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I am reading the book The First Seven Ecumenical Councils by Leo Donald Davis. This is my first introduction to Trinitarian and Christological disputes within the Early Church.

It appears to me:

  • that Nestorians believed that Christ had two natures, two wills, and two hypostasis;
  • that Chalcedonians believed that Christ had two natures and two wills, but in one hypostasis;
  • that Monophysites believed that Christ had one (or two, dependent on sub-sect) nature, one will, and one hypostatsis.

A) Is my assessment accurate? (This isn't the crux of my question: B is.)

B) Regardless of my assessment’s veracity, is it fair to state that the Chalcedonian position is a moderate position in between the Nestorian position and the Monophysite position? Why or why not?

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It may be, because the monophysites called Chalcedonians "Nestorians", whereas (as you identify) they are different. However the question isn't particularly easy to answer, because -- whichever view one subscribes to -- one view is orthodoxy and the other two are heresies. –  Andrew Leach Oct 14 '13 at 7:56
@Andrew Leach, I agree, but, I'm wondering, is still this the reason why the mission of cleansing the world from the impurity of heresy may seem impossible? Perhaps not, and the Chalcedonian solution is likely the right way. –  Elberich Schneider Oct 14 '13 at 21:12
Only 5 tags can be put on a question. Personally, I think that christology is the best tag here, though I added two of the suggested heresy tags. Miaphysitism is a seemingly more rare tag. –  Affable Geek Oct 15 '13 at 1:21
@AffableGeek Thank you. –  Matthew Moisen Oct 16 '13 at 2:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A better summarization of your statement would be "Monophysitism and Nestorianism are heresy; the Chalcedonian position is orthodox. The heresies over-emphasize one of the natures, but the orthodox position stresses that both are fully present and effective."

Obviously, "heresy" is a word that carries a strong connotation, but it does have an actual definition - heresy is heresy because the orthodox position is to reject.

  • Nestorianism was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD by Theodosius. As you said, it emphasizes the human nature of Jesus to such an extent that his divine nature often gets overlooked. A good modern example would be "Jesus Christ Superstar" by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

  • Monophysitism was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. This position emphasizes the divine nature to the exclusion of his human one. Many old school Baptists in particular want to think of Jesus as this magical God whom they neglect to see as also human, sharing in our sufferings and knowing our pains. This too, is heresy.

The Council of Chalcedon was, by definition, church dogma - indeed, it being one of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils, it is accepted by Orthodox and Catholic alike as reflecting the will of the church.

The line "fully human, fully divine," emphasizes that both natures are fully Christ, and is the orthodox position of the "Church", even to this day. While there are denominations that reject this position, to do so is to put oneself at odds with the historical consensus of the church assembled, as defined by the best measure of "Christian."

Your overall assessment then could be taken as fully accurate, although admittedly, I don't like the idea of it being a "compromise." A compromise suggests that both positions are valid, but that are optimized by rawing from each. Rather, here, I consider it to be the middle way that represents the truth, and either of the other positions is an error that emphasizes one nature in hypostasis over against the other. Most (All?) heresies - Christological and Trinitarian - tend to result from the over emphasis of one part to the exclusion of the whole.

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Thank you so much for the detailed answer. In regards to natures and hypostases, did I get it right? Nestorians: 2 natures and 2 hypostases; Chalcedonians: 2 natures and 1 hypostasis; Monophysites: 1 nature and 1 hypostasis; ? –  Matthew Moisen Oct 15 '13 at 19:06
I believe that Nestorians would say 2 natures but I forget about the hypostasis - but Chalcedonians and Monophysites would say 1 hypostasis. –  Affable Geek Oct 15 '13 at 19:22
Would you please check this out when you have time? In particular sections 3,4,6,7, and 8. This is written by pro-Nestorians. They say that Nestorius didn't use hypostasis but used prosopon which "was weaker in meaning than hypostasis, the word used by his opponents." Do you know anything about this? –  Matthew Moisen Oct 15 '13 at 22:05

Nestorians don't believe in two wills and two subjects. Church of the East who has been mislabelled as Nestorians predominantly live in Syria, Iran, and India is a church from the Apostolic time who still exists today. They rejected all councils from Roman Empire region except Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381). The confusion was caused because Nestorius used hypostasis a Greek term to refer to an Aramaic term kyana, an individuated nature. To his death he refused the accusation of two subjects leveled against him and wrote Bazaar of Heracleides (450) to defend his one composite subject Christology. For Nestorius, the unity between the Logos and His tabernacle is analogous to human soul and body union. Christ's body can be killed but the Logos can't suffer, 'The body they can kill but soul they can't.' Here, Nestorius merely continuing his grand teacher Diodore of Tarsus who combatted Apollinaris' theopaschism, a belief that divinity can suffer which was condemned at Constantinople (381).

Miaphysites don't believe in one simple nature and will. Oriental Orthodox who has been mislabelled as Monophysites predominantly live in Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenia, and India is a church from the Apostolic time who still exists today. They rejected all councils from Roman Empire region except Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431). The confusion was caused because Severus used physis a Greek term to refer to an individual person. To his death he refused the accusation of one simple nature and will leveled against him. Miaphysites condemned Eutyches (Dioscorus at Ephesus exonerated Eutyches based on his Ephesian miaphysite Christology but later condemned him for distorting Cyrilline Christology). For Severus, the unity between the Logos and His flesh is analogous to human soul and flesh psychosomatic union. The Logos can be killed in His own flesh impassibly, 'A sword will pierce your own soul too.' Here, Severus merely continuing great tradition from his Antiochene See who combatted Samosatan's docetism, a belief that Christ didn't suffer which was condemned at Antioch (268).

Fr. Aloys Grillmeier in his book Christ in Christian Tradition (3 vols) offers a balance view that Chalcedon neither favor Alexandrian nor Antiochene Christology. He traced the Christological developments and showed how Leonine Christology championed at Chalcedon (451) as a unique Latin Christology not a moderation of the two schools. This is why both Oriental Orthodox and Church of the East rejected Chalcedon. Severus (OO) rejected Chalcedon because it divides the miaphysis of Logos incarnate into two and Babai the Great (CE) refused Chalcedon because it confuses the kyana of the Logos and His tabernacle into one.

In Alexandrian, physis is used in reference to hypostasis (cf. Hans van Loon The Dyophysite Christology of Cyril of Alexandria, BRILL monograph) this is why Ephesian one nature is not a reference to essence but person. In Antiochene, hypostasis is used in reference to ousia (cf. Geevarghese Chediath, The Christology of Mar Babai the Great) this is why Antiochene two hypostases is not a reference to dual subject but two natures. In Latin, there is no confusion regarding physis or hypostasis by using Latin term substantia and persona it's clear from the start that substantia refer only to essence and persona to person. Sadly, Pope St. Leo's Tome was translated poorly into Greek in 448 where instead of translating substantia into ousia it was translated into physis which can be read as person in Alexandrian. Later he reworked his Tome with a proper Greek translation to avoid possible misreading to the Palestinian monks in 453 (cf. Susan Wessel, Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome, BRILL monograph).

The principal difference of Alexandrian, Antiochene, and Latin Christology is not in over emphasis between one composite nature versus two distinct natures. Leonine Christology distinguish the unity in one person and the distinction in two natures. While both Alexandrian and Antiochene talk about unity and distinction using one terminology either one composite nature or two distinct natures. In this sense Chalcedon is not a compromise or moderate view between the two but a unique view favoring neither yet accommodate the two schools by locating the unity in term of one person and the distinction in term of two essences. In 1994 Pope St. John Paul II and Catholicos Mar Dinkha IV mutually lifted anathemas. In 1978 Pope Bl. Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III mutually signed an agreement to revisit Chalcedon and seek reconciliation.

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