Throughout the history of Christian theology, various compositional models have been proposed to understand and explain the divinity and humanity of Christ. These models attempt to grapple with the complex and central theological concept of the Incarnation. Here are some notable compositional models:
Chalcedonian Model: The Chalcedonian Creed, formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, is one of the most widely accepted models in Christianity. It asserts that Jesus Christ is “truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the divinity, and consubstantial with us according to the humanity.” In this model, Christ’s divinity and humanity are fully present without mixture, confusion, or division. The Chalcedonian Creed was formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in response to theological controversies and heresies of the time, and it sought to provide a clear and balanced expression of the relationship between Christ’s divine and human natures. This model asserts that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human, and it serves as a foundational statement of faith for many Christian denominations and traditions, including the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many Protestant churches. It continues to play a central role in Christian theology and Christological discussions.
Nestorianism: This early Christian heresy, associated with Nestorius, emphasizes the distinction between the divine and human natures of Christ to the point of almost separating them into two distinct persons. It was condemned as a heresy because it seemed to undermine the unity of Christ. Key points of Nestorianism include:
- Christological Separation: Nestorius taught that there were two distinct persons or “hypostases” in Jesus Christ: one divine and one human. He held that Mary gave birth to the human person (Christ), not the divine Son of God. This view emphasized the separation of Christ’s natures.
- Use of “Christotokos”: Nestorius preferred the title “Christotokos” (Christ-bearer) for Mary, as opposed to “Theotokos” (God-bearer), which was commonly used in Christian theology to emphasize the divine nature of Christ. This preference reflected his theological perspective.
- Emphasis on Moral Unity: While Nestorius emphasized the distinction between Christ’s natures, he did assert a moral and ethical unity in the person of Christ. However, this distinction still raised concerns about undermining the full unity of Christ.
Nestorianism was viewed as a heretical position by the broader Christian community, as it seemed to compromise the essential unity of Christ. It sparked significant controversy and led to the convening of the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, where Nestorius and his teachings were condemned. The council affirmed the title “Theotokos” (Mother of God) for Mary and upheld the Chalcedonian formulation, emphasizing the full union of Christ’s divinity and humanity in one person. This council’s decisions helped clarify orthodox Christology and rejected Nestorianism as a heretical view.
Monophysitism: This ancient heretical view, often associated with Eutyches, asserts that Christ has only one nature, a divine nature that absorbs or subsumes His humanity. It was rejected as a heresy by the Chalcedonian Council. Key points of Monophysitism include:
- One Nature (Physis): Monophysites, like Eutyches, held that Christ had a single nature (physis) that was primarily divine. They believed that the divine nature fully overwhelmed or consumed the human nature, leaving no room for a distinct and complete human nature in Christ.
- Rejection of Two Natures: Monophysitism rejected the Chalcedonian Creed’s assertion of two natures in Christ, emphasizing that Christ is “truly God and truly man.” Monophysites saw this as a compromise of Christ’s divinity.
- Conflict with Chalcedonian Orthodoxy: The Monophysite position directly conflicted with the Chalcedonian Council’s definition of the faith, which upheld the view that Christ had two distinct natures united in one person without confusion, mixture, or separation. The Chalcedonian Council took a stance against Monophysitism, considering it a heresy.
- Impact and Later Developments: Monophysitism led to schisms within the Christian Church, resulting in the formation of various Monophysite churches, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. These churches maintain their distinct theological perspectives and liturgical traditions to this day.
The rejection of Monophysitism at the Chalcedonian Council in 451 AD played a significant role in shaping orthodox Christology by reaffirming the belief in the coexistence of two natures, divine and human, in the person of Jesus Christ. This helped to establish the Chalcedonian Model as a central and widely accepted framework for understanding the nature of Christ in many branches of Christianity.
Miaphysitism: Also known as the Cyrillian model, this perspective, associated with St. Cyril of Alexandria, asserts that Christ has one composite nature (mia physis) that is a union of the divine and human natures. This view is held by the Oriental Orthodox churches. Key points of Miaphysitism include:
- One Composite Nature: Miaphysites emphasize the unity of Christ’s nature rather than focusing on a strict duality of natures. They affirm that Christ’s divinity and humanity are so closely united that they cannot be separated or divided into two distinct natures. Instead, they exist as a single, composite nature.
- Influence of St. Cyril: St. Cyril of Alexandria, a prominent figure in early Christian theology, played a significant role in shaping this perspective. He used the term “mia physis” to express the inseparable union of the divine and human in Christ.
- Rejection of Nestorianism: Miaphysitism arose in response to the Nestorian controversy and aimed to counter the perceived Nestorian separation of Christ’s natures. Miaphysites argued that emphasizing the oneness of Christ’s nature safeguarded both His full divinity and humanity.
- Oriental Orthodox Churches: The Miaphysite understanding of Christ’s nature is a defining characteristic of the Oriental Orthodox tradition, which includes churches such as the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and others. These churches rejected the Chalcedonian formulation and its assertion of two natures in Christ, leading to a schism with the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions.
The Miaphysite perspective represents a distinct Christian Christological tradition, emphasizing the unity of Christ’s nature. It differs from the Chalcedonian Model, which affirms the coexistence of two distinct natures in the person of Christ. The theological differences between these traditions have persisted for centuries, contributing to the ongoing division between Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the Oriental Orthodox churches.
Kenotic Model: This theological perspective, inspired by Philippians 2:6-8, suggests that in the Incarnation, Christ voluntarily emptied Himself (kenosis) of some divine attributes or prerogatives to fully take on human nature. The emphasis here is on Christ’s self-limitation while maintaining His divine nature. Key points of the Kenotic Model include:
- Philippians 2:6-8: The primary biblical passage that informs the Kenotic Model is Philippians 2:6-8, which reads, “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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
- Voluntary Self-Emptying: According to this model, Christ’s act of emptying Himself is seen as a voluntary self-limitation of His divine attributes. In becoming incarnate, Christ willingly set aside certain divine prerogatives to experience the fullness of human life, including vulnerability, suffering, and mortality.
- Maintaining Divine Nature: While emphasizing Christ’s self-limitation, the Kenotic Model maintains that He did not divest Himself of His divine nature. Instead, He temporarily suspended or veiled the exercise of certain divine attributes while fully being God.
- Purpose of Redemption: The Kenotic Model is often linked to the idea that Christ’s self-emptying was a necessary step in His mission to redeem humanity. By becoming fully human and sharing in the human experience, Christ could identify with and save humanity from sin and its consequences.
It’s important to note that the Kenotic Model is a theological perspective and not a universally accepted doctrine in all Christian traditions. Some theologians and Christian denominations find it useful in explaining the mystery of the Incarnation, while others may have different interpretations of Philippians 2:6-8 or prefer other models, such as the Chalcedonian Model, to describe the relationship between Christ’s divine and human natures.
Adoptionism: This heretical view proposes that Jesus was merely a human who was adopted by God as the Son, implying that He did not possess a divine nature from eternity. Adoptionism was rejected as a heresy by the early Christian church. Key points of Adoptionism include:
- Human Origin: Adoptionism holds that Jesus was born as a fully human being with no inherent divine nature. In this view, He was a regular human being and not God incarnate.
- Adoption as God’s Son: According to Adoptionism, Jesus was later adopted by God as His Son, often at His baptism or some other significant event in His life. It is at this point of adoption that Jesus is believed to have received divine attributes or a special divine status.
- Denial of Pre-Existence: Adoptionism generally denies the pre-existence of Christ, meaning that Jesus did not exist as the eternal Son of God before His earthly life.
- Rejection by the Early Church: Adoptionism faced significant opposition from early Christian theologians and leaders. It was considered a threat to orthodox Christology, which affirmed the eternal divinity of Christ and His full deity from the beginning. As a result, Adoptionism was declared a heresy by various church councils and rejected by the broader Christian community.
- Variations: It’s important to note that there were different forms of Adoptionism with varying degrees of theological detail and nuance. Some proponents of Adoptionism held more extreme views than others, but they all shared the core belief that Jesus was not eternally divine.
One of the most famous controversies involving Adoptionism occurred in the 8th century, known as the “Adoptionist Controversy” or the “Spanish Adoptionist Controversy,” which involved theologians like Elipandus of Toledo and Felix of Urgel.
In response to Adoptionism and other Christological heresies, the early Christian church developed orthodox creeds and dogmas, such as the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed, to clearly articulate the belief in Christ’s full divinity and humanity from eternity. These creeds played a significant role in solidifying the orthodox Christian understanding of Christ’s nature.
Communication of Attributes: This model emphasizes that the properties of both Christ’s divine and human natures are communicated or shared with each other. For example, it suggests that Christ’s divine attributes, such as omnipresence, are communicated to His human nature, and His human experiences are communicated to His divine nature. Key points of the Communication of Attributes model include:
- Sharing of Attributes: This model posits that because Christ is one person with two natures (divine and human), there is a sharing or communication of certain attributes between these natures. This means that some properties that typically belong to one nature can be attributed to another.
- Examples of Communication: For example, proponents of the Communication of Attributes might suggest that Christ’s divine attributes, such as omnipresence or omniscience, are communicated to His human nature. This allows Christ to be present everywhere and possess full knowledge despite His human limitations. Conversely, it is also believed that Christ’s human experiences, such as suffering and hunger, can be communicated to His divine nature, allowing Him to fully empathize with humanity.
- Biblical Basis: Supporters of this model often point to passages in the New Testament where divine attributes and human experiences are seemingly attributed to Christ interchangeably. For instance, both divine and human characteristics are ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels.
- Theological Implications: The Communication of Attributes model seeks to maintain the full divinity and full humanity of Christ while recognizing their inseparable union. It affirms that Christ is not two separate persons but one person with two distinct natures.
It’s important to note that the Communication of Attributes model has been the subject of theological debate and refinement throughout Christian history. Theological nuances and variations exist within different Christian traditions and denominations regarding how attributes are communicated and to what extent. Nonetheless, this model reflects an attempt to reconcile the paradox of Christ’s dual nature while affirming His unity as the incarnate Son of God.
Dual Consciousness Model: Some theologians propose that Christ possessed two distinct consciousnesses, one divine and one human, while still being one person. This model seeks to explain how Christ could be both omniscient (knowing all things) and limited in knowledge as a human. Key points of the Dual Consciousness Model include:
- Two Distinct Minds/Consciousnesses: According to this model, Christ had two distinct minds or consciousnesses—one associated with His divine nature and the other associated with His human nature. These two consciousnesses coexisted in the one person of Christ.
- Divine Omniscience and Human Limitation: The Dual Consciousness Model attempts to explain how Christ could be omniscient in His divine consciousness (possessing all knowledge) while also experiencing limitations in His human consciousness, such as limited knowledge or ignorance in certain matters. It acknowledges that Christ, as God, knows all things, but as a human, He may have chosen not to access or exercise that divine omniscience in every moment of His earthly life.
- Maintaining Unity of Person: Despite the presence of two consciousnesses, this model affirms the essential unity of Christ’s person. He is not considered two persons but one person with two distinct natures and consciousnesses.
- Challenges and Nuances: The Dual Consciousness Model has faced many theological challenges and nuances. Critics may question how these two consciousnesses interact, whether they are separable or distinct, and how they relate to each other.
It’s important to note that the Dual Consciousness Model is not universally accepted in all Christian traditions, and the understanding of Christ’s dual consciousness varies among theologians. Some theologians prefer other models, such as the Communication of Attributes or the Chalcedonian Model, to explain the relationship between Christ’s divine and human natures. Nevertheless, the Dual Consciousness Model reflects an attempt to grapple with the theological complexities of the Incarnation and the unity of Christ’s person while acknowledging the distinct attributes of His nature.
These compositional models reflect the historical and theological discussions within Christianity regarding the nature of Christ. Different Christian denominations and traditions may emphasize one model over others, and debates about these models continue in theological circles.