Severus of Antioch’s Objection To The Council Of Chalcedon : A Re-Assessment

Written By: on Jun 23rd, 2009 and filed under Articles, We Believe.

The phrase ‘one incarnate nature of God the Word’, therefore, emphasizes three ideas:

(1) It was God the Word Himself who became incarnate, without undergoing any change.
(2) In becoming incarnate, He was not assuming a manhood which had already been formed in the womb of the Virgin. The manhood was formed only in the union.
(3) The incarnate Word is one Person. He who is eternally ‘simple’ took unto Himself concrete manhood and thus became ‘composite’.

Godhead creates and is not created, but manhood is created. In Jesus Christ the two have been converged into a unity, wherefore things divine and things human are present in Him in their respective reality and perfection. In fact, in our contemplation of the one Christ, we can discern them. But from this we should not proceed to assign to each nature a status independent of the other, for that would not enable us to affirm a genuine incarnation, in which manhood did not come into concrete existence by itself. The phrase ‘one nature’ then is not to be used with reference to Christ without the word ‘incarnate’. The ‘one’ in the phrase is not a simple one, or the ‘one single’ as John Meyendorff renders it; it is the one which includes the fullness of Godhead and manhood. Jesus Christ is not ‘single-natured’, but He is one ‘composite’ nature. This idea is stated in unmistakable terms in another passage:

It is not merely with reference to those that are simple by nature that the word ‘one’ is employed, but it is used also with reference to those that have come into being in composition, for which man is a good example.

The term ‘one’ in the phrase ‘one incarnate nature of God the Word’ cannot legitimately be rendered as the monoj of the monofusithj (monophysite). Severus never objected to the dynamic continuance of the two natures in the one Christ, and the ascription of the term ‘monophysite’ to his theological position is not accurate in this sense.

3.a. Objections to Chalcedon in the Light of Tradition.

Severus admits that it is possible to find evidence in the works of the earlier Fathers for the use of the ‘two natures’ formula adopted by the Council of Chalcedon, but he argues that those Fathers employed it before the outbreak of the Nestorian controversy. Since then the situation had changed, and the imprecise expressions of the past had been given up in favour of a theological tradition based on the Nicene Creed as confirmed by the Councils of Constantinople and Ephesus. In this context, Leo of Rome, without paying attention to the tradition established in the Church, insisted on the ‘in two natures’ in his Tome, and on this basis the Council of Chalcedon adopted it. This was, for Severus, a violation of the established tradition of the Church. He points out that Church Fathers, from Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons to Cyril of Alexandria, all teach Christ is a unity. He is one Person, God the Word incarnate. The idea behind the phrase ‘two natures after the union’ or the ‘in two natures’ of Chalcedon, argues Severus, is opposed to the teachings of these Fathers. The real question at issue concerning Christ’s unity is for Severus the subject of the words and deeds recorded about Him in the Gospels. The Fathers, he insists, have ascribed them to one Person, and he writes:

To walk bodily on earth and to move from place to place is indeed human. But to enable those who are lame and cannot use their feet to walk […] is God-befitting. However, it is the same God the Word incarnate who works in both.

It is this principle embedded in the tradition set up by the Fathers, which is being violated by the ‘two natures after the union’ or the ‘in two natures’. What, then, can be made of the reunion formula of 433 between Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch, which contained the expression ‘two natures’? The Formula of Reunion, contends Severus, had been drawn up against the background of a split in the Church, which itself was the result of an inability on the part of the Antiochene tradition to understand the faith in a proper way. Cyril agreed to it only after seeing that all basic principles of the faith had been preserved. In other words, the Formula of Reunion can be cited as authority only after taking into account the terms of agreement which went with it. It is in this context that one should look into the meaning of the statement in which the phrase occurs. This statement reads:

And with regard to the evangelistic and apostolic sayings concerning the Lord, know that theologians make some common, as relating to one Person—prosopon—and distinguish others, as relating to two natures, interpreting the God-befitting ones to the Godhead of Christ, and the lowly ones of His humanity.

This statement affirms that theologians take some of the words and deeds of our Lord as referring to the one Person, and the others they divide between the two natures. The intention is not to divide the words and deeds ‘between the natures in such a way that some are ascribed to the divine nature alone, and some to the human nature exclusively; they are of the one incarnate nature of God the Word. We recognize the difference in the words and the deeds; some are God befitting, some are man befitting, and some befit Godhead and manhood together’. The fact about this statement is that it did not contradict the Cyrilline principle of seeing the difference between Godhead and manhood in the one Christ in contemplation. But the Council of Chalcedon, argues Severus, went beyond the Formula of Reunion in sanctioning the ‘two natures after the union’, which the fathers had excluded.

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5 Responses for “Severus of Antioch’s Objection To The Council Of Chalcedon : A Re-Assessment”

  1. O'Neill says:

    It is interesting that people set such store by the thoughts of other humans, forgetting that said thoughts have no validity in fact, but are simply someone’s idea of what might or might not be.
    I would think that if a God existed it would have made its existence known without any ambiguity. And why would it have waited for billions of years until the pathetic specimens that are human to declare itself, makes no sense to me.
    And furthermore why would this God create a system of predation, it works beautifully, but it’s cruelty it beyond belief, a bit like the enforcing of religious belief, down the centuries.
    One only has to look at the evolutionary process to dismiss any idea of a God, and I am thankful for the knowledge that modern science has brought to us.

  2. Daniel Remy says:

    **********Corrected posting:**********
    I have only my faith in an indivisible and infinite spirit we call God and I love him for giving me life within his creation. I am content with that alone as the Great Gift of God –Life. I also believe that Jesus brought the Word of God (not the Word IS God which is a simple euphemism in Genesis with Word being the Will of God).

    Whether he was born Human or born both God and Man is question Jesus answered — He was both at the time of his birth (not adopted later at baptism which is logically inconsistent). However the Human body was created using Mary to be a Host Earth Vessel to exist on this planet and communicate with men. For eternity, Jesus’ divine nature exists. His body is no longer needed and the ascension was necessary only for men to see and believe. After that moment, a human body is no longer needed in the Intangible God-Spirit of the Universe.

    The body will reappear at the second coming and the time Christ is on earth to appear like us and indeed God created us in his image in our Spiritual souls–the body is for this earth only and not eternal spiritual life with God.

    The Holy Spirit — what can one say that Christ and John the Baptist hasn’t already stated. It is God’s Grace “touching men’s souls” and infusing the divine. A Spiritual Being from God, indivisible and the Alpha and the Omega of Creation and the First Cause without a Cause.

    This is my creed as a Jewish Christian and a Physicist. The complexities of Trinity and words (imperfect language unlike mathematics) is a human limitation of communication and of understanding the divine with Humility. We do not know anything — no one knows anything as certainty. I, you, we, they BELIEVE only.

    Three certain Beliefs I have are that God is the First Cause and Creator of all, that Jesus told us Truth, and that the Holy Spirit appeared to us from God.

    The idea of One Woman, Mary, being the Mother of God is logically and metaphysically impossible. Her womb could not bring forth what has been here forever.

    Believing in One God is difficult enough, so why complicate a simple Beautiful Truth with Mystery of the Trinity and all of the other variations of imperfect human understanding. Is Human Hubris so audacious and foolish? Careful, Ra will melt your wax wings!
    Love God and be Grateful for your life. Follow the Word of Jesus and you may see God forever. Put human pride and clergy councils aside. They are human.

    Praise God and Live Life with the Word of Jesus Christ. God does not complicate.

  3. I’m no longer sure where you’re getting your information, however great topic. I needs to spend some time studying more or understanding more. Thanks for wonderful info I used to be looking for this information for my mission.

  4. I am a member of an independent, Charismatic, Protestant church in the Chicago area. This article is a very lucid explanation of a difficult topic. Not only does it shed light on Severus and his views, but it does so from a viewpoint that is both sympathetic and orthodox. Thank you, Mr. Thomas.

  5. John Mathew, Toronto says:

    “The Council and the Tome were rejected by a large part of the Christian East, which has maintained since that time an organized existence in communities in Egypt, Syria, Ethiopia, Armenia and India, which are commonly referred to as the Oriental Orthodox Churches.”

    Nice article, but let’s be a little more correct in a historical sense — that is, India needs to be chopped from that list.

    India at that time was likely not at all connected to the “Oriental Orthodox Churches”. Back then we were, according to the evidence we do have, connected to the so-called “Nestorians” — who separated from the rest of Christianity before Chalcedon.

    “Our” (i.e., the Malankara Orthodox/Jacobites) entry into the Oriental Orthodox fraternity started, at the earliest, in the 17th century. Prior to that the Indians were Catholics (Eastern Rite Chaldeans after the 16th century schism in the Middle East within the “Nestorian Church”, and Latin-rite Catholics via Portuguese influence) and Nestorians (from the 16th century down to the historically-defensible beginning of Christianity in India in the 5th century).

    So back when Mor Severios was around, the Indians were likely a heretical community (in his eyes — assuming he knew of us, being based too far to the West for him to really know or care about us).

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