Of the great ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church, the Chalcedonian Formula is perhaps least familiar to the rank and file of its members. While it does not contain any Christological tenet other than what has already been set forth in the Apostles’ Creed and that of Nicaea, its particular emphasis rests upon the doctrine of two unconfounded and undivided natures in the person of Christ.
THE CHALCEDONIAN FORMULA
The Formula was adopted by the fourth ecumenical council held in 451 A.D. at Chalcedon, a city in Bithynia on the Bosporus, opposite Constantinople. Today the town is a Turkish bathing resort, known as Kadiköy. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the magnificent Chalcedonian cathedral was torn down by Moslem invaders and used as building material for the erection of the so-called “Blue Mosque,” which is generally regarded as the most beautiful Mohammedan temple in the world. No doubt the many Christological controversies in the fifth century gradually paved the way for the Islamic view that reduced Christ to a merely human and rather subordinate prophet. The Chalcedonian Formula reads:
Following the holy fathers, we all with one voice teach men to confess that the Son and our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same, that he is perfect in godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body, consubstantial with the Father as touching his godhead and consubtantial with us as to his manhood, in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten of the Father before all worlds according to his godhead; but in these last days, for us and for our salvation, of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, according to his manhood (humanity), one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten Son, in two natures, unconfusedly immutably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being preserved and concurring in one person and hypostasis, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have spoken concerning him.
The Chalcedonian Formula, which moderns may find somewhat wordy and repetitious, directs itself above all against two antipodal errors which for a long time greatly troubled the Christian Church: Eutychianism and Nestorianism. Of these two heresies the former confounded the two natures in Christ (the divine and the human) into a new nature, while the latter ultimately separated them into two distinct persons. Against them, as Augustus H. Strong, in his Systematic Theology (Vol. II, p. 673), points out, the Formula asserts with great emphasis the reality and integrity of the two natures and at the same time also their intimate union in the one person of our Lord. Thus the Christian doctrine forbids men either to confound the natures or to divide the person, since Christ is the God-man.
EUTYCHIANISM AND NESTORIANISM
Eutychianism, so named after the Alexandrian presbyter and archimandrite Eutyches, apparently in the interest of our Lord’s divinity, denied the distinction and coexistence of the two natures in Christ and averred a mingling of the two into a tertium quid. The human nature, as he taught, by the Incarnation, was changed into the divine and, ignoring our Lord’s true humanity, he maintained that it was the Logos who was born, and who suffered and died on Calvary’s cross (cf. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, 102 ff.).
Eutychianism was an extreme view to which its founder was moved by the opposite extreme of Nestorianism, so called after Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople. This prominent church leader, perhaps in the interest of opposing the ever-increasing trend toward Mariolatry, affirmed a twofold personality of Christ and represented the divine Logos as dwelling in the man Christ similar to the Spirit’s indwelling in the believer. Thus Nestorianism endangered the true divinity of our Lord. While Eutyches mingled the two natures, Nestorius divided the divine person. Mary, he contended, should not be called the “Mother of God” but only the “Mother of Christ.” To safeguard this expression the Formula designated Mary as the “Theotokos” according to Christ’s humanity. Though Nestorius deprecated many conclusions that were deduced from his premise, Nestorianism ultimately denied the reality of the Incarnation, its Christ being a deified man rather than God incarnate (cf. Strong, op. cit., p. 671 f.). In passing, we may add that Nestorianism gradually spread throughout Arabia and then toward the East as far as India and China. Despite fierce persecution by many enemies, in modern times especially by the Turks, Nestorianism still counts about three thousand adherents in Kurdistan, Persia, and other Eastern countries.
THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION
Eutychianism and Nestorianism were attempts at solving the “mystery of godliness” of which Paul writes: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). These attempts began with Ebionism (about 107 A.D.) which denied the reality of Christ’s divine nature and regarded him as a mere man. At the same time Docetism (influential from 70 to 170 A.D.) denied the integrity of our Lord’s human nature, and asserted that Christ was only seemingly a human being and not one in reality. Arianism (about 325 A.D.) denied Christ’s deity by holding that he was not true God but merely the first and highest of created beings. Apollinarianism (about 381 A.D.) denied the integrity of Christ’s human nature by teaching that he indeed had a human body and soul but not a human spirit, the place of which was filled by the Logos. Monothelitism, closely related to Eutychianism, denied Christ’s human will and held that he possessed only the divine will. Against all these doctrinal deviations the Chalcedonian Formula defends the scriptural doctrine of Christ’s two natures coexisting in the one divine person without confusion or division. The mystery of the Incarnation cannot be solved by finite man; it is either believed or rejected.
MODERN CHRISTOLOGICAL ABERRATIONS
Modern attempts at solving the mystery of Christ’s incarnation have resulted in the same heretical reduction of our Lord to a mere man. H. R. Macintosh, in his well-known work, Types of Modern Theology, accuses Schleiermacher, commonly known as the “father of modernism,” of coming close to Docetism because he denied the reality of his temptations (op. cit., p. 69). But Schleiermacher also denied Christ’s essential deity, as a careful study of his Christlicher Glaube shows. According to his teaching Christ is divine only inasmuch as in him was found the highest consciousness of God. No wonder that he denied also our Lord’s supernatural conception, vicarious atonement, resurrection, ascension, and second advent.
From a somewhat different viewpoint, but nevertheless just as emphatically, Albrecht Ritschl denied Christ’s essential deity by negating his eternal pre-existence. Ritschl regarded the confession of our Lord’s godship as a mere value-judgment based on moral perception (Macintosh, op cit., p. 69). J. L. Neve, in his valuable History of Christian Doctrine, says of him: “He effected the transfer of Christ into an ideal man who was made by divine providence to be the perfect revealer of God’s love” (Vol. II, p. 151).
Ernst Troeltsch, one of the founders and the chief dogmatician of the religio-historical school, went still further by placing Christ on the same level with other human religious teachers and so paving the way for religious humanism which ultimately ended in complete agnosticism, if not atheism.
We mention these men as outstanding liberal leaders in the modern age who left their theological imprint upon scores of modernists in Great Britain and our own country. No matter how greatly they may differ from one another, they all agree in rejecting the Chalcedonian Formula in its central affirmation that Christ is true God and true man in one person. Nor has neo-orthodoxy stemmed the trend of denying Christ’s deity; in fact, also existential theology has failed to return to a clear and unmistakable confession of Christian orthodoxy as set forth in the ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church. When, for example, Brunner ventures the utterly unwarranted statement that “Jesus said nothing openly about his eternal being with the Father” (The Mediator, p. 192), his departure from Scripture and the Chalcedonian Formula becomes apparent.
CHALCEDONIAN FORMULA NOT OUTMODED
As long as men seek to solve the mystery involved in the undivided yet also unconfounded union of the two natures in the person of our Lord, the Chalcedonian Formula stands as a warning that we are here dealing with a divine mystery which reason cannot fathom, but which faith must proclaim. That is the great task of the Christian Church.
Our perishing world needs a Savior who is both God and man: man, in order that he might be our substitute and atone for our sins; God, in order that we might be purchased with God’s own blood (Acts 10:28). Unless the Christian Church teaches the divine-human Christ of Scripture it has no Saviour who can save that which is lost. It is this very Gospel which the Chalcedonian Fonnula seeks to guard and preserve. Anchored in Scripture, it can never be outmoded because it proclaims the central message of Scripture in answer to the ever-existential question: “What think ye of Christ?” The Chalcedonian Formula stands as the Church’s official and final reply to that paramount query.
J. Theodore Mueller is one of the “grand old men” of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Now in his 74th year, he continues on modified service at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where he has been Professor of Systematic Theology and Exegesis. Among his books is Luther’s Commentary on Romans.
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