Doctrine of Christ (part 2)

August 28, 2011     Time: 00:25:20

Last time we looked at the Scriptural data concerning the deity and the humanity of Jesus. We saw that Scripture affirms that Jesus is truly human and that he is truly God, and to deny either the true humanity of Christ or to deny the true deity of Christ is heretical. An orthodox view, a biblical view that is to say, of Jesus must affirm that he is truly human and truly divine.

This leads to the question, “How can this be the case?” How can a person be both truly a human being and truly God? There arose within the early church a tremendous debate over the person of Christ which it will be profitable to survey. I find this history to be even more interesting and more intriguing than the trinitarian debates that preceded it.

Historical Survey

Monophysite vs. Dyophysite Christology

We want to begin our historical survey by looking at the debate between Monophysite and Dyophysite views of the person of Christ. Monophysitism is the view that Christ has one nature. Mono means “single” or “one,” and physis means “nature.” So someone who holds to Monophysitism, or is a Monophysite, holds that Christ had a single nature – a sort of mixture of humanity and deity – he was a divine-human person. Dyophysitism holds that Christ had two natures, so that he had both a human nature and a divine nature. The debate between Monophysitism and Dyophysitism raged in the early church.

The presupposition of both of these competing schools is that things do have natures. Things have natures, that is to say, things that exist belong to certain natural kinds such as, say, a dog or a cat or an oak tree. There are natures that make things what they are. There would be essential properties to certain natural kinds. A nature is made up of the essential properties that a thing has, that is to say, properties which it could not lack and still be what it is. On this view, there is such a thing as human nature. There are certain essential properties that go to make up humanity and that every human being, as a human being, must possess. There is a human nature. This human nature differs from the divine nature. God is not a human being and therefore has a different sort of nature.

According to Aristotle, the greatest of the ancient Greek philosophers, the nature of man is that he is a rational animal. That is what human nature is – rational animality. The nature of man is to be a rational animal. So being truly human on Aristotle’s view involves having both a physical body and an intellectual soul. A rational soul conjoined with a physical body goes to make up a human being. This is what constitutes human nature – an intellectual or rational soul and a physical body. The church fathers seemed to have accepted the view that this is indeed what is constitutive of being a human being.

At the same time, the church fathers also believed that God has certain essential attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, moral perfection, eternity, and so forth – those classical attributes of God that we surveyed in this class when we discussed the existence and nature of God.1 The common presupposition behind both of these competing schools of thought is that things do indeed have natures. There is such a thing as a human nature, and there is such a thing as a divine nature.

Alexandrian Christology (Monophysitism)

Having said that, what was the issue of dispute between the Monophysites and the Dyophysites? The Monophysite school of thought is very often referred to as Alexandrian Christology because of its locus in the city of Alexandria in Egypt – this was one of the great theological centers of the ancient world. The Alexandrian theologians tended to be Monophysite in their Christology. Examples of this sort of thinking would be, for example, Apollinarius, who, although he was not from Alexandria, nevertheless had an Alexandrian-type Christology. The great church father Athanasius was also Alexandrian. You remember him from his role in leading up to the Council of Nicaea in opposing Arius and the heresy of Arianism. So Apollinarius and Athanasius would be two examples of the Alexandrian approach to Christology.

Apollinarius was an especially interesting and original thinker in this area. Key to understanding his view of Christ was his anthropology – that is to say, his analysis of human being. He believed that human beings are made up of three components. There is the physical body. Then there is the soul, which is a sort of animal soul – it is something we have in common with other living creatures, other living animals. It would be a kind of vitalizing principle that imparts life. So there is the physical body, there is the soul, and then there is what you would call the mind. That would be that intellectual, rational component of human being that makes you a person.

Apollinarius believed that in order to have a genuine incarnation, the second person of the Trinity – the Logos – had to be so intimately connected with the man Jesus of Nazareth that they shared a common component. He suggested that the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, was the mind of Jesus of Nazareth. So Jesus had a human body, an animal soul, but his mind was the mind of the second person of the Trinity – the Logos. It replaced the human mind in Jesus.

Thus, you can see that you would have a union of God and man in Christ, and you would have a single nature. Sometimes this is referred to as a “theanthropic” nature – “the” from theos for God and then “anthropic” from anthropos for man. So “theanthropic” – divine- human – a divine-human nature in Christ, a single nature that is composed of God and man together. As an argument for his view, Apollinarius claimed that anything less than that would be a mere indwelling of God in the man Jesus, and that is not a full incarnation. The Holy Spirit indwells every Christian believer, and yet that doesn’t make us God, even though we are indwelt by the third person of the Trinity. Some people are demon possessed – they are indwelt by a demonic being – but that doesn’t make that person a demon. There is still a distinct human person there that is different from the demon that is indwelling him. Apollinarius argued that unless you have some sort of a common component that links the humanity of Christ with his deity, at best you get an indwelling of God in the man Jesus of Nazareth, and you do not get a genuine incarnation.2

Apollinarianism was attacked by other early church fathers and in the end condemned at the synod of Rome in 337. Why? What was the problem with Apollinarius’ Christology? Two deficiencies in Apollinarian Christology seemed especially serious to the church fathers.

First, they argued that a body without a mind is a truncation of human nature. It is not a complete human nature to have just a humanoid body but not to have a human mind. By merely clothing himself with flesh, the Logos, on Apollinarianism, didn’t truly become a man. It is essential to human nature to have a rational soul. Remember Aristotle said that that is one of the essential components of human nature – not just a physical body, but a rational soul as well. And in Christ there was no human rational soul, there was the Logos. So all the Logos had assumed in his incarnation was the human body of Jesus (with its animal soul), but there was no human mind; and therefore there was no complete human nature. Christ was not truly human. He was like us only with respect to our flesh, and that is something we share with animals. We have that in common with other biological organisms. One of the church fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, said of Apollinarius’ view of the incarnation that Apollinarius had in effect reduced the incarnation to God’s becoming an animal, because that is all he assumed! The second person of the Trinity just assumed this (living) hominid body – the incarnation was God’s becoming an animal! Therefore, Apollinarianism is theologically unacceptable because it denies the true humanity of Christ.

The second deficiency that was seen in Apollinarianism is that if Christ did not have a human mind, then the human mind could not be redeemed. If there was no human mind in Christ, then the human mind is not redeemed. This is based upon the fundamental principle that underlay the whole doctrine of the incarnation, which says quod non est assumptum non est sanatum – that which is not assumed is not saved. The whole rationale behind the incarnation is that in order to save human beings, Christ had to assume a human nature. And if you say that he didn’t have a human mind, then the human mind is not saved. If you deny this principle and say God can save humanity without assuming human nature, then why have an incarnation at all? It would undercut the rationale for any sort of incarnation. If you believe that the incarnation is a vital part of the plan of salvation, then the other church fathers believed you must grant this principle that that which is not assumed is not saved and that therefore, on Apollinarius’ view, the salvific work of Christ is also threatened.

These are two important criticisms. The one says that it gives us an inadequate view of Christ’s person – he wasn’t truly human. The other criticism says it also undercuts his work because his salvific work will be in vain. It won’t accomplish the salvation of human beings because he didn’t truly become a human being.


Question: The first point seems to depend on the second in a sense. That is, what was the objection of having a body without a human mind – that is, a Godly mind, a divine mind – unless it was the second point that in fact it needed to be fully human?3

Answer: It does seem to me that these are distinct points. On the first view, the idea is that without a human mind you don’t have a human being. Now you could say “What’s wrong with that?,” and then you could go to the second point to say, “Here’s what’s wrong with that.” But if you want to affirm with the early church that Christ is truly human, then it seems to me that you have to say that he has all of the essential properties of humanity. That would involve having a human mind, a human soul. It does seem to me that these are independent, though the second one does serve to back up the first one. Otherwise, you wouldn’t really have Christ’s being truly human.

Question: Can you clarify how this tripartite human is part of the Monophysite tradition?

Answer: That is a good question. These fellows in Alexandria tended to think that Christ did not have two complete natures. We will see why when we get to their critique of the Antiochene theologians. They thought that if you have two complete natures, then you would have two Christs. You would have the one that is the divine person, the second person of the Trinity; the other would be the man, Jesus. So they said if you have two complete natures, this divides, or splits, the person of Christ. On the tripartite view4, we can imagine this by concentric circles. There is the body of Jesus, which is an animal body. Then there is the soul of Jesus, which would be a sort of animating principle. Then there would be the mind. The idea there is that instead of the mind of Jesus’ being a human mind, what you have instead is the Logos, the second person of the Trinity. So you would have a single nature in Christ which is the Logos with his body and soul. Just as you youself have a body and soul, the Logos has a body and a soul. Yet you are one nature, you exemplify one nature. The Logos here would have a single nature, and it would be a theanthropic nature, a kind of mixture of deity and humanity. We will see when we get to the Antiochene Christology why the Monophysites thought this needed to be the case. They thought that, on Dyophysitism, you are going to split the person of Christ in two, and you’d wind up with two Sons.

Question: It seems to me that a nature is characteristics that you have, but a nature is also characteristics you don’t have. If I have the characteristics of a lion and I can fly, I am no longer a lion. So if I have the full characteristics of man and the full characteristics of God, then I am no longer man and maybe no longer God, I don’t know. How do you resolve that?

Answer: I will speak to that later on. I think that you are raising a very, very good point. Do these properties shut each other out in the way that you described or is it possible for someone to be omniscient and still be a human being? I think that is what the church affirms – that Christ is human, even though he is omnipresent and omnipotent and omniscient and so forth. These don’t shut each other out. I will say something more about that later on, but right now we are focusing on our historical survey.

Question: I think they had it right except the Logos in my view is the spirit. The verse from Proverbs says our spirit is God’s candle. So the spirit is the Logos, and that is how the Logos could filter powers and insights into Christ’s mind as the Son of God.

Answer: When you said “they have it right,” whom did you mean – Apollinarius or his critics?5

Followup: I mean Apollinarius had it right, except he has the Logos attached to the wrong thing. I think it is the spirit rather than the soul. Christ’s identity was spiritual identity before God was a Son of God, just like I think we have a spirit identity in consciousness. We have a self-consciousness, an identity, which is a soul and a body.

Answer: The question is whether you think there was a kind of self-conscious mind in Jesus that was different from the Logos. Whether you call it spirit or mind or whatever, is, in a way, just semantics.

Followup: I believe in a tripartite, a trichotomy, of being. I think our spirit is where God touches us and affects us.

Answer: And you think Jesus didn’t have a human spirit.

Followup: No, I think his spiritual essence was the Son of God.

Answer: All right, then you are going to need to answer the two criticisms of that view that these church fathers offered. This is a denial of Christ’s full humanity.

Followup: I mean, he had three parts like a man does, but his spiritual part was distinctly different.

Answer: All right, yeah, that is an Apollinarian view, and then you are going to need to deal with the criticisms that the fathers raised against that.

Followup: I think Apollinarius is saying it is his mind and soul that is the Logos and...

Answer: Not the soul – he called it the mind. You are calling it the spirit, but, as I say, that seems to me to be just a sort of semantic difference.

Followup: It might be, but I think in Scripture you have got a trichotomous make up. Mind is an expression of a soul and a function of the brain...

Answer: Those who think that Christ had two complete natures aren’t denying that we are trichotomous in our nature. They would just say that Christ had all three elements of human being – he had a human body, a human soul, and a human spirit or mind. Apollinarius would deny that. It doesn’t stand or fall on your view of man as trichotomous. It is just that that was a way in which Apollinarius exploited this view of humanity to propagate his view.

Question: You said that the essential properties for humanity is a rational, intellectual soul and a human body. In the picture you just drew from the Monophysite perspective, it had a body and a soul, and then they said the Logos – which is what the previous question was referring to – was the intellectual component. Why, then, did they reject that as the essential property for humanity? Why didn’t they just take the Logos as the mind component and just say, “Sure, it may not have been a human mind, but why doesn’t the Logos fulfill that property?”

Answer: All right! Now I thought you were going in a direction that I think needs to be explored, but then you kind of turned at the end. If you deny that it is human, as the previous questioner was inclined to do, then you have got to deal with these two criticisms for which this view was condemned. Namely, you have got an incomplete human nature in Christ – he isn’t fully human. And then, secondly, quod non est assumptum non est sanatum – if it is not assumed, it is not saved. So how can Christ accomplish the full salvation of man if he didn’t assume a full humanity? But nevertheless I think your question is a good one; and keep thinking in that direction and we will explore that further as we go on.

Followup: Eventually, won’t you end up with two minds?

Answer: That is a nice segue, thank you, into Antiochene Christology, which we will talk about next week!

Just as the Monophysite Christology was centered in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, so the Dyophysite Christology tended to be associated with another center for theological thought in the ancient world, Antioch. The Antiochene theologians developed a view of Christ’s person which says that Christ has two complete natures – one human and one divine. These are not mingled together in the way that Apollinarius imagined. Next time we will look at what the Antiochene theologians had to say and the criticisms of their view that were launched by the Alexandrian theologians.


1 5:02

2 10:02

3 15:11

4 The tripartite view holds that man is a composite of three distinct components: body, soul, and spirit. The alternative view, known as the bipartite view, holds that “soul” and “spirit” are taken as different terms for the same entity, and thus man is composed of two parts – material and immaterial, or body and mind.

5 20:02