Saturday, May 20, 2006

What do you think: Are the Non-Chalcedonian Churches Catholic?


[The following excerpt is taken from Archbishop Aram Keshishian's paper given at the fifth Pro Oriente Consultation, 18-25 September 1988, in Vienna, Austria. Four unofficial theological consultations between theologians of the Oriental Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church had already taken place between 1971 and 1978, at the invitation of Pro Oriente, an ecumenical foundation of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna.]

Chalcedonian Christology has occupied an important place on the agenda of our discussions. An agreement has been reached on the following points.

  • The same apostolic faith was affirmed as the 'common basis' of our faith.
  • The decisions and teachings of Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus were accepted by both Churches.
  • The Nestorian and Eutychian teachings were rejected as heresies.
  • The existing differences in theological formulations, interpretations and emphasizes have to be understood in the light of Nicea and Constantinople.
  • The mystery of Christ remains inexhaustible and ineffable. It transcends human perceptions and expressions. Constant and common efforts need to be made to have a more comprehensive grasp of this mystery.

...Having said this, the Oriental Orthodox Churches maintain unequivocally that:

(1) The first three ecumenical councils are the foundation of our Christology, and, as such, they cannot be altered or added to. Chalcedon is only an interpretation of Nicea and Constantinople. The Chalcedonian formula is not a credo but only a theological statement.

(2) The physis of Christ is both human and divine with all the properties of the two natures without mixture, confusion or separation. The human and divine natures do not act separately, but always together, inseparably united in one person. The hypostatic union of two natures makes them one. They are separated in thought alone. 'We confess the oneness of two natures' which, in fact, is not a numerical one, but a united one.

(3) Terminology remains a major problem in Christology. Chalcedonian controversies proved that the same terms and formulations often had different meanings and implications in different cultural and theological contexts. Chalcedon affirmed 'en duo' out of fear of Eutychianism. The Oriental Orthodox Churches held firm 'ek duo' over against the Nestorian tendency. Two sides used different terminologies for different concerns. Their intention, however, was the same: to maintain intact the teachings of the first three ecumenical councils against the invasion of Nestorianism. The words of Nerses the Gracious, a twelfth-century Armenian theologian are, indeed, challenging: 'If "one nature" is said for the indivisible and indissoluble union, and not for the confusion; and "two natures" as being unconfused, immutable and indivisible, both are within the bounds of Orthodoxy.'

--Archbishop Aram Keshishian, Orthodox Perspectives on Mission (1992), pp. 89-90.

13 comments:

Mark said...

Well, the Armenian formulation seems to have all the necessary parts for an orthodox christology: the reality of the two natures is affirmed, as is the hypostatic union "without mixture, confusion or separation". And it clearly rejects the errors of Eutychianism and Nestorianism.

Their definition of the union as a single physis, moreover, is predicated upon the indissoluableness of the hyposytatic union , not a mathematical oneness ( Isn't it the case that the monophysite churches get this idea from Cyril of Alexandria ) ?

In its own way, the Armenian formula
has profoundly biblical resonances. Think, for instance, of the scriptural teaching about matrimony: when a man and a woman are brought together in Christian marriage, they retain the integrity of their created differences as male and female; and yet, the union of the two in Christ creates something new and wonderful; they are now "one flesh". Likewise, in the Church, Jews and Gentiles do not forfeit the distinctives which make up their respective ethnicities; in Christ, however, there is a kind of marriage between the Jewish Christian and his Gentile brother, a sacramental union that creates " one new man" out of the two.

-Mark

lexorandi2 said...

Good thoughts, Mark.

If your assessment is correct (btw, I am inclined to think it is) what are the implications to the Eastern Orthodox claim of ecclesiastical ultimacy?

Mark said...

Well, Dan, you and I might find the christology of the Oriental Orthodox churches satisfactory; Eastern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, might need more convincing. Besides, the problems that Orthodoxy has with Anglicanism does not include a heterodox christology...does it?

-Mark

lexorandi2 said...

The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox have been negotiating a reunion for years and an incredible amount of progress has been made. Both sides agree that they share a common Christology though they may articulate it a little differently. The ONLY thing that keeps them apart is a question of how many ecumenical councils there have been, and the problem of jurisdiction where parallel jurisdictions exist.

joseph said...

Talk about the complexity of church history. Here is one Orthodox theologians response to the question.

Dear Father x,

I think the question has less to do with "apologies" (and I basically agree with your position on that) and more to do with ecclesial matters: if, hypothetically, it were determined that there were no doctrinal impediments to communion between the Chalcedonian Church and the Copts, what do we do with the veneration of saints who were persecuted and martyred by the other side, and who were each other's sworn enemies? Would we give them a list of saints that had to be removed from their calendar? Would they present us with such a list? Or do you overlook everything while everyone continues to venerate whom they have always venerated? And what about Coptic saints who may have been indisputably radical Monophysites for whom the Coptic Church has a continuing attachment?

I certainly do not presume to know the answers; however, these are, as I understand them, some of the questions.

With love in Christ,

Fr. y

joseph said...

An Orthodox response to the question.
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/mono_share.aspx

Mark said...

I think it's terrific that negotiations between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches are coming along so well. Would Orthodoxy accept Abp. Keshishian's claim that there is still one catholic Church, despite the many historical instances of her unity being "obscured" ( and in the sense that the Oriental churches are recognized as part of the one catholic Church )?

-Mark

lexorandi2 said...

The jury's still out, so to speak, on that question. On the one hand I can't see that this can be done without a fundamental ecclesiological rethink on their part. On the other hand, it's not like the Eastern Orthodox deny that there are other apostolic bodies outside of her communion -- Rome being a case in point. On the other hand (three hands, I know), Rome is schismatic and therefore not catholic. What a mess to sort out.

I will say this: in my opinion the reunion of apostolic churches must begin with the oldest schisms (pre-1054) in the East, and then move on to fix the Great Schism between East and West. Meanwhile Rome should attempt to fix things with the Old Catholics and whatever remains of Anglicanism.

lexorandi2 said...

The jury's still out, so to speak, on that question. On the one hand I can't see that this can be done without a fundamental ecclesiological rethink on their part. On the other hand, it's not like the Eastern Orthodox deny that there are other apostolic bodies outside of her communion -- Rome being a case in point. On the other hand (three hands, I know), Rome is schismatic and therefore not catholic. What a mess to sort out.

I will say this: in my opinion the reunion of apostolic churches must begin with the oldest schisms (pre-1054) in the East, and then move on to fix the Great Schism between East and West. Meanwhile Rome should attempt to fix things with the Old Catholics and whatever remains of Anglicanism.

lexorandi2 said...

I should also hope that Rome's dialogue with Lutheranism will bear some fruit.

Mark said...

Well, I suppose we should grateful that meetings of the ARCIC continue on, even as the Western Anglican churches sink deeper and deeper into apostasy. Speaking of the Old Catholics, aren't they afflicted with the same decadence that has corrupted Anglicanism so thoroughly?

-Mark

Marshall said...

It is worth noting that representatives of the Anglican Communion have had conversations with the Oriental Orthodox Churches and with the "Separated Churches of the East" (the Assyrian Church of the East et al). In Lambeth 1920, Resolution 21 included the clause, "investigations have gone far towards showing that any errors as to the incarnation of our Lord, which may at some period of their history have been attributed to them, have at any rate now passed away." (Notably, they say that not only are they not "Nestorian," but that Nestorius was not "Nestorian," but was misunderstood and mistranslated.) In November, 2002, the Anglican/Oriental Orthodox International Commission issued an "Agreed Statement on Christology." (Which statement expressed explicitly concerns about Anglican conversations with the Assyrian Church.) It would be interesting if we could perhaps stimulate that conversation, in addition to an Eastern Orthodox/Oriental Orthodox conversation.

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