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arjuna3110
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« on: September 14, 2005, 08:23:07 AM »


"Questions about Christology"



Hi !

I am Roman Catholic, and I am considering converting to Orthodoxy.

I am very confused, however, about the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Christological controversies which gave rise to them.

I was wondering if anyone could explain the situation to me simply.  I know it is not a simple subject, but I am just learning, and I would like to know the basic facts (or references to them) so I can gain an idea of all of this. 

Specifically, I was hoping that someone could check my understanding of the Christological controversies, and correct me where I am wrong, and answer my questions where I am ignorant. 

Thank you for any replies.



1.  Overall.

It seems that the overall issue of the Christological controversies was the question:  "What is Jesus?"  In other words, it seems that Christians were agreed about who is Jesus:  a Jewish carpenter, son of the Virgin Mary, who lived and died for our sins and rose from the dead in Israel / Palestine under the reign of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, etc.  Hence, the questions about Christ (His substance, nature and will) seem to be about what He is.  Is this conclusion correct?



2.  Arianism.

The Christological issue here seems to be "What is the substance of Jesus?"  It seems that Arius taught that Jesus really wasn't God.  Instead, it seems to teach that Jesus was just human, but a very good man, who was rewarded by God the Father with being raised up to Divine status.  The Council of Nicea was formed to resolve this question.  It did so by declaring that Jesus is of the same Divine substance as the Father as well as being human.  However, it took about another century (and the efforts of St. Athanasius) to convince most of the Church of that idea.  Is this summary correct?



3.  Monophysitism and Nestorianism

The Christological issue here seems to be "What is the nature of Jesus?"  In other words, "How is Jesus both God and man?" 

And it seems that three answers were proposed for this question. 

One answer came from the school of theology in Alexandria.  It said that Jesus had one nature:  He was God who also became a man. 

A second answer came from the theological school of Antioch.  It said that Jesus had two natures: He was always God and a man. 

A third answer came from the Council of Chalcedon.  It said that Jesus had two natures that are united to make one person.  In other words, Jesus has the nature of being God because He is of the same substance as God the Father.  Jesus also had the nature of being human because He was a man in all ways but sin.  However, Jesus was not two People: one human and one Divine.  Instead, Jesus was one Person --human and Divine. 

Some people accepted the answer of the Council of Chalcedon, and they were the Orthodox. 

Others rejected the answer of the Council of Chalcedon.  Of those who rejected it, some were Monphysites and others were Nestorians. 

The Monophysites were mostly in Egypt, Ethiopia and Western Syria.  They believed that Jesus only had one nature --Divine-- that completely suffused Jesus' humanity. 

The Nestorians were mostly in Armenia, Eastern Syria, and what we would today call Iraq, Iran, Central Asia and India.  They believed that Jesus had two natures, human and Divine.

Is this summary correct?

If so, here are some questions:

3.a  What is the "Tome of Leo" and why does it matter? 

3.b  How are the Monophysites different from the Orthodox?  It seems that both are saying that the Son is God (eternally) who also became man (in time) to form one Person: Jesus.  Are these differences in emphasis, or is there something of substantial disagreement here that I am missing?

3.c  How are the Nestorians different from the Orthodox?  It seems that both are saying that Jesus had two natures, human and Divine, from the time of His conception but that He was always one Person: Jesus.  Again, are these differences in emphasis, or is there something of substantial disagreement here that I am missing?

3.d  How much of this dispute was political?  I have heard that these theological differences were actually expressions of otherwise inchoate and nascent nationalism within the Eastern Roman Empire that was fracturing along ethnic lines.  While that strikes me as part of the situation, I reject the secular supposition behind this claim: namely, that people then (or now) have beliefs solely to express their secular identities.  I am a believer, and I know that believers actually believe their beliefs.  Yet, people don't live in a historical vacuum.  So, how much of this dispute is historical and how much of this is over differences in genuinely held beliefs?  Also, how much of this was dispute was over the influence and power of the cities (and their bishops) that were involved: Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople?

3.e  If St. Isaac of Nineveh was a Nestorian, why do Orthodox revere his writings and regard him as a saint?

3.f  To what extent are these disputes still in existence?  I have heard that the Copts and Ethiopians are the descendants of the Monophysites, but I have also heard that they reject that term and are really Orthodox.  I have also heard conflicting claims that the Orthodox and Copts are now reunited.  Would someone please explain this to me -- simply?  I have also wondered about the Nestorians.  Are they still in existence?  Or, were they wiped out by Muslims and Mongols?  If they still are in existence, where are they, how numerous are they, etc., and are they still separated from the Orthodox?

3.g  Who do the Orthodox regard as Orthodox theologians from this period (and from what schools of theology are they from)?  For example, I have heard that Theodore of Mopsuetia (Antioch) is out, but Cyril of Alexandria is in.  Is there a flow chart anywhere that shows all this?  Is there a table that graphically shows all this: in three columns for Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople; and with each city’s theologians / councils listed in chronological order; and indicating (by the use of the prefix "St.") who is accepted by Orthodoxy and who is not?



4.  Monotheletism.

The idea was proposed that Jesus had two natures but one will.  (It seems that it was proposed mostly as a compromise that would reunite Monophysites, Nestorians and Orthodox into one Church.)  But, this idea was rejected at the third Council of Constantinople.  It proclaimed that Jesus had two natures and, thus, two wills -- yet He is one Person.  I think I actually understand this one:  Jesus as God has the Divine Will, and Jesus as Man had human free will.  Is this summary correct?



5.  Iconoclasm.

The idea seems to be that it is a violation of the First Commandment to make an image --including an icon-- of Jesus.  (This seems to be a response to the success of Muslim conquerors, who condemned making any images of God.)  However, this idea was rejected at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.  It proclaimed that Jesus is the image of the Father, and therefore it is no sacrilege to make an image of Jesus nor those (the angels and saints) who live in Christ.  Furthermore, according to what I have read about the writings of St. John of Damascus (I have not actually read his writings), it seems that all of the cosmos is an icon of the Divine and thus icons can make the Divine really present.  Is this summary correct?

I have two questions about St. John of Damascus' ideas.  First, if everything is an icon of God, how is this not pantheism?  I know what he means, that all creation gives glory to God and points to God, but I was wondering how this idea is understood without delving into pantheism.  Second, if icons make the Divine present to us, how is the idea of idolatry avoided?  Again, I know that St. John isn't proposing idolatry, but how does he make the distinction?



6.  In Conclusion.

In conclusion, the Christological controversies seem to be about more than just answering the question, "What is Jesus?"  They also seem to be answering the question, "How are we saved by Jesus?"  The underlying assumption seems to be that God needed to assume the totality of our humanity in order to redeem and divinize our humanity.  Hence, our understanding of Jesus' nature is also our understanding of the nature of our salvation.  Is this conclusion correct?  If so, is this reflected in the three-fold process of theosis: purification, illumination and divinization? 


I know this must seem more like a final exam in a Christology course than a post on an internet discussion.  Thus, I HEARTILY and humbly thank anyone who does respond.  May God bless you for your charity to me and anyone else with likeminded questions..

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EkhristosAnesti
'I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust."' - Psalm 91:2
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« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2005, 09:59:19 AM »

arjuna3110,

I will try and very briefly answer most of your questions from the Oriental Orthodox perspective (I being a Copt myself) - specifically those that relate to my Church and her history:

Quote
One answer came from the school of theology in Alexandria.  It said that Jesus had one nature:  He was God who also became a man. 

A second answer came from the theological school of Antioch.  It said that Jesus had two natures: He was always God and a man.


I would say that your honest attempt at an oversimplification of the contrasting Christological schools of thought stemming from Alexandria and Antioch, failed in accurately describing the real distinction between these two schools of thought. The Alexandrian theologians could always maintain that though Christ was “God who also became a man” (a principle you ascribe exclusively to Alexandrian Christology), He was simultaneously, “always God and man” (a principle you ascribe exclusively to Antiochene Christology) also.

The real issues in dispute surrounded the subject of Christ’s Incarnation (The Word? The Man? Christ? The Son of God? The Son of Man?) and the subject of His consequent Incarnate experiences (His person? His humanity? His divinity? The Son of God? The Son of Man? The Word? Christ?), and the nature of Christ’s unity (substantial? Natural? External? Prosopic? Hypostatic?).

The reference to Christ’s One Nature (mia physis) by the Alexandrians (including St Cyril) was/is a reference to His state of existence subsequent to the Hypostatic Union. It is thus to be understood more synonymously with the term hypostasis as opposed to the term ousia, when it qualifies His Incarnate state.

Quote
A third answer came from the Council of Chalcedon.  It said that Jesus had two natures that are united to make one person.  In other words, Jesus has the nature of being God because He is of the same substance as God the Father.  Jesus also had the nature of being human because He was a man in all ways but sin.  However, Jesus was not two People: one human and one Divine.  Instead, Jesus was one Person --human and Divine.


Fr. V.C. Samuel, an Oriental Orthodox scholar states in his book Chalcedon Re-examined, pages 4-5:

A voice of dissent has, however, been expressed from the side of the council’s ecclesiastical opponents. Tiran Nersoyan, for instance, asserts that in its historical context Chalcedon did not work out the balance claimed for it, and that this defence of the Chalcedonian position is plausible only with reference to a theological development which took place in the sixth century. This itself, argues Archbishop Tiran, was made possible by the unceasing criticism of the council by the ‘Monophysites’5.

Quote
Some people accepted the answer of the Council of Chalcedon, and they were the Orthodox. 

Others rejected the answer of the Council of Chalcedon.  Of those who rejected it, some were Monphysites and others were Nestorians.


I must make some corrections here: First of all, those who rejected Chalcedon were Orthodox, they were not monophysites. Chalcedon was rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Church because She reasonably perceived that this council had regressed into Nestorianism, and not because She adopted or adhered to any monophysite heresy:

“Karekin Sarkissian shows that the council of Chalcedon did violence to the already established theological tradition of both the Armenian Church and a considerable part of Christian east. The theology underlying the council’s formula, for instance, and the treatment of persons like Theodoret of Cyrus and Ibas of Edessa were such that the Nestorian school could feel gratified, and the Tome of Leo which the council declared a document of the faith was hailed by Nestorius himself as a vindication of his position. It was these facts, insists bishop Sarkissian, not any adherence to Eutychianism. which led many Christian communities in the east to repudiate Chalcedon.6 In this way, maintains Sarkissian, the council of Chalcedon created, what he calls, ‘the ecumenical problem in Eastern Christendom’ (Samuel, op. cit., page 5)
 
Quote
The Monophysites were mostly in Egypt, Ethiopia and Western Syria.  They believed that Jesus only had one nature --Divine-- that completely suffused Jesus' humanity.


I will have to contend with your understanding of the Christological position of Chalcedon’s Oriental Orthodox opponents. They were simply never monophysites; they never adhered to this blasphemous concept of Christ’s divinity dissolving His humanity, or any sort of confusion between His two essences per se. We have many of the writings of the Oriental Orthodox fathers (such as St Dioscorus of Alexandria, St Timothy Aelurus of Alexandria, St Severus of Antioch, etc.) preserved for us which vindicate them beyond reasonable doubt from this false “monophysite” charge.

The ‘monophysite’ title is hence considered erroneous, inappropriate and disrespectful (both as an historical and current application to the Oriental Orthodox Church and her Saints), for it falsely attributes to the Oriental Orthodox Church a heresy which a) has never been approved by her, and b) has always been anathematized by her.

Quote
3.a  What is the "Tome of Leo" and why does it matter?


It was a document authored by Leo, which was his proposed alternative solution to the issues surrounding Eutyches; the level of authority by which he asserted it implied his own perceived sense of authority over the Church and all its affairs and matters, and the insistence of its acceptance in toto by the Roman legates at Chalcedon only worsened matters, and lead St Dioscorus to ex-communicate Leo. As stated by Tixeront, “this letter has always been regarded as a dogmatic document of exceptional value. Yet, it is decidedly inferior, in theological inspiration, to the work of Cyril, and strictly so-called speculation hardly finds any place in it at all. Leo does not discuss or demonstrate; he judges and settles difficulties.” (History of Dogmas, Volume 3, page 81)

This document which was later (though reluctantly at first) exonerated at the Council of Chalcedon, caused great controversy, for due to its theological impotence, it could easily be misconstrued as a promotion of Nestorianism. Greek Professor Fr. Florovsky admits to this, stating that the tome of Leo:

“…could have created the impression of an excessive opposition of two natures especially by its persistent attribution of particular acts of Christ to different natures, without any adequate emphasis on the unity of Christ’s person, although the intention of the pope himself was sound an orthodox.” (Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Volume 10, n 2, page 32)

Furthermore, as Metropolitan Methodosius of the Eastern Orthodox Church admits, Nestorius himself approved of Leo’s Tome, interpreting it as a vindication of his own heretical ideologies:

“The recognition of the well known letter of St Leo, Bishop of Rome, to Flavian Archbishop of Constantinople, is considered by our Non-Chalcedonian brothers an insurmountable obstacle in our efforts to be united with them…This is supported by the fact that Leo’s Tome was praised by Nestorius himself who said: ‘On reading that letter I thanked God because the Church of Rome held an Orthodox confession of faith’”. (Methodios Fouyas, Archbishop of Theateira and Great Britain, Theological and Historical Studies, Volume 8 (Athens: 1985), pages 12-13)

Quote
I have heard that the Copts and Ethiopians are the descendants of the Monophysites, but I have also heard that they reject that term and are really Orthodox.

The Coptic Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox are the descendents of the Coptic Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox, respectively. It is not that the church’s once adhered to monophysitism, only to anathematize it at a later stage in order to adopt an Orthodox Christology; rather, it is that these Church’s along with all the Oriental Orthodox Church’s — the Armenians, Syrians, etc. — NEVER adhered to monphysitism. This is a claim falsely ascribed to the Church by her opponents, which cannot be substantiated by any valid evidence.

The closest term that may be employed to accurately describe the OOC’s Christological position, is “miaphysite.” Unlike mono which implies singularity, the term mia implies composite unity. The expression mia physite (which was employed on numerous occasions by St Cyril of Alexandria) thus denotes the unity of Christ’s natures which constitute his composite hypostasis.

Peace.
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No longer an active member of this forum. Sincerest apologies to anyone who has taken offence to anything posted in youthful ignorance or negligence prior to my leaving this forum - October, 2012.

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arjuna3110
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« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2005, 12:23:00 AM »

I will try and very briefly answer most of your questions from the Oriental Orthodox perspective (I being a Copt myself) - specifically those that relate to my Church and her history


Dear EkhristosAnesti,

Thank you for a VERY informative response !

If I may ask a follow-up question:  What is the state of relations between the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, etc.) and the Orthodox Church?  Has communion among these churches been officially restored?  Is there a website or recent book which describes all this?  Thank you.
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EkhristosAnesti
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« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2005, 12:47:52 AM »

Quote
Thank you for a VERY informative response !


You’re most welcome!

Quote
What is the state of relations between the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, etc.) and the Orthodox Church?  Has communion among these churches been officially restored? Is there a website or recent book which describes all this?

Communion has not been officially restored, although I would say that it has partially to a limited extent in some areas — for e.g. see the following link for the official Pastoral Agreement between His Holiness Pope Shenouda III (Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria), and His Holiness Petros VII (Greek Patriarch of Alexandria): http://www.orthodoxunity.org/state05.html

Regardless of this, there has been a move forward with respect to clearing up historical and semantic misunderstandings, in order to consequently recognize and acknowledge our unity in faith; see the following link for official statements and agreements made between the hierarchs of the EO and OO Church’s: http://www.orthodoxunity.org/statements.html

Peace.
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No longer an active member of this forum. Sincerest apologies to anyone who has taken offence to anything posted in youthful ignorance or negligence prior to my leaving this forum - October, 2012.

"Philosophy is the imitation by a man of what is better, according to what is possible" - St Severus
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