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The Incarnate Logos and the Rūpakāya Towards a Comparative Theology of Embodiment Thomas Cattoi Abstract: This essay offers some considerations on the value of the Chalcedonian paradigm as a resource for interreligious systematic speculation. The author’s analysis focuses on the Christology of Maximos the Confessor and the Buddhological speculations of the Tibetan thinker and monastic reformer Tsong kha pa. The paper explores the points of contact, as well as the differences, between these two approaches. In conclusion the author offers some constructive considerations as to the shape of a contextual Tibetan Christology that would appropriate the conceptual heritage of the local philosophy and culture. He also suggests how familiarity with Tsong kha pa’s epistemological horizon may be of help in gaining a better appreciation of the Christological paradigm behind Maximos’s vision.

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he primary burden of this paper is to lay the initial foundations of a comparative theology of divine embodiment, focusing on the Christian and the Tibetan Buddhist traditions.1 My starting point is an exploration of the points of contacts and the differences between the Christological synthesis that became normative in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon (451 C.E.), and the notion of Buddha-bodies in the form this teaching takes in the religious life of Tibet. To this purpose, I offer a comparative reading of the Christology of Maximos the Confessor (580–662 C.E.) and the Buddhological speculation of the Tibetan dGe lugs master Tsong kha pa (1357–1419 C.E.). Maximos’ understanding of the hypostatic union—the simultaneous presence of humanity and divinity in the person of Christ—is taken by some as the culmination of Patristic Christology, while Tsong kha pa is the author of some of the greatest philosophical treatises in the Tibetan language.2

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My study of these two authors follows the advice of Frank Clooney in Theology after Vedanta, where he reminds his readers that “comparative theologians cannot be content simply with cataloguing different traditions’ views.”3 In this perspective, theologians who are members of believing communities should “do their work with an awareness of and concern for” a particular set of beliefs, and they should defend them against the encroachment of different worldviews.4 At the same time, Clooney observes that theologians in dialogue with a different culture or tradition might find themselves wanting to “question, re-contextualize and finally reformulate” their beliefs; and that to do so they will resort to “modes of discourse quiet different from those already familiar to the community.”5 A joint reading of two authors who discuss analogous issues while being embedded in different contexts will only be fruitful if accompanied by what Clooney calls “the necessary vulnerability to truth,” “as one might find” this truth in the world of the religious other. My reading of Maximos and Tsong kha pa will not attempt to establish an historical connection between their respective arguments, but rather will seek to engage in conversation two different theological positions. This project reflects my conviction that a closer acquaintance with the resources of a different Systematic theology is in tradition will encourage Christian theologians to entransition toward a more gage in more creative inculturated theologizing and also help them better understand the original theological import of traditional doctrinal statements as interreligious approach. they have been handed down to us by earlier historical periods. These two distinct yet related “ends” of comparative theology are both adumbrated in the latter part of this essay. On one hand, I suggest that Maximos’s theology of the hypostatic union may serve as an entrée into an inculturated theology of incarnation that retrieves themes and resources from the Tibetan tradition. On the other hand, I argue that the philosophical assumptions underpinning Tsong kha pa’s system help us gain a renewed appreciation of the Chalcedonian paradigm underpinning Maximos’s own Christology. As systematic theology navigates the transition toward a more dialogical and interreligious approach, it might be helpful to turn to Bernard Lonergan’s account of the demise of classicism in contemporary theology. Published in 1971, Lonergan’s Method in Theology signalled the final passing of the Catholic theological paradigm which strove to isolate doctrine from history and its supercession by an approach that was to be far more attentive to the cultural and philosophical contexts of different schools of theology.6 Lonergan labels his position “perspectivism,” a stance that

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rejects relativism but acknowledges that different standpoints do give rise to different explanatory narratives. In this way, if the religious experience of the members of different cultures is to be articulated meaningfully, the development of new theological perspectives is not only a legitimate but a necessary endeavour. It is important to remember that the novelty of a theological approach is not in itself indicative of its superiority over already existing ones. Yet, a new theological paradigm may help us rediscover the heuristic structures at work in older, more established theological approaches.7 This argument helps us understand how, even as the development of new theologies of the incarnation is a necessary part of Christianity’s inculturation into non-European societies, the resulting awareness that traditional doctrines reflect a particular cultural context does not automatically render these doctrines flawed or misguided. Lonergan’s methodological reflections, therefore, necessarily confirm the validity of Clooney’s call for increased interreligious conversation. A “theology after Tsong kha pa” is possible, and it will be a more inclusive and vigorous theology; it will engage members of different cultures in meaningful conversation, but it will also show how the Chalcedonian paradigm underpinning Maximos’s approach is still relevant and may actually be understood better after the comparison has taken place. Before interest in his work was revived in the mid-twentieth century, the figure of Maximos the Confessor (580–662) was almost inevitably associated with the protracted seventh-century disputes concerning monothelitism. According to this theological position, Christ possessed two natures (ousiai) but only one will. The ensuing debates reflected different interpretations of the Chalcedonian settlement, which had ruled that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Debates flared up again after an imperial edict—known as the Ekthesis—expressed support for the monothelite view.8 A later pronouncement known as the Typos, attempting to establish the equal legitimacy of different positions, failed to satisfy the dyothelite party, which viewed the latitudinarian attitude of the authorities as merely a political compromise,and an attempt to gain the support of the non-Chalcedonian Christians (the majority of whom belonged to the Jacobite and Coptic Churches) in the struggle of Byzantium with Islam.9 Maximos’s strenuous opposition to the monothelite cause, which he saw as an attack to the very core of Chalcedonian Christology, led to his arrest, his conviction as a heretic, and his death in exile. Twenty years after his demise, however, the third council of Constantinople would enshrine his understanding of the incarnation as a normative expression of the Church’s faith. ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008

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Maximos’s theological contribution, however, went far beyond his teaching on the two wills of Christ; his radical commitment to the faith of Chalcedon led him to reinscribe within an expanded Christological horizon the virtual totality of the Church’s teaching, from the area of scriptural exegesis to spiritual theology, ecclesiology and natural theology. Maximos’s elaboration of a cosmological vision centered on the incarnation shows the profound continuity of his theology with the work of the Cappadocian fathers, who three centuries earlier had laid the foundations for a new Christian philosophy blending Hellenist wisdom and Biblical revelation. The Cappadocians operated with a taxonomy of authorities which embraced the testimony of Scripture, as well as “the common apprehensions,” or “common opinion,” of humanity;10 Gregory of Nazianzos, for instance, acknowledged the enduring value of Greek thought when he praised the accomplishments of Basil, whom he called “an orator among orators” and “a philosopher among philosophers”.11 Maximos shared the Cappadocians’ appreciative attitude towards the Hellenist tradition as well as the conviction expressed by Gregory of Nazianzos that the divine economy is intrinsically congruent, but is not identical, with the laws of nature.12 This position led to a form of philosophical syncretism, which explains how the cosmology of Basil’s Haexameron or the anthropology of Gregory of Nyssa’s De Hominis Opificio could read the Scriptural testimony on creation via a whole gamut of Platonic and Aristotelian loci.13 The Scriptural injunction “Pan dokimazete, to kalon katechete” (“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”)14 is the unspoken slogan that Maximos inherited from the theology of the Cappadocians, which can thus be regarded as the first as well as one of the most enduringly successful experiments in what we now call contextual Christian theology.15 What distinguishes Maximos from the Cappadocians is that he operated in a context in which the foundations of a Christian philosophy were already in place and in which the great Trinitarian controversies had come to an end. Jaroslav Pelikan, in his work on the encounter between Christianity and classical culture, focuses on the emergence of a Christian natural theology in the fourth century, and his readers are tempted to conclude that by the time of the first council of Constantinople the process of mutual adaptation between Scriptural and Hellenist wisdom was substantially over.16 The controversy surrounding the formulation of Christological dogma that accompanied and followed the debate between the Nestorian and the Cyrillian position shows clearly, however, that the debate on the theological usage of philosophical terms would continue to rage for another three or four centuries.17 Two hundred

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years after Chalcedon, Maximos was still wrestling with the inadequacy of human language to express the reality of the hypostatic union, an “event” which he also envisaged as the lynchpin of the cosmos. What Maximos’s theological synthesis eventually achieves is to bring together Hellenist philosophy, Cappadocian thought and Chalcedonian dogma to accomplish an irreversible Christological turn in the development of Christian natural theology.18 Maximos’s works include a variety of occasional writings, which include an extensive correspondence and a number of texts on the nature and purpose of the spiritual life. His chief works, however, are the Ambigua and the Quaestiones ad Thalassium. In these works, Maximos expatiates on the significance of obscure passages from the writings of the Cappadocian fathers (especially the orations by Gregory of Nazianzos) or from Scripture (mainly the Old Testament). Maximos insisted on the Maximos is eager to show that Scripture as a whole gestures towards the mystery of the incarnation, and, primacy of the spiritual in line with the Origenist tradition, he insists on the primacy of the spiritual over the literal meaning.19 over the literal meaning The disputed passages which Maximos selects enable him to launch into lengthy excursuses on a variety of of scripture. topics, all resting on his conviction that the cosmic as well as the ecclesial order are providentially ordained and therefore constitute propedeutic intimations of divine wisdom. In the Ambigua, spiritual progress is accomplished through the simultaneous pursuit of theōria and praxis; contemplation finds its fulfilment in the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor, and both contemplation and love sustain our growing appreciation of the divine mystery.20 For the sake of our argument, however, it is important to remember how theōria, for Maximos, encompasses a variety of activities, which include meditation on the mystery of the Christ’s earthly life, the prayerful reading of Scripture, the critical appropriation of Greek philosophical resources, and finally the contemplation of the natural order. By practicing these forms of theōria, the individual undergoes a process of inner purification, which patterns her intellect and her senses after the example of Christ. At the same time, the fullness of the divine mystery is never revealed; the incarnate Christ is the center of a dialectic of concealment and disclosure. An apposite example of Maximos’s cosmic reading of the incarnation can be found in Ambiguum 10, which begins as a discussion of a passage in Gregory of Nazianzos concerning the purpose of contemplation and builds up to a lengthy reflection on the transfiguration.21 On ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008

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Tabor, Christ appears in garments of blinding whiteness, which “bore the symbol of the words of Holy Scripture (ta de leukathenta himatia tōn rēmatōn tēs hagias graphēs pherein), inasmuch as the words [became] clear and transparent and luminous [to the disciples].” The same garments were also “the symbol of created reality itself (tēs ktiseōs autēs),” so that for Maximos one may legitimately claim that “the natural law and the written law” (ton te physikon kai ton grapton nomon) “are equal in honor (isotimous) and teach the same things, neither of them being superior or inferior to the other.”22 In this way, there is no possible contrast between the letter of Scripture and the inner structure of creation. This vision of the cosmos as a prism through which the power of the Logos is refracted marks the point of arrival of the century-long process whereby the stoic teaching of the logoi spermatikoi (“the seeds of the Word”) was gradually appropriated by the Christian tradition. According to this teaching, the universe is seen as the manifestation of a cosmic intelligence (the eternal Logos), which leaves its imprints (or logoi) throughout creation and thereby makes it intelligible to human beings. Works such as Athanasios’s De Incarnatione or the Pseudo-Denys’s De Divinis Nominibus clearly identify the Logos with Christ and the individual logoi with Christ’s organizing wisdom.23 The originality of Maximos’s contribution lies in the deployment of Chalcedonian Christology as an organizing principle to account for the relation (anaphora) between the different logoi and the incarnate Word. In his writings, Maximos underscores the ontological primacy of the eternal Logos, which grounds and yet safeguards a diversity of natures in the person of Christ as well as in the universe as a whole. The humanity and divinity of Jesus co-exist “without division and without confusion” (adiairetōs kai asygchytōs) even as this duality of natures could not subsist without the person (hypostasis) of the incarnate Word. In the same way, the logoi spermatikoi mix and interact without confusion, and yet they all subsist in the eternal Wisdom of God. The contemplation and the study of the natural order, and even of the writings of those who in the past sought to penetrate its deepest mysteries, become an integral part of Christology. The Chalcedonian dialectic of unity and plurality offers a paradigm for a theology of divine embodiment which simultaneously serves as Christological legitimatization of natural theology, and indeed of a theological use of philosophy. Maximos’s insistence on the congruence between the claims of revelation and the insights of human reason is qualified, however, by his conviction that natural contemplation is unable to disclose the full extent of God’s economic activity in creation. The divergence between

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Greek philosophy and Christian wisdom does not signify that the former is inherently flawed but intimates how the unprecedented nature of the incarnation has cast a new light on the purpose of the cosmos and human history. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzos had lambasted the Eunomians’ hubris, in that they had sought to imprison divine revelation within the cage of human conceptuality and were therefore reluctant to accept the mystery of God’s Trinitarian love.24 Following three more centuries of doctrinal development, Maximos deploys the Chalcedonian synthesis as the ordering principle behind the multiplicity of the cosmos and is thus able to rephrase Christologically the Origenist equation of divine providence and divine pedagogy (pronoia and paideusis).25 As the supernatural intelligence behind the cosmic order becomes the individuating principle of a human existence, God’s extraordinary condescension (sygkatabasis) towards humanity reaches its highest point.26 In his Liber Asceticus, Maximos presents Christ’s human existence as a paradigm of ethical conduct; if we follow Christ’s example, we can be certain that our life is lived in full harmony with the guiding principles of creation.27 The emerging theology of divine embodiment that we find in Maximos’s work presents natural contemplation as a preparatio Christi, and indeed as an activity which introduces us, albeit partially, into the very mystery of Christ. The pursuit of philosophy and the natural sciences (which from antiquity to early modernity were considered virtually identical) can thus be approached as an integral part of spiritual practice. By exploring the propedeutic significance of the laws of nature, our humanity undergoes a gradual ontological transformation, and in Maximos’s words, we are eventually deified; the transfigured humanity of Christ that is briefly disclosed on Tabor prefigures the eschatological condition of those who walk this path to the end. It is crucial to note, therefore, that Maximos’s resort to philosophical terminology, much as that of his Cappadocian forebears, is far from an uncritical appropriation of the cultural resources of a particular culture. Rather, such operation is carried out under the methodological aegis of a commitment to the novelty (kainotomia) of the incarnation, and in conscious opposition to earlier theological experiments (such as Origen’s), which in Maximos’s view were guilty of subordinating the unfolding of the divine economy to philosophical categories unequal to the task.28 Such a strategy is evident as we analyze how Maximos renders the dialectic of multiplicity and unity, as well as the related opposition between movement and stasis. For instance, after the passage on the transfiguration quoted above, Ambigua 10 continues by observing that the saints ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008

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have divided creation into substance (ousian), movement (kinēsin), difference (diaphoran), mixture (krasin) and position (thesin).29 They said that three of these logoi served pre-eminently to divine gnosis, so that they could lead us to it: they are the one according to substance (kat’ousian), the one according to movement (kata kinēsin) and the one according to difference (kata diaphoran). By means of them God makes Himself known to men, who can deduce from things the proofs of the fact that God is creator and provider and judge (hōs dēmiourgou kai pronoētou kai kritou).30 What Maximos does here is to appropriate the five categories of Plato’s Sophist, possibly through the mediation of an earlier Evagrian text; he then goes on, however, to adumbrate an epistemology which implicitly critiques the way in which the Origenist school of spirituality uses these very same categories to articulate a spiritual theology, which for Maximos is incompatible with a proper understanding of incarnation.31 As observed by Thunberg in his survey of the Confessor’s struggle with Origenism, the author of De Principiis and his later acolytes followed Middle- and Neo-Platonic philosophy in their routine contrast of divine unchangeability and wholeness with human changeability and inherent imperfection.32 This perspective associated multiplicity with instability and lack of equilibrium, envisaging the historical process as a cosmic movement from unity through difference to a restored, undifferentiated whole. As such, the five categories listed above were the mark of a fallen, utterly imperfect condition. The implications of this ontology for the Christian notion of incarnation are nothing short of dramatic: the manifestation of the divine wisdom in the incarnate Christ is an epiphany both imperfect and incomplete, crushed, as it were, by the inherent limitations of a fallen, mutable world. Origen’s Christology in the Homiliae in Leviticum drives a wedge between the self-disclosure of the Logos in the flesh and its inaccessible fullness in God; in Evagrios’ Kephalaia Gnostika, the “kingdom of plurality” over which Christ rules in time is destined to disappear at the end of time as he hands over his reign to the Father.33 Maximos’ defence of Chalcedonian orthodoxy, on the other hand, allows for nothing higher than the incarnate Christ, to whom all the logoi of creation incessantly point. To quote one more time from Ambigua 10, the knowledge of whatever was created through Christ is naturally and fittingly revealed through Him; . . . while He is known to be separate from the order of creation, it is His desire that the logoi of everything intelligible and sensible are made known together with Himself. 34

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Maximos’ interpretation of the encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene shows how the Confessor’s position mediates between Origen’s spiritualizing flight from the senses and the all-too-human tendency to hang on to the kaleidoscope of appearances. Jesus’ demand that Magdalene abstain from touching him as he is yet to ascend to the Father is a warning for all us who confuse the channel of revelation with the mystery it discloses. On the other hand, this does not entail a depreciation of the flesh; indeed, Christ’s body is the dwelling place of divine wisdom, the “tent” which God has planted in the midst of humanity. In this perspective, knowledge of Christ grounds an epistemological as well as a sensory purification on our part; through him, the logoi of created reality are understood in their proper relation to God’s plan for the universe. Maximos’s methodology explodes the dichotomy between apophatic (negative) theology and its kataphatic (positive) counterpart. What is concealed is revealed through negation, and what is revealed is concealed through attribution. The Origenist and ultimately Neo-Platonic mistrust for plurality is replaced by a qualified appreciation of its soteriological potential, which unfolds in time and therefore invests change itself with a salvific import. After all, if the Godhead was ready to undergo kenōsis for our sake, who are we to say that change is an invariably negative phenomenon? Christ’s mediatorial work turns the fragmentation of creation (diairesis) into a unity in diversity (diaphora). Difference is no longer a deplorable rupture in the structure of being but a fecund soteriological dialectic, whereby the multiplicity of the visible turns into prism disclosing the invisible.35 Christ’s embodiment in the flesh is thus the embodiment of the cosmic order, which condescends to address us through the channel of human nature. A methodological analysis of Maximos’s approach reveals an underlying conviction as to the existence within the Christian faith of an essential, unchanging core which can be separated from a disposable, cultural shell. If we turn to Stephen B. Bevans’ discussion of contextualization in his work Models of Contextual Theology, we see that this is the fundamental presupposition of the so-called “translation model” of contextual theology. As it encounters a new culture or tradition, the Christian message is clothed in contingent categories, and at the same time it brings something that is radically new to this very same context.36 The approach of the Cappadocians, which Maximos develops further in light of the intervening theological development, ensures that the good news of the gospel takes root in a context shaped by Hellenist culture. Yet, the gospel has to be announced in cultures that undergo constant ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008

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change, even as the eternal Word at the core of its message remains forever the same.37 From this perspective, the practice of theōria comes to encompass natural contemplation no less than a sustained engagement of a culture’s philosophical patrimony. If the folds of Christ’s garments on Tabor encompass Scripture and the natural world, why should they leave out the legacy of Plato and Aristotle? Much as the logoi of creation and of the two Testaments draw their ultimate significance from the eternal Word, this very same Word serves also as key to the armory of Hellenist thought. Not unlike Maximos the Confessor, Tsong kha pa set out to explore how the natural order and his own philosophical heritage could sustain the pursuit of enlightenment. Tibetan Buddhism espouses the Mahāyāna teaching of active (apratiṣthita, or “non-abiding”) nirvana; according to this understanding of Buddhahood, a person can attain the full awakening of a Buddha and move beyond conditioning, while also remaining active within samsara so as to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment. Tsong kha pa’s position in this respect is no different from the mainstream of Tibetan thought, with which he also shares the acceptance of the Mādhyamika distinction between ultimate and conventional reality.38 The writings of Tsong kha pa accept the fundamental Mādhyamika distinction between a body of the Buddha that is coextensive with the ultimate insight into emptiness (dharmakāya) and the physical body of Śākyamuni (rūpakāya) that expressed his compassion in this conventional world. The dichotomy of emptiness and form that underlies this distinction furnishes a template for the simultaneous pursuit of wisdom and compassion, which (not unlike theōria and praxis) define our advance towards enlightenment. The intrinsic (one is tempted to say, perichoretic) relation between the dharmakāya and rūpakāya ensures that the latter encompasses all phenomenal manifestations of the former. A distinction is then drawn between the celestial sambhogakāyam (body of enjoyment), which dwells in the celestial realms of the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, and the nirmāṇakāya (body of transformation), which benefits the sentient beings of our ordinary world.39 Tsong kha pa accepts this substantial bifurcation of the rūpakāya into two subsets, thereby reconciling the Mādhyamika assertion of two levels of reality with the Yogācāra assertion of a plurality of conventional truths. Tsong kha pa’s treatise Legs bshad snying po (The Essence of True Eloquence) expatiates at great length on the propedeutic value of conventional reality as well as on the pedagogic value of the different schools of philosophy to which monastic novices are exposed.40 The passage that opens the Legs bshad snying po presents the body of the Buddha as

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the embodiment of wisdom, which rules over list of Indian deities in Tibetan garb: Shambu, Meghavahana, Hiranyagarbha, Anangapati, Damodara, and the other (gods), All puffed up with self-infatuation, They roar their lordship o’er the worlds; And yet, before the vision of His Body, They pale like fireflies in the sun! Then down they bow their sparkling diadems In reverence to the lotuses of His feet! I pay homage to that Lord of Sages, The God of all gods!41 The deities, however, personify the different realms of the universe over which they rule as well as the different schools of philosophy under their tutelage. The Buddha is effectively transfigured into the Lord of the cosmos, to whom the individual devotee pays homage as the entire universe bows down in obeisance. This is not all, however; the Buddha is also surrounded by a retinue of figures (bodhisattvas, later Mahāyāna thinkers), thanks to whom the teaching of the Buddha has spread through the world to enlighten sentient beings: I bow my head to the feet of Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga, Who pioneered the ways for champions of philosophy, With two interpretations of Śugata’s sacred discourse, And made that superb Doctrine of that Victor, Shine like sunlight throughout the triple world! 42 The claim that the so-called “champions of philosophy” come after Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga serves, of course, as a strategy of self-justification, implying that Tsong kha pa’s own work shares the same purpose of that of the two revered masters and that such work can never be considered fully accomplished in virtue of the inexhaustible depths of the teaching they expound. The mention of “two interpretations” is not accidental: according to Robert Thurman, they refer to the teaching of the absence of identity (systematized by Nāgārjuna) and the teaching of compassion (systematized by Asaṅga). Both teachings reflect the Buddha’s own insight.43 As in Ambigua 10, theōria and praxis flow from the same cosmic wisdom in order to lead us back to it. At the same time, Tsong kha pa acknowledges that discerning the true Dharma which pervades the natural world and the Buddhist corpus is a task requiring patience and perseverance. As ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008

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such, the study of the cosmos and of the traditional Buddhist texts must be undertaken with the aid of philosophy: Having seen the extreme difficulty of realizing the actuality of things, without which there is no liberation from the world, the compassionate teacher introduced living beings to that realization through the many doors of reasoning and technical procedures. Thus, the discriminating should exert themselves in the techniques for realizing Thatness. This depends on the discrimination between the interpretable meaning (neyārtha) and the definitive meaning (nītārtha) of the teachings of the Victor.44 Reason, which for the Cappadocian Fathers revealed the place of humanity within the cosmos, helps here to discriminate between an understanding of the natural order that is unable to rise beyond the conventional level and one which brings out its authentic salvific potential. For Tsong kha pa, as for Paul, the letter kills; it is the spirit that gives life.45 The respect of the dGe lugs master for philosophic practices that evidence what is effectively the salvific value of the conventional world may surprise Western audiences that tend to associate Buddhism with an attitude of detachment, if not utter contempt, for the world of the senses. The Mahāyāna belief in active nirvana, however, turns the entire world of conventional reality into a resource for spiritual practice, so that, by learning to engage it correctly, we draw closer to the Buddha’s ultimate insight. While Mādhyamika ontology associates the dharmakāya with ultimate reality, Tsong kha pa nuances this reading and reaches back to the tradition of Abhidharmic scholasticism to present the body of Dharma as the ontological foundation of the natural order.46 In this perspective, the Dharma continues to be the teachings of the Buddha, as well as his most excellent qualities, but they are also taken to be the ontological blueprint of every aspect of the cosmos. In line with Chinese cosmological speculation, Buddhahood becomes co-extensive with the Dharmadhātu, the total expanse of reality, and in a sense it constitutes the ontological foundation for the cosmos where we live and exist. The study of the natural order enables us to glimpse its intrinsic emptiness, and as such we see the intrinsic coherence between the insights of reason and the teachings of the Buddhist corpus. The question that Tsong kha pa seeks to answer is analogous to that raised by the Christological speculation of the early Church Fathers: how can you articulate the belief that the utterly transcendent God (or indeed, ultimate reality) is simultaneously active within our world?47 The Christo-

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centric cosmology of the Ambigua presented Christ as the lynchpin of the cosmos and as the accessible manifestation of divine condescension. In Tsong kha pa’s vision, Buddhahood is coextensive with the natural order and is also an inexhaustible source of compassion towards sentient beings. In this way, if natural theology and the contemplation of the cosmos can lead to the knowledge of the Word, philosophical speculation and the pursuit of wisdom can introduce the practitioner to the dimension of Buddhahood. In Tsong kha pa’s system, this emerges more clearly if we consider that the dGe lugs master distinguished the dharmakāya (which in his construal was closely associated with conventional reality) from the so-called svabhāvikakāya (“body of essence”). In his work Buddhahood Embodied, John Makransky notes how the dGe lugs system distinguishes the conditioned reality of the dharmakāya (which is also called jñānadharmakāya) from the unconditioned (and ultimately empty) reality of the svabhāvikakāya, which is epistemologically exclusive to the Buddha and constitutes his nonconceptual consciousness.48 The theologies of divine embodiment that emerge from Maximos’s and Tsong kha pa’s writings are analogous, and yet they are far from identical. On one hand, the points of contact are striking. For Maximos, the purpose of theōria is to acquire the mind of Christ; for Tsong kha pa, the pursuit of wisdom enables us to grasp the ultimate emptiness of reality and to rediscover our own Buddha nature. For both authors, divine embodiment (using the term somewhat improperly for Tsong kha pa, who does not view the Buddha as a god) is the event around which the whole of the cosmos revolves, setting the terms for natural contemplation, scriptural exegesis and the practice of the virtues. Neither author, however, adopts an irenic position; indeed, each of them is convinced that his position is the only one that is fully compatible with reason. For Maximos, the logoi are a testimony to Christ’s glory, and those who fail to acknowledge this will be found guilty. For the dGe lugs master, the Dharma discloses the Buddha’s ongoing activity on behalf of sentient beings, and failure to discern the Buddha’s activity keeps one further within samsara, the world of suffering. If each of the two had been exposed to the system of the other, there is little doubt that each would have viewed it as radical departure from a “reasonable” reading of reality. The difference between the notion and purpose of divine embodiment in the Ambigua and the Legs bshad snying po concerns the ontological structure of the cosmos as well as the extent to which our spiritual efforts may reach up to the supreme achievement of Christ or of the Buddha. In the dGe lugs tradition, the jñāna-dharmakāya adumbrates a universe where the kaleidoscope of appearances masks an underlying ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008

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emptiness and where the variety of the Dharma is reabsorbed into an undifferentiated insight. For Maximos, who, as we saw, took care to distinguish his position from that of Origen, the logoi are the template for an unfolding history of plenitude, and they never revert to a primordial unity but are transfigured and ratified on the last day. The incarnate Word is an embodiment of fullness; the rūpakāya is a manifestation of emptiness. One might object that Tsong kha pa’s Buddhological speculations come closer to a theistic vision than the analogous reflections of most Mādhyamika or Yogācāra thinkers; the teaching that the rūpakāya is an “outflow” (niśyanda) of the Dharmakāya, could be taken to echo the Father’s generation of the Son. Tsong kha pa, however, does not posit the svabhāvikakāya (or indeed, the Buddha Śākyamuni) as the ultimate source of the natural order. This sets him apart from Maximos, for whom the incarnate Word is the ontological foundation of the universe; the logoi are eternal and are a gift to humanity, through which the incarnate wisdom brings history to completion. This fundamental ontological difference has important soteriological implications. Maximos’s conviction that the deified intellect acquires “the mind of Christ” is qualified by his belief in the utter The points of contact unknowability of the divine nature. The Transfiguration supersedes the theophany on Sinai, where Moses could between Maximos’s only see God’s back, but the depths of the divine wisdom remained inaccessible even to the disciples who saw Christ’s face. Tsong kha pa, on the other hand, does and Tsong kha pa’s not construe the Buddha’s ultimate insight as epistemotheologies are striking. logically exclusive to the historical Śākyamuni. Rather, the tendency to magnify the extraordinary nature of the Buddha’s achievement, which sets him apart from that of ordinary sentient beings, coexists with the conviction that every practitioner, at least in theory, can reach the same insight through commitment and perseverance. The construal of “divine” embodiment that underpins Tsong kha pa’s writings finds a Christian counterpart in the position of Evagrios Pontikos, who, in his Kephalaia Gnostika, postulates the eschatological erasure of the ontological distinction between the Christ and the individual soul.50 This position, which was espoused by the so-called “vulgar Origenists” opposed by Maximos and condemned by Justinian, is incompatible with the Chalcedonian reading of the hypostatic union which leaves no room for more than one instance of divine embodiment. In the spiritual theology of the Confessor, the deified individual shares in the divine attributes but is never equal to Christ. The Mahāyāna tradition, on the other hand, sets no limits on the number of possible rūpakāyāh;

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in fact, anything can be as full an expression of the Buddha’s compassion as the historical Buddha himself. The appreciation of conventional reality that characterizes Tsong kha pa’s vision might induce Christian theologians to argue that the dGe lugs master espouses a sacramental reading of reality. The traditional meaning of the term sacramental, however, presupposes an economy of grace and an ontology that are fundamentally at odds with the system of the Tibetan master. For the Greek Fathers, the hypostatic union embraces and transforms the humanity of Christ, pointing to the new Heaven and new Earth of the last day; the vision of Ambigua 10 foreshadows the transfiguration of the cosmos as a whole, in all its plurality and difference. The life of the historical Buddha, on the other hand, does not effect an irreversible ontological change in the structure of reality but uncovers the irreducible duality of conventional and ultimate. For Maximos, one divine embodiment ratifies an infinite number of individualities; for Tsong kha pa, many rūpakāyāh indicate that individuality is fundamentally an illusion, though an illusion that can help us attain enlightenment. As such, the dGe lugs position invests the world with a sort of instrumental sacramentality, lacking the ultimacy of an eschatological vision. These reflections on the irreducible ontological distinction between the two traditions invite also a few considerations as to the methodology adopted by Maximos and Tsong kha pa in developing their speculative syntheses. The fact that both retrieved and modified elements from existent philosophical traditions, while also seeking to remain in continuity with earlier representatives such as the Cappadocians or Nāgārjuna, substantially confirms Bevans’s understanding of theological tradition as “a series of contextual theologies.” A Christian theologian may then ask whether it might not be possible, in a different time and place, to develop a different theological articulation of the hypostatic union that, instead of relying on Hellenist philosophical terms, could perhaps use the resources of a different philosophy, such as the speculation on the Buddha’s cosmological role in the Tibetan tradition. What would be the contours of such a Christology? My first suggestion is that the incarnation of Christ could be presented as an event which uncovers the structure of the universe, taking the role of the Buddha in the Legs bshad snying po. However, it would be of the utmost importance to stress that the hypostatic union accomplishes a radical transformation of the structure of the universe, doing away with the dichotomy between conventional and ultimate levels of reality. To this purpose, an educated Tibetan audience could be exposed to a modified usage of the term rūpakāya, indicating an embodied manifestation of the ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008

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cosmic order (the dharmakāya) which reveals the latter’s permanence and anticipates its eventual eschatological transformation. The Christian rūpakāya would not be a phantom but the enfleshed epiphany of a transcendent and yet accessible divine reality. Similarly, the dharmakāya would cease to be an all-enclosing, impersonal emptiness but turn into a personal wisdom overflowing onto an endless cosmic plenitude. As a result of this accommodation of terminology, Tibetan practitioners would realize that the incarnation is no less adamant than Buddhism in asking them to transcend contingent reality and the passions it inspires, but it also establishes a sense of continuity between the plurality of creation and its transcendent unity in the divine plan.51 The development of a local inculturated theology, however, should not be the sole outcome of the comparison. If Tibetan practitioners exposed to Maximos’s Christology may conceivably decide to embrace the Christian understanding of divine embodiment and elaborate a new notion of rupakāya, the Christian theologian who has read Tsong kha pa’s Lam rin chen mo (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment) may also come to reconsider the ontological assumptions which underpin Maximos’s vision, perhaps developing a new Christological synthesis or coming to a different understanding of traditional terminology. A comparative theology that is no more than a monologue will easily become the instrument of a Christian hegemonic strategy. Unless the possibility of a change in perspective is entertained, a theologian will fail to heed Frederick’s call to be truly “vulnerable” to the truth.52 In the case of this comparison, my study of Tsong kha pa led me to reconsider the actual purpose of the Chalcedonian terminology which one finds throughout Maximos’s theological writings. Contemporary theologians with an interest in Christology are wont to claim that the terms ousia and hypostasis (“nature” and “person”) fail to convey the transformative impact of the incarnation and effectively imprison the latter within the cage of an alien philosophical system.53 If this accusation is fair, the only solution would be to abandon the Chalcedonian paradigm entirely, or perhaps to keep it as a quaint reminder of a foregone theological era; some, like John Keenan in his The Meaning of Christ, adopt a Mādhyamika terminology as better suited to articulate the mystery of the hypostatic union.53 A careful reading of the Legs bshad snying po, however, leads one to suspect that Chalcedonian use of philosophical terms is actually closer to the Mādhyamika critique of philosophical concepts; or that indeed, Chalcedon claims far less than many think it claims. Rehearsing the difference between neyārtha assertions that require interpretation and nītārtha statements that are self-explanatory, Tsong

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kha pa underscores how an awareness of this distinction helps practitioners move beyond discursive philosophy to the realm of the utterly transcendent. In the school of Mādhyamika favored by the dGe lugs master, the very possibility of nītārtha claims might seem to contradict the contention that nirvana surpasses human conceptuality; yet within the ambit of the Legs bshad snying po, the claim that no philosophical statement may portray reality as it is effectively acquires the status of self-explanatory assertion. In this perspective, the conventional bodies of the buddhas become explanatory gestures that transcend themselves guiding practitioners to the dharmakāya.54 Reading Maximos after reading Tsong kha pa, the startling realization dawns that the logically irreconcilable Chalcedonian adjectives, pointing to the “undivided and unconfused” manner of the union of Christ’s natures, may not be so dissimilar from a neyārtha statement. Christ’s humanity and divinity are both united and separate, they interpenetrate and yet remain distinct. The terms ousia and hypostasis are mere pointers to a reality that transcends language and philosophy, and as such, Maximos’s theology of hypostatic union is itself an ever-provisional expression of the Christian faith; it reflects the circumstances of a culture deeply shaped by its Hellenist heritage, and at the same time it suggests that this heritage cannot fully express the divine mystery. The Legs bshad snyng po’s contention that the provisional nature of neyārtha statements gradually dawns on the enlightened practitioner helps Christian readers make sense of Maximos’s reading of the Transfiguration narrative. This reading argues for the hermeneutic centrality of Christology in exploring the congruence of natural theology with Scripture. It also stresses the unfathomable character of the myster of the Logos. If the use of terms such as contextual or inculturated when discussing the Patristic period sounds anachronistic or forced, this is because one often assumes that “contextual theology” is an exclusively contemporary phenomenon. Theoretical reflection on contextuality certainly represents a major methodological shift compared to earlier periods of the Church’s history, but it would be an error to assume that earlier theological formulas were not influenced by the surrounding cultures. In a paradoxical convergence that is not often noticed, this artificial opposition between Hellenist theology and recent constructive experiments is then shared by conservative voices and their liberal opponents. The first view early Christian writers as setting a norm for all times and places, so that subsequent reflection becomes a mere theology of repetition. The second tend to dismiss Patristic theology as the expression of a bygone era, which has little relevance for an increasingly multicultural or multireligious ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008

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society.55 The problem with both perspectives is that they view the first centuries of the church as a historical unicum, lifting the early normative articulations of Trinitarian theology and Christology out of their historical context to either exalt them as perennial, ahistorical paradigms or to dismiss them as outdated expressions of cultural hegemony. Fortunately, the lessons of Lonergan and Clooney teach us that an inculturated Tibetan Christology based on the teaching of the Buddha-bodies would be no less and no more “culturally determined” than Maximos’s commitment to Chalcedon. A “theology after Tsong kha pa” can thus help us develop a new theology of divine embodiment but also free Patristic theology from the spell of its uniqueness and turn it into a more effective resource for interreligious dialogue.  Notes 1. Some might wonder whether the very term divine ought to be used at all when discussing Tibetan traditions of embodiment. While acknowledging this concern, I resort to the principle of expediency appealed to by Roger Jackson in the introduction to Roger Jackson and John Makransky, eds., Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars (New York: Routledge, 2000), 1–13. 2. For a chronology of Maximos’s life and works, see Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximos the Confessor, trans. Fr. B. Daley, S.J. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 74–80. The life and cultural background of Tsong kha pa are introduced by Robert Thurman in The Central Philosophy of Tibet: A Study and Translation of Jey Tsong khapa’s ‘Essence of True Eloquence’ (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), 63–89. 3. Frank X. Clooney S.J., Theology after Vedanta: An Experiment in Comparative Theology (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1993), 4. 4. Ibid., 5. 5. Ibid. 6. Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1971), 214–20. 7. Ibid., 220–33. 8. A survey of the theological context where Maximos operated may be found in Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximos the Confessor, 2nd ed. (Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1995), 21–48. 9. On the political implications of these edicts, see Adrian Nichols, O.P., Byzantine Gospel: Maximus the Confessor in Modern Scholarship (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 1–24. 10. Gregory of Nyssa, De Anim et res. (PG 46:72). See also Basil of Caesarea, De Spir. (PG 32: 109). At the same time, in De Vita Moysis 2, 1-18 (PG 44: 327-32), Gregory of Nyssa interprets the Egyptian princess who rescues Moses as a symbol of “pagan wisdom,” which is always barren, but which is ready to welcome the external gift of revelation rejected by the Hebrews.

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The Incarnate Logos and the Rūpakāya 11. Gregory of Nazianzos, Or. 4, 103 (PG 35: 637-40). See also Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 22. 12. Gregory of Nazianzos, Or. 28, 6 (PG 36: 31-4); Or. 31, 16 (PG 36: 149-52). 13. Basil of Caesarea, Haex., 2, 2 (PG 29b: 29-34). 14. 1 Thessalonians 5, 21. 15. On Maximos as a philosopher, see Bernardo De Angelis, Natura, persona e liberta’: l’antropologia di Massimo il Confessore, Quaderni dell’ Assunzione (Roma: Armando Editore, 2002). 16. See Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture, 231–47. 17. See Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 8–75. 18. See George Berthold, “The Cappadocian Roots of Maximos the Confessor,” in Felix Heinzer and Christoph von Schönborn, eds., Maximus Confessor: Actes du Symposium sur Maxime le Confesseur (Fribourg-en-Suisse: Éditions Universitaires, 1982), 51–9. 19. See Paul Blowers, Exegesis and Spiritual Pedagogy in Maximus the Confessor: An Investigation of the Quaestiones ad Thalassium (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991); also Origen, De Principiis, Book IV, 3-4 (PG 11: 326-50). 20. See for instance the “Chapters on Knowledge” in Maximus the Confessor: Selected Writings, trans. George Berthold (Mahwah. N.Y.: Paulist University Press, 1985), 127–80. 21. The passage in question is Or. 22, 11 (PG 35: 1143-4): “Whoever opens matter and this bodily element (whether we call it veil or cloud) with the aid of reason and contemplation and eventually unites himself to God, becoming one with the most pure light, is blessed to the extent that this is granted to human nature, raising himself up from this world and becoming God in the next; a grace, this, which one can obtain by devoting oneself with sincerity to philosophy, and reaching beyond the material dyad, through the unity conceived in the Trinity” (my translation). See also Frederick W. Norris, Faith gives Fullness to Reasoning: The Five Theological Orations of Gregory of Nazianzos (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishing, 1991), 127–8. 22. Ambigua 10, PG 91: 1125d–28d. Passages from Maximos are here given in my translation. See also the translation by Andrew Louth in his Maximus the Confessor (New York: Routledge, 1996), 108–12. In this work, the Ambigua are referred to as “Difficulties.” 23. See Athanasios, De Inc. 1, 4–5, 8 (PG 25b: 103-6; 111-2); Pseudo-Denys, Div. nom. 2, 4; 10, 3 (PG 3: 639–42; 937–40). 24. See Gregory of Nazianzos, Or. 29: 21 (PG 36: 101–4). 25. See Jean Daniélou, Origen, trans. W. Mitchell (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955), 276–89. 26. Maximos the Confessor, Amb. 42 (PG 91: 1316b). 27. Maximos the Confessor, Lib Asc (PG 90: 911–58). 28. In other words, we may use the spolia Aegyptiorum, but we may not hanker back after the fleshpots of Egypt. 29. See Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 72–6; also Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 23–6. 30. Ambigua 10, PG 91: 1133a–1133b; 1136b–c.

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Thomas Cattoi 31. The ultimate inspiration of this passage is most likely the discussion of the five “categories” in Plato’s Sophist (254d–255c). For the Evagrian rendition, see Evagrios Pontikos, Kephalaia Gnostika, Book 1, 27, in Antoine Guillaumont, Les Six Centuries des ‘Kephalaia Gnostica’ d’Évagre Pontique (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1958), 28–9. 32. See Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, 72; also Louth, Maximus the Confessor, 23–6. 33. See Origen, Hom. Lev., 4, 6 (PG 12: 321–3); Evagrios Pontikos, Kephalaia Gnostika, Book 6, 26–7, 32–5, in Guillaumont, 228–31. 34. Ambigua 10, P 91, 1156a. 35. See Walter Voelker, Maximus Confessor als Meister des geistlichen Lebens (Wiesbaden: F. Steiner ed., 1965), 471–89. 36. See Stephen B. Bevan, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Press, 1992), 40–1. We are not here advocating the necessary superiority of the translation model but merely adverting to its usefulness in making sense of Maximos’s methodology. 37. See Harvie Conn, Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology and Mission in Trialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984). 38. Tsong kha pa’s distinction between conventional and ultimate reality (lokasamvrtisatya and paramārthasatya) ultimately rests on Nāgārjuna, whose teaching is behind all major Tibetan schools of thought. See Nāgārjuna, Ratnāvalī 3, 10–3 (“The doctrine of the Buddha is taught with reference to the two truths”) in Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism (New York: Routledge, 1989), 173. 39. Ibid. See the survey on pages 167–84. 40. The passages from the Legs bshad snying po are citations from Thurman’s The Central Philosophy of Tibet. 42. Legs bshad snying po, Prologue, 187. 43. Ibid. 44. Thurman, The Central Philosophy of Tibet, 187–8, note 3. 45. Legs bshad snying po, Prologue, 189. 46. 2 Corinthians 3, 6. The distinction between neyārtha and nītārtha may be said to parallel the Origenist distinction between literal and spiritual meaning in De Principiis, 4, 2-4 (PG 11: 345-50); since the natural order is itself a text which conceals the Logos, or the Dharma, the same hermeneutical strategy can be applied to scriptural exegesis and to natural contemplation. A utilitarian reading of the natural order, which subordinates it to the satisfaction of human desires, would be a neyārtha; the attitude of the mystic who discerns the purposive order of the cosmos would be a nītārtha. 47. See John Makransky, Buddhahood Embodied (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 23–8. 48. See Tsong kha pa, Lam rin chen mo, 3, 587-606, in Tsong kha pa, Lam rin chen mo: The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, trans. Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2004), 135–53. 49. Makransky, Buddhahood Embodied, 233–40. 50. See Evagrios Pontikos, Kephalaia Gnostika, Book 4, 15-20, in Guillaumont, 142–3. 51. Much as Western authors would later develop a spirituality of transitus, Maximos the Confessor resorted to the term diabainein to indicate that the incarnation intimates how the mystery of God transcends all contingent reality, while the manifestation of God’s wisdom in the flesh invites us to acknowledge the presence of this mystery in this same reality. See Blowers, Exegesis, 96–100.

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The Incarnate Logos and the Rūpakāya 52. See James Fredericks, “A Universal Religious Experience? Comparative Theology as an Alternative to a Theology of Religions,” Horizons 22 (1995): 67–87. 53. As Sarah Coakley notes, there is an increasing resistance to viewing theological statements as ontologically grounded in reality, preferring to view them as linguistic conventions; if ousia and hypostasis are to be retained, their status should be demoted to that of “linguistic markers.” See Sarah Coakley, “What does Chalcedon Solve and What Does it Not? Some Reflections on the Status and Meaning of the Chalcedonian ‘Definition,’” in Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall and Gerald O’Collins, S.J., eds., The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 143–63. 54. See John P. Keenan, The Meaning of Christ: A Mahāyāna Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989), 67–8, 221. 55. For a detailed discussion of the debates on the neyārtha-nītārtha distinction, see Sara L. McClintock and Georges B. J. Dreyfus, eds., The Svātantrika-Prāsangika Distinction: What Difference does a Difference Make? (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002). 56. For a survey of themes in Patristic Christology that is fully appreciative of their cultural embeddedness, see Colin J.D. Green, Christology in Cultural Perspective: Marking Out the Horizons (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Erdmans, 2003), 30–71. For a critique of the dominance of the more conservative position in an Eastern Orthodox context, see also Paul Valliere, Modern Russian Theology/Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov: Orthodox Theology in a New Key (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 3–7.

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Towards a Comparative Theology of Embodiment Thomas Cattoi 109 ISSUE 8, OCTOBER 2008 Systematic theology is in 110 Thomas Cattoi R ELIGION E...

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