Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



Unscriptural Theories concerning the Person of Christ.

Before leaving the subject of the Person of Christ it is necessary to consider briefly the main unscriptural theories propounded during the history of the Christian Church. It will help to connect theology with church history if the periods in which the various theories arose are indicated. This does not mean that those theories were not held or discussed at all outside of these periods but that these periods were the time either of their rise or of the main controversies concerning them.

(a) Primitive Period.

By primitive is meant the period prior to the Council of Nicaea A.D.325.

(1). Ebionism.

Ebionism arose from a strongly Judaistic section of the Church which emphasised monotheism to the extent of being unable to accept belief in the Trinity. It was a kind of "Hebrew Unitarianism", which rejected the deity of Christ.

There were two groups; one refused to accept the virgin birth, the other accepted the virgin birth but refused to acknowledge Christ's equality with the Father as God. They held that at the baptism of Jesus, "an unmeasured fulness of the Spirit was given to Him thus constituting Him the Messiah.

(2). Gnosticism.

Gnosticism was more a type of theory than one particular theory. It had many various forms and phases and was very complicated. In some of its forms it had hardly even a semblance to Christianity. Two of its main principles affected the doctrine of the Person of Christ.

One is that God is pure being and therefore Christ must be an emanation from God and thus inferior. The Scriptures; however, nowhere teach that Christ was an emanation from God; He was God. The other is the belief that matter is in itself evil. This being so the incarnation is impossible. God could never become evil flesh.

They therefore hold that Christ's body was not real, but only an appearance or phantasm. These people were called "Docetae" and the doctrine "Docotism" from a Greek word meaning to "seem or "appear".

(3). Nicene Period.

By this is meant the period from the Council of Nicaea to the 2nd Council of Constantinople in A.D.381.

3a. Arianism.

All the controversy concerning the Person of Christ during this period centred round Arianism. The heresy really had to do with the Trinity, but seeing that it held that the Second Person of the Trinity was the first creation of God and therefore not God, the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity could not be God either. This heresy will be discussed more fully when dealing with the Trinity.

(4) Chalcodonian Period.

This period reached up to the Council of Chalcodon in J.D.451. Arianism dealt more definitely with the deity of Christ, but after 381 A.D.,the controversy circled more round the manner in which the deity and the humanity could be combined in the one human person.

(4a). Apollinarianisn.

Apollinaris was bishop of Laodicea in the 4th century. He is supposed to have taught the incompleteness of Christi`s human nature. He held that man was constituted in three parts, body, soul and spirit. He held that Christ had a human body and a lower or animal soul, but said that the place of the human spirit or the rational soul was taken by the Logos or Divine Word.

But on this basis Christ could not have been truly man. apollinaris was not deliberately trying to contradict the incarnation but merely to explain it, which he did not succeed in doing.

(4b). Nestorianism.

Nestorius was bishop of Constantinople in the 4th century. Nestorius objected to the idea of two natures in one person. He said that the human and divine could never unite, though he admitted a very close relationship. The theory practically taught a dual personality as well as a dual nature.

(4c). Eutychianism.

Eutyches was abbot of Constantinople in the 5th century. In his effort to show that Nestorius was wrong and to avoid the idea of two persons he went to the other extreme. He held that "the divine and human natures in Christ mingled into a third, which was more divine than human, because the human would be absorbed in the divine". This resulted, of course in only one nature. For this reason they were later called "Monophysites", from the Greek words for "one" and "nature".

(5). Post-Chalcodonian Period.

This period followed on from the Council of Chalcedon. While the Council of Chalcedon settled the controversy in the West, it continued for many a weary year in the East. The two errors were Monophysitism, the doctrine of one nature and Monotheletism, the doctrine of one will. They were both developments of Eutychianism, and prolonged the same error. If there wore two natures, there were, of necessity, likewise two wills but the human was always willingly subject to the divine.

(6) Two Further Theories.

Two other theories need to be mentioned.

(6a). Adoptianism.

This arose in Spain in the latter half of the 8th century. It held that Christ was an ordinary man whose humanity was gradually adopted into divinity. It thus denied any real incarnation.

(6b). Socinianisn.

Laelius Socinus and Faustus Socinus were uncle and nephew and Italians of noble birth, living in the 16th century. They regarded Christ as "an ordinary man, although of miraculous birth, to whom God gave extraordinary revelations and exalted Him to heaven after His death".

This was nothing more than Arianism; Christ was only a divinized man. Socinianism was the root from which the later Unitarianism sprang. The more modern Kenotic theories have already been dealt with.

(f) Conclusion.

Those various theories cover the main possibilities of variation from the Scriptural teaching of the Person of Christ. They neatly arise from an overemphasis of one or other side of the truth. We close by again quoting the relevant passage of the Chalcedonian creed and also of the Athanasian.

The Chalcedonian reads thus, "Perfect as to His Godhead and perfect as to His manhood, truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting consubstantial with the Father as to His Godhead, and consubstantial with us as to His manhood; acknowledged in two natures without mixture, without conversion, without division, without separation. We confess not a Son divided and sundered into two persons, but one and the same Son."

The following is the Athanasian, "Perfect God and perfect man; of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Who, although He be God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God; one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person."

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