Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology

A Theology of God's Word

At the core of our Christian faith stands the question: Who is the man Jesus Christ and what does His life mean for mankind? The branch of theology that pursues the answer to this question is called Christology. Who better to present an authentically Catholic Christology than Christoph Cardinal Schönborn the Archbishop of Vienna, and the chief editor of the most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church?

A former student of Pope Benedict XVI, Schönborn became a scholar in his own right and a preeminent theologian and professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Among many other accomplishments in 1980 he became a member of the Holy See’s International Theological Commission; he served as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and in January of 2011 he was appointed by Pope Benedict as one of the first members of the newly created Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. It is difficult to find a more qualified theologian from whom to learn the mysteries of our faith.

Cardinal Schönborn’s latest book entitled God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology is the product of decades of study and professorial work from this theological giant of our time. With information compiled from lectures and courses taught by the author, we are presented with a Christology that is both scholarly and deeply heartfelt. The Cardinal derives the title for this book from the words of Paul to the Galatians, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5) Paul had a profoundly personal encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, and so Paul’s Christology is rooted in his personal experience of the man Jesus. Cardinal Schönborn insists that any valid Christology for today must return to this biblical foundation centered on the Christ of the Gospels. Christology must have its origins in Scripture and grow out of an abiding faith in the resurrected Jesus.

This does not mean that Cardinal Schönborn’s Christology is simplistic or unrefined – far from it. In true Catholic fashion, the author demonstrates that doctrine develops over time. The insights afforded to us by Scripture (guided by our personal faith in God’s Word) are deepened with centuries of Christian thought. With this in mind, the Cardinal leads us on a journey through the first Ecumenical Councils which tackled such Christological controversies as Arianism and Nestorianism. Careful attention is paid to the contributions of the early Church Fathers, including Maximus the Confessor, Cyril of Alexandria, Athenasius, John Damascene, Irenaeus of Lyons, and John Chrysostom, but also later theologians such as Anselm of Canterbury and the great Thomas Aquinas.

Travelling forward, the author brings us through centuries of Christological debate within the Catholic Church to our own time with the works of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI), and other contemporary theologians. But along the way he also explores the contributions of Protestant theologians, beginning with Martin Luther and his contemporaries and including modern Protestant thinkers such as Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann. As each avenue is explored, God Sent His Son truly presents a thorough examination of Christology from every imaginable angle, but always returning to the core principle that all theological endeavors, no matter how speculative, must be grounded in God’s Word and approached with an abiding faith. Authentic Christology begins and ends with a faith rooted in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. To the extent these various theologians and schools of theology remain true to that principle, their contributions are welcomed and evaluated accordingly. Where they do not, they are rightfully criticized. And Cardinal Schönborn masterfully ties together all of the loose ends with his own brilliant observations.

This broad sweep of theological history is laid out by Cardinal Schönborn within a framework loosely based on the Creed (or rather the portion of the Creed dealing specifically with the Son of God). We begin with the Son’s relationship to the Father (God from God, Light from Light) and the significance of the Incarnation. The author then traces the life of Jesus from His birth through His ministry and death followed by His resurrection and glorification at God’s right hand. The main text then concludes with Jesus’ return and our Final Judgment. Just as the Catechism uses the Creed as an outline, Cardinal Schönborn borrows this middle portion of the Creed to organize his Christology.

The author’s choice of the Creed as an organizing framework speaks to his deep Christian faith. Historically the Creeds were formulated as a baptismal profession meant to highlight key elements of the Christian faith. The Creeds are used today as a form of public committal to Christian doctrine. They contain the essence of what it means to be Christian. Many of the statements found in the Creed with regard to Jesus were placed there after careful deliberation by Church Councils when faced with Christological controversies. The Creed contains the essence of a Scriptural Christology. Cardinal Schönborn’s book expands on this profession of faith with the heart of a true believer and the mind of preeminent scholar.

God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology is not light reading. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn writes just as one would expect a world-renowned doctor of theology, and high-ranking Vatican official would write (i.e. he uses big words, and conveys big ideas). Anyone reading this book should have some grounding in basic theology and Church history before attempting this task. The Cardinal presents in these pages the fruit of many years as a professor and scholar, and it certainly bears witness to a faith and a love for Christ that has been nourished by his intellect. I am sure the good Cardinal hopes the same for all those who read his work.

[This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on God Sent His Son, A Contemporary Christology . They are also a great source for serenity prayer and baptism gifts.]

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