Part 4: The Cruciform Icon through a High Christology Lens
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”
– John 1:1-4
As is stated in prologue to John’s Gospel, Christ existed before having been made manifest in the person of Jesus – for Christ is, before anything else, God’s Eternal Word, referred to in the Greek as the Logos. The Logos was a concept developed in ancient Greek philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus and continuing through the Stoic philosophers. For these ancient thinkers, the term referred to the principle of reason manifest in the order of the Universe, as analogized with the reason one encounters within one’s own mind. It was essentially an animating and ordering creative force which structured and filled all things. The early authors of the New Testament borrowed this Greek philosophical language and drew parallels from it to to the Hebrew Bible’s references to divine Wisdom in books like Proverbs. In these portions of the Tanakh, Wisdom (referred to as Sophia in the Greek) is personified and described as existing before creation, being God’s master worksman who rejoiced in God’s creation, and who was a source of God’s constant delight (Proverbs 8:22-31).
Early christians linked these two ideas – the Greek Logos and the Hebrew Sophia – and used these concepts to elaborate their idea of the pre-existent Christ. For them, Christ was God’s Wisdom and God’s active creative involvement in the Universe; both God’s ultimate blueprint for the creation and the animating energy that drew the creation towards its final goal. We see this idea communicated by the author of John’s Gospel who writes that “through Him all things were made”, a theme further elaborated by Paul who in Colossians quotes the Christ hymn that exclaims, “in Him all things live and move and have their being”, and, “by Him all things hold together”. Christ as Logos is therefore the origin point and the end point of creation, as well as its substratum and the force driving it forwards. For me, this idea of the Cosmic Christ, when understood through the hermeneutic of the Cruciform Icon, points to a certain metaphysic of Creation – a metaphysic which further reveals the unconditional love God has for Creation, the same love that was reflected in the historical situation of Jesus’ life, ending in his crucifixion.
The metaphysic suggested to me is this – that Christ, the Logos of God, in an act of self-emptying (kenosis) that presaged and mirrored what Jesus would later accomplish through His life and death on the Cross, died to Its purely divine nature in the act of creating the Universe and invested itself in that creation. In so doing, It made room within Itself for the finite but ever-evolving World. Where there had been only God, there was now room for finite creatures capable of their own free will, whether in alignment with the divine will or not. Such was God’s love for the World – that the Logos sacrificed some portion of its agency, investing it into creation, in order that the World might be able to come into being. In this sense, the Universe itself is the first incarnation of the Logos.
Now, while this idea may seem somewhat unfamiliar to an average American evangelical, when we look at the language used in the preamble to John’s Gospel this idea doesn’t seem like such a stretch. After all, the author of John does say that the Word became flesh, specifically using the greek word sarx – flesh in the general sense – and not soma, which would be one body in particular. Other authors and thinkers have commented on this as well. Franciscan friar Richard Rohr, for example, writes in his book The Universal Christ that “God loves things by becoming them”, referencing the same kind of metaphysic and christology I have described above. A different, more ancient thinker, Rabbi Isaac Luria, who was active in the 1500’s, also wrote about this idea of primary, creative kenosis under different terms.
Luria developed what is known as Lurianic Kabbalah, a highly influential form of Jewish Mysticism. As he worked out his theology, he attempted to reconcile the contrast between God’s transcendence and immanence, as well as solve the problem of theodicy (i.e. how a fully good, fully present God, can create a world that contains evil). In so doing he developed the idea of the Tzimtzum – the contraction. The idea was that the infinite light of God, in creating the World, had to contract, turning in on itself, in order to create a space within itself that allowed for the temporary, or illusory, existence of finitude and separation. Although Luria was of course not a Christian thinker, one can see how, in his contemplating the nature of creation in reference to the Biblical narrative about God that Christians also inherited, he came to a similar conclusion to that which I described above – that God had to limit Godself in order to make room for creation.
To summarize, then, I understand the initial act of creation of the World in the context of a Christological narrative, which I read through the lens of the Cruciform Icon. The Cosmic Christ, the second person of the Trinity who existed before all things, died to itself (in some sense) in order to invest its creative power and agency into the creation. This was an act of kenosis, or self-emptying, for a greater purpose. The purpose of this kenotic act was to invest in an incarnate universe to which God could relate in love, manifesting God’s Beauty, Goodness, and Truth within and amongst God’s creations. Rather than creating a universe which conformed to God’s will by fiat, Christ desired a world which had to respond to and relate to God’s persuasive love from within rather than be coerced from outside – in this way the relationship between creator and creature would be non-violent.
After all, how can love be true, if it is not free?