Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Christological Divide that Anticipated Chalcedon, Part 2

The last segment of this series saw the victory of Antiochene dyophysite christology ("Logos-man") over Apollinaris' extreme version of Alexandrian monophysite christology ("Logos-flesh"), culminating in the condemnation of Apollinarianism at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Ten Interesting Facts Concerning the Christological Divide that Anticipated Chalcedon, Part 2:

(1) As defenders of Nicene dogma, the Antiochene school's main concern was to uphold the full deity of the Logos by denying that any human attributes or limitations could be attributed to the divine Son. For this reason, Apollinaris' teaching that the incarnate Logos is a composite nature, and thus the proper subject of both divine and human attributes and actions, was considered blasphemous. Prominent Antiochene representatives include John Chrysostom, Diodore of Tarsus (a participant at the Council of Constantinople), and Theodore of Mopsuestia (a pupil of Diodore).

(2) Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. 350-428, bishop from 392) is credited for providing the definitive Antiochene solution to the conundrum of the unity of the Logos with a complete human nature: the theory of "prosopic union." Theodore's account of the prosopic union posits an indissoluble conjunction of the divine and human natures (phusis) that is so complete and intimate as to effect one "person" (prosopon), in the sense of an external functional subject or outward identity.

(3) While Theodore explicitly denied the old Samasotan heresy of two Sons or two Christs, he nevertheless often spoke of the incarnation in terms of the Logos assuming "the man" (homo assumptus), albeit indissolubly and ineffably, at conception. Furthermore, he described the nature of the union in terms of an indwelling of the Logos in "the man" by "good pleasure" (eudokia), whereby the Word in grace confers his own prosopon to the man. On account of the severe criticism his position would receive from Cyril of Alexandria during the Nestorian controversy, Theodore's christological writings would eventually be condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553.

(4) The leading proponent of Alexandrian Christology in this era was Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 378-ca. 444), the nephew of Theophilus of Alexandria, who Cyril succeeded to the patriarchal see in 412. This same Theophilus had engineered the deposition and exile of John Chrysostom from Constantinople in 401. Cyril shared with Theophilus his jealously for the traditional prerogatives of Alexandria, as well as his adroitness at ecclesiastical politics.

(5) Cyril, the latest in the long line of Alexandrian "Logos-flesh" thinkers, understood the incarnation in terms of the Logos adding human flesh (sarx) to his hypostasis, while yet remaining unchanged in his essential deity. The Logos who had existed asarkos (i.e., "outside flesh") had become ensomatos (i.e., "embodied") at the incarnation. Hence, Cyril posited one nature (phusis) "out of two" (eis ek duo). In contrast to the Antiochene "indwelling by good pleasure," Cyril spoke in terms of a "natural" or "hypostatic" union. To express this teaching, Cyril vigorously employed the Apollinarian phrase, "one incarnate nature of the divine Word" (mia phusis tou theou logou sesarkomene), which he mistakenly attributed to Athanasius.

(6) In 428 the Antiochene and Alexandrian christologies collided once again, this time occasioned by the elevation of the Antiochene monk Nestorius to the see of Constantinople. No sooner did Nestorius arrive in the imperial city than he found himself embroiled in a controversy over the use of the venerable title Theotokos ("God-bearer") for the Virgin Mary. Echoing the misgivings of Theodore on the same issue, Nestorius ruled that "that which was formed in the womb is not God," and "God was within the one who was assumed." Hence, Theotokos was judged to be misleading unless qualified with the term Anthropotokos ("man-bearer"), or replaced altogether with the honorific Christotokos ("Christ-bearer").

(7) To make matters worse, Cyril and Nestorius were already at odds over the case of a group of Egyptian monks who had appealed to Nestorius concerning a judgment rendered against them by Cyril. However, Nestorius's disavowal of the unqualified use of Theotokos (a term that had been employed by Athanasius of blessed memory), presented Cyril with tour de force grounds for challenging the authority of the see of Constantinople. Cyril began his attack on Nestorius by writing to the disaffected Egyptian monks in defense of Theotokos.

(8) Despite his reliance on Theodore, Nestorius' articulation of the Antiochene position was deemed innovative and clumsy even by those who were his natural supporters, like John of Antioch. This is because Nestorius spoke in terms of a distinct "prosopon of union," considered by him to be the common prosopon (external identity) of the divinity and the humanity in Christ. This "prosopon of union," not that of the Logos per se, was the historical figure presented in the Gospels. Hence, the truly innovative and heretical feature of Nestorius' position was the coalescence of the two natures, divine and human, into one prosopon that was nevertheless distinct from the prosopa of either the Logos or the man (a genuine tertium quid).

(9) Both Cyril and Nestorius went to great lengths to garner support, writing a series of accusatory letters to each other. Cyril understood the importance of gaining the support of the emperor, Theodosius II, his wife, and his influential sister, Pulcheria, against Nestorius, as well as appealing to the Roman pope, Celestine I. Nestorius also appealed to Celestine, but the latter was already disgruntled by the extension of hospitality in Constantinople to certain exiled Pelagians. A synod held in Rome in 430 called for Nestorius to recant within ten days of the receipt of its judgment and affirm the teaching of "Rome, Alexandria and the whole Catholic Church," or face excommunication.

(10) Cyril, charged by Celestine to execute the sentence, held a synod in Alexandria that confirmed the Roman decision. He then proceeded to write his infamous third letter to Nestorius, to which he presumed to append twelve anathemas that articulated his own uncompromising "Logos-flesh" christology in provocative language and tone. The letter with appended anathemas could not help but alienate prominent Antiochene thinkers like John of Antioch and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, who would now come to the support of Nestorius.

To be continued in Part 3...


Augustinian Successor said...

Dan, could it be that Theodore conceived of the union *symetrically*, rather than *assymetrically*? That is that the union was "personal" (i.e. between the Divine Person and an undividuated human being), rather than "natural" (i.e. between the Divine Nature and human nature). If this is the case, it seems that implicit in Theodore's thinking is the priority of Nature over Person.

Third Mill Catholic said...

There is no doubt that Theodore conceived things symetrically, as you suggest. The concept of the human nature being enhypostatic (and thus asymetrical) in its union with the Divine Logos is a much later (neo-Chalcedonian) idea.

It's a little early in the history of ideas to place too much emphasis on "nature" and "person" with respect to Christology (even though the Cappadocians had already introduced this distinction in Trinitarian thought).

Interestingly, both schools (Antioch, Alexandria) were still struggling with the language of prosopon, phusis, hypostasis (typically, though understandably, avoiding ousia).

For instance, a prosopon was not a "person" as we conceive of the term, but merely the recognition of an entity as a proper subject or outward external identity. Similarly, phusis and hypostasis were still at this time near synonyms, one denoting a concrete entity and the other subsistent reality. We tend to think of phusis (nature) in the abstract, but this is a later idea.