3.b. Objection to Chalcedon in the Light of Theological Principles.
The ‘two natures after the union’ or the ‘in two natures’ implies, argues Severus again and again, that the human child was formed in the womb by himself first, and that God the Word assumed him later. According to this view, the man remained man and God the Son remained God the Son in a state of conjoint existence, without being united in any real sense. Such a view, insists Severus, is precisely what the Nestorian school had affirmed and the Council of Ephesus had declared heretical. The Antiochene concern behind a union of two hypostases and the prosopon of Christ being the prosopon formed of a union of two hypostatic realities is conserved by Severus, without dividing the natures one from the other. Thus, for Severus, three things are seen to have happened together:
(1) God the Word formed the manhood in the womb of the Virgin through the Holy Spirit, without male cooperation;
(2) the union of the Godhead of the Word with the manhood at the very moment of its formation;
(3) the individuation of the manhood in union with Godhead, whereby the manhood became hypostatic.
The objection which Severus has toward the Antiochene position is twofold. In the first place, it conceives of the manhood as having been formed in the Virgin’s womb prior to the union; or, more directly to the point, that manhood had become an hypostasis even before the union. Secondly it divides things divine from things human. Severus concludes that the proponents of the Antiochene tradition did not affirm a real union of the natures; they maintained only the conjoint existence in Christ of God the Son and the man. It was in order to assert this position that they had insisted on ‘two natures after the union’. Therefore, in such a context, the Council of Chalcedon cannot have intended anything other than this Antiochene emphasis by the phrase ‘in two natures’.
At best, argues Severus, the ‘in two natures’ of the Council of Chalcedon could mean ‘two united natures after the union’. Nestorius and his supporters had admitted even this emphasis. Therefore the Council of 451, which claimed to have excluded Nestorianism, cannot vindicate itself regarding its adoption of the ‘in two natures’. However, Chalcedon does affirm the ‘hypostatic union’ and the ‘one hypostasis’, which Nestorianism had rejected. Severus insists that ‘hypostatic union’ and ‘one hypostasis’ do not agree with the ‘in two natures’ or the ‘two natures after the union’. Therefore, in endorsing these expressions, the Council cannot have preserved the meaning that the earlier Fathers intended.
From this point of view, the Tome of Leo creates more problems than can be solved. ‘The Tome of Leo refers to union three times’, observes Severus, ‘but in none of them the document conserves the sense of the divine and the human natures converging into a unity, or of the hypostatic union. The Tome recognizes only the union in prosopon’. Therefore, he concludes, the Tome contradicts the doctrinal tradition of the Church. The Council of Chalcedon commits the same error. Severus’ objection to Chalcedon is not derived from a ‘monophysite’ point of view: it comes from a genuine fear that the Council did not affirm the unity of Christ adequately, and that it therefore violated the faith of the Church.
The epithet ‘monophysite’ is applied to the non-Chalcedonian side of the Christological debate due to its affirmation of the one Person or hypostasis of Christ, without admitting the phrase ‘in two natures’ or ‘two natures after the union’. However, with respect to Severus, this criticism does not hold in its strictest sense, as he believes that God the Son united to Himself perfect manhood, which became hypostatic in the union, wherefore the manhood of Christ was not merely manhood in the abstract made concrete and particular in a body endowed with the rational soul, but was also hypostatic. As such, the manhood was endowed with the human activating principle, or the personal element. ‘Monophysitism’ as a theological position taken in the usual sense, cannot be found in the Christology of Severus of Antioch.
Although the confession of the Church in the Person of Jesus Christ as God the Son incarnate is central to the Christian faith, the issues that have caused the division of the one Church into different ecclesiastical traditions is not by any means insoluble. To find a solution to the problem, a sustained and determined effort is necessary on the part of theologians and Church leaders of the present time. If they are able to reach an agreed basis, which would be considered honourable by every tradition, they will realize that they have all along been holding to that one faith of the Church through the centuries.