The Importance of Chalcedon

Over my retreat in January, I began to read “God Sent His Son” by Cardinal Schoenborn (you can get it from Ignatius Press here  Yet, me being me, I put it down for a while and picked up about 20 other books.  I have a tendency to do that, to just pick up more and more books to read to the point where it becomes overwhelming and impossible to read them all at once.

While waiting for my plane in Newark on Tuesday morning, I decided to pick it back up (I have it on my Kindle).  Where I had ended off was around the section in which he speaks about the Early Church Councils.  I opened it up and – again, me being me – I couldn’t put it down.  I was lifted into a world in where doctrine affected how we lived our lives, and where these truths were of central importance.

I got especially excited when I reached the section on the council of Chalcedon.  For me, this council marks the end of the Christological heresies.  Sure, the later councils deal with them, but none with the clarity and succinctness of Chalcedon.  As Cardinal Schoenborn rightly argues, Chalcedon is the interpretive key that we need in order to begin our attempts at building a Christology.

Chalcedon was attempting to deal with, it states, 8 different heresies!  I do not want to get into the details of them, for that would require more space than can be afforded here.  Instead, I wish to briefly reflect on the important formulation of the council:

one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures,
without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the
distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the
characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one
person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and
the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the
prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself
taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

The importance of the above is too much for one blog post even.  But there are four essential points which must be brought out here: Jesus, in His Person, upholds two natures (Divinity and humanity).  These two natures are perfectly united in His Person, but without confusion, change, division, and separation.  Let us briefly inspect this.

Jesus’ two natures are completely unique.  His humanity is not His divinity, nor is His divinity His humanity.  When the Son takes on human flesh, his divinity does not overwhelm his humanity, nor is his divinity comprimised.  Jesus’ human nature and divine nature are completely unique.  Yet, at the same time, we must also hold to the fact that, despite their utter uniqueness, his humanity and divinity, by virtue of the union of the two in His Person, are in complete union with each other.  Again, by virtue of this union, Jesus’ divinity in no way comprimises the uniqueness of His humanity nor does His humanity limit His divinity.  By virtue of taking on a human nature, Jesus’ divinity does not change.

There is much more to say about this, but it bears an essential point: Jesus’ humanity does not in any way, shape, or form, differ from our own humanity.  The only difference is that Jesus was without sin: but this does not differentiate Him from is in essence.  Humanity is not less itself when united to God, it is more itself!

I remember a story that bears to this discussion.  In my first year of seminary, I was in the Pauline Literature class.  It was an evening class and thus filled with teachers who were doing their Masters in Religious Education.  Our Prof asked us a simple question: “Why does Paul tell us to immitate him as he immitates Christ.”  One of the teachers put their hand up and stated: “it’s because Jesus is God and so we can’t possibly immitate Him, but Paul is human and so it is easy to follow him.”  My Prof, who is well versed in Patristics, then proceeded to give a 30 minute talk about the early church councils and how what this man just sad was completely and totally heretical (without actually calling him a heretic).

We CAN immitate Jesus!  His humanity is in every way like ours, and he suffered temptation like we do.  In fact, because of his hypostatic union, he was MORE aware of temptation and its severity, and yet still overcame it.  We have Jesus as our true example.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We seem to think that because He was without sin that He doesn’t truly understand us.  He, though, does!  In fact, He knows it better than we do because He knew just how deep and painful sin is.  If Jesus didn’t truly take on a full and true humanity, then the Gospel itself is pointless.

So, then, let us approach Him with all that is on our hearts.  We see that when we grow closer to God, we become MORE alive, not less alive.  God does not limit and repress our humanity, but fulfills it.  The teaching of Chalcedon is the great witness to that.  Let us, then, approach Jesus in humility to become the saints He calls us to be.

in Christ



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