Verbum Incarnatum


Glenn Ambrose
University of the Incarnate Word


The question concerning the identity and message of Jesus of Nazareth is fundamentally important for Catholic universities and colleges.  This has always been true, but today's pluralistic and ecumenical setting presses us to think in new ways. This essay draws attention to two types of Christologies, one from "above" and one from "below," that have been a part of the Christian tradition and examines their viability in contemporary Christian faith-based education. In conclusion, it is argued that a Christology from Below, which rejects theological claims concerning the divine identity of Jesus as a starting point in favor of beginning with the fullness of his humanity, is better suited for Catholic universities. Such an approach to understanding the identity and message of Jesus preserves the interrogative value of the incarnation, has a more universal appeal, helps articulate a true humanism and is most relevant to the generation coming of age.

            And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesare'a Philippi and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he charged them to tell no one about him. (Mark 8:27-30)

     If in fact Mark records here an actual historical exchange between Jesus and Peter, then Peter, from the perspective of Mark's community, gives the right answer. But we may legitmely doubt that Peter understood what he said at this point.  His behavior at the time of Jesus' arrest (denial of even knowing Jesus) and immediately after the crucifixion (hiding) suggests his concept of the Messiah did not correspond with a crucified Christ. This text, which raises the question of the identity of Jesus, continues to challenge every generation to discern the meaning and message of this man from Nazareth. When it comes to identifying Jesus, each of us has in all likelihood inherited multiple names for Jesus. But as the passage from Mark above shows, having the right name by itself is not enough. The various names or titles for Jesus all carry with them a particular meaning or in many cases multiple meanings. It is these particular meanings that require our attention and understanding when considering who Jesus is and what he represents to our current age.

ΚΚΚΚ     "But who do you say that I am?" (Mk. 8:29)  If Jesus were to put this question to a contemporary theologian such as myself, I could invite him to any number of lectures in my classes in which I discuss different theological perspectives on Jesus formulated through the ages. Or I could give him an answer based on the latest historical evidence that is shedding light on his identity as a first century Jew. However, I suspect, if I were to do so, Jesus' reply would be, "So what? Who do YOU say that I am?" The Jesus question is more than a historical question and more than a theological question. It is, as