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The Christological Controversies

THE CHRISTOLOGICAL CONTROVERSIES

With the Council of Constantinople (381) the Trinitarian controversy was settled. However, questions regarding the nature of Christ remained; what was the relationship between his human and divine natures: These issues were discussed and debated for years and the decision reached at Chalcedon (451) ultimately split the empire into two religious groups which have never been reconciled.

A. The Basis of Disagreement

    1. The Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople decided that Christ was "of the same substance" (homoousios as the Father.

      a. Virtually all Christians now accepted this concept, which became the starting point for future discussions: Christ was held to be "fully God."

      b. Nevertheless, Christ had also to be a man; this was necessary for man's salvation. How were the two concepts to be rationalized, especially given the fact that God must be perfect, immortal, all-powerful, etc.?

    2. Different individuals emphasized either Christ's divinity or his humanity, just as they had done before.

      a. Those who emphasized his divinity tended to ignore his humanity: the theological "school" of Alexandria.

      b. those who emphasized his humanity did not deny his divinity, they simply made a distinction between divinity and humanity--the "school" of Antioch.

      c. Theologians of the school of Alexandria argued that one could not distinguish clearly between Christ's humanity and divinity because a) Christ was fully divine [council of Nicaea] and b) divinity was infinite and could not be limited and human in any way.

    3. The theological disputes became involved with more secular concerns.

      a. The most obvious of these was the rivalry between the bishops of Constantinople and Alexandria.

      b. Until 381 the bishop of Alexandria was the most important ecclesiastical figure in the East, but his primacy was challenged by the growing authority of the bishop of Constantinople.

      c. In addition, many scholars have seen economic, social, and political motives in the controversies.

      d. In particular, some have explained the controversies as motivated by growing nationalism and opposition to the central government in Constantinople.

B. The Nestorian Controversy: Council of Ephesus (431)

    1. Nestorius became bishop of Constantinople in 428. He came from the Antioch school and was taught theology there by Theodore of Mopsuestia. He opposed a relatively new theological and devotional slogan Theotokos - affirming that Mary was the "God-bearer" or "Mother of God." Nestorius was concerned with the thought that God might be seen to have had a new beginning of some kind, or that he suffered or died. None of these things could happen to the infinite God. Therefore, instead of a God-man, he taught that there was the Logos and the "man who was assumed." He favored the term "Christ-bearer" (Christotokos) as a summary of Mary's role, or perhaps that she should be called both "God-bearer" and "Man-bearer" to emphasize Christ's dual natures. He was accused of teaching a double personality of Christ. Two natures, and two persons. He denied the charge, but the term Nestorianism has always been linked with such a teaching.
     

    2. He was an adherent of the Antiochene "school" and he wished to emphasize a distinction between Christ as man and Christ as God.

      a. He did not deny that Christ was God.

      b. He said, however, that people should not call Mary thetokos, the "mother of God," because she was only the mother of the human aspect of Christ.

      c. Great opposition developed against Nestorius' teaching and his opponents charged that he taught "two sons" and that he "divided the invisible."

      d. Nestorius denied the charge, but the term Nestorianism has always been linked with such a teaching.

      e. The leader of the opposition to Nestorius was Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, a man who was one of the most ruthless and uncontrolled of the major early bishops..

    3. Disturbed by the controversy, the emperor Theodosius II (408-50) summoned a council to meet in 431 in Ephesus.

      a. Cyril did not confine himself to theology. He stirred up the monks and the politicians.

      b. Cyril used the delayed arrival of the Assyrians to accomplish the triumph of his doctrines. When the Easterners arrived, they were outraged and set up a rival council and condemned Cyril.

      c. The bishops asserted that one could no separate the human from the divine nature of Christ.

      d. Nestorius was deposed and sent into exile.

      e. Nestorians were persecuted and many of them fled to Persia, the Church of the East welcomed them since they believed the same.

      f. This represented a victory for Alexandrian theology.

      g. Theodosius II had originally supported Nestorius but he was unable to impose his will on the church.

C. Monophysitism: The Council of Chalcedon (451)

    1. Supporters of Alexandiran theology feared a revival of Nesotrianism in the late 440's and they pressed their ideas perhaps further than they meant to do.

      a. The leader of this movement was the monk, Eutyches, who taught that Christ had only one nature (physis)--and this was divine.

      b. This doctrine can be called monophysitism (mono = "only one," physis "nature").

      c. Eutyches was supported by Dioscorus, bishop of Alexandria, while Flavian, the bishop of Constantinople condemned Eutyches' teaching.

      d. the opponents of Eutyches argued that one could not attribute the sufferings of Christ to the divinity.

    2. This controversy was to be settled at the second council of Ephesus (449, often called the Robber Council), and this ended in violence, the death of Flavian, and the triumph of Eutyches and Dioscorus.

    3. In 451, however, the new emperor Marcian summoned a new council which met at Chalcedon.

      a. The Council of Chalcedon condemned Eutyches and monophysitism.

      b. It accepted the teachings of Pope Leo I, who said that Christ had two natures, human and divine. (How was this different from Nestorianism?)

      c. Dioscorus was deposed.

      d. Nestorius lived long enough to see the substantial triumph of his ideas at Chalcedon. Many Eastern churches were labeled Nestorian, notably the Persian church(Assyrian Church).

D. The Aftermath in the Monophysite East

    1. Many people refused to accept the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon.

      a. Opposition was greatest in Egypt where dyophysite (Chalcedonian) bishops were maintained only by force

      b. Those who opposed imperial rule rallied around the monophysites.

      c. Monophysitism also gained strength in Syria.

    2. In Egypt the monophysites were called Copts and in Syria they were called Jacobites and in both areas they dominated the church organization and the orthodox were a minority.

    3. Constantinople and the western areas maintained a Chalcedonian position.

    4. Many emperors made concerted attempts to reconcile the opposition between monophysites and Chalcedonians, but this always failed.

      a. Note how the emperor was caught in the middle of this controversy.

      b. In 482 the emperor Zeno issued his Henotikon, an edict which tried to impose unity by imperial edict.

      c. Anastasius virtually became a monophysite.

      d. Even Justianian failed to find a solution, even though he wrote theological tracts on the subject, and Theodora seems to have supported the Monophysites.

    5. As time went on and the emperors tried to impose unity, the monophysite eastern provinces drew farther and farther away from Constantinople and its culture.

 

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