Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Antiochene Insufficiency

In response to a recent post at Beggars All, I thought I'd post an apt response here; this happens to be my answer to an essay question on my Patristics final, second semester.


The charge that "Only the Antiochene theologians present a realistic picture of the human Jesus" may seem to have some merit when taken at face value, but upon further inspection and comparison with its neighboring, Alexandrian tradition, it becomes apparent that a long-standing misunderstanding of the human nature of the on Christ is at work in such a statement. A strict Antiochene christology is based on a prosopic union; that is, that the one being, Christ, is the result of the one, divine πρóσωπον, being the result of an ουσíα and its distinguishing υπóστασις, assuming or taking to himself a full separate, human πρóσωπον, existing and self-activating apart from his divine Assumer. In this system, the former πρóσωπον is the Λóγος τοῦ θεοῦ; the latter is the man, Jesus. According to Nestorius, what this assures is that Jesus, the man who performs all human actions in Christ is 1) a singular man, absolutely free from any interference from the Λóγος that would detract from his human experience, and 3) in possession of a human nature that is in no way different from the rest of humanity. Given such a deliberate attempt to identify Jesus with the rest of humanity, one can easily see why the statement at the beginning of this essay might be made.

The problem with such a statement, however, is whether a supposedly "realistic" human picture is in turn going to be 1) a true picture, or, more importantly, 2) a salvific picture. If Christ is, in fact, merely the result of two independent being working side by side, then humankind has no way of communicating with the divine One. Indeed, the son of David is fully human, but never the man shall meet with the divine Son of God, and thus, this "realistic picture" has thus disrupted the whole divine economy with a "two-sons" christology.

"How, though, could it be otherwise?" an Antiochene sympathizer of today might ask. The Alexandrian theologian Apollinarius had clearly shown, in the Antiochene mind, the consequences of failing to confess what they saw as the full, human nature within Christ. Apollinarius had rather opted to say that the one conscious subject in Christ--o Λóγος τοῦ θεοῦ--had assumed a mindless, soulless corpse of flesh and, animating it as a mere instrument, had accomplished the bodily deeds of the salvific economy. This, the Antiochians said, was not truly consubstantial with humanity, and on this they spoke correctly. What, then, might an Alexandrian theologian posit as a sound alternative to these two, nonsensical extremes?

Enter St. Cyril of Alexandria († 444), the bishop of Alexandria who served as the chief opponent of and eventual victor over Nestorius and the Antiochene school of thought, and who reconciled the need for one subject only within Christ (unsuccessfully addressed by Apollinarius) with the need for a fully functioning and present human nature within the one Christ (unsuccessfully attempted by Nestorius et al.) In his work That Christ is One, St. Cyril explicitly states multiple times that the Word of God was made flesh (Jn. 1.14) and dwelt among us--as opposed to a mere assumption of another being. Yet the term flesh is not necessarily to be seen in the strict, Apollinarian sense of a fleshly puppet. Sy Cyril quotes the prophet Joel in the old Testament to prove that St. John was making use of synecdoche: Just as one would not say that the Holy Spirit, being "poured out on all flesh" as Joel said, was poured out on lifeless corpses but rather on complete human beings, so we should say that the "Word made flesh" is speaking of one Subject (the Word and Son of God) who has made proper to Himself all that is proper to humanity (including a human mind, will, and emotions) and has thus become, not just flesh, but man.

This distinction is crucial, for St. Cyril can no longer be accused w/teaching Apollinarianism--that the WOrd is some sort of "drivine, animating force" within a lifeless body; rather, the Word is the one Subject Who is predicated two different ways: As God, He does things in His full, uncreated divinity; as man, He does other things in the ful humanity--body and soul--which He fashioned for Himself in the womb of the Θεοτóκος.

Thus, because our human life--and, most importantly, our human act of death performed by CHrist on the cross--has been experienced to the full by the very One who is divine with His Father's glory, we who are ομοουσιοι with the Son in His humanity can thus communicate with the divine nature, as well, upon entering into the likeness of His death (through baptism) and taking into ourselves nothing less than the glorified body of God (through the Eucharist). It is here that the "tow-sons" christology of the Antiochenes falls apart most tragically. If the One who was "given the name above every name" and who will be universally confessed as "Lord, to the glory of God the Father" is not the same One who "considered not equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant" by becoming flesh and becoming "obedient to death on a cross" (Phil. 2.5-11), then a way of communion between our nature and the divine nature has not been opened, and we are not save. Since, however, the One who had glory with the Father before the worlds existed (As Christ said in John's gospel), the Son of God as indeed dwelt among us as man, and by sacramentaly entering into the reality of God's own death and resurrection, we can indeed become "partakers of the divine nature" as the Apostle Peter said (2 Peter 1.4).

The quote which begins this essay, therefore, is a misunderstanding of the way in which the one Christ has been understood and confessed historically. The man called Jesus is indeed a human consubstantial with us in every way, but this does not mean that he must therefore be separate from the Word as a distinct, second πρóσωπον, with its own, intact ουσíα and υπóστασις. To do so would be fatal to the CHristian faith, as has been shown. The only "realistic picture of the human Jesus," then, that can be put forward, is that of the divine Person, the Λóγος τοῦ θεοῦ, who has become everything that we are, so that we might have and be, by grace, everything that He has and is by nature.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

While I enjoyed this post, I believe I would have appreciated it even more if you would have translated the Greek. I can only surmise what those Greek words mean. I'm betting that many who read this don't know Greek either. :)