To study the nature and meaning of Jesus Christ is to deepen one's faith in every way, says Franciscan Father Donald MacDonald.
There is an "inexhaustible richness" in the study of Jesus - known as Christology - so that the more you learn about Jesus, the more you want to know about him, says MacDonald, a long-time professor at Newman Theological College.
Studying Christology helps one better understand the liturgy, morality and prayer, he said in an interview.
Prayer, MacDonald said, is essentially listening to God's word and Jesus is the Word of God. Likewise, every text in the Gospels anticipates the paschal mystery, which is the foundation of the liturgy.
Further, Jesus is our model for Christian living. "Jesus never tells his followers to do anything that he doesn't do himself, except for one thing – to convert."
There are as many ways of being followers of Jesus as there are ways of being people, he said. What Jesus offers can be subsumed into our lives, no matter what one's personality or time in history.
Understanding Jesus can also help us come to know God as a Trinity, a crucial point for MacDonald who fears that most Catholics and other Christians are, in effect, monotheists - people who reduce God to Christ and forget about the Father and the Holy Spirit.
"Their conception of God has not been affected by God's revelation of himself in Christ."
That's an error MacDonald is passionate about overcoming and one that is a focus of the Christology course he will teach on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at Newman College in the fall semester.
Fr. Donald MacDonald
While a few aspects of the course are somewhat technical - mainly the teachings about Jesus of the early Church councils – the professor maintains that one does not need to be an intellectual to benefit from studying Christology. "You just need good common sense."
Christology is a great place to begin studying theology because Christ is at the centre of our faith, MacDonald said. "Jesus is not only saviour, he is the revealer of God. As he saves, he reveals God as he is."
Many have maintained that God is so far beyond humanity and creation that he cannot be known at all, he said. Yet, the God of Jesus Christ wants to be known, otherwise he would not have sent his Son into the world to share our humanity.
More traditional Christologies are based on the teachings of the early Church councils and look at Jesus primarily from a philosophical point of view. More recent approaches, he said, give a more detailed view of what Christ's divinity and humanity mean for us.
The documents of the Second Vatican Council are permeated with a good, solid Christology. Vatican II called for a deepening of Christian identity centred on a Trinitarian understanding of Christ, he said.
Following the council, theologians focused much of their attention on the nature of the Church. That quickly changed into a new focus on Christology, says MacDonald, as he points to a new book by French theologian Bernard Sesboue examining what he calls "the 30 glorious years" of Christology from 1968 to 2000.
Furthermore, studying Christology leads one to be more open to the truth and life available outside the Christian sphere, MacDonald said. It does not close off the study of other world religions.
A Christian believes that humanity can only go to the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit, he said. But we also believe that the action of the Trinity, especially that of the Spirit, is not confined to the structures of the Christian Church.
The Spirit works in ways unknown to us, he says, but also in ways that are known in that we find in other faiths practices of spirituality and morality that are shared with Christians.
"We have to be as broad minded as God is," MacDonald says, noting that God gave himself for all humanity in Christ.