In this blog Ilia Delio considers recent reflections offered by Richard Rohr on the Cosmic Christ, and provides some additional thoughts. See THE COSMIC CHRIST by Richard Rohr, and REDISCOVERING THE UNIVERSAL CHRIST, an audio interview with Fr. Richard Rohr.
Richard Rohr is one of the great vernacular theologians of our age. He has the gift of taking complex theological ideas and translating the core insights into the language of the people. In doing so, he has helped thousands of people around the globe come to a new appreciation of the mystery of God and the need for renewed spirituality today.
In his newest work, Richard takes up the mystery of the cosmic Christ and, as a Franciscan, does so with passion. The notion that Christ is the firstborn of creation, the head of the whole shebang from the beginning, was supplanted in the early Church by the emphasis on sin and salvation. St. Augustine, in particular, felt the need to formulate a doctrine of original sin in order to highlight the saving grace of God. By the eleventh century, the need to explain the damage due to the sin of Adam and Eve became the principal reason for Jesus Christ. If Adam had not sinned, Christ would not have come. No sin, no Jesus. The reason for the Incarnation (God assuming flesh), therefore, found merit in sinful humanity, rendering generations of people focused on their faults and failings. Salvation through Christ meant being rescued from a fallen world.
It is rather strange that the reason God became flesh was to repair human damage. Such a reason belied the very nature of God as love. In the early Church, theologians like Irenaeus of Lyons and, to some extent Origen, engaged the question of the Incarnation by considering it as a work of love. Rupert of Deutz in the Middle Ages did so in the eleventh century and in the fourteenth century an explicit doctrine on the primacy of Christ was formed by the Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus. Scotus said that God is love and, from all eternity, God willed to love a creature to grace and glory. Whether or not sin ever existed, Christ would have come because Christ is first in God’s intention to love. And in order for Christ to come there must be humans and for humans to exist there must be a creation; hence Christ is first in God’s will to love and thus to create. The reason for Jesus Christ is not sin but the fullness of love. This view is consonant with the Scriptures where, as Richard points out, the Letter to the Colossians states that Christ is the firstborn of creation (1:15) and in the Letter to the Ephesians the author writes that Christ is “the mystery hidden from all eternity” (3:9). What God intended from all eternity was to share God’s life with a finite creature so that Jesus Christ is present from the beginning of the universe. Everything is christic as Teilhard de Chardin indicated; God’s incarnate love is the source and future of everything that exists. In Teilhard’s words: “There is nothing profane here below for those who know how to see.”
How do we know this Christ of the cosmos? Should we study cosmology or astronomy? Should we forget about sin and human weakness? Should we simply try to love more and hate less? Actually none of these suggestions will lead us to the cosmic Christ, the Christ of the whole, as Richard states. In fact the whole notion of the Christ can seem detached from Jesus, as if there is this divine whole we call “Christ” that seems to pop up in Jesus. Here is where I might draw a slightly different distinction. When we say, “Jesus is the Christ,” we are saying that the humanity of Jesus is one with divinity, the “mystery hidden from the beginning of the world.” There is a particularity here, a haecceitas (or thisness) that cannot be overlooked. Jesus is the Christ which means all that God is, is given to us in Jesus, rendering a new understanding of God as relational, self-communicative, self-emptying. Could this be said of Buddha or Mohammed? No, at least there is no basis to make such a claim. In and through the human-historical life of Jesus we come to know a different type of God than what Jews or Muslims profess. Jesus called God “Abba” and his deep unity with God was expressed by a new energy, the Spirit of love. Hence through the life of Jesus we see a new understanding of God emerge as Trinity; it is the unified love of the Trinity (the plurality of divine persons in a communion of love) that forms the content of the symbol, “Christ.”
The Christ, therefore, is not an abstract symbol but the communion of divine persons-in-love expressed in personal form. The real content of this symbol is shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. So does everyone have to become Christian to know the Christ? Absolutely not; Christ is more than Jesus. Christ is the communion of divine personal love expressed in every created form of reality—every star, leaf, bird, fish, tree, rabbit and every human person. Everything is christified because everything expresses divine love incarnate. However, Jesus Christ is the “thisness” of God (‘God is like this and this is God’) so what Jesus is by nature everything else is by grace (divine love). We are not God but every single person is born out of the love of God, expresses this love in his/her unique personal form and has the capacity to be united with God. It is for this reason that the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure described the mystery of Jesus Christ as a coincidence of opposites. Because Jesus is the Christ, every human is already reconciled with every other human in the mystery of divine so that Christ is more than Jesus alone; Christ is the whole reality bound in a union of love.
We cannot know this mystery of Christ as a doctrine or an idea; it is the root reality of all existence. Hence we must travel inward, into the interior depth of the soul where the field of divine love is expressed in the “thisness” of our own, particular lives. Each of us is a little word of the Word of God, a mini-incarnation of divine love. The journey inward requires surrender to this mystery in our lives and this means letting go of our control buttons. It means dying to the untethered selves that occupy us daily; it means embracing the sufferings of our lives, from the little sufferings to the big ones, it means allowing God’s grace to heal us, hold us and empower us for life. It means entering into darkness, the unknowns of our lives, and learning to trust the darkness, for the tenderness of divine love is already there. It means willing to sacrifice all that we have for all that we can become in the power of God’s love; and finally it means to let God’s love heal us of the opposing tensions within us. No one can see God and live and thus we must surrender our partial lives to become whole in the love of God. When we can say with full voice, “you are the God of my heart, my God and my portion forever” then we can open our eyes to see that the Christ in me is the Christ in you. We are indeed One in love.