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Giotto di Bondone
Adoration of the Magi


see also:



The Bible illustrations by

Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"

Gustave Dore

William Blak
e "The Book of Job"




Adoration of the Magi


The Adoration of the Magi the Musée Condé, Chantilly.


Leonardo da Vinci, 1481


Fra Angelico


Fra Angelico


Giotto di Bondone


Giotto di Bondone





The history of

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Part XI

The church and its history » God the Son
Dogmatic teachings about the figure of Jesus Christ go back to the faith experiences of the original church. The faithful of the early church experienced and recognized the incarnate and resurrected Son of God in the person of Jesus. The disciples’ testimony served as confirmation for them that Jesus really is the exalted Lord and Son of God, who sits at the right hand of the Father and will return in glory to consummate the Kingdom.

The church and its history » God the Son » The Christological controversies
As in the area of the doctrine of the Trinity, the general development of Christology has been characterized by a plurality of views and formulations. Solutions intermediate between the positions of Antioch and Alexandria were constantly proposed. During the 5th century the heresy of Nestorianism, with its strong emphasis upon the human aspects of Jesus Christ, arose from the Antiochene school, and the heresy of Monophysitism, with its one-sided stress upon the divine nature of Christ, emerged from the Alexandrian school. After Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, the great ecumenical synods occupied themselves essentially with the task of creating uniform formulations binding upon the entire imperial church. The Council of Chalcedon (451) finally settled the dispute between Antioch and Alexandria by drawing from each, declaring: “We all unanimously teach…one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect in deity and perfect in humanity…in two natures, without being mixed, transmuted, divided, or separated. The distinction between the natures is by no means done away with through the union, but rather the identity of each nature is preserved and concurs into one person and being.”

Even the Christological formulas, however, do not claim to offer a rational, conceptual clarification; instead, they emphasize clearly three contentions in the mystery of the sonship of God. These are: first, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is completely God, that in reality “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” in him (Colossians 2:9); second, that he is completely human; and third, that these two “natures” do not exist beside one another in an unconnected way but, rather, are joined in him in a personal unity. Once again, the Neoplatonic metaphysics of substance offered the categories so as to settle conceptually these various theological concerns. Thus, the idea of the unity of essence (homoousia) of the divine Logos with God the Father assured the complete divinity of Jesus Christ, and the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ could be grasped in a complex but decisive formula: two natures in one person. The concept of person, taken from Roman law, served to join the fully divine and fully human natures of Christ into an individual unity.

Christology, however, is not the product of abstract, logical operations but instead originates in the liturgical and charismatic sphere wherein Christians engage in prayer, meditation, and asceticism. Not being derived primarily from abstract teaching, it rather changes within the liturgy in new forms and in countless hymns of worship—as in the words of the Easter liturgy:

The king of the heavens appeared on earth out of kindness to man and it was with men that he associated. For he took his flesh from a pure virgin and he came forth from her, in that he accepted it. One is the Son, two-fold in essence, but not in person. Therefore in announcing him as in truth perfect God and perfect man, we confess Christ our God.

The church and its history » God the Son » Messianic views
Faith in Jesus Christ is related in the closest way to faith in the Kingdom of God, the coming of which he proclaimed and introduced. Christian eschatological expectations, for their part, were joined with the messianic promises, which underwent a decisive transformation and differentiation in late Judaism, especially in the two centuries just before the appearance of Jesus. Two basic types can be distinguished as influencing the messianic self-understanding of Jesus as well as the faith of his disciples.

The traditional Jewish view of the fulfillment of the history of salvation was guided by the idea that at the end of history the messiah will come from the house of David and establish the Kingdom of God—an earthly kingdom in which the Anointed of the Lord will gather the tribes of the chosen people and from Jerusalem will establish a world kingdom of peace. Accordingly, the expectation of the Kingdom had an explicitly inner-worldly character. The expectation of an earthly messiah as the founder of a Jewish kingdom became the strongest impulse for political revolutions, primarily against Hellenistic and Roman dominion. The period preceding the appearance of Jesus was filled with uprisings in which new messianic personalities appeared and claimed for themselves and their struggles for liberation the miraculous powers of the Kingdom of God. Especially in Galilee, guerrilla groups were formed in which hope for a better future blazed all the more fiercely because the present was so unpromising.

Jesus disappointed the political expectations of these popular circles; he did not let himself be made a political messiah. Conversely, it was his opponents who used the political misinterpretation of his person to destroy him. Jesus was condemned and executed by the Roman authorities as a Jewish rioter who rebelled against Roman sovereignty. The inscription on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews,” cited the motif of political insurrection of a Jewish messianic king against the Roman government as the official reason for his condemnation and execution.

Alongside worldly or political messianism there was a second form of eschatological expectation. Its supporters were the pious groups in the country, the Essenes and the Qumran community on the Dead Sea. Their yearning was directed not toward an earthly messiah but toward a heavenly one, who would bring not an earthly but a heavenly kingdom. These pious ones wanted to know nothing of sword and struggle, uprising and rebellion. They believed that the wondrous power of God alone would create the new time. The birth of a new eon would be preceded by intense trials and tribulations and a frightful judgment upon the godless, the pagan peoples, and Satan with his demonic powers. The messiah would come not as an earthly king from the house of David but as a heavenly figure, as the Son of God, a heavenly being, who would descend into the world of the Evil One and there gather his own to lead them back into the realm of light. He would take up dominion of the world and, after overcoming all earthly and supernatural demonic powers, lay the entire cosmos at the feet of God.

A second new feature, anticipation of the Resurrection, was coupled with this transcending of the old expectation. According to traditional Jewish eschatological expectation, the beneficiaries of the divine development of the world would be only the members of the last generation of humanity who were fortunate enough to experience the arrival of the messiah upon Earth; all earlier generations would be consumed with the longing for fulfillment but would die without experiencing it. Ancient Judaism knew no hope of resurrection. In connection with the transcending of the expectation of the Kingdom of God, however, even anticipations of resurrection voiced earlier by Zoroastrianism were achieved: the Kingdom of God was to include within itself in the state of resurrection all the faithful of every generation of humanity. Even the faithful of the earlier generations would find in resurrection the realization of their faith. In the new eon the Messiah–Son of man would rule over the resurrected faithful of all times and all peoples. A characteristic breaking free of the eschatological expectation was thereby presented. It no longer referred exclusively to the Jews alone; with its transcendence a universalistic feature entered into it.

Jesus—in contrast to John the Baptist (a preacher of repentance who pointed to the coming bringer of the Kingdom)—knew himself to be the one who brought fulfillment of the Kingdom itself, because the wondrous powers of the Kingdom of God were already at work in him. He proclaimed the good news that the long promised Kingdom was already dawning, that the consummation was here. This is what was new: the promised Kingdom, supra-worldly, of the future, the coming new eon, already reached redeemingly into the this-worldly from its beyond-ness, as a charismatic reality that brought people together in a new community.

Jesus did not simply transfer to himself the promise of heavenly Son of man, as it was articulated in the apocryphal First Book of Enoch. Instead, he gave this expectation of the Son of man an entirely new interpretation. Pious Jewish circles, such as the Enoch community and other pietist groups, expected in the coming Son of man a figure of light from on high, a heavenly conquering hero, with all the marks of divine power and glory. Jesus, however, linked expectations of the Son of man with the figure of the suffering servant of God (as in Isaiah, chapter 53). He would return in glory as the consummator of the Kingdom.

The church and its history » God the Son » The doctrine of the Virgin Mary and holy Wisdom
The dogma of the Virgin Mary as the “mother of God” and “bearer of God” is connected in the closest way with the dogma of the incarnation of the divine Logos. The theoretical formation of doctrine did not bring the veneration of the mother of God along in its train; instead, the doctrine only reflected the unusually great role that this veneration already had taken on at an early date in the liturgy and in the church piety of orthodox faithful.

The expansion of the veneration of the Virgin Mary as the bearer of God (Theotokos) and the formation of the corresponding dogma comprise one of the most astonishing occurrences in the history of the early church. The New Testament offers only scanty points of departure for this development. Although she has a prominent place in the narratives of the Nativity and the Passion of Christ, Mary completely recedes behind the figure of Jesus, who stands in the centre of all four Gospels. From the Gospels themselves it can be recognized that Jesus’ development into the preacher of the Kingdom of God took place in sharp opposition to his family, who were so little convinced of his mission that they held him to be insane (Mark 3:21); in a later passage Jesus refuses to recognize them (Mark 3:31). Accordingly, all the Gospels stress the fact that Jesus separated himself from his family. Even The Gospel According to John still preserved traces of Jesus’ tense relationship with his mother. Mary appears twice without being called by name the mother of Jesus; and Jesus himself regularly withholds from her the designation of mother.

Nevertheless, with the conception of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, a tendency developed early in the church to grant to the mother of the Son of God a special place within the church. This development was sketched quite hesitantly in the New Testament. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke mention the virgin birth. On these scanty presuppositions the later veneration of the mother of God was developed. The view of the virgin birth entered into the creed of all Christianity and became one of the strongest religious impulses in the development of the dogma, liturgy, and ecclesiastical piety of the early church.

Veneration of the mother of God received its impetus when the Christian Church became the imperial church. Despite the lack of detail concerning Mary in the Gospels, cultic veneration of the divine virgin and mother found within the Christian Church a new possibility of expression in the worship of Mary as the virgin mother of God, in whom was achieved the mysterious union of the divine Logos with human nature. The spontaneous impulse of popular piety, which pushed in this direction, moved far in advance of the practice and doctrine of the church. In Egypt, Mary was, at an early point, already worshiped under the title of Theotokos—an expression that Origen used in the 3rd century. The Council of Ephesus (431) raised this designation to a dogmatic standard. To the latter, the second Council of Constantinople (553) added the title “eternal Virgin.” In the prayers and hymns of the Orthodox Church the name of the mother of God is invoked as often as is the name of Christ and the Holy Trinity.

The doctrine of the heavenly Wisdom (Sophia) represents an Eastern Church particularity. In late Judaism, speculations about the heavenly Wisdom—a figure beside God that presents itself to humanity as mediator in the work of creation as well as mediator of the knowledge of God—abounded. In Roman Catholic doctrine, Mary, the mother of God, was identified with the figure of the divine Wisdom. To borrow a term used in Christology to describe Jesus as being of the same substance (hypostasis) as the Father, Mary was seen as possessing a divine hypostasis.

This process of treating Mary and the heavenly Wisdom alike did not take place in the realm of the Eastern Orthodox Church. For all its veneration of the mother of God, the Eastern Orthodox Church never forgot that the root of this veneration lay in the incarnation of the divine Logos that took place through her. Accordingly, in the tradition of Orthodox theology, a specific doctrine of the heavenly Wisdom, Sophianism, is found alongside the doctrine of the mother of God. This distinction between the mother of God and the heavenly Sophia in 20th-century Russian philosophy of religion (in the works of Vladimir Solovyov, Pavel Florensky, W.N. Iljin, and Sergey Bulgakov) developed a special Sophianism. Sophianism did, however, evoke the opposition of Orthodox academic theology. The numerous great churches of Hagia Sophia, foremost among them the cathedral by that name in Constantinople (Istanbul), are consecrated to this figure of the heavenly Wisdom.



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