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The Incarnation Is Our Salvation Essay

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The Incarnation Is Our Salvation Essay essay

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Maximos advocated many doctrinal beliefs and understandings that were important to the development of Christianity. He argued that there are two wills in Christ because there are two natures in the person of Christ. He was a theologian, monk, and clergyman. He learned Plato and neo-platonism as a well-educated young man. He tackled the monathalyte controversy. The Countil of Chalcedon in 451 concluded that in Christ, humanity and divinity are there distinct but in one person. They were against Nestorianism. They made a distinction between person and nature. Nature refers to the distinctive characteristics of the kind of being that we are. We have a human nature different to trees and animals. The divine nature is not a creature, it is what makes God, God. It is God’s nature, God’s essence.

Person refers to the agent, the rational agent, the individual substance with a rational nature equipped with intelligence and will (just like angels, too, and God…) The person is the agency. Nature refers to the characteristics and how one acts. Anselm Min is the person/agent who is speaking, but he is speaking through voice and aspects of human nature in order to communicate. The material aspect of humanity can’t really do anything. The animal aspect of humanity can react. If rain falls on the material body, the material body can’t do anything about it. It is the rational nature that decides to stay and get wet. The same person acts in different ways in various combinations of their natures whether material or rational. Hence, the divine does not cease and the two natures (divine and human) meet and are united in the divine person retaining the distinctiveness of both natures. Christ has different natures, but he is one person. This became known as the hypostatic union.

Monathelytes and diathelytes argued whether there was one will or two wills in Christ. Maximos advocated that there are two wills in Christ because there are two natures in the person of Christ. For this he was declared a heretic. Then the Council of Constantinople in 681 concluded that Christ had two wills and two minds. They wanted to keep both the divine and human sides to Christ and do integrity to both natures. Maximos was vindicated but only after he died. He died in exile in the country of Georgia. He “confessed” the true faith and died without shedding blood as a martyr.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 decided on one and the same Son, perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, having a rational soul and body, consubstantial with the Father, substance and essence and nature with the Father. And the same consubstantial with us with regards to humanity. Like us in every way except sin. The virgin god-bearer as regards his humanity. Acknowledged in two natures with no confusion, no change, no division, no separation. Unity of two things which are distinct but not separated. The union does not take away the difference. Property of both natures is preserved and comes together in one being, a single person.

The late ancient dispute between the metaphysical relationship and human aspects of Jesus Christ. Nowadays, even most devote Christians have given this no thought whatsoever, from a non-Christian perspective the debate seems even more bewildering. Yet some of the most intelligent citizens of the early Byzantine empire devoted whole careers to disputing the issue. Over the question of Christ’s humanity and divinity and whether these were two different natures or just one nature, political institutions were endangered and blood was spilled.

To understand why anyone would have thought it necessary to hurt Maximos in this way and why Maximos would run the risk of being so hurt, we need to back to the fourth century, this was the age of the Cappadocian fathers. Who took part in politicized disputes over fine points of Christian theology. They concentrated on the question of how the persons of the trinity relate to one another. We saw that they want to steer a course between Arianism which went too far in the direction of separating the persons of the trinity and Sebelianism which simply identified the persons and held that they are distinct only from our limited human view point.

The Cappadocians presented themselves as steering another middle course in another controversy. Debate raged over the fundamental Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth was divine, the son of God, become flesh in order that through his sacrifice humanity could be redeemed from sin. This belief brings with it a dilemma much like the one we saw in the case with the trinity. Just as theologians didn’t want to say with the Arians that the father is utterly distinct from the son, lest we wind up with two Gods, so they didn’t want to compromise the unity of Christ. He was one person even if he was both man and God. Just as they rejected the Sebelian error of erasing all difference between the persons of the trinity, so it seemed unacceptable to simply identify Christ’s humanity with his divinity. After all the divine is radically different from the human so if there is no distinction here, then either Christ’s humanity is swallowed up in his divinity or his divinity is entirely humbled and brought down to the level of the human. Neither option looks acceptable.

If Christ was only divine then God did not really take on human nature in order to redeem it. Whereas, if he was only human, then his sacrifice was merely the death of some particularly virtuous man and not the son of God. Besides, Christ was acknowledged as having been immune to sin, how was this possible unless his fallible human nature had somehow been perfected through his divinity. All parties to the dispute understood that the correct metaphysical understanding would recognize both the divinity and the humanity of Christ. Agreement remained illusive though, when it came to the details. Often, those details were worked out using philosophical distinctions and assumptions. Consider for instance the fourth century theologian, Apolonarious, he was especially concerned to safeguard the unity of Christ. Towards this end he invoked the strikingly Platonist rationale that human nature is subject to change whereas divine nature is unchanging and eternal. But whatever can change can diverge into imperfection. This means that if Christ had human thoughts and a human will, he was inevitably subject to sin.

If Christ was genuinely human, then it was possible for him to sin which would be bad enough. But Apolenarius seems to have gone further and said that if Christ had a human will, he would actually have sinned perhaps because he assumed that any genuine capacity must be realized at some point.

Looking ahead, we can credit Maximos with being unusually clearheaded on this point. He will distinguish more rigorously between the capacity for thinking or willing something and the actual thinking or willing. Apolenarius was condemned in the late 4th century when his attempts to ensure Christ’s unity were judged to violate the rule that Christ must be fully human. In sharp contrast was the view of Nestorius who brings us to the 5th century. For Nestorius and his followers, Christ not only has two natures but also two hypostases. This word is encountered in neo-platonic contexts as a technical term used for the levels of the Platonist hierarchy like soul and intellect. In this theological context hypostasis means an entity that is distinct from other entities. Thus Nestorius’s view amounts to splitting Christ into two entities with two natures, one human, and one divine. Nestorius avoided the problems of Apolenarianism but did not uphold Christ’s unity.

The Nestorians did assert that Christ was a single person (prosopon) but this was seen by critics as a superficial maneuver. A mask of unity concealing a real underlying duality. Indeed, the word prosopon means face or visage and is used to describe the mask-wearing of characters in the Greek theater. When the Cappadocians took central stage they also claimed the middle ground insisting that Christ has two natures but has only one hypostasis. A single unified entity that is nevertheless both divine and human. In explaining this, Gregory of Nissa drew on the Stoic theory of physical mixture to envisage a situation in which divinity and humanity were blended together while retaining their natures. Just as in a red-hot sword, the metal blade is suffused with fire but the nature of the metal remains distinctive from the nature of the fire. This was upheld by Cyril of Alexandria. It was incidentally on Cyril’s watch, as lead cleric in Alexandria that the Platonist, Hypasia, was murdered by a Christian mob.

Cyril’s theology prevailed at the Council of Ephesus 431, which rejected the teachings of Nestorius. But neither this nor a further council at Chalcedon in 451 could unite the church. Some continued to uphold Apolenarius’s monophesite theory, the word comes from the Greek for one nature, others preferred the two natures and two hypostases view of Nestorius. Still others adhered to Cyril’s understanding of Christ as a single person and hypostasis that comes out of two natures.

In the first half of the 7th century it seemed especially pressing to resolve the controversy following the Byzantine victory over the Persians. They were suddenly assaulted by the armies of Islam. After the death of the prophet Muhammed in the year 632, Muslim forces were astonishingly moving quickly and making military conquests. In earlier antiquity, Christianity had chased paganism out of the Roman empire by means of war, economic incentives, and plain old persuasion. Now Christianity faced a similar fate at the hands of Islam. That meant it was urgent to eliminate division within the Greek Christian sphere. This made it more appealing than ever to accept compromised positions that had been put forward. But theologians were too stubborn and conscientious to accept verbal formulas that masked genuine differences of doctrine. Following his teacher Sophronius, Maximos wanted to uphold the two nature theory and stridently rejected the new one will idea as a compromise too far. It made no sense to ascribe only one will to a person who has two natures.

Maximos carried on the fight after Sophronius died continuing to insist that having a human nature and a divine nature means having two wills. His opponents fought back appealing not only to political expediency but also to the point made long ago by Apolenarious. If Christ has two wills, the will can come into conflict. That means that Christ will inevitably sin or that he inevitably could sin. Maximos replied that we shouldn’t confuse will as a capacity with will in the sense of a decision made by that capacity. Christ’s divine will was a separate capacity from his human will but these two wills always came together to issue a single joint decision just as Christ’s two natures cohered in a singly hypostasis. And just as the Cappadocians had taught that the divine and human natures are fused without being confused, that is, both natures are preserved within a single entity, so Maximos now teaches that the human will of Jesus is preserved even though it is perfected by the presence of divinity.

He reacted similarly to another compromise proposal, namely, that Christ has a single activity, the Greek word is enargea, the word where we get energy. As with the will the question is whether Christ’s activities or energies are of two kinds or only one. The single activity camp could draw on the authority of pseudo-dyonisius who had spoken of Christ having a theandric activity, that is an activity characterized by both divinity ad humanity. Maximos admired dyonisius but rejected the single activity theory just as he did the single will theory. His point was much the same. Christ retained a human capacity for his activity which became perfected by this fusion of the divine nature with the human nature. He gave the example of Christ walking on water. Walking a natural human act, but Christ’s divinity made it possible for him to walk in a supernatural way. Walking on water is a single activity but it must be understood as the simultaneous use of two distinct capacities to act.

If you remember Aristotle, Maximos is echoing the distinction between first and second actuality. Mathematics. Loyalty card initially is blank, a state of first potentiality. Then it fills up with stamps one for each thing you buy, when the card is full of stamps it is in a state of first actuality. An actuality that is also a second potentiality or capacity. When you redeem the card, that is second actuality. Applying this distinction to Maximos, he says that Christ has two first actualities, a divine will and a human will. These are capacities to create a concrete act of willing, which would be a second actuality. Even though the two wills are distinct capacities or first actualities, they always agree so they coincide on the level of second actuality. This happens when Christ actually wills something. Maximos wants to explain the metaphysical underpinnings of Christ’s perfection, his freedom from sin.

One thing that seems certain about the second divine person of the trinity, the divine logos, was that it could not suffer or be affected. But Jesus did suffer and died in agony. Here Nestorius and his followers pounced (like metaphysicians), if God cannot suffer, then there must have something in Christ other than God which allowed him to suffer. Cyril of Alexandria wrote a letter of refutation to Nestorius where he grappled with this difficulty directly. He argued that the whole point of the incarnation is that God willingly submits his Son to the sufferings of the flesh. The letter concludes with a list of 12 doctrines destructive of the faith. The last item says that if one refuses to admit the word of God, the second person of the trinity suffered by being crucified, then he should be considered anathema. That means you Nestorius.

Another example is the debate whether the virgin Mary should be honored with the title theotocus, meaning one who gives birth to God. Nestorius disliked this expression because it seemed to indirectly apply a property to God that God simply cannot have. God is eternal and prior to all things so how can Mary give birth to God. Instead Nestorius proposed that Mary gave birth to Christ, insofar as Christ was human. Cyril’s response is that Mary did give birth to man made of flesh like us and in so doing she gave birth to God. This is no absurdity. The whole point, she gave birth to the word of God made flesh, this being the very definition of the word incarnation. On all these points Maximos agreed with Cyril and not Nestorius. He recognized that Christ had two natures, but added that we should resist the Nestorian temptation to divide everything we say into two types. One type being true because he was God, and one set of statements being true because he was human. The unification of the two natures, makes it possible for both God and man to suffer or to be born of a virgin.

There are three Cappadocian fathers: Gregory Naciencen, Gregory, and Basil. Together they settled the trinitarian controversy.

From Nothingness To Nothingness

It appears that in his explanation of Christian doctrine, Maximos says that we are created out of nothing therefore through sin we decline into non-being again. If God withdraws God’s creative maintenance of our being, we fall back into nothing.

Maximos reminds his readers that things were created out of nothing and our entire life is a movement to find rest only in the complete satisfaction of all desires. The image longs for its archetype, for its original. This is why the Logos recapitulates all things in himself.

Through our essence as logoi we have an inborn desire and inclination to resemble the logos. We are created out of nothing therefore through sin we decline into non-being again. But God is not a demiurge. There is nothing prior to creation and God doesn’t use preexisting material to create. If God withdraws God’s creative maintenance of our being, we fall back into nothing. We did not make ourselves, our being is not our own. We share a passive existence.

Body And Soul

Maximos described the body and soul of a human being as being one being, the soul permeating the body. They do not exist apart from each other. There is a duality but not two separate things. Aquinas will call it compositionism. This is not dualism nor monism. Monists said that either there is no soul or no body. The position of Christianity from the beginning was compositionism, specifically, hilomorphic composition.

Finding this in Paul’s epistles. Unifying all things in Christ. It is a commentary on scripture. Soul and body gives closest model to describe the relationship between God and the world, inseparable. Panentheism – God is in all things. God is already indwelling in the entire world in Maximos.

Immortal Soul

He also made a distinction between logos and logoi. He explained that the Word is the embodiment of the Father’s own self-knowledge and the Prototype and the blueprint from where all things are created. That is how logoi are preexistent in the Word in the mind of God because eternally God knows what God will create.

Maximos made a distinction between logos and logoi. Logos is Word, Reason, it is Logical. Reason primarily meant the reason of things – everything has its own teleological structure, its end, purpose, movement to completion of its own end. The Reason/Logos is the objective characteristic of things, the purpose and striving towards an end. Human reason is to discover the objective structure of things and to reflect that in its own words and ideas. Human reason is meant to conform to the reason of things. Tillich will say the difference between objective and subjective reason is that objective reason is structure and essence and characteristics, while subjective reason is our capacity to understand. This terminology goes all the way back to the Stoics who coined the word logos as the governing principle of the world.

Maximos discusses this further by explaining that God (Father) is the Source of all things. Before you create something, you have a blueprint. You have ideas before you do it. The mind of God is the Word of God, the Son, and through whom all things were created. The Word is the product of the Father’s self-knowledge. The word is the embodiment of the Father’s own self-knowledge and the Prototype and the blueprint from where all things are created. This is the all eternal in the mind of God. That is how logoi are preexistent in the Word in the mind of God because eternally God knows what God will create. We embody the divine logos in a temporal way. Logoi is the essence, the structure, the teleology of how we are made. We participate in the original divine logos.

The controversial question that Maximos was trying to address with all of this explanation was: Are human beings somehow fallen divine beings? Does the soul preexist our bodies and also after our bodies die, does it continue to exist?

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