Sunday, June 06, 2010

Heresies: Nestorianism – A Divided Christ

Heresies: Nestorianism – A Divided Christ by Michael Patton @ Parchment and Pen

Have you heard something like this: “When Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane asking for relief, it was the human side of him speaking.” Or how about this, “When Christ said that he did not know the day or the hour of his coming, that was the human person talking, not the divine.” Or even better: “When Christ was forsaken on the cross, it was simply his humanity that was forsaken, not his deity.”

All of these statements, to some degree, represent an early Christological (concerning Christ) heresy called Nestorianism. Formally, Nestorianism is a belief first attributed to Nestorius (c. 386–c. 451), Archbishop of Constantinople. Nestorians believed that Christ existed after the incarnation as two separate persons, Jesus the man and the Son of God. Although there is quite a bit of debate as to whether the issues involved in this controversy were legitimate or linguistic and political (and as to whether Nestorius himself truly held to such a view), this doctrine was condemned as heresy at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The orthodox Christian position was that Christ exists as one person with two natures.

Christ cannot be divided. When we assume that Christ can speak from his humanity or from his deity, this often evidences that we don’t have an orthodox view of the hypostatic union (the union of the two natures of Christ). Christ is not two persons, but one. Christ is not two consciousnesses, but one. Therefore, every time Christ speaks, he speaks from his single personhood.

If Christ were two persons, redemption was not accomplished as it would render the incarnation and representation of Christ meaningless. Why? Because there would be no need for an incarnation. The union would have little difference to any believer’s union with Christ. One person and state of consciousness would be connected, in some way, to another person and state of consciousness. This union does not provide any qualifications for redemption as the human is simply another person who is not God. Christ did not have multiple personalities.

This is why we believe that Christ is completely (very) God and completely (very) man; one person, two complete natures without division.

When Christ died on the cross, it was the person of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who experienced the death of his human nature and separation from the Father. Of course his divine nature did not die. However, the eternal Son did experience a mysterious relational breach (death) with the Father as he bore the sins of mankind.

When Christ prayed in the Garden to “Let this cup pass from me” it was the same person who in eternity past purposed to die for the sins of mankind and the same person who, moments later, rebuked Peter for suggesting (by cutting off the ear of a gaurd!) that he find another “cup” to drink. In a very real sense he knew that the cross was the only way, even though he experienced a terrible trial in the Garden.

When Christ said that he did not know the day or the hour of his coming, it was the same person who with the Godhead planned every aspect of redemption including his second coming. While the “rules” of the incarnation and redemption may have included a limitation to his access of his omniscience, the one person of Christ could have instantaneously made himself of aware of everything at anytime, including knowledge of the time of his coming. However, had he done so, he likely would have forfeited redemption.

Theotokos (Gk theos, “God” + Gk tokos, “parturition, childbirth”) is a historic designation given to Mary in relation to her role as the mother of Christ. Hang with me here. Theotokos means “God bearer.” This designation was approved by the third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431. Nestorius opposed the use of the term theotokos, preferring christotokos (”Christ-bearer), believing that Mary was the mother of the human nature of Christ, not the divine nature (which is true). Most, however, felt that this would divide Christ into two persons, giving the impression that the human nature might have existed without the divine nature for a time and therefore assumed its own person. Christ had to be complete from conception, two natures one person. Led by Cyril of Alexandria, the council chose theotokos to acknowledge a belief in the dual-nature of Christ. It is important to note that this designation was not meant to venerate Mary, but to make a theological statement about Christ. He must be fully God, fully man, and one person from the beginning if man is to have redemption.

Next, we will cover Gnosticism.


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