As with the previous councils, the reigning emperor called the Council of Chalcedon to unite the church during a time of crisis. To understand the significance, we have to go back a few years to look at the circumstances leading up to it.
the sequel to constantinople
The issues discussed at Council of Chalcedon naturally arose in the aftermath of the Council of Constantinople. Arianism had been defeated, but the church struggled with how to understand and define Christ as both God and man.
Since the word nature is central to this debate, let’s take a closer look at it. To put it simply, nature refers to a community of characteristics. Some of God’s characteristics are that He is eternal, infinite, holy, omniscient, and omnipresent. On the other hand, man is finite, and not eternal, omniscient, nor omnipresent. Within this seeming dichotomy, the church struggled to understand the miracle of Jesus being God and man.
To grasp what was at stake, we have to look at the question through the lens of the cross. The problem was our sin. Because we had offended the infinite, holy God, our offense was infinite. As the guilty party, man had to repay the debt, but, being finite, he couldn’t. Being infinite, God was the only one capable of paying man’s debt. Therefore the only One who could pay our debt was One who was fully God and fully man.
As bishops and theologians wrestled with this question, every few years someone would put forward a new idea on how to solve this enigma. Many of these turned out to be wrong, yet they ultimately helped the church define what it believed about Jesus’ deity and humanity. To understand how the church ultimately arrived at the Chalcedonian Creed, we have to look at the wrong ideas that pushed the issue to a critical point.
One heresy that wasn’t new at the time of the Council of Chalcedon but continued to influence believers was the teaching of Apollinaris, the bishop of Laodicea. In his efforts to fight Arianism, he overemphasized Christ’s divinity, teaching that Jesus had a divine nature within a human body. In other words, he didn’t believe that Christ had a full human nature, but only a human body.
As other bishops quickly saw, this teaching created a huge problem. Christ had to assume a fully human nature in order to attain salvation for us. Gregory of Nazianzus famously argued against Apollinaris saying, “What has not been assumed cannot be restored.” Apollinaris and his teachings were condemned as heretical at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
Another idea came from Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople. He argued that Christ had a fully divine nature and a fully human nature within His human body, but the natures were not united. Essentially, he argued that Jesus had two competing natures or persons within Him and was not one person but two within a human body.
This idea was condemned at both the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon because it did not line up with the picture of the unified Christ, who spoke and acted as one person, as we see Him in the New Testament.
Eutyches, a monk from Constantinople, put forward the last major heresy leading up to the council. He argued that Christ’s divinity overshadowed His humanity, “dissolved like a drop of honey in the ocean.” He proposed that the union of Christ’s two natures created a third nature. As we will see tomorrow, this view was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon.
Want to hear more of today’s conversation? https://vimeo.com/190770985
Why was it so critical for Jesus to be understood as both fully God and fully man?
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