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The Christological definitions and the Church's faith today

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 13 April 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Summarizing the Christological teaching of the ecumenical councils and of the Fathers, we perceived in the previous reflections the effort of the human mind to penetrate the mystery of the God-Man. We can discern therein the truth about the human and divine natures, their duality and union in the person of the Word, the properties and faculties of human nature and their perfect harmony and subordination to the dominion of the divine "I." The councils expressed that deepened understanding in concepts and terms taken from the current language. This was the natural expression of the common way of knowing and reasoning prior to the conceptualization introduced by any philosophical or theological school. Research, reflection and an attempt to perfect the mode of expression were not lacking in the Fathers. Nor would they be lacking in successive ages of the Church when the concepts and terms used in Christology—especially that of "person"—would be elucidated and clarified in a manner of incalculable value even for the progress of human thought. However, their meaning, when used to express revealed truth, was not connected with, nor conditioned by, particular authors or schools. It was that which could be gathered from the ordinary language of the lettered and even of the unlettered of every age, as can be seen from an analysis of the definitions which made use of them.

2. It is understandable that in recent times, when translating the data of revelation into a language corresponding to new philosophical or scientific concepts, some should have experienced difficulty in using and accepting that ancient terminology. This especially concerns the distinction between nature and person which is fundamental in the Christological tradition as also in the theology of the Trinity. Some adopt the positions of various modern schools which insist on a philosophy of language and on a hermeneutics dependent on the premises of relativism, subjectivism, existentialism, structuralism, etc. These people in particular are led to undervalue or even to reject the ancient concepts and terms, as influenced by scholasticism, formalism, staticism, non-historicity, etc., in such a way as to deem them unsuitable to express and communicate today the mystery of the living Christ.

3. But What happened then? First of all, some became prisoners of a new form of scholasticism, persuaded by notions and terminologies linked to the new currents of philosophical and scientific thought, without bothering to compare them with the form expressing the common meaning and, it may be said, the universal understanding. Even today it remains indispensable for communicating with one another in thought and in life. In the second place there has been a transition, as was foreseeable, from the crisis opened up by the question of language, to the relativization of the Nicene and Chalcedonian dogma considered as a simple attempt at an historical interpretation which is dated, superseded, and can no longer be proposed to modern intelligence. This transition has been and is very risky and can lead to results which are difficult to reconcile with the data of revelation.

4. In the new terminology, one has arrived at the point of speaking of the existence of a "human person" in Jesus Christ. This is based on the phenomenological concept of personality provided by an ensemble of expressive moments of conscience and freedom, without sufficient consideration for the ontological subject which is at its origin. Or else the divine personality has been reduced to Jesus' self-awareness of the "divine" in himself, without truly understanding the Incarnation as the assuming of human nature by a transcendent and pre-existing divine "I." These concepts are reflected also in Marian dogma, and especially in that of Mary's divine motherhood, so linked by the councils to the Christological dogma. These concepts nearly always imply the negation of the distinction between nature and person, which, on the contrary, the councils had taken from the ordinary language of the people and elaborated theologically as the key to interpret the mystery of Christ.

5. These facts, here obviously scarcely touched upon, enable us to understand how delicate is the problem of the new language both for theology and catechesis. This is especially so when starting from the antecedent rejection of ancient categories (for example, those presented as "Hellenistic"). One ends up by being enmeshed in new categories—or in new words—in virtue of which even the substance of revealed truth is manipulated.

This is not to say that we are prohibited from continuing to investigate the mystery of the Incarnate Word, and to "seek more suitable ways to communicate Christian doctrine," according to the norms and spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Together with John XXIII, the Council strongly confirmed that "the deposit of faith or the truths are one thing, and the manner in which they are enunciated, in the same meaning and understanding, is another" [1] .

An approach must be made to the modern mentality, formed according to the criteria and methods of scientific knowledge. While doing this, one must bear in mind its tendencies toward research in the various fields of knowledge; its deeper aspiration toward a "beyond" which qualitatively surpasses all the limits of experimentation and calculation; and its frequent manifestations of the needs of a wisdom far more satisfying and stimulating than science. In this way the modern mentality is by no means impenetrable to the discourse on the "ultimate reasons" of life and their basis in God. Hence arises the possibility of a well-founded and sincere discourse on the Christ of the Gospels and of history. It should be formulated in the awareness of the mystery, and therefore in a stammering way, as it were, but not without the clarity of the concepts elaborated with the help of the Spirit by the councils and the Fathers, and handed down to us by the Church.

6. Christological catechesis must be faithful to this revealed and transmitted deposit. By studying and presenting the figure, teaching and works of the Christ of the Gospels, it will very well be able to indicate, precisely in this sphere of truth and life, the affirmation of the eternal pre-existence of the Word, the mystery of his "self-emptying" (cf. Phil 2:7), and his predestination and exaltation. This exaltation is the true end of the entire economy of salvation, and which combines with and in Christ the God-Man the whole of humanity and in a certain way the entire creation.

Such a catechesis should present the integral truth about Christ as Son and Word of God in the intimacy of the Trinity (another fundamental Christian dogma). He became incarnate for our salvation and thereby realized the greatest union conceivable and possible between the creature and the Creator, in the human being, and in the entire universe.

Besides, this catechesis must not pass over the truth that Christ has his own ontological reality of humanity belonging to the divine Person, and also an intimate awareness of his divinity, and of the salvific mission assigned to him as man.

The truth will thus become apparent that in Jesus of Nazareth, in his interior experience and knowledge, there is the highest realization of the "personality" even in its value of sensus sui, of self-awareness as the basis and vital center of the entire interior and external activity, but affected within the infinitely superior sphere of the divine person of the Son.

There will likewise appear the truth about the Christ of history as a personage and particular fact (factum ex muliere, natum sub lege: Gal 4:4). Christ concretizes in himself the universal value of humanity conceived and created in God's "eternal counsel." The truth also appears about Christ as the total realization of the eternal plan expressed in the covenant and in the kingdom—of God and man—which we know from biblical prophecy and history. Christ is the eternal logos, the light and reason of all things (cf. Jn 1:4, 9 ff.). He became incarnate and present among men, in the midst of things, at the center of history. He did this in order to be—in accordance with the design of God the Father—the ontological head of the universe, the redeemer and savior of all humanity, who restores and sums up all things in heaven and on earth (cf. Eph 1:10).

7. We reflect on this mystery of God who assumed humanity in order to integrate, save and glorify it in the definitive communion of this glory. Far from temptations of every form of materialistic or panlogical monism, this new reflection loses nothing of its fascination and gives us a taste of its profound truth and beauty. But it must be enveloped and explained within the sphere of the Christology of the councils and of the Church. Thus it is given a new theological, philosophical and artistic expressions (cf. GS 62), in which the human spirit can acquire ever better what emerges from the infinite abyss of divine revelation.


After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini francesi 

JE SUIS HEUREUX d’accueillir les visiteurs et pèlerins de langue française. Je leur souhaite de renouveler au cours de leur pèlerinage à Rome leur désir de participer activement à la vie de l’Eglise en communion avec tous leurs frères du monde. J’adresse mes vœux particuliers aux jeunes pour leur avenir humain et chrétien. Et je dis ma sympathie cordiale aux malades. A tous, je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai visitatori di lingua inglese 

IN THE JOY of the Easter season, I wish to offer a special word of welcome to the group of visitors from Finland. I greet most cordially the pilgrims who have come from Thailand. And my greetings also go to the teachers from Staffordshire in England. To all the English-speaking visitors I extend a very warm welcome, particularly to those from England, Ireland, Canada and the United States.

May the Risen Lord bless you with his peace and joy.

Ad un gruppo di ammalati provenienti dal Giappone 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini provenienti dal Giappone, siate benvenuti!

MI RIVOLGO IN PARTICOLARE a coloro che condividono la croce del Signore, affinché si ricordino che al dolore e alle sofferenze seguono, come per Gesù, la gloria e la risurrezione. Carissimi ammalati, ricordandovi questa verità, vi esorto a rimanere sempre accanto alla croce insieme con Maria nostra Madre.

Estendo la mia Benedizione Apostolica a voi e a tutti coloro che vi assistono.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

MIT DIESER EINLADUNG zum Gebet grüße ich alle heute anwesenden deutschsprachigen Pilger. Einen besonderen Segenswunsch spreche ich den Pfarrgemeinden St. Peter und Paul in HöhrGrenzhausen und St. Agatha in Epe anläßlich ihrer Gründungsjubiläen aus. Allen Pilgern erbitte ich gnadenreiche Tage in der Ewigen Stadt und erteile euch und euren Angehörigen in der Heimat für Gottes bleibenden Schutz von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini giunti dalla Spagna e dall’America Latina 

ME ES GRATO saludar ahora con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española, venidos de España y de Latinoamérica. De modo particular saludo a las Religiosas Hijas de Jesús y a las Siervas de Jesús. También a la peregrinación de la parroquia de Puebla del Duc (Valencia), al grupo de la Tercera Edad de Manacor (Mallorca) y a los estudiantes del Colegio Mater Salvatoris de Aravaca (Madrid). Un saludo especial dirijo también a los jóvenes del Coro del Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica, así como a la peregrinación mariana de la diócesis de El Paso (Texas) con su Obispo.

En este Año Mariano pidamos de manera particular a la Virgen María que nos ayude a comprender y creer firmemente en el misterio de su Hijo Jesús, Dios y Hombre verdadero.

A todos imparto de corazón mi Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese 

AS MINHAS SAUDAÇÕES cordiais e votos de felicidades, alegria e paz, Jesus Cristo, nossa Páscoa, aos presentes vindos do Brasil - Rio, São Paulo e Porto Alegre - e de Portugal, da paróquia de Nossa Senhora do Amparo, de Lisboa.

Grato pela vossa presença, quero encorajar a fé que vos trouxe a Roma, a vossa fé pascal; que ela se traduza em boas obras, dando testemunho de que “ressuscitastes” com Cristo, para uma “vida nova”, como baptizados. E que Nossa Senhora seja para todos amparo na fidelidade a Deus e ao próximo!

Ai fedeli polacchi 

WITAM SZCZEGÓLNIE pielgrzymów z diecezji płockiej; ze Stanów Zjednoczonych - Stockbridge; z dekanatu Skawina, archidiecezja krakowska; z parafii św. Michała Archaniola z Krzyżowic; z parafii Matki Boskiej Wniebowziętej ze Studzianki; z parafii Wszystkich Swiętych w Szerokiej, diecezja katowicka; z parafii Wniebowzięcia Matki Bożej z Warszawy-Zerzeń; z parafii Piaseczno, jako też grupę neokatechumenalną z archidiecezji warszawskiej; z diecezji lubelskiej; z diecezji płockiej; z parafii św. Maksymiliana Kolbe zi Płońska; pielgrzymkę rolników z Podlasia, Siedlce; z parafii św. Bonifacego z Wrocławia; duszpasterstwo ludzi morza “Stella Maris” z Gdyni; pielgrzymów z Polonii amerykańskiej - pielgrzymka zorganizowana przez Lewana Lewandowskiego ze Stanów Zjednoczonych; wreszcie wszystkich innych pielgrzymów obecnych na tej audiencji, bądź to pochodzących z kraju, bądź z emigracji . . . . Pozdrawiam wszystkich pielgrzymów z różnych stron Polski. Bardzo się cieszę, że są tutaj rolnicy, ponieważ zbliżają się czasy zasiewów. Zyczę, ażeby zasiewy na Ziemi Podlaskiej i nie tylko, ale na całej ziemi polskiej, były dobre i przyniosly owoce i zbiory błogosławione. Szczęść Boże wszystkim. 

A gruppi di pellegrini italiani

DESIDERO ORA rivolgere un cordiale saluto ai fedeli provenienti dalla diocesi di Avezzano: guidati dal loro Vescovo, Monsignor Biagio Vittorio Terrinoni, sono venuti per l’Anno Mariano. Grazie per la vostra visita, la Madonna vi accompagni sempre nel vostro cammino verso Cristo! A tutti la mia Benedizione.

* * * 

UN CARO BENVENUTO ai fedeli della comunità parrocchiale di Senise, della diocesi di Tursi-Lagonegro, in provincia di Matera, presenti insieme col Vescovo, Monsignor Rocco Talucci. Le mie congratulazioni al nuovo Presule, e l’augurio a tutti voi, cari fratelli e sorelle che, assieme al vostro Pastore, possiate proseguire il cammino della fede cristiana, nella pace e nella prosperità, sotto lo sguardo della Madonna, verso il Regno di Dio. Benedico volentieri la qui presente immagine della Vergine e benedico tutti voi e i vostri cari. 

* * * 

UN SALUTO PARTICOLARE, una parola di apprezzamento ed un fervido augurio alla numerosa rappresentanza della famiglia spirituale legata alla memoria ed al fulgido esempio di Don Gaetano Mauro, splendida figura di sacerdote calabrese, Fondatore della Congregazione dei Pii Operai Catechisti Rurali, detta altrimenti dei Missionari Ardorini, dediti in special modo all’evangelizzazione degli agricoltori, ed al bene di coloro che maggiormente necessitano del pane quotidiano e del pane della Parola di Dio. Il centenario della nascita del Fondatore, che state celebrando, sia per tutti voi di ulteriore stimolo ad un impegno missionario ancor più ardente e generoso. Vi accompagno con la mia Benedizione. 

* * * 

SALUTO POI, con viva cordialità, il folto gruppo composto dalle Religiose dell’Istituto Figlie di Maria Santissima dell’Orto, e degli alunni delle Scuole “Antonio Gianelli” e “Nostra Signora dell’Orto” di Roma. L’occasione per questo bell’incontro è data dalla ricorrenza bicentenaria della nascita del Fondatore della Congregazione, Sant’Antonio Maria Gianelli, Vescovo di Bobbio. Sia anche per voi il ricordo del Fondatore motivo per un più intenso impegno nell’attuazione della volontà di Dio, giorno per giorno, secondo quel piano di salvezza che Egli ha per ciascuno di voi. Benedico volentieri la qui presente immagine del Fondatore, ed a tutti voi la mia larga Benedizione. 

* * * 

UN SALUTO CARO ed un augurio anche al gruppo di Suore della Provvidenza - una quarantina di Superiore -, le quali, provenienti da tutta Italia, stanno seguendo un corso di formazione sulla loro Regola di vita. Quest’incontro sia per voi, care Sorelle, occasione per cementare la vostra unione fraterna e dare ulteriore slancio apostolico alla missione del vostro Istituto, mentre io vi benedico di cuore. 

* * * 

UNA PAROLA di compiacimento ed un caro benvenuto al gruppo di Religiose appartenenti a 40 diverse Congregazioni, e provenienti da tutto il mondo, le quali, riunite al Centro Mariapoli di Castelgandolfo, stanno approfondendo il senso della loro comune appartenenza alla Chiesa, nella pluralità e diversità dei carismi dei vari Istituti. Mi auguro che questo scambio di idee e di esperienze possa essere fruttuoso per tutte voi, care Sorelle, portandovi a scoprire meglio il valore della vostra vocazione e a servire meglio la Chiesa e l’umanità in letizia di cuore. La mia Benedizione vi accompagna e vi sostiene. 

Ai giovani 

SALUTO ORA i ragazzi e i giovani presenti a questa Udienza. Carissimi, siete venuti particolarmente numerosi alla Sede di Pietro, per rafforzare la vostra fede in Cristo e nella Chiesa.

La grande Comunità dei credenti, che sa dare spazio alla vostra creatività, che sa offrire risposte sempre rinnovate alle sfide del tempo, vi chiede di mettere a disposizione dei fratelli le vostre energie giovanili, i vostri doni e carismi personali, per dilatare i confini del Regno del Signore.

La primavera della vostra età vi spinga ad annunciare con entusiasmo a tutti gli uomini che Cristo è risorto!

Io vi accompagno volentieri con la mia preghiera, e vi benedico. 

Agli ammalati 

MI È PARTICOLARMENTE caro salutare gli ammalati ed infermi qui presenti, unitamente a quanti, con lodevole impegno e generosa dedizione, li accompagnano e li assistono.

Carissimi, nella Liturgia delle ore di oggi, San Leone Magno ci ricorda che “partecipi della passione non sono solo i martiri forti e gloriosi, ma anche i fedeli che rinascono nel battesimo, e già all’atto della loro rigenerazione”.

Ecco dunque una chiave di lettura della vostra sofferenza: se accettata ed offerta con amore, diviene mezzo di unione con Cristo che soffre e fonte di rinascita spirituale con Cristo risorto.

Con l’assicurazione della mia preghiera, vi dono anche la mia Benedizione. 

Agli sposi novelli 

IL MIO SALUTO ed augurio va infine a voi, cari sposi novelli, che con il sacramento del Matrimonio siete entrati in intima collaborazione con Dio per esercitare una consapevole paternità nella fedeltà vicendevole.

Affinate continuamente il vostro amore reciproco mediante un costante impegno di pazienza, di dialogo e di comunione profonda, alimentando la vostra crescita nella fede con la preghiera quotidiana ed una intensa vita sacramentale.

E, tornando nella vostra nuova casa, portate con voi anche la mia Benedizione.

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