Lecture 4: Antiochean Christology (Dyophysitism)
In our study of the incarnation we’ve been looking at two competing schools of Christological thought among the church fathers: first, the Alexandrian school which held to a one-nature Christology or Monophysitism (one-nature having divine and human elements in Christ), and on the other hand the Antiochean school of Christology which held to a Dyophysite view of Christ (Christ had two natures – one human and one divine).
The Antiochean Dyophysite
The Antiochean Dyophysite
The Antiochean Dyophysite view of Christology implied that Christ had two complete natures: human and divine.
Christ possessed all of the properties which are essential to a complete human nature including both a rational soul and a human body.
One of the most prominent of the Antiochean theologians was Theodore of Mopsuestia who was the author of a treatise on the incarnation called On the Incarnation.
In this work Theodore thinks of the incarnation as a very special form of indwelling on the part of the Logos.
By means of this indwelling, the Logos (or the second person of the Trinity) attached himself to the man Jesus at the moment of conception in Mary’s womb.
Because God is omnipresent and provident over everything that happens in history, Theodore says that God is present in his essence to all things both in their existence and in their operation.
But by his good pleasure he chooses to be more intimately related to some things than to others.
While God is essentially present in the existence and operation of everything, he especially is present in Christ according to his good pleasure.
In Christ God was pleased to dwell as in a Son.
Theodore affirmed that there is only one person in Christ.
But he also held at the same time that both of his natures – the human nature and the divine nature – are complete and moreover that each nature has its own peculiar hypostasis or property bearer or thing that bears that nature (the human nature or the divine nature).
The person that they constitute seems to be a person just in a sort of functionally unified sense of presenting a common face or (as he put it) prosopon.
This was the word that was used in the Greek theater for the mask that an actor would wear.
It seemed that the prosopon or the person that they presented to us was simply a kind of functionally unified face in virtue of their harmonious will and mutual love.
As you can imagine, Theodore’s affirmation that there is only one person in Christ was viewed with suspicion by his detractors.
If each nature has its own hypostasis and is a person merely in this sort of functional sense then it seems that he doesn’t really believe that there is just one person in Christ.15
But it wasn’t Theodore that really came under attack for positing two persons in Christ. Rather, the person most often associated with this view is Nestorius, who was the patriarch of the city of Constantinople in 428.
Nestorius affirmed that in Christ there are two complete natures.
Nestorius especially objected to Mary’s being referred to as theotokos which means “the bearer” or “mother” of God. Mary, in Christian piety, was referred to as theotokos – “the mother of God” or “the bearer of God” since she bore Christ.
Nestorius objected to this sort of language with regard to Mary.
He said Mary bore only the man Jesus. She did not bear the divine Logos.
Mary is not the mother of the Logos. She is simply the mother of the man Jesus who was united with the Logos in the incarnation.
What was formed or conceived in Mary’s womb grew up, was crucified, buried, was not God. Rather, it was this man, Jesus.
But he is called God because of the divinity of the one who assumed him as his human nature; namely the Logos.
The reception of Nestorianism.
The reception of Nestorianism.
So the Alexandrian theologians believed that despite his protestations to the contrary, Nestorius’ view really was committed to the position that there are in Christ two persons – two Sons, one human and one divine.
I think it is very easy to see why these Alexandrian theologians thought that Nestorius was committed to such a position even though he claimed that he did not believe in two persons or Sons.
If each of Christ’s natures is complete, each one has its own complete set of rational faculties, then it is difficult to see why you wouldn’t have two persons or two Sons in Christ.
The Alexandrian theologians by this time had to admit the existence of a human soul in Christ because Apollinarius had already been condemned for denying that.
They couldn’t explain the solution to the dilemma of how you could have both a human soul and body and the divine mind without having two persons, but they were certain that the Bible does not teach that there are two Sons. There is only one Son of God; only one person.
Cyril of Alexandria, who was an Alexandrian theologian, wrote the following:
“when he was made flesh, we do not define the indwelling in him in precisely the same manner as that in which one speaks of an indwelling in the saints . . .”
So the Logos’ indwelling of Christ is not like the indwelling that you and I experience when the Holy Spirit indwells us.
“but being united by nature and not changed into flesh, he effected such an indwelling as the soul of man might be said to have in its own body.”16
Cyril thinks of the indwelling of the Logos in Christ as on the analogy of the way in which your soul indwells your body.
I think the problem with this analogy is very apparent. It either supports Apollinarianism which says that Christ didn’t have a human soul but the Logos was the soul of Christ (the Logos took the place of the soul of Christ) and so has the same relation to Jesus’ body that your soul has to your body, or else if that is not correct then it supports Nestorianism, namely the Son assumes a whole person who has both a soul and a body so that you wind up with two persons.
Cyril couldn’t really explain how you can have two complete natures in Christ without having two persons.
Nestorianism was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The real problem with Nestorianism was that it couldn’t really posit a genuine union of God and man in Christ.
At best it was a sort of indwelling of God in the man Jesus.
That is just a kind of ontological juxtaposition of divinity and humanity and not really a genuine union of divinity and humanity in Christ.
But if having a complete human nature involved having a human personality and self-consciousness then it seems very, very difficult, given the rejection of Apollinarianism, to affirm two natures in Christ without lapsing into Nestorianism.
The church had condemned both Apollinarianism and Nestorianism by this time.
The difficulty was how in the world do you chart a path forward given these condemnations?
Council of Chalcedon
Council of Chalcedon
Let me conclude our lesson today by quoting from the Council of Chalcedon which was convened in the year 451 by the Emperor at the request of the Pope Leo the Great in order to settle this controversy between Antioch and Alexandria.
The statement of the Council of Chalcedon carefully charts a middle course between Antioch and Alexandria.
I want to conclude by simply quoting from the Chalcedonian settlement before we next time look at it in detail.
This 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. . . .
This statement is a profound theological statement.
Next time we meet we will want to examine it in detail to see the safe channel for Christological speculation that the Council sought to establish for the church.