Jesus--Christus, Christa, Christum

An all-inclusive depiction of Jesus is more about the unity of human nature than the Word of God.

This past December, in anticipation of the new millennium, The National Catholic Reporter chose a trendy image of Jesus Christ for its cover. The painting, "Jesus of the People," was intentionally inclusive of each race, gender, and nation. Robed in white and black garments, Jesus is flanked by a yin-yang character, representing balance, and a feather, symbolizing American Indian spirituality.

Most striking is the portrayal of Jesus as a black person of indeterminate gender, with piercing but gentle eyes, and a sorrowful but self-assured countenance. Clearly the artist determined to depict God incarnate as encompassing all humanity.

The painting, of course, appeals to those who have customarily and unjustly been left out of the picture--women, people of color, and seekers of spirituality outside the Christian Church. It certainly balances the lopsided images many of us saw as children. My husband, of Ukrainian background, beheld the Lord and his Mother as blond models clothed in Eastern Slavic patterns. My guess is we've all been exposed to equally exclusive images.

So, why, as an Orthodox Christian, was I disturbed by this haunting representation? Because this iconographic interpretation intended to inspire us for the next 1,000 years swerves dramatically from the Tradition of the previous 2,000 years.

By including varied elements in the image, the artist imagines she is depicting wholeness, the fullness of all of humanity in the body of Jesus Christ. Wrong. She is representing only one aspect of Jesus Christ--his human nature. Noticeably absent are his divinity, his person, and his mode of existence. This is not the Jesus Christ of Scripture or of the Nicene Creed, who is one Person - the Son of God - in two natures, human and divine. This is a collage of humanity, scraps of our flesh sewn together. It is more about the unity of human nature than the Word of God become flesh - Jesus Christ.


Let's focus on just one aspect of this Jesus - the conspicuous vagueness as to whether this person is a man or a woman. For the last three decades feminist theologians have proclaimed the Word of God incarnate is a spiritual Being beyond masculinity and femininity. They decried the divine Word's eternal Sonship and the human Jesus' male body, and they carried crucifixes bearing feminized images called "Christas" to prove their point. They quoted from the Fathers of the Church, among them St. Gregory Nazianzus, who stated, "that which is not assumed cannot be healed." If the Christ assumed only masculinity, they asked, how then are women saved? The incarnate Word, they insisted, must have included every particle of human nature in order to save all. This icon is the trophy of their doctrinal battle.

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