Antiochene Theology

Malchion, a converted Sophist of the second half of the third century a.d., is sometimes regarded as the founder of the Antiochene School of theology. He gained prominence as an opponent of Paul of Samosata, whose heretical views were condemned at Antioch in 268. But the originator of the distinctive Antiochene emphasis was Diodore, later bishop of Tarsus (d. c.390), the instructor of John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Earlier Lucian, one of the ablest biblical scholars of his time, went to Antioch (c.260-65) and became the teacher of Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia (he cannot with certainty be held responsible for their heretical views).

In Scripture and Christology the Antiochene theology's methodology was more rational, historical, and literal than that of Alexandria, opposing the latter's mystical and allegorical treatment of the biblical text. The Antiochene approach to Scripture was critical insofar as some parts of it were regarded as having more doctrinal and spiritual value than others. Philosophically Antioch favored Aristotle as more empirical and down-to-earth, whereas Alexandria allied itself to Plato's more mystical views. A less ontological view of the Trinity distinguished the Antiochene from the Alexandrian theology.* The tendency was toward Sabellianism,* due to its recoil from the tritheistic drift of the Alexandrian Trinitarianism (but the charge of modalism was strongly repudiated).

In Christology the divergence between Antioch and Alexandria is sharpest. The Antiochene teachers generally insisted upon Christ's true humanity and approached an understanding of his person from the human end. But their more radical advocates, Theodore and Nestorius especially, tended to destroy the concrete unity of Christ's person and to see him, not as the God-man, but a man indwelt by God. Lacking any clear doctrine of a substantive Logos,* interest centered on the historical Jesus. The general movement was thus towards an “adoptive” understanding Christ's person. On the other hand, His full humanity was denuded of a human soul. At this point the two schools overlap. Some Antiochenes developed their Christology in a Logos-sarx (“Word-flesh”) framework, while some Alexandrians presented theirs in Logos-anthropos (“Word-man”) terms.

The emphasis on moral achievement in the Antiochene Christology, in its attempt to solve the problem of the relation of human and divine in Christ, found prominence in its soteriology which admitted a significant place to human merit. This fact may explain Nestorius's sympathy for Pelagius. The Antiochene School continued to exercise a powerful influence until its decline in the eighth century, but meanwhile its christological doctrine was carried by its zealous missionaries to the utmost bounds of Asia.