Moltmann’s Adoptionist Denial of the Virgin Birth (Follow-Up on the Bonhoeffer Post)
“Messianic Spirit Christology”: Moltmann on Two-Nature Christology
Despite this affirmation of the Church Fathers, however, Moltmann proposes a “messianic Spirit Christology,” which he claims is “not levelled at the doctrine of the two natures” of Nience-Chalcedonian orthodoxy (74). However, Moltmann deems the Virgin Birth “unimportant” to the New Testament (78). Moltmann gives credit to the Early Church’s effort to resist Gnostic dualism with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. …Moltmann suggests that in order for us to understand Christ as wholly human in a contemporary sense, Christ’s birth must be a “human-natural one”: “…Moltmann thus insinuates that Christ had a biological father: “We should rather view the whole process of the human begetting, conception and birth of Jesus Christ as the work of the Holy Spirit” (ibid.). This seems to further suggest on the one hand that Christ’s full humanity rests on a non-virginal birth, and on the other hand that Christ’s full deity springs forth from the Spirit’s work throughout all human and natural-biological processes of Christ’s birth.
…According to Moltmann’s scheme, the Spirit “‘engenders’ and ‘brings forth’” Jesus (86). “If the messiah is called the Son of God, then to be consistent we have to talk about the Spirit as his divine ‘mother’” (ibid.)…
The formulation of the “motherhood of the Holy Spirit” is related to Moltmann’s critique of orthodox patristic Christology. Moltmann takes Christ’s nature “ex Maria virgine” to imply that “it is excluded from original sin, and also from the consequence of original sin, which is death; and it is therefore immortal” (50)…Moltmann thus rejects a literal understanding of the Virgin Birth and the orthodox doctrine of Christ’s humanity “without sin.” For Moltmann, a Christ free from original sin and mortality has no ability to save fallen humanity from the bondage to decay (51f).
Furthermore, on the orthodox understanding, to speak of Mary as Theotokos (Bearer of God) is to say that the Person to whom Mary gave birth is the Second Person of the Godhead, and thus that Christ’s humanity has no independent hypostasis (person). For Moltmann, this is problematic because an anhypostatic/“non-personal” humanity would be “the assumption of the de-humanized, de-personalized, oppressed human being who has been degraded to mere ‘brute matter’” (51).
An Evaluation of Moltmann’s Christology
…Moltmann seems to have confused virginal conception with the Roman Catholic (and unbiblical) notion of Immaculate Conception. Moltmann seems to have misunderstood the doctrine of Christ’s humanity “without sin” to imply that Christ was “without mortality, like the nature of Adam and Eve before the fall” (50).
…Furthermore, Moltmann seems to have understood “anhypostatic” to mean “non-personal” in a modern sense. However, orthodox Christianity would stress that “anhypostatic” does not mean “non-personal,” but rather that the personhood or mode of existence of Christ is derived from the Second Person of the Trinity (i.e., “enhypostatic”)… (read more)
This is a lucid writing that summarizes and evaluates some of Moltmann’s take-on of Adam-Christology, as set forth in The Way of Jesus Christ (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), and I might jump in with a few thoughts here.
Moltmann is concerned with the potential degradation of Adamic humanity will be the result of ‘orthodox’ treatment of Jesus’ personality as a ‘superior’ and ‘pure’ humanity.
But I beg to disagree with the conjecture that Moltmann’s insistence of a holistic understanding of the human begetting, conception and birth of Jesus Christ as the work of the Holy Spirit” lead to his (Moltmann’s ) belief in the existence of Jesus’ biological father. Moltmann never says that. He may be ambiguous and suspicious here, but it seems to just too far-fetched to make that accusation based on Moltmann’s concern with the conventional way of “singling out Mary’s Virgin Birth as a miraculous event over other no-less-amazing aspects of the Divine Logos’ incarnation” (John 1:14).
Will this lead us to abandon the orthodox understanding of Mary as Theotokos (Bearer of God) in favor of the Nestorian Mariological title Mary the Bearer of Jesus?
I don’t think so, nor should we. That Nestorian doctrine is declared heretical in 431 that within Jesus are two distinct persons, divine and human, rather than a single divine person, so that Mary can only called the human mother of Jesus‘ humanity instead of His unified divine-human personality.
Now in some sense, I sympathize Moltmann’s wish to meet a pneumatological understanding of the Holy Spirit as Christ’s Divine Mother, compatible and not competing with Mary as the human mother of Jesus Christ– Do notice the nuance of this vis-à-vis with the Nestorian-Antiochene doctrine here: speaking « the Holy Spirit as Christ’s Divine Mother and Mary as the human mother of Jesus Christ » (which is Moltmannian) is a different thing than saying that « Mary is the mother of Jesus only humanly speaking/only in terms of their biological connection » (which is Nestorian).
To put the Moltmannian system is a simple way: the Holy Spirit is Christ’s Divine Mother because the Holy Spirit is God. Mary as the human mother of Jesus Christ because Mary is a female human being.
As Moltmann’s statement allows us to think, we should safely say that the Holy Spirit can be Jesus Christ’s Divine Mother (or Father if you like to call it this way) while Mary is still properly the bearer of Jesus Christ ***in terms of both His divinity and humanity*** (a major difference from Nestorianism!).
Now don’t get me wrong. I will never retract an inch in my belief in Jesus’ factual virgin birth. But at any rate, the Alexandrian (traditional orthodox) title of Mary the Theotokos does make it quite easy to get misunderstood. It puts too much emphasis on the virgin Mary and thus gives rise to the [erred] Catholic doctrine of Mariology, at not least the expense of the marginalization of the Holy Spirit’s role in the entire process of the incarnation.
In sum, I have some reservations in the way we traditionally theologize the doctrine of incarnation. The Chalcedon creed in its historical context and with all its particular concerns (combat heresies at their time: Apollinarianism, Nesterorianism, Eutychianism, Monophysitism…and so on) only addressed certain specific aspects of Christology, rather than having all the mystery of Christ’s nature articulated.
It is important that a balanced account always needs to be constructively and biblically sought after in the historical and contemporary faith community of Christians. For this matter, Moltmann rarely disappoints as an interesting theologian to be in dialogue with.
As for the rest of the difficulties in Moltmann’s Adam-Christology concerning Christ’s humanity’s sinlessness and [im]mortality, I believe the solution is there if we take a Barthian dialectic-actualistic approach: Christ is Adam without original sin. Thus the [im]mortality issue which Moltmann is concerned about is in some sense a false one, with all due respect to Moltmann. For on a putative ground, both Christ and Adam have the full potential/possibility of living forever (presumably in a divine-spiritual physical body) since the beginning.
As Maranatha Chung’s witty remark under another related entry in the same blog shows, Christ does not need original sin to be our true vine (ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινὴ; John 15:1) as we are His branches (John 15:5):
I wonder if Moltmann considers Adam and Eve to be “truly” human even when he considers them mythical. I would think it is still legitimate to talk about Adam and Eve as human or non-human even if they are mythical figures. Adam, according to Moltmann’s rule, is obviously not even human because he had no biological father; similarly, Eve is not human because she has no biological mother. I just wonder if these can undermine Moltmann’s speculative theology in any way. This is interesting for me: it will be interesting to see how Moltmann looks at Romans 5 when Paul compares Adam and Christ.
it is important to know that both Christ and Adam are WITHOUT original sin. It is therefore WRONG for Moltmann to suppose that if Christ is without original sin (or without a biological father) then His humanity is not human enough to save us (51f). Or more specifically, Adam is without original sin (or without a biological father) yet his humanity is still human enough to corrupt [all of] us. (This might lead us to consider Karl Barth’s proposal in CD III/1 to read the Eden narrative as a saga– yet another controversial issue that bespeaks a separate treatment.)
Now suffice it to say that Moltmann is confused and confusing here. There is no need to suggest that Christ’s (or Adam’s) humanity is immortal in the sense that he cannot be killed bodily. On the contrary, it is more advisable to regard both Christ’s and Adam’s human nature as a humanity that is actualistically open and free to eat from the tree of life (Gen 2:9, 3:22). The only differentiating factor is that Adam opted for the fruit of discernment and lost his fruit of life, whereas Christ is willing to surrender his discernment and sacrifice his life, for which he was granted both by divine decree.
For me, this is the place where Moltmann have misconceived classical Christology and thus have made an unnecessary split with it.