Monday, June 17, 2013

Notes on Christology in the Tradition, 2: Origen on the Normativity of Jesus's Life for Believers

This series consists of my notes in preparation for a (now completed) comprehensive exam in historical theology. Some of it is simply representation of figures' positions, but much of it is also interpretive, so I thought it might be of some use or interest to others. Each doctrinal locus is focused around a governing question.

Previous posts: Part 1: A Fivefold Schema;

To what extent is the shape of Jesus’s life a paradigm for the life of the Christian (e.g., how is the story of Jesus normative)?

I locate Origen in the first type of the christological schema, wherein Jesus is seen as a binding exemplar for imitation by believers. Origen is justly famous for his christological moralism and ethical perfectionism. For example, An Exhortation to Martyrdom assumes radical and unstinting obedience to Christ’s command and example. The sense one gets is that in order to be saved one has to be utterly faithful, and faithfulness is extremely strenuous. (The connections to his doctrine of the person of Christ are suggestive; if Jesus is fundamentally God-in-(a-)man, then God may rightly expect each of us to be basically as obedient as Jesus.)

Specifically, though along with most everything else in Jesus's life, it is his self-denial in suffering and death combined with total submission to God’s will that is fundamentally normative for all believers’ lives.

The money quote here is from Contra Celsum:
Both Jesus himself and his disciples did not want people who came to them to believe only in his divine nature and miracles, as though he did not share in human nature and had not assumed the human flesh which lusts against the spirit; but as a result of their faith they also saw the power that descended into human nature and human limitations, and which assumed a human soul and body, combined with the divine characteristics, to bring salvation to believers. For Christians see that with Jesus human and divine nature began to be woven together, so that by fellowship with divinity human nature might become divine, not only in Jesus, but also in all those who believe and go on to undertake the life which Jesus taught, the life which leads everyone who lives according to Jesus’ commandments to friendship with God and fellowship with Jesus. (III.28)
Elsewhere, both in this and other works, Origen refers to Jesus as "the moral ideal," "a pattern of the way to endure religious persecution," "an example of the way to despise people who laugh and mock at [religion]," "an example of the life that [men] ought to live," "a noble example to men to show how to bear calamities," "an example of the way to die for the sake of religion."

Jesus's life is thus, in every sense of the word, a compulsory moral paradigm for believers' lives, and most of all in the way he endured suffering and death for the sake of faithfulness to God's will.

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