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The A Priori And A Posteriori In Christology


The following considerations prove the necessity of this procedure.
Two methods of examining the being of Christ can be distinguished.
According to the one method the facts of His life are reviewed as they
are presented in the New Testament, and a formula is then constructed
to fit them. The other method starts from the concept of a mediator
between God and man. It supposes that concept actualised, and asks the
question, "Of what nature must such a mediator be?" These methods may
be distinguished, but they cannot be separated. No one, however
scientific, can come to a study of the life of Jesus with an absolutely
open mind. Presuppositions are inevitable. Similarly, as the a
priori thinker develops his concept of a mediator, he compares the
results of his thinking at every stage with the picture presented in
the Gospel story, and that picture unavoidably modifies his deductions.
Both diphysite and monophysite used a combination of these two methods.
Each party took the recorded facts and interpreted them in accordance
with their notion of what a mediator should be. Both parties studied
the same facts; but the a priori of their thought differed, and so
their conclusions differed. In the realm of Christology this a
priori of thought is of paramount importance. Preconceived opinions
inevitably colour our mental picture of Christ. Readers of the Gospel
narrative find there the Christ they are prepared to find. On this
well-recognised fact we base our contention that an examination of any
Christological system must begin with the philosophy on which the
system rests. That philosophy supplies the a priori, or the
presupposition, or the metaphysical basis, whichever name we prefer.

We do not suggest that theologians have consciously adopted a
metaphysical principle as the basis of their beliefs, and then have
applied it to the special problem of Christology. That is a possible
method but not the usual one. In most cases the philosophic basis
remains in the background of consciousness; its existence is
unrecognised and its influence undetected. If Christian thinkers took
the trouble to analyse the basis of their beliefs about Christ, they
would not halt, as they so often do, at the stage of monophysitism. If
they laid bare to the foundations the structure of their faith, the
danger of error would be reduced to a minimum. Viewed from the
standpoint of timeless reason, monophysitism is based on a definite
metaphysical idea. Not all monophysites have consciously adopted that
basis; many, had they recognised its presence, would have rejected it.
But it was present as a tendency. A tendency may be neutralised by
counteracting causes; but it has its effect, and sooner or later it
will produce positive results.

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