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.

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.

4. Conclusion

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.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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