Person of Christ
There are no direct discussion in the New Testament regarding the dual nature of the Person of Christ as both divine and human. Hence, since the early days of Christianity theologians have debated various approaches to the understanding of these natures.
Historically in the Alexandrian school of thought (fashioned on the Gospel of John) Jesus Christ is the eternal Logos who already possesses unity with the Father before the act of Incarnation. In contrast, the Antiochian school views Christ as a single, unified human person apart from his relationship to the divine.
The views of these schools can be summarized as follows:
- Alexandria: Logos assumes a general human nature.
- Antioch: Logos assumes a specific human being
From the 2nd century onwards, the Christological approaches to defining the Person of Christ and how the human and divine elements interact and inter-relate resulted in debates among different Christian groups and produced schisms.
In the period immediately following the Apostolic Age, specific beliefs such as Arianism and Docetism (polar opposites of each other) were criticized and eventually abandoned. Arianism which viewed Jesus as primarily an ordinary mortal was considered at first heretical in 325, then exonerated in 335 and eventually re-condemned as heretical at the First Council of Constantinople of 381. On the other end of the spectrum, Docetism argued that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, and that he was only a spiritual being. Docetic teachings were attacked by St. Ignatius of Antioch and were eventually abandoned by proto-orthodox Christians.
The First Council of Ephesus in 431 debated a number of views regarding the Person of Christ. The council was called by Cyril of Alexandria at the request of Pope Celestine I who was unhappy with Nestorius, who had previously been a preacher in Antioch, and his view that regarded the Person of Christ as having a disjoint human nature from his divine nature. At the same gathering the council also debated the doctrines of Monophysitism (i.e. the Person of Christ has only one nature) versus Miaphysitism (i.e. the Person of Christ has two natures united as one). The council rejected Nestorianism (i.e. the Person of Christ having two disjoint natures) and adopted the Hypostatic union i.e. two co-existing natures in the Person of Christ. The language used in the 431 declaration was further refined at the 451 Council of Chalcedon.
The Council of Chalcedon endorsed the Hypostatic union, stating that the human and divine natures of the Person of Christ co-exist, yet each is distinct and complete. However, the Chalcedon creed was not accepted by all Christians. To date, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Reformed adhere to the Chalcedonian creed, while many branches of Eastern Christianity such as Syrian Orthodoxy, Assyrian Church, Coptic Orthodoxy, Ethiopian Orthodoxy, and Armenian Apostolicism reject it.
Because Saint Augustine died in 430 he did not participate in the Council of Ephesus in 431 or Chalcedon in 451, but his ideas had some impact on both councils. On the other hand, the other major theological figure of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas, had much to say about the Person of Christ. In particular regarding the attributes of the union of the natures of Christ (as in Communicatio Idiomatum) Aquinas concluded that the union of the divine and the human in the Person of Christ is achieved in a manner that each maintains its own attributes.
John Calvin maintained that there was no human element in the Person of Christ which could be separated from the person of The Word. Calvin also emphasized the importance of the "Work of Christ" in any attempt at understanding the Person of Christ and cautioned against ignoring the Works of Jesus during his ministry.
The study of the Person of Christ continued into the 20th century, with modern theologians such as Karl Rahner and Hans von Balthasar. Rahner pointed out the coincidence between the Person of Christ and The Word of God, referring to Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26 which state that whoever is ashamed of the words of Jesus is ashamed of the Lord himself. Balthasar argued that the union of the human and divine natures of Christ was achieved not by the "absorption" of human attributes but by their "assumption". Thus in his view the divine nature of Christ was not affected by the human attributes and remained forever divine.
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