Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Road to Cana

Most Wednesday mornings I attend a church history class at St. Mike's. We've been reading the church fathers, and their opponents, on the nature of Christ. In what sense is he human? In what sense divine? How many persons--natures--wills--are present in Christ? Did the human Jesus have access to divine wisdom and power? Did the divine Jesus truly suffer and die?

For some 500 years the church struggled to define the indefinable. The Nicene creed, developed in the fourth century, affirms that Christ is both God and man:

eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

Despite the creed, quarrels about Christ's nature raged on for another century and a half. Gregory of Nyssa described the high level of interest among Constantinopolitans:

Every place in the city is full of them: the alleys, the crossroads, the forums, the squares. Garment sellers, money changer, food vendors--they are all at it. If you ask for change, they philosophize for you about generate and ingenerate natures. If you inquire about the price of bread, the answer is that the Father is greater and the Son inferior. If you speak about whether the bath is ready, they express the opinion that the Son was made out of nothing.

As I buy groceries at Trader Joe's, I don't hear a lot of discussion about Christ's nature. Christology is, however, an important theme in Anne Rice's new book, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (will vampire lovers and goth kids start reading Athanasius?). My friend Cindy Crosby's insightful review, "Truly God and Truly Man," is Books and Culture's Book of the Week. Cindy writes,

Rather than soft-pedal her beliefs, [Rice] lays them out plainly in the reader's letter at the front of the novel. "I believe in Him as God and Man, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who came down on this earth to be born amongst us, live and work with us, and to save us. This Jesus is Sinless. This Jesus created us." No pussyfooting around here....

Rice wisely seizes on the interior conflict between Jesus as God and as man to create the tension that holds the story together—the same conflict that has seemingly paralyzed other novelists. Rice shows the audacity of an outsider to the Christian publishing world (where most of the novelizations of Christ's life have been created) and rushes in where the proverbial angels might fear to tread. But it is Rice's courage in tackling her subject matter—while still holding her protagonist in reverence—that elevates The Road to Cana above its predecessors in the genre.

Publishers Weekly's starred review, quoted on Amazon's web page, praises Rice's theologico-literary feat:

If it is possible to create a character that is simultaneously fully human and fully divine, as ancient Christian creeds assert, then Rice succeeds.

Gather round, children, and listen--good stories make good theology.

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