Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Popular doctrine picking and choosing

I already blogged a little about the inconsistent manner we like to summarise our historical roots as Christians, particularly the Protestant, charismatic and other independent churches. Sometimes we claim that we accept the first four ecumenical councils and not the last three. Respected author and researcher Patrick Johnstone writes in his footnotes on p64, paragraph 5, of the Future of the Global Church:

The Council of Chalcedon condemned both the extreme positions of Monophysitism (in which Christ was one Person in whom the divine and the human were fused completely in one nature) and Diphysitism (purportedly Nestorius' view, in which Christ had two, unmingled natures or essences in one Person). The council took a middle position: that Christ was an indivisible union from two distinct natures. Sadly, the complex shades of meaning over which they argued were more a reflection of the broken relationships between the spokesmen for each position, the different languages they used - Latin, Greek and Syrica - and the different political systems in which they operated. Evangelical Christians of the 21st Century would probably have been closer to the position of the Eastern Church, with its emphasis on the Scriptures and its insistence that Mary was not the Mother of God but only the mother of Jesus.

What is going on here? I smell picking, choosing and twisting! Read especially carefully the final sentence starting "Evangelical Christians..."

  1. Diphysitism (purportedly Nestorius' view, in which Christ had two, unmingled natures or essences in one Person), this hardly seems to me an extreme position against which the creed brought balance; Johnstone's wording here is almost word for word the creed itself! If  my understanding is correct, the Nestorian position went a lot further, not just no mingling of the natures, but the separation was so deep that it denied the hypostatic union and pretty much implied schizophrenia!
  2. Emphasis on the Scriptures: I think many would disagree with Johnstone on this interpretation of this primary concern of the 21st Century church.
  3. Mary was not the Mother of God: this is flat out wrong, sorry to be so blunt. It is not just wrong however, it is also surprising to read that here from such a thorough researcher. It is, furthermore, symptomatic of the picking and choosing of the modern church that thinks it is building off such solid creedal foundations, themselves built on the deeper-still biblical foundations.

Quick reminder of the facts: the third ecumenical council of Ephesus confirms that Mary was the Mother of God, and Chalcedon REAFFIRMS her title, while also qualifying it.

So here's the text of the Chalcedon creed, translated into English:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως – in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεόν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Here's an authoritative text from the Ephesus council, the first of twelve anathemas of St. Cyril against Nestorius, translated into English:

If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, The Word was made flesh] let him be anathema.

Finally, let me just copy-paste for you a line from Canon 7 of this Synod, so we can get a feel for how these councils stamped their authority:

When these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (ἑτέρανFaith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa.

Conclusion: we are not picky just in the sense of refusing the last three councils. We are also picky within the first four also. What does that mean?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks very much for your feedback, really appreciate the interaction.