One Bible; Two Christological Schools

As others have pointed out regarding the multiplicity of theories of the atonement, the biblical content is so rich that it often allows for entirely different starting points on the same subject, which then entails the development of different theoretical constructs and conclusions:

…Just as all philosophers are said to be basically either Aristotelian or Platonist, so, roughly speaking, all theologians are in Christology either Antiochene, beginning with the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels and attempting to explain how this man is also God, or Alexandrian, beginning with the Word of John’s Prologue and attempting to understand the implications of the Logos taking flesh. [Leo Donald Davis, The Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1983), pg. 142]

Davis goes on to point out that the great arch-heretic Nestorius was an Antiochene and his great orthodox opponent Cyril of Alexandria an Alexandrian. Both began with the same Bible, but each constructed different explanations of its contents and only one wound up being on the side of conciliar orthodoxy. Earlier Davis had summarized Nestorius’ teachings in such a way that it is possible to be very sympathetic to the heretic because at many places he sounds almost exactly like the position eventually adopted by the Council of Chalcedon against him. In other words, it is not as if Nestorius wore a Black Hat and Cyril a White. As Davis explains it, Nestorius was almost orthodox–and that almost was a very near thing: “Like the other Antiochenes, Nestorius started with diversity to explain Jesus Christ, and then lapsed into difficulty when trying to explain his unity” (pg. 145). Trying to chart a course between the heresies of Arius and Apollinaris by defending the complete humanity of Christ, Nestorius’ formulations convinced many that he promoted a different heresy: Adoptionism, or “splitting the God-man into two distinct persons artificially linked together in a moral union by the exercise of mutual good will” (pg. 145).

Davis cites G.L. Prestige on the nature of Nestorius’ heresy: “The unorthodoxy of Nestorius was not a positive fact but a negative impotence; like his master Theodore [of Mopsuestia], he could not bring within the framework of a single, clearly conceived personality the two natures of Christ which he distinguished with so admirable a realism.” (pp. 146-147).

This entry was posted in Biblical Interpretation, Christianity and Classical Culture, Christology-Patristic, Patristic Hermeneutics. Bookmark the permalink.

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