Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-11 and in the History of Christian Doctrine


Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-11 and in the History of Christian Doctrine

Kenosis in Philippians 2:5‑11 and in the History of Christian Doctrine

Rinse Reeling Brouwer

‘When new ideas arise in an era, it also gets new eyes, and sees much that is new particularly in old works of the mind’, Heinrich Heine said. The same thing happens when postmodernist thinkers encounter thoughts about ‘kenosis’ in the flow, even if it’s but an undertow, of Christian tradition. A volume like this must have a contribution, which investigates to what extent Christian tradition actually lends itself to such an appeal, how it can be opened up with these new questions in mind, and where it seems to resist such activity. This should not be about smothering experimental fervour before it has even started. Rather, it can be useful to know what has been meant by ‘kenosis’ in the history of theology, and what difficulties have been encountered in earlier attempts to think in terms of something akin to kenosis. And who knows perhaps an encounter with such earlier attempts raises questions that have remained underexposed in the current debate so far.

To start with, this article will look at how the passage in the biblical witness that is usually quoted – not exclusively but certainly primarily – as the locus classicus, when talking about kenosis, can be read, to wit, the portion in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi which modern exegetes have almost unanimously thought to go back to a hymn about the Christ that had been well-known before for quite some time (1). Next we will look at the main line and a secondary line of thought in the formative period as well as in the period of the consolidation of the Christological dogma in the Christian church and in theology (2). Finally several 19th century schemes are dealt with that have presented themselves as ‘kenotic’ and whose exponents in their own awareness sometimes developed them in opposition to that dogma but sometimes also to draw attention to it (3). We conclude with touching again on a number of questions that we have encountered on our quest through the history of theology (4).

1.         ‘Who made himself of no reputation…’[1]

1.êWho made himself of no reputation…íPhil. 2:7 in the King James Version.

Who is the subject of heauton ekenoosen in Phil. 2:7? Vattimo, for whose philosophical project subtleties within theology are of no immediate relevance, intuitivelyhas‘kenosis’ coincide with ‘God becoming man’ in his Credere di credere. But within the literary context of the carmen Christi, as it has been passed on in Phil. 2:6-11, it would be too quick a conclusion to just let it be ‘God’ who ‘empties’ himself here. We only hear of ho theos (with article) in verse 9, right after the turning point in the song. In the end it turns out that God, this God, is indeed involved with the one whose path is sung about in what precedes. But we must also let the song tell its own story, so it will not do to read the outcome into the beginning too quickly. How then do we name the subject? For the most part ancient church tradition has said: it was the logos asarkos, the eternal Word (using the terminology of the prologue in the fourth gospel) that still had to become flesh. The humanist Erasmus, however, thought: he emptied himself in his capacity as a human being.[2] The reformers concurred with him in this (albeit neatly framed within a doctrine of the two natures, which was considered orthodox). Thus Calvin says: one must think of Christ as a whole here, i.e. of God as he has already revealed himself in the flesh (i.e. the logos ensarkos), and he could only empty himself according to his human nature. For by thus humbling himself in the flesh, he has caused his divine majesty to be hidden.[3] Even later on both traditions find followers as well: the so-called ‘kenotic’ theologians in the 19th century envisioned a pre-existing logos, some modern exegetes (radicalising Erasmus, that is to say, leaving out the doctrine of the two natures) rather envision the man Jesus, who appeared in history, as the subject of the emptying. This fact alone suffices not to consider the kenosis concept to be unequivocal to any extent.

The next question must be what ‘emptying oneself’ actually means. According to the dictionaries kenoun means: 1. to empty, with a direct object or with whatever one empties oneself of in the genitive. If this meaning is applicable, the word is used in an absolute way in Phil. 2:7: ‘he emptied himself’, ‘he made himself of no reputation’. Yet quite a few exegetes supply a genitive: he emptied himself from being equal to God;[4] 2. to destroy, render void, of no effect. In the LXX the word is not used reflexively anywhere. It occurs solely in connection with the destruction of cities and submitting others to judgement. Based on this H.-W. Bartsch suggests to conceive of the term as a ‘submitting to judgement’[5] in this passage, where it is used reflexively by way of exception. In that case little remains of postmodernist emptiness on exegetical grounds.

After having tracked down some exegetical problems in our exploratory investigation, we now turn to the interpretations of the song as a whole, in which the utterance of the emptying must receive its meaning. For this we look at three explanations by 20th century New Testament scholars (namely Lohmeyer, Käsemann and Bartsch). Each of them manages to present their proposal in a fine combination of erudition and capacity for literary style. At the same time, however, their interpretations are so different that we cannot avoid deciding on our own preference in the midst of the various alternatives and then, of course also, motivating it. In dealing with our text we consult a study of New Testament Christology (Cullmann) as well, because in it, as we shall see, a systematic problem in exegesis pre-eminently emerges that also appears with thinkers like Vattimo.

1.1.      Lohmeyer

With his study Kyrios Jesus,[6] Ernst Lohmeyer has provided the impetus for the more recent investigation into this ‘primitive Christian psalm’. He finds it to contain six regular[7] stanzas. In the first three stanzas three cosmic spheres are walked through, each time descending one step. From heaven (the majesty of the divine figure: vs. 6) it goes via the earth (the humanity of the figure of the servant: vs. 7a-c) to the realm of death (the humiliation: vs. 7c, 8).[8] After the turn in the song (vs. 9), in the second set of three stanzas, all these three layers together (vs. 10c: ‘in heaven and on earth and under the earth’) then will bow down before him who has walked this path into the depth and thus they will confess Jesus as Lord.[9] Primarily for stylistic reasons Lohmeyer locates the background of this song in post-Old Testament Judaism, or in any case in the context of a region speaking a Semitic language. The ideas found in the song also point in that direction. Thus the concept of morfe, ‘shape’ (vs. 6), in the beginning of the song, as simultaneously indeterminateness of nature and determinateness of action, is close to the other – really Jewish – concept of ‘name’ (vs. 9b, 10a, ‘name above every name’ 9c), as simultaneously inward and outward, hidden and public.[10] And ‘did not consider equality with God something to be grasped’ in the first stanza points to the mythical representation of the religious experience of a temptation, a resisting of the evil one, which is relocated to the beginning of days (the first stanza as a kind of  ‘Prologue in Heaven’ [Prolog im Himmel], several examples of which exist in Iranian cosmology especially, but also in Jewish cosmology).[11] When subsequently he who was initially portrayed as being in very nature God, is ‘being found in appearance as a man’ (vs. 7c) in the third stanza, this would be related (when translated back into Aramaic) to the conception of the appearance of someone ‘like a son of man’ (e.g. Dan. 7:13, Rev. 1:13), someone clearly sent by God.[12] And the ‘obedience’ (vs. 8b), that this slave figure renders unto death, can be understood against the background of the image that Isaiah 53 evokes regarding the suffering ‘servant of God’. So several existing motifs (the son-of-man-motif, the ebed-YHWH-motif) were brought together here to sing about whom the early church recognised in Jesus: the one sent by God, the one on whom God bestowed the name ‘Lord’ because of his humiliation (for ‘without a doubt’ kyrios is the name intended at the conclusion,[13] and what is meant in particular is Lord of the universe), thus explicitly declaring what was uttered but vaguely in the beginning (with words like ‘shape’ or ‘equality with god’): an event is sung about, which makes prototypically [urbildlich] clear who this Lord God is and to which Paul can appeal before the addressees of his letter as exemplary [vorbildlich]: only the path through humiliation leads to exaltation.[14]

This last remark presents a problem for a reading that would like to emphasise the ‘kenosis’ of the son of man. With Lohmeyer this seems to be primarily a transitory phase, the moment of the transition from an (initially vague) godlike figure to a human existence on a path, at the end of which any vagueness about his identity is removed. Is the ‘weakening’ here not primarily a detour toward an even greater ‘strengthening’? This problem could be the result of the history-of-religion [religionsgeschichtliche] method that Lohmeyer follows. He tries to retrieve conceptions ‘behind’ the text, then also finds them ‘in’ the text and then assumes that having identified the conception, he has also identified the content. Perhaps we’re going just a bit too fast here and we should look more closely at how certain conceptions handed down are utilised for a very special proclamation and thus transformed by it.

1.2.      Käsemann

1.2.KäsemannIn a famous 1950 article Ernst Käsemann attacks Lohmeyer head on.[15] According to him morfè should not be understood in Jewish terms at all, but rather in Greek terms. The big problem of the polis was the loss of order. How could the kosmos be protected from becoming chaotic? How could one prevent matter from falling apart? If this was possible, was the classical answer, morfè, ‘form’ had to do it. But in later years this formative power comes to be regarded as insufficient. More is considered to be necessary. The Gnostic myth offers this ‘more’: only a divine figure could still save the cosmos from chaos. This myth is alluded to in many passages in the New Testament. This is also the case in our song. It literally tells about a meta-morphosis, a change of mode of being [Daseinsweise]: the primordial man-redeemer comes out of the light and enters the darkness of matter, the divine figure takes on the likeness of a slave, the prince becomes a beggar. This can hardly be understood in terms of later doctrine, because the latter will be thinking in terms of constant substances.[16] But here the redeemer emphatically does not remain the same. The fact that he ‘did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing’ means that he indeed surrendered what was really his (‘er entleert sich der göttlichen Daseinsweise’).[17] Instead he partakes of human destiny, of imprisonment in matter, which as such means servitude [Knechtschaft]. Thus the song sings about how they, who were subject to mortal fear, experience how their fate is being shared. No appeal for imitation is intended. In vs. 5 Paul does not summon us to do like Christ did but to ‘deal with each other in such a way as is fitting in the Christ’s sphere of power’.[18] The song then demonstrates what that realm of power objectively looks like.[19] For a change of rule [Herrschaftswechsel] has taken place: human destiny, to be in bondage to the powers of death, gains a new characterisation wherever one hears of the one who submitted himself in voluntary obedience. It is now possible to be liberated from slavery into voluntary servanthood. So perhaps we actually have a baptismal song here that commends this about-face. Though the mythical form has been retained, at its core gnosis has been shattered. For voluntary obedience and certainly the Pauline addition of a theologia crucis are inconceivable there. Here in Hellenistic terms myth is being demythologised from the inside out.

Unlike Lohmeyer Käsemann offers elements that can underscore Vattimo’s view. Käsemann too almost completely ignores the Old Testament, and he too regards the Christian version of the myth to be a ‘weakening’, or a critique, at any rate, of the (Gnostic) theologia gloriae. At the same time there is also a big difference, namely where Käsemann refuses to draw ethical conclusions from the song. He doesn’t go any further (in this text, at any rate)[20] than a Heideggerian assent that our ‘Geworfenheit’ is a ‘Sein zum Tode’. Into this understanding of life Christ brings the following element: that human fate does not necessarily have to be mythically ignored but can also be accepted in voluntary obedience. This threatens to lead to a kind of fatalism based on which ‘an ethics of weakness’ becomes almost impossible.

1.3.      Cullmann

1.3.CullmannIn his study of New Testament Christology based on the different titles given to Jesus, Oscar Cullmann ends up talking about the carmen Christi as many as three times: with the titles ‘Servant of the Lord’ (doulos), ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Lord’ (kyrios).[21] Cullmann opposes Käsemann’s reduction of the notion of morfè to a Hellenistic background. In his opinion the book of Genesis makes much more sense as its background. Why couldn’t ‘being in very nature God’ be understood as an ‘existing in God’s image’ (Gen. 1:27, cf.. Rom. 5:14 which says homoiooma and 1 Cor. 15:49, eikoon)? In this case the son of man that the song is about, is an originally heavenly Adam who – here Lohmeyer’s insights can be put to fruitful use – did resist the temptation that the earthly Adam of Genesis succumbed to. His kenosis was to let a concrete earthly human appear out of the ‘species-human’ Adam, as a result of which the other possibility of being human also became visible on earth, a possibility to which we all (here comes the ethical appeal) are destined as well (cf.. Rom. 8:29). For this reason God has (this is how Cullmann translates the hyperhypsoosen of verse 9) ‘more than exalted’ him, that is, higher than he already was in the beginning. So he did not have the title ‘Lord’, but he obtained it by walking the path he walked. This does not necessarily imply an Adoptionist Christology (Cullmann hastens to cover himself against doctrinal hair-splitters). The new Adam doesn’t become someone else by walking his path, but he does get a different task. Thus obtaining ‘a name that is above every name’ here can be compared with Luke’s theology, which has Peter say at the end of his sermon on Pentecost that God has ‘made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36). Thus the song works its way to this climax, toward this new job description. And only from the perspective of this conclusion does the proper light fall on the pre-existing heavenly Adam with whom it all began: it had been there all along!

What was taking shape with Lohmeyer, we see happening with Cullmann even more clearly here: the song is read as a ballad, the description of a set of events. The emptying and then also the receiving a new name are moments in a continuing development. And with that the biblical theologian finds himself in the company of a philosopher like Hegel, for whom ‘Entäußerung’ is a moment in the development of the Spirit. And in the company of the post-Hegelian Vattimo, for whom it is evidence of the continuing secularisation in the history of mankind. One can ask oneself whether a typically modern project isn’t projected back into an ancient text here.

1.4.      Bartsch

Hans-Werner Bartsch grew up in the same Bultmann School as Ernst Käsemann. Hence he is equally interested in demythologising. But that’s pretty much where the resemblance ends. His approach to the pericope is radically different from that of Käsemann. He doesn’t merely demythologise a text that still appears in mythical form, he simply eliminates the presumed mythological character of the hymn as such. He doesn’t believe a thing about any Gnostic provenance of the song. The early – Jewish! – church didn’t know anything about that yet! What it sung praises to was the historical man Jesus, and this right from the first song line on. After all, the song can be interpreted very well without working with the assumption of pre-existence. To this effect Cullmann’s discovery of existence in the ‘image of God’ can be of service, if detached from the presupposition that only a heavenly Adam could fulfil it.[22] Why should it not be possible to read this correspondence to God’s image, to which mankind is destined, off Jesus’ earthly life as it has been lived right from the start? Jesus didn’t become a human being. He has always been one. And not in his being god, but in his not wanting to be god (unlike the first Adam) he refused to grasp, i.e. he refused a violent and zealotic seizure of the Kingdom of God (cf. the harpagmon of vs. 6 with the harpazein of the kingdom of heaven by forceful men in Mat. 11:12).[23] Lohmeyer’s suggestion of a strophic form in the song was indeed correct, but needs to be fleshed out differently. There are not six but three stanzas, the first two (vs. 6a-7b and 7b-8c) running exactly parallel to eachother. The first stanza begins with being created ‘after the image of God’, the second with ‘being born according to the manner of humans’.[24] The first stanza deals with the ekenoosen, according to Bartsch, as we have already heard, Jesus’ ‘putting himself under judgement’, the way he showed solidarity with the fate – to be analysed in a historical-materialistic way – of his people, that was labouring under the Roman occupation in Judea and Galilee. The second stanza lends a sequel to this ekenoosen in the etapeinoosen, the humiliation.[25] This consists of the ‘obedience’ that servants always have to show the harsh masters that are placed over them anyway and of suffering the Roman punishment for runaway and rebellious slaves, the cross.[26] Finally in the third stanza he receives his name based on this solidarity he has shown – and it is not kyrios, as Lohmeyer and almost everybody else had thought, but: Ièsous, that is: liberator (this name too only appears at the end of verse 11).[27] And thus (here Bartsch in his – ‘progressive’ – way has no problem following Cullmann’s appeal to Acts. 2:36) he has gradually become Son-of-god, as an example for us all. For it is not our destiny to live in slavery. After all, being a slave is not inevitable fate (that precisely is the terrible Greek misunderstanding), but (the Jew knows, remembering the Exodus) a historical state, a scandal that must be contradicted. This contradiction has become visible and imitable for us in Jesus, who shows us that it is possible to live before God as free children in a restored world.[28]

In many ways Bartsch’ anti-Gnostic approach is refreshing. With that it is also militantly ‘anti-metaphysical’. At the same time there is a void at precisely this point. For strangely enough, out of sheer concentration on the man Jesus, his solidarity with and his reversal of the fate of slavery, the question of who that ‘God’ is that is supposed to have ‘exalted’ him after his violent death, never enters the picture here. What does the path of this human being do with this God? How is the God of Israel being Kyrios affected or not affected now by the becoming kyrios of this human being? Is some of God’s ‘weakness’ indeed shown in him, like Vattimo wants? Of all things we strangely enough don’t get to hear any of this with Bartsch. Perhaps one doesn’t get rid of the myth by ignoring it completely either.

1.5.      Provisional orientation

1.5.Preliminary [dit woord bevalt me niet. Het suggereert teveel, alsof hier iets vooraf wordt opgemerkt, terwijl het meer om een tussenbalans gaat. We hebben nu immers de hele eerste paragraaf van het artikel achter ons] orientationEven though we are not a professional exegete and we don’t have the pretension to contribute any new point of view to the many we have already heard so far, we nevertheless cannot back out of the necessity in the midst of the multiplicity of voices to proffer our own preference in reading the hymn as it has been handed down in the letter to the Philippians. In the short evaluations we have given after hearing each of the views from the three exegetical studies and the one New Testament theology, a sense has already emerged of where we feel the strong and weak areas of the various contributions are to be found. What is important now is to bring these preferences together in a more cohesive whole.

To start with, we must take seriously that this hymn includes several elements that are reminiscent of mythical imagery (cf. Lohmeyer). At the same time we must realise that in many of the allusions to the mythical form something of a shattering of the myth takes place (Käsemann). It’s really not about a primordial-man-redeemer who just comes down to earth for a little while to cause people to be released of this material existence. It’s about someone who, in his existence after god’s likeness, bent down to the lowly existence of earth. Now it seems to us – and in this we differ from almost all the witnesses called up – that the demythologisation is incomplete as long as the mythical form of a progression in time, that is to say, of something like a variation on a pagan theogony, has not been shattered from the inside out. The suggestion of a heavenly figure becoming human, followed by this human being who walked his path on earth becoming Lord or God’s son, puts the song in the framework of a ‘big story’ from the very start. Lohmeyer still pretty much tells this story without a worry, Cullmann consciously (and thus the more dubiously) provides it with a systematic foundation,[29] and even Bartsch (who denies the first half of the story, i.e. the descent from heaven, in order to end up with a lifting up to higher glory in the second half anyway) doesn’t quite escape it. A break was very nicely made with this presupposition in a study of the Dutch theologian Bert ter Schegget in the seventies.[30] In order to understand this ‘Song of the Son of Man’ (the title of his book) he appealed to a comparison with music, particularly ‘The Art of Fugue’ [Kunst der Fuge]. Thus he hears different voices in the hymn that are not supposed to be heard epically-diatonically one after another but rather like a canon above and next to each other in all their polyphony The opening (Lohmeyer’s first stanza) is then called dux (or leader): a prologue in heaven in a ‘mythological key’ which – on a meta-level – tells about the true Adam, who, existing in the image of God (surely we can with Cullmann against Käsemann read morfè like this), resisted temptation.[31] The second part is called comes (or companion), and portrays Jesus the human being in his solidarity to the bitter end with the fate of slavery. The fugatic development (starting with dio in vs. 9) does not begin a new ‘phase’, but sings – on a different level – of what has been the case from the beginning, namely that this human being, who has been a servant to the end, this one and no other, is worthy to be called ‘Lord’, and that whatever is called ‘dominion’ in this cosmos, is to be measured against, and is exposed in its pretentions to power by this manner of servanthood: only the doulos is kyrios, no other! – a last step in the ‘weakening’ of a metaphysical notion of god, which, as we have seen, was omitted, strangely enough, by Bartsch. With Käsemann one can say here: it’s about a ‘Herrschaftswechsel’, where the servant is called lord – although that term still maintains the misunderstanding that the ancient lordly behaviour is only being continued under a new name. But against Käsemann (and with all the other witnesses mentioned) it must then also be maintained: this objective situation of an end to old lordly power also implies an ethics, to wit an orientation toward the slight, the insignificant, the weak. In this interpretation it goes without saying that the kenosis applies primarily to the actions of Jesus the human being (this is the case with Lohmeyer’s arrangement in stanzas as well as with the version of Bartsch). But at the same time the artistic polyphonic nature of this reading is saying that God himself is affected by it. When, in the second half of the hymn, ho theos identifies himself with Jesus the human being, who took this path into the deep, and has him partake of his own kyrios-name, he is thereby saying that he wants to be God in no other way than by walking the path to the weak to the extreme, by renouncing himself and sharing in the fate of those that must obey day after day. In this case our song is not speaking of a ‘weakening of God’ in a direct way, but of Jesus being oriented toward the weak. Existing in the ‘image and likeness’ of God, Jesus shows, who, unlike all rulers, deserves to be called ‘Lord’.

The question now is, whether and to what extent this insight of the hymn has also been preserved in the later dogma.

2.         A Mainstream and a Secondary Current in the Development of Church Doctrine2.A Mainstream and a Secondary Current in the Development of Church Dogma [sorry, maar hier is nu doctrine weer beter. Het is toch ingewikkeld]

Exactly a century ago, when the 19th century ‘kenotic Christology’ movement (about which more will be said below) was already far past its peak, Friedrich Loofs, who was not particularly enamoured with the movement, wrote a dictionary article in which he assessed its relationship to the dogmatic reflection of the early church.[32] In this article, which is still informative and readable, Loofs distinguishes between a mainstream and a secondary current of tradition. The mainstream, he said, resisted radically thinking through the incarnation of the deity; the secondary current dared to conceive of becoming as change too. Below we will be following this distinction.

The Mainstream

The Mainstream2.1.      Extra et intra carnem

2.1.Extra et intra carnemThe Middle-platonic philosopher Celsus had understood the Christian conception of the incarnation as God having left his heavenly throne for a little while to go save mankind. This he considers unworthy of God. Not only would God abandon the cosmic order, which he would have to guarantee according to his nature, but in order to do this he would also have to give up something of his own nature and change himself from good to evil, from blessed to wretched. Origen replies that the descent of the biblical God must not be confused with the metamorphoses of the gods of the Greek myths or with Dionysos who gets torn apart but subsequently gets put together again.[33] No, when he, who existed in the form of God, emptied himself (Phil. 2:7), he did not short-change his own deity, but on the contrary he made what was most characteristically his own, his charity toward humanity, become real. And what could be more blessed for God than to act as a physician to mortally wounded humans?[34] Celsus does not know about the power of God nor that the spirit of the Lord has filled the entire inhabited world (Sap. Sal. 1:7). For he, who empties himself, is at the same time the one who fills heaven and earth.[35] If it was really God, who came to us, that same God encompasses all the space he wants to, and he does not need to leave his heavenly throne empty when he descends to the deepest depths of human humiliation.[36] We see a concept here that was later called extra calvinisticum from a Lutheran point of view, who came across it among reformed theologians and didn’t approve of it. But it is in fact an ecumenical concept dating from the early church: the deity can remain in humanity and personally united with humanity and at the same time be omnipresent apart from it.[37] This is how Origen himself states it as a summary of the faith handed down to him: ‘After He had been the servant of the Father in the creation of all things – “For by Him were all things made” (John 1.3) – He in the last times, divesting Himself (of His glory), became a man, and was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was’.[38] Athanasius also says it this way in his test of doctrinal competence: ‘He was not, as might be imagined, circumscribed in the body, nor, while present in the body, was He absent elsewhere. (…) He was not bound to His body, but rather was Himself wielding it, so that He was not only in it, but was actually in everything, and while external to the universe, abode in His Father only’.[39]

2.2.      Assumptio carnis

2.2.Assumptio carnisSo against objections like that of Celsus the mainstream of tradition maintained: the deity does not change when it descends to be among mortal and sinful human beings. In 19th and 20th century theology this assessment has often become a reproach: wasn’t an assumption of the platonic partners in the discussion being adopted here that was actually incompatible with the witness of the prophets and the apostles? Wasn’t this starting with a – pagan really – axiom of a deity that is inviolable and always stays the same, who only towards the outside, for a moment, cloaked himself in a concealing robe? Applying this to Vattimo’s thesis one can thus ask oneself: has the mainstream ever really been interested at all in God becoming man in the most literal sense of the expression? Did not the fathers and also the official documents of councils, popes, and (e.g. reformed) synods shrink from the ultimate consequences of their own tradition?[40] Augustin, e.g., (and he speaks for many), makes the following comment at Phil. 2:7: ‘when he took on the form of a slave, he did not lay down the form of God; the form of a slave was added, the form of God was not subtracted’.[41] In his endless wealth God by grace adds this as well: is that really a ‘weakening’? It is striking with the church fathers and also later in the official doctrinal documents of the church, that the term becoming flesh is often avoided. They prefer to speak – appealing to the morfèn doulou laboon of our psalm of Christ – of the assumptio carnis, ‘taking on the flesh’.[42] One does not oneself have to change by what one takes on. Is God too great for the incarnation then after all? Much here depends on the motivation of the theologoumenon. We heard Origen argue: God already loves humankind, so what’s wrong about him also realising his love? He doesn’t have to do it, as sure as he’s God. But he does do it, as sure as he’s God. In this argument you’re not far away from seeing the figure of the doulos as defining who is allowed to be called kyrios here, the figure of the slave as the revelation of the biblical God against the gods. Regarded charitably, the mainstream of tradition can be interpreted in this way. But it is true: it is not the only possible interpretation.

2.3.      Adagium: “Unus de Trinitate passus est”

2.3.Adagium: ñUnus de Trinitate passus estÑThe suspicion that an uncharitable interpretation is possible is supported by a moment in the church politics of emperor Justinian in the sixth century. A century earlier patriarch Peter Fullo had included an extensive ‘trishagion’ in the liturgy: ‘holy God, holy Powerful One, holy Immortal One, who was crucified for us, have pity on us’. Scythian monks protested against this and pleaded, first in Constantinople, then in Rome, for a rejection of this liturgical innovation. They were succesful. The formula ‘one of the Trinity has suffered in the flesh’ was accepted by the emperor (probably in 533)[43] and adopted by the fifth ecumenical council twenty years later. The wariness that rings through in the formula is telling. The deity in its entirety especially is not allowed to be affected by the birth, the shape of a slave, the obedience and death, yes, the death on the cross of Christ. Only the second person of the Trinity has emptied himself. And even then his suffering does not even affect his whole person (for an apathetic deity cannot be affected by suffering), but only to the extent that he has taken on the ‘flesh’. Entertaining some ideological critical suspicions one wonders whether the last great emperor of the Roman empire who once more demonstrated what kind of thing the kyrioi of this world are capable of, did not want to show here that it would be quite unworthy for a ruler to align himself with the lot of slaves with all his being. And that takes us back to the origin of the Greek idea of morfè: giving up the shaping power of the deity would result in chaos, and any ruler worth his salt would have to prevent that (from underneath they can tell you then what this leads up to). So the question is whether the official doctrine of the church has sufficiently contributed to the ‘weakening’ of the metaphysical axiom of the impassibility of the deity, which the theology of the last few decades is after.[44]

2.4.      Condescendention

2.4.CondescendentionFor a charitable reading concluding this section we look at a well-known passage from the ‘Cappadocian father’ Gregory of Nyssa. It sounds like an explanation with regard to the reproach we heard Origen level against Celsus above that the latter misjudged the ‘power of God’, when Gregory remarks in his Oratio catechetica that the invincibility of the power of God is displayed most acutely when it is connected with God’s charity (filantropia, cf. Tit. 3:4). ‘That the omnipotence of the Divine nature should have strength to descend to the humiliation (tapeinon) of humanity, furnishes a clearer proof of that omnipotence than even the greatness and supernatural character of the miracles.’ The latter after all has a certain tautological obviousness about it. ‘Nor it is startling to hear it said that the whole of the created world, and all that is understood to be beyond the range of visible things, subsists by the power of God, His will giving it existence according to His good pleasure. But this His descent to humility of man is a kind of superabundant exercise of power (periousia tès dynameoos), which thus finds no check even in directions which contravene nature. It is the peculiar property of the essence of fire to tend upwards; no one, therefore, deems it wonderful in the case of flame to see that natural operation. But should the flame be seen to stream downwards, like heavy bodies, such a fact would be regarded as a miracle, namely, how fire still remains fire, and yet, by his change of direction in its motion, passes out of its nature by being borne downward. In like manner, it is not the vastness of the heavens, and the bright shining of its constellations, and the order of the universe, and the unbroken administration over all existence that so manifestly displays the transcendent power of the Deity, as this condescendension (sunkatabasis) to the weakness of our nature; the way, in fact, in which sublimity, existing in lowliness, is actually seen in lowliness, and yet descends not from its height, and in which Deity, entwined as it is with the nature of man, becomes this, and yet still is that’.[45] So for Gregory turning toward those that are below is not a concession to the nature of God, but rather a realisation of it.[46] Certainly with him too the Platonic doctrine of an impassible God, who will not let passions interfere with his being God, is present in the background. At the same time, however, he performs a decisive Christian transformation of the Greek conceptions regarding the perfections of God when for him God’s changelessness starts to consist precisely in his regretless love for mankind.[47] What we called the ‘mainstream current’ in the development of doctrine of the early church is expressed in the most charitable way possible here.

The Undertow

The Undertow2.5.      Voices in the early church

2.5.Voices in the early churchBut, Loofs believes, alongside that main current, at times even against it, there has always been the activity of an undertow. It goes back to a very basic and ‘popular’ confession of Christ as kyrios that doesn’t exactly wish to be concerned with theological subtleties. We are talking about statements like this one from the Roman bishop Zephyrinus: ‘I know one God, Christ Jesus, and apart from him no other who was born and has suffered’. What he actually meant with this, was and remains controversial.[48] But in any case the statement points to a tendency Loofs calls ‘naive modalism’.[49] In Christ we worship God: he who cannot be affected by existence in the flesh, has been willing to be born from a virgin (theotokos, mother of God) and thus certainly been willing to be subject to transience; he whom no outside passion can touch has been willing to suffer, yea to be deus crucifixus, ‘gekreuzigter Gott’, as the ultimate consequence (an ancient statement of faith known as theopaschitism).[50] When making confessions, such sentences are formed rather spontaneously. But thinking them through turns out to present great intellectual problems time and again. The solution of docetism (God only took on flesh as a garment, and thus clothed could act as if he were a human being) is already rejected in the writings of the New Testament. What appears to remain then is kenosis in the sense of: a change that comes about within God himself. Apollinaris of Laodicea (died approx. 390 AD), to be sure, held on to the changelessness of the logos, but because he believed that the divine logos took the place of the rational soul in man, it is not surprising that some of his pupils and certainly his opponents thought that the logos would then have to be subject to change in order to be able to – kenotically – adjust to wearing human flesh. The result of all this is that the logos can no longer be truly God, but at most some kind of mitigated lesser god, and Jesus cannot be a real human being, because he cannot be but a human body dominated by a semi-divine control entity. These problems have not only made Apollinarianism suspect (and stimulated theologians of ensuing generations to look for Christological formulas with greater staying power) but with it also every ‘kenotic’ understanding of the incarnation.[51] Apparently this produced the problem that any sense of change or weakening within God seemed to have to lead to an undermining of God’s divinity and at the same time to an upgrading of the humanity of Christ to the superhuman. One question can be whether this difficulty has ever really been solved by modern kenotics up to and including Vattimo. And a question preceding this one is perhaps whether it actually has been recognised by him as a difficulty.

2.6.      Lutheran voices

2.6.Lutheran voicesThis ‘undertow’ of church confession and theology also has at times been connected with the name of Martin Luther. To try to reproduce his Christological views in brief here would be a hybrid undertaking. Perhaps it is better to listen to what he had the church sing, e.g., in the Christmas song ‘Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ’:

Den aller Welt Kreis nie beschloß                 

der liegt in Marien Schoß

Er ist ein Kindlein worden klein,       

der alle Ding erhält allein. Kyrieleis.[52]

He whom the world can not contain

lies in Mary’s arms today

is now a baby sweet and small

He, the preserver of it all. Kyrieleis.

There is no intra here, with in addition also an extra, no one who has become flesh who ‘also’ keeps on ruling the world at the same time, no, here is the one exactly who walks his path in the deep from manger to cross (the logos ensarkos, technically speaking), and as such also the one who rules from the manger and the cross. So one can speak of a ‘birth of God’ or a ‘dying of God’. Yet at the same time Luther hangs on to the ‘doctrine of the two natures’ as it has been developed in the mainstream. Actually the true divinity and the true humanity of Christ is extremely important to him, because it is the only way in which the wonderful nature of the message of the gospel can truly be expressed, the message in which God and humanity exchange places and destinies. In his Word God descends into the deep unto the cross and the grave. And humankind, fallen to the flesh of sin, is glorified by the touch of that Word. So there is a kenotic element tagging along here (the humiliation of God). In fact it is extremely important. But it is being connected with other elements that make it impossible in the end to speak of a true ‘kenotic’ theology here. When speaking about the clash between God and humanity in Christ, Luther uses harsh paradoxes. And in a certain sense the message of the ‘paradox’ can be called a strong rather than a weak story. It is no accident that Vattimo is not particularly enamoured with Kierkegaard.[53]

In his works devoted more to Christology in a technical sense Luther developed his paradoxes on the basis of the early scholastic category of the communicatio ideomatum: within the unity of the person of the mediator between God and humanity (so we are talking about the logos ensarkos) it is possible for an exchange of qualities (ideomata) to take place besides the ‘strange exchange’ between the deity and mankind. After all, within the unity of the person the one nature (the deity) communicates (communicatio) itself to the other (humanity). This is the only way one can say: ‘Jesus Christ the man is omnipotent’,[54] or ‘humanity glorified in Christ is omnipotent’. But what exactly were the implications of this doctrine? That was intensely debated not only with the other currents of the reformation but also among the Lutherans themselves. In the early 17th century it even resulted in an intense quarrel among theologians about kenosis, to which we now turn.[55]

On one side stood a group of theologians from Tübingen, whose views went back to Luther himself through Johannes Brenz. They maintained that the child Jesus in the manger already partook of the divine omnipotence, omniscience, etc. But when asked how to conceive of that, they answered that those qualities of majesty were hidden to humanity and that one couldn’t tell from Jesus’ words and actions that he was using them (a krypsis chrèseoos, ‘hiddenness of use’). But after his resurrection the glory that he had possessed from the beginning came to light. This argument is well suited to paradoxical thinking: just like the revelation of the deity only exists in the word about the path from manger to cross, so the revelation of glorified humanity is only to be found in hiddenness. Indeed it is truly to be found: union with humanity glorified in Christ takes place by way of a mystical entering into this hiddenness. There remained a question as to what effect this hiddenness of qualities had on the deity. Wouldn’t it be consistent within the doctrine of the communicatio ideomatum to really see the ‘exchange’ from two sides? I.e. that there actually was a correspondence between human nature partaking of the divine omnipotence, etc., and divine nature partaking of human transitoriness, even the deity sacrificing itself for the sake of communicating itself with humanity?[56] It appears that at some time or other this constellation was in fact defended within Tübingen theology.

But for the Gießen theologians this went too far. They were more focussed on scholastic purity and less on the paradox, and here they feared a diminishing of the divinity of the deity also (and we have seen that these two go together most of the time) that the humanity was being upgraded to the superhuman. So, as an alternative to the Tübingen doctrine of the ‘hiddenness of use’ they came up with a theory of the ‘kenosis of use’ (kenoosis chrèseoos): he who existed in the form of God, did continue to possess the qualities of that existence, but as the one who became flesh in the form of a servant, he gave up their use. Here the omnipotence etc. of Jesus the human being was not considered to be hidden but temporarily absent. One can ask oneself whether the unity of the logos intra and extra carnem which Luther had so strongly posited against tradition, isn’t after all abandoned again here: why then not rather return to the extra calvinisticum or oecumenicum? Why hold on to such a laborious construction of a divinity that exists potentially but is not actually used? Has not here too the actual thinking through of the concept of kenosis proved to be extremely difficult? A commission of theologians from Saxony that served as a referee, mainly sided (rather remarkably from Luther’s point of view) with the Gießen faction (decisio saxonica, 1624).[57] But this did not solve the problems related to speaking about kenosis on Lutheran soil.

3.         Kenotic Theology in the 19th Century

3.Kenotic Theology in the 19th Century

We now come to that theological program that profiled itself as ‘kenotic’ with as many words and arose and also vanished again in the 19th century. When looking through the dissertation of Martin Breidert[58], which attempts to give an overview of the various schemes available in the German speaking region, one imagines having ended up in a theological cabinet of curiosities. In an effort to wrest oneself from traditional church doctrine the most bizarre proposals have been made. It has often been suggested, also by kenoticists themselves, that there is a direct line connecting the seventeenth to the nineteenth century discussion among the ‘orthodox’ of Lutheran provenance. It turns out not to be true, however, that only Lutherans of, say, the right were the bearers of this new theological movement. One encounters birds of every feather: indeed orthodox Lutherans (G. Thomasius, F.H.R. Frank), but also Reformed theologians (J.H.A. Erbrard), Religious-Experience theologians (J.C.K. Hoffmann), Biblicists (W.F. Geß), or speculative theologians (K.Th.A. Liebner). Supporters and opponents of a historical-critical approach to the bible, followers of Hegel and Schelling: theologians of every stripe participated.

They all had to do theology in a context in which new questions imposed themselves, often from without, sometimes also raised from within the theological world itself. German Idealism had tried to integrate Christian truth (carried from ‘representation’ – Vorstellung – to ‘concept’ – Begriff) into its own program with varying degrees of success, but never without bringing about a number of transformations in what was considered to be Christianity at the time. When criticising the ‘myth’ of the early church, the radical exponents of Idealism also criticised the doctrine based on it (David Friedrich Strauß) or unmasked speaking of the true God as a repressed speaking of the true human being (Ludwig Feuerbach). In addition historical research was inquiring into the historical development of that humanity, which meant that the development of Jesus the human being could not remain outside of the investigation.

Voices later in the century that argued for a return to the simple gospel of the historical Jesus, would call the doctrine of the incarnation of the logos an accommodation to Greek metaphysics which in turn could be explained using historical criticism and justified as a project by which the gospel was preserved in antiquity, but which lacked any relevance for the present. Now, in this demanding situation kenotic Christology represented an attempt to think about the ‘incarnation’ category in such a way – consciously bypassing the dogma – that it could also be rendered understandable to all those critical voices of the present. Truly a grand endeavour, even though it failed!

From the proliferation of voices we choose one, which, we hope, will clearly illustrate the issues arising with such an undertaking: Wolfgang Friedrich Geß. After that we will also take a look at British theology, which was searching for solutions in similar ways, albeit within a certain isolation, at any rate not nearly noticed enough by us continentals. As their representative we will choose Charles Gore. The Russian Orthodox version unfortunately will not be touched upon here.

3.1. Geß[59]

As a pupil of the Biblicist J.T. Beck Geß (1819-1891) wants to ignore the Nicene-Chalcedonian dogma and appeal directly to the biblical witness. His goal has been in particular to provide a systematisation of the Christology of the fourth gospel. There, he believes, the Son is one with and at the same time completely dependent on and subordinate to the Father: ‘For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself’ (Joh. 5:26).[60] The Father as the giver of this gift of life, remains behind in his essence that remains by itself, when the Son empties himself. So it is not the whole deity that is involved with the emptying. Later Geß will catch this in the mythical image of a ‘depositum’, which the logos, who is emptying himself, lays before the feet of the Father: for a time of 33 years he will give up the divine qualities and the mediatorship of creation. Its maintenance he leaves to the Father.[61] So what Celsus suspected among the Christians (incorrectly, according to Origen), Geß yet teaches as Christian doctrine: a story about a Deity that for the time of its incarnation leaves its heavenly throne empty and thus cannot be a real God. For the duration of that time the eternal life of the Trinity is interrupted, which certainly must put the notion of God’s eternity under pressure. What follows is reminiscent of Käsemann’s exegesis of the Messianic psalm: the logos – note: the logos asarkos, not the logos ensarkomenos, as with the reformers – gives up the ‘form of God’ – not only the ‘use’, but also the ‘possession’ of it, to use the terminology of the 17th century Lutheran discussion, or: not only the ‘actuality’ of it (Tübingen), but also the ‘potentiality’ (Gießen). The logos even depotenziert itself.[62] Here the divine form is truly exchanged for the form of a servant. The Platonic axiom of God’s unchangeability must be superseded as unbiblical. The logos can in fact change, to wit: change himself.[63] In all this the subject remains the same. Our 19th century man is highly interested in the continuity of one’s self-awareness, in this case between the pre-existent and the incarnate.[64] He, who was with the Father, gives up himself. With this he makes an enormous sacrifice. He ‘unglorifies’ [entherrlicht] himself, Geß calls it. He makes room for a created human soul. He must leave behind his divine qualities like omnipotence and omniscience in order to become the child of Mary and from an unconscious infant to slowly and surely grow in knowledge of the world, of himself, of God, and finally perhaps (here Geß hesitates) of himself again as the eternal Son of God.[65] As a human being he can do no miracles, unless the Father provides the power for them.[66] Neither can he rise from the dead, unless the Father raises him (Geß has difficulties with New Testament passages that point in a different direction). Thus the primary elements that his century requires of human existence can be met: Jesus too must have been subject to growth and development as a human being and can only have acted in exemplary dependence on the deity. At the same time he is by no means a human being like any other, but rather man is his most ideal form: the man of genius gifted with universal talents, the exemplary human being, the apex of human development and the highest specimen of the human race.[67] As such the Father takes him up to himself when he is ‘exalted’. Now he has become Lord, namely God-man – apparently Geß already considers this reading of Phil. 2:10-11 – we have encountered it above in another connection – possible. The deglorification of the logos thus ends up in a deification of humanity in God.[68]

Breidert’s verdict on this scheme is quite harsh. In his opinion Geß is rambling with regard to a number of issues. In the end he is able to maintain neither the true deity nor the true humanity of Christ.[69] For the deity submerges in a developmental process and turns out to be divisible into different substances during consecutive phases. And the humanity, borne by an emptied out logos whose role otherwise remains unclear, proves to a large extent to be the bearer of a kind of Über-humanity after all. One can ask oneself, Breidert wonders, why this entire construction of the continuity of awareness with the pre-existing logos was necessary at all for such an ideal. Could it not disappear as a remnant defined merely as the peeling off process of the dogma of the early church? Is not Geß primarily a transitional figure to the school of Ritschl, where even these last remnants are left behind? [70]

For our survey we hold on to what we saw in a different way before when discussing the ‘undertow’ in the early church, to wit, that the idea of an essential emptying does appear to have a basic appeal, but is difficult to think through. Whoever thinks he can bypass the dogma by going ‘straight to the bible’, can apparently end up in many pitfalls, which is exactly what the dogma intended to help avoid. Certainly: in our examination of the carmen Christi we have tried as much as possible not to superimpose the doctrine of ‘one person in two natures’ of the Council of Chalcedon (451) a priori on the text as a dogmatic grid (as an exegete like Calvin, e.g., still felt he could do without a worry). Even without this doctrine as the supposed content of the text we were able to manage in our own way, so to say. But that doesn’t mean that this doctrine cannot serve as the space within which exegesis can take place. Seeking the ‘polyphony’ of Word and answer, the ‘acoustic relationship’ between God and humankind in their differentness[71] in the song, one will probably do better, also exegetically, than if one looks for an unbroken self-awareness that remains identical to, yet chivalrously sacrifices itself. True divinity can only be safeguarded where the descent of God is not praised as a change, or a concession to, but solely as the actualisation of the unchangeable – or rather: the ‘faithful’ – being of this God. True humanity can only be faced where one believes concerning the existence of a slave who is humiliated, must obey, dies an abject death, that it is destined to be raised.

3.2.      Gore

In 1889 a group of young theologians, mostly lecturers at Oxford, presented their theological program in a volume called Lux mundi. A series of studies in the Religion of the Incarnation. Shortly afterward (1891) Gore (1852-1932), principal of the Pusey House at the time and a bishop and a leading theologian in the following decades, would work out this program in compelling style in his ‘Bampton lectures’.[72] At stake was to show that the patristic tradition was quite capable of being connected with recent developments like Darwin’s theory of evolution and the quest for the historical Jesus. For even in antiquity the logos was seen as a cosmic principle containing the progression within the cosmos and there was openness for the idea, ‘that Jesus Christ incarnate is the legitimate climax of natural development, so that the study of nature – if only in that term moral nature is included – is the true preparation for welcoming the Christ.’[73] But in what way then is ‘the Incarnation the crown of natural development in the universe, in accordance with its laws’, if the incarnate also seems to be inconsistent with those laws and embodies a uniqueness as a result of which  ‘the Christ-nature does not become part of permanent experience’? According to Gore the answer lies in the nature of Christ as personality. A personality has always contained something unique – even more so with Jesus – something that breaks out of the ordinary, without thereby excluding that he influences a ‘new development’, a movement in the direction of a ‘redeemed humanity’, the new human existence to which we are destined.[74] Therefore we must first face the ‘supernatural Christ’ ‘historical[ly]’ based on the gospels: as a human being in which we come face to face with our destiny. For ‘in the order of his self-disclosure He is first human, then divine.’[75] Yet this does not mean that he is to be seen as a ‘deified man’, a special individual, that was raised up. After all, ‘in the order of time, He is first divine, afterwards human.’ This is where the dogma of the early church comes in: ‘in the Incarnation of God the prototype’ of the principle of ‘the power of sympathy as a power of self-abandonment, or self-effacement, or self-sacrifice’ has been set before our eyes.[76] Phil. 2:5-11 speaks of this: when the pre-existent Son lays down the ‘characteristics of God’ (this is how Gore translates morfè[77]) it becomes clear what kind of existence in self-abandonment and self-sacrifice we human beings have been destined to, but at the same time it becomes clear that this way of being has first been shaped in the incarnation of God himself. 2 Cor. 8:9 also speaks of this: ‘he was rich, yet for your sakes he beggared himself, that ye through his poverty might be rich.’[78] This ‘self-beggary’ is founded in God himself. For God is not the great monarch of western imperialism, who arbitrarily promulgates irrational decrees. No, he is a ‘self-limited God’ and wants to be that way.[79] God is a God that makes room for the human being next to him. In that sense Gore does not need to think in terms of a change in God with regard to the incarnation. What God does in becoming human, he always already is in his innermost being. ‘God can limit Himself by the conditions of manhood, because the Godhead contains in itself eternally the prototype of human self-sacrifice and self-limitation, for God is love.’ In that sense Gore can teach kenosis, without having to give up the notion of the unchangeability of God. Indeed he places kenosis in eternity.[80] And from that eternity a clear analogy goes out to human existence. How God in his sympathy can totally put himself into the position of another being thus becomes the model for the human psychology, and through the experience of the human psyche it becomes imaginable and then also ethically imitable[81] – a line of thought we have much more difficulty following in our age, with all its awareness of the other being truly different. In any case, it must be possible to recognise something of the divine self-emptying in the man Jesus. Gore rejects a conception of the Saviour that is ‘orthodox’ in appearance, in which he is supposedly ‘from the first moment and throughout His life, in full enjoyment of the beatific vision’, ‘throughout a comprehensor’, ‘in possession of actual knowledge of all reality past, present and future’. In this case the becoming human has not been thought through to its conclusion.[82] In this manner Christ cannot be ‘our example and our sacrifice’, nor, what is more, ‘by the infusion of His Spirit, our present inward life.’[83] But that’s exactly what he is. Precisely in his emptying himself, in his giving up divine omniscience, he is the future human being who does not seek himself and who we are in him. The doctrine of self-sacrificing love thus has an extremely practical point. British kenotic theology – to its credit – is associated with putting kenosis into practice, with social work in slums and with being socially involved. There, in accordance with the letter to the Philippians, the considerations regarding the innermost heart of the loving God are illustrated in real life.

One question does arise in this connection. According to Gore the most important divine quality is love. Justice plays a role, but not the most important one. This corresponds to the manner in which Creation and Salvation are moved into an all-encompassing salvation-historical evolutionary framework in the beginning of the Lectures: sin and injustice are present somewhere in all this, and Gore certainly can talk about them penetratingly, but in the end they are covered by the all-encompassing movement of the divine sacrifice. It is no accident that Gore has a hard time with the harsh aspects of the preaching of the reformers.[84] And with this we are probably on the track of an aspect of kenotic thought in theology in a wider sense as well (see De Lange’s contribution in this volume). Emptying of the self is close to love and sacrifice, matters that can be combined with Vattimo’s program of ‘weakening’. But is not a love that is not being corrected by justice subject to the danger of representing social development too quickly as one in which the soft forces would gradually gain the upper hand? Will injustice really be put right then? We have asked the question before: would Vattimo be able to do anything with H-W Bartsch’ translation of ekenoosen with ‘he subjected himself to judgement’? When singing of the doulos, who is called kyrios precisely because in solidarity with his people he did not run away from judgement to the bitter end, must we not always remember that with this all those others who used to impose themselves as kyrioi in this world have been judged?

4          Recapitulation 4Summary [êrecapitulatieí is meer dan louter samenvatting: weliswaar is het een hernemen van datgene wat al gezegd is, maar het voegt er ook iets aan toe. Kun je niet gewoon recapitulation zeggen?]

With the recollection of 19th century theology explicitly called ‘kenotic’ we conclude our survey. This by no means completes the history of the kenosis motif in the history of theology. Many questions from that century would resurface in the 20th century. Many thinkers, Hegel in particular, presented challenges to kenotic theologians and would thus continue to influence the kind of theological questions being asked.[85] We leave discussing and processing more recent developments to the authors of the other articles in this volume. So we stop here and conclude by returning to a number of issues we have come across earlier.

4.1.    Secularisation

4.1.SecularisationVattimo has presented the thesis that through the message of the ‘emptying’ Christianity has contributed to the fall of the worship of force and thus to the secularisation and humanisation of religion. Let us hope, in any case, that this is true! Only with difficulty does such a thesis lend itself to historical investigation. One quickly ends up in broad discussions about the course of culture ‘in general’, which are hard to verify. It seems to make sense here to distinguish between, on the one hand, the ‘weakening’ of the pagan and the violent in religion and metaphysics through the Christian proclamation of a ‘power… made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9) and, on the other hand, a way of defending Christian doctrine that is appearing as a representative of a metaphysics of force itself and thus is in need of ‘weakening’. In other words: what exactly is being ‘secularised’ here? The secularisation theology of the first decades after World War II believed that central Christian notions keep on having an underground effect outside of official Christianity. That is true. But when taking a closer look it is striking as well that what was secularised was not so much the dogma itself, but rather the dogma in an already transformed shape.[86] Above we have seen that the ‘kenotic ‘ interpretation of the incarnation of God called forth more than was considered acceptable in the mainstream of doctrinal development in the church. The undertow is surrounded by the odour of the heretical. Perhaps this is what makes this motif so exciting for us.

4.2.      Historisation of Metaphysics

4.2.Historisation of MetaphysicsAs a true heir of Hegel Vattimo champions the weakening of being by thinking of it as becoming. Traditional metaphysics is undermined by historicising it. The kenosis motif can be useful here, because it tells a story, the narrative of him who existed ‘in the form of God’ and ‘emptied himself’. With this the traditional doctrine of an impassive, apathetic, unchangeable God can be undermined. Now we have seen with Cullmann and others that reading the Christ Psalm as a historical account describing consecutive phases also has its problems. It does begin with the emptying, descending to the low state of a servant, but it results in a state that can count as ‘more than’ being raised up. Lohmeyer says it bluntly: per aspera ad astra, that is, through human humility to divine majesty.[87] Yet I don’t think that’s the idea. For then the downward movement is started as a better way to make it upward in the end. One wonders whether something similar isn’t intended in a much more subtle way with the Hegelian Entäußerung: the subject loses itself in the other in order the richer to emerge. Or: the absolute loses itself in history, so that history including its outcome obtains features of the absolute. With some 19th century kenosis theologians it is often palpable: they are interested in the unity of the pre-existent and the earthly self-awareness of the logos, because they are interested in a strategy in which the subject knows how to lose in order to win. But that’s no longer what it’s about for the postmodernists. They want the weakening precisely for the sake of the weakening. What are the possible consequences of this? Either that only the beginning of the song is valid, but not the final result: exitus, but no reditus, going out, but no coming back.[88] Thus when we reach the turning point of the psalm (dio in vs. 9), our breath is taken away. Or the other possibility: a ‘polyphonic composition’ of the carmen Christi; the proclamation of the name kyrios at the end is not sung out as a result of or a reward for the path through the deep but as a qualification of that path in which no one but the doulos deserves to be called kyrios and power is exclusively thought of in terms of the power of the going out to the weak.[89]

4.3.      ‘De-glorification’?

4.3.êDe‑glorificationí? [hier zeg je dus weer de‑, en niet un‑]The term ‘weakening’ (‘de-glorification’ with Geß) of God suggests that it would be a good thing to take away from the divinity of God, because that was precisely what constituted the violent, irrational, monarchical, and crudely powerful that needed to be undermined. Now it turned out that there was in fact an early church tradition in which the logos remained entirely within the domain of the inviolable and when ‘taking on’ the flesh was touched and affected as little as possible. In this case the God-man, who was appearing among people, retained the divine qualities of omnipotence and omniscience all across the board in his wondrous deeds and his exalted speech. Against this the protest of the kenotic ‘undertow’ of tradition was justified only too well. At the same time, however, we have seen that every attempt at consistent kenotic thinking entails difficulties as well. If the divine was made sub-divine, did the human not become super-human? If God humbles himself, yea, goes as deep as to descend even to the experience of the ‘death of God’, doesn’t the Übermensch follow? We have been able to do no more than recognise this tendency time and again among our historical discussion partners. Here too we must say: it is not what postmodernism has in mind. Together with the weakening of God, it also wants the weakening of mankind that sets itself up as absolute. But apparently it cannot be taken for granted that this will succeed. Here too we have come across an alternative. It turned out to be possible to deploy the doctrine of the two natures in such a dynamic way, that the Son’s path into the deep is not seen as a concession to being God, but rather as the ‘truly divine’ about God and that the glorification of the figure of the servant does not mean the deification above being human, but rather that the ‘truly human’ of humanity is brought to light. Vattimo, however, might still consider such a figure too paradoxical, too much ‘a tall story’[90]

4.4.      Love and Justice

4.4.Love and law [liever: Love and Justice. In het Nederlands kun je recht zeggen waar je aan gerechtigheid denkt. Het gaat hier om twee eigenschappen die met elkaar in verband worden gebracht]And then again: ‘among you you must keep before you, what stands before you in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5). The song as incorporated in the text of Paul’s letter is intended to be followed (in spite of Käsemann). Being ‘oriented to whom and what is in the deep’ should be the mouse that must give birth to this huge elephant of the history of doctrine. The whole story ends up being about acting in ways that do not inflict any harm on the insignificant. Acts of love, both Gore and Vattimo say in unison. By all means, but it must be a kind of love that is not played off against the thoroughly Jewish notion of justice. Nor can it be the kind of love that is simply against power (it is only against the power of the kyrioi of this world age), but rather it is the supreme expression of power, an surplus of power, power that inundates everything (as Gregory of Nyssa called it), power that expresses itself by being on the side of the insignificant.

[1]        Phil. 2:7 in the King James Version.

[2]              In the early church this (at the time minority) view was defended by Nestorius, among others. When deposed during the Council of Ephesus in 431, his observation was presented (with disapproval): ‘Scripture does not say, “Have this in mind among you, which was in God the Word. Though he was in the form of God he assumed the form of a slave”.’ See John A. Mc.Guckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy, Leiden 1994, 372 (with thanks to Hans van Loon, who pointed out this reference to me).

[3]              Ioannis Calvini Commentarii, in quatuor Pauli Epistolas, Genevae 1548, CO 52, colon 26. Quaeritur an id fecerit quatenus homo. Erasmus affirmat. Sed ubi erat forma Dei antequam homo esset? Itaque respondendum est, de toto Christo Paulum loqui, ut est Deus manifestatus in carne: hanc tamen inanitionem non convenire nisi soli humanitati. (…) Quaeritur etiam secundo, quomodo exinitatus dicatur, qui tamen miraculis semper et virtutibis Filium Dei se comprobavit (…). Respondeo, carnis humilitatem nihilominus fuisse instar veli, quo divina majestas tegebatur. Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians by John Calvin, translated and edited by John Pringle, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1948, 57: ‘It is asked, whether he did this as a man? Erasmus answers in the affirmative. But where was the form of God before he became man? Hence we must reply, that Paul speaks of Christ wholly, as he was God manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3.16), but, nevertheless, this emptying is applicable exclusively to his humanity. (…) It is asked, secondly, how he can be said to be emptied, while he, nevertheless, invariably proved himself, by miracles and excellencies, to be the Son of God? (…) I answer, that the abasement of the flesh was, notwithstanding, like a veil, by which his divine majesty was concealed’.  See also Institutio 1559 II.13.2, OS III 450, r. 19 – 451 r. 1.

[4]           E.g., Karl Barth, Erklärung des Philipperbriefes, Munich 1927, 56-57: ‘er entäußerte sich selbst (jener Gestalt)’. Likewise in the Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/1, Zürich 1953, 180. See Church Dogmatics IV/1, translation G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, Edinburgh 1974, 180.

[5]              Hans-Werner Bartsch, Die konkrete Wahrheit und die Lüge der Spekulation. Untersuchung über den vorpaulinischen Christushymnus und seine gnostische Mythisierung, Frankfurt/Main and Bern 1973, 40-41.

[6]              E. Lohmeyer, Kyrios Jesus. Eine Untersuchung zu Phil. 2, 5-11, SHA 1927/28, Heidelberg 21961. See also his commentary, Der Brief an die Philipper, Göttingen  8 1929, 141974, 90-99.

[7]              According to Lohmeyer the words ‘even death on a cross’ in vs. 8 don’t fit the metre and therefore are considered to have been added by Paul.

[8]              Op. cit. 13-14.

[9]              Op. cit. 59.

[10]             Op. cit. 17-20 and 52, resp.

[11]             Op. cit. 23-26.

[12]             Op. cit. 40.

[13]             Op. cit. 52.

[14]             Op. cit. 74-75.

[15]             E. Käsemann, ‘Kritische Analyse von Phil. 2, 5-11’, later included in: Exegetische Versuche und Besinnungen, Göttingen 11960, 61970, 51-95. For what follows here, see 65 ff.

[16]             In his Jezus Kurios. De christologie als hart van de theologie (Kampen 1998, 122), A. van de Beek says: ‘whether one says morfè, form (like in this hymn),or  physis, nature (as in later Christology), makes little difference’. Here the Biblical Theologian and the Systematic Theologian  within Van de Beek (who wrote the book based on a dual teaching commitment) do reach agreement rather quickly.

[17]             Käsemann, op. cit. 72.

[18]             Op. cit. 90.

[19]             For what follows here, see op. cit. 93-95.

[20]             Later, during the time of the student movement, Käsemann would arrive at radical political choices while appealing to his discovery of the objective ‘Herrschaftswechsel’ in the proclamation of Paul (as elaborated in his commentary on the Letter to the Romans, e.g.).

[21]             O. Cullmann, Die Christologie des Neuen Testaments, 11957, Tübingen 51975, 76-78, 178-186 and 222-226, resp.

[22]             H.W. Bartsch, op. cit. (see above, note 4), 21.

[23]             Op. cit. 39.

[24]             Op. cit. 43.

[25]             Op. cit. 51 ff.

[26]             Op. cit. 18 (note). According to Bartsch, unlike Lohmeyer, the mention of the cross does belong to the original text and can certainly be part of it metrically. Not being a professional exegete, one can often wonder about such debates among New Testament scholars: how on earth do they know all this?

[27]             Op. cit. 75.

[28]             Op. cit. 130.

 [29]        Cf. also Cullmann’s study Christus und die Zeit from 1946.

[30]             G.H. ter Schegget, Het lied van de mensenzoon. Studie over de Christuspsalm in Filippenzen 2:6-11, Baarn 1975. Also from same, De andere mogelijkheid. Bijbelse theologie voor de kritische gemeente, Baarn 1979, 30-52.

[31]             One wonders, by the way, whether the beginning, e.g., of a gospel that is as focussed on Jesus ‘historically’ walking from Galilee to Jerusalem as is Mark in chapter 1:1-13, doesn’t offer a similar kind of ‘mythical’ overture, with a descent of the spirit from heaven, the water of death, a threatening desert, the devil and angels and all?

[32]             Fr. Loofs, entry: Kenosis in PRE3 X (Leipzig 1901), 246-263. Among later surveys we mention E. R. Fairweather, ‘The “kenotic” Christology, appendix in F.W. Bear, The Epistle to the Philippians, Black’s New Testament Commentaries, 21969, 159-174.

[33]             Origen, Contra Celsum IV.17.

[34]             Op. cit. IV.14-15. We mentioned earlier that the church fathers regarded the logos, who was to become flesh, to be the subject of the ekenoosen in Phil. 2:7.

[35]             Op. cit. IV.5.

[36]             Scriptural passages like Is. 57:15 and Ps. 113:4-9 come to mind here.

[37]             Heidelberg Catechism S 18 / qu. 48.

[38]             Origen, De principiis I praef. 4: qui cum in omnium conditione patri ministrasset (per ipsum namque omnia facta sunt), novissimis temporibus se ipsum exinaniens homo factus est, incarnatus est, cum deus esset, et homo factus mansit quod erat, deus. Translation by Robert Donaldson in The ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. IV, Grand Rapids Mich. 1979, 240.

[39]             Athanasius, De incarnatione Verbi 17. Translation by Archibald Robertson in A select library of Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. IV, Grand Rapids Mich., 45.

[40]             And did Vattimo actually get his favourite thought from his own Roman Catholic Italian environment?

[41]             Augustin, Sermo 183.4,5. MSL 38, 990. Sic se exinanivit: formam servi accipiens, non formam dei amittens; forma servi accessit, non forma dei discessit.

[42]             Thus the German publishers of Origen’s De Principiis, Herwig Gürgemanns and Heinrich Karpp (Darmstadt 1976), render the ‘incarnatus’ in the Latin text of Rufinus (see note 38, above) in perfectly orthodox fashion as: ‘er hat Fleisch angenommen’ (88-89). Hans Küng, in his history-of-doctrine excursus about the ‘Unveränderlichkeit Gottes’ of his study Menschwerdung Gottes. Eine Einführung in Hegels theologisches Denken als Prolegomena zu einer künftigen Christologie, Munich/Zürich 21989 (Freiburg 11970), 638, remarks: ‘Gerade der Begriff der “Annahme” kann leicht als innerlich nicht berührendes Anziehen eines rein äußerlich bleibenden menschlichen Kleides aufgefaßt werden, ohne daß dabei der Logos selbst Mensch zu werden und sich zu entäußern braucht.’

[43]             DS 401.

[44]             J. Moltmann, Der Weg Jesu Christi. Christologie in messianischen Dimensionen, Munich 1989, 200. English: The way of Jesus Christ. Christology in messianic dimensions, London 31999, 178-179: ‘The whole Trinity is caught up in the movement towards self-surrender, which in the passion of Christ reaches lost men and women and is revealed to them’. ‘All recent doctrines of the Trinity (…) have surmounted the metaphysical apathy axiom in the concept of God, and instead start from the love which is of its very essence capable of suffering, as the divine mercy’. And therefore ‘it is pure lack of comprehension [reiner Unverstand] to maintain that “one of the Trinity suffered, but the other caused the suffering” (D. Sölle)’.

[45]             Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio catechetica (385 or later), Ch. 24 first half. Translation by William Moore and Henry Austin Wilson in A select library of Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. V, Grand Rapids Mich. 1994, 494.

[46]             This is also how K. Barth reads it, KD IV/1, 210. See Church Dogmatics IV/1, op. cit. 192: ‘Gregory of Nyssa was the only one of the church fathers expressly to mention: that the descent to humility, which took place in the incarnation of the Word, is not only not excluded by the divine nature but signifies its greatest glory’. See also KD I/2, 35 = CD I/2, Edinburgh 1970, 35. E.P. Meijering, Von den Kirchenvätern zu Karl Barth. Das altkirchliche Dogma in der “Kirchlichen Dogmatik”’, 109 and 138, criticises this reading. ‘Die Kirchenväter sagen nicht, daß sich die Majestät Gottes gerade in seiner Niedrigkeit erweist, sondern, daß es der Güte der göttlichen Majestät entspricht, sich, in der Höhe bleibend, auch in einen Menschen herabzulassen’. But this latter characterisation is really rather weak and fails to appreciate how much Gregory regards precisely the descent to be the greatest mystery of the omnipotence of God. And one would have to have a pretty nominalist view of the divine attributes, if one’s conception of omnipotence would not affect one’s conception of Gods nature as well. For Barth’s own views regarding ‘The Constancy and Omnipotence of God’ in relation to the kenosis of Phil. 2:6-11, see KD II/1, 580-582 = CD II/1, Edinburgh 1962, 516-518. There too we hear: ‘The name Kyrios does not belong to Him in spite of the fact that the self-offering and concealment of God took place in Jesus Christ, but just because it took place’.

[47]             Thus Raymund Schwager, Der wunderbare Tausch. Zur Geschichte und Deutung der Erlösungslehre, Munich 1986, in the chapter about Gregory of Nyssa, (77-100) 99.

[48]             With his study Van de Beek (see note 16, above) also intends to provide a rehabilitation of Zephyrinus, e.g., op. cit. 14.

[49]             Loofs, op. cit. 255-56.

[50]             Cf. the trishagion of Petrus Fullo quoted above. By the way, in recent ecumenical discussions representatives of Eastern Orthodoxy have considered theopaschitism orthodox, when understood correctly  theological.

[51]             Thus the mainstream of the Reformation movement interprets Phil. 2:7 as follows: that he who ‘became like unto man’ also ‘assumed a true human soul, that he might be a real man.’ This anti-Apollinarian phrase from the Confessio Belgica (1561, art. 18) was in fact directed against the Christology of Melchior Hoffmann and Menno Simonsz, which had found quite a following in the Netherlands. Some Mennonites read morfè in the Christpsalm as substance and thus taking on of the morfè doulou became a change of substance.  For this S. Voolstra. Het woord is vlees geworden. De melchioritisch-menniste incarnatieleer, Kampen 1982, 168, quotes Jacques Outerman: ‘the atonement is made powerless if God’s eternal only begotten son has not been reduced, diminished and changed and made small and weak in the incarnation as completely God’. Against such a line of thought, see also the section already cited in Calvin’s Inst. II.13.2.

[52]             EKG 15:3.

[53]             See the contribution of Pieter Vos in this volume.

[54]             H. Schmid, H.G. Pöhlmann, Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche. Dargestellt und aus den Quellen belegt, Gütersloh 21990, 209 (M. Chemnitz).

[55]             About this ‘kenosis-controversy’ see, e.g., Loofs, op. cit. 261-262; Barth KD IV/1, 197-98 ( CD IV/1, 183) and IV/2, 85 (CD IV/2, 78); M. Breidert, Die kenotische Christologie des 19. Jahrhunderts, Gütersloh 1977, 19-23.

56                    Technically it was phrased as follows: whether a genus tapeinoticum should not be taught alongside a genus majestaticum as well?

[57]            Perhaps it did this mainly to be rid of the theologian’s quarrel in the midst of a war with an external enemy that had erupted in the mean time (and that was going to last 30 years)

[58]             See note 55, above.

[59]             Wolfgang Friedrich Geß: Die Lehre von der Person Christi, entwickelt aus dem Selbstbewußtsein Christi und aus dem Zeugnisse der Apostel, Basel 1856. Cf. the discussion in Breidert, 115-160 titled: ‘Verwandlung des Logos in einen Menschen’.

[60]             Geß, op. cit. 30 and many other locations (Breidert op. cit. 119).

[61]             Geß, op. cit. 306, 389, 404 (Breidert op. cit. 126, 134).

[62]             An expression of I.A. Dorner. Breidert op. cit. 127. K. Barth also uses this expression in KD I/2, 169 (CD I/2, 155: ‘impotence’), in an excursus where he stresses, quoting a series of 19th century theologians, that Christ didn’t just take on our humanity, but was truly ‘made to be sin’ for us (2 Cor. 5:21). In his critique of kenotic Christology KD IV/1, 198-99 (CD IV/1, 182-183) he does not come back to this initial approval.

[63]             Geß, op. cit. 284 ff., 293, 323-24 (Breidert op. cit. 132, 136).

[64]             Geß, op. cit. 304 (Breidert op. cit. 124).

[65]             Geß, op. cit. 26, 357 (Breidert, op. cit. 145).

[66]             Geß, op. cit. 252 (Breidert, op. cit. 148).

[67]             Geß, op. cit. 143, 290 (Breidert, op. cit. 138).

[68]             Geß, op. cit. 208 (Breidert, op. cit. 152, 155).

69          Breidert, op. cit. 149, 157.

[70]             Breidert, op. cit. 160. In fact this is also the judgement of the Ritschlian Loofs, op. cit. 263: ‘die Kenosislehre setzt negativ die Unhaltbarkeit der alten Christologie voraus… und hat positiv die Notwendigkeit erkannt, daß die Christologie einem wahrhaft menschlichen Jesu Raum schaffen muß.’

[71]             Ter Schegget, op. cit. 70 (see also 39-44).

[72]             Ch. Gore, The Incarnation of the Son of God, London 1891. Among Dutch theologians that have published on him are H. Berkhof, 200 Jahre Theologie. Ein Reisebericht, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1985, 100-103; A. van Egmond, De lijdende God in de Britse theologie van de negentiende eeuw, Amsterdam 1986, 157-198 (under the title: ‘De zelfbeperking van God’); G.P. Hartvelt, Symboliek, Kampen 1991, 259-261.

[73]             Gore, op. cit. 18 (as a preview of the content of Lecture II: ‘Christ supernatural yet natural’).

[74]             Gore, op. cit. 43; 50-52.

[75]             Gore, op. cit. 59 (Lecture III: ‘The supernatural Christ historical’).

[76]             Gore, op. cit. 94, 59, 111-112 (Lecture IV: ‘The Christ of Dogma the Christ of Scripture’).

[77]             So compared to Geß Gore is much more reserved in his specification of what the logos actually gave up in the act of emptying himself. In later works he gave account of his own position in conversations with Thomasius and Martensen, among others; see Van Egmond, op. cit. 176-181.

[78]             Gore, op. cit. 158.

[79]             Gore, op. cit. 129 (Lecture V: ‘God revealed in Christ’). One finds the ‘Self-limitation of God’ category in 19th century Dutch theology in the so-called ‘Ethical’ school. See, e.g., D. Chantepie de La Saussaye, ‘Openbare brief aan dr. J.H. Scholten’ (1855), in: Verzameld Werk deel 1, Zoetermeer 1997, (281-344), 321-22: ‘De geheele Bijbel getuigt van zelfbeperking Gods, in geestelijken zin, omdat de geheele Bijbel ons niet een fatalistische, maar een ethischen God verkondigt. Reeds de Schepping, de schepping van den zedelijken mensch, is eene zelfbeperking Gods  (…), die zijne souvereiniteit niet opheft, ja, haar verheerlijkt’  (the ‘modern’ theologian Scholten had mocked this school based on his Spinozist-determinist doctrine of God).

[80]             Gore, op. cit. 162. Hans Urs von Balthasar points out that the same thought pattern can be observed in Russian Philosophy of Religion in the early 20th century. Thus Sergius Bulgakov emphasised the eternal aspect of the historical event on Golgotha: for him the cross is situated right in the middle of Trinitarian life. See Von Balthasar, ‘Mysterium Paschale’ in: Mysterium Salutis, Volume 3/2, Einsiedeln 1969 (133-326) 152-154 (in the pericope ‘Die Kenosis und das neue Gottesbild’, 143-154); English translation with an Introduction by Aidan Nichols, O.P., Edinburgh 1990, 23-26: ‘The Kenosis and the New Image of God’. In the ‘Preface to the Second Edition’ (op. cit., VII-IX) von Balthasar makes clear, that Bulgakov’s position also reflects his own solution for avoiding the two opposite and incompatible extremes in the current discussion of God suffering on the one hand and His immutability on the other.

[81]             Gore, op. cit. 160 (Lecture VI: ‘Man revealed in Christ’).

[82]             Gore, op. cit. 151.

[83]             Gore, op. cit. 220 (Lecture VIII: ‘Christ our Example and New Life’).

[84]            Gore, op. cit. 122 (divine justice), 36 (sin and evolution), 129 (against Luther and Calvin). See also Berkhof, op. cit. 102-103.

85            A lucid survey can be found in Küng, op. cit., 647-671.

[86]             Thus the Dutch theologian of secularisation A.Th. Van Leeuwen in his Nacht van het Kapitaal (Nijmegen 1984, 89 and 441) analysed a secularisation of classical two-nature-Christology with Adam Smith, first in moral philosophy, in the form of an ‘impartial spectator’, and subsequently, in economic theory, in the role of money as the mediator. On closer scrutiny, however, it doesn’t turn out to be about a ‘pure’ but about a transformed doctrine of two natures. See R.H. Reeling Brouwer, Over kerkelijke dogmatiek en marxistische filosofie, ‘s Gravenhage 1988, 256.

[87]             Lohmeyer, op. cit. 74.

[88]             The entire structure of the Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas is sometimes seen as an elaboration of reading Phil. 2:6-11 as a ‘big story’: first all things go out from God, then (the rational creatures among) all things return to God.

[89]             Moreover, with this non-linear, polyphonic approach one has the option, when thinking of the doulos, of also thinking of the ebed JHWH, ‘my servant Israel’, instead of seeing the ‘Old’ Testament replacing the ‘New‘ within some philosophy or theology of history framework as Vattimo does, as if things Christian over against things Jewish represented love over against violence –the Jew calls this a chutzpah.

[90]             In the seventies Ulrich Dannemann read Karl Barth’s doctrine of atonement  – with the central statements ‘the Lord as servant’ (KD IV/1) and ‘the servant as Lord’ (KD IV/2) – with regard to the social terminology and the revolution in social relationships that it implies (see Theologie und Politik im Denken Karl Barths, Munich 1977, especially 143-229). That was fitting for those days and certainly for Karl Barth himself as well. It would be worth the effort to reread the same text today from the point of view of the current ‘kenotic’ sensitivity.

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R.H. Reeling Brouwer

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