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The Christology of the Council of Chalcedon

A Paper

Submitted to Dr. Rex Butler

of the

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Course

History of Christianity: Early to Medieval: HIST5200RB

in the Division of Church History

Matthew C. Jolley

B.S., Shorter College, 2007

November 1, 2010
The Council of Chalcedon, convened in 451, was the definitive council that tied the bow

on the intense argumentation over Christology that had been happening since the close of the

fourth century. The Chalcedonian formula of “two natures, one person” endures, even to today.

The ecumenical council at Chalcedon answered all major questions proposed, from Nicaea,

Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, and the events at Chalcedon set the bar for right

Christological orthodoxy, but more importantly, set boundaries on the places where one should

not go in trying to understand the mystery of the God-man, Jesus. It is in going to those places

of logic or human explanation that one enters into heresy. It did not lean to one side or the other

(on emphasizing divinity or humanity), as most heresies did, but landed squarely balanced, just

as the New Testament does. What Chalcedon did was set the standard for understanding rightly

about Jesus, and having faith to believe what the human mind cannot comprehend.

However, the prelude for the Christological debate had begun years prior to the Council

at Ephesus in 431, even to before Constantinople of 381 when Apollinarianism was in full swing.

But since Constantinople did not address the issue, the very apparent, though unaddressed issues

of Apollinarianism, was pointed out by Basil of Caesarea in 377, and all Appolinarians were

exiled by Theodosius I in 388.1 Needless to say, the fires of political struggle for power, and the

theological struggle for right doctrine were lit and burning well before Nestorius was condemned

in 431. Information on the historical backdrop of the council of Chalcedon will help the reader

to understand the flow of events, which spurred Pulcheria to call the council. This paper will

briefly outline the events leading up to Chalcedon, the issues faced within the three major

heresies of Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism, The Robber Synod of 449, and

1
Harold O.J. Brown, Heresies (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 168.
finally the decisions made at Chalcedon, resulting in the Chalcedonian formula of “two natures,

one person.”

The basic question that arose around the time of Nicaea was of Christ’s consubstantial

nature with the Father. Three terms were being used at the time: homo-ousios (of the same

substance), homoi-ousious (of like substance), and hetero-ousious (of different substance).

Arius’ view on Christ was that God. Arius assumed the position that Christ was anomoios, or

unlike substance with the Father because he was a created, sort of superman-type being. The

reason that Arius’ position was convoluted was that he sort of landed in the middle, saying that

Christ was pre-existent, but that God created him (or that he was the first begotten of the Father),

and that he was somewhat lower than the father in order, not of same substance. Arius, in his

letter to Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia wrote,

But what we say and think we both have taught and continue to teach; that the Son is not
unbegotten…And before he was begotten or created or appointed or established, he did
not exist; for he was not unbegotten. We are presecuted because we say that the Son has
a beginning, but God is without beginning. For that reason, we are persecuted, and
because we say that he is from what is not. And this we say because he is neither part of
God nor derived from any substance.2

It is clear to see that Arius asserted that Jesus was not the same substance with God, but rather

the created Logos, who develops into deity, the incarnation being the means of his glorification.3

The end of the Council at Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople (convened to deal with

certain issues concerning the Holy Spirit, as well as the Arian problem) was the Nicene Creed,

sometimes called the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan creed, which said, “We believe…in one Lord

2
Documents of the Christian Church, 3rd. Ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, USA,
1999), 43.
3
Heresies, 115-116.
Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of

Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father.”4

Arius was condemned in 325, and in 381, at Constantinople the final blow was made on the

consubstantiality of the Father, Son, and Spirit. What was left was an emphasis on the deity of

Christ, leaving a gaping opportunity for the Christological debate to continue on in full force,

leading to the Chalcedonian defnition of the unity of two natures, one person. Leaning to one

side or the other, three heresies arose, and Chalcedon triumphantly answered all three.

First, Appolinaris asserted that Christ himself did not have a human soul, but rather that

the Logos took the place of the human soul. This view expressly advocated for the divinity of

Christ, but it cost the full acceptance of the humanity of Christ. In essence, Christ’s mind was

not human, nor his soul. This was the beginnings of monophytism, that is, the belief that Jesus

had two natures before the incarnation, but only one after, which is why Apollinaris insisted that

the Logos became flesh, but not human, giving Jesus some sort of God-flesh.5 Apollinaris

insisted that Jesus had but one nature, only appearing in flesh that was decidedly a deification of

the flesh. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote to the Bishop of Constantinople of 381, confidently

asserting an important doctrinal truth concerning the Appollinarian heresy: “If any one has put

his trust in him as a man without a human mind, he is himself devoid of mind and unworthy of

salvation. For what he has not assumed he has not healed; it is what is united to his Deity that is

saved.”6 Appolinaris was condemned at Alexandria in 362, and at Constantinople in 381.

However, its relation to Chalcedon stands, because it was early recognized as a Christological

heresy.

4
Documents of the Christians Church, 28.
5
Heresies, 163.
6
Documents, 50.
Second is the “heresy” of Nestorianism. Nestorius’ story comes with special circumstances, and

deserves special attention, for it is the Nestorian view that Chalcedon validated without using so

many words. He was perhaps what one might call “misunderstood.”

Two schools existed at the time, the Antiochene school that emphasized the divinity of

Christ, and the Alexandria school, who emphasized His humanity. Constantinople had elevated

itself over the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools, and Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople,

opened his mouth to argue over the term theotokos, or God-bearer, in attempts to reconcile the

mystery of the two natures of Christ in one person. This opened up a plethora of debate over

Nestorius’ position on Christology. History depicts the Nestorian heresy to be rather convoluted,

and even more frustrating when the Bazaar of Heraclides is introduced. The book could

condemn and vindicate Nestorius. The basic misunderstanding came from Nestorius’

presentation of the natures of Christ. When the word pro/swpon was used by Nestorius, he

presented an explanation of the person of Christ by using what would later be called “prosopic

union,” which would be understood as Nestorius’ attempt to give a metaphysical explanation of

the “real” union of the two natures of Christ in one person.7 The word pro/swpon means “face

or appearance,” and so the misunderstanding was that Nestorius was presenting two totally

separate natures or prosopa with two totally separate underlying grounds; that is, two separate

natures, as a man and a woman are joined in marriage, but have separate being all together.

Nestorius was wrestling with his inherited Antiochene theology, and trying to correct and

reconcile the problem, just not very intelligently. Nestorius was trying to convey one concrete

person with two natures, but struggling with Antiochene theology, and his own attempt to use the

prosopon correctly, he did not do so very well. His struggle was with the concrete Antiochene

7
Frances M. Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A guide to the Literature and its
Background (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 294.
belief, and his own lack of ability to articulate left him misunderstood in his attempts to reconcile

two prosopa, which made him sound like he was presenting two natures remaining

personalized.8 Socrates wrote of Nestorius, saying,

Having myself perused the writings of Nestorius, I have found him an unlearned man and
shall candidly express the conviction of my mind concerning him…he seemed scared at
the term Theotokos as though it were some terrible ‘bugbear’. The fact is, the causeless
alarm he manifested on this subject just exposed his extreme ignorance; for being a man
of natural fluency as a speaker, he was considered well-educated, but in reality he was
disgracefully illiterate.9

Though Socrates dealt harshly with Nestorius, it seems as though Nestorius’ battle throughout to

preserve the ‘Godness of God,’ and the ‘humanness of the human’10 was consistent, and in his

heart, Nestorius was trying to give due respect to the two natures of Christ without elevating one

or the other. In terms of what had happened previously in the debate over Trinitarian issues at

Nicaea, Nestorius was actually trying to present that there were two prosopa, but only one ousia.

Nicaea had presented three prosopa and one ousia. It seems that Nestorius entered into an

argument without enough bullets in his gun.

The major problem, and foremost reason for the conflict between Nestorius and Cyril was

the issue over Theotokos. Nestorius would argue with the term because he would insist that

Christ did not have a starting point. To him, the term Theotokos was blasphemous, and in

agreement with his chaplain, he would agree that “the Virgin gave birth to the man Jesus, not the

Divine Word.” The most Nestorious would concede was that she was Christ-bearer

(Christotokos).” 11 By 429, this scandal, though misunderstood it seems, reached the ears of

Cyril in Alexandria. Given the documentary evidence of Cyril’s unsuspecting dependence on

8
Ibid, 295.
9
Ibid, 292.
10
Ibid, 296.
11
W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers,
1986), 755.
Apollinarius, it seems that Cyril did hold to the one-nature side of things his rejection of

Apollinarianism being merely superficial.12 This sets up the controversy between the two a little

better. Several letters ensued, but the two never reconciled their differences stemming from

Theotokos/Christotokos debate. Unfortunately for Nestorius, Cyril had all the political and

religious power of the Emperor, Theodosius II. In June of 431, Cyril would assemble Ephesus I,

powered by two hundred bishops from Asia minor, and would utterly crush Nestorius, who had

no hope for defense or recovery. By that night Nestorius had been deposed, condemned as “the

new Judas,” deprived of all his priestly status, and cast out.13 John of Antioch arrived a little

late, and though he brought several bishops who threatened to depose Cyril if he did not take

back the 12 anathemas towards Nestorius, Cyril simply wielded the power of the papal legates,

and John and all of his supporters were excommunicated.14 Theodosius was the power behind

the excommunication, but Cyril was the catalyst.

After this point, there was a time of relative peace. In the world of Christological

struggle, there was, for a moment, rest. In 447, Cyril’s successor, Discorus, changed everything.

At the offset, Dioscorus seemed like a lamb, but was really a wolf. Even Pope Leo wrote a

helpful letter to Dioscurus, instructing him on a few matters of training clergy. With the pope

feeling good about Cyril’s successor, everything seemed to be o.k. However, Dioscorus had (for

some reason) some seriously latent bad feelings towards Nestorianism, and decided to stamp out

the members of Nestorianism wherever they might be found.15 Since Theodosius II still believed

that Nestorianism posed a threat, he forbade the writings of Nestorius and bolstered Dioscorus’

desire to stir the pot even more. Cyril had died in 444, and since during the “time of peace,”

12
Young, 317.
13
Frend, 760.
14
Ibid, 761.
15
Ibid, 764.
there was still some resistance brewing about the doctrine of two natures, and Dioscorus decided

to pick up the fight against the Antiochene view, and against Theodoret, now the leading teacher

of the Antiochene School.16 Cyril did indeed endorse the single nature doctrine of Christ, and

Dioscorus was insistent that no one would come against the Alexandrian school, and win. The

sides really began to form as Eutyches, an Alexandrian monk was brought into the spotlight by

Eusebius of Dorylaeum for his teachings. Eutyches taught that initially, before the Incarnation,

Christ had two natures, but after the incarnation, He only had one nature, as the divine

swallowed up the humanity, like a drop of honey in the ocean.17 Christ’s flesh was a divine type

of flesh, not human. Flavian, the bishop of Constantinople, chaired the synod, and though

Eutyches never showed up, he did make it for his sentence. He was deposed by Flavian as a

heretic. Eutyches wrote to Pope Leo I, but the response wasn’t exactly what he had planned on.

Leo had already been informed of Eutychus’ deposition, and though the letter made it into the

hands of Flavian, a second council at Ephesus, or The Robber Synod, was formed. When the

Synod was formed in 449, proceedings were underway before the Tome of Leo could be read

(which confirmed Ephesus I). The legates sent by the pope never got to read the letter, and were

given no floor time at all. Although the whole synod unraveled in a completely unfair way,

Dioscorus completely restored Eutyches, and condemned Eusebius and Flavian. The

proceedings at The Robber Synod were the very proceedings that pushed towards Chalcedon.

Fortunately for the side promoting the two natures of Christ, Theodosius fell off

of his horse and died, and the position of Emperor was given to a professional soldier Marcian.18

Marcian is relatively unimportant, though it was his power as Emperor that allowed his wife,

16
J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine (New York: Continuum International, 1963),
330.
17
Dr. Rex Butler, Heresies. Class Lecture, October 6, 2010.
18
Kelly, 338.
Pulcheria to call the council at Chalcedon in 451. Marcian and Pulcheria were both supporters of

the two natures of Christ, and per the request of Theodosius to convene a general council,

Marcian moved the council from Italy to Chalcedon, making it easier for him. Finally, a council

to end them all! Before he died, the pope had wanted a council to unify faith throughout the

entire empire, and hopefully to reinforce the Alexandrian position. 19 However, all the

documents that should have been included earlier surfaced, and a new conclusion was made at

Chalcedon that sufficed for both sides of the argument, as the statement of faith at Chalcedon

was sort like piecing together puzzle pieces to make the right picture that had been broken and

scattered to the wind through 200 years of theological debate. The proceedings began on

October 8, 451, with more than 500 bishops, and the pope being represented by his legates.

However, in order for the council to be any sort of success, there was a political knowledge that

there would have to be a “formulary which everyone could be required to sign and they made

their intentions clear.” So, after the preamble, the definition of Chalcedon reaffirmed the Nicene

Creed as the standard, Constantinople as support for confirming heresies, canonized Cyril’s two

letters and Leo’s Tome, and set out a formal confession of faith.20

But one must understand what Chalcedon was really about. Chalcedon made a new

confession, but it wasn’t really “new.” It looked like the Nicene creed with some extra words

added in there to appease everyone. It did not create new orthodoxy. Chalcedon supported

Nicaea, and by doing so, agreed with the condemnation of Nestorius and Eutychus, rather than

actually doing any condemning on its own. Price writes, “The close connection that the council

asserted between its own work and the Nicene Creed relates to its own conception of its task

which was not to achieve progress in theological understanding, but to define the limits of

19
Kelly, 338.
20
Ibid, 339.
Nicene orthodoxy (my emphasis added).”21 The key section of the Chalcedonian definition

asserts:

Following, therefore, the holy fathers, we all in harmony teach confession of one and the
same So our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in
manhood, truly God and the same truly man, of a rational soul and body, consubstantial
with the Father in respect of the Godhead, and the same consubstantial with us in respect
of the manhood, like us in all things apart from sin, begotten from the Father before the
ages in respect of the Godhead, and the same in the last days for us and for our salvation
from the Virgin Mary the Theotokos, in respect of the manhood, one and the same Christ,
Son, Lord, Only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change,
division, or separation (the difference of the natures being in no way destroyed by the
union, but rather the distinctive character of each nature being preserved and coming
together into one person and one hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but
one and the same Son, Only-begotten, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ, even as the prophets
from of old and Jesus Christ himself taught us about him and the symbol of the fathers
has handed down to us.22

In Conclusion, Chalcedon was most definitely the most important ecumenical council of the 5th

century, and the most important council of the Christological debate. Chalcedon truly tied the

bow on the Christological argument. In it’s reaffirmation of biblical truth and right orthodoxy,

Chalcedon answer the question of Arius by asserting Jesus’ nature as truly God, Appollinaris by

asserting his true humanity, Nestorius (misunderstood) confusion of two persons, and Eutychus’

assertion of Jesus having only a single nature.23 As mentioned earlier, Chalcedon didn’t really

answer the question of the problem that occurs within the mystery of the second person of the

Trinity, Jesus Christ. However, its importance in defining orthodoxy and putting limits on it still

carries on to today, as Baptists and other denominations believe and support the findings of the

council of 451 in the doctrine of Christology to be of right biblical orthodoxy.

21
The Acts of Chalcedon (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2006), 58.
22
Ibid, 59.
23
Interview with Dr. Rex Butler, October 20, 2010.
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Frend, W. H. C.. Rise of Christianity. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1986.

Butler, Dr. Rex. "Heresies." Class lecture, History of Christianity: Mediaeval to Modern
from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, October 6, 2010.

Kelly, J. N. D.. Early Christian Doctrines. 5 ed. New York: Continuum International
Publishing Group, 1963.

MacArthur, J.S.. Chalcedon. New York: Macmillan, 1931.

The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon (Liverpool University Press - Translated Texts for
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Its Background. 2 ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010.