Part 3 – God the Son – Week 3

Part 3 – God the Son – Week 3

One way to begin to understand the enormity of the claim included in the simple words Jesus Christ is to trace the breakdown of this ‘formula’ in modern theology, Ratzinger tells us. For beginning in the 18th and 19th century, he explains, Protestant theology increasingly abandoned the claim that the Jesus described in the Gospels was historical: his miracles and teachings were increasingly interpreted as myth, and the centrality of his person for Christianity – its insistence that He truly was the Way, the Truth, and the Life – was branded as divisive and ‘intolerant of others.’ All that humanity needed – according to this vision – was belief in God, was belief in a common brotherhood as children of God, was a Christianity shorn of the irritating belief that the historical man Jesus of Nazareth truly was the Christ, the one and universal Messiah, the Son in whom alone we actually had access to the Father. And thus what Ratzinger calls a whole series of ‘absurd’ theories were developed to explain how this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was ‘transformed’ into a divine Christ by the early Church as it spread from Palestine into the Greek speaking world.



“We must proceed slowly. Who was Jesus of Nazareth really? What view did he take of himself? According to the stock idea, which today, as the vulgarized form of modern theology, is beginning to gain wide currency,’’ things happened like this. This historical Jesus is to be visualized as a sort of prophetic teacher who appeared on the scene in the eschatologically overheated atmosphere of the late Judaism of his time and preached, in accordance with this eschatologically pregnant situation, the proximity of the Kingdom of God. […]

For reasons that can no longer be properly established, Jesus was [then] condemned to death and died a failure. Afterward, in a way that can no longer be clearly perceived, the belief in a Resurrection arose, the notion that he lived on or at any rate still signified something. Gradually this belief increased, and the idea developed—an idea that can be shown to have arisen in other places in a similar way—that Jesus would return in the future as the Son of Man, Messiah. The next step was finally to project this hope back on to the historical Jesus, put it on his own lips, and reinterpret him accordingly. The picture was now rearranged to make it look as if Jesus had proclaimed himself as the coming Son of Man or Messiah. Very quickly—according to our stock idea—the tidings passed over from the Semitic world into the Hellenistic world. This had the following consequences. In the Jewish world Jesus had been explained along Jewish lines (Son of Man, Messiah). In the Hellenistic area these categories were incomprehensible, and consequently Hellenistic patterns of thought were pressed into service. The Semitic notions, Son of Man and Messiah, were replaced by the Hellenistic idea of the “divine person” or “God-man” and the figure of Jesus was thus rendered comprehensible.

But the “God-man” in the Hellenistic sense was characterized chiefly by two qualities: he was a miracle worker, and he was of divine origin. The latter idea means that in some way or other God is his Father; it is precisely his half-divine, half-human origin that makes him a God-man, a divine man. The consequence of the utilization of the category of divine man was that the attributes just described above had also to be transferred to Jesus. So people now began to portray him as a miracle worker; the “myth” of the Virgin Birth was created for the same reason. The latter, for its part, led afresh to the description of Jesus as the Son of God, since God now appeared in mythical style as his Father. In this fashion the Hellenistic interpretation of Jesus as a “divine man”, together with the inevitable accompanying phenomena, finally transformed the phenomenon of proximity to God, which had been characteristic of Jesus, into the “ontological” notion of descent from God. The faith of the early Church then advanced along these mythical lines up to the final ratification of the whole in the dogma of Chalcedon, with its concept of the ontological Divine Sonship of Jesus. With the idea of the ontological origin of Jesus from God, the myth was turned by this Council into dogma and surrounded with so much abstruse learning that in the end it was raised to the status of shibboleth of orthodoxy; the starting point was thus finally stood on its head.

To anyone accustomed to think historically, the whole theory is absurd, even if today hordes of people believe it; for my part I must confess that, quite apart from the Christian faith and simply from my acquaintance with history, I find it preferable and easier to believe that God became man than that such a conglomeration of hypotheses represents the truth.


  1. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 [1968], 212-215.




Do I truly believe that the historical man Jesus of Nazareth, someone who lived and died close to 2000 years ago in Galilee, was the One Saviour and Redeemer of all humanity, even though perhaps I don’t completely understand how His grace arrives to those who don’t know Him or are far from Him? Do I believe that in Him mankind and history was definitively changed, introduced into the very life of God? Take this opportunity to renew your faith in Jesus Christ as the true Lord of History, as the true Mediator between man and God.


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