Since Niels Henrik Gregersen introduced the idea of “Deep Christology”, i.e. “Deep Incarnation”, to those active in the study of and exchange between science and theology, it has been taken up in many ways and quite a bit has been written about it. Also critique and reservations have been formulated (as for example by John Polkinghorne in the afterword to the present volume).
The volume grew out of a symposium sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and organized together with the Faculty of Theology at Copenhagen University. It was held in Elsinore (Hamlet’s city) on August 26-29, 2011.
In the introduction Gregersen points to the ‘logos ensarkos’, the Logos incarnate in the whole creation as cosmic Christ. All those working with the idea of ‘Deep Incarnation’ hold in common that the dichotomy between particular and universal is not very helpful. Even if in Jesus in particular and in a unique way the particular and the universal are consistently intertwined, this does not exclude his relatedness to, relevance for and effect on other creatures. The question to be asked then is: how is he present for them? Active, as structuring or informational principle of cosmic evolution? Or passive, suffering with and standing in for (all) that is in it? (p. 8)
The articles following this introduction, as Gregersen points out, are often cross-referenced. But to assist the reader’s orientation he concludes the introduction by presenting a very helpful typology for the different views of incarnation offered in Elsinore.
PART I – Creation and Incarnation: New Testament and Early
Richard Bauckham reflects on the Incarnation and the Cosmic Christ, i.e. how the incarnate One is related to all things, and suggests that we think of the world in terms not only of the evolutionary process and emergence but also in terms of diversity and ecological inter-relatedness. Following this, being in Christ can be ‘unpacked’ in relational terms (no longer as a kind of inclusion in his human nature), which also seems to be more scientifically satisfactory.
As the particular human Jesus is the ecological center of all creation, enabling all things in their inter-connectedness to find their unity and wholeness in relationship to God, which will be perfected as eschatological destiny to be realized in new creation, “The risen Christ, the firstborn of the new creation, is thus also the goal of creation.” (p. 57).
Gerald O’Collins, SJ, (“Word, Spirit, and Wisdom in the Universe: a Biblical and Theological reflection”), suggests that we draw attention to the biblical material that concerns not only the Logos but also Sophia. Both are intelligible, ‘revelatory’ principles; their presence embedded in the informational ‘mathematical’ structures of the universe expressing its intrinsic intelligibility. But it also transforms things. In particular the unique beauty of Sophia is not only revelatory but also changes the world. Yet Sophia promises an even richer scriptural background.
John Behr introduces to the debate Athanasius’s classic treatment of the topic of incarnation as a reciprocal and transforming dynamic, effected through the paradoxical reversal of the cross. Emphatically it is not a one- way event located in the past but a transformation of all that to which the Word comes.
Torstein Theodor Tollefsen argues that, for Saint Maximus the Confessor, trying to combine Christian faith and Neo-Platonist Philosophy, i.e. bringing together creation and incarnation, the world had a beginning, but the plan of the creator did not. God’s Wisdom somehow contains the beings he makes and this knowledge or Wisdom is conceived in the Logos, the 2nd hyposthasis. It is many logoi however, keeping them together as source of creation, the basic ‘truth’ or reality of all beings. The divine will enter into this pattern since these logoi are predeterminations and acts of divine will.
For Maximus, even though he was not a strict nominalist, universals disappear when particulars do. But for him there is a more powerful bond uniting beings: the actualization of a movement of love. Their integrity is thus guaranteed; a certain providential and soteriological dynamics of movement is made possible.
Self-enhancement is sinful but particularity and diversity is willed and as such shall not disappear in the consummation of the ages. Then salvation and its concept is not limited to human beings.
PART II – Deep Incarnation: Perspectives from Contemporary Systematic Theology.
In a first chapter Jürgen Moltmann interprets the “God is all in all” of Cor.15:28 as the eschatological future of the world: “It is only in the escha- tological end that God will be in all that is.”(p. 119) However, he urges us to develop anthropology in the light of cosmology. The Hebrew basar and kol basar (‘flesh’ and ‘all flesh’) could then be taken even as “all beings”. “Like the Old Testament Shechinah, the divine Spirit indwells all the living so as to fill everything with primal livingness. It is the Spirit of God that makes hoping human beings yearn for the redemption of the body from the fate of death, and the oppressed nonhuman creation sigh for redemption from transience.” (p. 129)
In the end however the Spirit poured out is not God incarnate and it is humanity which moves towards the reign of God in a certain soteriological dialectic. Here Moltmann refers to a soteriological patristic axiom: “God became human so that we human beings might become God” (Athanasius, Inc. 52). As far as I understand this contribution Moltmann is not saying anything about non living beings.
A contribution of Elizabeth A. Johnson (“Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology”) on ecological ethics follows.
And Denis Edwards (“Incarnation and the Natural World: Explorations in the Tradition of Athanasius”) again addresses deification in the patristic tradition. His conclusion is, that, if God is engaged with every aspect of on- going creation, it cannot be of a general kind but has to be seen as special divine action that engages with the particular in a kenotic way. Divine action then involves the historical, the unpredictable and the specific – all living (!) creatures and, in a unique interpersonal way, human beings. Again the providentia Dei is not seen for any non-living being.
Celine Deane-Drummond (“The Wisdom of Fools? A Theo-Dramatic Interpretation of Deep Incarnation”) suggests that we construct a dialectical balance between Deep Incarnation, as predicated on Christology, and the idea of Divine Immanence, as on the belief in God as Creator. This would mean to take the Hebrew stress on history as seriously as the Hellenistic cosmological elements of Christian faith. Moreover Wisdom, Sophia, suggests that we think through how to unite the particular with the universal – although there is a real temptation to move away from concrete uses of Wisdom to more speculative metaphysical interpretation (Deane- Drummond gives Bulgakov as an example). Instead of explaining Deep Incarnation as ontological extension of the enfleshment into all of creation, she suggests the method of theo-dramatic interpretation, i.e. to take a boundary position between historical and ontological accounts of Christology (partly following Hans Urs von Balthasar here).
Christopher Southgate (“Depth, Sign and Destiny: Thoughts on Incarnation”) introduces the church as a prolongation of the incarnation and from here develops an ethics for a time of serious ecological crisis. He sees Christ incarnate both as a sign of the being of God and as a sacrament of the salvation and ultimate destiny of creation – and the church as eschatological community, the community of redeemed believers as the body of Christ incarnate and risen. “We [Robinson and Southgate] have suggested that Jesus’ life, taken as a whole, was – in terms of C. S. Peirce’s taxonomy of signs – an “iconic qualisign” of the being of God, a sign resembling the ob- ject through its sheer quality rather than being related by some convention” (p. 211). Considering a wider Ecological Ethics, Southgate asks “What about those of other faiths?”, and argues that the deepening of Christian theology of the nonhuman world by means of a characteristically Christian trope of incarnation just draws us away from other religions. But, whoever manifests self-giving love even from no faith position has been touched by the life of God. This brings him to a definition of church as any community freed from narrow self interest.
Niels Henrik Gregersen (“The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimen- sions of Deep Incarnation”) also refers to Athanasius (De Incarnatione 16): The Word (Logos) spread himself everywhere – Logos here in the sense of Wisdom and Word: God, by assuming the particular life story of Jesus also conjoined the material conditions of all flesh, shared and enabled the fate of all (!) biological life forms. He experienced the pain of sensitive creatures from within (sparrows and foxes). So deep incarnation presupposes a radical embodiment reaching into the roots of material and biological existence as into the darker sides of creation. If I am not mistaken Gregersen also addresses also non living beings when he develops the concept of Deep Incarnation in three dimensions:
For him the divine stretch between God Father and his eternal Son – mediated by the Spirit – is the presupposition for the divine reach into the depth of creation. And in questioning the chronocentric orientation over against nature, space and eternity he argues, that, although accepting time, we should move beyond a chronocentric worldview (Paul’s apocalyptic world view): “This theology of the cosmic body of Christ is not only about creation theology but about an ongoing reconciliation between Creator and creature” (p. 244).
PART III - Divine Presence and Incarnation: Scientific and Philosoph- ical Perspectives:
Holmes Rolston III (“Divine Presence – Causal, Cybernetic, Caring, Cruciform: From Information to Incarnation”) confirms that it is indeed al- ready a startling claim that God became flesh in the person of Jesus, but that it needs at least a person. He then asks what about animals? Although they show little evidence of having religious experiences, some ‘presence’ seems to follow if the Spirit animates all life. If we enlarge “incarnate” with “embodied” it is easier to ask whether God might be embodied in animals. Further, if “soma” means “body” and refers to heavenly and human bodies, biologically plants have “soma” but not flesh. And even if we seldom think of plants as animated they are organic and God might be embodied in them. The question of God’s incarnation into non-living beings, into plants, is addressed very explicitly and very creatively from the point of view of philosophy of nature.
“Plants ‘respire’ and are upheld by divine power, but this is not yet in- carnation” (p. 256). How about non-respiring matter? Pure mathematics is not even embodied, much less incarnate – not until it becomes applied mathematics, mixed into matter and energy (p. 259). And p. 260: “Within physical cosmology, the factual claims may be mathematical, based on values in equations, but the cosmological interpretation of these facts is not.” (It is historical, metaphysical, theological). Does it refer to immanence or incarnation? John sets Jesus in a cosmic framework, but did he also claim that Jesus transformed it? Since God became material did Jesus thereby in- carnate all matter?
p. 264f: Rolston continues by noting that Gregersen seeks a “strong continuity between the historical figure of Jesus and the cosmos at large.” That cannot mean that the life of Jesus affected distant galaxies, altering their nucleosynthesis. It might mean that the life of Jesus reveals at depth what the cosmological and evolutionary history, on certain of its trajecto- ries, is tending toward: complex beings capable of suffering love. Perhaps all we need to claim is that Jesus revealed something about events preceding him in natural history and gave humans some hope about events yet to come.”
Genes have a telos, are ‘teleosemantic’. Evolutionary biologists thus deal with two more or less incommensurable domains: information and matter. The gene is a package of information ... there is more where once there was less. For scientists the superintending, supervening process is cybernetic. For theologians, what is added to matter-energy is Logos.
Evolutionary natural history has generated caring. A neural animal can love and experientally evaluate environment, sometimes even more com- plex and sophisticated can learn and acquire behaviour. Then the Logos must in some sense have been ‘present’ in the genes of Jesus. And sharing his genes for example with chimpanzees etc – he had the signature of evolutionary history. But this is not the point of John's prologue. For John the Logos has become flesh, entered sarx, i.e. all life on Earth (instead of all cosmic matter).
p. 279: “Persons have unique careers that interweave to form storied narratives in cultural heritages....to be a person includes a dimension of 'spirit’. Where there is reflective, sacrificial suffering love, there is spirit. There is spirit where there is a sensing of the numinous, the sacred, the holy. There is spirit where there is awe, a sense of the sublime.” The question remains: might this imagination become incarnation? In the end the divine Logos only is incarnate when such sacrificial suffering love is deeply embodied – and fully only in Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.
The cross of Christ can be said to fulfill that evolutionary cruciform world – although the cross of Christ does nothing to transform the evolutionary process. And this maybe is also because in biology there simply is no sinfulness – nothing horribly broken about nature – perhaps natural history is already glorious enough.
We however have staggering possibilities, able to think vastly more thoughts than there are atoms in the universe ... with escalating powers for good and evil.
Stuart Kauffman (“Natural Incarnation: from the Possible to the Actual”), one of the leaders and pioneers in the field of complexity theory at the Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico, introduces himself as a Jewish agnostic. As a biologist, he calls his paper speculative since in it, although himself a scientist, he is “Reinventing the Sacred” –the title of one of his books: he is seeking a sense of God in the natural creativity of the living world. Like Gordon Kaufmann, with whom he has taught together at Harvard Divinity School, Kauffman views God as natural creativity; unlike Gordon Kauf- mann however, not of the universe as a whole.
Even beyond “Reinventing the Sacred” Kauffman sketches a possible natural interpretation – based on a new interpretation of quantum mechanics
– of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation of a God who is outside of space and time in the physical world. He then, and even more speculatively, describes consciousness and its possible connection with quantum measurements in our brains – perhaps in synaptic molecules. If evidence is found for it, then: a) quantum measurements are necessary but not sufficient for qualia to arise; b) they are both necessary and sufficient.
Kauffman goes for b) as being correct, although he cannot demonstrate it neither and neither does he believe it!
Hypothesis therefore is: wherever in the universe quantum measure- ments occur, so do (proto)qualia.
Of course the wave-particle duality does not obey Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle (which has been true for all classical physics). But again C.S. Peirce becomes helpful in the debate: actuals and probables obey the law of excluded middle, possibles do not. As a result Kauffman constructs a new dualism: the world consists of ontologically real actuals and ontologically real possibles, truly linked, i.e. united by quantum measurement.– and conscious experience is associated with it. Possibles becoming actual however are not to be measured in the known way. In analogy, natural incarnation would be such an event and not need the action of any theistic God.
Kauffman’s next question is whether the universe is observing itself. Mind as a quantum coherent or partially decoherent process can have consequences for brain, but these consequences are not causal. If we then identify consciousness with quantum measurement it buries the mystery of what consciousness is in the further mystery of what measurement is. But if there is no mechanism for measurement (cf Conway and Kochen: “Strong Free Will Theorem”) at least we ‘know’ why consciousness remains a mystery.
Argued from a neuroscience point of view, what is called ‘non- locality’ in physics leads to the hypothesis that anatomically unconnected brain areas can be quantum entangled. Via measurement of the entangled quantum processes (and hence with associated qualia) derived from a single quantum system we can have a unity of consciousness. Then quantum measurement is both necessary and sufficient for qualia and a final ‘unity of qualia’ in the abiotic universe seems not impossible.
Information theory as we know it does not apply to evolution of the biosphere, hence to the becoming of the universe. But if we imagine that protoqualia in the universe are entangled we could conceivably get a unity of protoconsciousness. Freedom emerges with measurement – and so we could have a means to affect the actual world. This idea of an ‘I’ might even suggest the idea of a theistic God.
Dirk Evers (“Incarnation and Faith in an Evolutionary Framework”) elaborates incarnation as God’s transformative presence in creation in terms of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The latter implying a fundamental inter-relatedness of divine presence and human existence – and thus referring to a relational understanding of God and creation in an evolutionary framework. Evers suggests that God overcomes the spiritual distance between him and human beings through incarnation then. The cross can be seen as hermeneutical key to God’s transformative presence.
Humans are humans (special?) because of this justification. They develop and lead their lives as naturally social and cultural animals. And so the cognitive distance for human beings is partly overcome through incarnation (although God is present for the whole world). This broader concept of incarnation, even if taken as normative, does not imply any timely or religiously bound exclusivism.
Robert John Russell (“Jesus: the Way of all Flesh and the Proleptic Feather of Time”), the founder and director of The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, stresses the importance of physics and cosmology for a reformulation of Christian theology (besides evolutionary and molecular biology and others). Following Gregersen’s “Deep Incarnation” into the very tissue of biological existence, the system of nature, Russell argues that:
1. Since all biological organisms are physical entities we should think of the divine reach as even deeper than biology, namely into the underlying physics of our universe with its cosmic fine-tuning for life. And if the divine reach extends into physics, the physics of the flesh of Jesus, the finetuning making the evolution of flesh possible. Also since the physical preconditions for life, created by God ex nihilo, include inevitable suffering (addressed as “natural evil” and in “natural theodicy”) they may also help to explain the soteriological dimensions of incarnation in a new light.
2. However, there is faith in incarnation because of the faith in resurrection. In following thoughts of Moltmann, Pannenberg and Peters interpreting resurrection as a proleptic event in which the extraordinary eschatological future is manifest in the midst of our ordinary future, Russell states that the former is neither radically continuous nor discontinuous. Instead it is a radical transformation of the futurum into the adventus. Again the linear character of time is at stake. Since the theological concept of prolepsis leads to a physical concept of time as multiply-connected. In the light of the challenge of natural theodicy Russell suggests finding this proleptic temporal structure in all moments of time, i.e. not only relevant for human beings.
3. The evolutionary history of moral and immoral behaviour in non- human and human animals is manifest in context-specific ways, but the physics of the universe has to be seen as an underlying and remote precondition for its possibility.
When talking about natural evil and natural goodness, sin at this level is no longer a helpful concept.
In addition: eschatological future connects points as if proleptically to sequential present moments. They might be experienced as perpendicular to time as in mystic and apophatic tradition of the numinous presence of the risen Christ. But also parallel to time, i.e. kataphatic.
If physics of this fine-tuned universe offers a precondition for the possibility of prolepsis this calls for an interaction of theology and science. So what is called “theology of nature”, for example by Barbour, is then to reformulate theology in the light of science. Theology can, by contrast, lead to interesting insights and suggestions about research programs in science as well.
The volume ends with an Afterword by the well-known mathematical physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne. Polkinghorne expresses reser- vations about an approach to thinking about God’s relationship with crea- tion that stresses the concept of incarnation to the extent expressed in the preceding chapters. Although there is a sincere theological need to express divine presence within the travail of creation in an act of redemptive solidarity between Creator and creatures, Polkinghorne warns us not to blur differences in ontological status between God and humans (world). Because of God’s aseity there can be everlasting hope wholly independent of whatever may be the present state of the created universe. Finally, the deep connection between Creator and suffering creation is best pursued within a Trinitarian setting.
And it ends with a reflection of Niels Henrik Gregersen on, once again, “Opportunities and Challenges” of the concept of “Deep Incarnation”. He suggests, along with many others, that we should distinguish but not separate Incarnation from Creation, and likewise not the Work of Christ from His Being-There, and why we should not think about Resurrection in chronocentric terms. For Gregersen “[D]eep incarnation is thus a proposal for a Christology that responds to being a victim, not only to being a sinner”(p.379). God comes to mind in coming to flesh.
Reviewers facit: Although on the specific question of “Deep Incarna- tion” this volume is a compendium for what is important in the ongoing dialogue between theology and natural science in general. It should be in every theological library. And it should be used.
Sybille C. Fritsch-Oppermann
Reprinted from ESSSAT News and Reviews, n. 26:3 (September 2016), pp. 20-28.