Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011 12:53 pm
The Messenger, March 10, 2011
The Council of Chalcedon,
By RICHARD SMITH
Special to The Messenger
Last week we reviewed briefly three major church councils of the first century: the Council of Nicaea, the Council of Constantinople and the Council of Ephesus. (Previous articles may be read at http://graceunioncity.com/resources/gcc-in-the-news).
Nicaea and Constantinople had declared the church’s faith in the Triune God. The next attack on the faith centered on the person of Christ. Jesus Christ is both God and man: but what does that mean?
The Gnostics had held forth a divine Christ masquerading in the appearance of flesh. Apollinaris had argued that the divine Word had taken to Himself a human body and soul, but no human spirit. These heresies had been condemned by the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed respectively. The point of discussion concerning the person of Christ became his Divinity and Humanity. There were basically three teachings that surfaced which the various councils dealt with. They were:
• Nestorianism: Divinity and Humanity = 2 persons
• Eutychianism: Divinity and Humanity = 1 nature
• Biblical view: Divinity and Humanity = 2 natures in one person
In the post-Constantinople period, the heresies were Nestorianism and Eutychianism. The former, discussed last week, presumed a dual personality in Christ. The latter, reacting to Nestorianism, went to the other extreme and declared that the incarnate Christ had only one nature.
Nestorianism was denounced at the Council of Ephesus in 431, but Eutychianism flourished and was upheld by the so-called Robber Council held in Alexandria in 449. This set the stage for the Council of Chalcedon two years later. Eutychianism, also called Monophysiticism (“one nature”), had as its chief proponent a Byzantine monk named Eutyches. His heresy was addressed by the Council of Chalcedon.
The mixing of the two natures into one imagined by Eutychianism does not produce a third substance equally identifiable as divine and human. Because divinity is infinitely larger than humanity, the result of the Monophysite/Eutychian mixing of natures is not an even compound but mostly a divine Christ.
With Chalcedon, the full scope of true divinity and true humanity came into focus. Through the first three councils, the fathers had faced all the hard questions and seen instances of most of the major mistakes that can be made. That hard-won clarity is part of what gives the Chalcedonian Definition its classic status as a balanced and far-sighted document. Consider the way the Council states in concise form more than a century of theological controversy and clarification:
“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable ([rational) soul and body; consubstantial (co-essential) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning (have declared) concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”
At last the great biblical truth about Christ’s divine and human natures had been accurately stated and adopted by the church fathers. In Christ, God and man neither merge nor diverge. In Christ, God and man are hypostatically united, and one of the Trinity dies our death on the cross, to rise again for us and our salvation. This is the way the Chalcedonian categories serve the gospel story. Neither the importance of this truth nor the grand mystery of it should be underestimated.
R.C. Sproul states: “Chalcedon established the boundaries beyond which we dare not tread in our speculations, lest we plunge ourselves into serious heresy. If we move away from Chalcedon in either direction (exaggerating either the divinity or the humanity of Christ at the expense of the other), we will fall into heresy.”(1)
To God be the glory!
(1) R.C. Sproul, “Truths We Confess, Volume I, The Triune God” (New Jersey, P & R Publishing), pg. 243.
Editor’s note: Richard Smith lives in Union City and is a member of Grace Community Church (Presbyterian Church in America) in Troy.