Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Chalcedonian Revelation

I am presently reading through John Meyendorff's Byzantine theology, and the section on Christology has opened my eyes to a fine christological distinction with radical implications for every field of theological inquiry. Let me see if I can explain it adequately. I have always held to the opinion, though not consciously, that the hypostatic union affirmed by Chalcedon (i.e. Christ has two natures [ousia] united in one person [hypostasis]) was in a unique hypostasis. That is to say that the divine nature united itself to a human nature and formed together a unique person in the individual Jesus, who was thereby the Christ. If I had been forced to choose whether the hypostasis was primarily that of the humanity or the divinity of Jesus, I probably would have chosen the former.

That view, apparently, is contrary to the teaching of the Orthodox Church. The Byzantine theologians understood Chalcedon to affirm that the single hypostasis of the Christ was the same as the hypostasis of the pre-existent Logos. That is to say, when one talks about the Trinity as one essence in three persons, that second person (i.e. the Son) is identical with the person of the Christ with his two essences. Meyendorff says that this emphasis on the divinity of Jesus has drawn criticism from the West. The Orthodox have been accused of being "crypto-Monophysites" because they subordinate the human essence and will under the divine by affirming the divinity of Christ's hypostasis. Reading the criticisms, I admit that I agreed. There is little there to allow us to empathize with Jesus the person, to delve into his human mind, and to speculate about the psychology of his behavior.

But, true to form, Meyendorff set me straight. He defends the Orthodox position on the grounds of Orthodox anthropology, which has (without explicit attribution to the Byzantine tradition) found great acceptance in the world today. The focal point of Orthodox anthropology is that man is only true to his humanity, the creational purpose of the person is only truly fulfilled when he is in submission to God. Who could argue with that? If we accept this premise (and if we do not, there are larger problems to address), then the subordination of the humanity of Jesus to the divinity of Jesus is actually an implicit glorification of his humanity. The humanity of Christ, following always the lead of the divine will, is in fact more human than our own humanity which has subordinated itself to that which it was created to rule (an insight to expand for another time). Rather than the East becoming crypto-Monophysites, the West has tended toward idolatrous worship of humanity. Can there really be any formula of union between man and God where the former is not submissive to the latter? Is man greater than God, equal to him?

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