Chalcedonian Orthodoxy: Not Really Controversial

This past Tuesday, the Classic Christian Small Group looked at two documents from the Council of Chalcedon in 451.  These were the Definitio Fidei, or Symbolum of Chalcedon and Leo’s Tome to Flavian.

We didn’t have much to discuss.  I gave a brief run-through of the history from Nestorius to 451 with a note about the subsequent splintering of Christendom.*  Then we read the Definitio.  A few comments were made.  As I recall, the few words spoken were words of assent.  “Yes, this is true.”  Following this we read the Tome.  Our pauses were most to clarify what exactly Pope St. Leo was saying.  There was not a lot to say.

What do you say when you see a basic statement of what has been established orthodoxy for 1500 years?  I mean, this is the West.  We were Anglican(ish) and Christian Reformed people discussing this.  The argument that caused Chalcedon wasn’t even our argument — it was an issue of Greek grammar and philosophy.  So, while we see the necessity for two natures Christology, to have it laid out for us, to have the Scriptures that support it explained so fully, to see the fact that, yes, Jesus has two natures, divine and human.

This is the faith.  This is what we have received.  This is what we believe.  Jesus is:

truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood

Even the controversial bits, “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably,” aren’t even controversial for us.  We would need an Oriental Orthodox person present to really get that theological dispute rolling.  Instead, we all just commented on bits of the documents we liked and moved along.

Yet it is important to read these documents.  I find it affirming to read these statements of the faith of the Fathers, to see an articulation of what we today take for granted.  I am thankful to Pope St. Leo the Great for his contribution to the statement of orthodoxy.  I am pleased to have my faith as it is today, to put my full trust in the Man-God, in the one who was fully God and fully man, who alone could wash away my sin and conquer death.

The Fathers are, then, important.

*The splintering resulted in the Oriental Orthodox — Egypt, Armenia, the Syriac Orthodox, Ethiopia (although they may have been evangelised by Egypt at a later date) and certain Indian churches — separating themselves from the rest of Christendom (“the rest” splintering itself into Roman Catholic West and Eastern Orthodox East in 1054).

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