Christology, Controversies on (Patristic)

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The disputes concerning the nature of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, that troubled the theological development of the early Church. Reflection on the nature of Christ was intimately connected with His soteriological activity and with His office or function as Lord (Kyrios ). Paul, in Rom 1.3, had spoken of Christ as at once "according to the spirit" and "according to the flesh"; and the apostolic Fathers insisted that He was preexistent, unbegotten, and the head of creation. But there is little evidence for an interest in the manner in which the divine spirit and the human nature were joined together in Christ. Against the Gnostics and Ebionites, the apostolic Fathers insisted on a true divine spirit and a true body in Christ (Ignatius of Antioch, Eph. 3.2, 8.2; Smyr. 4.1), and Irenaeus considered the denial of this assertion heretical.

Apologists. In the 2d century the apologists insisted that Jesus Christ was the visible form of the divine Logos, a statement that made sense within the sphere of the popular Hellenistic philosophy. Whereas ignatius of antioch had spoken of the historical Christ as the Logos through whom God had broken His eternal silence (Mag. 8.2), the apologists identified the Logos with the preexistent cosmic principle of God's wisdom and power (1 Cor1.24). Irenaeus, in conflict with the Gnostics, opposed their docetism with a theology of the incarnation, basing his thought on the tradition represented by Theophilus of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius (Eph. 20.1). Irenaeus insisted that out of boundless love Jesus Christ became like unto men as a man so that He might fulfill in men that which He was Himself. This divinization of man required that Christ be at once true God and true man.

Tertullian. tertullian taught that the oneness of the Father and the Son required a oneness in substance that underlay the difference in persons in the Trinity. His corporeal concepts, tied in with time and quantity, however, involved his explanation in subordinationism; but his terminology regarding one Person in two substances, or natures, as well as the distinction of the three Persons in one substance in the Trinity, proved invaluable in the later Western Christological development. His intention was to combat monarchianism, which denied the diversity of Persons in the one God, as well as various forms of Adoptionism and Modalism. The Roman type of adoptionism that saw Christ raised to divinity in His Baptism was combated by the popes before 200; and callistus, with the condemnation of Sabellius, included a repudiation of the modalism of No'tus and Praxeas in Asia Minor, who considered the three functions of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the history of salvation as mere manifestations or modes of the Godhead. This theory was rejected also by hippolytus of rome. A further development of Modalism manifested itself in patripassianism, or the theory that if Father and Son were one in substance, the Father must have suffered for mankind.

Homoousios. Under the influence of the Neoplatonist teaching on the divine emanations, clement of alexandria and origen considered Christ in His cosmic function and tended to explain the Savior as the head of creation; as seen from a worldly viewpoint, Christ was eternal and therefore divine, but from God's viewpoint, He was rather the first of all creation. Two further tendencies manifested themselves among the followers of Origen: gregory thaumaturgus insisted on the oneness in nature of Son and Father; dionysius (denis) of alexandria, in opposing Libyan Modalism, asserted that Father and Son were of the same divine nature. Since the word homoousios, or consubstantial, had been used by paul of samosata in a Monarchian sense, it was looked upon with suspicion by the Alexandrians, and after 268 it was rejected also by the Antiochians. lucian of antioch, influenced by Aristotelian logic and pursuing the conviction that the begotten Son could not be of the same being as the unbegotten Godhead, considered the Logos as joined to the divinity on a moral or even on an ethical principle. His pupil arius was condemned at the Council of nicaea i (325), where the doctrine that the Son was true God, of the same substance as the Father (homoousios), was clarified and the difference between creation out of nothing and the eternal generation of Persons in the Godhead was clearly recognized. In the politically dominated theological disputes of the next 40 years, athanasius of Alexandria played a leading part, insisting on the validity of the Nicene definition.

After the splintering of the Arianizing sects into Anomoean and Homoean groups (the Son is not like the Father; the Son is similar to the Father), Meletius of Antioch (c. 363) and the Cappadocian Fathers insisted on the consubstantiality of the three divine Persons, and by differentiating between ousia (substance) and hypostasis (person or individual) avoided the tendency to find subordination in the Trinity. see meletian schism. Under the influence of the Aristotelian concept of the unity of matter and form and in opposition to the Gnostic separation of Christ into the divine Savior and His earthly form, the apollinarists denied that Christ had a human soul, and eustathius of antioch claimed that the divinity dwelt in the humanity in order to justify the concept of the Logos-sarx unity.

Nestorianism. The Antiochene theologians led by diodore of tarsus rejected the Arian concept of the creation of the Logos, but maintained that a distinction had to be made between the flesh capable of suffering and the impassible Logos. theodore of mopsuestia insisted that the Logos had assumed a complete manhood. Christ must have had a human soul, since His redemptive act as the God-man freed man's soul from sin, and He led man eventually through the Resurrection to a fulfillment of human nature that was based and modeled on His own human and divine experience. To emphasize this teaching, Nestorius of Constantinople decided to call Mary the Mother of Christ rather than the theotokos, or Mother of God, in order to stress the validity of the true human nature.

In combating this manifestation of Nestorianism, cyril of alexandria, on commission from Pope Celestine I, presided over the Council of ephesus (431) and condemned the teaching of Nestorius. But Cyril's extreme statement of the Alexandrian position in his 12 anathemas had to be modified by a letter of Union signed by himself and john of antioch in 433.

Monophysitism. Cyril held that the divine and human substance (or natures in an abstract sense) were complete and unconfused in Christ; they could be separated only in thought, by theoretical concepts, since the concrete Christ was the divine Logos incarnated as the God-man. Cyril's insistence that Christ had to be an individual was accepted in such literal fashion by eutyches that at the Synod of Constantinople (448) he was forced to admit that one nature resulted from the union of the divinity and humanity in Christ. This crude monophysitsm was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (451), where, in consequence of the teaching in the Tome of Pope leo i and the precise theological terminology achieved by a group of theologians including theodoret of cyr, it was asserted that Christ was "of two natures without mixture, or confusion." This definition was rejected by Nestorius, who considered the distinction between hypostasis (person) and ousia (nature) as confused, and by the Monophysites, who said that to deny that Christ was of one nature led to a logical conclusion that there were two complete and therefore individual natures in the God-man.

With the condemnation of the three chapters at the Council of constantinople ii (553), the Chalcedonian definition took on its stabilized form early in byzantine theology. Cyril's doctrine that in Christ there is one nature (mia physis ) was interpreted to mean that there is one individual or substantial being, and John the Grammarian clarified the fact that in the hypostatic unity the human nature is inalterably united to the divine Person. However, the founding of national churches in Egypt, Syria, and Armenia exaggerated the Monophysite position.

Monothelitism. The Emperor heraclius attempted to win back the Monophysites to unity by speaking of one energy or action in Christ, but this resulted in the controversies over monothelitism and Monergism. maximus the confessor clarified these doctrines by insisting that in Christ there are two wills and two energies, representing, respectively, the fully coordinated divine and human natures. john damascene combined the dythelitism (two wills) doctrine with the Chalcedonian idea of the enhypostasis, or one Person with two natures, to reassert the Leonine teaching of the communication of idioms. This doctrine was used subsequently by the medieval Scholastic theologians in their teaching on the relations between the natures and person in Christ and on the relations of the natures with each other (see scholasticism).

In the West, a new type of Adoptionism was discussed in 7th-century Spain, and was condemned by Charlemagne in several Carolingian synods. The later scholastics argued over the personality of Christ, and this problem has been resurrected in contemporary discussions concerning the ego of Christ. Protestant theology from Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli to Hegel, Strauss, Ritschl, and M. Köhler has been more concerned with the religious, ethical, and historical implications of Christology than with the explanation of the union between the divine and human nature. Many contemporary non-Catholics accept some type of subordinationism in their Christological thinking.

Bibliography: a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) Tables générales 2:264245. a. grillmeier and h. bacht, Das Konzl von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart (Wurzburg 195154) v. 13. w. elert, Der Ausgang der altkirchlichen Christologie (Berlin 1957). r. v. sellers, Two Ancient Christologies (London 1940). b. m. xiberta y roqueta, "Un conflicto entre dos Cristologias, "Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati, 6 v. (Rome 1946) 1:327354. e. r. hardy and c. c. richardson, eds., Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia 1954). p. galtier, Gregorianium (Rome 1959) 5466. a. grillmeier, "Der Neu-Chalkedonismus, " Histoisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 77 (Munich 1958) 151166. b. skard, Die Inkarnation (Stuttgart 1958). g. wingren, Man and the Incarnation, tr. r. mackenzie (Philadelphia 1959). Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte 3.1, ed. m. schmaus and a. grillmeier (Freiburg 1965).

[f. x. murphy]

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Christology, Controversies on (Patristic)

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