by Brother Gilbert Bloomer
“Any Christology ‘from below’ implies its counterpart, a Christology ‘from above’...” writes Jesuit priest Gerald O’Collins. Father O’Collins describes Christology ‘from below’ as that Christology that begins with the humanity of Jesus in his cultural heritage and history. He describes Christology ‘from above’ as that which begins with the Divinity of the pre-existent Word who descends into the world of man. He concludes that the field of Christology needs perspectives from both approaches. As a Catholic of Jewish background and heritage I naturally have a great interest in the Jewish background and heritage of Jesus and thus possibly I would be attracted to Christology discussed ‘from below’. However as a Catholic Jew of Hasidic ancestry and learning, which is focused on many mystical elements of Judaism, I have a powerful attraction to Christology ‘from above’. As a Hasid of my ancestor Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who has a more phenomenological approach to Hasidism I am drawn also to what some scholars call Christology ‘from within’. 
Father O’Collins connects Christology ‘from below’ with the early Church school of Antioch who championed the historical-literal approach and Christology ‘from above’ with the more allegorical and mystical approach with the school of Alexandria. These two schools mirror the Rabbinic Jewish schools of Rabbi Akiva, with its more allegorical and mystical approach and Rabbi Ishmael, who championed the more literal and legal approach to the study of Torah. Rabbinic Judaism values and draws on both schools with Litvak (or Mitnagdim) Judaism more inclined to the approach of Rabbi Ishmael and the Hasidim to Rabbi Akiva.
Wildman in his article “Basic Christological Distinctions” gives other terminology for the different approaches in the field of Christology such as apologetic Christology versus therapeutic Christology, Christology of faith versus Christology of sight among many others. While some associate Christology ‘from above’ with the concept of Incarnation I believe the concept of Incarnation represents the interface between the two approaches which I think would then represent a Christology ‘from within’. I also think that there is a difference between those theologians who write from an orthodox Christian perspective ‘from below’ and ‘from above’ as distinct from those who write from a heterodox perspective ‘from below’ which may lead to the errors of modernism and those who write from a heterodox perspective ‘from above’ which may become a kind of Gnosticism. However some non-Christian Jewish writers have written from a ‘from below’ perspective and given some interesting insights into the Jewishness of Jesus such as Hasidic Rabbi Harvey Falk, Rabbi Jacob Neusner and Orthodox Jewish scholar David Flusser among others.
There are a growing number of Messianic Jewish writers such as Yoel Natan whose Christology is ‘from above’ but also closely integrated with the Trinitarian unity of the Godhead. This is also the form of Christology rooted in the Trinitarian Mystery favoured in the Eastern Orthodox churches. There is also a number of Catholic writers and theologians that see Christology without a Marian (Mariology) dimension as an incomplete form of Christology. Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II saw these two mysteries interwoven together from their source in the beginning. In the Russian Orthodox Church there are also a number of theologians in the tradition of Soloviev Sophiology linked to the Sophiology of the early Church that perceives their Christology through the lens of Marian Sophiology such as Sergei Bulgakov and Father Pavel Florenski.
I think that the Eucharistic dimension of Christology has been much neglected and this is the reason I have chosen the Christology of the Letter to the Hebrews as one of my New Testament Christologies which represents Christology ‘from above’. Like all the Christologies in the New Testament each one has to a certain extent attributes of both 'from above' and ‘from below’. I have came to the conclusion many years ago that this letter was written by the former Jewish High-priest Theophilus to whom Luke addressed his Gospel and Acts under the guidance and encouragement of St Paul. This is a Christology focused on Tabernacle or Temple theology which can also be found in Paul (see Ephesians 2). It would seem to be addressed to those many Jewish priests mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles who have become believers (Acts 6:7).
Protestant Professor Arthur J Just discusses the priestly, sacramental and Eucharistic dimensions of the Christology of the Letter to the Hebrews in his article “Entering Holiness: Christology and Eucharist in Hebrews”. The opening verses, of the Letter to the Hebrews, reveals its Christology ‘from above’. Some scholars have referred to the letter to the Hebrews as Johanine which is also a Gospel who’s Christology could be described as ‘from above’. According to French Catholic scholar Claude Tresmontant the John who was called the beloved Disciple was a priest from the high priestly family and not the same as the apostle John. Thus John of Ephesus may have been a son or nephew of the High Priest Theophilus who had retired to the High Priestly estates in Ephesus.
Julian Kincaid lists the cosmological titles of the Messiah in the Letter to the Hebrews such as Mediator, High Priest and Intercessor. This High Priest enters into the heavenly Sanctuary for which the earthly one is a shadow or type. This imagery draws from that of the High Priest Yeshua (or Yehoshua) mentioned in Zechariah (3) who enters into a heavenly Sanctuary and his dirty robes are exchanged for pure linen and clean priestly turban. This scene in Zechariah is a shadowing or sign of the coming Branch (Tzemach) whom Judaism identifies with the Messiah. The Eucharistic and Temple language is very evident in Hebrews 10 where it speaks of the ‘offering of his Body’ and being ‘sanctified by his blood’ so that we can enter the heavenly Holy Place through the veil (or parochet) of his Eucharistic flesh (basar). This also alludes to John’s Eucharistic discourse in John 6 where it also refers to his flesh (basar) and blood in Eucharistic terms. Basar is also the Hebrew word used for the flesh of the lambs sacrificed twice daily in the Temple. Is this Eucharistic Christology ‘from above’ or ‘from below’ or a mixture of both?
The Christology of the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel is often described as Christology ‘from below’. The reason for this is its emphasis on the Jewish and human genealogy and family of Jesus as a legal son of Joseph who is a descendant of King David and a son of Abraham. It stresses the obedience of the Holy Family to the culture and traditions of Judaism like all other devout Jewish families. These aspects would certainly reflect a Christology ‘from below’ yet at the same time they may also reflect a Christology from above. Son of David is a messianic title and Joseph as a Tzadik (righteous man) has deep metaphysical significance in mystical Judaism. A Tzadik is one who mediates and intercedes and makes reparation (tikkun) for others and the whole created Universe.
Choosing whether a theologian is writing ‘from above’ or ‘from below’ can be somewhat difficult. In researching this essay I at first decided to chose two theologians writing on the Christology among the early Jewish Christians. I chose Richard Longenecker for his Christology ‘from below’ in his “The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity”. He examines from the historical perspective the Christology of the Jewish Christians. However though coming from a research of historical documents rooted in the Jewish Christian milieu he then ascends to discuss those topics of interest to those writing from a Christology ‘from above’. He discusses these ‘above’ issues in explaining the distinctive Jewish Christian imagery and motifs such as Angelomorphic Christology, the Eschatological Mosaic Prophet, the New Exodus and the New Torah, the Name, the Righteous One and so on. He also discusses the different Messianic titles such as Davidic King, High Priest and the Messiah-Christ. He then discusses in chapter 4 the Jewish Christians understanding of Jesus as Lord, God, Saviour and the Word all from a perspective of ‘from below’ of the historical evidence ascending to these topics of interest in a Christology ‘from above’.
The theologian I originally chose as a counter to Longenecker was Jarl Fossum who wrote “Jewish Christian Christology and Jewish Mysticism” in which he examines the idea of the Divine Man as kabod (Glory) and Shiur Komah ( Body of God). Even though I thought due to the mystical subject matter this may be a Christology ‘from above’ I soon realised that it was in fact discussing it ‘from below’. Fossum writes:
“Gilles Quispel lately has proffered the intriguing theory that the Jewish concept of God’s kavod, the ‘likeness as the appearance of man’...is the model of the Gnostic Anthropos and even of the Son of Man in Jewish apocalyptics and the Heavenly Man in Pauline theology...”Fossum then sets out to demonstrate from the historical documents that “Jewish mysticism which centred around the man-like figure on the heavenly throne was influential in shaping the saviour image in the first few centuries of our era”.
Wildman states that most theological writers of recent times come from a Christological ‘from below’ perspective. He gives a list headed by Edward Schillebeeckx a Catholic theologian that I think borders on the heterodox in his writings. Some others are John Baille, Marcus Borg, Rudolf Bultman, John Dominic Crossan, Don Cupitt, James DG Dunn, Eberhard Jungel and many others. He states that there are not many contemporary theologians coming from a Christology from above.
In my search for a theologian writing from a Christology from above I considered both Hans Urs von Balthasar and Pope John Paul II. While they both exhibited features of Christology ‘from above’ I concluded they represented Christology ‘from within’. The Christology ‘from above’ was more common in the West in the Medieval period according to George Tavard in his wonderful article titled “The Christology of the Mystics”. He writes:
“The Christology of the Catholic mystics through the ages has been notoriously neglected as a source of doctrinal tradition by the many authors who have recently focused on Christology”.In the early Renaissance period some Popes including Pope Sixtus IV encouraged Catholics to study Jewish mysticism as a means to explaining the Catholic mysteries. Pico de Mirandola is probably one of the most famous theologians of this period who took up this endeavour.
In the end I decided to move from the West to the East and select as my example of a theologian writing ‘from above’ Sergei Bulgakov. Bulgakov discusses the Incarnation of Christ as the God-Man and Divine Man. He begins in the heart of the Trinity a discussion of God as the Divine Wisdom and then discusses the God-Man as the interface between the uncreated Sophia and the created Sophia.
Like Gilles Gispel Bulgakov discusses the Glory (kabod) in Ezekiel and links it to the Son of Man (Divine Man) in Daniel. He then links this with the New Testament passages in John 3:13, I Corinthians 15:47 and Romans 5:15. He writes:
“The Incarnation is closely connected with this heavenly or eternal humanity...But the human nature has already the capacity for receiving a hypostasis, after the likeness of its prototype, the divine Sophia, which can never exist without a hypostasis, but is eternally hypostatised. The hypostasis of the Logos that he is...that proper to the Divine Sophia. We can say of the Logos that he is the everlasting human being, the human prototype, as well as the Lamb slain ‘before the foundation of the world’... ”.
Bulgakov also discusses how Sophia in Greek Orthodox theology was given Christological significance which in Russia became Mariological. Bulgakov roots this Marian dimension in Eastern Orthodox Trinitarian Christology. He writes: “Sophia is equated at once with Christ and with the Mother of God.” He writes that Mary can be given the title of Sophia in virtue of her being the spirit-bearer and thus the temple or dwelling place of God. Bulgakov is obviously referring here to the Lukan Infancy narrative. Mary is not the incarnation of the Holy Spirit but she is the Spirit’s anointed vessel. He states that both the Son and the Holy Spirit are Sophia in the Godhead. He also sees that Mary is also the created Sophia from whom the Son takes his humanity (flesh). He writes:
“The created humanity of Christ the God-human came to him from the Mother of God. It belongs to her. In a true sense it is possible to say that she is this created humanity of Christ, that she is the created Sophia. The humanity of Christ belongs at once to him, since it is one of his two natures, and to her, in whom it personally subsists.”
Bulgakov comments that these two faces of Sophia are united as one in the person of the Mother of God. Schipflinger a western Catholic theologian was greatly influenced by this Russia Sophiology of Soloviev, Florenski and Bulgakov. He writes:
“...Holy Wisdom, the Divine Sophia, appeared in the world as prophesied by the prophet Baruch (Bar. 3:37) and this appearance took place in Mary. Theologically expressed Sophia became human in Mary.”Such a statement could be misunderstood unless situated in its Christological significance. Shliplinger links the concept of Sophia with the Jewish concept of Shekhinah, which for me seems obvious but needs further development by those writing from a Christology ‘from above’. It has had some recent coverage by those writing from a ‘from below’ Christology such as Arthur Green and Peter Schafer.
In conclusion I have found that dividing Christologies into ‘from below’ and ‘from above’ is not always helpful in discerning what kind of Christology one is dealing with. Certainly the Christologies in the Bible are a mix of both. I certainly have gained much insight and wisdom from those writing from both approaches. I think the modern movement towards Phenomenology may make this terminology incomplete as more Christologies are articulated ‘from within’ as the primary focus. I am not sure that the separation of Christology into a separate category is always helpful as the trinitarian, mariological, mystical, eucharistic, cosmological and soteriological aspects are so intertwined with Christology that leaving them out gives one a rather impoverished and incomplete vision of who Jesus Christ the God-Man, son of the Theotokos, is for the believer. I personally would like to develop a Christology from its sources in Jewish and Catholic mysticism taking into account the historical Jewish background as an important element. This Christology would not be a ‘museum piece’ locked into the past but taking into account the ‘development of doctrine’, a Christology of the Future firmly rooted in Scripture and Tradition but going into a deeper penetration of the mysteries of the Eucharistic and Mystical Christ.
 Gerald O’Collins SJ, Christology:A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ (Oxford;Oxford Uni Press,1995),17
 Gerald O’Collins SJ, Christology:A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ,16-17
 Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was the founder of Breslover Hasidism. He was a great grandson of the Besht who founded modern Hasidism. Both my grandfathers are descendents of two daughters (Udel and Miriam)of Rebbe Nachman.
 See Mark A McIntosh, “Christology From Within: spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar” South Bend;Uni of Notre Dame Press, 1996.
 Gerald O’Collins SJ, Christology:A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ,17
 Abraham Joshua Heschel, Heavenly Torah: As Refracted through the Generations (New York; Continuum,2007),1-42
 Wesley J Wildman, “Basic Christological distinctions” Theology Today Vol. 64 (2007),285-286
 See Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee; A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus New York ; Paulist press,2003.
 See Jacob Neusner and Donald Harman Akensen, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus Canada; McGills-Queens University Press, 2000.
 See David Flusser and Daniel Notley, The Sage from Galilee; Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius Jerusalem; Magnes press,1997.
 See Yoel Natan, The Jewish Trinity: When Rabbis believed in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit USA; Aventine Press,2003.
 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mary The Church at the Source San Francisco; Ignatius Press, 1997,51-52
 See Pope John Paul II translated by Michael Waldstein. Man and Woman He created Them: A Theology of the Body USA: Pauline Books, 2006.
 See Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, Divine Sophia: The Wisdom writings of Vladimir Solovyov New York; Cornell University Press, 2009.
 See Thomas Schipflinger, Sophia-Maria; A Holistic Vision of Creation Maine, USA; Samuel Weiser inc, 1998.
 See Sergei Bulgakov Sophia The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology New York; Lindisfarne Press, 1993.
 However the Temple connections are only clear to someone knowledgeable in second Temple Judaism and the Pharisee Temple Theology in the home and life of the devout Jewish family.
 Arthur J Just jnr, “Entering Holiness: Christology and Eucharist in Hebrews” Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol.69:1; (January 2005), 75f
 See Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ: Language in the Age of the Gospels USA:Franciscan Herald Press, 1989.
 Julian Kincaid, The Christology of Hebrews 8-10 biblical studies.org.uk
 Felix Just SJ, The Gospel According to Matthew: Christology and Discipleship <catholicresources.org/Bible/Matthew-Christology-Discipleship htm>
 See Richard Norman Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity USA; SCM Press,1970.
 Richard Norman Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity, 25-58
 Richard Norman Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity, 63-113
 Richard Norman Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity,120-144
 Jarl Fossum, “Jewish Christian Christology and Jewish Mysticism” Vigiliae Christianae ( Leiden: Brill,1983),260-287
 Jarl Fossum, “Jewish Christian Christology and Jewish Mysticism”,260
 Jarl Fossum, “Jewish Christian Christology and Jewish Mysticism”,260
 Wesley J Wildman, “Basic Christological distinctions”, 287
 George H Tavard, “The Christology of the Mystics” Theological Studies 42:4 1981, 561
 See Sergei Bulgakov Sophia The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology
 Jarl Fossum, “Jewish Christian Christology and Jewish Mysticism”, 260.
 Sergei Bulgakov Sophia The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology, 78-79
 Sergei Bulgakov Sophia The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology, 125.
 Sergei Bulgakov Sophia The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology, 126.
 Sergei Bulgakov Sophia The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology, 127.
 Thomas Schipflinger, Sophia-Maria; A Holistic Vision of Creation, xv
 See Arthur Green, “Shekhinah, the Virgin Mary, and the Song of Songs: Reflections on a Kabbalistic Symbol in its Historical Context “ AJS Review Vol.26:1 (April 2002), 1-52
 See Peter Schafer, Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah New Jersey; Princeton University Press, 2002.
Bulgakov, Sergei. Sophia The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology New York; Lindisfarne Press, 1993.
Falk, Harvey (Rabbi). Jesus the Pharisee; A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus New York; Paulist Press, 2003.
Flusser, David and Notley, Daniel. The Sage from Galilee; Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius Jerusalem; Magnes Press, 1997.
Fossum, Jarl. “Jewish Christian Christology and Jewish Mysticism” Vigiliae Christianae ( Leiden: Brill,1983),260-287
Green, Arthur. “Shekhinah, the Virgin Mary, and the Song of Songs: Reflections on a Kabbalistic Symbol in its Historical Context “ AJS Review Vol.26:1 (April 2002), 1-52
Heschel, Abraham Joshua. Heavenly Torah: As Refracted through the Generations New York; Continuum, 2007.
Just jnr, Arthur J. “Entering Holiness: Christology and Eucharist in Hebrews” Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol.69:1; (January 2005), 75f
Just SJ, Felix. The Gospel According to Matthew: Christology and Discipleship <catholicresources.org/Bible/Matthew-Christology-Discipleship htm>
Kincaid, Julian. The Christology of Hebrews 8-10
Kornblatt, Judith Deutsch. Divine Sophia: The Wisdom writings of Vladimir Solovyov New York; Cornell University Press, 2009.
Longenecker, Richard Norman. The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity USA; SCM Press,1970.
McIntosh, Mark A. “Christology From Within: Spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar” South Bend; Uni of Notre Dame Press, 1996.
Natan, Yoel. The Jewish Trinity: When Rabbis believed in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit USA; Aventine Press, 2003.
Neusner, Jacob and Akensen, Donald Harman A Rabbi Talks with Jesus Canada; McGills-Queens University Press, 2000.
O’Collins SJ, Gerald. Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ (Oxford; Oxford Uni Press, 1995).
Pope John Paul II translated by Michael Waldstein. Man and Woman He created Them: A Theology of the Body USA: Pauline Books, 2006.
Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph. and von Balthasar, Hans Urs. Mary The Church at the Source San Francisco; Ignatius Press, 1997,51-52
Schafer, Peter. Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah New Jersey; Princeton University Press, 2002.
Schipflinger, Thomas. Sophia-Maria; A Holistic Vision of Creation Maine, USA; Samuel Weiser inc, 1998.
George H Tavard, “The Christology of the Mystics” Theological Studies 42:4 1981, 561-587.
Tresmontant, Claude. The Hebrew Christ: Language in the Age of the Gospels USA:Franciscan Herald Press, 1989.
Wildman, Wesley J. “Basic Christological Distinctions” Theology Today Vol. 64 (2007), 285-304.