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The Christological Controversy


A – Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople – In the 4th Century there develop three main centers of the Christian life in the Greek speaking world.  These three places are Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople.  Antioch we are familiar with as being the place where Arius the heretic was trained.  The theologians in Antioch worked very hard to set up distinctions in God – they liked to try to keep God very neat – the distinctions all nice and clear.  They took the words of Scripture to heart, but occasionally misapplied them.  They liked a good, literal approach to Scripture, but when it came to talking about Salvation, they tended a bit towards works and what us men had to do. 



And then there is Alexandria – the great city of Egypt.  It’s the home of Athanasius, the heart of the Nicene Trinitarians.  There in Alexandria they loved focusing on the unity of God, on the mystery that God is One.  They loved the idea that we are saved because Christ comes into our lives and makes us holy and righteous.  But they also sought to find deeper and deeper mysteries in Scripture through allegory, and sometimes fell into theories of their own devising.


And finally, there is Constantinople – the new capital of the Empire.  It is the Christian City, where there are no pagan temples, no vestiges of the pagan past of the Roman Empire.  It is where the Emperor lives, the heart of Christendom on earth.  But it’s a new Church – it doesn’t have the antiquity of Antioch or Alexandria – and yet it has a large influence because it’s the Church of the Emperor.  Wielding a lot of influence but not having the stability that comes with age can always be a dangerous position.


            And by in large, folks in these three towns don’t get along that well.  There is a ton of political gamesmanship and fighting going on between all three of these cities as they in reality vied for dominance in the Christian Church.  We saw this a bit with all the stuff on the Trinity – Antioch was very Arian, Alexandria was staunchly Nicene, and Constantinople for the most part just wanted everyone to play nicely and follow along.  Antioch and Alexandria constantly tried to gain more and more influence in Constantinople by trying to get priests and deacons from their churches posted in Constantinople.  It all gets very messy.


            Well, these three cities end up being the major centers involved in another great controversy, this one is called the Christological Controversy.  In the Trinitarian Controversy, the Church defended that Jesus was indeed True God.  But we also believe that Jesus is True Man.  Well, how does that work?  Starting around 350 and going until 450, three new Arch-heretics arise that the Church must deal with.  And it is not until the three great Churches of the East, with some help from Rome, actively come together in 451 at the council of Chalcedon that the Christological Controversy is settled – at least until the time of the Reformation.  What we will do now is look at the three great Christological Heresies and see why they are wrong and dangerous.


B – Apollonarius – Apollonarius was a theologian in the last half of the 4th Century who came from the Alexandrian line.  His father had been from Alexandria, but in moving up the theological hierarchy had moved closer to Constantinople, and hence closer to Antioch.  So when Apollonarius begins to teach around 360 or so, he’s in Antiochene territory.


            And what he says shocks people.  Remember that Alexandrian theology liked to focus on the Unity of God.  This also applied to how they talked about Jesus.  Apollonarius held, like most people of the day, to the three fold idea of what makes up a man – Body, Soul, and Will.  The body is the body, that we get.  However, we today generally talk about just body and soul – in the ancient world they divided what we would call the “soul” up into two parts.  The soul was more just that part of a human that made it move, and the will is the thinking, the deciding part – your mind or spirit. 


            So Apollonarius is describing Jesus, and what he says is that Jesus has a human body, even a but that his soul and will weren’t really human – but simply the soul and will of the 2nd person of the Trinity, the Logos, the Word.  Why does he say this?  He wants there to be a complete union of God and man in Jesus.  If there is no true union between God and Man, Jesus can’t win for us salvation.  He wants to ensure that Jesus is really, really God.  But the problem is the way he describes Jesus implies that Jesus isn’t really a man.  To be a man means to have a body, soul, and mind – that’s how they define it.  Apollonarius denied that Jesus had a human soul, a human mind – you can almost look at is as though Apollonarius views Jesus as an empty shell of flesh that God possessed, or a puppet that God moved around. 


            And so Antioch goes nuts.  They look at this and they hear a denial of Jesus being True Man (and rightfully so).  One theologian who we have heard of, Gregory of Nazianus ends up taking the lead in defeating Apollonarius.  Gregory makes the following statement – “For that which He has not assumed, He has not healed.”  When Adam sinned, he fell completely, not just his body, but Adam’s soul and will.  Therefore, Jesus had to have a true human soul and will so that mankind’s fallen soul and will could be redeemed by Jesus.  Even the folks in Alexandria end up repudiating Apollonarius – his heresy is the most blatantly clear of the Christological heresies (and the earliest).  Jesus is not part God and part Man, that doesn’t work.  However, Apollonarius sets the stage for what is to come in the 5th Century.


C – Nestorius – Luther did a work where he ended up talking about the 4 Arch-Heretics, and it is fantastic reading.  And Luther starts, and he hammers Arius.  And then Luther hammers Apollonarius.  So I am reading, and I am just waiting for Luther to drop the hammer on Nestorius – because Luther is just death on any theology which has Nestorian elements to it. . . and then Luther speaks of Nestorius with pity.  And then I studied the history of the Church in depth, read Nestorius and Cyril (his main opponent) – and I understood why Luther had such pity on Nestorius.  If I ever to write a book on Nestorius, it would be entitled “The Reluctant Heretic”.  Of the 4 Arch-Heretics, Nestorius is the only one who repents, even though his heresy lives on after him.


            Nestorius was a simple, pious monk in Antioch who apparently was much beloved.  He eventually rises in the hierarchy of Antioch, and then, in a coup of politics, he is made the Bishop of Constantinople in 428.  So Nestorius ends up being the Bishop in Constantinople, and there in Constantinople, he comes into more contact with theologians of the Alexandrian leaning.  And he hears a phrase that concerns him greatly.  In Alexandria they would refer to Mary as the “Mother of God.”


            And Nestorius goes nuts.  Why?  Nestorius comes from Antioch, and Antioch has a strong tendency of protecting Christ’s Divinity.  God is God, and we don’t make Him out to be less than God.  And Nestorius thinks “Here we are talking about the Unchangeable God, how can God have a mother?  Mary is just the mother of Jesus.”  Nestorius wanted to ensure that God stays God – so he didn’t like the phrase “mother of God” because it implies that God just sort of appears and is born.  Nestorius says that you can call Mary the “mother of Christ” – but to say that she gives birth to God just seems highly disrespectful towards God.   Nestorius was scandalized.


            Nestorius goes on to explain his approach to Christology – and what Nestorius does is argues that there is the Son of God, and the Son of David.  There is God, and there is the Man Jesus – and the two are indeed united, but there is a complete and utter distinction.  The image that he uses is two boards glued together, so that they move together, work together, but they are separate and distinct.  There is literal talk of two Sons.  There is Jesus, the Christ.  There is the Son, who is God.  One could almost think of this in terms of twins.  Let’s use the Johnson boys as an example.  Rodney and Roger are two different people, but they work together to run the dairy (hopefully in harmony).  That’s almost how Nestorius approached Jesus Christ – as two entities working together in perfect harmony, God and Man.


            This is part of the traditional view of Antioch.  Remember, they liked to focus on what man does – so what’s the best part about Jesus – that He is a man who completely follows the will of God.  Things get kept nice and neat, we get to focus on being good moral people like the man Jesus.  Because we are attached to God, we can do good.  That’s the Antiochene focus.


            But what Nestorius’ theology means is that there is no true unity between God and Man in Jesus.  If you look at Jesus like a Nestorius did and follow it to its logical conclusions – technically you can’t really call Jesus God.  They aren’t interchangeable.  This is why the folks from Alexandria were critical of them.  Alexandria affirmed that Jesus is born of Mary, and Jesus is God, therefore God is born of Mary.  They looked at Nestorianism as a backdoor Arianism that denies that Jesus is really God.


            And Nestorius causes a giant firestorm – and he sees what is going on, and he is horrified.  At one council (we will talk about it later) he even shouts, “Let Mary be called the Mother of God!”  But even though Nestorius sees his errors, how he can be misinterpreted, too many others took up his standard and don’t repent (In fact, he spends much of his life after he is removed trying to explain what he was saying and how he is misinterpreted by the “Nestorians”).  Other forces are at work, and there are deeper divisions between Antioch and Alexandria for poor Nestorius to fill by recanting, so the fight is on.


            So what’s the danger of a Nestorian view?  One, it does come really close to denying that Jesus is God in any real way.  It breaks down the Unity between God and Man that we have in Jesus – if Jesus is just a man united to God, then we can be completely perfect and save ourselves – just like the just-a-man Jesus was.  Now, most Nestorians wouldn’t say that, but they come awfully close.  It leads to a very works righteous view of salvation.  We have a lot of Nestorian ideas in modern Protestant thought.  It comes out a lot in the Methodists and how they approach salvation.  It comes out in Protestant theology concerning the Lord’s Supper.  For example, a Baptist might say, “How can that bread and wine be the Body and Blood of Jesus – Jesus is up in heaven right now!”  They have an idea that Jesus is present everywhere, but he kind of leaves His Body back up in heaven – there’s that distinction between Jesus’ Body and God.  In their minds they divide the two – and because they hold to that division they ignore God’s Word.


            Rather, we hold that Jesus is both indeed True God and True Man.  If you see the Man Jesus, you are seeing God.  Plain and simple.  And if you are talking about Jesus, you are talking about One who is both God and Man.  Jesus doesn’t wander around without His Body – as God the Man Jesus is omnipresent, all-knowing, and the like.  This idea is called the “communication of attributes” – that when the Son becomes Man, He has in and of His Own Being full Divine Power, Authority, and Ability.  This is what the Humiliation of Jesus is from the creed – the places where He doesn’t use His full Divine Authority.


            Nestorius ends up showing the problems that show up often in Antiochene theology.  Over-focusing on the distinction between God and Man ends up making Jesus not God, and it destroys the idea of Jesus simply being Savior.  There has to be a unity there.  Jesus must be in a real way both True God and True Man at the same time, otherwise God doesn’t come into the life of man and save him.


D – Eutyches – Eutyches ends up swinging the complete and opposite direction of Nestorius.  Eutyches is the head of a monastary up in Constantinople, and he decides to go on the offensive against Nestorianism, but, as often is the case, in his zeal to attack Nestorius, he goes way too far. 


Eutyches wants to avoid any and all idea of separating Jesus into two different sons.  However, he does something incredibly strange.  He says that in Jesus God and Man are so unified. . . that they are mixed together.  Eutyches says that Jesus isn’t really human – but rather that he is some type of God/man hybrid that is neither.   Eutyches says that Jesus has only One Nature – and that is His God/Man mixed nature. 


And I don’t know what more to say.  I think that it is clear to us why this would be bad.  If Jesus isn’t really man, His life does no good for us.  If Jesus isn’t really God, His life does no good for us.  When we say that Jesus bridges the gap that sin had established between man and God, we mean that He brings us into relationship with God, that He gives us everything that is God’s – and Jesus wouldn’t do that if suddenly He was neither God nor man.  A strange heresy, but it did catch on for a bit as the Church was caught up in an anti-Nestorian zeal.


E – Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon – So how does the Church at large deal with each of these heresies?  The same way it dealt with Arius – the Emperor ends up calling a council where the Bishops are to gather and settle the issue at hand.


            Apollonarius and his heresy was dealt with at a council we already know – the Council of Constantinople in 381.  That Council handled two major things – the end of the Arian controversy, and Apollonarius.  Now, what is neat about what the Council does is that it really uses the Creed.  Jesus is True God of True God – that’s what we determined at Nicea.  We also determined that He became for us Man.  Apollonarius denies that Jesus is really man, so we can tell from the Creed that he is wrong.  When the Creed was written, it was designed to condemn all the heresies that came before – but now a simple realization is made.  It can be used to judge new heresies that arise as well.  What Apollonarius says contradicts the Creed, so we can tell it is wrong.  This is one of the reasons why we confess the Creed to this day.  There aren’t that many Gnostics running around today, or Arians (although there are some) – but new heresies arise all the time.  By having the Creed in front of us, we can be warned off of new heresies that come up and arise.  This is why Luther has the Apostles’ Creed in the catechism – it acts as a guide and safety net for our faith – it lets us know what we believe, so we can more easily spot and avoid heresy.


            The next major council was the Council of Ephesus in 431.  The main issue dealt with at this Council was the issue of Nestorius.  Now, this council was a mess – such a mess we won’t go into too much detail with the back and forth (however, if you are really interested in this, I have a good book to recommend).  But at any rate, the conclusion that comes about is that Nestorius is wrong – but nothing is actually said about what is right.  There is no consensus on what we should say – there’s still a big difference in how Alexandria and Antioch will talk about Jesus, they still handle on to their tendencies – which end up getting overblown and turns into heresy.  The fire at hand is put out, but no true peace is established.  A few years later a “formula of reunion” is settled on, where basically Alexandria recognizes that Antioch isn’t Nestorian, but it is more of a truce, rather than a peace.  Peace is what is need.


            This is shown by how quickly the next council is called.  Only 20 years later the Council of Chalcedon is called in 451 to deal with Eutyches and his heresy.  But something more is realized.  For the past 70 years people had been fighting back and forth – there has been this loud and bloody struggle between Antioch and Alexandria – it’s just been a mess.  And it is realized that instead of simply saying what is wrong, focus has to be made on saying what is right.  And this should have been obvious – the Nicene Creed simply focuses on saying what is right, and in so doing it shows what is wrong.  The problem is that the Churches of the East have fought so hard that they can’t really come to a peaceful settlement.


            And this is where Rome comes in.  Remember, by this time Rome is firmly speaking Latin.  There is a language barrier between Rome and the Church in North Africa and Spain and France and Italy with all these other Churches in the east.  So Rome doesn’t get involved in a lot of their issues – because Rome has its own problems (some of which we will talk about in the next Chapter).  But Rome is at these Ecumenical Councils – and here, at Chalcedon, Rome has what may be its finest hour as a Church, as a leader of the Church (basically, it’s going to be down hill from here).



The Pope at this time is Leo the first, often and rightly called Leo the Great.  And Leo has been aware of what’s going on in the East, because both Antioch and Alexandria are trying to get Rome on their side – and Leo does something wonderful.  A year or two before the council, he writes what is called the Tome of Leo where he basically goes over the approach of the Western Church to Christology. 


            What the West has done is simple and fabulous.  Remember Tertullian, the North African Theologian lived and wrote around 190-210 AD?  He was the first great Latin theologian, and he did a lot of work on the Trinity – he was the first one to use the term Trinity.  He also did a lot of work on Christology, and his approach was to say that when we are talking about Jesus, we are talking about One Person with Two Natures.  There is One and only One Jesus.  There is only One Son of God, there is only One Second Person of the Trinity.  But at the incarnation, something wonderous happens.  This One Son of God takes flesh from the Virgin Mary and makes it His own – He becomes (or as the Nicene Creed puts is, was made) Man.  And this is what the West has simply said – the One Jesus has Two Natures, complete and unmixed.  In every way, Jesus is God.  The Second Person of the Trinity is True God.  Yet, after His incarnation, He is True Man.  In every way, shape, and form, Jesus is really a Man.  And when He becomes Man, His Godhood is not diminished, but rather the Son adds Humanity to Himself.


            And this is beautiful – it deals with the major concern of Alexandria – there is a true unity between God and Man in the person of Jesus.  God and Man are indeed one now.  And it deals with the major concern of Antioch.  Jesus is still True God.  He is still True Man.  Leo’s Tome becomes the basis of the “definition of Chalcedon”.  Just as the Trinity is One God with Three Persons – in a way that is beyond our reason, so to, Jesus is One Person, the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, yet at the same time consisting of Two Natures – both 100 % God and 100% Man.  This is what we get in the Small Catechism in the 2nd Article – this is what is so familiar to us as Lutherans because we are strongly Chalcedonic – we focus on Jesus being both God and Man more strongly than most Churches do.  We see in this, the two natures of Jesus, the heart of Salvation – that God becomes Man and does for us what we could not do because of sin – win for us redemption and give His righteousness.


            And just to point this out – the Athanasian Creed really does talk about this at length.  A portion of the Creed does explain the idea of Chalcedon and Leo incredibly well.  Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he [a Christian] also believe faithfully in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man.  God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man in the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.  Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether, not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.  For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.”  In this long section of the Athanasian Creed, we see the whole Christological Controversy spelled out.  God isn’t converted into some type of fleshly being like Eutyches said.  Nor is He mixed, like Apollonarius said (no confusion of Substance – no jumbling of God and Man).  Nor is He fundamentally two – He is One Christ (so Nestorius is out as well). 


F – A Broken Church - However, not everyone is happy at Chalcedon – Over 1000 years before the Reformation in fact, we really see the first major split of the Church.  And actually, it’s a three way split.  First, there are some people who worry still hold to a lot of the old Antiochene approach, and leave the Roman Empire and head east, joining the Churches that existed in Persia and heads East of there.  These Churches were sympathetic to the language of Two Natures and didn’t see what all the fuss was about.  They deny that Jesus can be broken apart, or that there are two sons – but they don’t like the definition of Chalcedon.  They still don’t like the term “Mother of God” because they don’t see it in Scripture. These Churches end up being called “Nestorian”, just in general.  In fact, most of the people of these Eastern Churches considered all these controversies to simply be a problem within the Roman Empire and not their concern.  However, they do have some Nestorian leanings – but they end up being the main Christians in the Asia 1000 years ago. You end up having a lot of them in India.  They do a ton of Missionary work in China and all over Asia.  But they suffer horrible from persecution – those countries end up becoming very hostile to Christianity in the middle ages, and most of them are destroyed and killed.  Today, you will find  Nestorian Churches around in Turkey, Iraq, and India.  There are lots of different little branches and such.  Worldwide there are probably less than 2 million left (they’ve died off a lot from persecution from Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.


            Now, I do have some qualms with the modern day Nestorian Church that survives – while they don’t go fully into the gross aspects of full blow I think they do divide Jesus too much and drop the ball on some things.  They want to protect God too much – and so they end up breaking apart Jesus.  For example, let’s think about the Crucifixion – I will say that when Jesus is on the Cross, that is God suffering for our sake – that God Himself is doing this.  The Nestorians still won’t say that – they won’t let God suffer. . . it was merely the man.  They miss the fullness of the Incarnation.


Second, there are those in Egypt who don’t like the definition of Chalcedon because they think it still allows for too much Nestorianism – so they break off.  This is the start of the Coptic Church – which still survives to this day.  Egypt has around 9 Million Coptic Christians – and they strongly confess the Nicene Creed, but they don’t like using any “two” language when talking about Jesus.  The Coptics aren’t necessarily Eutychian, and they aren’t Apollonarian –  they just end up not going along with the rest of the Church on how they positively state what Christ is.  There are a few other Churches that go along with the Copts – the Jacobite Church in Syria, and other smaller regional Churches that didn’t go along with Chalcedon. 


I actually hope to learn much more about the Coptic Church when I am in Egypt next Spring.  The following is from a Coptic Website:  Copts believe that the Lord is perfect in His divinity, and He is perfect in His humanity, but His divinity and His humanity were united in one nature called "the nature of the incarnate word", which was reiterated by Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Copts, thus, believe in two natures "human" and "divine" that are united in one "without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration" (from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy). These two natures "did not separate for a moment or the twinkling of an eye" (also from the declaration of faith at the end of the Coptic divine liturgy).  You can see that they acknowledge that Jesus is True God and True Man – they just don’t like talking about two natures in Him for fear that we might somehow in our minds divide Jesus (like our Protestant friends do when they say that the Lord’s Supper can’t be Jesus’ Body and Blood).  But still, there is a break, a division in the Church, and one that has lasted over 1500 years.


I have less problems with the Coptic Churches and the ones like them than I do with the “Nestorian” Churches.  However, they do lose focus on the humanity of Jesus – they don’t really delight in the wonders of God becoming Man.  They fail to really see how God comes to us and participates in our life, shares our problems and concerns.  This means that sometimes they can make God too distant.  They minimize the struggle and suffering that we see Jesus go through – they minimize His temptation, His thirst, His hunger.  Jesus shares in our suffering, He is truly Man, and they can sort of just put that off in the corner a little much. 


But then, the rest of the Church – basically what we tend to think of when we think of Christians today – your Roman Catholics, your Eastern Orthodox, your Lutherans, and your Protestants all flow from the Church which held to the Council of Constantinople.  In fact, this probably will be the last time we really talk about the Nestorian Churches.   We’ll look at little bit at the Coptic Churches in Chapter IX, because they do talk a lot to the Eastern Church, but really, they end up just playing a minor, secondary role.  Primarily, our History will from now on follow those that confessed the definition of Chalcedon, even as we do to this very day.  

||    Pope Shenouda    ||    Father Matta    ||    Bishop Mattaous    ||    Fr. Tadros Malaty    ||    Bishop Moussa    ||    Bishop Alexander    ||    Habib Gerguis    ||    Bishop Angealos    ||    Metropolitan Bishoy    ||

||    The Orthodox Faith (Dogma)    ||    Family and Youth    ||    Sermons    ||    Bible Study    ||    Devotional    ||    Spirituals    ||    Fasts & Feasts    ||    Coptics    ||    Religious Education    ||    Monasticism    ||    Seasons    ||    Missiology    ||    Ethics    ||    Ecumenical Relations    ||    Church Music    ||    Pentecost    ||    Miscellaneous    ||    Saints    ||    Church History    ||    Pope Shenouda    ||    Patrology    ||    Canon Law    ||    Lent    ||    Pastoral Theology    ||    Father Matta    ||    Bibles    ||    Iconography    ||    Liturgics    ||    Orthodox Biblical topics     ||    Orthodox articles    ||    St Chrysostom    ||   

||    Bible Study    ||    Biblical topics    ||    Bibles    ||    Orthodox Bible Study    ||    Coptic Bible Study    ||    King James Version    ||    New King James Version    ||    Scripture Nuggets    ||    Index of the Parables and Metaphors of Jesus    ||    Index of the Miracles of Jesus    ||    Index of Doctrines    ||    Index of Charts    ||    Index of Maps    ||    Index of Topical Essays    ||    Index of Word Studies    ||    Colored Maps    ||    Index of Biblical names Notes    ||    Old Testament activities for Sunday School kids    ||    New Testament activities for Sunday School kids    ||    Bible Illustrations    ||    Bible short notes

||    Pope Shenouda    ||    Father Matta    ||    Bishop Mattaous    ||    Fr. Tadros Malaty    ||    Bishop Moussa    ||    Bishop Alexander    ||    Habib Gerguis    ||    Bishop Angealos    ||    Metropolitan Bishoy    ||

||    Prayer of the First Hour    ||    Third Hour    ||    Sixth Hour    ||    Ninth Hour    ||    Vespers (Eleventh Hour)    ||    Compline (Twelfth Hour)    ||    The First Watch of the midnight prayers    ||    The Second Watch of the midnight prayers    ||    The Third Watch of the midnight prayers    ||    The Prayer of the Veil    ||    Various Prayers from the Agbia    ||    Synaxarium