Ever since the middle of the nineteenth century, it has been usual among Protestant, and especially Lutheran, theologians to find the basis for a special doctrine of what is called the kenosis or self-emptying of Christ in the passage (Phil. ii. 6-8) where Paul says that Christ being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation (Gk. heauton ekenosen) and took upon him the form of a servant." Although this doctrine is now of little influence among dogmatic theologians, the popularity which it enjoyed and its relation to the older dogmatic development makes a detailed treatment of it useful for the knowledge of the present condition of the Christological problem (see CHRISTOLOGY, IX., X.).
The regular Lutheran orthodoxy had seen in the phrase quoted an aphorism relating to the historic Christ, partly because the subject of the verb, "Christ Jesus," is a term usually so applied, and partly because "a kenoais properly so called can not be predicated of the Logos apart from the flesh, of the abstract Deity, who is immutable and invariable " (J. Gerhard, Loci, IV., xiv. 294). The application of the expression to the preexistent Christ was made first, among modern Lutheran theologians, by Ernst Sartorius, tentatively in 1832 and then more fully in his Lehre von der heiligen Liebe (ii. 21 sqq., Hamburg, 1844). In the same year Johann Ludwig König expressed similar ideas in Hegelian phraseology; and in 1845 began to appear Thomasius' Beiträge zur kirchlichen Christologie, which inaugurated the triumph of the modern conception of the kenosis. Here, apparently, the perfect oneness of the person of Christ was assured, since it was the divine Logos himself who laid aside the fulness of his divine Nature in all the relations in which it manifests itself externally, bringing himself down to the level of a human individual; the possibility of a real human development of Jesus was assured, since the Logos determined to subject his divine being to the forms of human existence, under the laws of human development, retaining the use of his absolute power only so far as it was required for his redeeming work; the Calvinistic theory of the union of Godhead and manhood so that the whole of the former still existed outside the latter was avoided; and the doctrine of the Communicatio Idiomatum (q.v.) was preserved. Substantial assent was given to the teaching of Thomasius by Lutherans like Kahnis, Luthardt and Delitzsch, by United theologians like Gaupp and J. P. Lange, and by some Reformed writers, especially Ebrard and later Godet in his commentary on John. Thomasius took heed of criticism so far as to attempt, in his most important work, Christi Person und Werk (part ii., Erlangen, 1855), to avoid the alleged Apollinarianism of his Beiträge by a distinction between the essential attributes of God (absolute power, truth, holiness, love) and the merely relative attributes affected by the kenosis (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence), thus meeting the charge that he had taught a mutability of the divine nature. He maintained, however, that his doctrine of the kenosis was the necessary outcome of the whole previous dogmatic development. He did not deny that the view of the early Church had in general been a different one, but he was convinced that Lutheran Christology, in which the Incarnation was more deeply realized, required his conclusion.
The passage in Philippians was used as early as Marcion; but the important phrase for him was "the likeness of man": for his Docetic position the ekenosen phrase could be nothing more than a general indication of the apparition of the Logos in the lower world. The work ekenosen is quoted first by the Gnostic Theodotus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, to all of whom it seems to be nothing more than an expression designating the Incarnation. As long as the estimate of the person of Christ took its departure from the historic Christ (which, apart from Gnosticism, was the case down to the apologists), no reflection was likely to be made upon the kenosis of the preexistent Logos. It is only after the beginning of Catholic theology with Clement, Irenaeus, and Tertullian that the text in Philippians belongs to the passages regularly used to describe the Incarnation; Origen, in fact, understands the official doctrine to assert that the Son of God "emptying himself (se ipsum exinaniens) and becoming man was incarnate." With scarcely an exception the early writers saw the subject of ekenosen in the logos asarkos, the Word apart from the flesh. Only Novatian, Ambrosiaster, Pelagius, and the commentary based on him which goes under the name of Primasius of Hadrumetum understand the subject to be the Word made flesh. An exegetical predisposition was therefore extant in the early Church for a theory similar to the modern kenosis-theory. But that is the most that can be said. For the usual exposition of the text sees in the "self-emptying" of the Logos merely an equivalent for the "taking the form of a servant," and that again is merely an equivalent for "becoming incarnate." Origen asserts that the rule of faith lays down that the Logos "being made man remained that which he was before"; and Augustine, echoing the voice of the older tradition, says: "Thus he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, not losing the form of God; the form of a servant was added, the form of God not subtracted." Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa while admitting that the Word so far emptied himself as to appear not in his native majesty but in the humility of human nature, yet insist on his unaltered substantial
But this is not all. It must be borne in mind
that the idea of the Incarnation is older than any
realization of the difficulties which beset it. It
springs not only from the passage in Philippians,
but also from such thoughts as those of
II Cor. iv. 4; John i. 14; I John i. 1. It appears
definitely in Ignatius, in a form as far
as possible removed from Docetic
imaginings. With almost paradoxical
sharpness he contrasts the God-head
and the passible manhood of
Christ, in a way that by no means
suggests what would now be called kenosis; he is
rather filled with the conception that, the invisible,
incomprehensible, impassible God became visible,
tangible, passible in the historical person of Jesus.
How the revelation of the invisible God in the historic
Christ came to pass, he does not undertake to
say; he merely asserts the fact with firm conviction,
dealing with a condescension of the revelation of God
to our level, in a "simple modalistic" manner. Ideas
of this kind did not die out with Ignatius, but
through the theology of Asia Minor leavened the
later development. Irenaeus, although he does not
quote the ekenosen, obviously connects them with
the thought of the passage. With him, however, it
is clear that the basis is not a metaphysical kenosis-theory
of the self-transformation of the Logos, but
the "simple modalistic" conviction that "the
man without beauty and subject to suffering," the
historic Christ, was, "in a different way from all
men who then lived, God and Lord and King eternal,
the only-begotten, the incarnate Word proclaimed
by all the prophets and apostles " (Haer.
IV., xx. 2). The faith in "God manifest in the
flesh," centering around the indivisible historic
personality of Jesus, is what carries the belief in
the Incarnation through all the difficulties which
arose as soon as men began to attempt to define the
manner of the Incarnation. It is this unquestioning
belief in "God in man"
Nor, when theories begin to appear, are they kenotic, at least not in the sense of Thomasius. The oldest occurs in Irenaeus--the same Irenaeus who speaks of "the impassible becoming passible" and of "the very Word of God incarnate suspended on the tree," and who vehemently opposes the Gnostic distinction between "Jesus who suffered" and "Christ who departed before the Passion." In so far, however, as he had a theory, he distinguished in the historic Christ the Logos and the homo ejus, and, quite in accord with the later development, regarded the man as the object of temptation, suffering, death, in which the Logos had no part, being, on the other hand, "with" "the man" in victory, resurrection, and ascension. Here is the source of the appearance of kenotic ideas, in this doctrine of the Logos taking into himself a part of his creation. He who "according to his invisible nature contains all things" came "to us not as he was able to come, but as we were able to receive him." Here is indeed a self-limitation of the Logos; but it is a progressively less and less self-limited communication of himself on the part of a Logos remaining all the while in undiminished majesty, to man who progressively responds more and more to the approach; it is the sort of self-limitation asserted, not of the Logos but of the "One God," by dynamic Monarchianism. This conception of the dynamic indwelling of the Logos in the man Jesus is not peculiar to Irenaeus, but is to be perceived down to the final disappearance of the Antiochian tradition in the reign of Justinian. Origen is the special representative of this view. In his controversy with Celsus, who had objected that if God came down in person to men he must have left his throne and suffered change, Origen replies that Celsus knows not the power of God nor that "the Spirit of the Lord filleth the earth" Wisd. i. 7); that even if the God of all, according to his power, came down to take part with Jesus in earthly life, if the Logos who in the beginning was with God and was God came to us, it did not mean that he lost or left his throne, or that he quitted one place to fill another which before had not contained him. That in some of Origen's expressions there is room for an
Through Paul of Samosata and Lucian , with some direct influence from Irenaeus, these views came down to the Antiochian school; and it is neither unfair nor surprising that Cyril and Apollinaris object to their theology that it goes only as far as uniting man with God, not as far as God in man (enanthropesis). But this weakness of the early teaching on the Incarnation shows itself not only in Origen and the Antiochian school. Similar thoughts are met with in Athanasius, though already with the complementary ideas which alone remain in Cyril; and from the Council of Nicæa a direct road leads through Marcellus to the dynamic Monarchianism of Photinus. In the West also, which followed Antiochian lines down to 553, in spite of the insistence on the single personality, there are clear enough traces of the idea of a dynamic indwelling of the Logos in the man Jesus. It is evidently not worth while to seek echoes of kenotic ideas in Tertullian; if it could be done at all, it could only be after all danger was past of getting lost in the maze created by a mixture of "simple-modalistic" thoughts, of apologetic conceptions of a theophany, and of traditions of a dynamic indwelling of the verbum (=sapientia=spiritus) in Christ. The matter is still more complicated in the case of Hilary, even after the painstaking labors of Baur, Dorner, Thomasius, and Wirthmuller. But a minute examination of the works of that eloquent and deepthinking theologian should convince the unprejudiced student that his doctrine is as little kenotic, in the sense of Thomasius, as that of Irenaeus, on whom he shows a certain dependence.
That in theoretical expositions of the Incarnation which held strongly to the immutability of the Godhead expressions should now and then be used which give color to kenotic ideas is not to be wondered at; and the phenomenon occurs not only in Hilary, not only in Irenaeus and Origen, but also in the two Gregories, of Nazianzus and of Nyssa. .This was natural enough, both because the doctrine of the Incarnation rested on the thought of "God manifest in the flesh," and because simple souls understood "the Word was made flesh" for themselves, regardless of the restrictions of theologians; and when "simple-docetic" views were ruled out, there was scarcely anything left for them but the kenotic. The spread of Arianism may possibly be explained by the fact that without hair-splitting it recognizes its Logos as the passable subject of the historic person Jesus. The kenotic undercurrent is partly responsible for the title "Mother of God" and for the phrase (very old in a simple-modalistic sense) "God crucified." In proportion as the Antiochian school, which disapproved of these expressions, was suppressed, the undercurrent came to the surface; and Apollinaris, the antithesis of the Antiochian theologians, sought to give a theological dress to the ideas which it bore with it. After the condemnation of Apollinarianism, such kenosis theories as he had framed were of course impossible--though it is strange that the Alexandrian theology won its victory over Nestorianism and its final triumph at the Council of Chalcedon without showing traces of them. For if (as was de fide after 553) the hypostasis tou logou took to itself an impersonal human nature, a real human life of the historic Jesus is unthinkable if the real subject of this historic person, the Logos, retained his omniscience and his impassibility. But so far as it was possible without endangering the conceptual integrity of the two natures, theologians combated the undercurrent; and they were content to guard the formulas which set the "mystery of the Incarnation" beyond understanding.
Nor did Calvinistic theology go beyond the early consensus, although the use made of the text in Philippians has given the impression that there was a special Calvinistic doctrine on the subject. Calvin says (Institutes II., xiii. 2): "Paul shows in Phil. ii. 7, that Christ, since he was God, might have at once manifested his glory openly to the world, but waived his right and of his own will emptied himself, putting on the form of a servant and, content with that humble station, suffering his Divinity to be hidden by a veil of flesh." This kenosis is sometimes described in language which seems to imply a real alteration of the condition of the Logos; but too much weight must not be laid on these expressions, the limitations of which may easily be shown by other more authoritative words, especially the so-called Extra Calvinisticum: "Since the Godhead can not be comprehended and is everywhere present, it follows of necessity that it exists outside of (extra) the human nature which it assumed, but none the less abides within it and personally united with it" (Catechism, ques. 48); "the Logos united human nature with himself in such a manner that he totally inhabited it, and yet totally remained outside of (extra) it, since he is immeasurable and infinite" (Maresius in Schneckenburger, p. 9). There is really here no self-emptying; the Calvinist theologians said with Augustine that the Logos "hid what he was," and the veil was humanity
The question now arises whether the Lutheran theology supplied the defects of the earlier teaching on the Incarnation. Luther's own teaching has so many sides that great care is needed to avoid misrepresenting him. Certain points may be brought out safely, however. (1) Luther adhered with equal firmness, during his whole public career, to the true divinity and the true humanity of the one historic person of Christ. (2) He was never inclined to bring the two into relation by anything like the theory of Thomasius, and as early as 1518 gave an exegesis of Phil. ii. 7, which would cut all Scriptural ground from under such a theory. (3) Phrases reminding us of Dorner's view are indeed present in Luther's earlier work; but it is impossible to explain his Christology by insistence on these. (4) He rather shaped his Christology from the first, and especially after the Lord's Supper controversy, along the lines of a doctrine of the two natures understood in an anti-Nestorian sense; and it is indisputable that his view of the suffering of the Son of God and of the communication of the divine attributes (including omnipresence) to Christ according to his humanity was a scholastic development of the communicatio idiomatum as taught in the early Church (see UBIQUITY). (5) But in spite of all Luther's polemics against the alloisis of Zwingli, it may fairly be asked whether he always regarded the communication of the divine attributes as real and actual. A number of logical difficulties in the way of this might be collected from his works, and sober thought must be convinced that the root of his doctrine was not in the teaching as to the two natures into which his historical position forced it to grow. (6) It is rather the ultimate datum of his Christology, that the historic person of Jesus was and is the God of revelation. The essential feature of his Christology is really this understanding of the revealing condescension of God, this harking back to "simple-modalistic" ideas. In connection with the notion of the dynamic indwelling of God in the man Jesus, this understanding of the historic personality of Jesus might have led to a new construction of Christology--if theologians had not been bound to the old tradition which constructed from above downward and to the scheme of the natures.
But since they were, the Lutheran development could lead to nothing but a scholastic working out of the idea of the communicatio idiomatum as extended by Luther beyond the traditional content of the term. Schools differed in the manner of this working out; but they agreed in denying any real kenosis of the Logos. Chemnitz and Brenz are at one not only in saying that in the Incarnation the Word retained the fulness of his God-head, but that this fulness was imparted to the humanity of Christ at the Incarnation. The only place where real kenotic ideas are found in the Lutheran theology of this period is among the Philippists; but even here they occur in nothing like the modern sense. When they speak of the Son of God "hiding" his majesty in our flesh and blood, or of an "exaltation according to both natures," they are merely Crypto-Calvinists. It is against them that the condemnation of the Formula of Concord is pronounced: "We reject the opinion that to Christ according to his divine nature all power in heaven and in earth was restored at his resurrection and ascension, as though he had laid aside and stripped himself of that power, even according to his divinity, while he was in the state of humiliation." The condemnation goes further than was necessary at the time, for neither Philippists nor Calvinists taught a "transmutation of the divine nature"; the important point is that it goes far enough to reach the modern kenotics.
For the Giessen-Tübingen controversy see CHRISTOLOGY, IX.
The official or ecclesiastical theology of all ages, then, has rejected the idea of kenosis as now held. Just as in the early Church it appeared only in inferior undercurrents and with the "heretical" Apollinarists, so it was in the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Echoes of kenotic thought appear especially in Schwenckfeld, and an indubitable kenosis theory in Menno Simons; but in anything like official Protestant theology they occur first in the reckless speculation of Zinzendorf--although here there is no consistently worked out theory, and the kenotic ideas are crossed by regard paid to the official doctrine, including the communicatio idiomatum. But if not the mental ancestors, at least the forerunners of the modern kenotics are (with the nameless persons condemned by Hilary and Cyril and with the Apollinarists) Menno Simons and Zinzendorf. The kenosis theory is an attempt, made at the cost of breaking with certain undeniably ecclesiastical traditions, to save what has been characteristic of the official Christology of 1,700 years--a doctrine of the Incarnation constructed from above downward. Were it tenable in itself, modern theology would have no ground to reproach it with not being traditional. But its weaknesses, nay, its impossibilities, have been frequently indicated, and there is not space here to go into them again. It might be pointed out that the theory proceeds from views of the Trinity which are not far from an intolerable tritheism. If the Logos can become man in such a manner that "outside of the human form assumed by him, he has not reserved to himself a special existence, a special consciousness, a special sphere of operation or possession of power" (Thomasius, ii. 201), little is left of the principle of the Athanasian Creed, "not three Gods, but One God." The justification of the theory, so far as it has one, lies in the recognition, on the negative side, of the insufficiency of the old Christology, and on the positive in the necessity of leaving room for a real, true human life of Jesus. But all theories men can make of the Incarnation of God are temerarious at best; and the most temerarious of all, because it assumes to describe the inmost secrets of the Word as he becomes man, is the modern doctrine of kenosis.
English and American theories of kenosis are scarcely more than reproductions of German speculation on the same subject, influenced by the same motives and exhibiting the same general types (see CHRISTOLOGY). The conditions which determined this movement in Christology were—the pantheistic philosophy of Hegel and Schleiermacher which broke down the division wall between God and man and introduced a universal principle of identity; a humanitarian spirit which directed attention to the nature, the ideals, and the possibilities of man; a new interest in the historical Christ, fostered and made fruitful by a more adequate study of Christ and his times, especially by means of the synoptic Gospels; and a better method of psychology by which the human consciousness is interpreted and a truer estimate of personality reached. The three types of kenosis represented by English and American writers are: (1) During the whole period of the Incarnation, although the essential deity existed necessarily at all times and in all places, yet his conscious and efficient deity was wholly quiescent; he became very man. Only at the resurrection did he reassume the full power of deity—a condition insoluble to the reason (H. Crosby, The True Humanity of Christ, New York, 1880). (2) The Son of God voluntarily surrendered or abandoned certain natural prerogatives or external attributes of God, while he yet retained the essential, ethical properties of truth, holiness, and love (C. Gore, The Incarnation, New York, 1891, p. 172; A. M. Fairbairn, The Place of Christ in Modern Thought, New York, 1893, p. 476). (3) On the basis of an original kinship of God and man, in the incarnation by self-limitation God has become man (W. N. Clarke, An Outline of Christian Theology, New York, 1898, pp. 291-293; H. Van Dyke, The Gospel for an Age of Doubt: The Human Life of God, New York, 1897, pp. 123-167). Two explanations of this alleged inner change of the Logos in the Incarnation are given. One is the capacity of consciousness to retire a portion of its riches into the region of the sub-conscious so that for the time they become as if they were not (R. H. Hutton, Essays Theological and Literary, London, 1871, pp. 259-260). The other suggestion is derived from the assumption of a self-limitation of God in the creative action and with reference to future choices and deeds of moral beings; and the Incarnation is a further exhibition of the principle by which God governs himself in relation to the world (D. W. Simon, Reconciliation through Incarnation, Edinburgh, 1898). There is at present a strong tendency to seek a solution of the problems raised by the personal life of Christ by the ethical, rather than by the metaphysical path.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The history of the subject is necessarily dealt with in the treatises on the history of doctrine and on dogmatics, especially in the sections on Christology. Consult further: F. C. Baur, Die christliche Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit und Menschwerdung Gottes, 3 vols., Tübingen, 1841-43; M. Schneckenburger, Zur kirchlichen Theologie Die orthodoxe Lehre vom doppelten Stande, Pforzheim, 1848; I. A. Dorner, Entwickelungsgeschichte der Lehre von der Person Christi, 2 vols., Stuttgart, 1845-53, Eng. transl., Hist. of the Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ, 5 vols., Edinburgh, 1861-63; idem, in Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie, i (1856), 361-416; A. Tholuck, Disputatio christologica de . . . Phil. ii. 6-9, Halle, 1848; . G. Thomasius, Christi Person und Werk, vol. ii., Erlangen, 1857; H. Schultz, Die Lehre von der Gottheit Christi, Gotha, 1881; F. J. Hall, The Kenotic Theory Considered, with Particular Reference to its Anglican Forms, London, 1898; O. Bensow, Die Lehre von der Kenose, Leipsic, 1903; R. C. Morgan, God's Self-empties Servant, ib. 1906; Harnack, Dogma, iv. 140, 161-162, vii. 244; DCG, i. 927-928; and the commentaries on Philippians.
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