Christology and the Eucharist

Francis A. Sullivan S.J., in his Christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia finds the theological distinctions between Antioch (prior to John of Antioch’s reconciliation with Cyril in 433) and Alexandria arising from how Theodore of Mopsuestia on the one hand and Athanasius on the other, responded to the essential Arian Syllogism: The word is the subject even of the human operations and sufferings of Christ (major premise); but whatever is predicated of the word, must be predicated of him kata phὐsin (minor premise); ergo, the nature of the Word is limited and affected by the human operations and sufferings of Christ.

The Antiochians denied the major premise (the Word is the subject of even the human operations and suffering), the Alexandrians the minor (all things predicated of the Word are done so according to nature). For the Alexandrines, and here chiefly Athanasius, the minor premise lacked the specificity which the Incarnation demanded, namely that Christ had two natures. By making this distinction, the major premise could be vigorously maintained. But it was another assumption that led the Antiochians, chiefly Theodore and Diodore of Tarsus, to accept the minor premise: that natures have subjects corresponding to the properties of its respective natures. Thus, the human nature has a human subject (namely the human person of Christ, which is distinct from the divine person of the Word). This Antiochene response can be found in later writers, particularly during the Reformation controversies over the Eucharist between the Lutherans and the Reformed. The Lutherans divinized Christ’s humanity in an almost Eutychian manner, while the Reformed, so bent on keeping the human nature of the Word away from the Eucharistic elements, refused to allow that the human nature of Christ was the result of the actions of the Word. They (I am thinking mainly of Peter Martry Vermigli, but others come to mind, including archbishop Cranmer, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Jewel) sought to deny any divine predicates to the human nature, and Martyr in particular saw the communicatio idiomatum as merely a verbal (read nominal) reality: this from a man, ironically, who was absolute in his adherence to Aristotle.

In this regard, the Lutheran and Catholic charge against the Reformed of Nestorianism, the creating of two Christ’s (a human Jesus and a divine Christ as I have heard from some Evos), becomes an all too true reality. Jewel actually refused to admit that the human nature of Christ, more importantly the enhypostasized nature, could possess certain divine attributes, particularly eternality or immensity. Though he never used this term, and I doubt he would have given someone any more than a quizzical look were it cast at him, the essential thrust of Jewel’s argument is clear: though capable of performing supernatural acts, the flesh of Christ possessed no divine properties.

More anon.

43 Responses to Christology and the Eucharist

  1. Symeon,

    But the west, who coined the term and it’s definition, also “adores” the Eucharist as the body, blood and soul of Christ, which sounds like they believe in the elements are the enhypostacized/incarnated Christ in the nature of the bread and the wine more than the east cares to definitively do.

    It’s a slippery slope of overdefining Christ’s body and blood in relationship to His person. The east stresses “communion” more. It is the means, not the end.

  2. Symeon says:


    It is not applicable because the Word’s human flesh and blood, a created reality, is not a “person” or “hypostasis.” The Word, as a person, became incarnate in humanity. His human nature can not become incarnate in another nature. Only persons can become incarnate in natures. Idioms of differing realities can only be communicated to persons, not to other natures. It would be totally inappropriate to communicate the attributes of flesh and blood to bread and wine and vice versa.

    And I actually think the fact that many Orthodox were willing to use the concept of Transubstantiation even after the schism speaks well to its fundamental agreement with the Orthodox conception of the Eucharist.

    God bless.

  3. “It only means that such a thing is not applicable when trying to concieve of how our Lord became man. But there is no contradiction when we say that lifeless and dead bread and wine are changed into the Lord’s living flesh and blood.”

    Symeon, Isn’t the Incarnation similar to the Eucharist? In Church we sing,

    “Only-begotten Son and immortal Word of God Who for our salvation willed to be incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who without change didst become man and was crucified….”

    He had a fully divine and a human nature. When the Priest says, “Make this bread the precious body of thy Christ” cannot the bread remain fully bread and still become the Body of Christ? The Transubstantiation language about accidens and what lies beneath does not, imo, express the duality of nature, or how they are unified. It is a different language than that of Chalcedon. Not that Chalcedon was implicitly speaking of the Eucharist. Though some Orthodox adopted the explanation of Transubstantiation, wasn’t it put forth after the schism? It seems there wasn’t such a definition of the process in the first millennium, which makes a difference to conservative traditionalists.

    Still, in speaking of Christ, the Eucharist and our own deification, to me the language of Chalcedon is better in understanding the nature of the union between created and uncreated. In all three, one is not annihilated in the union with the other.

    “We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabilter). The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.”

  4. Symeon says:

    Also, from what I have read of St. Maximus, I can’t find anything that is contrary to Transubstantiation. Of course, it will be impossible to arrive at an Orthodox conception of the incarnation by asserting a change at the level of nature. That is not to say that natures can’t be changed, however. It only means that such a thing is not applicable when trying to concieve of how our Lord became man. But there is no contradiction when we say that lifeless and dead bread and wine are changed into the Lord’s living flesh and blood.

    Andrew: I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a blog or website, but right now is probably not the best time in my life. Thanks for the encouragement, though.

    God bless.

  5. Symeon says:

    Photios: I don’t contend that natures can change of their own, but if God wills for a nature to change, as in the case of a miracle, it can change, as the examples St. Ambrose provides clearly show. I’ve read much of St. Maximus’ work, but the Disputation with Pyrrhus is hard to find. I usually see Farrell’s translation selling for ridiculous prices, so if you could provide even a short excerpt relevant to this subject, it would be appreciated.

    And I never said you were a liar. I said the Eucharistic theories you forward will make the Lord’s words untrue. I respect your integrity and the work you and Perry do.

  6. Symeon,
    Go read the Disputation with Pyrrhus by Maximus and ask yourself if natures change. It is fundamental to Maximus’ christology.

    I don’t really care to argue the rests of the points with you since you say I’m a liar. Later.


  7. Andrew says:


    Start a blog, if you don’t have one already. Seriously.

  8. Symeon says:

    I’ll go ahead and add that “Transubstantiation,” as has been stated by Bishop Kallistos Ware, is a term that has been used in the Church, but which does not have any more authority than other equally valid expressions. What is important here is the concept that such a term (“change of substance”) defends.

  9. Symeon says:

    Photios: Ok, you say that the flesh and blood have been taken up into the Word’s hypostasis. This will still make our Lord a liar when he says that “This is my body.” Even if the bread and wine are taken up into Christ’s hypostasis, they still can not properly be called body and blood, just like we don’t say that his human nature is his divinity.

    Further, consubstantiation or impanation is contrary to the Divine Liturgy. “…send down your Holy Spirit on us and on these gifts set forth; and make this bread the precious body of your Christ, and that which is in this cup the precious blood of your Christ, changing (metabalōn) them by your Holy Spirit.” The subject that is being “changed” into the body and blood is the bread and wine. What is the change in your conception? If the bread and wine are changed (i.e. deified) by being taken up into Christ’s hypostasis, it would still be a false statement that they have been changed into his body and blood.

    As for it being impossible for natures to change, where is the basis of this? The biblical examples St. Ambrose gives quite clearly show a change of nature, the staff becoming a snake, the water becoming blood, surely these constitute a change of nature?

    Further, I find this conception of all the prior Fathers being “corrected” by St. Maximus troublesome, rather, it strikes me as very similiar to how Fr. John Meyendorff tried to say that St. Gregory Palamas applied “christological correctives” to St. Dionysius the Areopagite. As if the Christology of the previous Fathers was not that of St. Maximus. But anyway, I’d like to see what St. Maximus has written that is relevant to this subject.

    Fr. Alexander Schmemann isn’t really an authority to me. But… in what I have read, I haven’t seen him deny Transubstantiation as such (he even uses the word from time to time to describe the change). Rather, he sees the whole Transubstantiation debate and that about Consubstantiation as puting a certain distorting emphasis on Eucharist, because “it practically ignored the liturgy itself, considering it as a non-essential, symbolical ‘framework’ for the minimum of action and words necessary for validity” (Liturgy and Tradition, 19-20). But perhaps I have missed something.

    What is the point of citing Calvin, except to say that the bread and blood are not literally in the Eucharist. Of course, I don’t think many will disagree that the Eucharist lifts us up, but denying that he came down rather destroys the real presence.

    Your remarks about the Council of Jerusalem strike me as more smear than argumentation. And it isn’t even the only authority.

  10. Symeon says:

    Andrew: I don’t follow. Because I deny (along with Chrysostom, and all the Fathers) that Christ is speaking about his own flesh in this passagem how does it follow that I am saying the same thing as the above quoted passage, that both natures were crucified and suffered death?

    Christ’s words here have the same general sense as 1 Cor. 15:50, where St. Paul says “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Does that mean Christ is not in heaven in his own flesh? No. Nor does it mean that our bodies will not be resurrected. Likewise, when the Word says that the flesh “profiteth nothing,” he is not saying that his own flesh is unprofitable. The sense in such passages is carnality.

  11. Andrew,

    I see no problem with thinking at all that the Eucharist, that is bread and wine, is taken up into Christ’s hypostasis. I think Ambrose is sloppy and I much rather prefer Maximus’ christology and christological correction to the Fathers before him. Natures don’t change, persons do.

    My view of the Eucharist is pretty much the same as Alexander Schmemann’s view. I also think Luther got many aspects more correct than Roman Catholicism did with regard to the Eucharist. I also have many affinities with Calvin’s view, that it is not Christ that comes down but rather we who are lifted up to feed on Christ’s body.

    I also see many problems with the Council of Jerusalem. It doesn’t do theology like the Fathers. It looks much like Medieval Catholicism in method and order, Orthodox style.


  12. Andrew says:

    Symeon, isn’t this also what you are saying when you affirm that this phrase doesn’t apply to Christ’s body, that the flesh “profiteth nothing”? Isn’t it the same view of communicatio idiomatum when you are not applying the verse to His body?

    Photios Jones, what’s your take on John 6.63 and what’s your take on what happens during the eucharist?

  13. Symeon says:

    Back to the subject of the Monophysites.

    I’d like to present a particularly atrocious example of where there confusion of Person and Nature leads. These excerpts come from The Mystery of the Incarnation, by Fr. Habte Mariam Worquineh, of the Ethiopian church, published in the 1964 edition of the Greek Orthodox Theological Review, and presented as a paper in the ecumenical dialogues.

    “Therefore, we believe that Jesus Christ, our Lord, is true God from true God, begotten from the Father before the creation of the world. For us and for our salvation He became incarnate and was perfect man. He took the human nature fully without any addition or any subtraction. As He was begotten from His Father, He is perfect God and is co-equal and consubstantial with the Father in His Godhead. No imperfection is found in His humanity. He is perfect man like us. He is perfectly united with us, the union being from the two natures into one nature and from two modes of life into one. This union took place without any change, confusion and division. This happened through the divine power and mystery. After the union of the divine and human natures we do not speak of the two persons nor of the two natures, but of one person, one nature and one will. So we worship one Lord, one God and one Jesus with His Father and the Holy Spirit (creed). The union of the Divine Word with the flesh took place in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The Divine person with the human person on the one hand, and the Divine nature with the human nature on the other hand were united perfectly. This is testified by St. Cyril as follows: “We believe in the incarnate Word revealed in one nature.””

    COMMENTARY: Persons are identified with natures. The union of Christ is one of persons.

    “The mystery of the union of humanity and divinity or the mystery of one nature and one person was shown in many soteriological works of Christ. Christ, in whom humanity and divinity were united in one person and one nature, was crucified on the cross. The Divine Word without being united with the flesh cannot be crucified, because as God He is beyond suffering. But through the union with the flesh He was crucified and was subjected to death. If, on the other hand, only the human body was crucified He could not save the world. Many were crucified, but it is only Christ who has saved the world. What wonder if Christ was crucified and died in the flesh! *’While thou wast nailed on the cross, Thou didst not depart from Thy throne and didst not separate from Thy Father and Thy Holy Spirit” said St. Heracles. When we speak of Christ crucified we have to believe that both His humanity and divinity were present on the cross, because as we said above, the Logos unless united with the flesh cannot be crucified, and the flesh, without being united with the Divine Logos, could not save the world. “Thou art in heaven with the Father and at the same time Thou art on the cross crucified. Thou who dost not suffer in Spirit (Divinity) hast suffered in flesh.” The Deity, who does not suffer, had suffered on the cross because of His union with the flesh. When the weak and mortal flesh was crucified it could give salvation to the world because of its union with the immortal Deity. Death is the property (attribute) of humanity and life is that of the Deity (Divinity), but through the union the property of the flesh is given to the Divine Word and vice versa. Thus we say: He who does not die died on the cross. St. Peter also speaking of the mystery of the union says: “[Christ] died in the flesh but was quickened by the Spirit.” He who “died” is the divine Word which is united with the immortal Divine Word. St. Paul explained this saying: “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). When Christ died, as He was perfect man, He separated His blessed soul from His body by His own power. However, His divinity was in the grave with the flesh and also in Hades with His soul. It is only His soul that separated from His flesh, but His divinity was with both His flesh and soul. Divinity never separates from the flesh and flesh also never separates from the Divinity. It will be wherever the Divinity will be. Because of the perfect union both were subject to death. Philalethes has explained this as follows: “When the soul separated from the flesh, Divinity did not separate either from flesh or soul (which is separated from flesh).””

    COMMENTARY: Following this confusion of person and nature, it is affirmed that both the divine and human persons/natures were present on the cross. A totally false conception of the communicatio idiomatum follows. Instead of all the attributes being communicated to one person, they are interchanged between the natures. Thus both the divinity and the humanity suffered on the cross and suffered death, the properties of the human person belong to the divine person and vice versa. It goes without saying that this is totally blasphemous.

  14. Symeon says:

    This charge of docetism entirely misses the point. I will go ahead and fully admit that Transubstantiation is “docetic” in the sense that the the Eucharist only “seems” to be bread and wine, but is in reality Christ’s body and blood. What did the Father’s object to in docetism? That it denied the Word’s human nature was real, even if it seemed to be. The “docetism” of transubstantiation is of an entirely different character, because the reality of the body and blood are quite explicitly affirmed. And what of it if the bread and wine do not remain? Bread and wine are not deifying.

    Now, the next point. How can bread and wine be both bread and wine and body and blood? We know that Christ’s divinized human nature in his hypostasis. So where will this unity between bread and wine and body and blood come from? Will the Lord have become incarnate or impanate in bread and wine as well as human nature, taking the bread and wine into his hypostasis?

    We can see the concept of a change of nature in St. Ambrose:

    “50. Perhaps you will say, “I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ?” And this is the point which remains for us to prove. And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.

    51. Moses was holding a rod, he cast it down and it became a serpent. Exodus 4:3-4 Again, he took hold of the tail of the serpent and it returned to the nature of a rod. You see that by virtue of the prophetic office there were two changes, of the nature both of the serpent and of the rod. The streams of Egypt were running with a pure flow of water; of a sudden from the veins of the sources blood began to burst forth, and none could drink of the river. Again, at the prophet’s prayer the blood ceased, and the nature of water returned. The people of the Hebrews were shut in on every side, hemmed in on the one hand by the Egyptians, on the other by the sea; Moses lifted up his rod, the water divided and hardened like walls, and a way for the feet appeared between the waves. Jordan being turned back, returned, contrary to nature, to the source of its stream. Joshua 3:16 Is it not clear that the nature of the waves of the sea and of the river stream was changed? The people of the fathers thirsted, Moses touched the rock, and water flowed out of the rock. Exodus 17:6 Did not grace work a result contrary to nature, so that the rock poured forth water, which by nature it did not contain? Marah was a most bitter stream, so that the thirsting people could not drink. Moses cast wood into the water, and the water lost its bitterness, which grace of a sudden tempered. Exodus 15:25 In the time of Elisha the prophet one of the sons of the prophets lost the head from his axe, which sank. He who had lost the iron asked Elisha, who cast in a piece of wood and the iron swam. This, too, we clearly recognize as having happened contrary to nature, for iron is of heavier nature than water.

    52. We observe, then, that grace has more power than nature, and yet so far we have only spoken of the grace of a prophet’s blessing. But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? You read concerning the making of the whole world: “He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created.” Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.”

    Anyway, many representatives of Orthodoxy have accepted and used the concept of Transubstantiation. St. Gennadius introduced this terminology into Orthodox discourse. We can find it in the (corrected) Confession of Peter Moghila. The Synod of Jerusalem confirmed it.

  15. Transubstantiation is clearly docetistic. Another example of either/or dialectical “theology.” Bread and wine can’t clearly be bread and wine, what they are.

  16. Krause says:

    **Symeon (Wow, that was embarrassing)

  17. Krause says:

    You don’t see anything wrong with Transubstantiation? Doesn’t it seem like eucharistic docetism expressed in Aristotelian language? IE: to seem like bread and wine by having some if their accidents, but in substance to only be the body and blood of Christ. It seems to me that the bread and wine are clearly bread and wine. They are also Christ’s body and blood. I’ve taken it for granted that most Orthodox people believe as much but maybe I’m just really mistaken. Could you show me where I’m on the wrong track maybe? Thanks.

  18. Ray,

    Some early Christians used to hold Pascha on the day of the Jewish Pascha rather than on the appropriate Sunday as is now followed. This was said to have been passed onto them by the great Apostle John. However, the Fathers forbade this practice and insisted on uniformly holding Pascha together on the appropriate Sunday. Thus, the testimony of one or two Fathers, no matter how great, is not sufficient if the Fathers gathered from around the world declare that such and such a phrase or usage should be held uniformly by the Catholic Church. Thus, the Fathers have declared that we are to confess Christ in two Natures in line with Pope Leo’s tome. The sin of the Miaphysites is refusal to submit to this Council and its decision, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit. St Cyril’s terminology is not wrong in itself as long as one also accepts that of St Leo. Once, and only once, Miaphysite churches accept the Council of Chalcedon and all subsequent councils as recognised by the Orthodox Church, including the condemnations, can there be reunion in Christ. Until, such time, how can there be union, even if one claims we say the same thing, when one party refuses to submit to Christ and accept the Holy Fourth Ecumenical Council? If one does not accept the Fourth Council because one thinks it wrong, i.e. heresy, then why seek union; if such a one is Orthodox and we are the heretics? Rather the dividing label of Miaphysite should be cast off and the St Leo accepted with St Cyril. Then division can be removed and those separated parts grafted in again to the Body of Christ.

  19. Symeon says:

    St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on this verse is sufficient: “He speaketh not of His own flesh, (God forbid!) but of those who received His words in a carnal manner. But what is “understanding carnally”? It is looking merely to what is before our eyes, without imagining anything beyond. This is understanding carnally. But we must not judge thus by sight, but must look into all mysteries with the eyes within. This is seeing spiritually. He that eateth not His flesh, and drinketh not His blood, hath no life in him. How then doth “the flesh profit nothing,” if without it we cannot live? Seest thou that the words, “the flesh profiteth nothing,” are spoken not of His own flesh, but of carnal hearing?”

    St. Chrysostom shows that this verse does not apply to Christ’s own body, or indeed to the Eucharist, which is his body and blood.

    And as for the Transubstantiation debate, I don’t really think there is any. I agree fully with Transubstantiation and think it is a very good formulation of the change that occurs in the eucharist. Many eminent men of the Church (one of which is a confirmed Saint) have used the concept of Transubstantiation and it’s terminology of substance and accidents to explain the Eucharistic Mystery.

  20. Andrew says:

    Ray and Symeon,

    would you apply Christ’s words in John 6.63 to Christ’s own body? Is it compatible with Coptic theology that Christ’s flesh “profiteth nothing”? Is it compatible with Chalcedonian theology?

    How do the two theologies apply that verse?

    I feel that this verse might shed some light in this debate (and also, possibly, on the transubstantiation debate between the Orthodox and the Catholics).

  21. Symeon says:


    Monophysite and miaphysite mean the same thing. In any case, as I have said before, the fact that you confess the double consubstantiality of Christ does not make your confession Orthodox, because you also say that nature and hypostasis are the same thing, and thus confess the Christ is “from two hypostases,” which will bring about a natural confusion or division and really destroy the confession of double consubstantiality.

    Also, “one nature of the Word of God incarnate” is not from St. Athanasius, but from an Apollinarian forgery distributed under the name of the Saint. St. Cyril was taken in by this hoax, but nevertheless gave it an Orthodox content. St. John of Damascus interprets the phrase from St. Cyril’s own writings, “Union, then, is one thing, and incarnation is something quite different. For union signifies only the conjunction, but not at all that with which union is effected. But incarnation (which is just the same as if one said “the putting on of man’s nature”) signifies that the conjunction is with flesh, that is to say, with man, just as the heating of iron implies its union with fire. Indeed, the blessed Cyril himself, when he is interpreting the phrase, “one nature of God the Word Incarnate,” says in the second epistle to Sucensus, “For if we simply said ‘the one nature of the Word’ and then were silent, and did not add the word ‘incarnate,’ but, so to speak, quite excluded the dispensation, there would be some plausibility in the question they feign to ask, ‘If one nature is the whole, what becomes of the perfection in humanity, or how has the essence like us come to exist?’ But inasmuch as the perfection in humanity and the disclosure of the essence like us are conveyed in the word ‘incarnate,’ they must cease from relying on a mere straw.” Here, then, he placed the nature of the Word over nature itself. For if He had received nature instead of subsistence, it would not have been absurd to have omitted the “incarnate.” For when we say simply one subsistence of God the Word, we do not err. In like manner, also, Leontius the Byzantine considered this phrase to refer to nature, and not to subsistence. But in the Defence which he wrote in reply to the attacks that Theodoret made on the second anathema, the blessed Cyril says this: “The nature of the Word, that is, the subsistence, which is the Word itself.” So that “the nature of the Word” means neither the subsistence alone, nor “the common nature of the subsistence,” but “the common nature viewed as a whole in the subsistence of the Word.”

  22. Ray says:

    “The Monophysite churches were and are heretical, and so were their fathers.”
    First off, Copts are not Monophysite we are Miaphysite. Our understanding of Christ is “one nature of the Word of God incarnate”. This is the definition St.’s Athanasius and Cyril gave us. The idea is that Christ is a full man and a full God, but we don’t talk about 2 natures of Christ after their unity. We emphasis on the one nature to distance ourselves from Nestorianism. I understand Byzantine emphasis on 2 nature to distance themselves from Eutychianism. I whole heatedly believe that we express the same truth in different terms. I found it arrogant also to limit God’s nature to one expression of our weak language. For me the nature of Christ is presented to us in the Eucharist and we can partake of it as Orthodox (Eastern or Oriental) did for 2000 years. I will leave you with the confession of faith Copts recite before partaking from the Eucharist. If you still find it heretical, I guess I have nothing more to say:
    “Amen. Amen. Amen. I believe, I believe, I believe and confess to the last breath; that this is the Life-giving Body that Your Only-Begotten Son, our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ took from our lady, the lady of us all, the holy Mother of God, Saint Mary. He made It One with His divinity without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration. He witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate. He gave It up for us upon the holy wood of the cross, of His own will, for us all. Truly, I believe that His divinity parted not from His humanity for a single moment nor a twinkling of an eye; given for us for salvation, remission of sins and eternal life to those who partake of Him. I believe, I believe, I believe that this is so in truth. Amen.”

  23. […] conversation on his blog, and the podcast regarding reconciliation with Non-Chalcedonian Churches linked from Energetic […]

  24. Andrew says:

    Hoping you guys can give this a listen and comment:

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  25. Fr. Maximus says:

    I do not think Erickson’s article is honest at all. It is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with ecumenism in general and the dialogue with the monophysites in particular. There is an incredible amount of arrogance implicit in everything he says, especially in holding that the statements of the Fathers (not merely individual statements, but the whole tradition) are somehow revisable. The basic mentality is un-orthodox, and there is no real attempt to grapple with the actual problems with the theology of Severus or Philoxenus. The assumption upon which the dialogue or any analysis such as Erickson’s starts is that the faiths are identical, simply because the participants have declared them so – with little reference to the actual content of the ancient debates. Even a cursury reading of Severus for example shows a huge amount of theological muddle. That may be all right as a private opinion, but when it is raised to the level of dogma and deliberately opposed to the Patristic formulation, it is heresy.

  26. Collator says:

    An interesting speech by Fr. John Erickson of St. Vlad’s:

    I don’t agree with everything he has to say, but appreciate his honest statement of the some of the outstanding problems in the dialogue, particularly ecclesiological.

  27. Collator says:

    Dear Cyril,
    I did not mean to imply that the creeds and councils are “outdated.” Firstly, I do think that some of the rhetoric of the Fathers is not applicable today. For example, I do not think that a serious Orthodox theologian today, in a polemical treatise written against a Unitarian Universalist or a Jehovah’s Witness, call them an “Ariomaniac” (or, in better English, “a crazy Arian” or “crazy with Arianism”), as St. Athanasius was wont to do (or a Jehovah-maniac, etc.). I am not saying that this was “bombast tailored to their situation” but rather “polemical language tailored to their situation” — polemical language which would not be considered acceptable today, even in the case of serious theological disagreement. There are simply different codes of rhetorical decorum today. I think that this issue is relatively easy to deal with, using sensitivity to socio-historical contexts of the past. A deeper question is whether the Fathers’ use of syllogism and insistence on terminology is also similarly historically conditioned. I am inclined to say no, because this deals more with theological content, but I think the question needs to be addressed in a more systematic manner.

    Secondly, I believe that any eventual reunion with the non-Chalcedonians would have to be firmly based on an acceptance of Chalcedonian Christology (and the clarifications wrought by the subsequent Ecumenical Councils) as the fullest and clearest articulation of Orthodox belief. The question is whether non-Chalcedonian terminology can be understood as fundamentally agreeing with the sense/meaning of Chalcedonian terminology, even if differing in the outward forms of the words. I have in mind here what one of the 4th-century Fathers (was it St. Athanasius or St. Gregory Nazianzenus) said in regard to the Nicene controversy, roughly “We use different words but we mean the same things.” Of course we should not latch onto this isolated statement too hastily — its context was quite different, and subsequent developments in that dispute might historically qualify it — i.e., Orthodoxy did eventually _insist_ on the terminology “homoousios” (although, if I remember rightly, the statement in question was referring to dispute over the terms “hypostasis” and “person” with reference to Trinitarian theology). The question then to be cleared up would be whether certain anathemas (e.g. against Dioscorus and Severus) could be lifted or moderated. Fr. Alexander Schmemann asked this question in a passage he wrote on this issue (sorry, don’t remember where): given that we must hold on to the Chalcedonian oros as a “positive” foundation of Orthodox Christology, is it possible to re-examine and perhaps re-consider “negative” aspects of the articulation of Orthodoxy, such as anathemas? Fr. Schmemann posed the question but didn’t have an answer. One relevant example I can think of is Origen: condemned by an Ecumenical Council, but acknowledged as an important influence in the development of Orthodox theology and frequently mined for his more sound opinions. Some would argue that the critiques of Monophysite theologians such as Severus were important in forcing the correct interpretation of Chalcedon as Cyrilline that was developed under the aegis of Justinian in the 6th century (so-called Neo-Chalcedonianism). Of course, he rejected this interpretation when it was offered to him in draft form in the 530s, something that would undermine a sympathetic interpretation of non-Chalcedonian Christology such as I am outlining here.

    An example tying my two broad points together is St. John Damascene’s polemical treatise _Against the Jacobites_. At one point he acknowledges that his opponents have a basic understanding of the continued existence of both divinity and humanity in Christ, but that their terminology leads to all sorts of theological muddle and confusion and abomination (he uses classical patristic vituperation for some of the causes of this confusion, e.g. Severus). I disagree with Fr. Louth’s reading of this treatise (in his monograph on St. John), which is (roughly) that it vindicates the results of the current dialogue with the non-Chalcedonians (i.e. our Christologies are basically the same). I think his vision of St. John’s polemics is a little too rosy. But I do think that such passages in the Fathers call for closer examination and discussion.

    However, an important caveat to all this. The non-Chalcedonians are probably unlikely to accept a “Chalcedonian criterion” as a basis for re-union; this has become rather clear from the recent series of dialogues. So the points I raise here may be moot after all …

  28. Cyril says:


    Thanks for the clarification. As for Jewel over time, yes, though I would say with qualifications. He became more consistent in his conformity to the will of the prince (in his case, the Queen). Early he railed, though privately, against vestments, which things later became the reason for his not advancing puritans in his diocese. He also became more articulate in his “Erastian” sensibilities, which naturally made him more the institutional prelate.

    Collator, I did not know that creeds and councils came with half-lives and expiration dates. The fundamental issues addressed in these controversies are still very much with us, and since neither God, nor Christ, nor the human condition have altered since their time, I fail to see how the rhetoric of the Fathers could ever lack application. Further, we should not see their rhetoric as some bombast tailored to their situation, but as part and parcel of the answer itself.


  29. Lord Peter says:

    Thanks for the correction Cyril. Of course I meant formed by the Calvinists — though his position moved “up the candle,” so to speak, over time.

  30. Cyril says:

    Jewel was in no way formed by the Lutherans. His earliest contact with Protestantism was through the humanist John Parkhurst, who opposed the Lutherans, and took up residence in Zurich under Mary. His second, and the most formative encounter, was with Peter Martyr Vermigli, whom the Lutherans chased out of Strasbourg in 1555 because of his denunciation of ubiquitarianism and his adoption of what to them was nothing more than evangelical sacramentarianism (read: Calvinism). Jewel repudiated Lutheran doctrines of the Eucharist and baptism, maintained that eating Christ was nothing other than believing on him, and that partaking of Christ was only ‘sacramental’, by which he meant the real absence.

    As for the later Caroline and Nonjuror divines, you are right. John Cosin translated numerous Greek prayers in to English. I think in particular of those prayers said at the Vespers after Pentecost known to the Orthodox as the kneeling prayers.


  31. Lord Peter says:

    Remember that Jewel was and Anglican formed by the Lutheran Reformation. In contrast, the Caroline Divines — liberally construed as Lancelot Andrewes to Laud, even into the Nonjurors and Aberdeen Fathers — were back to reading the Greek Fathers and, therefore, had a much more Cyrillian Christological bent. Even the Oxford Movement was largely in agreement here — save the ultramontane wing with “Poped.”

  32. Symeon,

    Bravo! Thank you for this!


  33. Symeon says:

    To further prove the point, here are some quotations from their fathers.

    Timothy Aelurus:

    “For the nature of Christ is only divinity, which also became flesh without transformation for our salvation…”
    qtd. in Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, Volume 2, Part 4, pg. 32

    “There is no nature that is not also hypostasis and no hypostasis that is not person. Thus if there are two natures, there are also with all necessity two persons and even two Christs, as the new teachers proclaim.”
    ibid, pg. 33

    Philoxenus of Mabbug:
    “For if we admit (in Him) nature and nature, we must necessarily admit person and person, and consequently we must acknowledge two Sons and two Gods.”

    Severus of Antioch:
    “For if there is one hypostasis, there is, in short, also one nature.”
    Allen and Hayward, Severus of Antioch, pg. 64

    “But, when we say ‘one incarnate nature of God the Word’, as Athanasius the prop of the truth and the apostolic faith said in the books on the Incarnation of the Word, we use ‘nature’ in place of ‘individual designation’, denoting the one hypostasis of the Word himself, like that of Peter also or of Paul, or of any other single man.”

    The confusion between person and nature should be obvious. When they say “from two natures” what is meant is “from two hypostases.” From such a starting point either confusion or division follow. The dictum of St. John of Damascus applies: “But this is what leads the heretics astray, viz., that they look upon nature and subsistence as the same thing.” Also what St. Justinian says in his Letter Against the Monophysites: “So why do the Acephaloi [i.e. Severan Monophysites] teach a union of two hypostases when in fact the union of hypostasis does not allow for two hypostases? Perhaps they are unaware that the error for which Nestorius was condemned was introducing two hypostases into [Christ’s] Dispensation.”

  34. Symeon says:

    To further prove the point, here are some quotations from their fathers.

    Timothy Aelurus:

    “For the nature of Christ is only divinity, which also became flesh without transformation for our salvation…”
    qtd. in Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, Volume 2, Part 4, pg. 32

    “There is no nature that is not also hypostasis and no hypostasis that is not person. Thus if there are two natures, there are also with all necessity two persons and even two Christs, as the new teachers proclaim.”
    ibid, pg. 33

    Philoxenus of Mabbug:
    “For if we admit (in Him) nature and nature, we must necessarily admit person and person, and consequently we must acknowledge two Sons and two Gods.”

    Severus of Antioch:
    “For if there is one hypostasis, there is, in short, also one nature.”
    Allen and Hayward, Severus of Antioch, pg. 64

    “But, when we say ‘one incarnate nature of God the Word’, as Athanasius the prop of the truth and the apostolic faith said in the books on the Incarnation of the Word, we use ‘nature’ in place of ‘individual designation’, denoting the one hypostasis of the Word himself, like that of Peter also or of Paul, or of any other single man.”

    The confusion between person and nature should be obvious.

  35. Symeon says:

    The Monophysite churches were and are heretical, and so were their fathers. The central error is the equation of nature and hypostasis, which leads to the absurdity of a union of hypostases (this is also, I would add, the same starting point of the Nestorians). All sorts of heretical consequences follow from this, even if they affirm that the Lord was consubstantial to the divinity and to us. Likewise, the Latins will affirm that their theology does not bring about two sources in the Godhead, but this is where their theology leads.

    Some of their fathers, like Timothy Aelurus and Philoxenus of Mabbug, affirm that the “one nature” is divine only, even in the incarnation. They then go on to say that Christ is still in some manner consubstantial to us, although I know not how.

  36. Collator says:

    Dear author(s),
    I was interested to see how you used Eutychianism and Nestorianism as two models of heresy to which later heretical opinions can be compared. This is a common practice among the Fathers, but their use of it needs to be understood in the rhetorical context of their time and culture. This leads me to two questions for you:

    (1) Are such polemical methods valid in our own time? i.e. the common patristic tactic of reductio ad absurdum, and its usual complement of reducing the opponent’s position to that of a past arch-heretic. Although I usually see the point in these arguments, and I revere the wisdom and struggle of the Fathers, I must admit that my modern sensibility to intellectual honesty and academic objectivity sometimes makes me somewhat uneasy with their rhetoric (note that I didn’t put honesty and objectivity in quotation marks, since I think that they point to something real and valuable, if imperfect, in modern Western culture).

    (2) The second question follows organically from the first: What is your view on the current dialogue with the Monophysite churches (or Non-Chalcedonian, to be more polite)? This is a case where many scholars are claiming that the Fathers of the past misunderstood and mischaracterized the articulations of Christology offered by Dioscorus, Timothy Ailouros, Severus, etc. (not to mention Nestorius and Theodore of Mopsuestia, on the other side). My own opinion, informed by a wide but admittedly unsystematic aquaintance with Monophysites, their friends and their opponents, both ancient and modern, is a studied non-committal, based on the ancient precept “Do not move the boundary-stones that your fathers have set up.” I’d love to hear your opinions on this sensitive and complex issue, if you feel competent to address it (and your, i.e. Perry’s, familiarity with Fr. McGuckin’s stimulating book on St. Cyril indicates that you have dealt with it in some form). I’ve searched before in this blog for posts on this topic but have not found any extensive post; if one or more exist and I have missed them, please direct me thereto.

  37. Cyril says:


    It is the one Lord Jesus Christ who indwells us through the Spirit, the same as the One Lord from heaven who by the same Spirit indwelled the human nature He took from the Blessed Virgin. Thus Christ comes to dwell in us not in some “spiritual” sense, but as the One Lord from Heaven, enhypostasized, an inseparable union of two natures. And this is only realized within the life of the Church, constituted by the Incarnation. Thus we feed on the flesh and blood of the living Christ in the Eucharist, his divine-human nature, theandric, to use the Dionysian term. He is our brother, that is, He is us by virtue of the Incarnation, in which he takes our nature, and we are now one with him forever. This is why all the dead shall be raised at the last day, for all mankind shares in the revitalized humanity of Christ (something to think about if you are Reformed). But, the energies of Christ, which allow us to act as we should, according to natural virtues that we should see by natural reason (which our reason now obscured by passion cannot see), are only given to those within that mystical body, the Church. (Maximus–and for a modern read, see Staniloae– was quite precise in seeing the Logos as reconstituting the human race in Himself {recapitulation}, who was also the pattern for man to begin with. You can see this in Athanasius’ analogy that the image being marred, the original had to sit so that the painting could be redone.) I am not always sure what is meant by “the Reformed” these days. I can only tell you what the Reformers believed, and I think I have a fairly good grasp who their current heirs are. Generally what parades as “Reformed” is in fact a shallow and vacuous wraith. I think also that the arguments going on since back to the Norm Shepherd situation (though I have to tell you that most of his disciples he would hardly approve of, e.g., Jim Jordan) are nothing more than the contradictions of the Reformers emerging anew.


  38. Hey guys, please disregard that first paragraph. I was planning on answering Simons question regarding my view on Christ’s indwelling. Thanks. – Doug

  39. Simon, to answer your question, I a trying, biblically with the aid of the Tradition, to understand these Christological issues. I formally study New Testament, which

    So, I am going to try to recap.

    Jesus is one person, who’s natures are both divine and human. Therefore, to be indwelt by Jesus, means to be indwelt by his person – in both natures.

    So, relating this question back to the Eucharist, the common Calvinistic understanding, which speaks of a real spiritual presence only, wherin Christ’s Spirit is present, while his humanity is in heaven, does this fall within the realm of Nestorianism?

    Perry, I will check out McGuckin on Cyril. Thanks.

  40. Douglas,

    It is interesting that of the three modes proposed for the hypostatic union during the Nestorian debate, indwelling of the believer was one mode. See McGuckin’s work on Cyril. I’d say that Christ indwells the believer via the logos of human nature, at the least. And I would recommend thinking of the indwelling not of a nature, but of a person. Neither of Christ’s two natures are his person.

  41. “natures have subjects corresponding to the properties of its respective nature.”

    I don’t think this problem is unique to the Reformed. Look at how Mike Liccione was using this same reasoning of what a divine person is and what a human person is in his debate with me and Fr. Maximus. This is a problem of ordo theologiae: one that answers questions first in terms of general concepts, i.e. nature and what is of the nature. Any “theology” that starts from such reasoning is immediately flawed. All the heresies have this as their common denominator and this is the foundation of their error.


  42. Simon says:


    How do you think we should understand the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or of the Father, who have only one (divine) nature? These two Persons are said to be in us *as persons*, and so energetically. Should it not be the same for the Logos? This means that the Logos also dwells in us according to His energies, which happen to be both human and divine.

    Does that lead you anywhere helpful?

  43. This was a very helpful post. How do you understand Christ’s indwelling of the believer? Is this his divine nature or his human nature which indwells? I am asking this because, for the Reformed community, the answer to this question has implications for the Eucharistic theology. – Doug

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