Christology: Life and dogma

Council of Chalcedon

Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, Volume 2, Part One:

The formula and teaching of Chalcedon absorbed the attention of the old imperial Church, whether we look at Emperors, Popes, bishops, the monks or the theologians, or finally the mass of Church people. Yet, both before and after the Council [of 451], there was a life inspired by faith in Christ which neither needed the formula of Chalcedon for its existence, nor was directly enriched by it. This was because the Church possessed and lived the content or the matter of this teaching, namely, faith in the one Christ, true God and true man, even though it was not expressed in more advanced philosophical terms. Such faith drew its vitality from a picture of Christ which could not be fully comprehended in the formula of 451 about the person of Christ. This is shown by the fact that the content, though not the formula, of Chalcedonian faith was actually the common property of the opposed parties in the post-Chalcedonian era. (p. 4)

This sort of statement is always of interest to me. The idea is that in the proclamation, the kerygma, and the living of the Christian faith, there is a latent, inherent orthodoxy that does not always find expression in the conciliar and dogmatic formulae, and it can be found in the lived faith of the Church before any council has drawn up any document.

It is related to the argument that I’ve heard from numerous Eastern Orthodox sources, such as Andrew Louth, that the church’s prayer life and liturgical encounter with the mystery of God was ultimately Trinitarian from the outset, and what was lacking was the formal articulation of Trinity in dogma. I’m willing to accept this thesis; I am interested in seeing it proven in scholarship, however. Any suggestions?

Back to Christology. Is Grillmeier correct? I suspect that is the point of the book I am about to read. So I’ll see. But Paul Parvis, when I took his Byzantine Theology course in Edinburgh, argues that people don’t fight over nothing. So pro- and anti-Chalcedonian forces, despite Grillmeier or Lebon or other modern(ist) readers, actually did disagree, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would disagree with the late Pope Shenouda III, if they ever crossed dogmatic swords of monothelitism (Shenouda was a clear-cut monothelite).

So my questions, as I start thinking more theologically than whatever it is I’ve been recently are:

  • Did the Mia/Monophysites and Chalcedonians actually agree? Is there harmony between Severus of Antioch and Leo the Great?
  • Is the lived faith of the church implicitly Trinitarian and Chalcedonian, even if it does not always articulate said faith in the same way? What is the scholarship on this question?

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).