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Christology is that part of Christian theology that studies and defines who Jesus Christ is. It is generally less concerned with the minor details of his life; rather it deals with who he was, the incarnation, and the major events of his life (his birth, death, and resurrection).

Important issues in Christology include:

  • was Jesus human, divine, or both
  • whether a divine nature was identical or subsidiary to the fundamental nature of the Uncreated God.
  • whether he actually performed miracles
  • whether he rose from the dead, and if so, whether his resurrection was of the body or strictly of the soul

Christology may also cover questions concerning the Trinity, and what, if anything, Christ accomplished for the rest of humanity. There are almost as many Christological views as there are variants of Christianity. The different Christological views of various Christian sects have led to accusations of heresy, and subsequent religious persecution. In many cases, a sect's unique christology is its chief distinctive feature; in these cases it is common for the sect to be known by the name given to its christology.

Some Christological viewpoints

Some important controversies have included the controversy with Arians over Christ's divinity and relationship with the Father, which led to the adoption of the Nicene creed; the controversy over Nestorianism, and that over Monophysitism (and its derivates Monothelitism and Monoenergism) which led to the adoption of the Chalcedonian view of Christology. Other controversies included that with Docetists and the Adoptionists.

We can describe most of these views in terms of whether they believed Christ had a divine nature, human nature or both; and if both, in terms of how the two natures coexisted or interacted. All of these views will be presented in simplified form; see the related articles for more complete treatment.

Perhaps the earliest dispute within Christianity centered on whether Jesus was God. A number of early Christians believed that Jesus was not divine, but was simply the human Mosiach promised in the Old Testament. The inclusion of the genealogies of Jesus Christ at Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 are sometimes explained by this belief. An alternative explanation is that they were in opposition to Gnostic Christian doctrines that Jesus Christ only had the illusion of a human body and, thus, no human ancestry at all. The belief that Jesus was only human was opposed by church leaders such as Paul, and eventually came to be held only by sects which were soon subsumed by orthodox churches anyway, such as the Ebionites and (according to Jerome) the Nazarenes.

The Chalcedonian view is summarized by the Chalcedonian Creed. This view is that Christ possesses two natures, divine and human, which are united in the one person of Jesus Christ without either nature losing any of its properties nor uniqueness but without any seperability. This creed was adapted at the Council of Chalcedon, and was greatly influenced by the Tome of Leo which Pope Leo I sent to be read at that council. It is the dogma of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and is also the view of the Anglican church, and many Protestant churches.

Some other views lessen the extent to which Jesus was divine, one of which is the Arian view that Christ is not fully divine, but was created by God for the purpose of accomplishing salvation. The strict Monophysite view is that the human nature of Christ was dissolved or consumed by the Divine, wheras the Miaphysite view is that Christ exists as a hybrid nature, simultaneously human and Divine, unique in the universe. The Docetist view is that Christ was never fully human, but only appeared to be human. Semi-docetism only partially denies humanity, usually by asserting that Christ was not subject to temptation nor to any of the normal human frailties of hunger, fatigue, or fear of death.

Other views support the idea of Jesus as a man, for example, the Nestorian view is that the divine, and the man, shared the same body but retained two separate personhoods. The Adoptionist view is that Jesus was born a man only, but became God's son by adoption when he was baptized in the Jordan, wheras Psilanthropism is the view that Jesus is literally "only man", and not in any way divine.

Last updated: 02-08-2005 14:33:58
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01