Whose theology was triumphant at Chalcedon?

I was recently going through some notes about the period 451-565, and I found this quotation from PTR Gray, ‘The Legacy of Chalcedon: Christological Problems and Their Significance’, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian:

The West was happy enough [with the Council of Chalcedon], but then Chalcedon seemed to be enshrining what they traditionally believed. The Antiochene bishops could, if they put it artfully, claim that they were vindicated. For the rest in the East, three little words — ‘in two natures’ — made Chalcedon a monumental disaster. (222)

With its approval of Leo the Great’s Tome (Ep. 28) and its christological definition (read my translation!) engineered by imperial delegates and papal envoys, Chalcedon is a triumph of western Christology above all else — despite RV Sellers’ demonstration of how it steers a course between the perceived ‘extremes’ of the Alexandrian and Antiochene positions (themselves not as clear-cut at the modern historian would like to have it), or the idea of Grillmeier that Chalcedonian theology is the natural growth and trajectory of Christian theology. To the followers of the trajectory of Athanasius-Cyril (such as Severus of Antioch or TF Torrance), this is not immediately apparent.

But to the student of Chalcedon who sits down to read the great Fathers of the western Church, it becomes clear almost immediately that Chalcedon’s theology — whatever political purposes it may have served Marcian, whatever fallout it may have had, however it may have been interpreted immediately or in the Age of Justinian or in the 20th century — however we view it in those ways, was western.

I just finished the Fathers of the Church translation by Roy J. Deferrari of On the Sacrament of the Lord’s Incarnation by St. Ambrose of Milan.* In many of his works, St. Ambrose is very clearly following eastern examples — his On the Holy Spirit and Hexaemeron owe much to St. Basil, his anti-Arian polemic is very much Athanasian — but when he discusses the idea of Christ’s natura, it becomes evident that we have a fully western writer before our eyes, someone who would have been chuffed over the Council of Chalcedon.

Fresco of St. Ambrose in Sant'Ambrogio, Milan (photo by me!)

In the first place, he uses Matthew 16 as a defence of Christ’s divinity; this passage is one of Leo’s pivotal passages in the Tome. But that alone could have been used by any eastern exegete. Shortly after his use of Mt. 16, however, he sounds highly Chalcedonian and dangerously Nestorian:

Thus, He died according to the assumption of our nature, and did not die according to the substance of eternal life; and He suffered according tot he assumption of the body, that the truth of the assumption of the body might be believed, and He did not suffer according to the impassible divinity of the Word which is entirely without pain. (Ch. 5(36), p. 232)

He uses a Leo-worthy antithesis (or perhaps Leo uses Ambrose-worthy antitheses) in 5(39):

Therefore, He was immortal in death, impassible in His Passion. For just as the sting of death did not seize Him as God, hell saw Him as man. (p. 233)

One of the most ‘dyophysite’ passages is:

Why do you attribute the calamities of the body to divinity, and connect the weakness of human pain even with divine nature? (5(41), p. 234)


For in the form of a servant there was the fullness of true light; and when the form emptied itself, there was the light. (5(41), p. 234)

He closes his discussion on this topic saying, ‘So the nature of the flesh and of divinity could not have been the same.’ (6(61), p. 243) This, the preceding, and a number of other passages point to a strong tradition of two-nature Christology within western Christianity that pre-dates Chalcedon. However, there are also passages later in Ambrose’s treatise that struck me as peculiarly Cyrillian.

I would argue that western two-nature Christology usually sounds ‘Antiochene’ but can at times sound ‘Alexandrian’ on the grounds that western theology is composed in Latin. While Syriac theology has words that serve as perfect parallels for their Greek counterparts in technical jargon, Latin theology does not. Thus, natura and physis do not have an exactly overlapping semantic range. This means that in duobus naturis does not (necessarily) mean en duo physesin.

To prove this thesis, I have a lot more work to do, scouring Latin philosophical writings and uses of natura and the TLL, but I believe that it is true, and it is part of the key of setting Leo and Chalcedon free from the misconceptions that surround what occurred, as Latin theology was translated into Greek and, thus, lost in translation.

*I think it would be better titled ‘On the Mystery …’ since that is what sacramentum means.


On the “Creed” of “St. Athanasius” (pt. 1)

I’ve been fiddling with the pages on the sidebar recently; one change I’ve made is posting my own translation of the so-called “Creed of St. Athanasius”, the “Quicumque Vult.”  Whilst certainly a statement of faith, this document is not, strictly speaking, a creed, for a creed is a formulaic statement that a person makes, beginning in Latin, “Credo,” — I believe.  This document begins, “Quicumque vult,” — whosoever wishes.

Second, it is not by St. Athanasius.  No matter how much you may like the Quicumque Vult, it is a Latin document and strikes me as clearly post-Chalcedon (ie. after 451).  St. Athanasius (of whom I’ve written here) was a Greek father, the patriarch of Alexandria.  He died close to 80 years before Chalcedon.  He spent the majority of his career in the defense and explication of the Nicene Creed (325, my translation here).  He was one of the great Christologians, and certainly St. Cyril of Alexandria, whose Christological views were espoused by the Church both at Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon in 451, was a close follower of St. Athanasius.

But the Athanasian Creed isn’t Athanasian.

Certainly its Trinitarian formulae are, for the most part, Athanasian: “we are to worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance,” and, “The Father is made from nothing, neither created nor begotten.  The Son is from the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten,” but this is followed by, “The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son: not made, neither created nor begotten but proceeding.”

Most eastern Fathers do not believe in the dual procession of the Holy Spirit, a doctrine first (I believe) explicated by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  The closest we get is the Cappadocian statement that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (Anthony Meredith wonders what exactly the great difference between the two formulations is).  Thus, although in everything else the Trinitarian formulations of the Quicumque Vult are universal, this clause makes it expressly western.

Second, its Christological formulations make me shy away from asserting that this is a production of St. Athanasius.  Certainly St. Athanasius would believe what is said here, for it does not explicitly use the tricky two-nature terminology of much Western Christology.  Nonetheless, I believe it is expounding a Western understanding of Christ’s Person.

Furthermore, the strong emphasis on the real manhood of Christ in the Quicumque Vult makes me think that this document is after Athanasius and at least from the time of Apollinarius (d. 390) who asserted the godhead of Christ so much that Jesus was not fully human, lacking a rational soul, a point on which the Athanasian Creed is quite explicit.

I would, however, place this text in the fifth century at the earliest.  The fifth century, especially in the heat following the episcopacy of Nestorius (428), was the age wherein the battle over Christ’s person and nature(s) really raged.  We’ll skip those heated decades and suffice it to say that the Church made an attempt at cooling everyone’s jets and at getting unanimity in the Council of Chalcedon in 451; the Athanasian Creed is very much Chalcedonian, stressing the fullness of Christ’s humanity and divinity while maintaining the unity of the person.

The (post)modern reader will not be excited by these ins and outs of dating the piece and of Trinitarian and Christological history.  Most today look at this document and, even if they don’t disregard the entire body of the text as Hellenistic philosophy that is irrelevant today, they see the introduction and the conclusion and see yet another example of religion gone bad.

But do they really?  (More on this tomorrow.)