Archive for February, 2023
The Chalcedonian Definition
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Council of Chalcedon, Ekklesia and church on February 9, 2023
October 23, 2018
By Donald Fairbairn
Dr. Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
The first thing one should notice from the title of this post is that the document produced at the Council of Chalcedon in October 451 was not a “creed”; it was a “definition.”
A creed, properly speaking, is not a statement of what Christians believe about our faith (That would be a “confession.”). Instead, a creed is a pledge of allegiance to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Creeds answer the question, “In whom do you believe?” more than the question “What do you believe?”
Creeds were originally intended for liturgical use, as the people of God affirmed their allegiance to the persons of the Trinity prior to baptism or the celebration of the Eucharist. In contrast, a definition is a commentary on a creed, designed to give more terminological precision to the content of that creed.
The Council of Chalcedon
At the Council of Chalcedon (the Fourth Ecumenical Council in the Greco-Roman world), the bishops who assembled were firmly convinced that the Nicene Creed was sufficient to affirm their faith in God, his Son, and his Spirit.
They were right: the Nicene Creed clearly identifies each of the divine persons, shows that they are equal to one another, and emphasizes that for us and for our salvation, the Son came down from heaven through the incarnation. At the same time, the bishops at Chalcedon were under intense pressure from the Emperor [Marcian] to produce a new creed, because he wanted to be able to call himself a new Constantine, presiding over the writing of a creed as Constantine had done at Nicaea in 325. The bishops also recognized that they needed more specificity than the Nicene Creed gave about how to understand Christ as both divine and human. As a result, they decided to write not a creed, but a “definition.”
Contrary to popular opinion, the Chalcedonian Definition is actually about five pages long— far too long to recite as part of a worship service. It includes the full text of two different version of the Nicene Creed: the original form from the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325, and the expanded version (the one familiar to us) from the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381.
It includes descriptions of heresies that had arisen since 381 (Nestorianism—which regarded Christ not as God the Son incarnate but as a man inspired by God, and Eutychianism— which truncated the full humanity of the incarnate Son by refusing to accept his consubstantiality with us). Then the Definition concludes with a paragraph that gives specificity and terminological precision to the church’s articulation of the incarnate Christ. This paragraph is usually regarded mistakenly as being the entire definition, but with that mistake duly noted, it is still worth our while to read and consider that paragraph.
As I translate it, the paragraph reads as follows:
“Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all unite in teaching that we should confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This same one is perfect in deity, and the same one is perfect in humanity; the same one is true God and true man, comprising a rational soul and a body. He is of the same essence (homousios) as the Father according to his deity, and the same one is of the same essence (homousios) with us according to his humanity, like us in all things except sin. He was begotten before the ages from the Father according to his deity, but in the last days for us and our salvation, the same one was born of the Virgin Mary, the bearer of God (Theotokos), according to his humanity. He is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, and Only Begotten, who is made known in two natures (physeis) united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably. The distinction between the natures (physeis) is not at all destroyed because of the union, but rather the property of each nature (physis) is preserved and concurs together into one person (prosopon) and subsistence (hypostasis). He is not separated or divided into two persons (prosopa), but he is one and the same Son, the Only Begotten, God the Logos, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way the prophets spoke of him from the beginning, and Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and the Council of the fathers has handed the faith down to us.”
There are several things we should notice. First, even if one looks only at this paragraph rather than at the whole definition, it is obvious that it was not meant to be recited in church. It is written to teachers and leaders, indicating what we should teach about Christ. It is not a pledge of allegiance on the order of “we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ.” The Chalcedonian Definition seeks to affirm that the Son, who is fully equal to the Father, has genuinely become fully human without ceasing to be divine, in order to accomplish our salvation.
Second, this paragraph, like the definition as a whole, is a commentary on one line of the Nicene Creed, the line that asserts that for us and for our salvation, the Son came down from heaven and was incarnated. Accordingly, this paragraph insists in no uncertain terms that the man Jesus after the incarnation is the same person as the eternal Son of God before the incarnation. The phrases “the same one” and “one and the same” occur eight times in this brief paragraph. This personal continuity between the eternal Son and the man Jesus is essential: Jesus is not (as Nestorius believed) a man with a special connection to God. He is God the Son himself, who is now fully human because he has become incarnate.
Third, this paragraph provides much more specificity than the Nicene Creed about what it meant for the Son to come down through the incarnation. It uses the Greek word physis in the sense of “nature” (previously, many theologians had used that word differently), and thus it indicates that the incarnate Son is made known “in two natures” (deity and humanity). It uses two Greek words, prosopon and hypostasis, in the sense of “person,” and thus emphasizes that the Son is a single person—indeed, the same person before and after the incarnation.
Thus, the Chalcedonian Definition seeks to affirm that the Son, who is fully equal to the Father, has genuinely become fully human without ceasing to be divine, in order to accomplish our salvation.
Sadly, the definition proved to be tragically divisive, as many in the African and Asian churches misunderstood its use of the word physis and thought it was proclaiming the Son and Jesus as two different persons. But properly understood, the definition provides terminological precision for speaking theologically about the incarnation. It isn’t a creed and was never meant to be, but it helps the theologians—and the rest of us—understand what we mean when we say in the creed that the one who is “true God from true God” truly “came down from heaven and was incarnated and was made man.”
The Great Schism of 1054
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Ekklesia and church on February 5, 2023
The early united Christian Church consisted of five co-equal Patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. On July 16, 1054, Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius was excommunicated from the Christian church based in Rome, Italy. Cerularius’s excommunication was a breaking point in long-rising tensions between the Roman church based in Rome and the Byzantine church based in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The resulting split divided the European Christian church into two major branches: the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This split is known as the “Great Schism”, or the “Schism of 1054.”
The Great Schism came about due to a complex mix of religious disagreements and political conflicts festering within the church since the 8th century. From 756 to 857, the Roman papacy shifted from the orbit of the Byzantine Empire to that of the kings of the Franks. The period was characterized by “battles between Franks, Lombards and Romans for control of the Italian peninsula and of supreme authority within Christendom.”1
Some of the many religious disagreements between the western (Roman) and eastern (Byzantine) include:
- Disagreement over a unilateral Roman change to the Nicene Creed (of AD 325/381) adding the words “and the Son” (“filioque” in Latin), thus changing the ontological understanding of the Holy Spirit.
- Dispute whether or not it was acceptable to use unleavened bread for the sacrament of communion. (The west supported the practice, while the east did not.)
- Western belief that clerics should remain celibate.
Other than the dispute over the “filioque”, one can conclude that the remaining religious issues were mainly adiaphora, “indifferent things” that are neither right nor wrong, spiritually neutral things. Afterthoughts of man.
These religious disagreements were made worse by a variety of political conflicts, particularly regarding the power of Rome.
- Rome believed that the pope—the religious leader of the western Roman church—should have authority over the other four Christian Patriarchates— and thus have the religious authority over the eastern church and all of Christendom.
- Constantinople disagreed, pointing out that each of the five co-equal Patriarchates of the united church historically recognized their own leaders.
The western church eventually excommunicated Michael Cerularius and the entire eastern church. The eastern church retaliated by excommunicating the Roman pope Leo III and the Roman church with him.
The Schism became so politically charged that Western Latin Crusaders actually attacked and sacked the Eastern Byzantine capitol of Constantinople in 1204 during the corrupted Fourth Crusade. As with the religious disagreements, discussed above, these political conflicts were mainly adiaphora, “indifferent things”, that had little to no basis in spiritual matters. Afterthoughts of man.
This was the Great Schism of 1054.
1 Goodson, Caroline J. The Rome of Pope Paschal I: Papal Power, Urban Renovation, Church Rebuilding and Relic Translation, 817-824. Cambridge University Press. 2010
The Seven Ecumenical Councils
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Council of Chalcedon, Ekklesia and church on February 3, 2023
A Church Council is an official ad hoc gathering of representatives to settle Church business. Such Councils are called rarely and are not the same as the regular gatherings of church leaders (synods, etc.). An ecumenical council is one at which the whole Church is represented. The three major branches of the Church (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) recognize seven ecumenical councils: Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680), Nicaea II (787). Further ecumenical councils were rendered impossible by the widening split between Eastern (Orthodox, Greek-speaking) and Western (Catholic, Latin-speaking) Churches, a split that was rendered official in AD 1054 and has not yet been healed.
Note: In addition to these universally-acknowledged councils, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes a further fourteen ecumenical councils: Constantinople IV (869-70), Lateran I (1123), Lateran II (1139), Lateran III (1179), Lateran IV (1215), Lyons I (1245), Lyons II (1274), Vienne (1311-12), Constance (1414-18), Florence (1438-45), Lateran V (1512-17), Trent (1545-63), Vatican I (1869-70), Vatican II (1965). But these were councils of only the Catholic Church, and are not recognized by the Orthodox or Protestant Churches.
The Council of Nicaea, 325
In 324 Constantine became sole ruler of the Roman Empire, reuniting an empire that had been split among rival rulers since the retirement of Domitian in 305. Constantine, the first Christian emperor, reunified the empire but found the Church bitterly divided over the nature of Jesus Christ. He wanted to reunify the Church as he had reunified the Empire. The major dispute was over the teaching of Arius, but there were other doctrinal issues also.
- Arianism: teaching of Arius of Alexandria (d. 335), who believed that Jesus Christ was created ex nihilo (out of nothing) by the Father to be the means of creation and redemption. Jesus was fully human, but not fully divine. He was elevated as a reward for his successful accomplishment of his mission. The Arian rallying cry was “There was a time when the Son was not.”
- Monarchianism: defended the unity (mono arche, “one source”) of God by denying that the Son and the Spirit were separate persons.
- Sabellianism: a form of monarchianism taught by Sabellias, that God revealed himself in three successive modes, as Father (creator), as Son (redeemer), as Spirit (sustainer). Hence there is only one person in the Godhead.
Constantine summoned the bishops at imperial expense to Nicea, 30 miles from his imperial capital in Nicomedia. Here they were to settle their differences in a council over which he presided. The council rejected Arianism. The Council issued a creed based upon an existing baptismal creed from Syria and Palestine. This creed became known as the Nicene Creed, or Confession of the Faith.
The Council also issued a set of canons, primarily dealing with church order.
The Council of Constantinople, 381
The second council met in Constantinople, the new imperial capital. The council issued a new creed, clarifying the understanding of the Holy Spirit as a co-equal Person of the Trinitarian Godhead as expressed in the Nicene Creed adopted in 325. This creed became known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and remains the Confession of the Faith today in the Eastern Church.
Later, the Western Latin Church, under the influence of the Franks in the 8th century, unilaterally added a single word to the Creed, inserting Filioque “and the Son” to the statement about the Spirit, so as to read “the Spirit…proceeds from the Father and the Son.” In 867 the Patriarch of Constantinople declared Rome heretical for this clause. To this day the Western Church (Catholic and Protestant) accepts the filioque clause, while the Eastern Church (Orthodox) does not.
The Council of Ephesus, 431
Condemned Nestorius and his teaching (Nestorianism) that Christ had two separable natures, human and divine. Declared Mary to be theotokos (lit. God-bearer, i.e., Mother of God) in order to strengthen the claim that Christ was fully divine.
The Council of Chalcedon, 451
Issued the Chalcedonian Formula, affirming that Christ is two natures in one person.
The Council of Constantinople II, 553
Condemned the Three Chapters, which emphasized Christ’s humanity at the expense of his deity. Their opponents held Alexandrian theology emphasizing Christ’s deity.
The Council of Constantinople III, 680
Condemned monothelitism (Christ has a single will), affirming that Christ had a human will and a divine will that functioned in perfect harmony.
The Council of Nicea II, 787
Declared that icons are acceptable aids to worship, rejecting the iconoclasts (icon-smashers)