Councils and Controversies

Toleration had hardly arrived before Christians found themselves embroiled in a long and decisive struggle for their faith in Christ. Born shortly after Origen died, Arms (¿".260—¿".336) inherited Origen's trinitarian teaching about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three hypostaseis or distinct individuals who share in the one divine nature but manifest a certain subordination (of the Son and the Spirit to the Father).21 Arius apparently wanted to push this subordination much further. He spread his views not only by preaching powerfully but also by composing popular verses and songs. He held that the Father is absolutely beyond the Son and, being unbegotten, is the only true God. Any generation 'from the substance (ousia)' of the Father would misinterpret the divinity in physical categories and wrongly suggest the divine substance being divided into two or three parts. Like the followers of Sabellius, Arius and his group wanted to preserve the absolute 'mon-archy (one principle)' of God. But unlike the Sabellians, they held on to the real difference of identity between the Father and the Son. (Arius had almost nothing to say about the Holy Spirit.) Where Sabellians asserted a strict unity of the divine essence without any real distinction of subjects (so that 'Father', 'Son', and 'Holy Spirit were simply three different modes in which the strictly mono-personal God acts and is revealed), the Arians distinguished the subjects while denying their unity of essence. They considered the Son inferior to and, in fact, infinitely different from the Father.

In an incoherent statement ridiculed by Athanasius, who attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 and became bishop of Alexandria in 328, Arius described the Son as being created out of nothing and by the will of the Father, but not created 'like one of the creatures'. Using a phrase repudiated by Origen in the previous century, Arius denied that the Son was co-eternal with the Father: 'there was [a time] when he was not'. Arius insisted that the Son's being 'generated' was in effect a creation. The only creature directly created by the Father, the Son carried out the will of the Father by creating everything else and so acting as a kind of demiurge, a Logos

On Arius and Arianism see D. E. Groh, 'Arius, Arianism', Anchor Bible Dictionary , i. 384—6; R. Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1987). For clear guides to the early councils, see W Portier, Tradition and Incarnation (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994), 160—206, and N. Tanner, The Councils of the Church: A Short History (New York: Crossroad, 2001), 13—33.

exercising power between God and the universe. Hence the One who became incarnate was less than God and not truly divine. It was this challenge to Christ's divinity that the Council concerned itself to rebut.

Nicaea I confessed in its creed that the Son is 'of the substance/being (ousia) of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance/being (homoousios) with the Father'. The Council anathematized those who said of the Son 'there was [a time] when he was not', and that 'he was created out of nothing and is of a different hypostasis or ousia from the Father' (DH 125—6; ND 7—8). This amounted to holding that the Son is truly Son of God and not less than God: in the generation (not creation) of the Son, the substance of the Father has been fully communicated, and the Son is co-eternal with the Father.

The Council of Nicaea spoke out clearly for the divinity of Christ, but used three terms that continued to run into difficulties: homoousios, ousia, and hypostasis. Many bishops and others remained uneasy about or even antagonistic to the term homoousios. It was not biblical. It had a chequered background, and, in particular, could be misunderstood in a Sabellian sense, as if the Father and the Son were identical not only in substance/nature but also as personal subjects. Homoousios might also be applied to material substances such as a whole mass of bronze that can be cut up into parts and made into such particular, separate objects as coins. Some of the early 'material' analogies for the relationship between Father and Son were open to this misunderstanding. Furthermore, at least some bishops understood homoousios in a generic sense, as if the Father and the Son shared the same kind of being but not an identical being. In ancient Greek, as in modern English, 'same' does not necessarily mean 'numerically identical' or 'one and the same'. In any case a number of bishops, while opposed to Arius, continued to prefer a term that had been discussed and rejected at the Council, homoiousios, in the sense of the Son 'being of like substance' with the Father.

As used both in the NT and in (Platonic and Stoic) philosophy, the relevant range of meanings for hypostasis tended to cluster under two headings: hypostasis as (1) the primordial essence, or as (2) the individuating principle, subject, or subsistence. In the third century Origen confronted Sabellian modalism by speaking (in the latter sense) of the triune God as three individual hypostaseis. The terminological problem was bedevilled by the fact that Western (Latin) Christians, ever since the time of Tertullian, understood the Greek hypostasis to correspond to their Latin term substantia, that is to say, they took hypostasis in sense (1) above. Hence when Eastern (Greek) Christians acknowledged the three hypostaseis of God, Westerners were easily shocked as they interpreted such a statement to mean three separate divine substances. However, from their point of view, the Greeks could misunderstand Latin talk about the one divine substantia as lapsing into the modalist position of one hypostasis in sense (2) of the word and hence as a denial of any personal distinctions within God.

The upshot for Nicaea of this inherited ambiguity about hypostasis was that taking ousia and hypostasis to be equivalents, as the Council did, ran the risk of homoousios being misunderstood in a Sabellian way. Father and Son are not only of the same ousia but also of the same hypostasis—in sense (2). Then there would be no real distinction between Father and Son; they would not be distinct individuals.

Uncompromising in championing the teaching of Nicaea I and in opposing Arius and the Arians, Athanasius suffered much during his forty-five years as bishop of Alexandria (328—73) and was driven five times into exile or hiding. An eloquent and learned hermit turned bishop, St Basil of Caesarea (¿".330—'79) and others joined Athanasius in support of homoousios and its right interpretation. The term pointed to the numerical identity of essence between the three divine persons. In particular as regards the 'substance' of God, the Father and the Son are the 'same one'. Those decades of controversy left indelibly imprinted on the conscience of Catholics (and many other Christians) a deep faith in Christ's divinity. This faith remained for them an utterly non-negotiable truth.

Basil, St Gregory of Nazianzus (329—89), and their associates in Cappadocia not only helped secure the triumph of Nicaea's teaching on the common essence, substance, or ousia shared by Father and Son (and Holy Spirit) but also a switch away from the Council's terminology. They no longer used ousia and hypostasis as synonyms. The Cappadocians wrote of one ousia (numerically identical essence or substance), divinity, or power shared by three hypostaseis (individual subsistences) or prosopa ('persons'). This group of saintly theologians helped put their trinitarian language firmly in place at the First Council of Constantinople (381), which reaffirmed and expanded the teaching of Nicaea to give the Church, the enduringly successful Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. It became the sole baptismal confession of the East and the eucharistic creed of all Christians.

Constantinople I, in particular, defended the existence of the Holy Spirit as a distinct and equal divine person, and did so by enlarging massively the third article of the Creed which Nicaea I had left brief and cryptic ('we believe in the Holy Spirit'). Probably because the majority of the bishops and Emperor Theodosius I (who had convened the Council in the hope of putting an end to the disputes about the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit) recognized the anger roused in some circles by Nicaea's term homoousios, they declined to apply this term to the Holy Spirit in the Creed. They preferred instead to acknowledge the Spirit's divinity in more biblical terms as 'the Lord and Life-giver', who 'proceeds from [but is not created by] the Father', who is 'worshipped and glorified' together with the Father and the Son, and who 'spoke through the prophets'.

As regards Christ, Constantinople not only confirmed Nicaea's teaching on his divinity but also maintained his full and perfect humanity. This was done by condemning the teaching of Apollinarius of Laodicea (£310—£.390) (DH 151; ND 13). He had been so intent on defending the Nicene faith in Christ's divinity that he held that in the incarnation, the Logos or Word of God assumed a body but took the place in Christ of the higher (spiritual and rational) soul. Hence Apollinarius did not acknowledge a complete humanity in Christ; he was truly divine but not fully human. In his rejection of Apollinarianism, Gregory of Nazianzus gave classical expression to a theme that goes back at least to Origen, when he argued that to have saved us, Jesus must be also fully human: 'the unassumed is the unhealed' (Epistola, 101. 32). To have healed human nature in its entirety (including our rational soul), the Logos must have assumed a complete nature when taking on the human condition.

Granted then that Christ is truly divine (Nicaea I, also reaffirmed by Constantinople I) and fully human (Constantinople I), how is the union between his divinity and humanity to be understood and interpreted? One could state this union weakly to the point of seeing two subjects, the human Jesus and the divine Logos, who coexist and collaborate in a union of love. One could also maximalize the union to the point of eliminating the real distinction between the two natures. Decades were to pass before the Council of Chalcedon made it clear that the union should be seen as taking place in the person and not in the natures. The unity is due to the one person, the duality to the natures.

Twenty years before Chalcedon, matters came painfully to a head in the controversy between Nestorius (d. £451) of Constantinople, and St Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444, and bishop of Alexandria from 412), which climaxed at the Council of Ephesus in June 431. Unguarded in his theological language, Nestorius laid himself open to the accusation of turning the distinction between Christ's two natures into a separation and proposing a merely moral unity between the eternal Son of God and Jesus as adopted son. Implacable in his opposition to Nestorius, Cyril himself was accused of confusing or 'mixing up' Christ's divinity and humanity. A certain absence of clarity in the use of terms bedevilled the whole situation. Moreover, Nestorius found it hard to attribute to the Word of God the events of Jesus' human life: in particular, his human birth from Mary. Hence Nestorius declined to call Jesus' mother 'the Mother of God' (Theotokos). This popular Marian title had probably been used by Origen and had been commonly employed by Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and other fourth-century figures. Nestorius at first proposed 'Mother of Christ' (Christotokos) and eventually was ready to accept Theotokos. But by then it was too late. His leadership of the see of Constantinople had been fatally jeopardized by his excessive insistence on the integrity and distinction of Christ's two natures and his failure to appreciate the unity of the one acting subject that justified calling Mary the Mother of (the Son of) God. A sense of this unity in Christ led the Council of Ephesus to champion the Marian title of Theotokos and depose Nestorius. Cyril and the Council had the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed on their side: it attributes to one and the same subject divine and human attributes. This implies the appropriateness of confessing that the eternal Word of God was born, suffered, died, and rose from the dead. The law of prayer was the law of belief (lex orandi lex credendi). Hence the Council of Ephesus confessed that '(the Son of) God was born', just as in 553 the Second Council of Constantinople would confess that '(the Son of) God suffered/died in the flesh' (DH 432; ND 620/10; see DH 401; ND 617).

The Council of Ephesus indicated clearly that the divinity and humanity of Christ are not separated. If so, are they really to be distinguished? And, if not, how are they united? These questions remained to set the agenda for the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

In an important (but fateful) letter of April 433 to John the patriarch of Antioch, Cyril had written of 'the difference' between Christ's two natures, 'from which came the union'. Shortly after Cyril's death in 444, this language was pushed to an extreme by the head of a large monastery in Constantinople, Eutyches (c.378—454). When interpreting the union effected by the incarnation, he apparently argued that after the union the human nature is absorbed by the divine nature. Hence Christ is 'from' two natures but not 'in' two natures. Only one 'nature (physis)' remains after the union, and Christ cannot be said to be and remain 'consubstantial' or of the same nature with human beings. The crisis occasioned a famous letter from Pope Leo the Great to the patriarch of Constantinople, his Tomus to Flavian. Leo maintained a wonderful balance when describing the undiminished duality (and distinctive properties) of Christ's two perfect natures and the unity of his one person.

Leo believed that his Tomus sufficed. But, after Theodosius II, who had supported Eutyches, fell from his horse and died, the new emperor, Marcian, insisted on convoking the Council of Chalcedon. After confirming the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and other earlier doctrinal statements, the Council affirmed the one person (prosopon or hypostasis) of Christ in (not 'out of' or 'from') two natures (physeis), divine and human. It specified that 'the one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, and Only begotten' was made known in these two natures that both maintain their full characteristics, and so exist after the incarnation 'without confusion or change, and without division or separation' (DH 300—2; ND 613—15). 'Without confusion or change' aimed to exclude the current error of Eutyches in merging Christ's two natures, 'without division or separation' to exclude the error attributed to Nestorius of separating the two natures. The Council of Chalcedon was attended by 520 bishops; Emperor Marcian himself read out the final draft of Chalcedon's definition.

In teaching that Christ is one person and has two natures, Chalcedon proved a lasting success in regulating language about Christ. But it left some, even much, unfinished business: for instance, the analysis and definition of 'person'—a task that belongs in any case to theologians and philosophers rather than to the work of an ecumenical council. Moreover, unlike Arius and Apollinarius (condemned with their followers in 325 and 381 respectively), the groups who remained unreconciled to the teaching at Ephesus in 431 and at Chalcedon in 451 still have their followers—known, respectively, as Nestorians (who call themselves, however, 'Assyrians' or 'the Church of the East') and Monophysites (now generally named 'Oriental Orthodox'). In November 1994 a common declaration signed by Mar Dinkha IV, the patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, and

Pope John Paul II laid to rest, at least officially, differences between the Catholic Church and the followers of Nestorius over their belief in Christ (ND 683). In May 1973 a joint declaration between Pope Paul VI and the Coptic pope, Shenouda III of Egypt, had already effected an official reconciliation over the language and teaching of Chalcedon between Catholics and some of those who rejected that Council's 'Dyophysite' (two natures) teaching about Christ (ND 671a).

Between Emperor Constantine's official toleration of Christianity in 313 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the controversies we have summarized laid down Catholic faith in Christ and the tripersonal God. Some other controversies clarified other characteristically Catholic beliefs about Christ and the tripersonal God. The rigorism that Novatian exemplified in the third century flared up again around 311: a new bishop of Carthage was to be consecrated by a bishop who was accused of being a traitor during Emperor Diocletian's severe persecution. The dissenting bishops chose a different candidate, later succeeded by another bishop, Donatus (hence the name of the schism, Donatism), who resisted any compromise and was killed in 347 during an assault on his basilica in Carthage. The Donatists seem to have denied the validity of sacraments conferred by unworthy ministers, to have required rebaptism of Christians who lapsed back into sin, and held that only holy persons belonged to the Church. St Augustine of Hippo (354—430) opposed the Donatists with love, but with a firmness that went as far as approving violent measures (Epistolae, 93; 105; 185). A conference at Carthage in 411 attended by 284 Donatist bishops and 286 Catholic bishops weakened the Donatists; and they finally disappeared when the Muslims overran Christianity in North Africa. In their conflict with Donatism, Catholic leaders stood not only for a worldwide Church over a merely African Church, but also against any attempt to turn the Church into a community that admits and maintains only saintly men and women.

Augustine also had to contend with the heresy of Pelagianism, a 'do-it-yourself' version of Christianity which held that we can move towards salvation through our sustained efforts, and that we do not rely from the start on divine grace or transforming help freely and lovingly given by God. A theologian and biblical scholar from the British Isles, Pelagius taught in Rome in the late fourth and early fifth century before heading down to North Africa when Rome became menaced by the Goths. Because of their nature created by God, human beings, he argued, always have the power to choose what is good. His followers explained original sin as no more than the bad example of Adam and Eve, which did not interiorly harm their descendants and left intact the natural exercise of free will. Pelagius himself encouraged a strongly ascetical life and the development of a moral elite. Vigorously opposed by Augustine who recognized how much human freedom has been weakened by inherited sin, Pelagianism was condemned by two local councils in North Africa (DH 222-30; ND 501-2, 1901-6) and by the Council of Ephesus (DH 267-8). Some later Catholic spiritual teachers were to say, 'Act as if everything depended on you, but pray as if everything depended on God.' But the latter sentiment, the primacy of grace, outweighed the first. Mainstream Catholicism never wavered in the conviction it drew from Augustine: 'When God crowns our merits, he does nothing else than crown his gifts.'

In the great scheme of Catholic things, Augustine's contribution went far beyond what he did in the Donatist and Pelagian controversies.22 Generations have treasured, for instance, his touching account of the death of his mother. St Monica (£".331-87), who died in Ostia (the port of Rome) when she and her sons were waiting to return by ship to North Africa. Her words to Augustine catch the very heart of the communion of saints, the spiritual union between Christ and all Christians, whether already in heaven (or purgatory) or still living on earth: 'This only I ask of you that you should remember me at the altar of God' (Confessions, 11. 27). Monica's words affirmed her belief in purgatory, the state of those who die in God's friendship but who still need to be fully cleansed (through Christ's merits) from the effects of their sins and to grow spiritually before enjoying the final vision of God. Through their prayers for the dead (attested at least since the second century) and celebration of the Eucharist for the dead (attested at least since the third century), Christians expressed their loving concern for their dear ones who had died but who remained united with them in God. Praying for the dead was to remained a typical feature of Eastern and Western worship. The words of Augustine's dying mother became perhaps the loveliest witness from all times to this

22 See A. D. Fitzgerald (ed.), Augustine Through the Ages (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999); C. Harrison, Augustine: Christian Truth and Fractured Humanity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). For a summary of Augustine's achievements see 'Augustine, St, of Hippo', Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church , 128-30; to the list of scholars whose publications on Augustine feature in the excellent bibliography, one should add such names as M. R. Barnes, R. Dodaro, G. P. Lawless, R. J. O'Connell, B. Studer, and, in particular, A. Trape.

practice. On prayers for the dead and so much more, Augustine profoundly influenced later Christian thought and practice.

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