Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beware of the Tri-Theists

Big ups to Maximus Scott for bringing this to my attention. The Tri-theists here were mainly the followers of the Monophysite John Philoponus :

As seen from HolyTrinityMission.org

During the period when the Monophysites were left somewhat undisturbed by the imperial arm, from 540 until about 570, personal disputes caused further factions. One faction was the Agnoetae — from αγνοέω. They were also known as Themistians, from the founder of their Monophysite faction, Themistius, a sixth century deacon of Alexandria and a student of Severus. Their basic position was in maintaining that the humanity of Christ was "ignorant." Another group, the Niobites, professed a belief in a distinction of natures after the union but refused to accept the expression "two natures" — the Niobites anathematized the entire Severian party.
A more serious schism was that of the Tritheists, also known as the Cononites from their leader Conon, one of the early associates of Jacob — they were also known as the Philoponists from John Philoponus (d.c. 565). According to the extant sources the origin of Tritheism occurred in a most casual way. In a meeting with the Chalcedonians John Philoponus allegedly asked: "If you speak about two natures, why do you not also speak of two hypostases since nature and hypostasis are identical?" The Chalcedonian response was that they would indeed do so "if we considered nature and hypostasis identical, but as a point of fact we distinguish between the two." The Chalcedonian reportedly continued by proposing that John Philoponus, if he held nature and hypostasis to be identical, should therefore speak of three natures in the Godhead. His reply allegedly was: "Then, we will do so." When the astonished Chalcedonian exclaimed that to do so would be to teach Tritheism, John reportedly replied that "in the Trinity I count as many natures, essences, and Godheads as I do hypostases."

Such a position may appear somewhat flippant and casual but it was a quite serious point by John Philoponus, who was not an ignorant monk but a sophisticated philosopher, a disciple of Ammonius of Hermias. He wrote works on Aristotle, works on Nichomachus of Gerosa, and at least two works on grammar. His works reflect an eclectic philosophical perspective which combines Aristotle, Plato, Stoic principles, and elements of Christian thought. Underlying his thought is a Stoic principle of considering fundamental matter as three dimensional. Pluralism was a cornerstone of his philosophical perspective.
In transferring his basic philosophical vision to the Trinity John Philoponus could easily affirm a Tritheism. It is interesting that in his philosophy he viewed created existence as a mere instrumentality of divine causation, a position which would make Monophysitism somewhat natural for him. In none of his works does he, however, explicitly affirm that there are three gods. John Philoponus was also extremely hostile toward the Roman see, attacking directly the primacy of Rome and explicitly calling Pope Leo the Great a Nestorian.
Underlying the thought of the Tritheists was the distinction between hypostasis and nature. Christ was one hypostasis, an indivisible hypostasis, which, though united with God the Father, must be distinguished from the hypostasis of the Father and the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit. But because of the interaction between hypostasis and nature and because of a certain "assimilation" between the two, the individual "natures" had also to be distinguished. The Cappadocian balance between the hypostasis and nature was compromised and the compromise implied a Tritheism. When this thought pattern was presented by a philosopher and ascetic such as John Philoponus, it attracted the attention of some leaders within the Monophysite movement.
Sergius, a Syrian from Telia who was ordained patriarch of Antioch in 557 by Theodosius, became enamored by the teaching. The early associates of Jacob, Conon and Eugenius, now working in Cilicia and Isauria fell under the influence of Tritheism. In Constantinople John Asconaghes — his name referred to his slippery type of shoes which in turn referred to his "slippery" character; that is, he was constantly slipping from one faction to another — accepted this interpretation of hypostasis and nature and, through him, an important convert was won from the imperial court: Anastasius, the grandson of Theodora.
For the next twenty years Anastasius was to be a personality to contend with. Michael the Syrian relates that Justinian had hoped to place Anastasius on the patriarchal throne of Alexandria (Chronicle
9, 30). Anastasius brought both money and a certain social prestige to the new faction. Very quickly this new faction had attracted to its cause another bishop, a significant event because this new bishop happened to be the third bishop in the new movement which now allowed them to ordain their own bishops. One of the sources claims that "all their disciples and followers — whoever joined them — they consecrated as bishops." They established new communities throughout the empire — in Africa, in Rome, in Greece, in Asia Minor, as well as in the traditionally non-Chalcedonian areas of Egypt and Syria. In Constantinople they also established themselves. Indeed, John of Ephesus relates how surprised he was at the number of persons from the court who attended the services of the new faction.

During all this Theodosius used persuasion and then excommunication with the new faction. Theodosius rejected any notion of separate natures. He excommunicated John Asconaghes and Patriarch Sergius. He had more difficulty with Conon and Eugenius, both of whom continued to reject and then accept again the position of the Tritheists throughout their lives. Anastasius had created a will that left an endowment to the new faction. He had a falling out with this new faction before his death but had not altered his will, the result of which was a financial source to perpetuate the new faction.

Attempts were made to reunite but nothing came of them ultimately. After mutual excommunication both parties appealed to the emperor. The task of judging two Monophysite groups was delegated to Patriarch John Scholasticus. He was to use the works of Severus, Theodosius, and Anthimus as the guide, the authoritative works from which to judge. The "trial" lasted for four days. Conon and Eugenius represented the Tritheists; Paul "the Black" and Jacob the "conservative" wing of the Monophysites. As could have been anticipated, the decision favored the "conservative" wing. Exile under escort was the decision for Conon and Eugenius. John of Ephesus relates that the head of the escort was the defrocked monk, Photius, the stepson of Belisarius, who was well-known for his cruelty. Indeed, it is related that he liked nothing more than to torture clergy.

This inner quarrel actually played into the hands of the Chalcedonians. The Tritheists had pushed the Monophysite position to an extremity and, in order to answer the Tritheists, the conservative Monophysites were forced to fall back to strictly Severian positions or to positions that pointed in the direction of Chalcedon. Michael the Syrian claims that thousands returned to the Chalcedonian hierarchy, for they believed it far more theologically sound to confess "two natures" rather than have anything to do with a theology that could fall into "three natures in the Trinity."

 To read the rest please visit the website.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Saint Basil the Great: LETTER XXXVIII (PDF)

Thanks to David for posting this on his blog. Saint Basil the Great gives a great explanation of his Person(particular) vs Nature(common) distinction.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Saint Basil the Great: Letter CXXV (PDF)

A Cappadocian interpretation of the original Nicene Creed

The link:

Saint Athanasius: Selected works

Defence of the Nicene Definition

Defence Against the Arians

On the Incarnation of the Word

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

St. John Chrysostom on Grace and Free Will

The link:


Proper Christology 101

As seen from the Orthodoxchristianity forum:

"According to His Eminence (whom I just spoke with):

We can say that Christ's Hypostasis is a Divine Hypostasis that took on Humanity, and Christ's Prosopon is a Divine Prosopon that took on Humanity.  We cannot say that it is a Theanthropic Prosopon or Hypostasis, implying change in the immutable; nor can we say that they are only Divine, denying the Incarnation; but each statement must remain intact, that the Prosopon is a Divine Prosopon that took on Humanity, and that the Hypostasis is a Divine Hypostasis that took on Humanity; in both cases what Was was not changed, but still fully took on Humanity."
To know which retired Metropolitan said this, you will have to visit the link.

The Dyophysite Christology of Tertullian

There was a Christological debate back in his day (against the heretic Marcion and others). It was more of an external debate and not an internal one like some centuries(the 4th to 6th centuries) in the future. Because this was before the major Christological debates of later centuries we can see a few mistakes that Tertullian made. I can now see where Saint Leo probably got some of his ideas from. But yeah, Tertullian was a little loose in his language. Something that the feuds of later centuries would refine.


 [As a side note: When Tertullian makes use of the term "NATURE", he means substance or Essence. I could be wrong, but I don't recall the Christian West having more than one meaning in regards to that term.]
"The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible. But how will all this be true in Him, if He was not Himself true—if He really had not in Himself that which might be crucified, might die, might be buried, and might rise again? I mean this flesh suffused with blood, built up with bones, interwoven with nerves, entwined with veins, a flesh which knew how to be born, and how to die, human without doubt, as born of a human being. It will therefore be mortal in Christ, because Christ is man and the Son of man.

Else why is Christ man and the Son of man, if he has nothing of man, and nothing from man? Unless it be either that man is anything else than flesh, or man’s flesh comes from any other source than man, or Mary is anything else than a human being, or Marcion’s man is as Marcion’s god. Otherwise Christ could not be described as being man without flesh, nor the Son of man without any human parent; just as He is not God without the Spirit of God, nor the Son of God without having God for His father. Thus the nature

of the two substances displayed Him as man and God,—in one respect born, in the other unborn; in one respect fleshly, in the other spiritual; in one sense weak, in the other exceeding strong; in one sense dying, in the other living. This property of the two states—the divine and the human—is distinctly asserted with equal truth of both natures alike, with the same belief both in respect of the Spirit. and of the flesh. The powers of the Spirit, proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested the flesh of man. If His powers were not without the Spirit in like manner, were not His sufferings without the flesh. If His flesh with its sufferings was fictitious, for the same reason was the Spirit false with all its powers. Wherefore halve Christ with a lie?

He was wholly the truth. Believe me, He chose 526rather to be born, than in any part to pretend—and that indeed to His own detriment—that He was bearing about a flesh hardened without bones, solid without muscles, bloody without blood, clothed without the tunic of skin, hungry without appetite, eating without teeth, speaking without a tongue, so that His word was a phantom to the ears through an imaginary voice. A phantom, too, it was of course after the resurrection, when, showing His hands and His feet for the disciples to examine, He said, “Behold and see that it is I myself, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have;” without doubt, hands, and feet, and bones are not what a spirit possesses, but only the flesh."

You can read the whole thing at the link, but this should be good enough.

This Christological argument by Tertullian is against the heretical Valentinians (gnostics). And so some regions of the Church did talk about Christology before the 4th and 5th centuries.

"Now what Divine Person was born in it? The Word, and the Spirit which became incarnate with the Word by the will of the Father. The Word, therefore, is incarnate; and this must be the point of our inquiry: How the Word became flesh,—whether it was by having been transfigured, as it were, in the flesh, or by having really clothed Himself in flesh. Certainly it was by a real clothing of Himself in flesh. For the rest, we must needs believe God to be unchangeable, and incapable of form, as being eternal. But transfiguration is the destruction of that which previously existed.

For whatsoever is transfigured into some other thing ceases to be that which it had been, and begins to be that which it previously was not. God, however, neither ceases to be what He was, nor can He be any other thing than what He is. The Word is God, and “the Word of the Lord remaineth for ever,”—even by holding on unchangeably in His own proper form. Now, if He admits not of being transfigured, it must follow that He be understood in this sense to have become flesh, when He comes to be in the flesh, and is manifested, and is seen, and is handled by means of the flesh; since all the other points likewise require to be thus understood. For if the Word became flesh by a transfiguration and change of substance, it follows at once that Jesus must be a substance compounded of two substances—of flesh and spirit,—a kind of mixture, like electrum, composed of gold and silver; and it begins to be neither gold (that is to say, spirit) nor silver (that is to say, flesh),—the one being changed by the other, and a third substance produced.

Jesus, therefore, cannot at this rate be God for He has ceased to be the Word, which was made flesh; nor can He be Man incarnate for He is not properly flesh, and it was flesh which the Word became. Being compounded, therefore, of both, He actually is neither; He is rather some third substance, very different from either. But the truth is, we find that He is expressly set forth as both God and Man; the very psalm which we have quoted intimating (of the flesh), that “God became Man in the midst of it, He therefore established it by the will of the Father,”—certainly in all respects as the Son of God and the Son of Man, being God and Man, differing no doubt according to each substance in its own especial property, inasmuch as the Word is nothing else but God, and the flesh nothing else but Man. Thus does the apostle also teach respecting His two substances, saying, “who was made of the seed of David;” in which words He will be Man and Son of Man. “Who was declared to be the Son of God, according to the Spirit;”

in which words He will be God, and the Word—the Son of God. We see plainly the twofold state, which is not confounded, but conjoined in One Person—Jesus, God and Man. Concerning Christ, indeed, I defer what I have to say. (I remark here), that the property of each nature is so wholly preserved, that the Spirit on the one hand did all things in Jesus suitable to Itself, such as miracles, and mighty deeds, and wonders; and the Flesh, on the other hand, exhibited the affections which belong to it. It was hungry under the devil’s temptation, thirsty with the Samaritan woman, wept over Lazarus, was troubled even unto death, and at last actually died. If, however, it was only a tertium quid, some composite essence formed out of the Two substances, like the electrum (which we have mentioned), there would be no distinct proofs apparent of either nature. But by a transfer of functions, the Spirit would have done things to be done by the Flesh, and the Flesh such as are effected by the Spirit; or else such things as are suited neither to the Flesh nor to the Spirit, but confusedly of some third character.

Nay more, on this supposition, either the Word underwent death, or the flesh did not die, if so be the Word was converted into flesh; because either the flesh was immortal, or the Word was mortal. Forasmuch, however, as the two substances acted distinctly, each in its own character, there necessarily accrued to them severally their own operations, and their own issues. Learn then, together with Nicodemus, that “that which is born in the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.”

Neither the flesh becomes Spirit, nor the Spirit flesh. In one Person they no doubt are well able to be co-existent. Of them Jesus consists—Man, of the flesh; of the Spirit, God—and the angel designated Him as “the Son of God,”

in respect of that nature, in which He was Spirit, reserving for the flesh the appellation “Son of Man.” In like manner, again, the apostle calls Him “the Mediator between God and Men,” and so affirmed His participation of both substances. Now, to end the matter, will you, who interpret the Son of God to be flesh, be so good as to show us what the Son of Man is? Will He then, I want to know, be the Spirit? But you insist upon it that the Father Himself is the Spirit, on the ground that “God is a Spirit,” just as if we did not read also that there is “the Spirit of God;” in the same manner as we find that as “the Word was God,” so also there is “the Word of God.” ""

To read the whole thing please go to the link

Elsewhere in his works, we see Tertullian advocating that the Logos had assumed it's own human soul as well as it's own human flesh. This long before the 4th century with the feud with Apollinaris, and so some regions of the church did talk about Christology long before the 4th and 5th centuries.

But in the quote above we see that Tertullian rejected the idea of the mixing(the confusion or changing of, an example would be the mixing of two colors to create a brand new third color) of Natures(essences). The compound Nature that he was fighting against was one in where the natures were either mixed to create some sort of hybrid 3rd nature, which would neither be divine nor human, but something else completely.

He is not fighting against the later Cyrillian interpretation of a compound Nature(Person, concrete Identity, Hypostasis....etc)

But he(Tertullian) is fighting against what we Orthodox Christians would call an Eutychian interpretation of "compound Nature". However, his dyophysitism is un-developed and thus has a couple problems with it. But the core essence of what we would later see in Chalcedon is obviously present in Tertullian some centuries earlier.





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