British author Karen Armstrong discusses early Christian beliefs and controversies regarding the divinity of Christ.
[I]n much of the New Testament, Jesus is perceived as “a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders and signs” (Acts 2.22), a typical definition of a charismatic prophet. In Judaism, the title “Son of God” was simply a human being who enjoyed special intimacy with God ….
St Paul … believed that at his resurrection Jesus was raised by God to an exalted status, far above most humans, but still inferior to the Father. …. It was John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, written in about 100AD, who set the pattern for the future. His Jesus … was a transcendent figure who came from Heaven and was somehow one with the Father.
But John’s high Christology was by no means the norm. ….
[I]n the early fourth century, a bitter dispute broke out in Alexandria between the presbyter Arius, who insisted that the Son had been created by God and raised to divine status after the crucifixion, and the bishop and his assistant Athanasius, who were equally adamant that Jesus was God tout court. ….
The debate did not end in 381, as [Geza] Vermes claims, but continued until the seventh century, when Maximus the Confessor found a formula that finally satisfied the Greek Orthodox …. Jesus, he said, had been wholly “deified”, entirely permeated by the divine; and we could all be like him – even in this life.
Karen Armstrong, “Divine interventions“, Financial Times, 7 July 2012.
Karen Armstrong (born 1944) is a former Roman Catholic nun and author of twelve books on comparative religion. Her latest book is The Case for God: What Religion Really Means (Vintage, 2010).
Ms Armstrong is reviewing Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea (AD 30-325), by Geza Vermes (Allen Lane, 2012). Vermes (born 1924 in Hungary, to Jewish parents) was a Roman Catholic priest until 1957, when he left the church, reasserted his Jewish identity and took up a teaching post in the UK. He was the first professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford university before his before his retirement in 1991.