Spring 2002

The Mysteries of the Life of Jesus as a Prism of Faith

Christian Sch├╝tz

"The singularity of the mysteries is not exhausted by their single occurrence, but instead transcends their historical context: they are a singular historical event whose singularity is manifested in its eternalization."

A search for the place and meaning of the mysteries of the life of Jesus within faith and theology does not yield any easy unity. The trail of clues resembles a serpentine to-and-fro that stretches throughout the entire history of the faith. A glance in overview brings to mind the image of a river that springs from the ground only to trickle away under the surface, emerging later at a different point to repeat the cycle in new variations. Despite all attempts at evasion, faith and theology never completely let go of this theme. Why is this? Can it be that, throughout the course of history, it never received an adequate or exhaustive interest? Or is it conceivable that faith and theology must fear for their very identity if contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Jesus ceases? Why is it that, on the whole, the sole attempts in this direction have emerged only tentatively from widely varying angles and contexts?

Ignatius of Antioch provides a starting point with a statement that has remained enigmatic until today: "Now the virgnity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God.1 A long, torturous path leads from Ignatius to this statemnt of Karl Rahner:

A truly adequate theology of the mysteries of the life of Jesus does not yet really exist. For such a theology would have to bring together anew all the questions specific to a theology of history, of the saving significance of "historical truths," of the sequela Christi, of the exemplary value (which is not that of a mere "case of") of the concrete life of Jesus, of the logic of concrete decision (existential ethics), and so forth.2

This sumary assessment gives an idea of how radically open the state of the question and the program still are in the matter of the mysteries of Christ. This openness presents a challenge. A reflection that would meet it may look for support from certain presuppositions that have developed over time in the course of dealing with the mysteries of the life of Jesus. But even if a normative role is assigned to the systematic proposal for a theological consideration of the mysteries of Christ laid out in Rahner's Mysterium Salutis. Grunriß heilsgeschichtlicher Dogmatik,3 the door is not shut to different accents and perspectives. These can be ascribed to a certain paradigm shift. With this shift, new light is thrown not only on earlier evidence, but also on the entire plan to construct a theology of the mysteries of the life of Jesus.


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1. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 19, 1.

2. Karl Rahner, "Mysterien des Lebens Jesu," LThK7 (Freiburg, 1962), 722.

3. Vol. 3, pt. 2 (Einsiedeln, 1969), 1–326.