Saturday, February 14, 2009

Where There are Two Wills, One Finds a Way*

UPDATE: Greetings to everyone coming over from the Patristic Carnival at Hyperekperissou. I want to apologize for the confusion caued by my title. The essay actually deals with the mature of Christ's natures. As I noted in my comments, "The problem [the matter if His two natures]seemed intractible, but because Christ had two wills, He provided a way." My original explanation is below.

*That matter of Christ's two wills wasn't actually settled until the Third Council of Constantinople. However, the title just worked, so I kept it.

Following the affirmation of the Nicene-Constantinople creed at the first Council of Constantinople, a new storm began brewing in the Catholic Church, one that perhaps can be seen as a response to the Trinitarian denial of the Arians as well as an attempt to accommodate certain Gnostic tendencies in some early Christian communities.[1] The Councils Nicaea and Constantinople resolved that Jesus Christ is truly “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten, not made.”[2] What came, then, to the forefront was the question of Christ Himself. How could Jesus Christ be Divine and God, yet a man? It is not surprising that this paradox raised questions in people’s minds. Oddly enough, as St. Augustine noted, heretics do us a kind of favor in that they force us to clarify our theological formulations.[3]

Proponents of the Antiochene school, in response to a heresy put forward by Apollinaris, stressed the full humanity of Christ.[4] By assuming our humanity, Christ was able to repair the damage done to us in Adam’s fall.[5] Apollinaris had proposed that Christ assumed only a human body and soul (meaning, the principle of animal life), but not a human spirit (the rational center of man).[6] As St. Gregory of Nyssa and other Fathers would note, if Christ did not also assume a human mind as well as a human soul, then our souls and minds could not be saved.[7] In this emphasis, the Antiochene Fathers occasionally went too far in seeing in Christ a human person[8] and perhaps did not describe clearly enough Christ’s unity. This lack of precision in their language contributed to the Nestorian heresy, which diminished the unity of the divine and human in Christ and suggested two persons (divine and human, with a single prosopon or outward appearance) rather that one divine Person or hypostasis.[9]

The competing school in Alexandria went the opposite direction, overstressing the unity of the divine Person in Christ. Because of their role in contesting Arianism, they focused on Christ’s divinity in such a way that tended to minimize His humanity.[10] This overemphasis on the divine would lead to the opposite extreme of Monophysitism, proposing that Jesus Christ had only one divine nature. Somewhere between the two extremes of Nestorianism and Monophysitism lay the truth, one that employed the two complementary emphases of the Antiochene and Alexandrian schools. It would take several councils to settle the matter definitively for the orthodox Catholic Church.

While support can be found in scripture and in the writings of many Fathers (for example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Epiphanius of Salamis)[11], two Fathers figure prominently in the development of the doctrine of the Incarnation: St. Cyril of Alexandria and Pope St. Leo the Great.[12] St. Cyril had written several works condemning the teachings of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and both had appealed to Rome. The eventual result was the Council of Ephesus, where St. Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas became part of the acts of the council (although not fully endorsed).[13] Because of the lack of clarity in St. Cyril’s language, some from the Antiochene school leveled charges of both Apollinarism and Monophysitism against him.[14] Pope St. Leo also wrote several letters, including one to Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople, which clarified the doctrine of the two natures,[15] and he captured in particular the necessity of the Hypostatic Union for our salvation:

While preserving, therefore, the quality proper to each nature, and joining both in one Person, lowliness was taken on by majesty, weakness by strength, and mortality by eternity. And in order to pay the debt of our condition, an inviolable nature was united to a nature capable of suffering so that, this being the kind of reparation we needed, one and the same Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, as able to die in one nature and not the other.[16]

In the end, both Fathers contributed to the formulation that eventually came about in 451 AD. At the Council of Chalcedon, the definitive doctrine on the Incarnation of Christ was ratified and made the official stance of the Church.

At Chalcedon, the bishops and priests confirmed the following points of doctrine. First, Christ is a divine Person or Hypostasis.[17] He is not a human person (as Arius taught) or two separate persons, divine and human (as Nestorius was purported to have taught, although he apparently denied this).[18] Second, Christ exists in a divine and a human nature, each of which is perfect and complete.[19] The Hypostatic Union does not diminish the divine nature, but in contrast, raises up and restores human nature.[20] Third, the Hypostatic Union is substantial and not merely accidental (in appearance or in a nonessential way only) or moral (as an indwelling or as a divine rational soul superseding a human intellect).[21] Fourth, the divine nature and the human nature are distinct and do not combine to form a new nature. Finally, because only one person exists, a divine Person in two natures, any activity or property attributable to either of these natures can be attributed to Christ the divine Person. For this reason, it is acceptable to refer to the Virgin Mary as Theotokos, just as it is likewise appropriate to say that God the Son suffered and died on the cross.[22] So the council confirmed that we worship only one God. In the words of St. Cyril of Alexandria, “According to His Divinity He is consubstantial with the Father, and according to His humanity He is consubstantial with us. A union was made of two natures, on which account we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord.”[23]

While the Council of Chalcedon settled the question of Christ’s dual natures, it did not prevent the eventual rupture with the Monophysite churches in the East.[24] Nonetheless, it did settle for all time the teaching of the Church in regards to the reality of Christ’s divinity and humanity.

Walter Drum, “The Incarnation,” 1910, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 9 February 2009, .

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vatican, 1997), 49–50.

Rev. Douglas Mosey, “Patristics: Lecture 2,” International Catholic University, (Catholic Educational Television, Inc., 2006), 9.

“Chalcedonians and Monophysites: Do We Share the Same Beliefs?” Orthodox Christian Information Center, 10 February 2009 .

Rev. Douglas Mosey, “Patristics: Lecture 3,” International Catholic University, (Catholic Educational Television, Inc., 2006), 6.

Joseph Sollier, “Apollinarianism,” 1907, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 10 February 2009 .

Mosey, “Patristics: Lecture 3,” p. 6.

Ibid., p. 10.

“Chalcedonians and Monophysites: Do We Share the Same Beliefs?” Orthodox Christian Information Center, 10 February 2009 .


William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 1, (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1970), 350; also Volume 2, 69.

Mosey, “Patristics: Lecture 3,” p. 9.

William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 3, (Collegeville: The Liturgucal Press, 1979), 229–230,

Ibid., 230.

Ibid., 268.

Ibid., 270.

Mosey, “Patristics: Lecture 3,” 10.

John Chapman, “Nestorius and Nestorianism,” 1911, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 10 February 2009, .

Mosey, “Patristics: Lecture 3,” 10.

Ibid., 6.

Ibid., 10. I have to admit that I was not able to find an adequate definition of the term moral in this context. However, as it indicates agency, I deduced (hopefully, correctly) that this referred to the error of Apollinaris in teaching that the human rational faculty absent in Christ, and to Nestorius’ error in suggesting a junction of the natures rather than a union.

Ibid., 10.

William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 3, (Collegeville: The Liturgucal Press, 1979), 207.

Ibid., 269.
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