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Advanced Historical Theology - Christological Controversies, Nestorius and the Council of Chalcedon - by C. Matthew McMahon

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Part 9 – Advanced Historical Theology – Christological Controversies, Nestorius and the Council of Chalcedon

Christological Controversies

Christology was one of the most important topics to be debated, though during the Arian controversy there was too much interest in Trinitarian question for theologians to give careful thought to a defined Christology. Tertullian’s formula of Christ being two natures joined in one person was not immediately accepted by Western theologians. Augustine gained the preeminence to the term persona.

Eustathius (of the Antiochene school) did not believe that the divinity of Christ was not personal. This tendency to emphasize the distinction between the two natures of Christ, and the genuineness of his humanity, continues in the teaching of Eustathius’ followers like Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia. The Alexandrians believed that Jesus lacked a true human soul. The Antiochenes believed in a Logos-human Christology and the Alexandrians with a Logos-flesh Christology.

These views paved the way for the Apollinarianism heresy. Apollinaris was born early in the fourth century and grew to be an educated and skilled orator. His Christology was focused to uphold the integrity of Jesus Christ in his person as well as the immutability of the Word from any change. He attempted to refute Arianism, but in the process developed a heretical theory of the person and natures of Christ. In Christ the Word occupied the place of His spirit, so that in him a human body and soul were joined to the divine reason.

Athanasius wrote vigorously against Apollinaris and this reformulated heresy. The Cappadocians then entered the argumentation and wrote against Apollinaris as well. It was mostly on the basis of their objections that the Christological doctrines of Apollinaris were condemned by the council gathered at Constantinople in 381 A.D., usually known as the Second Ecumenical Council.

The Nestorian Controversy

The Nestorian heresy appeared around 428 A.D. The conflict broke out when Nestorius rejected the idea of the “Bearer of God” or theotokos as a title applied to Mary. Nestroius could not stomach the idea that Mary was God’s mother. After this rejection, Cyril of Alexandria mustered all the forces that could help him to achieve the condemnation of Nestorius.

After a time of rebuttal and accusation between these theologians, a council was held. These mutual condemnations created such troubles in the Eastern Church that the emperors Valentinian III and Theodosius II called a general council that was to meet at Ephesus on June 7, 431 A.D. Only a few supporters arrived for Nestorius. The council analyzed not only Nestorius’ ideas, but also Cyril’s – of which many they found to be unorthodox. However, more attention was given to Nestorius’ writings and how those writings coincided together without contradiction and without difficulty. Nestorius had contradicted himself many times between his works and caused great confusion as to exactly where he landed on all the issues surrounding the natures and person of Christ.

Nestorius thought that Christ was two persons and two natures joined together without mixture. But this was a schizophrenic problem. Christ did not have two natures and two persons, but two natures and one person. Nestorius vigorously held to two prosopa in Him (two persons). The union between the two was what he called a “conjunction” so that each of the two natures retains its own predicates, which must not be confused. He did not accept the theological idea of the communicatio idiomatum as a result. The council saw this as a heretical view overthrowing the hypostatic union, or the two natures in hypostases.

The Council of Chalcedon

The bishops of the day saw the formula for Christology in the Council of Ephesus in 433 A.D. as a standard of orthodoxy. However, there were still some in the empire that did not accept the standards and began touting other theological ideas. Of these was Eutychus who refused to accept the formulas “consubstantial to us” and “two natures after the incarnation.” For Eutychus, Christ was one mixed person and nature. After being condemned by the Constantinople synod, Eutychus appealed to the bishops of the mains sees, including Leo at Rome. As a result the emperor Dioscorus called a council that was to meet at Ephesus in 449 A.D. It was attended by 130 bishops, but they knew that Dioscorus wanted all of them to be of one mind – his mind. And he did not think that Eutychus was wrong theologically. So there was immediate political tension at this synod.

The council did represent the heresy of Eutychus, the Alexandrian doctrine of Christ and the Antiochene doctrine of Christ. Leo attempted to bring unity and orthodoxy to light, but he was voted over and later called it the “robbers synod.” Leo had written a Tome which explained the orthodox position, but it was never read. Another council was later held in 451 A.D. at Chalcedon (in the month of May) where the emperors called the bishops together again. This is known as the Fourth Ecumenical council. It covered the orthodox standing of the Christological idea in the church and formulated the Chalcedonian Creed that overturned the heresies of the day, including Eutychianism.

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