09 June, 2009

Did Jesus have two natures?

The first century Christians referred to Jesus as “Lord” and in doing so acknowledged the deepest mystery of our faith but it was central as the confession of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. At the same time it was difficult to put into words or express with human understanding what was impressed upon the human spirit by the Spirit which was the intuitive knowledge that Jesus is God in the flesh. Theologians were perplexed for more than two centuries on how to place into proper context on even the most rudimentary parameters of this confession of the Church. The difficulty arose because they did not want to compromise either the deity or the humanity of Jesus. The Scriptural witness did not allow the early Church to consider Christ anything less than true God, or anything less that true man. The difficulty in understanding and explaining knowledge derived of the Spirit is that the mystery that defies explanation in a way that one can reasonably understand with their human intellect often reduces it to mere sophistry or logical contradiction. Like so many things of faith it is easier to dismiss understanding of the Spirit for human reason as if there must be some merger of intellect and faith for veracity. As the Scriptures suggest, in matters of faith we must accept with a childlike innocence and reason.

It is interesting to note that the first heresy facing the early Church was not defending His deity but His humanity. St. Tertullian said, “The human blood of our Lord was still smoking on the hills of Judea when there were some among us who said, He is not human.” As time went on it was also necessary to defend the divinity of Jesus against heresies because the Church realized that if the concept of Jesus’ humanity is removed, we do not have divinity left but instead we have nothing. The Christology of the early Church tells us that if we remove the deity of Christ, we do not have humanity left, instead we have nothing left. Therefore, the early Church was uncompromising on accepting any concept that departed from Jesus being fully man and fully God. The Council of Chalcedon in 451AD stated the following: that the distinction of natures is ”in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature (is) preserved …coming together to form one person and subsistence (hypostasis) not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and only begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.” Between the years 325AD (Nicaea) to 451AD (Chalcedon), the Church after four Ecumenical Councils had settled on four matters of doctrine in regards to the understanding of the person of Christ: His full deity, His full humanity, His unity in person, and the distinction of His two natures.

In Christ
Fr. Joseph

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