Every Christian theologian works with an implicit or better explicit Christology. Raimon Panikkar has presented his world-wide audiences a synthesis of his reflections on the meaning of Christ in Christophany, the Fullness of Man. Composed out of several decades of presentations and previous drafts, studded with new insights and intuitions, this book responds to the search for deep spiritual foundations for the global mission of Christian theology. As Panikkar has written,
Panikkar divides the book into three major components: 1. The Christophanic experience, 2. The Mysticism of Jesus the Christ, the Experience of Jesus, and 3. Christophany, the Christic experience. Each part is structured with several subdivisions. The conscious, mystical experience of Christ in part 2, takes more than half of the book to unfold.
Reading Panikkar is like rotating a beautiful diamond of languages to see and hear all the facets and refracted colors. Christian biblical texts often appear in four versions, Greek, transliterated Greek, Latin, and English. Sanscrit, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Italian, and German words and phrases illuminate almost every page. When one reads Panikkar, one hears the languages of many world religions in chords that create a world symphony of meaning.
The subtitle, “the fullness of Man” refers not to a gender bias but to each human being and to the goal for all humanity. In Panikkar’s view Christ opens each human person to the challenging presence and power of the Trinitarian mystery, not fully given because we “remain free to construct our nature and thus become the image and likeness of Him… ‘who unites and gathers in himself the entire perfection of the true substance of things’”.
The humanistic goal of Christophany is not simply an already present divinization, but the challenge, task, and summons to respond to our deepest potential, capability, and power to discover the deepest resources of divine action within us. To tune into the Christophanic experience within requires an interiority or deep sensitivity that allows absorption of the words of scripture addressed to us as faithful, attentive hearers and practicing disciples who enjoy the opening of a beautiful, living gift. Phenomeno-logically “every being is a Christophany,” a divine manifestation to humans. Our soul-selves are not the product of an ideological, bioneurological evolution, but are the “aspiration for the infinite” that desires to “enter into communion…with divine nature….
Christ ‘divinizes man’ only within the sphere of the incarnation and the Trinity…the humanization of God corresponds to the divinization of Man.” This profound relationship requires new words to express the cosmotheandric experience or theanthropocosmic intution which express the interrelations between God, humans, and the universe.
The search for the mystical consciousness of the person and identity of Jesus Christ is frequently interrupted by glimpses of the empirical evidence for the facts regarding the historical Jesus. But the Christ “showing” to us is not the historical past, not kerygma, creed or conciliar conclusion, which could lead to logical absurdities, but a spiritual vision of the third eye, an inner knowledge, an intus legere of faith seeking cosmic understanding.
Panikkar tries to explain the incommensurable. Christophanic experience has few models or analogues because it is a “vital relationship that constantly moves between objectivity and subjectivity.” Paraphrasing the question of Nicodemus in John 3:9, Panikkar asks how is it possible to remain, be immanent in another? There begins a deep probe into Johannine uses of the Greek verb “remain”. Nine passages out of the 68 Johannine uses of this expression lead to a new perception, a reception of the fruit of an experience of Christ’s presence. Christophanic experience is not a physical light as much as an “ontological ‘touch’, so to speak.”
The Christophanic experience in John’s texts, like Paul’s Damascus conversion in which the Spirit reveals the risen Jesus Christ, is non-dualist, blending immanence and transcendence. It is not “a manifestation of God, not a meeting with the human beloved”, not the conceptual algebra of western scholasticism, nor simple poetry or metaphor. It is an intercultural perspective in the language of mysticism framed in a system of symbols that combine objective and subjective dimensions of reality with knowledge of cultural and temporal factors with multiple levels of consciousness.
Many patristic and medieval theologians are cited. Panikkar quotes several classic and lesser known passages from Aquinas. He cites Sankara with the familiarity western scholars quote Augustine. Moving from Hegel to St. T. of Avila to Psalm 62:12, “One thing God has said, two things I have heard,” Panikkar points the way to the Christ created by the Holy Spirit and received in us to true conversion, the path to the life of inner freedom, liberation, and salvation.
Part 2 on the mysticism of Jesus Christ was written as a fuller response to a seminar Panikkar attended in 1990 on “Shivaitic and Christian Mysticism” held in an ashram at the foot of the Himalayas. The seminar “focused on the mysticism of the disciples of Jesus Christ.” For the purpose of that discussion, Shiva’s self-consciousness and Jesus’ self-conscious-ness are incommensurable because “the homeomorphic equivalence of Christ…would not be Shiva but his sakti (‘energy, power’).” One achievement of this foundation for the interfaith understanding of the mystical experience of Christ is the approach to Christ’s mystical consciousness in a context wider than Semitic history, ancient Mediterranean, Levant and Hellenistic civilizations, in that it relates this dialogue with eastern world cultures and religions familiar to scholars and students of world religions.
While bridging cultural and religious languages Panikkar also finds deep and wide intentions and meanings of Jesus behind NT texts that include the social, political, and economic situations of oppressed people. What liberation theology began for Latin American people, Panikkar addresses to the dalits of India who are part of the wide world consciousness of Christophany that is opposed to structures of oppression and violence.
In his 1970 course on “Hindu and Christian Theology”, which I attended with over 100 other students, and which John Bennett recalled was the best enrolled course in his tenure at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, Panikkar summarized his interpretations of the Upanishads with five mahavakyani, or “great sayings.” He employs three mahavakyani or “expressions” of the identity of Jesus from clusters of Gospel texts that enter into the mystical consciousness of Christ. Each of these texts is cited in Greek, then transcribed, followed by the Latin Vulgate, then by an English translation and then by as many as eight alternative translations, usually 3 more English, 1 German, 1 French, and 3 Spanish in the footnotes. Quoting Aquinas Panikkar expects the general reader to follow his interpretations with discerning, thinking, and understanding. Besides close exegesis, Panikkar employs biblical paraphrase and soliloquies and finds analogies from eucharistic prayers and the liturgies of the hours. After all, the eucharist is the “medicine of immortality,” pharmakon athanasias, or “the drug of life continued”.
The extensive exposition and interpersonal analysis of part 2 ends with a brief application of three expressions, Buddhist and Hindu, to the Christ experience, Eva Me Suttam, “this I have heard,” Itipasyami, “This I see,” and Sat-purusa, the expression of Christ as universal human being in his kenosis within the depths of ours and his humanity.
Part 3 consists of “Nine Sutras,” threads, themes, or theses that prepare Christopany for the 21st century and world interfaith understanding; “1. Christ is the Christian Symbol for the Whole of Reality, 2 The Christian Recognizes Christ In and Through Jesus, 3. The Identity of Christ Is Not the Same as His Identification, 4. Christians Do Not Have a Monopoly on the Knowledge of Christ, 5. Christophany Transcends Tribal and Historical Christology, 6. The Protological, Historical, and Eschatological Christ is Unique and Selfsame Reality, Distended in Time, Extended in Space, and Intentional in Us, 7. The Incarnation as Historical Event Is Also Inculturaction, 8. The Church is Considered a Site of the Incarnation, 9. Christophany Is the Symbol of the Mysterium Coniunctionis of Divine, Human, and Cosmic Reality.”
The book has a Forward, a Preface, an Epilogue, A Final Word, Glossary, Bibliography, and Index. Although it requires some philosophical clarifications on I and Thou, self and other distinctions, I hope this book will reset the agenda for interfaith conversations on the meaning of Christ for at least the 21st century. It was translated from the Italian original by Alfred DiLascia.