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CHAPTER VIII

THE UNION OF THE DIVINE AND THE HUMAN NATURES IN CHRIST

Atbanasius.--Throughout the controversy with Arianism, Athanasius and the Catholics were mainly concerned with asserting the fact of the incarnation and the consequent truth of the doctrines of the atonement and of the Trinity. The manner of the union between the divine and the human natures in Christ was not minutely discussed. Nevertheless, the Arians raised the question whether Christ is truly human no less than the question whether Christ is truly divine. They taught that Christ was destitute of a human spirit, the place of a spirit having been taken by the half-divine Word. They therefore excluded from the Saviour's life all possibility of true human experience. Now, we might have feared that Athanasius, in asserting the true Divinity of the Son, would forget the real meaning of the Gospel narratives and give only a Docetic explanation of Christ's sufferings and humiliations. This, however, was far from being the case. He insisted very plainly upon the truth that Christ's manhood was real. Two points especially deserve attention:--

(1) With regard to the human knowledge of Christ. The Arians declared that the texts, Mark xiii. 32 and Luke ii. 52, proved that the Word when He became Incarnate was ignorant of certain divine truths. They said that the mind which the Word brought with Him from heaven was not omniscient, and was therefore able to advance in knowledge. The argument of Athanasius in opposing this theory is that omniscience belongs to 100 the Godhead of the Word, but that the human mind which the Word took was limited. It was able to grow just as truly as the human stature of Christ was able to grow. He appeals to the passages in Scripture which show that our Lord possessed a knowledge transcending human limitations, and he declares that Christ manifested a divine knowledge. At the same time he asserts that our Lord could as Man be ignorant of what He knew as God. It was 'for our profit' that Christ during His life on earth willed to be limited in respect of His human nature. Athanasius here, as elsewhere, keeps strictly to Scripture. He avoids (a) the exaggerated theory which was common in the Middle Ages, and has been still further exaggerated in Jesuit theology--the theory that Christ's human ignorance was simply lack of actual human experience. Athanasius equally avoids (b) the theory which has become popular among modern Protestants--the theory that the divine mind of the Son of God became diminished and ignorant when He became incarnate. (2) With regard to the consubstantiality of Jesus Christ with man. In 371, two years before his death, Athanasius wrote a "Letter to Epictetus." In this letter he carefully criticises the theory that the body of Christ was unreal or identical in nature with His Divinity. He declares that the Saviour in very truth became Man, and that the incorporeal Word was in a passible body. 'That which was born of Mary was according to the divine Scriptures human by nature' and the body of the Lord was a true one; but it was this because it was the same as our body, for Mary was our sister inasmuch as we are all from Adam.' His human nature was really born of Mary,
really nourished at her breast, it was weary and was smitten and was crucified and was handled by Thomas. Athanasius is here dealing with two classes of writers: (a) some who believed that the Word was actually transubstantiated into human flesh; (b) some who thought that the flesh of Christ was not natural but of a divine essence, so that it might have existed without Mary. A heresy which had much in common with these two kindred theories was soon afterwards rapidly propagated by the Apollinarians.

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Apollinaris.--Apollinaris and his father were excommunicated by the Semi-Arian George of Laodicea. They supported Athanasius and the Nicene faith. In 362, Apollinaris was made bishop of Laodicea. Jerome studied with him in 374. Soon afterwards his teaching caused great anxiety to the orthodox, and it was condemned at Rome, Antioch, and Constantinople. Apollinaris was a man of penetrating mind, well acquainted with Greek literature, and a voluminous writer. His followers became an organised sect, with bishops, churches, and ceremonies of their own. They exercised a deplorable influence by circulating writings of Apollinaris under the names of Gregory Thaumaturgus and Athanasius. It is from these works that we gain a knowledge of the opinions of Apollinaris, but our knowledge of them is extended by the statements of Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and a treatise Against the Appolinarians which has been popularly attributed to Athanasius.

  1. Apollinaris wished to secure the infallibility and the sinlessness of Christ. Like Marcellus, he wished to present the world with a theory which would render Arianism an impossibility. Like Marcellus, he made the mistake of accepting a fundamental tenet of the men whom he intended to oppose. The Arians said that the body of Christ was truly human, but that He had no human spirit, the place of this spirit having been taken by the Word. Apollinaris admitted this, with the difference that he declared the Word to be essentially divine and not half divine. He declared that Jesus Christ comprised within himself three elements--human flesh, a fleshly soul, i.e. physical human life, and the divine Word. Christ had no human nous or rational soul, and therefore He could not err or sin.

  2. The result was summed up in the phrase, 'We confess that there is one nature of God the Word which was incarnate. God and flesh made one nature, the flesh was divine because joined with God; there was only one energy in Christ, and therefore only one substance. The body of Christ was only a passive instrument of His Divinity. The Catholic Christ was denounced by Apollinaris as a hybrid being like a Minotaur.

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The clearness and the ingenuity with which Apollinaris expounded his theory rendered opposition exceedingly difficult. But his Catholic opponents saw that a Christ who had not taken the most essential and distinctive element in man was not really Man at all. However much Apollinaris might have desired to take a reverent view of Christ, he had really conceived of Him as only taking those characteristics which man shares with the lower creatures. A man without a spiritual intelligence is not a man but an animal. Therefore the Apollinarian Christ is not a real Redeemer. Gregory of Nazianzus appropriately says 'that which was not taken was not healed.' The Apollinarian Christ could experience no real mental trial or temptation, and therefore He is not a Saviour.

Apollinaris tried to meet this difficulty by teaching that the Word was the pre-existent heavenly man, and that it could therefore take the place of Christ's reason and spirit without making Christ unhuman. It seems that some of his followers taught that the flesh of Christ existed before the incarnation, but Apollinaris probably only meant that there was eternally in God an element peculiarly fitted to show itself in a human life. If so, Apollinaris was near an important truth. But he made it of no effect by teaching that the reason of man is necessarily prone to sin. Instead of teaching that the human will needs union with the divine will in order to realise its own true power and freedom, his teaching implied that the human will and rational soul inevitably tend to evil. Therefore he said that Christ must have no human will and no rational soul. The statement of the Athanasian Creed that Christ has a rational soul as well as human flesh is a standing record of the fact that the Church repudiated Apollinaris.

Theodore of Mopsuestia.--This celebrated writer became bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia in 392, very soon after the death of Apollinaris. He wrote many commentaries on the Bible, an account of Zoroastrianism, and a great treatise On the Incarnation against the Apollinarians and Anomoeans. He had been ordained priest at Antioch, and his theology shows a strong dislike of the allegorical 103 method of interpreting Scripture which Origen had done so much to popularise at Alexandria. This fact has caused modern writers to exaggerate the difference between the theological tone of Alexandria and of Antioch, and to represent the theology of Antioch as entirely practical, and that of Alexandria as entirely mystical. A difference did exist and it was increased by the national jealousies of the two great cities. But though Alexandria was the home of the mystical Origen, it was also the home of the practical Athanasius; and Antioch, which was the home of the questionable Theodore, was also the home of the orthodox John Chrysostom.

Theodore firmly believed in the Nicene Creed, but he was out of sympathy with its spirit. His doctrine of the person of Christ does not really start out from the idea of One who is God of God from eternity and then was made man. Nor, on the other hand, does the doctrine of Theodore start out from that moral appreciation of the historical life of Christ which will cause a man to inquire what Christ really is. Theodore, like Paul of Samosata, mentally separated the humanity and the Divinity of Christ, kept them both before his mind's eye, and then endeavoured to combine them. This is plainly shown by his own language. Christ is regarded as such a man that His human nature is a distinct person. With this man the Word united himself by a progressive 'connection,' similar to the connection which exists between God and the saints, who are God's adopted children. Theodore says that we can say that Christ is one person. But this is only a manner of speech made more or less legitimate by the 'connection.'

Diodore, the teacher of Theodore, held the same doctrine, and taught that there were in Christ both the divine Son of God and the human Son of David, and that the human person was adorable on account of the divine person who dwelt in it.

In fact, these writers believed that Christ was not one agent, but two. Consistently with this idea, Theodore held that it was possible for Him to have sinned. The human Christ who was the associate of the Word, might have yielded to temptation, although, as a matter of 104 fact. He did not. At the Fifth General Council of the Church, held at Constantinople in 553, Theodore was anathematised for teaching that Christ had been troubled by desires of the flesh, and had gradually become separated from what was evil. That is, he was anathematised for teaching that Christ was subject to the solicitations of evil not merely from without, but also from within. Such a theory is not an innocent speculation. It aims at the heart of Christian doctrine. It says with one breath that Christ was God, and that He could nevertheless have wished to be the enemy of God.

Against the teaching of Theodore and all similar opinions the Church has always maintained that our Lord is one agent, and that His human nature had no existence whatever until the Son of God created it for himself. 'Although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ'; and, 'As the rational soul and the flesh are one man, so God and Man is one Christ.' This illustration of the Athanasian Creed cannot be pressed without danger, it does not show us a complete parallel. It reminds us that Christ is one, and that as the personality of man remains in his soul after death has separated his soul from his body, so the person of Christ truly existed before He took a body. On the other hand, this illustration is not intended to suggest that Christ had only one will. The Church had already maintained against Apollinaris that the manhood of Christ was complete, and had a truly human will as well as that divine will which He possessed from all eternity.

Nestorius.--The full meaning of the doctrine of Theodore was understood when it was taught in a popular form by Nestorius, a priest of Antioch who was bishop of Constantinople in 428. He became the founder of a large and active community which propagated Christianity through many parts of Asia, extending its missions into China. Since the rise of Islam, the Nestorian Christians have suffered severely from Muhammadan persecutions. They are now mainly represented by the 'Assyrian' Christians on the borders of Turkey and Persia, most of whom have in modern 105 times placed themselves in connection with the Roman, Anglican, or Russian Churches respectively.

A presbyter of Nestorius, named Anastasius, preached a sermon in the cathedral church of Constantinople, in which he attacked the use of the word Theotokos or Mother of God, a title which had been applied to the mother of Christ since the days of Origen. Nestorius supported his presbyter, and the whole Christian Church became involved in the controversy. Cyril, archbishop of Alexandria, a man of scholarly mind but imperious temper, wrote to Nestorius and protested. The two prelates then both appealed to Celestine, bishop of Rome. Celestine supported Cyril, and Cyril in 430 held a Synod at Alexandria which declared Nestorius to be a heretic. At the same time he published twelve anathemas condemning the teaching of Nestorius. These anathemas were joined to his third letter to Nestorius.

Nestorius published twelve counter-anathemas, and, thanks to the favour which he enjoyed with the emperor, he obtained the convocation of a General Council. The Council met at Ephesus in 431, and Cyril opened the sessions without waiting for the arrival of John, bishop of Antioch, the most influential clerical supporter of Nestorius. The Council affirmed anew the creed of Nicaea and condemned Nestorius. John was most indignant when he arrived and learned what had happened. He held an opposing Council and excommunicated Cyril. The emperor first ratified both the sentence pronounced against Cyril and that pronounced against Nestorius. He was afterwards persuaded to restore Cyril, and in 433 John of Antioch and Cyril came to an agreement, probably through the efforts of Theodoret, a learned and temperate bishop of the Antiochene school.

Nestorius justly condemned.--There are good reasons for believing that Nestorius was somewhat ignorant of the real point at issue between himself and Cyril, and it is to be regretted that Cyril did not act with greater consideration. But the whole course of action taken by Nestorius shows that his condemnation was necessary. In his sermons he says: 'A creature did not bear the 106 Creator . . . but bore a man who was the instrument of the Godhead,' and, 'I divide the natures, but I unite the veneration.' The meaning of these statements is made clearer by his saying, 'I will never call a child two or three months old God.' Nestorius did not really believe in the incarnation of the Son of God but in the exaltation of a man. He believed that there was an increasing connection between Jesus and the Son of God, which became so close that they might be regarded as one person and worshipped as one person. He thought that Jesus Christ was God and a man, not the God-Man. Nestorianism is a new Adoptionism.

For Nestorius did not really believe that the experiences and humiliations of Jesus Christ were the experiences and humiliations of the divine Word, otherwise he would not have repudiated the phrase, Mother of God. This phrase was intended by the Church to guard the honour of the Son rather than increase the honour of the mother. It means that the Child of Mary is himself divine and not a man with whom God condescended to dwell.

St. Cyril of Alexandria.--Cyril had a true insight into the teaching of Nestorius and into the consequences which were involved in it. His own theology was essentially the same as that of Athanasius. He asserts that the two natures of Christ came together without confusion and without change. The Christian acknowledges 'one single Christ, the Word who is from God the Father, and has His own flesh.' The union between the two natures is personal or hypostatic, or 'natural,' i.e. the manhood of Christ did not destroy the unity of His person. Cyril expressly rejects the idea that the union between the two natures is a 'connection' or 'juxtaposition' or 'relative participation' according to which Christ would be only a man in whom the divine Word acted. The Christian's worship of Christ is therefore not the 'co-adoration' of a man side by side with God, It is offered to Emmanuel 'God with us.' The flesh of the Lord is life-giving because it is the Word's own flesh, not the flesh of a man connected with the Word. Against the Nestorian doctrine Cyril urges the teaching of St. 107 Paul in Phil. ii. 6, 7. He maintains that Christ in becoming incarnate submitted to a 'voluntary self emptying' and it would not have been a real self emptying if the humiliations of Jesus had not been the humiliations of the Word.

While Cyril did his utmost to defend the faith as it had been taught by St. John and St. Paul, his language was sometimes lacking in precision. (1) He declares that he believes in 'one nature of God the Word which was incarnate.' This phrase had been used by Apollinaris, and as the Apollinarians circulated writings of their master under the name of Athanasius, it is probable that Cyril believed that the phrase was really coined by Athanasius. Cyril in one place explains that he uses the word 'nature' in the sense of hypostasis or person. But he unfortunately uses the word elsewhere in its ordinary sense. It was thus possible for his readers to suppose that after the incarnation the human nature became swallowed up in the divine nature. The phrase 'one nature' was destined to become before long the shibboleth of a party as mischievous as the party of Nestorius. (2) He strongly asserts that the human mind of Christ was not omniscient, and in this he is following the teaching of Athanasius. But he more than once uses words which suggest that the human ignorance of Christ was feigned. Here again Cyril explains himself; he means that the Son of God was not limited in such a way that His divine mind became idle or imperfect during His life on earth. He also means that the Divinity of Christ restrained its influence upon His human mind, and that Christ appeared to be wholly ignorant of what His divine mind really knew. In the same way a good teacher frequently appears not to know what he really does know. He consciously accommodates both his language and his thoughts to the language and thoughts of children, while he still retains and uses his own superior knowledge. It is to be regretted that Cyril spoke with some ambiguity on this subject, so that Theodoret and many modem writers have accused him of representing Christ as saying what was untrue.

Eutyches.--Recoil from Nestorianism led to the opposite 108 opinion that there was only a single nature in Christ. This doctrine found a champion in Eutyches, abbot of a monastery at Constantinople, who first became prominent in 448. Like Nestorius he wished to be logical and consistent. The Nestorians said that Jesus Christ was Man and was God; He was therefore two persons. Eutyches and his followers said that Jesus Christ was only one person; He could therefore only have one nature. Eutyches regarded the human nature of Christ as swallowed and lost in the glories of the divine nature with which it was united. When he was accused before a synod held at Constantinople, he confessed his faith in these words: 'I confess that our Lord was of two natures before the union, but after the union I confess one nature.' He compared the relation of the two natures with a drop of vinegar absorbed in the ocean. He thus taught that there was a fusion of the two natures.

Eutyches appealed to the teaching of Cyril. But he both ignored the fact that Cyril had said that there was a 'difference of the natures,' and also quoted Cyril's words, 'one nature of the Word,' without adding the phrase, 'which was incarnate.' Eutyches said that Christ had a 'human' body, but his teaching appears to nullify its human character. He made the divine element the only substantial element in the life of Christ. He suppressed the human nature of our Lord in order to make room for the divine.

While the teaching of Eutyches totally differs from that of Nestorius, these two theories are 'extremes' which 'meet.' They deny that God really came to take part in human suffering and weakness. Both men seem to have been partly conscious of this fact, although neither of them saw all that their teaching involved. Nestorianism refuses to say that it was the divine Word himself who really suffered--it was only a man whom the Word strengthened and illuminated. Eutychianism refuses to say that it was a real human nature which suffered--it was a nature which had lost its own proper character through fusion with God. Therefore in the Eutychian system the experiences and sufferings of 109 Christ are no longer truly human. They are only half human. Wherever Nestorian tendencies prevail, men will think that Christ was only a good example and not a real Mediator. Wherever Eutychian tendencies prevail, men will think that Christ is too divine to be what He seems.

St. Leo.--When condemned at Constantinople, Eutyches appealed to Leo, bishop of Rome, who, after learning the true state of the case from Flavian, archbishop of Constantinople, addressed to him the famous Tome.

In the meantime, Dioscorus, archbishop of Alexandria, induced the Emperor Theodosius II. to summon a Council of the Church at Ephesus. The Council met in 449, Dioscorus and his supporters declared Eutyches to be orthodox; his opponents were deposed and treated with the greatest violence, and the gentle Flavian died from the wounds which he received. Such was the end of the Latrocinium, or Robber-Council of Ephesus.

The Tome of Leo was set aside at the Latrocinium, but it was reserved for a fitting opportunity. It contains a remarkably clear and practical statement of the doctrine of the incarnation. It is far less subtle than many theological documents written by Greek authors, and is thoroughly Latin in its tone. Against Eutyches it insists upon the following facts:--

  1. There are two natures in Christ. There is His divine nature which was begotten of the Father, and His human nature which was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary. The reality of the body which Christ took of His mother is asserted, and each 'form' or nature of Christ is said to do that which is appropriate to it, but in communion with the other 'form.' The distinctive properties of the two natures remain and are not abolished.
  2. The humiliation which was involved in Christ's taking our flesh 'was the condescension of pity, not a failure of power.' This supreme act of love shows the true greatness of our Creator.
  3. The two natures are united permanently. Christ when incarnate was truly God; 'the Word did not abandon equality with the Father's glory.' But at the 110 same time the manhood is not consumed by the dignity of the Godhead. Christ remains in each nature; the word in being used to guard against the Eutychian quibble that Christ was of two natures, but did not remain in both. The Son of Man who came down from heaven is the same as the Son of God who was crucified.

The Council of Chalcedon.--Theodosius died in 450. He was succeeded by Marcian and Pulcheria, who were not under the influence of Dioscorus, and determined that a new Council should be held at Chalcedon in 451. At the fifth session of this Council a Definition was ratified which was intended to exclude Eutychianism. The Nicene Creed of 325 was acknowledged, and side by side with it the so-called Constantinopolitan Creed. This latter creed was put upon the same level as the Nicene Creed, and in many countries, including England, it now passes for the Nicene Creed. It should also be noticed that even the Nicene Creed itself, as recited at Chalcedon, differed slightly from the Nicene Creed of 325. It added the words, 'of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary,' and 'whose Kingdom shall have no end,' and described the Holy Ghost as 'the Lord, the Giver of life.' There were also some smaller changes which show that the language of the 'Constantinopolitan' Creed had already tinged the phrases of the old Nicene Creed.

The Definition condemns all Nestorian, Apollinarian, and Eutychian theories by repudiating those who deny that Mary is Mother of God, and those who introduce the idea of a fusion and mixture of the two natures, and pretend that there is only one nature consisting of the flesh and of the Godhead of the Son, and vainly say that the divine nature of the only-begotten Son could suffer. In order to check such ideas, the Council endorses the letters of 'the blessed Cyril' to Nestorius and to the Easterns, and 'the letter of the most blessed and holy Archbishop Leo which was written to Archbishop Flavian, who is numbered with the saints.' The Definition then makes its own meaning still more unmistakable by condemning those who teach that there is a double Sonship in Christ, or say that His Godhead could suffer, and that 111 there is a fusion of the two natures, and that His 'form of a servant' was made of a heavenly substance, and that there were two natures before, but only one nature after, the union.

Then the faith is thus confessed: 'One and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same being perfect in Godhead and the same being perfect in Manhood, truly God and truly man, the same having a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father according to the Godhead, and the same being of one substance with us according to the manhood, in all things like unto us except sin . . . one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures, without fusion, without change, without division, without separation; the difference of the two natures having been in no wise taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and combining to form one person and one hypostasis.'

The phrase, in two natures, was intended to assert that our Lord's manhood remained real and permanent after the union of the manhood with the Godhead. The words 'without fusion, without change' exclude Eutychianism, while the words 'without division, without separation' as plainly exclude Nestorianism. As it is, this Definition made by the Fourth General Council is a masterpiece of moderation and strength. It is not a mere reactionary document, and it does not drive men into opposition by any unguarded or one-sided statement. On the other hand, it is clear and definite. The most ardent believer in the Divinity of Jesus Christ can conscientiously feel that nothing which really exalts Christ in the thoughts of men has been in any way suppressed. The modern Christian can look back upon the great Councils of the years 325, 381, 431, and 451 with deep thankfulness. Through an age of bitterness and jealousy, when the Church was divided within and opposed without, the Church still remained 'the pillar and ground of the truth.' The dogmatic decisions of these Councils have kept the Christ of the Gospels. And we witness with reverent wonder the fulfilment of those words which Christ spoke to His apostles concerning the work of the 112 Holy Ghost: 'He shall glorify me; for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you' (John xvi. 14).

Note.--The doctrinal teaching expounded by the First Four Councils is accepted by the Churches of the Roman communion, of the Anglican communion, and of the Orthodox Eastern communion. The last includes the Greek-speaking Christians of the patriarchal Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, also of the Churches of Greece and Cyprus. Some Arab Christians are also included. The Orthodox Eastern-Church also includes the Churches of Russia, Georgia, Servia, Montenegro, and Roumania, and three national Churches in Austria, respectively under the Orthodox Archbishops of Czernowitz, Carlowitz, and Hermannstadt. The Bulgarian Church accepts the same doctrinal standard, but is not at present in communion with the rest of the Eastern Church.

The First Three Councils are recognised by the Armenians, who are slightly affected by Eutychianism and have not accepted the Fourth Council, though sometimes in practical agreement with it. Similar in doctrine, but more definitely Eutychian, is the West Syrian or Jacobite Church situated in the country which lies between Antioch and Mosul; the Coptic Church, which numbers about 600,000 souls in Egypt; and the large, but very ignorant, Church of Abyssinia.

The First Two Councils are recognised by the Assyrian or East Syrian Church of Kurdistan. It now numbers only about 200,000 souls, and its Nestorianism is not very definite.

The total number of unorthodox Christians in the East is infinitesimal compared with the enormous number belonging to the Orthodox Eastern Church.

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