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The Incarnation and Orthodoxy
26-10-2006, 10:19 PM,
The Incarnation and Orthodoxy
One of the great ineffable mysteries of the faith is the Incarnation. It is, therefore, perhaps unsurprising that the different attempts to understand it have led to misunderstandings - in the end, of course, we cannot understand it. If our human understanding could comprehend the mind of God, then whatever it thought it was understanding could not, I take it, be the mind of God, which is, by definition, beyond understanding.

That being said, am I correct in thinking that the Oriental Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation is entirely Cyrilline in its teaching? By that, I mean that it sees the enfleshed Word as being completely human and completely divine, being of one nature after the union?

The Antiochenes of the fifth century mistakenly took St. Cyril's 'One nature of the Incarnate Word' for a form of Appolinarianism, and the Chalcedonians seem to have picked this up as a handy stick with which to beat those who would not accept their views. What puzzles me is how the Chalcedonians managed to accept the Three Chapters by Antiochenes as Orthodox for nearly a hundred years, then, at their fifth council, denounce them as heretical, all without casting doubt on their own definitions of either their own Orthodoxy, or their own definition of Ecumenical.

I suppose my questions are, therefore, two fold:
- is there an identity between St. Cyril and the OO Christology?
- why were the Chalcedonians able to get away with accepting an heretical set of Chapters at Chalcedon and then dropping them at Constantinople?

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
11-12-2007, 04:27 AM,
This reply is simply to "bump" this thread up the list of currently active threads in the hope that someone will post their two coppers' worth or that Mr. Charmley will post his current take on the issue.
11-12-2007, 11:24 AM,
Hi Mourad

I think that the issue of the virtual reception of the Three Chapters by the Roman and North-African Church is important, not least because it does give some justification for the rejection of Chalcedon. Indeed one of the anathemas against that council was related to that very issue.

I'd be interested to understand better the position which these writers and indeed the whole Theodorean tradition held in the Antoichean See until Constantinople II. It is hard to believe that there was strong support for Theodore until the death of St Cyril and then suddenly it disappeared.

I do believe that there is a complete identity between the Christology of St Cyril and St Severus, or rather that St Severus develops the Christology of St Cyril where required but is completely rooted in that of his master. One only has to read any of St Severus' theological works to see that he depends entirely on St Cyril, indeed I grow increasingly aware that St Cyril was a Severan and vice-versa, and that it is rather difficult to make him a Chalcedonian.

I am not entirely convinced that all modern OO Christology is Cyrilline, in that I am not sure that there is not a popular explanation of our Christology which seems to me to try to be too Chalcedonian. I grow increasingly to believe that the Chalcedonian position is defective, and that even though it was corrected to a great extent by Constantinople II, nevertheless modern 'hard-liners' seem to me to be more Chalcedonian than Chalcedo-Constantinopilitan, and therefore seem to veer close to Nestorian positions.

On the other hand I personally deprecate taking too narrow a view on matters which are beyond comprehension. But I do also think that we need to appreciate our own tradition much more and be much firmer in professing the teaching of our fathers, even while also being conscious of the need to communicate it fully rather than simply using slogans.

Saint Severus says (in partial paraphrase) ...

Quote:We must flee all superfluous ideas, and follow the inspired scriptures, the chosen men, guardians of the Law, who were teachers of the mysteries of the Holy Church, not only in their doctrine, but also in their terminology which expressed their doctrine. What they say is true, and what they did not say is false. He acknowledges his weakness. In all circumstances of my life I have been concerned to regulate my spirit according to their terminology and their ideas, and to conform my language to it, to resort to it in my language and my writings each time the circumstances require it, and not to recognise them as fathers on the one hand, while elevating ourselves against their declarations on the other hand, which are the expression of authentic doctrines. For it was not they who spoke, according to the truthful word of our Saviour, but the Spirit of their Father who spoke in them.

We should grasp and speak without any alteration the fruit of their labour and of their discussion.

Of course merely repeating things in parrot fashion can actually communicate error, but I do think we need to be more rooted ourselves in our Fathers.

Thinking of the Three Chapters again. I think that their reception in the West and North Africa, and their popularity in Antioch, shows that there is a real and different tendency in Christology. Whether or not in any situation it goes beyond the bounds of what can be considered Orthodox and Christian is a matter for the Church, but I do always consider it dangerous. To speak of a duality in Christ seems always to lead to dividing Christ, even unwittingly.

Certainly as a Protestant I understood and was taught either that Christ was a man and His 'Divinity' was 'out there' somewhere. Or that he was only a man and had given up His Divinity. I struggled because even then I wanted to describe Christ as man filled with the fulness of the Godhead, rather like the elven Queen Galadriel in Lord of the Rings who is so much more than is merely visible.

Saint Severus is very clear. If the manhood does 'this' and the Divinity does 'that' then there is only a relative relation between them. They are two 'things' united only externally, however closely. But if it is the Word of God who acts both Divinely and humanly this is a different description. In the one we see a humanity which is appropriated and used BY the Word, in the Cyrilline and Severan description we see that the humanity IS the Word.

How many of us have experienced the truth that when you push a certain type of Byzantine you find a Nestorian? This is surely because the Theodorean principle of two hypostases is still present in Chalcedonianism. Such that some, in correspondence with me, have even unknowingly rejected passages from their own Fifth Council because they considered them heretical.

The reason that the West and North Africa went into schism after the Fifth Council was because they understood clearly that to accept the Fifth was to criticise the Fourth. Indeed some parts of the West remained in schism over this issue until 700 AD. And Metropolitans and Popes were willing to be put in prison rather than accept the condemnation of these writings and persons. There is a new book out on the Three Chapters controversy which I want to get, but I have not seen an EO address the issue of Chalcedonian acceptance indeed an EO priest I raised the issue with dismissed it forthwith.

But Chalcedon is clear 'We have read the letter of Ibas and it is Orthodox', as is Constantinople, 'When it was read immediately its impiety was manifest to all.'

There is much to be said on this subject and I hope I can write something substantial in 2008.

As ever

11-12-2007, 05:59 PM,
Dear Peter,

I am grateful to Mourad for exhuming this one!

It would be wonderful if you could find the time to write something more substantial on this - although I would say that what you have written thus far is very substantial and enlightening.

My own views, as I understand these things better within the Church (and it might be noted that my initial post was when I was still exiting Anglicanism) is that our rejection of Chalcedon was largely founded upon its approval of Theodoret and others who were clearly Nestorian in their tendencies; the later condemnation of Theodoret and the other was a belated act of justice, and if it had occurred in 451 I doubt there would have been a split. By the time of the Constantinople Council too much blood had been split and too many fixed positions had been taken up.

I suspect that the condemnation of St. Disoscoros has in some ways muddied the water, because many books still repeat the calumny that his doctrine was condemned; nothing of the sort happened. What is puzzling is why he did not come to the Council when summoned, and I wonder what the answer to that is?

When you write:
Quote:I am not entirely convinced that all modern OO Christology is Cyrilline, in that I am not sure that there is not a popular explanation of our Christology which seems to me to try to be too Chalcedonian. I grow increasingly to believe that the Chalcedonian position is defective, and that even though it was corrected to a great extent by Constantinople II, nevertheless modern 'hard-liners' seem to me to be more Chalcedonian than Chalcedon-Constantinopilitan, and therefore seem to veer close to Nestorian positions.
I have some sense of what you mean from our discussions elsewhere, but I suspect it might be helpful if you could elaborate a little - not in the cause of divisiveness (of which no one who knows you could harbour any suspicion) but in the cause of furthering our knowledge of the Oriental Orthodox Tradition.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
11-12-2007, 10:59 PM,
Dear John

Yes you are right that I do not mean to be divisive at all, and I was struck after posting with Rick's post. But I guess that dealing with theological difference in a loving way is just the other side of dealing with the desire for unity in an honest way?

I have been reading materials over the last couple of weeks as I have been preparing new volumes for publication. These are informing my thoughts. The first text is Bar Salibi - Against the Melchites. This is a remarkable work since it addresses a Syrian who is being drawn by the glamour of Imperial Chalcedonianism. Bar Salibi expresses the distinctives of our Oriental Orthodox position, and I think that this is an important document that all thinking Oriental Orthodox who deal with the Eastern Orthodox should study.

I think his basic premise is one we should ponder. It seems to me that it is essentially that we are not trying to be 'accepted' by the Eastern Orthodox, even while we would wish to explain our theology in a manner that is comprehensible. Rather we should be comfortable that there is value in our own Tradition which we can and should justifiably consider entirely and authentically Orthodox.

This is one aspect of my sense that some modern OO do not have a Cyrilline Christology. I sense that some look at Byzantine ritual and hymnology with envy. Or at the present theological tradition of the Eastern Orthodox and find themselves feeling daunted. Or even at comparative numbers, or the numbers of books in English about the EO compared with the OO. And then when it comes to theology the EO position seems all sewn up, the Romans accept it, the Russians accept it, the Greeks accept it, 'who are we to make a fuss?'.

Bar Salibi writes ten chapters. They are all matters of controversy, and usually they are matters over which OO are harangued by EO. They are:

i. The making of the Sign of the Cross
ii. Also on the Sign of the Cross
iii. On the two natures
iv. The liturgical excesses of the Greeks
v. Tones and Melodies unprofitable
vi. Byzantine pride in great buildings
vii. Are the Greeks the head of all Christians?
viii. Are we few and humble?
ix. On the Sign of the Cross again
x. On the Trisagion

Now this is not simply a list of polemics. I find Bar Salibi much more sophisticated than that. He is not so much wishing to condemn the Byzantines as to ask his correspondent why he is so keen to run off and join the Greeks.

And this is a text which has encouraged me to ask myself why I do not find myself entirely satisfied with the theological and spiritual foundation laid down by our Fathers in our OO tradition, and I do not mean this in an exclusivist sense, indeed I was writing a short article for someone today and referred to Saint Seraphim of Sarov. But I do mean that it is impossible to do ecumenism in a proper manner if we are asking ourselves at the beginning why we dare exist as a community and communion.

I suppose I mean that I am becoming convinced that I can participate best in a proper ecumenism if I am truly a disciple of Saint Cyril and Saint Severus and our other Fathers first, without fanaticism, and then engage in a sympathetic consideration of the Eastern Orthodox positions second.

This is where I would want to wonder whether there is not a sense among some OO that all the answers are to be found in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and that what is required is for us to show that we are Eastern Orthodox enough. I no longer feel that I want to play that game. I want to understand and be able to participate in our own tradition as far as possible, and then consider how to promote unity and manage difference with others and especially the Eastern Orthodox.

Theologically I think that this translates into a too simple understanding of our Christology which makes us say the same thing with different words. I am not convinced that is or especially was the case. If the bishops at Chalcedon could read the Letter of Ibas and declare him Orthodox then it must, surely it must, say something about the substance of their Orthodoxy?

Putting this sense into very plain English. I think I am in the position where I am convinced that our OO communion is Orthodox and I am
seeking to understand if the EO communion is also Orthodox, and where there might be difficulty. I am no longer where I was 15 years ago, where I wanted to show that I was Orthodox like the Eastern Orthodox. Now I want to be Orthodox like Saint Cyril and Saint Severus, and God must, to a very great extent, work out the issues between OO and EO Himself.

The second volume I am reading and presently preparing for publication is a work by an Armenian Archbishop. It is most interesting indeed and I have learned a lot of history. But the Archbishop describes the position of the Armenian Church as being one where there is dogma, especially relating to the Trinity and to Christ, and which is found in the Three Ecumenical Councils, but beyond that doctrine is considered as being the output of various theological schools and not being identical with dogma. Therefore the Armenian Church wishes to be liberal to the extent that there is a conservative and wholly Orthodox preservation of dogma but a much greater sense of discretion and humility in elevating one particular doctrinal explanation of the incomprehensible above any other.

There is much to consider in this volume, but I have been struck by the position taken by the Archbishop and described as being the essential position of the Armenian Church, which has made it liable to proselytism, but which it has not been willing to abandon for a more narrow exclusivism.

This has made me think deeply. How do I balance the theological narrowness of Bar Salibi (and I don't mean he is personally narrow minded), with the theological liberality of Archbishop Malaghia Ormanian?

I think that I have needed to develop an understanding over the years that there is a distinction between people and the theological systems they adopt. It may well be perfectly appropriate for me to consider a theological system against that of Saint Cyril and Saint Severus and consider various defects and deficiencies, but it is not appropriate in this present age to define a person simply by their theology.

And I am sensing that I need a humility to understand that even if the teaching of Saint Cyril were completely identified with some absolute theological truth that would not mean that I myself necessarily understood the teaching of Saint Cyril perfectly and was thereby able to judge all other theologies. Indeed it is clear that I do not perfectly understand the theology of Saint Cyril and Saint Severus, and more than that I do not perfectly understand the theology of any Eastern Orthodox theologian, so who am I do act as if I could ever make any absolute theological statement.

So what am I saying? I think I am saying that members of the OO should seek to be much more the disciples of our Fathers and should begin by rooting ourselves in our own tradition. Personally I beleive that the strength of our Christology lies in the expression of unity of being without confusion which we profess. I do think we must be careful and cautious in simply identifying our Christology with that of Chalcedon.

Secondly I think that we should take a more positive stance in regard to the controversial matters. Why should we not be asking difficult questions about Chalcedon? Why do we not all know by heart the anathemas which were raised by our Syrian and Coptic Fathers against Chalcedon, not because we wish to use them in a polemical manner, but because they are witnesses to the issues which Chalcedon created and brought into focus. Why are we always acting as if the OO communion must answer all the questions? I am very interested in the issue of the Three Chapters and have started to gather some reading materials around that topic. There is no need for any such questioning to be in a polemical spirit. Indeed my main concern is to show that the OO position was justified and reasonable, and that there are questions that the EO should answer, rather than that Chalcedon necesitates division.

Thirdly, I agree entirely that Constantinople was a substantial move towards a position of mutual agreement, but I think that we need to do more as OO to understand what Constantinople II did which made the position more acceptable, and what it was in Chalcedon that was unacceptable. This is necessary I believe because there are those in the EO who take a Chalcedonian position rather than a Chalcedo-Constantinopolitan one. It is the presence of unreconstructed Chalcedonianism which it seems to me is a major obstacle to reconciliation. But are we really clear what the issues are with Chalcedon?

I don't think that any of this needs to inform how we deal with people as people. There are positions but people are not positions. Surely it must be possible to be entirely generous towards those with whom we disagree? And how far do we disagree? Does this not require that we know where we are starting from, so that we can then engage with others who are starting from a different position?

So I wonder if I am becoming more 'hard-line' in one sense, while also becoming more 'liberal' in another? More committed to understanding our tradition while also more willing to acknowledge that holding a particular theological position barely describes a persons relationship with Christ.

I wrote today to somone....

As the Holy Spirit is one, so the life we live as Christians is one. There can be no division among those who are living according to the ?breath of life?. In Christ there is no Greek nor Jew, no Coptic nor English. Even while we recognise that there are differences in culture these are not allowed to divide, because division among and between Christians is not of the one Spirit. We are not made one because we do the same things, or have the same liturgical language and customs, but we are one because we have One Life.

And I think this is the place where I stand at the moment. I think the theological differences are important because they are to do with spiritual health, but the Holy Spirit is one, and I need to work out what the theological differences mean in the light of the unity of life in the Spirit.

A quick note about St Dioscorus. I think that he knew that the small group of bishops who had called him to appear before them was not a true council, it was a kangaroo court and had no authority over him. It had been determined by the Romans before the council that Dioscorus would be condemned. He knew this. Indeed there is a very interesting collection of visions and prophecies which point to there being a real sense among the Alexandrians before the council that this was a place where courage and principle would be required. Since Chalcedon is not considered an ecumenical council its actions are not ecumenical. It is said that Dioscorus was prevented by illness and by Imperial troops from attending, but I don't think he considered that the gathering had any moral or spiritual authority.

In later decades most of the bishops who had signed up to Ephesus 449, then signed up to Chalcedon, then rejected Chalcedon and then accepted it and then rejected it before accepting it again. Yet our Fathers willingly gave themselves over to persecution, exile and martyrdom for these matters of principle.

Must close now, but this is a very interesting thread and I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

12-12-2007, 05:22 PM,
Oriental Orthodox
Dear Peter,

If there were an 'unworthy' emoticon I would begin this post with it!

This is a most interesting post and makes me eager to know more. I have been very conscious in dealing with some EOs of their view that I was in some way trying either to defend a 'position' or to persuade them that I was really 'Eastern'; neither has ever been my intention, but I understand something about that process now which I had not articulated properly; it may be I can't quite do it now, either, but I'll have a go.

As an historian I am used to looking at documents and analysing them, and to dealing with polemical arguments, and one of the things that has always struck me is the problem outlined in my first post above, which is how the Chalcedonians managed to justify to themselves their acceptance of heretical teaching at Chalcedon and then their change of mind at Constantinople; the standard EO explanation appears to be 'it was just an attempt by the emperor to bring the monophysites back'. OK, but what about the Christology of Theodoret and Ibas?

Paul Clayton's new book, The Christology of Theodoret of Cyrus (Oxford, 2007) shows beyond doubt that his Christology was one in which there were two subjects, and that he taught that there were two subjects ion the Incarnation - the Word and a distinct human person. This St. Cyril had seen and condemned; this St. Dioscoros saw and condemned; this Chalcedon neither saw nor condemned; that makes a difference to how one regards Chalcedon.

It may be fair to say that later the Chalcedonians saw the error of their ways, but the notion of a two-subject Christology endures to this day in many quarters.

The notion of the Oriental Orthodox tradition needed more explaining to itself is one that Fr. Gregory has touched upon in different ways, and your work in making translations and texts available is so important here. Attracted by Kirk's comments about Bar-Hebraeus I have attempted to get hold of some of his texts, but Gorgias Press seems the only place, and their prices are prohibitive; thank YOU and the BOC for the OOL!

When you write:
Quote:I would want to wonder whether there is not a sense among some OO that all the answers are to be found in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and that what is required is for us to show that we are Eastern Orthodox enough
you touch on an important point. My own theological reading has perhaps always been slightly odd. As one who when younger was much taken with Newman and the Oxford Movement, I have tended to follow his advice and read the Fathers; but I have not found much modern theological speculation to my taste and have read little of it. I am sure there is much in it, but I find that even after thirty years there are so many of the Fathers I have not read - and so much of what I have read I have half forgotten.

I don't see a problem here between being firmly grounded in one's own tradition and ecumenism; in many ways the latter might be easier if one had the former. But it does come back to the need for a language in which to express what we hold in common that does not end up being syncretic.

We shall, I am sure return to this - but I wanted to post a quick thank you for such a thought-provoking post - and to express the hope that others will join in.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
13-12-2007, 11:13 AM,
Hi John

As things come together a little in my mind I am wondering if we should not (and I don't think we do) view our own OO Gospel as competing with others, such that we need to combat and discredit others, and win arguments with the weapons of polemics.

Rather I am thinking that if we do believe that our Fathers have described the true Gospel to us then this is something we should earnestly make our own by living it and understanding it and being able to share it as far as we are able.

I don't even mean in an intellectual sense, in fact I definitely don't mean that.

Last night I had a long telephone conversation with a Coptic friend in Canada, and it was a blessing to be able to discuss our theology. But it seems to me that it must not be an intellectual exercise but something which changes us. We were talking about the Cyrilline expression 'One of the Holy Trinity was crucified' and were comparing this with a more Nestorian view which would separate God from all suffering. And this led us to the position where we weakly and feebly comprehended that it was God, our God, the Creator of the Universe, who allowed His own creation to beat Him, spit on Him, and drive nails through His hands. And in the blink of an eye He could have caused the entire universe to be as if it had never existed, but instead, because of His love for us, He suffered this humiliation and truly bore the pain.

Now if our theology actually changes us and has spiritual meaning for us, then it becomes something to share with generosity. We wish others to understand what we have received and to receive themselves the blessings that have been granted to us. Our theology becomes a spiritual gift and not merely an intellectual position.

I am wondering if it is the case that unity in Christ is experienced wherever this true Gospel is received with joy and gratitude, to the measure that it is received. Is it not the case that 'deep calls to deep'? I mean that if all that is true is of Christ then a godly Methodist will find something in our Gospel which moves them. Likewise a godly Baptist, a godly Roman Catholic, and this receiving with joy is a true union in the Holy Spirit.

Those who wish to always find fault and a reason for exclusivity have already judged themselves. And this is not to say that questions should not be asked and boundaries drawn. But surely we should be able to say, for instance,

'It is important for us to proclaim that one of the Holy Trinity suffered on the Cross. It was our God who died because He loved us so much, and not some other person. And of course we don't mean that the Godhead died or suffered, indeed how could the unknowable Divinity be nailed to anything, but we are moved with gratitude and wonder when we consider that God so loved the world that He sent His own Son, not as a Mighty King, but as a Suffering Servant, and it was our Creator who allowed His own Creation to nail Him to the cross'.

What I am trying to suggest poorly is that if our theology is presented as spirituality then it is not merely a matter of words and arguments, but it becomes something that all true lovers of God can rejoice in, and which allows us to discover a unity with all true lovers of God.

There are those who love arguments and we are warned to avoid them, and I think that perhaps I should have taken more notice of that Pauline injunction in the past.

I truly think that if we come to know our own OO tradition more, and LIVE OUT what we learn as GOSPEL, as GOOD NEWS, then we are half-way to being better able to lovingly and generously communicate our Faith and find unity with others.

If there is not a love for the Gospel in our hearts and in those with whom we dialogue then no amount of words will ever suffice to bring about unity. If we are living the Gospel then we will really understand why theology matters, and of course this is why a true theologian is one who prays.

We must learn more, and live more, so that we can give more. And those who have hearts ready to receive, even in part what we live and give are already in a union with us.

I think that the Fathers understood that theology was a matter of spirituality, but I am only just realising that.

13-12-2007, 12:09 PM,
Dear Peter,

Again, we are in your debt; reading this alongside the 'Generous Orthodoxy' thread is an inspiring experience.

We do not apprehend the Almighty by our intellect; but we do not perceive Him without it, either; were that so why would He have given it to us?

If we proceed from the position that we are made in His image, but that that image is marred by the effects of sin, then can we assert that a right use of the gifts He has given to us requires all we have to be put at His service? What is His service?

We see, movingly as you have described it, how His love operated in this fallen world; the Light shone in the darkness and the darkness saw it not; the Lord of Salvation came among us and we crucified Him. But 'we' also followed Him, made ourselves obedient to Him, and followed His word even unto death. Humankind on both sides of salvation. He called us to Him, and nothing about His story on this earth makes us think that is easy.

He did not expound intellectually, although He left much for our intellects to comprehend. The Church began to define orthodoxy in response to heresy, just as it had to end up defining a canon of scripture for the same reason. He called us to repentance and amendment of life. We know in our hearts we are sick and broken, He will never despise a broken and a contrite heart.

But that route, in the modern world, as in the past, could equally lead us to a gospel of Arianism or an emotionalism that expresses itself in 'tongues' and cries of 'are you saved, brother?'

Is this not where the Church comes to us, if we will but come to her? Lost and broken, we feel a stirring of the Spirit and a longing for Him; but our candle is feeble and our road map faulty, even as the road gives way beneath our feet. How can we know the True Way except in the True Light?

That union between heart and intellect, united in Him, as we discover, through the Church and the Christian life, how we walk in His way, is what we are called to - in theosis. In His light we see the Light of the World.

It is, literally, awesome, that the Son of God hung and suffered there for me. Yet, even as He was there in agony, He reviled no one and offered forgiveness to the sinner next to Him; and yet it is so hard for us to even imitate that. But that, of course, is why we need Him - and the Church.

There is more to say, but for now, enough.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
13-12-2007, 12:19 PM,
Thank you John for a very illuminating post.

I am thinking, as a result of your post, that there is a balance in all these things.

So there is a right use of emotion, a right use of the intellect, and a right use of the spirit, and I wonder if these are often inverted in our experience? So that we become emotional or intellectual in our faith rather than being spiritual, and using the intellect and emotion under the guidance and control of the spirit for spiritual ends?


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