- The Incarnate Lord: A Thomistic Study in Christology by Thomas Joseph White
Thomas Joseph White’s substantial volume sets forth ambitious goals in ten chapters framed with substantial introductory and concluding discussions. The introduction clarifies that “this is a Thomistic study in Christology that seeks to understand in a speculative fashion what it means to say that God became a man and that this man who is God died by crucifixion and rose from the dead for the salvation of the human race” (4). The study is framed in response to concerns and challenges posed by historical-critical biblical scholarship, Kantian philosophy, and the influence of these two on modern Catholic and Protestant theology, particularly through the influence of Karl Barth. In the face of these concerns and challenges, White affirms that “Christology has an irreducible ontological dimension that is essential to its integrity as a science” (5). This fundamental thesis courses through the veins of each chapter, with the particular juxtapositions and arguments of these chapters constituting the work’s aim just as much as the overall thesis.
The book begins with an introduction (“The Biblical Ontology of Christ”) calibrated to frame the enterprise of scientific Christology in biblically rooted ontological or metaphysical claims. This framing reveals much about White’s argument and interpretation of Thomistic Christology. Stated otherwise, this work details a Chalcedonian grammar of the Incarnation as expounded by Thomas Aquinas and in response to modern Christological and theological concerns in order to defend Scholastic Christology’s “perennial importance for a right understanding of central mysteries of the New Testament” (22). By emphasizing on “perennial importance” White shows his understanding of the nature of theological truths against some modern interpretations, and therefore he offers further impetus for addressing questions raised by modern Christologies through the resources of Scholastic Christology.
The real question of the prolegomenon, “Is a Modern Thomistic Christology Possible?” is not whether but how it is possible. Here, White considers the defining features of modern Christologies, the defining features of Thomistic Christology, and how the latter can speak with and to the former. [End Page 595] White identifies two foundations for modern Christologies: historical-critical biblical scholarship and Immanuel Kant’s critique of classical metaphysics. With respect to the first, the central question posed concerns the relationship between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of theological reflection.” Friedrich Schleiermacher and Barth offer two differing responses to this modern question. “Schleiermacher correlates post-Enlightenment studies of the history of Jesus with a decidedly post-Chalcedonian stance of interpretation regarding classical (pre-modern) Christological ontology” (35), all of which leads him to focus entirely on “the original religious consciousness and sentiments of the founder of Christianity in their unalloyed beauty” (36). In so doing, Schleiermacher prioritizes retrieval of the historical Jesus over the subsequent adulterations of this religious consciousness by ecclesiastical pronouncements and theological reflection. Barth, in contrast, minimizes or undermines historical reconstructions of Jesus as inherently problematic and as unreliable, purely human speculation distracting from the proper object of faith. In White’s presentation, Schleiermacher and Barth thus represent divergent and even opposite responses to the promise and challenge of historical-critical biblical scholarship. Both fundamentally fail insofar as they cannot methodologically integrate analysis of the historical Jesus and the Christ of theological reflection.
With respect to the Kantian critiques of classical metaphysics, White summarizes the problems of Schleiermacher and Barth as follows:
Schleiermacher rejects metaphysics and resorts to consciousness, while Barth rejects human metaphysics and resorts to a sort of revealed Christological metaphysics. But Barth’s strategy, seemingly designed to avoid falling into Schleiermachian reductionism, ends up (ironically) being an application of human categories after all, and (even more ironically) these turn out to be categories of consciousness. One can avoid these problems by accepting the possibility of a natural capacity in human beings for metaphysical reflection, so long as this...