Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus. ~Phil 2:5
Following his initial salutation of the Church in Philippi and his updating them on the Church’s missionary work, St. Paul delivers in Chapter Two both a series of moral exhortations as well as the striking “Christ Hymn” which is contained in the longer version of the second reading for this Sunday. Scholars are divided as to the origin and nature of the poem. Most would agree that it represents a piece of early Christian poetry. Consequently, Paul is presenting us with a glimpse of a form of Christology which predates even his own letters, perhaps from even the mid-30s A.D. Being such an early textual witness to the Church’s faith in the identity of Christ and of the nature of salvation, it provides yet another assurance that what we believe about Christ is not the concoction of later eras, but represents a continuous deposit of faith.
This hymn’s structure traces out for us the itinerary of Christ, an itinerary that theologians have described as a “going out” (exitus) and a “return” (reditus). Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is that though Christ never ceases to be God the Son, he “goes out” from the realm of divine transcendence and through our human nature assumes the lowest place: a slave’s death on the Cross. By this perfect act of humility and obedience, God is perfectly glorified and Christ is exalted over all.
This itinerary of Christ is not meant to be merely descriptive, however. Paul is not just reminding the Philippians of what God has done and how they are saved. No, in light of the preceding passages exhorting the Philippians to charity and unanimity, Paul is offering the content of this “Christ Hymn” as the archetype and the sole means by which such profound and lasting communion between people can be achieved.
If you want world peace, the itinerary of Christ is the only route.
Fr. Richard Hinkley