Lecture 5: Council of Chalcedon

Christology  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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In our study of the doctrine of the person of Christ, we’ve come to the Council of Chalcedon which in 451 promulgated a statement aimed at settling the controversy between the Alexandrian and the Antiochean schools of Christology. I want to review with you again this statement before making some comments on it and proceeding.
Here is what the Council declared:
We. . . confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial [homoousios] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial [homoousios] with us according to the manhood, like us in all things except sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God [theotokos], according to the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-Begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means taken away because of the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person [prosopon] and one Subsistence [hypostasis], not divided or separated into two Persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ. . . .
The Chalcedonian settlement is a ringing endorsement of Dyophysite (or two-natures) Christology.
Christ is declared here to exist in two natures whose distinction remains even after their union in Christ in the incarnation.
Moreover, Apollinarianism is implicitly rejected in the statement that Christ is not only perfect in his deity and is truly God but is also perfect in his humanity and is truly man, having both a rational soul and body.
You remember that Apollinarius denied that Christ’s human nature had a rational soul.
At the same time, however, in agreement with Monophysite Christology (or one-nature Christology), the settlement insists on there being only one person, one Son in Christ.
Thus the excesses of Nestorianism are ruled out. You remember Nestorius was accused of having two Sons, two persons, in Christ – one human and one divine.
The words, “person” and “hypostasis” are taken as synonyms in this statement.
You notice it says “they concur in one person and one subsistence.”
So the incarnation on this view becomes a kind of mirror image of the Trinity.
In the Trinity there are multiple persons in one nature. In the incarnation there are multiple natures in one person.
You can see that they are sort of a mirror image of each other. In the Trinity there are multiple persons in one nature, but in the incarnation you have multiple natures in one person.

The 4 Adjectives

I want to draw attention to the series of four adjectives that the settlement uses:
without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.
These serve as a reminder that the two natures of Christ must be kept distinct from each other and not blended together or merged.
Moreover, the unity of Christ’s person must not in any way be compromised by separating it or dividing it.
The first two adjectives, “without confusion” (that is, without fusing them together into one thing – that’s the literal meaning of “con-fusion” – without fusing them together into one thing) and “without change” are aimed at the Alexandrian tendency to blend the two natures of Christ together as a result of the incarnation.
The last two adjectives – “without division” and “without separation” – are directed at the Antiochean failure to achieve a true union of the two natures so that they are divided or separated into two persons.
The Chalcedonian settlement makes it very clear that the person of Christ must not in any way be divided or separated into two persons.
As a result of the Council of Chalcedon, it became an imperative of orthodox Christian theology that we must neither confuse the natures nor divide the person of Christ.
You mustn't confuse the natures or divide the person.

Limits of the Council of Chalcedon Statement.

The Chalcedonian formula doesn’t itself tell us how to do this.
It doesn’t seek to explain the incarnation.
But what it does do is set up, as it were, channel markers for legitimate Christological speculation.
Any theory of Christ’s person must be one in which the distinctness of the two natures is preserved and both meet in one person – one Son in Christ.
It sets down safe waters, as it were, for speculation about the person of Christ.
So long as you do not confuse the natures on the one hand or divide the persons on the other you can navigate safely within the waters of Christological speculation.
I think it admirably fulfilled the purpose for which it was drawn up.
It doesn’t explain the incarnation, but it does exclude two possible but unacceptable explanations of the incarnation, namely, Apollinarianism on the one hand and Nestorianism on the other. And it provides a convenient summary of the essential facts which we must all keep in mind when we attempt to penetrate still further into the mystery of the incarnation.

Kenotic Christology.

I want to jump to the 19th century where we do confront a radical new school of Christology.
This is known as Kenotic Christology.
It comes from the Greek word kenosis which means “an emptying.”
It is used in Philippians 2:5-7 to characterize Christ’s incarnation.
There you will remember Paul says that Christ did not consider equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself taking the form of a servant. Kenotic theology attempted to exploit this idea of Christ’s emptying himself in taking on human nature.
We can define Kenoticism as the view according to which Christ, in the incarnation, ceased to possess certain attributes of deity in order that he could become truly human.
He literally gave up some of the divine attributes in order to become a human being.
This raises all sorts of questions about the extent of the kenosis – how far did this emptying go?
It raises questions about the relationship between the Logos – the second person of the Trinity – and the man Jesus.
It also raises questions about the status of the divine attributes as to which could be given up and which could not be surrendered.
Kenoticism represents a non-Chalcedonian approach to Christology.
Because it holds that the Logos, in becoming incarnate, changed in his nature where as you will remember the Council of Chalcedon says this is without change.
Yet, according to the Kenotic theologians, the Logos did change in becoming incarnate.
This raises the question as to whether or not Kenoticism didn’t in fact imply a denial of the deity of the incarnate Christ.
If he gave up divine attributes then even if he were the same person after the incarnation, had he thereby ceased to be God?
D. M. Baillie, in his book, God Was In Christ, asks,
Does Christianity, then, teach that God changed into a Man? . . . That at a certain point of time, God . . . was transformed into a human being for a period of about thirty years? It is hardly necessary to say that the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation means nothing like that. . . . it would be grotesque to suggest that the Incarnation has anything in common with the metamorphoses of ancient pagan mythology . . .27
In these metamorphoses remember Zeus could turn into a swan or he could turn himself into a bull or other sorts of embodied forms.
Baillie protests that this would be grotesque to think of the incarnation as being like these metamorphoses in ancient pagan mythology.
He says, “the deity and humanity of Christ are not merely successive stages . . . as if He had first been God, then Man, then after the days of His flesh were past, God again, with manhood left behind.”
The doctrine of the incarnation is the doctrine that Christ was God and man simultaneously.
Baillie therefore charges that kenosis, while affirming that the Son of God keeps his personal identity in becoming human, nevertheless he has divested himself of the distinctly divine attributes so that in becoming human he ceased to be divine.
If Jesus is in every sense human then the Kenotic theologian is in the position of saying that God has turned himself into a human being which seems absurd.
I think the deeper question raised by Kenotic Christology is the content of the divine nature. That is to say, the question is to which properties are essential to deity, to divinity.
Baillie holds that any change in God is an essential change from deity.
But it is exactly at this point that the Kenotic theologians question the traditional doctrine.
They argue that many of God’s most prominent attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence are merely contingent properties of God, not essential properties.
Therefore he could give up these properties and still remain God.
I would say that this indeed is false.
The Divine Nature needs these attributes to even constitute as divine.
There were moderate Kenoticists who would say that in the incarnation Christ still had the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and all the rest, but he simply didn’t use them.
That really was a position that many of the Reformed theologians held as well who were not Kenoticists.
Sometimes they would talk about an ocultatsio – a sort of masking of the divine attributes so that Christ appeared to be weak, mortal, and all the rest of it, but in fact he was eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent God.
So Christ was like a man who could see, but chose to close his eyes and live as blind person.
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