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Philip Schaff, in his classic work, The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes, Vol. 1, The History of Creeds (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 30-34, addresses the seven key doctrinal truths related to Chalcedonian Christology. What follows is an abbreviated excerpt (emphasis his).

  1. A true INCARNATION of the Logos, or the second person of the God-head . . . an actual abiding union of the two in one personal life.
  2. The precise distinction between NATURE and PERSON. . . . The Logos assumed, not a human person (else we would have two persons, a divine and a human), but human nature which is common to us all; and hence he redeemed, not a particular man, but all men as partakers of the same nature.
  3. The GOD-MAN as the result of the incarnation. . . . he is one person both divine and human.
  4. The DUALITY OF THE NATURES. The orthodox doctrine maintains . . . the distinction of nature even after the act of incarnation, without confusion or conversion, yet, on the other hand, without division or separation, so that the divine will ever remain divine, and the human ever human, and yet the two have continually one common life, and interpenetrate each other, like the persons of the Trinity.
  5. The UNITY OF THE PERSON. The union of the divine and human nature in Christ is a permanent state resulting from the incarnation, and is a real, supernatural, personal, and inseparable union. . . . The two natures constitute but one personal life, and yet remain distinct.
  6. The whole WORK of Christ is to be attributed to his person, and not to the one or the other nature exclusively. The person is the acting subject, the nature the organ or medium. It is the one divine-human person of Christ that wrought the miracles by virtue of his divine nature, and that suffered through the sensorium of his human nature.
  7. The ENHYPOSTASIA, of the human nature of Christ . . . . The meaning of this doctrine is that Christ’s human nature had no independent personality of its own, besides the divine, and that the divine nature is the root and basis of his personality. . . . His human personality was completed and perfected by being so incorporated with the pre-existent Logos-personality as to find in it alone its full self-consciousness, and to be permeated and controlled by it in every stage of its development.

At the conclusion of this section, Schaff addresses the strengths of this wonderfully rich Christological Creed.

This, indeed, is the peculiar excellence of the Creed of Chalcedon, that it exhibits so sure a tact and so wise a circumspection in uniting the colossal antithesis in Christ, and seeks to do justice alike to the distinction of the natures and to the unity of the person. In Christ all contradictions are reconciled.

Schaff also recognizes that this Creed consists of both that which is essential Christological truth and also the appropriate parameters or boundaries outside of which are Christological heresies. And yet these truths and parameters do not exhaust the truth of the incarnation, or our understanding of the God-man. Though we have plumbed certain Christological depths, we have only scratched the surface. For indeed, as Paul writes in one of the early Christological hymns about the incarnation, “the mystery of godliness is great” (1 Tim. 3:16).

The Chalcedonian Creed is far from exhausting the great mystery of godliness, ‘God manifest in flesh.’ It leaves much room for a fuller appreciation of the genuine, perfect, sinless humanity of Christ. . . But it indicates the essential elements of Christological truth, and the boundary-lines of Christological error.

Christological Heresies

Greg Strand – October 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The past couple of days we have looked at the Chalcedonian Creed, and what is both explicitly affirmed and implicitly denied in the Creed. Below I am repeating the implicit, heretical denials from yesterday. Today we are going to do an exercise with them. Consider this a quiz.

Bearing in mind the orthodox truth of Jesus being “one Person, two natures,” the Person Jesus Christ is both fully and truly God and fully and truly man,  go through the specific heresies below and determine the specific error – is it regarding His Person or natures? I have removed the parenthetical explanations from yesterday and included answers at the conclusion of this post.

  1. Against the Docetists it declared that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in manness, truly man, consubstantial with us (homoousion, not homoiousion, i.e. he is not of “like substance or being” with us, but he is “of the same substance” with us) according to manness, and born of Mary.
  2. Against the Samosatian adoptionists it insisted upon the personal subsistence of the Logos “begotten of the Father before the ages.”
  3. Against the Sabellians it distinguished the Son from the Father both by the titles of “Father” and “Son” and by its reference to the Father having begotten the Son before all ages.
  4. Against the Arians it affirmed that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in deity, truly God, and consubstantial with the Father (homoousion, not homoiousion, i.e. he is not of “like substance or being” with the Father, but he is “of the same substance” with the Father). (An earlier version of this was known as Ebionism.)
  5. Against the Apollinarians, who had reduced Jesus’ manness to a body and an “animal soul” (psyche alogos), it declared that Jesus had a “rational soul” (psyche logike), that is, a “spirit.”
  6. Against the Nestorians it both described Mary as theotokos, i.e. the God-bearer (not Christotokos, i.e. the Christ bearer, emphasizing that Mary bore the man Jesus, undermining that she actually bore the God-man Jesus) not in order to exalt Mary in the slightest, but in order to affirm Jesus’ true deity and the fact of a real incarnation, and spoke throughout of one and the same Son and one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons and whose natures are in union without division and without separation.
  7. Finally, against the Eutychians it confessed that in Christ were two natures without confusion and without change, the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in the one person.

Docetists denied the humanity of Jesus, He only appeared to be human.

Samosatian adoptionists denied the deity of Jesus, but claim that at some point in His life He was “adopted” by God to this unique role of divine sonship.

Sabellians denied the unique Person of Jesus as the second Person of the Trinity (in speaking of Jesus Christ, the orthodox position is “one Person, two natures”; in speaking of the Trinity, the orthodox position is that “there is one God, God eternally exists as three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – each Person is fully God”).

Arians denied the deity of Jesus, though he is the greatest of created beings.

Ebionists denied the deity of Jesus, concluding this would be polytheistic.

Apollinarians denied the full humanity of Jesus, concluding Jesus had a human body but a divine mind and spirit.

Nestorians denied that Jesus is one Person, concluding He consisted of two separate persons, human and divine.

Eutychians denied that Jesus had two natures, concluding that the human nature was absorbed by the divine nature, thus creating a third kind of nature.

Yesterday we looked at the Chalcedonian Creed, which consists of the orthodox statement affirming the biblical truth that Jesus is fully God and fully man. The key expression is summarized in the affirmation “one person, two natures.” In theological/doctrinal terms, this is what we are addressing when we discuss the hypostatic union (the Greek hypostasis means “being,” “substance,” “nature,” “essence,” or “person”).

The term Creed comes from the Latin credo, which means ‘I believe’. Creeds consist of statements of belief, explicit statements of truth that are confessed, both individually and corporately. But for every explicit statement of belief is an implicit statement of denial. For example, one of the early Christological confessions in the New Testament is that Jesus is God (Jn. 1:1, 18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 1 Jn. 5:20; 2 Pet. 1:1). When Christians explicitly affirm this truth, they are implicitly denying any statement that denies or undermines this truth. Though not stated, we deny the teaching of the Arians who claimed Jesus was not fully God, and today we implicitly deny the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim Jesus is a god.

This is reflected in the Chalcedonian Creed as well. It is important to note that this Creed attempted to address every Christological heresy that had affected the church up to that time. Robert Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998], 608-609) helpfully makes explicit these implicit denials, which I have adapted and expanded.

  1. Against the Docetists (Jesus only appeared to be human) it declared that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in manness, truly man, consubstantial with us (homoousion, not homoiousion, i.e. he is not of “like substance or being” with us, but he is “of the same substance” with us) according to manness, and born of Mary.
  2. Against the Samosatian adoptionists (at some point, baptism, the human Jesus was adopted by the Father to become the Son) it insisted upon the personal subsistence of the Logos “begotten of the Father before the ages.”
  3. Against the Sabellians (a form of modalism) it distinguished the Son from the Father both by the titles of “Father” and “Son” and by its reference to the Father having begotten the Son before all ages.
  4. Against the Arians (Jesus was not eternal, but created, stated as “there was time when he was not”) it affirmed that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in deity, truly God, and consubstantial with the Father (homoousion, not homoiousion, i.e. he is not of “like substance or being” with the Father, but he is “of the same substance” with the Father). (An earlier version of this was known as Ebionism.)
  5. Against the Apollinarians (one person of Christ had a human body but not a human mind and spirit which were of divine nature), who had reduced Jesus’ manness to a body and an “animal soul” (psyche alogos), it declared that Jesus had a “rational soul” (psyche logike), that is, a “spirit.”
  6. Against the Nestorians (two separate persons in Christ, a human person and a divine person) it both described Mary as theotokos, i.e. the God-bearer (not Christotokos, i.e. the Christ bearer, emphasizing that Mary bore the man Jesus, undermining that she actually bore the God-man Jesus) not in order to exalt Mary in the slightest, but in order to affirm Jesus’ true deity and the fact of a real incarnation, and spoke throughout of one and the same Son and one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons and whose natures are in union without division and without separation.
  7. Finally, against the Eutychians (Christ has one nature only, human nature was absorbed into the divine nature so a third kind of nature resulted), it confessed that in Christ were two natures without confusion and without change, the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in the one person.

As Evangelicals committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3), and as those who are a part of the longer and larger Evangelical stream throughout the history of the church, we, like our Evangelical predecessors, affirm Chalcedonian Christology, as a statement that summarizes the Bible’s teaching about Jesus Christ. Here is the conclusion in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (pp. 98-99):

Jesus Christ is thus one Person in whom two distinct natures are united.

Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. He is fully and completely both at the same time, showing us the true nature of each. He is not some mixture of humanity and divinity, creating a third kind of being, like a horse and donkey becoming a mule. The Son of God remained God – he never gave up being God, but he added to his divinity real humanity. As God incarnate, the divine subject made real human experience his own, and since the incarnation, the Son of God will forever be human.

Against Arius, the Chalcedonian Creed asserts that Jesus was truly God. Against Apollinaris, it asserts that he was truly man. Against Eutyches, it asserts that Jesus’ deity and humanity were not changed into something else. And against Nestorius, the Creed asserts that Jesus was not divided but was one Person and in this one Person are two distinct natures, which are divine and human in all their fullness. 

Christology and the Council of Chalcedon

Greg Strand – October 22, 2012 Leave a comment

On October 8, 451 the largest of all church councils opened at Chalcedon, near Constantinople (modern Istanbul). There were 500-600 bishops representing numerous conflicting views on the nature and person of Jesus Christ in the church.

On this date, October 22, 451, the Chalcedon Creed was adopted which affirmed the Nicene (325)-Constantinople (381) Creed that stated Jesus was fully God and fully man. At Chalcedon it was also affirmed that the two natures (fully/true God and fully/true man) subsisted in one person, Jesus Christ. Here is the complete statement:

Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer [theotokos]; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in TWO NATURES, WITHOUT CONFUSION, WITHOUT CHANGE, WITHOUT DIVISION, WITHOUT SEPARATION; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [hypostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.

This had been preceded by Leo’s, Bishop of Rome (440-461), statement in what is known as The Tome of Leo, June 13, 449:

Thus the properties of each nature and substance were preserved entire, and came together to form one person. Humility was assumed by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity; and to pay the debt that we had incurred, an inviolable nature was united to a nature that can suffer. And so, to fulfill the conditions of our healing, the man Jesus Christ, one and the same mediator between God and man, was able to die in respect of the one, unable to die in respect of the other. Thus there was born true God in the entire and perfect nature of true man, complete in his own properties, complete in ours.

The key biblical truth affirmed in the Chalcedonian Creed is that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, two natures, one person without becoming more or less human or divine. Christ’s work is the work of one person, not of one nature or another. Christological heresies occur by confusing this central and essential truth.