Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Our Collective Faith and Heresies 5

posted by Scot McKnight

Heresies.jpg The first two heresies were about who Christ is/was. The next two are about how the divine and the human nature are related. The first concerned Nestorius and Theotokos, the God-bearer. The next heresy is from Eutyches and Eutychianism or Monophysitism. All of this is discussed at an excellent level by B. Quash and M. Ward, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe .

In essence (that’s a pun), Eutychianism teaches that Jesus has only one nature, and it is hybrid of divine and human. The impact is that Jesus’ humanity is not (quite) the same as ours. The Fourth Council, at Chalcedon in 451, decreed this view incompatible with our gospel and salvation. The Church has always held this viewpoint.

A theme in this book is that heresy prompts reflection that leads to sound theology, to orthodoxy. But, as the author of this chp, Marcus Plested, an Orthodox theologian, states it, orthodoxy is more than reponse to bad ideas but the living articulation of we know to be true about the gospel.

Heretics, Plested observes, did not seek to be wrong but they sought out answers to their own questions. Orthodoxy is “less incorrect” than heresy. And, in fact, Plested contends Eutyches never really taught the hybrid theory of Christ’s nature. If Nestorius separated the humanity and deity of Christ too much, Eutyches didn’t separate them enough. His critics didn’t think he denied his view enough when he made a concession.

It was at Chalcedon, in 451, that Eutyches’ view was denied. Here are the words: the perfect humanity and perfect deity were united in Christ “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation” (46).

The real humanity of Christ must be affirmed if he is to become Incarnate and take upon himself our nature; the reality deity of Christ must be affirmed if Christ is to satisfy the divine nature in that act of redemption. Furthermore, Eutyches makes communicants at the Eucharist to be “God-eaters” because the bread and wine are taken up into the God-nature of Christ. Hence, the humanity (separable from deity) need to be respected in order to understand the eucharist. And Plested contends Eutyches ultimately destroys the future/eternal human-ness of humans.

Plested is convinced this view isn’t held much today, but I’m not so sure: it seems to me that many think of Christ’s nature in hybrid terms instead of two inseparate natures. [Slightly corrected.]

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posted March 31, 2009 at 2:43 am

I think you are right when many people still confuse or hybridize Christ’s natures. I also think that many still separate them. It is a very difficult box to stay in sometimes. Even you said the natures were separable in your last couple of words, when Chalcedon as you quoted says quite clearly they are without separation. It is hard for us to conceive of two things that are distinct but not separate; united but not mingled. Much like with the Trinity, what really happens in baptism, and a host of other mysterious beliefs, we don’t have the capability to express it precisely and accurately.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 6:47 am

The mention of Eucharist here is interesting. When the discussion of the nature of Christ becomes tied up with Eucharist it always seems to me that we step into a place where we should not go – and way beyond where Scripture goes. One trend I think we see in the history of the church is a deep tendency to take the human elements out of the faith, to dehumanize it – and nowhere is this seen more deeply than in “theories” of Eucharist.

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Scot McKnight

posted March 31, 2009 at 6:50 am

Will, thanks for that and I corrected it. I did have “separable” and I suppose “distinct” would have been better.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 9:20 am

“The Church has always held this viewpoint.”
Why do you keep saying this? There would have been no need for any council to decree it a heresy if it hadn’t become a popular belief within the church which needed to be corrected.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 10:32 am

Let me be a little provocative here (relax Scot):
I think the deity of Christ is affirmed in so many places in scripture in so many ways it cannot be denied without doing violence to the scriptures themselves.
But this issue seems to be more about protecting our understanding or interpretion of certain issues — namely, if we have understood redemption correctly, and if we have understood the eucharist correctly, then Christ’s human and divine natures cannot be mingled too closely.
So was this protecting a critical Christian doctrine or simply the dominate interpretation of the scriptures?

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Mark Baker-Wright

posted March 31, 2009 at 11:34 am

Re: #4, commenting on this bit,
The Fourth Council, at Chalcedon in 451, decreed this view incompatible with our gospel and salvation. The Church has always held this viewpoint.
Indeed, the most we can say is that “the Church has always since held this viewpoint.” The very need for the Council in the first place proves that the Church hasn’t always had a definitive opinion on the matter.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 11:45 am

Mark (#6)
I think that some of these “heresies” involve details such that it is not correct to say that the church always held this position either before or after the relevant council verdict. So the first two heresies – about who Christ is/was – involved real heresies. Jesus was both human and divine and attempts to deny either are wrong.
On the other hand the decrees of heresy that deal with how the divine and human natures are interrelated seem to me to tread on shaky ground much of the time. I agree with ChrisB – this seems to me more a case of protecting dominant interpretation than protecting critical doctrine.

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Claude Brown

posted March 31, 2009 at 12:14 pm

I am trying to follow this so I do have a question what is the problem with accepting scripture when it says that Jesus the Christ, “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” Luke 23:46 By that I mean that he became a man who lived a life oof perfection and then sacrficed that life for the salvation of many?

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Cam R

posted March 31, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Isn’t Eutychianism just another form of docetism? It seems to be another way of saying “Jesus seemed to be fully human” but really he has a hybrid nature so he isn’t fully human–he is something else than us.
As well, should our understanding of how communion works inform our understand of Jesus? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Does this heresy stem from incorrect theology about Jesus or about theories regarding bread and wine actually becoming flesh and blood?
I think the former but as we get into these heresies I wonder what philosophy or rational drove them.

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Scott M

posted March 31, 2009 at 1:44 pm

This is what the Church has always believe, as Scot said, because the Church has always understood Jesus as fully human and fully div

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Scott M

posted March 31, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Sigh. Apparently can’t get more than a few words through again.

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Mike M

posted March 31, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Scott M (##10-13): Maybe that’s a sign from God!

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Phil W

posted March 31, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Although I think that the definition of Chalcedon is superior to its competitors, I don’t consider adherence to the definition a legitimate test of orthodoxy.
It is extremely doubtful that the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox (aka Oriental Orthodox) are actually heretics. The Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox viewed each other as heretics for centuries, but over the last few decades they actually started to listen to each other.
Check out the official statements of the Eastern Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox dialogue:
BTW, Copts and other Oriental Orthodox consider the label “Monophysite” akin to calling a Catholic a “Papist” or a Muslim a “Mohammedan.” The Oriental Orthodox call their own view “Miaphysitism.”

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Mike M

posted March 31, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Phil: and the new, updated Eastern/Greek Orthodox NT in English is now available:

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Charles Cosimano

posted April 1, 2009 at 2:45 am

The Intelligence that created the entire Universe is going to sit like a petty bureaucrat and check off the beliefs of people before letting them into Heaven. Yeah, right.
The idea of Heresy is medieval nonsense.

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Scot McKnight

posted April 1, 2009 at 7:17 am

You’re language prejudices the case because you’ve equated any view that God cares what one believes with a petty bureaucrat.
The issues are these: Does one have to believe in Jesus Christ? Let’s say yes. Once one admits that, one has to ask what one has to believe about Jesus Christ for it to be the real, apostolically-understood Jesus Christ.

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