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History of the Creeds

History of the Creeds


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Introduction   Theology   Christology   Anthropology   

Christology - Controversies Concerning The Relationship Between The Natures Of Christ

The settlement of the theological question concerning the relationship of the Son to the Father at Nicaea raised new problems concerning the relationship between the human and divine natures of Christ. Before the orthodox doctrine of the relationship of the two natures was finally formulated, many scenes of passion and violence occurred. In general, those theologians linked with Alexandria emphasized the deity of Christ; those with Antioch, His humanity.

A view of the two natures of Christ that did injustice to Christ's true manhood was developed by Apollinaris, a converted teacher of rhetoric and bishop of Laodicea. Apollinaris developed his peculiar doctrine concerning the natures of Christ when he was about sixty. Until that time he had been a good friend of Athanasius and had been one of the leading champions of orthodoxy. In an attempt to avoid the undue separation of the human and divine natures of Christ, Apollinaris taught that Christ had a true body and soul, but that the spirit in man was replaced in Christ by the logos. The logos as the divine element actively dominated the passive element, the body and soul, in the person of Christ. He stressed the deity of Christ but minimized His true manhood. His view was officially condemned and the ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381.

In contrast to the view of Apollinaris was the view developed by Nestorius, a scholarly monk who became patriarch at Constantinople in 428. Nestorius disliked the use of the term theotokos (God-bearer) as a name for the Virgin Mary because it seemed to exalt her unduly. He offered the word Christotokos as an alternative, arguing that Mary was only the mother of the human side of Christ. By so arguing he made Christ out to be a man in whom, in Siamese twin fashion, the divine and human natures were combined in a mechanical union rather than in an organic union of nature. Christ was in effect only a perfect man who was morally linked to deity. He was a God-bearer rather than the God-man. Leaders of the Church gathered at Ephesus in 431 and condemned this doctrine, but the followers of Nestorius continued their work in the Eastern section of the Empire and carried the Gospel as they conceived it to Persia, India and even China.

In reaction to views of such men as Nestorius, emphasis was again laid upon the divine nature of Christ to the neglect of His human nature. Eutychus, a monk of Constantinople, insisted that after the Incarnation the two natures of Christ, the human and the divine, were fused into one nature, the divine. This view, known as Eutychianism, resulted in the loss of the true humanity of Christ. It was condemned in a long letter, known as the Tome, by Leo I, the bishop of Rome between 440 and 461, and by the Council of Chalcedon held in 451. The Council of Chalcedon went on to promulgate a Christology that would be in accord with the Scriptures. The Council held that Christ was "complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man," having "two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation." These two natures were brought together harmoniously in one Person with one essence by the Incarnation. This formulation has been the view of the orthodox on this point since the time of the Council.

The views of Eutyches were revived in the Monophysite controversy which disturbed the peace of the Eastern Empire until the middle of the sixth century. Some groups still hold to this view in Abyssinia, Syria and Egypt.

The settlement of the relation between the human and divine natures of Christ was followed by discussion of the relationship of the wills of Christ. Did He have both a divine and human will? If so, were they equal or was one subordinate to the other? This dispute was finally settled at the Council of Constantinople (680-681) with the assertion that the two wills of Christ exist in Him in a harmonious unity in which the human will is subject to the divine will.

The settlement of these various issues in the Eastern Church left the Eastern section of Christianity with little further contribution to make to the main stream of Christianity. Except for the word of John of Damascus in the eight century, Eastern theology remained stagnant until modern times.

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