The Historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ: Is There a Connection?

I find there is a connection between what we know about the historical Jesus—what he likely said and did—and Dr. Matthew Fox’s metaphor of the Cosmic Christ. That connection is found in Fox’s expanded title of his seminal theological work, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance. I think the connection can also be found in the letters of the “envoy to the nations,” Paul of Tarsus.

Before diving into the reeds and weeds at the bottom of this pond, two points:

1.   We must be willing to abandon traditional definitions and beliefs handed down from as early as the second century ce, Constantine and Augustine, and the dogmas of the Catholic version of Christianity still insisted upon today in the face of what science now proposes about the nature of the universe that contains Planet Earth (the Cosmos).

2.   We must be willing to play with metaphor, despite the academic and scientific desire to be tied to facts that can be photographed. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5.

“Congratulations to the poor in spirit! Heaven’s domain belongs to them. Congratulations to those who grieve! They will be consoled. Congratulations to those who hunger and thirst for justice! They will have a feast” (Matt 5:3–4, 6, Scholars’ version). These opening words to what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” are colored red in the Jesus Seminar’s ground-breaking The Five Gospels. Jesus probably actually said these phrases at some point. They are likely the heart of his teachings about how to live in God’s realm, in resistance to the Roman oppression that Jesus undoubtedly knew all too well.

A second likely authentic saying is tied to a story about Jesus’ encounter with a group or delegation of Pharisees and Herodians (likely collaborators with the Roman oppressors). They try to trap him by asking whether or not they should pay taxes to the emperor. Jesus says (again red in the Scholars’ version) “Pay the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17). Being a Jew and well-versed in the scriptures, Jesus knew very well Psalm 24:


The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,

  the world, and those who live in it;

for he has founded it on the seas,

  and established it on the rivers.


All the emperor gets is a piece of metal with his picture on it.

Later in the collection of sayings that comprise The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air as examples of trusting God to provide what is needed for life. Jesus invokes a radical fairness when he says, “love your enemies.” Indeed, to love your enemies means to have no enemies. Jesus also undoubtedly knew what the prophet Micah had to say about justice (Mic 6:8). Fox interprets Micah’s words: “I will show you, O people, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. Especially to do justice, to cherish compassion, and to walk humbly with your God.” Fox uses “justice-compassion” as a short-hand term that allows justice to stand on the side of love, mercy, even reconciliation, against retribution and revenge. Jesus taught that God’s law manifests in the world—in the universe that Jesus knew—as nonviolent justice-compassion. His words and actions were and are a guide to resistance against the violent injustice of empire.

In 1983, Fox published the beginning of the end of “original sin” with his Original Blessing. In that book Fox proposes the “four paths of Creation Spirituality,” which can lead to a deep ecumenical experience of what Fox calls “the Cosmic Christ.” This is the spirit of God that moved over the waters of creation as a universal force for justice-compassion—a spirit of radical fairness that is possible among the people of this Planet Earth. Fox’s cosmology includes indigenous understandings of humanity’s relationship with the earth, the air, the fire, the water, animals, birds, insects, and all things visible and invisible. He decidedly opposes traditional dogmas about the nature of God, and the “brokenness” of God’s creation. Fox’s cosmology is all-inclusive—as Paul put it, “Neither male nor female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

Paul’s writings may well be seen as a bridge from the historical Jesus, to a “Cosmic Christ,” even though scholarship has challenged the origin and meaning of the term “Christ.”

Paul’s letters to Chloe’s people in Corinth can be understood to be not about believing in some mystical other-worldly being, but very practically remembering and honoring who Jesus was, what he taught, and how his death at the hands of the Roman oppressors liberated people everywhere to live in resistance to that oppression:

That there is one loaf means that we who are many constitute one body, because we all partake of the one loaf. . . . A person should think about what he is doing before he eats the bread and drinks from the cup. All who eat and drink without recognizing that the community is the body of the Anointed eat and drink judgment upon themselves (1 Cor 10:17; 11:28–29, The Authentic Letters of Paul pp. 94 and 96)

Paul is not talking about condemnation to hell in the next life. He is suggesting that violating the rules that Chloe’s people have set for their banquets, celebrated in the name of Jesus the Anointed, can have consequences here and now.

What became known as “The Lord’s Supper” has been continually corrupted from the time of those misguided Corinthians. Nevertheless, Fox expands Paul’s metaphor for the community of the Anointed (Christ), and suggests a radically inclusive Eucharist:

The Eucharist is heart food from the cosmos—the “mystical body of Christ” and the Cosmic Christ or Buddha nature found in all beings in the universe—to us. Christ is the light of the world, which we now know is made only of light. Flesh is light and light is flesh. We eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and love that light. The Eucharist is also our hearts expanding and responding generously: “Yes we will.” We will carry on the heart-work called compassion, the work of the cosmos itself.[1]

Paul thought that Jesus’ world transforming message would happen in an instant—in the wink of an eye—at any moment. “It could be said that what had actually changed was Paul’s vision of God. Somehow his vision of God’s integrity was transformed by seeing what God had done for Jesus” (Authentic Letters, p 46). What God did for Jesus, says Paul, was to raise him up into the realm of God, just as the emperors of Rome were believed to have ascended after death into the realms of their gods. Even more outrageous and counter-cultural, Jesus was an executed criminal, whose crucifixion should have wiped out all traces of his existence. Instead, he was recognized and celebrated as the Anointed one, seen as the head of associations and groups who aligned themselves with the Jewish diaspora throughout the Roman world.[2]

We need to be willing to expand the metaphor of Christ above, beyond, and well outside traditional concepts. Fox’s Cosmic Christ can be that metaphor for Christians exiled from the tradition, but who still find meaning in the stories and teachings of Jesus—most especially in the liberation theologies of South and Central America, and the theological grounding of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s—which can empower resistance against authoritarian injustices today.

Westar, with its continuing seminars on Jesus, Paul, God, and Christianity, has a most important role to play in the liberation of the spirit of Christ from the traps of traditional fall-redemption and substitutionary atonement theologies. Fox writes:

The coming together of the historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ will make Christianity whole at last. Christianity has succumbed to a patriarchal mindset that has eroded its worship, message, and identity. . . . The Cosmic Christ [is] the pattern that connects all the atoms and galaxies of the universe, a pattern of divine love and justice that all creatures and all humans bear within them. (Cosmic Christ, p. 7)

Scholars can and will debate, of course, but the Christ metaphor becomes more useful as we continue to learn about the Jesus of history and disentangle Paul’s interpretations of the Anointed one from much later dogmatic belief.



Fox, Matthew. Original Blessing. Bear & Company, 1983.

———. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance. HarperOne, 1988.

Funk, Robert, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? Polebridge Press, 1993.

Miller, Robert ed. The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version. Polebridge Press, 1994.

Dewey, Arthur et al. The Authentic Letters of Paul. Polebridge Press, 2010.

[1]Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh, Harmony Books, 1999, p. 271.

[2]See After Jesus, Before Christianity, Verncombe, et al., HarperOne, 2021.

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