Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ten Interesting Facts on the Christological Divide that Anticipated Chalcedon, Part 1

(1) The major christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries are directly attributable to the fallout from the Arian controversy, particularly the widening rift between two distinct approaches to christology within the Nicene party -- repectively dubbed the Alexandrian and Antiochene approaches to christology.

(2) Arianism shared a fundamental conception of the incarnation with orthodox Alexandrians (i.e., the Nicene party), wherein the Logos was seen as constituting the real subject of everything that happens to the Christ presented in the Gospel accounts. Consequently, both positions agreed that the Logos in the flesh experienced hunger, thirst, doubt, suffering, and every other limitation known to the human condition.

(3) The Arians appealed to these limitations as proof that the Logos possesses a passible nature, and thus is a creature. In contrast, Athanasius and the Alexandrain party argued that in assuming human flesh the Logos had also assumed a human way of being without forfeiting his divine way of being.

(4) Despite these differences, both the orthodox Alexandrians and the Arians worked from the Platonic premise that the physical body is animated by a spirit or soul that is essentially alien to it. Hence, the Logos, in assuming flesh, constitutes the true life-principle or "ego" of Jesus Christ. The weakness of this approach was that it did not adequately account for a separate created human mind in Christ. This approach is aptly characterized as a "Logos-flesh" Christology, and is fundamentally monophysite in its conception of the incarnation.

(5) In contrast, the dyophysite approach of the orthodox Antiochene school, aptly characterized as a "Logos-man" Christology, emphasized the role of Christ as the "Second Adam," and thus understood the Word or Logos as uniting Himself to a complete human nature, both body and soul. However, the weakness of this position lies in viewing the incarnation as a conjoining, rather than a union, of two complete natures, divine and human, each considered to be the proper subject of its own respective actions and attributes.

(6) Tensions between the two christologies can be dated as early as 352 AD. In 362, a temporary doctrinal accord was reached at a synod held in Alexandria, in which Athanasius himself presided. There Paulinus of Antioch successfully argued that Christ must have assumed a full human nature (both body and soul) in order to save man's body and soul. This argument clearly impressed Athanasius. Yet since he held (in common with other Alexandrians) that the Logos was the very archetpye of the mind or soul, it is doubtful that he actually understood or appreciated the full anthropological implications of the Antiochene position.

(7) Serious controversy erupted a decade later when Apollinaris of Laodicea, an ardent defender of Nicene dogma and a friend of Athanasius, put forward an extreme version of the Alexandrian position. Interestingly, Apollinaris had been the person largely responsible for bringing Basil of Caesarea to the homoousian position.

(8) Anticipating the Eutychian heresy of the 5th century, Apollinaris took the Platonic conception of anthropology to its logical conclusion by denying the existence of a human psychology in Christ and contending that the assumption of the flesh by the Logos resulted in a composite unity of impassible divinity and passible flesh, in which the flesh was considered to be fully absorbed into the divine (flowing from an extreme application of the Alexandrian principle of communicatio idiomata). Incidentally, Apollinaris was the first to employ "hypostasis" (Gr. hupostasis) in a christological setting, a term which he understood to be synomous with the terms prosopon (i.e., person) and phusis (i.e., nature).

(9) For the orthodox Alexandrians, the scandal of Apollonaris' teaching was his admission that Christ's nature was different from that of ordinary human nature, thus rendering Christ immune from human passions, suffering, and limitations. The resulting christology was expressed in the phrase "one incarnate nature of the divine Word" (Gr. mian phusin tou theou logou sesarkomenen).

(10) Pope Damasus condemned Apollinaris outright at a synod in Rome in 377. The actions of this synod were confirmed by synods held in Alexandria (378) and Antioch (379) respectively, and finally at the Council of Constantinople (381). Despite the condemnation of Apollinaris' teaching, the Apollinarian-inspired phrase "one incarnate nature of the divine Word" would eventually become associated with the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria, the champion of the Council of Ephesus (431).


Augustinian Successor said...

As usual, a nuanced exposition marked by precise clarity. An excellent complement to JND Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines. I'm staying tuned for the next supplement.

Third Mill Catholic said...

Thanks, Jason. Look for Part 2 over the weekend.