Did Jesus explain why there is suffering

God can only reach people as a person: An early Christian explains why Jesus had to endure hunger, thirst and suffering

Was Jesus Christ Man or God? Or an illusion that no being corresponded to? The early Christians argued about the true nature of the Savior. With surprising arguments.

At the beginning of the 3rd century, the African church writer Tertullian led a fight against Gnostic currents in Christianity, which ascribed to Jesus only a pseudo-body. His work “De carne Christi - On the flesh of Christ” aims to show that Christ was really born, that he truly suffered and that he was raised bodily.

Tertullian's sharpest opponents were Valentinian, Markion and their pupils. Marcion, who was expelled from the community of Rome in 144 AD, represented a dualism and contrasted matter with spirit. The Redeemer was not allowed to touch the world of matter and flesh; accordingly, Marcion denied the birth and circumcision of Christ. The man Jesus appeared only as a "phantasma", as a mirage. He simulated his earthly existence.

Simulation instead of incarnation - Tertullian writes against this weakening of belief in the Incarnation of the Word of God. His work “De carne Christi”, which was published in an excellent new translation by Volker Lukas, is part of a trilogy directed against Marcion, the “arch heretic”. In his multi-volume work “Adversus Marcionem” he takes a critical look at dualism and refutes Markion's thesis that there are two gods, the evil creator of the world and the good god of redemption.

Law and gospel

Against the strict separation of law and gospel, Tertullian emphasizes the unity of the order of salvation. In the text "De resurrectione mortuorum - On the resurrection of the dead" he takes an integral view of redemption, according to which the flesh also participates in the resurrection and not just the soul, as Marcion and his followers taught.

Tertullian was a brilliant stylist who also had the art of polemical escalation. The view that Jesus only staged the Incarnation and Passion in a pseudo-body, he initially opposes testimony to the New Testament. Of course, the sentence from John's prologue: "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Gospel of John 1:14). Or the passage from the apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians: a hymn that speaks in poetic language of Christ's self-expression and humiliation - "until death on the cross".

The childhood stories of Matthew and Luke are also cleverly cited. They depict the birth of the Savior in the manger. In a fictional conversation with Markion, Tertullian emphasizes the physical dimension of birth, speaks of the umbilical cord, blood and mucus and, with pleasure in provocation, emphasizes the milk in the mother's breasts in order to target Markion's hostility to the body and sex to take. The Gnostic idea that Jesus slipped from heaven to earth as a grown man cannot be reconciled with the testimony of Scripture.

Hunger, thirst and suffering

But Tertullian does not only seek an ensemble of biblical evidence. He also emphasizes the human condition and appeals to his readership to infer that of the Savior from their own physical existence. God's Word could only fully achieve man's reality by becoming man himself, he emphasizes. Christ felt and endured hunger, thirst, but also suffering. According to Tertullian, the idea of ​​a phantom Christ who only pretends to miss the point of incarnation.

"Why do you cut Christ in half with a lie?" He calls out to Markion. The Incarnation and Passion were neither impossible nor dangerous nor improper for God, as Tertullian explains in artful arguments. The Savior must have sought out human reality. He must have become human himself. If the Incarnation were just a sophisticated act of simulation, the Passion just a piece of divine theater that leaves the actor himself completely untouched, then God's Word would not really have come into the world for the salvation of mankind.

Of course, this defense of the Incarnation and Passion cannot simply be carried over to today. But it holds ready the insight that ideas of salvation which only target the spirit fall behind the Christian understanding of salvation. Today's forms of technognosis, which ascribe immortality to the digital double of the human being, but leave the body behind as a mortal shell, fall below an integral view of salvation.

The logos takes shape

“There is a new cult of body despairers, they call themselves extropists and rave about saving the human spirit in the machine so that it can escape the rotting planet at the last minute. Theology of the ejector seat. His spirit, his will to know - probably with the driving force of the primal curse - should rise above the human being and will ultimately wander without him, completely bodiless, a noetic ecstasy, through space. " This is what the writer Botho Strauss wrote years ago. The new prophets of the cyber world, the bustling missionaries of transhumanism see progress in a disincarnation, in a stripping of the "crutch" of the flesh in order to exist virtually in new worlds or to live on in biotechnologically optimized machines without deadline.

But the divine Word became flesh so that the mortal flesh of man could find God. This thought of the "admirabile commercium", the wonderful exchange, has kept theology in suspense for two millennia, and it gives it food for thought even today. The divine Logos does not remain in the spiritual sphere, he takes on human form, becomes vulnerable and dies. The traces of the lived history are not canceled or forgotten, they mark themselves in the transfigured body.

The wounds of the crucified one also shape the post-mortem identity of the resurrected one. At least that is what the Gospels tell in the apparition accounts. This is how the Church celebrates it in the Easter liturgy. Perfection would not be complete if it did not include the sphere of the body in a saving manner. In the grace of perfection that Christianity promises to the vulnerable and mortal body, there is an alternative to the often merciless self-perfection techniques in lifestyle and fitness, but also a clear rejection of a technognosis that makes the body as a corpse contemptible. The prophets of the cyber world can be confidently countered with Tertullian: "Caro cardo salutis." The flesh is the pivot of salvation!

Tertullian: Adversus Valentinianos. Against the Valentinians - De carne Christi. About the flesh of Christ. Latin – German. Introduced, translated and commented by Volker Lukas (Fontes Christiani, vol. 84), Herder, Freiburg. 298 pp., Fr.56.90.