A Reply To Richard Rohr On The Cosmic Christ

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.

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  1. polly Schofield on October 21, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Dom John Main said all of the above..only more simply…as a knowledge awailable directly to each one of us..in Love.One must learn this in the silent discipline of meditation.
    “It was not Christ’s suffering on the Cross that saved the world, it was HIS LOVE.”

    • defiantchild2015 on February 16, 2020 at 7:41 pm

      So his death meant nothing! So he could have said “Go with God” and everything would be okay.

  2. Fred Ball, OFR on October 19, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks, Ilia, for bringing your Bonaventurian insights into this reflection. Haecceitas is such an important concept — the thisness of Jesus which expresses his particularity but leaves room for the understanding of all that is as a word of God, an expression of the fountain-fullness of God’s love.


  3. Debra Waites on October 19, 2017 at 9:58 am

    I think we should stop referring to Jesus as Jesus Christ as if Christ is a surname. I think it would help define the christness of all that is encompassed as Christ.

  4. Craig on October 17, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Yes thank you for this post. I’ve experienced liminal space in the past but nothing close to the sense or I should say utter lack of sense I’m in now and have been for the last few months since discovering this cosmology/theology. I’ve never been sky diving but while reading that last paragraph especially I felt a big and welcomed shift… something like going from an initial get-wrenching sensation of falling and spinning towards certain death with nothing to hold onto, to a stabilising feeling of reaching terminal velocity and floating calmly in midair. It’s not exactly like that because I keep switching between the two experiences at the moment but just tasting that shift itself was oh so helpful… letting go doesn’t feel so counterintuitive now. Very encouraging.
    I also think John is right about listening. It’s the one thing I feel able to do right now in centering prayer, letting go of my thoughts (anything that brings my attention to a focal point) and surrendering to God’s presence and action within and without for 20 minutes at a time. One of my favourite Paul Tillich quotes is, “The first duty of love is to listen.” I’m a couple of weeks from beginning working again with people with disabilities and listening (the kind of listening John mentioned), I have discovered, is almost the all of it. The rest of the “work” seems to grow out of that organically. I utterly enjoyed the work beforehand but I look forward to reentering it with this new perspective slowly gaining ground in me… I suspect my enjoyment will be a hundred fold. Jean Vanier (one of my heroes) is right when he says that people with disabilities end up blessing you far more than you do them…It’s a hidden kingdom. If evolution is the evolution of consciousness they’re far further along than anyone else I know. They’re the real x-men and women. Listening is like opening up a channel through which they’re consciousness ends up pouring into me. Perhaps this liminal space is emptying me ready for it…
    Again thank you. As one “of the people” I found this very encouraging and helpful.

  5. Padraic on October 17, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    What does Ilia really mean when she says, ‘Each of us is a little word of the Word of God, a mini-incarnati.
    on of divine love’ ….I wonder if we are almost lacking sometimes in spiritual ambition, by not embracing the fullness of who we are, as distilled from the wisdom traditions ? A ‘little word’ and a ‘mini-incarnation’ seems to downplay the wonder and awe of our being, almost in fear of, and cautionary towards the indeed real possibility and potential of ‘egoic inflation’. One senses almost the ‘weight of tradition’ rather than the lightness of being. But in reality can we be a mini incarnation ? Is it not totally stupendous that we are all indeed, to varying degrees of realisation, incarnations of ‘divinity’? What in experience does it mean then to say, ‘We are not God …but [have] the capacity to be united with God’ ? Can we be ‘united’ with that which we are not ? And ‘what’ do we become in the process of uniting ? In response also to John’s post above about a ‘method’…I would suggest our conscious ‘daily round’ is method enough, along with perhaps deconstructing some of the very (often implicit and unconscious) restrictive beliefs and assumptions about who we are, aligned with our practices of stillness and silence, for recognizing and experiencing the joy of our being. A recognition of the state-stages of development, held somewhat lightly as markers or way-stations, as expressed in Integral theory/spirituality and distilled from various traditions, (whilst recognizing distinctions) is i suggest also helpful in discerning what ‘self’ is ‘at play’ and potentially facilitates a fuller embrace of the awesome paradox of becoming who we already are.

  6. Alice M on October 17, 2017 at 11:59 am

    What has been most helpful to me in experiencing the Christ within myself (and what that means) is the practice of Silence. It is a return to the “Womb” to the Source of Love that gave birth to me and to all that is, a place of pure potential and possibility. This is what Jesus was trying to say to NIcodemus…a birth “from above”…a spiritual birth. It is here, in the Presence of this dance within the soul, not of opposites, but of complements that I have been “born again”.

    “In the beginning was the dance….between lovers…. Between Logos and Sophia… (All things were made by your Word and your Wisdom. (Wisdom 9:2) These lovers were unique but equal in a dance that was mutual, reciprocal, flowing with an exchange of energy, erotic, compassionate, intentional. In the fiery exchange of their Love and the continual filling and emptying, a space was created. This space was an open womb of pure potential and possibility, impregnated with the invisible Spirit/Energy/Light of the loving relationship. In this Sacred Virginal Womb of spaciousness, of pure possibility, of emptiness, the Christ/Anointed/Beloved One is being conceived and from the nothingness, the Silence, the emptiness a visible form is taking shape in time over and over in myriad manifestations ….for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…in an eternal dance/birthing of Love.
    Mary symbolizes the feminine Soul (Sophia) which receives this Mystery on faith alone with her YES! Out of this dance between the feminine soul of Compassion/receptivity and the masculine soul of intention and outpouring, the birth continues in time………. We are all feminine in reception of this Mystery…. And masculine in its drive to manifest.
    In the” fullness of time,” when creation was “ripe,” Jesus consciously manifested this inner dance out of which he was birthed from his own mother’s Yes. At his Baptism his own soul was “submerged” in the experience of this dance between Logos and Sophia, (Word of God and Wisdom of God) and after his temptation he moved into its physical manifestation by drawing the world around him into the experience of the union of this dance. He was the “form” of Love in the world, the “pinnacle” of all that it means to be human/divine taking up the whole of matter in himself and redeeming (re-valuing) it.”
    I think the recent solar eclipse and its “Diamond Effect” is the universe telling us that this IS the marriage within the soul of every person…..not an eclipse of the masculine (sun) by the feminine (moon) but rather a marriage of complements, not opposites. the eclipse was a snapshot of our souls which is why I think it elicited so much emotion. This is what is happening in the events of today, the feminine (compassion) rising to take its equal place alongside the masculine drive to produce so that what is created has the best possible chance to fulfill itself in the image of the Love that created it. And perhaps the gender issues of today are this Love’s way of saying this isn’t about being male or female because these creative energies exist within every soul, male and female. Once this marriage takes place in every soul, then we will have the healing and wholeness and nature will reflect the peace and harmony.
    Thank you Ilia for all your work that has been foundational to my own reflections.
    Alice MacDonald

  7. Jordan on October 17, 2017 at 7:23 am

    Really good summary of the cosmic Christ and a thought-provoking article here, Ilia. Thanks for these thoughts.

  8. John Ferro on October 17, 2017 at 7:07 am

    “It means dying to the untethered selves that occupy us daily…..”

    And herein lies the challenge, how do we do this? What is a vehicle that we can use? Self imposed dying is difficult because the very act feeds the ‘SELF’. However, I am currently enrolled in a course called a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, sponsored by MIT. Otto Scharmer is the Professor who leads the class. The class is made up of thousands of people around the world. I bring this up because the course work forces us to develop and log (Journal) our ability to listen. To truly listen in an empathetic, generative way, one has to let go of the “downloaded” self. One has to do an “empathy” walk with another person to understand where that person is coming from. Then one has to utilize “stillness” and sit with the problem, the moment, and together try to move forward. This course is actually portrayed as a leadership course entitled “Theory U: leading from the emerging future.” However, I work in the medical profession and I have little authority or control to what is happening in the “business” of medicine. I am an employee and my sole job is to care for patients. This is frustrating because I do not feel that I can contribute to the future of the health care profession. Therefore, why take the class?. Because the emphasis not necessarily changing the profession, but turning the telescope around from looking at the externals in our lives and looking back at oneself. How are my downloaded programs from my history actually contributing to the problem and preventing healing? In order to do this, one has to change one’s whole framework of working. One has to sit in silence and learn about oneself. One has to sit in silence and learn in a nonjudgmental way, about another. In other words one has to lose the little “self” for the benefit of the whole to move forward and to evolve.

    I offer this thought here in a response to this blog because I feel that we need to approach the evolving love that is God, the evolving Christ, by learning a method to lose the little self ‘will’ to the larger, participating ‘will’ of the future. In order to do this, one needs education to learn “how” to do this. One can cerebrally read the above blog and appreciate the wisdom of it, but how does the individual move forward with this information. That vehicle needs to be discovered and the course I am taking offers such an education. I am not promoting it, just commenting on it. If others know other “vehicles” to help, please share them. I did go on Fr Rohr’s “Male Rites of Passage” in 2004 and it offered insights, but I needed the discipline of a ‘class’ with homework and daily journaling to start seeing potential.

    Thank Ilia for your post.
    John Ferro

  9. Mickey Kolbe on October 17, 2017 at 6:44 am

    Often in his talks, Father Steve would reference Duns Scotus and Ilia Delio and we were always so inspired by him. Had the gift of being on retreat at Aston with him last year. We all miss him at St. Francis.

  10. Sean Ward OFS on October 17, 2017 at 6:30 am

    I am captivated by the ideas of Fr. Richard and Sr. Ilia, at present rather more intuitively than intellectually for like Snug the Joiner in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “I am slow of study”.
    Only this week I read two comments which have helped my understanding of these ideas.
    In a reflection on the canticle, Sing to the Lord a new song (Is.42 10-16), Pope John Paul II writes: “Every day the believer must be able to discern the signs of divine action even when they are hidden by the apparently monotonous, aimless flow of time. As a highly esteemed modern Christian author [Romano Guardini] has written: ‘the earth is pervaded by a cosmic ecstasy: in it is an eternal reality and presence which, however, usually sleeps under the veil of habit. Eternal reality must now be revealed, as in an epiphany of God, through all that exists.’ Discovering this divine presence, with the eyes of faith, in space and time but also within ourselves, is a source of hope and confidence…”
    In his interview Fr Richard mentions his growing desire to talk conversationally to the divine presence. In a reflection on Psalm 116[117] Pope John Paul writes: “Despite its brevity and conciseness Psalm 116[117] captures the essence of prayer, which consists in coming together and entering into lively personal conversation with God. In such an event, the mystery of the Divinity is revealed as faithfulness and love.”


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