Monophysites, Nestorians and Ecumenical Councils
I am no theologian, yet theological issues interest me, and the more I study certain aspects of early church history the more confused I become. The reason, quite rightly, that Orthodox and Catholic Christianity rely so much on tradition, is that there is so much in Christianity which isn't found in Scripture. According to Clement of Alexandria, this was part of the "secret" teachings of Christ to His Apostles, and them to their closet followers. But the precise relationship of Christ, to the Father and the Comforter, had to be worked out from the spiritual experiences of the earliest Christians. So where there were major disagreements, with subsequent schisms, how are we to tell who got it right? Orthodox Christianity would claim that those matters settled at the Seven Ecumenical Councils are binding, wheras those churches such as the Oriental Orthodox and the Nestorian churches aren't signatories to all of those councils must use a different yardstick.
Its my understanding that many of these early disputes centre on the precise definition of Christ's nature. If the Oriental Orthodox churches believe that Christ has one nature, both human and divine, and "mainstream" Christianity believes that He has two natures, one human and one divine, is this much more than a question of words and semantics? Does it have any practical consequences in the devotional lives of believers? The Nestorian controversy may be a bit more serious, in that it impinges on the devotion due to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as to whether she was the mother only of Christ's humanity, or whether she was also the mother of His divinity and therefore Mother of God. But can any of us really put our hand on our heart and say that we understand the nature of God well enough to answer these small details? When I was in my 20's (I'm now 53) I would have agreed with Keith who was recently posting here, that there is no right or wrong religion and to commit oneself fully to a particular belief is far too limiting.
But in the last few years God has called me into a more orthodox (lower case intended) understanding of Christianity, and that it is, by far the most complete revelation of God to mankind. Yet the precision with which the early Christians felt it necessary to define the nature(s) of Christ leads me to doubt that anyone could know God so well as to be sure of these things. Is there any practical way in which a belief in one nature of Christ affects how He is worshipped and what kind of devotion is shown to Him? This brings to mind some words from the medieval English Christian classic, The Cloud of Unknowing:
"By love may He be gotten and holden, but by thought never."
Yours in Christ