The Jesus event — the Person, who and what He is, and what He accomplished for mankind — has provoked the human intellect to some of its most impressive exertions and accomplishments over the past two thousand years. (By the capitalizations in that sentence, I tip my hand as to my own, admittedly halting, conclusions.) Our friend Father Edward T. Oakes, S.J., has done justice to the story of man’s struggle with this question, in his clear and consistently engaging new book, Infinity Dwindled to Infancy: A Catholic and Evangelical Christology. He recounts the New Testament authors’ understandings of Christ, and lays out the stages of the building of Chalcedonian orthodoxy; but more than half of the book is devoting to the developments of post-Chalcedon theology, including the Christologies of the Reformation and the modern era.
Oakes suggests an especially interesting analogy between the extra Calvinisticum — the notion of John Calvin that (in Oakes’s paraphrase) “the Son of God, after the incarnation, was totally united to the human nature but was not restricted to it” — with the idea of many theologians, supported by Vatican II, that the saving work of Christ extends beyond Christianity as formally understood. Vatican II “is implying,” writes Oakes, “that the Word of God is active, too, beyond the human nature of Christ — beyond, but not independent of that nature.” Another thing that becomes especially clear in Oakes’s late chapters is the historic importance to theology of Karol Wojtyla. One of the key drafters of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, Wojtyla was to a great extent responsible for that document’s startling assertion (n.22) that “by his incarnation, [Christ], the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man.” This was a central theme for John Paul II’s pontificate, at the heart of both his unflinching proclamation of the uniqueness of Christ and his love and respect for all men and all religions (on display most provocatively at the interreligious gatherings at Assisi).
Spend some time with Father Oakes’s book, and you’ll have a rewarding experience of struggles with the question of who Christ is — and who man is.