God and Man At Once
by Archbishop Dmitri
Attention has been concentrated upon the fact that Jesus Christ, whom we call Lord, God, and Saviour, was truly God and truly Man. The circumstances of the Lord’s birth in the flesh and His mother’s perpetual virginity testify to the fact that the eternal Word of God was incarnate: “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
It has been demonstrated not only that Holy Scripture indicates the Saviour’s having both the divine and the human natures, but also that the Church has always recognized the importance of this doctrine, having struggled down through the centuries to guard it and transmit it in all its purity. For indeed, the principal heresies which the Church has had to combat have been those distortions of this doctrine of the two natures in Christ.
Yet, it remains to explore the union of the two natures in the one Person of Christ, and then to explain the necessity of this union for man’s salvation: his redemption from sin and his reconciliation with God.
Examination of some of the passages from the Bible in which Christ is presented as one and the same Person: God and Man, Son of God and Son of Man, with divine and human attributes or qualities and characteristics, will be helpful in this regard.
While it is a historical fact that the man Jesus was crucified: His crucifixion was demanded by the Jews, ordered by a Roman governor, and witnessed by all the people of Jerusalem, we are struck by the way in which the Apostles spoke of it.
For example, St. Paul has this to say: Had the princes of this world known of the hidden wisdom of God, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (I Cor.2:8)
St. Peter, preaching to the Jews, accuses them of having “killed the Prince of Life.” (Acts 3:15)
Furthermore, St. Paul exhorts the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus “to take heed … to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28) To the Romans he says, “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son,” (5:10) and to the Hebrews, “Christ-who in the days of His flesh …though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” (5: 5-8)
From such passages as these, it can be seen that it was Christ the Man who suffered, shed His blood and was crucified. Yet at the same time, the Apostles could speak of the Lord of glory as having been crucified, and of God as having shed His blood. The Apostles knew that in the one Christ, His Godhead and His manhood were united in a single Person (hypostasis).
In other places in the New Testament, the eternal Word of God, who became flesh and lived and walked among men, is spoken of as the Son of Man. St. John records, for example, these words of Jesus in his Gospel account: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven.” (3:13)
Further, in the same Gospel, Jesus, speaking person to person with the Jews, makes this statement: “Before Abraham was, I am.” This they considered so blasphemous that they took up stones to stone Him to death. (8:58)
Thus we see from these passages that the human things: suffering, shedding of blood, and being killed, and the divine things: coming down from heaven and having always been (the attribute of eternity), are attributed to one and the same Person, Jesus Christ.
St. Paul provides further evidence of the oneness of Christ in the following passages. “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him.” (I Cor. 8:6) “[There is] one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:5,6)
One Person Two Natures
In Christ, there are not two separate Persons, but one and the same Person with two natures. Yet two ancient heresies, Arianism and Nestorianism, which were condemned by the Church in their time, distorted this fundamental doctrine of Christ. Ironically, they are widely held by twentieth-century Christians, and are believed to be very modern ideas.
Arianism, which rejected the divinity of Christ and reduced Him to a created agent of God’s work, is the official doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a matter of fact, Arius himself, the chief advocate of the doctrine and who gave it his name, is one of the “saints“ or “spirits“ of the Witnesses.
Nestorianism, which made of the one Christ two separate persons united only in a moral, cooperative way, is the effective teaching of most Protestants today. They regard Jesus Christ as having been deified in that He was adopted as the Son of God at His baptism. In this way they accept His divinity. Thus, their lack of precision in the doctrine of Christ has led many Protestants into a kind of inadvertent Nestorianism.
Assuming Human Nature
The eternal Word, the Son of God, literally was made flesh, became man, and did not cease to be what He was before: a divine Person, One of the Holy Trinity. In order to reconcile man to God, he assumed human nature and took it into the unity of His Person (hypostasis).
Those with whom Jesus Christ dealt on earth saw a man: a human living and going about as all men do, but also doing extraordinary things that no other man could do: the ‘miracles’. To some chosen ones He revealed Himself in His eternal glory: the Transfiguration. The God-man, Jesus Christ, is One. The flesh or human nature was taken into His Divine Person, so that there remained in Him exactly the same, one and unchangeable Person of the only-begotten Son of the Father.
St. John the Apostle expresses this doctrine in the first chapter of his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth … The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (1:1,14,17)
He who already had the divine nature was precisely the one who took human nature. “[He], being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” but “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men,” (Phil. 2:6,7)
The same man, born of the Virgin, is the only-begotten Son of God, and God. The same Son of God is the one who was born of the Virgin according to the flesh, since He became man. He did not live in a man previously created, as in a prophet, but He Himself became substantially and truly man. St. Paul makes this clear, when He says: “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” (Gal. 4:4,5)
It is because of this consideration that the Church insisted in the Council that condemned Nestorius that the title of Theotokos (the one who gave birth to God, or the Mother of God) was not only correctly given to the Virgin Mary, but also that the very title was a guarantee of the unity of Christ.
Nestorius’ error, which is that of most Protestants today, consisted of rejecting this title, saying that she was the mother of the man only, and effectively dividing Christ into two person. Yet, St. Paul is explicit in saying that it was God’s Son who was made of woman. (See above.)
St. Gregory the Theologian condemned very sharply those who rejected the name “Theotokos”. “Anyone Who does not admit that holy Mary is the Theotokos is out of touch with the Godhead. Equally remote from God is anyone who says that Christ passed through the Virgin as through a channel without being formed in tier in a manner at once divine and human-divine, because without the agency of a man; human, because following the normal process of gestation.” (Letter to Cledonius, II)
Notwithstanding, a very large number of Fundamentalists assert that God used the Virgin as an instrument, taking nothing from her, and then discarded her!
All of the passages quoted above show that in Jesus Christ, the humanity did not receive an hypostasis (or person) apart from that of the divinity. It did not form an independent personality, but was taken by the divinity into the unity of His divine hypostasis so that, even after the Incarnation, He remains always the Son of God, the Second Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, just as He was before the Incarnation.
In the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle enumerates !he reasons why Israel was the chosen people: “to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers …” (9:4,5) It is to this historical, human race that Christ belongs “concerning the flesh;” He descended from them as a man. Of this same Person the Apostle says that He “is over all God blessed forever…” (9:5)
Accordingly, it is the same one Person who has a historical earthly lineage and is at the same time the eternal Son of God: “Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God…” (Rm. 1:3,4)
The Fathers and the Two Natures
In every generation since the time of our Lord’s earthly life and the New Testament period, the Church has continued to teach the same doctrine regarding the two natures of the one, same Lord Jesus Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote early in the second century: “There is only one Physician–of flesh yet spiritual, born yet unbegotten, God incarnate, genuine life in the midst of death, sprung forth from Mary as well as from God, first subject to suffering, then beyond it-Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Eph. 7:2) We find the same teaching in St. Irenaeus, in the late second century, in Tertullain (third century), in St. Athanasius (fourth century), and so on down to the present time.
An excellent summary of the doctrine is given by St. Gregory the Theologian in the letter to Cledonius (A.D. 382 or 383), referred to previously. It says in part: “In Christ we do not separate the man and the divinity; we teach the unity and identity of Person, who before was not man, but God and only-begotten Son before all ages, not having a body or anything corporeal, but who, in these last days, has taken humanity also for our salvation, subject to suffering in His flesh, impassible in His Divinity, limited in the body, without limit in the spirit, at the same time earthly and heavenly, tangible and intangible, comprehensible and incomprehensible, so that, by one and the same Person, perfect man and God, all humanity, fallen because of sin, might be resurrected.”
The very foundation of the Christian Faith is the mystery of the Incarnation. The heresy which divides Christ into two persons undermines the Incarnation and, consequently, the redemption of mankind. If the divinity and the humanity were not united in a single Person; if the Son of God were united only in a moral way with the man Jesus; if it were not the Son of God in His flesh, taken by Him into the unity of His Person, who suffered for us and died on the cross, but simply the man Jesus, the expressions “the Word was made flesh,” “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman,” and “they crucified the Lord of glory,” would be empty words. The Incarnation would be unreal, and our redemption would not have been accomplished.
So while some people preach salvation through Jesus Christ, the very faultiness or incompleteness of their doctrine of Christ undermines their preaching. The Jesus they preach may offer ultimately no salvation at all.
The Uniting of the Two Natures
It yet remains for us to examine the very way or mode of the union of the two natures in one Person. This is referred to as the hypostatic union.
For this inquiry, the definition of the teaching concerning the person of Christ produced by the Fourth Ecumenical Council (A.D. 451) is of very great importance. Known as the Chalcedonian Decree, the Council having met in Chalcedon, it used four expressions to describe the way in which the two natures are united. These expressions are adverbs in Greek, the language of the Council and its documents, but they are usually translated into English by the phrases without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation.
Entirely consistent with all of the testimonies from Holy Scripture examined heretofore, these terms were included in the Decree to emphasize the disastrous results of the false teachings of the Nestorians and the Monophysites. (This latter taught that there was an absorption of the humanity by the divinity and consequently only one nature.)
If in the Person of Christ either the divinity had changed into humanity, or the humanity had been absorbed by or transformed into the divinity, we would have to attribute to Jesus Christ only one of the two natures. One nature would have remained intact and the other would have been destroyed and robbed of its qualities. Any of these notions would undermine the doctrine of the Reconciliation.
Even before the Fourth Council, many of the Fathers had defended the Orthodox doctrine of Christ. St. John Chrysostom (On II John, Homily 11) says: “By a union and conjunction God the Word and the flesh are a unity: there is no confusion or annihilation of substances.”
In one of the letters of St. Basil the Great, (cclxii), we read: “I admonish them to give up the absurd idea that God Himself changed into flesh and did not take Adam’s nature from the Virgin Mary, or that He transformed Himself into material in His own divinity…If He transformed Himself, He also changed. But we cannot say or even think so, because God Himself has said, ‘For I am the Lord, I change not’ (Mal. 3:6). Besides, what have we gained in the Incarnation, if it is not our body united to the divinity that has conquered death?”
The two natures reside in Christ in their perfect integrity and with their differences, that is, with their particular qualities. They do not exist separately nor form two particular persons, not having a simple moral union, as Nestorius taught, but being united in the one and the same Person of the Man-God.
The two natures were united in the one Person of the Saviour at the moment of His conception in the womb of the Virgin. They were no longer and will never be separate: their union is perpetual.
“One must not believe that He was born of the Virgin first as a simple man, and that afterwards the Word of God descended upon Him, but rather we say that the Word was united in the very womb to the human nature and that He was born in the flesh.” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Epistle I to Nestorius)
“Just as a man who is born naturally is not ready for action in an instant, but first the very germ of nature becomes flesh, and then with time, little by little, gains strength and the organs of the senses are formed, so God the Word, descending at the very beginning and at the root of human generation, began by taking flesh without transforming Himself into flesh …because the Divinity is above all transformation.” (St. Proclus, Letter to the Armenians)
A Permanent Union
The hypostatic union did not cease even during the sufferings of the Saviour on the cross, because if the Divinity, as some heretics claim, had separated Himself then from His humanity and had abandoned it, the Apostle could not have said that they had “crucified the Lord of glory” (I Cor. 2:8), or that we who, “when we were enemies …were reconciled to God by the death of His Son,”(Rm. 5:10), or that the Lord purchased the Church “with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
Neither did this union cease after the resurrection of the Lord, nor after the ascension into heaven. It will never cease. He Himself assured Thomas that He rose from the dead in the flesh, inviting him to touch His body. Thomas’ response is the faith of the Church: “My Lord and my God.” (Jn. 20:26-28)
It is also in the flesh that He will come again to judge the living and the dead. (See Mt. 25.) After the ascension, as the Apostles stood looking toward heaven, “two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10,11)
From The Doctrine Of Christ, A LAYMAN’S HANDBOOK By Archbishop Dmitri