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The History of Christian Thought by Paul Tillich


Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Herb and June Lowe.


Lecture 14: School of Antioch. Theodor of Mopsuestia. Apollinarius. Nestorius. Cyril. Chalcedon.


The West never followed the Alexandrian line, of which Apollinarius was the first and most radical expression, and was rejected for this reason. How is salvation possible if in Jesus the humanity is not more or less swallowed into the Divinity, so that we can adore Him as a whole, so that His mind is identical with the Divine Logos? The answer was: It is impossible. Therefore the general trend goes in the direction of what was later called Monophysitism one Divine nature, into which the human nature is swallowed.

Against this the West and the school of Antioch protested. And let me say something about the school of Antioch and their general attitude. The first is Theodor of Mopsuestia. This whole school has very definite characteristics which distinguish it from most of the Alexandrian tendencies and which make them the predecessors of the emphasis on the historical Jesus in modern theology.

1) They had a very strong philological interest, and gave a most exact interpretation and emphasis on the historical picture of the Christ. So they had the same half-philological interest which historical criticism developed in our days.

2) They had a rational tendency just as liberal theology also had in the sense of Alexandrian philosophy.

3) They had strong ethical-personalistic interests instead of mystical-ontological exactly as Rome and the Stoics had.

Rome, the West, was not always on their side, but on the whole Antioch represented some main Western trends, although it itself developed in the East. It was the great ally of Rome in the East which made it possible that Rome i, e. , the emphasis on history, personality was victorious over against the mystical-ontological interest of the East.

But the popular religion was on the whole on the side of Alexandria, and not of Antioch. And since Antioch, beyond this, was broken by the basic structure of the dogma, coming from Origen, much more in the line of Alexandrian than of Antiochean thinking; since it further was broken by politics and by lack of moral resistance against the superstitious level of Christianity which developed largely at that time everywhere in Christianity Antioch could not prevail. The personalities were not great enough to resist the demands of the people for a magically working God who walks on earth and whose human nature is only a gown for his Divine nature. Nevertheless, Antioch, in alliance with Rome, has saved the human picture of Christ in its religious significance. Without Antioch, probably the Church would have lost completely the human picture, and this means the history-conscious West never would have been able to develop.

In this way Antioch also has defended the main part, at least, of the Church against the Monophysites, which according to the human character of Christ being swallowed up, has produced infinite sacramental magic superstitious things. In doing all this, Antioch paved the way for the Christological emphasis of the West. Now it was very fortunate that you heard a representative of the East because it is perhaps impossible for somebody who comes from the West fully to understand what the religious meaning of the East is. And I believe this is even more difficult for you than for me, because in Europe we are much nearer to the East, not only geographically but also in history. The mystical-ontological elements permeate the whole Western culture in Europe, but they don't in this country. Therefore you should be all very grateful for your heritage to the Antiochean school. . . and to Rome which in alliance with this school was able to save that kind of attitude which is natural to all of you.

Theodor emphasizes, against Apollinarius, the perfect nature of man in unity with the perfect nature of God. He says: "A complete man, in his nature, is Christ, consisting of a rational soul and human flesh; complete is the human person; complete also the person of the Divinity in him. It is wrong to call one of them impersonal." This was what finally prevailed in many sections of the East, in everything Monophysite, that only one nature is personal, namely the Divine, and the human is not. Therefore he says: "One should not say that the Logos became flesh." You remember I came to this again and again already in the Apostolic Fathers. He says this is a vague metaphoric kind of talk and should not be used as a precise formula, but one should say: He took on humanity. "The Logos had not been transformed into flesh." This transformation, or transmutation, idea was felt by him as pagan, and so he rejected it. But the pagan spirit of superstition wanted to have a transformed God walking on earth. But of course this brought Theodor into a very hard problem. If each side in Christ, the human, and the Divine, are themselves persons, is He not a being with two personal centers? Is He not a combination of two sons, a monster with two heads, as his enemies told him? Theodor tried to show the unity of the two persons. He rejected the unity in essence or nature. In essence they are absolutely different because the Divine nature cannot be confined to an individual man. The Logos, as follows from the Fourth Gospel, is always universally present. Even when Jesus lived, the flowers were blooming, the animals living, men were walking, culture was going on. All this is Logos. How can the Logos be only the man Jesus?,;, he says;that is impossible. He speaks, therefore, of a unity by the Holy Spirit, which is a unity of grace and will. In this way he establishes in Jesus the analogy to the prophets, who were driven by the Spirit. But it is a unique event because in the prophets the Spirit is limited; in Jesus the Spirit is unlimited.

The union of the two natures started in the womb of Mary. In it the Logos has connected a perfect man with Himself in a mysterious way. This Logos directs the development of Jesus, His inner growth. But it does not do so by coercion. Jesus, as every man, has grace, even unlimited grace. But grace never works through coercion, but through the personal center. In this way Jesus increased in perfection, by the grace of God. So he says we have one person, but the natures are not mixed. He denied that he spoke of two sons, but he affirmed that he spoke of two natures. The Divine nature does not change the human nature, in its essence; but it was a human nature which by grace could follow the Divine nature. The Divine nature does not change the human nature. Therefore one can speak of Mary as giving birth to God you remember this was the decisive formula. This is against the tradition of the Antiocheans, but they couldn't deny at least the phrase Mary giving birth to God. He justified the acceptance of this phrase by saying that Mary also gave birth to a man, and this is the direct and adequate (way of) speaking; the other, that she gave birth to God, is only indirectly adequate, because the body of Jesus was united with God the Logos.

In the same way, he agrees that the human nature must be adored and, conversely, that God has suffered. But he says all this can be said only of the unity of the first person. In this unity one can say this because what you can say of the unity, you can say of the whole being. But not because of a transformation of the Logos into a human being this he rejects.

Now this is the Antiochean theology. It is very near to us, and this is not by chance; the West was near to these ideas.

The oneness of nature, the Western theologians said, is reached only when Christ is elevated at the resurrection to the throne of God, where the body and the human soul are glorified and transformed. But this event of the human part being swallowed up, is something transcendent. This happens in Heaven, but not on earth. So he says: Only the flesh, i. e. , the historical person, has suffered and died, not the Divinity in Him. It is blasphemy to say that Divinity and flesh belong to one nature. Having both natures, He suffered in His human nature, Ambrose said.:The same grace which accepted the human nature in Christ and made Him the Son of God, made us also justified before God and His children."

This means we see here two allies: Rome with the empirical personal and historical interest; Antioch, which has the same interest and uses it for philological studies and for philosophical considerations, which however were less successful than the historical criticism.

This alliance of Rome and Antioch could have led perhaps we don't know to a full victory of the Antiocheans over the Alexandrians. But this did not happen. And it did not happen because Rome had no direct theological interest. It had only a political interest not political in the state sense, but in the Church-state sense. Rome was the great (center of the Church's movement) and as such it did not want to surrender Christianity because of a theological formula.

One of the members of this school for (whom) we should have great (respect), is Nestorius. He preached in 429 against the theotokos doctrine, that Mary gave birth to God. Mary gave birth to a man, who became the organ of Divinity. Therefore not the Divinity but the humanity of Christ has suffered. Therefore one could even say, as he does, that Mary is Christotokos. But if this is the case, that Christ is Christotokos and only indirectly, later, did he accept that Mary can become theotokos this was not really meant; he really meant that here is God, the Logos, coming down; there is Mary giving birth to a man: and they are united. But it is not a divine being coming down and becoming; a man, in terms of a transmutation myth.

The two natures preserve their qualities in the personal union. They are connected in the humanity of Jesus, but He is not deified in it. The unmixed connection of the natures: that is what he teaches. He who terms Jesus or Christ the only begotten or the Son, he means the one person. The term "man" describes the one nature in Him; the term "God," "Logos," the other nature. But these ideas brought him into heresy. They were consistently in the Antiochean school, but with him the Antiochean school became suspect and finally rejected. . . . . Nestorius actually was a victim of the fight between Byzantium and Alexandria.

But some other developments supported the Alexandrian cause:

1) Already for a long time the Mary-legend for which there is very little basis in the Bible produced out of and against the Biblical reports legendary stories of a pious imagination. This figure of Mary attracted the novelistic mind of all those who talked about her, and so a whole Mary-legend developed.

2) The second reason for the predominance of Alexandria over Antioch was the high valuation placed on virginity, which came together with an ascetic trend which increased in strength

3) There was also a spiritual vacuum in the life of that time, an empty space which like all other empty spaces in the spiritual life soon are filled namely, the desire to have a female element m the center of religion. This was the case in Egypt, in the myth of Isis and Osiris, the goddess and her son, but it was not in Christianity. Following Judaism, every female element was thrown out. The Spirit could not replace the female element; first of all He appears, in the early reports of the birth of Jesus, as the male element, in respect to her as the female element. And beyond this the Spirit is an abstract concept. It was so even for those days" So the Divine Spirit never could replace, in the popular mind, the different forms of male-centered religion coming from the Old Testament.

4) The popular appeal of the transformation Christology, which was represented by Alexandria. Imagine a simple-minded human being: she wants to have God. Of course if you tell here: "There is God, on the altar. . ., go and have Him there," then she will go this fills the Catholic churches because there you have God on the altar. But how is this possible? Because of the Incarnation, for in the Incarnation God became something whom I can have, with whom I can walk, whom I can see, etc, , . All this is popular feeling, and this feeling was decisive against the Alexandrians.

What Cyril wanted was to show that the human nature is taken into the unity of the Logos, who remains what He was" Therefore he could say that the Logos Himself experienced death, since He has received His body, namely, in Jesus. In the formula "out of two natures, one," he accepts the abstract distinction of the natures, but actually there is no difference between the natures This makes it possible for him to be the protagonist in the fight about the theotokos. The religious motive is: It is not a man who became king over us, but God, who has appeared in human form. If Nestorius were right, then only a man, not the Logos, would have died for us, (because the Logos cannot die.) Only if the natures were so united (as Cyril wanted), he could say they were united and that they can represent the duality. "If Nestorius is right, then we eat in the Lord's Supper the flesh of a man," What the people wanted was the physical presence of the Divine. This underlies the sacramental development, and was the whole Alexandrian theology.

First it seemed they could be united. Then the Alexandrians reacted, but they reacted so much and so victoriously that Rome took the side of Antioch. But Rome put a condition to the Antiocheans. They had to remove Nestorius because he was now too much suspect. After a synod in Ephesus in 431, in which a compromise was prepared and (also) many further synods the famous latroceneum Ephesum ,the synod of "gangsters," as they were called, because they came with sticks to drive each other out, and they transported hundreds of monks to the doors of the church where the synod took place, in order to threaten everybody who would deny the theotokos of Mary, God walking on earth.

After all this, the final and most famous synod, that of Chalcedon, took place in 451, the only other date (together with Nicaea, 325) which I would like you to know. In the Synod of Chalcedon, the alliance of Rome and Antioch proved its strength. They were very much supported by the fact that one of their opposition, the bishop of Alexandria, Eutychus, put forth such a radically Monophysitic attitude that he was condemned. This condemnation of Alexandria was at the same time the victory for Antioch.

How does this decision of Chalcedon look? Decisive for the actual outcome of this synod was that the Roman pope, Leo I, wrote to a synod in Ephesus a letter which was not even read by the victory-drunken Alexandrians, In Chalcedon, however, the letter was accepted as a basic document. There Leo says: "Thus the properties of each nature and substance were preserved entire, and came together to form one person. Humility was assumed by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity." "There was one true God in the entire and perfect nature of true man. The Son of God therefore came down from His throne, from Heaven, without withdrawing from His Father's glory, and entered this lower world, because of the unity of the person in each nature, which can be understood that the Son of Man came from Heaven, and conversely that the Son of God has been crucified and buried. " Here again you have the same phenomenon as in the Antiochean theology: on the one hand a radical statement, and combining them rather easily with traditional ideas. The decision of Chalcedon was made on this basis. It was not passed in significance by Nicaea, and together with Nicaea passes all the other synodal decisions. Today no one can study systematic theology who does not know something of this decision. In it the problems discussed are mentioned all together and brought into paradoxical formulas. Everything discussed in the main synods, etc., were brought together into paradoxical formulas.

1) "Therefore, following the Holy Fathers, we all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son of God, Jesus Christ, the same complete in Godhead and also complete in manhood."

2) True God, and at the same time true man, of a reasonable soul and body.

3) He is consubstantial with the Father, according to His Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to His manhood in all things like unto us, apart from sin,

4) He is begotten of the Father both before all worlds, according to His Godhead, and also in these latter days, on account of us and our salvation, of the Virgin Mary, the God-bearer, according to His manhood.

5) One and the same Christ, Lord, only begotten, is to be acknowledged in two natures, but these natures must not be confused. And they are natures without any change, without division, without separation.

6) The distinction of natures, being in no way annulled by the union, the characteristic of each nature being presented and coming together to form a person and a substance. It is not parted nor is it divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only begotten God. . . . the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here you see, as in many of these documents, how easy these philosophical terms had a transition into a liturgical and poetic language. This was always the case. And it makes them much more beautiful.. . . .

Again the negative side was clear. The positive side was doubtful. The Roman way was victorious, but different interpretations were possible. The East was disappointed by this decision. The Alexandrian delegates did not subscribe. They said what most Russian delegations today would say, if they subscribed to something so much against the popular demand: they would say they would be killed if they signed this document and came home. They would not be able to live any more because of the fanatic monks who would beat them to death. Therefore the reaction of the East was unavoidable. This reaction against Chalcedon by the East, in its radical consequences, was strong enough to divide East and Rome in such a degree that it became an easy prey to the Islamic puritan reaction. This is especially true of the Monophysitic churches of Egypt and neighboring countries. They were all swallowed up by the reaction of Islam, which I would call a puritan reaction, against the sacramental superstitious form into which Christianity fell more and more. It is a thesis I have that the attacks of Islam never would have been successful if Christianity had taken into itself the element of personality and history. But it didn't They fell down deeper and deeper into popular superstition, and so they were surprised...

The decision of Chalcedon was partly denied, partly put aside. From 482- 590, the first schism occurred between the East and the West, the latter maintaining Chalcedon, the other trying to reinterpret it. After the reunion, Monophysitism became victorious in Alexandria. It was a radical return to Cyril and his emphasis on the unity of the natures '; . . .. After the union, only one nature is there; Christ is one, according to His composite nature, according to His person, according to His will. After the union there is no duality of natures or energies. Chalcedon and Leo, who assert two natures and two energies, should be condemned. The more radical Monophysites taught that with the conception in Mary the flesh of Christ became progressively deified. They really made Mary already a goddess. The radicals said their enemies adored something mortal. But both are united in the opposition to the two natures. They wanted nothing except God on earth, and without human relativity.

An alliance of the emperor, who wanted a union with the Monophysites and a new theology, solved the problem for a long time for sections of the East. The man was Leontius of Byzantius, who combined Cyril and Leo with a new scholastic thought.

He said:

1). The human nature in Christ is neither an acted hypostasis nor without hypostasis; it is anhypostasis. Here you have reached Scholasticism...(Hypostasis means being an independent being.) (When) :one understands hypostasis, one understands non-hypostasis. But when it comes to the formula enhypostasis (one hypostasis in the other), then we don't know any more what that really means. The reason why it was invented is clear. The question was: Can two natures exist without an independent head? The answer was, they cannot; therefore Christ must be the representative. . .

2) The being of the human nature is in the Logos: This meant the condemnation of the whole Antiochean theology, including Theodor, who was attacked by him. The religious meaning of this theology became visible in the fight about the suffering of God which was expressed in liturgical and theological formulas. The treis-hagion (thrice holy) was also enlarged to the formula: "Holy God. . . . Almighty. . . immortal, who for us was crucified, have mercy upon us." And the theological formula: One of the holy trius has suffered in the flesh. - - Both things are carried through in spite of Rome's protest. All this was dogmatized in 553 in Constantinople, in the 5th Ecumenical Council. The Council expressed itself in fourteen anathemas. . . It decided that He who did the miracles is the same. . . The unity is not a matter of energy, etc., or honor, but it was an indirect one, or a unity by mercy. But it was a union of the personal with the Divine power.

The natures, Divine and human, are only distinguished in theory, not in practice. The person of the Logos has become the personal center of a man. The human nature has not personal characteristics of its own. This was the decisive point; because if it has not, how can He help us? The crucified is the true God and Lord of glory and one of the Trinity. The identification of Jesus Christ with the ethical Logos is complete. Like the icons in which Christ appears in gold-ground (setting), the human personality has disappeared. This is the meaning of all this.

But the West could not be conquered so easily. A new reaction of the West occurred. The question was whether the one person, Jesus Christ, has one or two wills. One speaks in this time of monoteletis and duoteletis. They fought with each other, but finally this time the West prevails. Christ has two independent natures; the human nature is not swallowed up by the Divine.

You can grasp this development if you use the key of the problem of salvation and how salvation is related to the individual, to history, to personal life. Here the West was clear; the East was not.

The last fight in the east was about the icons.Ikon means image, the images in the churches of the Fathers and Saints. The icons deserve veneration and not adoration. But if one asks what this actually means, we must say that in popular understanding veneration always develops into adoration. . . . This was perhaps for us not the greatest thing the East gave the West although I would say that the salvation of human nature is something extremely great but there is still something else in the East, namely the development of mysticism. To this we will go tomorrow by dealing with the classical early Christian mystic (ca. 500), Dionysius the Areopagite , who influenced everything in West and East after Chalcedon.

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