(10-minute Read)

One way in which the first Christian community tried to articulate what they believed was via the Early Church Councils. Even though there were quite varied beliefs concerning the Person and the Work of Jesus Christ, in the end, we are reminded that God built His Church, and these Conciliar perspectives gave us some notion as to how we could stay within the bounds of Biblical Orthodoxy. In the first seven councils, the Church tried to clarify what should be held in esteem when they accounted for their own professed beliefs. What did they communicate, and what was the outcome? Here is the list of the first seven ecumenical councils accepted by Catholics, Orthodox, and many Protestant Christians:

325 A.D– 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea condemns Arius and clarifies the dogma of Christ’s divin­ity by expanding Creed’s 2nd stanza

381 A.D– 1st Ecumenical Council of Constantinople expands 3rd stanza of the Nicene creed defining the divinity of the Holy Spirit and also condemns Apollinaris’s heresy that Jesus lacked a complete human soul

431 A.D– Ecumenical Council of Ephesus defines Christ as the incarnate Word of God and proclaims Mary Theotokos (“God-bearer” or “Mother of God”) after deposing Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople

451 A.D– Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon defines Christ as having both a divine and a human nature in one person

553 A.D– 2nd Ecumenical Council of Constantinople confirms Christological & trini­tarian doctrine against the Nestorians

680 A.D– 3rd Ecumenical Council of Constantinople affirms that Jesus had a truly human will as well as a truly divine will against the Monothelites

787 A.D– 2nd Ecumenical Council of Nicaea vindicates the veneration of images based on the humanity of Christ as the image or icon of the unseen God. [13]. 

According to Chalcedon (451), Jesus is one Person with two distinct natures, one human and the other Divine. He is truly/fully human and truly/fully Divine. Christ’s two natures subsist in a personal union of hypostasis, without mixture, without being a hybrid in which each nature loses its essential integrity. The Fathers at Chalcedon conclude;

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, … truly God and truly man, … to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; 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 and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons.”[1]

This distinction called the hypostatic union of the One Man Jesus Christ is essential in making out any semblance or notion of coherency when we try to articulate what we hold dear Biblically about the Person of Christ. Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld writes;

“One without the other – Humanity and Divinity – renders the Early Jesus movement unintelligible. Only by holding them together can we understand why the New Testament writers did not tell us only who Jesus is but also who He was. Stated differently, it is impossible for the Evangelists and Apostles to tell who Jesus is as the Christ, the Divine Son, without telling us who He was as the man from Nazareth, His life, His death, and His resurrection.”[2]

Ecumenia

When these councils tried to articulate what the essential definitions would be they clearly uphold that there are not two persons subsisting in Christ.  They rather say there is a divine person who acquired a human nature in addition to the Divine nature He essentially possessed prior to the incarnation. Incarnation is therefore a vestment of sorts without depletion of the Divine integrity Christ essentially partake in when we speak about the One Substance (ousia) of the Triune God. Dr. Oliver Crisp gives an excellent outline for Chalcedonian Christology which can be said to affirm the following core tenets:

  1. Christ is one person.
  2. Christ has two natures, one Divine and one human.
  3. The two natures of Christ retain their integrity and are distinct, they are not mixed together or confused, nor are they amalgamated into a hybrid of divine and human attributes (like a demigod).
  4. The natures of Christ are really united in the person of Christ-that is, they are two natures possessed by one person.[3]

Taken together these core confessions are usually what is called the two-natures doctrine. It is important to note that this is a minimalist articulation trying to give some outline for the assumed Biblical imperatives. How do Christians account for the corollary to exist without it becoming a two-person distinction? Dr. Oliver Crisp elaborates further by writing.

“The first part of this distinction is that the human nature assumed by the Son is anhypostatic-that is, it is not a person independent of the Son. The second part is the claim that the human nature of Christ is enhypostatic-that is, is made personal, or is personalized, in the very act of incarnation by means of which the human nature in question becomes (as it were) the human nature of the Son.”[4]

What Kind of Flesh Did Jesus Take?

These notions beautifully articulate what we can assume about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote.

“[Being] in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6–7.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 confirmed with clarity that Jesus is “one person” with “two natures” (full divinity and full humanity). When we read systemically through the constitutes laid down by the Fathers we are left to ask exactly what the implications were after these councils because we recognize that some further discussion ensued. How is it that one person can have two natures? When the Son of God took on humanity, did that not mean that he was talking to his divine person a second (human) person as part of that humanity? Is he not two persons, if he as two natures?

So, what again does it mean when we speak of the theological term anhypostasis? The Greek word hypostasis had come to refer in the early church discussions to what we’d call personhood—whether in the Trinity or in the two-natured person of Jesus—and so the negating ‘an‘ prefix was added to signify that, considered on its own (apart from his divinity) could be said that the incarnated reality of Jesus’ humanity was impersonal. Now Athanasius cautions us when he wrote.

“He (Jesus) became man, and did not come into [a] man. We must be clear about this, to avoid the notion that the Word dwelled in a man, hallowing him, and displaying Himself in him, as in earlier times the Word came to each of the saints.”[5]

In other words, Jesus took fully human nature, but he did not take an additional human person. Jesus can have a fully human nature without also taking pre-existing human personhood. Not that his human nature ever existed on its own. It’s a question about a hypothetical reality, intended to give insight into the actual reality. Donald Macleod summarizes well the doctrine of anhypostasis in his book The Person of Christ:

“Christ took human nature, but he did not take a man. He took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7), but not a servant. He did not even take an existing human genotype or embryo. He created the genotype in union with himself, and its ‘personality developed only in union with the Son of God . . . [H]e is a divine person who, without ‘adopting’ an existing human person took our human nature and entered upon the whole range of human experiences.[6]

Heinrich Heppe also captures it nicely when he adds;

“The humanity taken up into the person of the Logos is, then, not a personal man but human nature without personal subsistence”[7]

Anhypostasis is a “negative” doctrine, so to speak. It says where Jesus’ singular personhood does not come from. But there is a “positive” doctrine to complement it. The Doctrine of enhypostasis where that personhood comes from.

What Kind of Flesh Did the Word Become?

His humanity is not only ‘impersonal’ (anhypostatic), but it’s also ‘in’-personal (enhypostatic), in that its personhood is in the personhood of the eternal second person of the Trinity. The fully divine Son is the person who took full humanity and remains the “one person” called the God-man. Donald Macleod writes,

“The import of enhypostasis is that the human nature of Christ, although not itself an individual, is individualized as the human nature of the Son of God. It does not, for a single instant, exist as anhypostasis or non-personal”[8]

Scholar David Mathis writes.

“There is a kind of asymmetry in Christology. While (symmetrically) Jesus is both fully God and fully man—and has fully divine and fully human minds, emotions, and wills—Jesus has been divine much longer than he’s been human (asymmetrically). As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus has been fully divine from all eternity, while he added full humanity to that divinity at a certain point in time, the incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas.”[9]

Fred Sanders summarizes together the doctrines of enhypostasis and anhypostasis:

“On the one hand, the human nature of Jesus Christ is in fact a nature joined to a person, and therefore enhypostatic, or personalized. But the person who personalizes the human nature of Christ is not a created human person (like all the other persons personalizing the other human natures we encounter); rather it is the eternal second person of the Trinity. So the human nature of Christ is personal, but with a personhood from above. Considered in itself, on the other hand, and abstracted from its personalizing by the eternal person of the Son, the human nature of Jesus Christ is simply human nature, and is not personal. The human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anhypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son).”[10]

The “one person” of the two-natured Jesus is the divine person, the eternal Son. It was the eternal Son who covenanted before creation with his Father for the redemption of sinners, gladly took on our full humanity at the first Christmas, and for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2) died at the cross on Good Friday for the sins of those who treasure him and rose again triumphant over death on Easter Sunday.

What did Jesus Empty Himself off?

Another question that we should think about in this outline is what did Jesus empty Himself of when Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-6 (ESV)

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

There is no doubt that Paul is describing that the Eternal form of the Son emptied (ἐκένωσεν) or veiled His Deity by “taking the form (v/7) (μορφὴν) “in the likeness of man” (v/8). There is no depletion, but rather the assumption of corporeal human nature, but NOT at the expense of the Divine person of Jesus Christ. Bruce A. Ware writes.

“He (Christ) pours out by taking, he empties by adding. He cannot express the full range of His Divine qualities or attributes owing to His having also taken on a full human nature. While the glory of Christ’s Deity is still fully present and intact, the manifestation of that glory is not allowed full expression, covered as he is, in human nature… Christ, on the one hand, retained full deity while taking on humanity, yet on the other hand, why it was necessary that His deity, while fully possessed, could not be fully expressed due to his having taken on human nature.”[11]

Dr. Donald Macleod writes.

“This is the heart of the miracle of the incarnation: the Son of God ‘exists not only in heavenly form but also in earthly-historical form… In the incarnation, the person exists before the event and actively takes a human body and soul. In the human being, the soul does not take a body.”[12]

There is a marvelous anticipation in Scripture where the authors anticipated the actual presence of God being a visible and tangible reality amongst the people of the earth. This is exactly what we can affirm in the reality of the incarnation of Christ. That which was counted as eternally unique not becomes a reality distinctly noticed amongst us and willfully becoming the mediator for us. 

In Conclusion:

In the next article, we will look at the Scriptural imperatives that solidify the reality I have explicated in this article. 

 

Sources:

[1] The Creed of Chalcedon (451) tries to answer the question this way:

[2] Recovering Jesus. Pg. 327-328

[3] The Word Enfleshed, Pg.82

[4] Ibid, Pg.82-83.

[5] Against the Arians 3.30. 

[6] The Person of Christ Pg.201.

[7] Reformed Dogmatics, Pg.416.

[8] Ibid, Pg.202.

[9] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/enhypostasis-what-kind-of-flesh-did-the-word-become

[10] Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Intermediate Christology, Pg.31.

[11] The Man Christ Jesus. Pg.21-23

[12] Ibid, Pg.190.

[13] https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/the-first-seven-ecumenical-councils/