Doctrine of Christ (part 3)

September 07, 2011     Time: 00:17:19

We’ve begun to look at the debate between Monophysite and Dyophysite Christology. Last time we looked at Monophysite Christology. You will remember that this is the Christology associated with the Egyptian city of Alexandria. These theologians thought that Christ basically has one nature which is a mixture of divine and human elements – a theanthropic nature, as we put it; a mingling of humanity and divinity. One of the most creative of these thinkers was Apollinarius, who held that in the incarnation the Logos – the second person of the Trinity – took on the flesh and the soul of Jesus, but the mind of Jesus was the mind of the second person of the Trinity. So although Christ had a human body and a human soul, he didn’t have a human mind or intellect. He had a divine intellect. That is how Apollinarius achieved an incarnation.

This view, we saw, was condemned because the other church fathers held that it is essential to human nature to have a human mind. So what you got in Apollinarius was a truncated view of humanity – Christ was not truly human because he didn’t have a human mind. Secondly, they said that it also undercuts the efficacy of Christ’s work because if he didn’t assume a human mind, he could not save the human mind. The whole rationale behind the incarnation is that he had to assume human nature in order to save it, and so if he didn’t take on a complete human nature, he could not save us completely.

This Monophysite Christology has not died out even today. It is still held in the Coptic Church, which is Egyptian Christianity. The Coptic Church did not go along with the creedal formulation that we will talk about later, so it has a kind of Monophysite Christology.

Antiochean Christology (Dyophysitism)

Opposing the Monophysite Christology was the Dyophysite Christology, which holds that Christ has two natures – two complete natures: human and divine. This type of Christology is associated with another great center of theological thought in the ancient world, the city of Antioch. A couple of representatives of this Antiochene school of Christology would be Theodore of Mopsuestia, and then a more well-known name would be Nestorius, who was the bishop of Constantinople (which became Istanbul later on). Theodore was the most prominent of these Dyophysite theologians, and he conceived of the incarnation as a sort of indwelling in which the second person of the Trinity indwelt the man Jesus at the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb. So when the man Jesus was conceived by Mary, the second person of the Trinity indwelt him at that moment.

Because God is omnipresent and provident over everything, God is present by His essence to all things in both their existence and operation. He is present to things in their existence because He is omnipresent. He is present to them in their operation because He is provident over what happens in the world. He is sovereign. But, although God is present in that way to everything, according to Theodore, nevertheless, by His good pleasure, He chooses to be more intimately present or related to some things than to others. And in Christ, God is pleased to dwell in a particularly intimate way, so that He dwells in Christ as a Son. Theodore affirmed that there is only one person in Christ. There are not two persons. But he also held that each nature is complete in itself and has its own hypostasis.1 You remember a hypostasis, which we encountered in our discussion of the Trinity, is an individual property-bearer – something that bears properties. A rational hypostasis is a person; that is why, you remember, in the doctrine of the Trinity it says there are three hypostases – three persons – who bear these divine properties. What Theodore says is that in the incarnation, both the human nature of Christ has a hypostasis and the divine nature of Christ has a hypostasis, which sure sounds as if there are two persons in Christ!

Moreover, he thought of the union of the Logos with the man Jesus in terms of a functional unity. They function as a unified entity – a functional unity of will and love. The person that they constitute seems to be a person simply in the sense of a sort of functionally unified face, or (in the Greek) prosopon. Prosopon is the Greek word for “person,” but it originally meant a “face” or a “mask,” such as the Greek players would wear when they would do Greek dramas. They would wear something over their face, a prosopon, for their character. And it came to mean the person. So what Theodore says is there is one person in Christ in the sense that there is a sort of functionally unified face that is presented to the world, even though there are two hypostases in Christ.

As you can imagine, his affirmation that there is one person in Christ was viewed with a great deal of suspicion by his detractors because it doesn’t really look as though there is one person in Christ. It looks as though there are two persons here that are simply functioning together to present a common face to the world.

It was Nestorius, however, who became most associated with the Dyophysite Christology and the heresy that was named after Nestorius, called Nestorianism. Nestorius was the patriarch of the city of Constantinople, and he came to be associated (whether this is fair or not is a matter of debate) with the view that there are two persons in Christ – a divine person and a human person. Nestorius, like Theodore, affirmed that there are two complete natures in Christ. Therefore, he objected strenuously to Mary’s being called theotokos, which means “the bearer” or “mother” of God. Mary, in Catholic piety of that time, was being called “the mother of God” or “the God-bearer,” and Nestorius protested against this. He said that Mary only bore the man Jesus, the human nature of Christ, in her womb. But she did not bear the divine Logos – she didn’t give birth to God – and therefore it is grossly misleading to call Mary “the mother of God” because she did not bear the Logos. She bore the human nature of Christ. What was formed in her womb, was crucified, died on the cross and buried, was not God; rather, it was the human nature of Christ. He is called God because of the divinity of the Logos who assumed him. So, in Nestorianism, you have this split of the person of Christ into two persons. As I say, it is debatable whether Nestorius actually believed that or not; but that is what the heresy of Nestorianism is – there are two persons in Christ.

Nestorianism was condemned in the year 431 at the Council of Ephesus. The fundamental flaw that its critics saw in Nestorianism is that it doesn’t posit any real union between God and man in Christ. Rather, you just have a sort of juxtaposition, like two boards that are glued together but don’t really become one thing. So there really isn’t an intimate union of God and man in Christ. You just have them next to each other, so to speak, and therefore this is at best an indwelling of God in the human man, Jesus.2 It is not an incarnation; it is a mere indwelling. And that isn’t sufficient for a genuine doctrine of the incarnation.

Nestorianism did not die out with its condemnation. It actually spread into the East and became concentrated in what is called The Church of the East. Any of you who know something about the history of China will know that Christianity in China actually has very, very deep roots back into the Middle Ages. It was this Nestorian church that was prevalent in China during this time. The so-called Church of the East became an indigenous Chinese religion. Many Chinese Christians today are looking to that heritage as a sort of way of affirming that Christianity isn’t a foreign religion – some foreign devil’s religion – this is something that is genuinely indigenous Chinese.

So both of these views, the Monophysite and Dyophysite views, didn’t just die out. They continued to linger on and still have effects today.


Question: Did Nestorius have any influence on the Protestant Reformation? The idea that Mary was not the God-bearer?

Answer: I couldn’t say for sure whether some of the Protestants looked to him as an antecedent for those protests. It would seem very likely. But certainly it is very interesting: in the Reformation, the old debate between Antioch and Alexandria gets replayed all over again in the debate between Lutheran theologians, which tended to be Alexandrian and more Monophysite, and Reformed, or Calvinistic, theologians, which were more Antiochene in their Christology. So it is very true that these debates replayed themselves in the Reformation, and protests over Mary’s being called the “mother of God” could well hark back to this, though I couldn’t give you a specific citation.

Question: I would just answer that, “No, it didn’t.” Because the original reformers accepted all of the doctrines on Mary. It was only the later reformers that started reading things differently, but Luther, Calvin, Zwingli – they all accepted the original doctrine.

Answer: So you would say they were willing to speak of Mary as theotokos.

Followup: Absolutely!

Question: Am I correct in understanding that Nestorius said that Christ’s “becoming God” was after birth? That God then instilled in him . . . [his divinity]?

Answer: Not after birth. It would be at conception. So he is, right from the beginning, indwelt by the second person of the Trinity. It is not a kind of Adoptionism, where God adopts this man, Jesus, and makes him into God. That would be an unsympathetic, or uncharitable, portrayal. He is God right from the moment of conception.

Followup: But then Mary did not birth God?

Answer: Well, the defense of the doctrine of Mary as the mother of God is: if Jesus is God, and there is one person who Christ is, then she is the mother of God in that she bore his human nature. And by bearing the human nature of the second person of the Trinity, she is the God-bearer.

Followup: But not the divine nature?

Answer: No; that’s right. Everybody admits she didn’t bear the divine nature, but because the person she bore is divine, she can be properly called the mother of God. What is unfortunate about it is that, although I think that is defensible, it is so misleading. Especially in the Islamic world, once Islam arose, this came to be misinterpreted to mean that Mary was the third member of the Trinity and that God the Father and Mary his consort sired Jesus their son. So it led to tremendous theological confusion and really disaster in the Muslim world, which is unfortunate because it is just due to misunderstanding.3

Question: Under this view, Jesus has two centers of self-consciousness, right?

Answer: I don’t know that they addressed that, but I think that they don’t use that kind of language. But you could say that that is implied, that, yes, there is a human mind of Jesus and that this is different from the divine mind of the Logos.

Followup: Is this Van Inwagen’s view at all?

Answer: I couldn’t say. Has he published on this? He’s asking about a philosopher at the University of Notre Dame. Thomas Morris, in his book The Logic of God Incarnate, has a kind of two-minds view, where there is a mind of the human nature (I almost said the human person, but that wouldn’t be right – it is the mind of the human nature), and then there is a mind of the divine nature, which is an overarching sort of encompassing mind, that encompasses the human mind as a sort of subset. That is his view.

Followup: You sort of need that if you are a materialist with the view of the mind and brain thing right?

Answer: OK, this is really pressing a good question here! The professor you asked about, though he is a Christian, is a materialist. He doesn’t believe there is any soul or mind distinct from the body. So how do you make sense of the incarnation on that view, especially since the Logos is an immaterial mind? He doesn’t think God is a material thing, so, yeah, that is a really good question! (I should ask him sometime!) How you would do that I do not know! It would almost be like having the Logos become the mind of the material body, but that surely doesn’t make sense. That is very difficult.

Next time we will see how the church sought to resolve this debate between Antioch and Alexandria at the Council of Chalcedon.


1 5:05

2 10:06

3 14:57