Monday, November 11, 2013

Christological issues: Who is who? Some of the various camps

As seen from  (The Christological Issue)

Although most of the Monophysites were ready to anathematize Eutyches as well as the idea that Christ’s humanity was "confused" with His divinity, they held steadfastly to the theology and terminology of Cyril of Alexandria. Just as the "old Nicaeans" in the fourth century had refused to accept the formula of the three hypostasis introduced by the Cappadocian Fathers because Athanasius had not used it, so the leaders of fifth- and sixth-century Monophysitism — Dioscoros of Alexandria, Philoxenus of Mabbugh, and the great Sever us of Antioch — rejected the Council of Chalcedon and the Christological formula of "one hypostasis in two natures" because Cyril had never used it and because they interpreted it as a return to Nestorianism. The danger of Eutychianism that they claimed was not serious enough to justify the Chalcedonian departure from Cyril’s terminology. They objected most violently — and this objection may be the real serious difference between their Christology and Chalcedonian orthodoxy — to the idea that the two natures after the union "retain in full their proper characteristics."

The strict Dyophysites were Chalcedonians, which still rigidly maintained the Antiochian Christology and objected to some of Cyril’s propositions such as the Theopaschite formula: "One of the Holy Trinity suffered in the flesh." For them, the subject of suffering is Jesus, the son of Mary, not the divine Logos. But, one may ask, is there not then a duality of subjects in Christ? The existence of this party in the Chalcedonian camp and the influence exercised by its representatives — Theodoret of Cyrus until his death around year 466, Gennadios of Constantinople (458-471), his successor Macedonios (495-511), and others — provided the Monophysites with their main arguments for rejecting Chalcedon as a Nestorian council and as a disavowal of Cyril.

The Cyrillian Chalcedonians, who were obviously the majority at the council itself, never admitted that there was a contradiction between Cyril and Chalcedon. Neither terminology was considered an end in itself but only the appropriate way of opposing Nestorianism and Eutychianism respectively. The position of the Cyrillian Chalcedonians as distinct from the strict Dyophysite position is symbolized by the acceptance of the Theopaschite Cyrillian formula. The representatives of this tendency — the "Scythian monk" John Maxentios, John the Grammarian, Ephraem of Antioch, Leontius of Jerusalem, Anastasius of Antioch, Eulogius of Alexandria, Theodore of Raithu — dominated Byzantine theology in the sixth century and won the support of Justinian I. Recent historians (Joseph Lebon and Charles Moeller among them) often designate this tendency as "neo-Chalcedonian," implying that the strict Dyophysite understanding of Chalcedon is the only correct one and that Antiochian Christology is preferable to Cyrillian. The implications of the debate on this point are very broad in both Christological and anthropological fields, for it questions the very notion of "deification."

The Origenists involved in violent controversies but influential at the court in the beginning of Justinian’s reign offered their own solution based upon the quite heretical Christology of Evagrius Ponticus. For them, Jesus is not the Logos but an "intellect" not involved in the original Fall and thus united hypostatically and essentially with the Logos. The writings of Leontius of Byzantium, the chief representative of Origenist Christology in Constantinople, were included in the pro-Chalcedonian polemical arsenal however and his notion of the enhypostaton was adopted by Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus, who, of course, rejected the crypto-Origenistic context in which it originally appeared.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council (553) convoked by Justinian in order to give formal ecclesiastical approval to his attempts at making Chalcedon acceptable to the Monophysites was a triumph of Cyrillian Chalcedonianism. It approved Justinian’s earlier posthumous condemnation of the Three Chapters, and, though Theodore was personally condemned as a heretic and the teacher of Nestorius, Ibas and Theodoret, whom the Council of Chalcedon had officially accepted as orthodox, were spared as persons; their writings directed against Cyril however fell under the anathemas of 553. Thus, the authority of Chalcedon was formally preserved, but the strict Dyophysite interpretation of its decisions was formally rejected. The council very strongly reaffirmed the unity of subject in Christ (anathemas 2, 3, 4, 5) and, hence, formally legitimized the Theopaschite formula (anathema 10). This formula was henceforth chanted at every liturgy in the hymn "The Only-Begotten Son of God," which has been attributed to Justinian himself. Though anathema 13 gave formal approval to the Twelve Chapters of Cyril against Nestorius, anathema 8 specified that if one should use the Cyrillian formula "one nature incarnated," the word "nature" would stand for hypostasis. Thus, in joining the Orthodox Church, the Monophysites were not required to reject anything of Cyrillian theology but only to admit that Chalcedon was not a Nestorian council.
Unfortunately, by 553, the schism was too deeply rooted in Egypt and Syria, and the conciliar decision had no practical effect. The decision represents however a necessary pre-condition for any future attempts at reunion and an interesting precedent of a reformulation of an article of faith and already defined by a council for the sake of "separated" brethren who misunderstand the previous formulation.

To read the entire article please go to


Mary Wilbur said...

This is a great website. I am rereading "Christ in Eastern Christian Thought," by John Meyendorff. It is not an easy read for me as there are many unfamiliar concepts. My initial search of "neo-Chalcedonian," led me to a Greek Orthodox site in Australia, which had a completely opposing view of Leontius of Byzantium and Leontius of Jerusalem, i.e. that they were not unduly influenced by Origenist ideas. I will return and read more of the articles to be found here. Thank you.
Mary Wilbur
Elgin, IL






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