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IT is necessary now to turn to the history of the development of the doctrine of the Person of Christ in the undivided Church. This history culminates in the Council of Chalcedon in the year A.D. 451. That council formulated the Orthodox Christo-logy as it has been accepted since, but there remained certain questions which were discussed later and the final statement of Greek orthodox theology is that of St. John of Damascus in the eighth century. The period we have to study is that of the conquest of the ancient world by Christianity, of the Christological controversies, and of the Oecumenical Councils. It is one in which the vigour and power of Christianity were exhibited with great force, but also one when the shades were often dark. The history has aroused great enthusiasm and been exposed to much severe criticism. It will be beside our purpose to give any detailed account of this long sequence of theological activity; it will be important rather to concentrate attention on the main line of development, as without some knowledge of this the doctrine of the Church will not be comprehensible.
There are two leading characteristics of this period which must be noted before we embark on it. The first is that the development of theology was based on the fundamental fact of the appeal to Scripture. The duty of the Church was to be true to the scriptural tradition; and Scripture was the authority to which it always appealed. The second point is that there was a continued effort made by the Church to explain the inherited faith. For this purpose it aimed at pressing into its service the philosophy of the day, and with that assistance at building up a constructive system of doctrine. The speculations of many were bold, and the influence of contemporary thought often led to a one-sided development which ultimately the consciousness of the Church could not accept. It is the combination of these two influences, the traditional authority of the Scriptures, and the continuous desire of the theologian to use all the attainments of human thought to interpret that tradition, that afford the key to the understanding of this long record of theological speculation.
Dorner in his History of the Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ tells us that the first age of the Church was that of the ἐκκλησία μαρτυροῦσα, the witnessing Church, in contrast to the later period that of the ἐκκλησἰα θεολογοῦσα. The Church witnessed to its belief in the person of Christ in two ways, by the condemnation of false teaching, and by the preservation of the Apostolic tradition.
The two prevalent forms of false teaching at the close of the Apostolic period were Ebionism and Docetism. The name Ebionitewas given to various sects or parties of Jewish Christians who were distinguished by their adherence to the law of Moses and by their humanitarian views on the Person of Christ. The name came from a Hebrew word meaning poor and probably arose from the claim they made to represent the poor Christians of Jerusalem, that is the original Apostolic Church. Our information about them is not very exact and their opinions were not very definite, but some among them are said to have held that Christ was a mere man. They represented him as 'the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation'. He was a 'mere man, nothing more than a descendant of David and not also the Son of God' – so says Tertullian. 'Some there are of your race who allow that he is Christ, but declare him to be a man of men; with whom I do not agree', says Justin in his dialogue with Trypho. There is no evidence that these opinions prevailed widely, and many Ebionites held less extreme views, but it is quite certain that wherever they were held they were decisively condemned. The Ebionites at one period played an important role in ecclesiastical controversy, and have been held to represent (as perhaps they claimed) primitive Christianity, but all such exaggerations have passed away, and their solitary title to importance is that they show decisively that any opinion which held that Christ was a mere man was then as always condemned by the Church.
Far more important was Docetism.While the Ebionites denied the divinity of our Lord, a widely prevalent trend of opinion denied the reality of his humanity, in particular the reality of his sufferings. The most common form of this belief was that the divine Christ entered the man Jesus at his baptism, and left him before his crucifixion. In any case there was no reality in his sufferings. A striking illustration of these views is given in the Apocryphal Acts of John which were written from a Docetic point of view. There is a curious scene in which our Lord appears talking to John in a cave overlooking Jerusalem and shows him the crucifixion.
'And my Lord standing in the midst of the cave and enlightening it said: John, unto the multitude below in Jerusalem I am being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds, and gall and vinegar is given me to drink. . . . Thou hearest that I suffered, yet did I not suffer; that I suffered not, yet did I suffer; that I was pierced, yet I was not smitten; that blood flowed from me, and it flowed not.'
And John goes down and laughs all the multitude to scorn.This form of belief is for us full of interest. It shows the difference between the thought of other times and of our own day. Docetism was very widely spread at the end of the first and in the second century. It is referred to in the First Epistle of St. John, where the writer condemns those who said that Jesus Christ had not come in the flesh. It was strongly condemned by Ignatius, and it was the most common form of Christological teaching among those heretics we call Gnostics. While the difficulty for us at the present day is to realize that our Lord is divine, at that time the difficulty for men influenced by the current ideas of the day was to believe that he was really human; because although men then could conceive the idea of the visit of a divine being to earth, they could not understand how one who was God could really take to himself human nature. There was a great gap for them between the human and the divine, and just what we have learnt to look upon as the most important result of the Incarnation, the taking of human nature by our Lord himself, and the making of humanity divine, was just that which to the mind of that day seemed impossible, for the nature of God was something entirely alien to and remote from the nature of man.
These then were the two different forms of incorrect teaching which prevailed – the denial of the divinity and the denial of the humanity of our Lord, and both alike the Church condemned.
On the other side we have the positive belief of the Church expressed in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Let me begin with two quotations from Ignatius. First of all he decisively condemns Docetism:
'Be ye deaf therefore, when any man speaketh to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, his Father having raised him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe on him – his Father I say will raise us – in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not true life. But if it were as certain persons who are godless, that is unbelievers, say, that he suffered only in semblance, being themselves mere semblance, why am I in bonds? And why also do I desire to fight with wild beasts? So I die in vain. Truly then I lie against the Lord.'
Quite decisively Ignatius accepts the real humanity of Jesus, and condemns those who denied it. Equally clearly he teaches his divine nature: 'There is one only physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true Life in death, Son of Mary, and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.'
Some of this language – for example the term 'ingenerate' would have been looked on as inconsistent with later orthodoxy, but the meaning and significance of the passage are unmistakable. The same implications permeate all the theology of Ignatius.
If you turn to the other Apostolic Fathers you will find great variety of expression, you will find language which later orthodoxy would have condemned, you will find confused thinking – there is often confusion as to the work of the Spirit and the work of Christ – but throughout the supremacy and the divine nature of Christ, and in particular our salvation through him are the basis of thought. It has been suggested that we should divide them into two groups and speak of one group as teaching an adoptionist Christology, that is that Christ, originally a man, obtained his divine prerogatives as Son by adoption, the other as holding a belief in a pre-existent divine Christ. But there is no ground for such a distinction. Language which might be considered adoptionist is used, but the same writers imply the pre-existence. Really there is no doubt as to the uniqueness or the divine nature of Christ, but the language is often unformed, the thought sometimes confused, and the theological expression inadequate.
The second century was the age of the Apologists, and the central point of their teaching was the doctrine of the divine Logos.. We have already seen how the writer of the Fourth Gospel had used this term, which was the current philosophical word employed to explain the problem of creation, to describe the meaning of the revelation in Christ, and how great was the benefit he had conferred on the Christian Church. The duty of the Apologist was to commend Christianity to a heathen world, and in particular to capture the Greek intellect. They found ready to hand a language exactly adapted to their purpose. So soon as they were able to expound Christianity in the philosophical phraseology of the time they could use arguments which would appeal to those whom they addressed.
Perhaps the best way of setting forth this teaching would be to give some extracts from an attractive early Christian document, the Epistle to Diognetus.
'He sent forth the Word, that He might appear unto the world. ... This Word, who was from the beginning, who appeared as new and yet was proved to be old, and is engendered always young in the hearts of saints, He I say who is eternal, who to-day was accounted a Son, through whom the Church is enriched and grace is unfolded and multiplied among the saints, grace which confers understanding, which reveals mysteries, which announces seasons, which rejoices over the faithful, which is bestowed upon those who seek her, even those by whom the pledges of faith are not broken, nor the boundaries of the fathers over-stepped.'
The doctrine of the Logos had three aspects. In the first place it presented a theory of the relation of Christ to the Father. That the Logos indwelt in God was teaching which a Greek philosopher could understand; the Reason of God was ever present with him; and thus it was possible to maintain in a way which could be accepted both Christian Monotheism and the divinity of Christ. It was an explanation again of the problem of creation. The Logos who was with the Father from eternity became the first-born of the Father. The Logos in coming forth from the Father had not made him from whom he was begotten destitute of the Logos. In him and through him the world was created.
'But truly (says the Epistle to Diognetus) the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Invisible God himself from heaven planted among men the truth and the holy teaching which surpasseth the wit of men by sending . . . the very Artificer and Creator of the Universe himself, by whom he made the heavens, by whom he enclosed the sea in its proper bounds ... by whom all things are ordered and bounded and placed in subjection, the heaven, the earth and the sea. Him he sent unto them.'
And then thirdly this doctrine of the divine Word explained how God had been revealed to man. By the use of an expression which came from the Stoics – the λόγος σπερματικός, the Word disseminated among mankind– it was taught how from the beginning of the human race the Logos had spoken to men, but in the revelation in Christ the Logos himself had appeared. It was this aspect of the doctrine of the Logos which Clement of Alexandria the philosopher-theologian had developed. 'Christianity is the doctrine of the creation, training, and redemption of mankind by the Logos, whose work culminates in the perfect gnostic.' So Clement makes Jesus say 'Come to me, that you may be put ... under the one God and the one Word of God. ... I confer on you both the Word and the knowledge of God, my complete self. ... This am I, this is the Son, this is Christ, this is the word of God ... I will give you rest.' The Logos is the teacher from whom all instruction comes.
It must be obvious how admirable for the time was this exposition of Christianity. It gave the thoughtful heathen a far more adequate explanation of the universe in the terms of his own philosophy than his philosophers could. But it had its limitations. It was philosophy more than religion. It appealed to the intellect rather than to the emotions. It gave no clear teaching as to the personal pre-existence of Christ. It might be so interpreted as to represent him merely as an
effluence of the deity, the Christ as a man inspired by divine reason. It might seem to deny the reality of the personal existence of the Logos, or might make him only an inferior god. So when the unconscious feeling of the Church realized that the Logos doctrine had fulfilled its functions, it reverted more and more to the Biblical doctrine of the Son, and gradually all the questions which had remained concealed in this attractive philosophy came up for solution.
It was at the end of the second century that Christianity found itself confronted by theological problems concerning the Person of Christ. They arose in what is called the Monarchian controversy. The term Monarchia was used to mean the sole sovereignty of God, something like Unitarianism. It might be used in a good or bad sense, but it implied that the point at issue was the preservation of the unity of the Godhead.
By this time some of the difficulties of the Christian position had become clear. I have suggested to you that in the earlier period of Christian teaching the belief in the unity of the Godhead and the divine nature of our Lord were held without any attempt at reconciliation. The difficulty was not experienced. The world is always learning new difficulties and new problems. A solution which satisfies one generation seems quite inadequate for the next. But in the controversy with paganism and Gnosticism this difficulty was bound to become apparent. The Apologists had emphasized the unity of the Godhead against the absurdities of polytheism. They had also taught the divine nature of Christ. It might seem that here there was an inconsistency in their teaching and their opponents were not slow to attack them for it. Gnosticism had had its doctrine of two Gods, the First God and the Demi-ourgos or Creator, and this might seem to suggest that the divine Logos, the agent of creation, was a second god. It had also analysed the divine nature into a multitude of Aeons and might seem to be bringing back the heathen mythology. Clearly it was necessary to make it quite evident that Christianity taught the belief in one God.
So arose the problem, what was the relation of Christ to God? There was a tendency towards two different methods of thought. There were those who denied the divinity of Christ, there were those who denied his separate personality. Those who denied the divinity of Christ taught what was called an adoptionist Christology. Our Lord was not pre-existent or in his essence divine. He was a man who was finally exalted to the Godhead. This was the teaching of certain obscure theologians whose names I need only mention. There was Theodotus of Byzantium who was said to have thought that our Lord was a mere man – though he believed apparently in the birth from a Virgin – hence the name Psilanthropist. He came to Rome about the year 190. There was a younger Theodotus who taught at Rome 200-18 and developed the same teaching. The divine Logos had no personal existence. It became personal in Christ and took not only flesh but also personality from him. Hence the person of Christ was entirely human. There was also a certain Artemon who refused to call Christ God and maintained that this had been the teaching of the Roman Bishops up to the time of Victor.
There was, however, one of these teachers far more distinguished than the rest, Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch 260-72, who is often spoken of as the first of the heresiarchs. The circumstances of his time gave him distinction, for he was chancellor and court chaplain of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, while she held Antioch. He was condemned by a synod in 269, and fell when Zenobia fell in 272.
Christ, he taught, was human in his personality, but divine reason dwelt in him as in no one else. That divine reason was called Logos or Sophia. It was a quality or characteristic of the one God, an attribute of the divine. It had dwelt in Moses and the prophets, but it dwelt in Christ in a special and more exalted degree. Even in Christ it was merely an attribute without any relation to his personality. It dwelt, to use technical language, οῦκ οὺσιωδῶς ἀλλὰ κατὰ ποιότητα, not in essence but as an attribute. Hence the Redeemer came from below, though the Logos came from above. In the Christ the unity of the human and divine element was only moral, it was not real. It was a unity of will and love such as exists between two separate persons. For his personal obedience, for his victory over evil, Christ was exalted and obtained the name which is above every name. He could be called Lord, not because he was God, but because he was pre-destined to become God.
The other great tendency of the times was modalism or patripassianism as it was called, which later developed into Sabellianism. The chief teachers of the school were Praxeas of Ephesus, who appeared in Rome about 190 to 200 and passed on to Carthage, where he was in controversy with Tertullian. Somewhat later Noetus taught in Rome. He was a contemporary of Callistus, Bishop of Rome 217-22, and the Roman theologian Hippolytus wrote a treatise against him. The third teacher was Sabellius, who taught at Rome during the time of Hippolytus but whose later history seems uncertain. It was he who presented this system of thought in its most complete and rounded off form, who gave his name to it, and has attained the distinction of being one of the leading heresiarchs.
For our purpose we need not labour on the distinction between Praxeas and Noetus. They accused the Church of Ditheism or Tritheism. They denied any personal existence to the Son. The one God existed in two modes. Hence it might be said that the Father was born and lived on earth and was crucified. Nor did they shrink from drawing this deduction. 'If I confess Christ as God, He clearly is the Father if He is still God. Christ who himself is God has suffered; hence the Father has suffered, for He was the Father.' Christ was in fact the Father who by his will made his personality submit to conditions which were not natural, those conditions being visibility and passibility. It was perhaps something of a compromise when Jesus was called Son, and the Father Spirit or Christ, and it was said: Filius patitur: pater vero compatitur – the Son suffers, the Father suffers with him.
But the most philosophical teacher of this school was Sabellius whose speculations were wider and deeper. He looked upon the revelation of God as part of a great scheme of the evolution of the Universe. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit represented different phases under which the one God of the Old Testament had revealed himself. The first revelation of God was in the Law which was the revelation of the Father. The second revelation of God was in the Incarnation which was the revelation of the Son. The third revelation of God was in the Spirit which was the revelation which comes through the inspiration of the Church. These three are names, not real distinctions. God is the Monad, the existing, τὸ ὄν, υἱοπάτηρ, the Son who is also the Father. Each of these different manifestations is a phase of divine energy. Thus there were no distinctions of personality. The original one God, the Monad, expanded into a Triad by a process of self-expansion πλατυσμός. And as the divinity expanded itself, so by a process of self-contraction it will contract itself. Nothing, therefore, ultimately has real existence. The world which was created through the Son was an extension of the Son, but the Son had no real existence apart from the Father. Therefore the world has no real existence. So Sabellianism was really pantheistic. All things are but the expansion of God, and all things return into him. In particular there was no Christ after the Ascension. As Christ came from the Father, so he went back into him. And this point alone was sufficient to show how inadequate this philosophical theory was to satisfy the religious needs of the Christian Church.
Such then were the two extreme ways in which the attempt was made to solve the problem of Christology. The Church which stood in the middle was charged with Tritheism. Extreme people on the one side said that there was no real distinction in the Godhead. Father and Son were two different designations of the same subject. Extreme people on the other side laid stress on Christ's human nature. Christ was a man inspired with divine power or energy which came from the indwelling of the Word and Wisdom of God. He was inspired as no other men were. These were the extreme views. They represented tendencies which might be found within the Christian Church. Like all heresies or extreme views they arose from the exaggeration of some one element in Christian teaching and from developing it to the exclusion of other views.
The Church rejected all these views, and the reason why it did so, the principle that guided it really, although not always ostensibly, in all its dogmatic controversies was the necessity which was instinctively felt of formulating such a theory of the Person of Christ as would adequately correspond to the New Testament tradition. In particular the Church was not satisfied with any theory which did not explain that in Christ there was a real revelation of the Godhead, and how through Christ the redemption of humanity could come. Any theory which started with the conception that Christ was a mere man, or which denied his real personality, failed to satisfy these needs. We shall find that ultimately it is these fundamental principles, and not the logical or philosophical arguments, some of which are not very convincing, which determined the form which Church orthodoxy took, and we shall find that it is just these reasons which have weight at the present time in dealing with modern theories as to the nature of Christ's person.
I must now say something, very short I am afraid, about those theologians whose writings represent the positive doctrinal attainments of the Ante-Nicene period.
The first is Origen,the great Alexandrian theologian who lived from A.D. 185 to 254. Origen was the first to construct a Christian philosophy. He not only, as did his predecessor Clement of Alexandria, combined what he learnt from philosophy with what he learnt from Christianity, but he created an organic unified system. He was not only the greatest Christian teacher of his time, but the greatest philosopher, and Christian theology as he presented it gave to thoughtful men the most satisfactory solution of the problems of the day.
His great contribution to theology was that he taught Christianity in terms of reality – the current Platonist philosophy. God was the one, the Monas, in whom all things consisted, the reality of the world, the οὐσία. He was also absolute goodness, and the Son was of the very essence of the Godhead. The distinctive point in the relationship of the Son to the Father, that which influenced all subsequent speculations, was the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. People who argued about words were puzzled about the meaning of the word Son. How can you apply such words to a relation in the Godhead? The Son of God must be in his essence God, but if so he must be eternal, since the very essence of the Godhead is to be eternal. How then can you say that he is Son, since the Son is necessarily derived from and comes later in time than the Father. Origen answered this by explaining that the idea of Sonship implies fundamentally relationship and not succession in time. This is the doctrine of the eternal generation, ἀεὶ γεννᾶ ὁ πάτηρ τὸν υἱόν. 'His generation is as eternal and everlasting as the brilliance which is produced from the sun.'It is not possible to predicate time of divine relationships. There was no time when the Son was not. The Son is co-eternal with the Father. It is not possible to think of God without his wisdom or assume a beginning of his begetting since that is a process lasting from eternity. The expression then the Son of God means the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity and does not imply anything in the nature of time. It means sharing in the whole of the divine nature and so also in the divine goodness.
So far we have studied Origen's teaching as the source and inspiration of the later orthodox Christian doctrine. But there were other elements in it which had a different influence. There was always the fear of Sabellianism and a necessity of guarding the distinct personality of the Son. This teaching undoubtedly led to language of extreme subordinationism. In relation to the world the Son was inferior. He is even called a δεύτερος θεός,he was ἕτερος κάτ' οὐσίαν καὶ ὑποκείμενον τοῦ πατρός. There is a passage preserved in which he is called a κτίσμα. Language like this might be capable of a quite orthodox interpretation. It is balanced by language which expresses a very different point of view. But it also might seem to imply a less orthodox creed. It seemed to harmonize with Arian conceptions, and so, although undoubtedly Origen's fundamental thought is inconsistent with Arian teaching, and although he provides much of the language in which the orthodox theology was expressed, on the other side he was one of the sources of Arianism and might be quoted in its support.
The second theologian whom we must notice is Tertullian,the earliest of the Latin Fathers, whose writings were produced between the years 190 and 225. He was a native of North Africa, with the fierce temperament that we associate with the people of that country. He was violent in his attacks against heresy, then when he became a Montanist violent in his attacks on the Catholic Church. He was a lawyer and had all the characteristics of a lawyer theologian. He was always more anxious to score a point against his opponents than to arrive at truth or understanding. He was a rhetorician, indifferent to philosophy which he looked on as the parent of error. In him began the tradition of Western Orthodoxy.
The meaning of the tradition of Western Orthodoxy is this. Quite early the Western Church obtained, mainly through Tertullian, what seemed a satisfactory phraseology, and did not trouble themselves about any philosophical explanation or justification. This spirit is found in Tertullian, then later in Leo, and in the whole record of the Western Church. It turns its attention to practical things; it builds up the Church on a basis of law and order; it reduces Christian theology to something which can be dealt with in a legal way; it does not trouble itself with the subtle speculations with which the Eastern Church was concerned.
The contribution of Tertullian was threefold. He formulated the doctrine of the Trinity. He taught that in the God-head there was one substance and three persons: Una substantia tres personae : a phraseology, which seemed to express sufficiently the traditions of the Church.So secondly he taught the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. 'The Son I derive from no other source but from the substance of the Father.' But there seems to be an element of subordination and the derivation was one in time, 'pater tota substantia, filius derivatio et portio totius '. The distinction is real and the derivation of the Son has its beginnings in time. Then thirdly he developed the idea of the two natures in Christ, anticipating the language of Leo's time and the Council of Chalcedon. There are two substances in one person – duae substantiae, una persona. The divine nature is real, the human nature is real, and the conjunction of the two in one person is real.
'The peculiar properties of each substance are preserved intact – Salva est utriusque proprietas substantiae– so that in him the spirit conducted its own affairs, that is, the deeds of power and works and signs, and the flesh underwent its sufferings, hungering in the instance of the Devil, thirsting in the instance of the Samaritan woman, weeping by Lazarus, sorrowful unto death, and finally it died.'
' Videmus duplicem statum non confusum sed coniunctum, in una persona deum et hominem Jesum.'
The third theologian I would mention is Dionysius of Romewho about the year 260 had a controversy in correspondence with Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, about the Person of Christ. He condemns explicitly Sabellianism and Tritheism. 'It must needs be,' he said, 'that with the God of the Universe the Divine Word is united, and the Holy Ghost must repose and habitate in God; thus in one as in a summit I mean the God of the Universe, must the Divine Triad be gathered up and brought together.' He argues for the co-eternity of the Son and the Father, for Christ is the Word and Wisdom and Power of God and it is absurd to think that God could be without these attributes. So there never was a time when the Son was not, nor can he be described as a created being. The extract preserved of his work concludes:
'Neither then may we divide into three Godheads the wonderful and divine Monad; nor disparage with the name of "work" the dignity and exceeding majesty of the Lord; but we must believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Christ Jesus His Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and hold that to the God of the Universe the Word is united. For "I" says He "and the Father are one"; and "I am in the Father and the Father in me''. For thus the Divine Triad and the holy preaching of the Monarchy will be preserved.'
This extract is of interest for several reasons. In the first place it is remarkable, as Dr. Robertson says, 'as forming part of the proof of the very early date of the development and formation of the Catholic Theology which we are at first sight apt to ascribe to the fourth and fifth centuries'. Then it presents us with an early instance of a dogmatic utterance of a Bishop of Rome, balanced and correct but evading philosophical illumination or difficulties – a dogmatic assertion in the most definite sense of the word. Then thirdly we may look upon it as the most correct and complete summary of the doctrine of the Trinity which was attained before the outbreak of the Arian controversy.
At the close of the Ante-Nicene period, the doctrine of the Trinity has become the traditional teaching of the Christian Church, and a phraseology has been developed at any rate in the West of one substance and three persons. The phraseology of the East was less clearly defined, the word πρόσωπον rather than ὑπόστασις was preferred to signify the distinction of persons, while ὑπόστασις and οὑσία were both used for the unity of the Godhead. The doctrine of the Logos is used to express the nature of the person of Christ. The Logos was looked upon as co-existent with the Father, but there was a good deal of compromise in relation to the Sonship. In the West the tendency is to regard this Sonship as something in time, and to think that it was only in the Incarnation that the Logos became the Son. In the East, however, we have Origen's doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. There was also a great deal of difference of opinion about the subordination of the Son, as it is called. Was the subordination of the Son to be regarded as a difference in nature and essence, or merely a difference in rank? Tertullian had said that it was a difference only in rank, but Origen had used language which was capable of being interpreted in a different sense. Nor had the relation of the human and divine elements in the Person of Christ been studied. It was on these points that the controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries broke out.
We come now to the period of the Church Councils, to the doctrinal controversies which prevailed during the fourth and fifth centuries.
That period may be looked at from different points of view. It was the epoch of the breaking up of the Roman Empire, and of the overthrow of the ancient religion. It was a time of prolonged and not always attractive ecclesiastical controversy. It was the time when the Christian Creed was formulated as it is accepted by the great body of Christians at the present day. It was the time of the triumph of Christian Orthodoxy and the building up of the ecclesiastical system. Christianity succeeded in creating a new system of thought and life which survived the destruction of the old civilization and handed on to subsequent generations some at any rate of the traditions of the past.
What was the force and power which brought about this revolution? It was what really underlies all the movements of the time – the firm grasp of the Christian revelation. The great controversies largely arose through the conflict, under the form of Christian thought, between pagan ideas and Christianity. What was the great idea which formulated Christian orthodoxy? Why did the Church arrive at the decisions it did? We shall find the answer by turning to a book written at the beginning of this period in the short interval between the close of persecution in the year 312 and the outbreak of Arianism about 322, the De Incarnatione of St. Athanasius. The important point to remember about this work is that it was written before Arianism had been thought of. It was composed in an entirely uncontroversial atmosphere. It was written in the period of hope which was created by the victory of the Church over the Empire. She had been victorious. She had proved herself the greatest spiritual force in the world. She was successful and therefore she was popular, and crowds of converts began to flow in. Many of these would inevitably be only half converted and would preserve their old heathen prejudices and instincts. It was this sudden irruption of these semi-heathen Christians which caused many of the perplexities of the following period.
About the year 318 – Athanasius, a young man fresh from the philosophical schools of Alexandria – wrote two treatises in which he expounded the dominating teaching of the Christian religion in the language and thought of his own time. The central thought of the De Incarnatione was one vividly present to all orthodox defenders of the faith in subsequent controversy, the union of God and Man in the person of Christ for the sake of human redemption. He thus expresses it:
'He – the very Word of God – was made man that we might be made God; and he manifested himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. ... As when the sun is come, darkness no longer prevails; so now that the divine appearance of the Word of God is come, the darkness of the idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are illumined by his teaching.'
If there is any reality in redemption it arises from this fundamental fact, that he who came upon earth was the Word, the Wisdom, the Reason of the Father, the Son of God. No one could teach us about the Unseen God, except he who was of the essence of the Unseen God. No one could work out the redemption of mankind except one who was God.It was this vision of God incarnate that was the formative cause of Christian orthodoxy. There were discussions about words and even letters, about terminology, about philosophy, but these were only the forms in which the discussions took place. The reality lay behind all the controversy: it was the fundamental fact of the divine revelation in Jesus Christ.
We now come to the Arian controversy. It began through a dispute of one of the Alexandrine presbyters with his Bishop about the year 321-2. The Church of Alexandria had inherited the doctrine of the eternal co-existence of the Father and the Son. To this Arius objected. He was one of a group of distinguished men who were the pupils of Lucian of Antioch who was martyred at Nicomedia about the year 312. Lucian was a learned and clever man, a good textual critic and the founder of the Antiochene school of Biblical exegesis.He had largely been influenced by Paul of Samosata, of whose Christology he had adopted as much as was consistent with the orthodoxy of the time, and by Origen. He started from the extreme Platonist point of view. God alone is eternal. Of him we can know nothing. He cannot enter into any moral relations with mankind, even with his own Son.
Arius carried this teaching to its logical conclusion. His main doctrine was that the Son was not co-eternal with the Father. There was a time when he was not: ῆν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ῆν. He is not really Son but a created being, κτίσμα, made out of things which are not – ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων. Here we have characteristic Platonist phraseology. Being thus a created being, not co-eternal with the Father, not of the essence of the Father, he was capable of sin: τρεπτὸς ῆν τῆ φύσει ; he is capable of change in his nature, like other created beings. In essence he is akin to God, and as he was not really God, so he was not fully man. If man be divided into body, soul, and spirit, then Jesus had a human body and a human soul, but in the place of the spirit or intelligence of man was the divine Logos. The Logos in Christ was the hypostasis of the divine word united to a human soul.
Here then are the main features of Arianism. The Son is not co-eternal with the Father. He is not of the essence of the Father. He was pre-existent before he came into the world, yet he is not eternal. He is a created being who dwells in man. Here we have the distinction between God uncreated on the one side, and on the other all created things which include the Logos, the Son, Jesus Christ. The Son is originate, belonging to the order of creatures and accordingly entirely alien from the Father's essence.
Arianism was built up on certain scriptural texts, and on one tendency in Ante-Nicene theology. It is possible as we recognize to build up almost any teaching on isolated passages in Scripture, but it was not really scriptural and it did not really represent the older Church tradition. It was not here that its success lay, but rather because it was a compromise between the old ideas of the reformed paganism and the new Christianity. As I have already pointed out, there was for some two generations a great influx into the Church of those who had been brought up as heathen, people who were anxious to be Christians but whose prejudices and presuppositions were pagan, although their paganism was one which had begun to reform itself under Christian influence. In Arianism are found all the characteristic ideas of the paganism of the time, the unknowableness of the deity, the difference between being and not being, the immense gulf between God and Man, the creation of something half God and half man, the interposition between God and Man of a hierarchy of spiritual beings. The Logos was a sort of second God, the Holy Spirit was inferior to the Logos, below these came the orders of Angels and other spiritual beings. All these ideas were congenial to semi-pagan minds. The pagan who had recently been converted to Christianity felt quite comfortable with this large number of divine or half-divine beings. So Arianism was an admirable transition from heathenism to Christianity.
'The Arians,' says Harnack, 'made the transition from heathenism to Christianity easier for the large number of cultured and half-cultured whom the policy of Constantine brought into the Church. They imparted to them a view of the Holy Scriptures and of Christianity which could present no difficulty to any one at that period. The Arian monotheism was the best transition from polytheism to monotheism. It asserted the truth that there is one supreme God with whom nothing can be compared, and thus rooted out the crude worship of many Gods. It constructed a descending divine triad in which the cultured were able to recognize again the highest wisdom of their philosophers. ... It afforded, in the numerous formulae which it coined, interesting material for rhetorical and dialectic exercises. It quickened the feeling of freedom and responsibility and led to discipline, and even to asceticism. And finally, it handed on the picture of a divine hero who was obedient even to death and gained the victory by suffering and patience, and who has become a pattern for us.'
While it is important for us to recognize that orthodoxy, as I have tried throughout to explain, is not a mere adhesion to unmeaning formulas, it is equally important to realize that heresies such as Arianism did not arise from mere perverse-ness but were the result of natural tendencies of the human mind. They may be wrong, but they represent a natural tendency, and have had a valuable part to play in the development of thought. It is interesting to notice that Arius gave to the semi-pagans of his day almost exactly the same creed as Mr. Wells has developed for himself in his book, God the Invisible King. His theory of a limited God is exactly what Arianism meant, and its origin lies probably in just the same habits of the human mind as produced Arianism.
The fundamental basis of the argument against Arianism was that it did not provide a real theology of revelation or redemption. Athanasius had laid this down in his De Incarnatione : 'A son who did not really know God, could not reveal God to man.' Arius made a great gap between the Father uncreated and the Son created, hence the Son could have no essential knowledge of the Father. 'Even to the Son', he said, 'the Father is invisible. The Word cannot perfectly either see or know his own Father, nay, the Son knows not even his own substance.' This statement was clearly irreconcilable with St. John's statement, 'No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him'.There could have been no real revelation if the Son was not of the essence of the Father. So again there could be no real union between God and Man, for the union of the Godhead and manhood in Christ could not be real, for Christ was separated from the Godhead. So behind all the technicalities of controversy, as Athanasius said, the fundamental principles of Christianity were at stake.
Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nicaea held in the year 325. At that Council a Creed was issued which contained certain modifications of the older form which the Creed had taken. In the first place the term Son was substituted for the term Logos, a change really of far-reaching importance because it meant the substitution of a religious theory of redemption for a philosophical theory of cosmology. Then secondly a certain technical phraseology was introduced, carefully distinguishing between the two ideas of generation and creation, 'begotten not made'. And then thirdly the famous word homoousios was added. The Son was 'of one substance with the Father'. The word homoousios became in the controversies that followed the Council the symbol of Christian Orthodoxy. It was introduced to teach the essential and real union of the Father and the Son. Its introduction was opposed in the Council for two reasons. In the first place it had had a suspicious history. It had been rejected by the Council of Antioch which condemned Paul of Samosata, and might seem to be Sabellian in character. Then secondly the word was objected to – this is a point of the greatest interest – because it was not scriptural, and Athanasius had to argue that it was necessary to take a word which was not scriptural in order to guard the sense of Scripture. To understand the attitude of the Christian Church in these controversies it is important to realize how strong was the protest against the introduction of a non-scriptural word. Its fundamental task was to preserve the faith as contained in the Scriptures, and the fact that at this crisis in the Church's history the addition to the Creed of a single non-scriptural word caused so much difficulty, although it was necessary to preserve the Christian tradition, reveals to us the respect of the primitive Christian Church for Scripture.
Arianism was definitely condemned at Nicaea, but, strange as it may seem, for the next fifty years the Church was predominantly Arian and a long period of doctrinal controversy followed. It is not necessary for our purpose to follow the history of that period. The cause of the reaction was really, as I have emphasized already, that Arianism was an admirable halfway house to Christianity, and the great body of semi-pagans who at this time pressed into the Church found it much easier to accept and believe. There were other subordinate
causes, but that was the fundamental one. During this period many Councils were held and many Creeds issued. The study of them is interesting as showing how futile are verbal compromises which evade the point at issue. Ultimately when the transition period was passed the decision of Nicaea was accepted at the Council of Constantinople, and Arianism ceased to exist in the Roman Empire as a real faith. It came back later because the Gothic race had been converted by Arian missionaries, and when they invaded the Empire they came as Arians. But as an intelligent creed Arianism had been found to be untenable and had been discarded, and it was not able to assert itself again.
We now pass to the second stage of this controversy, the history of Apollinarianism.
As a reaction from Arianism there came a new movement which turned attention from the Trinitarian to the Christological problem. The controversy turned on the nature of the Person of Christ. What was the relation of the human and divine nature in Christ? What was the character of his personality? How can the human and divine be combined in one person? In the West, as I have pointed out, a definite phraseology had been formed. Tertullian had spoken of the Person of Christ as consisting of two substances or natures and one person. He has been criticized because he provided a phraseology without a philosophy, but at any rate that phraseology had the merit of preserving the two essential facts about the Person of Christ. In the East there had been much philosophy and speculation but no definite phraseology. The question began to be raised in connexion with Arianism. Arius had, as we explained above, a Christological theory according to which the divine Logos took the place of the human spirit or intelligence, the highest human faculty.
This teaching was taken up from a different point of view by a Christian teacher of great interest, Apollinarius of Laodicea. He was the son of a Christian teacher of the same name whose curious literary labours are worth noticing. In the year 362 the Emperor Julian conceived an ingenious device for injuring the Church. He thought that if he could prevent Christians being educated he would destroy their influence. So he issued a decree that no Christian should be allowed to study the Greek classics, these being then, as until recently in this country, recognized as the only adequate instrument of intellectual training. Now Apollinarius the elder was a Christian and a teacher of rhetoric, and he proceeded to counteract the effect of Julian's decree by reconstructing the Scriptures on classical models, and in this work he was helped by his son.
The younger Apollinarius – Bishop of Laodicea in Syria – was a strong opponent of Arianism, and curiously enough, in order to combat Arianism he developed exactly the same error as Arius regarding the Person of Christ. The charge brought by the Church against the Arian theory of the Logos was that it made the divine nature subject to change. Above all therefore, it was necessary to secure the unchangeable, that is divine, character of the Christ. Now where, asks Apollinarius, does the seat of error and change lie? Clearly in the human mind, in the rational principle of man's nature. If a man sins, it is his mind that sins; if a man rebels against God, it is his mind that rebels. The seat of evil lies in the human mind or νοῦς. So Apollinarius, adopting the same psychology as Arius, said that our Lord possessed a human body and a human soul, but not a human intelligence. In place of this was the Logos. Here of course the difference from Arianism came in. To Arius the Logos was not truly divine, was unstable and changeable. To Apollinarius the Logos was truly divine and therefore unchangeable, so the Christ was truly divine. The mind of man, he said, is the seat of evil. Where there is perfect or complete manhood, there there is sin. Mankind is saved not by the assumption of a reasonable soul and the entire manhood, but by the assumption of flesh, whose natural property it is to be under guidance. The divine Logos took to itself human nature where it was weak, not where it was evil. Human nature, that is human flesh, and the principle of life were redeemed by union with the sinless Logos, in place of union with the human mind which is evil. So also the unity of the Person of Christ was guarded. If there were two perfect natures, then a dual personality would result. There could not be a separate nature without a separate personality. If the Person of Christ is to be one, then there cannot be two natures.
Now this theology of Apollinarius had at first sight a great deal to commend it. It seemed to solve the difficulty as to the sinlessness of Christ; it seemed to get over the difficulty as to the unity of the personality. It provided a plausible theory of redemption; but it had two fatal errors.
First, it was not true to Christian tradition, that is, to the representation of our Lord's person as contained in the New Testament. To the New Testament readers our Lord clearly presented the attributes of a perfect humanity. He was really human. He acted as a man. The New Testament demanded a full and complete humanity and therefore this theory of Apollinarius stood condemned. The Bible and Christian tradition were quite clearly against it.
Then secondly a deeper study of the teaching of Apollinarius shows that it provides a most imperfect theory of redemption. The whole of human nature requires to be redeemed and most of all the ruling principle which may be the seat of sinful instincts. If a man consists of two parts, the one guiding and the other guided, the mind and the body, then any redemption which was confined to the latter and neglected the former must be inadequate. The seat of sin is in the human mind and therefore that must be redeemed. If our Lord had not taken to himself complete human nature, including the νοῦς, the human mind, then human nature would not have been redeemed.
On these two grounds the teaching of Apollinarius was looked upon as inadequate. Teaching such as his was condemned in 362 at the Council of Alexandria, although he is not mentioned by name. He was the friend of Athanasius; he had been distinguished for his zealous defence of orthodoxy against Arianism and of Christianity against Porphyry; and any condemnation of him personally would have been most reluctantly undertaken. About the year 375 he seceded from the Church. He was condemned by synods at Rome and Antioch and finally at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
Avoiding for the present the more abstruse questions which have been raised, it is sufficient to point out that the first two general Councils, that of Nicaea in 325 and the first of Constantinople in 381, are distinguished by the fact that they formulated with clearness and precision the traditional doctrine of the true divinity and the true humanity of Christ. Whatever difficulties there might be in explaining or understanding it, even if it be not possible to probe or comprehend the mystery, the Church was and always has been convinced that the fundamental basis of Christianity is the acceptance of the divine and human natures of Christ.
We come now to the great Christological controversies of the fifth century, concerning Nestorianism and Monophysitism. These controversies were in their ultimate analysis not so much between two rival views of the Person of Christ, as between two great schools of thought, two rival philosophies, two modes of life, two conceptions of Christianity, which were then conspicuously brought to the front, but have been permanent elements in the history of the Church.
The school of Antiochtraced its beginnings to Lucian, the martyr scholar at the beginning of the fourth century, though many of its notions might be held to be present before then in the teaching of Paul of Samosata. Lucian was, as we have seen, the teacher of Arius and of many others who were distinguished in the Arian controversy and known as the Collucianistae. Lucian's influence continued to prevail at Antioch, and the first great teacher after him was Diodorus (fl. 350-94), who became about 379 Bishop of Tarsus. He was the leader of the rational school of scriptural interpretation. He was followed by Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428), by Chrysostom (347-407), and Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus (393-453). Chrysostom was Bishop of Antioch, then of Constantinople, and perhaps the greatest preacher of the ancient Church. All these four teachers lived and died within the unity of the Church, and their teaching, although criticized by adherents of a different philosophy, was recognized as orthodox. What were its characteristics? The chief interest of these teachers lay in the human nature of our Lord and in the study of man's human nature. In Scripture they stood for a literal exegesis as opposed to the allegorical method of interpretation, and in this respect Chrysostom is supreme among the Fathers. In philosophy, while the Alexandrian school was Platonist, the Antiochene school was Aristotelian. Above all their interest lay in the human nature of our Lord – our Lord as an example, as a perfect man, living a perfect human life.
On the other side was the Alexandrian school represented first by Athanasius, then by Cyril of Alexandria, later by Dioscurus who became involved in the Monophysite heresy. Athanasius' interest was not conspicuously in the human side of our Lord's person, but in the divine work made possible through the Incarnation. It was the redemption of .mankind, the divine Christ who by becoming man redeems mankind and so is the object of human worship, that occupied his thoughts. He represented the tendency of Egyptian Christianity, not to live a life in the world following the example of Jesus, but to go out of the world, live an ascetic, monastic life, freed as it was believed from human corruption and wholly given up to the contemplation and worship of the divine Christ. So Egypt was the first home in the Christian Church of asceticism and monasticism. This ideal conformed to the teaching of later Platonism which taught a separation from life and the attainment of the divine ecstasy. It harmonized with other tendencies of the day, the feeling of despair in men's minds, the corruption of the world which drove men to seek salvation by separation from the world, rather than by living a Christian life in the world. More than this there was the hope of attaining a measure of perfection, some union with the divine even in this life. So Christ was thought of not as a man living a human life whom we should imitate, but as one through whom we might attain even in this life some measure of divinity.
Here you have the two great schools of thought which were dividing the Eastern world, and since then have constantly reappeared in Christian history. On the one side there are those to whom Christianity means living in the world, conforming to the world, but trying to live a life modelled on that of Christ. With them the ethical predominates. Then there are the others whose fundamental ideals are the worship of the divine, some contact with the divine even in the present life, and so separation from the world. With them the religious ideal persists. Both these tendencies are deeply rooted in human nature. Each is an interpretation of one side of the Gospel teaching. Both of them may be found in all periods of Church history and equally at the present day. The highest Christian ideal will always combine both the religious and the ethical interpretation of the Gospel. These two aspects of Christianity influenced profoundly the development of thought on the Person of Christ.
We now come to the study of Nestorianism.
With regard to Nestorius a great deal of new information has been acquired in the last few years. A curious work called the Bazaar of Heracleides, preserved in Syria, has recently been discovered and published and has been found to contain Nestorius' own account of his teaching. It was written about the time of the Council of Chalcedon, and is an apology in which Nestorius claims that judged by the standard then attained he was proved to have been orthodox. The modern judgement on this claim is still uncertain. Dr. Bethune-Baker argues that Nestorius was not a Nestorian but was orthodox and has been unjustly condemned; Professor Loofs that judged by the standard of Chalcedon Nestorius was unorthodox, but that Nestorius was right and the Christian Church wrong. I need not do more than refer to this dispute. Whether or no Nestorius was a Nestorian does not concern us. We are concerned with the conventional Nestorianism as a theory for explaining the Person of Christ and are not concerned with historical details, or the injustice of Emperors and ecclesiastics, or the violence of Councils. Probably both Nestorius and Dioscurus were unjustly treated according to modern Christian standards.
Nestorius succeeded to the see of Constantinople in the year 428. At that time considerable developments were showing themselves in the cultus of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it had become the custom to address her by the title Theotokos, that is Mother of God. This title Nestorius condemned. It was, he said, unscriptural. It might be true indeed to say that she was Christotokos, Mother of the Christ. It was the discussion upon that point which roused the whole controversy. The orthodox, or what claimed to be the orthodox teaching, argued that as Jesus Christ who was born of the Virgin Mary was truly the Son of God, therefore it was correct to say that she was the Mother of God. Nestorius said that it was true to say that God came forth from the Virgin, but not that he was born of her. She brought forth a man who was accompanied by the divine Logos.
This incidental point, rising out of criticism of certain extreme forms of the cultus of the Virgin, led to a controversy on the whole question of the two natures in our Lord, since the immediate deduction from the denial that the Virgin was Theotokos was that there is a distinction between Christ and the Logos. It often happens in Church history that ecclesiastical and theological controversy arises out of, or seems to turn on, what are apparently trivial and unimportant points. For example the very first theological dispute at all, that of the relation of Hebrew and Greek-speaking Christians in Jerusalem, which had such tremendous practical results in the expansion of the Christian Church at the death of Stephen, arose from the fact that certain widows thought they were neglected. Some little incident lights the spark which flames into a great controversy. Latent differences of opinion are reached and fundamental questions are discussed. As Thucy-dides says of wars, they often arise out of little things, but not about little things.
Nestorius' starting-point was the completeness of Christ's human nature. Christ was a man who grew up as other men. Could you really believe that a child three months old was God? Could you believe that the man who lived on earth as a child, a growing boy, with human limitations of knowledge, is God? Could you believe in a God who was dead and buried? So he drew a distinction between the divine Logos and the man Christ. There were two persons who might be brought together in the closest union, but were not one person. Nestorius taught or was held to teach that there was a dual personality in Christ. There were two persons, not one person God and Man, but the divine Logos dwelt in the man Christ, and therefore the man Christ was not God, but God-bearer. It was objected to this teaching that if Christ was merely a man united to the divine Logos, then it followed that that man only was redeemed and not the whole human race. The divine work was at best the adoption or elevation of one man in whom the Logos dwelt. To this individual man the Logos united himself not personally, but morally in virtue of his merit. The Word joined to himself a human being and appeared to the world in Christ. The mistake of Nestorius might be shown by his objection to the title Theotokos. In what sense is it right to speak of the Virgin as Theotokos ? as Mother of God? Only in so far as she was the Mother as touching the humanity of him who was truly God. What she was not was the Mother of the divine nature, and the error of Nestorius lay in his confusion of the divine nature with the divine person. If the divine person was one, you could ascribe to it any quality belonging to human nature, though the divine could not change its character. Therefore it was held that the adoption of the title Theotokos really preserved the belief in the unity of Christ's person.
This is the principle which is implied in the technical term communicatio idiomatum. Christ is one person, and therefore it is legitimate to ascribe to each nature characteristics which belong to the other. It is legitimate to speak of the divine body of Christ not because the body ceases to be material, but because it becomes divine by union with the one Christ. So it is legitimate to adore the manhood of Christ. Again it is right to speak of God the Son suffering, hungering, thirsting, not because the divine nature can suffer, but because he who is truly divine suffers in his human nature.
The orthodox opposition to the teaching of Nestorius centred in the person of Cyril of Alexandria, who was Archbishop of that see from 412 to 444.
Cyril represented the marked development of the tendencies of the Alexandrian school which had taken place since the days of Athanasius. While Athanasius had been brought up in the schools of philosophy, Cyril had been brought up in the desert among the monks, and he personified both the theological and ethical tendencies of Egyptian Monasticism. He perhaps instigated, he certainly did not check, the ecclesiastical violence which caused the destruction of the Jews in Alexandria and the murder of Hypatia. In his conduct throughout the controversy with Nestorius he showed little sense of justice or moderation, and perhaps his zeal against the heretic was stimulated by his jealousy of an ecclesiastical rival.
His theological teaching is contained in three letters, the second and third letters to Nestorius written in the year 430, and his letter to John of Antioch written in 433. These three letters were adopted by the Fourth General Council as preserving the true teaching of the Church, and their language is guarded and correct. But in other writings of Cyril there are tendencies towards a one-sided teaching, which ultimately developed into Monophysitism. And this harmonizes with the general character of his writings. He is little concerned with the human life of Christ. It did not interest him any more than other Egyptian monks. What he is concerned with is the reality of God in man, and the absorption of man in God, and the religious life which seemed to depend upon that. The following passage from the second letter to Nestorius will illustrate his teaching, the teaching which has been accepted by the Christian Church.
'We do not affirm,' he writes, 'that the nature of the Word underwent a change and became flesh, or that it was transformed into a complete man, consisting of soul and body; but this rather, that the Word having united to Himself flesh animated with a rational soul, in a personal union, in an ineffable and inconceivable manner, became man and was called the Son of Man; yet not of mere will or pleasure, nor again by the simple taking to Himself of a person; and we say that while the natures which were brought together into this true unity were diverse, there came of both one Christ and Son; not as though the difference of the natures was taken away by the unity, but rather the Godhead and the Manhood by their ineffable and unspeakable consilience to unity completed for us the one Lord and Christ and Son.'
We need not trouble ourselves with the details of the history of the Council of Ephesus in 431 at which Nestorianism was condemned. They are not attractive. Cyril's desire was victory, not justice. Nestorius was deposed and banished to Libya. He lived long enough to see what he thought was the triumph of his own teaching at Chalcedon. Just as Arianism found a home among the Goths, Nestorianism found a home at Edessa in Mesopotamia, and later outside the Empire. Starting from Edessa it became a great missionary church, which previous to the Tartar supremacy in Asia stretched as far as the frontiers of China. Now there is only a very small
remnant left, a Church which until recently maintained a precarious existence in the confines of Mesopotamia and in the mountains of Kurdestan, has suffered much and is suffering from Mohammedan brutality, and is now a wandering people with no home in the world.
The Third General Council gives us a third point in the history of the Person of Christ. The first Council of Nicaea in 325 declared that he was truly divine, ἀληθῶς ; the second, that of Constantinople in 381, that he was completely human, τελέως ; the third, that of Ephesus in 431, as ἀδιαιρέτως, that there was no division in the Person. Christ is truly God and perfect man, and the two natures human and divine are joined in an inseparable union in the Person of Christ.
We now come to the next controversy, that associated with the name of Eutyches.
It has already been pointed out that language had been used by Cyril which had indeed harmonized with the tone of Alexandrian theology but hardly with the Christian tradition or indeed with his own more balanced teaching. He had spoken of 'one incarnate nature' of God the Word, or 'one nature, but that incarnate'. This might be defended as used by him, but was taken up by Eutyches in a way which seemed to destroy the whole reality of our Lord's human nature. Though there were two natures before the union, yet afterwards there was but one, for the human nature was absorbed in the divine as a drop of water in the ocean. Such teaching really represented what the Alexandrian monks thought, and when an 'outcry arose at Constantinople the cause of Eutyches was strongly taken up by Dioscorus, the successor of Cyril, who exaggerated all the defects of his character, his conduct, and his theology. He induced the Emperor Theodosius II to summon a council at Ephesus in the year 449. At this Council, which is generally known in history as the Latrocinium, the Robber Synod of Ephesus, the Antiochenes were attacked with great fury, and according to one account Flavian, Bishop of Antioch, was killed. Eutyches was declared orthodox, and the Antiochene theology was condemned.
But Eutyches had appealed not only to Alexandria but also to Rome, and at Rome at that time the Bishop was Leo, the first of the great Roman Bishops.
His episcopate extended from 440 to 461. It was the time when society in the West was breaking up, the temporal power failing, and the Roman bishop compelled to take upon himself temporal authority, and thus lay the foundation of the medieval papacy. But with this side of his life we are not concerned. Leo had written to Flavian, Bishop of Antioch, in 449 a letter on the controversy called the Rescript or Tome. It is an admirable example both of the merits and limitations of Roman theology. The West had inherited the language of Tertullian, and in the Tome of Leo the theology of the two natures of Christ, human and divine, is strongly and lucidly expounded. 'The properties of both natures,' he said, 'were preserved and co-existed in one Person, humility was embraced by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity.'Each nature retains without loss its own properties; and as the 'form of God' does not take away the 'form of a servant', so 'the form of a servant' does not detract from 'the form of God'. 'Each nature in union with the other performs the actions which are proper to it, the Word those which are proper to the Word, the flesh those which are proper to the flesh.' The unity is a unity of person, 'for one and the same person is truly the Son of God and truly the Son of Man'. The person is one but the natures are distinct.
This letter was ignored at the Council of 449, but after the death of the Emperor a new Council was summoned in 451 at Chalcedon. The Council is said to have been attended by 630 bishops, all from the East. It did three things. First, it condemned and deposed Dioscorus; secondly, it accepted both the Tome of Leo and the three letters of Cyril as containing the standard of the orthodox Faith, and thirdly, it drew up an exposition of the faith, not to take the place of the Creeds but merely to explain them.This exposition first of all ratified the symbols of Nicaea and Constantinople, i.e. the original Nicene Creed and that to which we give the name – it was only at this Council that it was ascribed to the Council of Constantinople, and there was, as I have already pointed out, great doubt as to the correctness of this ascription. But at any rate its oecumenical character is fully assured by the authority of Chalcedon.
The exposition ends by summing up the results of all the controversies of the Church up to that time, as follows:
'Following therefore the holy fathers, we confess our Lord Jesus Christ to be one and the same Son of God, and with one voice we all teach that He is perfect in Godhead, perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; co-essential with the Father, according to his Godhead and co-essential with us according to his manhood, in all things like us apart from sin: begotten of the Father before the ages as to His Godhead, in these last days for us men and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God as to His manhood, one and the same, Christ, Son, Lord, truly begotten; revealed in two natures without confusion, without conversion, undivided, never to be separated: the distinction of natures being in no way taken away on account of union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved, and coming together so as to make one person and hypostasis ; so that we do not confess one who is divided and separated into two personalities, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ, as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the word of the Father has handed down to us.'
In this definition we have the doctrine of two natures clearly set forth in technical language, a doctrine which will demand from us some further investigation. In this Council we have the final completion of the work of the four great Oecumenical Councils which have, as a matter of fact, defined the belief in the Person of Christ, as it has been received by the great body of Christians since then. It adds one technical term to those which we have so far learnt, ἀσυγχυτῶς, without confusion.
I do not think that it is possible to sum up the result attained by these centuries of controversy better than in the dignified language of Hooker:
'To gather, therefore, into one sum all that hitherto hath been spoken touching this point, there are but four things which concur to make complete the whole state of our Lord Jesus Christ: his Deity, his manhood, the conjunction of both, and the distinction of the one from the other being joined in one. Four principal heresies there are which have in those things withstood the truth: Arians by bending themselves against the Deity of Christ; Apollinarians by maiming and misinterpreting that which belongeth to his human nature; Nestorians by rending Christ asunder, and dividing him into two persons; the followers of Eutyches by confounding in his person those natures which they should distinguish. Against these there have been four most famous ancient general councils: the council of Nice to define against Arians, against Apollinarians the council of Constantinople, the council of Ephesus against Nestorians, against Eutychians the Chalcedon council. In four words ἀληθῶς, τελέως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀσυγχύτως, truly, perfectly, indivisibly, distinctly; the first applied to his being God, and the second to his being Man, the third to his being of both One, and the fourth to his still continuing in that one Both: we may fully by way of abridgement comprise whatsoever antiquity hath at large handled either in declaration of Christian belief, or in refutation of the foresaid heresies. Within the compass of which four heads, I may truly affirm, that all heresies which touch but the person of Jesus Christ, whether they have risen in these later days, or in any age heretofore, may be with great facility brought to confine themselves.
'We conclude, therefore, that to save the world it was of necessity the Son of God should be thus incarnate, and that God should be in Christ as hath been declared.'
Before we pass to the more critical and more constructive side of our work, we must finish the history of Greek Christology. Just as after the Council of Nicaea the Arian controversy went on for another 60 years, so, after the Council of Chalcedon, for the next 200 years the Eastern Empire was disturbed by the Monophysite controversy. The causes of that were not wholly theological, there were political and racial questions involved. It was the revolt of Egypt against the Byzantine tax-gatherer and the Byzantine centralized Empire; it was the revolt of Egyptian and Syrian against the dominant Greek, and against Western civilization, a revolt which culminated in Mohammedanism and has been repeated in our own day. Monophysite Christianity had taken a strong hold of the ancient Egyptian people and gave a spiritual support to their nationalist aspirations. But there were theological difficulties also, partly owing to the defects of the Chalcedonian formula, partly owing to its merits. It had not given a satisfactory explanation of the personal union. In particular the idea of the impersonal human nature did not seem satisfactory. The correct phraseology is that our Lord took to himself human nature. That seemed to mean that our Lord's human nature had no human personality attached to it. He was not a man. But the one thing Christian tradition was clear on was that our Lord's human life was real; he must, therefore, surely have been a man. Moreover what is the meaning, people asked, of a human nature without a person? The whole thing is inconceivable. It does not mean anything.
This leads us to the writings of a certain theologian, Leontius of Byzantium.
He introduced a phraseology which seemed to help to solve the question. We do not know much about him. He was a monk of Constantinople who lived towards the end of the fifth century and beginning of the sixth (485-543). He was an ardent but intelligent defender of the Chalcedonian formula, who understood the difficulties of his opponents and attempted to meet them. It is in him that we first find the use of Aristotelian phraseology in formulating the doctrine of our Lord. The problem was this, according to the Chalcedonian theology there were two natures after the union but only one person. How, it was said, can there be a nature apart from a person? The nature of a man has no existence apart from his personality. There cannot be a φύσις ἀνυπόστατος. Again if there was one Christ formed by two natures coming together, the human nature in Christ must have had a personal existence before the union, and therefore the question arises, has the human personality been lost and merged in the divine? The phraseology which Leontius introduced seemed to help towards a solution. There could not, he said, be a nature ἀνυπόστατος, but there might be one ἐνυπόστατος. The human nature had indeed no personality of its own, but it inhered in the personality of the Logos. The divine Word took to itself human nature. The personality of the human nature was the divine Word.
Now this I would suggest to you is just putting into technical language what every ordinary Christian thinks. What do we think? We think that he who is God became man. We think of him as God taking to himself, in a way that we cannot understand, everything that manhood meant, living as a man on earth and suffering as man. We cannot think of the
personality of Jesus on earth as different from his personality as God. The whole meaning of Christianity is that God in Jesus Christ became man. The phraseology then of Leontius gives in a technical way what we all think.
It has been argued that this is Apollinarianism. That only arises from a confusion between the intellect and the personality. Apollinarius held that the divine Word took the place of the human intellect, and all his teaching shows that that was what he meant, and the Church quite rightly condemned it. To make the unity lie in the divine person, who took human nature and lived as man is quite different, is a comprehensible and logical theory, and is what the Church has taught.
Next we come to the Monothelite controversy.
This arose probably from political causes. Owing to the Persian and Saracen invasions of the seventh century, an effort was made to unite the empire theologically, but these efforts, as is so often the case, only seemed to succeed in creating greater difficulties. The suggested solution was to say that whilst our Lord had two natures yet he only possessed one will. The phrase used was μία θεανδρικὴ ἐνέργεια ; one energy of the God-man. But it is clear at once that if you have only one will, then there is no human will, and if you take away the human will, then you have taken away just that portion of humanity in which mankind sins, just that in which disobedience has its seat, therefore our Lord had not human nature in its completeness. He could not redeem that part of our human nature which most required to be redeemed. Moreover this solution did not carry out the Chalcedonian decree as to the truth and reality of our Lord's humanity. So the whole question seemed to have been raised again by this political compromise. We need not trouble about the history of the controversy. It was at the sixth general council held at Constantinople in 680 that Monothelitism was condemned. The council adopted the theology of Chalcedon and added the following definition. In Christ there are 'two natural wills, not opposed to one another, but following, the human will always following the divine, not opposed to it, but always subordinate. For just as His flesh is, and is said to be the flesh of the Word, so also His human will is and is said to be proper to the Word. ... Just as His holy and spotless ensouled flesh was deified, yet not annihilated, so also His human will, though deified was not annihilated.'
If we are to understand this decision, the easiest way I think is to look at it from the point of view of ideal human goodness. What is the characteristic of an ordinary Christian man ? He has a human will, created with a desire to fulfil its highest ideal, but owing to sin unable to attain its full and complete development. A good man wishes to be good, but finds himself unable to succeed owing to the weakness of his will. Now as we shall find when we study the problem of free will, freedom of the will does not mean that the will is so free that on any particular occasion it is an even chance whether a man does right or wrong, but it means that the will has become perfectly free from anything that will prevent it from fulfilling its highest function and purpose. The ideal man is one whose will is free from imperfection and so is in exact harmony with God's will. It is the same with our Lord's human nature. He was truly and completely human. He had a human will, but as this will fulfilled perfectly the human ideal, therefore there was no antagonism between it and the divine will. His will was perfectly and ideally human because it was not opposed to the divine will. For the highest development of human nature comes not in the assertion of the human will against the divine will, but by the human nature and human will fulfilling all its functions in complete harmony with the divine will. If that be the true representation of our lives, and if this ideal were realized in our Lord's human nature, then the decision of the Sixth General Council was right. Our Lord must have had a complete human will, but because it was complete and perfect therefore it must always have worked in complete harmony with the divine will. In Christ is represented that perfection of human nature which we are always striving after.
This decision of the Sixth General Council was the final one as to the subject of the Person of Christ.
We now come to the last great name in the theology of the Eastern Church. The close of the seventh and the first half of the eighth century were distinguished by the writings of John of Damascus who died about the year 760. His life was a strange one. He lived at Damascus under the rule of the Saracens and was thus safe from the influence of Byzantine Emperors. He developed his theology unfettered by political and imperial influence and therefore he represents the most natural development of the Greek mind. He was also the first great writer who represented the scholastic as opposed to the creative period of human thought. Scholasticism is the tendency which comes at certain periods to formularize and systematize instead of to create. In the history of thought periods of vigorous creative life are generally succeeded by periods when the human mind and intellect is devoted not to finding out new truths but to expressing old truths in an exact way. Then comes the third period, the critical and destructive. The human mind has progressed, it finds the old phraseology inadequate, it enters on the path of vigorous criticism to prepare for a new period of creative activity. John of Damascus did for the East what Peter the Lombard did later for the West. He formularized theological thought. He expressed the result of seven centuries of Christian experience in a philosophical language and phraseology on which the East has lived to the present day.
His theology has two characteristics. The first is its orthodoxy. He represents correctly in all its expressions the orthodox statement of Chalcedon and the Sixth General Council. The importance of that is that his theology contains everything necessary for a complete grasp of our Lord's humanity. But secondly he is still under Eastern influence, and so shows a tendency to minimize that humanity.
He is an adherent of Chalcedon. He held the doctrine of the two natures. He also held the doctrine of the two wills. Christ is at once perfect God and perfect man. In him there are two natural modes of volition, a human and divine; two natural operations; two principles of free choice, human and divine, and even a double wisdom and knowledge, human and divine. He is of one nature with the Father, he wills and works as God freely. Equally truly can you say the same thing of him as man; he is of one essence with us, and he freely and truly works as man. But the Person is one: his are the miracles, his are the sufferings. Miracles and sufferings alike belong to one Person.
How then are the two natures united in this one Person? John takes up the phrase of Leontius, Enhypostatos. Christ did not join himself with a particular man, nor did he take human nature in a generic form, but he assumed human nature in such a way that he individualized what he assumed. His humanity has no independent substance, nor is it pre-existent. He took to himself human nature, and made it the nature of himself as an individual.
What is the relation of these two natures? From the unity of the person there follows the ἀντίδοσις ἰδιωμάτων, that communication of the properties of each nature to the other that has been already described, and the περιχώρησις, or the permeation of the human by the divine nature. In theory indeed the permeation of the two natures is mutual, the divine nature also being in some way affected and pervaded by the human, but there can be no doubt that in later Greek theology the divine so dominated the human that the perichoresis was one-sided.
'Though we declare that the natures of the Lord permeate each other, yet we know that the permeation issues from the Divine nature; for this penetrates through all things according as it wills and permeates them while nothing can penetrate it; it imparts to the human nature of
its own glories remaining itself impassible, and without part in the
passions of humanity.'
While, therefore, there is an οἰκείωσις or appropriation of human nature by the Logos, there is also a θέωσις, a making divine of human nature.
So also while the doctrine of the two wills is definitely asserted, yet the operation is but one and the humanity is moved in accordance with the will of the Logos; so that whatever the theory may be, practically the human nature loses its independence. Thus, in the last result there is one determinant will, that of the one Person in his divine nature.
So it has been said that John took away all that he gave. He takes away, at any rate he seems to take away, the reality of the human nature. There could be no real advance in wisdom or knowledge in Christ. When the Bible tells us that he took to himself the form of a servant, such language was only metaphorical. John of Damascus had not any conception of the Christ laying aside his divine attributes and living on earth as man. Therefore Christ's human life is not really an example. His human life was not real, and therefore the help that comes through it to us is not real. As Dr. Ottley tells us, so far as formulas could secure it, the doctrine of Christ's perfect humanity was accepted by the Eastern Church, but it was continually trying to take away what it had conceded, and the reason was that neither John nor the Eastern Church understood the full meaning of the act of loving condescension by which Christ became man and lived on earth. Their theories were physical and not moral. While the final expression of Eastern theology was sound, the Eastern theologians never fully grasped the whole meaning of the Incarnation and they could not do this because they had a defective view of personality. They were not interested in human personality and the possibilities of human nature. The tendency of the West has been always to start from the human personality. It did so in the case of St. Augustine, and therefore developed the Augustinian doctrine of Grace, which was an attempt to solve the religious problem in relation to the individual human being. So at the present day the whole tendency of Western theology is to emphasize the human side of our Lord's life because its primary interest is in the development of the individual.
Whatever may have been the defect of Eastern theology, it has to be remembered that it was the Eastern Church which formulated the doctrine of Christ as it has been accepted by the whole Church, Eastern and Western, ever since, and the starting-point of all advance and of all further comprehension of the Christian revelation must be the final achievement of Eastern Christianity, the theology of the Chalcedonian definition and all that that implies.
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