Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Incarnation and Chalcedon

There is a great post by Matthew Mullins at "Prosblogion" on the issue of the Incarnation. After noting that an orthodox view would have to avoid Monophysitism, Appollinarianism, and Nestorianism, he says:

The OC must embrace a version of the Incarnation that appears to contain multiple contradictions, for the incarnate must be a single identity that is uncreated and created, omniscient and having limited knowledge, atemporal and temporal, omnipotent and having finite powers. Yet the attributes necessary for divinity are irreconcilable with those attributes required for humanity when restricted to a single individual. With so many logical contradictions it seems to me that the doctrine of the Incarnation cannot be true.


Where I lose the author's argument is when he says "Yet the attributes necessary for divinity are irreconcilable with those attributes required for humanity when restricted to a single individual." The reason is that I don't see on what basis one could support such a claim. And in fact, the Chalcedonian Definition, which was explicitly constructed to avoid the heresies the author notes, denies the claim:

So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.


(The Definition on this point follows the Tome of St. Leo, which should be read for further explication.) In other words, you can only have a contradiction if you have irreconcilable attributes attributed to something in the same way. But this is not the conciliar view of Christ, which holds that Christ is both man and God, and that his human soul and body have all the limits of any human soul and body, and his divine nature has all the attributes of divine nature. The attributes are attributed in different ways. I don't see that there is any problem with this. The genuinely tricky aspect of the doctrine is not the natures in one person, but the fact that the divine nature is the divine person. As a person Christ is fundamentally divine (he is the Word); but the Word, without ceasing to be divine, also takes as His own a human soul and a human body, i.e., a human nature with all the attributes of human nature. And that it is the trickier issue can be seen by the fact that the Church had to deal with it again (at III Constantinople).

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