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.