Sunday, June 1, 2014

Stăniloae on the vicarious humanity of Christ

Though he doesn't exactly use this term (which I have taken from T.F. Torrance), an important element of Stăniloae's understanding of the salvific work of Jesus Christ is Christ's vicarious humanity. Stăniloae expresses the point by speaking of Christ's salvific work as it is oriented towards his own human nature. As he says,

Christ's work of salvation is directed toward His human nature . . . It is then directed toward us all in order that, through our participation in the divinity manifested in the power that He transmits to us through His human nature, He may liberate us, too, from sin in this life and from the innocent passions, corruptibility, and death in the life to come (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior, p. 88).

Through the sanctification of his own humanity, Christ moves us to sanctify ourselves by his power. He communicates himself to us, in a manner of speaking, so that we may begin to embody the kind of life for which God intends us, as Christ himself does. The vicarious life of humanity is not a fulfillment of obligations which releases us from the need to do anything; it is educative and empowering, so that we can begin to do all that God plans and intends for us, to live a life in the fellowship of the Holy Trinity.

The vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ implies that Jesus Christ is our model and goal. Stăniloae says, In His teaching, He interprets Himself as humankind's ultimate and perfect goal (p. 92). Insofar as Christ is himself accomplishing in his own person that which is intended for us, he offers himself as a model and goal, a teacher after whom we are to follow in our living. This is eminently true in Christ's resurrection, which realizes the ultimate goal for humanity: In the risen Christ we continuously have the real image of what we will become. His entire Person is a fulfilled prophecy about the human being as he is called to become in the actualization of his best and most proper potential, but only in union with God (ibid.).

Stăniloae interestingly notes that the fact of Christ's vicarious humanity makes Christ's teaching plausible and realistic, and gives Christian hope a firm ground. Stăniloae emphasizes that Christ does not offer a teaching that is imagined in His mind -- one which, from a certain point of view, is better than him who offers it . . . [B]ecause through His life and through His resurrection He is what all humankind is called to become, His teaching is both realistic and prophetic, being substantiated by what He is as the man in whom humanity has been truly realized and will be realized after resurrection (ibid.).

In the end, the goal of Christ's vicarious humanity is to call for a response from our part. But in Jesus Christ, the Word speaks to us, being incarnate as man, through His direct words as God in human form, emphasizing the responsiveness in us through the human model He places before us (p. 99). Christ in a way embodies the intended human response to God so that he may call up humans to give it as well. Consider this passage:

We specified that because Christ speaks to us not only as God but also as fulfilled man, He communicates to us not only the word of God to us, but also His response as human model toward God. In a special way it is Christ who communicates this response of Himself as a man toward God, because He prays for us and He teaches us how to pray. Through this he also strengthens our word of response toward God. Properly speaking, the purpose of all the teaching He gives us is to make us respond to God's call (p. 100).

Therefore when we look upon Christ, we see what we are supposed to be as humans in relation to God, to ourselves, and to one another. And when we look upon Christ's response to God, we are inspired to respond ourselves to God's call, knowing that Christ prays for us and teaches us how to pray. And when we see Christ's resurrected being and the fulfillment of God's eschatological intention for humanity within his own person, and knowing moreover that he offers himself to us in his teaching and through his presence in the Eucharist (pp. 97-8) in order to strengthen to become what he is -- what other proper response is there except a convinced faith and an earnest seeking of fellowship with God?