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Christology 101

David Cowles

May 29, 2022

“…Without Christ, the World would consist of a vast multiplicity of isolated events, a sea of ships passing in the night.”

St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians (the congregation at Colossae, east of Ephesus in Asia Minor) includes a very old Christological Hymn (1: 15-20), possibly the earliest liturgical Christology extant. It forms the basis of a complete Theology and a complete Cosmology: 

"He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, 

the first-born of all creation

for in him all things were created…

“All things were created through him and for him.

He is before all things 

and in him all things hold together

“He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead.

For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, 

and through him to reconcile all things for him…" 

Can we peel back the leaves of this artichoke? What are the essential elements of Paul's Christology as reflected in Colossians and why is this Christological formulation so important in the development of Christian theology? First, the elements:

  • He (Christ) is the (visible) image of the invisible God.

    • God is insensible, but Christ is the sensible image of God.

  • (He is) the first born of all creation.

    • Creation (Genesis and/or Big Bang) is the moment of minimal entropy (maximal order). Christ is maximal order, the ordering principle, and order per se (logos).

  • He is before all things.

    • Christ is universal and eternal. Therefore, Christ is an element in every world from which novelty emerges. Christ conditions all things.

  • All things were created in him, through him, and for him.

    • Christ is the locus of whatever is (was or will be).

    • Christ is the origin of whatever is (its efficient cause).

    • Christ is the destiny of whatever is (its final cause). 

  • In him all things hold together

    • Because all things (events) share a common origin and a common destiny (Christ), all things hold together; and because Christ is also the locus of all events, all things hold together in him. 

  • He is the beginning, the first born from the dead.

    • Death is the moment of maximal entropy, minimal order. 

    • Whatever emerges from maximal entropy must (by definition) manifest an incremental increase in order.

    • Christ is the source of all order, and order per se, so whatever emerges from a state of maximal entropy (death) manifests Christ.

  • In him all the fulness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him.

    • Christ is not just the sensible image of an insensible God; Christ is God. ("In him all the fulness was pleased to dwell.")

    • Entropy in the spatiotemporal world steadily increases due to conflict. 

    • Outside of spacetime (i.e. in Christ), reconciliation (through Christ) transmutes (for Christ) order-eroding conflicts into order-enhancing contrasts.

According to this Cosmology, without Christ, the World would consist of a vast multiplicity of isolated events, a sea of ships passing in the night. There is no inherent reason why 'actual entities' should interact with one another, exhibit togetherness, mutually modify, or reconcile. 

Unlike 'birds of a feather,' things merely grouped together do not necessarily 'flock' together. Interactivity is needed and interactivity requires shared elements. But all things do hold together, and because they hold together, they do modify each other; and because they modify each other, they reconcile with one another, all through Christ, in Christ and for Christ. Christ, then, is the answer (the only answer?) to the ‘anti-isms’: solipsism, skepticism, nihilism. 

If A is an element of B and A is an element of C, then B and C are mutually interactive. Because they share an element in common (A), B and C are able to engage in a process of mutual modification and harmonization, ultimately leading to reconciliation: B and C reconcile via A. 

Christ (A) is an element of every entity…twice. Christ is the common origin and the common destiny, the Alpha and the Omega, of everything that is. That commonality constitutes the Solidarity of the World. But how? 

The origin and destiny of an event would be the same if the event were circular – if the event ended up restoring the status quo ante. In that case, however, the event in question could only be a virtual event, i.e. a ‘difference’ that makes no difference. 

According to Colossians, Christ is a real event and real events, by definition (Whitehead), make a difference; therefore real events cannot be circular. The World is a process of perpetual ‘advance’. You can’t step into the same river twice (Heraclitus). 

When an event is ‘circular’, it’s time factor (t) = 0. Therefore, it is not ‘real’ in spacetime; it’s a mathematical fiction. Like a line or a plane in geometry; it is a ‘virtual’ event. But this leaves us in a pickle: How can an event not be circular if its Alpha = its Omega?

The Christian doctrine of Incarnation provides a solution (the solution?). Incarnation turns Being inside out. Destiny becomes origin and origin becomes destiny, yet they remain distinct. Think about a sock. You go to put it on. You try to push your foot through the mouth down to the toe. It won’t go. Someone is playing silly buggers; they’ve turned your sock inside out! 

The toe is where the mouth was and vice versa. The toe and the mouth have swapped places; yet they remain distinct. Also, a cacophony of protruding knots has replaced the lovely argyle patten you picked out in the shop.

Now think about Kosmos. Incarnation turns the World inside out. The whole is its own quantum element. Bertrand Russell notwithstanding, this set (Kosmos) is an element of itself. The origin, locus, aim, and apex of the creative process enters that process directly…as an historical event. 

Of course, this ensures that Kosmos is non-linear and recursive; it modifies itself. Destiny (Parousia) is Origin (Nativity). Christ, the only begotten of the Father, not made, is the first of the living; Christ, resurrected, is the first-born of the dead. The first-born of the dead is the same, and not the same, as the first of the living.

Christ is the overarching pattern of creation and salvation, outside of spacetime. Jesus reflects and reiterates, fractal like, that pattern in the historical life of a single human being. The child born in Bethlehem is the same, and not the same, as the man crucified outside Jerusalem 33 years later, who is the same and not the same as the one “through whom all things were made… (and who) is seated at the right hand of the Father.” (Nicene Creed)

Every 'novel event' includes the Christ-event (Incarnation) as one of its elements, but the Christ-event is also the whole that includes all events. So every event, including the Christ-event, is part of the whole, but that whole is also a part of itself (Incarnation). Kosmos spirals!

Necessary and/or Sufficient?

Is Paul’s non-linear cosmology sufficient to account for the existence of a Kosmos like ours? We know that there is a Kosmos because we participate in it. Cogito, ergo est. The defining features of our World are Novelty, Intensity, and Solidarity. Does Paul adequately account for the existence of a Kosmos defined by these key features?

If a theory does indeed account for the phenomena in question, we say that it is sufficient. Sufficiency is the first test of any model. If it isn't sufficient, "Forget about it!" 

But the Holy Grail of model builders is not 'sufficiency' but 'necessity.' A model is necessary if it is the only model that can account for the phenomena in question. So, what can we say about the model presented in Colossians? Is it sufficient? Can it account for Novelty, Intensity, Solidarity? Can it pass the easy test?

According to Colossians, all things were created in, through, and for Christ - Novelty; in him all things hold together – Solidarity - and through him all things are reconciled – Intensity. So, yes, Colossians passes the easy test, the test of sufficiency; but what about the hard test, the test of necessity? 

Is it the case that only Paul’s model can account for a World characterized by Novelty, Intensity, and Solidarity? Of course, I can create a different model using different words that is still sufficient, but would that new model be unique, or would it just be Colossians…re-dressed a la mode

Put it another way, can I (or you, or anyone) come up with a model that is still sufficient to account for our target phenomena but that cannot be mapped onto the Colossians' model? If the answer is, "No," then the Colossians' model is necessary as well as sufficient, and the author of Colossians (Paul) may be said to have found the modelers' Holy Grail. So, have they?

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