2012-03-12

Jesus Formed (Couchoud)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post contains the final chapter of Couchoud’s The Creation of Christ.

I began this series with a post designating Paul-Louis Couchoud as Earl Doherty’s forerunner. There are notable differences between the two as anyone who has read Doherty and this series of posts will quickly see. I think those differences are worth serious discussion.

Scholarship has moved on since Couchoud and there are a number of areas where refinements are necessary; I and others have pointed to shortcomings in Couchoud’s arguments. But there remains much that is thought-provoking nearly a century after his works were first published.

When I began posting on Couchoud’s book I intended only to address the few chapters on his views of Gospel origins. Given the interest generated I decided to continue posting to cover the whole book even though that meant the chapters would be out of sequence. So my next post will be links to the complete contents in their correct order.

Here is the final chapter. I have included the page references in square brackets.

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JESUS FORMED

JESUS has been definitely formed. His features have been determined and composed. He is still the great heavenly Judge of the Day of Doom; that he has been from the beginning; it was his first function and for long his only function. His Judgment will be preceded by the Resurrection of the Body; on this point the doctrine of the Roman Church has overcome that of St. Paul. It will be followed by eternal life. His Kingdom on Earth will last a thousand years, and in the eyes of God a thousand years are as a single day. His true Kingdom is not of this world, and the expectations founded upon it are not material. The oppressed may not dream of an earthly recompense from him, but after the Judgment is over they will put on as a garment their heavenly glory. The Advent withdraws to a remote future, and the dead will find paradise or hell till the coming of the awaited Day. In the meantime the Church makes its plans for its earthly continuation. The grand descent in glory will be Jesus’s second visit to earth; the first, in humiliation and sacrifice, is henceforth to be the subject of the Christian’s meditation.

Jesus remains, as he is portrayed in John’s Revelation, the holy sacrificial Lamb which redeems all mankind with its blood. Jesus is, as Paul would have him, the Crucified, in whom all suffering and tortured men can behold themselves. Yet his agony is not that of a man ; it is that of a God, and hence is eternal, infinite, and universal. Sacrificing priest and offering at one and the same time, Jesus is also the High Priest of mankind. In addition, he is the Messiah and the Redeemer of Israel, foretold by the Prophets, and Israel includes all men who have faith in Jesus and for whom Jesus has given his blood. The Jews of their own will have been excluded from the New Israel. [311]

The relations of Jesus to the God of Israel took a long time in developing clear outlines. In the beginning the terms Judgment of Jesus and Judgment of God were synonymous, and The Lord meant either God or Jesus indiscriminately. Both Paul and John combine God and Jesus in a single sentence with a verb in the singular following them. Paul teaches that Jesus, when he has completed his mission, will be absorbed once again in God (I Cor. xv. 28). Marcion’s attempt to separate Jesus from the God of Israel, and to teach that he was the Son of the True God, unknown till then, was a failure. Yet it had its influence in giving Jesus a greater divine individuality. On the other hand, Hermas’s endeavours to portray Jesus as a Great Angel of a lower grade than God and the Holy Ghost were rebutted vigorously by the author of Hebrews and by Mark. Finally Jesus is enthroned in a Holy Trinity, seated between God and the Holy Spirit, enjoying powers as great as theirs and sharing with them, O Mystery, Divine Unity.

The most ruthless warfare was engaged over Jesus’s human nature. Since the day of St. Paul, the Crucifixion implied a “likeness of men,” the “form of a servant” (slave) (Phil. ii. 7 μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος.).  Thanks to Marcion, it became recognized that the story of the Divine Passion could be told as though it were an historical narrative. Jesus becomes crucified “under Pontius Pilate.” His teaching is that of utter abnegation and of infinite goodness, which alone is compatible with a God doomed to sacrifice. It was surely a blasphemy to think that such a God could be human flesh and blood, and scandalous to think of such a deity being conceived and taking shape in a woman’s womb. Mark evaded the problem, and it might be said, paradoxically, that Jesus was dead before he was born. His death in Saint Paul and in Marcion had no implication of birth; it was not of this world. The Syrian Elder it was who gave to Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, this human birth, and to God the physical paternity; he did it in order to bring Jesus into line with certain prophecies. On a higher plane the Ephesian Elder preached the veritable embodiment in the flesh of the [312]

Word of God. This, after the Crucifixion of a God and the historicity of a God, is the most startling innovation of Christianity. When these difficulties have been overcome, the Roman Elder, by means of an account in the form of recollections, engineered the admission into the history of ordinary men of one Jesus of Nazareth, born a subject of Augustus, numbered in the Census by Quirinius. The miracle is at last complete. Jesus is utterly God, and at the same time he is completely man.

The writer to Theophilus gained his greatest success when he persuaded even the unbelievers to accept his Jesus of Nazareth. The distant day was to come when the sceptics were to explain Christianity back to front; putting at the beginning what came last and taking this Jesus of Nazareth away from his true beginnings, they complacently endeavour to elucidate his legend. They attempt to reconstruct the greatest religious movement which has ever disturbed humanity by means of an uncertain name, of a Jew unknown to Josephus and of a commonplace spiritual illusion. Their self-imposed task is impossible. If Jesus is not to be thought a God, he cannot be thought a man. Only the believer who affirms his belief in the God Jesus can affirm his belief in the Man Jesus. In the years 150-160 the Roman Church believed in faith, and also in that recent credo “was crucified and buried under Pontius Pilate,”and in the still more recent “was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary” as well as that most ancient of all “ascended to heaven, is seated on the right hand of the Father, whence he will come down to judge the quick and the dead.” * Jesus of Nazareth is only one of the names under which he is known, and it was the last given him in the course of his development from the Mysterious Being seen by Daniel next to God’s Throne, invested with the Dominion of the Universe.

Judge and Redeemer, truly God and truly Man, Jesus offers to mankind an unparalleled object for hope, worship, faith, and love. By believing in him, a worshipper can, turn

* Lietzmann, ” Symbolstudien xiv” (Zeitschrift f.d. N.T. Wiss.; 1927, p. 81).  [313]

and turn about, cast himself into the depths of grief, pity, and lamentation for his agony and suffering, or intoxicate himself in the splendour of his victory over death, taking to himself the pain and the abasement, or the glory and the triumph. Nothing quite like this had ever been met with before in the whole world. There had been no lack of gods slain and risen, but none had possessed at one and the same time divine fullness and human completeness. Here is a Mediator come from God and returned to God, having touched the uttermost depths of wretchedness and suffering. Who shall be stronger than he to prevail over the vulnerable hearts of men? His is truly the power that shall prevail over all other Gods.

And his destiny it was to overcome them all, these other deities. The weary Pantheon of Rome and Greece could put up little resistance. Two brief centuries passed away, and the Oracle at Delphi closed its doors, the torches of Eleusis were extinguished for ever, great Artemis of the Ephesians, Olympian Zeus, the Virgin Athena, Capitoline Jupiter, Cybele, Isis, Mithras–all will have been swathed in their burial linen. In the green groves of Gaulish forests, amid the oaks and firs of the German, on the steppes of the Slav, the Irish heaths, and along the shores of Scandinavian lakes, obscure gods reigned till Jesus shattered their might each in his turn. There was not one of the European peoples who did not surrender sooner or later, offering tribute of faith, genius, and strength. In every land Jesus brought a new era in history and a new civilization. His outposts were to be Armenia in Asia and Ethiopia in Africa, but Europe was to be wholly his stronghold, and the conquests the European nations made abroad were to be made in his name. Companion of the white man in his hard toil, his sorrow, and his dreams, Jesus was to become the God of the White Man, that restless and hardy being, whose heart grieves for his own sin and rejoices in his own election, who is raised from despair by certainty in strife, who attains and renounces for an invisible reward.

The peoples who were to resist the spell of Jesus were those who professed a strict monotheism, such as the Jews and the [314]

Mussulmans. They who proclaim that there is no God but God can see no enticement in the compromise of God and of Man called Jesus. Those nations, too, who have no perception of a personal deity, but divine a power immanent in all Nature, find no attraction in Jesus. The Hindu Yoga, the Buddhist Nirvana, the Chinese Tao are ways of salvation that are not compatible with Christianity; the yellow races have no affinity with Jesus.

The Christ Jesus, the God-Man, is not a metaphysical Absolute, nor an elemental power of Nature. Never did humanity draw from its own sufferings a more human god. Man’s everlasting protest against death is in Jesus at once incarnate and renounced. Jesus is the Good Companion who comforts a man in his anguish and his loneliness. Really he is no more than man’s own heart, aware of itself mysteriously in the agony of its infinite feebleness and in the exaltation of its measureless strength. [315]

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  • 2012-03-12 05:29:54 UTC - 05:29 | Permalink

    If you dispense with the Church’s “Christianity” and cleave to Jesus Christ alone and what he actually taught, there is plenty of affinity between the “yellow races” and Christ. We of an Eastern persuasion see spirituality from a truer perspective is all. It isn’t encumbered with the trappings of Western MYTH — at least not in Sant Mat. Jesus was an Elder Brother come to redeem his given, same as any other Master, and there have been plenty of them, even in biblical literature.

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