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Internecine fighting (fighting between two or more factions of a single organization which is mutually destructive to all sides, and which can be accompanied by bloodshed; ex. = Shiite and Sunni Muslims) consumed the best minds and energies of Christianity in the 4th and 5th centuries. For our purposes, this week, the internecine fighting centered, again, on the divinity and humanity of Christ. And while some have characterized this fighting as akin to arguing about how many angels can stand on the head of a needle, others have argued that if the decisions reached at the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) had turned out differently, the Christian church may have met with its own death.
Writing college papers for money has three principle questions that these councils attempted to resolve, viz:
A) Was Jesus Christ God, or man, or both?
B) Did Jesus Christ have one nature or two?
C) If Jesus Christ had two natures (divine and human) how might these natures be related?
II) The players:
You may have thought that this question would surely have been answered 400 to 450 years following the birth of Christianity. And you may have thought that all Christians have a single or similar Christology. However, the decisions reached and canonized in these councils (most especially at Chalcedon) split the Christian church in two, and the schism created because of these decisions exists today, between those who believe that Jesus Christ has two natures in one person (this is often referred to as the Orthodox position. It is also the official position of most western branches of Christianity, including Roman Catholic and Protestant), and those who believe that Jesus Christ has one nature in one person (this is often referred to as Monophysitism or Eutychianism). The principle players and issues in this controversy, which absolutely consumed the church for half a century, are as follows:
A) Apollinarius: It is believed that Nestorius developed his Christology in response to the popular Christology of Apollinarius (known as
Apollinarianism), bishop of Laodicea, who taught that the human nature of Jesus was subsumed by the divine, leaving just one (divine) nature. When the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon determined that Jesus Christ possessed two, not one, natures, the Christology of Apollinarius was condemned. However, Nestorius’ Christology, also condemned at Ephesus, in response to Apollinarius, insisted that Jesus Christ, possessed two natures that existed in two unique persons. The three Christologies, then, look like this:
Orthodox: Two natures in one person
Apollinarius: One nature in one person
Nestorius: Two natures in two persons
In other words, Apollinarius had the “person” part correct, and Nestorius had the “natures” correct, but neither had both the “natures” and “persons” correct.
B) Nestorius (c. 381 – c.451): Nestorius was a monk trained in the Christology of the Antiochene tradition, and living in Syria, when he was chosen to be the Patriarch of Constantinople in 428, and immediately began to take measures against the remaining Arians and Novatians that still existed in and around Constantinople. However, soon after assuming his See, he preached a sermon opposing the use of the name Theotokos (Greek = “Mother of God) for Mary the mother of Jesus. This designation for Mary, which the Alexandrians understood to have Christological implications, and which they supported, immediately charged Nestorius with heresy. They taught that Mary is Theotokos since motherhood is a relation between persons, not simply natures. Therefore, she is the mother of the person of Jesus, who possessed not just the nature of God, but who was the person God incarnate. Nestorius was insistent that Jesus Christ had two natures that existed in separate persons; human and divine. Therefore, for him, Mary was the mother of the human Jesus, not the divine Christ. In his 2nd epistle to Cyril he writes:
“Holy Scripture, wherever it recalls the Lord’s economy, speaks of the birth and suffering not of the godhead but of the humanity of Christ, so that the holy virgin is more accurately termed the mother of Christ than mother of God.”
Of course his opponents countered with scripture of their own, and in the end he was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
C) John of Antioch (d. 441): Patriarch of Antioch, who originally supported Nestorius, but later signified his full orthodoxy by signing a statement prepared by the unofficial head of the anti-Nestorian faction, Cyril of Alexandria, and became an active opponent of Nestorianism.
D) Cyril of Alexandria: The Bishop of Alexandria who is best remembered in his defense of the Alexandrian Christology, over against the Antiochene Christology; more specifically Nestorianism.
III) Communicatio Idiomatum: in writing college papers for money it is difficult to know when this term first began to be used, but the communicatio idiomatum finds it source in the incarnation where the Divine Word became flesh in the person of Christ. This means that in the one person of Jesus are two distinct natures: divine and human; the Hypostatic Union. Yet, in the Bible the attributes of both natures are ascribed to the one person of Christ. In other words, the attributes of both divinity and humanity are both ascribed to the one person of Jesus. Therefore, the communicatio idiomatum means “that the properties of both, the human and the divine natures, are now the properties of the person, and are therefore ascribed to the person.” Again, this means that the one person of Jesus can exhibit attributes of divinity (omnipresence, all knowing, etc.) and at the same time exhibit attributes of humanity (eating, walking, learning, growing, etc.). The communicatio idiomatum does not mean, however, that anything particular to the divine nature (omnipotence, etc.) was communicated to the human nature. Likewise, it does not mean that anything particular to the human nature (physical suffering) was communicated to the divine nature.
Not only does this have implications for the incarnation, but for the atonement as well. In the sacrifice of Jesus, we have Jesus dying. But, did the divine nature of Christ also die? No it did not since God cannot die. If the divine “side” of Jesus didn’t die, then how is the sacrifice of Christ of infinite value? The answer is found in the communicatio idiomatum because in this teaching, the quality and attributes of the divine nature were ascribed to the person of Christ. So, even though the divine side of Jesus didn’t die, the person of Christ did die and the person of Christ was able to claim the divine attributes as His own. Therefore, the death of Christ was viewed as being able to save us from our sins.
In conclusion we can say that while in all of these Christological battles there were strong personalities involved. And no one’s motives were altruistic. Like any historical phenomenon, various causes need to be considered. Political, cultural, and economic factors were considered when some of the decisions were made. However, this does not mean that these men (and I’m afraid it was all men) did not seriously wrestle with these issues. Nor did they consider their deliberations of little consequence. For them, the very nature of their entire religion was at stake. They would ask: If your entire existence, both in this life and the next, is predicated on who your God is, and what your God has done to secure your salvation, then is behooves you to not only understand who your God is, but to also defend who that God is. Were they single-minded in their pursuit of these truths; perhaps not. Were they less distracted by the cares of the world that demand our attention; certainly. Did they reach the correct decisions? By affirming the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds we say yes. But do we truly understand, and can we communicate that understanding in language our friends, family, and congregations can understand, and that will make a difference in their lives? The promise is that we can.