christology, liberal, orthopraxy, progressive, Roger Haight, roman catholic

Roger Haight’s Christology

I debated putting this post up, but decided against it. Then saw Halden’s question on Christology and debated again because the post seems to address some questions put forth, but again decided against it. Then Halden does this and now I figure, what the hell. So here is my thousand word summary of Father Roger Haight’s Christology (using his three books on the subject: Dynamics of Theology, Jesus Symbol of God, and The Future of Christology).

By the way, you will probably pick this up as you read, but I’ll just make it clear – his Christology is conversant with pluralism. Haight defines pluralism as something similar to unicity, that is, unity and diversity, not simply loads of diversity and relativism. The man is sharp and nuanced, so don’t short shrift his argument on simple things you encounter in my summary. Haight’s Christological work is nearly 1,500 pages of intense, coherent thought. However, after reading it all, I do think that he lives or dies by symbol and I’m not sure he has done enough language work on symbol to back up this hermeneutical device. But enough of that, heres the summary:

The Symbolic Nature of Communicating between the Finite by the Infinite
A symbol is “through which something other than itself is made present”; through which all experiences with God and talking about God is mediated (Dynamics, 130). A symbol can be one of two things, concrete (material) or conscious (within the intellectual realm of speech and psyche), but is always dialectical. A symbol is always located within this world of time and space; all symbols are finite (Dynamics, 133). However, the finite symbol attempts to convey to a human’s imagination the transcendent God. As the symbol points to God, it envisions the transcendent, and while the symbol is a flawed envisioning, it is an envisioning nonetheless.

Within symbol lays the ultimate source for envisioning the transcendent, one’s own imagination. Symbols spark the human conscious as it opens the mind and pushes the vision of relating to God beyond the now and into an open future. Through this imagination the symbol becomes the point at which the transcendent touches the particular as the symbol become the focal point for the human. The symbol undergoes a transformation in the eyes of the beholder as it opens the particular, human mind to the mystery of the transcendent God and pulls the human into the mystagogical. God becomes both immanent and transcendent in our experience.

Symbol to Salvation: Hermeneutically Forming a Christology from Below
“To understand anything is to interpret it…to be human is to interpret” and it is from this anthropology that interpretation can begin mediating the Christian symbol of God, Jesus of Nazareth (Symbol, 41). To understand the symbol and its conditioned past, a method of critical correlation is necessary to compare and contrast past and present contexts so as to understand where the context ends and the symbol begins (Symbol, 45). It is after the nature of the symbol is identified, only then can the symbol be brought to our own space and time with a specific relevance and intelligibility to the current audience (Symbol, 46).

However, critical correlation or historical understanding cannot be done without imagination. Imagination is necessary whether one talks of ontology or anthropology and the relationships between subjects. Simply put, in order for a human to reach back through time, they cannot re-experience and nor can they actually meet the transcendent from a position of finitude, rather, imagination is mandatory in our particular for we construct (Symbol, 39). The imagination of a Christology from below is not superficial or incomplete at conceiving the duality of Jesus, but has the ability to be mature and encompassing of all parts in Christology (Future, 28).

Christian Salvations and the Jesus Therein
Salvation specifics, as in what humans are saved from, have never truly been agreed upon (Symbol, 335); however, one statement that can be said is that salvation is liberative. Salvation saves humanity from evil and meets human needs with the mediated God through Jesus and God’s kingdom (Symbol, 365-382). Salvation is pervasive; the salvation of the individual person extends into the social just as social salvation affects the individual (Symbol, 356). Salvation also has a progressive character, moving eschatologically as it is informed by creation and the history of salvation, reaching and moving human freedom into an expanding horizon of greater liberation (Symbol, 392).

Salvation is the point at which humanity meets with the divine for it is salvation that lifts us beyond our unfulfilled humanity and captivity (Symbol, 455). And, in the Christian context, Jesus is the Christian mediation of the transcendent God: “insofar as Jesus Christ is the central medium for Christianity’s conception of ultimate reality, it is impossible by definition for Christ to be less than normative for a Christian appropriation of ultimate reality” (Symbol, 407). This Christological focus has two dimensions: the objective, “the work of Jesus Christ,” and subjective, “the appropriation of this salvific effect by human beings” (Symbol, 336). Historically Jesus preached and lived the Kingdom of God, extending the divine to his immediate context; however, as contexts change, both in space and time, the liberative, salvific Kingdom of God must be translated from the dynamic symbol of God (Symbol, 337). It is within the context of the need for salvation that Jesus of Nazareth mediates the liberative, transcendent God.

The Dialectical Nature of Jesus as Symbol
Jesus Symbol of God recognizes that it was not Jesus alone who was the symbol, but rather, Jesus was empowered. Quite simply stated: “Empowerment presumes the indwelling of god as Spirit to the human person” (Symbol, 455). As a deduction from Jesus’ empowerment, no matter which Christology one chooses, a Logos or Spirit, Jesus was indwelt by “nothing less than God” (Symbol, 451). This is also how Jesus saved, by being the mediating revelation of God in act and being. To speak about divinity of Jesus Christ is to also speak of his humanity. It is quite simply a dialectical relationship of divine and human in one and any explanation of divinity will also be an explanation of humanity (Symbol, 462).

A Pluralistic Christology and Christology with Pluralism
According to Haight, an orthodox Christology must be: intelligible, faithful to tradition, and empower the Christian life (Future, 159-160Symbol, 428-429). It must be all three of these characteristics, a careful combination of the three criteria in balance (Future, 163). However, these three criteria are not necessarily in competition with each other and more importantly do none of the criteria – the dialectic between Nicaea and Chalcedon, intelligibility, faithfulness and empowerment – actually work in competition to one another. There is no seemingly guiding principle that states one Christology must be chosen, and likewise none of the criteria assumes one Christology, instead the criteria function as boundaries in which to explore Christology. Also, this Christology is not necessarily in competition with other religious truths about the transcendent God that are similarly mediated by symbol. Instead, a pluralistic Christology identifies both the unity in religious truth and the necessary diversity through which the truth is mediated.


7 thoughts on “Roger Haight’s Christology

  1. Congratulations on having read the entire opus and on your thoughtful response.

    It is impossible to judge a theological work on the basis of snippets, or by parroting Vatican condemnations, as on the three or four Blosser websites. Even if all that the critics say were true, there is space enough for this kind of theologizing within the Catholic world, where Paul Knitter is also highly appreciated.

    I myself believe in the objective truth of Nicea-Constantinople and Chalcedon, but I am aware of how subtle this truth is and how carefully we must go about approaching it if we are to assert it intelligibly and convincingly.

    Unfortunately I have not yet read Haight’s book, but I believe that low Christology in the style of Hans Kung is basically the most credible Christology today, and that it can rejoin the essence of Christian orthodoxy. Rahner was ready to go along with that to a large extent.

    The people currently in charge are very closed to such ways of thinking and that may make them very unjust to Fr Haight. I think that Haight’s critics are guilty of uncritically applying the categories of St Athanasius and St Cyril and Aquinas in a quite different epistemic context, failing to assess those categories themselves with a view to their adequacy to deal with the human, historical Jesus as understood in contemporary theology and scriptural study.

    Haight cannot be expected to spend his time arguing for the umpteenth time that the objections are based on a misconceived hermeneutic framework, one that imagines there is a transparent circularity between today’s questions and fourth century answers. The CDF clings doggedly to such a naive hermeneutics, out of fear of having to face the incertitudes of contemporary hermeneutical awareness, which they are theologically ill-equipped to deal with.

    Dupuis did spend all his time responding to the Vatican’s objections to his theologically innocent and harmless writings. He may have died prematurely as a result. Haight has more sense.

    As the Sobrino notification shows, the CDF is very likely to be influenced by an atypical coterie of very conservative theologians such as Jean Galot. Galot notoriously denounced Schillebeeckx on Vatican Radio as a “heretic” even though three elaborate Vatican investigations failed to convict Schillebeeckx of any unorthodoxy. If the critics showed more critical awareness of these problems, their criticisms of Fr Haight would be more persuasive. Or it might even be that the criticisms would evaporate and turn out to be based on misunderstanding.

  2. Pingback: A Summer Reading Change « flying.farther

  3. Pingback: More on Roger Haight « flying.farther

  4. Dear Sir:

    Above you write: “Haight defines pluralism as something similar to unicity, that is, unity and diversity, not simply loads of diversity and relativism. ”

    I’d be very interested in an elaboration of this, and to publish this in the blog of the p2p foundation (we once got an award for our spiritual reporting, even if that may not be immediately obvious in looking at our blog, see )

    Michel Bauwens

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