Holloway on… Jesus: The Self-Conscious Manifestation of God - Part 1
Holloway on… Jesus: The Self-Conscious Manifestation of God - Part 1
In dialogue once with hostile scribes Jesus Christ asked “How can the theologians (scribes) say that the Christ is the son of David, for David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit calls him Lord. How then is he his son?” And they were not able to answer him. (1) For Jewish tradition, with magnificent truth, forbade any king, however high, to accept the title of “Lord” from his father. Out of the life of his father came his own life in subjection. His father was forever his Lord. The Holy Spirit, author and vindicator of the Law, inspirer of the Holy Writ, would not belie his own ordinance. They could not answer him. St. Paul gives the answer, almost as if the question had been put to him: “And to them (the Israelites) belong the patriarchs, and of them the Christ, according to the flesh; the same being God over all things, blessed for ever and ever.” (2) The Son of God made Son of Man has two sources of generation, one from eternity, the other from David, through Mary Virgin, in time. Only by his Self-Revelation could the Son of God reveal the meaning of the Spirit whose words are the prophecy in sacred scripture.
The reality of our being
Likewise we must say to those theologians (scribes) who teach a ‘kenotic’ theory of Christ’s consciousness of His own Person and oneness of being with the Father — if Christ is to manifest Himself as God, how can He not be conscious of Godhead, literally and factually so? It is a gross misuse of St. Paul to insinuate that he teaches that Christ emptied out his consciousness of his own being and person. On the contrary, Paul teaches that Christ knew that he was in the ‘reality of God’ (morphe) and thought it no robbery to be equal to God. Yet, he emptied himself, taking on the outward appearance (schemati) of man. Then, going further yet, he emptied himself yet more, being obedient to a criminal’s death, even death by crucifixion. (3) St. Paul indeed implies by his very words that Christ consciously emptied Himself of his proper form and reality. If he did it consciously, then indeed He knew who he was, at all times, and all the time.
Consciousness as Being
Who was Jesus the Christ? We have it from St. John that He was the Eternal Word, who was with the Father in the beginning and who was God. We have it from John that in this Word was Light — light that was the life of humankind: through that Word, that Intelligence, all things were made, and without Him was made nothing that was made, either visible or invisible. Can you have an Eternal Word, the Intelligence through whom all things are made, the true Light of every man that comes into this world, who revealing Himself and being manifest in the flesh, does not know who He is? Does it make the slightest bit of sense, or is it an unconscious but quite dreadful blasphemy against the Divinity of that One Same Word, Eternal as the Father, now made man “for us men, and for our salvation”?
What is conscious personality in ourselves? Is it not the full, the existential reality of our being, grasped and possessed in fulfilment as being, as knowledge, as love, as our full self ... is this not my consciousness of being me? Consciousness is my being, through all that my nature is and possesses, rejoicing in the rich experience of existence. In us who are creatures, this experience of richness can and should grow, for we are not self-defined, self-determined, nor self-fulfilled. We should grow, and the conscious joy of being should grow, even as according to his manhood the boy Jesus grew “in wisdom, age, and favour before God and men.” (4) The personality of Christ is the personality of God. In our own personality we experience the richness of being, of our existence, through the nature that we possess. In Jesus Christ, the person who was God must experience the richness of his personality through the natures, plural, which He possesses. In ourselves, all that we possess, including our bodily senses and feeling, are experienced through that ‘personality’ which is active from the peak of our being, and through which, and unto which, all the experiences of both soul and body are drawn up, and through which they are coordinated in the rightful order of our twofold nature, as body and as soul.
“I Am” Spans God’s Nature and Experience
Can we think that in Jesus Christ, the person in Him did not experience, necessarily and always, the richness of his being through the divine nature which He possessed and through which alone that ‘personality’ of His was defined? For Jesus, to experience the joy of existence which defines His being is to know and love Himself as “from the Father, in the love which is the Holy Spirit”. For God to know Himself in the simple, unsplittable richness of the experience of being God is to know “MYSELF” as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; one I AM. The divine persons of this necessary Trinity, through which God’s Unity is defined, cannot be unaware of each other, cannot be siphoned off from each other. For Jesus, if He is Divine, is always to know the Father and to love the Father in the Holy Spirit: this is the experience of being God, and also of being the second Person of that Trinity through which the divine nature necessarily is, and through which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit experience themselves as One God. Approaches to Christology which deny this necessary, simple fact either have not worked out and in humility understood from the whole philosophy and theology of the Church’s present and past what must be so ... or else, they proceed from a first, deeply unconscious approach to Jesus Christ which does not accept his transcendence, nor his eternal pre-existence, nor his identity and equality of being with the Father.
The prayerful reader
For the prayerful reader, the understanding and love of Jesus, as He is for us and was for us, must come from reading the bible and from the liturgy of the Church and the great saints of the Church (not forgetting the principal documents of the Church), for in these sources the life, the consciousness of Jesus, who He is, is breathed out for us. Take St. John — it is impossible to give constant texts; the entire Gospel of John is the revelation to men, and especially to the intellectual and sophisticated Christian, of Jesus, who He was. (5) For this the ‘beloved disciple’ was raised up: for this he was and became the beloved disciple, that he might enter into the self-consciousness of the Word made Flesh and reveal to us, in prayer and teaching, in parable and assertion, in meditation, power, and in pain, the complex consciousness of Jesus the Christ. It is useless to claim that “John gives us only a theological meditation, not the actual words of Christ”. John gives us in words and ethos the impact, with word, power, fact and feeling, of what Jesus did and Jesus said. Who formed this mind and heart, this way of speaking in St. John? Did the facts he relates, the claims he makes, ever find denial in the early Church or in the great Fathers of the Church? Do or do not the first great Councils of the Christian Church base themselves solidly on his doctrine of Christ and his vision of Christ? Besides, the Synoptics themselves, Matthew, Mark and Luke, echo this doctrine; so does Peter in his doctrine of our being made through Christ “co-sharers of the divine nature”; so above all does Paul in the Letters to the Romans, the Ephesians, the Colossians, the Philippians, the Hebrews, in the most explicit manner. (6) The doctrine of St. Paul is, in fact, the universal, the cosmic application of the doctrine that John manifests in Christ’s teaching concerning Himself, and in Christ’s meditative prayer unto the Father through the Holy Spirit of them both. John also makes a cosmic application, harder to penetrate than Paul’s, because again more intimately and inwardly of the divine self-realisation of Jesus, in the Book of the Apocalypse.
The “Thunder” of St. John
In an article it is impossible to delineate and analyse texts, at least in their abundance. We can however ask: does St. John insinuate this consciousness of being God which permeates the whole personality on earth of Jesus the Christ, and which defines his nature as He knew Himself, through the Father, in the Spirit? It is clear from the very opening Prologue of the Gospel according to John. This Prologue is a summary of the whole work, life and mission of Jesus from the Divine Self-Possession to the bestowal on men of the birthright of those who are born not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God. It spans the conscious identity of the Word through and from the Father; the nature of the Word as God — “and the Word was God” — and follows through to his vocation as the life and light of men, the coming of the Heir with grief and rejection unto his own things (not own people), and His perseverance in the divine work of Redemption. Redemption is the gift of being made co-sharers in the divine nature.
And finally it states one other thing. That other indication of St. John is mistranslated in our Jerusalem bible as “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known”. The Greek, the Old Latin of the Vulgate, and the Revised Standard Version (the most humbly accurate of modern English texts) translate “who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known”. To say that Christ has his being in the bosom of the Father is to state unity of being, equal Divinity, and Christ’s consciousness, in his Divine Person, of his own divine being. To say “nearest to the Father’s heart” speaks the merest Adoptionism of this man, Jesus Christ. In fact, it says nothing at all except “the most loved”. It is a patent mistranslation, and to be denounced as such. Interestingly, the most ancient of the Greek readings, and the one accepted by the Pontifical Biblical Institute in their edition of the critical Greek New Testament (Augustine Merk, 1938), reads “God the Only-Begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has expounded Him.”
The earliest Fathers of the Church
Apart from the occurrence of this reading in the earliest of the Fathers of the Church, this reading is the more likely because it concludes the Prologue of St. John, at the end of the summary of the life’s work of Christ, with the proclamation which begins it: “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: the Same was in the Beginning with God.” Thus in the beginning of his Prologue, so akin as a summary in epic style to the first chapter of Genesis, St. John proclaims the divinity and the divine personality of the Word made Flesh. This again, is to present Christ in the Prologue as ‘alpha’ and to conclude it with Christ as ‘omega’. This presentation of Christ, together with the explicit naming of Jesus as “the Alpha and the Omega”, occurs also in the Book of the Apocalypse, which the tradition of the Church rightly attributes also to John the Evangelist.
The revealing of God
The Greek word (exēgeisthai), which we commonly translate “reveal” or “declare” in the above passage from the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel, means to tell at length, to describe, and therefore one presumed to render it as ‘expound Him’. For John is making the profound distinction between the prophetic word which, though guaranteed and holy, can never penetrate with authority to God’s own inner being and self-expression (“No man has seen God at any time, the Only-Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father. He has made Him known”), and the Word of the Living Truth, divine, absolute, certain in his Magisterium. This revealing of God, in God the Only-Begotten, is more than the revelation of a word or the gospel of the true good. It is the revelation of a communion of life and love — for the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (7) Upon this vision of Christ, this preaching, and this experience of Christ in prayer and liturgy, the very constitution and self-manifestation of the Catholic Church has always depended. From this experience of the Christ the Church’s own conscious awareness of her own divine magisterium proceeds. The infallibility which crowns her solemn witness in faith and in morals is the voice of The Word who is the Living Word of God. That Word may, through the Holy Spirit, speak again and again to develop and to fulfil. It can never unspeak what in the past has been said of faith or laid upon the consciences of the people as solemn obligation. For the Church is conscious in herself on earth of the voice of the Living God.
The word of prophecy
Here is the difference between the word of prophecy — as of Moses or of The Law — and the Word who fulfills every partial prophetic word in his Living Self-Consciousness as God. Such a presentation of Christ is the whole ethos of the Gospel according to John. It comes across to us most fully in that “Sacerdotal Prayer” which concludes the public teaching of Jesus on the eve of his Passion. (8) It is the thoughts and aspirations of Christ in these chapters which alone, and fully, explain the dramatic and explicit sixth chapter of St. John, the revelation of Him who is “the Bread of Life” to men, and the statement that “as the Living Father has sent Me, and I live through the Father, so he that eats of Me, the same shall live through Me”. Did ever man speak, like this man? Could ever sane human, being only creature, conceive the thoughts that this man spoke? Could He speak this way and not be conscious of sheer Godhead in person? Could He reveal what he said as true doctrine and not be consciously God in person? Did ever man speak like this man? The Temple police of Jesus day posed this question. We pose it also to the theologians of our own day.
This is a slightly edited version of the first half of Fr.Holloway’s editorial for the January/February 1987 edition of FAITH. It will be concluded in our next issue.
1 Matt 22:42-46
2 Rom 9:5
3 Phil 2:5-11
4 John, Prologue passim; Luke 2.40-52
5 Representative texts are John, Prologue; 3.12-18; 3.31-36; 5.1718,21-29; 6 passim; 7.46; 8.12,51-59; 10.14-31
6 See e.g. Rom 8.9-17; 9.1-6; Eph 1.21; 2.18-22; 3.9; Phil 2.5-11; Col 1.12-20; 2 Cor 4.4-7; 5.19; Heb 1 passim; 2.10-18; 5.5; 11 & 12 (Jesus as author and finisher of Faith); 2 Pet 1.1-5
7 John 1.17-18
8 John 17 passim