Another Definitive Response

While the Definition of Chalcedon is often described as striking the true balance between Nestorianism (Christ as two persons) and Eutychianism (Christ with one nature), we shouldn’t forget that the language itself extends beyond the correction of these two prominent men.  In this installment then, I want to demonstrate that the contents of the Chalcedonian Formula are not only cumulative, but that they address themselves just as much (if not more) to Apollinarianism, as they do to these other aberrations.

First off, the whole of the Definition is couched in terms of official and historic continuity, grounding itself primarily, though not exclusively, in the Nicene Creed.

The opening line reads,

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In a similar vein, the document ends with an appeal to historic and official sources of its doctrine.

Even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

Second, the Definition stresses the entirety of both natures in Christ, describing him as “complete in Godhead and complete in Manhood, truly God and truly Man.”  The interesting thing to note however, is that after this perfectly symmetrical statement, the language of the Creed immediately moves into an asymmetry – defining for us only what it means that Christ is truly man; consisting also of a reasonable soul and body.”  The definition of Man is provided; the definition of God is not.  And from this fact we can see that the Creed as a whole, has in view the Apollinarian heresy, which at its most basic level was an error in anthropology; it was a redefinition of humanity. 

But there is more.  As the Creed develops, it returns for a moment to the beauty of its symmetry, as it enumerates the relations of each respective nature.  Christ is “of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood.”  And then just like that, the definition of Man returns to center stage.  The Formula goes the extra mile to explain what it means that Christ is of one substance with us as regards his manhood.  Notice that he is like us in all respects, apart from sin.”  Again his relation to us is defined; his relation to God is not, because mainly the focal point is the Apollinarian error.  As we saw before, Apollinaris held that the rational human mind was essentially characterized by sin so that Christ could not have assumed a human mind without subjecting himself to corruption. But to the contrary, the Chalcedonian Creed affirms that although the manhood of Christ is identical with ours (like us in all respects) – this does not allow the conclusion that he too must be tainted with sin (apart from sin).  After all, we must bare in mind that sin is not necessary to the definition of Man

In the next line we see a number of things that are worthy of attention.  To begin with, we see that the council takes up the “begetting” language of the Nicene Creed, “As regards his Godhead he was begotten of the Father before the ages.”  In other words, the Son’s individuated possession of the Godhead is due to an eternal generation.  This means that the begetting of the Son was timeless (before the ages), and therefore it is both mysterious and vastly different than all creaturely forms of generation.  Nevertheless, and probably for literary purposes mainly, the language of the Creed continues in strict parallel fashion – adding to it the appropriate human parallel “but as regards his Manhood, Christ was begotten… of Mary the Virgin.”  Here, the temporal, finite nature of the begetting is understood by contrast, but the fact that the two generations are stated in parallel form shows that Christ is legitimately Man to the same degree (completely) and on the same basis (begotten) that he is legitimately God.  

And while we know from Scripture and from the polemics of orthodox theologians that the Redeemer had to be God to accomplish our salvation, notice here that there is only an implicit reference to the necessity for Christ to be God.  To be sure, it is only by the power of His Godhead that He would be able to bear in His Manhood the burden of God’s wrath against sin,1 Notice still notice that none of this is stated.  Instead we find all of the emphasis on the other side of the equation.

This is clear from the singular placement of the purpose clause,

But as regards his Manhood, begotten – for us men and for our salvation – of Mary the Virgin.

The use of this purpose clause takes us back, no doubt, to the argument of Gregory of Nazianzus.  Apollinarianism was a threat to Man’s salvation, because it tried to make a true Savior out of someone that was less than true Man.  The problem, as we saw, was that the whole of Man fell, and the whole of Man needed to be redeemed.  But an incomplete man can only render an incomplete salvation – which is really no salvation at all.2   Therefore Chalcedon is clear; Jesus Christ is begotten of Mary the Virgin “for us men” and “for our salvation.”  

Finally, the Apollinarian heresy can be seen in another clause of the Chalcedon Formula.  Toward the end, the Creed goes on to describe our Redeemer as being one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures… without change.”  Clearly, the Christology of Chalcedon recognizes Christ in two natures.  And unlike the “solution” of Apollinaris, the orthodox have always confessed that both natures remain whole and complete – they are each without change and without modification.  In the final analysis we must affirm that in the incarnation, there was absolutely nothing added to the Godhead, and nothing subtracted from the Manhood.  

In the words of Chalcedon we might say, 

The distinction of natures was in no way annulled by the union.  

The Importance of Chalcedon

The knowledge of history is vitally important to the life of the Church – in every generation.  Because there is nothing new under the sun, we must keep in mind that today’s heresies were yesterday’s anathemas.  All error begins with a denial, implicit or otherwise, of the Word of God.  As we have seen, Apollinarianism was no different.  It was a heresy that denied the clear teaching of Scripture – about man, about sin, and consequently about Christ.  It was therefore worthy of condemnation.  

In Scripture we see that long ago in the wake of the fall, God promised that the “Seed of the woman” would crush the head of the seed of the serpent.  Years later God told Isaiah that there is no Savior besides Himself.  Each of these truths must be upheld without any kind of compromise.  The Definition of Chalcedon (451) has done for us historically, what was absolutely necessary for the preservation of that pure doctrine in the Church.  Our job today is to learn it, love it, teach it, and defend it.  To that end, may Christ Himself equip us for this task in our own generation, strengthening us by His own power and Spirit to stand upon the truth of His Word – even as it is summarized in this amazing document.

__________________________________________

Footnotes:

1  See the Heidelberg Catechism, LD 6, Q&A 17

2  See The Heidelberg Catechism, LD 5, Q&A 14; LD 6, Q&A 16

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Skip to toolbar