Sometimes I’m amazed by the questions that theological definitions raise. They make sense when people ask them, but so often there are great theological questions that I wouldn’t think to ask. David Mathis, writing a two post series on the Desiring God blog (links here and here), explored the implications in historical theology of the definition of Chalcedon that Christ has one person and two natures. It seems that some asked how this could be once Christ took on human flesh. The question seemed to be whether Christ had taken on a second person at the incarnation, as well as a second nature.
The two important terms were anhypostasis (that Christ did not take on a human nature that had its own personhood defined independently from Jesus) and enhypostasis (that Christ’s human nature receives its personhood from Jesus, the second person of the Trinitarian God). There are several quotes that Mathis includes from theologians, and this one from Fred Sanders’ Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology summed up the doctrines well:
On the one hand, the human nature of Jesus Christ is in fact a nature joined to a person, and therefore enhypostatic, or personalized. But the person who personalizes the human nature of Christ is not a created human person (like all the other persons personalizing the other human natures we encounter); rather it is the eternal second person of the Trinity. So the human nature of Christ is personal, but with a personhood from above.
Considered in itself, on the other hand, and abstracted from its personalizing by the eternal person of the Son, the human nature of Jesus Christ is simply human nature, and is not personal. The human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anhypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son).
On this subject, I thought that I might share the way that I try to explain the Christological disputes of the 5th century to students in the first part of my Western Civ survey course. Do you think that it’s helpful and, just as more important if not moreso, accurate?
I use analogies of liquids in glasses, with the liquids representing nature and glasses representing persons.
- Nestorian view of Christ as having two persons and two natures: Since in the Nestorian view the divine nature comes upon a person and Nestorius tried to distinguish between the actions of the human Christ and the divine Christ, my analogy here is a smaller glass filled with the divine nature floating in a larger glass filled with the human nature. (Actually, this might be a little clearer than the way that I’ve presented it in the past because I don’t know if I distinguished which glass was this). The two separate glasses are the two separate persons.
- Monophysite view of Christ as having one person and one nature: Here I portray salt (or food coloring) and water being mixed together in a solution. The problem with this view was that Christ’s divine nature is changed by being mixed with the human nature.
- The Chalcedonian view of Christ as having one person and two natures: There’s one glass that contains oil and water. The two natures are separate (and in communication), but are contained in one person.
I’d be very grateful for your feedback on this!
Filed under: History as a Discipline, Post-Constantine Church, Reading List, Scripture and Commentary Tagged: | Christology, David Mathis, Desiring God, Fred Sanders, teaching history, theology, Trinity