As the Catechism moves to the article of the Creed expressing our faith in Jesus Christ as the only Son of the Father, and as Lord, it is truly amazing what a wealth of truth is contained in those very few, though all-important, words. Taken all together, they constitute a nutshell affirmation of the very essence of the Christian Faith.
Taken separately in isolation from the others, each of the terms could have been interpreted in different ways. The name “Jesus” designates a man who was received in very different ways by different people. The title “Christ,” which is the Greek equivalent of the title “Messiah,” encapsulates the expectation of the Jewish people which did not necessarily correspond to the reality of Jesus of Nazareth, so that many rejected him.
The term “Son of God” is certainly significant, but it had sometimes been used also of kings and others who had been recognized as “adopted” by God into a new and loving relationship with him. And the title “Lord,” though used at times in contexts no more significant than our title “Sir,” had already assumed great theological significance in the Old Testament.
In other words, while several distinct dimensions of Jesus’ identity were foretold and expected under the Old Covenant, the unique and utterly unpredictable configuration of all of them together in the one Person of Jesus was God’s surprise to Israel and to the human race, recounted in his inspired word and proclaimed by the Church from the beginning. No other person or event fulfills so completely all that had been foretold in the Old Testament.
The name “Jesus” (Yeshua’ in Hebrew), given to our Lord by the Angel Gabriel before he was conceived in Our Lady’s womb, means “Salvation.” In the context of the fall of the human race considered in our last reflection, this means that he is God’s answer to human sin and its consequences. To say that he is “the Christ,” as Peter does under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 16:16), means that he is the “Messiah” (Mashiah in Hebrew means “Anointed”), the descendant of King David who would reign over Israel bringing God’s definitive victory to His people.
Only by virtue of Jesus’ precise manner of doing this, however, does it become abundantly clear that the victory at issue here is not a military liberation or conquest but something much more profound, namely the ultimate victory over sin and its consequences.
As suggested above, it was not unknown in the Ancient Near East to refer to a great person favored by God as a “son of God.” But it becomes clear in the New Testament that Jesus is being identified as the Son of God in a very singular way. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke record carefully Jesus’ birth of a Virgin, meaning that he has no earthly Father, but that God is His Father not only by adoption but by supernatural generation. And the Gospel of John (e.g., see 5:17-26) makes it clear that the designation of Jesus as “the Son” makes him “equal” to the God of Israel (Jn. 5:18), a status that will only begin to make sense in the light of the further revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
This divine identity of Jesus was further solidified by His being addressed by the same term “Lord,” by which the Israelites had used as a pious substitute for God’s sacred name YHWH, which in turn was pronounced only in the most sacred places and times.
The early councils of the Church would clarify in successive stages the meaning of this affirmation of the Creed, culminating in the affirmation by the Council of Chalcedon in 431 that Jesus is one divine Person possessed of two distinct natures, human and divine, that remain unmixed with each other, unchanged by their union, undivided for all time, and inseparable.
In other words, when the man Jesus says “I,” it is the divine Son who is speaking. In the human nature joined to His divine Person, the Second Person of the Trinity is born of Mary, dies on the Cross and rises from the dead.
Many religions share with Christianity a belief in a supreme being. Judaism even shares our belief in the same God who spoke by the prophets and entered into a covenant with Abraham and the other patriarchs. Even atheists may share with Christians a belief in a system of ethics by which human actions can be designated as good or evil.
But the uniqueness of Christianity lies in our firm belief that the destiny of every single created person hinges on the one man Jesus Christ, who is the personal presence of God in human history, and that the mystery of Jesus’ life and death unlocks the true meaning of the universe and saves us from sin and death.
(For more, read Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 422-455; or United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, pp. 77-85; or Youcat, nn. 71-75)
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