How heresies shaped the development of Christology up to the end of the fourth century

Below is the final version of my essay for course CF103 on Christology and Trinitarian Theology. I received solid feedback after my draft submission, but also some critical additions I needed to make before this final submission. I tried my best to address these as per the suggestions of my tutor. My thanks to my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft for his guidance and time in extensive feedback provided. 

Katina Michael

This paper is about heresy that shaped the development of Christology up to the end of the fourth century. Heresy can be defined as a deviation away from established Orthodoxy (i.e., the right beliefs) into error. In Christology, the Person of Christ refers to the study of the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ as they coexist within the one person. Specifically, this raises the question of who Christ was? Christology is the meeting point between the human nature of Christ (the Son of Man), and the divine nature of Christ (the Son of God, the Word of God, the Divine Logos) represented together in the one person (Gk prosopon, πρόσωπον) without mixture. Departing from the truth of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is not only dangerous but destructive because it disrupts the transformative process of theosis that can be attained, since Christ died for our sins on the cross, for one truth not several relative truths. Diluting the truth or changing it in any way, has detrimental ripple effects for the ekklesia at large but also for the impact it would have on believers as their faith would be based on a moving target.

I hope to prove that heresy predominantly took the form of either denying Christ’s divinity (in extreme forms of anthropological maximalism), or denying Christ’s humanity (in extreme forms of anthropological minimalism), consequentially imbalancing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity formed by the consensus of the Early Church Fathers. Two well-defined heresies in the Arian strain (Christ is less than God) and the Apollinarian strain (Christ is less than man) will be compared as representative of other earlier heresies, for example, Ebionism and Docetism respectively. I will present evidence of how Christological debates between various points of view were refuted by the Apostolic Fathers who focused their attention on the God-man and the Incarnation in the Ecumenical Councils. This culminated in the formation of the doctrine of hypostatic union which recognised that Christ was fully divine and at the same time fully human. Of great significance is that heresies chiefly impacted upon soteriology (i.e., the religious doctrine of Salvation), and inexorably on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Early Church Fathers as a result sought to document their beliefs forming Christian doctrine in the process, and eliminating erroneous points of view in the expression of the Christian faith.

The early church struggled to express the ineffable mystery of Jesus Christ. They were forced to articulate their experiences out of necessity and not for want of philosophical interest. They had to explicitly find the words to document what they believed based on a tangible experience of Christ, as opposed to what they did not believe or which deviated from Christ’s own teachings and those of the Apostles. Thus, the Apostles communicated their eyewitness experience to their disciples through oral transmission, who then communicated it down the continuum of the Church generation after generation, which we now know as Holy Tradition. But gradually, the Church had to use written formulations based on the original preaching of the Gospel to dispel certain points of view that were deemed to be inconsistent with the deposit of faith (Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition). Enter the term “heresy” (Gk hairesis, αἵρεσις), defined as “the formal denial or doubt of any defined doctrine of the Catholic faith”(Cross, 2005: 762). In antiquity the term denoted a “choice” or “thing chosen” or following a particular “philosophical school” or “school of thought”. In this way, heresy in the early church was understood as a particular “point of view” that was deemed to be wrong because it did not accord with the basic experience of the Apostles as witnessed to in their experience of Christ. So one reason why we have texts from this period regarding the Person of Christ is to eliminate points of view that were deemed to be erroneous and inconsistent with the Apostolic preaching. And the second reason was to express to the wider Graeco-Roman pagan world, concepts and language that were in some way comprehensible toward drawing unbelievers to the faith.

When we look at the early church, particularly as we see the beginning of the reflection on the Person of Christ, there is an attempt to answer the question that Christ himself posed to his disciples in Mark 8:29: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter was able to answer categorically to Him: “You are the Christ.” Yet, when Christ asked, “Who do men say that I am?” his disciples answered: “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:27, 28). Even after the witness of the single most important transhistorical event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, still there were those who did not accept that Christ was God and formed their own elucidations, and others who believed in Christ’s deity but said a god would never take on a material body and suffer shamefully on a cross and die. Saint Paul and Saint John the Evangelist through their respective epistles warn the faithful to beware of the false teachers (2 Peter 2:1, 4, 12, 18) and the false prophets (1 John 4:1). The Apostles, were not only warning of a time far into the future, but in their Sitz im Leben, i.e. current context and setting. Thus, inconsistencies on who Christ was, even arose within the lifetime of the Apostles. Summing up the tendencies of these early heresies, without risking oversimplification of these sects, there are those who denied Christ’s divinity and those that denied Christ’s humanity, although it was seldom that “black and white”. Of course, unrelated to heresy, there were also those Early Church Fathers who emphasised the divine nature over and above the human nature of Christ (anthropological minimalism, e.g. the Alexandrian school of thought that emphasised the Logos-Sarx), and those who emphasised the human nature over and above the divine nature (anthropological maximalism, e.g. the Antiochian school of thought that emphasised the Logos-Anthropos) (Rausch, 2003: 153). An emphasis of one nature over the other did not equate to heresy, but extreme points of view that significantly unbalanced the symmetry in the God-man, such as Arianism and Apollinarianism that ensued into the 4th century, emphasised that Christ had only one nature, not two, i.e., one physis. Looking at these two heresies in some detail suggests that an express denial of the fullness of the truth was adopted by presbyters who lead the faithful astray.

Arianism: Denying Christ's Divinity

A major fourth century heresy was Arianism, named after a priest of Alexandria, Arius (256-336 A.D.) who was taught and mentored by Lucian of Antioch. Arianism in summary, denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. In 318 Arius wrote: “the Son is only a creature, made out of nothing, like all other created beings. He may be called God but only by an extension of language, as the first and greatest person chosen to be divine intermediary in the creation and redemption of the world” (Socrates, 2017). In his Thalia, Arius categorically stated: “there was [a time] when he (the Son) was not” (McDonald, 1975: 23). According to Arius, Christ might have sinned but did not, and was thus adopted by God because of his merits, by grace. Haldon (1966b: 41) writes that Arius believed that: “instead of being God he is a kind of demiurge who advanced in virtue and merit and thus came to be closely associated with the Father. But his nature is not of the same substance as the Father’s.” Most of the heretical sects that denied Christ’s divinity held boldly anti-Trinitarian beliefs. Haldon writes, that even the notion of the Incarnation (that the second Person of the Trinity became flesh and assumed a human nature) was reduced but to a figure of speech. In the Arian way of thinking “the logos was created and not divine”, Arius and his followers recognised Christ as Messiah but denied that he was “the natural Son of God” (Haldon 1966: 41).

It was Saint Athanasius the Great (296-373) who was the main obstacle to the rise of Arianism in the East, and one of the primary reasons why the First Council of Nicaea was convoked in 325. At this Council, Arianism was condemned (Schaff, 1894: 134) and the Nicene Creed formed, directly making emphasis of the words “begotten, not made”, making it clear that Christ was an eternal being and not created by God the Father: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (The First Council of Nicaea, 325). The specific words incorporated into the Nicene Creed was "being of one substance” (Gk homooúsios, ὁμοούσιος) rather than Arius' heretical teaching “being of a similar substance” (homoioúsios, ὁμοιούσιος). Note the crucial difference, Arius’ ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar", rather than ὁμός, homós, "same" (Erickson, 1966: 55-57). Athanasius, and others like Saint Alexander of Alexandria, upheld that man’s deification would only be possible if Christ indeed was truly God. If Christ were only a “creature”, then he could not be worshipped (Macleod, 1998: 123), and he would be unable to redeem or unite man to God (deify) (Schaff, 1910: 644-649). Athanasius charges Arius and his followers with dualism and heathenism, the worship of two separate “Gods”- an uncreated one and a created one- accusing them of polytheism (Schaff, 1910: 648f). In the final decades of the 4th century, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, and Saint Basil the Great each played a significant role in reconciling with the many semi-Arians, swaying further theological momentum toward the Nicene Creed. In the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381, outcomes of the Nicene Creed were reaffirmed and expanded upon. By the 7th century, Arianism had all but vanished. Apollinarianism which we will consider next, was not of the magnitude or threat to Christianity as Arianism. The numerous edicts against it very early on, meant that it dwindled as a movement by 420 A.D. It could be said that Apollinarianism was diametrically opposite to Arianism in every sense, save for the fact that it too presented that Christ had only one nature. Arianism and Semi-Arianism were much more dangerous a heresy to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, because in denying Christ’s divinity, it then followed that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was destabilised and open to ongoing attack.

Apolliniarianism: Denying Christ’s Humanity

Apollinarianism is a heretical doctrine of Apollinaris the younger (310-390), bishop of Laodicea in Syria. According to Schaff (1910: 708-710), Apollinaris was esteemed by many Alexandrian fathers, including Saint Athanasius the Great, for his virtue, classical culture, scholarly vindication, and commitment to the Nicene faith. Schaff (1910) notes, Apollinaris fundamentally took the crux of the Trinitarian debates and reapplied them to the Person of Christ. He reoriented the discussion to the “psychical and pneumatic side of the humanity of Christ” (Schaff, 1910: 709), claiming that “Christ had a human body and only a sensitive soul, but had no rational mind [nous] or free human will. His rational soul was replaced by the Divine Logos, or word of God” (Haldon, 1966a: 33). But in his zeal to declare Christ’s deity, he attributed to Christ a human body and soul, but negated a human spirit, overriding the reasoning mind of Christ with the Divine Logos. Apollinaris is thus known for his ‘Word-flesh Christology’ which claimed that God did not conjoin with man but merely with the sarx (Erickson, 1966: 58ff). He believed entirely that God and flesh had collocated into one nature (McDonald, 1975: 16) because anything different would have meant that one nature would strive to overcome the other. As Kenneth Paul Wesche (1984: 85) has explained furthermore, Apollinaris’ beginning point was the “prosopon” derived out of Christ’s essence (ousia). Thus it logically followed that one person could only have one nature, “one physis, one hypostasis, one energeia, one prosopon”. Now for Apollinaris, who believed that Christ the Son was of one essence (homouousia) with the Father, it was only logical that Christ’s humanity would give way to his divine nature. For him, the only possible way for Christ to have been sinless, for instance, was to declare that Christ was also not fully human, and that he did not possess free will (Thomsett, 2011: 38).

Apollinaris’ teachings were condemned by the Roman councils in 377 and 381 and also the Council of Constantinople in 381. In 377, Pope Damasus I declared Apollinaris a heretic. In the seventh anathema in the Council of Rome 381 Pope Damasus I wrote against Apollinaris: “We pronounce anathema against them who say that the Word of God is in the human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul. For, the Word of God is the Son Himself. Neither did He come in the flesh to replace, but rather to assume and preserve from sin and save the rational and intellective soul of man” (Thomsett, 2011: 38). Schaff writes critically, that “Athanasius, the two Gregories, Basil and Epiphanius combated the Apollinarian error… from behind and from the flank, than in front” (Schaff, 1910: 713). The fundamental issue with Apollinaris’ teachings was specifically to do with soteriology: if Christ had not assumed then He has not healed (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101). In support of his beliefs, Apollinaris cited the following Scripture: “and the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and also Philippians 2:7 and 1 Corinthians 15:47. The Early Church Fathers retorted, that Saint John’s usage of the word “sarx” (i.e. flesh) as in other parts of Holy Scripture, were used to mean the whole human nature. In placing the Apollinarian controversy historically, the heretical sect disappeared in the early fifth century. The short-lived controversy acted to shift the debate from the Trinity to Christology, resulting in the Chalcedonian symbol in 451 A.D. Relatively speaking, Apollinarianism did not last long, disappearing by the early fifth century.

The Formation of the Doctrine of Hypostatic Union

Deviations in explaining the Person of Christ, inevitably have led to declarations deemed to be heretical by the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as recorded in the Ecumenical Councils. In the case of Arianism it was in denying the divinity of Christ which then had direct consequences on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and in the case of Apollinarism it was in denying the humanity of Christ and subsequent salvation of man. Both of these heresies were representative of many early Christian heresies that surfaced just after the time of Christ unduly influencing their followers to stray away from the truth to varying degrees (see Figure 1). Importantly, these Christological debates led to the critical formation of the doctrine of hypostatic union (Gk ὑπόστασις) in the First Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Simply put, hypostatic union is the union of the two natures of Christ, divine and human, in one and the same person. One nature of Christ, is not usurped and is not absorbed by the other, for instance, the human nature overtaken by the divine nature. And yet, both natures are united symmetrically in the person of Christ. We do not have two persons, or two Sons, or two Christs, but one person who is both fully God and fully man (Tyneh, 2003: 66f). They are not divided into two prosopa (Tyra, 2013: 97). And here is where two well-known Antiocheans, Theodore of Mopsuestia, followed by his disciple Nestorius, deviated from the truth in believing in a mere prosopic union of the two natures of Jesus Christ rather than the accepted doctrine of the hypostatic union. The confusion stemmed from the fact that translations of “prosopon” and “hypostasis” in the Greek equated to “person”, despite that a more correct translation of “prosopon” is “face”. It then follows, that “prosopon” is the form in which “hypostasis” appears (Grillmeier, 1975: 431).

 

Figure 1. Christological perspectives on the two natures of Christ adapted from Tyra (2013: 99).

Caption: The doctrine of the hypostatic union is shown at centre. Deviating from this centrist view, believers then fall into heresy emphasising the one nature position, declaring to varying degrees the denial of Christ’s humanity (e.g. Arianism) or the denial of Christ’s divinity (e.g. Apollinarianism).

 

In hypostatic union is the belief in a perfect and harmonious union of “two distinct but never separate natures” (Olson, 2002: 230). There is a communicatio idiomatum (characteristics) of the one nature to the other. We can say that the God-man thirsted, hungered, suffered and died and that he was all-wise, all-powerful, all-omniscient at the very same time. It is why Saint Athanasius the Great (c. 296–373) has written that the Son of God “…became man so that we might become God” (Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34) . It is this doctrine of divinization, deification, theosis, that provides humans with divine grace (atonement) toward the possibility of everlasting life (Bartos, 1999: 174). In the second century, Saint Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202) similarly said that God "became what we are in order to make us what he is himself" (Against Heresies, Book V), and then again, “If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods” (Against Heresies, Book V). Saint Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), similarly wrote: "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god." (Exhortation to the Greeks, 1).

As Saint John Damascene (676-c. 754) put it so eloquently: “Whatever Christ said and did, He did so as the God-man, and all His actions and deeds were theandric… “He did not execute the human humanly for He was not only man but also God; nor did He execute the divine divinely, for He was not only God but also man” (Tyneh, 2003: 67f). No matter how hard theologians have tried to provide explanation, the hypostatic union remains a great divine mystery, “transcendent to our rational categories” (Baker, 2015). Tyra (2013: 97f) concurs that this was intentional as a “paradoxical protection of the mystery against rationalising explanations that effectively destroy the mystery”. It is clear from their contributions that the Early Church Fathers, spent considerable time concerned with refuting heresy, and in so doing articulated their position. It was in the Ecumenical Councils, one by one, that declarations became established and recognised as Christian doctrine and Dogmatic theology was formed. “The hypostatic union in Christ achieved an absolute proximity and communion of man and God, at the same time becoming the model and the power for the moral unity between man and God” (Bartos, 1999: 174). This mystery is what grants man the hope of eternal life, and cannot be scrutinised through deeper levels of logical reasoning for it would otherwise not be a mystery at all. It is also the very reason, why some Christian flocks have fallen into heresy to this day; the same errors repeating themselves over and over again in various guises throughout the centuries. When individuals take matters into their own hands, and proclaim to be above the consensus patrum, they will inevitably err, taking their followers with them. It is for this reason we must cling to the doctrines formed during the Ecumenical Councils.

 

References

Baker M. (2015) T.F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy: Theology in Reconciliation, USA: WipfandStock.

Bartos E. (1999) Deification in Eastern Orthodox Theology, Milton Keyes: Paternoster Press.

Cross FL. (2005) Heresy. In: Cross FL and Livingstone EA (eds) Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Erickson MJ. (1966) The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology, New York: Baker Book House.

Grillmeier A. (1975) Christ in Christian Tradition: from the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Haldon JA. (1966a) Apollinarianism. In: Haldon JA (ed) Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 33.

Haldon JA. (1966b) Arianism. In: John A. Haldon SJ (ed) Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 41.

Macleod D. (1998) The Person of Christ, Nottingham: SPCK Publishing.

McDonald HD. (1975) Development and Christology. Vox Evangelica 9: 5-27.

Olson RE. (2002) The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Rausch TP. (2003) Who is Jesus?: An Introduction to Christology, Minnesota: Liturgical Press.

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies (Book V). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103500.htm.

Schaff P. (1894) A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, and Practical Theology, Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls.

Schaff P. (1910) History of the Christian Church (Vol. III. Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity), 124, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Socrates. (2017) Division begins in the Church from this Controversy; and Alexander Bishop of Alexandria excommunicates Arius and his Adherents. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.iv.vi.html.

The First Council of Nicaea. (325) The Nicene Creed. Nicaea.

Thomsett MC. (2011) Heresy in the Roman Catholic Church: A History, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Tyneh CS. (2003) Orthodox Christianity: Overview and Bibliography, New York: Nova Publishers.

Tyra G. (2013) A missional orthodoxy: theology and ministry in a post-Christian context, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Wesche KP. (1984) The Union of God and Man in Jesus Christ in the Thought of Gregory of Nazianzus. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 28: 83-98.

 

Christian Theology (Millard Erickson, 1985)

Christological Heresies


Heresies Regarding Christ’s Deity
• Heresies which deny the genuinenss of Christ’s deity: Ebionism (1)
• Heresies which deny the completeness of Christ’s deity: Arianism (2)

Heresies Regarding Christ’s Humanity
• Heresies which deny the genuineness of Christ’s humanity: Docetism (3)
• Heresies which deny the completeness of Christ’s humanity: Apollinarianism (4)

Heresies which divide Christ’s person: Nestorianism (5)

Heresies which confuse Christ’s natures: Eutychianism (6)

Ebionism (1): An early heresy stemming from some Jewish Christian circles (Ebionite was the Hebrew word for “poor”; these may have been poor Jewish Christians). Strongly monotheistic, they denied that Jesus was God, rejected the virgin birth, and believed Jesus was born naturally. He was human but possessed of unusual gifts. They believed God’s power descended on him in a special way at his baptism.

Arianism (2): Named after Arius of Alexandria, a presbyter whose views were condemned by Athanasius and others at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Saw God as absolutely unique and transcendent (inflexible monotheism). They believed God alone possesses attributes of deity; to share these with anyone would be to render God less than divine. Everything besides God is created and temporal. The Word was a created being, though the first and highest created being. He was a demigod, an intermediate being, not God (this is the
theology of modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Docetism (3): Docetism is based on the Greek word for “seem” or “appear”--Jesus only seemed or appeared to be human; in reality he was God. An early heresy strongly influenced by Greek dualism which saw the invisible spiritual things as good, the visible, fleshly things as evil.

Apollinarianism (4): The views of Apollinarius, a close friend and associate of Athanasius, the leading champion of orthodox Christology (the one who defeated Arius at the Council of Nicea). He saw Jesus as a compound unity: some of Jesus was human, the rest was divine. Jesus was physically human, but psychologically divine (the divine Word took the place of his human soul). This view was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381.

Nestorianism (5): Named after Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople in 428. Nestorius had trouble with the idea that the divine and human natures were united in one person in Christ (he felt this obscured them both). He preferred to see them as a conjunction, operating in stages of Christ’s life, or distinctly side-by-side. This tended to divide the natures of Christ, render him somewhat schizophrenic.

Eutychianism (6): Eutyches, an elderly church leader in the 440s, apparently sought to counter Nestorius’s division of Christ by teaching the “one nature” formula. He saw Jesus’s humanity as completely absorbed into his divinity. A variant of this taught that Jesus’s nature was a hybrid of divine and human, and therefore a third, altogether new nature.

More here

CF103 Lecturers

Mary Cunningham is a lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham. She completed her MA at the Centre for Byzantine Studies at the University of Birmingham in England, where she later received her PhD, with a thesis on the eighth-century Byzantine preacher and hymnographer, Andrew of Crete. In 2002 she published her work: Faith in the Byzantine World. Further details about her research you can find here

 

 

 

 

Dr Marcus Plested is Vice-Principal and Academic Director of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. He took his doctorate from Oxford in 1999 with a thesis on the Macarian Homilies supervised by Bishop Kallistos (Ware). Dr Plested has taught, lectured, and published widely in the field of Orthodox Christian studies. His most recent book is The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition (Oxford: OUP 2004).

The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS) has brought together some of the world's leading scholars in their respective fields of expertise. Reading the brief biographies of my instructors is humbling, in so many ways. I admire their scholarship, and feel very fortunate to be listening to their lectures via distance learning.

CF103 Lecture Summaries - Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

Overview

  • To introduce students to the concept and theology of the Trinity and the theology of the person of Christ and their development in the Christian Church from the apostolic period through the fifth century A.D.
  • The course will focus both on the development of doctrine and on the ways in which the Trinity was understood and experienced by Christians in this period. The course will also explore the formulation of Christian belief in the first four Ecumenical Councils and introduce selected aspects of the importance and significance of these doctrines in the later Orthodox tradition.
  • It will explore the manner in which intellectual and religious controversies forced Christian thinkers to formulate a definition of the Trinity, which was expressed formally in the creeds of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantine

On completion of the module, students should be able to:

  • Understand the importance of a ‘rule of faith’, or doctrinal creed, in the early Christian Church.
  • Realize the significance of the Ecumenical Councils in formulating the doctrine.
  • Discuss some of the key differences between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox formulations of the creed in relation to the Holy Trinity.
  • Have a grasp of the development of Trinitarian doctrine in the early Church.
  • Recognize the importance of the formulation of doctrine for later Church history and for the Orthodox Church today.

Knowledge and understanding:

• knowledge of the lineaments of Orthodox Trinitarian and Christological doctrine
• understanding of the historical dimension of the articulation of Christian doctrine
• familiarity with selected key theologians of the early Church
• knowledge and understanding of the first four Ecumenical Councils

 

Lecture 1 - Christian understanding of the Trinity in the New Testament and Sub-Apostolic periods 

Key Sources

  • Dr Mary Cunningham's Lecture
  • Handout for the study of Holy Trinity in the NT
  • Fr Boris Bobrinskoy: The Holy Spirit in the Church
  • The Apostolic Fathers: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (pp.5-42; 116-120, 129-132, 141-149; 244-304; 508-903)

 

Lecture 2 - Further development of Trinitarian doctrine in the late Second and Third Centuries A.D.

Key Sources

  • Dr Mary Cunningham's Lecture Handout
  • St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon- The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching
  • Origen (esp. pp,422-449)
  • Audio file- Metropolitan Kallistos on Orthodox Approaches to the Trinitarian Theology before and after Nicea
  • Origen's "Philokalia" (with a schematic representation of Origen's Theory of Interpretation)
  • Karen Jo Torjesen, Hermeneutical procedure and theological method in Origen's exegesis (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1986), pp. 108-149.

 

Lecture 3 - Arius, Athanasius, and the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) 

Key Sources

 

Lecture 4 - The Cappadocian Fathers and the Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) 

Key Sources

 

Lecture 5 - The Christology of the first four centuries

Key Sources

  • Handout for the Lecture by Dr Marcus Plested
  • Grillmeier: Christ in Christian Tradition
  • Placher: Truly Human-Truly Divine

 

Lecture 6 - The Christology of the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451)

Key Sources

  • Handout for Lecture on Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon- Dr Marcus Plested
  • Further Handout on the Lecture (Dr Marcus Plested)
  • Dr Marcus Plested- Eutychianism
  • Hall: Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church
  • Fr John Meyendorff: Christ in Eastern Christian Thought
  • Chadwick: The Early Church
  • Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas)- Christology

 

Lecture 7 - Optional Resources

My Next Course: CF103 Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I

I realised yesterday that it was the 1st of February- anticipating my next course in my Certificate Studies, which will be the first of two courses on Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology. My personalised email from IOCS arrived overnight given the time zone differences with the UK. As I awoke and got down the long list of emails once at my desk, the last one I got to was the welcome message for CF103. I caught myself smiling and shared with my husband later what an incredible thing it is to do something you have always wanted to! I quickly scanned the assessment questions to get a feel for where this course was headed, and also looked at the 8 lecture delivery and recommended readings. I would identify my reading level in this area as very basic. I am going to have to do so much reading- I can tell- but I am so looking forward to the learning journey once again.

The few things that come to mind in worship however, are how often as Orthodox Christians we remember Christ as fully God and fully man, and also do the sign of the Cross by saying "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit" in prayer and liturgical services. 

 

 

 

Topic 8 - Lecture: The Christology of St John's Gospel

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

We can credit the Gospel of John for the way in which Christianity has been shaped. We see in the very first lines of the Gospel of John the uniqueness becomes manifest read away, we're dealing here with the divine absolute who becomes a particular person who enters history and lives with us. And it was he, God himself, John says to us.

In John's Gospel we are dealing with a very different kind of Christology that we will not find in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke. 

There are three types of Christology: 1. Love (?) Christology. 2. Christology of divine agency and 3. Incarnation Christology.

In Mark's Gospel we are dealing with so-called adoptionistic Christology. We don't hear for example anything about Christ's birth, and we are thrust into the later stages of his life. We know course that Christ is baptised by John in the River Jordan and the next thing we hear a voice from heaven 'you are my beloved son'. The words are addressed to Christ himself in this gospel. For the greater part we don't see anything particularly divine about Christ, only towards the end Christ is called son of God. So in Mark's Gospel you do not get a sense that Christ is pre-eternal.

In Matthew and Luke we have a very different type of Christology, known as ancient. Here we hear about the birth of Christ, how he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and his baptism. We hear the words 'this is my beloved son'. It was a revelation of Christ not so much adoption of Christ, to the crowd of people.
 

John says to us Christ is before the incarnation, that is why there is not so much description of Christ birth. In John it is the Logos, God. He was in the beginning, and no single thing was created without him.

So the three other evangelists, who sent us only with economical activities, oikonomia in Greek. They speak about his earthly economy.

John tells us about Christ pre-eternal existence. In this way he breaks the confines of time, and goes into eternity. 

What we find in the Epistle of Philippians written by St Paul, 2:6-11, Christ was in the form of God but he took the form of a servant.

However as a member of the Orthodox church, I would not like to stress the differences in the Gospel each individualistically. In fact, they produce a common vision of Christ.

A book titled 'the preexistence of Christ: in the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke'. Even in the synoptic gospels we do see clear descriptions on the preexistence of Christ.

'I have come to fulfil the law, not to destroy.': This formula 'I have come' points to his pre-eternal existence. Matthew 5:17. When this formula is used here refers not to a geographical location but this idea of coming into the world. He didn't come from Galilee to Jerusalem into the world. 

These things change the course of the history of mankind. The first 18 verses of the Gospel of John, are our the most significant in our scriptures in terms of having been studied the most. They present the mystery that has remained unsolved until now.

The style, the message, the ideas, are so surprisingly and so convincingly confident that there is no need for further attestation, because they encode the entire message of Christianity. No wonder these magnificent versus we read in our church. 

It was important to elevate the Gospel to its authentic level.

The opening verses embrace this universal scale from the outset, both in terms of space and time. It goes even before time, presenting the universal context. Goes beyond any space, with such universal concepts as: light and darkness, the world.

The absolute became flesh. This divine absolute becomes a human person.

The prologue to the Gospel of John as it stands in Greek, reads like poetry. In many translations you will see that the prologue, the first 18 verses, but published in poetic form. There is such a hymnic rhythm, to the opening of the Gospel of John, that some propose that you was added on later. But I do not agree with this. The language may well be different but Christology are in fact completely integral to the rest of the Gospel. The rest of the Gospel sort of sets and explains out for us what is written in the prologue.

The concept of Logos

The term Logos appears here only in the new Testament. It won't appear anywhere else. Why does evangelist John use this term in the Gospel of John. We see here inferences of Stoicism, so much so, that they try to equate the Logos being Christ with historical Logos. 

Logos in stoicism is a cosmic reason, the governing principle of all that is. And yet all other reasonable creatures, there have seeds of laws. And was a similar ideas in John's Gospel. Christ enlightens every man that comes into the world, Gospel of John 1.1. In stoicism of course is very flexible, it can be adapted to other religions.

I tried to see this concept of Logos not as historic images, but as all embracing concept. The definition of Logos means the word in Greek. In Greek it has many meanings for example it might mean principle, it may mean reason, it may mean thought. In this context it is used to embrace as wide a meaning as possible. In the concept of word of God can be found in Judaism.

The word of God acquires semi-personified existence.

For the Jewish people the word of God was the Torah itself. It was the law that was given to Moses. And in John, find the synthesis of all of these ideas.

Finally the word of God became a person. We have this tendency towards personification in Judaism, and John brings this tendency towards final fulfilment in his Gospel. The word of God becomes flesh, it becomes a human person.

One of the striking images of the Gospel, is that no one else would you find Christ referring to himself as "I am". You will find this in various Eastern religions and also in the Hellenic world, Bultmann makes this comparison with Hellenic ideas. For example various mythical gods are quoted as saying I am. And in the hermetic(?)  corpus, X(?) reveals himself to Hermes, 'who am I the treasure of life'. In the mundene(?) literature, 'a shepherd and my who loves his sheep'. We should not really press these arguments and parallels to far. Because it is undoubtably a reference to Exodus chapter 3:14 'I am that I am', says God in his revelation. And Christ repeats the same revelation.

In chapter 18 Christ asks? "Whom do you seek?" The reply is "Jesus of Nazareth", and Christ says "I am". And as soon as he said this to them, they went backwards and fell to the ground, because they recognised the divine name.

So soon as John uses this title "I am", whatever other title that he had used like "the chosen one", the Messiah, the man spoken of by Moses and the prophets, all of them imply a divinity of Christ, and reinterpreted in the context of Christ saying "I am that I am".

Characteristic of John

Can you think of the Christological title that was in John's Gospel that was not in the synoptic gospels? Well, the various first thing that John the Baptist says about Christ: "this is the Lamb of God". Why do you think he uses this title? On the one hand, all the Jewish hearers would recall to memory the only begotten son of Abraham, the sacrificial lamb Genesis chapter 22, in Exodus, and many other associations in the old Testament. Before the coming of Christ, there was an association of Israel the nation with a lamb. If you look at the images of the suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 42 and 49, Israel is associated with suffering, and this imagery in fact, is the Lamb of God which takes upon its self the sins of others. This would have been quite understanding to Jewish hearts and minds, so when John the Baptist uses this term, the Israelites would be very much at home with this term. But the something more to this.

So what do these titles tell us? For example, "the son of God". This refers to Christ's divinity. And when we say, "the son of man", this speaks of his human nature. So these points to nature, divine or human.

If we consider other titles, like "King of Israel", they point to function, like Messiah. This is Christ's function in salvation. But they do not point to his character. For example if we say, "King of Israel", this does not point to character, a good king or about King, it does not point to what Christ is like as a person. Same as, "Lamb of God", "son of man", they point instead to Christ's nature in function. But when we speak about the Lamb of God, Christ immediately emerges as a personality, a person. And what kind of feeling does this title "Lamb of God" evoke in us? Someone that is innocent, defenceless, one who would do harm to anyone, so these labels can evoke an image of Christ. This is very specific to John who tries to present us with Christ who is not just the son of God, but also of man, as a person, so that we would know Christ, what he is like as a person. 

Q&A. What about the title 'Son of David'? This label points to his lineage, his Messiah-ship. The Jewish peoples expected the Messiah to be a descendant of King David. David had received the promise. 

Uniqueness of John's presentation of Christ

For John it was importance, to present Christ as a person. And perhaps you might notice, hacking you learn about someone another person? How do you go about this? How do you know if a person is good or bad for instance? How can you know another person? By talking to them. When you enter relationship, you get to know another person. When you enter a dialogue, for example you can lecture, see a professor at University in lecture hall, for 5 to 10 years, but you would not know what he's like as a person. But if he invited for a cup of tea, you can get a rough idea of what he is like as a person. And this is something unique in John's Gospel, he tries to present to us Christ through his relationship to other people. He gives us pictures, sketches of his dialogues, his relationship with other people so his person is clear to us. 

And there is something unique in principle here, if you look, he does not like public scenes very much, there are of course public teachings, but all of his dialogues, where Christ actually reveals himself, who he is and where is from, come from personal contact. John tries to depict this from public, to behind closed doors. To intimate settings where Christ enters a dialogue, and enters a personal relationship, and his divinity, his Messiah-ship becomes manifest. Let us look at the first chapter 1:38-39. The very first disciples who followed Christ, he asked them, who do you seek? And they said to him, Rabbi, that is teacher, where do you live? And he says to them, come and see. And they came and saw where he lived and stayed with him that they, and it was about the 10th hour. At first where there is no personal dialogue taken place, Christ addresses as preacher someone who has a message, but this title Rabbi could be applied to anything in Judaism. But then they go to his house, far more intimate, and after one day of staying with him, after this personal communication, the confession of Christ as Messiah grows. In 1:41, we read, Simon said to him, we have found the Messiah. And this was after only a mere 24 hours of staying with Christ. There was personal contact with him. Now when you come to chapter 3, we John has meaning of these personal settings, where man can open his heart. When Nicodemus came to him, by night, again it was a very personal setting when no one can see someone, and you come face-to-face with Christ. Again this is another intimate context. 

If we continue this approach in reading the Gospel of John, we can point to the Samaritan lady and her conversation with Christ at the fountain. Again Christ speaks to the Samaritan woman face to face. And John writes, and "Jesus spoke to her". And when this was happening it was important for John to emphasise that the disciples had gone away to buy food. And it was Jesus, face-to-face with the Samaritan woman. The result after this conversation? She confesses him as Messiah. 

If you study all the other personal dialogues, you will see that they all have a personal setting. Even if the setting, is in the midst of a crowd. And we see that this courses, and dialogues is the main form of revelation in John's Gospel. It is through the personal contact the people have with Christ, when they confess him as Messiah. And when we study the reaction of the Pharisees for example, they are not described in this personal way, we do not hear about their names for instance.

And when the plot of the Gospel of John moves to the Last Supper, again we see an intimate setting. And in chapter 13, again we read that it was night. And he devotes three chapters to the setting of the Last Supper which is an enormous amount of space relative to the Gospels size in words. For John such settings were important, this is where God opens his heart, in the dialogue with the disciples, and John wants to convey every single detail.

That is why perhaps you will notice that there is no public appearances of Christ after his resurrection. He appears to his disciples, he appears to Peter, but never to crowds. In fact, perhaps you now understand why we believe, that public manifestation of Christ in a large crowd today would not happen. If it is not in private, then we do not believe it.

This is known as intimate Christology as it is through personal encounter.

Johannine Vision of the Godhead

When we consider John's vision of the Godhead, the Holy Trinity. We cannot say for sure that it was John that developed Triadology as we understand it now in 2000 years of Orthodoxy. But nevertheless he lays the foundation for our Trinitarian teaching. 

And it is only in John's gospel that we find the title 'Son' without any predicate. He just says "son" and "father". Christ is presented, not only, in the context of belonging to simply as Son God, or Son of Man, but also he presents him as the Son of the Father. What is the difference if we present him as Son of the Father, what does this mean? Why is this word used "Son"? He uses this term deliberately to point to Christ's status in relation to his "Father". We have the Christology of Relationship. We do not invent this or weave it into the Gospel, the evangelist tries to show us that he is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It justifies our approach.

If we look at the Synoptic gospels, we hear very little about what Christ felt about his father. yes we have witnessed the manifestation of the spirit during baptism, but these are somewhat impersonal, we are not told much about their relationship. At the baptism of Christ, the Holy Spirit, descends on the Son as a dove, we hear the voice of the Father, but we do not hear much about the relationship. And for John it is important to show the inter-relationship.

See how the father relates to the Son- an existential attitude is revealed. 

But in John, we find this relationship all over the text.

Yet, if there were no examples of this relationship in the synoptic gospels, it would be rather problematic. But certainly it is in the Gospel of John where this resonates more powerfully. Of course will see all the Gospels in unity.

Now let us see, what is this relationship? It is total commitment, total surrender, of all the fathers being to the son. John 3:35- the father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Again, throughout gospel John 13 'all things into his hands'; John 16 'all things that the father has is mine.'  There is also the commission of the Father's function. 'The father shows the son' everything... he commends to the Son, all his power and source of being. The father raises up the dead. John 5 'the Father has life in himself'... whole of Father's authority is given to the Son. Everything that he has has been given to the Son. The Father judges no man, but handed all judgement to the Son.

Fr Sophrony: once when he became a monk in Mount Athos, he had an argument with God. He said, how can you judge me, you are God, and I'm a human. And he was praying to God, and he said to him I am a feeble human being and any day I can die of hunger, illness, and any number of things. How can you judge me? Because the judge should been the same condition as the one being judged. And in his heart came these words: father judges no man, and has committed or judgement to his son, because he is the son of man. So Fr Sophrony lost his argument because the son of man lived with all these conditions, and endured much more difficulties, than father Sophrony himself.

So we seem from this passages at the father seems to almost belittle himself, in favour of the son, his whole life, his honour, his power, his authority, his real kenosis (emptying) for the son.

Now briefly, we turn to the attitude of the son towards the father. So we know from the previous verses that the sun, seems to have everything handed down to him from the father. But now we can illustrate the reciprocity, how the son returns everything back to the father that was given to him. And perhaps, that the mystery of Christ can be summarised under this formula: "Not I, but the Father". John 5: "I come in my father's name". His whole consciousness is focused on the Father. Whatever the sun does, he doesn't for the father, in the father's name. "The son can do nothing of himself saved through the father." "By my own self I can do nothing." Jesus does everything by the father. In the judgement for example, he does things, only as the father would have judged. "And my judgement is just, because I do not seek my own will but that of the father." Same with glory, Jesus is quick to return the glory to his father (John ch 14). So we have this notion of "perixorisis". This word in Greek means exchange, intercommunications between the persons of the holy Trinity. 

So we have a picture now, of the relationship within the Trinity. We hear about the son, we hear about the father and then we hear about another person, the Paraclete. So there is another apart from the two, and he is identified in a number of different ways. In chapter 14 his call the Paraclete, a spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. And this theology of kenotic love which we outlined in our presentation of the father and son relationship, concerns also the Holy Spirit. The Greek word, "Parakletos", is difficult to translate. The King James version, translated as comforter, but this doesn't exhaust the meaning of this word. "Parakletos" might have a variety of meanings. For example, a common translation would be, someone who is present in the court. Someone who is called by "Para-kalw". You call someone to be by you, next to you. And in Greek courts, this meant the presence of an attorney. Like an intercessor, one who intercedes. An advocate. And, there is an element of this Court vocabulary, in chapter 15. 'The comforter is come whom I sent unto you from the Father, even the spirit of truth... He will testify of me'. The spirit will judge the world and divide the world of sin and righteousness. We can also translate this term as "proclaims". You can also translate this word as "helper". We see that John tries to combine all the meanings, in a new way to create a new concept. Just as the term "logos" is all embracing, the term "paraclete" give so much death to the meaning of the spirit. And John attaches this label, to the Holy Spirit, so is to show his activity, of his kind of service. 

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, came into our church quite late. As late as 380 a.D., Gregory Nanzianzus, wrote, "to be in error of the Holy Spirit, was to be orthodox". Because until that time, people were hesitant to call the Holy Spirit, God. And how can we discern his divinity. And the main argument of St Athanasius was "we must take our knowledge of the spirit from the son and it is appropriate to put forward proofs that derive from him." And we can discern the divinity of the Holy Spirit through activity. Because he acts in the same way as the son. Christ did not speak of himself, but only with the father would tell him. So the Holy Spirit, chapter 16, "when we hear the spirit of truth... he cannot speak of himself, but whatsoever he hears he will speak". Just as the Son came in the name of the Father so will the Paraclete come in the name of the Son (John 14). So we can discern the same language, the same kenotic activity: The father towards the son, and the Holy Spirit towards the son. 

There is some interesting detail with respect to the Triadology found in John's Gospel. The father, engages the Holy Spirit, but only at the son's request. So there is a sense of coordination in the holy Trinity. Especially in the synoptic gospels, were Christ was led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness.