Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Paul's Christology
"The Radical Humility of Christ Is the Expression of Divine Love"
H.H. Benedict XVI
October 22, 2008
Dear brothers and sisters:
In the catecheses from previous weeks, we have meditated on the
"conversion" of St. Paul, fruit of a personal encounter with the
crucified and risen Christ, and we have asked ourselves about the
reaction of the Apostle to the Gentiles to the earthly Jesus. Today I
would like to speak of the teaching St. Paul left us about the
centrality of the risen Christ in the mystery of salvation, about his
In reality, the risen Jesus Christ, "exalted above every name," is at
the center of all his reflections. Christ is for the Apostle the
standard to evaluate events and things, the purpose of every effort that
he makes to announce the Gospel, the great passion that sustains his
steps along the paths of the world. And he is a living Christ, concrete:
The Christ, Paul says, "who loved me and gave himself up for me"
(Galatians 2:20). This person who loves me, with whom I can speak, who
listens and responds to me, this is really the principle for
understanding the world and for finding the way in history.
Anyone who has read the writings of St. Paul knows well that he does not
concern himself with narrating the events that made up the life of
Christ, even though we can imagine that in his catecheses, he recounted
much more about the pre-Easter Jesus than what he wrote in his letters,
which are admonitions for concrete situations. His pastoral and
theological work was so directed toward the edification of the nascent
communities, that it was natural for him to concentrate everything on
the announcement of Jesus Christ as "Lord," alive today and present
among his own.
Here we see the essentiality that is characteristic of Pauline
Christology, which develops the depths of the mystery with a constant
and precise concern: To announce, with certainty, Jesus and his
teaching, but to announce above all the central reality of his death and
resurrection as the culmination of his earthly existence and the root of
the successive development of the whole Christian faith, of the whole
reality of the Church.
For the Apostle, the Resurrection is not an event in itself that is
separated from the Death. The risen One is the same One who was
crucified. The risen One also had his wounds: The Passion is present in
him and it can be said with Pascal that he is suffering until the end of
the world, though being the risen One and living with us and for us.
Paul had understood on the road to Damascus this identification of the
risen One with Christ crucified: In that moment, it was revealed with
clarity that the Crucified is the risen One and the risen One is the
Crucified, who says to Paul, "Why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4). Paul
was persecuting Christ in the Church and then understood that the cross
is "a curse of God" (Deuteronomy 21:23), but a sacrifice for our
The Apostle contemplates with fascination the hidden secret of the
crucified-risen One, and through the sufferings endured by Christ in his
humanity (earthly dimension) arrives to this eternal existence in which
he is one with the Father (pre-temporal dimension): "But when the
fullness of time had come," he writes, "God sent his Son, born of a
woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we
might receive adoption" (Galatians 4:4-5).
These two dimensions -- the eternal pre-existence with the Father and
the descent of the Lord in the incarnation -- are already announced in
the Old Testament, in the figure of Wisdom. We find in the wisdom
literature of the Old Testament certain texts that exalt the role of
Wisdom pre-existent to the creation of the world. In this sense, you can
see passages such as Psalm 90: "Before the mountains were born, the
earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are
God" (verse 2). Or passages such as those that speak of creating Wisdom:
"The Lord begot me, the firstborn of his ways, the forerunner of his
prodigies of long ago; From of old I was poured forth, at the first,
before the earth" (Proverbs 8:22-23). Indicative as well is the praise
of Wisdom, contained in the book by that name: "Indeed, she reaches from
end to end mightily and governs all things well" (Wisdom 8:1).
The same wisdom texts that speak of the eternal pre-existence of Wisdom
also speak of its descent, of the abasement of this Wisdom, which has
made for itself a tent among men. Thus we can already feel resonate the
words from the Gospel of John that speak of the tent of the flesh of the
Lord. A tent was created in the Old Testament: Here is indicated the
temple, worship according to the "Torah"; but from the point of view of
the New Testament, we can understand that this was only a pre-figuration
of the much more real and significant tent: the tent of the flesh of
And we already see in the books of the Old Testament that this abasement
of Wisdom, its descent into flesh, also implies the possibility of being
rejected. St. Paul, developing his Christology, refers precisely to this
wisdom perspective: He recognizes in Jesus the eternal Wisdom existing
from all time, the Wisdom that descends and creates a tent among us, and
thus he can describe Christ as "the power of God and the wisdom of God."
He can say that Christ has become for us "wisdom from God, as well as
righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30).
In the same way, Paul clarifies that Christ, like Wisdom, can be
rejected above all by the rulers of this age (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-9),
such that in the plans of God a paradoxical situation is created: the
cross, which will become the path of salvation for the whole human race.
A later development to this wisdom cycle, which sees Wisdom abase itself
so as to be later exalted despite rejection, is found in the famous hymn
in the Letter to the Philippians (cf. 2:6-11). This involves one of the
most elevated texts of the New Testament. Exegetes mainly concur in
considering that this pericope was composed prior to the text of the
Letter to the Philippians. This is an important piece of information,
because it means that Judeo-Christianity, before St. Paul, believed in
the divinity of Jesus. In other words, faith in the divinity of Christ
is not a Hellenistic invention, arising after the earthly life of
Christ, an invention that, forgetting his humanity, had divinized him.
We see in reality that the early Judeo-Christianity believed in the
divinity of Jesus. Moreover, we can say that the apostles themselves, in
the great moments of the life of the Master, had understood that he was
the Son of God, as St. Peter says at Caesarea Philippi: "You are the
Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).
But let us return to the hymn from the Letter to the Philippians. The
structure of this text can be articulated in three stanzas, which
illustrate the principle moments of the journey undertaken by Christ.
His pre-existence is expressed with the words: "though he was in the
form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be
grasped" (verse 6). Afterward follows the voluntary abasement of the Son
in the second stanza: "he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave"
(verse 7) "he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on
a cross" (verse 8). The third stanza of the hymn announces the response
of the Father to the humiliation of the Son: "Because of this, God
greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every
name" (verse 9).
What is impressive is the contrast between the radical abasement and the
resulting glorification in the glory of God. It is evident that this
second stanza contrasts with the pretension of Adam, who wanted to make
himself God, and it contrasts as well with the actions of the builders
of the Tower of Babel, who wanted to construct for themselves a bridge
to heaven and make themselves divine. But this initiative of pride ended
with self-destruction: In this way, one doesn't arrive to heaven, to
true happiness, to God. The gesture of the Son of God is exactly the
contrary: not pride, but humility, which is the fulfillment of love, and
love is divine. The initiative of abasement, of the radical humility of
Christ, which contrasts with human pride, is really the expression of
divine love; from it follows this elevation to heaven to which God
attracts us with his love.
Besides the Letter to the Philippians, there are other places in Pauline
literature where the themes of the pre-existence and the descent of the
Son of God to earth are united. A reaffirmation of the assimilation
between Wisdom and Christ, with all its cosmic and anthropological
consequences, is found in the First Letter to Timothy: "[He] was
manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels,
proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up
in glory" (3:16). It is above all based on these premises that the
function of Christ as mediator could be better defined, within the
framework of the only God of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5 in
relation to Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6). Christ is the true bridge who leads
us to heaven, to communion with God.
And finally, just a point regarding the last developments of the
Christology of St. Paul in the Letters to the Colossians and the
Ephesians. In the first, Christ is designated as the "firstborn of all
creation" (1:15-20). This word "firstborn" implies that the first among
many children, the first among many brothers and sisters, has lowered to
draw us and make us brothers and sisters. In the Letter to the
Ephesians, we find the beautiful exposition of the divine plan of
salvation, when Paul says that in Christ, God wanted to recapitulate all
things (cf. Ephesians 1:23). Christ is the recapitulation of everything,
he takes up everything and guides us to God. And thus is implied a
movement of descent and ascent, inviting us to participate in his
humility, that is, in his love for neighbor, so as to thus be
participants in his glorification, making ourselves with him into sons
in the Son. Let us pray that the Lord helps us to conform ourselves to
is humility, to his love, to thus be participants in his divinization.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[After the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages.
In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis on Saint Paul, we now consider the
centrality of Jesus Christ in his teaching. Paul preaches Christ as the
crucified and glorified Lord, alive and present within the Church. He
proclaims Christís incarnation and exaltation, but also his
pre-existence with the Father before all time. His affirmation of
Christís pre-existence evokes those Old Testament texts which portray
Godís Wisdom as being with him before creation and coming down to dwell
among men (e.g., Pr 8:22-23). Paul thus presents Christ as "the wisdom
of God" (1 Cor 1:24), the centre and fulfilment of the Fatherís eternal
plan of salvation. The hymn found in his Letter to the Philippians (Phil
2:6-11) contrasts Christís pre-existence "in the form of God" and his
subsequent "kenosis" or self-emptying, "even to death, death on a
Cross". Paul also appeals to Christís pre-existence and incarnation in
proclaiming Jesus as "the one mediator between God and man" (1 Tim
3:16), the firstborn of all creation and the head of the Church (cf. Col
1:15-20). Paulís "sapiential" christology invites us to welcome the
salvation offered by the crucified and risen Lord, the Eternal Son, who
is the very wisdom and power of God.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
present at todayís Audience, especially those from England, Scotland,
Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Ghana, Guam, Japan, South Korea,
Australia, Canada and the United States. Upon you and your families I
cordially invoke Godís blessings of joy and peace.
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