John Keenan on The Emptiness of Christ

Some reflections by John P. Keenan on The Emptiness of Christ :

The scriptural words of and about Jesus likewise describe him as empty of essence.

[The] function of doctrine in Mahayana theology is not to communicate a body of information about God, but to engender a sense of the presence of God beyond all words.

It is impossible to understand him apart from the web of relationships that form his life.

The scriptural words of or about Jesus do not analyze the divine nature. God is described time and again as beyond any definition. God dwells in light inaccessible. No one has ever seen God.

But this proclamation does not offer any definitive knowledge of what God is. Rather, it renders us, Job-like, aware of the total otherness of Yahweh, of the absence of any limiting definition.

Still, it is clear from the tradition that the meaning of Christ is not simply a contentless sign of an empty God.

Emptiness and dependent coarising are convertible, signifying complementary insights into essence-free being. Jesus then is not distinctive in virtue of a unique and different definition, but in virtue of his teaching, his death, and his resurrection and ascension – all of which he shares with us.

His divinity may be seen precisely in the emptiness of his personal identity, whereby he transparently mirrors the presence of Abba.

The crucial point is to remember that both the initial descriptions and the consequent theologies, both the principles and the inferences, are contextual and never absolute.

The contextual, relative words spoken by an enlightened person both hide the truth and reveal it to be other than, different from, those words.

He is the son of God as the sacramental sign of the otherness of Abba.

By disappearing in the experience of Abba and the commitment to the rule of God, Jesus embodies the reality of God in himself and for us.

In virtue of his abandonment of essence and self-definition, Christ reflects the direct experience of Abba and calls others to engagement

It is as “worldly convention-only” that Christ shares in the divine otherness of God. That is to say, it is not by clinging to an exalted, divine being, but by emptying himself of being that Christ mirrors the divine and is one with the silent Father.

[We need] tools for constructing a Christology that is at once mystical and critical.

[Mahayana Christology] avoids the old conundrums of essentialist Christology, always in danger of falling to one side or the other and always teetering on the point of presenting a schizophrenic picture of the Lord.

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