Christology

The study of Christ, or Christology, became controversial in the eyes of the early Church during the first century. This relevance to our salvation is important on minute levels but gives a robust debate for early theologians. This issue of the incarnation and the consummation of Christ gave the Christian Church another creed and freed up the path to openly discuss how Jesus Christ can truly be a man and God incarnate by occupying human flesh.

To better understand these theologies, we have to start in the fourth century with the Council of Nicaea. This established the second person of one being in the Godhead. It cemented Jesus Christ as a deity established throughout the New Testament teachings. “The one Godhead exists simultaneously in three modes of being or hypostases.”[1] So this naturally sparked a debate after the Nicene Creed, how can Jesus Christ be God and man in one?

The Christological controversies erupted out of the Council of Nicaea were theologians, bishops, and pastors argued over the anthropological issue of how Christ can be Vere Homo (truly man) and Vere Deos (truly God)?[2]  This came from multiple scriptures in the New Testament that spoke of Jesus Christ as a deity: Philippians 2:5-8 (Christ as Trinity), the first chapter in the book of John, Matthew 1:23 (the incarnation); juxtaposed with multiple scriptures in the New Testament that spoke as to the humanity of Jesus: Luke 2:7&11 (human birth), Matthew 4:1 (temptation to sin), [Luke 2:52, Mark13:32, Matthew 4:2, John 4:6, Mark 4:38, Luke 23:33 & 46] (spoke to his physical and mental limitations), Hebrews 5: 7:-10 (Moral Growth). These taken in their totality spurred real questions as to how Jesus Christ could be man and God in one human body.    

Out of this sprang two schools of thought, headed by well know theologians of their time and was carried for decades until it culminated in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The first was knows as the Alexandrian viewpoint headed by Bishop Apollinaris of Laodicea. The opposing arguments were the Antiochian view led by Nestorius.[3] Here, it is important to note, both men’s original theories of the Christology of Jesus Christ were declared heretical just prior to the Council of Chalcedon but each theory held the root of what that council debated over.

The Alexandrians proposed a monophysite, or one nature, view of Christology.  They proposed Christ as taking on the flesh of humanity. They postulated that man consists of three components: body (soma), Soul (Psyche), and mind (Nous). However, their explanation of Christ’s ability to take on human nature is that during the incarnation, Christ took on the “Logos” in place of the Nous, so therefore he was man in body, animal soul, but transcendent mind. This is how he existed, that he was constitutional combines with the divine and the human.[4]

From the Antiochian viewpoint, they postulated a Diophysite, or two nature, the theory of Christ’s humanity. This implied that Christ had two complete natures, one human, and one divine.[5] Here Theodore of Mopsuestia proposed that the “Logos” attached itself to the man, Jesus, at the moment of conception. This was a form of indwelling in the human Jesus. This created a functional unity of man and divine as his divine natures of God (Hypostasis) put on a mask of human flesh (Prosopon) and presented themselves to humanity. This accounted for the humanity of Christ and the Divinity of the Godhead.[6] Nestorius carried it further by affirming that in Christ there are two complete natures, where he objected to Mary as the mother of God. That she bore only the man, Jesus, and was not the mother of the Logos.

These two opposing schools debated for decades, finding both viewpoints partially condemned at the Council of Ephesus (Nestorianism) and the First Council of Constantinople (Apollinarism). From here the Pope decreed the Council of Chalcedon, known as the fourth ecumenical council by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and most Protestants.[7] From this council came the Chalcedonian Statement (otherwise known as the Chalcedonian Creed).  The Creed acknowledged a hypostasis, “the Godhead exists “undivided in divided persons.” There is an “identity of nature” in the three hypostases”[8] which is the double nature of Christ coming together in the one divine. Although this seemed to side with the Diophysite school, it also gave credence to the one (Monophysite) person of Christ. This mirrored the Trinity in that the Godhead is one nature in multiple persons, while the incarnation has multiple natures in one person.[9] The outcome did not exactly settle the issue of how Christ is multiple natures in one person, it did set a pathway or parameter as to how Christian theology on this subject can persevere. The resounding conclusion put forth that “you cannot confuse the natures or divide the person of Christ.”[10] 

The incarnation of Jesus Christ speaks to our salvation in two ways: who he is and what did he do. “The characteristic claim of Christianity, as codified at Chalcedon, is that God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, is numerically the same person as Jesus of Nazareth.”[11] This affirmed who he is. How God did it, doesn’t truly matter. What matters, once we affirm who he is (part of the Trinitarian Godhead), is what he did. This is where the Gospel and his atonement come into play as a believer and follower of Christ.

While Jesus Christ, being incarnated in the Virgin Mary, born of the flesh, roamed the earth as a man while also God is vital to the salvation of all mankind, the constitutional makeup of his ability to be man and God in one person, is irrelevant to salvation. These pose existential, and high-level philosophy postulations that could not be comprehended to the laymen in most situations. Therefore, how God chose to do what he did, does not matter to our salvation, as long as we understand that he did do it. The basis for these controversies, as insightful and contemplative as they are, is not a necessary need to fully understand the incarnation and its benefits to our salvation. In short, who cares how God did it? I found the council of Chalcedonies’ resolution not nearly to be as important as the council of Nicaea, and moreover, I find this is the pivotal starting point where Christendom began their infighting over secondary doctrine that carried on for centuries. While early first century understanding of some key biblical theology was necessary, later theological debates only tore Christianity in opposite directions and we, as modern Christians, are still doing it today.  

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. “Part 1: The Incarnation.” Doctrine of Christ. Lecture, n.d. Accessed May 10, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvb7IoEv5oc&t=1679s.

Craig, William Lane. “Part 2: The Incarnation.” Doctrine Of Christ. Lecture, n.d. Accessed May 10, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4tOA7O3ETg.

Craig, William Lane. “Part 3: The Incarnation.” Doctrine Of Christ. Lecture, n.d. Accessed May 10, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqXhewljWF0.

Craig, William Lane. “Part 4: The Incarnation.” Doctrine Of Christ. Lecture, n.d. Accessed May 10, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAODof7aFRQ&t=437s.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Grudem, Wayne A. ESV Student Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

 “Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia.” Wikipedia. Last modified May 5, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2018. http://www.wikipedia.com/. Council of Chalcedon.

Vallicella, William F. “Incarnation, and identity.” Philo 5, no. 1 (2002): 84-93.

Footnotes:

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 305.

[2] William Lane Craig, DR., “Part 1: The Incarnation” (lecture), December 29, 2016, accessed May 10, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvb7IoEv5oc&t=1679s.

[3] Ibid.

[4] William Lane Craig, DR., “Part 2: The Incarnation” (lecture), January 6, 2017, accessed May 10, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4tOA7O3ETg.

[5] William Lane Craig, DR., “Part 3: The Incarnation” (lecture), January 13, 2017, accessed May 10, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqXhewljWF0.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia,” Wikipedia, May 5, 2018, Council of Chalcedon, accessed May 10, 2018, http://www.wikipedia.com/.

[8] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 305.

[9] William Lane Craig, “Part 4: The Incarnation” (lecture), January 18, 2017, accessed May 10, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAODof7aFRQ&t=437s.

[10] Ibid.

[11]William F. Vallicella, “Incarnation and identity.” Philo 5, no. 1 (2002): 84-93.

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