Friday, August 03, 2007

The Christological Divide that Anticipated Chalcedon, Part 3

Commissioned by Pope Celestine of Rome to prosecute the judgment of the Roman synod of 430 concerning the teachings of Nestorius, Cyril of Alexandria proceeded to write his infamous third letter to Nestorius, to which he appended twelve anathemas (see entry below). This turned out to be ill-judged, as the pope's charge did not envision a new definition of the faith, and the language of the anathemas only served to incite moderate Antiochenes against Cyril in defense of Nestorius.

Ten More Interesting Facts Concerning the Christological Divide that Anticipated Chalcedon, Part 3:

(1) Moderate Antiochene thinkers like John of Antioch, Andrew of Samosata, and Theodoret of Cyrrus were alarmed by what they perceived to be Apollinarian implications in the Cyrilline Christology.

(2) The teachings of Theodoret can be seen as representative of the mature Antiochene position at this stage of the christological divide. Avoiding the pitfalls of Nestorius' clumsy assertion of two natural prosopa united under one prosopon of identity, Theodoret asserted both the completeness and distinction of the two natures (phusis) while maintaing but one person (prosopon) in which the natures were united. Interestingly, at this point in the history of the debate, Antiochenes like Theodoret were of a mind to avoid Theodore of Mopsuestia's distinction between "the Word who assumes" and "the Man who is assumed."

(3) The essential difference between the Cyrilline and Antiochene christologies lies in the nature of the union of the divine and human natures in Christ. The Antiochenes objected to Cyril's "hypostatic union" as implying some kind of necessary union, harkening back to pre-Apollinarian days when Alexandrian christology, using an essentially platonic anthropology as its base, understood the Logos as constituting the "spirit or soul" of the incarnate Christ. The Antiochenes also objected to Cyril's insistence on a genuine communicatio idiomata as implying a mixing or confusion of the two natures.

(4) At the prompting of Nestorius, and the concurrence of the western emperor, Valentianian III, Emperor Theodosius II of the East summoned a general council to meet on Pentecost (June 7) in the city of Ephesus in 431.

(5) Cyril and his supporters were the first two arrive in the city. On June 22, despite the protests of the imperial commissioners, Cyril and sixty like-minded bishops proceeded to hold a synod without the Antiochene delegation. Nestorius, who had arrived earlier in Ephesus, naturally refused to attend.

(6) After the letters of both Cyril and Nestorius had been read aloud, the Cyrillian synod proceeded to condemn Nestorius as "the new Judas." The synod also canonized the symbol of Nicaea (325) as summarizing the orthodox faith and Cyril's second letter to Nestorius as its authoritative interpretation. This all took place in a one-day session.

(7) When the Antiochene delegation finally arrived on June 26, they proceeded to hold their own synod under the presidency of John of Antioch, and promptly deposed and condemned Cyril and Memnon, bishop of Ephesus, while also repudiating Cyril's Twelve Anathemas as Apollinarian.

(8) The Roman delegation finally arrived on July 10, and, following the instructions of the pope, joined the Cyrillian synod. At this point, John of Antioch was added to the list of the deposed, and, as a gesture of good will to the western delegation, Pelagianism was condemned. It was this synod that would go down in history as the Third Ecumenical Council.

(9) Amidst the confusion, Theodosius was compelled to intern the leaders of both parties. However, given his own theological sympathies, and helped by the aggressive diplomacy of Cyril's supporters, he quickly restored Cyril to the see of Alexandria and deposed Nestorius, who retired to his monastary near Antioch.

(10) While at this point the two parties appeared hopelessly and irreparably to be more divided than ever before, two important factors pointing toward the possibility of future rapprochement deserve attention. First, the Twelve Anathemas appended to Cyril's third letter, while being read aloud at the Cyrillian synod, were not given its endorsement, being passed over in favor of Cyril's second letter. Second, John of Antioch's synod, while condemning Cyril and Memnon, had nonetheless failed to endorse or rehabilitate Nestorius.

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