Introduction to Christology 101 — 5 More Ways to Dive Deeper Into Christology

Recommended books about Our Lord by Rudolf Schnackenburg, Bishop Robert Barron and others.

Marco Pino, “The Resurrection of Christ,” bef. 1587
Marco Pino, “The Resurrection of Christ,” bef. 1587 (photo: Public Domain)

In my last article in the Register, I decided to present a book list focused on the theological discipline of Christology, which is an aspect of dogmatic theology that touches all the other fields of theology (fundamental, moral, pastoral, spiritual, biblical and liturgical). 

This list had such authors as Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, Dominican Father Thomas Joseph White, Cistercian Father Roch Kereszty, Jesuit Father Edward T. Oakes and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. This list will include some theologians whose writings you might find helpful in your self-study of this vital aspect of Catholic theology.

1. The first book is one that I doubt many readers would have heard of — Msgr. Josiah G. Chatham’s In the Midst Stands Jesus: a Pastoral Introduction to the New Testament (Alba House, 1972).

I only know of this book (which is, as far as I know, long out of print) from the priests who taught me in high school at Cathedral Prep in Elmhurst, New York, many years ago. Msgr. Chatham (1914-1988), a priest of the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, served as a pastor-in-residence in the early 1970s at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and this great book, which I was given when I was 15 years old, was the result of his many years of study and teaching.

I have a rather sentimental place for this book, but I really believe that it is a little gem if you can get your hands on a copy. Without exaggeration, I can tell you that it changed my life and opened up for me a world of theology. A love of real theology can be introduced to high school students and I am grateful to these priests who taught me many years ago for exposing me to this book.

2. The second text is not a book, but an article by Sister Sara Butler called “Contemporary Christology: Getting One’s Bearings,” in the August 1997 edition of Chicago Studies. This was a particularly useful edition of this journal, which is published by Mundelein Seminary, as the theme of the issue was “What Every Catholic Teacher Needs to Know,” and the author wonderfully and clearly went through the then-recently released Catechism of the Catholic Church. I have used this article in my own studies as well as assigning it classes that I was teaching. It is a treasure from a solidly orthodox Catholic theologian.

3. The third suggested text is also not a book, but a chapter from a larger book called Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, edited by Francis Schussler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin (Fortress Press, 1991).

Many parts of this text have not aged well, but Father Galvin, a professor at The Catholic University of America, has written a clear and concise introduction to Christology (Chapter 5 of this book) that covers well the foundations of the study: Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church, as well as some contemporary thinkers.

4. The fourth text that I would recommend is one about which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had written rather highly: Rudolf Schnackenburg’s Jesus in the Gospels: A Biblical Christology (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).

Father Schnackenburg (1914-2002) was described by Benedict XVI (as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) as “probably the most significant German-speaking Catholic exegete of the second half of the twentieth century.” A member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, Father Schnackenburg wrote a massive commentary on the Gospel of Saint John, and, with this text, it is his intention to present the individual portraits that each of the Evangelists paints of the Lord Jesus. Then he attempts to demonstrate the unity of each of the four Gospel writers in their depictions of the Word Made Flesh.

It should be read in union with Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth series, as they complement each other. (In fact, Benedict’s three volumes can be seen as the logical outgrowth of Schnackenburg’s book.)

5. The last book for our study of Christology was written in 2007 by Bishop Robert E. Barron — The Priority of Christ: Towards a Post-Liberal Catholicism. In many ways, this is the most theological of all of Bishop Barron’s books and it can serve, along with his wonderful book, And Now I See (1998), as a summary of his own unique theology. Bishop Barron states that it is intention to accomplish “neither a modern form of Christianity nor a Christian attack on modernity, but rather a postmodern or postliberal Catholicism, a view of God and the world that flows from the still surprising event of Jesus Christ and that pushes beyond the convictions of both modernity and conventionally construed Christianity.”

In this thought-provoking piece, Bishop Barron addresses “liberal” Christianity, modernity and post-modernity. He writes:

“Liberal modernity can best be seen as an energetic reaction to a particular and problematic version of nominalist Christianity. Early modernity saw itself as a salutary response to oppressive and obscurantist strains in Christian culture, but since it was reacting to a corruption of true Christianity, it itself became similarly distorted and exaggerated. As a result, the two systems settled into a centuries-long and terribly unproductive warfare. Even when the two attempted a reconciliation (as in all forms of liberal Christianity in the past two centuries), the results were less than satisfactory, precisely because each party was itself a sort of caricature.”

For Bishop Barron, the only proper way out of the mess that has so confounded so many thinkers today is the very Person of Jesus Christ. He writes:

“The central affirmation of classical Christianity is that in Jesus of Nazareth God and humanity met in a noncompetitive and nonviolent way. According to the formulary of the Council of Chalcedon, the human nature of Jesus is not compromised, truncated, or undermined in the process of becoming united to a divine nature. Rather, the two come together ‘without mixing, mingling, or confusion’ in a hypostatic union, producing one who is perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity. This implies that the human mind, will, passion, and freedom of Jesus are brought to fullest pitch precisely through their union with the incarnating God. And this in turn says something of great importance about the divine. If the incarnation is an accomplished fact, then the presence of the true God is not invasive or interruptive but rather noncompetitive. In light of this coming together, we must say that there is a rapport of coinherence between divinity and humanity, each abiding in the other in such a way that humanity is elevated by the proximity of the divine.”

Simply put, we need to focus in on Jesus! His paschal mystery changes everything. We are not in competition with an angry, vengeful God. Jesus, through his passion, death,and resurrection, proves that order is “restored not through a violent imposition of divine retributive justice but through restorative divine forgiveness, not through a suppression of will by Will but by an insinuating invitation to love.” Barron phrases this beautifully: “God is not so much a monolith of power and ontological perfection as a play of love and relationality.”

As you could probably tell, I am rather fond of this book and I believe it to be a major contribution to theology from an American theologian and bishop of the Church.

Certainly, there are many other books and texts besides these 10 that I could have recommended, but I thought that these ones would serve as good introductions by some fine (and recently deceased) living theologians in English. Bishop Barron, Father White, Father Weinandy, Sister Butler, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Father Kereszty and the others mentioned are all world-class theologians and can teach us much about the One whom we should love more than any other — Jesus Christ Our Lord!