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In our time, the question of Jesus Christ has come to be raised with new sharpness at the levels of both piety and theology. Many new elements are being contributed by biblical studies and by historical research on the great Christological councils. With fresh insistence, men and women in our time pose the questions raised long ago: "Who is this man?" (cf. Lk 7:49) "Where did he get all this? What kind of wisdom is he endowed with? How is it that such miraculous deeds are accomplished by his hands?" (Mk 6:2). Obviously, no answers to these questions will do if merely confined to the domain of the history of religions.

In the course of these recent inquiries, valuable avenues have been opened up. But tensions have developed as well, not only among experts in theology but also between some of these and the teaching office of the Church.

This situation has induced the International Theological Commission to take part in this extensive exchange of ideas in the hope that it will be able to contribute some appropriate clarifications. As it will soon appear, the International Theological Commission has not undertaken the ambitious project of presenting a complete Christology. It has deemed it wiser to bring its attention to bear on some points of particular importance, or on points whose difficulty has been brought to light by contemporary discussions.


A. Historical Inquiries

1. Jesus Christ, the object referent of the Church’s Faith, is neither a myth nor any sort of abstract notion. He is a man who lived in a concrete milieu and who died after having lived his own life within the unfolding of a historical process. It follows that historical research concerning Jesus Christ is demanded by the Christian Faith itself. That such research is fraught with difficulties is a fact we know full well from the twists and turns it has taken in the course of time.

1.1. The New Testament does not intend to convey mere historical information concerning Jesus. It seeks above all to hand down the witness that ecclesial faith bears concerning Jesus and to present him in the fullness of his significance as "Christ" (Messiah) and as "Lord" (Kyrios, God). This witness is an expression of faith and seeks to elicit faith. A "biography" of Jesus in the modern sense of this word cannot be produced, if it were taken to entail a precise and detailed account. However, the same applies to various personages in antiquity and in the Middle Ages. Besides, we should not draw from this fact excessively pessimistic conclusions as to the possibility of coming to know the historical life of Jesus. Today’s biblical scholarship shows well why we should not.

1.2. More often than not in the last few centuries, historical research on Jesus has been directed against the Christological dogma. And yet this antidogmatic sentiment is not a necessary precondition for the appropriate application of the historical-critical method. Within the boundaries proper to exegetical research, it is certainly legitimate to reconstruct a purely historical image of Jesus, or to put it more realistically, to bring to light and test the historicity of certain facts relative to the historical existence of Jesus.

However, some have undertaken to reconstruct images of Jesus by discarding the witness of the early communities. These scholars believed that, by following this course, they would attain to a historical view both complete and precise. Implicitly and explicitly, however, these researchers are ruled by philosophical prejudices of greater or lesser scope, prejudices that stipulate what modernity expects the ideal man to be. Others are controlled by psychological suspicions concerning the consciousness of Jesus.

1.3. Today’s Christologies must be careful not to lapse into these errors. The danger is particularly great for the so-called Christologies from below according to the extent to which they aim to depend on a purely historical kind of research. There is no doubt as to anyone’s right to take into account the most recent exegetical inquiries, but we also need to be cautious, lest we should in turn fall victim to the prejudices mentioned above.

B. Unity of the Earthly Jesus and the Glorified Christ

The great value of scholarly inquiries on the Jesus of history is beyond doubt. Inquiries of this sort are particularly important for fundamental theology and in exchanges with nonbelievers. All the same, a truly Christian knowledge of Jesus cannot rest content with these limited perspectives. Our knowledge of the Person and work of Jesus Christ is inadequate as long as we dissociate the Jesus of history from the Christ as proclaimed. We cannot secure a full knowledge of Jesus unless we take into account the living Faith of the Christian community, which sustains this vision of the facts. This applies whether we seek historical knowledge of Jesus, or inquire into the origins of the New Testament, or engage in Christological reflection.

2.1. The New Testament texts are themselves intent upon fostering an ever deeper knowledge and acceptance of faith. Hence, they do not envisage Jesus Christ in keeping with the perspective proper to the literary genre of pure history or biography—retrospectively, as it were. The universal and eschatological significance credited to the message and Person of Jesus Christ requires that a mere historical evocation should be transcended just as much as purely functional interpretations. Besides, the modern notion of history, advocated by some in opposition to the Faith and according to which history is the bare and objective presentation of a reality now past, differs from history as antiquity understood it to be.

2.2. The substantive and radical unity between the Jesus of history and the glorified Christ pertains to the very essence of the Gospel message. Should Christological inquiry limit itself to the Jesus "of history", it would be incompatible with the essence and structure of the New Testament, even before being disavowed from without by a religious authority.

2.3. Theology can grasp the meaning and import of the Resurrection of Jesus only in the light of the event of his death. Likewise, theology cannot understand the meaning of Jesus’ death except in the light of his life, deeds, and message. The totality and coherence of the saving event that is Jesus Christ imply his life, death, and Resurrection.

2.4. The original and primitive synthesis of the earthly Jesus with the risen Christ surfaces in various "confessional formulas" and "homologies", which mention at the same time and with the same particular insistence, both the death and the Resurrection of Jesus. Together with Romans l:3ff., we can quote, among other texts, 1 Corinthians 15:3—4: "I handed on to you first of all what I myself received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures." These texts posit an authentic connection between the story of a man and the significance of Jesus Christ, which endures forever. In a nutshell, they set forth "the history of the essence" of Jesus Christ. This synthesis continues to be an example and a model for any genuine Christology to follow.

2.5. This Christological synthesis does not only presuppose the confession of faith of the Christian community in its dimension as historical fact; it also shows that, by her presence in the various periods of history, the Church continues to be the place where the true knowledge of the Person and work of Jesus Christ is to be found. Apart from the assistance provided by the mediation of ecclesial faith, the knowledge of Jesus Christ is no more possible today than in New Testament times. Outside the ecclesial context, there is no Archimedean lever, even though, ontologically, our Lord always preserves vis-a-vis the Church the priority of his position and his primacy.

2.6. Within this broader framework, a return to the earthly Jesus is beneficial and indispensable today in the field of dogmatic theology. The untold riches of Jesus’ humanity need be brought to light more effectively than was done by the Christologies of the past. As Pope John Paul II has said in his encyclical Redemptor hominis, 8-10, Jesus Christ illustrates and illuminates to the highest possible degree the ultimate measure and the concrete essence of man. Looked upon from this perspective, Jesus’ brotherhood and solidarity with us by no means detract from his divinity. It will appear in what follows that the Christological dogma, authentically understood, precludes all pseudo-opposition between the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

2.7. The Holy Spirit, who disclosed Jesus as the Christ, imparts to the faithful the very life of the triune God. He evokes and quickens the faith in Jesus as Son of God, raised to glory and present within human history.

This is what the Catholic Faith affirms. This is also the faith of all Christians to the extent to which these, in going beyond the New Testament, faithfully preserve the Christological dogmas of the Fathers of the Church, proclaiming them, teaching them, and bearing witness to them in the depth of their lives.


A. From the New Testament to the Council of Nicaea

1. The theologians who in our time raise doubts about the divinity of Christ often argue that this dogma cannot have emerged from genuine biblical revelation; its origins are traceable to Hellenism. Deeper historical inquiries show, on the contrary, that the thought pattern of the Greeks was totally alien to this dogma and that they rejected it with the utmost vigor. To the faith of Christians who proclaimed the divinity of Christ, Hellenism opposed its own dogma of the divine transcendence, which it regarded as irreconcilable with the contingency inherent to the human history of Jesus of Nazareth. Greek philosophers experienced the particular difficulty entailed in accepting the notion of a divine incarnation. In the name of their teaching on the godhead, Platonist philosophers regarded this notion as unthinkable. The Stoics, in turn, could not manage to reconcile the Christological dogma with their cosmological doctrine.

2. It was in order to respond to these difficulties that, more or less openly, many Christian theologians borrowed from Hellenism the notion of a secondary god (deuteros theos), or of an intermediate god, or even of a demiurge. Obviously, this was tantamount to clearing the way to the threat of subordinationism. This subordinationism was already latent in some of the Apologists and in Origen. Arius made a formal heresy of it. He maintained that the Son occupies an intermediate position between the Father and the creatures. The Arian heresy offers a good illustration of how the dogma of Christ’s divinity would have looked had it truly emerged from the philosophy of Hellenism and not from God’s own revelation. At the Council of Nicaea in a.d. 325, the Church defined that the Son is consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father. In so doing, the Church both repudiated the Arian compromise with Hellenism and deeply altered the shape of Greek, especially Platonist and neo-Platonist, metaphysics. In a manner of speaking, it demythicized Hellenism and effected a Christian purification of it. In the act of dismissing the notion of an intermediate being, the Church recognized only two modes of being: uncreated (nonmade) and created.

To be sure, "homoousios", the term used by the Council of Nicaea, is a philosophical and nonbiblical term. It is evident all the same that, ultimately, the Fathers of the Council only intended to express the authentic meaning of the New Testament assertions concerning Christ, and to do this in a way that would be univocal and free from all ambiguity.

In issuing this definition of Christ’s divinity, the Church found support also in the experience of salvation and in man’s divinization in Christ. In turn, the dogmatic definition impressed its own determination and mark on the experience of salvation. There was, then, an in-depth interaction between lived experience and the process whereby theological clarification was achieved.

3. The theological reflections of the Fathers of the Church did not ignore the special problem connected with the divine preexistence of Christ. Note in particular Hippolytus of Rome, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Photinus. Their attempts are bent on presenting the preexistence of Christ not at the level of ontological reality but at that of intentionality: Christ had preexisted in the sense of having been foreseen (kata prognosin).

These presentations of the preexistence of Christ were judged inadequate by the Catholic Church and condemned. Thus the Church gave expression to her own belief in an ontological preexistence of Christ, for which it found support in the Father s eternal generation of the Word. The Church also referred to the clear-cut New Testament affirmations concerning the active role played by the Word of God in the creation of the world. Obviously, someone who does not yet exist, or is only intended to exist, cannot play any such role.

B. The Council of Chalcedon

4. The whole Christological theology of the Church Fathers is concerned with the metaphysical and salvific identity of Christ. It undertakes to answer these questions: "What is Jesus?" "Who is Jesus?" "How does Jesus save us?" We can, therefore, look upon the theology as an understanding on the move, and as a theological and dynamic articulation of the mystery of God s perfect transcendence and immanence in Christ. For this quest for meaning is conditioned by the convergence of two sets of data: on the one hand, the Old Testament Faith proclaims that God is wholly transcendent; on the other, there is the Christ event, which is thought of as God s own personal and eschatological intervention in the world. The immanence here in question is a superior one, qualitatively different from the indwelling of God’s Spirit in the prophets. The affirmation of transcendence is nonnegotiable. It is postulated by the affirmation of the full and authentic divinity of the Christ. It is likewise indispensable if we are to go beyond so-called reductive Christologies: Ebionism, Adoptionism, Arianism. It also makes it possible to refute the thesis, monophysite in inspiration, that posits an admixture of God and man in Jesus, the result being that the immutability and impassibility of God are undone. On the other hand, the idea of immanence, bound up as it is with the belief in the Incarnation of the Word, makes it possible to affirm against the docetism of the Gnostics the real and authentic humanity of Christ.

5. During the controversies between the schools of Antioch and Alexandria, it was difficult to perceive how transcendence, that is, the distinction between the two natures, could be reconciled with immanence, that is, the hypostatic union. In a.d. 451 the Council of Chalcedon (DS 301-2) undertook to show how the two viewpoints could be reconciled by having recourse to two expressions at the same time: "without confusion" (asygchytos) and "without division" (adiairetos). We can see there the apophatic equivalent of the formula that affirms "the two natures and the one hypostasis" of Christ. "Without confusion" obviously refers to the two natures and asserts that the humanity of Jesus is an authentic one. In keeping with the wishes of the anti-Arians, this formula bears witness at the same time to God’s transcendence, for God is said to remain God, while man remains man. It excludes any intermediate state between divinity and humanity. "Without division" proclaims the very deep and irreversible union of God and man in the person of the world. God’s full immanence in the world is asserted as well. It is on this immanence that Christian salvation and man’s divinization are grounded.

In these assertions the conciliar Fathers attained a new level in their perception of transcendence, for the transcendence they asserted is not only "theological" but "Christological". No longer are we told only that God infinitely transcends man but that the Christ, both God and man, infinitely transcends the whole human kind and all history. According to the Council’s Fathers, the absolute and universal character of the Christian Faith resides in this second mode of transcendence, which is both eschatological and ontological.

6. What, then, does the Council of Chalcedon represent in the history of Christology? The dogmatic definition of Chalcedon does not pretend to offer an exhaustive answer to the question "How can God and man coexist in Christ?" It is precisely in this coexistence that the mystery of the Incarnation resides. No definition can exhaust the richness of this mystery by means of affirmative utterances. It behooves rather to proceed by way of negation and mark off a place from which we may not depart. Within this place of truth, the Council locates the "one" and the "other", which seemingly exclude each other: transcendence and immanence, God and man. Both these aspects must be asserted unrestrictedly, while excluding anything that would smack of juxtaposition or admixture. In Christ, then, transcendence and immanence are perfectly conjoined.

In view of the cognitional categories and methods employed, one can take the view that the New Testament has undergone a measure of Hellenization. Yet, on the other hand, the definition of Chalcedon radically transcends Greek thought, for it lets coexist two viewpoints that Greek philosophy had always regarded as irreconcilable: divine transcendence, the very soul of the Platonic system, and divine immanence, which is the spirit of the Stoic theory.

C. The Third Council of Constantinople

7. In order to establish a correct Christological doctrine, we must not limit ourselves to taking into account the development of ideas that resulted in the Council of Chalcedon. In addition, we must pay attention to the last Christological councils, and especially to the Third Council of Constantinople in a.d. 681 (DS 556ff.).

In the definition of this Council, the Church demonstrated her ability to clarify the Christological problem better than she had already done at the Council of Chalcedon. By the same token, she showed her readiness to reexamine the Christological questions because of the new difficulties that had surfaced in the meantime. She wanted to deepen still further a knowledge she had acquired by pondering what Sacred Scripture had to say concerning Jesus Christ.

The Lateran Council in a.d. 649 (DS 502ff.) had condemned monothelism and thereby paved the way for the Third Ecumenical Council of Constantinople. In the year a.d. 649, thanks largely to Saint Maximus the Confessor, the Church set forth more clearly the essential role that the human will of Christ had played in the work of our salvation. By the same token, she had also underlined the relation between this free human will and the hypostasis of the Word. For in this Council the Church declares that our salvation had been willed by a Divine Person through a human will. So interpreted in the light of the Lateran Council, the definition of the Third Council of Constantinople is rooted in the doctrine of the Fathers of the Church and of the Council of Chalcedon. But, on the other hand, it also helps us in a very special way to respond to the exigencies of our time in the matter of Christology These exigencies tend to afford a better perception of the place occupied in the salvation of mankind by the humanity of Christ and by the various "mysteries" of his life on earth, such as his baptism, his temptations, and the "agony" of Gethsemane.


A. Christology and Anthropology in the Perspectives of Modern Culture

1. In a sense, Christology must take on and integrate the vision that contemporary man acquires of himself and of his own history through the reinterpretation that the Church makes available to the believer. In this fashion, we can remedy the imperfections that Christology derives from an excessively narrow use of what is referred to as "nature". We can also link to Christ, who brings all things under his headship (Eph 1:10), what contemporary culture legitimately contributes to a more precise perception of the human condition.

2. The confrontation of Christology with contemporary culture contributes to the new and deeper knowledge that man acquires today about himself. On the other hand, Christology probes into the truth of that knowledge; when necessary, it submits it to a criterion of its own, as is the case, for instance, in the spheres of politics and religion. This applies particularly to the latter. Religion is either negated and totally repudiated by atheism, or it is interpreted as a means of attaining to the ultimate depths of all things, without reference to a transcendent and personal God. As a result, religion risks assuming the appearance of pure "alienation" from humanness, while Christ loses his identity and uniqueness. In both cases, the result, logically, is this: the human condition loses its dignity, and Christ sheds his primacy and greatness. There is no remedy for this situation unless anthropology be renewed in the light of the mystery of Christ.

3. Paul’s doctrine of the two Adams (cf. 1 Cor 15:21; Rom 5:12-19) is the Christological principle in terms of which the confrontation with human culture is to go forward and gain clarity, as well as the criterion in terms of which the merits of contemporary inquiries in the field of anthropology are to be assessed. Given the parallelism between the two Adams, Christ, who is the second and last Adam, cannot be understood without taking into account the first Adam, that is, our human condition. The first Adam, on the other hand, is perceived in the truth and wholeness of his humanity only if he makes himself accessible to Christ who saves and divinizes us by his life, death, and Resurrection.

B. The Genuine Meaning of Today’s Difficulties

4. Many of our contemporaries experience difficulties when the dogma of the Council of Chalcedon is presented to them. Terms such as "nature" and "person", which the Fathers of the Council use, undoubtedly retain the same meaning in today’s parlance, but the realities they denote are referred to in the various philosophical terminologies by different concepts. For many, the phrase "human nature" no longer denotes a shared and immutable essence; it evokes only a pattern or a summary of the phenomena that, in most cases, we happen to observe in people. Very often, the concept of person is defined in psychological terms to the detriment of the ontological aspect of personhood.

Today many voice even severer difficulties with regard to the soteriological aspects of the Christological dogmas. They recoil from any notion of salvation that would inject heteronomy into existence as project [the plan of life]. They take exception to what they regard as the purely individualistic character of Christian salvation. The promise of a blessedness to come seems to them a Utopia that distracts people away from their genuine obligations, which, in their view, are all confined to this world. They want to know what it is that mankind had to be redeemed from and to whom the ransom had to be paid. They grow indignant at the contention that God could have exacted the blood of an innocent person, a notion in which they sense a streak of sadism. They argue against what is known as "vicarious satisfaction" (that is, through a mediator) by saying that this mode of satisfaction is ethically impossible. If it is true that every conscience is autonomous, they argue, no conscience can be freed by another. Finally, some of our contemporaries lament the fact that they cannot find in the life of the Church and of the faithful the lived expression of the mystery of liberation that is proclaimed.

C. Permanent Significance of the Christological Faith as to Intent and Content

5. In spite of all these difficulties, the Christological doctrine of the Church and the dogma defined at the Council of Chalcedon most especially retain a definitive value. It is no doubt permissible, and it may indeed be opportune, to seek a deeper understanding of that dogma, but it can never be allowable to reject it. Historically speaking, it is a mistake to say that, at Chalcedon, the Fathers of the Council bent the Christian dogma to suit Hellenistic ideas. On the other hand, the contemporary difficulties mentioned above show that some of our contemporaries are profoundly ignorant as to the authentic meaning of the Christological dogma. Nor do they entertain a correct view of the truth of the God who creates the visible and invisible world.

In order to attain to faith in Christ and in the salvation that he brings, we need to accept a number of truths that account for the Christ and his salvation. The living God is love (1 Jn 4:8), and through love he created all things. At the dawn of time, this living God—Father, Son, and sanctifying Spirit—created man in his own image and conferred upon him the dignity of a person endowed with reason in the middle of the world. In the fullness of time, the triune God crowned his own work in Christ Jesus. He made Christ the mediator of the peace and Covenant he was offering to the whole world for the benefit of all human beings and for all time to come. Jesus Christ is the perfect human being: he lives entirely from and for God the Father. At the same time, he lives entirely with human beings, and for their salvation, that is, for their fulfillment. He is, therefore, the example and the sacrament of the new humanity.

The life of Christ affords us a fresh understanding of God and of man as well. Just as "the God of Christians" is new and specific, so too "the man of Christians’’ is new and original, when compared with all the other conceptions of man. God’s condescension (Tit 3:4) and, if the word be allowed, his "humanity", establish a solidarity between God and humans through the Incarnation, which is a deed of love. They also make possible a new man who finds his glory in service, not in domination.

Christ’s existence is for the benefit of people (pro-existentia). For their sakes, he takes on the form of a servant (cf. Phil 2:7); for them he dies and rises to a true life (cf. Rom 4:24). This life of Christ, lived as it is for the sake of others, helps us to perceive that, for man, genuine autonomy consists neither in superiority nor in opposition. A man animated by a spirit of superiority (supra-existentia) seeks to stand out in front and dominate others. When controlled by a spirit of opposition (contra-existentia), man treats others unjustly and seeks to manipulate them.

A conception of human life derived from the life of Christ comes at first as a shock. This is indeed the reason why it demands conversion of everyone, and not only once at the beginning but continuously and through perseverance until the end. Such conversion as this can emerge only from a freedom renewed by love.

D. The Need to Actualize Christological Doctrine and Preaching

6. As history takes its course, and cultural changes occur, the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon and Constantinople III must always be actualized in the consciousness and preaching of the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This indispensable actualization is an obligation binding both upon the theologians and upon the apostolic solicitude of shepherds and faithful.

6.1. The task of theologians is, first of all, to construct a synthesis in which are underlined all the aspects and all the values of the mystery of Christ. Into their synthesis theologians need draw the authentic findings of biblical exegesis, and of the research on the history of salvation. Moreover, they will have to give appropriate consideration to the manner in which the religions of the various peoples manifest a concern for salvation, and to the way in which people generally attempt to secure authentic liberation. Just as much must they be mindful of the teachings of saints and doctors.

A synthesis of this kind cannot but enrich the formula of Chalcedon through more soteriological perspectives. It will thus convey its full meaning to the phrase "Christ died for us."

Theologians must also devote their full attention to perenially difficult questions; for example, the questions relative to the consciousness and knowledge of Christ and to the manner of conceiving the absolute and universal value of the redemption effected by Christ for all and once for all.

6.2. Let us now turn to the whole Church, God’s messianic people. This Church is entrusted with the task of letting all human beings, and all nations, share in the mystery of Christ. To be sure, this mystery is the same for all, and yet it must be set forth so that all should be able to assimilate it and celebrate it in their own lives and cultures. This task is all the more imperative in view of the fact that, in our time, the Church is increasingly conscious of the originality and value of the various cultures. It is through their cultures that people express, through symbols, gestures, notions, and specific languages, the meaning they credit to life. This brings with it certain consequences. The mystery has been revealed to the holy people whom God chose; Christians have believed it, professed it, celebrated it. This is a fact that cannot be duplicated in history. And yet, to an extent, this mystery opens itself up to new ways of expressing it, ways yet to be discovered. Thus, in every nation and age, disciples will give their faith to Christ the Lord and become one Body with him.

The Mystical Body of Christ comprises a large diversity of members. To all it gives the same peace in unity but without overlooking the traits that make them distinctive. The Spirit "maintains everything in unity, and knows every tongue" (Introit of the ancient Roman Liturgy for Pentecost; cf. Wis 1). From this Spirit all nations and all human beings have received their own particular riches and charisms. Because of these, God’s universal family grows richer, since with the same voice and heart, and yet also in their own different tongues, God’s children call upon their heavenly Father through Jesus the Christ.


A. "For the Sake of Our Salvation"

1. God the Father "did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all" (Rom 8:32). Our Lord became man "for our sake and for the sake of our salvation." "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). If so, the Person of Jesus Christ cannot be separated from the deed of redemption. The benefits of salvation are inseparable from the divinity of Jesus Christ. The Son of God is the only one who can authentically rescue us from the sin of the world, from eternal death, and from the enslavement to the law, in keeping with the Father’s will and with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit.

Some theological speculations have failed adequately to preserve this intimate connection between Christology and soteriology Today, it is always imperative to seek ways better to express the reciprocity of these two aspects of the saving event, which is itself undivided.

In this study, we want to limit ourselves to the consideration of two problems. Our first inquiry is historical in nature and is located within the time when Jesus lived on earth. It revolves around the question "What did Jesus think concerning his own death?" Precisely because of the value we intend to attach to the answer, the question must be envisaged in terms of historical research, and of all the critical exigencies binding upon such research (cf. below, no. 2). Needless to say, this research must be complemented by taking into account the Paschal understanding of redemption (cf. below, no. 3). To repeat, the International Theological Commission does not intend to expound and explicate a complete Christology. Among other things, it overlooks the problem of Jesus’ human consciousness. Here it seeks only to set forth the foundation of the mystery of the Christ, in keeping with both the earthly life of Jesus and his Resurrection.

Our second inquiry unfolds at a different level (cf. below, no. 4). It will show how rich in soteriological teachings is the diversity of terminology by which the New Testament refers to the deed of redemption. We will attempt to systematize these teachings and set forth their whole theological meaning. Needless to say, this inquiry must be conducted in confrontation with the texts of Holy Scripture themselves.

B. During His Earthly Life Jesus Is Oriented toward the Salvation of Mankind

2.1. Jesus was perfectly aware that, in his words and actions, in his existence and Person, the Kingdom and the reign of God were at once a present realization, an expectation, and a coming (cf. Lk 10:23ff.; 11:20). Accordingly, he presented himself as the eschatological Savior and gave a direct, albeit implicit, explanation of his own mission. He was ushering in the eschatological salvation, since he was coming after the last of the prophets, John the Baptist. He was bringing God and his reign to presence, and the time of promise to fulfillment (Lk 16:16; Mk 1:15a).

2.2. If, for Jesus, the Passion was a failure and a shipwreck, if he felt abandoned by God and lost hope in his own mission, his death could not be construed then, and cannot be construed now, as the definitive act in the economy of salvation. A death undergone in a purely passive manner could not be a "Christological" saving event. It must be the consequence, the willed consequence, of the obedience and love of Jesus making a gift of himself. It must be taken up in a complex act, at once active and passive (Gal 1:4; 2:20). The moral ideal of his life and, in a general way, the manner of his conduct show that Jesus was oriented in the direction of his own death and prepared to undergo the same. He was thus actualizing the exigencies he himself had set forth for the benefit of his disciples (cf. Lk 14:27; Mk 8:34-35; Mt 10:28, 29, 31).

2.3. At the moment of his death, Jesus expresses his will to serve and give his life (cf. Mk 10:45). This is the result and prolongation of the attitude that marks his whole life (Lk 22:27). Both his life and his death grow out of a fundamental attitude that is the will to live and die for God and for others. This is what has been called an existence-for-others, or a proexistence. Because of this orientation on his part, Jesus was by his very "essence" ordained to be the eschatological Savior who effects "our" salvation (cf. 1 Cor 15:3; Lk 22:19-20b), the salvation of "Israel" (Jn 11:30) as well as of the Gentiles (Jn 11:5Iff.). This salvation is meant for the multitude (Mk 14:24; 10:45), for all people (2 Gor 5:14ff; 1 Tim 2:6), for the "world" (Jn 6:51c).

2.4. How are we to interpret this fundamental disposition, as it becomes manifest in Jesus during his life, to exist, namely, for others, to offer and give himself totally to the point of undergoing death? In essence, this disposition is a lucid readiness on his part to conform to God’s will. Obviously, the unfolding of the events through which he lived would inevitably add more vitality and concreteness to this orientation. And so, it was with hope and confidence that Jesus, as eschatological mediator of salvation and as the envoy of God’s Kingdom, waited for the reign that affirms itself and becomes established with finality (cf. Mk 14:25 and parallels).

Although Jesus was entirely open to God’s will, he had the capacity to perceive questions that emerged. Would God bestow full and total success to the proclamation of the Kingdom? Would Israel prove incapable of clinging to the eschatological salvation? Was it necessary for him to be baptized with the baptism of death (cf. Mk 10:38ff; Lk 12:50) and to drink the cup of suffering (cf. Mk 14:36)? Would the Father want to establish his reign, if Jesus should meet with failure, with death, nay, with the cruel death of martyrdom? Would the Father, in the end, ensure the saving efficacy of what Jesus would have suffered by "dying for others"?

Jesus gathered affirmative answers to these questions from his awareness of being the eschatological mediator of salvation, the reign of God come to presence. Hence, he was able to arrive in all confidence at the solution to the problems that arose. This confidence on his part may be asserted and understood in terms of what Jesus says and does at the Last Supper (Lk 22:19ff. and parallels). He is prepared to go to his death, and yet he awaits and announces his Resurrection and exaltation (Mk 14:25); he reasserts the promise and presence of the eschatological salvation.

2.5. How did Jesus understand and express his own fundamental disposition to exist for others, his own readiness to serve and abide by a dedication to others that presided over his conduct and even his death? It was not necessary for Jesus to do this in keeping with the mental categories and patterns provided by Israel’s tradition of sacrificial cult. Had he done this, we would have, as it were, a personalizing internalization on his part of "the vicarious and expiatory death of the martyr for the sake of others". Specifically, we would have the Passion of the "Servant of Yahweh" (cf. Is 53).

In fact, it was possible for Jesus to interpret and live (cf. below, no. 3.4) these concepts by impressing upon them a deeper meaning and transforming them. There would thus have been in his soul an expression of the "disposition to exist for others". Be that as it may, Jesus’ orientation toward the salvation of mankind can in no way be interpreted so as to entail equivocation and ambiguity. That orientation is meaningless unless it includes personal knowledge and awareness and a resolute disposition on the part of the subject who offers himself (cf. below, no. 3.3).

C. The Eschatological Redeemer

3.1. God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him, and thereby confirmed that Jesus is the Savior of the believers once for all and definitively He thus certified him as "Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36), the Son of Man who comes to judge the world (cf. Mk 14:62). He showed Jesus to be "Son of God in power" (Rom 1:4). Believers discovered a new enlightenment in Jesus’ Resurrection and exaltation. These showed them that in Jesus’ death salvation had become a reality. Before Easter, it would not yet have been possible to express these truths in this fashion and in perfectly unambiguous words.

3.2. In the foregoing remarks two elements deserve very special consideration.

a. Jesus was aware that he was the definitive Savior of the Last Times (cf. above, no. 2.1) and that he was announcing and bringing to presence the reign of God (cf. above, nos. 2.2 and 2.3).

b. Jesus’ Resurrection and exaltation (above, no. 3.1) showed that his death was a constitutive element of the salvation being brought in by the reign and the power of God (cf. Lk 22:20 and parallels). In 1 Corinthians 11:24, the death of Jesus is set forth as a constitutive element of the New Covenant about to be realized in a definitive and eschatological manner.

These two elements entitle us to conclude that the death of Jesus is endowed with salvific efficacy.

3.3. If Ave speak in a strict sense and just at a purely notional level, it is not easy to describe as "expiatory substitution" or as "vicarious expiation" the action by which God irrevocably effects salvation through the life and death of the eschatological Savior, as well as through the Resurrection that makes him Savior in a definitive and irreversible manner.

We can, however, so interpret God’s action if the death and deeds of Jesus stand connected to an existential and fundamental disposition on his part, which includes personal knowledge (cf. above, no. 2.5) and the will to take on himself as a proxy the sufferings (cf. Gal 3:13) and the sin of the human kind (cf. Jn 1:29; 2 Cor 5:21).

3.4. If Jesus could realize, thanks to a gratuitous gift, the effects of this vicarious expiation, this was only because he accepted to be "given by the Father", and he himself gave his own self to the Father who accepted him at the Resurrection. What we have here is a ministry of "existence-for-others" in the death of the preexistent Son (Gal 1:4; 2:20).

This is certainly the reason why, when the mystery of salvation is envisaged in this fashion, and we speak of a "vicarious expiation", we must bear in mind a twofold analogy.

The voluntary "oblation" of the martyr, and especially the oblation of the Servant of Yahweh (Is 53), differs totally from the immolation of animals, as "images from shadows" (cf. Heb 10:1).

There is even greater need to emphasize the "oblation" of the eternal Son and to insist even more decisively on the analogy between the two situations. For as the eternal Son "enters the world", he comes to do "God’s will" (cf. Jn 10:7). It was "through the eternal Spirit" that he "offered himself up unblemished to God" (Heb 9:14). (This situation is appropriately called a sacrifice by the Council of Trent, for example [DS 1753], but there the term must be restored to its original meaning.)

3.5. The death of Jesus has been a "vicarious expiation" with definitive efficacy because the gesture of the Father surrendering and giving his Son (cf. Rom 4:25; 8:32; cf. Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 4:9) is taken up in exemplary fashion and in reality, as the Christ gives himself with perfect love in self-surrender and dedication to others (cf. also Eph 5:2, 25; cf. 1 Tim 2:6; Tit 2:14).

What was traditionally called "vicarious expiation" must be understood, transformed, and raised to the height of a "trinitarian event".

D. Unity and Diversity of Soteriological Reflection in the Church

4. The origins and the core of the whole soteriology are to be found already in the early Church before Paul. This soteriology rests on the words and consciousness of Jesus himself Jesus knows that he is to die for all, for our sins; in this perspective he lives out his entire earthly life, he suffers, and he rises from the dead.

We can list five main elements: (1) the Christ gives himself; (2) he takes our place in the mystery of salvation; (3) he frees us "from the wrath to come" and from all evil powers; (4) in so doing, he fulfills the salvific will of the Father; and (5) he wants to insert us into the life of the Trinity through participation in the grace of the Holy Spirit.

It is the task of later theology to show how these elements fit together.

Thomas Aquinas underlines five ways in which the work of redemption takes effect: merit, satisfaction, redemption, sacrifice, and efficient cause. Other ways can no doubt be added.

Both in the New Testament and in the different periods of the history of theology, some facets of soteriology are underlined more sharply than others. However, all the aspects must be regarded as approaches to the Paschal mystery; as much as possible, they must be elaborated into synthetic views.

5. During the patristic age both in the East and in the West, "exchange" is the dominant aspect in soteriological reflection. In the Incarnation and Passion, an exchange takes place between the divine and the human nature in general. More precisely, the state of sin is exchanged for the state of divine sonship.

The Fathers did, however, refine and circumscribe the notion of exchange, as they took into account the eminent dignity of Christ. Christ took on the characteristic affections (pathe) of sinful human nature only in an external way (schetikos). He did not himself become "sin" (2 Cor 5:21) except in the sense of becoming a "sacrificial oblation for sin".

6. Anselm proposed another theory, the theory that has prevailed until very recent times. The Redeemer does not take the sinner’s place in the strict sense but performs a unique deed that, in God’s eyes, makes compensation for the debt mankind has incurred because of their sins. He accepts a death to which he was not subject, and because of the hypostatic union that death has infinite value.

This death of the Son realizes the design of salvation of the whole Trinity. In this "satisfaction theory" the expression "died for us" means above all that Christ accepted death "for our sakes", not "in our stead".

Thomas Aquinas retains the substance of this conception of the mystery of salvation and blends with it elements derived from patristic theology. He stresses that Christ is the head of the Church, and that the grace that he possesses as head is passed on to all the members of the Church because of the organic conjunction that obtains within the Mystical Body

7. Some recent authors seek to reinstate the notion of "exchange" (commercium) on which Anselm’s theology had laid no stress. Two lines of inquiry have been opened up by them.

a. Some put forward the concept of solidarity, a concept that is open to several interpretations. Interpreted strictly, solidarity sets forth the manner in which the suffering Christ, in his own way, takes on the experience of the estrangement from God that sinners live through. Speaking in broader terms, these theologians refer only to the sole determination of the Son to disclose, both through his life and through his death, the Father’s unconditional forgiveness.

b. Through the concept of substitution, the stress falls on the fact that Christ truly takes on the condition of sinners. This is not to say that God punished or condemned Christ in our stead, a theory erroneously advanced by many authors, Reformed theologians in particular. Other theologians recoil from these views and emphasize only that the Christ was subjected to "the curse of the law" (cf Gal 3:13), that is, to God’s aversion to sin, or to "the wrath of God", as it is called, this being but an aspect of God’s love and "jealousy" for his covenanted people, whenever it fails to be loyal.

8. The interpretation of redemption as substitution may be grounded exegetically and dogmatically. Contrary to the claim heard here and there, this interpretation is not fraught with internal contradiction.

The freedom of creatures is not wholly autonomous: it is always in need of an assistance from God. Once freedom has turned away from God, it cannot make its way back to him by its own resources alone. On the other hand, man was created in order to be integrated into the Christ and thereby share in the life of the Trinity. No matter how great be the sinner’s estrangement from God, it is not as deep as the sense of distance that the Son experiences vis-a-vis the Father in the kenotic emptying of himself (Phil 2:7), and in the anguish of "abandonment" (Mt 27:46). We are dealing here with that aspect of the distinction among the Persons of the Blessed Trinity that relates specifically to the economy of the redemption. It goes without saying that, within the Trinity, the three Persons are perfectly united in the identity of the same nature, and in an infinite love.

9. Both the objective expiation of sin and the participation in the divine life of grace must be regarded as inseparable aspects of the deed of salvation. Needless to say, man’s acceptance of grace must be an act of freedom, an authentically recovered freedom. The whole Tradition of the Church, grounded on Sacred Scripture, teaches that, if the deed of salvation is to be realized and explained, it must be linked to two mysteries. Jesus is truly God, and yet he is in total solidarity with us, for he has taken on man’s nature integrally.

10. As we consider redemption in its totality, we may not ignore "the spiritual participation" of the Virgin Mary in the sacrifice of Christ. From the moment she acquiesced to the Incarnation, her consent persisted without change. As Lumen gentium 61 shows so well, Mary’s consent represents faith in the eternal Covenant as it attains to the level of supreme perfection.

Nor should we overlook the intimate connection between the Cross and the Eucharist, two complementary aspects of the same deed of salvation. On the one hand, Jesus takes man’s sin onto his own flesh; on the other, he gives his own flesh to man. The eucharistic celebration establishes a necessary connection between the sacrifice of Christ and the oblation that the Church makes of herself. Thus the Church comes to be embodied in the eternal oblation in which the Son offers his own self to the Father and is brought to its perfection in the Holy Spirit.


1. Biblical and classic Christology includes extremely important perspectives that, for some reason or other, are not being shown today the attention they deserve. We would like to underline here two of these aspects by way of a corollary to the presentation of the International Theological Commission. The first concerns the pneumatological dimension of Christology; the second, the cosmic dimension. Our presentation will be a limited one. Within the framework of a conclusive report, a systematic presentation would be out of place.

As far as pneumatology is concerned, we will limit ourselves to a biblical inquiry, which, needless to say, paves the way to further inquiries and already discloses the richness of the theme.

The cosmic influence of Christ draws attention to the ultimate dimension of Christology. Here we are dealing not only with Christ’s action on all creatures "in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth" (cf. Phil 2:10) but also with his governance with regard to the cosmos as a whole and to the whole of history.

A. The Anointing of Christ by the Holy Spirit

2. The Holy Spirit cooperates uninterruptedly in the redemptive deed of Christ. "He covers the Virgin Mary with his shadow, which is why her offspring is holy and will be called the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). When Jesus is baptized at the Jordan (Lk 3:22), he receives "the anointing" in order to carry out his mission as Messiah (Acts 10:38; Lk 4:18), while a voice from heaven declares him to be the Son on whom the Father’s favor rests (Mk 1:10 and parallels). From that moment on, Christ is in a special way "guided by the Holy Spirit" (Lk 4:1) to commence and bring to fruition his ministry as "servant". By the finger of God (Lk 11:20), he casts out devils; he announces that "the reign of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15) and that it is to be brought to consummation by the Holy Spirit (Roman Missal; cf. Heb 2:14). Finally, through his Spirit, God the Father raises Jesus from the dead and fills mankind with him. Mankind thus puts on the form of humanity proper to the glorified Son of God (cf. Rom 1:3—4; Acts 13:32—33), after having known the form of humanity proper to the servant. The glorified humanity of Christ was also empowered to bestow the Holy Spirit on all human beings (Acts 2:22). The new and eschatological Adam can thus be called "a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45; cf. 2 Cor 3:17). And so, in a very real sense, the Mystical Body of Christ is animated by the Spirit of Christ forever.

B. The Lordship of Christ over the Cosmos

3.1. In Saint Paul and in the body of Pauline literature, the risen Christ is often referred to as the one "under whose feet [the Father] placed all things". This expression occurs in a variety of applications. It appears in these very terms in 1 Corinthians 15:27, Ephesians 1:22, and Hebrews 2:8; in equivalent terms in Ephesians 3:10, Colossians 1:18, and Philippians 3:21.

3.2. Regardless of its provenance (perhaps Gen 1:26 through Ps 8:7), this expression refers first of all to the glorified humanity of the Christ and not to his divinity alone. For it is to the incarnate Son that it pertains to "have all things placed under his feet", since it is he who has destroyed the power to enslave held by sin and death. Since, through his Resurrection, Christ has gained control over the corruptibility immanent in the first Adam and has thus become in his own flesh "a spiritual body" par excellence, he inaugurates the rule of incorruptibility. This is why he is "the second and last Adam" (1 Cor 15:46-49), to whom "everything has been made subject" (1 Cor 15:27) and who can "subject everything to himself" (Phil 3:21).

3.3. The fact that the power of death has been abolished by Christ implies not only for mankind but also for the cosmos a renewal that is one and the same, and which at the end of time will yield its manifest effects. Matthew speaks of this as a "new creation" (palingenesis; Mt 19:28), and Paul discerns there that which every creature is awaiting (Rom 8:19), while the book of Revelation (21:1), using the terminology of the Old Testament (Is 65:17; 66:22) does not hesitate to speak of "new heavens" and of a "new earth".

3.4. An unduly narrow anthropology that disdains, or at least overlooks, that essential aspect that is man’s relation to the world can induce us to underestimate the value of the New Testament affirmation of Christ’s lordship over the cosmos. And yet affirmations such as this have a con­siderable importance for our time. Because the natural sciences have made such progress, it seems as if we now perceive more clearly than at any time in the past how important the world is, what impact it makes on man’s existence, and what questions it raises within that existence itself.

3.5. More often than not, the major objection against the cosmic aspect of Christ’s lordship in his Resurrection and Second Coming is bound up with a certain conception of what Christology is. For, if it is true that the humanity of Christ should never be confused with his divinity, it is equally true that we should not separate the one from the other. In fact, these two errors have one and the same result. Whether the humanity of Christ be absorbed into his divinity or isolated from it, in either case the acknowledgment of the cosmic lordship that the Son of God receives in his glorified humanity is slighted just as much. The divinity of the Word is alone credited with what now pertains (as the New Testament texts quoted above testify) to his humanity, insofar as it is the humanity of Jesus Christ who was made Lord, and as Lord was given "the name above every other name" (Phil 2:9).

3.6. Besides, since the cosmic lordship of Christ pertains to the one who is "the firstborn of many brothers" (Rom 8:29), it pertains to his lordship that it should become ours as well in him. In fact, some of this spiritual "identity" that Christ gives us already exists (cf. 1 Cor 3:21—23). True, it will become fully manifest only at the Second Coming, and yet already now it truly confers on us the capacity to be free vis-a-vis all the powers of this world (Col 2:15), so much so that we can love Christ through all the changes in the world, our own death included (cf. Rom 8:38-39; 1 Jn 3:2; Rom 14:8-9).

3.7. This cosmic lordship of Christ should not, however, conceal from us a lordship of another kind that he does and must exercise with regard to human history and society, especially by means of justice, the signs of which are practically indispensable, if the Kingdom of God is to be proclaimed at all. Yet this lordship of Christ himself over man’s history cannot achieve its summit except within the lordship he exercises over the cosmic world as such. For history remains practically captive to the play of the world and death, as long as, before the final Coming, the amazing primacy of Christ cannot yet attain an unrestricted actualization of itself for the good of all mankind.


* This document was approved by the Commission "in forma specifica".