Identity and identification


“The identity of Christ is not his identification … we can know the objective identification of Jesus, he was born and died at specific times and in specific places … but his identity can still escape us … To know his identity we need love, we need faith … we have to encounter his person” (The Fullness of Man).

The distinction between identity and identification becomes particularly important in the theology of RP when dealing with topics of such obvious importance to Christology as the relation between Christ and Jesus. His most polemic affirmation is “Jesus is Christ, but Christ cannot be identified completely with Jesus”. This has to do with the Panikkarian conception of pars pro toto, which in this case applies to symbolic knowledge: “Jesus is the symbol of Christ”, “the icon seen in the Taboric light of revelation”. To understand what Panikkar means by this, it is necessary to understand his conception of ‘symbol’ (cf. later item). Thus, for Panikkar saying that Jesus is “the symbol” of Christ is not contradictory to the dogmatic assertion that Jesus “is the Christ”, but the inverse affirmation, “Christ is Jesus” cannot be made, since Christ cannot be restricted to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, although he is made manifest through him.

The identity of Christ is not his identification. Identity and identification cannot be separated, but they are not the same thing. The difference between the two is the same as that between the objective physical ‘what’ of an individual and the ‘who’ of a person, his deepest reality. We can know the objective identification of Jesus, but this does not ensure arriving at his deep identity. For Panikkar this difference helps explain Jesus’ reticence at the hour of revealing his own identity. “Anyone who has experienced the unfathomable abyss of the ‘I’, may wll feel the need to keep his identity veiled, of revealing it only to … loved ones, to the innocent ones (df. Mt. 11, 25-27). Jesus does not reply to Herod, nor to Pilot” (The Experience of God). And it is because “in order to know the identity of Jesus of Nazareth it is necessary to encounter his person … But we cannot encounter the person in the past … Experience is not a memory; it is an act that happens to us and transforms us, although it may be based on actualized memory” (ibid). To really know the identity of Jesus, to realize his human and divine experience, entails an encounter with the Resurrected Jesus, with the living Christ. Thus, Panikkar insists that it is not an historical experience, but rather one that is transhistoric, personal, unique and untransferable. Christology has all too often concentrated on the identification of Jesus (historical data, words, attributes, etc.) leaving to spirituality the profound search for his identity.


Raimon Panikkar

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