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Published by Philip Kariatlis

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Published by: Philip Kariatlis on Jul 27, 2010
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(Published in The Greek Australian VEMA, November 2005)
Neo-Chalcedonism and the Fifth Ecumenical Council:
A Supplement to the Christological Teaching of Chalcedon

In the fifth century a large group within the Christian Church rejected the Council of Chalcedon in 451 [i.e. the 4th Ecumenical Council], which had insisted on the one person of Christ in two natures, perfect God and perfect man. Resulting from this, there arose within the Church a theological movement, which came to be known as the Neo-Chalcedonian school of Christology whose mandate it was to attempt the reconciliation of those who were opposed to Chalcedon (the anti-Chalcedoninans) so as to bring them back to the Church. The representatives of this theological movement would offer a way of interpreting the 4th Ecumenical Council, with its explicit insistence that the person [or hypostasis] of Jesus Christ was none other than that of God the Logos, the second Person of the Holy Trinity.1 Accordingly, the Fifth Ecumenical Council convoked by Justinian and held in Constantinople in 553 came to supplement the teaching of Chalcedon by explaining in clearer terms how the two natures of Christ had united in the eternal divine Person of the Son of God.2 Following on from this it could be said that the 5th Ecumenical Council was essentially convened to endorse, amongst others, the Christologies of both Leontius of Byzantium and Leontius of Jerusalem.

It did this by clearly distinguishing between the terms 'person' or 'hypostasis' and 'nature' or 'essence' since the anti-Chalcedonians, had identified 'nature' with 'person' and therefore believed that the Council of Chalcedon had introduced the former heresy of Nestorius who had argued that there were twopr osopa [persons] in Jesus Christ – the divine Logos of God and the man born of the Virgin Mary. It is for this reason that Neo-Chalcedonism argued that the human nature attributed to Christ did not introduce another human person alongside the divine Logos of God. As stated above, the Council of 553 essentially ratified the Christologies of Leontius of

1 This is not to say that Neo-Chalcedonism offered a new interpretation on the Fourth Ecumenical

Council (451AD) which was convened in Chalcedon but that it affirmed the teaching of this council in
response to the needs of the time making explicit certain truths which could led to erroneous
conclusions if not interpreted correctly. Nor is this meant to imply that the Neo-Chalcedonian movement
came to interpret the 4th Council in light of St Cyril since the Dogmatic Statement of this council was
essentially Cyrillian in its articulation.

2 The Fifth Ecumenical Council condemned 'Three Chapters': namely the person and works of
Theodoret of Mopsuestia, the anti-Cyrillian writings of Theodoret of Cyrus and the letter of Ibas to Maris.
It also saw the condemnation of Origen

Byzantium and Jerusalem3 who spoke both of a personal unity, and a natural distinction in Christ. Indeed they would coin the termen-hypostaton [which etymologically speaking, means 'in' 'one person'] so as to state that the two natures of Christ [divine and human] had been unitedin the person of the divine Word of God.

Leontius of Byzantium
Distinction between Person/Hypostasis and Nature/Essence

Leontius of Byzantium was born in Constantinople in 500AD and, it is said that at the age of twenty went to Palestine to become a monk at the monastery of Old Lavra. Without doubt Leontius was one of the greatest theologians in the field of Christology, who was able to offer a precise understanding of certain technical terms which had been used at Chalcedon to articulate that Council's understanding of the person and nature of Christ. Leontius transferred Trinitarian terminology4 to the field of Christology and highlighted that the terms 'physis' (nature), 'ousia' (essence) and 'eidos' (species) expressed what was identical or common in Christ whereas the terms 'hypostasis' (hypostasis), 'prosopon' (person) and 'atomon' (individual) referred to the particular. And so, 'hypostasis' implied the real existence of a being or an independent existence which existed in and of itself (tov kaq j eJautovn ei\nai), that is it was distinct. For this reason one can see why the termshypost asis and

prosopon [person] came to be identified since a person was an particular existence.

Nature, on the other hand could only exist and be revealed by a person since it was not self-existent. The term 'nature' answered the question 'what' something is whereas hypostasis denoted a 'somebody' or answered the question 'who'. That is to say, one could not speak of an abstract nature without reference to the person which revealed it. Many centuries later, St Gregory Palamas would state explicitly that our personal God does not come from essence/nature but that essence is derived from our personal God in this way affirming that the fundamental foundation of existence is not nature but person – that is to say that nature cannot exist without a person/hypostasis.5 In stressing that nature could not exist in and of itself (i.e. as an

3 In the past there has been considerable debate as to whether there was in reality one person or two.

Today the consensus view is that there were indeed two different writers; yet their theologies were
essentially the same (this view was favourably presented first by Marcel Richard in his article 'Léonce de
Jérusalem et Léonce de Byzance', Mélanges de science religieuse 1(1944): 35-88. At this point it must
be mentioned that I am not in agreement with Meyendorff who claimed that these fathers of the Church
were Origenistic (John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press,
1987), 61-68.

4 Remember that whereas in God it was said that there were three divine persons and yet one nature, in
the case of Christ the mystery of this unity in diversity lay in that there was one person in two natures.
5 St Gregory Palamas expressed this very clearly: "God, when He was speaking with Moses, did not
say, "I am the essence", but "I am who I am" (Ex 3:14). It is not therefore He-who-is who comes from
the essence, but it is the essence which comes from He-who-is" (Triads,3.2.12).

'independent existence), Leontius explained that nature wasan- hypost at on [i.e. there can be no nature without being made real in a person]. The Monophysites misconstrued this using it to their own advantage when they tried to conclude from this that, since nature cannot exist apart from personhood, then the human nature of Christ could not exist without a corresponding human hypostasis. Obviously this missed the point entirely as to the Church's understanding ofan- hypost at on. As we shall see, to counter this, the termen-hypost at on was coined so as to underscore that the human nature of Christ did not exist in itself but within the incarnate person [or hypostasis] of the Word of God.

The Individual Human Nature of Christ

The next point developed by Leontius was that the human nature of Christ was an individual one. This naturally raised difficulties with the anti-Chalcedonians in that they could be led to conclude that this amounted to saying that Christ's human nature included with it its own individual person. In replying to this, Leontius argued that by 'individual human nature' was implied the unique or distinct way that the divine Logos of God gave existence to the common set of properties belonging to human nature in a general way. That is to say, just like all human persons share a common set of properties (eg reason, thought, will, judgement, imagination, intuition memory etc) which distinguish them from other existent realities) – that is, they possess a common human essence or nature – yet they make these common properties real in their own unique, distinct and unrepeatable way, so too, it can be said that Christ gave existence to [or hypostasised] these human qualities in His own unique way and could therefore be said to possess an individual human nature. Or to put it yet another way, just like the common human nature of all persons, when revealed by a distinct person, exists in a unique and particular way, so too was the human nature of Christ revealed in its own 'individual' way without this implying two persons.

In order to illustrate this more clearly Leontius made use of the example of a 'glowing sword'. According to Leontius a 'glowing sword' is said to be one self- existent reality [i.e. one hypostasis, to use his terminology] since when iron is heated to very high temperatures it begins to become red hot so that one can no longer distinguish between the fire and the sword. So, just like a glowing sword is made up of an element of fire and the sword itself, so too, in the case of the incarnate Logos, the two natures [the divine and the human] were united in one hypostasis. In stressing that Christ had assumed an individual human nature, the Eastern Orthodox tradition, in no way implied that the Logos took on anotherpr osopon (as this would be no different to Nestorianism), but simply asserted that when a nature partakes in

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