Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Who do you say that I am?" (Part 1)

Our Lord asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8.29) This question is a important one to answer for it requires us to put into words not only that we believe but who we believe in. Well, the Church Catholic and Universal dealt with this for centuries and during the process great struggles emerged to preserve the identity of Christ as truly God and truly man, in one person and God himself incarnate out of his love and for our salvation. Examples of obvious bad answers to our Lord’s question are Arius who said that Christ is the first created but not God and Euteches who said that he is one divine nature that fused together human and divine natures. However, what does the Church of the East believe? For starters let us look at the Synodal Decree of the Synod of AD 486 under Mar Aqaq the Catholicos (translation mine):

Our belief is in the dispensation of Christ, confessed in two natures, of his divinity and of his humanity. There is no man among us who mixes, comingles or confuses the properties of these two natures, but rather we confess that the characteristics that pertain to the divinity and those that pertain to the humanity of Christ are fixed and are kept in one Lordship and one subject of worship, so too we reiterate that [we speak] of the distinction of natures as due to the perfect and complete union (naquiputha gmirta) and lack of separation that there is from the divinity to the humanity. If a man thinks or teaches differently: that suffering and change adheres to the divinity of Christ: and [someone] does not preserve the doctrine of unity in the person of our Savior [as] perfect God and perfect man, let him be anathema. (JB Chabot, ed., Synodicon Orientale ou Recuel de Synodes Nestorienes (Imprimerie Nationale, 1902, 55))

Notice what it says about Christ’s natures (kyane). They are unmixed, uncomingled and unconfused. Also about Christ being one and not two beings: there is only one subject of worship in Christ. That means that one cannot worship the Son of God separate from the humanity that he took at the incarnation. The term used by the Assyrian Church of the East to define how divine and human are united is Naqiputha Gmirta. This word signifies the union of two things that retain themselves but are joined together in cohesion; also notice that the sense of the cohesion of Divine and Human in Christ is intensified by the adjective Gmirta, which can be translated as completely or perfectly. The statement also precludes the idea that God the Son, in his divine nature, died; of course this does not mean that the Person of God the Son, who is perfect God and perfect man, did not die on the Cross, but merely precludes that divine nature itself died.

Just 35 years earlier, the Holy Fathers of the Church in the “West” had met in Chalcedon and presented this definition of the Church:

So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

These two statements are critical to their respective churches and they indicate a certain degree of shared belief in Christology. Clearly, the statement Synod of Mar Aqaq serves to provide some basic and critical safeguards against Nestorianism in that it procludes the concept of two Christs and insists on a full and complete union of the two natures of Christ. 

Still, one Orthodox-seeming synodal statment does not prove the orthodoxy of the Church of the East. There is the Assyrian Church's reception of Chalcedon to be considered--yes the Assyrian Church of the East does have Chalcedon as an Ecumenical Synod, which includes a necessary treatment of the term Theotokos and some more dealing with hypostasis. The question is how does the Church of the East develop her theology after Mar Aqaq's Synod and does she remain Chalcedonian in her beliefs? 


  1. "If a man thinks or teaches differently: that suffering and change adheres to the divinity of Christ...let him be anathema." Isn't this Nestorianism? Did not the God-man suffer scourging, crucifixion, and death, and not merely the man?

  2. " that suffering and change adheres to the divinity of Christ: and [someone] does not preserve the doctrine of unity in the person of our Savior [as] perfect God and perfect man, let him be anathema"

    There are two realities that are being balanced continually in this confession: that Christ is both God and Man, two natures; that Christ is one Lord and God. The parrallism is being repeated in the quote above: the divinity of Christ is not the same nature as the humanity of Christ (ie. two natures after the union) but unity in Christ (one person) is an absolute.

    From what I have read, the Church of the East taught, together with the Orthodox Church, that the divine person of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man suffered on the cross and died and was resurrected. However, he does so in his human nature and not as divine nature but as one divine person--which is hinted in the Synod's statment of one subject in Christ, even on the Cross. In other words, the divine 'who' died on the cross but not the divine 'what'.

  3. An interesting distinction to draw - many Orthodox would reject it I think, though it's been a long while since I read St. Severus, so perhaps my thinking is off on this issue.

  4. Fr is absolutely correct about our Lord's sufferings: "he does so in his human nature and not as divine nature but as one divine person". St Maximos plus many other Orthodox fathers explicitly denied that the divine nature in Christ suffered- it was only His human nature.

  5. Evlogite adelfe!does this blog is activ?