It is opposed to all theories of a mere theophany or transitory appearance of God in human form, frequently met with in other religions. By contrast, it asserts an abiding union in the Person of Christ of Godhead and manhood without the integrity or permanence of either being impaired. It also



assigns the beginnings of this union to a definite and known date in human history.1

Several elements of this definition are striking: (1) it is presented as a movement from God to us; (2) it resulted in a union that “abides,” yet as an event it is assigned to the past; and (3) any transformation on our part, although a consequence of this “incarnation,” is not embraced within that term as part of its essential meaning and scope. It is perhaps surprising, then, that the first text devoted to the topic—On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria—was written only in the early fourth century and differs in its exposition of “incarnation” from our modern presuppositions in all the points just noted.








unidirectional movement in the past—God taking flesh to dwell (in the past) among us—the frequently quoted words of Athanasius, “He became human that we might become god” (Inc. 54), is a purposive statement in which the weight in fact falls on the second, transformative, clause. “Incarnation” is a transformative dynamic. As Gregory of Nyssa put it later in the fourth century: Hence it is that all who preach the word point out the wonderful character of the mystery in this respect—that “God was manifested in the flesh” [1 Tim. 3:16], that “the Word was made flesh” [John 1:14], that “the Light shined in darkness” [John 1:5], “the Life tasted death” [Heb. 2:9], and all such declarations which the heralds of the faith are wont to make, whereby is increased the marvellous character of Him Who manifested the superabundance of His power by means external to his own nature.2

The transcendent power of divinity is manifested precisely in that which is, by necessity, external to the divine nature—in flesh, in 1. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 830. 2. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, 5.3, translated in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 5:176–77.


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

darkness, and in death. Yet it is manifested precisely as a transforming power: death is destroyed by death, and so death becomes the means of life; light shines in darkness, transforming the darkness into light; the Word was manifest in flesh, and so makes the flesh Word. For it was not, in fact, when he was in the flesh that we saw the Incarnate Word, but only once he had passed out of this world through his passion and returned to the Father. Only then do we know who he is, and now following him—taking up the cross, dying through baptism, no longer living for ourselves but for others—we become his body. The Purpose of On the Incarnation On the Incarnation is the first writing devoted specifically to the topic of incarnation. It is rightly regarded as one of the most important classic texts of Christianity, East and West. Its influence on all later theology cannot be understated. As such, it deserves to be studied closely in any treatment of the theme “incarnation.” The opening words of On the Incarnation—“In what preceded we have sufficiently treated”—indicate that Athanasius wrote it as the second part of a double treatise, following his work Against the Pagans. They need to be considered together, for the first work sets up the problem that the second resolves. After a few opening words, Athanasius states the purpose of these works: But since we do not have the works of these teachers to hand, we must expound for you in writing what we have learnt from them—I mean the faith in Christ the Savior—that no one may regard the teaching of our doctrine (λόγος) as worthless, or suppose faith in Christ to be irrational (ἄλογος). Such things the pagans misrepresent and scorn, greatly mocking us, though they have nothing other than the cross of Christ to cite in objection. It is particularly in this respect that one must pity their insensitivity, because in slandering the cross they do not see that its power has filled the whole world, and that through it the effects



of the knowledge of God have been revealed to all. For if they had really applied their minds to his divinity they would not have mocked at so great a thing, but would rather have recognized that he was the Savior of the universe and that the cross was not the ruin but the healing of creation. For if, after the cross, all idolatry has been overthrown, and all demonic activity is put to flight by this sign, and Christ alone is worshiped, and through him the Father is known, and opponents are put to shame while he every day invisibly converts their souls—how then, one might reasonably ask them, is this matter still to be considered in human terms, and should one not rather confess that he who ascended the cross is the Word of God and the Savior of the universe? (C. Gent. 1)3

On the Incarnation opens with a similar statement: Well then, my friend and true lover of Christ, let us next with pious reverence tell of the incarnation of the Word and expound his divine manifestation to us, which the Jews slander and the Greeks mock, but which we ourselves adore, so that from the apparent degradation of the Word you may have ever greater and stronger piety towards him. For the more he is mocked by unbelievers, the greater witness he provides of his divinity, because what men understand as impossible he shows to be possible, and what men mock as unsuitable by his goodness he renders suitable, and what quibbling men laugh at as human by his power he shows to be divine, overthrowing the illusion of idols by his apparent degradation through the cross, and invisibly persuading those who mock and do not believe to recognize his divinity and power. (Inc. 1)

The first thing to note is that Athanasius understands these works to be an apology for the cross: they will show that “he who ascended the cross is the Word of God,” and therefore the Christian faith is not irrational (literally “without its word,” ἄλογος).4 The order of 3. All passages quoted in this essay are my own translation. On De incarnatione I refer to St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, a new translation and introduction by John Behr (New York: SVS Press, 2012). 4. One example of what happens when we presuppose what is meant by the term incarnation and do not pay sufficient attention to Athanasius’ own stated purpose is Richard Hanson’s comment that “one of the curious results of this theology of the incarnation is that it almost


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

identification in this sentence, and elsewhere in Athanasius’s works, is vitally important: the starting point is the one who ascended the cross; the account is given from this perspective. Therefore, as we will see, it is through this event that God is revealed, his work is understood, and its effects are realized. These opening paragraphs also demonstrate that what primarily concerns Athanasius is the vanquishing of the demonic activity of idolatry: though it formerly prevailed everywhere, by the cross Christ alone is now worshiped. Idolatry, especially that of the body, is for Athanasius a kind of barometer. It measures the perversity into which humans have fallen, the degree to which their knowledge of God has been lost, and the extent to which the image of God in them obscured, the consequence of which is corruption and death. The bulk of Against the Pagans describes the prevalence of idolatry prior to the coming of Christ, a situation that demanded the drastic solution presented in On the Incarnation. The death of idolatry since the advent of Christ demonstrates the power of Christ and his cross, a power that has filled the whole world, overcoming what separated human beings from God, re-creating them and restoring them to communion with God. The Christian faith therefore does indeed have its own logos, the teaching of which requires the application of the mind, even if the divinity of Christ cannot be perceived when understood in merely human terms. It is striking that Athanasius glosses the incarnation of the Word, his divine “manifestation,” by alluding to Paul’s words on the folly of preaching Christ crucified (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23). In doing this, Athanasius does away with a doctrine of the atonement. Of course Athanasius believes in the atonement, in Christ’s death as saving, but he cannot really explain why Christ should have died.” Referring to Athanasius’s discussion of why Christ should have died on the cross (in Inc. 19–25), which, he claims, presents “a series of puerile reasons unworthy of the rest of the treatise,” he concludes that “his doctrine of the incarnation has almost swallowed up any doctrine of the atonement, has rendered it unnecessary.” R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318–381 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 450.



is not replacing the “scandal of the cross” with a “scandal of incarnation” or the “scandal of particularity,” but instead uses the word incarnation in a broader sense than has since become customary in theology. The “apparent degradation of the Word” is not simply a kenotic or self-deprecating act of a divine person assuming human nature, but is “his apparent degradation through the cross.” By connecting the incarnation and manifestation of the Word to the cross in this way, Athanasius emphasizes, once again, that it is only as “the one who ascended the cross” that we know the Word of God, for the more he is mocked, the more his divinity is made manifest. And the absolute limit of such degradation, the ultimate humiliation, is his death on the cross, which is also, thereby, only an “apparent degradation,” for it is in truth the high point of his manifestation to us as the Word of God. The Coming of the Word to an Unstable Creation Most of Against the Pagans is given over to recounting, at great length, the variety and perversity of pagan idolatry (hence it rarely accompanies On the Incarnation in translations!). However, it also lays out a number of structural elements that are important for understanding the coming of the Word to created reality. Athanasius begins his exposition of the Word of the Cross with the origin of idolatry, emphasizing that idolatry, and evil more generally, is not “from the beginning” —it is not a proper characteristic of created existence. Rather, it is a deviation from the right relationship between God and creation. Athanasius describes the relationship between the Creator and creation in terms of an interplay between transcendence and immanence: “God, the creator of the universe and king of all, who is beyond all being and human thought, since he is good and exceedingly noble, has made the human race according to


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

his own image through his own Word, our Savior Jesus Christ” (C. Gent. 2). God is transcendent, yet this transcendence is not such that it makes his presence in creation, or creaturely knowledge of God, impossible. As God is good, he created all things by his Word, “our Savior Jesus Christ,” so that through likeness to him human beings might have knowledge of their Creator: He also made the human being perceptive and understanding of reality through his similarity to him, giving him also a conception and knowledge of his own eternity, so that as long as he kept this identity he might never abandon his concept of God or leave the company of the holy ones, but retaining the grace of him who bestowed it upon him, and also the proper (ἴδίαν) power given him by the Father’s Word, he might rejoice and converse with God, living an idyllic and truly blessed and immortal life. For having no obstacle to the knowledge of God, he continuously contemplates by his purity the image of the Father, God the Word, in whose image he was made, and is filled with admiration when he grasps his providence towards the universe. (C. Gent. 2)

Ignorance, evil, and death are therefore not part of God’s creation, but are brought into some kind of phantasmagorical existence when human beings turn from what is truly real to that which is not—that which has no real existence but is conjured up by our own invention: “It was human beings who later began to conceive of it and imagine it in their own likeness. Hence they fashioned for themselves the notion of idols, reckoning what was not as though it were” (C. Gent. 2). Note that Athanasius speaks here, and throughout the work, of “our Savior Jesus Christ” as the one by whom God has made the human race, fashioning it into his own image. Athanasius is expounding the Word of the Cross, and as a preliminary aspect of this task he describes the proper character of human existence, contrasting it with the idolatrous state that had predominated prior to the cross. Athanasius characterizes the proper state of human existence from 85


the point of view of what has been revealed by Christ in his work of salvation: human beings were created for communion with God through contemplation of his Word and Image, the Savior Jesus Christ. Athanasius’s

analysis is thus more concerned with

determining, in the light of Christ and in contrast to what we have actually seen throughout history, the proper characteristic or state of human existence, rather than speculating about primordial beginnings. Another important term and tension is the contrast between what is “proper”—what belongs to something as its “own” (ἴδιος)—and what is “outside.” Christ is the proper Son and Word of God, in contrast to those who, from outside God, are adopted as sons, who by participation in his own Word share in the property of being “rational.” It is proper to human beings, in turn, to be in the image of God—rational—contemplating the Word of God and knowing the Father through him. It is proper to human beings that their minds should be directed in this way rather than toward things outside, to the body and its desires. The human condition depends on the orientation of the mind. Is it pursuing the contemplation of the things that transcend the senses and are proper to it, or is it turned to the body, receiving impressions from outside? This, then, is the condition in which God created the human race. In Johannine language, he wished them “to remain” or “to abide” in this condition. However, human beings chose otherwise, and so now remain caught in corruption and death until through the salvific work of Christ they are enabled to remain in immortality. As human beings were to transcend themselves, not being concerned about “their own things”—that is, the things of the body and this life—but occupying themselves with the Word of God, the body could even be said to be the locus of “the ‘selfness’ of being human.”5 However, human beings turned their attention toward themselves, to the body


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

and its sense perception, receiving impressions from outside itself, and have ended up being deceived even in “their own things.” In this way, humans fell into the chaos of the fleshly desires of the body, forgetting what they had originally received from God. With their souls directed toward the body, in, by, and for itself, the body is now the very point of human separation from God—not because of its materiality, but because it has become an idol. Although the human race fell into idolatry, the history of which he describes at length, Athanasius suggests that it was still possible for human beings to know God. If the soul were to turn back to God, casting off all desires and every accretion it has acquired from outside, so that it “keeps pure only what is in the image, then when this shines forth, it can truly contemplate as in a mirror the Word, the image of the Father, and in him meditate on the Father, of whom the Savior is the image” (C. Gent. 34). Yet Athanasius also acknowledges that this may not be adequate “because of the external influences which disturb the mind and prevent it from seeing the better course” (ibid.). Nevertheless, Athanasius continues, following Paul (and quoting Rom. 1:20), human beings could still have learned about God through their sense perception, for “he so ordered creation that although he cannot be seen by nature, yet he can be known from his works” (C. Gent. 35). The order and harmony of creation demonstrate not only that there was a creator, but that there is one Creator. More specifically, as his argument has refuted all idolatry, Athanasius claims that the pious religion must be ours, and the only true God, he whom we worship and preach, [must be] the Lord of all creation and demiurge of all existence. Who then is he, if not the all-holy Father of Christ, beyond all created being, who, as supreme steersman, through his own Wisdom and his own Word, our Lord and Savior Christ, guides and orders the 5. K. Anatolios, Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (New York: Routledge, 1998), 64.



universe for our salvation, and acts as seems best to him? . . . For if the movement of creation was meaningless (ἄλογος) and the universe was carried about haphazardly, one could well disbelieve our statements. But if it was created with reason (λόγος), wisdom, and understanding, and has been arranged with complete order, then he who governs and ordered it can be none other than the Word of God. (C. Gent. 40)

It is by “his own Word, our Lord and Savior Christ” that the Father acts to govern and order the universe. The creative and providential work of God cannot be separated from the salvific work of Christ. The Word he refers to is not, therefore, the word that is “involved and innate in every creature, which some are accustomed to call seminal,” for such a word has no life of its own, but merely expresses the art of the Creator (C. Gent. 40). Nor does he mean “such a word as belongs to rational beings, consisting of syllables and expressed in the air” (ibid.). Rather, he is speaking of “the living and powerful Word of the good God of the universe, the very Word that is God, who, while other than all created things and all creation, is the Father’s own and only Word, who ordered all this universe and illuminates it by his providence” (ibid.). Athanasius then analyzes the constitution of this creation itself, both in relation to the Word by whom it was brought into being and who now governs and regulates it, and, equally importantly, in relation to the nothingness from which it was created. Athanasius is very clear that creation itself has been brought into being by the will of God. Creation is not derived from some preexisting matter, such that it would have its own independent subsistence: “He, the power and wisdom of God, turns the heaven, has suspended the earth, and by his own will has set it resting on nothing” (C. Gent. 40). Created from nothing, creation rests upon nothing; it depends for its existence on the will of God alone, by which it was called into being. Yet


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

rather than allowing it to relapse into nothingness, God acts to ensure its stability. Athanasius describes this in a significant passage: And the reason why the Word of God really came (ὲπιβέβηκεν) to created beings is truly wonderful, and shows that things should not have occurred otherwise than as they are. For the nature of created things, having come into being from nothing, is unstable, and is weak and mortal when considered by itself. But the God of all is good and excellent by nature; therefore he is also kind—for a good being would be envious of no one, so he envies nobody existence but rather wishes everyone to exist, in order to exercise his kindness. So seeing that all created nature according to its own definition is in a state of flux and dissolution, therefore, to prevent this from happening and the universe from dissolving back into nothing, after making everything by his own eternal Word and bringing creation into existence, he did not abandon it to be carried away and suffer through its own nature, lest it run the risk of returning to nothing. But, being good, he governs and established the whole world through his Word who is himself God, in order that creation, illuminated by the leadership of providence, and the ordering of the Word, may be able to remain firm, since it shares in the Word who is truly from the Father, and is aided by him to exist, and lest it suffer what would otherwise have happened, I mean, a relapse into non-existence, if it were not protected by the Word, “who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, for through him and in him all things subsist, things visible and invisible, and he is the head of the Church,” as the servants of the truth teach in the holy writings. (C. Gent. 41; cf. Col. 1:15-18)

This is a very dense passage that requires several comments. First, the previously sketched pattern of the relationship between God and human beings, with God granting human beings a share in the power of his Word so that they might remain in communion with him, is now used by Athanasius to explain God’s creation as a whole. That is, Athanasius reads back into the framework of creation as a whole the pattern established by the Savior Jesus Christ in his work of salvation.



Second, the word used here to describe the “coming” of the Word to created reality—ἐπιβαίνω—is striking. Athanasius also uses it and its cognates in On the Incarnation to describe the “coming” of the Word into a human body, the incarnation. On two occasions, this is focused on the question of the death of the Word in the body: Since the Word was not able to die—for he was immortal—he took to himself a body able to die, that he might offer it as his own on behalf of all and as himself suffering for all, through coming (ἐπίβασιν) into it “he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Inc. 20; cf. Heb. 2:14-15). For if he had fully taken to himself a body, and made it his own with proper consistency, as our argument has shown, what should the Lord do with it? Or what kind of end should befall the body, once the Word had come to it (ἐπιβάντος)? (Inc. 31)

In two other instances, it occurs within the context of an address to Greek philosophers. Athanasius asks why, if they are able to accept that the Word of God could be active in the cosmos as a whole, they are reluctant to accept that he could be present in part of the whole—that is, in a human body: The philosophers of the Greeks say that the cosmos is a great body, and they speak truly. For we see it and its parts as being subject to our senses. If, then, the Word of God is in the cosmos, which is a body, and has come (ἐπιβέβηκε) into it all and into each part of it, what is surprising or absurd if we say that he came (ἐπιβεβηκέναι) in a human being? For if it were completely absurd for him to be in a body, it would be absurd for him to come into the whole, and illumine and move all things by his own providence, for the universe is also a body. (Inc. 41) With reason, then, since it was not worthy of the goodness of God to overlook so grave a matter, yet human beings were not able to know him even though he was ordering and guiding the universe, he takes a part of the whole for himself as an instrument, the human body, and


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

came into it (ἐπιβαίει), in order that since human beings were not able to know him in the whole they should not fail to know him in the part; and since they were not able to lift up their gaze to his invisible power, they might be able, at any rate, to know and contemplate him from things similar. (Inc. 43)

The Word has thus come to the universe, just as he has come into the body that is his, taking it so as to die in it, thereby bringing life to the body and stabilizing order to the cosmos. Third, to return to the passage under consideration (C. Gent. 41), this coming of the Word to creation is not simply a matter of his presence within creation. It is, rather, a transformation of the creation’s natural “flux and dissolution,” its tendency to return to the nonbeing from which it was created, into an order and arrangement that bears the imprint of the Word and demonstrates the providence of God. And, most importantly, Athanasius (following Colossians) identifies this creation as the church. Finally, Athanasius speaks of creation as having come into being from nothing, providing the first fully developed theology of a creation ex nihilo. As it comes into being from nothing, created nature, considered in itself, is unstable, corruptible, and tends to dissolve back into nonexistence. That this should be developed in the context of a work that, as we have seen, is an apologia crucis, is significant. In a very different context, Simone Pétrement suggests that it is in fact the cross that provides the stimulus for this teaching about creation: In the Old Testament the world was so narrowly and directly dependent upon God that God himself . . . was in turn almost tied up with and chained to the world. . . . The image of the cross is an image that liberates. . . . The cross separates God from the world. If it does not separate him absolutely, at least it puts him at a very great distance. It puts him much further away than the distinction between Creator and creature



could do. . . . It is indeed, as Paul sees, something that is profoundly new, “a scandal to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.”6

Reading creation in the light of the work of Christ, Athanasius does indeed see the Word of God coming to the whole of creation in a manner analogous to incarnation. The paradox of transcendence in immanence demonstrated on the cross is, from this perspective, seen to be the very interplay between a creation, called into being by God ex nihilo and always tending toward relapsing into its own nothingness, and the summoning and sustaining power of God, who imprints his Word upon everything so that every aspect of his creation manifests the creative work, the power, of the Word. This creation is also transformed from its creaturely origins and unstable existence to become the church, of which the Word is both the firstborn and the head. The Advent (Parousia) of the Word When we turn to On the Incarnation, the second part of Athanasius’ double work, it is perhaps surprising that he does not allot any time to considering the infancy narratives of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In fact, he only mentions a few times, and then in passing, the birth from the virgin—or, to use his typical expression, the Word’s fashioning for himself the body from a virgin as a temple in which to dwell (Inc. 8, 18, 20, 33, 37). Likewise, he devotes only a few passages to considering the divine works of Christ as recorded in the Gospels. Rather, after examining the “rationality” of Christ’s suffering on the cross, Athanasius gives considerably more space to the divine works that Christ now does in those who have “put on the faith of the cross” (Inc. 28), so demonstrating the resurrection of the body 6. S. Pétrement, A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism, trans. C. Harrison (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), 37, emphasis original.


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

that Christ had put on (for example, Inc. 44). As we can only speak of what the Word has done in the body—conquering death and bestowing knowledge of the Father—in light of the passion, we cannot separate the body that he has taken from the body in which he effects such works in believers in the present. The scope of what Athanasius means by incarnation is thus far broader than is often assumed. Moreover, it is not limited to the past. The body, fashioned from the virgin, in which the Word dwells, as seen in the light of his passion, cannot be separated from the body of Christ, that is, those who by faith in the cross are no longer subject to the corruption of death. After the introductory paragraph, Athanasius provides two accounts of the “divine dilemma”: What should God have done? The first (Inc. 2–10) pertains to the problem of death. The human beings that God had created for life in communion with himself, in the knowledge of himself, have become subject to death. This put God in a predicament, as it were: should he allow death to hold sway, and so seem weak, lacking care and concern? Or should he himself go against the law that he had laid down, that death would follow transgression? The resolution of this dilemma is that the Word of God takes a human body as his instrument in order to offer it to death. In this way he conquers death, rendering his body incorruptible. For the Word, realizing that in no other way would the corruption of human beings be undone except, simply, by dying, yet being immortal and the Son of the Father the Word was not able to die, for this reason he takes to himself a body capable of death, in order that it, participating in the Word who is above all, might be sufficient for death on behalf of all, and through the indwelling Word would remain incorruptible, and so corruption might henceforth cease from all by the grace of the resurrection. Whence, by offering to death the body he had taken to himself, as an offering holy and free of all spot, he immediately abolished



death from all like him, by the offering of a like. For being above all, the Word of God consequently, by offering his own temple and his bodily instrument as a substitute for all, fulfilled in death that which was required; and, being with all through the like [body], the incorruptible Son of God consequently clothed all with incorruptibility in the promise concerning the resurrection. And now the very corruption of death no longer holds ground against human beings because of the indwelling Word, in them through the one body (διὰ τὸν ἐνοικήσαντα Λόγον ἐν τούτοις διὰ τοῦ ἐνὸς σώματος). (Inc. 9)

The second divine dilemma (Inc. 11–19) treats the same predicament but from the perspective of knowledge. Once human beings had their sights set only on material, bodily things, how else could God grab our attention, as it were, except through a body? Therefore the Word of God takes a human body, again as an instrument, through which he makes himself known. Although he is first seen as a human being, by the works he does in the body—works that are clearly not human but divine—Christ makes himself known not merely as a human being but as the Word of God himself. That is, our attention, though attracted by the human figure of Christ apprehended through sense perception, is drawn away from appearance to the work of God manifest in and through Christ. And preeminent among such works is the crucifixion, which, as the witness of creation itself testifies, reveals the advent of the Lord: Neither did he make creation itself be silent, but what is most wonderful, even at his death, or rather at the very trophy over death, I mean the cross, all creation confessed that he who was made known and suffered in the body was not simply a human being but Son of God and Savior of all. For the sun turned back and the earth shook and the mountains were rent, and all were awed. These things showed the Christ on the cross to be God and the whole of creation to be his servant, witnessing in fear the advent (παρουσίαν) of the Master. In this way, then, the God Word showed himself to human beings by his works. (Inc. 19)


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

After expounding these divine dilemmas, Athanasius turns to treat the death and resurrection of the body of Christ (Inc. 20–32). Of particular interest here is the way he deals with the resurrection of the body: he makes no reference to any of the resurrectional appearances mentioned in the Gospels, but rather looks to the manner of life lived by Christians in the present, which demonstrates that they are no longer fearful of death. Rather, as themselves testimonies to the resurrection of his body, they trample it underfoot. Those who “put on” faith in Christ and his cross demonstrate the resurrection of the body that Christ himself “put on” (for example, Inc. 28, 44). Is it the mark of one who is dead to effect such things, he asks, or do not rather the lives and deeds of Christians witness that Christ is indeed living, working miracles each and every day? That Athanasius undertakes two analyses for the rationale of the incarnation is important. The first analysis, which focuses specifically on the death of Christ, provides what he describes as “the primary cause of the incarnation of our Savior” (Inc. 10). Only on this basis does he then go further to examine the way in which Christ made himself known in and through the body. In proceeding in this manner, Athanasius remains true to the narrative of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), in which the disciples continually fail to understand who Christ is until after his passion. Following his resurrection, they finally recognize who he truly is—the one of whose suffering Moses and all the prophets had spoken—through his opening of the Scriptures and breaking of bread, only for him to then disappear from sight (Luke 24).7 In this way, the divine dilemmas expounded by Athanasius must be taken in the sense 7. The one exception to this, in Matthew 16, proves the rule. Although Peter confesses that Christ is the Son of the living God, Christ clarifies that this was not known by flesh and blood but by a revelation from the Father. When he then begins to tell Peter of his impending passion, Peter demonstrates his ignorance and Christ calls him “Satan” for having tried to separate Christ from the cross.



of expounding the wisdom that God has already accomplished in Christ rather than as an attempt to offer alternatives about what else God “could [should?] have done” or to equate the incarnation with the “real historical Jesus” by bracketing the passion as if it had never happened. Incarnation, for Athanasius, is not simply a unidirectional movement of God to creation that results in our seeing God in the flesh. Rather, it is a reciprocating and transformational dynamic, initiated by God and pivoted upon the cross, whereby we can see the Word coming to creation and putting on a body. This body is seen in those who put on the faith of the cross and live in creation, held in existence by the Word as his church. Conclusion From what we have seen, for Athanasius incarnation—in what is the classic treatment of the topic—is a reciprocal and transforming dynamic, effected through the paradoxical reversal of the cross. In his later works, Athanasius states this reciprocity more emphatically and directly: The Father, in making him human (for to be made belongs to human beings), did not merely make him human, but has made him [human] for the sake of his being Lord of all humankind, and for the sake of consecrating all through the anointing. For though the Word, being in the form of God, took a servant’s form, yet the assumption of the flesh did not make a servant of the Word, who was by nature Lord; but rather, not only was it that liberation of all humankind which takes place by the Word, but that very Word who was by nature Lord, and was then made human, has through a servant’s form been made Lord of all and Christ, that is, in order to make all holy by the Spirit.8

8. C. Ar. 2.14, my emphasis; text in Athanasius of Alexandria, “Orations against the Arians 1 and 2,” in Athanasius Werke, ed. K. Metzler and K. Savvidis (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 1998), vol. 1, pt. 1, fasc. 3.


Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation”

When the Word becomes flesh in the incarnation, there is no diminution of the status of the Word. He takes the form of a servant but in doing so shows that very form to be one of lordship: the servant of all is the Lord of all. In becoming human, he does not lower himself to our estate, but raises us up to his stature: And we know that while “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God,” now that he has become also human for our salvation, we worship him, not as though he has come in the body equalizing himself with it (οῦχ ὠς ἴσον ἐν ἴσῳ γενέμενον τῷ σύματι), but as Master, assuming the form of the servant, and as Maker and Creator, coming in a creature, in order that, in it delivering all things, he might bring the world near to the Father, and make all things to be at peace, things in heaven and things on earth.9

The coming of the Word into the body is not, emphatically, a oneway event located in the past, but a transformation of all that to which the Word comes, bringing all things in heaven and on earth to the Father. With regard to the question at the heart of the seminar—“Is God incarnate in all that is?”—Athanasius’s answer would be: the transforming power of God, manifest paradigmatically in the paradoxical inversion of the cross, is at work in the coming of the Word into creation generally, and taking a body specifically, to render, by his creative power, an unstable creation, brought into existence ex nihilo and constantly in danger of relapsing into nonexistence, into the secure state of being his church, and to incorporate as his body those who “put on” the faith of Christ and his cross, witnessing to the reality of his resurrection. It is, finally, in this reciprocating transformative movement—from creation to re-

9. Athanasius, Letter to Adelphius 8, Patrologia Graeca 26.1072–84, translated in Nicene and PostNicene Fathers, second series, 4:578.



creation, from corruptibility to incorruptibility, from death to life—that we see the “advent” (parousia) of the Lord.


4 Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

Torstein Theodor Tollefsen

Saint Maximus the Confessor (580–662) presents probably the most developed and comprehensive doctrine of the cosmos in the early Byzantine era. Of course, he did not think in a vacuum, and his predecessors included Origen (third century), the Cappadocian fathers (fourth century), and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (end of the fifth/ beginning of the sixth century). I have coined the term christocentric cosmology to characterize Maximus’s conception of the world.1 In Ambiguum 7, he says, “For the Logos (Word) of God and God wills always and in all things accomplish the mystery of His embodiment.”2 The term used is ensomatosis, which may be translated embodiment or incarnation. From this one may gather that

1. The title of my thesis from 2000 and of my book in the Oxford Early Christian Studies series from 2008 was The Christocentric Cosmology of St Maximus the Confessor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). 2. Ambiguum 7, in Patrologia Graeca, ed. J.-P. Migne, 91:1084d.



Maximus has a doctrine of divine presence in the created order. This presence may be designated as incarnation, and it is not limited to the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ. In order to understand how this is conceived, we shall investigate some basic principles and motifs of Maximus’s system. God’s Plan: The Mystery of Christ A central idea in Maximus’s metaphysics and cosmology is the doctrine that (1) God had an eternal plan for the making of the cosmos, and (2) this plan includes two steps—creation and salvation—both of which are centered in his eternal Logos, who entered history as Jesus Christ.3 The purpose of this plan, Maximus argues, is to achieve the “hypostatic union.” In a narrow sense, this hypostatic union is the union of divine and human nature in the hypostasis (or “person”) of Christ—a rather particular achievement, seemingly limited in time and space. However, this seemingly narrow objective is for the sake of all creatures, so that the divine purpose is actually to achieve union with all being. The divine love of humanity (philanthropia) is, therefore, a love that comprises the whole cosmic manifold. This important piece of doctrine contributes to the overarching structure of Maximus’s thought, as it also constitutes his hermeneutical horizon (his “hypothesis,” as some modern scholars call it)4 for the interpretation of the Scriptures: God’s eternal, unitary plan of creation and salvation.5 Maximus calls it the mystery of Christ.6

3. Ad Thalassium 60, Corpus Christianorum, Series Graeca (CCSG) 22, translated in P. M. Blowers, and R. L. Wilken, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003). 4. F. M. Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 43–45. 5. Maximus, Ad Thalassium 60, CCSG 22. 6. Ad Thalassium 60, CCSG 22.


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

We may speak of the contents of God’s eternal plan as the divine economy of creation and salvation. This economy has a certain Trinitarian character.7 Maximus states that the plan was eternally known by the approval (eudokia) of the Father, by the work of the Son himself (autourgia), and by the cooperation (synergeia) of the Spirit. We may, then, distinguish conceptually the plan itself, its execution, and its perfection. This first brings us to Maximus’s doctrine of creation. The Doctrine of Creation in Maximus Maximus argues for the following characteristics that distinguish Christian thought from Neoplatonism. First, the Neoplatonist (in this case, Plotinian) doctrine of creation knows of no temporal beginning of the cosmos. The origin of cosmic being is explained by a theory of double activity, according to which the internal activity of a higher principle is accompanied by an external activity that accommodates being into the next level below. This complex doctrine is the philosophical theory behind the metaphors of emanation. Second, even if Plotinus has a doctrine of divine will and freedom, his first God, the One, has no intention of making the universe and nurtures no love of what comes after him in the cosmic order. The classical Christian doctrine of creation, on the other hand, stated that (a) God made the world out of nothing, (b) he made it because of his love, and (c) he had a definite will to do so—without being under any external or internal constraint. Further, (d) the world is made such that it has a temporal beginning a definite amount of time ago.8 Maximus states that God is eternally a Creator, but being a Creator does not mean that God immediately creates.9 The world is not 7. Ad Thalassium 60, CCSG 22:79. 8. See T. Tollefsen, The Christocentric Cosmology of St Maximus the Confessor, 40–63.



eternal. God eternally has the capacity, but is free to accommodate his capacity into the act of making and forming (or not making and not forming) something that has a beginning. The world is made with such a definite beginning; the plan of the world, however, had no beginning. It consists in God’s approval of his eternally preexisting knowledge of beings, knowledge he manifested when he willed.10 Two things need to be highlighted here: the character of divine knowledge and will. How does Maximus understand the divine knowledge of beings in connection with God’s making of the cosmos? What precisely is it that God knows? God knows the beings he makes from his own wisdom that somehow contains them.11 This knowledge or wisdom is conceived in the Logos (Word), the second hypostasis of the Trinity. Maximus says this one Logos is many logoi, and these logoi are kept together in him as the source of creation, the basic “truth” or reality of created beings.12 There is then a logos of angels and heavenly beings, a logos of humankind—indeed, of all beings made by God. The divine will enters into this pattern since these logoi are predeterminations and acts of divine will.13 As predeterminations they should, perhaps, be understood as divine definitions of what it is to be this and that being. As acts of will, they are directed as intentions toward the making of such beings in actual reality. How does God know beings? They are known, Maximus states, as his own acts of will.14 Maximus says that in the logoi, beings are circumscribed essentially and genetically (that is, as known and as willed) by their 9. See Chapters on Love, translated in G. C. Berthold, Maximus Confessor, Selected Writings, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 4.3. John Philoponus tries to argue this point on Aristotelian principles; see Tollefsen, Activity and Participation, 121. 10. Chapters on Love 4.4. 11. Chapters on Love 3.22. 12. Ambiguum 7, PG 91:1177c–1080a and 1081a. 13. Ambiguum 7, PG 91:1085a–b. 14. Ambiguum 7, PG 91:1085a–b.


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

own logoi and by the logoi of beings that surround them.15 This dense statement probably means that beings are defined essentially, their proper time of generation (genesis) is determined in an act of divine will, and all beings are situated within a certain context of other beings—a context that we shall have to examine more closely. Does God know particulars or only universals?16 The Christian answer is that God knows particulars. He not only knows them; he loves them. The texts we have considered so far have only discussed different kinds of beings and essences, but Maximus is more specific in other texts. He looks at the making of particulars as the primary objective of God’s creative acts, but he thinks particulars are conceived and established within a system or order of regular species and genera.17 This sounds like a rather stiffened and static cosmic model, more Neoplatonist than Christian. Maximus obviously thinks that particulars belong to species and species belong to genera, until the whole manifold of created being is unified in one basic genus of ousia—essence or being.18 However, we may ask what these species and genera are, and how they function in the unification of particular beings. First, we should note that the species and genera are not to be thought of as some kind of Platonic forms that have a kind of reified existence in the divine mind. Second, there is no reason to believe that the unifying power of these universals is something that is just forced on creatures. Even so, we should note that this has two aspects: (a) God has established ontological bonds between all beings in such a way that they have a certain essential relationship with one another. (b) This essential 15. Ambiguum 7, PG 91:1081b. 16. Maximus’s view is expressed in Ambiguum 10, PG 91:1188c–1193c. Cf. the texts collected in R. Sorabji, The Philosophy of the Commentators, 200–600 AD (London: Duckworth, 2004), 2:69–78 (dealing with divine knowledge) and 2:79–110 (dealing with providence and evil). 17. Cf. Ambiguum 10, PG 91:1177b–1180a, 1188c–1193c, Ambiguum 41, PG 91:1312a–1313b. 18. Ambiguum 10, PG 91:1177b–1180a.



relationship is, however, not worked out in Maximus’s system as any kind of realist theory of universals. Rather, he seems to think that if particulars are removed, universals are removed with them. The conception of universals depends, therefore, on the perception and recognition of individuals.19 This does not necessarily make him into a nominalist, because essential, universal relationships are something conceived by God and established by God in the order of nature.20 Even if we cannot say that God “contains” a “Porphyrian tree” in his mind (the Logos), the logoi, as conceived by God, are contemplated by God according to the essential relationships they were intended to found. Maximus thinks, however, that there is a much more powerful bond that unites beings, since natural relationships are for the sake of something much more basic, namely, the actualization of a movement of love, which is what God has made possible within this system of being. According to Maximus’s interpretation, when beings are conceived within such an order, this is meant to guarantee a certain integrity of being and to make possible a certain providential and soteriological dynamics of movement. The plurality and diversity that characterizes the world is willed by God, and is as such shall not disappear in the consummation of the ages. Particular beings are meant to be preserved as themselves in their particularity. However, in the present age this particularity has turned into a source of self-enhancement on the part of particular beings. This self-enhancement is sinful, since it involves an encroachment upon the integrity of both one’s own being and the being of others. In this way suffering, pain, corruptibility, and death rule the natural world. The divine remedy, however, is not the 19. Ambiguum 10, PG 91:1189c–d. 20. Lino Benakis thinks that in Byzantine philosophy general concepts are understood in accordance with a “(moderate) ‘conceptual realism.’” Benakis, “The Problem of General Concepts in Neoplatonism and Byzantine Thought,” in Neoplatonism and Christian Thought, ed. D. J. O’Meara (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982), 85.


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

reduction of particularity, plurality, and diversity to an essential, ontological unity. Rather, it is the reduction of self-enhancement to the detriment of other beings to a unity in love that is made ontologically possible because God has transcendentally (in his logoi) knit the bonds of being that make it possible.21 The Christocentric Cosmology of Maximus The presentation given above is a sketch of Maximus’s “system of the world.” We may now turn to the backbone of the whole conception: his christocentric cosmology and interpretation of the will of the Logos and God always and in all things to accomplish divine incarnation. In Ambiguum 41, Maximus presents his system in a nutshell. He draws a perspicuous and, I would say, beautiful picture of the cosmos as it comes forth from God in its procession (that is, creation) and converts to God in the final restoration. He describes five basic divisions in accordance with which the cosmos is arranged: (1) the division between uncreated and created nature, (2) the division of created nature into intelligible and sensible being, (3) the division of sensible being into heaven and earth, (4) the division of earth into paradise and oikoumenē, and (5) the division of oikoumenē into male and female. By oikoumenē he probably means the inhabited world.22 The dynamics of this system are what concern us here. Maximus situates human nature in the midst of this system as the primary focus of divine providence, but this providence, as we shall see, is directed toward the midpoint for the benefit of the whole system. Maximus describes a movement of mediation that springs from human nature. Humankind is placed in the system of the world as microcosm and mediator.23 The microcosmic nature and mediator role of humankind 21. Cf. Mystagogia, ch. 1, translated in Berthold, Maximus Confessor. 22. As Louth translates it in A. Louth, Maximus the Confessor, Early Church Fathers (London: Routledge, 1996), 157.



is explained with the doctrine that we, by being situated by God at the center and midpoint of all divisions, are related to the extremities of these divisions in our own parts. This makes humankind the natural starting point for the movement of conversion, which proceeds accordingly: (1) human nature comprises both sexes and may unify them without passion in virtue; (2) humankind is an earthly being meant to live in paradise; (3) humans may achieve angelic virtue and therefore unite earth and heaven; (4) humans may unite intellectually the sensible with the intelligible; and (5) humankind, at the threshold of the mystery beyond being (God), is the being in which created and uncreated being may meet and be unified. One of the interesting things about this perception of human mediation is that it takes place in the realm of human virtuous and contemplative development. It does not appear as a myth, but as a kind of abstract description on the level of principles. A superficial reading may give the impression that this system is anthropocentric, but it is not. Rather, it is theocentric, or as I have called it, christocentric: human nature, placed at the center of created being, is not put there solely for its own benefit but for the sake of all of being. God is, Maximus says, philanthropic in his very being, but this philanthropia is realized in two important directions: vertically and horizontally. Vertically it is realized in the divinehuman relationship, and horizontally it is realized in the condition of love when the interrelatedness of humans with other humans and with all other beings is actualized. There are some further important aspects of Maximus’s thought that need to be put forward in order to appreciate the whole picture. The divine economy has, as we have seen, two steps: creation and salvation. Creation is part of God’s desire “always and in all” to 23. This is the title of Lars Thunberg’s thesis, which was also published as a book: Microcosm and Mediator (Chicago: Open Court, 1995).


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

incarnate himself. God, the Logos, becomes incarnate in creatures by his logoi, since every created being mirrors aspects of his perfection. Maximus says the one Logos is many logoi and the many are one Logos, which, I believe, should be taken to mean that the pattern of creatures is the Logos himself.24 This should not be understood in any pantheistic sense, but rather in the sense that all particulars are subjects of divine concern within the overall providential order. The logoi are intrinsic to all beings, but not in the sense that they become the actual immanent core of beings, since there is always a distinction between uncreated and created being. What has been said above raises the question of the salvation of animals, to which I shall return in the next section. Creatures in general realize different patterns (logoi) of being. Some of these patterns prescribe ontologically richer sets of properties than others, which implies that, according to Maximus, the system of the world is a hierarchy of created essences. However this may be, there is no doubt that, according to Maximus, all creatures are accorded a kind of value. This value is accorded, not in themselves and not to the degree that they strive for natural goals that are perceived to be good, but simply because they are anchored in the divine purpose of the logoi.25 There is no ontological autonomy in cosmic movement that could be used in an argument for the intrinsic value of created beings, since all beings have a purpose beyond themselves in the harmonious coexistence with all other beings in love at the transformation of created being into the final blessed and glorious condition. Creatures are accorded value as creatures of God, since they all mirror the divine perfections of the Logos. Practically, this does not grant permission 24. Ambiguum 7, PG 91:1081b–c. 25. The “in themselves” is, of course, ambiguous. If it is taken to mean a kind of value founded on immanent activities or properties separated from God, then, from a Maximian point of view, it should be denied. If, however, it means “in themselves” qua anchored in God’s intellect and purpose, then it may be argued from Maximian principles.



to treat creatures of the earth badly. Rather, it is the opposite: as imitating aspects of God, creatures are always to be treated with the deepest concern. Note in addition that within Maximus’s metaphysics there is no room for moral autonomy either, since the important thing is that creatures are designed to live and exist in accordance with their logoi, which define their divine purposes. In Mystagogia chapter 5, Maximus says that Christ “restores me in a marvelous way to myself, or rather to God,” from whom humankind received being and from whom we desire well-being.26 The final purpose of human existence is therefore achieved beyond any form naturally immanent in human beings as creatures. Rather, it is achieved in a self-transcending movement toward one’s real or true being in God. It is doubtful whether Maximus would allow an immanent fulfillment of any principle (logos) at all. Christ as Microcosm and Mediator The making of the world is the first step toward the realization of the divine purpose for the glorification of the world. In Maximus’s thinking, the historical incarnation of the Logos as Jesus Christ may be characterized in this way: the One who comprises in himself all the logoi (patterns, divine intentions, and “wills”) of beings enters the cosmic complex of creatures and becomes, qua human, the microcosm and mediator of divine purpose. When God becomes human, being situated within the cosmos, he reaches from the inside of created being—as the unification of all creative principles—into the depth of all being. In this way, God unites himself with creatures and creatures with himself, never to dissolve this union again. The Son of

26. Mystagogia, CCSG 69:23–24; translation in Berthold, Maximus Confessor, 192.


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

God becomes the Son of Man and reveals himself as the true center of the cosmos. Here we may return to the question of the final destiny of animals, which is particularly urgent in our day, with its discussions of animal rights. The first thing to note here is that the concept of salvation in Maximus is not limited to human beings. This should be clear by now, since I have already indicated that Maximus expects a universal transformation of the cosmos. Also, salvation does not just concern the remission of sin, since only rational creatures can sin. In Ad Thalassium 42, Maximus interprets the Greek term hamartia, which is usually translated “sin,” in its literal sense as a failure or as missing the mark, like when one shoots with a bow. The first “failure” of Adam, he says, was culpable, since he fell of his own choice from good into evil.27 This is what we would designate as sin in the usual sense of the term. The second failure, however, following upon the first, was the innocent transformation of human nature from incorruption into corruption. According to Maximus, corruption, comprising all kinds of physical weakness and death, is not natural. It is not in accordance with the proper nature of a being, which rather is the divine purpose of its logos. Thus while human salvation involves healing from sin and gaining incorruptibility, animals, if they should be conceived as participating in the divine scheme of salvation, only need healing from corruptibility. Maximus does not say much about animals. However, in Ambiguum 10, in a section devoted to the concept of universal providence, he says a few words in passing.28 Maximus gives two definitions of providence, one of which is that providence is the 27. It is interesting to note that Maximus seems to think that Adam’s original perfection was more a potency than an actuality. He does not, it seems, commit himself to any specific idea of an original, innocent existence of humankind in the garden of Eden. See Blowers’s comments in Blowers and Wilken, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ, 97, n. 3. 28. Ambiguum 10, PG 91:1189a–1192a; the whole section comprises 1188c–1193c.



will of God through which all beings (panta ta onta) receive suitable direction. From this we may infer that animals are at least included in divine providence, though this does not necessarily include salvation and transformation beyond the present age of corruption. When Maximus explicitly mentions animals, he notes that if we consider animals in accordance with the logos—which may here mean either the logos of the animal or the reason of humankind—we will discover a trace of the intelligible in them that is not an unworthy imitation of what is above reason—that is, God.29 What is this intelligible trace? Maximus seems to identify it with the care that animals show for their offspring. This care is particularly a way in which divine providence is executed in the animal kingdom. This remark does not appear to give us a definite answer.30 However, the whole tenor of Maximian metaphysics, as well as what Maximus explicitly says about providence, suggest that an answer could be given on Maximian principles. It does not seem to me that Maximus’s conception of the world in its totality implies that anything it contains should be left out in the fulfillment of the divine purpose, except sin and pain. Since the cosmos is filled with particular beings of all kinds of species, since this rich multiplicity mirrors the perfections of God the Logos himself, and since God exercises providence over all of them, it is difficult not to reckon with a universal transformation that preserves and transforms particular animals into the glorified condition of the kingdom of God. But since this conclusion is tentative, I would not dare to speculate regarding the concrete features of this final condition.

29. This rendering depends on Louth’s translation in Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 144. 30. However, one may see here a possible point of departure for an ethics of care, which then could be founded on the idea of care as a reflection of divine life in nature. In any case, God and divine principles have to be incorporated into any ethical system based on Maximian principles.


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

Maximus’s christocentric cosmology is a kind of late antique metaphysical conception of the world. According to Alston, “Metaphysics is a part of philosophy roughly characterizable as an attempt to formulate the most general and pervasive facts about the world, including an enumeration of the most basic categories to which entities belong and some depiction of their interrelations.”31 But like all philosophical disciplines, metaphysics has a history. Premodern metaphysics—that is, ancient, late antique, Byzantine, and medieval—has features that distinguish it from modern metaphysics. Characterizing the history of metaphysics with terms like premodern and modern,

and furnishing





characteristics, might oversimplify the matter, but here I just want to direct attention to one feature that is relevant in the present case: premodern metaphysics seems to be generally more anthropocentric than modern metaphysics. Premodern metaphysics, cosmology, and philosophy of nature—these disciplines overlap—are considered the culmination of human mental powers in humankind’s search for wisdom. According to Aristotle, this kind of human pursuit is not for the sake of utility; it is simply for the sake of knowledge.32 The most important and typical outcome of this knowledge is that humans are accorded a place in the fabric of nature in which and from which they seek to actualize the natural potential of their being and live the life they are destined to. For Aristotle, this is the political or theoretical life in the city-state; for the Stoic, it is life in accordance with nature; for the Neoplatonist, it is life that seeks its home in the sphere of intelligible principles; and for Christians, it is life in communion with God. This practical aspect of metaphysics went hand in hand

31. W. P. Alston, Philosophy of Language, Foundations of Philosophy Series (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964), 1. 32. See Metaphysics, book 1, chs. 1–2.



with an intense philosophical activity of interpreting nature and its phenomena that even left a legacy to early modern physics.33 It is obvious from what I have presented above that Maximian metaphysics speaks another language than modern science and is directed to a quite different end. However, even if they speak different languages and have different ends, they at least have the same referent: the world. Therefore, if the Christian doctrine of creation comprises the four elements identified above, there is probably no conflict between theology and science when it comes to the beginning of the cosmos: they address the subject in different ways and propose descriptions that (according to method) concern different aspects of this origin, but both still reckon that the cosmos has a beginning. Maximus and Modern Evolutionary Theory One major challenge to any ancient metaphysical conception of the world is the modern doctrine of evolution. Maximus probably held the view that the world was made recently and that all species were made by God in the beginning. However, what he actually believed in this regard is one thing; the way he described the features of cosmic being is another. It does not seem that he anywhere ties his philosophy to the view that all species were ready-made at the beginning of the world. Even if he should say so in some text that I have overlooked, the general structures and principles he describes are not limited to such a view. The infinite divine Mind who eternally








contemplated them in their logoi in all the possible ways of development these possible beings might enfold. In Ambiguum 7,

33. See, for instance, the case of the Christian Neoplatonist John Philoponus of Alexandria (ca. 490–after 567 or 574), whom Galileo studied because of his critique of Aristotle.


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

Maximus states that each being is created according to its logos in the appropriate way at the proper time.34 Also, in a piece of basic ontological reflection at the beginning of the Chapters on Knowledge (1:1–10), Maximus suggests that created being is structured according to the triad essence-potentiality-actuality.35 This description is primarily intended to shed light on human spiritual development, but even so it is interesting that Maximus has a dynamic, rather than static, view of the structure of being. If he is able to consider the possible development of human beings into a deified condition that is far beyond what we are able to imagine, could not the same concept of the dynamics of being be applied to the metaphysical understanding of beings in natural history? I think Maximus’s doctrine of the logoi of creatures, as well as the dynamic view that creatures by their very being qua creatures are essentially movable, may be conceived as a Christian metaphysical horizon for the understanding of beings in evolution throughout the natural history of the world. They are, simply, designed eternally by God to develop as they do. At this point we meet another challenge: the doctrine of final causality. This doctrine was abandoned in early modern philosophy of nature and physics; in his Principles of Philosophy,36 Descartes says we should not seek reasons for natural things from the ends that God or nature proposed to himself in their creation, since we cannot presume we share in the counsels of the deity. While it will not accord with the methods of science to search for final causes, a metaphysical doctrine of the world as made by God cannot dispense with the concept of final causality. A scientific approach to natural history knows a world of particular contingent developments in 34. Ambiguum 7, PG 91:1081a. 35. See Tollefsen, Activity and Participation, 142–47. Chapters on Knowledge is translated in Berthold, Maximus Confessor, 127–80. 36. Part I, § 28.



which animal properties originate and evolve within a milieu that, by coincidence, may or may not favor the given properties. There are no observations that could lead to a claim that living things develop into perfection according to some immanent purpose. On the other hand, even if the natural development of life is replete with struggle, suffering, and death, the Christian metaphysics of Maximus reckons with a final consummation in which all suffering and corruptibility are overcome. A cosmos made by God according to his goodness, will, and purpose must be conceived as directed, in the divine Mind, toward some goal. Even if the riddle of suffering strikes us as a harsh reality, at least some of us agree with him when he says we should “believe that what happens, happens well, even if the reason is beyond our grasp.”37 There is one more challenge to address. Does not Christianity teach that human beings are made in the image of God in an original condition of innocence? Maximus does not, as far as I can see, commit himself to any definite speculation on the state of innocence. We saw above that he, in Ad Thalassium 42, distinguished between two senses of hamartia. The first one was culpable and indicates a fall from innocence, but the text does not say that this first is to be understood temporally. However, in Ad Thalassium 1, he mentions in passing humankind’s fall from perfection. This is probably understood in a temporal sense: there was first a period of existence in paradise; then came the fall with its consequences for the whole of creation, when human beings were transformed from incorruption to corruption. I agree with Rolston that such a view of what actually happened in the history of living things is impossible to uphold in light of the theory of evolution.38 But as a matter of fact, what Maximus actually 37. Ambiguum 10, PG 91:1193b. 38. Cf. Holmes Rolston III, “Does Nature Need to Be Redeemed?” Zygon 29:2 (1994): 205–29.


Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation

says does not have to be interpreted in the sense that one has to reckon with some kind of historical paradise in the past. If we look at the divisions of being in Ambiguum 41, one of the divisions is between paradise and oikoumenē, as if these were somehow present in the cosmic building and not as if one came before the other in time. Further, in Ambiguum 42, Maximus states that our nature fell unnaturally into wickedness “at the instant it was created.”39 These Maximian descriptions need not be anything other than a metaphysical sketch of the structures or powers and possibilities of the world and of culture. When humankind originated within the fabric of nature, it reached for its humanity as made in the image of God, situated in the tension between paradise and oikoumenē, but failed to achieve it in the proper way. This is hamartia in the first sense. To quote Rolston: “There is no greater drama in Earth’s history than this long struggle (late in the evolutionary story) of the climb to humanity, with perennial failing back to the animal level.”40 The transformation from incorruption to corruption mentioned above may be interpreted within this picture. It does not have to describe so much an actual change as a purpose that is not achieved throughout the natural history of the world, but is reached in the eternal kingdom of God.

39. Ambiguum 42, PG 91:1321a–b, see the comment in Blowers (2003), 85, note 10: “Fallenness has been the dilemma of humankind virtually from the beginning.” 40. Rolston, “Does Nature need to be Redeemed?” 222.


5 Is God Incarnate in All That Is?

Jürgen Moltmann

The question of Niels Gregersen that is the title of this chapter includes the thesis, “God is incarnate in all that is.” By setting this in the form of a question, the discussion of the thesis is open. In this chapter, I shall examine the theological logic of this thesis. I shall take the idea up in a Christology from the incarnation of the Son of God to his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead and elevation to the cosmocrator. With reference to the biblical use of the Hebrew words basar and kol basar (“flesh” and “all flesh”), I shall confirm the future of the world where God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). It is only at the eschatological end that God will be “in all that is.” Why, as Christian Theology Maintains, Did the Divine Logos “Become Flesh” in Jesus of Nazareth? ”God became human so that we human beings might become gods” (Athanasius, Inc. 52). In order to understand the first proposition



about the incarnation (“God became human”), we have to take note of the clause that follows. The main christological statement is explained only by the soteriological purpose clause. Athanasius’s thesis is a good rendering of the christological dialectic: Jesus Christ: crucified—raised died—risen humiliated—exalted became human—Lord of the world

The soteriological significance of this dialectic is brought out very well by the patristic axiom, “What is not assumed cannot be healed.” That can be interpreted with Athanasius’s sense to mean, “God has become human so that we human beings can participate in the divine life as God’s sons and daughters,” or, following Martin Luther, “God becomes human in order to turn us from being unhappy and proud gods into true human beings who accept their lowliness.”1 God the Son humiliates himself to the point of death on the cross in order to exalt all the humiliated to God. More, the eternal Word of creation became “flesh” in order to heal “all flesh”—that is to say, all the living. In the double event of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, we can see the tremendous divine dynamic that drives 1. Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesammtausgabe (WA), 5:128–29: “Humanitatis seu (ut Apostolus loquit) carnis regno, quod in fide agitur, nos sibi conformes facit und crucifigit, faciens ex infoelicibus et superbis diis homines veros, idest miseros et peccatores. Quia enim ascendimus in Adam ad similitudinem dei, ideo descendit ille in similitudinem nostram, ut reduceret nos ad nostri cognitionem. Atque hoc sacramento incarnationis. Hoc est regnum fidei, in quo Crux Christi dominator, divinitatem perverse petitam deiiciens et humanitatem carnisque contemptam infirmitatem perverse desertam revocans.” I understand this not as an antithesis but as a necessary complement to Athanasius: the becoming human of God serves the becoming human of the self-deifying human being, and hence the becoming God of the true human being. The sonship and daughterhood of God is the result of the forgiveness of sins. To put it in modern terms: when modern human beings renounce their unhappy “God complex” (as the psychoanalyst H. E. Richter called it), they become more human, and in their human vulnerability and mortality experience the nearness of the incarnate God. Cf. J. Moltmann, Experiences in Theology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).


Is God Incarnate in All That Is?

toward the transformation of all things into their true and abiding form. Nothing that is remains just as it is once it is accepted by Christ and transformed in him. Where this dynamic of the crucified and raised Christ is present, “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Can we discern this transforming dynamic only in human beings who through faith are “in Christ”? According to the Epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians, we can also perceive the cosmic Christ in all things that the exalted Christ has “reconciled” (Col. 1:20). We recognize the cosmic Christ in the cosmos that has been reconciled and made ready for transformation. Paul has unjustly been accused of anthropocentricism, but for Paul too, God was first in Christ reconciling the cosmos with himself before he was “entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor. 5:19). Why? Because for Paul, too, Christ is the mediator of creation, “through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6). Is that speculation, or pure mythology, as Rudolf Bultmann thought?2 I may point to the Egyptian desert fathers, divinely enthused young men who withdrew into the desert, the land where it was not the gods who ruled but was the home of demons, so that there they might experience the victory of the cosmic Christ.3 Anthony was the most famous of them. Pachomius built the first Christian monastery in the desert. It is true that today we no longer believe in demons, but the struggle with fears in the deserts of our world, and faith in the cosmic victory of the risen Christ, have more topical force today than ever before.

2. See here C. Landmesser, ed., Theologie und Wirklichkeit: Diskussionen der Bultmann-Schule (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Theologie, 2011). 3. H. C. Zander, Als die Religion noch nicht langweilig war. Die Geschichte der Wüstenväter, (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2011).



Christ’s Resurrection and Incarnation Before we follow up this cosmic Christology further in the linguistic contexts of the biblical words basar and sarx, we first have to ask how people arrived at knowledge of the Son of God who became human in Jesus of Nazareth—knowledge of the Logos who became flesh in him. That cannot be seen from Jesus’ birth and his life and ministry, let alone from his death on a Roman cross. The cognitive ground for the perception of God’s incarnation in Jesus is to be found in his “resurrection from the dead” and his exaltation to God—he was “declared to be Son of God with power . . . by resurrection from the dead,” as Paul puts it (Rom. 1:4).4 Without the event that the women and the disciples called the resurrection, we would know nothing about a Jesus of Nazareth. But the true substantive ground for his exaltation lies in his humbling of himself to the point of death on the cross, as the hymn in the Epistle to the Philippians says (Phil. 2:6-11). The presupposition for that, however, is the birth of God in the becoming human of Christ. The incarnation of the Son of God presents Jesus’ whole life and death sub specie aeternitatis—or, to put it more exactly, sets it in the light of his resurrection. The Gospels relate “the history of a living person,” as Edward Schillebeeckx said, not the story of someone dead. Thus the incarnation of God comprehends Jesus’ whole life and death as the Christ of God, and Wolfhart Pannenberg has talked about the “retrospective power” of Christ’s resurrection on his life and death.5 This is thought of chronologically, but the “resurrection of the dead” is an eschatological symbol. I would thus prefer to talk about the 4. H.-J. Eckstein and M. Welker, Die Wirklichkeit der Auferstehung (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 2001); J. Moltmann, “Christ’s Resurrection—the Resurrection of the Body—the Resurrection of the Nature,” in Sun of Righteousness, Arise! God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 37–73. 5. W. Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man, trans L. L. Wilkins and D. A. Priebe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968).


Is God Incarnate in All That Is?

eschatological logic: the last reveals the first.6 Christ’s resurrection from the dead reveals him as being the incarnate Son of God. His exaltation as the cosmic Christ reveals him as being the foundation of all things in creation. The fullness of life that has appeared in the risen Christ makes the intention of his participation in our life and his assumption of our death manifest. Because the resurrection of the crucified Christ is ahead of the general resurrection of the dead, and because death itself has been overcome (or “slain,” as Luther put it), Christ is also the beginning of the new creation of all things out of their transience into their abiding form, which does not pass away. The resurrection of Christ has to be grasped not only in the framework of a historical eschatology, but in cosmic eschatology too. The risen Christ is not just a hope for eternal life given to mortal human beings; he is also the future of all things in a “new heavens and new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Pet. 3:13). In the perspective of this eschatology, we have to cast another glance at the incarnation of God. His “taking flesh” sets Jesus’ whole person within his relationship to God: “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). So it is impossible to say that “in Christ the being of God” consisted only of his “unremittingly powerful God-consciousness,” as Friedrich Schleiermacher taught in his doctrine of faith.7 The Gospels relate the story of Jesus’ miracles in such a way as to show that healing power also emanated from his body (see, for example, the story of the woman with an issue of blood in Matt. 9:18-26).

6. J. Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, 53–55. 7. F. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), §94: “The Redeemer, then, is like all men in virtue of the identity of human nature, but distinguished from them all by the constant potency of His God-consciousness which was a veritable existence of God in Him.” See also §100: “The Redeemer assumes believers into the power of His God-consciousness, and this is His redemptive activity.”



A person does not only consist of body and soul, but subsists in his or her relationships as well. That is why Jesus’ relationship to the sick, the poor, and the outcasts, and his relationship with women and his disciples, are important for the perspectives of the incarnation. These perspectives also include the incarnate God’s relationships to nature: “He was with the wild beasts” (Mark 1:13), and “the wind and sea obey him” (Mark 4:35-41). In his encyclical Dominum et vivificantem of May 18, 1986, John Paul II wrote: “The incarnation of God’s Son means not only the assumption of human nature into unity with God, but in some sense the assumption of everything that is ‘flesh’—the assumption of the whole humanity, of the whole visible and material world. The incarnation therefore also has a cosmic significance and dimension” (§ 50). Does this “assumption” of the cosmos into unity with God result in a God-cosmos instead of the God-human? How are we then to understand the human history of Jesus from the manger to the cross? The deep-incarnation perspective sets not only Jesus’ person in light of a cosmic eschatology, but the path Jesus took as well. The path began in a stable and ended on the gallows. It is a way taken by Christ with God through human conditions of life and death, from the endowment with God’s Spirit at his baptism to God-forsakenness on the cross, so that everything might be filled with his presence. In his death, it is his path into the world of the dead, so that the world of the dead too might be irradiated with his gospel. It is his descent into hell, so that the gates of hell might be destroyed. It is his raising from the dead, so that the dead might be redeemed. It is his ascent into heaven, so that heaven too might be possessed, and his exaltation “to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33), so that the cosmos might be reconciled, and all things “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil.


Is God Incarnate in All That Is?

2:10) prepared for the creation. Why? The Orthodox Easter liturgy proclaims: Now everything is filled with light, heaven and earth and the realm of the dead. The whole creation exalts in Christ’s resurrection.8

If Christ’s resurrection has such a universal, cosmic significance, then a universal and cosmic light falls on his incarnation too. But this then raises the critical question: in what is God not incarnate? If in Jesus God has “become flesh,” then he is not incarnate in the demonic political and natural enemies who withstood Jesus’ gospel, were the adversaries of his life, tortured him, and brought him to death on the cross. These are the “every ruler and every authority and power” that killed Christ and that the risen Christ will, for his part, “destroy” (1 Cor. 15:24). Further, “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26). These are the powers of chaos, the forces that are hostile to human beings and creation, the godless destructive forces of annihilation. In these God is not present; on the contrary, the creation of the world ex nihilo and the resurrection of Christ from the dead are God’s protest against the deadly powers and the annihilating nothingness. Here a far-reaching difference between Paul and the so-called deuteropauline writers emerges. The quotation from 1 Corinthians shows that where the principalities and powers were concerned, Paul was an eschatological anarchist: these forces are to be “destroyed.” But according to the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, the cosmic Christ will merely strip them of their power, reconcile them, and put them to rights. “He has disarmed the principalities and powers and 8. E. Benz, ed., Das Buch der heiligen Gesänge der Ostkirche (Hamburg: Furche, 1962), 103.



made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15 rsv), for Christ is the head of all the principalities and powers (Col. 2:10). In the Epistle to the Ephesians, this happening is called the anakephalaiōsis tōn pantōn: “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10). With his resurrection from the dead, Christ is set “at [God’s] right hand . . . far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Eph. 1:20-21). Here Christ’s dominion over the world is conceived as an eschatological hierarchy. It is final, not provisional as it is in Paul, for whom it antecedes the kingdom of God, which will fulfill all things (1 Cor. 15:28). Here there is no “handing over the kingdom” by the Son to the Father. The rule of Christ has no end, not even in God. Christus pantocrator is already the consummation of the world. It was from him that the Christian empire in Byzantium took its religious legitimation.9 The Christian empire is the completion of world history. In this way, what was originally an anarchistic eschatology turned into a conservative ideology of the state. The imperium sanctum became the reflection of Christ’s heavenly rule; the imperator rules in the name of the pantocrator. “The Word Became Flesh”: What Is Meant by “Flesh”? The Hebrew word basar can mean different things in different contexts, but all its meanings are present in the fundamental christological tenet, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14): • It means the whole human being, body and soul. For example: “O 9. Fischer Weltgeschichte 13: Byzanz, ed. F. G. Maier (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1973), 33. On political theology in Byzantium, see ibid., 21–24.


Is God Incarnate in All That Is?

you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come” (Ps. 65:2). “All flesh will bless his holy name” (Ps. 145:21). • It means the bodily part of the human being. For example: “In my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). “My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Ps. 84:2). “They become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). • It means everything that lives, in its weakness, helplessness, transience and mortality. For example: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades” (Isa. 40:6-7 rsv). • It means the whole human race, in community with all the living. For example: “The Lord has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh” (Jer. 25:31). The covenant with Noah is established “with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature” (Gen 9:9-10). Perhaps basar can best be translated “life,” especially in the phrase kol basar, “all flesh.” The human being is living in his or her totality; the human race is living in its community with everything that lives on earth. Everything living shares the fate of vulnerability, mortality, and transience. Everything living is promised a common future in the kingdom of God’s glory: The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. (Isa. 40:5 rsv)

Consequently, the essential thing is to respect and hold fast to the community of all living things. Human beings are their fellow creatures. It is only “together,” not separately, that the glory of the Lord will be visible. The human being is not a person who stands over against the rest of the world; human beings are “part of nature,”



as the Earth Charter of Rio de Janeiro says.10 Human beings are the part of nature in which nature becomes aware of itself. Thus it makes sense to understand human beings from the standpoint of the life of the earth and to develop anthropology in the light of cosmology, not conversely, as is the case in modern philosophical anthropology. “The human being is a hypostasis of the whole cosmic nature,” says Dumitru Stăniloae in his Orthodox Dogmatics.11 This does not mean that all forms of life are present in the human being, but it does indicate the presence of all the elements of life. As genetic research shows, the human being exists in a natural affinity with all other living things. The earth is not just the habitat shared by all the living; it is also their womb. “Let the earth bring forth living creatures” (Gen. 1:24). That includes human beings: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). In his incarnation, God assumes not only human nature but also the nature of all the living: “The Word became flesh.” God assumes the whole vulnerable, mortal nature in his becoming human, in order that it may be healed, reconciled, and glorified. The Old Testament’s account of creation begins with “heaven and earth” and ends with the creation of human beings; the New Testament’s account of the new creation of all things begins with the incarnation of God and ends with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth in which God dwells.

10. The Earth Charter (1992), final version of 2000, preamble: “Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe.” 11. D. Stăniloae, Orthodoxe Dogmatik (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1985) I:294; J. Moltmann, God in Creation: An Ecological Doctrine of Creation, The Gifford Lectures 1984–85, trans. Margaret Kohl (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985): “Before we interpret [the human being] as imago Dei, we shall see him as imago mundi” (186).


Is God Incarnate in All That Is?

“Poured Out on All Flesh” All the meanings of “flesh” I have listed are present in the pneumatological principle: “God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh.”12 This outpouring of the divine Spirit has to be distinguished from the incarnation of God’s Son. The incarnation takes place in the one—Jesus Christ—for many; the outpouring of the Spirit takes place in many so that they may be united with the one head, Christ. That comes about both in the church and in the cosmos, for the human being receives “the breath of life” from God’s Spirit (Gen. 2:7), just as do all living things and the earth itself: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground” (Ps. 104:39). In the New Testament, everything serves the recapitulatio omnium in Christo. The Spirit does not become human nor does it become flesh; it is “poured out.” This water metaphor delineates the transitions from the Spirit itself to the gifts of the Spirit, from the charis to the charismata, as flowing emanations. The powers of the Spirit are God’s creative energies and stand between the uncreated energies and the created ones. Like the Old Testament Shechinah, the divine Spirit indwells all the living so as to fill everything with primal livingness. It is the Spirit of God that makes hoping human beings yearn for the redemption of the body from the fate of death, and the oppressed nonhuman creation sigh for redemption from transience. According to Joel 2:28-32 (compare Acts 2:17-21), in the human world the fruitful outpouring of the Spirit has a revolutionary effect. Sons and daughters will prophesy, the old and the young will see visions, servants and maidservants will be seized by the Spirit. In the Spirit-imbued community, the differences between the sexes, the 12. J. Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992); M. Welker, God the Spirit, trans J. F. Hoffmeyer (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994).



differences between the generations, and the social differences will be ended. During the Reformation period, the Anabaptist movements acted in just this revolutionary way. Today, Pentecostal movements should take Joel 2 to heart. The fruitful outpouring of the Spirit extends not only to the human world but to nature as well: The Spirit is poured upon us from on high, the wilderness will become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field will be deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. (Isa. 32:15-16 rsv)

The Resurrection of the Flesh Finally, all the Hebrew meanings of basar are also present in the eschatological tenet, “I believe in the resurrection of the flesh and the life eternal.” The patristic church introduced this realistic phrase, “resurrection of the flesh” (resurrectio carnis), into the Apostles’ Creed, running counter to the general gnostic spiritualizing tendencies prevalent in the culture of the late ancient world. In his famous treatise De Resurrectione Mortuorum, Tertullian developed this idea further: Resurgit igitur caro, et quidem omnis, et quidem ipsa, et quidem integra. (Res. mort. 212)

He undoubtedly understood caro to mean the human body: the body will be raised, everything about the body, the same body, the whole body. In addition, he declared the body to be “the key to redemption” (caro salutis est cardo)13—because it is in our lived lives that we 13. Tertullian, De Resurrectione Mortuorum, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina II (1954), VIII.2; LXIII.1, with comment by G. Greshake, 191: “Celsus had already grasped that if God himself descends to human beings and becomes ‘flesh,’ he brings about a ‘revolution’ in the world, since in this way the whole self-contained natural order is overthrown.” Cf. Origen, C. Cels. IV.5.


Is God Incarnate in All That Is?

encounter the living God. But that does not have to be restricted to human bodies. About forty years ago, most Protestant and Roman Catholic churches replaced “the resurrection of the body” with “the resurrection of the dead” in translations of the Apostolic Creed, in order to avoid modern misunderstandings. Does this mean the same thing? No, the resurrection of the dead is related to human beings and is meant in a personal sense. However, the resurrection of the flesh is meant ecologically and is related to everything living. Human beings will be redeemed together with the whole groaning creation. The earth, too, is waiting for its new creation in justice and righteousness. That is why the Nicene Creed does not talk just about “eternal life” but about “the life of the world to come.”14 If cosmic eschatology is a constitutive part of Christian faith, then we shall also be able to talk about a “deification of the cosmos in the coming of God into this creation.”15 This certainly cuts across all cosmological trend analyses. It also cuts across the evolution of life on this planet through birth and death. But it is the most important thing we can say theologically about the future of the cosmos and the future of life. Everything else is generally merely a reiteration of what the sciences themselves already say about the cosmos and the evolution of life, and there is no need for it to be said again by theologians. Dialogues about truth develop out of contradictions. Our question was, “Is God incarnate in all that is?” My reply is as follows: When God will finally be “all in all,” the question can be answered with YES. This is the eschatological answer to our inquiry.

14. Compared with Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, Benedict XVI’s hope encyclical of 2007, Spe Salvi, is a reduction of “the life of the world to come” to the “eternal life” of human beings, and is hence a restriction of cosmic Christian eschatology to individual eschatology. 15. J. Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996).


6 Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

Elizabeth A. Johnson

Ours is a time of awesome scientific discoveries about the universe that occur in tandem with massive damage at human hands to Earth’s fabric of life. In response, all the world’s religious traditions are searching their treasuries for wisdom that can make a difference. This chapter explores one line of thinking particular to the Christian tradition, namely, the theological meaning of Jesus of Nazareth, cherished as Immanuel, God with us. For centuries, emphasis has been placed on Christ’s significance for the human race as Savior from sin and death. Can this anthropocentric focus widen to include biocentric and cosmocentric dimensions? Without losing its meaning for human salvation, is Christology capacious enough to allow for an intrinsic connection between Christ and the natural world? If so, what would be the result for ecological ethics? Like any Christology, an interpretation of Jesus Christ in the light of these questions presumes a Trinitarian understanding of God who



exists eternally in a perichoresis of mutual relations: “God is love” (1 John 4:16).1 In such a relational theology of God, it is precisely not the case that the transcendent Holy One enters the world for the first time in the historical person of Jesus Christ. Rather, the triune God is pervasively present as self-communicating Love throughout the cosmos from the beginning of time to the end. This infinite immanence is alluded to in the Bible by the figures of Spirit, Word, and Wisdom, among others. Presuming this context, Niels Gregersen has set off a fruitful train of thought with his notion of “deep incarnation,” understood as the incarnation of God in Christ that reaches “into the very tissue of biological existence, and system of nature.”2 Taking a cue from this insight, this essay takes soundings in three christological loci to see whether and to what extent it is possible to grow Christology in an ecological direction. Deep Incarnation The classic New Testament text that gives rise to a defining Christian belief in incarnation is the prologue of John’s Gospel. Echoing the opening words of Genesis, this hymn starts by alluding to God’s selfexpressing Word who existed before the world was made: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). Drawing on Jewish sapiential texts, among other sources, it portrays this Word/Wisdom of God as present and active at the creation of the world: “all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (1:3). In this Word was life. This life was a light shining on all people; darkness could not quench it. Having affirmed the salvific purpose of this divine self-utterance, the hymn reaches its climax 1. Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 220–21. 2. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Cross of Christ in an Evolutionary World,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 40 (2001): 205. See also Gregersen’s contribution to this volume.


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

with the affirmation: “the Word became flesh and lived among us . . . full of grace and truth” (1:14). The transcendent Logos/Wisdom/ Word of God becomes embodied in the flesh of a particular person, Jesus of Nazareth. For Christians, the story of God-with-us becomes historically localized in the life story of Jesus the Christ. Note that this text does not speak of the Word who existed before creation becoming human (anthrōpos), a term used elsewhere throughout the prologue. Rather, the Word becomes conjoined with flesh (sarx), a broader reality. The bearer of multiple meanings in Scripture, the word sarx can connote what is sinful or at least opposed to a spiritual mode of being. Even in the prologue, “the will of the flesh” is contrasted with “the will of God” (1:13). Here in John 1:14, however, sarx also encompasses what is simply material, perishable, transient—in a word, finite—the opposite of divinity clothed in majesty. All emphasis is on the entry of God’s own Word into the realm of earthy existence. Put into historical context, the anti-docetic tone of this hymn is unmistakable. It protests against the idea that in Christ the Word/Wisdom of God just made an appearance while remaining untouched by the contamination of matter. Taking the ancient theme of God’s dwelling among the people of Israel a step further, it affirms that in a new and saving event the Word/Wisdom of God became flesh, entering into the sphere of the materially vulnerable and mortal to shed light on all from within. In truth, the configuration of sarx that the Word became was precisely human; this correlates with the strong emphasis on salvation for human beings in the history of christological reflection. In our day, however, the human race itself is being repositioned. Increasingly, Homo sapiens is being considered as an intrinsic part of the evolutionary network of life on our planet, which in turn is a part of the solar system, which came into being as a later chapter of



cosmic history. While philosophical analysis of the meaning of sarx in the history of ideas shows its reach beyond human beings alone, tracing how contemporary scientific theory is shifting the location of anthrōpos/Homo sapiens opens an additional avenue to broader insight. Prevailing scientific theory has it that the universe originated 13.7 billion years ago in an explosive event rather inelegantly called the big bang. This inconceivable, singular instant poured out matter and energy that, after an initial inflationary period, expanded according to a precisely calibrated rate, unfurling neither too fast nor too slow. Its lumpy unevenness allowed swirling galaxies to form as gravity pulled particles together and their dense friction ignited the stars. Over billions of years, nuclear reactions within the stars cooked simpler elements into heavier ones such as carbon, iron, and sodium. Roughly five billion years ago on the outer arm of one spiral galaxy, certain giant, aging stars died in great supernova explosions that spewed these elements into the surrounding cosmos. Following the original pattern of explosion and attraction, some of this cloud of dust and gas reformed and reignited to become our sun, a secondgeneration star. Some of it coalesced into chunks too small to catch fire, forming the planets of our solar system, including Earth. Three or more billion years ago, another momentous change took place when the material of this planet so arranged itself that it burst into self-replicating creatures: the advent of life. Out of the big bang the stars; out of the ashes of stars the Earth; out of the molecules of the Earth, life. They were single-celled creatures at first. Then, out of their life and death came an advancing tide, fragile but unstoppable: creatures that live in shells, fish, amphibians, insects, flowers, birds, reptiles, and mammals, among whom recently emerged human beings, we primates whose brains are so richly


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

textured that we experience self-reflective consciousness and freedom, or in classical terms, mind and will. As this story of the universe makes clear, everything is connected with everything else; nothing is isolated. What makes our blood red? Iron. Where did it come from? Scientist and theologian Arthur Peacocke explains, “Every atom of iron in our blood would not be there had it not been produced in some galactic explosion billions of years ago and eventually condensed to form the iron in the crust of the earth from which we have emerged.”3 Human beings are made of the stuff of the cosmos. Furthermore, the story of life’s evolution makes evident that we share with all other living creatures on our planet a common genetic ancestry. Bacteria, pine trees, blueberries, horses, the great gray whales—we are all genetic kin in the great community of life. Repositioning the human phenomenon with regard to its historical and ongoing relationship to cosmic matter and planetary life has farreaching implications. It rearranges the landscape of our imagination to know that human connection to nature is so deep that we cannot properly define our identity without including our relationship with the whole sweep of cosmic evolution. Biologically, too, the common ancestry of humans with the rest of life and our continuing essential interactions with the community of life on this planet make clear that humans do not stand alone. We evolved relationally; we exist symbiotically; our existence depends on interaction with the rest of the natural world. This contemporary scientific perspective that so carefully relates the human race to the natural world on Earth and beyond provides a lens through which to see in a new way the scope and significance of the incarnation in an ecological perspective. While sarx in a strict 3. Arthur Peacocke, “Theology and Science Today,” in Cosmos as Creation, ed. Ted Peters (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989), 32.



biological sense may point to soft animal tissue of muscle and fat interlaced with blood vessels and nerves, that flesh itself evolved from and exists in continuing interrelationship with other nonmuscular, nonbloody living beings and the physical world itself. In a deeply real sense, the meaning of flesh/sarx encompasses all matter. Here Gregersen’s idea of deep incarnation is most apt. In becoming flesh, the Word/Wisdom of God lays hold of matter in the form of a human being, a species in which matter has become conscious of itself. This matter is part of the history of the cosmos, not detachable from the unity of the world. “Born of a woman and the Hebrew gene pool,”4 the Word became a creature of Earth. The sarx of Jesus of Nazareth was a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles, a moment in the biological evolution of this planet. The atoms comprising his body were once part of other creatures. The genetic structure of his cells made him kin to the grasses, the fish, the whole community of life that descended from common ancestors in the ancient seas. Like all human beings, Jesus carried within himself “the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth.”5 The sarx of John 1:14 thus reaches beyond the person of Jesus and beyond all other human beings to encompass the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they are composed. In this perspective, the flesh that the Word/Wisdom of God became is part of the vast body of the cosmos. The implications of this insight are staggering in two directions. For theology, the incarnation entails something that is not at all selfevident for monotheistic belief. Here the transcendent Creator God who brings the world into being and sustains it at every moment chooses to join that world in the flesh so that it becomes a part of 4. David Toolan, At Home in the Cosmos (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2003), 206. 5. Sean McDonagh, To Care for the Earth (Santa Fe, NM: Bear and Co., 1986), 118.


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

God’s own divine history. “The statement of God’s Incarnation—of his becoming material—is the most basic statement of Christology,” observes Karl Rahner.6 It is instructive to watch this theologian wax eloquent against the cryptic, erroneous idea that Jesus’ human nature was no more than a disguise, a suit of clothes that could be shrugged off, a puppet pulled by divine strings, a uniform donned while a certain job is being done, a masquerade in borrowed plumes, an exterior material wrapped around his core.7 To the contrary, by becoming incarnate Holy Mystery acquires a genuine time, a life story, a death, and does so as a participant in the history of the cosmos. Hence, “the climax of salvation history is not the detachment from earth of the human being as spirit in order to come to God, but . . . the coming of the divine Logos in the flesh, the taking on of matter so that it itself becomes a permanent reality of God.”8 Becoming part of the material world allows the living God to be graciously present in a profound way that is not otherwise possible. Conversely, the matter that the Word became, in all its finitude and perishing, is fundamentally blessed by this union. Praising Christ for “the simple concrete act of . . . redemptive immersion in matter,” Teilhard de Chardin expresses this insight in his lyrical Hymn to Matter, harsh, perilous, mighty, universal, impenetrable, and mortal though this material stuff may be: “I acclaim you as the divine milieu, charged with creative power, as the ocean stirred by the Spirit, as the clay moulded and infused with life by the incarnate Word.”9 Rather

6. Karl Rahner, “Christology within an Evolutionary View of the World,” in Theological Investigations (New York: Seabury, 1975), 5:176. 7. Karl Rahner, “On the Theology of the Incarnation,” in Theological Investigations (New York: Seabury, 1974), 4:116. 8. Karl Rahner, “The Unity of Spirit and Matter in the Christian Understanding of Faith,” in Theological Investigations (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 6:160. 9. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 70.



than being a barrier that makes the divine distant, the matter of this world is a locus of divine presence. Already these reflections flow toward significant ecological implications. “Deep” interpretation understands John 1:14 to be saying that the Word of God entered into solidarity not only with all humanity but also with the whole biophysical world of which human beings are a part and on which their existence depends. Hence the incarnation, a densely specific expression of the love of God already poured out in creation, confers yet more dignity on the whole of earthly reality in its corporal and material dimensions, and on the cosmos in which the Earth dynamically exists. The logic of this dignity leads in a clear ethical direction. In place of indifference or spiritual contempt for matter, believers in God become allies with the living God in providential care for all that is created. In place of exclusively anthropological concern, we see that nonhuman creatures are also worthy of moral consideration. In the face of ecological wastefulness, we name wanton pollution, profligate consumption, and human-induced extinctions as nothing less than grievous sins. “Deep incarnation” alerts Christians to the presence of Christ throughout the natural world. How tragic it is when human action shatters and destroys the flesh that the Word became! A Methodological Dilemma The doctrinal symbol of incarnation shows itself capable of deep interpretation that encompasses the divine relationship to the natural world. This is a wonderful development. A dilemma presents itself, however, when we ask how this advance can be related to a major stream in contemporary Christology, namely, the foregrounding of the life and ministry of Jesus as an event of history. Since the birth of modern biblical scholarship some two hundred years ago, scholars have used strongly empirical methods to explore concrete details of 140

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the life of Jesus of Nazareth, along with the way his memory was shaped and passed on by the early communities of disciples. To cite Albert Schweitzer’s metaphor, they have “loosed the bands by which He had been riveted for centuries to the stony rocks of ecclesiastical doctrine, and rejoiced to see life and movement coming into the figure once more.”10 By employing classical tools of historical and literary research to place Gospel texts in their contexts, this work has yielded a wealth of insight into the story of Jesus and the origins of Christianity in the specific circumstances of first-century Palestine. (As Albert Schweitzer notes, the figure of Jesus could not be kept in modern times but returned to his own age like a pendulum to its center of gravity.) Through its many permutations, this scholarly questing in some instances has devolved into sheer historicism, losing touch with the deep meanings of faith that make the story of Jesus of Nazareth of more than historical interest. Given such a circumstance, the idea of deep incarnation is an inspired insight with which to counteract reductionism. At the same time, for churches that maintain a strong doctrinal tradition, historical Jesus research—when received and interpreted within a faith context—can be of inestimable benefit. Reflecting from my own vantage point in the Catholic Church, where this scholarship began to flourish after the Second Vatican Council, I watched as Hans Küng’s On Being A Christian,11 Walter Kasper’s Jesus the Christ,12 Edward Schillebeeckx’s Jesus and Christ books,


Gerald O’Collins’s Interpreting Jesus,14 and a host of others

yielded a wealth of renewing theological insight and ethical 10. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906; repr., New York: Macmillan, 1968), 399. 11. Hans Küng, On Being A Christian (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976). 12. Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ (New York: Paulist Press, 1976). 13. Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (New York: Crossroad, 1979); and Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord (New York: Crossroad, 1980). 14. Gerald O’Collins, Interpreting Jesus (London: G. Chapman, 1983).



challenge. By giving us clues that Jesus of Nazareth was one kind of person and not another, taught specific things about the compassion of God and not something else, engaged in a prophetic type of ministry and not another, called people to one kind of response and not another, Jesus research has provided new, imaginative directions for Christian life and practice in every dimension. In developed nations with an educated populace, this christological approach can have positive pastoral and apologetic effects. Suited to the spiritual temper of this age, its historical rooting lends a certain credibility to interpretations of the faith, offering reasonable insights beyond mythologies. In situations where people suffer gross poverty and violent oppression, this approach has empowered liberation theologians to show that Jesus’ ministry, centered on the coming reign of God, revealed that the divine intent is to heal, redeem, and liberate all people, especially those cast out by society and marginalized as of no account. In both of these contexts, Gospel portraits of Jesus make action on behalf of justice an essential element of the church’s mission. But herein lies the dilemma: these gains cannot be allowed to slip from view when study turns to incarnation and the broader natural world, yet that danger exists. Until recently, liberation theologians concerned with the well-being of poor people dealt little if at all with nature, though this is changing. At the same time, the majority of theologians who dialogue with science and many who address ecological issues focus on the natural world without attention to the plight of impoverished human beings. The root of this tendency goes deep, with many theologians speaking of God in a monolithic, philosophical way, as if the Word had not become flesh and lived the life of Jesus of Nazareth. How, then, can theology forge a strong link in thought between the Jesus of his ministry and the incarnate, cosmic Christ? Can Christology encompass ecological concerns


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

without losing passion for those who are suffering want? Is it possible to hold both insights in the same line of vision? Attention to the ministry of Jesus provides a clue. Deep Ministry In his brief time as a public figure, Jesus of Nazareth’s words and deeds, witnessed by the community of men and women disciples who followed him, announced good news to people of all kinds, from those who were poor and afflicted to well-off God-seekers. While his concern was not with the natural world per se, there are fragments that make a connection. Set within an agrarian culture, his parables are salted with beautiful references to seeds and harvests, vineyards and weeds, plowing and planting, sheep and nesting birds, rain and sunsets. He did not hesitate to speak movingly of how God clothed the wildflowers in splendor, and was even concerned with a sparrow that falls to the ground (see Matt. 6:28 and 10:29). Citing Isaiah, he proclaimed, along with good news for the poor and freedom for the oppressed, a year of favor from the Lord, this last evoking the covenant tradition of Sabbath year and Jubilee when the land was allowed to rest and recharge (Luke 4:18-19). These nature references alone do not yield the deep connection between the natural world and social justice that we seek, but they contribute toward the new line of vision. The same holds true for reflection on Jesus’ deeds. It is remarkable how strongly his actions focused on earthy, bodily well-being, given how subsequent tradition interpreted him mainly as a spiritual Savior. His healing practices placed people’s bodily suffering at the center of concern; he even used his own spittle and warm touch to convey health. And how he fed people! Large numbers on hillsides and smaller groups in homes where he was host and table companion knew how he could nourish hungry bodies as well as thirsting spirits. 143


The rich, evocative symbol of the reign of God was central to both his preaching and deeds. This Jewish symbol, impossible to parse completely, evokes the moment when God finally triumphs over the powers of evil and the divine will is done on earth as it is in heaven. And what will this look like? Given that the God of Israel is the Creator of the whole world, the coming reign of God will effect nothing less than redemption and the end of sin, suffering, and death in favor of flourishing for all creatures. Heaven and earth will be renewed; all tears will be wiped away (Rev. 21:1-4). The ministry of Jesus, scandalous and rife with conflict, provided a joyous foretaste of what this salvation would entail. Sallie McFague is one theologian who has powerfully drawn these discrete gospel pieces together into a usable idea that she calls the “christic paradigm.” This motif illuminates the whole of the Gospels in all their complexity. Summing up the deep meaning of Jesus’ ministry, the christic paradigm reveals that as far as the living God is concerned, “liberating, healing, and inclusive love is the meaning of it all.”15 The particular material content of Jesus’ ministry, in other words, his proclaiming the kingdom of God in word and deed, manifests the ultimate divine purpose that gives order and direction to the world—not just to a slice of the world, but to the whole world in its evolutionary history. The scientific story of cosmic expansion and the evolution of life on Earth already underscore the radical interrelatedness of all things in a natural sense. Interpreting the natural world through the lens of the christic paradigm provides a warrant for the faith perspective that would connect concern for nature with concern for poor and suffering human beings. Interpreted through the lens of this paradigm, the saving love of the God of heaven and earth opens wide to include the whole creation. 15. Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 161.


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

Write the signature of this christic paradigm, drawn from gospel mercy, across the cosmos. Then it becomes clear that plenitude of life for all, including poor human beings and all living creatures, not just for a slice of the world, is God’s original and ultimate intent. Deep incarnation as enacted in Jesus’ ministry underscores the dignity of all that is physical, for bodies matter to God: all bodies, not only those that are beautiful and full of life but also those damaged, violated, starving, dying, bodies of humankind and otherkind alike. Jesus’ ministry grounds compassion for all the bodies in creation. The benefit of including Jesus’ ministry in this discussion is that insights about the sacredness of matter drawn from deep incarnation and resurrection, which tend to be rightly mystical and beautiful, remain tethered to a historical point in time and space—to the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, to suffering and desperate need—to practical and critical effect. Those who believe in Christ make a wager that love as Jesus enfleshed and revealed it is ultimately worthwhile; it is the meaning encoded at the heart of the universe itself. With this conviction, disciples can risk the struggle for life in a world where death due to entrenched poverty, violent injustice, and ecological devastation is a daily possibility for millions. In doing so, they are working in history to enflesh the coming reign of God, thereby moving creation in the direction compassionately willed by God. Along this line of thinking, the implications of the christic paradigm bring social justice and the meaning of the natural, evolving world into a tight embrace. Deep Cross and Resurrection The end of Jesus of Nazareth’s life in an excruciating death provides yet another moment in the astonishing narrative of the Word/ Wisdom of God’s immersion in matter. No exception to perhaps



the only ironclad rule in all of nature, Jesus died, his life bleeding out in a spasm of state violence. Contemporary theology is rich in reflections on the power of this death to disclose the self-emptying, compassionate nature of divine love that suffers in solidarity with the ongoing agony of the human race, Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God16 being a prime example. Liberation theologians underscore the political nature of Jesus’ execution, connecting this terrible moment with all the murders unleashed by unjust state power. Crosses keep on being set up in history. Ecce homo, behold the human being—with tear-stained, starving, tormented faces. Behold the crucified people, in Ignacio Ellacuría’s analysis,17 who must be taken down from the cross. Is this solidarity limited to human beings alone? All creatures come to an end; those with nervous systems know pain. The New Testament refers to this agony in the context of hope for redemption: “The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Rom. 8:22). Deep incarnation in the event of the cross extends the presence of the Word/Wisdom made flesh all the way down into the groan of suffering and the silence of death. Conjoined with the flesh, the living God bears “the cost of new life,” as Peacocke calls it,18 being in solidarity with all creatures’ living and dying through endless millennia of evolution, from the extinction of species to every sparrow that falls to the ground. For Christian faith, the cross blossoms as the tree of life: “He is risen, Alleluia!” Employing a major current of Jewish eschatological expectation, the biblical proclamation that Jesus is risen from the dead connotes corporeality as an essential element. It is not his “soul” 16. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (New York: Harper & Row, 1974). 17. Ignacio Ellacuría, “The Crucified People” in Mysterium Liberationis: Fundamental Concepts of Liberation Theology, ed. Jon Sobrino (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 580–603. 18. Arthur Peacocke, “The Cost of New Life,” in The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis, ed. John Polkinghorne (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 21.


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

alone that is saved from death but his body-person, dust of the earth and breath of God in unbreakable unity. As Rahner observes, in the incarnation the divine Logos became material—forever. The consummation of his finite reality does not strip off this materiality but retains it eternally.19 The resurrection of the body, therefore, is indigenous to Christian belief. What this means in the concrete is not seriously imaginable to us who still live within the time-space grid of our known universe. It certainly does not mean that Jesus’ corpse was resuscitated to resume life in our present state of biological existence, along the lines of the Lazarus story. Such naive physicality, presented in stained glass windows and Easter sermons, pervades popular thinking but does not bear up under critical scrutiny. Nevertheless, the resurrection does have much to do with physicality. The empty tomb stands as a historical marker for the love of God, which is stronger than death and which acts with a power that reaches into biological existence itself. Theology tends to use the language of transformation for this event but, as Anthony Kelly observes, “the problem with transformation is that we cannot imagine what it means before it happens.”20 As a seed is unrecognizable in the mature plant into which it sprouts; as solar and astral bodies differ significantly from terrestrial bodies; as what is perishable becomes inconceivably imperishable; as a creature of dust comes to bear the image of heaven; as those who are asleep in the grave suddenly become startlingly awake (see 1 Corinthians 15), so too life in the eternal embrace of God is unimaginable. The angel, a streak of lightning in the tomb, says simply: “He has been raised” (Matt. 28:6).

19. Rahner, “The Unity of Spirit and Matter in the Christian Understanding of Faith,” 170. 20. Anthony Kelly, Eschatology and Hope (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006), 85.



For Jesus, this means the abiding, redeemed validity of his human historical existence in God’s presence forever.21 The joy that breaks out at Easter is based on the realization that his destiny is not meant for himself alone but for the whole human race. An early Christian hymn praised the risen Christ as “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), signaling that his final destiny also awaits all who go down into the grave, pending judgment. As when at harvest time the first grapes to be gathered point to the abundance to follow, Christ, “the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Cor. 15:20), gives assurance of a blessed future to those still hanging on the vine. In view of the solidarity of the human race, his destiny means that our hope does not merely clutch at a possibility but stands on an irrevocable ground of what has already transpired in him. This means that for human beings, salvation is not escape of the human spirit from an existence embedded in matter but resurrection of the body, the transformation of the whole body-person, dust and breath together. “Deep resurrection” pushes interpretation beyond its human scope to include a blessed future for the whole natural world. “In Christ’s resurrection the earth itself arose,” declared Ambrose of Milan (Patrologia Latina 16:1354). The claim has a clear logic. If this person Jesus of Nazareth—composed of star stuff and earth stuff, whose life was a genuine part of the historical and biological community of Earth, whose body existed in a network of relationships extending to the whole physical universe—if such “a piece of this world, real to the core”22 at death surrendered his life in love to the living God and is now forever with God in glory, then this signals the coming redemption not just of other human beings but of all flesh, the whole creation. The whole natural world, all of matter in its endless 21. Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith (New York: Seabury, 1978), 266. 22. Karl Rahner, “On the Theology of the Incarnation,” in Theological Investigations (New York: Seabury, 1974), 4:128.


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

permutations, will not be left behind or rejected but will likewise be transfigured by the resurrecting action of the Creator Spirit. When the noted US naturalist John Muir came across a dead bear in Yosemite Valley, he bitterly complained about those whose belief had no room in heaven for such a noble creature: “Not content with taking all of earth, they also claim the celestial country as the only ones who possess the kinds of souls for which that imponderable empire was planned.” To the contrary, he figured, God’s “charity is broad enough for bears.”23 In truth, much Christian theology has focused on an anthropocentric view of redemption in a way that would earn Muir’s scorn. Bringing the depth of the incarnation into a “deep” reading of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, however, clarifies the ancient truth that the whole cosmos is destined for redemption. If this were not the case—if God simply created the world, valued it for a time, and then let it be annihilated—we would face a moral crisis: the Creator would fail the test of love, which desires life abundant for the beloved. Thus one might conclude from belief in the Creator God alone that hope is warranted. But the resurrection narrative bruits this beyond mere implication. Starting with a humiliated body laid in a tomb, it tells of the creative power of divine love “triumphing over the crucifying power of evil and the burying power of death.”24 The tomb’s emptiness signals the cosmic realism of God’s transforming action. As that same early Christian hymn sang, Christ is not only firstborn of the dead, but also “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15): the one in whom “all things” were created is also the one through whom God is pleased to reconcile “all things,” whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20). 23. James Nash, Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), 124. 24. Kelly, Eschatology and Hope, 94.



In a beautiful synergy of visual and verbal poetry, the Roman Catholic liturgy of the Easter vigil symbolizes this with cosmic and earthy symbols of light and dark, new fire, flowers and greens, water and oil, bread and wine. The thrilling Exsultet, sung only once a year on this night, shouts: “Exult, all creation, around God’s throne! Jesus Christ our King is risen!” The proclamation continues: Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever!

The risen Christ embodies the ultimate hope of the Earth and all creation. The final transformation of history is the salvation of everything, even of matter, even of bodily life, even of the whole cosmos, reconciled in the mystery of God. As with the resurrection of Jesus and all the human dead, cosmic redemption is neither imaginable nor empirically verifiable. But it stems from the logic of faith in God who creates and indwells the world, embraces it in deep incarnation, and loves and values the whole evolving shebang. Deep resurrection unveils yet another dimension of divine relationship to the world, making clear that ultimately divine purpose is cosmocentric and biocentric, not merely anthropocentric. In its light, hope of salvation for sinful, mortal human beings expands to become a cosmic hope, a shared hope. Limits of Deep Christology As the above reflections show, the idea of deep incarnation and its extension into interpretations of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ possesses strong potential to translate the doctrine of the Word made flesh, which seems at first so particular, into a wider notion of the transformative presence of God in the world at


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

large, which is universal. Deep incarnation promotes the recovery of divine immanence in and through, rather than opposed to, what is bodily and material. Given this importance, it is important to flag several pitfalls that need to be avoided as this symbol continues to be developed. One is the underlying assumption that connects the divine Logos exclusively with order. In Hellenistic philosophy, the Logos stands for a principle of God-given order that organizes the universe. But disorder, random events, and entropy are also characteristic of the universe as science now understands it, and are necessary for the cosmos’s advance toward novelty and complexity. Unless it is carefully revised, this philosophical notion of order can barely do justice to the way the natural world actually works. In addition, the Logos-order idea is inadequate to Christology when the story of Jesus of Nazareth comes into play. In the Gospels, his characteristic words and deeds challenge the prevailing order (“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” Mark 9:35); the disaster of the cross, especially, upends any sense of orderliness in history. Unless it is rethought in the light of these realities, the notion of the Logos cannot articulate and in fact may too easily extinguish the presence of God amid disorder as well as order. Another caution concerns the implicit but powerful role gender plays in theological reflection on the incarnation. The Logos is masculine both in a grammatical sense and in the way “he” is imagined. Justin Martyr’s theory of the seminal Word (logos spermatikos) who implants his seeds of insight in pagan philosophers such as Socrates bears out this assumed masculinity in graphic form. When the Word becomes flesh, it is as a masculine human being. The net result is a predominantly male view of the incomprehensible mystery of God and an erroneous, correlative assumption that men



have more in common with divinity than do women. Unrelenting androcentric thinking follows, with dire practical effects. Can the truth of incarnation be communicated using Wisdom/ Sophia language, which is grammatically and imaginatively feminine? Augustine, for one, thought so. Writing of Christ being sent into the world, he did not hesitate to say of divine Sapientia: “But she is sent in one way that she may be with human beings; and she has been sent in another way that she herself might be a human being.”25 In other words, Jesus Christ is the human being Sophia became. Unless something in line with this gender-inclusive view can be achieved, the notion of deep incarnation will but project an unjust view of male predominance into the whole universe. A third concern is the tendency of Western theology to emphasis Jesus Christ to the diminishment of the Holy Spirit. As the Bible abundantly testifies and the Nicene Creed confesses, the Spirit is “the Lord and giver of life” (Dominum et vivificantem), the Vivifier. At the end of his popular book A Brief History of Time, physicist Stephen Hawking asks a famous question: “What is it that breathes fire into these equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”26 In the integrity of his adherence to atheism, he leaves the question open. Biblical faith, however, dares an answer. It is the Spirit who breathes life into the exuberant universe. The mystery of the living God, utterly transcendent, is the dynamic power at the heart of the world and its evolution. The stunning world—opened up by big bang cosmology and evolutionary biology and now being ravaged by human actions on this planet—allows, even begs, theology to rediscover nature as a subject of religious interest by finding once again the Creator Spirit within and around the emerging, struggling, living, and dying circle of life. At the very least, deep Christology, 25. Augustine, De Trinitate, 4.20.27. 26. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 174.


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

which shows the intensely relevant presence of Christ throughout the cosmos, needs to join with rather than crowd out this kind of pneumatology, a robust theology of the Creator Spirit of God enlivening and empowering the evolving world. Challenged by the ecological crisis, theology can serve best if it sees the world as God’s beloved creation, blessed now in its unfinished history by the deep incarnation of God in the flesh in Jesus Christ, and indwelt, empowered, and promised a saving future by the power of the Creator Spirit. A Christian Ecological Ethic It has become clear in our day that a moral universe limited to the human community no longer serves the future of life; hence the theological idea of deep incarnation is valuable not just for its intellectual explanatory power but for the strong practical dimension it entails. By including the natural world in the scope of incarnation, it moves organically toward an ecological ethic, promoting care, protection, restoration, and healing of the natural world even if these go counter to powerful economic and political interests—and they do. In the context of the Catholic Church’s characteristic contemporary emphasis on respect for life, John Paul II penned a radical principle of ecological ethics that might well engage other Christian bodies. He wrote: “Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation.”27 We owe love and justice not only to humankind but to otherkind; concern for the common good now includes the earth and all other species. In such an ethical stance, the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself extends to all members of the community of life. “Who is my neighbor?” asks Brian Patrick: “The Samaritan? the outcast? the 27. John Paul II, “Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation” (1990), §16.



enemy? Yes, yes, of course. But it is also the whale, the dolphin, and the rain forest. Our neighbor is the entire community of life, the entire universe. We must love it all as our very self.”28 Here again, theology is faced with the deep connections between social injustice and ecological devastation. Economic poverty coincides








disproportionately from environmental destruction. In North America, US companies export work to factories across the Mexican border (maquiladoras) that cheaply employ thousands of young, rural women to make high-quality consumer goods for export while they live in unhealthy squalor in an environment spoiled by toxic waste. Again, in the United States the economically well-off can choose to live amid acres of green while poor people are housed near factories, refineries, or waste-processing plants that heavily pollute the environment. Birth defects, general ill health, and disease are the result. The bitterness of this situation is exacerbated by racial prejudice as environmental racism pressures people of color to dwell in these neighborhoods. Social injustice has an ecological face. Ravaging of people and of the land go hand in hand. If nature is the new poor, then our passion to establish justice for the poor and oppressed now must extend to include suffering human beings AND life systems and other species under threat. “Save the rain forest” becomes a concrete moral application of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” The moral goal becomes ensuring vibrant life in community for all. All species share the status of creaturehood; all are kin in the evolving community of life now under siege. The only adequate ethical vision is one of comprehensive justice for all. The immediate aim is to establish and protect healthy ecosystems where all living creatures,

28. Brian Patrick, cited in Michael Dowd, Earthspirit (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Pub, 1991), 40.


Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology

including poor humans, can flourish. The long-term goal is a socially just and environmentally sustainable society in which the needs of all people are met and the natural environment remains healthy, onward to the seventh generation. Developing such an ethic entails not simply a change of view. In religious terms, the ecological crisis demands nothing less than a conversion of our minds and hearts to the good of the Earth. The scientist Stephen Jay Gould put it well: “We cannot win this battle to save species and the environment without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well—for we will not fight to save what we do not love.”29 A deep reading of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection can contribute to transforming the church’s members into such lovers of the earth, for Jesus Christ is a gift given because “God so loved the world” (John 3:16)—the world in the original Greek being kosmos: the whole groaning, beautiful world. Conclusion In a well-known parable told by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the human race is on a ship moving through an uncharted sea. For millennia, human beings lived in the hold of the ship, unaware of the larger evolutionary processes moving the boat. Now the passengers have come above deck. On the deck they see a tiller, navigational instruments, charts. They have crossed a threshold. To an important degree, human beings are now able to speculate regarding the direction of the evolutionary process, and even to drive the ship toward a conscious goal. Will they act responsibly and steer in a goodly direction? Or will they crash the ship onto the rocks? 30

29. Stephen Jay Gould, Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History (New York: Norton, 1993), 40.



Belief in Jesus Christ has a great deal to contribute to a flourishing outcome if it, too, comes above deck. As the soundings in this essay have shown, an approach through the idea of deep incarnation is already up there. Interpreted with an eye toward the wonder and distress of the natural world, a “deep” articulation of the meaning of Jesus Christ provides rich resources for an ecological ethic. Theologians owe this buzzing, blooming, bleeding world no less.

30. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 73–74.


7 Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

Denis Edwards

For some Christian communities, the celebration of Easter begins on Holy Saturday night with the lighting of the paschal candle from the Easter fire. Then, in the light cast by the candle enthroned high on its stand, they listen to the reading of the Scriptures, beginning with the story of the creation of the world from the opening chapter of Genesis. They look back on the creation of the universe of creatures and on the history of salvation and see it all illuminated by the light of the crucified and risen Christ. This seems to be a particularly good image for the way in which Christian theology sees the natural world from the perspective of the Word made flesh. With many (but not all) other theologians today, I follow the theological tradition—associated with Maximus the Confessor (580–662) in the East and with Duns Scotus (1266–1308) in the



West—that understands the incarnation as God’s eternal intention in the creation of a world of creatures. The incarnation is not only a remedy for sin, a corrective for a world gone wrong. Of course, in our sinful world, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is an unthinkable act of divine mercy and forgiveness; but even if there were no sin, creation and incarnation are linked in God’s eternal purpose. God creates a world of creatures in order to bestow God’s self upon them in the Word made flesh and the Spirit poured out.1 Creation and incarnation are radically interconnected as distinct dimensions of God’s one act of divine self-bestowal. However, in the contemporary discussion between science and theology, and in the attempt to develop a theology that can engage with ecological issues, there is a tendency to appeal simply to the theology of creation. Christology and the theology of salvation play a minor role, or they are bracketed out of the discussion altogether. But a theology that is truly Christian cannot bracket out the incarnation. A Christian theology of creation cannot exist for long alone, disconnected from Christology. Creation and incarnation are intimately interconnected and mutually interdependent in the Christian tradition. This raises a fundamental question: What is the meaning of the Word made flesh for the rest of the natural world? I will begin to explore this question, which I see as being at the heart of a Christian ecological theology, with insights from Athanasius. I will focus first on his theology of creation, particularly his view that the whole natural world exists only because it participates of the Word in the Spirit. In the second section, I turn to his theology of salvation and the way he sees the natural world participating in deification through the incarnation of this same Word. Then I will explore two implications of Athanasius’s thought 1. Karl Rahner, “Christology in the Setting of Modern Man’s Understanding of Himself and of the World,” in Theological Investigations (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974), 1:219–20.


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

for today: the first, on God’s eternal commitment to the natural world, in dialogue with Karl Rahner and Thomas Torrance; the second, on God’s engagement with the particular, in dialogue with Sandra Schneiders and Niels Gregersen. Athanasius: The Natural World Exists through Partaking of the Word in the Spirit Athanasius begins his theology of incarnation not from the preexisting Word of God but from the cross of Jesus Christ. Recent commentators have pointed out how both volumes of his foundational work, Against the Gentiles and On the Incarnation, begin as an “apology for the cross” against its mockers.2 In “slandering the cross,” Athanasius writes, the mockers do not see that “its power has filled the whole world.” They fail to understand that the one on the cross is “the Saviour of the universe and that the cross was not the ruin but the salvation of creation.”3 For Athanasius, it is the Jesus of flesh and blood, the one on the cross, who is the Word of God and the Savior of creation. It is from the perspective of Jesus who lived among us, who was crucified and rose from the dead, that Athanasius looks back to God’s creation of the universe of creatures. As John Behr says, “It is the Word of the Cross, or the Word on the Cross, that Athanasius expounds by describing how all things have come into being by and for him; it is Christ himself that Athanasius is reflecting on, not the creation accounts in and of themselves.”4 Athanasius describes the divine act of creation twice, focusing on the creation of the whole world in Against the Pagans and on that 2. Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought (London: Routledge, 1998), 28; John Behr, The Nicene Faith, Part One: True God of True God, The Formation of Christian Theology 2 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 171. 3. Athanasius of Alexandria, Contra Gentes 1; translated in Athanasius: Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, ed. and trans. Robert Thomson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 1–3. 4. Behr, The Nicene Faith, 181–82.



of humanity in On the Incarnation. In the process, he makes a major contribution to the development of the theology of creatio ex nihilo. He sees the whole universe of creatures as coming into being from absolutely nothing, simply by the will of God. Creation has no reason in itself for its existence. It rests on nothing but the Wisdom of God: “He, the power of God and wisdom of God, turns the heaven, has suspended the earth, and by his own will has set it resting on nothing.”5 Athanasius uses “Word” and “Wisdom” interchangeably, along with ”Son,” and sometimes “Radiance” and “Hand,” to speak of the one in whom all things are created. It is not only that the universe of creatures was originally created out of nothing, but also that in itself creation remains inherently unstable. It is continually held in being over an abyss of nothing by God’s creative Wisdom. For Athanasius, creatures exist only because they partake of the creative Wisdom/Word of God: After making everything by his own eternal Word and bringing creation into existence, he did not abandon it to be carried away and suffer through its own nature, lest it run the risk of returning to nothing. But being good, he governs and establishes the whole world through his Word who is himself God, in order that creation, illuminated by the leadership, providence and ordering of the Word, may be able to remain firm, since it partakes of (metalambanousa) the Word who is truly from the Father and is aided by him to exist, and lest it suffer what would happen, I mean a relapse into nonexistence, if it were not protected by the Word.6

Creation exists and remains firm because it partakes of the Word of the Father. It is the Word who enables the whole universe of creatures to exist, who leads the creation, provides for it and governs it. The Word of the Father is “present in all things and extends his

5. Athanasius, Contra Gentes 40 (Thomson, 113). 6. Athanasius, Contra Gentes 41 (Thomson, 113–15).


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

power everywhere,” and “gives life and protection to everything, everywhere, to each individually and to all together.”7 The creative Wisdom of God keeps all the diverse elements of creation in balance. There is no created thing that does not come into being and subsist in and through Wisdom. According to Athanasius, it is through this divine Wisdom that the oceans are kept safely in their place and the land is covered with all the different kinds of green vegetation. The Wisdom of God brings the diversity of creatures into balance and beautiful harmony. As a musician tunes a lyre and skillfully produces a single melody from many diverse notes, so “the Wisdom of God, holding the universe like a lyre,” draws together the wonderful variety of created things, “thus producing in beauty and harmony a single world and a single order within it.”8 Creatures who participate in divine Wisdom participate in the Father and thus have their existence in a community of creation. When Athanasius describes the creation of human beings in On the Incarnation, he sees them as being given the unique divine grace of being made in the divine image and participating in the Word in such a way as to be made sharers in eternal life. But by sinfully rejecting God’s law, and the special grace that they were given, they have lost the gift of eternal life. God’s extraordinarily generous response to this predicament is to send the Word in the flesh, in a body subject to corruption and death, to bring about forgiveness and to overcome death by the power of the resurrection. The overcoming of death, Athanasius tells us, “is the primary cause of the incarnation of the Saviour.”9 The second major reason for the incarnation is that human beings who had failed to recognize the Word of God spoken

7. Athanasius, Contra Gentes 41 (Thomson, 114–15). 8. Athanasius, Contra Gentes 42 (Thomson, 117). 9. Athanasius of Alexandria, De Incarnatione 10, translated in Athanasius: Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, ed. and trans. Robert Thomson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 159.



in the whole creation might now come to know “the Word of God who was in the body, and through him the Father.”10 Participation in the Word of God is central to all of this: first, all the creatures of the universe are held firm and enabled to exist only by partaking of the Word. Second, human beings were given at their creation the special grace of participating in the Word in a unique way, and so sharing eternal life. Third, faced with human sin and the rejection of this special grace, God does even more: God sends the Word in the flesh that sin might be forgiven and human beings, and with them all creation, might be renewed and transformed by participating in the very Word made flesh. Athanasius’s early two-volume work is very much focused on the Word/Wisdom of God. When, much later, around 357, he shifts his attention to a defense of the divinity of the Holy Spirit in his Letters to Serapion, we find him articulating his full Trinitarian theology of participation. He writes that it is the Holy Spirit who activates (energoun) everything that is worked by the Father through the Son: “For there is nothing that is not brought into being and actuated through the Word, in the Spirit.”11 The Holy Spirit binds creation to the Word.12 All the various creatures exist only because they partake of the Word in the Holy Spirit. At the heart of all this is Athanasius’s conviction that the Holy Spirit, far from being a creature as his opponents suppose, is the one in whom all creatures are created and transformed: “The Father creates and renews all things through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.”13

10. Athanasius, De Incarnatione 14 (Thomson, 169). 11. Athanasius of Alexandria, Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit 1:31, translated in Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius (London: Routledge, 2004), 230. The following translations are from this work. 12. Athanasius, Letters to Serapion 1.25 (Anatolios, 225). 13. Athanasius, Letters to Serapion 1.24 (Anatolios, 224).


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

Athanasius: The Natural World Participates in Deification Partaking of the Word, in the Spirit, so central to Athanasius’s theology of creation, is also central to his theology of deification (or “divinization”). His first usage of the language of deification is in his On the Incarnation, in the well-known exchange formula, “For he became human that we might become divine” (Inc. 54). Later, in his anti-Arian writings, he uses frequently both the verb theopoieō and the noun he coins, theopoiēsis, to defend the eternal divinity, and divine condescension, of the Word who is made flesh to bring about our deification: “So he was not a human being and later became God. But, being God, he later became a human being in order that we may be divinized.”14 Athanasius not only uses deification language more freely than his predecessors, but also clarifies its meaning. Norman Russell points out that he constantly pairs the word deification with a series of other key words that explain its meaning, including adoption, renewal, salvation, sanctification, grace, transcendence, illumination and vivification.15 Athanasius also deepens the theological meaning of deification by insisting, against Origen and later Arian views, that the Word is not deified but is always the source of deification. Again, against Origen—who speaks of the deification of the nous—for Athanasius it is the body, the flesh, or humanity that is deified. While rejecting the idea that the Word of God is deified, Athanasius insists that the bodily humanity of Jesus is deified by its union with the Word. It is precisely this deification of Christ’s creaturely humanity by the Word that enables the deification of our humanity: “For the Word was not lessened by his taking a body, so

14. Athanasius, Orations against the Arians 1.39 (Anatolios, 96). 15. Norman Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 177–78.



that he would seek to receive grace, but rather he divinized what he put on, and, what’s more, he gave this to the human race.” 16 For Athanasius, deification is a radical ontological transformation in creaturely reality. He does not ignore what is sometimes called the ethical aspect of deification—growth in holiness—but his emphasis is much more on the ontological change that comes through the incarnation. Because of the incarnation, there is a divine transformation already at work in humanity and in the world. Through the flesh assumed by the Logos, God communicates divine life to all flesh in principle. This divine life is then transmitted in practice to individuals through baptism and in the life of the Spirit. In this deifying transformation, the bodily humanity of Jesus is seen as the instrument (organon) for the salvation of all. Athanasius constantly connects the creative Word with the deifying Word. He makes no sharp division between God’s creative act and God’s deifying act. He sees the whole natural world as sharing, in its own way, with human beings in salvation in Christ. In his second Oration against the Arians, he builds on Rom. 8:19-23 to include, completely unambiguously, the whole creation in the liberation that comes about through Christ’s resurrection: The truth that refutes them is that he is called “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29) because of the kinship of the flesh, and “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18) because the resurrection of the dead comes from him and after him, and “firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15) because of the Father’s love for humanity, on account of which he not only gave consistence to all things in his Word but brought it about that the creation itself, of which the apostle says that it “awaits the revelation of the children of God,” will at a certain point be delivered “from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:19, 21).17

16. Athanasius, Orations against the Arians 1.42 (Anatolios 99). 17. Athanasius, Orations against the Arians 2.63 (Anatolios, 157).


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

In characteristic fashion, Athanasius then goes on to link together creation’s deliverance and the divine adoption of human beings, stating that the risen Christ will be the firstborn of the wider creation delivered from the bondage of corruption and the firstborn of human beings made children of God. Christ is called “first,” he says, to indicate that that which comes after him (humanity and the rest of creation) “may abide, united to the Word as to a foundational origin and beginning.”18 When discussing the deifying adoption of human beings, Athanasius often speaks of nonhuman creatures as also participants of the Word in the Spirit. Examples of this are found in his Letters to Serapion. Speaking of human beings as being saved and sealed with the Holy Spirit, he writes: “When we are sealed in this way, we properly become sharers in the divine nature, as Peter says (2 Pet 1:4), and so the whole creation participates of (metechei) the Word, in the Spirit.”19 In a context where the whole focus is on human beings participating in deification, Athanasius moves immediately to speak of the whole creation partaking of the Word in the Spirit. R. H. B. Shapland, in his notes on his translation of these letters, comments that this reference to the whole creation sharing in salvation by partaking of the Word in the Spirit seems a natural extension of the statement that Athanasius makes in Against the Pagans (quoted earlier) that creatures owe their very existence to their partaking of the Word.20 Athanasius moves back and forth between creation and deification. When he speaks of the deification and adoption of human beings, he seems naturally to bring in the wider creation, assuming that 18. Athanasius, Orations against the Arians 2.63 (Anatolios, 157). 19. Athanasius, Letters to Serapion 1.23 (Anatolios, 223). 20. C. R. B. Shapland, The Letters of Saint Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit (London: Epworth, 1951), 124–25, n. 15.



the whole creation will share with human beings in glorification and deification. The close interconnection between the glorification of creation and human adoption and deification is evident in the following text from his Letters to Serapion: Therefore, it is in the Spirit that the Word glorifies creation and presents it to the Father by divinizing it and granting it adoption. But the one who binds creation to the Word could not be among the creatures and the one who bestows sonship upon creation could not be foreign to the Son. Otherwise, it would be necessary to look for another spirit to unite this one to the Word. But that is senseless. Therefore, the Spirit is not among the things that have come into being but belongs (idion) to the divinity of the Father, and is the one in whom the Word divinizes the things that have come into being. But the one in whom creation is divinized cannot be extrinsic to the divinity of the Father.21

Clearly for Athanasius, it is the Holy Spirit who “binds” creatures to the Word, who bestows adoption on human beings, and who is the one in whom the Word deifies creation. There are important distinctions to be made between the participation of the Word, in the Spirit, that occurs in different creatures. As later Greek theologians have pointed out, there are distinctions in creaturely receptivity to participation in divine communion. The receptivity of a human being is different from that of a tree; but both participate of the Word in the Spirit. And, of course, the way a saint participates of the Word in the Spirit is different from that of a sinner. In his reflections on this theme in Gregory Palamas, Doru Costache notes: “All are in God yet not all are equally receptive to God’s presence. The Spirit shines wholly and continually to all creation yet the receptive capabilities vary from one being to another.”22 God is radically and fully present to each 21. Athanasius, Letters to Serapion 1.25 (Anatolios, 225). 22. Doru Costache, “Experiencing the Divine Life: Levels of Participation in St Gregory Palamas on the Divine and Deifying Transformation,” Phronema 26 (2010): 17.


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

creature, but creatures participate of the Word in the Spirit in distinct ways because of their distinct forms of receptivity to divine life. In summary, for Athanasius, both the creation of a world of creatures and their deifying fulfillment are seen as partaking of the Word in the Spirit. This is neatly encapsulated in Athanasius’s sentence quoted earlier: “The Father creates and renews all things through the Word and in the Spirit.”23 From the perspective of the cross and resurrection, Athanasius sees God’s act of creating, sustaining, providing for, and governing a world of creatures as occurring through their partaking of the Word in the Spirit. He sees the incarnation as bringing about the deifying transformation of mortal human nature by participation in the Word through the Spirit. And he believes that the natural world will be healed and glorified in its own way, participating with human beings in their deifying adoption as daughters and sons of God. For Athanasius, Christ is the one true “Word, Radiance and Wisdom of the Father, of which all things that come to be participate and are sanctified, in the Spirit.”24 The incarnational theology found in Athanasius relates to the natural world in two interrelated ways: on the one hand, starting from the cross of Christ, this theology looks back to see the whole natural world as existing only because it participates in the creative Word through the Spirit. On the other hand, it sees the natural world as, in its own proper ways, now enabled to participate with human beings in the deifying transformation that comes through the incarnation of the Word in the Spirit. In the next sections, I will explore briefly two consequences of this theology of deifying incarnation.

23. Athanasius, Letters to Serapion 1.24 (Anatolios, 224). 24. Athanasius, Orations against the Arians 1.46 (Anatolios, 103).



The Eternal Commitment of God to Matter and Flesh One consequence of this kind of thoroughly incarnational theology is that God is understood as becoming forever a God of matter and flesh. The Word is made flesh, and matter and flesh are irrevocably taken into God and embedded in the divine Trinity. The incarnation and its culmination in the resurrection and ascension of the crucified Jesus mean that the Word of God is forever matter, forever flesh, forever a creature, forever part of a universe of creatures, but part of all of this that is now radically transfigured. The risen Christ is the firstborn of the new creation. He is the beginning of the deifying transformation of the whole universe of creatures in God. This is a theme that runs through many of Rahner’s writings. In 1950, for example, he published a short article entitled “A Faith that Loves the Earth,” in which he ponders the meaning of Christ’s resurrection. He sees Jesus as descending in his death to the “heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40), entering fully into the place of creaturely impermanence and death. By his death, Christ has become the heart of this earthly reality. He is “God’s heart at the center of the world.” In the resurrection, Christ does not abandon this embrace of earthly reality. Because he is raised in the body, he is the beginning of the liberating and life-giving transformation of all creaturely reality, of all matter and all flesh: No, he is risen in his body. That means: He has begun to transfigure this world into himself; he has accepted this world forever; he has been born anew as a child of this earth, but of an earth that is transfigured, freed, unlimited, an earth that in him will last forever and is delivered from death and impermanence for good. He is risen not to show that he is leaving the tomb of the earth forever, but that this very tomb of the dead—which is the body and the earth—has been completely transformed into the glorious, incomprehensible home of the living God and the divine soul of the son. By rising, he has not left the dwelling of the earth, since he still has his body, though in a final and transfigured


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

way, and is a part of the earth, a part that still belongs to the earth and is connected to earth’s nature and destiny.25

The new forces of a transfigured world are already at work in the resurrection of Jesus, and they are conquering impermanence, death, and sin at their very core. While we continue to experience suffering and sin in the world, Christian faith holds that they have actually been defeated deep down at their source. At this level, there is no longer any distance between God and the world. Christ is already at the heart of the nameless yearning of all creatures that are waiting to participate in the transfiguration of Christ’s body. Christ is at the heart of Earth’s history. As radical mercy, unbounded love, and the promise of life, he is at the heart not only of love and generosity, but also of tears, death, defeats, and even sin. As Christians we do not, or at least should not, think that we need to escape from matter and flesh in order to love God. We are called to love the things of Earth and God together, because in the resurrection of Jesus “God has shown that he has adopted the earth forever.”26 Tertullian said long ago that the flesh is the connecting point, the hinge, of salvation: Caro cardo salutis. The Christian claim is not that we find God by going to the transcendent spiritual world beyond, but that God has come to us in the flesh—and it is as creatures of flesh that we are transformed in Christ. Since the incarnation, we know that “Mother Earth has brought forth only creatures that will be transfigured, for his resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection of all flesh.”27 In a late essay, Rahner asks himself the question: What is specific to the Christian view of God? The answer he finds is that God 25. Karl Rahner, “A Faith that Loves the Earth,” in The Mystical Way in Everyday Life: Sermons, Essays and Prayers: Karl Rahner, S.J., ed. and trans. Annemarie S. Kidder (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010), 55. 26. Rahner, “A Faith that Loves the Earth,” 58. 27. Ibid.



gives God’s very self to creation in the Word made flesh and in the Spirit poured out. What is truly characteristic of Christianity, Rahner claims, is that while maintaining the radical distinction between God and the world, it understands God’s self-giving as at the very core of the world’s reality, and the world as truly the fate of God. He writes: God is not merely the one who as creator establishes a world distant from himself as something different, but rather he is the one who gives himself away to this world and who has his own fate in and with this world. God is not only himself the giver, but he is also the gift. For a pantheistic understanding of existence this statement may be completely obvious. For a Christian understanding of God, in which God and the world are not fused but remain separate for all eternity, this is the most tremendous statement that can be made about God at all. Only when this statement is made, when, within a concept of God that makes a radical distinction between God and the world, God himself is still the very core of the world’s reality and world is truly the fate of God himself, only then is the concept of God attained that is truly Christian. 28

The idea that God is the “core” of the world’s reality and that the world is the “fate” of God challenges many everyday assumptions about how God relates to creation. In this view of the incarnation, the Word is made flesh and flesh is taken to God irrevocably. God commits God’s self to this world, to this universe and its creatures, and does this eternally. In the risen Jesus, part of the biological community of Earth is already forever with God, as the sign and promise of the future of all things in God. Rahner, a Jesuit theologian in the Roman Catholic tradition, deeply involved in rethinking the heritage of Aquinas, found the largely juridical interpretation of the incarnation in Western theology inadequate and turned to the Eastern tradition of deification for a richer theology of the meaning of Christ. Thomas Torrance, 28. Karl Rahner, “The Specific Character of the Christian Concept of God,” in Theological Investigations (New York: Crossroad, 1988), 21:191.


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

a minister of the Church of Scotland, strongly influenced by Calvin and by Torrance’s teacher Karl Barth, represents a different church tradition from Rahner. But Torrance, too, draws on Eastern patristic theology, and his Trinitarian theology builds explicitly on Athanasius. Torrance writes of the meaning of incarnation: “Through his cross and resurrection the incarnate Saviour penetrated into the ontological depths of creation where in death created being borders upon nonbeing, and set it upon a new basis, that of Grace in the triumph of God’s holy Love in what the Bible speaks of as a new heaven and a new earth.”29 In the Christ event, the new creation is inaugurated in the midst of the old. This is an event that embraces all times: “The incarnation was not just a transient episode in the interaction of God with the world, but has taken place once-for-all in a way that reaches backward through time and forward through time, from the end to the beginning and from the beginning to the end.”30 The Creator of the universe of creatures has once for all become incarnate in it. The incarnation means that the whole universe is brought to share in the freedom of the Creator in the differentiated way appropriate to each creature. God irreversibly binds the created universe to God’s own being. The Creator Spirit holds and sustains the creature in an open-ended relation to the living God as the true fulfillment of the creature. Torrance sees the incarnation of the Wisdom/Word of God as meaning that “God has decisively bound himself to the created universe and the created universe to himself, with such an unbreakable bond that the Christian hope of redemption and recreation extends not just to human beings but to the universe as a whole.”31 29. Thomas Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 214. 30. Ibid., 216. 31. Ibid., 244.



The claim made by Torrance and by Rahner is a large one, but it is one that I see as building authentically on the Christian conviction, articulated so powerfully in the work of Athanasius, that Jesus Christ is the eternal Wisdom/Word of God, who is made flesh that we and other creatures with us might be saved and deified in him. His incarnation constitutes an unbreakable bond with the whole creation, with all creatures of all times and all places. In creation, incarnation, and in its culmination in resurrection, God commits God’s very self to this world, to this universe and its creatures, and does this eternally. In the risen Jesus, part of this biological community of Earth, part of this evolutionary history and this material universe, is already forever with God as the sign and promise of the deifying fulfillment and transformation of all things in God. In the Creator Spirit, this same divine Wisdom is already at work in the whole universe of creatures, bringing them to their liberation and completion in God. The Scandal of God’s Engagement with the Particular The very particularity of the incarnation of God in one human being can seem far too specific and limited to offer meaning for the whole of reality. This is sometimes called the “scandal of particularity.” This scandal is greatly exacerbated by exposure to contemporary science. When cosmologists tell us that our observable universe has been expanding and evolving over the last 13.7 billion years, that our Milky Way galaxy is made up of something like 200 billion stars more or less like our Sun, and that there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, then Christian claims about the incarnation can appear too confined, too specific, and too concrete. When we think, in addition, not only of the plurality of religions on our planet, but also of the possibility of intelligent and religious life on other planets, then it is understandable that 172

Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

some have backed away from universal claims for Jesus Christ and, like Wesley Wildman, opted for what he calls more “modest” christologies.32 But as biblical scholar Sandra Schneiders has said, everything depends on the way we interpret Jesus. One way of interpreting him is “to reduce Jesus to his particularity as a first century Jewish male who lived a short life in one small country, was executed, and is now a figure of history whom we admire and even imitate but with whom we cannot relate personally and whom we must not universalise.”33 Once Jesus is understood simply as a great human being and moral example, then this leads inevitably to the conclusion that he cannot have meaning for the whole of human history, let alone for the universe that science puts before us. Then he becomes “substantively irrelevant for the scientifically and interreligiously enlightened contemporary person.”34 A second way of interpreting Jesus is “to take utterly seriously the faith of the Church that Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate.”35 In the biblical and patristic tradition, Wisdom is the immanence of the transcendent God who is present and active in all creation. Wisdom creates, sustains, and brings the universe of creatures to completion and wholeness. The biblical and patristic tradition sees this Wisdom as made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Schneiders comments that this interpretation does not imprison or restrict the infinity of God, but “focuses” infinity so that in our finitude we can encounter and relate to the absolute mystery of God. If, in the particular created humanity of Jesus, the eternal, transcendent, creative, Wisdom of God really does become flesh, then something is being said in him that can have 32. Wesley Wildman, Fidelity with Plausibility: Modest Christologies in the Twentieth Century (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998). 33. Sandra Schneiders, “The Word in the World,” Pacifica 23 (2010): 263. 34. Ibid., 263. 35. Ibid., 263.



the deepest meaning for human beings and their history, for Earth and all its creatures, and for the whole universe. One of the legacies of modernity, I believe, is the tendency to assume the first of these interpretations—to reduce Jesus to prophetic figure. This can happen when theologians and catechists are attempting to communicate the gospel in a secular and postmodern world. I am convinced that theologians and catechists need to hold their nerve and claim the great tradition of the transcendent Wisdom of God present to us in the particularity of the human face of Jesus. One of the implications of this, as Schneiders observes, is that particularity is revealed as infinitely precious.36 The God of the whole universe is then seen as the God of this particular laughing kookaburra, this beautiful flowering eucalyptus tree, this vulnerable human person before me. I believe that divine engagement with the particular extends to every aspect of God’s creative act in the emergence of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth. In his theological engagement with the sciences of complexity, Niels Gregersen has proposed that the self-organization that science discovers at work in complex processes should be interpreted theologically as the gift of the Creator. The benevolence and generosity of God is such that God bestows on creatures the capacity to make themselves. God designs creation for self-organization: “God’s design of the world as whole favors the emergence of autonomous processes in the particular course of evolution, a course at once constrained and propagated by a builtin propensity towards complexification.”37 From a theological perspective, Gregersen sees the effectiveness of self-organization as

36. Ibid., 262. 37. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “From Anthropic Design to Self-Organized Complexity,” in From Complexity to Life: On the Emergence of Life and Meaning, ed. Niels Henrik Gregersen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 207–8.


Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius

exemplifying a principle of grace that is written into the structure of the natural world. In his later work, Gregersen reflects on how we might think of the Creator as acting in these emergent processes. He points out that in a self-organizing system like a cell there is a constant “rewiring” that occurs in interaction with the environment, involving an enormous number of steps. These steps are not covered by any one scientific law but require a variety of interacting scientific explanations.38 The kind of complexity discovered in self-organizing systems at the heart of the natural world suggests a theological conclusion to Gregersen. If God is engaged with every aspect of ongoing creation, then God’s engagement is not simply of a general kind. It is better thought of as special divine action that engages with the particulars: “For if God is not in the particulars, God is not in the whole of reality either.”39 Gregersen suggests that we can see God as involved in a kenotic way in all the particular details of self-organizing creation, “giving room—from moment to moment, from event to event—to the explorative capacities of God’s creatures.”40 In the evolution of the universe and the emergence of life on Earth, divine action involves the historical, the unpredictable, and the specific. It involves the specific details of the lives of all living creatures and, in a unique interpersonal way, of human beings. This means we should take seriously the claim of Jesus when he says of sparrows that “not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight,” and when he makes a promise too of God’s providential care for us: “But even the hairs on your head are all counted” (Luke 12:6-7).

38. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Laws of Physics, Principles of Self-Organization, and Natural Capacities: On Explaining a Self-Organizing World,” in Creation: Law and Probability, ed. Fraser Watts (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 97–98. 39. Ibid., 98. 40. Ibid.



In giving God’s self to us in the Word made flesh and in the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is revealed as a God who is infinitely relational, a Communion of love that embraces difference. This God is creatively present through the Word and in the Spirit with each creature in all its specificity, and accompanies each in love. The incarnation of the Word in the Spirit and its fulfillment in resurrection constitutes God’s unbreakable commitment to bring the whole natural world to its proper, transfigured, deifying fulfillment in the divine life.


8 The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

Celia Deane-Drummond

In this chapter, I intend to develop a systematic interpretation of deep incarnation with the aim of distinguishing more clearly what might be thought of as its distinguishing marks compared with a more generalized understanding of God’s presence or immanence in creation.1 While the idea of deep incarnation is predicated on Christology and follows from its most expansive interpretation,2 the idea of divine immanence is predicated on the belief in God as Creator. Divine incarnation and divine immanence are not

1. I would like to thank Mary Ann Meyers for her kind invitation to participate in the Humble Approach Initiative colloquium held in Denmark in August 2011 that formed the inspiration for this paper, the participants who provided invaluable feedback on my first sketch, and Niels Henrik Gregersen for his extremely perceptive comments. I would also like to thank Dan Castillo for his comments on a later draft of this text. 2. The manner in which this expansive interpretation can be understood is illustrated in Niels Gregersen’s analysis of the different forms of incarnation in chapter 10 of this volume.



disconnected, and I suggest that it is this dialectical connection that deep incarnation attempts to articulate theologically.3 Yet the manner in which this connection between incarnation (drawing on Christology) and divine immanence (drawing on a theology of creation) is constructed is also important if we are to avoid particular problems in a constructive systematic theology associated with what might be termed christomonism, or a systematic overemphasis on Christ, on the one hand, and pantheism, or a belief that God is equated with the natural world, on the other. In order to avoid such difficulties, I will argue in this chapter for an approach to Christology in general and deep incarnation in particular that takes its cues from the concept of theo-drama that is central to the work of Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. I depart from his approach, however, in arguing for a more expansive and less rigid approach to theo-drama that is more inclusive of the agency of all human actors, and is also inclusive of other creaturely kinds. Further, my understanding of drama is also more deeply grounded in scientific knowledge about ecology and evolution. I also intend to give more emphasis to the role of the Holy Spirit in the theo-drama and the implications of deep incarnation for practical human action. The Word Became Flesh In common with many other contributors to this volume, I believe that the words of the Gospel of John—“the logos became sarx,” and “in the sarx is seen divine doxa”—are of fundamental theological importance for interpreting the meaning of the incarnation. In John’s

3. Deep incarnation could be interpreted to mean that God is incarnate in all that is if the immanence of God is given particular emphasis in this dialectic. However, those who prefer, myself among them, a greater emphasis on Christology will be more inclined to resist this idea. For comparisons in the systematic use of the term deep incarnation, see the contributions of Elizabeth Johnson and Denis Edwards to this volume.


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

Gospel, the Logos in some sense stands in for Sophia, or Wisdom, so that sophia becomes logos and logos becomes sarx.4 Biblical exegetes have argued for some time that behind the prologue of John there is an ancient cosmology that portrays a particular Weltanschauung, or ideological or metaphysical framework.5 The Hellenistic and possibly Stoic influence in the prologue and in the Gospel of John has also been subject to analysis.6 In the ancient world, cosmology refers not simply to an understanding of the geographical or physical features of the world, but represents deeper reflection on the significance of that world and humanity’s place in it.7 While the language of Logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel is associated with cosmological themes that are characteristic of Genesis 1, such as creation, light, darkness, and so on, it is also associated with the accounts of ancient Israel that are more characteristic of the specifically Hebrew emphasis on the action of God in history, such as the tabernacle, glory, and enduring love.8 In this way, the prologue of John’s Gospel views the coming of Christ as in clear continuity with Israel’s history, but it is now placed in a cosmological setting. In John’s Gospel as a whole, the influence of a Jewish emphasis on contingency in the human and natural world exists somewhat in tension with a more Hellenistic stress on universalism, but both 4. For a clear exposition of these links, see Martin Scott, Sophia and the Johannine Jesus (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1992). See also Ben Witherington III, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995); C. Deane-Drummond, Creation Through Wisdom (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 49–52. 5. John Painter, “Theology, Eschatology and the Prologue of John,” Scottish Journal of Theology 46:1 (1993): 28. 6. See, for example, Paul Anderson, The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus: Modern Foundations Reconsidered (London: Continuum, 2006); Anderson, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011). Niels Gregersen comments on the Stoic influence in John’s prologue in “Deep Incarnation: Why Evolutionary Continuity Matters in Christology,” Toronto Journal of Theology 26:2 (2010): 173–87. 7. Rémi Brague, The Wisdom of the World: The Human Experience of the Universe in Western Thought, trans. Teresa Fagan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 4–25. 8. I am grateful to biblical scholar Sister Kathleen Rushton for this insight (personal communication, April 26, 2011).



aspects are woven into the prologue. In the Jewish tradition, Word is also associated with deed, so that Word always implies more than just abstract speculation. The “Word of the Lord” (dābār YHWH; logos kyriou) in Hebrew thought (such as Hos. 1:1 or Joel 1:1) had a particularly dynamic energy in conveying a double aspect of word and deed. In other places, the Word of the Lord was associated with the giving of life (Deut. 32:46-47); healing (Ps. 107:20; Wis. 16:12); illumination (Ps. 119:105, 130; 19:8); as well as being creative (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 33:6; Wis. 1:1).9 In this sense, the way the Logos terminology is used in the prologue to John’s Gospel may be closer to the Hebrew dābār than the more abstract philosophical uses of the Greek logos.10 This makes me reluctant to interpret deep incarnation as heavily influenced by Stoicism, or in association with contemporary philosophical expressions in deep ecology.11 I suggest that a contemporary interpretation not only needs to be alert to the Jewish tradition embedded in this text, as well as the more obvious Hellenistic influence, but it also needs to include the implications for action in formulating the meaning of such texts for a contemporary audience.12 9. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible 29 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 519–24. 10. I am grateful to Sister Kathleen Rushton for this insight (personal communication, April 26, 2011). 11. Here I diverge from Niels Gregersen, who, in developing his pioneering understanding of deep incarnation, draws on commentaries that argue for a strongly Stoic influence in John and picks up the language of “deep” from “deep ecology” (Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation”). That usage of the term refers to the ethical difference between “shallow” and “deep” environmentalism, with the former representing an instrumental approach to the natural world. Deep ecology also promotes a specific political platform alongside what might be termed a “grand narrative,” and tends to neglect the particular demand of other human beings by its emphasis on biocentric value. I am not suggesting that Gregersen incorporates such ideas into his view of deep incarnation; rather, I am questioning whether the association with deep ecology is helpful as part of a constructive systematic effort in understanding the meaning of deep incarnation. 12. Nonetheless, contemporary formulations of ecology would be rather more inclined to stress contingent elements when compared with ecological philosophies of even a hundred years ago that stressed the stability of ecological systems. See, for example, David M. Lodge and Christopher Hamlin ed., Religion and the New Ecology (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

Yet this is not the only way in which the universal is united with the particular in the prologue of John’s Gospel. A second major theme is the association of the language of Word with that of Sophia, or Wisdom. Both Sophia and Jesus-Sophia were sent by God into the world and “tabernacled,” or pitched their tent, among us (compare Sir. 24:8). John 1:14 interprets Jesus-Sophia as one who lived among us, while Sophia delights in the human family (Prov. 8:31) and seeks a place to abide in the created world (Sir. 24:7). In the prologue, we find the passion narrative compressed into a few paragraphs, and it therefore anticipates what is to follow in the whole Gospel. Sophia is the cause of division and experiences rejection (Prov. 1:20-33), like Jesus-Sophia (John 1:11). Only some in a small community will accept Sophia, and Jesus-Sophia likewise draws together a community and shares a close relationship with his disciples. But there is one crucial difference for understanding the uniqueness of the incarnation: while Sophia “appeared on earth and lived with humankind” (Bar. 3:37-38), Jesus-Sophia actually “became flesh.” It is not theologically irresponsible, therefore, to suggest that such texts imply that in some sense Jesus is the incarnation of both Word and Wisdom.13 The language of wisdom, therefore, enables us to see deep incarnation as an articulation of how to join together in theological language the more universal elements of a creation theology with the more particular elements of a characteristically Jewish emphasis on salvation history. However, while suggestive, the language of wisdom is still somewhat vague about the priority to be afforded to either historical or universal elements. The developed and metaphysically universalist sophiology of Sergius Bulgakov, for Press, 2006); C. Deane-Drummond, The Ethics of Nature (Oxford: Blackwells/Wiley, 2004), 29–38. 13. I have discussed the idea of Christ as Wisdom incarnate in more detail in C. DeaneDrummond, Christ and Evolution (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009).



example, is also heavily influenced by John’s Gospel. Bulgakov attempts to resolve the tension between the universal and particular in his discussion of the incarnation by focusing on the concrete image of Christ as the sacrificial Lamb of God, but his Christology also pays proper attention to the role of the Holy Spirit and considers the incarnation to make sense only in light of discussion about the creation of the world.14 Bulgakov also conceives of Christ as one who brought together divine and creaturely wisdom. However, this does not adequately solve the problem of how to understand the unity of human and divine natures; it simply uses a different symbolic language of Sophia. Bulgakov’s sophiology also has a Platonic hue in the way he understands the Wisdom of God as a template of divine ideas that are then expressed in the created material world. His discussion of Divine Wisdom as God’s ousia is also controversial from the perspective of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and is arguably unnecessary to connect Wisdom with Christology. Here he touches on the idea of analogy in order to show the difference between language about God and the observations deriving from particular experiences.15 In addition, while he argues that this ousia language renders our understanding of God more concrete, for modern readers it seems to have the opposite effect by abstracting theological language from the everyday world. Finally, in order to work out how precisely God as Creator could ever become incarnate, Bulgakov speculates that humanity as made in the image of God is prepared to receive the incarnation: humanity is in some sense preexistent in God, even before the creation of the world.16 While in the world that Bulgakov occupied such a 14. Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). 15. Bulgakov does use the language of analogy on some occasions to discuss the way in which humans are made in the image of God, but it is not all that well-developed (see Lamb of God, 112).


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

focus on humanity would be understood as having a cosmological embedding, this is not readily absorbed in a contemporary setting, and therefore can be misappropriated as anthropocentrism. His more detailed speculations about God’s being are not all that convincing, in that they seem to solve one problem (how to connect the material, creaturely world with God) but create another (an understanding of God that relies on speculative metaphysical categories associated with the human person). As we can see from Bulgakov’s sophiology, the language of wisdom has some limits when developed into a theological system. Its vagueness can permit metaphysical speculation that tends to reify rather than ground the discussion. This is ironic, in that Hebrew wisdom was always rooted in education and family life rather than speculation. As an alternative approach, we need to consider more carefully how and in what sense the Gospel of John intended the incarnation to be understood. I suggest that the Gospel of John developed an understanding of the Word/Sophia become flesh and the meaning of Christ’s coming some time after the dramatic events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John therefore understood the incarnation only in light of such events, rather than prior to them, and this is reinforced by the earlier observation that the prologue is a summary of the most significant aspects of the passion narrative. Hence, in order to understand the meaning of the incarnation, it makes sense to take the passion narrative seriously. Deep Incarnation, Death, and Theo-Drama How do we relate the events of the passion with the incarnation? Answering this question has occupied theological reflection from the 16. Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 112–14.



earliest history of Christian thought.17 Here the incarnation is not so much about the coming into history of a divine-human infant but about God’s identification through the Logos with creaturely mortality and death, and the significance of that identification. The incarnation is “deep” in the sense of being deeply embedded in the frail, suffering, and mortal history of the flesh. The particular history that is important here is that of the person of Jesus Christ, but that particular history also has universal significance. How and in what sense might that particular history relate to the wider history of other human beings, and beyond that, to the history of all creatures and the history of the universe? One way to answer this question is through an extensive, expansive, ontological model, where the suffering flesh of Christ in some sense stands for all suffering and dying human flesh. Beyond that, it stands for the living, suffering creaturely world as such, and beyond that again it stands for the matter in the natural order of the earth and the wider universe. The ancient idea of the human being as microcosm expressed such an idea, and the advantage of this model is that we arrive at an anthropological cosmology and a cosmological anthropology—the human and cosmos understood in unison rather than in separation. It would also seem to fit in with grand narratives about the scientific and cosmological origin of Earth, that human beings are in some literal sense stardust.18 Further, such a model seems to cohere with cosmological interpretations of Christology as found in, for example, Colossians 1, which echoes not just the Genesis story of origins, but ancient liturgical texts on wisdom. Here the blood of the cross becomes pivotal in the new interpretation of ancient 17. This has been pointed out by a number of other authors in this volume, but particularly in John Behr’s contribution (chapter 3). 18. As has been argued by, for example, Denis Edwards, Jesus the Wisdom of God: An Ecological Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995); John Haught, Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2003).


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

wisdom.19 However, the reliance on humankind as the central axis of mediation between God and the rest of the created order seems to push to one side the significance of other creaturely kinds. As an alternative, just as it is possible to discuss the way human beings image God in terms of action rather than in constrictive ontological categories, so too Christology can be interpreted in terms of how Christ acts in history rather than through speculative ontological accounts of his nature as somehow being divine and human (to use Bulgakov’s term, theanthropy).20 The advantage of shifting to a more historical account of the meaning and significance of Jesus Christ is that it provides a way of describing theologically his divinity and humanity without generating complexities associated with what this might mean in purely ontological terms. Yet beginning with such a historical approach does not exclude ontology; otherwise there would be a reduction of God to history, which is just as problematic as a reduction of God to abstract speculation. A historically grounded approach is less likely to evolve into forms of mystical speculation that are removed from concrete experiences, but that does not mean that all mystical experiences are discounted. The question now becomes, How are we to read the historical significance of Christ in a way that permits adequate reflection on his universal significance? I suggest that the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar is of special importance because of his focus on the death of Christ as a crucial aspect of the dramatic action of God in history. Here he uses the language of drama deliberately as a way of showing up the specific action of God in contingent events. Drama 19. Stoic influence is not hard to spot here, as has been noted by Vicky Balabanski in “Hellenistic Cosmology and the Letter to the Colossians: Towards an Ecological Hermeneutic,” in David Horrell, Cherryl Hunt, Christopher Southgate, and Francesca Stavrakopoulou, eds., Ecological Hermeneutics (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2010), 94–107. 20. Another translation for this term is “Divine-Humanity,” but theanthropy is closer to the Russian original. I would like to thank Oliver Smith for this insight (personal communication, July 8, 2011).



differs from narrative in that, while it includes narrative elements, it focuses on what is important and specific, contingent. By contrast, narrative, inasmuch as it morphs into grand narrative, carries a sense of inevitability and fatalism.21 To be clear, drama does not take out all narrative elements, but it is wary of the false objectivity at the background of grand narratives.22 Drama also includes a more contemplative element—what one might term lyric—that is a more mystical way of interpreting events. Theo-drama is situated somewhere between narrative and lyric, and tries to avoid the dangers associated with both.23 It therefore mediates between what might be termed an ontological approach and a historical approach to Christology. Here the ontological approach is framed by reflection on the drama of the passion narrative, rather than separate from it. The cross is of crucial importance for von Balthasar in the drama, so that “God’s entire world drama hinges on this scene. This is the theo-drama into which the world and God have their ultimate input; here absolute freedom enters into created freedom, interacts with created freedom and acts as created freedom.”24 He understands such a drama as a revelation of the Trinity, rather than its actualization, so that such an action is a mirror of the immanent Trinity expressing itself in absolute self-surrender. In other words, for von Balthasar, “It is the drama of the ‘emptying’ of the Father’s heart, in the generation of the Son, that contains and surpasses all possible drama between God and a world.”25 In saying this, he seems to be trying to avoid the 21. I have discussed the practical, ethical significance of such a shift in C. Deane-Drummond, “Beyond Humanity’s End: An Exploration of a Dramatic versus Narrative Rhetoric and its Ethical Implications,” in Future Ethics: Climate Change and Apocalyptic Imagination, ed. Stefan Skrimshire (London: Continuum, 2011), 242–59. 22. Here I agree with Matt Ashley, who opts for a patchwork-quilt set of narratives in the biblical text; see J. M. Ashley, “Reading the Universe Theologically: The Contribution of a Biblical Narrative Imagination,” Theological Studies 71:4 (2010): 870–902. 23. I have discussed the difference between drama, narrative, and lyric in Christ and Evolution. 24. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: The Action (TD 4), trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994), 318.


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

difficulty that could arise if the cross became somehow necessary as a way of describing Trinitarian relationships. Therefore, von Balthasar argues that it is self-giving love, rather than the cross itself, that is at the heart of the immanent Trinity, and at the heart of the incarnation. One way to understand deep incarnation is, therefore, not just incarnation into the mortality and fragility of human existence, but also a way of revealing God’s attributes—the deep love, self-giving and “emptying” of God. This is important, as it gives an ontological thread for interpreting both Christology and the incarnation. Von Balthasar uses traditional language of the “Father’s heart” here, but its intention is likely to reveal an understanding of God’s action based in origin and authority, in a way analogous to the way Christ used the term “Our Father” as appropriate for his societal context. If we translate this into a language of deep incarnation, the fundamental source of the latter must be deep in the heart of a selfgiving, loving Trinitarian God. However, the significance of the cross for von Balthasar is still somewhat limited in scope: he focuses on Christ carrying humanity’s existential rejection of God in a way that automatically places Christ in solidarity with humans, but not with other creatures.26 The drama is then limited, rather than expansive, so even if there are other aspects of von Balthasar’s work on aesthetics that point to a more expansive significance for Christ’s coming, it fails to show up in his theo-dramatics. Another problem with von Balthasar’s interpretation is the language he uses to describe what happens on the cross. It gives the impression that God acts in a way that is punitive and vindictive, while Christ responds with absolute obedience. Indeed, the “ladder of obedience” from Suffering Servant in the prophetic texts to Christ seems to be accompanied by “an ever-deeper descent of God’s wrath 25. Von Balthasar, TD 4, 327. 26. Von Balthasar, TD 4, 334–35.



upon the mediatorial man,” so he cannot even intercede, but has to simply “endure the anger.”27 This pattern of unloading God’s wrath reaches its climax in Christ on the cross. The abandonment of the Son means the “drastic counterpoising of the divine Persons in the economy becomes visible.”28 Further, the viciousness with which God strikes the Son is displayed so that “God’s anger strikes him instead of the countless sinners, shattering him as by lightening and distributing him among them; thus God the Father, in the Holy Spirit, completes the Son’s Eucharist.”29 The idea that God loves the Son through such punitive acts seems strained. Von Balthasar, in placing responsibility on God for such actions, wants to avoid the problem associated with making the cross dependent on human action, and he is critical of René Girard in this respect.30 In articulating these dramatic events, it would have been more convincing to pay closer attention to the actual means and practical social context through which Christ came to be crucified, namely, the viciousness and sinful behavior of mortal human beings, focused on their own desire for power. However, it seems that von Balthasar interprets the heart of the theo-drama in Christ’s passion by giving such primacy to the specific drama within the economic Trinity that other players, even human players, are eclipsed from view. These actors could still be included in the theo-drama, and used by God to fulfill particular purposes, without splitting the economic Trinity apart to such a drastic extent as in von Balthasar’s account of the passion narrative. While Christ chooses the way of the cross, the cry from the cross becomes a cry of lament rather than a literal sense 27. Von Balthasar, TD 4, 345. 28. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Pascale, trans. Aidan Nichols (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 203. 29. Von Balthasar, TD 4, 348. 30. Von Balthasar’s own position can be viewed as a reaction to what he sees as a split in Girard between the wrathful God of the Old Testament and the New Testament’s powerless God, where Christ is viewed as a scapegoat at the hand of sinners. See von Balthasar, TD 4, 305–10.


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

of Christ’s abandonment.31 Such a lament is shared in solidarity with others who suffer and are approaching death. But in order to stay faithful to the heart of the incarnation as the Word made flesh, we must give fuller attention to the creaturely basis of all mortality and reflect more closely on the basic common dependence of all human life on the lives of other creatures. We are, in Alasdair MacIntyre’s words, “dependent rational animals,” and it is a good idea to keep this view in mind when considering the theological significance of the death of Christ.32 For just as an ontological view of Christology can be drawn out in a more inclusive way, so too the particular action of Christ on the cross reaches beyond the human community. But what exactly does this action entail? One of the more original aspects of von Balthasar’s account of theo-drama is his reflection on the significance of Holy Saturday.33 Christ’s entry into hades is an entry into the world of the dead. Inasmuch as this represents sharing in the existential, human fear of death it is a sharing in solidarity with those who are dying. The difficulty, of course, is how far von Balthasar’s speculation about Christ confronting absolute sin in hell represents a type of disincarnation, a removal from the Word made flesh. On one level, the experience of Christ in hell—which von Balthasar, drawing on the mystical speculation of Adrienne Spehr, understands as a state rather than a place—does not express the incarnation in the flesh, since he is now dead. This may be one reason

31. For a fuller discussion of this aspect in relation to eschatology, see C. Deane-Drummond, “The Breadth of Glory: A Trinitarian Eschatology for the Earth through Critical Engagement with Hans Urs von Balthasar,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 12 (2010): 46–64. 32. Alasdair MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (London: Duckworth, 2009). 33. See, for example, Ben Quash, “Theodrama,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 143–57.



why von Balthasar describes the process of entering hell as a “removal of the whole superstructure of the Incarnation” in order to expose the eternal will of the Son within the Trinity—namely, obedience. Yet it is this eternal will that is “the substructure that is the basis of the entire event of the Incarnation.”34 There is a clear difficulty with the idea that the incarnation is somehow removed in hell, inasmuch as it might imply that Christ is no longer really human. But this is not what von Balthasar intends, for it is the human Christ that enters hell, and as the God-man that he is in solidarity with the dead in hades. Mark McIntosh also comments on Christ’s loss of humanity in a more general sense as applied to his Christology as a whole when he says that “it is interpreted as the human translation of the infinite divine filial kenosis.”35 It seems, then, that von Balthasar has attempted to retain the idea of humanity in Christ in preexistent and postmortal states and isolated the will of the Son as being sufficient to define humanity in Christ, having a life removed from the life of Jesus incarnate in mortal flesh.36 It is unclear how far such moves in von Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday really express deep incarnation; “deep” language in this context means the profound theological basis for the incarnation.37 In light of the concerns of this chapter, von Balthasar’s case for equating the essence of humanity with a will that is no longer in the flesh seems highly unfortunate, for it in effect removes humanity from shared creaturely existence and seems to undo rather than provide the basis for the premise of the incarnation: the Word 34. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, a Theological Aesthetics VII: Theology: The New Covenant, trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989), 231. 35. Mark A. McIntosh, Christology from Within: Spirituality and Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996), 8. 36. The idea that humanity is preexistent in the life of the Godhead is a view shared by Sergius Bulgakov. See, for example, The Lamb of God, 112–13. 37. I suggested that this was a possibility in earlier work; see Deane-Drummond, Christ and Evolution.


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

made flesh. At the heart of the difficulty is the problem identified with von Balthasar’s approach to theo-drama as a whole: an overemphasis on God’s direction of the drama. This seems at times to be highly manipulative instead of being based on the love that von Balthasar intends. Such love is much better expressed through envisaging God as acting through improvisation and holding on to the importance of the humanity of Christ, understood as a genuinely incarnate humanity grounded in the life of other creatures. There are also problems associated with von Balthasar’s eschatological stress on human rationality and will detached from awareness of the creaturely basis of all human life. Theo-drama in his schema is therefore in danger of sliding into a grand metaphysical narrative where human beings seem defined by characteristics envisaged as existing in postmortal or even premortal states. Next we must ask in what sense other creatures are involved in the theo-dramatic account of salvation history. I prefer to envisage such implications in terms of a woven and shared history of theo-drama, rather than imagining the natural world as in some sense “cruciform” in the manner suggested by Holmes Rolston III.38 While the ideas of cruciform nature and the expansive interpretation of theo-drama that I am arguing for here both associate evolutionary and creaturely processes with the action of Christ on the cross, there are some important differences. First, the language of theo-drama always looks beyond the cross to the resurrection in a way that cruciform nature does not without further theological elaboration. Second, it follows that cruciform nature marks out suffering and death as a necessary part of overall evolutionary and ecological processes. By contrast, the way I am interpreting the cross implies not so much the necessity of suffering but its inevitability, given human sinful behavior. Third, 38. See, for example, Holmes Rolston III’s discussion of cruciform nature in chapter 11 of this volume.



cruciform nature fits more easily with the idea of evolutionary history as a grand narrative account, which I have questioned above. There is therefore a stronger sense of human agency in a theo-dramatic account, though in von Balthasar’s version there seems to be an equally strong emphasis on necessity. In his case it emerges from his perception of the determined action of God and his role in the drama rather than through natural necessity, as in Holmes Rolston III. However, both approaches, I suggest, weaken a sense of human responsibility for sin. Von Balthasar’s account also tends to force his view toward a grand narrative and away from the contingent elements that I believe make the theo-dramatic approach attractive.39 Theo-drama in the way I am interpreting it allows for some improvisation in the action of God in history, but the overall direction is toward the flourishing of life and its eventual re-creation. Human beings, in contemplating closely the particular death of Jesus Christ, will find their own perceived role in the theo-dramatic account of history radically revised. This is analogous to the way that certain key events, including those of birth and death in our shared human history, have a profound impact on our own decisionmaking processes, how we respond in the drama of our own history. But if human beings are in shared relationships with other creaturely kinds, then our decisions cannot be separated from those kinds, for our actions will affect the lives of countless others. Our action in the drama impinges, then, on other players. This raises the theological issue of the Holy Spirit’s action in facilitating the way this theodrama unfolds.

39. This aspect has been criticized by authors such as Ben Quash, Theology and the Drama of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 6–40.


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

Deep Incarnation as Pneumatology This expansive approach to theo-drama also makes more sense compared with more static ontological models of Christology in the light of contemporary philosophies of ecology. Current understanding of ecology has, over the last quarter century, shifted more toward an understanding of ecological dynamics in terms of flux rather than stability. Ecology in its original formulation viewed ecological systems as essentially closed, self-regulating, free of disturbance, and independent of human influences. The idea of “wild” nature untouched by human interference captured the imagination of pioneers in environmental ethics.40 As research progressed, ecosystem boundaries came to be viewed as being far more fluid than previously thought, so that the prospect of selfregulation seemed unlikely; in any one ecological situation there seems to be a given equilibrium state rather than a persistent equilibrium. This leads to the view that ecological systems are in a state of flux, are open to external as well as internal influences, are subject to a multiplicity of complex control systems, and are open to human disturbance. While the earlier idea of stability would fit reasonably well with the idea of an ontological expansion of Christology so that it includes other creatures, drawing on more Stoic concepts of cosmology, the contemporary notion of ecological flux fits far better with envisaging the dynamic relationship between Christ and creation in terms of theo-drama and evoked by the action of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that ontology is unimportant, but that it is interpreted historically through reflection on theo-drama. Of course, von Balthasar did not allow for such an elaboration of his view in relation to ecology and tended to think of the ecological world as a kind 40. C. Deane-Drummond, The Ethics of Nature (Oxford: Blackwell/Wiley, 2004), 29–38.



of fixed “stage” in which human history was played out. Karl Barth may have influenced von Balthasar here; Barth held a somewhat derogatory view of the natural world in relation to salvation history, even if he affirmed belief in God as Creator. Von Balthasar redeemed this position somewhat by his understanding of the analogy of being, which allowed for an affirmation of beauty, truth, and goodness in the natural world that was much more difficult for his Protestant contemporary. However, such aesthetic affirmation still did not permit him to include creatures other than humans in salvation history, except to a very limited extent, and certainly not in a theodrama. But once we liberate ourselves from such a restriction, then it becomes possible to include other creaturely kinds in the drama in a way that affirms the place and promise of other creatures quite apart from their usefulness to humankind. In making such a claim, I am conscious of the fact that the way other creatures might enter theo-dramatic history is not going to be exactly the same as that of human beings, which is predicated on a strong sense of creaturely freedom. The idea that we can envisage other creatures as in a dramatic relationship with each other is certainly not new; it has been suggested by other biologists as well as theologians.41 However, the unique position of human beings in ecological and evolutionary terms means that they are specialized for a particular evolutionary and ecological role. In the theo-drama, I envisage this to be expressed as a self-conscious awareness of God and a response or rejection of the divine invitation to act after the pattern of God’s Son. In evolutionary history, the evolution of the human ability to respond to God must have come prior to any 41. Jeffrey Schloss, Evelyn Underhill, and John Haught are contemporary examples; see Jeffrey Schloss, “From Evolution to Eschatology,” in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments, ed. T. Peters, R. J. Russell, and M. Welker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 77; John Haught, Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God & the Drama of Life (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

awareness of acting in that history. I have no problem, therefore, with scientific speculations about the evolution of a religious consciousness or capacity to respond to God. What is not subject to evolutionary analysis is how human beings might then interpret divine action in history or, more precisely, how they might then act as a result of that consciousness. Evolutionary theory gives only generalized guidance as to how human beings may respond and develop religious awareness, just as it can give general guidance about how human beings may cooperate with one another or even be inclined to exist in conflictual relationships with each other.42 For other creatures, the manner in which they can enter into the theo-drama will depend not just on their relative capacity for agency in comparison with human beings, but also what might be termed their natural capacities for estimative sense.43 I consider it unlikely that other creatures besides humans will be self-aware of any response to the divine, even if we might not want to rule out the possibility that they can be caught up in salvation history in a way that implies a more active, rather than simply passive, process. What is crucial in this respect is that for the Christian theological account of the cross, the drama does not end in death, but resurrection. The cross is always filtered through that lens, and the cross, when viewed on this side of the resurrection, displays marks of the glory that is to come. But in order to perceive this aspect of the drama, the third person of the

42. See, for example, discussions in J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, Alone in All the World? Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), and Wesley J. Wildman, Science and Religious Anthropology: A Spiritually Evocative Naturalist Interpretation of Human Life (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009). For a project that is focused on the scientific aspects, see 43. For a discussion of animals and estimative sense that comes from Aquinas, see John Berkman, “Towards a Thomistic Theology of Animality,” in Creaturely Theology: On God, Humans and Other Animals, ed. C. Deane-Drummond and D. Clough (London: SCM, 2009), 21–40; see also C. Deane-Drummond, “Are Animals Moral? Taking Soundings Through Vice, Virtue, Conscience and Imago Dei,” in Creaturely Theology, 190–210.



Trinity needs to come onto the center of the stage, for the meaning of the incarnation cannot be understood apart from the Holy Spirit. Deep incarnation should be understood not so much as the spatial descent of God into creation, or even the ontological extension of Christ into creation, but as the transformative and dramatic movement of God in Christ, who takes center stage in the theo-drama. Such a transformative movement is accompanied by the active presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus deep incarnation can be envisaged as an aspect of pneumatology as much as Christology, and points toward an eschatological vision of glory.44 Here we find pneumatology in the space between creation and re-creation, in the creation as it is now and the promised eschatological hope where God will be all in all. In common with the overall thrust of the work of Jürgen Moltmann, I suggest that the way to envisage creation in the present cannot be considered apart from future hope. The difficulty is how to envisage what that hope entails without becoming too detached from knowledge of creaturely kinds.45 Deep incarnation is a reminder to keep that connection with mortal creaturely kinds alive in the present, to keep eschatology suitably grounded, for, as I have suggested, it takes its bearings not so much from natural philosophy as from what might be called the foolishness to the Greeks and the wisdom of the cross (1 Cor. 1:21-27).46

44. The association of the work of the Holy Spirit with glory is also embedded in the work of Bulgakov, who believed that just as there is kenotic restraint in the manner in which the Logos appears as theanthropy in Christ, so too the full experience of the Holy Spirit is held back until the world is ready to receive the fullness of God as all in all. See S. Bulgakov, The Comforter, trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), e.g., 251–256, 343–49. 45. Moltmann’s speculations about the details of future hope for creation are not as convincing, in my view, as his overall theological emphasis on doing theology in an eschatological key. Theodrama could be thought of as one way to express that emphasis. 46. There is insufficient scope in this chapter to discuss exegetical issues associated with 1 Cor. 1:8—2:5, where the wisdom of God in the cross is pitched against the arrogance of human wisdom. I have discussed this aspect elsewhere in C. Deane-Drummond, Creation Through Wisdom (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 52–59.


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

Deep Incarnation, Presence, and Action There are also dangers in an exclusive insistence on keeping alive the way God acts in human and evolutionary history if God’s transcendence becomes compromised. Here I am anxious to distinguish more clearly between the simple focus on evolutionary or ecological history and the theo-dramatic account I am arguing for. In reacting to overly abstract accounts of Christology, it is important also to keep in mind its ontological and transcendent significance. A similar danger, which a number of authors in this volume have pointed out, exists in which the incarnation is made coextensive with a more general sense of divine presence in all that is. If incarnation means in a literal sense God’s expansive presence in the natural world, then incarnation either becomes a form of pantheism, where God is simply equated with nature, or Christology becomes reduced to a form of perfected humanity, God’s presence in Christ being little different from God’s presence in the rest of the natural order (except perhaps as a matter of degree). If Christ’s incarnation becomes part of a grand narrative where evolutionary history becomes just one step toward the emergence of humanity and Christ, then God’s transcendence and the radical nature of the incarnation—the Word made flesh—seems compromised. This seems to be the move made by significant authors in the science and religion field, including, for example, Arthur Peacocke.47

47. See, for example, one of the last books that he wrote before his death, which takes the form of a manifesto: A. Peacocke and Phillip Clayton, eds., All That Is: A Naturalistic Faith for the Twenty First Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007). While Peacocke does acknowledge God’s transcendence through what he terms the “top down” way in which God acts in the world (45–47), the divinity of Christ seems to emerge from a manifestation of divine features on earth. While he acknowledges an “ontological gap” between God and the world, his understanding of the way God works seems to be by analogy with whole part systems, but in natural systems there is no ontological break. He therefore has to work hard to retain the idea of naturalism and theism in his scheme of God’s action in the world, and the analogical basis for that action is not well-developed.



Peacocke’s approach is softened somewhat by a sacramental instinct in which he envisages that all of creation shows a eucharistic presence.48 But he has to work hard to mesh such a sacramental view of the natural world with a relatively weak liberal Christology. An account of incarnation that begins with the central importance of the passion narrative in a theo-dramatic perspective at least attempts to avoid some of these dangers. Peacocke is correct to identify the presence of God in creation as an ongoing presence, rather than one that is constricted to the first emergence of life forms. This general presence of God in creation is to be thought of as a more general, providential presence that follows from belief in God as Creator, continually accompanying creation in its evolutionary emergence. This presence is important in that it provides one way to conceive of how God acts in creation. While it is tempting to associate the term incarnation with such a presence in the manner of Peacocke and others, I suggest that this undercuts the profundity of its meaning. Theologically, therefore, deep incarnation can be understood to act at the boundary of creation and new creation, where Christ enters into human, evolutionary, and ecological history in a profound way so that through the living presence of the Holy Spirit that history is changed in the direction of God’s purposes for the universe after the pattern of Christ. Traditionally, such transformation was restricted to the ecclesial community. However, the community of creatures on the Earth can also become a site for God’s sacramental presence, but only insofar as creatures are enabled to participate in this path toward transformation.49 Following Romans 8, this inclusion of other 48. Peacocke, All That Is, 42–45. Even here, however, Peacocke insists on sacramentalism being interpreted through what he calls the ENP (emergentist, naturalist, and panentheistic) perspective. 49. It is interesting to note that when Peacocke speaks of sacramental presence he restricts his discussion to the human community, even though he insists that this presence emerges after the coming of Christ (Peacocke, All That Is, 42–44).


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

creaturely kinds requires not just the concession of human beings, but their active participation. The expectant longing of creation is real in that it hangs on how humans choose to act in history. As drama, deep incarnation not only shares in living history, it also invites human beings to reflect more fully on the profound significance of their creaturely existence and exercise their particular and distinctive vocation in responsive humility toward God, other people, and the natural world and all its creaturely kinds. While human beings are creaturely alongside other creatures, they also bear a special responsibility to act in a way that follows the pattern of service and self-offering marked out by the passion of Christ. Deep incarnation, therefore—if it is to follow the full significance of the prologue of John’s Gospel—is also a call to act out in proper respect for the natural world and all its creatures. It is, in other words, unavoidably an ecotheology marked out by a call to build a community of justice. It challenges humanity to reconsider its place in the natural order and behave in a manner that befits one of the most powerful actors on the world stage. Human beings are also called to use their power responsibly both within and between human communities, and toward the community of other creatures, rather than out of self-interest. The intense problems within human communities and the injustices therein are sometimes viewed as being in tension with responsibility toward the earth; deep incarnation resists this false choice of acting in favor of either people or planet. It calls instead for a holistic approach to issues that draws on the practical wisdom that is tempered by knowledge of the limitations of human reasoning. Such practical wisdom recognizes the close dependence of human beings on the natural world and understands how peace between peoples presupposes peace with the natural order.50 The call for human action evoked by deep incarnation is therefore no less than the radical call of



the prophet to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6.8). Some Tentative Conclusions I have argued that in order to understand the incarnation, the full significance of the Johannine concept of the Word made flesh needs to be addressed. The Hebrew stress on history that is influential in the prologue to John’s Gospel needs to be taken just as seriously as the Hellenistic cosmological elements. Wisdom, or Sophia, is also suggestive in thinking through how to unite the universal with the particular, but the temptation to move away from concrete uses of wisdom to more speculative metaphysical interpretations is evident in the sophiology of Sergius Bulgakov. Rather than understanding deep incarnation as the ontological extension of the enfleshment of the divine into all of creation, I have argued for the use of theodrama as a starting point. It is important to note that theo-drama occupies what might be termed a boundary position between historical and ontological accounts of Christology, and therefore also of the meaning of deep incarnation. While the idea of theo-drama is most developed in the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, I am critical of the tendency of his work to put stress on divine power in a way that seems to mask the action of other players on the stage. This is particularly the case in his speculations on the cross. Further, I have argued for an extension of an understanding of theo-drama so that 50. Such a view has been articulated consistently in the teaching of recent Roman Catholic pontiffs, as seen from the 1990 World Day of Peace message of Pope John Paul II, “Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation” ( documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19891208_xxiii-world-day-for-peace_en.html); and the 2010 World Day of Peace message of Pope Benedict XVI, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation” ( ben-xvi_mes_20091208_xliii-world-day-peace_en.html). For further discussion of the influence of ecology on Roman Catholic social teaching and its incorporation into specific concerns for human justice, see C. Deane-Drummond, “Joining in the Dance: Ecology and Roman Catholic Social Teaching,” New Blackfriars 93 (2012): 193–212.


The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation

it is inclusive in scope, widening out to the universal reach of God’s love shown in Christ to all creatures. But that love is only apparent in retrospect in the light of the resurrection, thus bringing in an eschatological element to an understanding of deep incarnation. The profound significance of the incarnation, which allows human beings to contemplate the fear of what is beyond death, as well as death itself, emerges at the boundary between creation and new creation. But this then allows human beings to contemplate more fully not just who they are in light of the action of the Holy Spirit, but also what they might become through God’s grace, and their particular vocation in the world. If we are to follow deep incarnation to its limits, then it must be associated with an ethical demand to take an active part in the shared drama, a common history of the earth, and therefore love God and neighbor, acting with sensitivity and responsibly toward the earth and its creatures.


9 Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

Christopher Southgate

I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this collection of essays. I will begin my contribution by considering previous models of God as embodied in the world or incarnate in all things, and clarify how I think the concept of deep incarnation might be used appropriately. I will then consider the problem of particularity, which bedevils all traditional talk of incarnation. I will outline what I think is the most helpful way to understand the concept of deep incarnation, including consideration of the church as a prolongation of the incarnation. Finally, I will offer some indications as to what this thinking might mean for ethics at this time of grave ecological crisis. God Incarnate in All Things? The scholars who attended the symposium from which this book comes were asked to consider how helpful it is to think of God 203


as incarnate in all things. At first sight, this is a tempting move in the face of the problem that has been much-recognized in recent Christian theology: How do we emphasize the value to God of materiality, embodiment, and the nonhuman creation? Three imperatives driving the restatement of such a value have been (1) a desire to reverse the denigration of women, and women’s bodies, in the tradition;1 (2) the recognition of the need to offer principles to underpin a Christian environmental ethics;2 and (3) the recently reinvigorated question of evolutionary theodicy: how, given the ubiquity of nonhuman suffering, can we assert that God cares for every sparrow that falls?3 This problem of God and bodies, God and matter, is greatly complicated by the anthropocentric (indeed, androcentric) worldview of most of the biblical writers, and by the dualisms that have pervaded most of the Christian tradition. To begin, I will consider three important efforts in recent theology to reemphasize God’s profound involvement with the material world. In 1984, Grace M. Jantzen published God’s World, God’s Body, in which she took issue with the dualistic influence of Neoplatonism on early Christian thought and claimed that it would be possible to recover a “natural” model of the God-world relation as analogous to “a human soul and a human body.”4 In this fluent and radical essay, Jantzen sought to show how early Christian thinkers adopted 1. See, e.g., Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (London: SCM, 1983), ch. 3; Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (London: SCM, 1993), ch. 1. 2. See, e.g., Michael Northcott, The Environment and Christian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), chs. 4–5. 3. Denis Edwards, “Every Sparrow that Falls to the Ground: The Cost of Evolution and the Christ-Event,” Ecotheology 11:1 (2006): 103–23; Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008). 4. Grace M. Jantzen, God’s World, God’s Body (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1984), 2. It is helpful to compare these formulations of Jantzen’s with the very careful nuancing of related ideas by Arthur Peacocke; see his Creation and the World of Science: The Bampton Lectures 1978 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 141–43; Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming, Natural, Divine and Human (London: SCM, 1993), ch. 9.


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

Hebrew and Greek ideas in various combinations, and how Stoicism came to inform Christian ethics, whereas Christian metaphysics took on a more Platonic form. She identified this trend as leading to the unnecessary rejection of the notion that the cosmos itself is God’s body. One noted critic of theologies that identify God with the universe has been John Polkinghorne.5 Like other reviewers of Jantzen such as David Pailin,6 Polkinghorne questioned the extent to which such theologies of divine embodiment allowed for creaturely autonomy. He also raised the issue of whether such a model rendered God too vulnerable and insufficiently sovereign—a critique that could also be leveled at related formulations offered by process theologians, including that of Pailin himself.7 Polkinghorne writes, “God and the world are so closely linked by embodiment that one must gain mastery over the other. Either divine impassibility must triumph by the assertion of a divine tyranny over the world . . . or divine vulnerability must triumph through the world’s imposing itself upon God.”8 5. See John Polkinghorne, Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World (London: SPCK, 1989), 18–23. Polkinghorne has also taken issue with the formulations of protological panentheism found both in process thinkers and in the work of Arthur Peacocke (John Polkinghorne, Science and Christian Belief: Theological Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker [London: SPCK, 1994], 64–65; see Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke, eds., In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004] for a range of defenses of panentheism). Panentheism, understood as God’s full involvement with the created order, is for Polkinghorne the destiny of the cosmos, not the character of the relation between Creator and creation from the beginning. He writes that only “the new creation will be wholly sacramental, totally suffused with the divine presence.” John Polkinghorne, Science and Religion in the Quest for Truth (London: SPCK, 2011), 107. 6. David A. Pailin, “Review of God’s World, God’s Body by Grace Jantzen,” Religious Studies 20 (1984): 689–92. 7. See David A. Pailin, God and the Processes of Reality (London: Routledge, 1989). Incidentally, developments in cosmology since Jantzen’s book have brought to the fore ideas such as the “multiverse” and “chaotic inflation,” tending to confirm that our own universe will fizzle out into a “heat death.” It would have been interesting to see how Jantzen would have responded to questions about the uniqueness and transitoriness of our physical universe. 8. Polkinghorne, Science and Providence, 21–22.



In 1993, Sallie McFague produced The Body of God: An Ecological Theology.9 Whereas Jantzen’s book was an exercise in ontological theology, an effort to show that divine transcendence and divine immanence are not in tension but genuinely complementary, McFague—concerned to make theology serve environmental ethics—argued for a “remythologization” with “ethical or pragmatic concern.”10 In other words, she argued for a metaphorical model of God that would persuade all humans who know “the common creation story”11 to treat the Earth with greater respect. Daphne Hampson has criticized McFague’s model as being no more than a dressed-up form of humanism, noting that “the construction of models of God is predicated upon what one construes to be evidence for belief in God. . . . [McFague’s] work lacks talk of such evidence.”12 We can see that there have been certain pitfalls attached to efforts to deepen the engagement between the divine and the created order. How can God’s embodiment be substantiated in the teeth of the tradition of the incorporeality of the divine, and are there good evidential grounds for doing so? How can creaturely autonomy, and continuity of divine integrity, be honored if the divine seems too allpervasive within creation? At first sight, a pan-incarnationalism is an attractive way forward. Incarnation is a concept grounded in the New Testament; moreover, it makes it clear that God’s being is not to be thought of as exhausted or contained by God’s involvement with the material creation any more than the being of the Father could be regarded as contained in or limited by the incarnation of the divine Son. Where a panincarnational theology might gain further credibility would be from

9. Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (London: SCM, 1993). 10. McFague, Body of God, 81. 11. McFague, Body of God, 41–42. 12. Daphne Hampson, Theology and Feminism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 161.


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

the patristic concept of the Logos as present in all creatures, imparting to them both pattern and telos. In his book The God of Nature, Christopher Knight adopts an explicitly pan-incarnational approach.13 Knight draws on Maximus the Confessor’s concept of creatures possessing logoi. For Knight, quoting Stephen Need, the “incarnation in Jesus” is not “the sudden arrival of an otherwise absent Logos, but rather the completion of a process already begun in God’s act of creation.”14 I myself have used the concept of logoi as a way of doing justice both to the created character of living things and to the dynamism of an evolutionary worldview. Certainly, this is a way of expressing a mode-of-material presence of the divine Logos, and hence (it might be said) the incarnation of that Logos.15 However, I question whether the term incarnation used in this sense adds anything to an idea that can be re-expressed in terms of the immanence of the Logos in creation—an immanence that naturally gives rise to pattern and meaning in creatures. The way the divine life informs creation need not be seen as incarnation; it can perfectly satisfactorily be described in terms of divine immanence. This reserves incarnation, more helpfully in my view, for the astonishing, gracious, humble gift of the Son’s taking flesh for the salvation of all.

13. Christopher Knight, The God of Nature (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007). 14. Knight, God of Nature, 32. See also Jack Mahoney, Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011), ch. 4, for consideration of the incarnation as the outworking of the divine purpose rather than a response to the fall of humanity. 15. Both Knight and I are attracted to Louth’s perception that Maximus’s scheme allows for more dynamism than those of his Platonic forebears, and that it is more compatible with an evolutionary worldview (Knight, God of Nature, 102; Southgate, Groaning of Creation, ch. 4; cf. Andrew Louth, “The Cosmic Vision of Saint Maximos the Confessor,” in In Whom We Live and Move and Have our Being, 184–96). Although our schemes, arrived at independently, have many similarities, there is more sense in my own that the Christ event effected a transformation of the potentialities of the universe.



I echo a concern raised as long ago as 1927 by Oliver Chase Quick in his classic little book The Christian Sacraments, when he noted the risk of the incarnation being taken “as signifying merely a general truth of divine immanence. . . . Thus the particular and, in a sense, exclusive association of the Incarnation with the life of Jesus is forgotten or slurred over, and the fact that the life of the Incarnate was on earth rejected and crucified is practically ignored.” Quick concluded that “the metaphysical position thus reached is in the end difficult to distinguish from a form of pantheism or positivism.” 16 For the rest of this chapter, then, I will reserve the term incarnation for the mode-of-material-presence of the divine Logos in Jesus of Nazareth, and then explore the extension of the concept in the church as the body of Christ. Deep incarnation, as Niels Gregersen has helpfully shown us, enlarges the concept of the incarnation of God in the man Jesus by reflecting on the Logos taking not just human flesh but creaturely nature more generally. Jesus of Nazareth was not just a man but a human animal, an evolved human animal. More than that, he was a victim of the evolutionary process, both in the sense of dying without issue (as Gregersen points out17) but also in the sense of dying at the hands of the cruelty and violence in defense of self-interest that is utterly unsurprising in evolved animals. 18 In that sense, the incarnation is witness to God’s solidarity in Jesus with all creatureliness, and especially with all suffering in the creaturely state. I have written elsewhere about God delighting in the creaturely skills that evolution has refined—the eagle’s skill in quartering a mountainside—and at the same time suffering in the 16. Oliver Chase Quick, The Christian Sacraments (1927; repr., London: Collins Fontana, 1964), 68. 17. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Cross of Christ in an Evolutionary World,” Dialog 40:3 (2001): 192–207. 18. With that said, it is striking that a brief inspection of a recent book on incarnation and Trinity by Kathryn Tanner, a major scholar, reveals no indication of her considering either deep incarnation or the redemption of the nonhuman creation. Kathryn Tanner, Christ the Key (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

anguish of the hare as its twists and turns fail to rescue it from the talons.19 As Gregersen has so rightly said, we should not hide from “the dirty fact that all life is lived at the expense of other life,”20 or from the uncomfortable theological reflection that this world of competition, and of the creaturely suffering that that entails, is the world that God created.21 In the face of this, the incarnation seems to me to be a strong character witness to God’s solidarity with creaturely struggle of all kinds.22 Moreover, incarnation (in the sense I use it here) is particular. The Incarnate One was in solidarity with particular creatures, with every falling sparrow—this is important because suffering is itself particular.23 It may still be asked what the concept of “deep incarnation” adds to divine pan-immanence. I suggest that the solidarity of the divine with every creature is already implied in the doctrine of divine immanence, but the incarnation of the Christ “makes it known” (compare John 1:18), and also begins the process of its transformation. The life of Christ is the supreme sacrament; it both symbolizes and effects the saving purposes of God.24 Christ, then, in his deep joy at embodiment, his deep sympathy with victims, and his own victimhood, exemplifies the divine identification with the material, and especially those creaturely selves who suffer within this evolved and evolving world. Further, his incarnation is inescapably bound 19. Southgate, Groaning of Creation, 163. 20. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation: Why Evolutionary Continuity Matters in Christology,” Toronto Journal of Theology 26:2 (2010): 178. 21. I strongly resist the notion that some sort of primordial or human fall engendered the competition and suffering in biological processes. See Southgate, Groaning of Creation, ch. 2; see also Southgate, “Re-Reading Genesis, John and Job: A Christian’s Response to Darwinism,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 46:3 (2011): 370–95. 22. It might also be regarded as evidence of God’s “taking responsibility” for that suffering. Cf. Southgate, Groaning of Creation, ch. 4; see also Andrew Elphinstone, Freedom, Suffering and Love (London: SCM, 1976). 23. Southgate, Groaning of Creation, 48–50; cf. also Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation,” 184. 24. Cf. Arthur Peacocke, Paths from Science Towards God: The End of All Our Exploring Oxford: Oneworld, 2001), ch. 9, drawing on the work of Quick.



up with atonement, with cosmic reconciliation (Col. 1:20). We find in the incarnation both a sign of the depth of that divine solidarity with all suffering creatures and an affirmation of the transformability of creation, of its destiny in pain-free eschatological harmony. The concept of incarnation, then, cannot be separated from God’s salvific initiative that will ultimately enable creation to be its new self, in which God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).25 I will discuss these motifs of sign and destiny further below. The Particularity of Jesus However, a note of caution should be entered here. The further exploration of the creatureliness of Jesus does stress the commonality between his fleshliness and that of other humans and other creatures. But it also heightens the scandal of his particularity: he was a Jew and never a Gentile, a man and never a woman (or yet a person of ambiguous gender), never lived in a cold climate or in the Far East or the Americas, and died in his thirties and never knew the decay that comes to older creaturely bodies. Does not such particularity—especially when incarnation is coupled closely with atonement—cause problems in interfaith dialogue?26 The limited and particular character of Christ’s experience could also be taken to limit the extent and effectiveness of his solidarity with other creatures. Indeed, it must tempt the explorer of deep incarnation to ask whether solidarity with suffering creatures, comparable with that of Christ, might have been effected by other

25. Quick notes that the other locus of incarnation, properly understood, is the cosmos as finally fulfilled, since that, like the life of Jesus, is also a perfect expression of God in created being (Quick, Christian Sacraments, 110) 26. As Vernon White trenchantly asks: “Does not [attributing a constitutive role to Christ] imply Christian arrogance, opening up a Pandora’s box of religious tyranny and imperialism?” Atonement and Incarnation: An Essay in Universalism and Particularity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 111–12.


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

humans in other cultures and eras (even possibly by other intelligent mammals, to say nothing of the possible denizens of other planets). The particularity of the Christian claim is challenging in an age in which the faith is in dialogue with other faiths, as well as with science and the ever-present problem of suffering.27 I will return to this question of particularity below. A New Thought on the Significance of the Life of Jesus as Incarnate One Andrew Robinson and I have recently reflected on the significance of the incarnation as part of a project that explores the importance of semiotics in a range of contexts. In light of certain texts in the New Testament, especially Col. 1:15 and Heb. 1:3, we have been considering what sort of sign the life of Jesus was of the being of God. We have suggested that Jesus’ life, taken as a whole, was—in terms of C. S. Peirce’s taxonomy of signs—an “iconic qualisign” of the being of God, a sign resembling the object through its sheer quality rather than being related by some convention. The classic example of a qualisign is a sample of a color of paint: it is as though the fabric of Jesus’ life were God-colored through and through.28 (Incidentally, this formulation would fit well with the kind of highSchleiermacherian Christology that Gregersen touches on in his 2010 article, only to criticize it as tending to dilute the continuity between humans and other animals.29) Jesus embodied the quality of the being

27. Indeed, in Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp’s The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), as they consider the status of Christian theism in relation to these challenges, we see a marked drawing-back from the concept of incarnation, at least as it is usually understood. 28. Andrew Robinson, God and the World of Signs: Trinity, Evolution, and the Metaphysical Semiotics of C. S. Peirce (Leiden: Brill, 2010); Andrew Robinson and Christopher Southgate, “Incarnation and Semiotics: A Theological and Anthropological Hypothesis Part 1: Incarnation and Peirce’s Taxonomy of Signs,” Theology and Science 8:3 (2010): 265–82. 29. Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation,” 175–76.



of God because, presumably, he had learned to think the Father’s thoughts, to love as the Father loved. I speak of Christ’s learning not because we are told much about this in the Scriptures (apart from Heb. 5:8 and the tantalizing hint in Luke 2:46-47) but because learning is so essential an aspect of what it is to be a complex creature; thus it must have been an intrinsic element in the humanity of Jesus. God-consciousness, on this model, is therefore not something antithetical to an emphasis on creatureliness, but very much a part of it. Jesus’ life as a qualisign of God bears on our present discussion in that one can ask further what preconditions were necessary for an evolved creature to embody such a quality. Here one could identify among other things rationality, depth of capacity for relationship, and above all things a capacity to desire the good of the other beyond all thought of self. These are capacities that, it is reasonable to suppose, are only combined, among creatures, in the species Homo sapiens as it has evolved over (roughly) the last 50,000 years. One can further ask what necessary features of the context in which the Logos became incarnate enabled such a sign to be recognized—at least by some witnesses. Here the skandalon we identified above may perhaps be mitigated. This context presumably needed to be a sophisticated monotheistic culture, one to which prophecy and worship came naturally, and moreover, one in which it would be meaningful to “have one man die for the people” (John 11:50). The cultural conditions of that society may help us understand why the Incarnate One had, in that particular context, to be a man and not a woman, a Jew and not a Gentile. So into the sign-perfused matrix that is the created order came (was sent) the sign of signs, the qualisign of God. In specific instances, Jesus embodied and performed many other types of sign. Specifically, and vitally, at the passion Jesus’ materiality became the sacrifice given 212

Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

for the people of God. At the Eucharist, that sacrifice is re-presented. As the Anglican liturgy has it, “the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands” becomes our spiritual food and drink. By extension, all creation, and all human loving creativity, are caught up into the process of redemption—a process that (other key New Testament texts insist) involves the whole of the cosmos (Rom. 8:19-22; Col. 1:20; Eph. 1:10). The Significance of the Christ Event for the Destiny of Matter As Polkinghorne has eloquently insisted, Jesus’ resurrection is among other things a sign of the destiny of the material, a prolepsis of the final state of creation.30 We may go further with Paul Evdokimov and claim that the destiny of the element of water is to participate in the mystery of the Epiphany; the destiny of the earth is to receive the body of the Lord for the repose of the great Saturday; and the destiny of stone is to end as the sealed tomb and as the stone rolled away before the myrrh-bearing women. Olive oil and water find their fulfilment as conductors of grace to regenerated man; the wheat and the vine culminate in the Eucharistic cup. Everything refers to the Incarnation and everything leads to the Lord.31

In other words, in the transforming drama of the incarnate Logos, every element of the created order finds its logoi in all of Maximus’s senses—not just its own nature and pattern but its telos, understood not just as the fulfillment of its evolved nature but as its place in the drama of salvation. The incarnation becomes on this view not just one outworking of embodiment, but the very way we understand the ultimate destiny of matter. This is depth indeed. It is a pan30. John Polkinghorne, The God of Hope and the End of the World (London: SPCK, 2002). 31. Quoted in Ian Bradley, God Is Green: Christianity and the Environment (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1990), 85–86.



sacramental approach, as Knight’s is, but tied to the narrative of salvation. At the same time, extending the concept of incarnation to creatureliness and materiality needs to deepen, not alleviate, our sense of the mystery of God’s involvement with the world—to intensify, rather than dilute, our apophatic reserve at speaking too confidently into the mystery.32 This is where the language of sign and sacrament is particularly helpful: the “object” of the sign that is Jesus, that to which his life pointed, is ultimately unknowable, only apprehended through the lens of the sign and what the sign effects as sacrament. We only come to know this God of salvation through participation in that sacramental process of salvation, by becoming ourselves what is broken and poured out, and through what Paul Fiddes calls a process of “contraction,” the many becoming one.33 I mentioned above how difficult it is to impart an emphasis on the value of the whole creation to the classical Christian narrative. Developing an approach based both on divine immanence and on deep incarnation seems to me greatly preferable to an attempt to amplify a few sayings in the Synoptic Gospels into a picture of a kind of Franciscan eco-Jesus.34 However, it is important, as I indicated above, that our appropriation of deep incarnation is dynamic and eschatological, that it does not just “baptize” value in nonhuman nature but recognizes that in the Christian vision all of creation is on a path to transformation. Indeed, Christ’s life is not just a sign of the character of the life of the creator God but a sacrament of 32. Cf. Oliver Davies and Denys Turner, eds., Silence and the Word: Negative Theology and Incarnation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). 33. Paul Fiddes, “The Quest for a Place Which Is ‘Not-a-Place’: The Hiddenness of God and the Presence of God,” in Silence and the Word: Negative Theology and Incarnation, 58. 34. For an evaluation of such strategies in ecotheology, and an acknowledgement of the lenses we bring to our appropriation of Scripture in contemporary ecotheology, see David G. Horrell, Cherryl Hunt, and Christopher Southgate, Greening Paul: Re-reading the Apostle in a Time of Ecological Crisis (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), especially chs. 1–2.


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

God’s redemptive purposes. Those purposes are both symbolized and effected in Jesus’ outpouring of love for the world. Cosmic transformation begins at the cross, and the destiny of matter is foreshadowed in the resurrection. But also, mysteriously and graciously, humans are called into partnership with God in this redemption.35 Romans 8:19, 21 hint that the cosmos will not know its own liberty until humans come into their true freedom.36 The implication of this is that the prolongation of incarnation in the church as the body of Christ is in a way as important to ecotheology and ethics as the doctrine of incarnation itself. The insight that humans have a special vocation within God’s liberation of the whole creation returns us to a re-visioned anthropocentrism, though emphatically not an anthropomonism.37 The (admittedly brief) New Testament evidence suggests that the transformative fruits of incarnation will be experienced first of all in human communities. Humans, as they realize the freedom they have in Christ Jesus, are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18), in order that they may take up their true role, acting in freedom as priests of creation and its Christlike servants. The nonhuman creation waits, groaning in labor pains,38 for humans to enter full communion with this process of transformation. The implication of Paul’s language in Romans 8 seems to be that it is the body of Christ, the church, the ekklēsia of those who have glimpsed their transformed nature, the “freedom of the glory of the children of

35. Karl Barth properly insisted on the emphasis on grace; see his “The Concept of the Church,” in Christianity Divided: Protestant and Roman Catholic Theological Issues, ed. Daniel J. Callahan, Heiko A. Oberman, and David J. O’Hanlon, SJ (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), 162–63. 36. This freedom must be one that renounces behaviors that run counter to the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:19-21), one moreover that sets aside its own status to serve the other (Phil. 2:5-7). 37. Horrell et al., Greening Paul, 123–24. 38. This image of Paul’s from Rom. 8:22 is an extraordinary one, and profoundly helpful for ecotheology. The world both somehow awaits our transformation and is in involved in birthing it.



God” (Rom. 8:21), which is called to be the nucleating center of this communion. Clayton and Knapp, exercised by the scandal of particularity, have explored the significance of Paul’s participationist language of “in Christ,” “body of Christ,” and “in the Spirit.” They write, “It is almost as though Paul, in passages like this one [Rom. 8:9-10], conceives of the risen Christ not so much as an individual person but as the continuation (and availability to believers) of that person’s life-giving righteousness.”39 They also note “the interchangeability of terms like ‘Christ,’ ‘Spirit of Christ,’ and ‘Spirit’ and ‘Spirit of God.’”40 This is helpful, not least because it allows Christians who lack the Roman Catholic ecclesiology lying behind the notion of prolongation of incarnation to recast this understanding in pneumatological terms. The community of diverse gifts, held together by the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12) is the community of life-giving righteousness (as just noted), and also (to return to Rom. 8:19-20) the locus of freedom, tending to glory, and to the liberation of the whole of creation. To summarize the argument up to now: I hold that the language of deep incarnation cannot be a mere restatement of divine immanence. It must be a discourse in which divine identification with the creature through Christ is sacramental, both in the sense of being symbolized by Jesus’ life and death, and in the sense of being transformative toward the ultimate state of eschatological harmony. This transformation continues in the life of the redeemed community that is the church.41

39. Clayton and Knapp, Predicament, 89. 40. Clayton and Knapp, Predicament, 91; see also Horrell et al., Greening Paul, ch. 7, for more on participation in Paul. 41. Gustave Weigel articulates a classic Catholic understanding: “The Incarnation must therefore be considered not merely as one historical event but as a total re-creation of the human situation. This re-creation was simultaneously the creation of the Church. . . . The Church is then Christ prolonged in history until He comes again in judgement and power.” Gustave


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

Deep Incarnation in the Church as Eschatological Community In other work with colleagues at Exeter, I have explored what such Paul-inspired insights might mean for an ethics that is both eschatological and ecological. In this section, I offer some markers as to how this thinking might be integrated with a deep-incarnational model such as the one I have begun to explore here. This is preliminary work, and many starting points could have been selected. My four chosen markers are: 1. Identification with the victim (toward which Gregersen’s 2001 paper strongly steered us);42 2. New creation (a strong theme in Paul of which Horrell, Hunt, and Southgate offered a new reading in Greening Paul); 3. Inclusiveness of community (which is particularly stressed by Richard Burridge in an important study of community “imitating Jesus”);43 and finally 4. Worship (the reconfiguring of which has been a preoccupation of Paul Santmire, among others).44 First is identification with the victim. A characteristic of the community that shares in God’s saving initiative is a special concern for the poor, interpreted very generally as those without voice or power. That was evident in the Pauline churches in the Jerusalem collection (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 8–9); in our current context it can be applied to future generations both of humans and of nonhuman creatures.45 Hans Urs von Balthasar, meditating on Weigel, SJ, “Catholic Ecclesiology in our Time,” in Christianity Divided, 184. I would add, in light of the Colossian hymn, not only the human but the creaturely situation. 42. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Cross of Christ.” 43. Richard A. Burridge, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007). 44. H. Paul Santmire, Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).



human contemplation of the divine glory, famously wrote that “there is no seeing without being caught up.”46 But the reverse is also true, and is particularly important for our present purposes: there is no being caught up without seeing. Incorporation into the body of the Lord should—must—involve an enhanced capacity both to perceive the glory “about to be revealed” (Rom. 8:18) and to identify what remains unhealed in ourselves, our societies, and our ecological contexts, and to live in solidarity with its victims. Horrell’s claim that “otherregard” is the center of Pauline ethics is interesting here.47 Regard involves first seeing, and then costly kenotic caring, and both are implicit in christic identification with the victim. Second is new creation. Paul’s phrase, “kainē ktisis” (especially at 2 Cor. 5:17),48 is of especial importance to his vision of redemption. Andrew Robinson has pointed out with respect to the classic doctrine of creatio ex nihilo that if God created everything that exists out of absolutely nothing, this was the one act of making that did not consume any materials. However, our own creaturely making, indeed our whole existence, requires consumption.49 As Wendell Berry has tellingly written, “To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it 45. Christopher Southgate, “The New Days of Noah? Assisted Migration as an Ethical Imperative in an Era of Climate Change,” in Creaturely Theology: Of God, Humans and Other Animals, ed. Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough (London: SCM, 2009), 249–65. 46. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, a Theological Aesthetics VII: Theology: The New Covenant, trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989), 24. 47. Horrell et al., Greening Paul, ch. 8. 48. See Horrell et al., Greening Paul, ch. 7, for a reading of 2 Cor. 5:17 that draws on the thought of Ulrich Mell. We write, “Thus, in Paul, ‘new creation’ is not equivalent to ‘new person’ but is rather a cosmic category, referring to the new world that the Christ-event has inaugurated” (Horrell et al., Greening Paul, 167). The conversion of the heart of the believer—her incorporation into the Lord who is incarnate, crucified, and risen—is a nucleation point for a new quality of relationship, an intensity of community not just with the fellow believer but with every human neighbor, and indeed with nonhuman “neighbors” as well. 49. Andrew Robinson (personal communication, January 2012).


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such a desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”50 This is an intriguing thought in relation to our theme of new creation in Christ. The new creation is not ex nihilo but ex vetere; it is a reconciliation, a gathering-up into community, an incorporation into the divine life. In the eschatological phase that the world enters at the Christ event, new creation does still involve taking and breaking as well as making. But Berry’s thought gives us encouragement that reverent “breaking” can be sacramental—it both symbolizes and effects the changed relationships that human redeemed freedom makes possible. It can not only deepen our identification with lives that remain the lives of victims; it can encourage us to alter our patterns of consuming. It can empower us to challenge those whose patterns of relating remain oppressive. As Horrell, Hunt, and Southgate write: The character of the end already shapes the character and experience of the Christian community now—in which reconciliation, unity, freedom and peace are (meant to be) found. And the conduct of the renewed, reconciled, people of God is meant to display their identity as members of God’s new creation, dead to sin and living in Christ, which implies imperatives to act in ways congruent with that future hope, pursuing the vision of the unity and incorporation of all things in Christ. 51

Third is inclusiveness of community. Our relationships with God and the rest of the created order need to become progressively more corporate as we are drawn more truly into the body of Christ, a locus in which all gifts, all ways of being, are recognized, and the lesser members receive special honor (1 Cor. 12:24). Horrell, Hunt, 50. Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural (San Francisco: North Point, 1981), 281. 51. Horrell et al., Greening Paul, 174.



and Southgate continue, “So rather than seeing nonhuman creation as merely the stage on which the drama of human redemption takes place, or as a store of resources at humanity’s disposal, we propose that other life-forms be included within the community of others for whom costly other-regard should be shown. . . . Christ’s selfemptying . . . serves as an ethical paradigm, providing motivation and legitimation for humans to place the survival needs, or ‘goods,’ of other species at a higher priority than humanity’s own nonessential resource requirements.”52 The language of diverse gifts within the body, especially in 1 Corinthians 12, helpfully reminds Christians of the interdependence of gifts—hence, by extension, of dependence on the nonhuman creation—and also the inverted hierarchy within Christian thought in which the lesser receives the greater honor. There seems to be ample scope for extending this language to include nonhuman creatures. The controlling idea, I propose, should still be the one suggested by that enigmatic passage, Rom. 8:19-23: that only when humans find that freedom, which is also their glory—that fullness that is life in community in the Spirit—will the nonhuman creation experience its own liberation. Fourth is worship. Christians need to find ways to express this common destiny of creatureliness in liturgical terms. Here the Orthodox tradition, with its sense of the cosmic character of the Eucharist, is of great importance.53 H. Paul Santmire has sought to explore how this ecotheological vision might affect Western liturgy,54 but in my view a yet more radical liturgical approach is needed. A step toward this would be a “creation season,” such as has been proposed by Norman Habel and colleagues.55 Also, eucharistic 52. Horrell et al., Greening Paul, 197. 53. See, in particular, Alexander Schmemann, The World as Sacrament (London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1966). 54. Santmire, Ritualizing Nature.


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

liturgies should stress more radically and directly our corporate priesthood of creation and our relationship to the rest of creation that is groaning for its redemption. Just as a sense of deep incarnation is a much stronger basis for ecotheology than the borrowing of a few Synoptic sayings and fashioning an eco-Jesus from them, so also it seems to me that the community in Christ as a prolongation of deep incarnation is a stronger basis for environmental ethics for the Christian than a ransacking of the New Testament for “green” proof-texts, or a dubiously biblical and arguably sub-Christian appeal to stewardship.56 Such an emphasis would also mesh with an understanding that humans are (corporately) called to be the priests of creation within a vision of the cosmos as praising God.57 Considerations for a Wider Ecological Ethics Where all this runs into problems is in its very Christianness, its emphasis on the human element in the community in Christ as the community of salvation. Although this is faithful to the New Testament, it will seem to many to be sectarian and a denial of the vital importance of cooperation with those of other faiths and of none. The effort to deepen the Christian theology of the nonhuman world by means of a (perhaps the) characteristically Christian trope of incarnation draws us away (unsurprisingly) from common ground with those who are not confessing Christians. This might be helpfully tempered by the reflection that

55. 56. See Christopher Southgate, “Stewardship and Its Competitors: A Spectrum of Relationships between Humans and the Non-Human Creation,” in Environmental Stewardship, ed. R. J. Berry (New York: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2006), 185–95. 57. For a discussion of these motifs of priesthood and praise, see Southgate, Groaning of Creation, chs. 4 and 6.



whoever manifests self-giving love, even from a position of no faith, has been touched by the life of God. The contemplation of the face of Christ through worship is a form of relating in freedom to the God who made us and saves us; it is itself transformative and takes us deeper into the glory of that God. But insofar as anyone sees profound need and responds to it, reaches out to the poor, the sick, the hungry or imprisoned, that action reveals someone already caught up into the divine conversation (Matt. 25:31-45), already acting in the image of the God of self-giving love.58

Clayton and Knapp make a similar move. They draw the sting out of the scandal of particularity by extending their argument, noted above, as follows: If the life and death of Jesus affected the relationship between human beings and God in the ways this explanation proposes, and if that effect essentially involved the kind of self-emptying or “kenotic” love and service depicted in the New Testament accounts of Jesus, then it would seem reasonable to locate the Spirit of Christ wherever such behavior was exhibited and encouraged.59

Another possible move would be to identify the phenomenon of wisdom as the prolongation of the incarnation of Christ, who Paul describes as the divine wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24). Again, as Celia DeaneDrummond’s work implies, Christ language and Spirit language are interchangeable when it comes to wisdom.60 However, it is harder to see how individual acts of love or displays of wisdom express the corporate dimensions to the Christian understanding that I have stressed above. Perhaps one could hold that any community sufficiently freed from narrow individual selfinterest, characterized by radical interdependence and the gifts of the Spirit, is a community that has the Spirit of Christ and therefore 58. Southgate, “Re-reading,” 392. 59. Clayton and Knapp, Predicament, 92, emphasis in original. 60. See Celia Deane-Drummond, Creation through Wisdom: Theology and the New Biology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), ch. 4.


Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation

is “true church” (perhaps truer than many communities that call themselves “church”). However, this view still seems to share the imperialist connotations of Karl Rahner’s view, cited by Clayton and Knapp, of “anonymous Christians.”61 On the other hand, to assert that any community characterized by wisdom is a holy community does not seem to do justice to the wellsprings in the doctrine of redemption from which deep incarnation draws its power. The strength disappears with the scandal. So for all the strengths of an ecotheology founded on deep incarnation, it may prove less accessible to dialogue partners outside the Christian community than, for example, stewardship, which as Robin Attfield has shown is relatively easily expressible in secular terms.62 One of the challenges for Christian ecotheologians working from a deep-incarnational basis, and insisting that that basis concerns redemption and not merely immanence, will be to translate that insight into terms that influence others, especially the shapers of environmental policy. Conclusion In conclusion, I commend the concept of deep incarnation as an enriching of the notion that the incarnate Christ is both a sign of the being of God and a sacrament of the salvation and ultimate destiny of creation. I began to explore above what it would mean to extend the concept into the church as the community of redeemed believers—the body of Christ both incarnate and risen. This is an aspect of deep incarnation that is vital to ecotheological ethics, and—for all the problems it may raise—one that deserves further exploration.

61. Clayton and Knapp, Predicament, 92. 62. Robin Attfield, Creation, Evolution and Meaning (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006), chs. 9–10.


10 The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

Niels Henrik Gregersen

The Word (Logos) spread himself everywhere, above and below and in the depth and in the breadth: above, in creation; below, in the incarnation; in the depth, in hell; in breadth, in the world. Everything is filled with the knowledge of God. Athanasius, De Incarnatione 16

The aim of this chapter is to develop the concept of deep incarnation in the three dimensions of materiality, sociality, and divine-creaturely suffering. “Deep incarnation” is the view that God’s own Logos (Wisdom and Word) was made flesh in Jesus the Christ in such a comprehensive manner that God, by assuming the particular life story of Jesus the Jew from Nazareth, also conjoined the material conditions of creaturely existence (“all flesh”), shared and ennobled the fate of all biological life forms (“grass” and “lilies”), and



experienced the pains of sensitive creatures (“sparrows” and “foxes”) from within. Deep incarnation thus presupposes a radical embodiment that reaches into in the roots (radices) of material and biological existence as well as into the darker sides of creation: the tenebrae creationis. The idea of deep incarnation is thus “low” in materiality, insofar as divine self-embodiment involves the whole malleable matrix of the material universe as well as the biological realm of growth and decay with the unavoidable consequences of pain and suffering for sentient beings. At the same time, deep incarnation as developed here is “high” in Christology. Incarnation is not primarily a matter of the man Jesus having a special awareness of God; rather, it concerns God’s eternal Logos/Wisdom who became one with the life story of Jesus in order to accomplish a new level of union between creator and creatures. Incarnation is about God’s coming into the world of flesh, not only about God coming to mind. Incarnation, therefore, cannot be an exclusively human affair. Why, then, must it be human at all? The self-embodiment of God’s Word or Wisdom must have its anchorage in a particular member of the human species because, as far we can tell, only human beings can be mindful of the universe at large, including stars and oceanic depths, the wild life of eagles and leopards, and the tamed life of sheep and roses. Moreover, only human beings are capable of cultivating an ethical concern, which in a systematic manner reaches out to fellow creatures beyond one’s own group and species. Finally, only human beings evidence a self-reflective relation to God as the source of all that is. In this sense, it is possible to speak of a special resonance between the divine Logos and the scope of human rationality and sensitivity when it is fully and properly exercised. I shall return later to the so-called scandal of particularity (Why Jesus?), but for now suffice it to say that for deep incarnation it is essential that the Son of 226

The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

God shared the heights, breadths, and depths of the human condition, and that he did so as one who was genuinely grounded in the physical and biological conditions of material beings. Yet Jesus was also a social being. In the Gospels, Jesus is depicted as living in a constant communication with his heavenly Father and open to the Spirit who guided him through his life. He also related to his fellow creatures: followers and strangers, rich and poor, resourceful and powerless people, as well as lilies, birds, and landscapes.1 In this relational sense, Jesus can be seen as a microcosm in whom the macrocosm of all creatures was present. By assuming the particular body of Jesus, God’s Logos also shares by implication the entire scope of creaturely conditions. The Jesus story is thus the fulfillment of God’s unitive aim of conjoining with all ways of the flesh so the world of creation can be one with God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). In what follows, I hope to show how this wide-scope view of incarnation has both presuppositions and ramifications that concern all three dimensions of deep incarnation: materiality, sociality, and suffering. First, the divine stretch between God the Father and his eternal Son (mediated by the Spirit) is the presupposition for the divine reach into the depths of creation. Second, the “body of Christ” is extensive in scope; it must be so in order to be able to include the full scope of creation. In Christian parlance, the body of Christ thus refers to his life-historical body, his postresurrection exalted body in the life of God, the social body of the church, and finally (as I will argue) the larger world of creation assumed by the Incarnate One. Third, the idea of deep incarnation questions the chronocentric orientation, present in Christian thought since early modernity, that has given priority to history (over against nature), historical sequences (over against 1. See Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Extended Body: The Social Body of Jesus according to Luke,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 51 (2012): 3:235–45.



space and eternity), and Jesus as an individual (over against his social identity). How this view of deep incarnation relates to the question of the sense in which God can be said to be “incarnate in all that is” remains to be seen.2 “All Flesh”: The Incarnation of Logos into the Depths of Materiality Anselm of Canterbury famously asked, Cur deus homo? (“Why did God become human?”) But the New Testament nowhere says that God became human. Rather, it says that “the Word (Logos) became flesh (sarx) and lived among us” (John 1:14). Hereby John referred to a term that was well-known by any occasional reader of the Hebrew Bible in his Christian community. Reference to “all flesh” (kol-basar) is made approximately 40 times in the Old Testament, sometimes about human beings (for example, Pss. 65:2; 145:21), and at other times about all living creatures under the sun (for example, Gen. 6:17, 19; 9:16-17; Job 34:15).3 In a few distinctive passages, human beings are even likened to grass and flowers to the point of being identified with them: All people are grass, Their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades 2. For a brief presentation of deep incarnation, see Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation: Why Evolutionary Continuity Matters in Christology,” Toronto Journal of Theology 26:2 (2010): 173–87. As for the broader historical background, see “Deep Incarnation: Biblical and Patristic Perspectives,” in To Discern Creation in a Scattering World, ed. F. Depoortere and J. Haers, Bibliotheca Ephemeridium Theologicarum Lovaniensium 262 (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 319–41. Regarding worldview questions, see my J. K. Russell Lectures (with responses from Ronald Cole-Turner, Joshua M. Moritz, Ted Peters, and Daniel J. Peterson) in Theology & Science 11:4 (2013): 370–468, in particular “Cur Deus Caro: Jesus and the Cosmos Story,” Theology & Science 11:4 (2013): 370–93. 3. See G. Gerleman, “‫בָש ָׂר‬ ּ , bāśār, flesh,” in Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, trans. Mark E. Biddle (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), 1:283–85. By the way, the Greek translation of Gen. 6:12 of kol-basar in the Septuagint is pasa sarx, “all flesh.”


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

When the breath (ruach) of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers; the flower fades; But the word (dābār) of our God will stand forever. (Isa 40:6b-8; cf. 1 Pet. 1:24)

Certainly, this passage does not recommend the ways of the flesh. The point is rather to condemn the people of Israel’s fading trust in God; God’s steadfast word and the ways of the flesh are contrasted. With this background, the message of John 1:14 is so much more striking; here the Word of God enters into the world of flesh despite the continuous resistance of God’s people: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11). In other Old Testament passages, however, references to the flesh have positive connotations, as when Ezekiel prophesies about the new creation of “hearts of flesh” that shall replace the old “hearts of stone” (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26). Usually, however, the terms “flesh” and “all flesh” are used as matter-of-fact descriptions of human beings as psychosomatic unities, and of the general conditions shared by all forms of life. Already in the creation story, we hear that the body of Adam was taken from the dust of the Earth (Gen. 2:7). The very name of Adam is derived from the Hebrew adamah, meaning “ground,” “earth,” or “land.”4 As pointed out by Claus Westermann, adam is neither a term that focuses on “‘man’ as exemplar nor primarily the individual; rather, it denotes the category, humanity as a whole, to which the individual belongs. Humanity is defined by its origin, its creatureliness.”5 Adam thus refers to humankind before the distinction between the sexes: “So God created humankind (adam) . . . male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Likewise, Eve was called by her name “because she was the mother of all who live” (Gen. 4. See H. H. Schmid, “‫אֲָדמָה‬,ʾadāmâ, ground,” in Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1:42–45. 5. Claus Westermann, “‫אָָדם‬, ʾādām, person,” in Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1:31–42.



3:20). We should thus hardly think of Adam and Eve in terms of a modern concept of individuality, but rather as corporate persons who can be understood only in terms of their sustained connections to the Earth and all other living beings. These basic anthropological findings are of immediate relevance for the concept of deep incarnation. In the New Testament, Jesus is identified as the “second Adam” (Romans 5). Likewise, the Gospel of Luke traces the ancestral line of Jesus to the remote forefather Seth, “son of Adam, son of God” (Luke 3:23-38). Like the first Adam, the second Adam was materially grounded in earth, though they were both infused with God’s life-giving Spirit. From this perspective, Jesus is seen more as a personal center of relations than a self-enclosed individual person.6 The Meanings of Logos and sarx in John and Contemporary Hellenism Up to a point, the Johannine notion of the incarnate Logos may be understood as a transformation internal to the Jewish tradition. The presence of God does not dwell in the temple of Jerusalem built of stones but in the living flesh of Jesus. However, it would be a mistake to take the Gospel of John out of its wider Hellenistic context. It has long been recognized that Judaism was significantly Hellenized in the centuries before Christ. Just as the Wisdom of Solomon (probably written in the first century bce) used Stoic resources to universalize a Jewish theology, Philo of Alexandria (c. 10/15 bce–c. 50 ce) used a Platonic framework while also absorbing central Stoic ideas into 6. Christologies “from below,” which base themselves on historical reconstructions of the Jesusfigure, risk presuming such a modern concept of individuality; today this is becoming increasingly unsustainable. See Michael Welker, “Is the Autonomous Person of European Modernity a Sustainable Model of Human Personhood?” in The Human Person in Science and Theology, ed. Niels Henrik Gregersen, Willem B. Drees, and Ulf Görman (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 95–114. Also, one commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness when thinking of incarnation as confined to the lifetime of Jesus in Galilee.


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

his cosmology.7 Recent scholarship speaks of the period between 100 bce and 200 ce as a “transitional period” in which Platonic and Stoic motives were competing while also being combined in multiple ways, both among pagans and early Christians.8 Such an interplay between Platonizing and Stoicizing motives is likely to be present also in the Gospel of John. In line with Platonizing Jews such as Philo of Alexandria, John posited only one principle (archē) as the creative origin of the universe: the divine Logos. Stoicism, by contrast, posited two principles (archai): Logos (creative pattern) and hulē/sarx (matter). Yet when formulating the idea of incarnation, John had to make a move parallel to Stoic thought, since the Christian claim is that Logos and sarx are coterminous in the person of Christ. Thus the Logos did not hide behind the flesh (as Platonists would have it); neither did he appear only in the flesh in a transitory manner (as in the burning bush of Exodus 3). Rather, the divine Logos genuinely “became flesh” and was present in Jesus as flesh, with the flesh of others, and for all flesh.9 According to John, Logos and sarx had the same extension in the Incarnate One. This view was scandalous to most Jews and to all Platonists. Only Stoicism harbored the idea of Logos and sarx being coextensive, related as they were in their cosmology to the four elements, paired as fire-air and water-earth. The Stoics would thus not find the idea of a nonidentical conjunction (mixis) of Logos and sarx to be problematic, though they would certainly find strange the

7. John Dillon, The Middle Platonists: 80 B.C. to A.D. 220, rev. ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 152, refers to Philo as one of the “Stoicizing Platonists of Alexandria.” 8. Troels Engberg-Pedersen, ”Setting the Scene: Stoicism and Platonism in the Transitional Period in Ancient Philosophy,” in Stoicism in Early Christianity, ed. T. Rasimus, T. EngbergPedersen, and I. Dunderberg (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 15–28. 9. See Richard Bauckham’s helpful contribution to this volume, also taken up in Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation and Kenosis: In, With, Under, and As: A Response to Ted Peters,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 52:3 (Fall 2013): 255–66.



idea of a compression of the universal Logos in a particular human being.10 In sum, what was new and unprecedented in John in relation to the Hebrew Scriptures was that the Logos entered the world of flesh, despite the resistance of the world of flesh, in order to overcome the split between God and creation that had not hitherto been healed (see also Heb. 1:1-3). What was new and unprecedented in John in relation to Stoicism was his combination of divine transcendence and a localization of the divine Logos in a particular human being. And when the Son of God became flesh, he shared the conditions of the flesh in all its dimensions. The Logos assumed the concrete “body and flesh” of Jesus of Nazareth (sarxmeaning1). But by becoming a concrete body in Jesus, the divine Logos also embraced and carried the recalcitrance and resistance of the flesh (sarxmeaning2). As we saw in Isaiah, sarx also designates “sinful flesh,” a meaning present in John as well: “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). What is needed is a transformation of the flesh by its being embraced by the divine Logos and infused by God’s life-giving Spirit, who creates new out of old while also bringing the potentialities of the flesh to their God-willed fruition. Otherwise, the split between Creator and creation would continue. Here it becomes important that the incarnation of the eternal Word of God is not seen as an event associated with his birth only, but is seen as a process that extends from the birth through the ministry to the death of Jesus on the cross (see chapter 3 of this volume). The Gospel of John relates the final words of Jesus on the cross as “It is finished” (19:30).

10. The relevant texts are presented by A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley, eds., The Hellenistic Philosophers Volume 1: Translations of the Principal Sources with Philosophical Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 268–72 (on principles, or archai), 280–89 (on the elements, or stoicheia), and 290–94 (on the conjunction of logos and matter, or mixis).


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

But finally, flesh can simply refer to the realm of materiality in its most general extension (sarxmeaning3), perhaps with a special note of something transitory and vulnerable to decay.11 Flesh is that which both flowers and fades, as we saw in the Hebrew conception of kol-basar. This notion of sarx comes more to the fore if one takes seriously the fact that the Gospel of John is a philosophical as well as a theological text, written in a Hellenistic context though driven by Jewish and Christian commitments. In antiquity, sarx referred to the whole material world under the moon, in which earth and water were the predominant physical elements.12 But while most Hellenistic philosophers posited a contrast between the material and the spiritual, the Stoics were alone in promoting the view that there was a “natural” or swift relation between Logos and sarx, as long as the former was governing the latter and the latter flexible to the former. There is here at least a congeniality between the Gospel of John and Stoicism. John was most probably influenced by Stoicism, since it was not only a leading school of philosophy in the contemporary Roman Empire but it also pervaded the air, so to speak, in cities such as Rome and Alexandria. While the concept of deep incarnation does not rely on the hypothesis of a Stoic influence on the Gospel of John, it is important for the exegetical background of the concept that the Gospel of John uses a multidimensional concept of sarx. The divine Logos, therefore, does not enter only into the blood and flesh of Jesus as an individual body. The incarnation also extends into Jesus as an instantiation of

11. Accordingly, John uses the term kosmos both in its positive and extensive scope, referring to God’s own creation (like sarxmeaning3) such as in John 3:16 (“God so loved the world”), and as a negative designation of the sinful world (like sarxmeaning2) such as in John 17:16 (“They [the disciples] do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world”). 12. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones, and Roderick McKenzie, A GreekEnglish Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), 1585, under II.3: “the physical or natural order of things, [as] opp[osed to] the spiritual or supernatural.”



the material universe and the frail flesh of biological creatures. The flesh that is assumed in Jesus Christ is not only the particular man Jesus but the entire realm of humanity, living creatures, and earthly soil. The most high (the eternal thought and power of God) and the very low (the flesh that comes into being and decays) are internally related in the process of incarnation.13 The Logic of Revelation: Relating Strict-Sense and Full-Scope Incarnation For John as well as for other early Christians, however, the Logos was not just a principle of creation and life but the final revelation of God in Christ. In the prologue of John, we thus move, via the biological functions of the Logos, from the cosmological to its role as identifying God’s eternal will and nature for all people: “All things came into being through the Logos, and without the Logos not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Logos was life, and the life was the light of all people.”14 It’s hardly a coincidence that the Gospel starts with the creation of all things and the emergence of life before it speaks of the Logos as God’s self-revelation, since the idea of the nexus between physical matter, biological life, and human existence was common to the creation account in Genesis and to Aristotelian and Stoic cosmology. In John, however, the meaning of incarnation reaches its apex in the Jesus

13. Richard Bauckham has argued that a Second Temple Jewish monotheism could also allow for a “high Christology” that identified Jesus within the life of God, but would be incompatible with viewing Jesus as an intermediary figure as in the angelic Christology of Christian Middle Platonists (such as Origen): “A high Christology was possible within a Jewish monotheistic context, not by applying to Jesus a Jewish category of semi-divine intermediary status, but by identifying Jesus directly with the God of Israel, including Jesus in the unique identity of this one God.” See Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 4. 14. John 1:3-4 according to nrsv, but revised for its premature personalization of Logos as a “he.”


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

story as a unique character description of who and what God was, is, and will be forever. It is thus the divine stretch between God the Father and the divine Word that, according to the prologue of John’s Gospel, predisposes God’s reach into the depths of reality. This being the case, John’s claim was not just that God in Jesus “was there” in the material world (for God is already ubiquitous in his creation). Neither does John simply say about Jesus, “This is God.” Far from replacing the Father, the divine Logos expresses the mind and heart of the Father who is greater than the Son (John 14:28). Rather, John’s claim is like saying, “Thus is God.” Just as Jesus was, in the unfolding of his spatiotemporal life story, so God is––in the past, now, and forever. Jesus was fully transparent to God: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). This view is not quite equal to saying that “God is incarnate in all that is.” God the Father does not become incarnate, but only his eternal Word, who is “sent” by God, just as the Spirit was to be “sent” after the death of Jesus in order to guide the disciples into the full truth (John 14:25-31; 16:5-15). Moreover, the divine Logos is not present in a self-revelatory way in everything that happens, from the crucifixions of the past to the countless natural disasters and horrors of human torture today. Neither divine omnipresence nor incarnation presuppose that God is “omni-manifest,” that is, revealed in all the vicissitudes of natural evolution and human history, including natural and human horrors. Rather, the point is that the embodied Word of God shares from within the sufferings of all who suffer from the powers of tsunamis, earthquakes, and hunger, and takes the side of the victims of the horrors that human beings inflict upon one other. Here we arrive at the so-called scandal of particularity: Why Jesus? Why not a relatively good Roman emperor such as Marcus Aurelius



(a good Stoic, by the way)? Why not Queen Elizabeth I, an Indian saint, a Confucian master, or any good shepherd or housekeeper from the countless cultures of the Americas, Europe, Africa, or Asia? It seems that only a human person who exists in full resonance with God, and in a constant attunement to the will of God, could possibly reveal who God is. And yet only a person who shares creaturely conditions thoroughly could include his or her fellow creatures in reconciliation with God. In order to speak of a divine self-characterization in the midst of space-time, we need to ask, Which world, human community, or human person is so resonant with the will of God that they could be fully transparent to the nature of the divine? The response to this question depends, on the one hand, on one’s degree of optimism with regard to the state of humanity, and, on the other hand, on how radical one takes the requirement of the “full transparency” of the revelatory medium in relation to divine nature, given that God is selfgiving love. It seems to me that only cosmic optimists (like the Stoics or early modern natural theologians) can speak in such lofty words about the course of nature that they could say the world in extenso is God’s self-revelatory body. Such a statement is hard to maintain in the face of persistent hardship and evil in the world.15 Likewise, only 15. This optimism could still, at least to some extent, be uttered by pre-Darwinian natural theologians, from the Stoics to Carl von Linné. The post-Darwinian awareness of the place of natural evil in evolution poses a problem for anyone who wants to argue that God is incarnate in all that exists such that the world is eventually God’s body. In her early work, Grace M. Jantzen proposed the distinction that even though “evil is in God,” one does not need to say that “God himself is evil” (so Jantzen, God’s World, God’s Body [London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1984], 93, cf. 137). However, this distinction presupposes that God is indeed not fully revealed in the body of the world. In her later work, Jantzen argued instead for a strict pantheism (see her “Feminism and Pantheism,” Monist 80:2 [1997]: 265–85). I think, however, that parts of her earlier view can be rescued within the concept of deep incarnation: God’s body, Jesus Christ, is indeed conjoined with all that exists by sharing the sufferings of creation (so Jantzen, God’s World, 137). But since God is not identified in and through all that happens, the world cannot by itself be said to be God’s body (unless this is taken in a metaphorical sense without any


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

anthropological optimists can suggest that God’s nature is revealed everywhere in the human race (“we are all divine”), or even in a wide sample of religious saints (“many are divine”). Because of their historical experiences, the Jewish prophets ended up with a more pessimistic (and, I would say, realistic) view of the capacities of the chosen people of Israel and of the human race at large. The prophets pointed to the persistent gap between the constitutional resonance of God and human beings (since we are created in the “image and likeness of God,” Gen. 1:26-27) and the actual dissonance of God’s ways and the ways of the human race: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). In light of the Jesus story, the early Christians acknowledged the full implications of the gap uncovered by the prophets. The scribes and Pharisees (who definitely wanted to do the right thing) ended up as self-protective evildoers, just as the Roman authorities (who initially wanted to be lenient toward Jesus) gave in to the miscarriage of justice and even took charge of the judicial murder of Jesus. “All are sinners,” is the concerted conclusion drawn in the Old and New Testaments. But only a human being who is living in full resonance with God’s will, while also being transparent to God’s eternal nature, could be said to be a proper embodiment and character-description of God. The Christian assumption is that such resonance and transparency has only happened in the life story of Jesus (Heb. 4:15). For this reason, Christians continue to speak of the “once-and-forall” incarnation of Jesus16 without thereby disclaiming the possibility

ontological claims). It is one thing to say that the Incarnate One shares the conditions of the world as a body; it is quite another to say that the body of the world is God’s body by its own intrinsic qualities. 16. Gerald O’Collins, Incarnation (New York: Continuum, 2002), 4.



of human persons becoming “sharers in divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) through Christ. Thus there is at least some experiential basis for the Christian claim of the uniqueness of Jesus, yet the claim of his uniqueness cannot in the end be determined by such comparative reasoning. At the ultimate level of explanation, one would need to have recourse to divine election as expressed in the Johannine account of the baptism of Jesus: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). The logic of divine revelation demands that God, as “the source of all that is,” must be the source of divine self-disclosure too. Let us call this notion of self-revelatory incarnation a “strict-sense view” of incarnation, reserved for Jesus alone. But the point is, then, that this compressed view of incarnation must be extended into a “full-scope view” if the divine self-revelation is to be revelatory for all human beings, since one cannot speak abstractly or in a substantialist manner about “revelation.” Revelation cannot exist on its own; it is not a commodity that can be exchanged without personal involvement. The logic of revelation is inherently relational, insofar as a revelation is a revelation of something or somebody (God the Father) to somebody (human apprehenders of the revelation) in and through a medium of revelation (the Incarnate One) by a relational power (the Holy Spirit). Thus, in the case of the incarnation of the divine Word in Jesus, the medium is the message, because the divine Logos that became one with all the flesh of creation (John 1:14) that was “in the beginning” (John 1:1). That is, the Logos was “in God” (en archē) and was “with God” (pros theon). The Logos is even said to be “godly” (theos) in the predicative sense of being divine, since the Logos was the Father’s own Word—that is, a Word expressing God’s nature, which is the


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

opposite of replacing God the Father. Therefore, the logic of strictsense incarnation demands that we say, “So is God” (This is the way God is), rather than simply stating, “This person is God.” The divine Word cannot take the place of God the Father as the source (archē) of all that exists and the sender of the divine Logos; neither can the dying Son of God take the place of the Holy Spirit, who is the divine life-giver and revealer. According to deep incarnation, the logic of revelation requires that strict-sense incarnation must grow into full-scope incarnation. Christ cannot say, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), without actually enlightening the world such that he eventually becomes “the light of all people” (John 1:4). The same applies to the relationship between the divine Logos and the material universe. The prologue of John both presupposes and rewrites the Genesis account of creation. According to Genesis, God was a friend of the material world from the beginning. God not only created matter; God also appreciated and enjoyed it, as expressed in the accompanying words: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Within this framework, the story of humanity emerges as a divine experiment of dust and spirit (Gen. 2:7)—a story that came to its fulfillment in Jesus, who was fully resonant with God. This deep connection between Christ, humanity, and the cosmos comes forth when John writes that the divine Logos “came to what was his own” (John 1:11a), hereby referring both to God’s own world of creation (compare John 1:10) and to God’s own people (John 1:11b). The Deep Sufferings of Christ: The Gospel according to Paul We have seen that in order for the Logos to be divine self-revelation for “all people” (John 1:4), and in order for the “light of the world” to “enlighten everyone” (John 1:9), the Logos must have its place



in the midst of creation and take the form of a vulnerable creature that shares the conditions of human beings. I have also argued that the point of deep incarnation is not that God is, plainly speaking, “incarnate in all that is,” but rather that the incarnate Logos, sent from God the Father, is present for and with all creatures, including in their sufferings. As such, the Incarnate One is indeed “in all that is.” This sharing of suffering presupposes that Jesus in his own body experiences pain; from his own life story Jesus Christ knew what it meant to be abandoned and radically isolated. Unfortunately, we do not find much attention paid to the suffering of Christ in the Gospel of John, though we occasionally hear about his feelings of compassion.17 However, we do find the logic of sharing explicated in Hebrews: “Since, therefore, the children of God share blood and flesh, he himself likewise shared the same things. . . . Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb. 2:14, 18). In this context, however, Hebrews is primarily concerned about the expiation of human sins through Christ as the final high priest. Moving into the Pauline corpus, we observe an ever-more-intense sense of the cosmic scope of Christ. Paul is known for going along with the skeptical part of Old Testament wisdom traditions by being utterly pessimistic about human capacities to understand God: “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20) Accordingly, Paul can be said to start out from a strict-sense view of incarnation, even restricted to the minimal point of the crucified Son of God. The foolishness of the crucified Christ is declared to be wiser than all human wisdom: “For Jews demand 17. See Harold W. Attridge, “An ‘Emotional’ Jesus and Stoic Tradition,” in Stoicism in Early Christianity, ed. T. Rasimus, T. Engberg-Pedersen, and I. Dunderberg (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 77–92.


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:22-23). Yet Paul also develops a full-scope view of incarnation in the context of his theology of the body of Christ. In his view of the individual body of the Christian as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, he can ask, almost impatiently, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” and “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Cor. 6:15, 19). As is well known, Paul more eloquently speaks of the church as the continuous dwelling place of Jesus the Christ: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12). Some might argue that here we are still in the domain of humanity, and even of the few elect ones within humanity. Certainly, it is correct that Paul speaks of the church, and not of the world of creation, as the body of Christ.18 But as a theologian of the cross, Paul also knows about the depth dimension of the crucified Christ. Christ can be found in the heights and the depths of all the realms of God’s creation. For since the love of God has, once and for all, been revealed on the cross, believers know that neither hardship, nor distress, nor persecution can separate them from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35): “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). In the same chapter, Paul combines church and creation to say that the children of

18. See chapter 9 of this volume.



God are forerunners of the new creation for which the rest of creation is still waiting impatiently: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Rom. 8:18-21)

This passage is well-known, since it is one of the central New Testament texts pointing to the hidden connection between the church as the body of Christ and the liberation of all that breathes and suffers under decay: “We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:22-23). There is here no split between cosmos and church—both experience the labor pains of creaturely becoming, outside and in. The deep incarnation of Christ is coupled in Paul with the Spirit from God, who works in the depths of human understanding (1 Cor. 2:11) and who is searching “everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). Deep incarnation thus involves a pneumatological perspective no less than a christological view.19 It is therefore important to notice the differences between the Son of God going down with his fellow creatures in anguish and death, on the one hand, and the suffering presence of the Spirit of God in the depths of creation, on the other. The incarnate Son of God is suffering and dying exactly as a creature 19. As rightly pointed out by Celia Deane-Drummond in chapter 8 of this volume, it is important to explicate deep incarnation with a sense of the depths of the Spirit of God. This situation may be similar to the development of the concept of kenosis, or self-emptying, of the Son of God in Phil. 2:6-11. What began as a christological statement had to find an accompanying expression of the kenosis of the Holy Spirit, as ably argued by D. Lyle Dabney, Die Kenosis des Geistes: Kontinuität zwischen Schöpfung und Erlösung im Werk des Heiligen Geistes (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1997), 109–63. The Spirit of God is thus not only creative and vivifying (as Spiritus Creator), but also suffering with creation (as Spiritus Redemptor).


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

among creatures, whereas the Spirit of God as the divine life-giver is suffering with the suffering and dying creatures in order to finally raise them up from the conditions of suffering and death. Accepting Time, Yet Moving beyond a Chronocentric Worldview So far, I have followed the train of christological and pneumatological thinking in Paul. Yet it is time to pause and point to the difficulties in speaking in the language of Paul. For unlike us, Paul presupposed an apocalyptic worldview, which he laid out in temporal sequences: first the cross of Christ, then the resurrection of Christ, then the church as the body of Christ, and only then, finally, the resurrection of the children of God and the liberation of all creation that had been under labor and groaning. Even though Paul cannot be said to have set up fixed walls between the human and nonhuman worlds (Romans 8) or between Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9–11), he used an inherited scheme of Jewish apocalypticism to temporalize the tensions between church and cosmos as well as the antagonisms between the present age and the age to come. Putting things into a temporal scheme makes unbearable paradoxes bearable. The apocalyptic worldview allowed Paul to suspend experienced gaps between faith and reality in the mode of hope.20 For sure, there must be something to come that is not yet fully realized if there is something to hope for. Yet it should not go unnoticed that the later Pauline writings (probably not written by Paul himself) propose a new way of thinking about the resurrection and cosmic reconciliation in Christ. The author of the letter to the Colossians thus speaks about the resurrection in the present tense

20. Whether one is prepared to follow this solution depends upon one’s willingness to adopt the apocalyptic worldview of Jewish theology, or on the possibility of reinterpreting apocalyptic notions by finding new ways of conceiving the relation between eternity and time. I here refer to Robert John Russell’s contribution to this volume (chapter 14).



(“You have been raised with Christ,” Col. 3:1) without thereby excluding a more full process of resurrection to follow. This move was made possible by seeing incarnation and resurrection as something enduring or processual, rather than something merely episodic or temporally confined. Colossians makes the bold statement that even the plēroma of divinity has once and for all time become body and blood in Christ: “For in him the whole fullness (plēroma) of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). Here divine fullness and the entire world of creation come together in a manner comparable in the New Testament only to John 1:14. The coming and the being of Christ mark the coming together of creator and creature, with the consequence that all things are already unified and reconciled in him: “For in him all the fullness (plēroma) of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things (ta panta), whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20; cf. Eph. 2:11-22). This theology of the cosmic body of Christ is not only about creation theology but about an ongoing reconciliation between Creator and creature. It is not only about Christ being there in and with the world of creatures but also being there for the creatures. Moreover, it is not only God’s incarnation that is described in the biological terms of flesh and blood, of living and dwelling. The purpose of life (redemption) is also described as a still-deeper growth into the body of Christ, who is the deep coinherence of everything that exists: “In him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Since Christ is the head of the body, the church should neither succumb to “selfabasement” nor be “dwelling on visions.” Christians should hold fast to Christ the head, “from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

from God” (Col. 2:18-19). Unless one takes this organic pattern of thought merely as a metaphorical ornament,21 the letter here speaks in biological terms about realities that are both bodily and spiritual in nature. It also speaks about salvation as a grand-scale union and reconciliation between Creator and creature, Christ and church.22 Christ and the Horrors of Creation How can we speak of such matters in a contemporary perspective? I take my point of departure from the intriguing study, Christ and Horrors, by Marilyn McCord Adams. Here she gives a portrait of the roles to be fulfilled by Christ if he is to be a “horror defeater” on a cosmic scale, yet with human proportions. McCord Adams defines horrors as those aspects of creation (premature death, unjust suffering, suffering without meaning, natural evils) that cannot be redeemed within the lifetime of a sufferer. She argues that Christ as the defeater of horror must first “establish a relation of organic unity” between a person’s horror-participation and his or her intimate relationship with God. This requires that Christ is not a perfect being hovering over the troubles of humankind but that he himself is vulnerable to horrors. In other words, Jesus must be driven by the opposing forces of metabolism (that builds up) and catabolism (that tears down). Like ours, His body must be mortal, tending towards death in such a way that it is not within his human powers to lay down His life and to take it up again. He must be urged on by life instincts of hunger, thirst, and sex, and threatened by the built-in seeds of its own demise.23 21. As proposed by Holmes Rolston in chapter 11. 22. One is reminded here of the famous maxim stated by Gregory Nazianzus in Letter 101.32: “For that which he has not assumed (aproslēpton) he has not healed (atherapeuton), but that which is united to his Godhead (ho de hēnōtai tōi theōi) is also saved (sōzetai).” Greek text in Grégoire de Nazianze, Lettres Théologiques, Sources Chretiennes 208, ed. Paul Gallay (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1974), 50. English translation in Edward R. Hardy, ed., Christology of the Later Fathers, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 218.



Hereby McCord Adams offers a portrait of the human nature of Christ that breaks away from the perfectionist picture of classical patristic and medieval theology. Her purpose is to show that the body of Jesus cannot be exempt from the biological needs and drives that human beings share with other creatures. In addition to this Stage I of organic sharing in the conditions of bodily existence, McCord Adams speaks about a further Stage II of horror-defeat, which is “healing and otherwise enabling the horrorparticipant’s meaning-making capacities so that s/he can recognize and appropriate some of the positive significance laid down in Stage I.”24 McCord Adams here refers to the structure of a mutual yet asymmetrical indwelling, having the structure of the Johannine Christ saying, “I-Not-I-but-the Father,” or Paul’s saying, “I-not-Ibut-Christ.”25 This experience of endurance and being compelled by God may indeed be important for the meaning-making of horror participants who cannot escape their conditions. Christ in Gethsemane might be a case in point. As for myself (perhaps here revealing my Lutheran background), I would put an even greater emphasis on Jesus’ cry of dereliction in his last words on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34/Matt. 27:46). McCord Adams is right in observing that this cry is open to interpretation since Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, which ends in a recovery of confidence. Even so, the cry itself articulates a loss of immediate confidence that I take to be an important moment of the deep sufferings of Christ. In experiences of abandonment and of living outside of resonance, meaning-making may consist simply in the residual faith that one is not alone. This is a human experience of the radical uncertainty of 23. Marilyn McCord Adams, Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 67; italics in original. 24. Adams, Christ and Horrors, 66. 25. Adams, Christ and Horrors, 73–74.


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

one’s future destiny that should not prematurely be translated into a facile hope or an unshaken basic trust. After all, it is the failing of grips and pathways (and not the available grips and viable pathways into the future) that constitutes the anxiety-provoking experiences of dizziness and ambiguity.26 From the Christian perspective, the only resort for human beings is an inarticulate faith in the co-presence of Christ, who once was a sufferer and still bears the marks of suffering. Jesus himself similarly had no route of resort, and was thus placed in a state of dreadful ambiguity. Finally, McCord Adams refers to a Stage III of her “job description” for Christ as a horror-defeater. This stage is about “recreating our relation to the material world so that we are no longer radically vulnerable to horrors.”27 This role, I would argue, can be performed neither by the human nature of Jesus on its own nor by the incarnate Logos in himself. This raises the difficult question as to whether the divine Logos could die (a view generally dismissed in patristic and mediaeval theology)28 or whether the Son of God also had to await his resurrection by the powers of the Holy Spirit, as intimated by Paul in Rom. 1:3-4. From the perspective of the concrete personal union of Logos and sarx, I would emphasize that the Son of God can properly be said to have died, just as he properly was said to become flesh and suffer pain and anguish. But here again, the understanding of incarnation and cross cannot be understood in terms of a simple 26. Søren Kierkegaard discovered in Begrebet Angest (1844) that anxiety involuntarily arises out of the ambiguity of wanting and not wanting to face the inner possibilities of instability in a “sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” See The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin, ed. and trans. Reidar Thomte (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 42. In this sense, Kierkegaard describes Christ also as “anxious unto death” (cf. Matt. 26:37) and wanting Judas to hurry with his endeavors: “What you are going to do, do quickly” (155). Like any other human, Jesus was “educated by anxiety” (166). 27. Adams, Christ and Horrors, 66. 28. So Athanasius, De Incarnatione 9: “The Word (Logos) was not able to die, being immortal and the Son of the Father.” Translation in Robert W. Thomson, ed. and trans., Athanasius, Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, Oxford Early Christian Texts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 153–55.



sequentialized timeline: First he was with God (Logos asarkos), then he left God and became incarnate (Logos ensarkos) in order finally to be raised by the Spirit and go back to his heavenly Father. This narrative needs unpacking. The principal point must be that for the divine Logos it is as natural to be in the lowlands of creation as to be present at the Father’s right hand. As divine and eternal, Logos is always everywhere. This also applies to the life story of Jesus. The incarnate Logos is everywhere in God’s creation. Neither incarnation nor resurrection can be understood in purely spatiotemporal terms. Here I follow another suggestion of Athanasius: “He [the Son of God] was not enclosed in the body but nowhere else. Nor did he move the latter while the universe was deprived of his action and providence. But what is most wonderful is that, being the Word, he was not contained by anyone, but rather himself contained everything.”29 I would only add that the Logos/Son of God contained not just the niceties of the cosmic order but also the nastiness of ugliness, pain, and death, in as well as outside of Galilee. This is required by the concept of deep suffering in tandem with the notion of deep incarnation. The Social Body of Christ: From Deep Incarnation to Deep Resurrection Above I have already presupposed the resurrection of Jesus Christ. How else could we talk about Christ suffering with the horrors of the members of the human race? How could we talk about Christ sharing the experience of the sparrow falling to the ground, and the condition of flowers and grass flourishing one day but disintegrating the next, without presupposing his resurrected body? Yet the bodiliness of the risen Christ is not like a spatiotemporal being who is 29. Athanasius, De Incarnatione 17 (Thomson, 175).


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

transported from here to there, from the grave in Palestine to a place up in the sky. It is exactly the extended body of Christ that is risen from the grave in order to be present as a comprehensive body living for and suffering with all other bodies, living or dead. In this sense, the idea of a deep suffering requires a similar concept of the depths of resurrection. As Elizabeth A. Johnson helpfully phrases it, we need to add to the concept of deep incarnation a corresponding concept of “deep resurrection.”30 Such a concept of resurrection involves a sense of a “deep sociality” between Christ, the Father, and the Spirit, and likewise between Christ, creation, and his people. Historically, the belief in the resurrection of Jesus (his raising from the dead and his reabsorption into the life of God) precedes the belief in his incarnation. Indeed, without the resurrection of Jesus there would be no reasonable basis for speaking of a divine incarnation in Jesus prior to his death and resurrection. Yet at the same time, the resurrection of Jesus was the approbation of who he already was, also prior to his death and resurrection.31 This linkage between incarnation and resurrection has immediate implications for the very concept of incarnation. The term incarnation should not be reserved for the advent of Christ in his birth as celebrated at Christmas; the incarnation of God’s Logos in Jesus covers the entire process from the birth and development of Jesus to his flourishing as preacher and healer until his final failure on the cross. But more than that, in the Christian tradition the idea of incarnation has hardly ever been used by any major theologian to signify only a historical episode on the temporal axis of human history between around 4 bce and 33 ce. The exclusive historical 30. See chapter 6 of this volume, as well as Elizabeth A. Johnson, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (London: Continuum, 2014), 192–210. 31. As argued by Jürgen Moltmann in chapter 5.



focus on the life of “the historical Jesus” is due to the advent of European historicism in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.32 But a historicism that only wants to state, explain, and sequentialize






according to which only the present moment is really real. The events of the past were real, but are now only real and present in the form of historical remnants plus our memories and historical reconstructions. On such a view, nothing can happen that escapes a concise spatiotemporal localization. But the idea of incarnation implies that what actually emerged in the Jesus story transcends the short lifetime of Mary’s son. What, for us, has a historical date in time and space has an eternal story in God’s unitive aim for creation. For as we have seen, the point of incarnation is that the eternal God in Christ has so conjoined himself to the material world that the bodiliness of Jesus (and in him all material life forms) will forever be united with God. “On the third day” Jesus rose into the life of God, thereby revealing that just as God “in the beginning” wanted and enjoyed the full gamut of the material world of creation (Gen. 1:31), so God will also “in the end” (that is, forever) be united with this world of creation in and through the incarnate Christ. Christ thus remained incarnate after he went “to the Father” (John 16:28). And he was not there alone in a spurious individual body (like a wandering ghost or the like); not only was Christ one with the Father, but he also said to his Father, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them” (John 17:10). If this Christ is risen by the Spirit, Christ can never be one with God without being one with the many. In Paul also, the resurrection of Jesus cannot possibly be imagined as a solitary affair, since the very meaning of the resurrection was 32. See John Behr’s contribution in chapter 3 of this volume, and Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions (London: SCM, 1993), 227–45.


The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation

that Jesus was the initiator of a general resurrection, “the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Cor. 15:20). Accordingly, “if there is no [general] resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised” (1 Cor. 15:13). This logic defies the historicist assumption that a fact, in order to be a “real” fact, must take place on a timeline, either in the past, now, or at some point in the future. For, to follow on Paul’s argument, how can a future event of resurrection be imagined to nullify an event that (according to Paul) actually has happened? It here becomes obvious that even the apocalyptic worldview of Paul (which few would share today) tells another story than the sequential story of the modern historicist outlook. It rather seems that, for Paul also, both incarnation and resurrection are events and processes that (if they are true) are impinging on every moment and epoch in history, and are close to every place in the vast cosmic space. Before and after. Now and then. Here as well as there. The idea of deep incarnation and the corresponding concept of deep resurrection offer themselves as ways to reformulate some basic points in the gospels of John and Paul. On the view of deep incarnation, there is nothing like a closed realm of nature and history, a natura pura, alongside of which there is an aloof higher being, a deus nudus. Just as Christ the Logos is the deep bond between all that exists, so God’s life-giving Spirit is moving all beings that exist, both at time and place, and weaving them into the community with God for whom there is no difference of persons. Accordingly, the scope of Christology is not just about the “salvific effect” of a bygone incarnation of God in Jesus. Incarnation is a question of Christ being here, and being there at the deepest levels of the material world of flesh as the Incarnate One who both shares and transcends the conditions of materiality. To slightly rephrase Hamlet’s question at Kronborg, the Castle of Elsinor: “Being there, or not being there, that is the question.” 251

11 Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform: From Information to Incarnation

Holmes Rolston III

The prologue of John’s Gospel begins with the divine Logos in creation and concludes with this Logos becoming flesh. This is prologue to Gospel: a Christ event with cosmic significance. John says the Word “made his dwelling among us . . . the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The divine Logos becomes fully incarnate only when sacrificial redemptive love is taken at the pitch in the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ. By the end of the prologue John is preaching incarnation, but he opens with divine immanence. One might thus hope to begin with pervasive divine inspiration and end with the apical word incarnation. But when does such an immanent logos pass over to God incarnate?



We worry here whether the word can convincingly be used at the start or en route. “Incarnate” means in flesh (at least at face value), and neither God nor any other being could be incarnate at a level of existence that does not have flesh, such as stars or trees. Despite what the panpsychists might say, it is hard to put spirit into rocks. That God became flesh in the person of Jesus is already a startling claim, but at least persons—complex, fleshed beings who can think, love, do good and evil—might be the sort of vehicle in which God could become personally present. It is not so with crystals or dirt. In the biological world, the higher, blooded animals have flesh; but can God become present in a chimpanzee or a wolf? Some “presence” seems to follow if the Spirit animates all life. But animals show little evidence of having religious experiences; any divine presence would be unsensed. Saint Francis preached to the birds, but we think that is quaint. Alongside the intense sense of divine presence in Christ, the claim that God is incarnate in birds might be nonsense. If, however, incarnate is enlarged to include embodied, then one could at least meaningfully ask whether God might be embodied in animals. Another word with a Greek and biblical legacy is sōma, “body.” This has a rather generic use; it refers to heavenly as well as human bodies. Biologically, plants have sōma but not flesh. God might be embodied in plants. We seldom think of plants as being animated, but never doubt they are organic. But God is spirit, and trees have no spirit. Perhaps the Spirit “inspires” all life, but incarnation, enfleshed saving presence, is something more. Plants “respire” and are upheld by divine power, but this is not yet incarnation. Still, some make a more insistent claim about pervasive incarnation: in a strict sense incarnation is reserved for Jesus alone, but “this compressed view of incarnation must be extended into a ‘full-scope view’ if the divine self-revelation is to be revelatory for


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

all human beings.”1 “There is no redemption for human beings . . . without the redemption of nature.”2 “In his incarnation God assumes not only human nature but also the nature of all the living.”3 “The scope of reconciliation is as wide as the scope of creation.”4 We seem to get the idea that in God, nothing in natural history—or at least nothing good—can be partial, failed, and left as the end of the story. Since in natural history all creatures die, most of them early and prematurely, we need a kind of super-redemption, really a superuniversalism. In God, there will be a super-universe with all the fauna and flora, all the stars and galaxies, reestablished and redeemed. This may seem extreme, but still there is something to be said for the divine self-revelation permeating the cosmos across the adventures of matter-energy, life, and mind. The Spirit does continually “renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30 nkjv). Matter-Energy: A Rational, Causal, and Contingent Universe In the opening verses of the prologue of John, there is no talk yet of “flesh,” only of logos in creation. If the divine logos, or “word,” refers to a rationality in the universe, then the universe is surprisingly rational. Einstein concluded famously that “the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.”5 Theologians find that mysterious rationality a signal of the transcendent. Astrophysics and nuclear physics describe a universe that is “finetuned” for life. Startling interrelationships are required for creative processes to work. Recent theory interrelates the two levels; 1. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Extended Body of Christ,” page 238 of this volume. 2. Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 260. 3. Jürgen Moltmann, “Is God Incarnate in All That Is?” page 128 of this volume. 4. Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), 152. 5. Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, revised reprint edition (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1970), 61.



astronomical phenomena such as the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets depend critically on microphysical phenomena. In turn, the midrange scales, where the known complexity mostly lies (in ecosystems or human brains), depend on the interacting microscopic and astronomical ranges. Change slightly the strengths of any of the four forces that hold the world together (strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetism, gravitation), change critical particle masses and charges, and the stars would burn too quickly or too slowly. Atoms and molecules—including water, carbon, and oxygen—or amino acids (the building blocks of life) would not form or remain stable. Roger Penrose is impressed by “the extraordinary degree of precision or ‘fine‑tuning’ for a Big Bang of the nature that we appear to observe,” concluding that ours is “an extraordinarily special Big Bang.”6 Martin Rees writes similarly, “We should surely probe deeper, and ask why a unique recipe for the physical world should permit consequences as interesting as those we see around us.”7 The startup looks like a setup. Robert Russell is right: “We should think of the divine reach as extending even deeper than biology, namely into the underlying physics of our universe with its cosmic fine-tuning for life.”8 Logos in Cosmos Logos suggests logic, and there is logic built into multiple dimensions of the universe. Equations such as E=mc2 are true all over the universe. This gives physics its metric character, with accompanying 6. Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (New York: Knopf, 2005), 762, 726. 7. Martin Rees, Our Cosmic Habitat (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 163. 8. Robert John Russell, “Jesus: the Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time,” page 332 of this volume; cf. Holmes Rolston III, Three Big Bangs: Matter-Energy, Life, Mind (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), ch. 1.


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

predictability and testability. Eugene P. Wigner contends that “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it. . . . The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”9 John A. Wheeler exclaims, “This is a world of pure mathematics and when we penetrate to the bottom of it, that’s all it will be.”10 We live in a “matheomorphic” universe. Such mathematics could corroborate the belief that the world we inhabit is the creation of mind. God, the first Cause, the Primal Cause continuing, is a mathematician. However, the problem arises here of how to get the mathematics embodied—not yet in any flesh, but instantiated in matter-energy. Mathematics per se does not cause anything. There are worlds imaginable in mathematics that are never realized. Though Stephen Hawking delights in the search for a theory of everything, he goes on to ask: Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the question of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.11

In terms of our present inquiry, this is to say that pure mathematics is not even embodied, much less incarnate—not until it becomes applied mathematics, mixed into matter and energy.

9. Eugene P. Wigner, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 13 (1960): 2, 14. 10. John A. Wheeler, interviewed in Helitzer (1973), 27. 11. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Tenth Anniversary Edition (New York: Bantam, 1998), 190.



Logos needs word beyond mathematics. Mathematics is stylized and crude as a description of rich natural processes. Its precision is bought with its incompleteness. No theory of everything is a necessary and sufficient cause for planet Earth, with its seven continents and seven seas. Within physical cosmology, the factual claims may be mathematical, based on values in equations, but the cosmological interpretation of these facts is not. The interpretation is historical, metaphysical, theological. A merely mathematical God could not be incarnate in Earth, much less in elephants or Israel. Such a God is not up to either creating or indwelling in either. A God who is mathematically present would not be sophisticated enough to become incarnate in flesh-and-blood history. Cosmic Incarnation? What we have considered so far could be endorsed by monotheists in general. These arguments may show logos as present and embodied in matter, but this is not yet incarnation, enfleshment. Is there some connection with the word become flesh in Jesus? Russell says yes: “If the divine reach extends into physics, then the physics of the flesh of Jesus—and the fine-tuning of the universe that makes the evolution of life possible—matters.”12 Amen and well enough, but we do not know whether to think of this “divine reach” as immanence or incarnation. Did the Word become flesh, the Christ event with which John concluded his prologue, affect the primordial logos-presence in matter-energy with which he began? We now know what John did not: the carbon and oxygen atoms in Jesus’ body were once forged in the stars, as were all the elements on Earth heavier than hydrogen and helium—no stars, no Jesus. Russell’s statement that “the physics

12. Robert John Russell, “Jesus: The Way of All Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time,” page 332 of this volume.


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

of this fine-tuned universe . . . offers a precondition”13 seems quite true, but is the post-Jesus physics different? Sean McDonagh puts this forcefully: “In Christ, God welded himself in an irreversible way to the totality of the emergent creation. . . . Christ is co-extensive with, and a central dimension of every reality. He carries within himself the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth.”14 But every human, every nonhuman creature, every rock, equally carries this signature. Jesus’ body, too, was composed of cosmic dust, fossil stardust. God became incarnate in Jesus, so this must have influenced the molecules of his metabolism, involving carbon and oxygen atoms. But that fact ipso facto does not somehow “weld” the bodily Jesus, walking on Earth, to the totality of creation, past, present, future, across the 13 billion years of cosmic history. Past natural history is there in him, but did any new “welding” happen in him? We have no concept of any changes that took place in his atoms, making them different in him from what they were before. During Jesus’ years of metabolism, there was input of air and food and discharge of wastes. There was turnover in his lungs and cells, as in all humans and animals. Presumably, some of these atoms in the millennia since have been breathed into, taken up, recycled, in other humans and animals. Nothing about such atoms would be recognizably different because they once passed through Jesus’ body. There was physics in Jesus’ flesh, but we have no evidence that his physics differed from the physics in the flesh of John or Pilate, who also stand in the history of this evolution of life. John puts Jesus in a cosmic framework, but does John also claim that Jesus transformed that cosmic framework into which he came?

13. Robert John Russell, “Jesus: the Way of all flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time,” page 334 of this volume. 14. Sean McDonagh, To Care for the Earth (Santa Fe, NM: Bear and Co., 1986), 118.



Since God became material in Jesus, did Jesus thereby incarnate all matter, retroactively past, contemporarily present, prospectively future? God’s presence is concentrated in Jesus, who was a bit of animated dust, but nothing follows about God becoming incarnate in the magmas at the core of the molten Earth. One cannot extrapolate from the particular bit (Jesus’ earthy body) to the global whole (Earth, all creation). This is unwarranted slippage. Real effects all the way back in time would require reverse causation, which is not permitted in contemporary physics. That would require Jesus-effects even outside his light cone. Moltmann claims that all the creatures and natural processes “will be resurrected and transfigured in eternity. . . . Nothing transient is lost.”15 Dust devils are transient; transfigured in Jesus, do they become immortal? Even rocks are transient on geological scales, stars on cosmic scales. Is all transience transfigured to permanence in the great redemption? Redeemed Cosmos? Jesus’ incarnation makes possible “a redemption of all of nature—even to its ‘bottom level,’ the physical universe.”16 Neither John, nor Paul, nor Jesus knew anything of atoms or quarks, galaxies or asteroids, so they could not have made claims specific to these. I doubt that Russell has a concept of what a redeemed quark would look like. In fact, nobody has much concept of what an unredeemed quark looks like; quarks are mostly suppositions required by back inference from the mathematics of energy exchanges. Physics is necessary for incarnation, but from that we cannot conclude that incarnation transforms, redeems, or even reaches into the ionic exchanges or 15. Richard Bauckham, The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), 210–11. 16. Robert John Russell, “Jesus: the Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time,” page 342 of this volume.


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

shifting electron energy levels in Jesus’ body. They are what they are in all human bodies, before and after Jesus divinely incarnated his flesh, and most of them are in nonhuman animal bodies as well. The prologue starts with Logos immanent in the world, but finishes with incarnation in flesh (John 1:14). If one is going to argue for deep incarnation, one needs to stretch out (or argue away) this flesh (sarx). Gregersen wonders, with emphasis, whether “the divine Logos . . . has assumed not merely humanity, but the whole malleable matrix of materiality. . . . In modern translation, sarx would cover the whole realm of the material world from quarks to atoms and molecules, in their combinations and transformations throughout chemical and biological evolution.”17 He concludes, “It is as natural for God to dwell in the world of dirt and waste as it is for God to be present in the uniquely human characteristics of highly developed consciousness,






consciousness.’”18 The problem with this claim is that it trades on open meanings of “dwell in” and “natural.” Is God immanent in all matter, atoms to asteroids? Yes. Is God naturally incarnate in all matter? No; neither before or after Jesus’ years on Earth. There is more than one level of indwelling. God can be immanent in dirt without being incarnate there. Similarly, Elizabeth Johnson wants to make the meaning of “flesh” more comprehensive: “Sarx in John signifies what is material, perishable, fragile—in a word, finite, the opposite of divinity clothed in majesty.” The sarx of John 1:14 thus reaches beyond Jesus, and beyond all other human beings, to encompass the whole biological 17. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation: Why Evolutionary Continuity Matters in Christology,” Toronto Journal of Theology 26 (2010): 176–77; cf. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “God, Matter, and Information: Towards a Stoicizing Logos Christianity,” in Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics, ed. Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 344. 18. Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation,” 185.



world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they are composed. “Christ’s benefits are intended not just for the human world but for the whole natural world.”19 If so, grass, germs, and even the dust in space have sarx. Outside of supernature, there is nothing in this universe that does not have sarx, since all things are finite. But now the word sarx has been so stretched out that it begins to lose any specificity to what we once might have thought of as “flesh,” and what seems to be the main point of the rest of John’s Gospel: Jesus enfleshed, revealing God’s solidarity with human suffering. Nothing that comes later suggests that John is seriously interested in Jesus’ solidarity with grass or asteroids. He is interested in claiming that this Jesus is the Logos sent from the Father, and thus has cosmic backing. The meaning of sarx in Liddell and Scott’s classical Greek-English Lexicon, as well as in Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, is always flesh, muscle, edible meat, the pulpy substance of fruit, corruptible flesh. It is never matter, rocks, trees, or mountains, much less stars or planets. We should also take Ludwig Wittgenstein’s advice here to look not to the meaning but to the use.20 The whole point of the prologue is to introduce this Word become flesh in the carpenter of Nazareth. Gregersen seeks a “strong continuity between the historical figure of Jesus and the cosmos at large.”21 That cannot mean that the life of Jesus affected distant galaxies, altering their nucleosynthesis. It might mean that the life of Jesus reveals at depth what the cosmological and evolutionary history, on certain of its trajectories, is tending toward: complex beings capable of suffering love. Perhaps all we need to claim is that Jesus revealed something about events preceding him

19. Elizabeth A. Johnson, “An Earthy Christology,” America 200:12 (2009): 27–30. 20. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953), sec. 43. 21. Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation,” 173.


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

in natural history and gave humans some hope about events yet to come. Life, Cybernetics, Caring: Pro-Life Earth Surveying natural history for signs of divine presence, we should not forget emergence. Carbon and oxygen are found on both Earth and Jupiter, but nursing mothers are found only on Earth. Some things that were not previously possible become possible with the opening up of new space. Perhaps this is owing to, or gives location for, divine inspiration of a kind that gets closer to incarnation. Now we get more logos—proactive, not just passive—coming into the world. Logos in Life Molecular biology, discovering DNA, has decoded the “secret of life,” classically ascribed to the Spirit of God. Evolutionary history has located the secret of life in Darwinian natural selection operating across enormous time spans, with the fittest selected to survive. These vital creative processes continue across deep time, producing the ascent of life from the simple to the complex. There is an increase of information, with genetic creativity resulting in billions of species. There is self-actualization, reproduction, the ongoing sharing and elaborating of biological value and promise.22 Theologians claim that underneath it all is divine Spirit breathed into matter, a still further and deeper secret of this animation. Einstein and Wheeler could read the mathematics out of deep space and deep time, but they were dealing with passive information, rationality built into the matter-energy processes. In the biological world, proactive information appears, showing how to compose, maintain, communicate, and elaborate living structures and processes. 22. Holmes Rolston III, Three Big Bangs, ch. 2.



This is information about the directed use of matter and energy. This biological sense of information is agentive. What makes the critical difference is the information carried in the genes with its resulting capacity for doing something: the formation includes information. Afterward, as before, there are no causal gaps from the viewpoint of a physicist or chemist, but there is something more: novel information that makes possible the achievement of increasing biological order. Genes do not only contain descriptive information about but prescriptive information for the vital processes of life. There is natural selection for what a gene does, contributing to adaptive fit. Genes have a telos, an end, stored in their coding. Genes are teleosemantic. That differentiates physics from biology, and biologists need to be alert to this. George C. Williams is explicit: “Evolutionary biologists have failed to realize that they work with two more or less incommensurable domains: that of information and that of matter. . . . The gene is a package of information.”23 There is more where once there was less. For scientists, this superintending and supervening process is cybernetic. For theologians, what is added to matter-energy is logos. A crucial line is crossed when abiotic formations get transformed into loci of information. The factors come to include actors that exploit their environment. Evolutionary natural history has generated “caring.” There is caring wherever there is agency, motivation, and locomotion. In some developmental lines, these genes produce sentience. Irritability is universally present in life, but sentience, coexistent with neural structures, brings the capacity to move about deliberately in—and also to get hurt by—the world. A neural animal can love something in its world. It has the power to move through and 23. Quoted in John Brockman, The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 43.


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

experientially to evaluate the environment. This capacity is greatly advanced over anything known in immobile, insentient plants. A still more sophisticated level of complexity is reached with the capacity for learning, for acquired behavior. A coyote has a memory and conditioned learning; it can remember which directions to run for cover. This requires developing neural or other capacities to operate in the subtleties of context, which in turn generates new levels of caring. This developing sentience has the appearance of felt caring, when the organism is united with or torn from its loves. The earthen story is not merely of goings-on, but of going concerns. Animals hunt and howl, find shelter, seek out their habitats and mates, feed their young, flee from threats, and grow hungry, thirsty, hot, tired, excited, and sleepy. They suffer injury and lick their wounds. Living things have needs. Biologists have become increasingly impressed with how, at least on some trajectories, these selves become social and interdependent. Caring gets complicated, since selves are implicated. They eat each other, but also depend on each other (even on what they eat). They must reproduce themselves. Self-defense requires adapted fit; living things are webbed together in ecosystems. Caring is only selfcontained up to a point; after that it is caring “about” these relationships, the contacts and processes with which one is networked. The system requires mutually operating together. This logic of life suggests a logos of proactive caring coming into the world. The Logos must in some sense have been “present” in the genes of Jesus. Jesus had genes that he shared with chimpanzees and chickens, as do all humans (even if he was haploid, not diploid!). In him there were cytochrome-c molecules, an electron carrier in the respiratory chain, the basic form of which goes back 1.5 billion years.24 So Jesus



had, again, the signature of evolutionary history. But this is not the point of John’s prologue, and it is a mistake to try to stretch the activity of divine incarnation into the material basis of Jesus’ biological metabolism, shared with other humans, shared in large part with animals great and small. This metabolism is necessary but not sufficient for a locus of incarnation. Rather, this incarnation is embodied in Jesus’ person, which is enfleshed, but lies in his living out a life of suffering love. Incarnate Sarx? Perhaps we can now claim that logos has become flesh, entered sarx. This would extend sarx to all life on Earth rather than extending it to all cosmic matter. “The solidarity of the flesh in the doctrine of the incarnation is not limited to the human community. Flesh is understood as involving the whole 3.8 billion-year evolutionary history of life on our planet, with all its predation, death and extinctions, as well as its diversity, co-operation, interdependence and abundance.”25 Two issues now face us: one past, one future. In his prologue, John sees the Logos as having been coming into the world with and since creation. But John’s Gospel vision is redemptive, present and future. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, does anything redemptive happen to this ongoing natural history? Does Jesus change the future of sarx? Although he claims cosmic redemption, Moltmann is less universal with claims about flesh: “Perhaps basar can best be translated ‘life.’”26

24. Lubert Stryer, Biochemistry (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1975), 351–52. 25. Denis Edwards, “The Redemption of Animals in an Incarnational Theology,” in Creaturely Theology: On God, Human, and Other Animals, ed. Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough (London: SCM, 2009), 92. 26. Moltmann, “Is God Incarnate in All That Is?” page 127 of this volume.


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He cites Isaiah: “All flesh is grass” (Isa 40:6 rsv). But surely this is metaphor, not identification; all flesh is like grass. Isaiah does not claim that grass has flesh. The claim is only that both humans and grass wither and perish. Although it seems too much of a stretch to think of protozoans and plants as having flesh, they do have vulnerability. They struggle to survive. So perhaps sarx, though it means “flesh,” can be stretched into a metaphor for vulnerable “life.” Redeeming All Creatures? Does this mean that all flesh (meaning all living creatures) is redeemed? Moltmann can be quite specific about the extent of his claims, which extend beyond but include the history of life on Earth: “The raised body of Christ therefore acts as an embodied promise for the whole creation . . . a transfiguring efficacy emanates from it. . . . So in this body and through it the powers of the new creation act upon and penetrate the world.” This includes “animals, plants, stones, and all cosmic life-systems”:27 There is certainly a history of ongoing creation; there are evolutions to richer and more complex forms of life. . . . But in this history of creation, there is also dying, violent death, mass extermination and the extinction of whole species through natural catastrophes and epidemics. . . . Not even the best of all possible stages of evolution justifies acquiescence in evolution’s victims, as the unavoidable fertilizers of that future. . . . There is therefore no meaningful hope for the future of creation unless ‘the tears are wiped from every eye.’ But they can only be wiped when the dead are raised, and when the victims of evolution experience justice through the resurrection of nature. Evolution in its ambiguity has no such redemptive efficacy and therefore no salvific significance either. If Christ is to be thought of in conjunction with evolution, he must become evolution’s redeemer.28 27. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), 258. 28. Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 296–97.



Richard Bauckham has some misgivings: Moltmann claims that just as Christ died in solidarity with all human beings, to redeem them from death, so he dies the death of all the living, in solidarity with all living things that die. All death in nature Moltmann regards as not natural, but as a tragic destiny, whose reversal at the end is anticipated in Christ’s resurrection. At this point one may want to ask questions. Does death really have the same significance for every kind of creature? For elephants, who mourn their dead, it is a tragic destiny, as it is for us. But for this year’s marigolds, which die in the annual cycle of death and new life that will produce next year’s marigolds, is death tragic? Need we mourn the individual marigold as we certainly would the species, should it become extinct?29

An oak produces millions of acorns, with only one surviving to replace itself. Is each acorn to become a mighty oak in heaven? A bullfrog can lay 25,000 eggs in a clutch, and lay more than one clutch a season. Does Jesus resurrect all these frogs? Bauckham is nevertheless attracted to this grand redemption: “If the new creation is the transformation of the whole of this material creation so that all creatures may share in the life of the divine eternity, then Jesus’ resurrection must lead the way to new creation for the whole community of creation, not just humans.”30 Edwards agrees: Redemption through incarnation is a theory of redemption cast in the most universal terms. . . . God is with every sparrow, every beetle, every Great White shark, every creature hunting another for food and every creature that is the prey of another. . . . Animals will reach their redemptive fulfillment in being taken up into the eternal life of the Trinity. . . . This kind of incarnational theology provides the basis for seeing kangaroos and chimpanzees, kookaburras and dolphins as participating in redemption in Christ.31 29. Bauckham, The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, 210–11. 30. Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), 171. 31. Edwards, “The Redemption of Animals,” 91, 95, 82.


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Christopher Southgate closes a probing analysis with a hope that “extends the concern of Christian soteriology beyond the human world to cover the healing of the evolutionary process and the redemption of the many casualties of evolution.”32 Russell claims that “‘every sparrow that falls’ is greeted immediately by her Risen Lord.”33 We get a vision of plenitude of life for every creature who has ever lived and died. All live happily ever after. There are no losers—all win. On Earth the music is in a minor key, but in heaven all the music is in a major key. “The beginning is gathered up into the end and the consummation brings back everything that had been before.”34 Does this mean that all the young who were cut short from disease or starvation are resurrected to live in full health and be well-fed in heaven? What might this mean for a lion and its prey? “The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God” (Ps. 104:21). Do we need to envision that all prey in heaven are resurrected and live out their fullness of life? Even vegetarian lions and resurrected prey would have to eat (and cut short) the lives of shrubs and grass. Even if these vegetarians eat fruit, they kill the seeds within. In the new creation of all things, the great transformation of the cosmos is from transitoriness to immortality: “In his incarnation God assumes not only human nature but the nature of all the living too: ‘The Word became flesh.’ The whole vulnerable, mortal nature is assumed by God in his becoming human, in order that it may be healed, reconciled, glorified.”35 These are high-sounding words, but both Bauckham and I doubt that Moltmann can imagine what

32. Christopher Southgate, “God and Evolutionary Evil: Theodicy in the Light of Darwinism,” Zygon 37 (2002): 821. 33. Robert John Russell, “Jesus: the Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time,” page 346 of this volume. 34. Moltmann, The Coming of God, 265. 35. Moltmann, “Is God Incarnate in All That Is?” page 128 of this volume.



glorified elephants, bullfrogs, oaks, marigolds, and termites would be like. This is believing what we do not understand—indeed, believing what approaches the incredible. We may enjoy the theological exuberance of such sweeping claims, but on the ground they evaporate. Moltmann adds, “The difficulties about not just hoping this but thinking it too are considerable.”36 Indeed! Perhaps we should consider this mostly a form of pious theological hand-waving. Elizabeth Johnson suggests a deep resurrection meaning that “the whole natural world, all of matter in its endless permutations, will not be left behind or rejected but will be likewise transfigured by the resurrecting action of the Creator Spirit: Cosmic redemption is neither imaginable nor empirically verifiable. But it stems from the logic of faith in God who creates and indwells in the world, embraces it in deep incarnation, and loves and values the whole evolving shebang.”37 Now it seems that we believe it although we cannot imagine it, much less verify it. So we really have no idea of what a transfigured elephant or tsunami might be like. Could there be a danger here of believing the absurd? This is a blanket claim that does not know what it covers, but it feels good to make such claims of solidarity with all creation. Philosophers sometimes notice that a bold claim, after pressure from critics, is modified little by little until the once-bold claim, as they say, “dies the death of a thousand qualifications.” Here, redemption is boldly expanded to cosmic scope, but when stretched out to redeeming everything from microbes to black holes, it dies the death of uninhibited enlargement. Even if we found some intelligent sense in which the divine Logos, becoming flesh, might redeem creatures, it would not automatically follow that the form of this enfleshment would be incarnation. We 36. Moltmann, The Coming of God, 260. 37. Elizabeth A. Johnson, “Jesus and the Cosmos,” page 150 of this volume.


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might become convinced that God redeemed elephants, but still find ourselves wondering if God incarnate in Jesus was spread out to God incarnate in elephants. Gregersen sees himself as following the deep ecology of Arne Naess, an ecology that is less anthropocentric.38 Similarly, John Haughey finds himself baptizing deep ecology: “Deep ecology triggers deep incarnation.”39 But Naess contrasted his deep ecology with a shallow ecology. Where is incarnation shallow? Hardly in Christ. If divine incarnation is “deep” anywhere, it would seem to be in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By contrast, any divine incarnation in elephants or trees would be shallow. Forget the deep/shallow contrast, then; the opposite of “deep” here is “high,” not shallow. There is high Christology, full incarnation in Jesus, and there is deep incarnation in these nonhuman creatures. Maybe the cue came from Naess, but the metaphorical contrasts have been radically altered. Neither John nor Jesus could have made claims about quarks or black holes, about which they knew nothing. Perhaps they made claims of incarnation in the Mediterranean nature they did know. “God becomes Jesus, and in him God becomes human and (by implication) foxes and sparrows, grass and soil.”40 But we really have no concept of what God in Jesus did to enter into and to reconcile those animals and plants that Jesus and John did know in their wilderness deserts: “fiery serpents and scorpions” (Deut 8:15; Num 21:6), “jackals,” “hyenas,” “owls,” “kites,” “ravens,” “porcupines,” “ostriches,” “wild goats (satyrs),” “wild beasts” (Isaiah 34), or even those cedars of Lebanon that the Lord planted centuries before and has since watered abundantly (Ps. 104:16). All such creatures across the years ce are the same as they were across the years bce. Taken in any literal sense, 38. See Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation,” 178. 39. John C. Haughey, “Baptizing Deep Ecology,” Woodstock Report 94 (2009): 6–7. 40. Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation,” 182, his emphasis.



the idea of a reconciled or redeemed ostrich, saved by the blood of the cross, is both biological and theological nonsense. Even searching for some symbolic sense, we are pressed to develop serious content claims. Gregersen concedes that he is not speaking plainly: “the point of deep incarnation is not that God is, plainly speaking, ‘incarnate in all that is,’ but rather that the incarnate Logos, sent from God the Father, is present for and with all creatures, including in their sufferings.”41 I agree that the Logos may well be present in all the animated creatures—the wind of life breathed into them for their lives, sustaining them in their suffering. But is such a Logos-presence incarnation in any Johannine sense? Plainly speaking, God is not incarnate in all these creatures, from paramecium to elephant, but theologically speaking God is so incarnate—which is fleshed out as meaning that God is present for and with these creatures. This, however, is what immanence has meant across centuries of theological discussion. The Hebrew Tetragrammaton YHWH means, “I am there.” “Presence!” Theologians have seldom denied that God holds the universe in existence constantly over an abyss of nothingness. Think deeply, we may be told; think timelessly. Or at least think differently about time. Russell wants “to reject the linear concept of time” for a “thicker” concept of time,42 for “multiply connected time,” where events back and forth across natural history are interwoven something like nodes on the Internet. Russell is here reminiscent of what John McTaggart discounted as the temporal A-series, where a knife-edged present moves inexorably across time to convert the future into the past, in favor of what he called a B-series, having only 41. Gregersen, “The Extended Body of Christ,” page 240 of this volume. 42. Robert John Russell, “Jesus: the Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time,” page 347 of this volume.


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an earlier-than/later-than in a serial whole, a sort of past-presentfuture interwoven as a whole.43 There is an ontological dependence of all created things on God. Creatures are limited by space and time, but God is not. So God can be there in rocks and grass in incarnate form if God so pleases. That omnipresent incarnation is not, Gregersen cautions, “omnimanifest.”44 Now, Gregersen finds a way to back off from his seemingly strong claim. This God is incarnately present in the flowing lava of volcanic eruptions, the shearing rocks of earthquakes, the tidal waves of tsunamis, but not manifest there. So we can have loci of incarnation that manifest in a way that reveals nothing about that which we later do find manifested, revealed, in Jesus. This is a “fullscope,” but not “omni-manifest,” revelation in which we are learning nothing about God in God’s hidden incarnate presence in rocks or redeemed elephants. “We hope for what is beyond our capacity to imagine.”45 Perhaps we can imagine some transubstantiated elephant with redeemed substance that still has the accidents of an elephant. Claim if you like that the incarnation redeems all animal flesh, but it is hard, so to speak, to “flesh out” this claim with any specifics of how the work of Jesus benefited the wild world. The claim seems vaguely reasonable so long as it is kept reasonably vague. Divine presence in, with, and under natural history can plausibly be seen as Logos becoming enfleshed, incarnate. But when we try to envision Jesus as transforming that natural history in his resurrected body, there is promise, hope, ingenuity, and freewheeling slippage between ideas.

43. John M. E. McTaggart, The Nature of Existence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927), vol. 2, ch. 33. 44. Gregersen, “The Extended Body of Christ,” page 235 of this volume. 45. Edwards, “The Redemption of Animals,” 96.



Ideational, Spirited Mind: Logos and Love Of all enfleshed creatures, one is especially remarkable. Humans find themselves placed cognitively and critically where no other species is. Neurologists find that we humans are the most sophisticated of known natural products. The human brain is of such complexity that descriptive numbers are astronomical and difficult to fathom. A typical estimate is that it contains 1012 neurons, each with several thousand synapses (possibly tens of thousands). Each neuron can “talk” to many others. This network, formed and re-formed, makes virtually endless mental permutations possible. The human brain is capable of forming thoughts numbering something in the range of 1070,000,000,000, a number that dwarfs the number of atoms in the visible universe (1080).46 Our mental genius enables us to rise to a transcending overview. Humans are “spirited selves,” enjoying our incarnation in flesh and blood, empowered for survival by our brain/minds, defending our personal selves, and yet we transcend ourselves and our local concerns. Homo sapiens is the only part of the world free to orient itself with a view of the whole. There have been, in evolutionary history, other hominids, other Homo species, about whose mental capacities we are uncertain. But we have no doubt about the uniqueness of Homo sapiens on Earth today. We are not free from either the worlds of nature or culture, but free in those environments. That makes us, if you like, free spirits; it also makes us selftranscending spirits. That is the peculiar genius of the human “person” or “spirit.” Elaborating the genetic cybernetic possibilities, human genes in generating human brains crossed a threshold into a cognitive realm 46. Owen Flanagan, Consciousness Reconsidered (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 37; Mike Holderness, “Think of a Number,” New Scientist 170 (2001): 45.


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with spectacular new powers and freedoms. The combinatorial cybernetic explosion is recompounded. Terrence Deacon catches this uniqueness: Hundreds of millions of years of evolution have produced hundreds of thousands of species with brains, and tens of thousands with complex behavioral, perceptual, and learning abilities. Only one of these has ever wondered about its place in the world, because only one evolved the ability to do so.47

We wonder where we are (cosmology, universe, Earth, creation), who we are (person, self, spirit, soul), what we ought to do (ethics, justice, love, values). An ancient sage recorded, millennia ago, that humans are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Interestingly, a Harvard paleontologist, after a quarter century of probing the origins of life and the evolutionary epic, recently concluded his thoughts about the human place in natural history: Perhaps we were made in God’s image after all. “On this planet, at this moment in time, human beings reign,” capable of great evil, but hopefully with “grace and humility.”48 God might be in, with, and under archaic bacteria, continuing through their evolution into chimpanzees, but none of this prehuman life seems able to image God. That requires further emergent moral and philosophical capacities to reflect on, to reflect the divine. Incarnate persons must choose between good and evil. Persons set up a reflective gap between the real and ideal that orients action. Humans may desire, for instance, to preserve and enlarge family and tribe. We may admire and try to be Good Samaritans. In the human desires to be moral, however brokenly, ideal mixes with real. Our struggle through this coupling with broken embodiment, enfleshed, 47. Terrence W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain (New York: Norton, 1997), 21. 48. Andrew H. Knoll, Life on a Young Planet (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 246.



deepens the struggle for survival in the biological processes. How far is struggle required for vital creativity? Astronomical and chemical processes may be exquisitely mathematical, but the adventures of incarnate minds navigating hyper-immense possibility space cannot be, especially when exploring ongoing possibilities in justice, caring, and loving. A parent—even a heavenly father—does not fine-tune the rearing of a son or daughter. Suffering love is never clockwork precision. If there is resonance, this is in sympathy and solidarity, spirit attuned to spirit, beset by hopes and fears in an ambiguous and challenging world. Chemical reagents remain effective in human biochemistry, but spiritual agency, superimposed on this, is a radically new level of being. We find in each person an agent who must be oriented by a cognitively considered belief system in a way that, in the biological world, animals are not. Persons are challenged with the question of how to authorize such a belief system. In persons, the self-actualizing and self-organizing doubles back on itself with the qualitative emergence of what the Germans call Geist, what existentialists call Existenz. Matter can, the physicists say, be “excited” under radiation. The neural animal can, the biologists say, become “excited,” emotional. Here, what is really “exciting” is that human intelligence is now “spirited,” an ego with felt, psychological inwardness that cares about itself and its role in the world. Persons have egos. They feel ashamed or proud; they have angst, self‑respect, fear, and hope. They may get excited about a job welldone, pass the buck for failures, have identity crises, or deceive themselves to avoid self‑censure. Humans are capable of pride, avarice, flattery, adulation, courage, charity, forgiveness, prayer. They may resolve to dissent before an immoral social practice and pay the price of civil disobedience in the hope of reforming their society. They weep and say grace at meals. They may be overcome with 278

Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

anomie, or make a confession of faith. They may insult or praise each other. They tell jokes. Persons act in love, faith, or freedom, driven by guilt or seeking forgiveness—to use categories that theologians have thought fundamental. Persons have unique careers that interweave to form storied narratives in cultural heritages. They have heroes or saviors who may die for the sins of the world, launch the kingdom of God, or launch other passionate ideologies about the meanings of life and history. Persons may become disciples of these sages and saviors, and when they do they realize that to be a person includes a dimension of “spirit.” Where there is reflective, sacrificial suffering love, there is spirit. There is spirit where there is a sensing of the numinous, the sacred, the holy. There is spirit where there is awe, a sense of the sublime. There is spirit where, along with an explosion of knowledge, nature escalates as a wonderland. There is spirit when persons confront the limit questions, when persons get goose pimples looking into the night sky or at the Vishnu schist at the bottom of the Grand Canyon—or pondering whether God can be incarnate in matter, in life, in persons, in the person of Jesus. Might this imagining become incarnation? Humans, for better and worse, are all incarnate, enfleshed. But the divine Logos is incarnate only when such sacrificial suffering love is deeply embodied. Indeed, God is fully incarnate only when such redemptive love is taken at the pitch in the particular life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this deepest—and highest—incarnation, we find revealed the inspired omnipresence of divine grace, the destiny of life on Earth. From that Logos become flesh, gospel Logos in Jesus, who dwelt among us, there can be—indeed, there has repeatedly been—incarnation in the saints of the Christian community. So we do reach, at the apex, incarnation in this world, culminating the Logos that has been immanent since creation.



Cruciform Nature and Divine Incarnation Reaching the Christ, the apex of divine incarnation, we can look again at all the living and dying through the millennia of evolutionary natural history and find the cross of Christ anticipated. The cross of Christ can be said to fulfill that evolutionary cruciform world—although, as I have argued, the cross of Christ does nothing to transform the evolutionary processes that for eons antedated Jesus’ life in Palestine, and that have continued in wildlife and wildlands since. In physics and astronomy, we meet a causal puzzle, one of creation ex nihilo. Biology adds creation ex nisu, creation per laborem. To cause, care is added. To movement, concern is added. To energy, effort is added. Something is at stake, requiring defense. There is success and failure. There is death but, with labor and regeneration, life ongoing. There is a kind of death that bears much fruit, like a seed fallen into the earth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit ” (John 12:24). John can use a botanical analogy for the passion of Jesus. The flora and lower faunal forms participate in this struggle, but the capacity for suffering evolves only in later, higher forms. Now there must also be endurance—in the more sentient creatures, passionate endurance. We meet an existential puzzle, one of creation per passionem. Life on Earth is not a paradise of hedonistic ease, but a theater where life is earned by toil and sweat. In the psalmist’s metaphors, life is lived in green pastures and in the valley of the shadow of death, nourished by eating at a table prepared in the midst of enemies (Psalm 23). We do not have available to us any coherent alternative models by which, in a hurtless and painless world, there might have come to pass anything like these dramas that have happened in botanical and zoological nature, events that in their


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central thrusts we greatly treasure. There are sorts of creation that cannot occur without death, without one life seeded into another, and these include the highest created goods. Death can be meaningfully integrated into the biological processes as a necessary counterpart to the advancing of life. Suffering is already present in animal flesh and blood as soon as it becomes neural. Suffering goes back‑to‑back with caring sentience; it drives life toward pleasurable fulfillment. Not only does the good presuppose concomitant evil, but the evil is enlisted in the service of the good. Individually, the organism seeks to be rid of pain, and yet pain’s threat is self‑organizing. It forces alarm, action, rest, withdrawal. It immobilizes for healing. The organism is quickened to its needs. The body can better defend itself by evolving a neural alarm system. The experiences of need, want, calamity, and fulfillment have driven the natural and cultural evolution of abilities to know and, in course, abilities to think. Where pain fits into evolutionary theory, it must have, on statistical average, high survival value. It is selected for, and there is a selecting against counterproductive pain. In this sense, pain is a pro-life force. Struggle and suffering, and life renewed in the midst of its death and perishing, are central themes in Christianity. Although these themes are distinctively human, especially when they involve suffering that results from sin, some of them seem pervasively present in biological life, and increasingly so in flesh-and-blood life. Natural history is “cruciform” even before humans arrive; in all creating of life there seems to be a struggle through to something higher. Things perish with a passing over in which the sacrificed individual also flows in the river of life. Each of the struggling creatures is delivered over to preserve a line. In flesh-and-blood creatures, each is a blood sacrifice, perishing that others may live. In them we have a kind of “slaughter of the innocents,” a nonmoral, naturalistic harbinger of the



slaughter of the innocents at the birth of Christ, all perhaps vignettes hinting at the innocent Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. In their lives, beautiful, tragic, and perpetually incomplete, they speak for God; they prophesy as they participate in the divine pathos. All have “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4 rsv). They share the labor of the divinity. Science and common experience discover what these creatures empirically are, which remains unchanged before and after Christ. But Christ reveals the large-scale picture into which these creatures can and should be placed. It is not that deep incarnation transforms what these creatures are, redeeming them from their frailty and failures, but that incarnation in Christ shows deeply the framework in which they are placed—this cruciform creation yielding, on one of its supremely revealing trajectories, this Christ who exemplifies suffering love. The struggle for adaptive fit—life and death and life renewed across the millennia—prefigures the life and death of Christ. These prior events are necessary if there is to be a human species, if there is to be a Jesus of Nazareth who is put to death. Further, this Christ event reveals the most extensive and comprehensive meaning and significance for this storied natural history across the life events on Earth. We can see the stars as part of the setup for forming a planet Earth. We can see carbon, oxygen, and iron as making life on that Earth possible. We can see flesh-and-blood, suffering creatures as necessary but not sufficient for the emergence of creatures that can care in love. We can see a brained mind as necessary for creatures that can reflect self-consciously about their role in this history. We can see Israel’s history as preparation for the coming of its Messiah. We can trace an evolving storied achievement across this cruciform creation. Jesus reveals transformations that have been underway for millennia, at least in this corner of the universe with its life, its humans coming


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

out of Africa. Darwinian natural history is already telling that story, but the whole story is not told without stories of Abraham, the law, the prophets, the Christ. In causal explanation, A causes B and B causes C; the explanatory emphasis is on causal precedents. This explanation characterizes natural science. But narrative explanation differs. Z reveals the significance of Y, which reveals the significance of X. X leads toward Y, which leads further to Z. X and Y get taken up into Z. Perhaps we can see cosmological history and evolutionary history as preconditions for incarnation in Christ; perhaps we can say that the Spirit is at work opening up the possibility space for these developing preconditions. But this does not warrant the further, different causal explanation that God is incarnate in ancient stars or ancient dinosaurs merely because Jesus would never have arrived in Nazareth without them in the prior history of the universe. I agree with the way Johnson puts it: An ecological Christology interprets the cross, revered as the tree of life, as a sign that divine compassion encompasses the natural world, bearing the cost of new life throughout the endless millennia of dying entailed by evolution. To be in solidarity with divine care amid creation’s groaning, the community of disciples must enter the lists on the side of those who act for ecological well‑being, enduring the suffering this entails. . . .Human connection to nature is so deep that we cannot properly define our identity without including the great sweep of cosmic and biological evolution. We evolved relationally; we exist symbiotically; our existence depends on interaction with the rest of the natural world.49

Edwards finds that “the Christ-event reveals a God who not only feels with suffering creatures, but who is already at work transforming suffering of every creature into life.” With that I concur, even though

49. Elizabeth Johnson, “An Earthy Christology.”



I do not follow him to his further conclusion: “The Christ-event is saving not only for human beings, but also in some way for other creatures, including dogs and horses and eagles.”50 In the Greek, “nature” has, as root idea, “giving birth.” If we must use metaphors, after Darwin the Earth is as much like a womb in these gestating powers as it was, after Newton, a clockwork machine or, after Einstein, energy and matter bubbling up out of a spacetime matrix. This “giving birth” requires “labor,” and the birthing metaphor, making possible this continuing regenerating, seems inseparable from elements of struggle. Biological nature is always giving birth, always in travail. Something is always dying and something is always living on. Earth slays her children, a seeming evil, but bears an annual crop in their stead. The “birthing” is nature’s orderly self‑assembling of new creatures amid this perpetual perishing. Life is ever “conserved,” as biologists might say; it is perpetually “redeemed,” as theologians might say. We recognize in creative nature dimensions both of redemptive and of vicarious suffering, in which ongoing success is achieved by sacrifice. There are passages in the Bible that seem to promise a pervasive general redemption of a fallen nature: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. (Rom. 8:19-22) For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:19-20)

50. Edwards, “The Redemption of Animals,” 94, 92.


Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

Can we make any sense, in light of contemporary biology, of this grand redemption? A biologist is quite sure that whatever nature is, its fundamental character has nothing to do with human sinfulness. Human sin did not throw nature out of joint; nature does not need to be redeemed on that account. Well, perhaps nature is not out of joint due to human sin, but natural history has forever been in bondage to futility and decay, from which it needs redemption. Although the natural world is a place of ambiguity—challenges, threats, life support, life renewed, environmental resistance, and environmental conductance—we need to resist the idea that there is something horribly broken about nature. David Hull charges, “The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror.”51 Marilyn McCord Adams sees Christ as a “horror-defeater . . . within the framework of the universe as a whole,” as though nature is a land of horrors from which each of its inhabitants needs to be rescued to a “horror-free zone.”52 In reaction, we get that great hope for the transfiguration, the idyllic redemption, of each and every living creature across evolutionary history, resurrected in the glory of God through the blood of Christ. I earlier argued that it is difficult to make either biological or theological sense of such claims. One possibility for dealing with them is to realize that these are claims of exuberance, made by writers who are carried away with their vision of Christ. In the midst of their ongoing struggle for life, the Bible writers can abandon this ambivalence and portray a new heavens and a new earth that fulfills the prophetic vision of the day when “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (Isa. 11:6). Most interpreters now see the creation and fall story in Genesis 51. David L. Hull, “God of the Galapagos,” Nature 352 (1991): 486. 52. Marilyn McCord Adams, Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 66–67, 227.



as parable or poetry, as is the lion eating straw like the ox (Isa. 11:7) or the crystal city in the new creation. The Bible closes with Eden restored, a garden city. These are peace pictures, hoping for the end of violence in culture. We may hope for the end of violence in culture, but this has nothing to do with natural selection in nature, where lions must eat meat and predation must continue. The wolf lying down with the lamb does not make any biological sense, since ecological harmony includes the violence of eating and being eaten, a conflict and resolution essential to biological creativity at the higher trophic levels. The wolf lying down with the lamb makes sense only as it poetically expresses human hopes for redemption within culture. Such passages do not have any biological application. Shalom in nature and shalom in culture are different categories. To take another example: according to Isaiah, when Israel returns from exile “the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isa. 55:12). There is nothing to be learned here about God in mountains or trees, or even about mountains and trees in themselves. Focus is on the Hebrew people celebrating their rescue by God. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace. That is how this prophecy begins. In human history, God might be present. But regarding the mountains and trees, we are only dealing with metaphor, not science. Sing such praises to God in liturgy, but do not mistake it for metaphysics. Perhaps natural history is already glorious enough. We live in a universe that is thirteen billion years old, exploding from a vacuum, fine-tuned from the start, immense in size, coming to a unique and most complex expression point in Earth, generating a natural history with rich biodiversity. At the apex of this universe we humans stand, finding out who and where we are, searching across forty orders of magnitude, from quasars to galaxies, across scales from DNA 286

Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform

to global biosystems, discovering that we ourselves have staggering possibilities, able to think vastly more thoughts than there are atoms in the universe, with escalating powers for good and evil, caring for each other and this Earth. And on this Earth, with the signature of the stars, the signature of evolutionary history, there appears a Christ, who lived, died, and rose from the dead, becoming a perpetual icon for the Logos of sacrificial love. The story is just fantastic—and true. We already have a deep nature in which the divine Logos has been at work generating abundant life. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.


12 Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

Stuart Kauffman

This essay is the speculative work of a scientist. I do not believe what I will write, but I think it ranges from very conceivable and testable scientifically to barely conceivable. To make my own theological position clear, I am Jewish and have never believed in a supernatural God, so I am an agnostic. But I wrote a book, Reinventing the Sacred,1 seeking a sense of God in the natural creativity of the living world. This culminated in the pleasurable experience of co-teaching with theologian Gordon Kaufman (no relation) at Harvard Divinity School in the spring term of 2009. Both of us view God as natural creativity: of either the living world (my view), or the universe as a whole (Kaufman’s view). In this essay, I will first go beyond Reinventing the Sacred to sketch a possible natural interpretation of the Christian doctrine of the

1. Stuart Kauffman, Reinventing the Sacred (New York: Basic Books, 2008).



incarnation of a God who is outside of space and time in the physical world. As we will see, this involves a new interpretation of quantum mechanics. While I am a biologist, not a physicist, I think what I shall say is perfectly cogent. The second, even more speculative part of the essay concerns consciousness







measurements in our brains, perhaps in molecules in synapses. Should we find evidence supporting the hypothesis that conscious experiences—that






measurement, then two possibilities arise: either (1) quantum measurement is necessary but not sufficient for qualia to arise; or (2) quantum measurement is both necessary and sufficient for qualia to arise. I will pursue the second hypothesis, although I can see no way at present to test it experimentally. The hypothesis that quantum measurement is both necessary and sufficient for experiences, or qualia, or protoqualia, leads to the hypothesis that wherever in the universe quantum measurements occur, so too do protoqualia. I do not believe this, nor do I know how it can be demonstrated. But that does not mean such a possibility may not be correct. As we will see, the hypothesis of protoqualia happens to tie suggestively to two major dicta of the famous physicist John Archibald Wheeler: “It from bit,” and “the universe observing itself.” It is remotely conceivable that protoqualia, and the quantum phenomenon of entanglement, can join Wheeler’s dicta in some useful way. This leads, as we will see, to a remotely conceivable, perhaps scientific but still untestable, sense of God outside of space and time. Whether such a God could have agency, omnipotence, or omniscience is a further issue.


Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

Could We Have a Natural Sense of Incarnation? I will offer a new interpretation of quantum mechanics that I think is fully consistent with standard quantum mechanics. To do so, I must first explain briefly the famous two-slit experiment. The two-slit experiment consists of a “photon gun” shining light—that is, photons—at a controlled rate toward a screen with two nearby slits. The photons pass through these slits and reach a photodetector beyond the two-slit screen. Now, as physicist Richard Feynman explains, imagine that the photon gun were a real gun shooting small bullets and the photodetector were instead a bullet detector, like a layer of sand. Next, cover the left slit so no photons or bullets can pass though the screen via that slit. Fire the bullets or photons. We expect photons or bullets to pass through the right slit and reach the photodetector or bullet detector, yielding a heaped pile of photons or bullets at the corresponding spot on the detector. For the photons, we get a bright spot on the photodetector behind the right slit. The pile is a bellshaped Gaussian distribution because some photons or bullets bounce off the walls of the slit. This is exactly what does happen. Now if we cover the left slit instead, we get a Gaussian pile of photons and a bright spot behind the right slit on the photodetector. The stunning surprise arises if we uncover both slits. Naively, that is, in classical physics, we expect the same result with photons that we would have gotten had we fired bullets: two Gaussian piles of bullets on the bullet detector, and two bright spots on the photodetector screen. That is not what we see. Instead, we get bands or stripes of light and dark regions that span the distance between where the two initial spots were seen when either the left or the right slit was covered. This banded or striped pattern is called an “interference pattern,” and



is the hallmark of quantum behavior. Classical physics, with pointlike particles that behave like tiny bullets, cannot yield this quantum result. We can begin to understand the first steps in quantum mechanics with the help of a classical analogy. Picture a sea wall, parallel to a beach, and between incoming waves and the beach beyond the sea wall. Let the waves be “plane waves,” that is, waves coming toward the beach and parallel to it. Now cut two slots in the sea wall, each a few feet wide. When a wave hits the sea wall, it can only pass through the slots. On the beach side of the slot, the plane wave will become a semicircular wave propagating toward the beach. This is true of both slots, so two semicircular waves propagate from the two nearby slots in the sea wall. Now pick a single point on the beach. The two semicircular waves travel toward that point and reach it. Now, it may be that the crests of the two semicircular waves meet at the point we chose, in which case the two crests would sum to an even higher crest. Or two wave valleys might meet at our point and sum to a lower wave valley. And, critically, the crest of one wave may meet the valley of another wave at our point on the beach and the two waves would “cancel” one another. As we pick a succession of points along the beach, at some points we will get two crests summing to a higher crest, two valleys summing to lower wave valleys, and between them spots where crests and valleys meet and cancel. In the two-slit experiment, this how we get the bright stripes (where wave crests or valleys meet at a point on the beach) and dark stripes (where one wave crest meets one wave valley from the other slit/slot and they cancel out).


Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

The Schrödinger Equation Modern quantum mechanics was founded in 1927 with the publication of the Schrödinger equation. This is a linear wave equation, where waves propagate from the photon gun toward the two slits and beyond to the photodetector. As in the sea-wall analogy, the crests or valleys of these waves meet and sum at some points along the photodetector, while crests and valleys meet at other points and cancel each other. The meeting of crests or valleys and their summation yields the bright stripes. The meeting of crests and valleys yields the dark stripes of the interference pattern. Mathematically, it all works spectacularly well. But since the formulation of the Schrödinger equation, a question has plagued physicists: What is waving in the wave equation? No one knows. There are three major extant interpretations of quantum mechanics: (1) the Copenhagen interpretation, or modified versions of it; (2) the multiple-world interpretation; and (3) the Bohm interpretation. A vast literature discusses all these and, biologist that I remain, I will not discuss these interpretations. I will instead offer a fourth. The Feynman Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics Richard Feynman proposed a radical idea that is accepted by all as a consistent interpretation of the whole of quantum mechanics. He proposed that each photon on its way to and through the two slits simultaneously takes all possible pathways in space through the two slits and to the photodetector. The mathematical formulation of this is beautiful and it all works out perfectly, fitting all the known facts. Classical physics obeys Aristotle’s “law of excluded middle,” which works like this: if “the cup is on the table now” is statement A, then either A or Not A. There is nothing “in the middle” between A



and Not A. The cup either is or is not on the table now. Thus the statement, “A and Not A,” is a contradiction and is always false. In classical physics, a particle either passes through the left slit or it does not pass through the left slit. If “the particle passes through the left slit,” is statement A, then in classical physics, “A and Not A”—that is, “The particle does and does not pass though the left slit”—is a contradiction. It is because of this contradiction that quantum interference does not fit classical physics. But Feynman says that, over all possible histories, it is true that the photon does and simultaneously does not pass through the left slit. Thus Feynman’s formulation of quantum mechanics does not obey Aristotle’s law of excluded middle. Quantum Measurement Before proceeding, I need to give an outline of quantum measurement. In physical evidence, when the photon arrives at the photodetector in the interference pattern, a spot really appears on the photodetector and the spot stays there. The appearance of the spot is an example of quantum measurement. In the formulation of quantum mechanics, the Schrödinger waves have an “amplitude” or height at each point in time and space. The rules for quantum measurement are, first, square the amplitude at each point in time and space. Called the “Born rule,” this squared amplitude is the probability that upon measurement the photon will be found at that spot in time and space. Second, carry out the measurement process. In the Schrödinger linear wave equation, given any two wave solutions, all their sums and differences are also solutions. This is the mystery of quantum superposition. So many waves are propagating toward the two slits and the photodetector. In the measurement process, what used to be called the “collapse of the wave function” occurs, and a single wave of


Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

the very many waves is “chosen” and revealed in the measurement. This wave is detected by the Born rule, according to its probability, given by the square of the amplitude of the underlying Schrödinger wave equation solutions for that particular wave. This measurement process underlies wave-particle duality: before quantum measurement the photon behaves as a Schrödinger wave; after measurement it behaves as a particle and leaves a spot whose brightness depends only on the wavelength—hence, energy—of the photon. Res Potentia and Res Extensa Linked by Quantum Measurement The American philosopher C. S. Peirce noted that actuals and probables do obey the law of excluded middle, while possibles do not obey the law of exclude middle. I will now build on the Feynman formulation of quantum mechanics as the sum over all possible histories and Peirce’s observation that possibles do not obey the law of excluded middle to propose a new dualism. The world consists of both ontologically real actuals, res extensa, and ontologically real possibles, res potentia. The two are truly linked, hence truly united, by quantum measurement. (This stands in contrast to the famous dualism of Descartes, which consisted of res cogitans, thinking “stuff,” and res extensa, his mechanical worldview, where the two realms were never united.) On this dualism, res potentia concerns unmeasured quantum processes. Res extensa concerns measured quantum processes. I do not know that this new dualism is correct. It seems to lead in useful directions, summarized in my paper, “Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing.”2 There I am led to propose (and I return to it below) 2. S. Kauffman, “Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing,” in The Once and Future Turing, ed. S. B. Cooper and A. Hodges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).



that conscious experience is associated with quantum measurement, a testable hypothesis (as noted above). In “Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing,” where I discuss res potentia and res extensa linked by quantum measurement, I take up the deep puzzle of measurement. On this new dualism, quantum measurement is the possible “becoming” actual, P à A. But this becoming, “à,” is unlike any becoming among time-changing actuals, such as water freezing. Nor is it like quantum wave propagation prior to measurement, residing in res potentia. Indeed, I conclude that there is no mechanism for quantum measurement that is a mathematizable deductively entailed mechanism, for the “X is possible” of res potentia does not entail the “X is actual” of res extensa. This becoming “just happens” in quantum measurement. This view is consistent with known formulations of quantum mechanics and the Conway and Kochen “strong free will theorem,”3 discussed below. Toward a Natural Sense of Incarnation In Christian doctrine, incarnation is a theological process where God becomes manifest in actuality. The parallel to the above discussion of quantum measurement linking res potentia and res extensa (P à A) is clear. Thus this proposed new dualism does offer a conceivable sense of a “natural incarnation” associated with the mysterious quantum measurement “event,” although that event seems uncharacterizable even if quantum measurement happens in fact. I emphasize that I am unconvinced by my own hypothesis of res potentia and res extensa as linked, hence united, by quantum measurement. The useful work the idea may do remains to be seen.4 Even if this new dualism were correct, it would not imply a 3. J. H. Conway and S. Kochen, “The Strong Free Will Theorem,” Notices of the AMS 56:2 (2009): 226–32. 4. But see “Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing” for further exploration.


Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

supernatural agent God, let alone one that is aware, has a free will, and can act in the universe as expressed by theistic doctrines. The Universe Observing Itself? I begin the second part of this essay by emphasizing that I do not believe what I will write, but I think it is not nonsense and in some places is testable even now. In other places, I see no current way to test what I shall say. We have no idea what consciousness is. In “Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing,” I propose after considerable discussion that the mind-brain system is in what I call the Poised Realm, hovering reversibly between quantum coherent behavior and classical behavior, achieved either by quantum measurement or by what is called quantum decoherence. This, in principle, allows mind to have repeatable consequences for brain by acausal decoherence from quantum to classical (for all practical purposes) or by acausal measurement. Thus, in principle, quantum mechanics, not classical physics with its causal closure, can answer Descartes and modern thought in the philosophy of mind. Mind as a quantum coherent or partially decoherent process can have consequences for brain, but these consequences are not causal. Were we to limit our considerations to classical physics and its causal closure, we have the following standard problem in the philosophy of mind. The brain in classical physics is described by deterministic laws of motion, like billiard balls rolling on a table, with initial and boundary conditions (differential equations) integrated to yield the determined trajectories of the balls. But if this is the case, the current state of the brain is causally sufficient for the next state of the brain. Thus there is nothing for mind to do. Worse, there is no way for mind act on brain. In contrast, if we adopt



the hypothesis that the mind-brain system is in the Poised Realm, hovering back and forth between quantum coherent behavior and classicality, for all practical purposes, or by measurement, mind can have repeated acausal consequences for brain. Thus, I believe, we “answer Descartes.” What about consciousness, or instances of awareness (qualia)? I propose that qualia are associated with quantum measurement. I stress that while such an association is testable, as noted below, it does not tell us what consciousness is. Here is a more detailed view of the hypothesis: quantum measurements in the brain, perhaps in protein neurotransmitter receptor molecules in synapses, are associated with experience, consciousness, qualia. This is testable. Drosophila melanogaster, the famous fruit flies of genetics, can be anesthetized by exposure to ether. The evidence of anesthesia is that the flies, if exposed to ether, fall over and are inert. Shortly after exposure, they become active again. Here a classical form of genetic experimentation is open to us. Begin with a population of normal or wild type flies that can be anesthetized by a given concentration of ether, say concentration X, given in time interval T. Now select over successive generations for flies that can be anesthetized by smaller and shorter-duration exposure to ether. After some generations, we will presumably obtain a population of flies that can be anesthetized by a very low dose of, and short-duration exposure to, ether compared to S and T. By standard genetic techniques, we can now seek the genes, and hence the proteins those genes code for, that have been modified in the selected, easily anesthetized, population of Drosophila. We can now test if the unaltered wild-type versions of the now-identified proteins in wild-type flies can carry out quantum measurement, but those in the selected population of flies that are easily anesthetized cannot carry out quantum measurement, or can to a lesser extent. This 298

Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

requires a reliable way to assess quantum measurement in such wildtype and mutant proteins. Were we to really find that wild-type flies have proteins that are able to carry out quantum measurement while selected flies could not, we would begin to believe that consciousness actually is associated with quantum measurement. Obviously, this would just be an experimental start, but it suffices to show that the hypothesis that qualia are associated with quantum measurement is testable—and hence is science. Why does this not tell us what consciousness is? The short answer is given by David Chalmers, who rightly points out that whatever facts we adduce, we can always ask, But what is that consciousness?5 There is a disadvantage and cognate advantage to my hypothesis. I have identified conscious experience with quantum measurement, but this buries the mystery of what consciousness is in the further mystery of what measurement is. A mystery buried in a mystery is not a happy step. But if it were true, and we cannot have a “mechanism” for measurement, as Conway and Kochen argue in “Strong Free Will Theorem” and I discuss in “Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing” and below, at least we “know” why consciousness remains a mystery. Is Measurement Merely Necessary, or Necessary and Sufficient for Qualia? Can we go further? If we were to become persuaded that qualia really are associated with quantum measurement, say in synaptic neurotransmitter receptors or other molecules, we would face the question whether measurement is merely necessary for qualia, or necessary and sufficient. On the former hypothesis, other processes 5. David J. Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).



in our brains are part of qualia. For example, the fact that quantum processes are wave processes means they “feel” their boundary conditions in a way that no classical particle does, a point made by Samuli Niiranen of Tampere University of Technology, Finland. Thus, potential wells “tuned” to the outside world by neural activities can reflect that outside world in a correlated way.6 What is more, if you look around you see a unified visual field called the unity of consciousness. The binding problem in neuroscience is this: suppose you see a yellow triangle and a blue square, but different, anatomically unconnected areas of the brain process “yellow,” “blue,” “triangle,” and “square.” How does our brain link yellow and triangle and blue and square? Francis Crick, in his The Astonishing Hypothesis,7 discusses this and other fascinating neurobiology in detail. One hope Crick mentions is a 40-hertz neural oscillation in the brain. The idea is that if “yellow” and “triangle” neurons fire at the same phase of this oscillation, even if they are unconnected anatomically, they will be bound as “yellow triangle.” If “blue” and “square” neurons are unconnected but fire at a different phase of the 40-hertz oscillation, they too will be bound. This might work, but look around you. How many relational features do you see? Say you can discriminate 10,000 features and see relational features among 30 of them at a time. This means you can see 10,000 factorial / 9,970 factorial x 30 factorial possible relational features of the world. How would this vast number of relational features “squeeze” into one 40-cycle-per-second oscillation in “different phases”? The 40-hertz oscillation hypothesis seems to me a possible, but improbable, solution to the binding problem of neuroscience. 6. Kaufmann, Reinventing the Sacred. 7. Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search For the Soul (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994).


Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

Quantum Entanglement and the Unity of Consciousness In “Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing,” I propose a new, testable hypothesis for how the binding problem is solved. It makes use of quantum entanglement, which is well-established and has astonishing consequences. If a single high-energy photon splits two lowerenergy photons and they fly apart, even across the universe, a stunning implication of quantum mechanics is that these two entangled photons remain a single quantum system. If a quantum property such as polarization is measured in one entangled photon, then instantaneously and at a distance such that light cannot travel across the distance in the time interval in which the second entangled photon is measured, the two measurements are “correlated” beyond that which classical physics can account for. This amazing prediction has been repeatedly confirmed. More, since light cannot have traveled between the two measurement events, and no causal influence can travel faster than light by special relativity, the phenomenon is called “non-locality” in physics. Non-locality is well confirmed. My testable hypothesis is that anatomically unconnected brain areas can be quantum entangled. Via measurement of the entangled quantum processes (and hence with associated qualia) derived from a single quantum system, we can have a unity of consciousness. This may solve the binding problem. I here note that my colleague, Gábor Vattay of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, has proposed the start of a mechanism operating in the Poised Realm where disconnnected sets of molecules that do not touch one another, like those found in light-harvesting protein antenna complexes, can be entangled and transmit quantum behavior that decoheres very slowly, can be measured, and can recohere in the Poised Realm.8 I conclude that my hypothesis of 8. Gábor Vattay, personal communication, 2012.



entanglement and measurement to solve the binding problem is at least possible. Measurement as Necessary and Sufficient for Qualia Consider the hypothesis that quantum measurement is both necessary and sufficient for qualia. Then we are driven to suppose that wherever quantum measurement occurs in the universe, qualia—or perhaps “protoqualia”—also occur. The first point to stress is that this hypothesis seems scientifically possible. The second is that I can see at present no way to test the hypothesis. Until it can be tested, it is not science.” Still, the hypothesis is surely conceivable and may be true. If this extremely speculative hypothesis were to prove true, then the universe is full of protoqualia occurring all the time. Could the Universe Conceivably be Protosentient? The next extremely speculative step is to note that if quantum measurement is necessary and sufficient for protoqualia, and if these events can occur among entangled quantum processes, a “unity of protoqualia” in the abiotic universe seems not impossible. I stress again that at present I see no way to test the hypothesis that even entangled nonlocal correlated quantum measured events are associated with qualia in, say, stones. But it does seem perfectly conceivable, if quantum measurement is necessary and sufficient for qualia or protoqualia. Wheeler, “It from Bit,” and “the Universe Observing Itself” The physicist John Archibald Wheeler had two dicta: “it from bit” and “the universe observing itself.” With “it from bit,” I believe Wheeler had in mind a link arising between “information” (“bit”) and 302

Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

“stuff” (“it”). However, standard information theory is inadequate to apply to the evolution of the biosphere. There are two standard forms of information theory. The first originated with Claude Shannon. It imagines a set of messages encoded in a set of symbol strings with a fixed prestated alphabet. For example, 101110 and 000110 would be two messages. Then there is a message source, which has these messages in different numbers of copies. This allows computing the entropy of the source as (- (sum Pi Log Pi)), where “Pi” is the number of copies of message “i” in the source. From this the information transmitted down a channel can be computed. The second form of information theory originated with Andrey Kolmogorov and does not need a message source. Given a single specific symbol string in a prestated alphabet (for example, 100010100), the information content of the single string is the shortest program that can compute it. In two books, Investigations9 and Reinventing the Sacred, I have argued that we cannot prestate the evolution of the biosphere. Independently, Giuseppe Longo and Francis Bailly10 argued that we cannot prestate the ever-changing phase space of biological evolution. This work has culminated in an article I wrote with Giuseppe Longo and his postdoctoral fellow, Mael Montevil, posted on the website ArXiv under the title “No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere.”11 Here we argue, successfully I think, that we cannot prestate the ever-changing phase space of evolution. Therefore, we can write no laws of motion for the evolution of the biosphere, for we cannot prestate the ever-new variables revealed by natural selection. Since we lack knowledge of 9. S. Kauffman, Investigations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). 10. Francis Bailly and Giuseppe Longo, Mathematics and the Natural Sciences: The Physical Singularity of Life (London: Imperial College, 2011). 11. G. Longo, M. Monevil, and S. Kauffman, “No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere,” ArXiv,



the boundary conditions of selection, we could not integrate the equations of motion even if we had them, which we don’t. Thus we conclude that no laws entail the becoming of the biosphere. If this is correct, it is the “end of a physics worldview,” the title of a talk I gave at MIT in 2011.12 The phase space of evolution keeps changing in unprestatable ways, and a consequence is that we do not know all the possible ways evolution may evolve. We do not know the “sample space,” so we can construct no probability measure. Shannon requires that we know the sample space and probability measure on it to compute the entropy of the source; thus Shannon is ruled out for evolution. For Kolmogorov, we must have a prestated alphabet. But there is no prestated “alphabet” with which to describe evolved phenotypes, or even the relation between them, that may have survival value. In short, Kolmogorov’s information theory does not apply to evolution, for we have no prestatable alphabet of symbols whereby we can seek the shortest program to produce a specific symbol string. I conclude that information theory as we know it does not apply to evolution. If it is to do so, the fundamental character of “information” requires much further work to be taken as fundamental in the universe. Perhaps others will succeed where Shannon and Kolmogorov failed. But in sum, if Wheeler meant standard information theory in his dictum “it from bit,” the known forms of information theory do not apply to evolution of the biosphere, hence to the becoming of the universe.

12. The video of this talk is available online; see S. Kaufman, “The End of a Physics Worldview: Heraclitus and the Watershed of Life,”


Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

Qualia as “Bit,” the Actual as “It” But there is another clear sense of information: it is precisely my own awareness of the world. Thus qualia are a true form of “bit”—that is, information about the world beyond information theory as constituted at present. And with quantum measurement associated, if it is so associated, with qualia, and yielding actuals, we link “it” and “bit” for measurement and can yield classical degrees of freedom, that is, “stuff.” On this view, “it from bit” becomes the wave particle duality itself, but with qualia, “bit,” associated with measurement where waves become particles, or “it.” Now if we imagine that protoqualia in the universe are entangled, we could conceivably get a unity of protoconsciousness. At the same time, via the classical degrees of freedom that “emerge” with measurement, we could have a means to affect the actual world. We may perhaps approach Wheeler’s “the universe observing itself.” I stress again that all this is barely conceivable, untestable, and not yet science—but not impossible as far as I can see. I also note that Wheeler’s “the universe observing itself” does not yet say what such observation may enable to happen, if anything, in the universe observing itself. The Strong Free Will Theorem There is a final piece to add to this speculative discussion. Conway and Kochen have proved the “strong free will theorem” (though I may misunderstand it and you should read the theorem itself). As I understand the issue, when a quantum physicist decides to measure a quantum property such as the spin of an electron, the physicist can choose to measure whether the spin points up or down. Or the physicist can choose to measure whether the spin points left or right. Note that these two directions are, classically, orthogonal. The strong



free will theorem states that if the physicist has free will in choosing whether to measure up versus down or left versus right, then the particle has “free will” in the sense that (1) nothing in the past of the universe determines the outcome for the particle; (2) the outcome is not random, for the physicist will find a yes/no answer to either up versus down or to left versus right; and (3) there is no mechanism for quantum measurement. This last point is also mine above. In “Answering Descartes: Beyond Turing,” I give, on grounds that are entirely independent of the postulate of “res potentia and res extensa linked by quantum measurement,” reasons to think that the physicist can have a responsible free will. If I am right in this, then this claim buttresses the premise of the strong free will theorem in which the physicist must have free will and the theorem’s consequences follow. But what of the “nonrandomness”? This is, I believe, the preferred pointer basis issue in quantum mechanics (but remember, I am a biologist). Then, to ask the obvious, how does the electron “know” whether to “choose” up versus down as opposed to choosing left versus right to match the choice of the physicist as to what to measure? Is this a theistic God acting in the universe comprised of ontologically real res potentia outside of space and time and ontologically real res extensa, linked by quantum measurement? I have no idea. God? Not Yet Does this get us to a Creator God who is omniscient, omnipotent, let alone loving? Surely not, or not yet. But non-locality seems outside of space and time, as does quantum measurement, the latter point stressed by Heisenberg13 and myself many years later. If we assume that experience has a dual “that which experiences,” a rudimentary 13. Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (New York: Harper and Row, 1958).


Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual

“I,” then that “I” may be poised to be agential and “act.” Where an “I” enters, we are not infinitely far from cosmic agency. I find this hypothesis remote, but conceivable. Do I “believe” what I have written? I stress that I do not. But what I have written seems, scientifically, just barely possible.


13 Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

Dirk Evers

In this chapter, I want to explore how an understanding of incarnation as God’s transformative presence in creation can be elaborated in terms of the traditional Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone. First, I will point out that justification by faith implies a fundamental interrelatedness of divine presence and human existence, thus referring to a relational understanding of God and creation. Then I will analyze the fundamental distance between God and human beings and how through incarnation God overcomes this spiritual distance and reveals God’s presence in the fate of Jesus Christ. The third part of the chapter will then interpret this relational understanding of God and creation in an evolutionary framework








anthropology and by interpreting the cross as the hermeneutical key to God’s transformative presence.



Theology in a Lutheran Perspective Luther determined the task of Christian theology as interpreting the relationship between God and human beings as constituted and made accessible by the crucified Christ.1 That may have found its clearest expression in Luther’s 1532 exegesis of Psalm 51: The cognition of God and human beings is divine and properly theological wisdom. And the cognition of God and human beings is such that finally it is referring to the justifying God and to the human being as sinner; so that the proper subject of theology is the guilty and damned human being and the justifying and saving God. Everything which is beyond this argument or subject is just error and vanity in theology.2

Luther identified both the cognition of God and the cognition of human beings as the central reference points of divine wisdom, and thus as the main subject of theology. Each category refers to the other: theology deals with the guilty and lost human being; whenever it does it deals with the justifying and saving God, and vice versa. They are like the two focal points of an ellipse. Only when taken together do they determine the whole figure. As a consequence, theology cannot build upon an abstract notion of God, but refers to God in relation to human beings. Both categories, the knowledge of God and the theological understanding of human beings, are mutually interdependent in a soteriological perspective, which is the only perspective accessible to us. God is known only in and through the divine-human situation.3 1. The label “theology of the cross” has become a standard and quite adequate summary for Luther’s theological approach, although Luther himself rarely used the term. 2. Martin Luther, “Enarratio Psalmi LI, 1532,” in D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesamtausgabe [hereafter abbreviated WA] (Weimar: Böhlau, 1883–2009), 40/II:327.11–328.3: “Cognitio dei et hominis est sapientia divina et proprie theologica, Et ita cognitio dei et hominis, ut referatur tandem ad deum iustificantem et hominem peccatorem, ut proprie sit subiectum Theologiae homo reus et perditus et deus iustificans vel salvator. quicquid extra istud argumentum vel subiectum quaeritur, hoc plane est error et vanitas in Theologia.”


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

In a Christian perspective, this situation, the epistemic key to all theological knowledge, is revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Theology says something true of God only when it refers to the divine-human situation as revealed in the cross. This applies to anthropology as well. Theology says something true of human beings only when it refers to the divine-human situation as made accessible in the life and fate of Jesus Christ. According to Luther, the fullness of what it means to be human cannot be properly defined by identifying essential empirical traits of human beings, thus distinguishing them from other animals. It is essential for human existence to be embedded into a relationship with God as the ground of all being to exist as a relational being at all. Luther identifies a fundamental difference between philosophical and empirical anthropology, on the one hand, and a theological perspective on the other. In his Disputatio de homine, Luther disputes the traditional definition of human beings as animal rationale (“rational animals”) and holds against it a verse from Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “In brief form, what Paul expresses in Romans 3[:28]: ‘For we hold that a person is justified by faith, apart from works prescribed by the law’ is the definition of the human being, which means that the human being is human in that he or she is justified by faith.”4 Hominem iustificari fide (“a human being is justified by faith”) is the fundamental anthropological thesis. For Luther, this thesis deals with humanity in the fullness of human existence, whereas philosophical or empirical descriptions miss the point when they refer 3. Cf. K. Barth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956), IV/1:530: “Of all the superficial catchwords of our age, surely one of the most superficial is that, whereas 16th century man was occupied with the grace of God, modern man is much more radically concerned about God Himself and as such. As though there were such a thing as God Himself and as such, or any point in seeking Him! As though grace were a quality of God which we could set aside while we leisurely ask concerning His existence! As though the Christian community and Christian faith had any interest in the existence or non-existence of this God Himself and as such!” 4. Luther, “Disputatio de homine,” WA 39/I:176 (thesis 32).



to humans only by listing natural faculties by which they differ from other animals. Such descriptions can throw light on certain aspects of human biological nature but are not able to unfold the fullness of human existence, which comprises the origin, the potential, and the purpose of human existence. However, Luther’s anthropology as centered on justification and the cross is prone to a highly problematic misunderstanding. What I called the divine-human situation can and often has been understood moralistically. For Luther, “sinner” is not a moral category but a theological one, referring to the relation between God and human beings as out of joint, as not in order from the outset. Morally wrong behavior is not the source of the fatal incongruity between God and human beings, but rather a consequence. In my understanding, Luther refers to a fundamental dependence of human beings, to the fact that what makes humans human is something they receive rather than something they do. The attempt to establish and secure human existence by “making” it out of our own powers is something like a curse, a self-made prison out of which human beings can only be freed through God’s grace. Being freed by God’s grace through faith means being opened toward a relational mode of existence that participates in God’s concern for the other and for creation as a whole. This freedom is twofold: it frees believers from the vain pressure to produce their own recognition, and it liberates them to trust in mutual, even unilateral recognition; in biblical terms, it means a neighbor even to the stranger and the enemy. Or in Luther’s own words: From all this it follows that a Christian does not live in himself, but in Christ and his neighbour: in Christ by faith, in the neighbour by love. By faith, the Christian rises above himself to God, and from God he falls below himself by love; thus ever abiding in God and divine love. [. . .] Behold: this is true, spiritual, Christian freedom, which frees the heart


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

from all sins, laws and commandments, and which surpasses all other freedom like heaven surpasses earth.5

This has nothing to do with sin as a transgression of moral conventions calling for bloody sacrifice at the cross, but it points to the fulfillment of human existence in a life of recognition and trust in God for which Jesus Christ laid the foundation and paved the way. Moreover, twentieth-century theology of the cross has emphasized that, through the life and fate of Christ, light is also thrown upon creation as a whole. The cross not only says something about God and humanity, it determines how everything else is to be understood in a theological perspective. It is the formative focus for a theological understanding of the purpose of creation. As Jürgen Moltmann puts it: “The death of Jesus on the cross is the centre of all Christian theology. It is not the only theme of theology, but it is in effect the entry to its problems and answers on earth. All Christian statements about God, about creation, about sin and death have their focal point in the crucified Christ.”6 Indeed, incarnation and the doctrine of creation are reciprocally linked. Any Marcionite claim of an opposition between creation and salvation must be dismissed. The cross as the focal point of the life and fate of Jesus Christ does not stand for salvation from creation, but for God’s ongoing presence within creation. Thus incarnation even provides the hermeneutical key to creation, as well as to the fulfillment of creation. This turns around traditional approaches, which tried to make sense of incarnation within a philosophical ontological framework, insofar as it understands the revelation of the divine-human situation as the hermeneutical key to ontological questions and not vice versa. 5. M. Luther, “On the Freedom of a Christian,” WA 7:38 (my translation). 6. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (London: SCM, 1974), 204 (emphasis original).



This view—that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of human beings are inseparably intertwined and have their focal point in Christ incarnate—challenges the classical theistic notion of God as a transcendent spiritual being who interferes with space-time reality in creation, redemption, and perfection in a way that is analogous to human intentional agency. God cannot be distinguished as a phenomenon among others in space and time; accordingly, the term God is not primarily referring to a trans-worldly entity but refers to a focal point and horizon of reality as a whole, as experienced from a human perspective. This view is compatible with the relational turn in philosophy and science in late modernity. This notion of God as the focal point and horizon of reality cannot be separated from the human self-concepts through which it is expressed. There is no God per se, no notion of God as detached from human existence. For Lutheran theology, the concept of justification by faith is crucial in this respect, with “faith” specifying the way in which human beings are incorporated into God’s ongoing presence in the world. “Faith” in the theological sense of the word does not mean a certain doxastic belief system but comprises all aspects of trust, belief, power of cognitive disclosure, interdependence with love and hope, and so on with which human beings relate to God as the ultimate reality. This view of human existence is compatible with the relational turn in modern anthropology. It is the cross of Christ in which the divine-human situation is focused as in a symbol. It points to the loving and saving God, the deus salvator et iustificans, the God who turns toward humanity and transforms human existence, not by an external act of power but from within. The prefix in- in incarnation not only refers to the fact that the transcendent God becomes immanent but also that God entered the very depth of creation in order to transform creation from within, not by an authoritarian act of inevitable manifestation 314

Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

breaking into creation from the outside. What has to be envisaged is “the active transformation of creatures.”7 At the same time, the cross of Christ points to what is at stake in human existence. It reveals the brokenness and grandeur of human existence, its structural and individual sin and guilt as well as its longing. As the symbol of Jesus’ life and fate, it shows God’s empathy toward human beings and points to the ultimate hope that is brought about by the resurrection of the Crucified One. The cross of Christ must not be reduced to an objective sacrifice but should be seen as a symbol of God’s transformative agency within creation that reveals God’s nature and intentions, as well as the depth of human existence, in the horizon of love, suffering, and ultimate hope. Within a modern non-supernatural and non-dualist theological understanding of the universe, reality must be seen as the framework, the conditions of possibility (Möglichkeitsbedingungen, in the Kantian sense), and the realm of application for the divine-human situation as revealed in the cross. We should expect to find traces of what Christ stands for in everything that is, and we should be able to apply this understanding to our conduct in our biographical, social, and natural environment. All this has consequences for the doctrine of incarnation. If the notion of God refers to the focal point and horizon of reality, and if it is deeply interrelated with human self-concepts in reference to this notion of God, then the classic problem of Christology, “How do we combine divine and human natures in one personal being?” misses the point. A relational understanding of God and a relational and evolutionary understanding of human beings call for a different kind of conceptual space for understanding the claim that the divine 7. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Three Varieties of Panentheism,” in In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World, ed. Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 33.



Logos became flesh. With this in mind, in the next paragraphs I will elaborate on the Christian concept of incarnation and its anthropological foundations and applications. Incarnation: God’s Worldly Presence to Human Beings The New Testament texts claim that through incarnation God enters space-time reality and overcomes the separation between God and creation. All theistic religions speak of the distance that separates God from human beings. The term distance is metaphorical, since it makes no sense to ask how far away God is. Popular accounts also often refer to God as being outside space and time, which again seems to be a metaphor. The distance between us and God, between spacetime and divine transcendence, cannot be understood in spatial terms. How then is it to be understood? John Hick notes that God cannot be said to be spatially distant from human beings because the notion of God as a supreme being implies God’s omnipresence. He proposes understanding distance from God as cognitive: “The distance must be epistemic, a distance in the cognitive dimension. And the Irenaean hypothesis is that this ‘distance’ consists, in the case of humans, in their existence within and as part of a world that functions as an autonomous system and from within which God is not overwhelmingly evident.”8 Hick seems to suggest that saying God is distant means that although we live in a world where God is in principle everywhere, “God is not overwhelmingly evident.” However, while the cognitive distance cannot be fully overcome, it can be diminished. It cannot be fully overcome because God transcends human intelligibility, but it can be lessened by God revealing certain aspects of Godself. Indeed, Hick

8. J. Hick, “An Irenaean Theodicy,” in Encountering Evil, ed. S. T. Davis (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 42.


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

understands the cognitive distance between God and the believer in the sense of the transcendental Kantian distinction between thing-initself and appearance: the omnipotent and all-pervasive REAL (God as Godself) is perceived in different forms by different religions, but never understood as it is in itself. But in religious language, reference to God as being distant or afar does not necessarily imply to a cognitive distance. In the Psalms, for example, we can read both “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . . . The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Ps. 46:1, 7); and: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1) The psalmists do not refer to an epistemic category, but a spiritual one. God is omnipresent, and what is at stake is not knowledge of God, but the realization of God’s creative and redeeming power. Even when in the Scripture God is said to be overwhelmingly present, there is still a sense in which a cognitive distance between human beings and God prevails. This makes sense in the context of what I said in the first paragraph. If God is the focal point and horizon of reality, and if God can only be understood if we understand ourselves in relation to God, then the failure to recognize God is not due to a cognitive deficiency but to a failure to bring together our existence in the ways of the world and the presence of God. This usually has two aspects. We fail to “see” and identify God in the ways of the world, while at the same time failing to form our existence in such a way as to realize the presence of God in our way of living. This spiritual relation to God waxes and wanes independent of what we cognitively understand of God. The Christian understanding of the incarnation, that the “Word” (Logos) became “flesh” as expressed in John 1:14, is the assertion that



in Jesus Christ God transgressed the spiritual distance between God and human beings. On the other hand, classical christological concepts focused on bridging the ontological gap between God and human beings by elaborating on the relationship between the human and divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ. Within traditional metaphysics, the core question was, How can two substances constitute one person? Attributes ascribed to the divine Logos, like omnipotence, omniscience, and others, were especially problematic since they are incompatible with attributes ascribed to Christ’s finite human nature. A common move was and still is to see incarnation as a kenotic act in which God laid aside, or at least resigned from using, some divine properties. As Richard Swinburne puts it: “God humbled himself in his incarnation in Christ and did not exercise the power he possessed.”9 The idea behind this notion seems to be that God’s essential nature is sheer power (itself a problematic concept), but from time to time, and especially in Christ, God decides not to use it out of respect for the freedom of creation. However, such a notion seems to diminish the significance of Christ and incarnation; it implies that Christ does not reveal the essence of God but only a reduced appearance of God, withholding God’s essential properties. This stands in contrast to John 1, which states that Christ is the actual manifestation of the divine Logos, and it leads to the aporia of many kenotic concepts of incarnation: How can Christ incarnate be the revelation and manifestation of God when the act of incarnation can only be understood as an act of hiding what God essentially is in what God essentially cannot be? The answer to this dilemma can be found in what was discussed above. Christ does not overcome the ontological gap between God 9. R. Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 30.


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

and human beings by combining God and human “essences,” nor does Christ override the cognitive gap as a heavenly being in order to convey certain information about God. Rather, in Christ God overcomes the spiritual distance and reveals God’s presence in a transformative way. The challenge is to develop a notion of Christ as the revelation of the divine-human situation that is meaningful and transformative, and through this transformative power reveals God’s intention toward creation as a whole so that traces of this event can be recognized and identified in the whole process of creation. For this task, a consequentially relational, contextual, and experiential approach can help us move beyond traditional aporetic concepts. In a Lutheran perspective, the purpose of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ is to bring about a renewed and reconciled relationship between human beings and the divine in, with, and under the conditions of concrete human existence. The human response to this is faith in the broad meaning of the term as discussed above. But faith is neither a natural disposition of (properly functioning) human beings nor just an acquired cognitive, doxastic attitude (belief) toward supernatural facts and entities. Faith is a form of life for which human beings are being won by God’s Spirit.10 Is this concept plausible within an evolutionary perspective? In the next section, I will argue in favor of this by employing notions developed by evolutionary anthropology in order to explain the development of human cognition, communication, and cooperation within an evolutionary framework. This, I hope, will be of help for a

10. Cf. Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” From a Lutheran point of view, this is the origin of Trinitarian thinking: within creation and through Jesus Christ the Spirit calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and strengthens human beings.



renewed understanding of incarnation as the revelation of the divinehuman situation. What Makes Humans Human? Insights from Evolutionary Anthropology Recent studies on the development of human cognitive skills have shown the importance of social cognition, social learning, and communication/language for this process. Michael Tomasello, an American developmental psychologist and codirector of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has expanded those findings into a theory of the origins of cultural behavior. He has worked with primate groups in the Leipzig Zoo as well as with small children in order to identify the unique cognitive and cultural processes that distinguish humans from their nearest primate relatives, the great apes.11 He starts with two observations: (1) human beings share nearly all their genetic material with the great apes, and (2) the development of human culture proceeds at such a pace that it cannot be hardwired in its specific occurrences but must rest on a few fundamental traits, whose interplay accounts for it. From these observations, Tomasello infers two consequences: first, nearly all human characteristics must have been predisposed in our primate ancestors. Use of tools, communication, social behavior, the structure of the brain, and other features can be observed in basic forms with nonhuman primates and other animals. None of these are an exclusive differentia specifica for human beings. And second, the cultural development that makes humans human cannot be the accumulative result of a number of genetic mutations, but must be understood as a complex interplay of basic features that reaches a new level of interaction among human 11. See M. Tomasello, Origins of Human Communication, Jean Nicod Lectures (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008).


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

beings and thus allows for a relatively fast and accumulative development of cultural behavior independent of genetic variations. Thus, humans are not primates with more effective cognitive functions plus additional modules for some social and cultural faculties. Rather, humans are primates who reached a new level of organization on which self-conscience, morality, and culture emerged. They are naturally cultural beings through and through; “culture” is part of human nature, and human “nature” is formed by human culture. Culture must have an evolutionary basis that makes it possible, and culture also reaches a point at which its development is set free from its genetic basis.12 Tomasello identifies a certain form of intentionality as a main feature of human behavior on which important strands of human culture rest. By employing and combining skills that already existed in higher apes, human beings have developed a new form of behavior that Tomasello calls shared intentionality. Although primates show cooperative behavior, like cooperative hunting and defense, the human version of cooperation has specific qualities that bring about a certain “we-structure.” Tomasello refers to experiments that show even prelingual infants at the age of nine months begin to develop what he calls joint attention. Infants follow gazes and gestures, start to engage with others while referring to external objects, and try to direct others’ attention to situations and objects by declarative gestures. It is a central claim of his theory that the first uniquely human forms of communication were pointing and pantomiming; both of these were not simply used as imperative signals to trigger certain behavioral 12. With this concept, Tomasello offers an alternative to the so-called massive modularity thesis, which views the human mind as a toolkit (the Swiss-army-knife approach), as it is developed by some proponents of evolutionary psychology. See, for example, S. Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997); see also J. Fodor, The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way: The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).



patterns in others, but were used as communicative signals to refer jointly to shared objects and situations. Tomasello sees these situations as triadic rather than dyadic: two individuals jointly turn toward a third object in a communicative situation. Human beings share goals and are intentionally directed toward objects and situations when they know that the other is also attending to them, and both know about each other’s knowing. Thus joint attention develops into shared intentionality and, in the end, into linguistic communication, which adds the sharing of perspectives through contrastive linguistic symbols. There is also an emotional and motivational side to this human form of cooperation. Each communicative act is driven by the emotional engagement of those involved, and human beings are usually very good at inferring the intentions and foci of those with whom they cooperate. This communicative structure is enforced by mutual obligations of helping, sharing, and basic notions of fairness, which to a large extent are cultural invariants. Those who refuse to cooperate or act as free riders will ruin their reputation; others will refuse to cooperate with them in the future, even if it may be costly and against their own short-term interests to do so.13 Although this view is somewhat speculative, more inferences can be drawn regarding the development of human communities. When agricultural societies are established, shared intentions and a common ground for concerns have to be enforced in order to make societies work and hold together.14 Division of labor and social stratification make communities more effective, but they are possible only by developing shared goals. These goals might be established and reinforced by religion (rituals), music, dance, and other cultural 13. Experiments using cooperative games show that the existence of punishment opportunities causes a large rise in the average contribution level in the partner-treatment. 14. See as an early reflection Plato, Protagoras, 322a–b, where he refers to the importance of the political arts (technē politikē) for establishing sustainable life in a polis.


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

practices. Humans are thus inclined to altruistic behavior within a group on the basis of an ideal of a shared common good,15 not only on the basis of empathy and authority. Rituals constitute and celebrate shared intentionality. They build up a “we-structure,” and might be especially important in situations like strengthening the community before a war, or when someone is born or dies—that is, when the structure of the community severely changes. They also have certain moods to them: they are able to give rise to emotions and motivations, and they reinforce concerns. Their main function may have been fostering group cohesion through inspiring individual self-consciousness. Again, this model is: 1. relational, because human beings become human only through their interrelatedness with others who introduce them into social, cognitive, and semantic situations; 2. contextual, because human beings always become what they are in relation to a certain common ground they share with others; 3. ontologically complex, insofar as it refers to emergent faculties that undercut dualist ontologies and interlink biology, culture, linguistics, and social norms. This view of how humans develop and lead their lives as naturally social and cultural animals is in line with anthropological concepts that try to transcend a categorical distinction between nature and 15. At the same time, religion and other cultural identity markers build up distinctions between “us” and “them” (in-group/out-group distinctions). It seems to be one of the major challenges for religions today that they are at the same time instruments to establish group cohesion (in some places they form and motivate the only available welfare system) and instruments to establish fundamental divisions between different groups. However, the major religious traditions have resources that at least allow for counterbalancing the exclusivist tendencies of religion; see D. Evers, “The Other as Neighbor: Theological Considerations,” in Mitleid: Konkretionen Eines Strittigen Konzepts, ed. I. U. Dalferth and A. Hunziker (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 197–218.



culture. What makes humans human is not biology plus certain additional cognitive and communicative faculties. This is also verified by the fact that in the final stages of life, or in the case of serious mental damage or disabilities, human beings never fall into a kind of prehuman animal existence, but will always exist as human beings who depend on other humans to maintain their existence. Humans are what they are because they grow up in, depend on, and contribute to the emergent context of humanity. Humanity is the natural and necessary environment for human beings who cannot be divided into a biological and a cultural portion (or, as in some traditional anthropology, into body and soul). Participating in contexts of shared intentionality encompasses our biological existence as well as our minds. No dualism in human nature seems to be appropriate. Therefore, we need an understanding of incarnation that conceives Jesus Christ as the way in which God gives Godself to humanity, embracing the bodily, social, and cultural aspects of our existence in order to transform it from within through the communication of faith. The concepts of joint intention and shared intentionality can form a helpful model for this. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is presented as the focal point of joint divinehuman attention, and out of this divine-human intentionality arises that which draws God into the very depth of creation and incorporates human beings into the life of God. The Cross as the Focus of Divine and Human Joint Attention Given a relational and contextual understanding of human existence embedded in and emerging out of a reality of growing complexity, Christ cannot be understood as a supernatural persona syntheta, a person synthesized of two incompatible natures. He must be seen as truly human, since he shares our relational nature, and as truly


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

divine, since he is God’s effective communication of transformative divine grace. The Christ event is neither a supernatural transmission of information from the divine nor an objective external process of sacrifice; rather, it is an act of divine transformative communication. But as we have seen, human communication rests on its embeddedness in communicative situations. Only in very abstract contexts can it be represented as a dyadic relation between sender and receiver. Rather, its fundamental and typical form is that of an atleast-triadic structure of common and shared intentionality.16 This is what the incarnation of the Logos in Christ brings about: it transforms the divine-human relationship from a dyadic relation (God—believer)






community of believers/human beings), and thus overcomes the spiritual distance between God and human beings. In the New Testament, both God and human beings relate to the story of Christ. God relates to it by identifying with Christ at his birth, his baptism,17 his encounter with the needy18 and the sinner,19 at his cross,20 and 16. From what I propose, it follows that reality as such should provide the a priori conditions for the emergence of the triadic structure of intentional human existence. That also calls for a revision of traditional metaphysics. A helpful ontology in this respect is the semiotic approach that Charles Sanders Peirce adopts in his philosophy. Peirce’s synechism not only points to the relational interconnection of all things with a tendency toward intentional pragmatics; he also refers to the fact that the inner differentiation of complex structures gives rise to referential processes that generate intentional structures. He identifies triadic structures as fundamental for all reality (for example: icon, index, symbol; syntactic, semantic, pragmatic; induction, abduction, deduction) and calls the fundamental categories that account for this triadic constitution of reality Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness: “Firstness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, positively and without reference to anything else. Secondness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, with respect to a second but regardless of any third. Thirdness is the mode of being of that which is such as it is, in bringing a second and third into relation to each other.” C. S. Peirce, “A Letter to Lady Welby,” in Collected Papers, ed. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss, and Arthur Burks (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931–1959), 8:328. Thus Firstness stands for feeling, Secondness for action, and Thirdness for representation. 17. “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:11). 18. “ But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Luke 11:20).



by confirming this in the resurrection; human beings relate to it by identifying with Christ as the one who was chosen to share and transform human destiny. The cross is the focal point of divine and human joint attention, in which human beings are introduced into their situation before God. It is what Ian Ramsey used to qualify as a cosmic disclosure.21 Jesus Christ is the disclosure of the presence of God’s love in all creation: to believe in Jesus Christ as God incarnate is not to regard sentences that refer to historical facts as true, but to realize God’s love in one’s own existence. It is cosmic insofar it refers to God’s presence at work in the whole of creation prior to and independent of our becoming aware of it. Faith, then, is the human way of participating in God’s transformative love as communicated through Christ. It includes personal commitment as response to, and as part of, the disclosure the incarnation brings about. The cross is the focal point of this process insofar as it concentrates and represents God’s history with God’s people Israel and with humanity as a whole, and insofar as it is intentional and directed toward the fulfillment of God’s purpose with creation. The historical Jesus focused his existence and the attention of his disciples on the Heavenly Father and the kingdom of God, thus communicating transformative grace. He did not speak of himself, but instead spoke of the Heavenly Father as the giver of all good things or depicted everyday scenes in his parables as analogies of the kingdom of God.

19. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Mark 2:5-7) 20. “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. . . . Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Matt. 27:50-51, 54) 21. I. T. Ramsey, Models for Divine Activity (London: SCM, 1973), 60.


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

He was acknowledged as Christ and Son of God by other human beings such as the Roman centurion standing at the cross, but he did not promote this by self-proclamation. After Easter, out of the joint attention of God and human beings toward the life and fate of Jesus Christ, a shared intentionality arises in which a new covenant between God and human beings is realized. Human beings become transformed and moved toward the realization of the kingdom of God. The crucified and risen Christ is understood as the formative and informative incarnation of the divine Logos, who overcomes the spiritual distance between God and human beings and intends to bring about a new cooperative community of human beings that is formed by the spirit of grace. Thus God’s incarnation in Christ is not an isolated event, but has a provisional and projective structure. It arises out of God’s history with Israel and humankind, and is directed to concrete realization in history. Luther’s rich concept of justification by faith alone can be interpreted along these lines. In his words, the full theological notion of faith is “complex, concrete, or incarnate,”22 working through love. Faith in Christ brings about a “beautiful incarnation”23 and thus realizes the intentions of the incarnation of the divine Logos in Christ. This can be understood as the way in which God gets involved at a certain level of human sociocultural evolution by sharing the intentional constitution of human existence and opening it toward love, grace, a truly universal sense of fairness, and an eschatological vision of justice. With regard to the individual believer, Luther describes Christ as the horizon and focal point of God’s love:

22. Luther, “Commentary on Galatians,” WA 40/I:415: “fides composita, concreta seu incarnata.” 23. Ibid., 426: “pulchra incarnatio.”



Look, thus you must form Christ within yourself and see how in him God holds before you and offers you his mercy for all your previous merits; and thus you must draw faith and confidence of the forgiveness of all your sins from such an image of his grace. Faith, therefore, does not begin with works; they do not generate faith, but faith must spring and flow from the blood, wounds, and death of Christ. In him you see that God is so affectionate as to give his own son for you, so that also your heart must become sweet and affectionate towards God. And thus confidence has to grow out of pure grace and love—God’s love towards you and your love towards God.24

In this understanding, “incarnation” is part of a larger picture. It is broader and cannot be confined to a certain period and location in space-time from around 4 bce to 31 ce. The incarnation in Jesus Christ as the Logos taking the form of human flesh has as one prerequisite “an emergent world whose growing complexity opens up new ways of God’s relating to it and calls for new modes of God’s presence with everything as it occurs.”25 God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ came about as part of the history of Israel; it constituted, inspired, and inspires different forms of Christian communities as witnesses of God’s transformative love. The incarnation focuses and concentrates God’s creative, salvific, and perfecting love in relation to human beings while that same love pervades and accompanies creation as a whole. As a concept, this self-giving benevolence of God originated in the Jewish tradition, reached its focal point in the life and fate of Jesus Christ, and communicated itself to Christianity through the impact of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That resulted in the Trinitarian account of God through which Christian theology sought to conceptualize our human understanding of God’s creative, transformative, and consummating presence against the spiritual 24. Luther, “Treatise on Good Works,” WA 6:216 (my translation). 25. I. U. Dalferth, Becoming Present: An Inquiry into the Christian Sense of the Presence of God, Studies in Philosophical Theology 20 (Leuven: Peeters, 2006), 169.


Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework

distance and existential alienation in which we often lead our lives. To take this broader concept of incarnation as normative does not imply that what it stands for is exclusive, that God’s transformative love is confined to Christianity, or that only those can be saved who happen to be born post Christum natum. It gives witness to the God who is love itself by pointing to the cross as a situation of divinehuman joint attention.


14 Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

Robert John Russell

“Is the God who is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth present in and for all that is?”1 This question raises crucial issues for Christian theology as it is reformulated in light of the natural sciences, particularly evolutionary and molecular biology, as well as by research in ethology, primatology, anthropology, and related fields. In this chapter, I will add physics and cosmology to the conversation and stress their importance to the task of theological reformulation. This question reflects the wonderful idea of “deep incarnation,” first proposed a decade ago by Niels Gregersen.2 According to 1. I am grateful to John Braverman, Niels Gregersen, Junghyung Kim, Braden Molhoek, Joshua Moritz, Oliver Putz, and Alan Weissenbacher for helpful comments on a previous version of this paper. I am particularly grateful to Niels and to Elizabeth Johnson for this way of posing the question. Conference participants generally rejected the original formulation, “Is God incarnate in all that is?” In chapter 1, Richard Bauckham puts it nicely: God is not incarnate in all other reality, but he is incarnate for all other reality. Christopher Southgate offers an important critique of the question in chapter 9 of this volume, “Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation.”



Gregersen, “The incarnation of God in Christ can be understood as a radical or ‘deep’ incarnation, that is, an incarnation into the very tissue of biological existence, the system of nature.”3 The concept of deep incarnation has been picked up recently by other scholars including Elizabeth Johnson, Denis Edwards, Celia DeaneDrummond, Paul Santmire, and Christopher Southgate,4 clearly showing its broad ecumenical appeal. The argument of this chapter comes in three parts. First, I want to urge that the depth of the incarnation pointed to by Gregersen extends not only into the fabric of the evolutionary history of life on earth but into the very physics that underlies life and into the fine-tuned cosmology that makes life possible. To make this point, I will briefly explore the biological depth of the incarnation. I will then claim that since all biological organisms are physical entities, we should think of the divine reach as extending even deeper than biology, namely into the underlying physics of our universe with its cosmic fine-tuning for life. If the divine reach extends into physics, then the physics of the flesh of Jesus—and the fine-tuning of the universe that makes the evolution of flesh possible—matters. This extension will also have a soteriological implication: the physical preconditions for the possibility of life, created by God ex nihilo, include the inevitability of suffering and death in the realm of sentient life—what is often called “natural evil,” and the related issue, “natural theodicy.”5 Thus the physics of this universe might shed light on the soteriological 2. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Cross of Christ in an Evolutionary World,” Dialog 40:3 (2001): 205. See also Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation: Why Evolutionary Continuity Matters in Christology,” Toronto Journal of Theology (2010): 173–87. 3. Gregersen, “Cross of Christ,” 205. 4. Elizabeth A. Johnson, “An Earthy Christology,” America 200:12 (2009): 27–30 (available online at: For references to the other scholars noted here, see Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation,” 176. 5. For definitions of natural evil and natural theodicy see Physics and Cosmology: Scientific Perspectives on the Problem of Natural Evil, ed. Nancey Murphy, Robert John Russell, and William R. Stoeger, SJ (Berkeley: The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, 2007).


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

dimensions of the incarnation, since the Word who is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth is the Word through whom all things were created. Second, I want to open up the concept of the incarnation in its relation to the resurrection. The incarnation is part of the New Testament kerygma that includes the life, teachings, ministry, betrayal, and crucifixion of Jesus, where it forms bookends with the resurrection/ascension. To put it more sharply, Christian faith believes in the incarnation because it believes in the resurrection. Because of this, we can say that the depth of the divine reach at the incarnation takes on, in some measure, the eschatological character of the resurrection.6 I will focus on the eschatological character of the resurrection in terms of what Wolfhart Pannenberg calls “prolepsis.” By prolepsis Pannenberg means, roughly, the appearance in history of the eschatological new creation, lying beyond history as its culmination and perfection and arising as its transformation through the radical act of God beginning at Easter.7 Thus I will stress the significance of the resurrection (and specifically prolepsis) for the divine reach that is normally discussed strictly in terms of the incarnation, and in turn I will stress the significance of the resurrection as well as the incarnation for all life on earth. Third, I will claim that eschatology as prolepsis has implications for the physics of time as we discover it in this universe.8 I believe See also Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008). 6. Christopher Southgate makes a very similar point in his contribution to this volume: “Our appropriation of deep incarnation is dynamic and eschatological. . . . In the Christian vision all of creation is on the path to transformation. . . . Cosmic transformation begins at the cross, and the destiny of matter is foreshadowed in the resurrection” (page 214–15). 7. Prolepsis surfaces very early in Pannenberg’s writings and continues throughout. For an early reference, see Wolfhart Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology, Volume II (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971), 24–25. Ted Peters has extended Pannenberg’s concept of prolepsis in several important ways; see Peters, Anticipating Omega: Science, Faith, and Our Ultimate Future (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), chs. 1 and 2. 8. This model is based on the concept that the resurrection of Jesus is a transformation, with elements of continuity and discontinuity, from his earthly life to his eternal life; this notion is



that the physics of this fine-tuned universe, created by God ex nihilo, offers a precondition for the possibility of prolepsis. Hence I want to explore the implications of the proleptic character of the “incarnation—resurrection” kerygma for a proleptic view of physical time.9 This seemingly implausible move reflects my developing approach to relating theology and science. I start by placing them in dialogue, but then go further and call for an “interaction” between them. On the one hand, I want to reformulate theology in light of science following the traditional method of fides quaerens initellectum. This move is frequently found in the theology/science community, where it is usually called a “theology of nature,” following Barbour. On the other hand, I want to explore the possibility that theology, after it is so reformulated, can lead to interesting insights and suggestions about research programs in science. This move is relatively unexplored in the theology/science community. I have called this combined method “creative mutual interaction.”10 While both parts of this interaction will be at work in this chapter, the final section in particular is an example of the latter part, where theological ideas about the depth of the divine reach into the physics of this world lead to interesting insights about time in physics, which some scientists might find interesting.11 supported by a variety of contemporary biblical scholars. See the introduction to Russell, Time in Eternity: Physics, Pannenberg and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012). 9. In doing so, I will set aside a closely related issue. The theology of the incarnation––resurrection kerygma requires that we face an enormous difficulty with scientific cosmology: a cosmic future of endless expansion and cooling seems to challenge our faith in the resurrection of Jesus as the firstfruits of the general resurrection and the future of the coming new creation. I have addressed these challenges elsewhere; see Robert John Russell, Cosmology from Alpha to Omega: The Creative Mutual Interaction between Theology and Science (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), ch. 10. See also Russell, Time in Eternity. 10. See the introduction to Russell, Cosmology. 11. I hasten to add that this in no way is meant to imply that theology has any authority over science or any authoritative voice in science, or that the potential success of these insights coming from theology to science would validate theology. It is simply a claim that theology,


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

The Biological Depth of the Incarnation: Jesus, the Way of All Flesh One way to understand the depth of the Incarnate One in all creation is to ask whether the nonhuman world of life on earth needs salvation.12 Is Jesus truly “the Way of all flesh”? The theological question of salvation in turn leads to the exploration and assessment of the empirical evidence for (im)moral behavior among nonhuman animals. Before responding to the above question, I want to raise three reasons for caution—two briefly, the third in some detail. First, we should be wary of viewing the incarnation entirely in terms of soteriology, whether or not salvation can be extended to nonhuman animals. The theology of Scotus poses an attractive alternative.13 Second, we should ask whether human sin can be exhaustively or even definitively understood in terms of (im)moral behavior. While sin seems inevitably to involve immoral behavior, I believe it cannot be fully defined as such behavior, but rather more fundamentally as a turning away from God to a lesser, created good. If so, what would count as evidence of such a “turning away from God” in the nonhuman world? Third, any scientific discussion of human uniqueness—whether or not it is framed theologically in terms of the imago Dei—faces the

which has proved fertile in conversations with the social, political, economic, and psychological sciences, might also do so in conversations with the natural sciences. 12. The possibility of extraterrestrial life and its need for salvation offers an additional context for our question that will not be treated here. See Russell, Cosmology. See also Russell, “Life in the Universe: Philosophical and Theological Issues,” in Julian Chela-Flores, Tobias Owen, and François Raulin, eds., First Steps in the Origin of Life in the Universe (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 2001), 365–74. 13. See, for example, Karl Rahner’s comment that according to the Scotist school, “The first and most basic motive for the Incarnation was not the blotting-out of sin . . . [Instead] the Incarnation was already the goal of the divine freedom even apart from any divine foreknowledge of freely incurred guilt.” Karl Rahner, “Christology within an Evolutionary View of the World,” in Theological Investigations (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 5:184.



challenge to an essentialist view of human nature from contemporary anthropology, primatology, ethology, and so on. The issue is whether we can specify any unique properties that pertain only to Homo sapiens. According to many scholars, this project fails since all of these purportedly unique properties can arguably be found in now-extinct prehuman hominids and in some contemporary nonhuman animals. In response, some of these scholars attempt to define Homo sapiens in terms of a distant, last common ancestor whose contemporary descendants include chimps, dolphins, and so on. In this scenario, human uniqueness would be defined historically by descent rather than ontologically by properties. But this attempt, too, can be viewed as problematic: it might be simply a statistical theory about populations, and populations can be inhomogeneous, with fuzzy and fluid boundaries. Two of the Graduate Theological Union doctoral students I currently work with wrestle with this problem. Oliver Putz generalizes the idea of the imago Dei, understood as the capacity to receive the grace of God’s self-communication (following Rahner), to other contemporary animals using mirror self-recognition as an empirical test for the preconditions for the possibility of the imago Dei. He then offers evidence that mirror self-recognition can be found among nonhuman animals.14 Joshua Moritz relocates the question of the imago Dei from the doctrine of creation to that of election, understood historically in terms of the election of Israel as God’s sovereign choice, not based on preexisting personal or tribal traits.15

14. For details, see Oliver Putz, “Social Apes in God’s Image,” Zygon, 44:3 (September 2009): 613–24. 15. For details, see Joshua M. Moritz, Chosen From Among the Animals: The End of Human Uniqueness and the Election of the Image of God (PhD dissertation, Graduate Theological Union, 2011).


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

With these three reasons for caution in mind, I want to discuss my approach to dealing with the task of retaining the concept of sin for human behavior while recognizing its precursors in the prehuman animal world and its correlates in the nonhuman world. My approach has been to develop what can be called “a theology of the evolution of evil.” I explore the preconditions over geological time in the realms of biology and physics that underlie, make possible, and come to their most explicit form in human sin.16 Given the existence of these preconditions, I claim that the incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus of Nazareth has real effects “all the way down” the levels of complexity in nature to the biological and physical dimensions of the human person. This also means that the incarnation has real effects “all the way back in time” to the beginnings of life on earth, even in some limited sense to the beginnings of our universe.17 I return to these preconditions and their significance below. In addition, following the writings of Moritz,18 Celia DeaneDrummond,19 and others, I suggest that there are what might be considered behavioral forms of morality and immorality in prehuman animal species, but with the further caveat that such behavior is species-specific and not just latent in relation to human behavior. As Deane-Drummond writes, There is still a way of envisaging nonhuman animal morality that both does justice to their own behavior in their own worlds and also helps 16. See Russell, Cosmology, especially ch. 8. 17. I will not discuss the question of whether our universe had an absolute beginning in the context of standard and hot/inflationary big bang cosmology, eternal inflation, multiverse theory, etc., here. 18. In 2008, Moritz made a connection between the cognitive ethological work on animal morality and its implications for a theological understanding of sin and the problem of evil. See his chapter, “Evolutionary Evil and Dawkins’ Black Box: Changing the Parameters of the Problem,” in The Evolution of Evil, ed. Ted Peters, Martinez Hewlett, Robert J. Russell, and Gaymon Bennett (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), 179–87. 19. Celia Deane-Drummond, Christ and Evolution: Wonder and Wisdom (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009).



us understand both the similarities to and differences from human behavior. . . . The issue at stake here is how far nonhuman animals can be described as showing not just “latent” morality that eventually finds an echo in human behavior, but also a morality that is inherent in their own life-worlds.20

In light of all this, the incarnation would seem to have real soteriological effects for prehuman and nonhuman animals: the incarnation of the divine Word in Jesus is efficacious not just for humanity but for all animal life. Indeed, as Moritz has pointed out, this claim is supported by a careful reading of the Gospel of John, where John 1:14 tells us that “the Word became flesh [sarx]” and not that “the Word became human.”21 Moltmann makes a similar point when he writes that when the Word became ‘flesh,’ God accepted not only one human person, but all human flesh, not only the human nature, but also all the living nature, not only all the living nature, but the whole created being.22 According to Bauckham, “The incarnation makes the Incarnate One integrally part not only of the human race, but also of the whole of this material reality—not only animals . . . but also plants and inanimate nature. . . . Redemption is as wide as creation.”23 Johnson has also stressed this insight, giving 20. Deane-Drummond, Christ and Evolution, 163, 166 (italics original). 21. According to Moritz, “As we read the familiar words of John, ‘The word became flesh,’ we should be reminded that the Word did not merely become man (ανηρ) or even human (ανθρωπoς), but rather the Word became flesh (σαρξ)—the term which defines the solidarity of humanity with the rest of creation in its bodiliness. In the Gospel’s message of God’s incarnate solidarity with the rest of creation, humanity in its true form as the image of God is not removed from creation, but rather restored to creation in order to reclaim the material cosmos on behalf of God’s in-breaking kingdom.” Moritz, “Animals and the Image of God in the Bible and Beyond,” Dialog 48:2 (2009): 139. In another work, Moritz similarly argues, “The New Testament authors are particularly concerned with conveying the message of the Creator God’s radical entry into solidarity with creation. For them, the most profound expression of this solidarity encompassing the whole of life, the Incarnation, is an the event where the Word (or Divine Logos) becomes flesh—as opposed to becoming exclusively human—and in so doing inclusively embraces a category of existence to which all living things belong. As the Word becomes flesh the boundary between humans and other living creatures thus becomes effectively blurred.” See Moritz, Chosen From Among the Animals, 160. 22. Moltmann, “Is God Incarnate in All That Is?”, chapter 5 of this volume.


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

it, in my view, a much-needed cosmic perspective. She writes that John 1:14 “does not speak of the Word who existed before creation becoming human (anthrōpos). . . . Rather, the Word becomes conjoined with flesh (sarx), a broader reality. . . . Sarx also encompasses what is simply material, perishable, transient—in a word, finite—the opposite of divinity clothed in majesty.” Thus while the tradition focused the incarnation on humanity, In our day . . . the human race is itself being repositioned. Increasingly, Homo sapiens is being considered as an intrinsic part of the evolutionary network of life on our planet, which in turn is a part of the solar system, which came into being as a later chapter of cosmic history. . . . [Thus] the flesh that the Word/Wisdom of God became is part of the vast body of the cosmos.24

One can see this connection between Word and flesh as one of the guiding influences underlying Gregersen’s decade-long project that he calls “deep incarnation.”25 By this term, Gregersen means that the divine Logos . . . has assumed not merely humanity, but the whole malleable matrix of materiality. . . . In modern translation, sarx would cover the whole realm of the material world from quarks to atoms and molecules, in their combinations and transformations throughout chemical and biological evolution. Speaking in biblical language, my proposal of deep incarnation suggests that God’s Logos was united with Jesus throughout all dimensions of his life story. . . . Indeed, the Logos of God became Earth in Jesus.26

I happily endorse Gregersen’s proposal for deep incarnation, and hope here to press its implications for the physics of our materiality

23. Bauckham, “The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ,” page 35 of this volume. 24. Elizabeth A. Johnson, “Jesus and the Cosmos,” page 135 of this volume. She provides illuminating quotations from Karl Rahner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the same text. She also stresses the need for a robust pneumatology in these discussions, with which I agree. 25. Gregersen, “Cross of Christ”; “Deep Incarnation.” 26. Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation,” 176–77. See also 174, 179, 181, 182, and 185.



and for the cosmological future of Earth. Hence, inspired by Gregersen’s theme, the title of this chapter is partially “Jesus: the Way of all flesh.” I have added “the feather of time” to hint at what I believe to be the complex implications that Gregersen’s concept of deep incarnation has for Christian eschatology in relation to the far future of our universe, and thus for the physics of time. There are additional reasons for supporting the idea that the incarnate God is present in and to all of life. First is the widespread recognition among the church fathers that only that which is assumed by Christ can be redeemed by Christ.27 Jesus, of course, was a human biological creature, and so every aspect of his biology must have been assumed. Since every biological creature is also a physical creature, I want to extend this insight and claim that everything that underlies and makes Jesus possible as a physical creature is assumed too. This means that even the physics of his body and the material processes it describes are subject to the transformation that his resurrection involves. But the physics of his body is the physics of this universe; thus the assumption of Jesus’ physical body means the assumption of the physical dimensions of the universe. A second, related, reason is the principle of the exchange of attributes (communicatio idiomatum) between the humanity and divinity of Jesus. Again, since Jesus’ humanity includes all that is biological and physical about him, the exchange of attributes extends “under and beyond” Jesus to all life on Earth, and further, to the physical universe. Finally, there is the gracious case that Denis Edwards makes: “Every sparrow that falls” will be held and remembered by God its creator.

27. Examples include Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Tertullian, and Ambrose. Gregersen comments on this point in “Deep Incarnation,” 184.


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

Redemption through incarnation is a theory of redemption cast in the most universal terms, those of creation and God. . . . God is with every sparrow, every beetle, every Great White shark, every creature hunting another for food and every creature that is the prey of another. . . . Animals will reach their redemptive fulfilment in being taken up into the eternal life of the Trinity . . . (Luke 12:6). . . . Every sparrow can be thought of as inscribed in the divine memory.28

The Depth of the Incarnation Explored Further: The Physics of Natural Evil and Natural Goodness Natural theodicy is the theological problem of God’s relation to natural evil.29 Natural evil in biology includes suffering, disease, death, and extinction, while in physics it includes tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and meteor impact. As indicated above, I have suggested that the conditions in the natural world for the possibility of natural evil extend far below the level of biology and are grounded in the fundamental physics of our universe.30 Thus while the evolutionary history of (im)moral behavior is manifest in context-specific ways in nonhuman and human animals, and while its latent behavior in prehuman hominids emerges into a radically 28. “The Redemption of Animals in an Incarnational Theology,” in Creaturely Theology: On God, Humans, and Other Animals, ed. Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough (London: SCM, 2009). While agreeing with his overarching point, I have a concern with Edwards’s appeals to the “divine memory” to deploy what is entailed by the theology of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Is the divine memory sufficient for the task of explicating the bodily resurrection? In my view it is not, but I will not pursue that concern further here. 29. “Natural theodicy” poses the traditional question of God’s power and goodness in relation to human sin, only now in the context of natural evil. Christopher Southgate has done crucially important work in analyzing the terms “natural evil” and “natural theodicy”; see Southgate, The Groaning of Creation. Also see the variety of approaches to natural evil and natural theodicy in Physics and Cosmology. 30. To do so, I rely on Reinhold Niebuhr’s appraisal of the Augustinian account of sin as unnecessary yet inevitable: unnecessary preserves Augustine from the Manichaean heresy, inevitable from the Pelagian heresy (see his Nature and Destiny of Man [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941], 1:242). I then look for evidence of contingency (as a form of unnecessity) and universality (as a form of inevitability) in physics. Typically, this has led me to thermodynamics, since both of these occur in thermodynamics. Also, thermodynamics applies to all biological systems because all biological systems are also physical systems. See Russell, Cosmology, ch. 8.



new dimension in humankind, it finally rests on the physics of this universe as a remote and underlying precondition for its possibility. Put another way, as an emergent phenomenon natural evil cannot be reduced to physics; nevertheless, it requires the physics of our universe (not just any physics of any universe) as a condition in nature for its possibility. In short, we can say somewhat figuratively that physics helps make sin possible, while humankind makes sin real. But there is ambiguity here, because the same physical forces (such as gravity and thermodynamics) that underlie natural evil also underlie what we consider to be good, beautiful, moral, and virtuous in human society and, by extension, in the nonhuman animal world. Without gravity, the earth would not have a stable orbit and the seasons that are so intrinsic to life; without the decrease in entropy in open systems, we would not have processes that result in increased physical complexity—processes that ultimately make biological evolution possible. I will call these processes “natural goodness” to contrast them with natural evil. Again, physics makes natural goodness possible, while humankind makes virtue real. It seems true that the cavernous ambiguities that score human behavior have roots in their physical preconditions in the natural world.31 Surely, then, the redemption of human nature, achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus and extending back to and including his incarnation, must also include, thanks to the grace of God, a redemption of all of nature—even to its “bottom level,” the physical universe, and even though such theological categories as sin simply do not apply there.

31. An analogy for the way in which moral and immoral characteristics arise together in a single phenomenon is the Möbius strip, in which what appears to be two sides at each point of a strip of paper are actually a single side, as is clear when the strip is seen as a whole.


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

The Breadth of the Incarnation: From Theodicy to Resurrection and Eschatology The reason to recognize in Jesus the incarnate God is solely “his resurrection from the dead and elevation to the cosmocrator.”32 Further insight into not only the depth but also the breadth of the presence of the Incarnate One in all of life comes from the way we might respond to the problem of natural evil and its associated dilemma, natural theodicy. Many scholars in theology and science, particularly Nancey Murphy,33 take a consequentialist approach to natural theodicy: specific events of natural evil are the unintended consequences of the laws of nature that God originally chose in creating a universe in which life could evolve biologically. Thus individual events of natural evil are not the result of the direct acts of a ruthless God. While this point is obviously valuable, I have nevertheless argued that the tearing problems of natural theodicy, even in its consequentialist mode, become intractable when we move back in time in the context of big-bang cosmology to the beginning of the universe at “t=0.” Here we come to the uncompromising domain of what I call “cosmic theodicy”: granted that natural evil is by and large the unintended consequence of the laws of nature, why did God create our universe in such a way that these particular laws apply and result in such inevitable consequences?34 Could God not have created an anthropic universe—one capable of the evolution of life without, or with significantly less, natural evil? Here I believe we face essentially unanswerable questions and profound uncertainties that lie beyond the scope of current science. In my view, these questions and uncertainties mark the end of a “backward-looking” project that 32. Jürgen Moltmann, “Is God Incarnate in All That Is?” page 119 of this volume. 33. Nancey Murphy, “Science and the Problem of Evil: Suffering as a By-product of a Finely Tuned Cosmos,” in Physics and Cosmology, 131–51. 34. Robert John Russell, “Physics, Cosmology, and the Challenge to Consequentialist Natural Theodicy,” in Physics and Cosmology, 109–30. Also see Russell, Cosmology, especially ch. 8.



seeks to respond to natural evil by inquiring into its temporal and ontological origins within the context of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Instead, we must relocate the problem of natural evil to the context of the doctrine of redemption, where the problem of moral evil (and by extension natural evil) is most naturally addressed theologically. Thus my response to the extent of the reach of the Incarnate One in all that is: we must move in and through the theme of the salvation for all life on earth and on to eschatology as the ultimate context for understanding the incarnation of the Word and the salvation of the world. Following many contemporary biblical scholars and theologians,35 I assume that eschatology should be based by analogy on the resurrection of Jesus.36 Now, the resurrection of Jesus is not a resuscitation to ordinary life (like the resurrection of Lazarus) or a gnostic flight of his spirit and the subsequent decay of his body in the grave—let alone a mere memory of him and a renewed existential hope for his cause (as seen, for example, in the scholarship of Rudolf Bultmann and the Jesus Seminar). Instead, it is Jesus’ transformation, by a radical act of God at Easter, from the historical Jesus of Nazareth to the risen Christ. This concept of “resurrection as transformation” includes elements of both continuity and discontinuity.37 An eschatology based analogously on the resurrection of Jesus will contain elements of continuity and discontinuity as well. Rather than a radical break in time between the creation and its fulfillment as the new creation, Jesus’s resurrection suggests that there are some things right now (elements of continuity) that will be part of the new creation, things such as agape love and table fellowship (John 35. Along with many of the scholars whose essays appear in this volume, these include Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Ted Peters, and N. T. Wright. 36. Russell, Cosmology, ch. 10. 37. John Polkinghorne, The God of Hope and the End of the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002).


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

21:9-14). But there are also some things (elements of discontinuity) that will be forever gone, such as mourning and turning away from God, as well as some things that are truly new, such as experiencing the Lord “face to face.” Jürgen Moltmann puts this concept of eschatology with crystal clarity and persuasive conviction: Christian eschatology must be broadened out into cosmic eschatology, for otherwise it becomes a gnostic doctrine of redemption, and is bound to teach, no longer the redemption of the world but a redemption from the world, no longer the redemption of the body but a deliverance of the soul from the body. . . . Because there is no such thing as a soul separate from the body, and no humanity detached from nature—from life, the earth and the cosmos—there is no redemption for human beings either without the redemption of nature. . . . Consequently it is impossible to conceive of any salvation for men and women without “a new heaven and a new earth.” There can be no eternal life for human beings without the change in the cosmic conditions of life. The difficulties about not just hoping this but thinking it too are considerable.38

Indeed, they are considerable. My point here, however, is that they are not only considerable but unavoidable once we have set out on the path of claiming that the incarnation is embedded within the physical and biological depths of nature and that all life is in some ways in need of redemption. In what follows, I hope to suggest one step in addressing these difficulties. Eschatological Implications for the Physics of Multiply-Connected Time: Jesus and the Proleptic Web of Time My proposal here, building on recent work,39 is that the proleptic character of the resurrection, while grounded normatively in the Easter event and intended primarily for the redemption of humanity, 38. Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, ed. and trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 259–61. 39. See Russell, Time in Eternity.



can be thought of as extended to and efficacious for all living creatures. This in turn leads me to consider the possibility that the temporal character of the world, even at the level of physics, is more complex than we ordinarily view it both in everyday life and in classical physics, where time is assumed to be linear. I start by drawing on terms developed by Moltmann, Pannenberg, and Peters to interpret the resurrection as a proleptic event in which the extraordinary eschatological future, the adventus, is manifest in the midst of our ordinary future, the futurum. These terms relate to the eschatological elements of continuity and discontinuity expected in an eschatology of transformation. Thus the adventus is neither merely continuous with the ordinary future nor radically discontinuous with it. Instead, it is a temporal transformation of the futurum into the adventus. In essence, the new creation is an eschatological transformation of this present world, a transformation grounded in the proleptic event of Easter. Just to be clear, in my understanding of these scholars the eschatological future does not move back “in and through” the time of the ordinary future. Instead, it comes to history from above it or ahead of it; it comes from what can be called “the future of the future,” even if this concept is shrouded in mystery and challenged by modern scientific cosmology with its prediction of an infinite future of endless cooling for the universe.40 First, in light of the challenge of natural theodicy, I want to extend this concept of prolepsis and claim that we find this same proleptic temporal structure occurring in all moments of natural history such that “every sparrow that falls” is greeted immediately by her risen Lord.41 Second, it is the “above-ness” and “ahead of-ness” inherent 40. Clearly, an eschatology of universal transformation runs into severe problems when the scope includes the universe that science explores. I shall not pursue these problems in detail here but refer the reader to Time in Eternity.


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

in the concept of prolepsis that leads me to reject the linear concept of time that these terms seem to presuppose (yet challenge) and to explore its alternatives. Instead, physical time must be far more complex than the linear time that we ordinarily think about in everyday life and that pervades classical physics. In essence, I propose that the theological concept of Easter as a proleptic event might lead to a scientific concept of time that is far from merely linear. Instead, it could be a concept of time as multiplyconnected. This is where my interaction model between theology and science really sets in, for it assumes that theological claims can offer suggestions for research programs in the natural sciences. But first, what do I mean by linear time, and what are its alternatives in mathematical physics? In ordinary life and in classical physics, linear time is simply flowing time: wristwatch time, clock time, calendar time, history-as-chronology time. It is the routine concept of the momentary “now” as an infinitesimal present moment sandwiched between a determinate, forever-gone yesterday and an indeterminate, always-looming future. It is the time that math represents by a straight line (t) much like the geometrical axes for space (x, y, and z). It is the time of an isolated, vanishingly small and durationless present. Multiply-connected time is different. It starts with a “thicker” time than that of the isolated, atomistic present. It might involve something like Augustine’s concept of “duration”: one in which the present is richly populated by anticipations of the future and memories of the past, all factors that contribute to the present as “thick.”42 But it goes much further than this. It entails a view of time 41. This claim offers a new insight into the problem of the continuity of identity between this life and the next. We do not need to be remembered by God, as Denis Edwards suggests, nor do we need a “soul,” to ensure that we can “get there from here,” as classical theological anthropology argued. Instead, the “there” of the eschaton comes to us in its proleptic immediacy as present, and we are “in the twinkling of an eye” at home in the eschatological new creation.



in which time has many paths—paths that interweave, interconnect, interlace, and intertwine in a way that is reminiscent of the perichoresis of the three divine persons in community. Elizabeth Johnson, in her groundbreaking book She Who Is, writes about the divine perichoresis in wonderful terms: “Divine life circulates without any anteriority or posteriority, without any superiority or inferiority of one to the other. Instead there is a clasping of hands, a pervading exchange of life, a genuine circling around together that constitutes the permanent, active, divine koinōnia.”43 It should not be surprising that created time is richly complex in these ways: ways that reflect its being the creature of a dynamic, relational, and perichoretic Trinitarian Creator. One can imagine time as multiply-connected by analogy with a spiderweb. The web is an intricate connection of filaments branching at many points. Time might be like a spiderweb, a series of filaments connecting the future to the present, the present to the past, even the future to the past. I will return to this analogy momentarily. Multiply-connected time can be found in two very different forms. Together, they can offer a new and illuminating representation of the 42. I find Pannenberg’s discussion of Augustine’s concept of duration particularly helpful. Augustine claims that the experience of the present is not limited to the point-like “now, which divorces past from future and is itself already past at the moment we notice it” (Pannenberg, Metaphysics and the Idea of God [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990], 78). Instead, the present moment is experienced as “time-bridging” because of an “extension” (distentio animi) of the soul beyond the instantaneous now, an extension that includes our memory (memoria) of the past and our expectation (expectatio) of the future. Moreover, the unity of the extended, timebridging present arises by means of “attention” (attentio), which is directed toward the past and the future, that is, toward memory and expectation. “To the extent that attention can pull together that which is separated within time, and which advances moment by moment, into the unity of one particular present, we experience duration, the spatium temporis” (Pannenberg, Metaphysics, 79–80). Thus duration is the actual image of eternity within the human soul by which the soul senses and participates in eternity, even if in a very limited way. See Russell, Time in Eternity, ch. 1, sec. 2. 43. Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 220–21. Johnson also draws on biological images to illustrate and augment her interpretation of perichoresis.


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

inherent temporal concepts in such eschatological terms as futurum and adventus. In addition, these views of multiply-connected time have the potential to put us in contact with ongoing research in theoretical physics. The two different forms of multiply-connected time are called “Hausdorff” and “non-Hausdorff.” While they involve highly technical mathematics, we can develop an intuitive understanding of them by some simple examples. So think again of a spiderweb. The web might float in the air, but the web is its own structure, defined independently of the air it floats in. Next think of a line drawing of the same web. It too displays an intricate combination of branching points and connections, but they are all lines drawn on the two-dimensional surface of a piece of paper that is subject to ordinary (Euclidean) geometry. The drawing could be called “multi-track,” but not “weblike.” Here’s the point: the sheet of paper on which the drawing of the web is made is called a “Hausdorff space.” The spiderweb itself is a multiply-connected set of filaments that does not require an underlying space to sustain it (that is, the paper on which the drawing is made). It is called a “non-Hausdorff space.”



Figure 1: Image of a peacock feather.

Another illustration can be found in a feather (figure 1).44 Along the stem of the feather, there are numerous barbs that branch off independently. If the entire feather represents both the futurum and the adventus, the stem is ordinary futurum, the future in the conventional sense. The barbs are the eschatological branches of the future, the future as adventus. It is best to think of them as barbs reaching back from the eschatological future (which lies outside this image) and connecting proleptically to sequential present moments of the stem, the ordinary futurum. 44. Source:


Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time

Now here’s an additional point. Since their connection is pointlike, they might be experienced as “perpendicular” to time as in the mystical, apophatic tradition of the numinous presence of the resurrected Christ. But they can also be thought of as laying close to and almost parallel with ordinary time, reflecting the kataphatic sense of the eschatological, transformed future as “realized,” that is, as seemingly coming to us from out of the immediacy of the ordinary futurum. So this single image, the feather of time, combines both apophatic and kataphatic understandings of eschatology. The Christ event is a prolepsis or connection with ordinary time in which the eschatologically transformed new creation extends back into time at Easter. I am proposing that we extend this concept such that the prolepsis normatively revealed at Easter is available and happens at each moment in the history of the universe, and thus at the moment of death of all creatures. In this way, every creature at its death experiences the real presence of the risen Lord taking it up directly into the new creation without the passage of ordinary time, thus conserving the identity of the creature without an appeal to the “soul.” I hope the above analogy addresses some of the concerns noted earlier regarding natural theodicy, and that it takes us one modest step toward explicating the physical conditions in nature such that an eschatology of universal transformation—made possible by the endless downward reach of the incarnation into and throughout the natural world—is intelligible. Conclusion In conclusion, I believe that the theme of the depth and breadth of the presence of the Incarnate One in creation can lead to some very interesting scientific insights into the nature of the created world,



especially as we move through the biological sciences and locate the implications of this question in physics and cosmology. One of these insights is the possibility that time, even at the fundamental level of physics, is in some aspects proleptic—that is, weblike or featherlike (two types of non-Hausdorff spaces)—and not just multi-track (Hausdorff), let alone merely linear. If theology suggests that time is multiply-connected in the nonHausdorff sense, we might profitably look in theoretical physics and cosmology for evidence of such a non-Hausdorff sense of time. If we found it, that would be wondrous indeed.45

45. See Russell, Time in Eternity, ch. 6.


15 Afterword: Reservations

John Polkinghorne

To attempt to respond in adequate detail to the many and diverse insights in this book, which are shaped by ideas drawn from a wide diversity of sources ranging from biblical and patristic discussions to present-day thinking, would be too lengthy and demanding a task to attempt. Instead, I shall try quite briefly to indicate the considerations that make me reserved about an approach to thinking about God’s relationship with creation that places such extensive reliance on the concept of incarnation. Important as this idea is to Christian theology, it represents a very specific understanding of a very particular relationship of deity to creatures, having the unique significance expressed in the Christian conviction that in Jesus of Nazareth the eternal Word of God actually became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). The unique profundity of this assertion would be in danger of dilution if “incarnation” is pressed into service as a word to cover God’s presence to creatures in a much more general way. Of course, the Creator is in an intimate



relationship with all creation (there is no deistic abandonment of creation to its own devices), but that relationship will take different forms according to different creaturely natures and circumstances. The doctrine of the incarnation goes far beyond simply being a manner of representing God’s presence in solidarity with creatures, for it asserts that in the unique individual Jesus of Nazareth deity was present, not just alongside creatures, but as a creature.1 It is essential to Christian theology to maintain a clear distinction between, on the one hand, the eternal life of the Creator, who possesses aseity (that is to say, being in his essential self), and who therefore requires no independent ground of existence, and on the other hand creatures, some of whom, in God’s gracious purposes, will be granted an everlasting destiny, but who are at all times totally dependent on the Creator’s sustaining will for their continuing existence. Only such a self-existent God can be the ground of an everlasting hope that is wholly independent of whatever may be the present state of the created universe, whose evolving character means it is inherently subject to change and decay. An appropriate understanding of the Creator’s presence in and to creation must not blur the difference in ontological status between Creator and creatures, for that would jeopardize a vital distinction. Categories singular to deity should not be transferred to creatures. Incarnation is concerned with the conjunction of the divine and the human in the specific and singular instance of Jesus Christ.2 I am very sympathetic to the theological need to stress divine presence to the travail of creation in an act of redemptive solidarity between Creator and

1. It will be apparent that my stance is similar to that taken by Richard Bauckham in his contribution (ch. 1). 2. While I think that more than one incarnation in a single rational species would be an incoherent idea, I think it is conceivable that if there are other rational species in the created universe (“little green men”) it would be coherent to believe that the Word would take little green flesh for their redemption.


Afterword: Reservations

creatures, but I do not believe that a widened concept of incarnation is the way to achieve this. In fact, a harsh critic might say that a promiscuous use of the concept of incarnation carries with it a dangerous whiff of pantheism. We need to recognize that the relationship of the Creator to creatures is too subtle and diversified to be capable of ready encapsulation in a single phrase or concept. It is widely agreed today that classical theology’s picture of that relationship, with its strong stress on the transcendent invulnerability of a God who influences creatures but is not influenced by them, was less than appropriate to the God of love, who must always be in a mutually open relationship with the objects of that love. While acknowledging divine transcendence, a proper account must also give due measure to the immanent character of the presence of deity. Process theology’s panentheistic thinking sought to produce a more evenly balanced picture while avoiding the error of pantheistic identification. However, it ultimately portrayed a God who was so much in thrall to general metaphysical necessity as to be inextricably temporal, with too limited a power of divine agency to be the ground of a sure and certain hope. The form of divine relationship to creatures must surely always be that which is fully appropriate to the individual natures of the creatures involved. Our understanding of cosmic history tells us a story of long evolving complexity, punctuated from time to time by the emergence of genuinely novel forms of creaturely being. Think of the sequence: quark soup; stars and galaxies; unicellular life; complex multicellular life; conscious beings; self-conscious hominid beings. We should not think that a single concept could properly describe the divine relationship to stars, amoebas, rabbits, and human beings. Nor can a single concept express the Creator’s purposes for these diverse forms of beings. I believe that all human beings will



have a destiny beyond their deaths, but not all amoebas. I am sure that the Creator cares for and values all creatures, but in the different ways that are appropriate to their individual natures. Incarnation is a very special and specific form of relationship between the Creator and creation, going far beyond presence and guidance.








connection—not being alongside, but being as. In Christ, the divine Word lived the life of an identifiable, unique man. Chalcedon, in its struggle to articulate an adequate understanding of the Word made flesh, spoke of two natures simultaneously present in one person “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” The words are more a definition of the problem of Christology than its solution, but they lay down the terms that it is believed Christian understanding must use if it is to speak adequately of the one who, in the words of the kenotic hymn of Philippians 2, was in the form of God but emptied himself, being found in human form, and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Chalcedon insists on speaking of two natures in Christ, however mysterious that concept may be, while all creatures are of course of a single nature. This contrast is the fundamental reason why it seems inappropriate to extend the concept of incarnation to creatures. Chalcedon vigorously resists any attempt at elision between the categories of the divine and the creaturely. I believe it is right to do so, as this would threaten the essential distinction between Creator and created, referred to above. The presence of both humanity and divinity in Christ means that the crucifixion is the fullest and deepest possible participation of the Creator in the suffering of creation, experienced within that creation and going far beyond simply a compassionate contemplation of that suffering “from above.” The incarnation of Christ constitutes a unique and uniquely significant bridge between the life of God 358

Afterword: Reservations

and the life of creation, manifesting the presence of the deity as truly the presence of a “fellow-sufferer who understands” (to use A. N. Whitehead’s phrase) and thereby opening up that presence to all creatures in the manners appropriate to their natures. True participation in the travail of creation required the Word to take the form of specific human flesh (a first-century Jew) rather than being identified in some way with all the diverse forms of life. Of course, we can see the work of the Word as being manifested in the wonderful and fruitful order of the universe. That is the Logos acting, with the Spirit, in a general way as the two creative “hands” of the Father (Irenaeus). On a related note, I would like to suggest that the admirable aim of the authors to find a deep connection between the Creator and suffering creation is best pursued within a Trinitarian setting. Concentrating on the incarnation can carry the danger of neglecting the role of the Spirit. Perhaps the most profound New Testament reference to creaturely suffering is to be found in that remarkable chapter, Romans 8. Paul speaks of creation being “subjected to futility,” in “bondage to decay,” and “groaning in labor pains until now,” and of the Spirit as interceding with sighs too deep for words. Although this last verse refers specifically to human prayers, I think we can extend its insight and see the (often-veiled) presence of the Spirit in the world as an important form of the divine presence to suffering creatures.


16 Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

Niels Henrik Gregersen

This volume has brought together essays by leading theologians, philosophers and scientists, some of whom have been working extensively for years on rethinking Christology in a contemporary age, while others have come into the discussion with suggestive proposals and critical questions from other disciplinary angles. While each contribution relates the concept of incarnation to the question of the wider nature of reality, most authors have also addressed the particular proposal of deep incarnation. In this chapter, my aim is to reflect on the lines of thought that have enriched the concepts of deep incarnation during our conversations and to respond to some critical questions regarding the proposal itself. The Resources of Wisdom Traditions for Deep Incarnation Part 1 discusses biblical and patristic resources for understanding the Christian idea of incarnation in general and the view of deep 361


incarnation in particular. The intertwining of Logos Christology with the biblical figure of Wisdom is particularly emphasized by Gerald O’Collins, but also by Elizabeth A. Johnson, Celia DeaneDrummond, and other contributors to this volume. There are exegetical reasons for this move. As O’Collins reminds us, God’s Wisdom (Sophia) is said to come forth from the “mouth of the Most High” (Sir. 24:3) to explore reality from top to bottom; Wisdom alone “compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss” (Sir. 24:5). Since there cannot be two agents who come forth from divine life as the Word of God and “alone” span from the heavens to the depths of reality, Logos and Sophia must be one. In addition to the advantage of the feminine connotations of Sophia complementing the masculine connotations of Logos, wisdom traditions are important in that they do not foreground the logical and ontological aspects of the Son of God as Logos apart from an ethical orientation. The divine Wisdom offers guidance about how human beings are to orient themselves in the ambiguous, muddled, and chaotic aspects of creation, finding pathways to God even in these realms. Wisdom is, so to speak, an endogenous personal term, whereas Logos, taken apart from its biblical context, could be interpreted as merely an impersonal principle. Interestingly, the official Chinese translation of the Gospel of John renders its opening sentence as, “In the beginning was Dao.” Even if any transcultural translation is risky, this alignment of Logos/Wisdom with Dao succeeds in bringing forward the Johannine point that the divine Logos is both the generative principle of creation and the Way (Dao) to follow: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

Being In, With, For—and As Richard Bauckham has elsewhere made a convincing case for the view that the New Testament writers could only affirm the crucified Christ as the Lord—the Alpha and Omega, and the One Who Is—by identifying Jesus Christ with the one and only God of Israel, who defines himself as self-giving love. Bauckham’s framework of “identity Christology” was formative for my own coinage of the idea of deep incarnation.1 In the vein of this identity Christology, Bauckham argues in his contribution to this volume that the identity of God as eternal love is revealed in Jesus as God’s loving selfidentification with and for all people, and hence in effect as the ecological center of the larger community of creation.2 Bauckham’s distinction between God’s general presence in, with, and for creation and God’s special incarnation as Jesus has proven illuminative for clarifying the concept of deep incarnation. After all, the Christian concept of incarnation includes both God’s particular selfembodiment as Jesus Christ and God’s self-identification in and through him. Christ is the incarnate One who stands in for others. I am here reminded of the parallels to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christology lectures from 1933. Bonhoeffer asked how Christ is present for us today; his point was that the how of the presence of 1. Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism & Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). Cf. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Cross of Christ in an Evolutionary World,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 40:3 (2001): 192–207: “To the identity of God belongs also the humiliation. There is no longer any opposition between God’s glory and the humiliation of Jesus. God’s heavenly glory is stretched so as to encompass the soil of the cruciform creation” (203). 2. Bauckham’s proposal for understanding the presence of Christ in the cosmos at large in terms of a deep relationality with all other creatures has much to say for it. I have discussed this proposal in some detail in “Cur deus caro: Jesus and the Cosmos Story,” Theology and Science 11:4 (November 2013): 387–90. There I argue that the critical point is whether the relations are external (so that Christ is staying aloof from material entanglements) or internal (in the sense that the relations are mutually enriching, thus co-constituting who Christ is as the Incarnate One). From my perspective, the question of who Christ is cannot be divorced from the questions of where Christ is and how Christ is related to creatures.



Christ can only be clarified in tandem with an exposition of who Christ is and will be forever: “Christ is Christ, not just for himself, but in relation to me. His being Christ is his being for me, pro me. This being pro me is not to be understood as an effect emanating from him, nor as an accident; rather it is to be understood as the essence, the being of the person himself.”


Moreover, Bonhoeffer

defines the space-time continuum of creation as the dwelling place of Jesus Christ: “The space-time continuum is not only the human definition of the God-Man, but also the divine definition. This spacetime presence of the God-Man is hidden ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’” (Rom. 8:3).4 By stating that the space-time continuum belongs not only to the humanity of Christ but also to the definition of his divinity, Bonhoeffer expresses a central tenet of deep incarnation. Is God Incarnate in All that Is? Let us imagine that we instead took our point of departure in a universalized concept of incarnation, regarding every instance of creation as God’s incarnation. This is the view we find expressed, for example, in a remark by the naturalist philosopher Mark Johnston: “The incarnation of the Divine is ubiquitous.”5 Here the term incarnation is removed from its role as identifying the nature and will of God as self-expressing and absorbing love in the midst of material

3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Vorlesung ‘Christologie’ (Nachschrift),” in Berlin 1932–1933, ed. Carsten Nicolaisen and Ernst-Albert Scharffenorth (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke Band 12) (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1997), 295; English translation in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lectures on Christology, trans. Edwin Robertson (London: Collins, 1981), 47. It should be noted that this English translation was based on the reconstruction in the older German Bonhoeffer edition in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 3 (1960), whereas a new German reconstruction has been laid out in DBW, vol. 12 (1997). The two reconstructions sometimes differ significantly. 4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Vorlesung ‘Christologie’ (Nachschrift),” DBW 12:294–95; Christology 45–46 (translation corrected). 5. Mark Johnston, Saving God: Religion after Idolatry (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 121.


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

existence. Instead, God is defined only by the cosmological functions of God being the generative principle of all that is, for good or bad. 6 Against this background, it seems clear to me that the sentence, “God is incarnate in all that is,” only makes sense in Christian theology if we understand it to mean that the Incarnate One (God’s embodied Son/Logos/Wisdom) is present in all that is. More precisely, the incarnate Son of God is present even in the realm of evil, suffering, and death; and also before the advent of Christ in the form a human being, Christ is present as the embodied Logos in the world of creation for all other creatures. From the perspective of deep incarnation, Job was right in insisting: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). Why We Should Distinguish but Not Separate Incarnation from Creation Accordingly, the otherwise helpful distinction between in and as should not be elevated into a strict separation between creation and incarnation. This happens if one interprets the incarnation of Christ as only a passing phase in God’s involvement with the world of creation, making a principal division between God as Creator and Sustainer, on the one hand, and the incarnation on the other. This is what I fear is the net result of John Polkinghorne’s concluding reflections to this volume. While I share Polkinghorne’s emphasis on divine aseity (without which there would be no hope for a dying planet), I disagree with his view that God, apart from the unique incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, lives “alongside” the world of creation. This is to me a much too Platonic expression of Christology 6. So also Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (London: Routledge, 2003), 220: “If incarnation is always going on, so is the carnage.” This sentence points to the theological problem of using the term incarnation in promiscuous ways, as emphasized by John Polkinghorne (in chapter 15 of this volume), who here rightly detects a “whiff of pantheism.”



that prompts the following questions: who is the divine Logos/ Wisdom who is present with creation? Where is the divine Logos present? For whom is the incarnate Logos present? Is the divine Logos discarnate except for the exceptional years of God becoming flesh in Galilee? Or is it the same embodied Christ as appeared in those years? In the patristic period, Marcellus of Ancyra became famous (or infamous) for his view that the incarnate body of Jesus was restricted to









Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, “There will be no end to his kingdom,” was probably an official rejection of this view.7 The human nature of Christ has a permanent place within God’s eternal life, and the human nature of Christ always includes “his kingdom,” that is, the social body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27; Col. 1:18). While the patristic development of doctrine put an end to purely episodic understandings of incarnation, some later Christian traditions continued to think of the glorified body of Christ as spatially confined. In the Reformation, Ulrich Zwingli was more outspoken than most when arguing that the body of Christ—as human—had to be contained at a particular place in the heavenly regions (in loco circumscripto). Martin Luther developed his eucharistic theology as well as his creation theology in stark opposition to this view. For Luther, Christ was ubiquitously present in creation, not just by virtue of his divine nature but also in and through his human nature. The incarnate body of Christ should not be thought of as limited to his skin and bones (as in his earthly existence) but as forever united to his divine nature so that they can never be taken apart.8 7. So Christopher Beeley, The Unity of Christ: Conflict and Continuity in Patristic Tradition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 143–44. 8. On the relation between deep incarnation and Luther’s view of ubiquity, see Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Deep Incarnation and Kenosis: In, With, Under, and As: A Response to Ted Peters,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 52:3 (2013): 255–66, in response to Ted Peters, “Happy Danes and Deep Incarnation,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 52:3 (2013): 248–54.


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

Even though Luther often thought within a temporal framework of pre-Christ and post-Christ epochs, he found Jesus Christ speaking in the words of the Old Testament. Also, he always assumed that Christ was not a discarnate Logos, but the embodied Christ who was beingthere and speaking and acting to his people prior to his advent. Why We Should Not Separate the Work of Christ from His Being-There Some of the reservations regarding the concept of deep incarnation are due to the underlying assumption that one must maintain a distinction between the “person” of Christ (who Jesus Christ is) and the redeeming “effects” or “works” of Christ (what Jesus Christ does for somebody). Every time I see this distinction writ large, I sense the aftermath of an Aristotelian metaphysics in disguise. Aristotle made a distinction between the substantial individual entity (in Greek hypostasis; in Latin substantia) and the operational activity (in Greek energeia; in Latin operatio/actus) of this or that individual substance.9 As is well-known from the history of theology, this scheme did not work in the doctrine of the Trinity. I suggest that there are similar problems for using this scheme on Jesus Christ if he is genuinely one with the living God and not just an individual person of a bygone past. In this context, it is interesting to bring to mind the Christology of Athanasius (as presented by John Behr and Denis Edwards) and of Maximus the Confessor (as presented by Torstein Tollefsen). In Athanasius, the doctrine of incarnation is presented in a cosmic framework in which the Logos assumes not just an individual body but the material world in extenso, which already bears the marks of the presence of the divine Logos.10 As Behr points out in this volume, 9. See Sir David Ross, Aristotle (London: Methuen & Co., 1964), 23–24; 165–67.



there is neither need nor space for developing a separate “doctrine of atonement” in addition to the presence of the incarnate Logos. Put differently, in classical Christology there is no “transport problem” of salvific effects, since Christ is already present as saving; likewise, there is no problem of “becoming contemporary with Christ” (Søren Kierkegaard), since Christ is already contemporary with us. Also, as shown by Tollefsen, in Maximus’s concept of the mystery of Christ there is no place for separating what later Western theology called the “work of Christ” from the “person of Christ.” Why not? Because salvation means being embraced by God’s self-embodying Logos/ Wisdom who is interweaved with the complex material-spiritual world of creation for the sake of its transformation. For that reason, I’m not happy with drawing a too-principled line between an ontological and agential understanding of the embodied Logos, as suggested by Celia Deane-Drummond. While I agree that the presence of Christ is about an agential and personal presence, I also follow the basic intuition of Bonhoeffer that Act and Being can’t be divorced in theology. One cannot speak of a presence of Christ for us (and other creatures) without Christ simply being there for us (and others).11

10. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 4th ed. (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1958), 285: “Christ’s human nature was, as it were, a part of the vast body of the cosmos, and there was no incongruity in the Logos, Who animates the whole, animating this special portion of it.” So also Aloys Grillmeier, “Die theologische und sprachliche Vorbereitung der christologischen Formel von Chalkedon,” in Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3 vols., ed. A. Grillmeier, SJ, and H. Bacht, SJ (Würzburg: Echter-Verlag, 1962), 1:82–83: “Die Fleischesnatur Christi ist nur ein Teil (meros) des grossen Kosmos-Soma.” 11. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Vorlesung ‘Christologie’ (Nachschrift),” DBW 12:296 = Christology 47–48: “The for you existence [das Dir-Da-sein] and being there for you [das Dir-Da-sein] are joined together.” See further Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Mysteries of Christ and Creation: ‘Center’ and ‘Limit’ in Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fall and Christology Lectures,” in Mysteries in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Copenhagen Symposium, ed. Kirsten Busch Nielsen, Ulrik Nissen, and Christiane Tietz (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 135–58.


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

Why We Should Not Think in Chronocentric Terms about Resurrection In Parts 2 and 3, the reader will have become familiar with some important theological ramifications of the notion of deep incarnation in contemporary systematic theology. Jürgen Moltmann (himself an early inspiration for the concept of deep incarnation) points to the interplay between the deep incarnation of Christ in all flesh and the eschatological role of the Holy Spirit as being poured out on all flesh. Hereby he also points to the eschatological aspects that require us to maintain a distinction between where God is incarnate and not incarnate under the present conditions of reality. God is not “incarnate” as a torture chamber. I’m confident of being in basic agreement with Moltmann when I say that Christ will be present there as the incarnate Word of God who knows the suffering and anguish of the victims of torture from within. This applies to a nonJew like Job no less than it does to Jews and Christians, and it applies to the North Korean peasant who has no knowledge of Christ no less than it does to someone who lives comfortably within a Christian culture. As Moltmann points out, the eschatological coming of Christ can’t be understood in an exclusively chronological framework. Yet as creatures, we actually do live in a temporal flow that includes irreversible states of experience. While resurrection is not purely a far-future event but a process in which we are already now participating in faith, hope, and love, the full fruits of resurrection are not yet present for us—as it was not for Job and is not for our North Korean neighbor. My own way of expressing this would be as follows: seen from a temporal framework, the divine Logos/Wisdom was always meant to become incarnate in Jesus (as Logos incarnandus). Yet from the perspective of divine life (which comprises temporal distinctions



within eternity) there never was, is, or will be a disembodied Logos (Logos asarkos). Logos was always embodied and will always be embodied (Logos ensarkos). Accordingly, there never was or will be a divine life without Christ knowing suffering and death from within. As stated in the Revelation to John, the Lamb is “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8 kjv). I here take the reflections of the physicist-theologian Robert John Russell on “time in eternity” as indicating that we, even in the areas of mathematics and physics, might find analogues to a view that combines the flow of time with a co-presence of time in eternity. I’m grateful to Russell for working out a model for extending the scope of deep incarnation to mathematical physics in a manner that I (not being a physicist) could never have imagined.12 I also find it interesting that Stuart Kauffman, writing from naturalistic premises, points to quantum entanglement as opening a way of thinking in the direction of continuous “incarnations” from a wider space of possibilia, even though he openly admits that no physical speculation can provide a full account of the relation between temporal events and something like mind. Trinitarian Stretch, Incarnational Reach It goes without saying that deep incarnation is part of a larger theological picture. The concept of incarnation itself presupposes some notion of transcendence in order to answer the question of what it is that becomes incarnate, just as it presupposes a world of creation to be assumed by God in a special sense in Jesus. In short, any doctrine of incarnation can only be explained as part of a wider Trinitarian understanding of God’s ways of relating to God’s world

12. See also Robert John Russell, Time in Eternity: Pannenberg, Physics, and Eschatology (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2012), esp. ch. 2.


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

of creation. As I argue in my own contribution to this volume, it is the stretch within the life of the triune God that makes possible the divine reach into the depth of creaturely existence. Thus there is no deep incarnation without a sending of the Son from the depth of the Father. Likewise, the complementary roles of Christ and Holy Spirit are rightly emphasized by Elizabeth A. Johnson, Celia DeaneDrummond, Denis Edwards, and other contributors to this volume. I admit that the role of the Spirit was underdeveloped in my early work on deep incarnation, though it was not absent.13 The similarities and differences between the agency of Christ and the agency of the Spirit must be recognized: while the Son of God really dies together with his fellow creatures, thus fully sharing creaturely conditions, the Spirit is the divine life-giver who raises and renews Jesus and restores creatures, whose lives—like that of Jesus—have been destroyed under the pressure of physical decay, biological death, psychological anguish, and the failures of human sin. As helpfully phrased by Johnson, we also need to speak of “deep resurrection” into the body of Christ permeated by the life-giving energy of the Spirit. It is even necessary to say that there can be no deep incarnation (from birth to cross) without a deep resurrection. Likewise, the Spirit will also have to span the entire field between the depths of creaturely suffering and fatherly love. In this wider picture, it is the special task of the eternal Son to go in fully and conjoin with the world of the flesh, even to the point of death and disintegration. I originally framed the concept of deep incarnation in the context of an evolutionary Christology, building on a number of twentieth13. Niels Henrik Gregersen, “The Cross of Christ in an Evolutionary World,” 205: “The reality of God is in this respect contagious that it makes God-like while preserving (not annihilating) the creatures that are absorbed into the unity with God. . . . This is the logic of superabundance that flows out of the divine Spirit who is always in exchange, always communicating with the creatures, and always sharing itself with the creatures.”



century theologians—from Karl Rahner to Thomas Torrance and Jürgen Moltmann. Subsequently, Celia Deane-Drummond has pointed to Hans Urs von Balthasar as a resource for developing a view of deep incarnation that builds on his concept of a “theo-drama.” This is in many ways a helpful amendment. Indeed, von Balthasar speaks of “the Son’s existence [as] co-extensive with all creation,” just as he also interprets the history of the incarnation as a “selfexteriorization” of divine love.14 Deane-Drummond, however, also admits that von Balthasar (like Karl Barth, I would add) stresses divine power and immutability, thus perhaps giving less emphasis to God as co-suffering with creatures. Also, because of his strong soul-body distinction he does not (as far as I have read his work) give attention to nonhuman suffering. While von Balthasar’s work stands as an inspirational resource of the first order, especially for expressing the depths of divine love toward sinners, I think one would have to look to other resources for developing a wide-scope Christology for the victims of physical disintegration and evolutionary suffering. Deep Incarnation and Ecotheology Denis Edwards was probably the first to see the connections between deep incarnation and ecological theology. “Biology does not allow us to see human flesh as an isolated entity. Human beings can only be understood as interrelated with other life-forms of our planet and interconnected with the atmosphere, the land, and the seas that sustain life.” He therefore argues, as also in this volume, that the Immanuel-perspective of God-with-us in Christ must be understood “in the sense of God-with-all-living-things.”15 14. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005), 35 and 29. See also Celia Deane-Drummond, Christ and Evolution: Wonder and Wisdom (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 33–59. 15. Denis Edwards, Ecology at the Heart of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006), 60.


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

Similarly, Christopher Southgate attends to the problem of nonhuman suffering in his writings, emphasizing that humanity “will be redeemed, ultimately, as part of a new creation rather than away from the rest of creation.”16 His theological concern here lies in the divine rescuing and fulfillment of individual life forms—not only of human existence (as in Rolston), and not only of types of nonhuman animals (as in Polkinghorne). One of his phenomenological observations, at once simple and striking, is that suffering itself is “always particular.” There is always an irreducible first-person experience in suffering. This observation suggests to me that it is not sufficient to say that God, in general, is both transcendent and immanent, and that incarnation was necessary only for making this known to humans.17 I take Andrew Robinson’s and Southgate’s proposal of Jesus as an iconic qualisign (in the vein of C. S. Peirce) as implying that the life, work, and destiny of Jesus of Nazareth both manifests and instantiates the nature and character of God as co-present with the entire world of creation, and as co-experiencing and co-suffering with sentient beings, in order to transform their lives in accordance with their destinies. Here “deep incarnation” is more than a restatement of a general divine immanence. Jesus Christ is the identification of the Who and Where of God’s self-embodiment in, with, and under creation. I also find compelling Southgate’s vision of the church as exemplifying the social body of Christ, and hope that Southgate will agree that the social body of Christ in the end will also comprise nonhuman creatures and the underlying structures of material beings.

16. Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 81. 17. Christopher Southgate, page 212 of this volume.



The Limits of Far-Future Eschatology Like Robert John Russell, Southgate develops reflections about the future world. I also believe that concern for individuality and for the community of all life are central for eschatology. Deep incarnation, however, is not tied to detailed projections of a far-future world, including the idea of the establishment of new laws of nature. Maybe there will be no laws of nature in the eschatological consummation apart from the pervasive presence of God, when God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). Could not God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sustain the life of a transformed cosmos without precise analogies to modern scientific laws of nature? And could not our temporal schemes for imagining a fulfilled world in the end turn out to be inadequate projections? Overall, I think that concepts of space are as essential as concepts of time for considerations of a fulfilled life. Also, even though I am myself a proponent of a version of apokatastasis, I think it is possible to affirm the concerns of deep incarnation while saying that there may be forms of life that cannot inherit the divine kingdom (1 Cor. 15:50). The Gospel of John (which hardly harbors a notion of apokatastasis) may be a case in point. I make these points not out of a skepticism about a world to come but to make clear what is integral to the concept of deep incarnation and what is not. What is central to deep incarnation, as far as I’m concerned, is an understanding of the material (“natural”) basis for all God’s works, including in eschatological fulfillment. Likewise, resurrection and eternal life must be social in character and must comprehend nonhuman creatures within a transformed world of creation, for unless human beings exist as individual souls, humanity can’t be saved without the wider community of creation. How the realization of this is to be imagined raises many new questions that cannot be answered from the resources of deep incarnation alone. It is


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

said in the Nicene Creed of 381, “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” This “Amen” is both an affirmation and an admission of ignorance that opens up space for a doxological attitude of expectation and worship beyond doctrinal fixations. The Christian confession of eternal life does not include a particular theory about the mechanisms of fulfillment. Why logos Is More than nomos Holmes Rolston raises poignantly phrased challenges to the concept of deep incarnation as well as to eschatological visions for the future. (I have always been a great admirer of his style.) At the backbone of his criticism of deep incarnation lies the argument that while star explosions and evolutionary history certainly put their signature on Jesus of Nazareth, it is hard to imagine what difference the historical person of Jesus could make for the preceding cosmic and biological processes. By framing the challenge in this way, however, Rolston presupposes an episodic historicist metaphysics that understands Jesus as an individual human person of the past while writing off the union of the universal divine Logos and Jesus, which is the very point of any Christology (deep or not). The commonsense aspect of Rolston’s objection can perhaps best be answered by the old Thomistic principle that what is received will always be received according to the nature and mode of the recipient.18 That is, stars, bacteria, and birds will indeed care nothing about the presence of Christ in the evolving universe, though they will operate on the laws of nature provided by the informational presence of the divine Logos while responding to the patterns of information accessible to them, from atoms to humanity.19 But the deeper answer can only be theological: speaking about the presence 18. [18] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a, q. 75, a. 5: “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.”



of the personal and embodied Logos throughout cosmic history means that nothing happens only by virtue of an impersonal nomos alone; it is always accompanied by a divine mind and wisdom that works for more comprehensive goals. Certainly, this view goes beyond a purely naturalistic view of reality, but I don’t see it as all that quaint from a philosophical perspective. In antiquity, a dual-aspect view of nature as material yet governed by a mental awareness of a divine Logos was propounded by Stoicism. Today, we find views of the co-extensivity of the material and the mental in a commonsenseminded philosopher such as Thomas Nagel, who argues that “the mind-body problem is not just a local problem, having to do with the relation between mind, brain, and behavior in living organisms, but that it invades the entire cosmos and its history.”20 What Christian theology adds to this picture is that mind seems not to be an intrinsic property of material configurations (in the vein of panpsychism) but is better explained as the concomitant presence of the divine Logos and Spirit, who “understand” cosmic and biologically processes from within and who are capable of pursuing goals over time, even leading to goals transcending time and space. This view is certainly an expression of a religious belief. But it is not quite as exotic as presented by Holmes Rolston, since it refers to the fact that something more complex and interesting comes out of something less complex and interesting. The physicist Richard Feynman once said, “Once you’ve seen one electron, you’ve seen ‘em all.” But if you have seen one dog, you haven’t seen all of them. With the advent of self-reflective minds, something new emerged in the 19. On these aspects, see Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen, eds., Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics, Canto Classics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), which also features Holmes Rolston’s proposal for a Logos Christology, “Care on Earth: Generating Informed Concern” (261–312). 20. Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist and Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 3.


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

midst of the cosmos: a self-interpreting animal (Charles Taylor) that is also able to think about the conditions of the cosmos far beyond the scope of human individuals and of particular cultural traditions. On Quarks, Ostriches, and Lions Eschatological imagery is a more difficult case. At the bottom of Rolston’s objections to the hope for new creation lies his conviction that nature is valuable as it is and does not really need any redemption or transformation at all. Even if it’s cruciform, nature is glorious as it is.21 I have much respect for this view, and I think there is something right about it. Not all things need to reach a particular goal in order to be valuable. This goes for eagles as it goes for human lives. But curiously enough, I find Rolston’s argument somehow wanting in ecological awareness in his asking, for example, what to think of a redeemed quark. For all its abruptness, this thoughtprovoking question can only be answered by reflecting on the organizational networks of which any quark in the cosmic history is a part. So it was in the past, is now, and will be forever, provided that also the world of nature is somehow to be redeemed. Similarly, Rolston raises the question of what it means to be a redeemed ostrich. Who could ever answer such question? The only thing I could say is that just like human beings, no ostrich can live without land and without resources (without having any definite eschatological theory about the mechanisms of a land of plenty). Finally, what about pain? Could we have “redeemed lions” without tooth and claw? Again, nobody knows. But here one might ask in response: What is important for predators—is it the infliction of pain or the reaching of a satisfying goal, as in play? Perhaps play is, after all, a more widespread phenomenon in nature than the infliction of pain. 21. Holmes Rolston III, “Does Nature Need to be Redeemed?” Zygon: Journal of Science & Religion 29 (June 1994): 205–29.



Rolston refers to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s principle that use determines meaning. What if the meaning of organisms also depends upon how they are using their capacities? Change the use, and you change the definition of what any living organism—human or animal—is doing. Yet both meaning and use depend on context. In the end, the eschatological vision of a kingdom of God is perhaps not so much about far-future scenarios as it is about new open spaces for the development of life. “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2). This is poetry, for sure, but the Johannine image of God’s life hosting dwelling places is based in the prologue’s concept of the incarnate Logos “living among us” (John 1:14b). The divine assumption of the world of creation (in incarnation) is the precondition for the assumption of the world of creation into divine life (in resurrection). Why Presence Is Important for Overcoming Spiritual Distance Dirk Evers goes along with deep incarnation insofar as he understands the cross as standing for God’s ongoing presence within creation rather than as a salvation from creation. Correspondingly, he understands faith as a relational mode of existence that participates in God’s concern for the other and for creation as a whole. Evers also points out that the biblical concept of transcendence is not about distances in time (now-then) or in space (up-down) but about a spiritual distance between humanity and God. Certainly, incarnation is about overcoming the spiritual distance between God and humans (also called sin). But let me nonetheless make two amendments: first, even though for humans the spiritual distance is addressed in incarnation, humans do not only suffer from being alienated from God but also from other forms of suffering, as in the case of Job. The same applies to evolutionary suffering at large.


Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges

Deep incarnation is thus a proposal for a Christology that responds to being a victim, not only to being a sinner. My second amendment is that the overcoming of a spiritual distance between God and humans still presupposes a divine presence beyond that of the human apprehension of it. God comes to mind through coming to our flesh, even regardless of our mindfulness of it. In my understanding, this is part of the gospel: Not only did God love us before we loved God (1 John 4:19), but we are loved and embraced even if we are not consciously aware of the scope and depth of divine love.


About the Authors

Richard Bauckham, FBA, FRSE, is professor emeritus and Bishop Wardlaw Professor at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and also serves as senior scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. John Behr is dean and professor of patristics at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York, and also teaches at Fordham University, USA. Celia Deane-Drummond is professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, USA, and formerly a professor of theology and the biological sciences at the University of Chester. Denis Edwards is associate professor of systematic and historical theology in the School of Theology at Flinders University and at the Catholic Theological College within the Adelaide College of Divinity, Australia. Dirk Evers is a professor of systematic theology and dogmatics at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, having earlier worked at the University of Tübingen.



Niels Henrik Gregersen is professor of systematic theology at the University of Copenhagen, and formerly a research professor in theology and science at Aarhus University, Denmark. Elizabeth A. Johnson is the distinguished professor of theology at Fordham University, USA, and has served as president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) and the American Theological Society. Stuart A. Kauffman is one of the pioneers and leaders in the field of complexity theory at the Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico, USA. He is connected to a number of research institutions around the world, including the University of Tampere, Finland, and the University of Vermont, USA. Jürgen Moltmann is professor emeritus at the University of Tübingen and one of the world’s leading theologians, influential on all continents. He gave the Gifford Lectures in 1984–85. Gerald O’Collins, SJ is research professor at the Jesuit Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. For more than three decades, he was professor of systematic and fundamental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome. John Polkinghorne, FRS, KBE, was professor of mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge for more than a decade, and later served as president of Queen’s College, Cambridge, UK. He gave the Gifford Lectures in 1993–94 and received the Templeton Prize in 2002. Holmes Rolston III is distinguished professor emeritus of philosophy at Colorado State University and a pioneer of 382

About the Authors

environmental ethics. He gave the Gifford Lectures in 1997–98 and received the Templeton Prize in 2003. Robert John Russell is the founder and director of The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) in Berkeley, California, and the Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Christopher B. C. Southgate is a research and teaching fellow at the University of Exeter, UK, and also a dean of studies for the Anglican theological training institution South West Ministry Training Course. He is also a poet. Torstein Theodor Tollefsen is a professor of philosophy at the University of Oslo and a leading authority on Saint Maximus the Confessor. He is also a painter of icons.



Adams, M. McCord, 245–47, 285–86

Ashley, M., 186 assumption/assumptio carnis, 10,

Alston, W. P., 111

96, 123–24, 237, 340, 367, 378;

ambiguity, 247, 270, 285, 342

as embrace, 7; twofold, 11, 378

Ambrose of Milan, 148, 340

Athanasius of Alexandria, 7, 10,

Anatolios, K., 87, 159, 162–67

36, 59, 79–97, 119–20, 157–67,

Anderson, P., 179

171–72, 225, 247–48, 367

angst, 247, 279 anhypostatic/enhypostatic, 11 animals, 35, 38–39, 42–43, 107,

atonement, 83, 210; no transport problem, 248, 368 Attfield, R.

109–10, 189, 195, 208, 211,

Attridge, H. W., 240

256, 261, 267–71, 274–75, 278,

Augustine, 152, 341, 347–48

311–12, 320, 323, 335–38, 341,

avatars, 29


Avis, P., 32

Anselm of Canterbury, 228

Ayala, F. J., 47

Anthony, 121 apocalypticism, 243, 251

Bailly, F., 303

apokatastasis, 19, 269–76, 374

Balabanski, V. S., 36, 185

Apollinarius, 10

Balthasar, H. U., 178, 185–94,

Aquinas, T., 21, 170, 195, 375 Aristotle/Aristotelian, 37, 102, 111–12, 234, 293–94, 367 ascent into heaven, 124

200, 217–18, 372 Barbour, I., 334 Barth, K., 14, 26, 171, 194, 215, 311, 344, 372



Bauckham, R., 2, 7, 25–57, 231,

Calvin, J., 171

234, 257, 262, 270–72, 331,

Camp, C. V., 68

338–39, 356, 363, 381

care, 93, 110, 140, 153, 175, 204,

beauty/aesthetics, 127, 161, 187,

265–76, 279–80, 283, 284, 358,

194; and Wisdom/Sophia,

375; providential, 27, 140, 175

69–70, 76–77

Castillo, D. 177

Beeley, C., 366

causality, 113, 283, 297, 301

Behr, J., 7, 19, 79–98, 159, 184,

Chadwick, H., 4

250, 367, 381 Benakis, L., 104

Chalcedonian Creed, 6, 10, 12, 28, 358

Benedict XVI, 131, 200

Chalmers, D., 299

Bennet, G., 337

character-description of God, 8,

Benz, E., 125

235, 237

Berkman, J., 195

Chela-Flores, J., 335

Berry, W., 218–19

Christ Jesus, passim; cosmic, 7,

Berthold, G. C., 102, 105, 108, 113 big bang cosmology, 41, 136–37, 152, 258, 287, 337, 343

35–37, 49–50, 52–56, 121–25, 142, 240, 260–62, 339; cross of, 35, 55, 83, 92–97, 119–20, 124, 145–46, 159, 167, 171, 186–91,

Blowers, P. M., 100, 109, 115

195–96, 200, 241, 243, 280,

Bonaventura, 38, 40, 43, 51–52

285, 309, 312–15, 324–39; as

Bonhoeffer, D., 363–64, 368

ecological center of creation,

Bradley, I., 213

49–55, 57, 363; and

Brague, R., 179

eschatology, 56, 123–24, 126,

Braverman, J., 331

213–16; extended body of,

Brinkman, M. E., 29

11–12, 16–20, 227, 249, 257,

Brockman, J., 266

274–75; and horrors of

Brown, R. E., 76, 180

creation, 235, 245–48, 285; as

Bulgakov, S., 181–83, 185, 190,

microcosm and mediator, 51,

196, 200

105–6, 108–12; mystery of, 52,

Bultmann, R., 14, 121, 344

99–101, 109, 368; participation

Burridge, R., 217

in creation, 35, 45–46, 55, 123; person and work, 13, 367–68;

Callahan, D. J., 215


postexistence of, 11;


preexistence of, 11, 14, 32, 36; and reconciliation, 51, 121, 210, 243–45; relations,

consciousness, 43, 137, 195, 263, 290, 297–301, 323. See Godconsciousness

internal/external, 8, 363; shared

Constantine, Emperor, 74

cross of, 324–29; social body

Conway, J. H., 296, 299, 305

of, 248–51

Cook, H., 42

christic paradigm, 144–45

cosmocrator, 119, 343

Christoffersen, M. G., x

cosmology: Christocentric, 39, 51,

Christology: from below/above, 5, 230; bracketing method, 14–15; constitutive relations, 15–17; degree, 29–31, 197; of

99, 101, 105–8. See big bang cosmology cosmos, fine-tuned, 257–58, 261, 278, 287, 332, 334, 343

divine identity, 5, 11, 31–32;

cosmos, redeemed, 262–65, 377

evolutionary, 40, 54, 139, 152,

Costache, D., 166

179, 197, 209, 228, 263, 332,

creation, passim; and church,

335, 371–72; scope of, 2, 240,

91–92, 96, 97, 241–42, 373;

251; two natures, 6, 10, 12, 26,

cruciform, 191–92, 280–87,

324, 358

377; and deification, 164–68,

chronocentrism, 227, 243–45, 369–70 church, 91–92, 215, 373; as body

172, 176; and incarnation, 107; in Maximus, 101–5; and salvation, 106–7

of Christ, 12, 18, 203, 208, 215,

Crick, F., 300

227, 241–42, 373; as deep

Cross, F. L., 80

community, 19

Cunningham, C., 41, 44

Clayton, P., 40, 197, 205, 211,

cybernetics, 265, 277

216, 222–23, 315 Clines, D. J. A., 67

Dabney, D. L., 242

Clough, D., 195, 218, 268, 341

Dalferth, I. U., 323, 328

coextensiveness, 53

Dantine, W., 50

Cole-Turner, R., 228

Dao, 362

communicatio idiomatum, 340

Darwin, C., 41, 44, 184, 194, 209,

compassion, 142, 145–46, 240,

236, 249, 265, 271, 283–84,

284, 358

376 Davies, O., 214



Davies, P., 40, 263, 376

183–92, 196–97, 199, 200–201,

Davis, S. T., 35, 316

372; three dimensions of, 225,

Deacon, T., 277

227; unwarranted, 262; and

Deane-Drummond, C., 177–201,

Wisdom Traditions, 134, 138,

218, 222, 242, 268, 332,

146, 152, 181, 196, 225–26,

337–38, 341, 362, 368, 371–72,

339, 361–62

381 de Chardin, T., 39, 46, 49–50, 52, 139, 155–56, 339 deep Christology, 35, 133

deep ministry, 143–45 deep pluralism, 2–3 deep resurrection, 145, 148–50, 155, 248–51, 272–73, 371

deep coinherence, 244

deep sociality, 225, 227, 249

deep incarnation, 7–8, 124,

deep suffering, 239–43, 248

134–40, 145, 151, 177, 196,

deification, 164–68, 170, 172, 176

214–16, 225–26, 248–51,

Delio, I., 39, 52, 54

331–32; and church, 217–21;

Depoortere, F., 228

and deep ecology, 180, 273;

Descartes, R., 113, 295–99, 301,

and deep resurrection, 145–50,


148, 155, 248–51, 273, 371;

descent into hell, 124

and ecological ethics, 133,

dilemma: divine, 93–96;

153–55, 199, 203, 217; and

methodological, 140–43

ecotheology, 199, 214–15, 221,

Dillon, J., 231

223, 372–73; and eschatology,

divine election, 238

124, 196, 340, 374, 377–78;

divine identification, 8, 32–34. See

limits of, 150–53; and

also Christology of divine

materiality, high and low, 214,


226–27, 233–34; and natural

divine presence, 9, 25–31, 54, 69,

evil, 236, 245, 332, 341–44;

77, 100, 140, 146, 150, 166,

and non-human suffering, 373;

177, 197–200, 205, 207, 208,

and pan-immanence, 209; and

214, 235, 255, 256, 265, 276,

pantheism, 197, 357, 365; and

280, 309, 313–20, 326, 356–57,

physics, 332–34, 339–40; and

359, 367, 374–79; in/as/with,

pneumatology, 193–96, 242;

28, 30–31; metaphysical/

and soteriological universalism,

personal, 25–28; and spiritual

20; and theo-drama, 178,



distance, 169, 309, 317–19, 325, 327, 378–79 divinization, 31, 163. See also deification

eschatology, 56, 123–24, 126, 131, 196, 333, 340, 344–46, 351, 374; new laws of nature, 374–75

DNA, 265, 287

eucharist, 188, 198, 213, 220, 366

Dorner, I., 52

Evdokimov, P, 213

Drees, W. B., 230

Evers, D., 309–29, 378, 381

Dunderberg, I., 231, 240

evolution, 112–15; branching,

Dunn, J. D. G., 72

44–45; directionality, 47; of

Duns Scotus, 157, 335

evil, 236, 271, 337, 341–42

dyotheletism, 10 Dyson, A. O., 52

evolutionary anthropology, 320–24 evolutionary pain, 377

Eckstein, H. J., 122

evolutionary suffering, 378

ecological ethics, 133, 153, 203,

evolutionary theory, 16, 39,

217, 221–23 ecological relatedness, 45–46, 50, 53, 55–56, 144, 193–94 ecology, 178, 193–94 Edwards, D., 157–76, 178, 184,

194–95, 267–68, 304, 309–29 ex nihilo, 54, 88, 91–92, 97–98, 101, 125, 160, 218–19, 280, 332, 344 ex nisu, 280

204, 268, 271, 275, 284, 332,

ex vetere, 219

340–41, 347, 367, 371–72, 381

exceptionalism, 1, 6, 145, 366

Einstein, A., 257, 266, 284 Ellacuría, I., 146

fall, 37, 83, 114, 207, 286, 368

Elphinstone, A., 209

Father, depths of, 371

emanation, 70, 101, 129

Fee, G. D., 35

emergence, transcendent, 54;

feminine presentation, 66–68, 152,

evolutionary, 54–56, 174, 175, 198, 283

362 feminism, 206, 236

emergence theory, 39–45, 54, 265

Feynman, R., 291–95, 376

emptying. See kenosis

Fiddes, P., 214

Engberg-Pedersen, T., 231, 240

Fitzmyer, J. A., 72, 74

environmental ethics, 193, 204,

Flanagan, O., 276

206, 221, 223



flesh/sarx, 119, 122, 126–28, 135–38, 178–79, 228–33, 247,

Gregory of Nazianzus, 10, 74, 245, 340

263–64, 268–69, 338–39;

Gregory of Nyssa, 80, 340

meanings of, 232–34;

Greshake, G., 310

resurrection of, 130–31

Griffin, D., 3

Fodor, J., 321

Grillmeier, A., 368

freedom, 26–27, 101, 137, 143,

Görman, U., 230

164, 171, 186, 194, 215–16, 219–20, 222, 242, 277, 279,

Habel, N., 220

285, 305, 312, 313, 318, 335

Haers, J., 228

free will theorem, 305–6

Hamlet, ix, 251

Fretheim, T. E., 60

Hamlin, C., 180 Hampson, D., 206

Galileo, G., 112

Hanson, R., 82–83

Garne, K., x

Hardy, E. R., 245

Gerleman, G., 228

Haughey, J. 273

Girard, R., 188

Haught, J., 184, 194

God, passim; incarnate in all that

Hausdorff/non Hausdorff space,

is?, 119, 131, 178, 203–10, 240,

349–50, 352

331, 364–65; and matter/flesh,

Hawking, S., 152, 259

168–72; not incarnate in, 125;

Hayes, Z., 51

not limited by space, 26;

heat death, 205

sharing creaturely conditions,

Hegel, G. W. F., 26, 52


Heisenberg, W., 306

God-consciousness, 6, 123, 212, 263

Hellmann, J. A. W., 51 Hewlett, M., 54, 337

Gould, S. J., 155

Hick, J., 2, 15, 316,

Gregersen, N. H., 1–21, 35, 40,

historical methods, 4–5

119, 134, 138, 159, 174–75, 177, 179–80, 208–9, 211, 217,

historicist metaphysics, 13, 15–16, 141, 185, 250, 369, 375

225–51, 265, 273–75, 316,

Holderness, M., 276

331–32, 339–40, 361–79, 382

Holy Saturday, 157, 189–90

Gregory the Great, 37–38, 40, 43


Holy Spirit. See pneumatology


Homo sapiens, 41, 43, 135–36, 212, 277, 336, 339

and cruciform nature, 280–87; and ecology, 45–48; and

Hook, N., 30

embodiment, 256; and evil,

Horrell, D. G., 36–37, 186,

365; full-scope, 17–18, 20–21,


227, 234–39, 241, 275;

horror-defeater, 245, 247, 285

historicist views of, 12–15; and

Hull, D. L., 42, 47, 285

immanence of Logos, 207;

Hunt, C., 36–37, 185, 214, 217,

narrow-scope, 18–19; natural


sense of, 291–97; and the

Hunziker, A., 323

nonhuman creation, 35–37;

hypostatic union, 11, 28, 30–31,

and particularity/universality,

100 Hösle, V., 44

53, 209; plurality of?, 28; as process, 232, 249; purpose of, 81–84; and resurrection,

idolatry, 28, 82–84, 87, 364

122–26, 333; and sacrificial

Illies, C., 44

love, 280; strict sense, 11, 20,

Illingworth, J. R., 54

234–39, 240; and

imago Dei, 128, 195, 335–36

transformation, 213–16;

immanence of God, 84, 92, 134,

transformative, 80, 214–15,

151, 173, 177–78, 206–9, 214,

325; and Trinity, 370–72;

216, 223, 255, 260, 273–74;

uniqueness of, 28–32; why?,

not incarnate, 263


Immanuel, 33, 133, 372

information, 41, 77, 263, 265–66,

incarnation, passim; as/with/in/for,

302–5, 325, 375

32–33, 53, 55, 231, 242–44,

intentionality, 321–27

363–64; as atonement, 83;

interconnectedness, 45–46, 52, 57

biological depth of, 335–41;

Irenaeus, 59, 75, 359

broad-scope, 19–20, 328,

it from bit, 290, 302–5

343–45; broader sense, 84; and church, 97–98; classical views

Jantzen, G. M., 204–6, 236

of, 10–12; contemporary

Jenni, E., 228

models of, 15–21; cosmic,

Jensen, S. F., x

260–62; and creation, 84–92,

Jesus, passim; as iconic qualisign,

157–58, 365–67; and cross, 91;

211, 373; no different physics,



261–62; no heavenly flesh, 7;

Klapwijk, J., 42–44, 46

particularity of, 5, 13, 50, 53,

Knapp, S., 211, 216, 222–23

56, 172, 173, 174, 210–11, 226,

Knight, C., 207, 214

235 (see also scandal of

Knoll, A. H., 28

particularity); as second Adam,

Kochen, S., 296, 299, 305

12, 17, 109, 230; as social

kol-basar. See flesh/sarx

being, 7, 16, 227–28;

Kolmogorov, A., 303–4

uniqueness of, 2, 4, 13–14, 28,

kosmos, positive/negative

31, 50, 52, 181, 238 John Paul II, 124, 153, 200

meanings, 233 Küng, H., 26, 141

John Philoponus of Alexandria, 112 Johnson, E. A., 35, 133–56, 178,

Lampe, G., 30 Landmesser, C., 121

249, 264, 272, 284, 331–32,

Larcher, C., 69

338–39, 348, 362, 371, 382

Lella, A. A., 68

Johnston, M., 364

Leontius of Byzantium, 10

justification by faith, 309, 311,

Lessing, G. E., 4, 13

314, 327

levels of being, 38–41, 44

Justin Martyr, 59, 151

Lincoln, A. T., 50

Justinian, Emperor, 74

Linné, C., 236 liturgy, 125, 150, 213, 217, 184,

Kant, I., 14, 19, 315, 317

220, 287

Kasper, W., 141

Livingstone, E. A., 80

Kauffman, S., 289–307, 382

Lodge, D. M., 180

Kaufman, G., 15, 289, 300

Logos, passim; in cosmos, 258–60;

Keener, C., 73

coterminous with sarx, 231;

Keller, C., 365

connection with order, 107,

Kelly, A., 147, 149

151, 184, 213; embodied/

Kelly, J. N. D., 368

disembodied, 2, 6–7, 135, 235,

Kendall, D., 35

260, 280, 365–68, 370, 376;

kenosis, 146, 175, 186–87, 190,

and flesh/sarx, 122, 178–83,

231, 242, 318, 366

228, 230–34, 247, 263–64,

Kierkegaard, S., 5, 13, 247, 368

268–69, 338–39; and gender,

Kim, J., 331

151, 262; incarnandus, 369; in



life, 265–68; Logos/logoi, 39,

McShea, D. W., 47

102, 104–5, 107–8, 112–13,

McTaggart, J.

207, 213; and love, 276–80,

Mell, U., 218

287; and nomos, 375–77; and

metaphysics, 13, 15–16, 52, 100,

Wisdom, 1, 59–66, 102, 135,

108, 110–12, 114, 205, 250,

179, 225, 226, 362, 365–66,

263, 287, 318, 325, 348, 367,

368, 369; and Word, 1, 3, 260


Logos Christology, ix, 7, 362; embodied/non-embodied, 7 Longo, G., 303

Meyers, M. A., x, 177 microcosm, 37–45, 51, 55–56, 105–6, 108, 184, 227

Louth, A., 38, 39, 105, 110, 207

mind-brain, 297–98

Luther, M./Lutheran, x, 120, 123,

Molhoek, B., 331

246, 309–16, 319, 227, 328, 366–67, 381

Moltmann, J., 30, 35, 47, 55, 119–31, 146, 196, 249–50, 257,

Luz, U., 72–73

262, 269–72, 313, 338, 343,

Lyons, J. A., 50, 52–54

345–46, 369, 372, 382 Monevil, M., 303

MacIntyre, A., 189

Moo, J., 37

Macquarrie, J., 29–30

Mooney, C. F., 52

Mahoney, J., 207

Moritz, J. M., 228, 331, 336–38

Marcellus of Ancyra, 366

Morowitz, H. J., 41

Marcus Aurelius, 235

Muir, J., 149

Marcus, J., 72

Murphy, N., 40, 332, 343

Mascall, E. L., 50

Murphy, R. E., 66, 70

mathematics, 259–60, 263, 266, 303, 349, 370

Naess, A., 273

matter-energy, 136, 257–66, 284

Nagel, T., 376

Maximus the Confessor, 7, 38–39,

Nash, J., 149

99, 101–3, 105–11, 157, 207,

naturalism, 197, 376

367, 383; and evolutionary

neoplatonism, 101, 104, 111, 204

theory, 112–15

Newsom, C. A., 66

McDonagh, S., 138, 261

Newton, I., 284

McDonough, S. M., 36

Nicene Creed, 131, 152, 366, 375

McFague, S., 144, 204, 206

Niebuhr, R., 341



Nielsen, K. B., 368

participation, 31, 35, 162, 166–67,

Niiranen, S., 300

199, 214, 216; divine in

Nissen, U., 368

creation, 27, 45–46, 49, 56,

Nitecki, H., 42, 47

123, 358–59

Nolland, J., 72

Patrick, B., 153

non-locality, 301, 306

Peacocke, A., 40–42, 54, 137, 146,

Northcott, M., 204

197–98, 204–5, 209, 315 Peirce, C. S., 211, 295, 325, 373

O’Collins, G., 7, 27, 35, 52, 59–77, 141, 237, 362, 382

Penrose, R., 258 pentecostalism, 130

O’Hanlon, D. J., 215

perichoresis, 134, 348

Oberman, H. A., 215

Peters, T., 54, 137, 194, 228, 231,

ontology, 13, 113, 185, 193, 325

333, 337, 344, 346, 366

Origen, 50, 99, 130, 163, 234

Peterson, D. J., 228

out of nothing. See ex nihilo

Pétrement, S., 91–92

Owen, T., 335

Philo of Alexandria, 230–31 Pinker, S., 321

Pachomius, 121 Pailin, D., 205

Plato/Platonism, 103, 231, 322, 365

Painter, J., 179

pleroma, 244

Palamas, G., 166

Plotinus, 101

panentheism, 205, 315

pneumatology, 53, 153, 193–96,

panincarnationalism, 2, 206–8

247, 339, 369–71. See also

Panikkar, R., 28


Pannenberg, W., 122, 333–34, 344, 346, 348, 370

Polkinghorne, J., x, 146, 205, 213, 344, 355–59, 365, 373, 382

panpsychism, 376

preexistence. See Christ

pansacramentalism, 213–14

prolepsis, 213, 333–34, 345–47,

pantheism, 27, 178, 197, 208, 236, 357, 365

351 Putz, O., 331, 336

parousia, 92–96, 98 Parrinder, G., 29

qualia, 290, 298–302, 305

partake, 160, 162

quantum entanglement, 290, 301–2, 370



quantum measurement, 290, 294–99, 301–2, 305–6 quantum mechanics, 16, 290–97,

Christ, 95; logic of, 250–51; and physicality, 147; as transformation, 344

301, 306; Feynman’s

revelation, logic of, 238

interpretation, 293–94

Robinson, A., 211, 218, 273

Quash, B., 189, 192 Quick, O. C., 208–10

Rolston III, H., 114–15, 191–92, 245, 255–87, 373, 375–78, 382 Rosenberg, A., 47

Rahner, K., 39, 139, 147–48,

Ross, D., 367

158–59, 168–72, 223, 335–36,

Rosslenbroich, B., 47

339, 372

Ruether, R. R., 204

Ram-Prasad, C., 29

Rushton, K., 179–80

Ramsey, A. M., 30

Russel, N., 163,

Ramsey, I. T., 326

Russell, R. J., 47, 163, 194, 228,

Rasimus, T., 231, 240

243, 258, 260–63, 271, 275,

Raulin, F., 335

331–52, 370, 374, 383

recapitulation, 41

sacraments, 198, 208, 210, 214,

receptivity, degrees of, 166–67

218. See also

reconciliation, 51, 121, 210, 219,


236, 243–45, 257 redemption, 35–36, 129–30, 144,

Santmire, P., 217, 220, 332 scandal of particularity, 3–5, 13,

146, 148–50, 171, 208, 213,

84, 172–74, 210–11, 216, 222,

215, 218, 220–21, 223, 242,

226, 235–36; of individuality,

244, 257, 262, 268–75, 284–86,

4; of materiality, 4; of

314, 338, 341–42, 344–45, 356,

suffering, 4, 91–92

377 Rees, M., 258 Reimarus, H. S., 13

Schillebeeckx, E., 122, 141 Schleiermacher, F., 6, 13, 19, 123, 211

res potentia/res extensa, 295–96

Schloss, J., 194

resonance/dissonance, 226,

Schmemann, A., 220

226–37, 245–46 resurrection, 95, 122–26, 130–31,

Schmid, H. H., 229 Schmitt, J. J., 61

145–50, 243–44, 248, 333,

Schneiders, S., 159, 173–74

343–45, 369–70; body of

Schrödinger equation, 293–95



Schweitzer, A., 141 Scott, M., 179

Stoicism, 111, 180, 205, 230–34, 240, 376

Sedley, N., 232

Strauss, D. F., 52

self-organization, 174–75

Stryer, L., 268

Shannon, C., 303–4

Swinburne, R., 318

Shapland, C. R. B., 165

Szathmáry, E., 41

sin, 37, 104, 109–10, 120, 158, 189, 192, 232, 237, 285,

Tanner, K., 208

312–13, 315, 335, 337, 341–42

Taylor, C., 377

Skrimshire, S., 186

Tertullian, 130, 169, 340

Smith, J. M., 41

TeSelle, E., 52

Smith, O., 185

theodicy: cosmic, 343;

Son, eternal, 1, 3, 6–8, 10–12, 17–18, 28, 30, 45, 49–51, 79, 226–27, 371. See also Logos

evolutionary, 204; natural, 332, 341–43, 346, 351 theo-drama, 178, 185–201, 372

Sorabji, R., 103

this-thus logic, 235

Southgate, C., 36–37, 185,

Thiselton, A. C., 74

203–23, 271, 331–33, 341,

Thunberg, L., 106

373–74, 383

Tietz, C., 368

Spaemann, R., 53

time, as web, 345, 348–49, 352;

Spehr, A., 189

multiply-connected, 275,

Spirit, 63, 152–53; poured out on

345–52; not merely linear,

all flesh, 129–30. See also pneumatology Spirit Christology, two versions of, 29

13–15, 347, 352 Tobin, T. H., 60, 76 Tollefsen, T., 7, 39, 99–115, 367–68, 383

Stăniloae, D., 128

Tomasello, M., 320–22

Stavrakopoulou, F., 36, 185

Toolan, D., 138

Stebbins, G. L., 41

Torrance, T., 159, 170–72, 372

Stewart, J. S., 6, 123

transcendence and immanence,

St. Francis/Franciscan, 38, 51–52, 214, 256 Stoeger, W. R., 40, 47, 332


70, 84, 92, 206 transformation, 36, 80, 91, 107–10, 115, 121, 147, 150,


164, 167, 198, 209, 232, 263,

Westermann, C., 228–29

270, 272, 325, 333, 344, 346,

Wheeler, J. A., 259, 266, 290,

377 transformative, 55, 77, 80, 97, 150,

302–5 White, V., 210

196, 215–16, 222, 309, 315,

Wigner, E. P., 259

319, 325–26, 328, 329

Wildman, W., 173, 195

Trinity/Trinitarian, 10, 28, 30, 33,

Wiles, M., 2

79, 101–2, 133, 162, 168, 171,

Wilken, R. L., 100, 109

186–90, 196, 208, 271, 319,

Williams, G. C., 266

328, 341, 348, 359, 367

Winston, D., 69

Troeltsch, E., 13

Wisdom/Sophia, 66–71, 181–83,

Turner, D., 214

200, 222, 240; as Christ, 36,

two-natures doctrine. See

71–74, 173; feminine, 66, 67,

Chalcedonian Creed and

152, 362; inaccessibility, 67;


and spirit, 63–64, 70, 162; as word, 59–66, 68–69, 134–35,

Underhill, E., 194 universe observing itself?, 290, 297–307 universe as protosentient?, 302

138, 145, 160–61, 179, 339 Witherington, B., 179 Wittgenstein, L., 264, 378 Word. See Logos and Wisdom world, as God’s body?, 204–6, 236

Vattay, G., 301 Vinicius, L., 41 Wandschneider, D., 44, 47 Weeks, S., 66–68

worship, 32, 82, 83, 87, 97, 212, 217, 220, 375 wrath, divine, 27, 187–88 Young, F. M., 100

Weigel, G., 216–17 Weissenbacher, A., 331

Zander, H. C., 121

Welker, M., 122, 129, 194, 230

Zwingli, U., 366


Incarnation takes the reader on a journey from New Testament and early church views of incarnation to contemporary understandings of Christology. A prominent group of scholars explores and debates the idea of “deep incarnation”—the view that the divine incarnation in Jesus presupposes a radical embodiment that reaches into the roots of material and biological existence, as well as into the darker sides of creation. Such a wide-scope view of incarnation allows Christology to be meaningful when responding to the challenges of scientific cosmology and global religious pluralism.


Exploring the meaning of the incarnation in a scientific age—

Contents Introduction – Niels Henrik Gregersen Part 1: Creation and Incarnation: New Testament and Early Church Perspectives 1. The Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ – Richard Bauckham 2. Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: A Biblical and Theological Reflection – Gerald O’Collins, SJ 3. Saint Athanasius on “Incarnation” – John Behr 4. Saint Maximus the Confessor on Creation and Incarnation – Torstein Theodor Tollefsen Part 2: Deep Incarnation: Perspectives from Contemporary Systematic Theology

Part 3: Divine Presence and Incarnation: Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives 11. Divine Presence—Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform: From Information to Incarnation – Holmes Rolston III 12. Natural Incarnation: From the Possible to the Actual – Stuart Kauffman 13. Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework – Dirk Evers 14. Jesus: The Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time – Robert John Russell Part 4: Concluding Reflections 15. Afterword: Reservations – John Polkinghorne 16. Deep Incarnation: Opportunities and Challenges – Niels Henrik Gregersen Niels Henrik Gregersen is professor of systematic theology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Gregersen also holds his PhD from the University of Copenhagen. His primary research fields are systematic theology and science and religion. He is author of five books and has edited a dozen volumes in the fields of theology and science and religion, most recently (with physicist Paul Davies) Information and the Nature of Reality (2014). Religion / Christology / Theology and Science


5. Is God Incarnate in All That Is? – Jürgen Moltmann 6. Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology – Elizabeth A. Johnson 7. Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius – Denis Edwards 8. The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation – Celia Deane-Drummond 9. Depth, Sign, and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation – Christopher Southgate 10. The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation – Niels Henrik Gregersen