THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
It is necessary for salvation to believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The right faith, therefore, is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the ages; and man, of the substance of his mother, born in the world. Perfect God, perfect man, subsisting of a rational soul and human flesh. Equal to the Father according to his Godhead, less than the Father according to his humanity. Although he is God and man, he is not two, but one Christ. One, however, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by the taking of humanity into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person. For as a reasoning soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.
Quicunque Vult or The Athanasian Creed
The Son of God Incarnate
At Caesarea Philippi, the apostles were required by Jesus to state who he was. Peter, their spokesman, illuminated of mind by the Father in heaven through the divine Spirit, cried out: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Matt. 16:13–20). Some eighteen months before this event, and at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus was baptized by John and immediately afterwards “the heavens were opened and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:16-17). The Father’s voice was heard once again from heaven – a week or so after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi – in the amazing event we call the Transfiguration of Jesus. From within the cloud, the symbol of the holy presence of Yahweh, came the words to be heard by Moses, Elijah and the three apostles, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” As they heard the words they saw Jesus: “his face shone like the sun, and his garments were white as light” (Matt. 17:1–8).
The apostles had no doubt that Jesus was a man because they lived with him daily and saw him being and doing all the things which a man normally does. The apostles also had no doubt that Jesus was more than a mere man: he was the Son of God who enjoyed a unique relation to Yahweh, whom he called “my Father.”
SETTING THE CONTEXT
To appreciate why and how the early Church arrived at its official teaching or dogma concerning Jesus Christ as One Person made known in two natures, we need to remember that the discussions and resolutions followed the acceptance of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity of the Creeds of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381). So in theological controversy and dialogue, it was taken for granted from the fourth to the seventh century that Jesus Christ was in a unique relation to God the Father, and that he was pre-existent before his birth from holy Mary the Virgin. In fact, he was the Son of the Father, Only-begotten, and of the same, identical Godhead as the Father. Therefore, in patristic teaching the fact that the coeternal and consubstantial Son of God should become a first-century Jewish man is not primarily a problem for Christology; it is its presupposition.
Thus, the major questions concerning his identity and role assumed that he was truly divine. He was God the Word made flesh, and he was the Son of God become Man. The questions concerned (a) the reality of his flesh and manhood (Was he fully and truly a human being?), and (b) how he could be truly God (which the Creeds of 325 and 381 said he was) and truly Man (as the same Creeds also said he was) at the one and the same time, without being some kind of fusion of a heavenly Person and an earthly person?
In this specific context and to prepare my reader to appreciate the debates and the dogma of the early Church concerning Christology, I shall present evidence from the New Testament, which clearly assumes and/or points to the genuine humanity, real manhood and particularity of Jesus of Nazareth as a single, Jewish man. To recognize Jesus as a real man is hardly a problem for modern people, for they tend to begin their thinking concerning Christ the opposite way to that of the Fathers. Today theologians ask, “How can this Jewish Man be the eternal Son of God?” A long time ago the Fathers asked, “How can the eternal and Only-begotten Son of God be a genuine Man?” The changed questions reflects a changed cultural and religious environment. We live after the Enlightenment, and thus, tend to begin from human experience of the world, rather than the revealed knowledge from God.
WHAT IS MAN?
Before we can say whether or not Jesus was truly Man, we need to have some idea as to what a man is. Obviously, biologically speaking, he is a part of the animal creation. Yet, at the same time, he is different from the animals with whom he shares the earth. Man is not only a walking, talking and erect body in which are the physical organs such as a brain, liver and heart. He is a unity of mind (or soul) and body. He is a being who consciously knows what it is to think, to feel and to decide. He has not merely an animal soul, the center of his physical life, but a rational soul whereby he is able to enjoy communion with God and his fellow human beings and to contemplate the revelation of God given to him through the created order. He is like the animals in many respects, but in one major area he is different from them – he has a rational soul. Thus, man’s true identity is more than the sum total of his bodily parts and their energies.
Who man is can only be stated when his inner self, his real being, his mind and his soul are taken into account along with, and in union with, his flesh and blood. He is a relational being whose spirit is able to commune with God, man and the created order in and through his bodily existence. He has reason, intelligence and imagination; he experiences and knows deep feelings/emotions/passions/affections, and he has freedom to make moral choices and decisions. However, his existence is filled with seeming paradoxes and conflicts, for he is not always what he intends to be or knows that he ought to be. His freedom is impaired, his soul diseased and his body subject to weakness, illness and death. He thinks, feels, says and does things in his bodily existence of which he is both pleased and ashamed. He is conscious of being alienated both from God and from his fellow men.
In the Old Testament, the word basar is usually translated as “flesh.” Though it can mean the flesh of the animal that the butcher supplies as meat, it often means the whole body as flesh and blood and human nature (Prov. 14:30; Ps. 16:9). The union of two living beings, a man and his wife, is “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). A man can say of his relatives, “I am your bone and your flesh” (Judg. 9:2). Thus, “all flesh” means the human race, and “What can flesh do to me?” (Ps. 56:4) means “What can mankind do to me?”
The Greek word sarx covers the same range of meanings as basar. Flesh can be meat (Rev. 19:18), the whole body (Gal. 4:13ff.) or the whole man (II Cor. 7:5). St. Paul spoke of Christ being descended from David “according to the flesh” as well as “Israel according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3; 9:3; I Cor. 10:18). When it is affirmed that Christ has been “in the flesh” (see Eph. 2:15; I Pet. 3:18; I John 4:2), flesh means a full, physical existence.
Yet human beings are impaired and diseased by sin, and thus often flesh is not merely physical existence, it is man in his rebellion against God. In this context of thought, to set the mind on the flesh is to set the mind against God (Rom. 8:5–7). The flesh, being the union of body and human nature, is a center of opposition to the will of God. A dreadful list of the “works of the flesh” is provided by Paul in Galatians 5:19–21.
THE LOGOS BECAME FLESH
In his Prologue to the Gospel, John declared that “the Word (Logos) became flesh (sarx) and dwelt among us” (1:14). In the Epistles of John we read: “Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (I John 4:2) and “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (II John 7).
In the Prologue, John did not write “became man” or “took a body” but “became flesh.” The verb is in the aorist tense, indicating action at a point of time. “Flesh” is an emphatic way, perhaps even a crude way in this context, of emphasizing the reality of the human nature which the Word assumed. As he was probably facing some form of Docetism, in which Jesus Christ was said to look like and appear to be a man but not to have soiled himself with fleshly, bodily, physical human nature, John wrote “became flesh.”
In the second part of verse 14, John uses more dignified language recalling Yahweh’s glorious presence in the Tabernacle (Ezek. 37:27; Ex. 40:34ff.). Through the brief statement, “dwelt among us,” and alluding to the Temple, he makes clear that God himself was present within the physical, human life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But what kind of flesh is the flesh of the Logos, the Son of the Father, in his incarnate manhood? Is it the human nature which we all share which suffers from the disease of sin? Or is it the human nature of the first Adam, made in the image and after the likeness of God, and without sin? Paul taught that Jesus Christ is the New and the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12–21; I Cor. 15:45–47), whose human nature is without the stain and guilt of sin (II Cor. 5:21). In agreement, Peter declared that Christ “committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips” (I Pet. 2:22). Therefore, while Jesus is truly a man with a full human nature, he differs from fellow human beings in that he has no sin and did not sin.
The fact that Jesus Christ is without sin does not mean that he cannot fully identify with, and be the representative of, sinful humanity. His full identification with the reality of the human condition in order to be their Savior is emphasized in the Letter to the Hebrews where we read: “He had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of his people” (2:17), and, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (4:15), and “Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (12:2).
Paul also speaks of Jesus Christ in terms of a theology of representation. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9); and “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7); and “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:21).
As the Word become flesh, and as the eternal Son of God, born of a woman in the fullness of time and under the Jewish Law (Gal. 4:4), Jesus Christ had truly come “in the flesh.” For those with a Jewish background, to understand flesh as the fullness of human nature (body with soul) was relatively straightforward and unproblematic. In contrast, for those in Greek culture, where a clear distinction was usually made between the flesh (= physical body only) and the soul or mind, it was easy to assume that the Logos took actual flesh, but not a rational soul, in Mary’s womb. Some of the Fathers produced imbalanced or erroneous Christologies because they took flesh in its hellenistic rather than its biblical meaning.
JESUS, THE MAN
A careful reading of the four Gospels will disclose that Jesus Christ (whatever else he was) was a real male human being. He was born of a human mother; he grew up as other boys did; he walked and he talked; he ate and he slept; he knew hunger, thirst, weariness, joy, sorrow, anger, God-forsakeness (on the Cross) and death.
Jesus was a first-century Palestinian Jew, sharing the physical and mental features of Jewish culture. Furthermore, he had a penis and was circumcised; he spoke Aramaic (and maybe also Hebrew and Greek); he taught as a traveling rabbi, interpreting his people’s Scriptures; and he kept the Jewish festivals, engaged in prayer and offered sacrifice in the Temple.
Though the writers of the New Testament never explicitly state that Jesus as Man had a human mind-soul, they may be said to assume he did because they ascribe to him such mental acts and attitudes as joy and sorrow, compassion and anger, love and affection. The fact is that the four Evangelists have little or no interest in what we would call today the psychology of Jesus of Nazareth, but they do assume, and then proceed on the assumption, that Jesus is a real Man. Certainly, he is a unique Man and certainly he has a unique relation to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Nevertheless, the Evangelists portray him as truly, really and vitally as a Man among men. No person he ever met appears to have questioned whether he was truly a man – a male human being, not an angel or an embodied spirit!
Since he was a real man, Jesus must have passed through all the normal developmental stages of mind and body. The late Dr. Eric Mascall explained:
Since human nature, in any individual, is not given from its beginning in a fully developed state but develops from the unrealized potentialities of the original fertilized ovum through birth, infancy, childhood, and adolescence to its climax in adult manhood, we must surely hold that the mentality of Jesus, like that of any other human being, developed pari passu with the development of the bodily organism. To say this is not to imply that it was defective in the early stages; on the contrary, at each stage it was precisely what at that stage it is proper for human nature to be. It is surely a valid insight that asserts that you must not try to put an old head on young shoulders. It is not simply a discovery of modem anthropology that mental and physical (especially cerebral) functioning are intimately and intricately allied; it is inherent in the traditional Christian belief that a human being is not a pure spirit temporarily encapsulated in a body but is a bipartite psychological unity... A modem discussion of Jesus= human knowledge will need to take account of all that is now known about the psychophysical structure of the cognitive process and about the development of human mentality from its beginning in the fertilized ovum to its culmination in adulthood.
After noting that our modern scientific theories are always open to revision Dr. Mascall continued:
While Jesus’ human nature is more and not less genuinely human for its assumption by the Person of the eternal Son of God [as set forth by the Council of Chalcedon], it may for that very reason be expected to manifest powers and capacities which outstrip those of human nature as we normally experience it in ourselves and in others. Some of these powers and capacities may pertain to Jesus simply because his human nature is unfallen and perfect, whereas ours is fallen and maimed, and, though redeemed, is still in process of recreation and restoration. Others may pertain to it because its Person is the divine Word, because “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col.1:19). It may be difficult to discriminate in any given case between these alternatives; nor, I think, will it greatly matter, provided we keep a firm grasp upon the principle that, even in the supreme example of the Incarnation, grace does not suppress nature but perfects it. (Whatever Happened to the Human Mind? (London: SPCK, 1980), p. 45.)
Jesus of Nazareth was certainly more than, but he certainly was not less than, a full-blooded, fully human, and psychologically mature Man – “of a rational soul and body.”
Perhaps the most obvious way to appreciate the true and full humanity and manhood of Jesus as it is presented in the New Testament is to pay attention to the theme of the obedience of Jesus to the will of God. Here we see the sinless humanity of Jesus in communion with the Father ever seeking to obey and please the Father, thereby acting as a true Adam and as a true incarnate Son. Yet this obedience was not that of an automaton, programmed to do the will of heaven. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered and being made perfect he became the eternal source of salvation to all who obey him” (5:8–9). Paul speaks of Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant who became “obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8) and emphasizes that it is the free obedience of the New and Second Adam, Jesus Christ, which is the cause of human salvation – “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
The reality and content of this obedience of Jesus to the Father’s will is portrayed in the Gospels. As a twelve year old boy, Luke tells us that Jesus said to Mary and Joseph when they found him in the Temple, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:47). Then, according to the same Gospel, the last words of Jesus as he died on the Cross were, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (23:46). Not long before these last words from Calvary’s cross, Jesus had prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (22:42). And some months before his arrest, trial and crucifixion, knowing that the Father’s will was for him to be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecies (52:13–53:12), Luke tells us that “when the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus knew what he was to face in Jerusalem because at his Transfiguration, Luke informs us, Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory and spoke of his Exodus which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). What the Father planned for the Incarnate Son was that he accomplish a new Exodus, the deliverance of his people from their sin, by his sacrificial, propitiatory and expiatory death at Calvary. Jesus freely and readily took upon himself this unique vocation even though at times he strained his human capacities to their limit.
The inner reality of this obedience of the Incarnate Son to the invisible Father is conveyed most powerfully and movingly by the Gospel of John. Jesus lives for the Father and to do the Father’s bidding. His food is to do the will of the Father and finish the work that the Father gives him to do. The will of Jesus is wholly and lovingly willing to do what the Father wills. The Son is subordinate to the Father in that he does the will of the Father, because he loves the Father and is in continual communion with him. In will, in love, in knowledge, the Father and the incarnate Son are one. Thus, the last words of Jesus on the Cross were “It is finished” (John 19:30). The Father has been glorified by the Son, who has completed the work that He gave him to do.
Reflecting upon the statements in the Gospels and Epistles concerning the obedience of Jesus to his Father, we quickly come to the conclusion that Jesus was endowed with reason and free will. In other words, he possessed a mind-soul. Only a person with a full humanity can offer a voluntary obedience to God. In the case of Jesus Christ the obedience and self-sacrifice is not merely that of a great prophet and godly man. It is the self-sacrifice of the Word made flesh, the incarnate Son of the Father, and therefore it has a unique quality and efficacy – by his sacrifice he becomes the personal Mediator of salvation. And this salvation is of God, from the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, as we noted in chapter four above.
The late Dr. Austin Farrer, Warden of Keble College, Oxford, reflected long on the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of God and wrote:
We cannot understand Jesus as simply the God–who–was–man. We have left out an essential factor, the sonship. Jesus is not simply God manifest as man: he is the divine Son coming in manhood. What was expressed in human terms here below was not bare deity; it was divine sonship. God cannot live an identically godlike life in eternity and in a human story. But the divine Son can make an identical response to the Father, whether in the love of the blessed Trinity or in the fulfillment of an earthly ministry. All the conditions of actions are different on the two levels: the filial response is one. Above, the appropriate response is a co‑operation in sovereignty and an interchange of eternal joys. Then the Son gives back to the Father all that the Father is. Below, in the incarnate life, the appropriate response is an obedience to inspiration, a waiting for direction, an acceptance of suffering, a rectitude of choice, a resistance to temptation, a willingness to die. For such things are the stuff of our existence; and it was in this very stuff that Christ worked out the theme of heavenly sonship, proving himself on earth the very thing he was in heaven; that is, a continual act of filial love. (The Brink of Mystery (London: SPCK, 1976), p. 20.)
Thus it is that, while the filial response is one in heaven and on earth, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God...is equal to the Father in respect of his divinity and less than the Father in respect to his humanity” (Athanasian Creed).
In today’s generally liberal climate of thought, we find it easy and perhaps normal to speak of the humanity and manhood of Jesus, with only the briefest of references to his mother, Mary. The accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke make clear that in her conception of the fetus, Jesus, Mary did not have any sexual intercourse with a man, not even her betrothed, Joseph. What the sperm of man normally supplies was given from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit, who overshadowed Mary at her conception. However, everything else as far as we know concerning her pregnancy and her giving birth to her Son, whom she called Jesus (= Joshua, “the LORD our salvation”) was “normal,” taking approximately nine months.
Therefore, it is clear that the human nature and flesh, or the body and soul, of Jesus came from his mother. But his actual sex as a male came from elsewhere! Obviously, Jesus was a male baby with all the physical organs and mental life which is part of maleness in the human species. This means, in terms of modern knowledge of chromosomes, that Jesus had chromosomes which included the Y chromosome, for it was this which made him male and not female. At the genetic level, females consist of identical genes (XX) and males of diverse ones (XY). Further, it means that the Holy Spirit supplied this Y chromosome because Mary, as a woman, only produced X type chromosomes. (In normal human reproduction the male alone is the arbiter of an offspring’s sex.)
In early Christianity, the fact that Jesus had a real, biological, human mother was of great importance in teaching that Jesus was truly and really a male human being. Furthermore, the fact that Mary wholly cooperated with the will of God and said, “Be it unto me according to thy word,” provided the Church with an example, a model, of what the Church as the Bride of Christ is to be – loving and obedient. As we shall see in chapter nine, the Church was to call her Theotokos not because she was God, but because she was, in a literal sense, the “God-bearer” or “the birth-giver of God;” her Son was the Word become flesh (her flesh!).
To quote Dr. Mascall again:
It was male human nature that the Son of God united to his divine person; it was a female human person who was chosen to be his mother. In no woman has human nature been raised to the dignity which it possesses in Jesus of Nazareth, but to no male human person has there been given a dignity comparable to that which Mary enjoys as Theotokos, a dignity which, in the words of the Eastern liturgy, makes her “more honorable than the cherubim and beyond comparison more glorious than the seraphim.” In Mary a woman became the mother of God, but to no man, not even to Joseph, was it given to be the father of God: that status belongs only to the Father in heaven. The centrality of womanhood in redemption is shown by the fact that the incarnation itself waited for the courageous and obedient Fiat of Mary (Luke 1:38); the initial reaction of the man, Joseph, however great his contribution later on, was to be doubtful about his fiancee’s chastity (Matt. 1:18ff.). (“Some Basic Considerations” in Peter Moore, ed., Man, Woman and the Priesthood (London: SPCK), pp. 23–24.)
In the early Church, the way one viewed and spoke of Mary was a very clear indication of how one viewed and spoke of her Son.
FOR FURTHER READING
There are many books produced by modern biblical scholars, which attempt to present the Christology of the New Testament – e.g., by Oscar Cullman, Marin Hengel, C. H. Dodd, Howard Marshall, C. F. D. Moule, Raymond Brown and Joachim Jeremias. Yet, to appreciate the search of the Fathers for the truth concerning the Manhood of the Son and Word of God, one needs most of all to be familiar with the actual content of the Gospels and if possible with the claims of the Apostles in the Acts and the Letters.
Apollinarianism, Nestorianism and Monophysitism Rejected
If the Arian teaching had not been condemned because it failed to state truthfully the relation of Jesus Christ to the Father, it would have been condemned because it failed to confess the real and vital humanity of Jesus Christ. The Arians taught that Jesus did not have a human rational soul (a mind) because there was no need for one; his mind was that of the Word who took flesh to himself. In such teaching the Arians sounded like some of their opponents, who differed from them radically in the evaluation of the Word who took human flesh, but who actually believed with them that Jesus Christ had no human mind. As we have seen, for the Arians the Word was a created being; for their opponents the Word was uncreated and homoousios with the Father.
In this chapter, it is our task to look at the major forms of Christological heresy which came on the scene in the fourth century and afterwards, so that we can appreciate (in the next chapter) the depth and quality of the orthodox Christology of the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus, Chalcedon and Constantinople II and III.
At the Council of Constantinople (381), Apollinarianism was declared to be a heresy and anathematized (Canon 1). A year later the local synod of Constantinople, recalling the earlier Ecumenical Council, declared: “We preserve undistorted the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Lord, holding the tradition that the dispensation (economy) of the flesh is neither without soul nor without mind nor imperfect; and knowing full well that the Word of God was perfect before the ages and became perfect man in the last days for our salvation.”
Apollinarianism takes its name from Apollinarius, Bishop of Laodicea (c. 310–390), who was a friend of Athanasius and a strong supporter of the Nicene homoousios. At the same time, he was vehemently opposed to any presentation of the Incarnate Son which gave the impression that Jesus Christ was really not one Person but a union of two – the Son of God joined to the son of Mary. He emphasized that Jesus Christ is a unity not a binity or duality. He is One Person not two! Unless he is truly One Person, the Incarnate Son of God, how can he be the Savior of the world?
There is always the danger that in opposing one error the enthusiast will espouse another error simply by over-emphasizing an important truth. In his opposition to what we may call a dualist or Word-Man Christology, Apollinarius spoke of the “flesh-bearing God.” His Christology belongs to the Word-flesh type, for he believed that the eternal Word took to himself a human body, that is human flesh and blood. Significantly, he did not believe that the Incarnation included the taking of a human, rational soul, since he judged that the Word supplied all that which (in a normal man) is regarded as human psychology – the existence and activity of the mind, emotions and will. The energy of the Word fulfills in Jesus Christ, said Apollinarius, both the role of life-giver to the flesh and of the activating of the human mind and will. Thus, Jesus Christ does not have a rational soul and in this he is not truly a man – not even like Adam before the fall into sin.
So there is a unity of nature between the Word and his fleshly body, said the Bishop of Laodicea. Further, since the Word supplies the vital force and energy within the one Lord Jesus Christ, he was able to raise the dead and heal the sick. In no way, said Apollinarius, can the incarnate Lord be one Person with two natures: he is one Person with one nature because the flesh has no independence whatsoever – it is wholly energized and moved by the Word himself. The flesh is truly the flesh of the Word and has no life apart from him. As it was assumed and taken by the Word in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the flesh was deified and divinized, but it remained human flesh.
What Apollinarius refused to say was that in Jesus Christ there was not only a human body, flesh and blood, but also a human soul (mind, emotions and will). To have said that the Incarnation involved the taking of a total human nature and body would have been for him to say that the eternal Son joined to himself a man – and such teaching was a horror to him. Apollinarius solemnly believed that he was preserving the teaching of the Creed of Nicea, and that the Christ he proclaimed alone could be truly the Savior of the world and the true life-giver through his sacramental body and blood in the Eucharist.
The heresy of Apollinarius consisted in the single affirmation that the divine spirit of the Word was substituted in the Lord Jesus Christ for a human mind. When he said that God took flesh or God took a body, he meant exactly that and no more! Apollinarius could not see how two minds and two principles of action could co-exist in an individual, living being. If the Son of God did not supply the immaterial, spiritual and rational consciousness of the body/flesh, then, he concluded, Jesus Christ was two Sons.
Further, Apollinarius held that the spiritual, rational consciousness of mankind had been fatally diseased and corrupted through its association with, and subservience to, the sinful flesh.
In short, a human mind is subject to change and is the captive of filthy imaginations. Therefore, if there is to be redemption, a new type of mind had to become available within man, and it was this mind that came into the world in the Son of God.
Apollinarianism – the teaching of both Apollinarius and his varied disciples – was condemned by the orthodox Fathers and by the Council of Constantinople for several reasons. First and foremost, the picture it presented of Jesus did not match what was being read in the churches from the Gospels each week. As presented by the four evangelists, Jesus had real human nature and manhood. He did not merely seem to be a man, he was a real man, who acted and talked as men do – even though he was without sin. In the second place, the salvation this system offered was not a full and complete salvation because the Savior was not a full and complete man. In the oft-quoted words of Gregory of Nazianzus: “What has not been assumed cannot be restored” (Epistle, 101, 7.). A half-human Savior is only useful for a half-fallen Adam. The mind of man needed redemption more than his body. When Adam disobeyed God and thereby introduced sin into the human race, Adam sinned in his soul (mind and will) and then in his flesh. Thus, the Incarnate Word as the New and Second Adam had to assume, and make his very own, a human soul if he were truly to be the Savior of sinful men.
At the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431), Nestorius and his teaching were condemned. Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople from 428, was an eloquent preacher, who spoke against the title, Theotokos, being given to the Virgin Mary because he believed that it led inexorably towards the heresy of Apollinarianism. Though summoned to attend the Council in Ephesus he refused, and in his absence he was condemned. Later, the Emperor Theodosius agreed to his removal from Constantinople and for his writings to be burned.
The condemnation of Nestorius by the Council was made in the following words:
As, in addition to other things, the most honorable Nestorius has not obeyed our citation and did not receive the holy Bishops who were sent by us to him, we were compelled to examine his ungodly doctrines. We discovered that he had held and published impious doctrines in his letters and treatises, as well as in discourses which he delivered in this city, and which have been testified to. Compelled of necessity by the canons and by the letter of our most holy Father and fellow servant Celestine, Bishop of the church of the Romans, we have come, with many tears, to this sorrowful sentence against him – namely that our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he has blasphemed, decrees by this holy Synod that Nestorius be excluded from the episcopal dignity, and from all priestly communion.
Further, included in the decrees of this Council are a Letter of Cyril to Nestorius, which was approved; a Letter of Nestorius to Cyril, which was condemned; Twelve Anathemas against Nestorianism; and several paragraphs concerning Nestorianism in a Letter of the Council to all Bishops informing them of the condemnation of John of Antioch.
Whether Nestorius was actually a Nestorian has been often discussed by scholars this century – in much the same way as the discussion as to whether Calvin was a Calvinist and Luther a Lutheran! What is clear is that Nestorius used much intemperate and ill-considered language in his preaching and writing against the use of Theotokos, giving the impression that Mary bore a mere man, not the Son of God incarnate. As he was heard and read by those for whom the title, Theotokos, was precious and necessary, Nestorius appeared to be teaching that there were in fact Two distinct Persons and Sons in Jesus Christ – the Person of the eternal Son and the person of the son of Mary. Thus, Nestorianism has been regarded as the heresy which split the God-Man into Two distinct Persons.
Nestorius insisted that in Jesus Christ were two complete and full natures, the divine and the human. Further, each nature was objectively real and thus, had its own external aspect or form as well as its own subsistence. Thus, the Godhead existed in the man, and the man existed in the Godhead, and in this union there was no confusion or mixing of the two natures. Jesus as the man actually lived a genuine human life, and the eternal Son also had his own genuine, divine and eternal life. However, there was a perfect, exact, voluntary and continuous conjunction of the two natures. That is, the eternal Son in gracious condescension, and the human nature in loving obedience, were drawn together and stayed together, according to the will and purpose of the Father and through the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. And as a result of this holy union, Jesus Christ was truly a single being with a single will and intelligence, indivisible and inseparable into two beings.
In terms of his outward appearance and form, Jesus Christ was and is one individual person (prosopon). Though each nature has its own prosopon there is a common prosopon, existing because of the union of the divinity and humanity. This common prosopon is neither the prosopon of the eternal Son, nor the prosopon of the manhood, but is a new prosopon existing because of the coalescence of the two natures. Even as the eternal Word took upon himself the form of a servant and even as the humanity had the form of Godhead bestowed upon it, so as a result of this holy exchange there emerged the unique prosopon of Jesus Christ, the God-Man.
Nestorius’ teaching was received by his opponents and interpreted as a doctrine which assumed that Jesus Christ is the union of two Sons and is not therefore a genuine Person. This rather simplified and mistaken account of Nestorius’ position was what was known as Nestorianism and condemned by the Council of Ephesus. Between Nestorius and his opponents (militantly led by Cyril ofAlexandria), there was a gulf of misunderstanding which included the continual use of the same key words, but with differing meanings (e.g., hypostasis, prosopon and theotokos), as well as, a different approach to the problems of Christology. This said, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus has been judged right, both to condemn what it defined as Nestorianism and to uphold the proper use of the title, Theotokos, of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In his excellent account of Nestorius and Nestorianism, G. L. Prestige wrote:
In principle, Nestorius taught nothing new. His views on the Person of Christ were, as his critics rightly judged, taken in substance from Theodore of Mopsuestia, who died in 428, when he was just embarking on his controversial episcopate [in Constantinople]; and Theodore had only developed the thoughts of Diodore of Tarsus, the enemy of Apollinarius; and Diodore himself had built upon a foundation laid by Eustace of Antioch, who was deprived in the early days of Arianism because he supported Athanasius and the Nicene Creed too vigorously... The characteristic tendency of the whole school was to lay stress on the entire reality and completeness of Christ’s human nature... Their recurrent difficulty, which came to a head in the course of the Nestorian controversy, was to reconcile their habitual manner of talking about the God and the man in Jesus Christ with a convincing statement of the union of both in a single person. (Fathers and Heretics, p. 131.)
In other words, Nestorius belonged to what has been called the Antiochene Word-Man Christology and gave the impression to his critics that he approached the definition of Jesus Christ only from the duality and never from the unity of his being. In fact, all that Nestorius did was,
to put a razor‑like dialectical edge on Theodore=s tools and apply them to the cutting-up of Apollinarianism or anything else that he considered to betray an Apollinarian character (Ibid., p. 141).
the real theological bond between all the Antiochenes was their clear perception of the full and genuine human experience which the incarnate Son historically underwent; they shrank in horror from the idea that he was not in all respects as truly kin to us as he was kin to God; they emphasized the Gospel evidence of his human consciousness and moral growth, and would not have it thought that his human life was merely the illusory exhibition on earth of an action which in sphere and method was exclusively celestial (Ibid., p. 133).
So it was that the Antioch school of theology emphasized that there is a single Redeemer, but they were unable to give a satisfactory account of him as a whole. They were heard by others, especially the Alexandrines, as saying that the sum of God and of man is a partnership rather than a single personality (and, in layman’s terms, this was the heresy of Nestorianism condemned by the Ecumenical Councils).
Nestorianism was condemned as heresy when Nestorius was alive and well (at Ephesus in 431), but Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.350–428) was condemned by an Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II in 553) as a heretic when he was dead and long buried as a Bishop of the Catholic Church. The fourteen anathemas of the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople were directed in general against Nestorianism and specifically against “The Three Chapters” (or “the three headings” or “topics”), the first of which was the person and the writings of Theodore. Politically, the condemnation of “The Three Chapters” was intended by the Emperor Justinian to appease those churchmen who clung tenaciously to the “one incarnate nature” doctrine of Cyril (for which see below) and who are called Monophysites. This, however, did not stop the Nestorians who were now found primarily in Persia looking upon Justinian as “the tyrannical emperor.”
A leading theologian of the Nestorians was Babai the Great, who was known as the creator of Nestorian dogmatics. The formula he developed to speak of the Unity and Duality of Jesus Christ, the God-Man, was “two natures, two hypostases, one person of the sonship.” Babai was seeking to preserve the dogmatic language of the Holy Trinity where there are three hypostases and one of them is the hypostasis of the Son. The union of the hypostasis of the Son with his divine nature to the manhood (a human hypostasis with a human nature) brings into being the one, and only one, Person of the incarnate Son. Obviously, in using such language the Nestorians were going to find it impossible to agree with either the Chalcedonians or the Monphysites.
EUTYCHIANISM AND MONOPHYSITISM
Eutyches was Archimandrite (monastic superior) of a large monastery in Constantinople and he had influence at the court of the Emperor through the eunuch, Chrysapius. Around 448, he became the focal point of opposition to what was seen as the continuation of Nestorian teaching – that is, Jesus Christ was not only “out of two natures” but also, as the Incarnate Word, he is “of two natures.”
Eutyches claimed to hold to the position which Cyril of Alexandria had espoused at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (before he accepted from John of Antioch the Formula of Union which stated that Jesus Christ as One Person had two natures); and he knew that his views were shared, and militantly set forth, by the Patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus. In a sentence, Eutyches held that “after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ I worship one nature – that of God made flesh and become man.” Thus he had great difficulty in conceding that, as Man, Jesus Christ is “consubstantial with us.” In truth, he did not teach Docetism (that Jesus only seemed to be a man) or Apollinarianism, but he did militantly insist that there was only one nature in the one Person, Jesus Christ, after his conception by the Virgin Mary. His unbalanced and erroneous statements came about because he was too zealous in his desire to avoid all stain of Nestorianism, and because he wanted to be faithful to what he believed were the right concepts and vocabulary of the orthodox Cyril.
After examination of his views, Eutyches was condemned and deposed by the Patriarch Flavian and the Synod of Constantinople in November 448. Not unexpectedly, the Archimandrite immediately used his good connections at court to defend himself. He received support from Dioscorus and with his cooperation persuaded the Emperor Theodosius II to summon a Council to examine his condemnation by Flavian. This met at Ephesus in August 449 and was dominated by Dioscorus. Eutyches was acquitted of heresy and reinstated as Archimandrite; the Formula of Union from John and Cyril of 433 was set aside; and the doctrine that the Incarnate Son was of two natures was anathematized. At best, the Church had by official action in a Council gone back to the position held by Cyril before his dialogue with John of Antioch in 431–433; at worst, the Church had by official action in a Council formally rejected an important development of doctrine concerning the Person of Jesus Christ.
It is not surprising that at a Council at Chalcedon two years later, known as the Fourth Ecumenical Council, the decisions of the “Robber Council” of 449 were annulled, and Eutyches was formally condemned. Further, the teaching of the Church that Jesus Christ is “One Person in Two Natures” was clearly set forth (for which see the next chapter). The Bishops clearly rejected both Nestorianism and Eutychianism when, concerning the mystery of the Incarnation, they declared:
For [the Synod] opposes those who would rend the mystery of the dispensation into a duad of Sons; and it banishes from the assembly of priests those who dare to say that the Godhead of the Only-begotten is passible; and it resists those who imagine a mixture or confusion of the two natures of Christ; and it drives away those who fancy that the form of a servant taken by him of us is of a heavenly or any other substance (ousia); and it anathematizes those who, first idly talk of the natures of the Lord as “two before the union” and then conceive but one “after the union.”
The last part is, of course, directly aimed at Eutychianism, which was seen by the Council as a false interpretation of the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria of blessed memory. The latter’s position was that “after the union” there is “one incarnate nature of the divine Word.” Eutychianism as such did not include the incarnate before the word “nature,” or if it did, it failed to see that this expression was only valuable (strictly speaking only true) when used against Nestorianism; further, Eutychianism rejected the clarification of terms and development of doctrine accepted by Cyril and set forth in his agreement with John of Antioch (see chapters two and nine for the text of the Formula of Union).
The decrees of the Council of Chalcedon certainly did not cause those who, since that time, have been called Monophysites (from monos, one, and physis, nature) to cease to teach Monophysitism. The latter term covers both a moderate and an extreme form of the teaching (and all points in between) that the Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, is “one incarnate nature.”
Apart from Eutychianism in the fifth century, the most extreme form of Monophysitism was that taught by Julian, Bishop of Halicarnassus in Caria, and his supporters, the “Julianists,” in the first part of the sixth century. These held that from the moment of conception the body of the Incarnate Word was both incorruptible and immortal and so they were also called “Aphthartodocetae” (“teachers of the incorruptibility of the Body of Christ”) and “Phantasiastae” (“teachers of a merely phenomenal Body of Christ”).
A more moderate form of Monophysitism was taught by Severus, Patriarch of Antioch, in the early sixth century. He appears to have been opposed primarily to the language of the Council of Chalcedon and desired to do justice to the humanity of Christ without speaking of it as a distinct and separate “nature.”
What most of those who rallied to the monophysite cause after the Council of Chalcedon held in common was a criticism of the Definition of Faith from that Council under three headings. They believed that the Definition should have included the formula of Cyril, “one incarnate nature of the divine Logos.” They also held that the Definition should have spoken clearly of “the hypostatic union” in the One Christ; and, finally, they held that the Definition should have declared that the Incarnate Son is “out of two natures” but not of, or in, two natures. The fact that it did not state these “received truths,” they further held, showed that it was both Nestorian and out of line with holy Tradition from Athanasius and Cyril. In short, it was in error!
We must realize that there was a real problem with terminology which exacerbated the differences in understanding. “Two natures” was an impossible phrase for the Monophysites. Timothy, the Patriarch of Constantinople (511–517), and a moderate Monophysite, wrote A Refutation of the Synod of Chalcedon, in which he asserted:
There is no nature (= substantia) which has not its hypostasis, and there is no hypostasis which exists without its prosopon; if then there are two natures, there are of necessity two prosopa; but if there are two prosopa, there are also two Christs, as these new teachers [the Chalcedonians] teach. (Cited by R. V. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon, p. 260.)
In other words, for Monophysitism there is no nature without a distinct person and neither is there a distinct person without a nature. Thus, if there are two real natures there must be two distinct Persons and thus Two Sons, the Son of God and the son of Mary. Timothy also wrote:
No one, whose heart is sound in the Faith has ever taught or upheld two natures before or after the union. For the divine Logos, not yet incarnate, was conceived in the womb of the holy Virgin, and was then incarnate of the flesh of the holy Virgin, in a manner which he alone knew, while remaining without change and without conversion as God; and he is one with the flesh. In fact the flesh had neither hypostasis nor ousia before the conception of God the Logos, that it equally could be called a nature, separate and existing by itself. (Ibid., p. 262.)
Before the union there was one hypostasis of the Logos and after the union there was one hypostasis, though now it is the incarnate hypostasis of the Logos.
At the Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553, certain Monophysite ideas and phrases were given a place in the Orthodox tradition, but only within the preservation of the teaching of Chalcedon. Here is the eighth anathema where “out of two natures” and “one incarnate nature of God the Word” occur in a positive sense:
If anyone who confesses that the union was effected out of two natures, deity and humanity, or speaks of one incarnate nature of God the Word, does not so take these terms, as the holy Fathers taught, that out of the divine nature and the human, when the union by hypostasis took place, one Christ was formed, but out of these phrases tries to introduce one nature or substance of the Godhead and flesh of Christ, let him be anathema. For when saying that the Only-begotten Word was united by hypostasis, we do not mean that there was any mixture of the natures with each other, but rather we think of the Word as united with flesh, each remaining what it is. Therefore Christ is one, God and man, the same consubstantial with the Father in Godhead, and the same consubstantial with us in manhood. Equally, therefore, does the Church of God reject and anathematize those who divide into parts or cut up, and those who confuse, the mystery of the divine dispensation of Christ.
The anathema closes by condemning not only extreme Monophysitism, but also Nestorianism.
In the seventh century, there arose a new form of Monophysitism, produced with the intention of allowing the moderate Monophysites to unite with the Chalcedonians when the Empire was under threat from invasion by Persians and Muslims. In 624 in the reign of the Emperor Heraclius, theologians came up with what seemed a compromise acceptable to both sides – that the Incarnate Son had two natures but only one mode of activity (Greek mia energeia). This new approach seemed to be very successful, being approved by Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Bishop of Rome, Pope Honorius, who actually wrote that in Jesus Christ there is “one will.” So Sergius went ahead and composed a document known as the Ekthesis (“Statement of Faith”) in which it was asserted that the two natures were united in a single Will in the One Christ.
Thus Monothelitism (from monos, one, and thelein, to will) was born and the Ekthesis was its Charter! It was approved by two Councils held in Constantinople in 638 and 639. Later, however, the Ekthesis was disowned by leading bishops and so in 648 the Emperor Constans II withdrew it and replaced it with another document, an imperial edict known as the Typos (“Example” or “Figure”), in which he forbad anyone to speak either of “One Will” or “Two Wills” (Dyothelitism) in the Incarnate Son, and to keep to the terminology of the five Ecumenical Councils.
The controversy, however, proceeded for another thirty or so years until the Sixth Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 680–681. This Synod clearly stated that the orthodox faith is that there are not only two natures but also two wills in the one Lord Jesus Christ. Honorarius, the Pope who had first used the expression “one will,” Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and others who had taught that there is only one operation (energy) and only one will in Jesus Christ, were anathematized by this Council. They had attempted, said the Bishops in Council, to “destroy the perfection of the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, by blasphemously representing his flesh endowed with a rational soul as devoid of all will or operation.” Thus, they had effectively made his manhood into an imperfect manhood.
FOR FURTHER READING
J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev, ed. (San Francisco: Harper, 1981) is always valuable for teaching of the first five centuries. G. L. Prestige, Fathers and Heretics (London: SPCK, 1948) provides excellent expositions of Apollinarianism and Nestorianism. John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975) provides important insights into Christology in the East after the Council of Chalcedon (451). Also Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600–1700) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974) has a long and valuable chapter on Christology (Chalcedonian, Nestorian and Monophysite) from the fifth to the seventh century (pp. 37–90). For the story up to the fifth century there is the splendid work of Aloys Grilimeier, Christ in Christian Tradition: From the Apostolic Age to Chaicedon (451) (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975). Then there is W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of the Monophysite Movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972) whose history of the early Church, The Rise of Christianity, we have already commended for general introductory reading. For more detail on the Christology of Monophysitism see Robert C. Chesnut, Three Monophysite Christologies: Severus of Antioch, Philoxenus of Mabbug and Jacob of Sarug (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).
Orthodoxy Affirmed – One Person in Two Natures
St. Paul declared that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” (II Cor. 5:19). The central problem of Christology in the early Church was to maintain the true humanity and manhood of the Savior, without in any way obscuring the fact that the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, homoousios with the Father, was truly present and active on earth as Jesus Christ.
THE CHRISTOLOGY OF ATHANASIUS AND CYRIL
Athanasius, whose crucial contribution to the development of the dogma of the Holy Trinity we have noted, interpreted John 1:14 (“the Word became flesh”) to mean that the Logos actually became man, not that the Logos entered into a man. His exposition of the identity of Jesus Christ is wholly of the Wordflesh rather than Word‑Man type. Thus it has sometimes been supposed that, like Apollinarius, he did not recognize in the “flesh” of Jesus Christ a human soul. However, as the chairman of the important Synod of Alexandria in 362, which provided clarity of terminology for the doctrine of the Trinity, he did agree to this formula:
The Savior did not have a body lacking a soul, sensibility or intelligence. For it was impossible that, the Lord having become man on our behalf, his body should have been without intelligence, and the salvation not only of the body but of the soul as well was accomplished through the Word himself. (Cited by Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 288, from the Tome to Antioch, 7.)
It is possible that, towards the end of his life, as his mind turned from the exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity to the consideration of the truth concerning the actual Incarnate Son, that Athanasius began to take more seriously the need to do full justice to the actual and real manhood of the Savior.
Dr. Prestige has remarked that Athanasius “was so thoroughly preoccupied with the thought of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself that he retained little interest in Christ as a distinctive human being, and disregarded the importance of his human consciousness” (Fathers and Heretics, p. 115). Of course, this is not to say that Athanasius was an Apollinarian! The general flavor of the Christology of Athanasius may be seen in this extract from his fourth Letter to Serapion (chapter 14), where after citing two oft-quoted texts (John 1:14 and Phil. 2:6–7), the great stalwart of Trinitarian Orthodoxy wrote:
Therefore, since God he is and man he became, as God he raised the dead and, healing all by a word, also changed the water into wine. Such deeds were not those of a man. But as wearing a body he thirsted and was wearied and suffered; these experiences are not characteristic of the deity. And as God he said, “I am in the Father and the Father in me;” but as wearing a body he rebuked the Jews, “Why do you seek to kill me, a man that told you the truth which I heard from the Father?” But these facts did not occur in dissociation, on lines governed by the particular quality of the several acts, so as to ascribe one set of experiences to the body apart from the deity and the other to the deity apart from the body. They all occurred interconnectedly, and it was the one Lord who did them all wondrously by his own grace. For he spat in a human fashion, yet his spittle was charged with deity, for therewith he caused the eyes of the man born blind to recover their sight; and when he willed to declare himself God it was with a human tongue that he signified this saying, “I and the Father are one.” And he used to perform cures by a mere act of will. But he stretched forth a human hand to raise Peter’s wife’s mother when she was sick of a fever, and to raise up from the dead the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue when she had already expired. (translated by G. L. Prestige, Ibid., p. 179.)
It was for Cyril, a later Patriarch of Alexandria, to refine this Word-flesh Christology so that it could become Church dogma at the Council of Ephesus (431).
Those who taught the Word-flesh Christology did not approach the identity of Jesus Christ by beginning from the union in him of two different natures, human and divine – as the Antiochene school tended to do. They thought of two phases within the existence of God the Word B one before and one after the Incarnation. The Logos who existed outside and apart from flesh became enfleshed and embodied by his Incarnation. Therefore, Cyril and many others after him spoke of “one nature, and that incarnate, of the divine Word.” It is important to appreciate that, as used in this statement, “nature” (physis) is being used to mean “concrete, individual, independent existent” or, as Dr. Prestige suggests, “a concrete personality.”
The basic meaning of physis is the way in which a thing grows and functions – hence its nature. Also it can mean, as a development from this, the actual thing that grows and functions. Cyril used physis in the latter sense, meaning a concrete personality. The physis of God the Word is for Cyril the Word himself, the personal subject of all his actions, words and experiences. [In contrast, as used by the Antiochenes (with whom Cyril did theological battle), physis takes as its primary meaning the way in which a thing grows and functions – hence for them physis is “a concrete assemblage of characteristics and attributes.” So they could happily speak of two natures, one divine and one human, in the One Lord Jesus Christ and in so doing could horrify the Alexandrians. It hardly needs to be added that they also were horrified to hear from Cyril that the Incarnate Son was of only one nature!]
Cyril was careful to avoid falling into the error of Apollinarius and thus he always insisted that “flesh” means “human nature with a soul” and thus, the Logos as enfleshed had a human soul. As he told Nestorius in his Second Letter, which is part of the Decrees of the Council of Ephesus (431):
We do not say that the nature of the Word was changed and became flesh, or that it converted into a whole man consisting of soul and body; but rather that the Word having personally united to himself flesh animated by a rational soul, did in an ineffable and inconceivable manner become man, and was called the Son of Man... He who had an existence before all ages and was born of the Father, is said to have been born according to the flesh of a woman, not as though his divine nature received its beginning of existence in the holy Virgin, for it needed not any second generation after that of the Father...but since, for us and for our salvation, he personally united to himself an human body, and came forth of a woman, he is in this way said to be born after the flesh; for he was not first born a common man of the holy Virgin, and then the Word came down and entered into him, but the union being made in the womb itself, he [the Word] is said to endure a birth after the flesh, ascribing to himself the birth of his own flesh.
For Cyril, as he emphasized later in this Letter, it was the Logos who took and was made flesh. Therefore, Christians must not divide the One Lord Jesus Christ into Two Sons!
This expression, “The Word was made flesh,” can mean nothing else, said Cyril, but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; he made our body his own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off his existence as God, or his generation of God the Father, but even in taking to himself flesh remaining what he was.
In this light, he insisted that the Blessed Virgin is truly Theotokos, the “God-bearer,” since her Son is none other than God the Word. In fact, the first anathema of the twelve contained in his Third Letter to Nestorius states:
If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore the holy Virgin is Theotokos – for she bore in the flesh the Word of God become flesh – let him be anathema.
From this perspective of the Logos-flesh Christology, wherein there is one incarnate nature of the God the Word, Cyril could neither appreciate nor tolerate what is known as Nestorianism. He used the same fervor to attack it as his predecessors had employed to attack the essentially paganized doctrine of Arius. Thus, he was primarily responsible for the anathematizing of Nestorianism at the Council of Ephesus (431). The fourth anathema goes to the heart of what was deemed to be the error of Nestorianism:
If anyone distributes between two persons or hypostases the terms used in the Gospels or in the apostolic writings, whether spoken of Christ by the holy writers or by him about himself, and attaches some to a man thought of separately from the Word of God, and others, as befitting God, to him as to the Word from God the Father, let him be anathema.
The final anathema shows both how Cyril understood the sufferings and death of Christ and how, by implication, he understood Nestorius and what some Antiochenes were teaching:
If anyone does not confess that the Word of God suffered in the flesh and was crucified in the flesh and tasted death in the flesh, and became [by Resurrection] the first-born from the dead – although he is as God Life and Life-iving – let him be anathema. He who was crucified was not a Man conjoined to the Word but the very Word himself in his human nature and body.
At first John, Patriarch of Antioch, supported Nestorius but later, when he realized that the Emperor as well as the Bishop of Rome accepted the Word-flesh Christology of Cyril approved by the Council of Ephesus (431), he changed his approach. He wrote a doctrinal statement, which has been called “The Formula of Union,” which was taken from Antioch to Alexandria by Bishop Paul of Emesa. Here it was accepted by Cyril and copied into a Letter which Cyril then wrote to John. Here is the substance of it:
We confess, therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, perfect God and perfect man composed of a rational soul and a body, begotten before the ages from his Father in respect of his divinity, but likewise in these last days for us and for our salvation from Mary the Virgin in respect of his manhood; consubstantial with the Father in respect of his divinity and at the same time consubstantial with us in respect of his manhood. For a union of two natures has been accomplished. Hence we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the union without confusion, we confess the holy Virgin to be the Mother of God [Theotokos] because the divine Word became flesh and was made man and from the very conception united to himself the temple taken from her. As for the evangelical and apostolic statements about the Lord, we recognize that theologians employ some indifferently in view of the unity of person, but distinguish others in view of the duality of natures, applying the God-befitting ones to Christ’s divinity and the lowly ones to his humanity.
Obviously, this Formula seeks to preserve certain Antiochene insights (e.g., the calling of the human nature “the temple taken from her” and the acceptance of “a duality of natures”) within a general Alexandrine theology (e.g. the Virgin is Theotokos). As a theological Statement it certainly paved the way for the Definition on the Person of Christ from the Council of Chalcedon (451), but it also angered those of the Word-flesh school for whom there was no negotiation over their fixed belief in “the one incarnate nature of God the Word.”
THE CHRISTOLOGY OF LEO
What Pope Leo I saw as the exaggerated Monophysitism of Eutyches, led to his writing what is called The Tome of Leo (= his twenty‑eighth Letter) addressed to Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople. Though this masterful Letter was rejected by the “Robber Council” of Ephesus in 449, it did become part of the decrees of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451. We must note its theological content, using the translation of William Bright in Select Sermons of St. Leo...with his Twenty-Eighth Epistle, called the Tome (1886).
Leo began by pointing out that if Eutyches had truly understood the meaning of the baptismal Creed, he would not have espoused and taught the grievous error that the body of the Savior was not derived from his mother’s body. Then he continued:
For it was the Holy Ghost who gave fecundity to the Virgin, but it was from a body that a real body was derived; and when “Wisdom was building herself a house” (Prov. 9:1), “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), that is, in that flesh which he assumed from a human being, and which he animated with the spirit of rational life.
Leo is clear that the flesh of the Savior is full human nature. It was not a nature brought down from heaven or a diluted or depleted form of human nature taken from the Virgin Mary.
In chapter 3, Leo explained how Jesus Christ is One Person with Two Natures:
Accordingly, while the distinctness of both natures and substances is preserved, and both meet in one Person, lowliness is assumed by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity; and in order to pay the debt of our condition, the inviolable nature has been united to the passible, so that, as the appropriate remedy for our ills, one and the same “Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5) might from one element be capable of dying, and from another be incapable. Therefore, in the entire and perfect nature of very Man was born very God, whole in what was his, whole in what was ours.
In taking what was ours he did not take our sin, but human nature as it existed in Adam before his disobedience and sin. That is, he took on him “the form of a servant” without the defilement of sins. As the Invisible he made himself visible, and as the Lord of all, he willed to be one among mortal men.
In chapter 4, the meaning of the Incarnation is further developed in this manner:
Accordingly, the Son of God, descending from his seat in heaven, yet not departing from the glory of the Father, enters this lower world, born after a new order, by a new mode of birth. After a new order, because he who in his own sphere is invisible became visible in ours; he who could not be enclosed in space willed to be enclosed; continuing to be before times, he began to exist in time; the Lord of the universe allowed his infinite Majesty to be overshadowed, and took upon him the form of a servant; the impassible God did not disdain to become passible, and the immortal One to be subject to the laws of death. And born by a new mode of birth, because inviolate virginity, while ignorant of concupiscence, supplied the matter of his flesh.
What was assumed from the Lord’s mother was nature, not fault; and the fact that the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ is wonderful, in that he was born of a Virgin’s womb, does not imply that his nature is unlike ours. For the selfsame who is very God is also very Man: and there is no illusion in this union, while the lowliness of man and the loftiness of Godhead meet together. For as “God” is not changed by the compassion [exhibited], so “Man” is not consumed by the dignity [bestowed]. For each “form” does the acts which belong to it, in communion with the other; the Word, that is, performing what belongs to the Word, and the flesh carrying out what belongs to the flesh. The one of these shines out in miracles; the other succumbs to injuries.
And as the Word does not withdraw from equality with the Father in glory, so the flesh does not abandon the nature of our kind. For, as we must often be saying, he is one and the same, truly Son of God, and truly Son of Man: God, inasmuch as “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God;” Man, inasmuch as “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” God, inasmuch as “all things were made by him, and without him nothing was made” (John 1:1, 14, 3,); Man, inasmuch as he was “made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4).
Chapter 4 ends with this important sentence concerning the unity of the Person of Jesus Christ, God and Man.
For although in the Lord Jesus Christ there is one Person of God and man, yet that whereby contumely attaches to both is one thing, and that whereby glory attaches to both is another: for from what belongs to us he has that manhood which is inferior to the Father; while from the Father he has equal Godhead with the Father.
And chapter 5 begins with another statement concerning the reality and mystery of Jesus Christ, who is One Person with two natures.
Accordingly, on account of the unity which is to be understood as existing in both the natures, we read, on the one hand, that “the Son of Man came down from heaven” (John 3:13), inasmuch as the Son of God took flesh from the Virgin of whom he was born; and, on the other hand, the Son of God is said to have been crucified and buried (I Cor. 2:8), inasmuch as he underwent this, not in his actual Godhead, wherein the Only-begotten is coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, but in the weakness of human nature.
Here we have Leo’s use of what in theology is called the communicatio idiomatum (“interchange of the properties”). In this approach, Leo was identifying with Cyril of Alexandria and teaching that while the divinity and humanity of the Lord Jesus are separate, the attributes of one may be predicated of the other in view of their union in the One Person of the Savior.
The Christology of Leo may be summarized in four points. First of all, the Person of the God-Man is identical with the Person of the Word of God. Secondly, in this One Person, the divine and human natures exist without mixture or confusion. In the third place, each nature is a separate sphere of operation although the two natures always act in perfect unity. Finally, the oneness of the Person legitimates and requires the communication of idioms or properties between the two natures.
It may be said that Leo’s theology is in agreement with the best intentions of the Antiochene Word-Man theology, but is more exact. Leo used the word “nature” (Latin, natura) not in the way used by Cyril and the Alexandrine School as synonymous with hypostasis, but with the general meaning of “a concrete assemblage of characteristics or attributes” as used in Antioch. On the other hand, Leo was one with Cyril and Alexandria in insisting on the identity of the Person of the pre-existent, eternal Word and the Word incarnate.
In the Council, the Bishops reaffirmed both the Creed of the 318 Fathers (325) and the Creed of the 150 Fathers (381). They canonized Cyril’s Letters to Nestorius and John of Antioch (found in the decrees of Ephesus, 431) as containing orthodox teaching and rejecting Nestorianism. Also, they canonized Leo’s Tome as overthrowing Eutychianism and confirming the true doctrine of Jesus Christ.
Further, after much debate and research, the Bishops produced their own Definition of the Faith, of which the central portion is itself usually called by the name which belongs to the whole. To understand this central portion we shall divide it into two paragraphs. The first is primarily concerned with the unity of the Person of Christ, while the second sets forth the reality of his two natures.
The literary and doctrinal sources of the first paragraph are the Formula of Union between Cyril and John from 433 and the Archbishop Flavian’s confession of faith to the Home Synod in Constantinople in November 448.
Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all with one voice teach that it should be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son, the same perfect in Godhead, the Same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the Same consisting of a rational soul and body; consubstantial [homoousios] with the Father as to his Godhead, and the Same consubstantial [homoousios] with us as to his manhood; in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of the Father before the ages as to his Godhead, and in the last days, the Same, for us and for our salvation, of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God [Theotokos], as to his manhood.
What is important to notice here is the repeated occurrence of “the Same,” by which the truth that the Son, who was with the Father in all eternity is the one and the same Son who was with us as the Incarnate God, is underlined. In fact, in their differing ways both East and West had emphasized this truth. Further, both East and West had also insisted that the Son of God in his Incarnation really and truly became Man.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that this Statement outlawed and condemned the phrases of the orthodox Alexandrines – that is, “one incarnate nature” and the “hypostatic union.” Since these phrases are in the Letters of Cyril canonized by the Council, it is to be assumed that they are legitimate expressions, if interpreted via this Definition of Faith. Certainly, this is the approach taken by the defenders of orthodoxy in later centuries.
We turn now to the second paragraph where the general influence of Cyril’s Letters and Leo’s Tome are also to be recognized.
[We confess] One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, made known in two natures which exist without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the difference of the natures having been in no wise taken away by reason of the union, but rather the properties of each being preserved, and [both] concurring into one Person [prosopon] and one hypostasis – not parted or divided into two Persons [prosopa], but one and the same Son, Only-begotten, the divine Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from of old have spoken concerning him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us and the Creed of our Fathers has handed down.
He who is “one and the same Son” is “made known in two natures.” That is, the One Lord Jesus Christ is shown forth, declared, and presented as well as recognized, understood and acknowledged in the two elements of real Godhead and real manhood. And each of these natures or elements in him has its own properties. Further, each exists in integrity – as the four “withouts” make very clear. The use of the preposition “in” with respect to the two natures reflects the contribution of the West as to the reality of the two natures in the One Christ. However, its use does not automatically or necessarily exclude the Alexandrine emphasis that the incarnate Son is “out of” two natures, when the “out of” is expounded in right relation to the “in.”
To express the oneness of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ the two words, prosopon and hypostasis, are used. To express the elements or natures of Godhead and manhood, the word physis is used. Thus, Christ is One Person in two natures. The Incarnate Son is a single Person and a single subsistent Being; he is not parted or divided into two persons or beings even though he has two natures. Here the terminology is clear, even though it will not be accepted by all in the East in the centuries after this Council. The distinctive theology of this Definition is the equal recognition it gives both to the unity and the duality of the Incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Perhaps a few words of explanation at this point concerning prosopon and hypostasis will be useful. Originally prosopon meant “face” or “countenance” and is used in the Septuagint of the face of Yahweh. Also, it had the meaning of the actor’s mask and the role he plays. Obviously, as used in Theology and Christology the word has a developed meaning of a distinct person (Latin persona), who has a genuine role and who is in relations with others. Modern notions of personality are, of course, not contained within the word at this stage. They came much later.
Hypostasis, which once approximated to ousia in meaning, pointed in later Christian discourse to specific realization or expression as a particular reality. It was a concrete realization of that which is. As used by the Cappadocians in the fourth century, it pointed to concrete, perceptible unity – the unity of the complex of individual and particularizing characteristics. So it closely approached the term prosopon in meaning and is used alongside it in statements of faith. Its Latin equivalent was subsistentia (subsistence).
In his summary of the achievement of the Council of Chalcedon, J. N. D. Kelly comments on the common charge that the content of the Definition was a triumph of Antiochene and Western teaching:
Chalcedon is often described as the triumph of the Western, and with it of the Antiochene, Christology. It is true, of course, that the balanced position attained long since in the West and given expression in Leo’s Tome, gave the Fathers a model of which they made good use. It is true, also, that without Rome’s powerful support the Antiochene formula “two natures” would never have been given such prominence. Further, large sections of the Eastern Church, regarding the Council’s endorsement of that formula and of Leo’s Tome, as well as its rejection of “hypostatic union,” as a betrayal of Cyril and of the Alexandrian tradition generally, were prepared to drift off into schism as Monophysites. These are some of the points that underline the substantial truth of the verdict. It does less than justice, however, to the essential features of Cyril’s teaching enshrined, as has been shown, in the Council’s confession, especially the recognition, in language of a clarity unheard of in Antiochene circles, of the oneness of Christ and the identity of the Person of the God-man with that of the Logos. It also overlooks the fact that Cyril’s Synodical Letters were given just as honorable a position as the Tome, and greatly exaggerates the theological difference between the two. (Early Christian Doctrines, pp. 341–42.)
It can only be claimed that the Antiochene Christology was victorious at Chalcedon if it is understood as an Antiochene Christology which has taken into itself and been modified by the teaching of Cyril.
FROM CHALCEDON TO CONSTANTINOPLE
With Nestorianism pushed beyond the frontiers of the Empire, those who defended the teaching of Chalcedon as the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church had to do long battle with those who accepted only the first three Councils. Their opponents, the Monophysites, were, of course, fully committed to the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity. However, they could not be persuaded, despite many efforts by emperors and ecclesiastics, that the Definition from Chalcedon was anything but a rejection of the teaching of the authentic Three Councils (Nicea, Constantinople and Ephesus). In their Christology, they clung to the concepts and terminology which they believed were required by the true tradition of the Fathers, and by the need to avoid all taint of Nestorianism with its “Two Sons” theology. Thus, they insisted on using the three expressions – “one incarnate nature of the divine Logos;” “the hypostatic union” and “out of two [natures]” – and seeing in the teaching of Chalcedon the false Antiochene doctrine of the Two Sons.
Chalcedonians attempted to give coherent expositions of the meaning of “One Person in Two Natures.” One theologian, whose explanation became part of the tradition of eastern, Orthodox theology, was Leontius of Byzantium (d. 544). His chief work is Three Books against the Nestorians and Eutychians. He faced the question of how if there is only one hypostasis in Christ there are two natures in him. Monophysites argued that each hypostasis has one and one only physis. The answer of Leontius was that the manhood or humanity of Christ is neither anupostatos (= “uncentered”) nor self-centered, but is enupostatos (= “encentered”) in God. This teaching is called the doctrine of the enhypostasia.
The teaching of the Council of Constantinople (553), with its emphatic rejection of Nestorianism and of the Word-Man Christology of Antioch, was in part an attempt to bring on board the ship of Chalcedon the Monophysite leaders. This aim of reconciliation is most obvious in Anathemas 12, 13 and 14 against “the Three Chapters.”
Significantly, the first anathema of Constantinople II is against those who deny the received dogma of the Holy Trinity. There is, of course, a clear relation between Theology proper (the doctrine of the Holy Trinity) and Christology (the doctrine of the Person of Christ). As we have observed, the latter was only developed in the Church when the former had been clarified. Further, in the attempt to win over Monophysites, it was good to emphasize first of all what was held in common. Thus the first anathema reads:
If anyone does not confess one nature or substance, one power and authority, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, consubstantial Trinity, one Deity worshipped in three hypostaseis or prosopa, let him be anathema.
Here we find that the same two words, used of the “one and the same Jesus Christ” at Chalcedon are used of each of the Three of the Holy Trinity. Each is a hypostasis and a prosopon.
It will be useful to print several of the anathemas (not already printed in chapter eight) to show how the Chalcedonians were accommodating to certain expressions and aspects of the theology of the Monophysites in order both to serve the Truth and to invite reconciliation.
If anyone does not confess that there are two generations of the God the Word, the one before all ages of the Father, without time and without body; the other in these last days when the Word of God came down from heaven and was made flesh of the holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God and ever-virgin, and was born of her: let him be anathema.
If anyone declares that the Word of God who worked miracles is one Person and the Christ who suffered another, or alleges that God the Word was together with the Christ who was born of woman, or was in him in the way that one might be in another, but that our Lord Jesus Christ was not one and the same, the Word of God incarnate and made man, and that the miracles and the sufferings which he voluntarily endured in the flesh were not of the same Person: let him be anathema.
If anyone shall take the expression, Christ ought to be worshipped in his two natures, in the sense that he wishes to introduce thus two adorations – the one in special relation to God the Word and the other as pertaining to the man; or if anyone to get rid of the flesh [that is of the humanity of Christ], or to mix together the divinity and the humanity, shall speak monstrously of one only nature or essence of the united (natures), and so worship Christ, and does not venerate by one adoration God the Word made man, together with his own flesh, as the holy Church has taught from the beginning: let him be anathema.
If anyone does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified in the flesh is true God and the Lord of glory and one of the Holy Trinity: let him be anathema.
Again and again in these anathemas (in 4, 6, 8, 13) it is insisted that the union is truly an “hypostatic union.” Further, in this connection, the expression “one incarnate nature of the divine Logos” is allowed.
If there had been any ambiguity in the decrees of Chalcedon (451) about the common subject of the two natures and whether this common subject is to be described as a person before the actual union of the natures had taken place, then that ambiguity was taken away by Constantinople II. The Person, the prosopon or hypostasis of Christ, is the pre-existent Son and Word of the Father.
If the Second Ecumenical Council to be held in Constantinople (553) had clearly stated the unity of the Person of Christ, then it was the task of the Third Ecumenical Council to be held in Constantinople (680–681) to underline and clarify the duality of natures in the One Person. The theological background to this Council is once again various attempts to reconcile the Monophysites to the Catholic Church. It had been said in these (to which we referred in chapter eight above) that there was in the one Christ only one energy or operation and only one will.
The Bishops in Council stated their commitment to the Creeds of Nicea and Constantinople and to the teaching of all five Ecumenical Councils (Nicea I to Constantinople II), including the Definition of Faith of Chalcedon (451). Then they proceeded by saying:
Following the five holy Ecumenical Councils and the holy and approved fathers, with one voice defining that our Lord Jesus Christ must be confessed to be very God and very man, one of the holy and consubstantial and life-giving Trinity, perfect in Godhead and perfect in humanity, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and human body subsisting; consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood; in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of his Father before all ages according to his Godhead, but in these last days for us men and for our salvation made man of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, strictly and properly the Mother of God according to the flesh; one and the same Christ our Lord, the only-begotten Son to be acknowledged of two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no separation, no division, the peculiarities of neither nature being lost by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, concurring in one Person and in one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons but one and the same only-begotten Son of God, the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, according as the prophets of old have taught us and as our Lord Jesus Christ himself hath instructed us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has delivered to us.
Thus far they repeat the teaching of Chalcedon and of Constantinople II. Then they turn to speak of the concrete, acting personality of the Incarnate Son and state:
We likewise declare that in him are two natural wills and two natural operations which undergo no division, no change, no partition, no confusion, in accordance with the teaching of the holy Fathers. And these two natural wills are not opposed to each other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but his human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to his divine and omnipotent will. For it was right that the flesh should be naturally moved but subject to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius. For as his flesh is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of his flesh is called and is the proper will of God the Word, as he himself says: “I came down from heaven, not that I might do my own will but the will of the Father which sent me” (John 6:38), where he calls his own will the will of his flesh, inasmuch as his flesh was also his own. For as his most holy and immaculate animated [ensouled] flesh was not destroyed because it was divinized but continued in its own state and nature [literally, “boundary and rule”], so also his human will, although divinized, was not suppressed, but was rather preserved, according to the saying of Gregory the Theologian: “His will, when he is considered in his character as Savior, is not contrary to God but is totally divinized.”
We also glorify two natural operations in the same our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, which undergo no division, no change, no partition, no confusion – that is to say a divine operation and a human operation, according to the divine preacher Leo, who most distinctly asserts: “For each form does in communion with the other what pertains properly to it, the Word, namely, doing that which pertains to the Word, and the flesh that which pertains to the flesh.”
For we will not admit the existence of one natural operation of God and the creature, lest we should either take up into the divine nature what is created, or bring down the glory of the divine nature to the place suitable for things that are made.
We recognize the miracles and the sufferings as of one and the same Person, according to the difference of the two natures of which he is, and in which he has his being, as Cyril admirably says.
Preserving, therefore, in every way the “no confusion” and “no division,” we set forth the whole confession in brief: Believing our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, to be one of the Trinity even after the taking of flesh, we declare that his two natures shine forth in his one hypostasis (subsistence), in which he both performed the miracles and endured the sufferings through the whole of his providential dwelling here, and that not in appearance only but in very deed, the difference of nature being recognized in the same one hypostasis, by the fact that each nature wills and does the things proper to it, in communion with the other. Wherefore, we glorify two natural wills and two operations, combining with each other in him for the salvation of the human race.
We may note two things in this development of the Chalcedonian doctrine. First, there is the roll-call of the four theologians most obviously associated with the first four Councils – Athanasius, Gregory, Cyril and Leo. Secondly, the union of the two natures and wills in Christ is not presented as a “parallelism” but more of a “synthesis” of the two, which concur in the one prosopon of the God-man. As it was later expressed by John of Damascus in his The Orthodox Faith (iii. 18), the human will of Christ willed of its own free will those things which the divine will willed it to will.
The Orthodox dogma of the Person of Christ is to be sought in the decrees of the Councils of Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451) and Constantinople (553 and 680) as these are seen in the context of the dogma of the Holy Trinity set forth at Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381). In today’s terms, it is a “Christology from above,” for it begins from the assumption that “the Word was made flesh” and “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman.”
FOR FURTHER READING
To the books by Meyendorff, Prestige, Kelly, Grillmeier and Pelikan mentioned at the end of chapter eight, one needs to add two books by R. V. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon (London: SPCK, 1953), and Two Ancient Christologies (London: SPCK, 1954). The latter compares the Christology of the Schools of Alexandria and Antioch. E. R. Hardy, ed., Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954), is also very useful for its variety of texts. Leontius and his Chalcedonian doctrine of the Enhypostasia is studied in H. M. Relton, A Study in Christology (London: 1917). For Eastern Christianity in general, there is A. S. Atiya, History of Eastern Christianity (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1968) and Donald Attwater, The Christian Churches of the East, 2 vols. (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1947–48). Anyone who is particularly interested in the period after the Council of Chalcedon (451) in the East will find fascinating articles on a variety of topics in the journal The Greek Orthodox Theological Review.
The priest and deacon approach the holy icon of Christ, kiss it, and say,
“We do homage to thy most pure image, O Good One, entreating forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ–God; for of thine own good will thou wast graciously pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, that thou mightest deliver from bondage to the enemy those whom thou hadst fashioned; With joy hast thou filled all things, O our Savior, in that thou didst come to save the world.”
In like manner they also kiss the icon of the Birth-giver of God.
“O Theotokos, in that thou art a well-spring of loving-kindness, vouchsafe unto us thy compassion. Look upon the people who have sinned. Manifest thy power as ever; for trusting in thee we cry aloud unto thee, Hail! as aforetime did Gabriel, Chief Captain of the heavenly, Bodiless Powers.”
[Office of Oblation, Orthodox Liturgy]
No Graven Images
The earliest Christian art was primarily symbolical. Christ was represented by a fish (Greek Icthus) or a young shepherd. The letters of Icthus stood for Iesous Christos, Theou Huios, Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior). The Church was represented as a ship, the hope of salvation by an anchor, and immortality by a peacock. Scenes from Holy Scripture were not merely illustrative but also typical – e.g., Jonah’s adventure symbolized death and resurrection.
In the eighth century, both the iconoclasts and iconodules appealed to the sacred text of Holy Scripture (the Septuagint), for both believed it to be the written words of God. They agreed that this Bible uniquely portrays the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, and his Father, who is the invisible, ineffable God of all glory, wisdom and power – the God who is named Yahweh in the Old Testament. Further, they agreed that idolatry, the worship of images, is absolutely condemned in Holy Scripture.
Where they did not see eye to eye was on the distinction between an image (an objectively descriptive word) as an idol (which has a pejorative overtone), and an image as an icon (Greek, eikon, an image as representational art). And this disagreement was related to what they took to be the theological implications of the taking of manhood by the Son of God.
Each side agreed that God as Godhead is pure, eternal and ineffable Spirit and cannot under any circumstances be represented in human art. Thus, we shall begin our brief examination of Holy Scripture with the statement of Jesus (often cited by the iconoclasts) that God is Spirit. Then we shall note the condemnation of idolatry and the restricted use of material objects in divine worship in the Old Testament.
GOD IS SPIRIT
In his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus said, “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). Some people of a philosophical disposition have supposed that the statement “God is Spirit” is a metaphysical and ontological definition of the eternal nature of the invisible deity. Though God (according to philosophical theism) is eternal, uncreated, pure Spirit, the meaning here has less to do with eternity and more to do with the relation of eternity to space and time. “God is Spirit” is the same general kind of statement as two others found in I John – “God is light” (1:5) and “God is love” (4:8). In all three statements it is God in relation to us, God acting with respect to us, which is being affirmed. John is telling us how the Father really is or truly acts towards us in history on a personal, relational basis.
Jesus is not attempting to speak of God–as–God–is–in–himself (which for Greek Christians is pure theology). His message is of God as God–is–towards–and–for–us (the Trinity in the economy); the Father is the One who gives the Spirit (John 14:16), and it is in and by the Spirit that the Father relates to human beings as his creatures. Therefore, “God [the Father] is Spirit” in the sense that, as the invisible God [who is in himself pure Spirit], he makes himself known through the medium of the Holy Spirit, whom he actually sends into the world.
True worship also is in the sphere of “Spirit.” Human beings who worship their Creator and Lord must worship “in spirit [Spirit],” as those who are reborn by water and the Spirit (John 3:5) and who have been baptized with that baptism in the Spirit of which John the Baptist spoke (John 1:33). It is necessary that they worship in this way, for no other approach is acceptable to the Father. Genuine worship must be prompted, energized and brought to fulfillment by the presence and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
And there is a further necessary component! True worship is also “in truth.” John’s Gospel makes it very clear that the Spirit and the Word (the Son) exist and work in perfect harmony in God’s economy of grace. Jesus as the Word (1:1) is also the Truth (14:6), who reveals the very reality of God (8:45; 18:37). In fact, the Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13) in his relation to the Word made flesh. And Jesus is the Truth, who reveals the Father, who does the will of the Father, and who makes access to the Father possible for sinners by his sacrificial death as the Lamb of God. He is the Son of the Father who becomes the man of flesh and blood. Thus true worship must be offered to the Father through (i.e., according to the Truth which is) Jesus and in the Spirit, who is given by the Father and who rests upon and takes from the Son.
It would be false to conclude from John 4:23–24 that worship must only be spiritual, confined to the heart, and without any outward expression of form or ceremony. The apostolic church worshipped through the ministry of Word and Sacrament; and it is highly probable that John 6:53–58 refers to the Eucharist as a primary means of worship. To worship in spirit and in truth is to worship the Trinity by the Trinity. Those who believe on the name of the Son, and who are born from above by the Holy Spirit, worship the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. And they do so because the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit, has not only created them but also revealed himself to them.
God is Spirit and he is also Light. For the apostles, the advent of the Logos, the only Son of the Father, was the coming of light into the world (John 1:4–9; cf. Matt. 4:16; Luke 2:32) – the light shining in darkness. Jesus is “the light of the world” while God, the Father, is “light.”
This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus Christ] and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:5–7).
Obviously the Lord our God, as the true and only God, is, of necessity and always, Light both in himself as the transcendent God, and in his relations with the world as its Creator and Redeemer. It is the latter which is in view here. The whole context of I John makes it clear that “God as Light” is not a philosophical, speculative statement about the being and nature of deity, but is a declaration of God’s relation to the world as Savior.
In the Old Testament, light is used to symbolize truth in contrast to error, and righteousness in contrast to wickedness (Ps. 36:9; Ps. 119:130; Is. 5:20; Mic. 7:8b). Thus, in Hebrew terms to say that “God is light” is to confess that he is absolute in his glory, in his truth and in his holiness.
The Father is light, the incarnate Son is the light, and believers are called to live and walk in the light and have fellowship one with another and with the Father through his only Son. But, we ask, how is this walking and fellowship possible? John answers, “You have been anointed by the Holy One” (I John 2:20; cf. v. 27); that is, you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. For a man to see the light, to have the light shine in his heart, and to walk in the light, he needs the illumination of the Holy Spirit of light. In other words, Light shines upon and within him from the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit.
God is Spirit, God is Light and God is Love. When we read that “God is love” (I John 4:8) it is the word agape which describes God. God is love in that he wills that which is the best for his creatures and he commits himself wholly to achieving this end. Further, it is not only that God is the source of love, but that all of his intentions and activity are loving. We read in I John 4:7–12:
Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
In this paragraph, the verb (agapeo) and the noun (agape) occur fifteen times. The logic of love is very obvious. God, who is the Father, is love in that he sent his only Son into the world to be the expiation for human sins. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yet, God’s love is not merely a past determination to do good which was completed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is still love in that his Son, Jesus Christ, was raised from the dead and is alive for evermore, willing the good of all mankind and believers in particular. Further, God is still love in that he abides in those who believe. “By this we know that God abides in us, by the Spirit, which he has given us” (I John 3:24). The Holy Spirit dwells in the souls of the faithful, and it is by his inspiration and power that love is perfected in them and believers are enabled to love one another, thus fulfilling the command of Christ.
The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; and the Holy Spirit is the presence and expression of the love of the Father and the love of the Son. The Father loves the world and sent his only Son into the world; the Son also loves the world and gave himself as a propitiatory and expiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world; the Spirit brings the love of the Father and the Son into the hearts of those who believe, so that they may love God and one another.
In himself as the blessed, holy and undivided Trinity, God is pure Spirit, uncreated Light and holy Love; towards the world and revealed in the incarnate Son, the Trinity is also acting as Spirit, revealing as Light and acting in Love. The Son of the Father become Man is the Image (eikon) of God the Father (II Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). God, who is by nature invisible, comes to visible expression in the incarnate Son. The Son alone is the image of the Father, for as the incarnate Word he is the unique, perfect, material representation of the Father. As the Image of God, Jesus Christ was bodily and physically present with men on earth. As the Image he was seen, heard, touched, and addressed. Therefore, any use by Christians of icons (images) as representational art had to be justified in relation to the Incarnate Son as the Image of God.
YAHWEH AND IDOLATRY
Because the Father is ineffable and invisible, and because the incarnate Son is the one and only Image of God, idolatry is wholly forbidden in the New Testament (e.g., I John 5:19–21). This is entirely what we would expect when we recall that in the Old Testament, idolatry is thoroughly condemned by the Law and the Prophets.
“I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to graven images,” declared Isaiah (42:8). “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them and serve them, for I, the LORD, am a jealous God...” (Ex. 20:2–4).
Three words – LORD, Jehovah and Yahweh – are used in English to render the tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew consonants, YHWH, which is the unique Name of the God of Israel. As this Name was treated with ever more and more reverence, the Jews ceased to pronounce it during the latter part of the Old Testament period. So we are not completely sure today just how it was originally pronounced. “Yahweh” represents the generally accepted modern attempt to recover the original pronunciation of the tetragrammaton.
YHWH is to be taken as a form of the verb haya, “to be.” In the light of this, it is appropriate to see two meanings arising out of this Name. First of all, from Exodus 3:14–15, YHWH as the Name (revealed to Moses) is a positive assurance of God’s acting, aiding and communing presence. The “I AM” will be always with his covenant people. He who is now will be also. In the second place, and based on the declarations of Deuteronomy 4:39, I Kings 8:60 and Isaiah 45:21–22, YHWH is the only God who actually exists and there is no other. YHWH is the one and only Deity, who is both above and within his creation; all other gods are but creatures or the projections of human imagination.
Probably the most well known text in Judaism is the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4–5:
Hear, O Israel, Yahweh, our Elohim, Yahweh is One, and thou shalt love Yahweh thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.
Concerning this fundamental confession, Walter Kasper has written:
The singleness and uniqueness of God is qualitative. God is not only one (unus) but also unique (unicus); he is as it were unqualified uniqueness. For by his very nature God is such that there is only one of him. From the nature of God as the reality that determines and includes everything his uniqueness follows with intrinsic necessity. If God is not one, then there is no God. Only one God can be infinite and all inclusive; two Gods would limit one another even if they were somehow interpenetrated. Conversely: as the one God, God is also the only God. The singleness of God is therefore not just one of the attributes of God; rather his singleness is given directly with his very essence. Therefore, too, the oneness and uniqueness of the biblical God is anything but evidence of narrow-mindedness. On the contrary, for precisely as the one and only God, he is the Lord of all peoples and of all history. He is the First and the Last (Is. 41:4; 43:10ff.; 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:4, 8, 17). (The God of Jesus Christ, pp. 239–40)
Such a living God cannot and must not be presented in images and idols!
Images (normally as idols) were common in Egypt and the ancient near East. They were of two types, either anthropomorphic (in human form) or theriomorphic (in animal form). A molton image was made in a cast from copper, silver or gold. A graven image was carved from stone or wood and wood images could be overlaid with precious metals. Israel was commanded not to worship either an idol of a heathen god(dess) or an image (idol) of Yahweh himself. Thus, alongside the condemnations of idols of heathen gods (Jer. 10:3–5; Hos.11:2) in the Old Testament, there are condemnations of the use of images of Yahweh – the golden calf (Ex. 32:1–8), the image (Ephod) made by Gideon (Judg. 8:26–27), the golden calves of Dan and Bethel (I Kgs. 12:28–30) and the calf of Samaria (Hos. 8:6).
Moses, who personally experienced the glorious and awful presence of Yahweh on the mountain and whose face shone with light as a result of the encounter, recalled the revelation of Yahweh at Mount Sinai when he told the Israelites: “The Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deut. 4:12). They saw no form and thus they were never to make an image of Yahweh.
The prophets recognized that idols were nothing for they were images of gods who did not exist (Is. 2:8; 40:18–20; 41:6–7; 44:9–20). However, there was more to idolatry than false knowledge. Demonic, evil forces were at work in idolatry and thus the worship of graven and molten images constituted a real spiritual danger (Is. 44:6–20). Thus, an idol is an abomination to Yahweh (Deut. 7:25), and a detested thing (Deut. 29:17; 31:6).
Yet, while the rejection of idolatry is constant and uncompromising in the Law and the Prophets and the Writings (e.g. the Psalter), the religion of Israel was not spiritual in the sense that it was wholly inward, an affair of the human spirit. It was spiritual in that Yahweh was understood to be the transcendent, holy LORD, who was above and beyond the reach of Israel, and who therefore could only be reached when he himself set up the means for communion. This of course he did in what is called the covenant whereby Yahweh was the God of Israel and this people worshipped and served him alone as their God.
Within the means that Yahweh appointed for that spiritual worship and service were physical symbols of his presence and relation to Israel. Here we immediately think of the Tabernacle (Temple) and the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:8), which were constructed through the specific help of the Spirit of Yahweh. The Ark was a rectangular box made of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, whose lid (the “mercy seat”) was a gold plate surrounded by two antithetically-placed cherubs with outspread wings. Inside were the two tablets of the Law, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod (Deut. 10:1–5). Yahweh met his people at the Ark. “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, and from between the two cherubim, I will speak with you” (Ex. 25:10–22).
The Ark served as a symbol of the presence of Yahweh with his people. It was not worshipped but it served to remind the people of the Lord their God and of the worship and service he required. The sculpted icon of the cherubim fulfilled a liturgical ministry. Before the Incarnation, all artistic expression of the heavenly is limited to the angelic world due to the fear of idolatry. (See note at the end of the chapter.)
Thus, while the Old Testament proclaims the invisible, holy, and transcendentally glorious reality of Yahweh, who alone is true God, and while it condemns all idolatry, it also without any hesitation proclaims the right use of created matter in the worship and service of God. Further, it does assert (in the early chapters of Genesis) that man, as male and female, is made in the image and after the likeness of God (e.g., 1:26). Man is not the image but is made in the image. Such an assertion leaves open the question as to who is the image! We have to wait for the Incarnation to know, as the New Testament teaches, that the Son of God, the Word made flesh, is the one and only Image of the Father. And in this knowledge we also know that the purpose of the Incarnation is to conform those who are made in the image to the Image, to become like him (Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 15:49; II Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10ff.).
What neither the Old nor New Testaments specifically address is whether or not it is admissible to make icons of the Incarnate Son or of those who bear his image and likeness (his Mother and the Saints). The Old Testament does, however, legitimate the use of material symbols as aids to the pure worship of Yahweh in spirit and in truth. Naturally, the iconodules made much of this in their appeal to the Bible.
FOR FURTHER READING
In all the major Bible Dictionaries there are articles on “Yahweh,” “Idolatry,” “Image(s),” and “Worship.” Likewise, in the major books on the theology and religion of the Old Testament the subject of idolatry is treated. Philip E. Hughes, The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1989) is filled with stimulating thoughts. Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ (New York: Crossroad, 1984) is also very stimulating. There are chapters on the portrayal of YHWH in the Old and New Testaments in Peter Toon, Our Triune God (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1996).
In the Orthodox Church the icons of Christ’s resurrection develop the symbolism of the Ark. On a slab, representing the empty tomb and the lid of the Ark, is the abandoned winding sheet; and, on the ends of the slab, two cherubim stand facing the women who bear myrrh. Thus the “throne of mercy” reveals in Christ its real meaning. Via the icon, Yahweh appears on the “throne of mercy” and speaks from it.
On Orthodox Sunday, the feast of the icon, two passages from the Gospels, which speak of angels, are read – Matthew 18:10 and John 1:51. They are seen as teaching that (i) the many-eyed angels possess the gift of contemplating the Divine Light, and (ii) that after the Incarnation Christians receive this angelic gift expressed so powerfully by the icon.
Not a single one of the writings of the iconoclasts has been preserved in its original form. We only know of the content of this literature where it has been preserved as part of the reply of the iconodules. Likewise, since the iconoclasts destroyed images wherever they found them, there have been preserved few examples of icons in churches and monasteries from the period of the controversy.
Those who destroyed, and those who made and preserved Christian representational art, had much in common – commitment to the dogma of the Trinity, acceptance of the authority and the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and belief in the divine right of kings (emperors), for example. Also, with specific reference to images, both sides were in agreement over some basic principles and uses.
Each, for example, accepted that material objects can be a contact point between the praying man and the merciful God.
The iconoclasts restricted this materiality to the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the water of Baptism, the oil of Chrismation and the wood of the cross. In contrast, the iconodules included the whole of sanctified, representational art.
Then, also, each side was concerned about the large numbers of illiterate and unsophisticated members of the Church and their instruction in the holy Faith. All knew the power of art to inform the devotion of the people. For the iconodules representational art served as a holy book for the illiterate, for it proclaimed the Gospel message in pictures. For the iconoclasts, who remembered the use of such art in paganism and who heard the denunciation of Islam against all images, the pictures proclaimed a false message concerning the true identity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his Mother and the Saints. They reintroduced paganism and idolatry!
Further, each side proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the Image of God and that man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). All were committed to this doctrine even though they made opposing deductions and applications from it in terms of the pictorial representation of Jesus Christ.
Finally, each side appealed to the Fathers and thus to antiquity. And, as we would expect, each side found evidence for its cause. During the first three or four centuries, Christianity was a minority Faith in an Empire where polytheism was the norm and where images/idols of the deities were worshipped. In this context, Christian writers condemned idolatry, citing the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Not unexpectedly, there was little representational art produced by Christians! However, when Christianity became an official, and then the official, religion of the Empire, the way was open, with the defeat of paganism, to develop Christian representational art, and to distinguish icons of Christ and the Saints from idols of the gods and goddesses of the defeated paganism. In this new art, the prohibition against any representation of the invisible, ineffable God (Yahweh, the Father) was constant.
THE COUNCIL OF HIERIA
The Emperor Leo III, the Isaurian, began a campaign against the cult of icons in 726. His son, Constantine V, who became Emperor in 741, also led a campaign to remove and destroy icons as well as to paint over art on church walls. Crosses, however, were allowed to remain. These Emperors, and also their successors, were of Semitic rather than Hellenic background. Their tradition did not have within it the cultic importance of the image. Further, they were engaged in war with Islam, which destroyed all images in its path. Thus, they were obviously aware of and sensitive to the charges made by Muslims about the supposed idolatry of Christians, who, it was said, worshipped icons.
The theological sympathies of Constantine V were more with the Monophysites than the Chalcedonians and he actually published under his own name a doctrinal statement on behalf of iconoclasm. Insisting that the prosopon of Christ is made up of both divine and human elements, he opposed representational art because it only presented the human nature. Thereby, he said, it severed that nature from his divine nature and negated the unity of Christ as one hypostasis and one nature. Thus an icon is a false image of Christ, who being both God and Man cannot be presented in an art form because Godhead by its very nature cannot be circumscribed. The only true image of Christ is that which he instituted – the sacramental Bread and Wine, his Body and Blood of the Holy Eucharist.
To press his doctrine and policy upon the Church and Empire, Constantine V called a Church Council which met in the Palace of Hieria, north of Chalcedon, from February to August 754. The Epitome of the Definition of this Iconoclastic Council was agreed by the Bishops in August, 754. It begins its theological claims in these words: “Satan misguided men, so that they worshipped the creature instead of the Creator. The Mosaic Law and the Prophets cooperated to undo this ruin; but in order to save mankind thoroughly, God sent his own Son, who turned us away from error and the worshipping of idols, and taught us the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth.”
Against this background the Statement continues: “We [the 338 members] found that the unlawful art of painting living creatures blasphemed the fundamental doctrine of our salvation – namely, the Incarnation of Christ – and it contradicted the six holy synods [i.e., Ecumenical Councils].” The truth of the matter is that Jesus Christ is One Person, God made Man, and consequently, an icon of Christ is an image of God and Man. Thus in his foolish mind, the painter, in his representation of the flesh of Jesus, has depicted the Godhead which cannot be represented. He has mingled what cannot be mingled. Therefore, he is guilty of a double blasphemy – making an image of the Godhead and mingling the Godhead and the manhood. Further, anyone who uses the icon is also guilty of blasphemy.
In terms of Christology, the Council taught that the manhood of Christ, being the humanity of the Logos, was completely assumed by the divine nature and totally deified.
For it should be considered that the flesh [of Jesus] was also the flesh of God the Word, without any separation, perfectly assumed by the divine nature and made wholly divine. How could it now be separated and represented apart? So is it with the human soul of Christ which mediates between the Godhead of the Son and the dulness [thickness] of the flesh. As the human flesh is at the same time flesh of God the Word, so is the human soul also soul of God the Word, and both at the same time, the soul being deified as well as the body, and the Godhead remaining undivided even in the separation of the soul from the body in his voluntary passion. For where the soul of Christ is there is his Godhead; and where the body of Christ is there is his Godhead. (Percival, Seven Councils, p. 544.)
Here are echoes of the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon (“without any separation”) and of the two wills and energies of the Council of Constantinople III, but the theory of communicatio idiomatum is pushed to an extreme limit. Thereby, the real humanity and manhood of Christ is minimized and deification is exaggerated.
The Statement goes on to claim, as the Emperor had done, that “the only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ is bread and wine in the holy Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has he chosen to represent his Incarnation.”
And then, with reference to representational art depicting the Saints, the Epitome states:
Christianity has rejected the whole of heathenism, and so not merely heathen sacrifices, but also the heathen worship of images. The Saints live on eternally with God, although they have died. If anyone thinks to call them back again to life by a dead art, discovered by the heathen, he makes himself guilty of blasphemy. Who dares attempt with heathenish art to paint the Mother of God, who is exalted above all heavens and the Saints? It is not permitted to Christians, who have the hope of the resurrection, to imitate the customs of demon‑worshippers, and to insult the Saints, who shine in so great glory, by common dead matter. (Ibid., p. 544.)
In short, God has forbidden the making of graven images in the Ten Commandments and this prohibition remains in force!
Next, it forbids the production and demands the destruction of “every likeness which is made out of any material and color whatever by the evil art of painters.” Then a series of anathemas are declared among which are the following concerning icons of Christ:
8. If anyone ventures to represent the divine image (charakter) of the Word after the Incarnation with material colors, let him be anathema!
9. If anyone ventures to represent in human figures, by means of material colors, by reason of the Incarnation, the Substance or Person of the Word, which cannot be depicted, and does not rather confess that even after the Incarnation he, the Word, cannot be depicted, let him be anathema!
13. If anyone represents in a picture the flesh deified by its union with the Word, and thus separates it from the Godhead, let him be anathema!
Then with respect to Mary, Theotokos, and the Saints, are the following anathemas:
15. If anyone shall not confess the holy ever-virgin Mary, truly and properly the Mother of God, to be higher than every creature whether visible or invisible, and does not with sincere faith seek her intercessions as one having confidence in her access to our God, since she bare him, let him be anathema.
16. If anyone shall endeavor to represent the forms of the Saints in lifeless pictures with material colors which are of no value (for this notion is vain and introduced by the devil), and does not rather represent their virtues as living images in himself, let him be anathema.
17. If anyone denies the profit of the invocation of Saints, let him be anathema. (Ibid., pp. 545–46.)
These make clear that the Eastern Christian Iconoclasts were not like Western Protestants of a later time since the former, unlike the latter, regarded the intercession of the Saints as an important part of the Faith.
ANATHEMAS AT THE COUNCIL OF NICEA (787)
At the beginning of what eventually was recognized as the Seventh Ecumenical Council, certain bishops who had supported the cause of iconoclasm confessed their sin and error, asking to be received back into the communion of the Catholic Church. These confessions indicate both what was central to the iconoclasts and to the iconodules.
Bishop Basil of Ancyra confessed his faith in the Holy Trinity and proceeded:
I ask for the intercessions of our spotless Lady the Holy Mother of God, and those of the heavenly powers and those of all the saints. And receiving their holy and honorable relics with all honor, I salute and venerate these with honor, hoping to have a share in their holiness. Likewise also the venerable icons of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the humanity he assumed for our salvation; and of our spotless Lady, the holy Mother of God; and the angels like unto God; and of the holy Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, and of all the Saints – the sacred icons of all these I salute and venerate. (Ibid., p. 533.)
Among his anathemas were these:
Anathema to the calumniators of the Christians, that is to the icon breakers.
Anathema to those who apply the words of Holy Scripture, which were spoken against idols, to the venerable images.
Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable icons.
Anathema to those who say that Christians have recourse to the icons as to gods.
Anathema to those who call the sacred icons idols.
Anathema to those who say that the making of images is a diabolical invention and not a tradition of our holy Fathers. (Ibid., p. 534.)
As we would expect, what these anathemas condemn is that which the Emperor Constantine V and the Council of Hieria had approved.
The official anathemas of the Council of Nicea II were brief and to the point, making very clear what was the error and the sin of iconoclasm and what was the essence of iconodulism.
If anyone does not confess that Christ our God can be represented in his humanity, let him be anathema.
If anyone does not accept representation in art of evangelical scenes, let him be anathema.
If anyone does not salute such representations as standing for the Lord and his Saints, let him be anathema.
If anyone rejects any written or unwritten traditions of the Church, let him be anathema.
Eventually iconoclasm fell, and when this occurred it fell like Lucifer, never to rise again in the Catholic Church of the East.
In his fascinating book, The Art of the Icon (1990), Paul Evdokimov provides a good summary of the nature of Iconoclasm and writes:
For the iconoclasts, every image could only be a portrait, and of course a portrait of God was inconceivable. Their exclusively realistic conception of art drove them to deny any symbolic character to the icon. From the sacramental perspective, they believed quite correctly in symbols, that is in the real presence of the symbolized thing or person in its symbol, but they denied any presence of the person represented, the prototype, in his iconographic image. Once this conception was accepted, the icon fell into the category of profane art, since it was obviously not a sacrament. From their point of view, the claim that icons were a sacred art simply clothed them in superstition and even heresy. It was therefore necessary to choose between a photographic likeness, as we would say today, and a symbolic likeness. The two were mutually exclusive. The iconoclasts could only conceive of an art that was realistic and reproduced the visible of the visible, thus making a copy of the visible. They could not see that the icon portrayed the “visible of the invisible,” and the invisible in the visible.
And he continues:
The only adequate image of Christ was, therefore, the Eucharist because it was consubstantial (homoousios) and identical (tauto) with him in nature (kat’ousian). Now the Eucharist is a miracle in which the cosmic matter of bread and wine are changed into the heavenly matter of the transfigured body of Christ. But the miracle of the metabole, or transformation, takes place without producing any likeness or resemblance... The visible bread is simply stated to be identical with the invisible heavenly body, but the operation gives no place to any visual manifestation. The Eucharist cannot in any way be an icon for it is uniquely the Lord’s Supper which must be consumed and not contemplated (pp. 193–95).
It is obvious that the iconoclasts and the iconodules were unable to agree because their whole foundation of thinking was different. They were working from different theological and philosophical principles.
FOR FURTHER READING
For the texts used in this chapter see Percival’s edition of the Seven Councils. Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, and Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Thought, and Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils, also have useful material on iconoclasm as well as suggestions for further reading.
Orthopraxis Explained – Veneration of Icons
The connection between the dogma of the first six Ecumenical Councils and that of Nicea II is the Incarnation. Because the eternal Son became Man, the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit was revealed. In, by and through the Son we know the Holy Triad. Further, because of the Incarnation, the veneration of icons is rendered both valid and good. Since the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us, the invisible became visible and thus, it was possible to depict him by representational art. The Council of Nicea (787) upheld the veneration of icons as an inevitable result of the Incarnation. The Son is the Icon of the Father.
FROM 692 TO 787
The veneration of icons was not a new development in the eighth century when iconoclasm waged war on iconodulism. In fact, there are two canons of the Quinisext Council (692) which illuminate the situation concerning veneration of images/icons in the Greek-speaking churches before the rise of iconoclasm.
First of all, Canon 73 speaks of the veneration of the Cross:
Since the life-giving cross has shown to us salvation, we should be careful that we render due honor to that by which we were saved from the ancient fall. Wherefore, in mind, in word, in feeling giving veneration (proskunesis) to it, we command that the figure of the cross, which some have placed on the floor, be entirely removed therefrom, lest the trophy of the victory won for us be desecrated by the trampling under foot of those who walk over it. Therefore those who from this present represent on the pavement the sign of the cross, we decree are to be excommunicated.
Veneration of the Cross is by the mind and heart, through words and action and with the senses (bowings, kisses etc.).
In the second place, Canon 82 speaks of the veneration of icons.
In some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God. Embracing, therefore, the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the Church, we prefer “grace and truth,” receiving it as the fulfillment of the Law. In order, therefore, that “that which is perfect” may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in colored expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who taketh away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depth of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory his conversation in the flesh, his passion and salutary death, and his redemption which was wrought for the whole world. (Percival, Seven Councils, pp. 398, 401.)
Commenting on this Canon, John Meyendorff wrote:
The negative attitude of the Quinisext Council towards symbolism, and its emphasis upon the concrete and historical reality of the incarnation as the authentic foundation of the art of images, made it inevitable that the debate started by the iconoclastic decree of Emperor Leo III should immediately become a Christological debate; the problem was already posed within the framework of a theology of the incarnation. (Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Thought, p. 178.)
Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople under Leo III, had a clear view of the relation of icons to Jesus Christ.
In eternal memory of the life in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, of his passion, his saving death and the redemption of the world, which result from them, we have received the tradition of representing him in his human form, i.e., in his visible theophany, understanding that in this way we exalt the humiliation of God the Word (Cited by Meyendorff, Ibid., p. 178).
Thus, an icon is not an image of the incomprehensible and immortal Godhead, but of the human character of the incarnate Word and Son.
Also, during the reign of Leo III another, and now justly famous, defense of iconodulism was made. In his monastery of St. Sabbas in Palestine and under Arab rule, John of Damascus wrote his On the Divine Images: Three Apologies Against Those Who Attack the Divine Images. St. John had no doubt that we are “to use all our senses to produce worthy images of Christ, and we sanctify the noblest of the senses, which is that of sight. For just as words edify the ear, so also the image stimulates the eye. What the book is to the literate, the image is to the illiterate. Just as words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight; it brings us understanding” (I. 17).
Icons are not only permissible but right and good because of the Incarnation, claimed St. John, who also explained:
In former times, God who is without form or body, could never be depicted. But now when God is seen in the flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter; I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in the flesh; who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God. (I. 16)
Later, St. John provided a definition of an image.
An image is a likeness, or a model, or a figure of something, showing in itself what it depicts. An image is not always like its prototype in every way. For the image is one thing, and the thing depicted is another; one can always notice differences between them, since one is not the other, and vice versa. I offer the following example: An image of a man, even if it is a likeness of his bodily form, cannot contain his mental powers. It has no life; it cannot think, or speak, or hear, or move. A son is the natural image of his father, yet is different from him, for he is a son and not a father.
Thus, he rejected the argument of the iconoclasts that an image is of the same essence as its prototype.
St. John also provided an explanation of the nature of worship. First and foremost, there is absolute worship which is adoration, reverence, thankfulness and confession offered to God, and to God alone. That is to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the very God from whom proceeds the Holy Spirit. He is the source of all glory, all goodness, unapproachable light, incomparable sweetness, boundless perfection and who alone as the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity is worthy to be adored, worshipped, glorified and desired.
In the second place, there is worship in a relative sense (= veneration). For example, when God rests in holy persons, who by grace have become likenesses of himself, then these persons (e.g., the Theotokos and the Saints) may be offered relative worship. As St. John put it: “Since they are truly gods, not by nature, but because they partake of the divine nature, they are to be venerated, not because they deserve it on their own account, but because they bear in themselves him who is by nature worshipful” (III. 33).
Also holy objects may be venerated – e.g., the holy sites in Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee, relics, the book of the Gospels, the Emperor and, of course, icons. “We venerate images: it is not veneration offered to matter, but to those who are portrayed through matter in the images. And any honor given to an image is transferred to its prototype” (III. 41).
Those who embraced iconodulism were those who of necessity held that the Son of God truly and really became man, a real man. They set aside not merely Docetism, but also all types of Monophysitism. Thus, when the Bishops made their declaration concerning icons at the Ecumenical Council of 787 they began with a strong affirmation of the reality of Jesus depicted in the Gospels:
To make our confession short we declare that we keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to us, whether in writing or verbally, one of which is the making of pictorial representations, agreeable to the history of the preaching of the Gospel: a tradition useful in many respects, but especially in this, that so the Incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth as real and not merely imaginary, and brings us a similar benefit. For, things that mutually illustrate one another undoubtedly possess one another’s message.
Then the Bishops made it abundantly clear that, while they agreed with iconoclasts in venerating the sacred cross, they also firmly believed in the production of representational art to depict Jesus Christ, the Theotokos, the Saints and the Angels.
We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with full precision and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy pictures (eikonas), as well in painting and mosaic as in other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on the hangings and in the pictures (sanisin) both in houses and by the wayside, namely, the picture (eikon) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady (despoines) the holy Mother of God (Theotokos), of the honorable angels, of all holy and pious men.
The purpose of such art is to lead the faithful forward in the path of deification/divinization as they are reminded of the Prototypes represented on the icon. In this context, it is appropriate that veneration be offered to the image and thus through the image veneration be given to the prototype.
For the more frequently they are seen in artistic representation the more readily are men lifted up to the memory of, and the longing after, their prototypes; and to these should be given salutation and honorable reverence (aspasmon kai timetiken proskunesin), not indeed the true worship (latreiav) which is fitting (prepei) for the Divine nature alone; but to these, as to the figure (tupo) of the holy and life-giving Cross, and to the holy Gospels, and to the other sacred objects, incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom. For the honor which is paid to the picture (eikon) passes on to that which the picture represents, and he who reveres (proskunon) the picture reveres in it the subject represented.
It is important to note that the word used to denote the veneration of relative worship offered to the icons is proskunesis, which was used of the honor and reverence paid to the memorials and portraits of the Emperor.
So it is that the teaching of our holy Fathers, that is, the Tradition of the Catholic Church, which from one end of the earth to the other has received the Gospel, is strengthened. And so it is that we follow Paul, who spoke in Christ, and the entire, divine apostolic company and the holy fathers, holding fast the traditions which we have received. So we sing prophetically the triumphal hymns of the Church: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: rejoice and be glad with all thine heart. The Lord hath taken away from thee the oppression of thine enemies. The Lord is a King in the midst of thee; thou shalt not see evil any more, and peace shall be unto thee for ever [Zeph. 3:14‑15, Septuagint].”
Those, therefore, who dare to think or teach otherwise, or who follow the wicked heretics to spurn the traditions of the Church and to invent some novelty, or who reject some of those things which the Church has received (e.g., the Book of the Gospels, or the image of the Cross, or the pictorial icons, or the holy relics of a martyr), or who devise perverted and evil prejudices against cherishing the lawful traditions of the Catholic Church, or who turn to common uses the sacred vessels of the venerable monasteries, we command that they be deposed if they be Bishops or Clerics and excommunicated if they be monks or lay people.
Then come the anathemas against iconoclasm which are printed in chapter eleven above.
The content of this decree concerning images/icons may be summarized by saying the following:
1. The offering of adoration (latreia) to any created person or thing is idolatry and is forbidden by God.
2. The sacred pictures, the icons, are to be given veneration (proskunesis) according to holy tradition.
3. The icons are useful for instruction in the Faith.
4. The icons are required to preserve the truth that Jesus Christ is a real Person with true manhood and he was not merely a fantasy, theory or idea.
5. The veneration given to the icon passes on to the person, human or angelic, whom the icon represents.
6. The Lord Jesus Christ is truly God and truly Man. In his Godhead he is uncircumscribed, but in his Manhood he is limited and thus may be portrayed in painting, mosaic or other suitable materials.
The translator, Dr. Henry R. Percival, to whom we are all greatly indebted for his work on the Seven Councils, makes the following comments in his introduction to his translation of the Decree of Nicea (787):
The Council decreed that similar veneration and honor should be paid to the representations of the Lord and of the Saints as was accustomed to be paid to the “laurata” and tablets representing the Christian emperors, to wit, that they should be bowed to, and saluted with kisses, and attended with lights and the offering of incense. But the Council was most explicit in declaring that this was merely a veneration of honor and affection, such as can be given to the creature, and that under no circumstances could the adoration of divine worship be given to them but to God alone. (Percival, Seven Councils, p. 526.)
Then, to make the distinction between veneration and worship as clear as possible, Dr. Percival added:
The Greek language has in this respect a great advantage over the Hebrew, the Latin and the English; it has a word which is a general word and is properly used of the affectionate regard and veneration shown to any person or thing, whether to the divine Creator or to any of his creatures, this word is proskunesis; it has also another word which can properly be used to denote only the worship due to the most high God, this word is latreia. When then the Council defined that the worship of “latria” was never to be given to any but God alone, it cut off all possibility for idolatry, mariolatry, iconolatry, or any other latry, except theolatry. If, therefore, any of these other “latrines” exist or have existed, they exist or have existed not in accordance with, but in defiance of, the decree of the Second Council of Nicea. (Ibid., pp. 526–27.)
In the light of the lack of exact, equivalent terms for proskunesis and latreia in Latin and English it is not perhaps surprising that the Decree of this Council has been both badly translated and greatly misunderstood in the West. The simplest way to state the relation of proskunesis and latreia is to picture two circles which have the same center, with the larger (proskunesis) including the smaller (latreia).
The nature of the icon is very different from that of the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. Again Paul Evdokimov in The Art of the Icon (1990), provides an explanation which is helpful:
The icon finds its place on a totally different level and thus escapes any charge of idolatry. The very word icon (from the word eiko and meaning likeness, similitude) suppresses any identification and underlines the difference in nature between the image and its prototype, “between the representation and what is represented.” We can never say that “the icon is Christ” as we say that “this bread is the body of Christ.” This would obviously be idolatry. The icon is an image which witnesses to a presence in a very specific way: it allows a prayerful communion with the glorified nature of Christ; it is, however, not a eucharistic communion, that is, substantial. It is rather a spiritual communion, a mystical communion with the Person of Christ.
And he continues:
The icon brings about a meeting in prayer, without localizing this communion in the icon as a material object. The meeting nonetheless takes place through and with the icon as a vehicle of the presence. In an icon, the Hypostasis, Christ’s person, “enhypostasizes” not a substance (wood and colors) but the likeness. It is the likeness alone and not the board that is the meeting place where we encounter the presence.
Further, he makes clear the importance of focusing on the “likeness:”
This likeness is fundamental to an understanding of the real nature of the icon. It is tied solely to the contemplation of the Church. This is how, in truth, the Church sees Christ liturgically... The mystery of the icon resides in this dynamic and mysterious likeness with the prototype, with the whole Christ, a likeness attested by the Church. (Ibid., pp. 195–96.)
Finally, connecting all this with the doctrine of the enhypostasis developed by Leontius (see chap. 9, p. 146 above) and accepted in the Orthodox Church, Evdokimov states:
The notion of enhypostatos is at the base of the Fathers’ doctrine. It explains how, through the image, we can invoke the presence of its prototype. (Ibid., p. 198.)
FOR FURTHER READING
The documents relating to the Council in Percival, Seven Councils, are invaluable; Meyendorff’s book, Christ in Eastern Thought, is of great help, as is also Leo D. Davis’s historical account in The First Seven Ecumenical Councils. Finally, see St. John of Damascus, On the Divine Images, trans. David Anderson (Crestwood, NY: St. Valdimir’s Seminary Press, 1980).
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever declares the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews (13:8). This is the glorious truth of Christianity. In God’s economy, Jesus Christ is always the same: he does not change! Yesterday, while on earth as the Incarnate Son, Jesus “in the days of his flesh offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears unto him [the Father] who was able to save him from death” (5:7). Today he represents his people in the presence of the Father as the high priest who is able to sympathize with them in their weakness, because “in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Forever he lives “to make intercession for them” (7:25) to the Father in heaven.
It is the truth concerning this Jesus Christ, now exalted in heaven as the great high priest, which is declared by the Ecumenical Councils. For Jesus to be the same yesterday, today and forever in the dynamic meaning of the Letter to the Hebrews, he also had to be (as Heb. 1–2 makes clear) the eternal, unchanging Son of the Father. Before all ages and through all ages and unto all ages he is the only-begotten Son of the Father. As the Word and the Son of the Father he will not change! Yet, without ceasing to be who he was and is, he did take to himself human nature in the womb of Mary, the Theotokos.
Thus, in both an economic sense (Heb. 13:8) and an ontological sense (orthodox dogma) he is truly the same yesterday, today and forever. The truth set forth in Scripture and the truth set forth in the doctrinal decrees of the Councils is one truth, expressed in two complementary forms. And the Church needs both forms!
This one Truth is the common possession of all Christians for all space and time until Jesus by his Parousia and Second Coming truly declares to the whole cosmos that he is the Lord and also that he is the same yesterday, today and forever.
For the traditional Orthodox or Roman Catholic the decrees of the Seven Councils are received as holy Tradition, which cannot be changed, only further expanded. There may be some debate as to the precise meaning of the dogma, but its authority as Church teaching is not in doubt. This being so, it is the constant prayer of many that the world will witness a continued, expanding, informed and joyous commitment to the doctrinal decrees of these Councils and to their implications for worship and evangelism, by Bishops, theologians, clergy and people, of both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. This enlarging embrace and celebration of orthodoxy will, of course, necessarily mean the recognition and rejection of heresies, errors and false religion, which are as much a problem today as they were yesterday. (See Appendix I for details of error entering the Roman Catholic Church through inaccurate translations.) Further, we may suggest that such a dynamic and wholehearted recovery of holy dogma would have repercussions through the ecumenical movement upon Protestantism worldwide.
For traditional Protestants the authority of the dogma of the Councils is not so straightforward as it is for Catholics of the East and West. They are ready and enthusiastic to say that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever;” but they say that the teaching of the Councils is to be received only if and where it is in agreement with the content and intention of the Holy Scriptures. So there has been a general readiness in the conservative Reformed and Lutheran traditions to accept the patristic doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of Christology because they are seen as either within or required by the Holy Scriptures, as they interpret them. However, there has been a general hesitancy in these traditions to call Mary the Theotokos and a definite refusal to follow the teaching of Nicea II on the veneration of icons.
Anglicanism, which learned to see itself as expressing an English form of Reformed Catholicism, began its modern existence in the sixteenth century during the reign of Henry VIII and his successors in England. It has always had a special respect for the teaching of the first four Ecumenical Councils (comparing and linking Four Councils to Four Gospels) and has also quietly accepted that of the Fifth and Sixth. But its attitude towards the decrees of the Seventh Council, Nicea II, has not been consistent, primarily because the teaching on the veneration of icons was originally interpreted through the excessive, western veneration (sometimes idolatry) of images (which Protestants of the sixteenth century strongly opposed). This attitude, with its sustained appeal to Scriptural texts, is most clearly seen in the iconoclast rhetoric and teaching of the lengthy homily, “Against Peril of Idolatry,” in The Second Book of Homilies (1563), authorized by Queen Elizabeth for clergy to read in church instead of preaching a sermon.
To appreciate this position of the Church of England in the late sixteenth century, we must notice two authoritative statements from the Church on the General or Ecumenical Councils. First, the twenty-first Article of the doctrinal statement known as the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1571) declares:
General Councils may not (non possunt) be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and the Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.
To set this statement in context, we must bear in mind that the Council of Trent was then in session and that this Roman Catholic Council, which was anti‑Protestant, had been called into session not by Kings (Princes) but by the Pope alone! Further, Protestants knew about such councils as the “Robber Council” of 449.
In chapter XIV of the Reformatio Legum Ecciesiasticarum (1553), which replaced the books of medieval canon law in the Church of England, the mind of this Church is expressed in these terms:
Though we gladly give honor to the Councils, especially those that are General, we judge that they ought to be placed far below the dignity of canonical Scriptures: and we make a great distinction between the Councils themselves. For some of them, especially these four (the Council of Nicea, the first Council of Constantinople, and the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon) we embrace and receive with great reverence. And we bear the same judgment about many others held afterwards, in which we see and confess that the most holy fathers gave many weighty and holy decisions according to the Divine Scriptures, about the blessed and supreme Trinity, about Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, and the redemption of man obtained through him. But we think that our faith ought not to be bound by them, except so far as they can be confirmed by Holy Scripture. For it is manifest that some Councils have sometimes erred, and defined contrary to one another, partly on actions of law and partly even of faith.
If Article XXI is read in the light of this explanation, then it is reasonably clear that the first four Councils, at least, are not included in the list of those which erred. Other sources (e.g., the homily “Against Peril of Idolatry”) speak of a total of Six Ecumenical Councils being received as teaching the truth of the Faith. However, as we noted above, there has been ambivalence or confusion concerning the Seventh Council. Little was known of it in the West in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and where it was known, it was known in a misleading translation – e.g., proskunesis was rendered by adoratio, which meant that the fine distinction of meaning in the Greek text between genuine worship (latreia = adoration) of God as God and veneration (proskunesis) of icons of Jesus, the Angels and the Saints was lost in the Latin text!
There is no official Statement of the Church of England or of the Anglican Communion of Churches, which explicitly states that the doctrinal decrees of Nicea II are to be accepted. Yet, since many Anglicans have used and do use icons (especially since the rise of the Anglo-Catholic movement in the mid-nineteenth century) in the spirit of the teaching of Nicea II, it is probably right to say that the Anglican Communion of Churches does not reject, and for all practical purposes accepts, the doctrinal teaching of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
Of course, if Protestants in general and Anglicans in particular, were to receive the whole Faith which is presupposed, declared and explained in the decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, this commitment would require adjustments or even major changes in their practical expression of Christianity today. Their Liturgies and forms of worship, their Spirituality, their Dogmatics (Systematic Theology), their evaluation of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, their doctrine and practice of the ordained ministry, their church discipline, and their reading and interpreting of the Bible would all be candidates for renewal.
A final thought – anyone who studies the Seven Councils and their decrees cannot avoid such questions as: Is there a way to the truth, concerning Who is God?, Who is Jesus?, and What is the Gospel?, as stated in a propositional and rational form, without long and bitter controversies? Is it possible to have Church dogma without first having painful and demanding debate? Now, if it be the case that the Church did actually arrive at Truth in her dogma of the Holy Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ made known in two natures, then one must concede that Truth as addressed to the thinking mind (in contrast to Truth as presented in the common sense approach of the Gospels) requires debate for its clarification and final statement. Hopefully, that debate need not always be such as to make hearts bitter.
Further, in order for the Church to maintain in different centuries, places and languages the same dogma, there will need to be not only explanatory teaching to state what the received dogma is, but also debate to find the appropriate forms of its expression at any one time and place. And, since it seems that there are always people in the Church who revive discarded heresies – Arianism, Sabellianism, Unitarianism, Adoptionism, Nestorianism and Monophysitism – there will always also be need for controversy in order to defend the received dogma and to set aside alternative, erroneous forms of teaching. In other words, the Church will always need her servants who do for their generations what Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers and Leo the Great did for their own.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen
I Believe/We Believe
Prior to the year 325, all creeds were local in character. They were particularly associated with the preparation for baptism and the rite of baptism itself. From 325, a new custom developed of Bishops in synods producing creeds as tests of orthodoxy. Creeds for catechumens began with the words “I believe,” while those produced by synods began with the words “We believe.”
The most important examples of creeds as tests of orthodoxy are the Nicene Creed of 325, known as “the Creed of the 318 Fathers,” and the Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, known as “the Creed of the 150 Fathers.” Since the Middle Ages the latter has been called “the Nicene Creed,” which is a little confusing since the Creed of 381 is not identical with that of 325.
After the Council of Constantinople produced its Creed, it was then used in the local churches of the East as a baptismal Creed. Thus it was used in the form, “I believe.” In the latter part of the fifth century, this same Creed, still in the first person singular, was introduced into the Eucharist, first by the Monophysites (to emphasize their commitment to orthodoxy) and then by the Chalcedonians (or Catholics). Thus, it became a standard feature of the Divine Liturgy of the East.
Much later it was introduced into the Latin Liturgy of the West, where the usual Creed for Catechumens and Baptism was known as the Apostles’ Creed. The Nicene Creed in the Liturgy began, as in the East, with the first person singular, “I believe” (Credo), and was in every way an honest translation, except that this Latin Creed had an extra phrase, filioque (= “and the Son”), which came after the words “who proceeds from the Father.” Therefore, the Latin Nicene Creed contained the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit, “from the Father and the Son,” in contrast to the single procession of the original Creed of Constantinople (381).
In English, the translation of the Latin Nicene Creed which has been most widely known since the sixteenth century is that found in the Book of Common Prayer (1549) of the Church of England.
I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man: And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried: And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father: And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the Prophets: And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church: I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins: And I look for the Resurrection of the dead: And the life of the world to come. Amen.
Somehow the “holy” as a description of the Church got left out of this translation by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Otherwise, it is a fairly literal translation of the Latin text used in the Latin Mass of the later Middle Ages. The Latin equivalent of the Greek, homoousion to patri, was consubstantialem Patri, and is rendered “of one substance with the Father.” Another way of translating the phrase would have been “consubstantial with the Father” B as became common in later Roman Catholic translations.
Since the Second Vatican Council and the arrival on the ecclesiastical scene of new liturgies, there have come various attempts to introduce new translations of the “Nicene Creed” into the liturgies for the Eucharist. The one which is found in the modern Roman Catholic Mass, as well as in the new Prayer Books of Anglican Churches, was produced by the International Committee on English Texts in the 1970s. It is as follows:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all this is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father. Through whom all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Obviously, this is a very different translation to that of the older Anglican Prayer Book and, importantly, the difference is not related to only changes in the use and meaning of the English language since the sixteenth century.
It appears that this modern translation was intended to introduce the possibility (or the reality) of revised dogma into the Church. The following are specific examples of this revisionism.
(i) As the Creed of the baptized faithful who meet to offer Thanksgiving in the Eucharist, the Creed should begin with the words, “I believe...” All the baptized together should say, “I believe...,” for this Faith is the personal faith of each one! The use of “We believe...” is obviously contrary to the best Tradition, for it confuses a synodical Creed with a baptismal Creed.
Apparently, what lies behind the “we” is an attempt by modern liturgists to forge a “community” (a word which carries heavy secular overtones in American English) out of alienated individuals (i.e., modern people without roots). Thus, the Church is described as “the community of faithful individuals”; a sociological aim causes a change in the wording of the Creed of the holy Eucharist. The truth is that Christians come at God’s call to the Eucharist as baptized believers; in the Creed they speak as particular persons, united in the Body of Christ in and by the Holy Spirit, as they each take full responsibility for their baptismal relation to the Father through the Son and in the Spirit.
The traditional use of “I” actually contains a meaning which we find hard to embrace living within the reality of modern individualism. The Church is one; she is a person, for she is the Bride of Christ. She is also our mother and teacher. Thus, to say “I believe...” is to accept that the Church corporately is the primary believer, and that each baptized believer is making the faith of the Church his own when reciting the Creed.1
1 The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) states in paragraph 167 that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (i.e., the Nicene Creed) is the Faith confessed by the bishops assembled in council (as in 381) “or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers.” This latter statement seems to open the door to justify the ICET “We believe...” translation.
(ii) In the first paragraph, which confesses faith in the Father as Creator, there is one major problem. The better translation is “visible and invisible.” “Seen and unseen” is misguided, even mischievous. The word “invisible” suggests that it is impossible for the human eye to see the object in question (e.g., the seraphim). In contrast, the word “unseen” allows for that which is not now seen to be seen later under different conditions. It is interesting to note that modern biblical translations render ta orata kai to aorata (Colossians 1:15 and the exact words of the Creed) as “visible and invisible,” not as “seen and unseen.” Why did the translators of the Creed render the Greek words as “seen and unseen”? The probability is that the influence of the German Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, caused the Committee to choose “seen and unseen.” Behind these words lie his views on transcendentals, which are a not to be identified with the invisible world of angels and archangels. The intended meaning appears to be that what is now unseen will be seen as our mental and spiritual horizons enlarge!
(iii) In the second paragraph there are two major problems. First, instead of homoousios being translated, “one substance” or “consubstantial” [with the Father], the text has “of one Being” (where “Being” is capitalized). Again it appears that Rahner’s influence was at work here. (It has been well said that Rahner and the other transcendental Thomists are “Aquikantists”, attempting to square the circle by synthesizing St. Thomas with Immanuel Kant.) The doctrine of the Creed is that the Son possesses and shares the same, the identical, the numerically one Godhead or Deity with, the Father. Regrettably, the phrase, “of one Being,” does not convey this foundational dogma with sufficient clarity for it allows for a generic unity (in contrast to a numerical unity) in the Godhead. Further, it may be read in the sense that the Father and the Son are one Being – that is, One God who has Two Names or Two Modes of Being. It is interesting to note that the English translations used in the various jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church usually have “one in essence” or “coessential” as the translation of homoousios.
Also, in the second paragraph there are the added words “by the power of,” with reference to the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary. In neither the Greek nor the Latin text of the original Creed are any words to be found which could be translated “by the power of.” They are an unlawful and deliberately misleading addition by the modern translators (who also made the same addition to the Apostles’ Creed.) Incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Vìrgine et homofactus est translates as “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” Likewise, kai sarkothenta ek Pneumatos Agiou kai Marias tes parthenou kai enanthropesanta translates as “and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.”
Why did the Committee do it? Because, as their published Notes explain, some of their number wanted to make the conception of Jesus appear like the conception of Isaac and John the Baptist. The point of the Creed is, however, that the Word became the Word Incarnate by the Holy Spirit’s unique presence and action in and upon the Virgin. All animals and all human beings are conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, for he is present in Creation as the Creator; but only Jesus was uniquely conceived by the Holy Spirit, for he had no human father and was sent by the Father to be the New and Second Adam. The expression “the power of the Highest” in Luke 1:35 is a name of Yahweh, the LORD, and cannot be used (as is often done) to justify this addition to the text of the original Creed. In fact, to use this modern translation and know what is being stated is to embrace heresy – that the conception of Jesus was not unique, only remarkable! It is to suggest that he actually had a human father.
More recently, the tendency in modern liturgical circles has been to translate the Creed within the rubrics required by inclusive language. This also is the policy followed by the Jesuit scholars in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (ed. N. J. Tanner), where we have the phrases “for us humans” and “he became human and was crucified.” However, when it comes to the homoousios the translation is “consubstantial with the Father” and, in reference to the conception of Jesus by Mary, “incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” (there is no “by the power of” the Holy Spirit!).
In summary, those who wish to be faithful to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, to the Church their Mother and Teacher, and to the Orthodox Faith set forth in the ancient councils and by the Church in her authentic Liturgy (lex orandi: lex credendi) must recite the authentic Creed in an honest translation. That of Dr. J. N. D. Kelly, which we have used in this book, is such a translation of the original Creed. Regrettably the so-called Nicene Creed in the modern Roman and Anglican Liturgies is not truly the Creed of Constantinople (381). It is the Creed of post-Vatican II theological liberalism.
New Formula: Novel Doctrine
The formula “God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is being increasingly used by Christians of varying persuasions – liberal and conservative, traditional and modern, Protestant and Catholic. It occurs in a variety of written sources from liturgies, from catechisms to theological studies. For example, there are traces of it in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) where in paragraph 257 we read, “God is love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (cf. also paragraph 261).
As far as I know, there is no evidence for the use of this formula in official English statements of the Christian Faith before the 1960s; likewise, there is, as far as I can tell, little or no evidence for its use by theologians before the post-World War II period.
Therefore, the question arises as to whether or not it is an acceptable statement of Christian orthodoxy. Of course, it may be an acceptable statement of heterodoxy, but our concern is to ascertain if it conveys the truth of the dogma of the Blessed Holy and Undivided Trinity of the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils.
THE RECEIVED TRADITION
Throughout its long history the Church has used certain formulas in her naming of the Holy Trinity. These include:
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
The Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you forever.
In the decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the shortest and clearest statement of the dogma and doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the first anathema of the Fifth Council, that of Constantinople II (553).
If anyone does not confess one nature or substance, one power and authority, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, consubstantial Trinity, one Deity worshipped in three hypostases or persons, let him be anathema. For there is one God and Father, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and one Holy Spirit, in whom are all things.
Here the first sentence is what the Fathers called “theology” proper – the dogma of the Holy Trinity, One ousia and three hypostaseis. The second sentence is the Trinity known in the economy – God–as–God–is–towards–us/the world. In the doctrine of the economic Trinity, God is always “the Father,” the Father who has an Only-begotten Son and a Holy Spirit – the Father who is facing the world as Creator and Redeemer.
In the historic liturgies of the Church (e.g. those of St. Chrysostom, St. Basil, the Roman Rite from the late patristic era and Archbishop Cranmer ), we find both the dogma of the Holy Trinity and the expression of the economy of the Trinity. The Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit; the sacrifice of praise is offered by the assembly to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. Yet, alongside and inside the celebration of the economy of God, there are expressions of the dogma of the Trinity (e.g. in the Nicene Creed and the Prefaces of the Eucharistic Prayer, where the Son is said to be consubstantial with the Father).
A NEW TRADITION INTRODUCED
In modern times, the Episcopal Church in the USA has pioneered the new formula – “God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” – in Liturgy and Catechism. Other Churches such as the Anglican Church of Canada followed its lead. Therefore, we shall study its appearance within authorized Episcopal sources.
The Episcopal Church liturgists, who in the 1960s and 1970s produced what became the authorized Prayer Book (1979), decided to create a new way of speaking of and/or addressing “God” as “Trinity” to accompany the traditional, received ones which we noted above. Students of liturgy and doctrine are first aware of this novel formula in the misleading translation of the ancient Greek evening hymn, Phos Hilaron, in the Rite I service of Evening Prayer (p. 64). Here we have the line, “We sing thy praises, O God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” If we take the colon seriously, this suggests that the one God who is addressed merely has three names and/or three attributes, rather than three subsisting Persons. Further, since the praise is addressed to “thee” (singular), the impression given (perhaps through a faulty employment of Elizabethan English) is that a modalistic one God with three names or attributes is the object of the singing (“thy praise”). Anyone who reads the original Greek could never come to such an impression and conclusion!
It is, however, in the Holy Eucharist that the new formula is most obviously encountered. In the Acclamation at the beginning of the Holy Eucharist are these sentences:
Celebrant: Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
People: And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.
The Acclamation is in both Rite I and II, as well as in the three Ordination services for Deacon, Priest and Bishop. Thus it is deeply ingrained in the public services. Further, the novel formula is also used in the Catechism of the 1979 Book.
In the Catechism, in answer to the question “What [not Who] is the Trinity?” we are told that “The Trinity is one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (p. 852). The word “what” points to the way in which the “one God” is known – in three names, as modes, expressions or attributes. The use of the word “who,” by contrast, would have pointed to Persons, and therefore would have required the omission of the colon and the addition of definite articles.
What is wrong with this Acclamation? To answer this question we need to note the important Blessing on which it is based. It was an intentional rewriting of the Blessing from the beginning of the Liturgy of the Catechumens in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. In the latter, the priest blesses the people as he holds the Book of the Gospels saying: “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages.” This blessing recognizes that there is one divine kingdom, but that there are three divine Persons in the one Godhead. Thus, this kingdom is the kingdom of all Three. It is “their” kingdom.
The Episcopalian revision of the Orthodox Blessing first of all addresses a “God” who is neither specifically “the Father” (as in the New Testament) nor “the Godhead” (as in the traditional Western theology of Augustine and Aquinas). Instead, “God” is the Divine Being, the one Person, who has three names or attributes – “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” That is, God is One, but is a triad in the sense that he has three special names or three modes of expression. (It is worthy of note that since 1979 it has become common in parts of the ECUSA to change the three names/attributes to “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier,” to avoid all male images.) Apparently this “God” is like a triangle or a three-leaf clover in that, while he is really One, he is both manifested and experienced as threefold. The force of the colon between “God” and “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is to suggest the equivalency of what is at each side of the colon.
Since the response of the people in the Acclamation is, “And blessed be his kingdom...,” where the pronoun, his, is obviously in the singular, then the meaning suggested/intended is that there is one “God” – the “God” who has the three names, attributes or expressions. If “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” are intended not merely to be names, but truly the Names of Three distinct Persons (Gk. hypostases and prosopa) as the Church has taught concerning the Trinity, then the pronoun should be “their.” For the kingdom is the kingdom of the Three Persons – the Father, the Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit of the Father. They are Three Persons who share the one, identical divine nature and Godhead.
We conclude that this Formula is not a genuinely Christian Trinitarian statement, whether it occurs in official liturgies or in theological books. The formula seems to be closely related to the tendency in western theology from early times through to modern theology to think of God as a Person with three names. Historically, the formula belongs to the form of statement associated with the heresy of Sabellianism, a heresy which was often anathematized by the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Further, the Western Creed known as the Quicunque Vult (The Athanasian Creed) was produced in the fifth century to keep the Latin Church free of Sabellianism – i.e., free from the teaching that God is One as a simple rather than complex unity, who is experienced in three expressions, as fatherly, as in Jesus and as Spirit.
Further, in the 1960s and the 1970s, it was common in Anglican theological circles to speak of the one, personal God in terms of three Manifestations or Modes of Being. These were Primordial Being ( the Father), Expressive Being (= the Son) and Unitive Being (= the Holy Spirit). Thus Holy Being, it was said, had let itself be known in this threefold symbolism. It is very probable that such theological concepts influenced the creators of the new liturgies.
The late Dr. Mascall, in a piece entitled “Quicunque Vult? Anglican Unitarians,” had this to say about the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity:
The Trinity is not primarily a doctrine, any more than the incarnation is primarily a doctrine. There is a doctrine about the Trinity, as there are doctrines about many other facts of existence, but, if Christianity is true, the Trinity is not a doctrine; the Trinity is God. And the fact that God is Trinity – that in a profound and mysterious way there are three divine Persons eternally united in one life of complete perfection and beatitude – is not a piece of gratuitous mystification, thrust by dictatorial clergymen down the throats of an unwilling and helpless laity, and therefore to be accepted, if at all, with reluctance and discontent. It is the secret of God’s most intimate life and being, into which, in his infinite love and generosity, he has admitted us; and is therefore to be accepted with amazed and exultant gratitude. (Whatever Happened to the Human Mind?, pp. 117–18.)
The God whom the true Christian Church proclaims is the fundamentally triune God of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is not a unitarian God to whom the trinitarian character is attached as a kind of secondary, symbolic appendage.
[For more concerning the revised doctrines of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer see Peter Toon, Proclaiming the Gospel in the Liturgy….]
The Council of Trent on Images
[Session 25. Translation from Percival, Seven Councils, p. 551. There is a modern translation in Tanner, Decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, vol. II, pp. 774 ff.]
The holy synod enjoins on all bishops, and others sustaining the office and charge of teaching that, according to the usage of the Catholic and Apostolic Church received from the primitive times of the Christian religion, and according to the consent of the holy Fathers, and to the decrees of sacred councils, they especially instruct the faithful diligently touching the intercession and invocation of saints; the honor paid to relics; and the lawful use of images B teaching them, that the saints, who reign together with Christ, offer up their own prayers to God for men; that it is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to resort to their prayers, aid and help, for obtaining benefits from God, through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who alone is our Redeemer and Saviour; but that they think impiously, who deny that the saints, who enjoy eternal happiness in heaven, are to be invoked; or who assert either that they do not pray for men; or, that the invocation of them to pray for each of us, even in particular, is idolatry; or, that it is repugnant to the word of God, and is opposed to the honor of the one Mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus, or, that it is foolish to supplicate, orally or inwardly, those who reign in heaven.
Also, that the holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ, which were the living members of Christ, and the temples of the Holy Ghost, and which are by him to be raised unto eternal life, and to be glorified, are to be venerated by the faithful, through which [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men; so that they who affirm that veneration and honor are not due to the relics of saints; or, that these, and other sacred monuments, are uselessly honored by the faithful; and that the places dedicated to the memories of the Saints are vainly visited for the purpose of obtaining their aid; are wholly to be condemned, as the Church has already long since condemned, and doth now also condemn them.
Moreover, that the images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God and of the other Saints, are to be had and retained particularly in temples, and that due honor and veneration are to be awarded them; not that any divinity or virtue is believed to be in them, on account of which they are to be worshipped; or that anything is to be asked of them; or that confidence is to be reposed in images, as was of old done by Gentiles, who placed their hope in idols; but because the honor which is shown unto them is referred to the prototypes which they represent; in such wise that by the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover the head, and prostrate ourselves, we adore Christ, and venerate the Saints, whose similitude they bear. And this, by the decrees of councils, and especially of the second Synod of Nicea, has been ordained against the opponents of images.
And the bishops shall carefully teach this; that, by means of the histories of the mysteries of our Redemption, depicted by paintings or other representations, the people are instructed, and strengthened in remembering, and continually reflecting on the articles of faith; as also that great profit is derived from all sacred images, not only because the people are thereby admonished of the benefits and gifts which have been bestowed upon them by Christ, but also because the miracles of God through the means of the Saints, and their salutary examples, are set before the eyes of the faithful; that so, for those things they may give God thanks; may order their own life and manners in imitation of the Saints; and may be excited to adore and love God, and to cultivate piety. But, if any one shall teach or think contrary to these decrees, let him be anathema.
And if any abuses have crept in amongst these holy and salutary observances, the holy synod earnestly desires that they be utterly abolished; in such wise that no images conducive to false doctrine, and furnishing occasion of dangerous error to the uneducated, be set up. And if at times, when it shall be expedient for the unlearned people, it happen that the histories and narratives of Holy Scripture are portrayed and represented; the people shall be taught, that not thereby is the Divinity represented, as though it could be perceived by the eyes of the body, or be depicted by colors or figures. Moreover, in the invocation of saints, the veneration of relics, and the sacred use of images, every superstition shall be removed, all filthy lucre be abolished, finally, all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a wantonness of beauty: nor shall men also pervert the celebration of the saints, and the visitation of relics, into revelings and drunkenness; as if festivals are celebrated to the honor of the saints by luxury and wantonness. Finally, let so great care and diligence be used by bishops touching these matters, as that there appear nothing disorderly, or unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing profane, nothing indecorous; since holiness becometh the house of God.
And that these things may be the more faithfully observed, the holy synod ordains, that it be lawful for no one to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image in any place, or church, howsoever exempted, except it shall have been approved of by the bishop: also, that no new miracles are to be admitted, or new relics received, unless the said bishop has taken cognizance and approved thereof; who, as soon as he has obtained some certain information in regard of these matters shall, after having taken advice with theologians, and other pious men, act therein as he shall judge to be agreeable to truth and piety. But if any doubtful, or difficult abuse is to be extirpated, or, in fine, if any more serious question shall arise touching these matters, the bishop, before he decides the controversy, shall await the sentence of the metropolitan and of the bishops of the same province, in a provincial council; yet so, that nothing new, or that has not previously been usual in the Church, shall be decreed, without the most holy Roman Pontiff having been first consulted.
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