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Incarnation and Christology

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K038-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

It is a central and essential dogma of Christianity that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified in Judea during the procuratorship (ad 26–36) of Pontius Pilate, and God, the eternal and omnipresent creator of the universe, were in some very strong sense ‘one’. The department of Christian theology that is devoted to the study of the nature and implications of this ‘oneness’ is called Christology. Orthodox Christology (unlike certain heretical Christologies) sees this oneness as a oneness of person, as consisting in the co-presence of two natures, the divine and the human, in one person, Jesus Christ. To speak plainly, orthodox Christology holds that there is someone, Jesus Christ, who is both divine and human. Because God pre-existed and is superior to every human being, orthodox theologians have found it natural to speak of the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Jesus Christ as something that happened to the pre-existent divine nature: at a certain point in time, at the moment of the conception of Jesus, it ‘took on flesh’ or ‘became incarnate’; in the words of the Athanasian Creed, the union of the two natures was accomplished ‘not by conversion of the Godhead [divinitas] into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God’. This event, and the continuing union it established, are called ‘the Incarnation’. The Incarnation was not, according to Christian teaching, undone by Christ’s death (his corpse – a human corpse – continued to be united with the divine nature by the same bond by which the living man had been united) or by his ‘Ascension’ (his ‘withdrawal’ from the everyday world of space and time forty days after the Resurrection), and it will never be undone: the Incarnation is eternal.

The primary statements of the dogma of the Incarnation are the Definition issued by the Council of Chalcedon (ad 451) and the Athanasian Creed (fifth century; its origins are obscure). The creed issued by the Council of Nicaea (ad 325) and the longer, revised version of this creed that is today used liturgically (and commonly called ‘the Nicene Creed’) contain nothing of substance that is not found in the two later statements.

Citing this article:
van Inwagen, Peter. Incarnation and Christology, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K038-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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