Theological Traditions of Alexandria and Antioch

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Course: Church History I

Lecture: Theological Traditions of Alexandria and Antioch


Today I want to talk about the theological traditions associated with Alexandria and Antioch. This brings us back to where we were last Tuesday with the discussion of Christology. But first of all, just to bring together in your minds some of the information which I have given to you at various times but perhaps hasn't really sort of come together in your mind. At the council of Nicaea in the year 325, you may recall that I said that there were three cities in the Roman Empire which were recognized as having special status: Rome, first of all, because, of course, it was the capitol; Alexandria, which was the leading city in the Greek-speaking world; and Antioch, also, of course, very important in the Greek-speaking world. The churches in these three cities were given special responsibility for overseeing developments in their respective parts of the world, so Alexandria in Egypt and North Africa, that area; Rome in the Western Mediterranean and Antioch in Syria and Asia Minor, basically, you see, dividing it up like that. And the idea was that if troubles arose, problems had to be dealt with and so on, they could be referred to the churches in those cities who would take responsibility for making sure that everything was okay, and if they couldn't solve the problem, refer it to a council of the whole church such as the council of Nicaea was.

This arrangement I also pointed out was very soon disrupted by the founding of Constantinople as the New Rome and, of course, the insistence that because it was now the capitol of the Roman Empire that it should have a place second only to old Rome. Now this idea that Constantinople should be put on a par with the other three cities provoked a lot of reaction at different times from different people, not least, of course, from Rome because it's at this point that the Roman Church begins to develop an alternative theory of the importance of its own church. I mean, it, of course, had been quite happy to accept that it was the most important church as long as it was the capitol city, but when the capitol was taken elsewhere, Rome was afraid that it would lose its position and so began to develop what we call today the spiritual interpretation of its origins, claiming that the real reason why Rome was the most important church was not the fact that it was the capitol of the Empire - that was an accident - but because it had been founded by the Apostle Peter. Peter as the first bishop of Rome had passed on his authority to his successors and so the bishops of Rome in the fourth century could claim the authority of Peter. Just as Peter was the chief of the apostles so they were the chief of the bishops of the church. That was the theory, the apostolic succession theory which came into vogue, shall we say, in the fourth century.

Now, of course, you can argue and Roman Catholics would argue that it goes back earlier than that, and there were certainly people who thought this kind of thing previously, particularly the association between Peter and Rome. It was generally believed and probably true that Peter was actually put to death in Rome, although what that means for the life of the Roman Church and what Peter's role in the Roman Church may have been is unclear. Nevertheless, he did have some association with the city.

Now, of course, if you take that line, there is a problem because once you take the spiritual interpretation - saying that Peter was the founder of the Roman Church, he died there, therefore, the Roman Church is the most important church - you have to reckon with the fact that in the scriptures, the first church and the one over which Peter first presided was not Rome but Jerusalem, and so the claim began to be made that if you are going to have a spiritual interpretation of the importance of the different churches, Jerusalem can hardly be left out. The difficulty was that in the fourth century Jerusalem was just a small town, very remote, not much going for it apart from the fact of its historical origins and so on and, therefore, giving it a status equal to the other great cities of the Roman Empire would put a terrible financial burden on the church. I mean, they wouldn't be able to cope with that and so on. Nevertheless, the cry grew. I mean, people began to insist on this more and more, and so eventually Jerusalem came to be included among the important churches of the empire as the fifth. And these five churches - Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem - came to be known as the Five Patriarchates, each of them with their own sort of territory which they were expected to look after.

Now Jerusalem because of its small size because of its poverty and so on had much smaller territory than the rest. I mean, it was there more for honorific purposes than for anything else, but nevertheless it did figure among these top five. Now needless to say, when you have this kind of arrangement, there’s going to be a certain amount of politicking going on. You can see from this list what that politicking was likely to be, what form it would likely take, and it is clear, of course, that the problem is Constantinople – what to do with this new thing, with this new city which is clearly a rival to Rome but also in a way a rival to Alexandria because Constantinople is now pushing Alexandria into third place. Alexandria is no longer the most important city in the Greek-speaking world because Constantinople is beginning to take over that function and so there is a little bit of noses out of joint there too.

So what you can see happening is that there will be an alliance between Rome and Alexandria because of their common interest. Now, of course, this alliance is never expressed in precise words. I mean, nobody sort of sits down and says, well, we’re getting together to make sure Constantinople doesn’t get any further than it’s already got. I mean, they don’t put it like that but nevertheless you can see the developing after the foundation of Constantinople. And carrying on for over a hundred years, there is a kind of tacit alliance between Rome and Alexandria. The two churches worked together and basically work together to try to minimize the influence of Constantinople that’s going on.

Needless to say, one alliance will provoke another and that’s what happens in that Antioch and Constantinople tend to link up with one another but for somewhat different reasons. The main reason why Antioch and Constantinople were close to one another is that Constantinople was carved out of the territory which had previously belonged to Antioch and, therefore, a lot of the personnel in Constantinople had come from Antioch. And a tradition grew up that Constantinople would get its leading churchmen – you know, its bishops and people like that – would often come from Antioch. Now there was a kind of link across Asia Minor like that, and so they weren’t a defensive alliance against Alexandria or against Rome particularly, but it was a more natural sort of community of interests because they came more or less from the same part of the world.

Jerusalem insofar as it had any close links was closely linked to Rome not so much to Alexandria but to Rome because Jerusalem depended for its status on Rome. Jerusalem only got recognized as one of the five because Rome had developed this spiritual interpretation of who should be in the list and so, as I say, once you have that then Jerusalem comes into consideration. If, on the other hand, you just think of the biggest, most important cities in the Empire, then Jerusalem gets kicked out. I mean, there’s no possible way that it could be defended on that basis. So you see this kind of development and Jerusalem always clings to Rome for support knowing that if the support of Rome is lost then its status would probably be taken away. So this is the dynamic, you see, the inner dynamic which is going on.

The importance of this is that in the great councils of the church which were held in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, it was essential for all of these five churches to agree on common policy. In other words, that they should formulate doctrine in a way which would be acceptable in each of these churches. And so when this becomes the imperative – and people say, you know, can we come to doctrinal understanding which will be acceptable in all five of the patriarchates? You see, that everybody’s going to agree with what we have to say. Then you can see the political rivalries, and the comings and goings begin to take on greater importance, in particular because it’s at this point that the two great schools of thought in the east come into play, Alexandria and Antioch.

Alexandria was, of course, the largest city until the foundation of Constantinople. It was in many ways the most prominent intellectual center and general Christian center in the fourth century. It’s somewhat unusual because Alexandria is virtually unmentioned in the New Testament. I mean, you will find it a couple of times but it’s only in passing, you know, Appollos has just arrived from Alexandria, that kind of thing, but certainly no consideration of the church there as to who founded the church or anything like that.

And so how the Christian church in Alexandria got started is almost unknown really, but Alexandria was the place where, of course, the Septuagint had been translated into Greek through the Old Testament. It had a very large Jewish community. There were a lot of Christians there from a very early time, and it was there that the great Christian thinkers of the East - Clement of Alexandria, Origin, and so on - had grown up and been educated and done their most important work. So Alexandria had a long tradition of being the leader in theological thought in the east. You see, that was a long thing like this. It's very interesting to note that when the spiritual origins of the churches became to be of some importance, Rome, of course, claimed Peter as its founder. Jerusalem could also claim Peter. Antioch in a funny sort of way could also claim Peter, because Peter was in Antioch at one stage. Alexandria - and this is very interesting - claimed Mark as its founder, and Mark, of course, is the disciple of Peter. Mark is supposed to be the one who wrote down Peter's memoirs. Mark's gospel is supposed to be the memoirs of Peter, so there's a very interesting connection here, you see, that Alexandria sees itself as the kind of secretary of Peter, the one who records the memories of Peter, and so Mark becomes the founder, the saint who founded the Alexandrian Church, at least in theory.

Can anyone tell me who was appointed as the saint, the apostolic founder of the church of Constantinople? This is, of course, totally fictitious but who they would come up with? You have to have a certain kind of mind. I mean, it's logical in its own way, but you have to think about it. Remember Constantinople is the new Rome. Rome is supposedly founded by Peter, and Constantinople is the New Rome, is Rome's sister city. So the apostolic founder of Constantinople will be Andrew. That's right. Andrew, Peter's brother. And that was actually claimed. In fact, it's still officially claimed today, but it has no historical basis, of course, and so on, but it's interesting that that's the way they thought, the way the mind kind of worked to produce this sort of thing.

All right. Well, Alexandria because of its tradition, because of its importance and so on produces a kind of theology which is very much rooted in the philosophical traditions of the schools which were based there, and in the fourth century this meant primarily the philosophical teachings of Neo-Platonism. Origin in the third century had been largely responsible for introducing allegorical interpretation, the allegorical interpretation of scripture into the Alexandrian Church and that was always characteristic of the way in which it approached the Bible and indeed the way it approached reality, the way of thinking, that the true reality - what they would call reality - was hidden behind appearances, that the spirit world, the ideal world, the invisible world, was far more real than anything which you actually could see.

And you need to appreciate this mentality because it's only as you appreciate the way they think that you can see why they developed their Christology in the way they did, because it was at Alexandria, as I pointed out last time we talked about this, that the so-called word flesh Christology, the logos sarx Christology, came into being. And the Logos-Sarx Christology is based on John 1. I pointed that out. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." And the whole idea behind this is that the son of God - the second person of the Trinity - comes into the world, takes on human flesh, appears as a man, and in the appearance in the form of a man suffers and dies for our salvation. You see, that's the logic of it.

The question, of course, again I pointed out last time, was what does the flesh consist of? In particular, does the flesh have a soul? Is the human soul part of what the logos acquires when he comes into the world? Athanasius, I pointed out, is ambiguous about this. It seems that Athanasius thought that, well, yes, there was a human soul but the human soul was basically taken over by the Logos and therefore didn't really have much to do. But this raised several problems, not least the problem that the human soul was regarded as the seat of sin. And so - because it has the will, you see, the mind, and so on. And therefore, if Jesus does not have a functioning human soul, if his human soul doesn't operate in the way that your soul does or my soul does, was it possible for him to sin?

And Athanasius had terrible difficulties with this because Athanasius basically did not want to believe that Jesus was capable of sinning, and he didn’t want to believe that Jesus was capable of ignorance so that when Jesus says, “I don’t know when the Son is coming again. Only the Father knows this,” the solution of Athanasius is to say, well, he was just pretending. He really did know but he wasn’t telling them. He wasn’t letting on and so on because it wasn’t right for the disciples to know. But obviously if you push this to the extreme, you end up in a situation where the son of God is lying to his disciples in order to protect himself. I mean, this is not really a very satisfactory way of understanding the incarnation, and so this is the problem, you see, that arises.

You have, however, to understand the great strength of the Athanasian point of view because it’s easy to pick it apart with its weaknesses, but the great strength is that it is clear who is doing the talking, so that when you meet Jesus, when the disciples met Jesus and Jesus spoke to them, Jesus said I am this and I am that and I am the true vine, I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd and so on – all of these things – this is the voice of the Son of God. The “I” of Jesus, the speaking voice of Jesus is the voice of the second person of the Trinity. He is the subject of the incarnation. There’s never any question about that in Alexandrian thinking. Therefore, when it comes to the question of suffering and dying on the cross, again there may be different ways of understanding it and there may be problems which arise because of it, but in the Alexandrian way of thinking, there can be no question but that God himself is present in the death of Jesus on the cross, that this is an act of God. And so this is the strong point. And, of course, it’s a strong point which became stronger and was developed with particular ferocity, you might say, in the disputes against Arias because Arias was determined to argue that the Jesus who died on the cross was not God. I mean, he might be called the son of God. He might be a very high and spiritual creature and so on, but he was not God in the strict sense of that term. And so it was in that context and against that sort of background, that sort of battle that had to be fought that the Alexandrian understanding was developed. You see, you always have to realize this. This is the way in which it’s going at that particular time.

However, inevitably, it came unstuck. Athanasius was lucky because he died before that happened. He died in the year 373. Now this is quite true that sometimes it’s a good idea to die before people figure out that you’re not quite on the right lines because then you get honored, you see, and so on before people have figured out whatever you’ve said doesn’t work. So this happens from time to time in history. I mean, there are modern examples of this. You know, people die, they’re very famous and so on, and then ten years later somebody demonstrates that they didn’t do what they said they did or whatever they did was actually all wrong, but it’s too late then because they’ve had their state funeral and so on.

So Athanasius in this sense was lucky. He died too soon. But one of his pupils and disciples, Apollinaire was not so lucky because Apollinaire picked up the teaching of Athanasius and took it to its logical conclusion. I mean, Apollinaire said, well, if the human soul of Jesus hasn’t got anything to do, if there’s no point in having it, then he doesn’t have it. So the incarnation is to be understood as the Logos, the Son of God – the divine being of the Son of God – coming into human flesh, no soul, that on the cross it is the human flesh of Jesus which dies because only human flesh can die. The Logos is unaffected. The Logos, of course, can resurrect the human flesh and take it up to heaven. That’s very possible. And this is what happens. This is how you understand the crucifixion and resurrection.
The difficulty with that as people kept point out was that if you regarded the incarnation of Christ as the taking on of human flesh without a soul, then the salvation of mankind can only be the salvation of the physical flesh that we have, not the soul as well. And, of course, when you look at it like that – because Jesus didn’t have a soul, you see, so if Jesus doesn’t have a soul, how can he die for you, you who have one – and so when you get to this stage, people are saying, well, in that case, we don’t have a savior because after all it’s not my flesh which sins. I mean, my flesh and bone doesn’t have a mind. It doesn’t have a will. It can’t sin. What sins is my soul, understood, of course as a rational thing inside the body. And therefore, if Jesus doesn’t share this, if Jesus doesn’t have one of these, he can’t take my place on the cross because he’s not a real human being. He doesn’t have what I have and, therefore, he can’t die for me or at least not for that part of me.

And so Apollinaire was accused and condemned at the first council of Constantinople in 381 for this view, and more importantly in the longer run, people in Constantinople and, of course, in Antioch came to believe that Alexandrian Christology was by definition Apollinarian. In other words, they just thought the difference was Apollinaire was too stupid to hide it. He just sort of told the truth. He just came out with it, but all the rest of them sort of thought the same thing as Apollinaire thought, but they just didn’t say so or they didn’t put it in quite such stark and unambiguous terms. But Alexandria was tainted with Apollinarianism and everything that came out of there after 381 was regarded in this light elsewhere in the east.

Now an example of this, an example of why this was so and why there was a problem, you can see in the teaching of somebody like Didymus of Alexandria – Didymus the blind as he’s often called. Didymus was a great biblical scholar. In fact, such a great biblical scholar that a great deal of what we now know about Origin’s interpretations of the Bible and so on we know because Didymus preserved it, and he reworked all this sort of thing and systematized it, so he’s a very important figure in the history of biblical interpretation. But anyway, we can leave that to one side for now.

When it comes to his Christology, his understanding of Christ, he is trying to modify Apollinarianism. He recognizes that Apollinaire has gone too far, but how do you sort of do this? How do you explain your doctrine of Christ without falling into this trap? And Didymus sort of concentrated on the temptations of Jesus which were very interesting because Didymus could not deny – of course, and didn’t want to deny – that Jesus could be tempted. This is clear from the New Testament. But the question is, well, could he have sinned? And Didymus said no. Jesus can be tempted because he is a man but he cannot sin because he is God. This is his way of understanding it. Now he’s trying to find a compromise, something that you can say, well, we can do justice to the biblical evidence. The biblical evidence says Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. All right. So that must have happened and so the temptations are possible. But nevertheless, Jesus cannot have sinned because Jesus is God, and to imagine God sinning is impossible.

Now this is, of course, a very interesting kind of solution, if that’s the word. It’s not really a solution but an interesting kind of answer to come up with. Is it viable? Does it work? Well, first of all, we I think have to agree that the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness are not normal human temptations. If you consider, what is temptation? Temptation is only the suggestion that you should do something but, of course, it is implicit that the thing which you are asked to do is something that you can do. I mean, you’re tempted to run away with the postman or with the choir director or something like this. There’s got to be such a person. I mean, it’s got to be possible; otherwise you’re not going to be tempted. You see what I mean?

This is not to say that the mere fact that such a person exists means that you will be tempted. That doesn’t follow. But you see what I’m saying, the structure of temptation demands that the situation actually exists and that the thing is possible because otherwise it’s not temptation. Well, then look at the temptations of Jesus. You see, Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread. Well, you and I would never be tempted to do this because it’s impossible for us. I mean, there’s no point trying to tempt me in this way because I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. All right. So I’m not going to be tempted like that. It’s meaningless in my case and I presume in yours as well. I know you can bake bread and end up with stones but that’s another thing. This is not possible. So the nature of the temptation – if it’s a genuine temptation for Jesus, the nature of the temptation implies that Jesus is God. You see what I mean? Because otherwise such a change of a natural substance is not conceivable, it’s not possible for a mere human being.

The difficulty then is how can the devil tempt God? What does it mean to say that the devil can tempt God, because who is God? I mean, God after all is the sovereign Lord of the universe and presumably this is tempting him. What does it mean? If God decides to do something, how can it be wrong in that way? And so this is the other side of the question because, of course, if it’s a real temptation, it’s not a normal human temptation. But at the same time, if you cannot yield to temptation – if yielding to temptation is an impossibility from the start, then it’s not a genuine temptation, because it can’t be, it has no consequence. There’s no possible consequence. I mean, we as Christians are told to resist temptation. We are not told that temptation will never have any effect on us or that it is impossible to give in because we’re Christians. You see what I’m saying? And this is, of course, what Jesus does. I mean, Jesus resists the devil. He doesn’t pretend that the temptations are not real or that there isn’t a serious issue at stake at this particular point.

So the question, you see, is a very complex one, and when we look at this, you have to say to yourself that in some way the temptations of Jesus are such that they are not the temptations of a normal human being, but at the same time, if they are genuine temptations, it must have been possible, at least in theory, for Jesus to have yielded to them, for Jesus to have surrendered to them, and that when Jesus rebukes the devil and sends him packing, what he is doing is resisting temptation, overcoming temptation in the way that you and I are expected to do.

Now behind all of this – and this is what is so important to understand – is the question of the nature of Jesus as a human being. Because while on the one hand the temptations which come to him may be extraordinary, nevertheless his behavior, the way he reacts to them, is a way in which you and I are expected to react. I mean, if we are tempted by the devil, then we are expected to react in the same way that Jesus reacted, that is to say, resist him. You know – you can’t go to God and say, well, Lord, I know Jesus resisted the temptations in the wilderness, but after all, he was God. I couldn’t resist temptation. I just had to give in right, left and center because I’m only human. That’s not a valid answer to this.

So, you see, we have this duality here and it raises the question of, well, those who knew Jesus during his earthly life, what did they perceive about him? How did they look at him? How did he come across to them? What is a perfect person like? Now you and I have never met such a person. I mean, I know you get up and look in the mirror every morning and feel you found the one you love, but that is the perfect individual, but I mean, being honest to ourselves, I mean, none of us is perfect. We don’t expect this. So we don’t really know what it’s like to have a perfect person, sinless person wandering around. But here was Jesus. Did he come across to his friends, to the people in his village and so on, as a freak? Somebody who was just odd? Well, no, he didn’t. We know this because, of course, when Jesus went back there to preach after a little while – I mean, he got chased out because he was being pretentious. I mean, imagine that. The carpenter’s son sort of running around claiming to be a preacher, who does he think he is, sort of thing, and they chase him out of the village. So clearly all the time Jesus had been growing up in Nazareth, nobody noticed that there was anything strange about him.

So what was he like as a person? I mean, did he never play tricks on his mother? Did he never steal apples? He never did anything of any kind ever during his entire life? I mean, how is this possible, you might say, to be like that and not be noticed? You know, nobody seemed to think he was odd in some way. And yet this must somehow or other have been the case because we’re told he was sinless, you see, even though we find it difficult to picture this. The only glimpse we have is of Jesus when he was twelve years old in the temple and, of course, Mary and Joseph head off back home and Jesus is left behind, and after a couple days they wonder where he is and so on. And so they go back and they find him in the temple in Jerusalem, and Jesus kind of looks at them as if, you know, like what are you doing? Why are you bothering me? I have to be about my Father’s business. Don’t you know this is where I’m supposed to be? And, of course, those of you who’ve got twelve-year-old children know what you would do if you were the mother. You know, whack! Come here, you little – you know! And so on. Especially the twelve-year-olds are about the worst, aren’t they? You know that and yet, you see, here we have a glimpse, if you like, of the fact that Jesus even at the age of twelve clearly knew that there was something special about him, and his parents knew that too. They realized they could see there was something there going on. So that’s the glimpse we have, but that’s about it. I mean, that’s all that we are given to go on as far as this is concerned, and what do you make of that?

I think myself that perhaps one way of trying to understand how this might have worked and particularly how the disciples and Mary and Joseph and people like that reacted, how they could sort of deal with this or understand this. Occasionally, you meet people who have dual nationality or two cultural backgrounds. I mean, let’s say for example that your father is Spanish-speaking and your mother is English-speaking. All right. And you grow up being perfectly bilingual. Well, if you live around here and play around here and generally sort of react to people around here, of course, you would live in an English-speaking environment and that will be the natural thing and nobody would question this. I mean, you grow up like a native Alabamian and what have you, and people would just accept that. I mean, you would to them appear to be perfectly normal and natural.

But then you might at some stage have dealings with your father and when you sort of suddenly start talking to your father on the phone or something, and out comes sort of perfect Spanish. You see, this might disconcert some of your friends. They might be a bit surprised. I mean, what's going on here? How can you do this? Because you suddenly realize that here's somebody that you thought was perfectly normal and just one of you actually has this other side to them which doesn't appear on an everyday basis, but when it sort of comes into play for one reason or another, it can function perfectly easily and readily and so on. I mean, it doesn't have to be specially invented or concocted for the occasion.

And when you meet people like this, I mean, the questions that you ask tend to be things like, you know, what language do you dream in? And if you ask somebody that question - one of these bilingual people that question, they probably don't know how to answer. What language do you think in? How do you know when to say one thing to one and one to another? And you see this even with little children. You see small children who have no understanding of what they're doing - I mean, at the age of two or three - are perfectly capable of speaking one language to their mother and another to their father and not mixing them up but without realizing that that's what they're doing, that they're actually communicating in a different way, because to them this is natural. To them this is normal. And of course, until they meet a situation where they meet other people who cannot do this, who don't do this, they don't see why there's anything odd about it. You see what I mean? And so to them this is natural and normal. To other people it's very odd, and yet in neither case can you say - you can't say that a child who grows up like this is a freak or that they're schizophrenic or something like this. It simply means that there's another dimension which they're able to incorporate within their brain, within their minds and so on, that doesn't in fact make them any different from anybody else in terms of their physiognomy or anything like that. I mean, they're not more or less human. They're just different in that way.

And so I think if you picture Jesus coming across to people rather like this, that most of the time he's perfectly normal and natural and gets along fine with everybody and is generally like that, but every once in a while the relationship with his Father kicks in and then you find Jesus doing things that ordinary people cannot do or don't do. And this does not make him less human; it simply reveals that there's another side to him that we have to take on board, I mean, we have to take into consideration, and we cannot point the finger at him and say you're funny. You're different. Well, he is different, but I mean you're odd, simply because of this. You see what I mean? It must be possible to integrate this into a human life without thereby ceasing to be human.

And so the problem for the early church was to figure out a way of explaining how this can be done. In other words, finding the terminology which is able to handle this reality. The reality is in front of you. Now you've got to explain it. You've got to have a vocabulary. You've got to have a conceptual analysis which is big enough and broad enough to be able to explain this. And what happened as the Alexandrian approach was gradually taken apart and reworked was that in the process not only did a new theology develop but also a new understanding of what it means to be human, what constitutes a human being. And it may strike you as odd, but nobody ever really thought about this very seriously before.

And so what we get in the working out of the doctrine of Christ - you see, fully God and fully man - is not only an understanding of God but also an understanding of man, which goes along with the understanding of God. And, of course, in Christian theology to this day, these two things cannot be separated. If you don't believe me, open Calvin's Institutes and read the first line on the first page, where he says something like, "The sum of all knowledge is to know God and to know yourself." So that he saw very clearly that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self were interconnected; you can't have one without the other. And so this goes back to the Christology of the early church, you see, so it's a very important thing to understand in that way.

All right. Antioch is the historical vehicle which is going to be employed to achieve this result because Antioch had a theological school which was very famous, very important in the ancient world and very different from what was going on in Alexandria. We don't know very much about how it all started. We don't really know where the impulse for its foundation came from, but we do know, of course, that in Antioch there was a tradition which goes back before the time of Nicaea where there was a strong tendency to see Jesus as a man who had at some point or other been taken over by God. I already pointed this out with Paul of Samosata. Remember Paul of Samosata was a bishop in Antioch accused of what is known as adoptionism. And apparently what Paul believed was that Jesus was a man who became the son of God at his baptism and used the sort of scriptural imagery, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased" and the dove comes down and sits on his head and so on, that this is the time when the man Jesus Christ is adopted as the son of God. In other words, Jesus becomes the first Christian because you and I are also adopted as children of God. So, I mean, it's a parallel there.

Now that may or may not be the case. I mean, we don't know for sure that this is so but what appears in Antioch in the fourth century looks very suspiciously like a kind of adoptionism which has nevertheless been pushed back in time, that Jesus is adopted by God not at his baptism but in the womb of Mary at his conception. In other words, the adoption process goes back to a very early stage, in fact, back to the very beginning of Jesus' earthly life.

Now to understand what happened in the fourth century, I think we have to see that the Christology which Antioch developed - the adoption of Christ - was developed, I mean, this tendency was there all along but it was developed into a full-blown theory not independently by people who sat down and thought about it because they had nothing better to do, but rather in reaction to what was going on in Alexandria. It was in reaction in particular to Apollinaire that the school of Antioch found itself obliged to come up with an alternative theory. Now there are various people who took part in this and you can read on the handout who they were and what they said, but I would only say one thing about them before we go any further; that is, that somebody like Diodore of Tarsus is not to be confused with somebody like Saul of Tarsus. They're not related. But also Saul of Tarsus was called Saul of Tarsus because that's where he came from. Diodore of Tarsus was called Diodore of Tarsus because that's where he was bishop. All right? It's a completely different thing. In the fourth century, generally speaking, when the name of a place is attached to a person, it's because that's where this person was bishop, not because they were born there. I mean, there are exceptions: Paul of Samosata came from Samosata and he was bishop in Antioch; that's true. But Diodore of Tarsus was bishop in Tarsus. Theodore of Mopsuestia was bishop of Mopsuestia. And, in case you don't know, Mopsuestia was a little town more or less in between Tarsus and Antioch, so along that sort of coast of what is now southern Turkey. But I think the ruins are still there but not much else.

Now Theodore of Mopsuestia is the person that we really have to consider in some detail because Theodore was the man who developed in a coherent fashion the Christology of the Antiochian Church deliberately in reaction to the Christology of Alexandria. Now you need to understand Theodore in a bigger framework than this. Theodore was not just a theologian who sat down and wrote about the doctrine of Christ. Theodore was a great preacher and teacher and above all a great biblical scholar. His commentaries on scripture were very different from the kind of thing which you find coming from the Alexandrian school, and if you find it difficult to get your head around some of these ideas, maybe one way of looking at it is to look at Theodore as a commentator of scripture and compare him with somebody like Origin or Didymus the blind who was, of course, his contemporary and see the kind of ways in which they read the Bible, whereas Didymus would be always looking for the hidden meaning - not what it says on the surface but what's the riddle here? How can we kind of get beneath the surface?

Theodore believed in the literal interpretation of scripture. Theodore treated scripture as real human history. He believed in development of revelation, that Abraham, for example, did not know everything that a Christian knows, whereas somebody like Didymus would say, well, Abraham did know everything; it's just that it's put in a sort of shadowy language in riddles and sort of concealed because Christ had not come, and until Christ has come, it all has to be expressed in this kind of vague way, but actually the spiritual experience of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was no different from the spiritual experience of a Christian and therefore you can read the Old Testament as a Christian book and get Christian experience out of it in that way. Whereas Theodore would be very skeptical of this. He would say, no, until the coming of Christ, you're dealing with something quite different. The Old Testament patriarchs did not know everything that we know and therefore cannot be measured, judged or interpreted in the same light. So it's a different approach altogether.

Now if you understand this, Theodore is much more sort of pragmatic, much more realistic as we would think of it, much more down to earth than the Alexandrians were. Then, of course, his understanding of Jesus is going to be similarly pragmatic. As far as Theodore is concerned, whatever else you say about Jesus, Jesus was a man. That is a given fact. Jesus is a man who has a human body. He has a human soul. He has a human mind. He has human emotions. He is in every respect just the same as we are. That is not to say that Jesus is not more than that. Of course, Theodore says he is more than that, but he's certainly not less than that. So any interpretation of Jesus which makes him less than fully human - in other words, Apollinaire - is wrong and must be rejected as heretical. In reading the Bible, if you come across Jesus, the emotions of Jesus, the feelings of Jesus, the ignorance of Jesus, whatever it might be, this has to be taken as the normal experience of a normal human being. Anything else simply will not do because anything else will compromise the full humanity of Jesus and therefore reduce his ability to be your savior and mine. Because if Jesus is not fully human, then we are not fully saved. This is Gregory of Nazianzus coming back again. But Gregory of Nazianzus is in the same kind of school, you see, this way of thinking.

All right. So Jesus is fully human. Where does the God bit come in? Theodore says what happened was that in the womb of Mary - and the womb of Mary now becomes the privileged place of theological development - in the womb of Mary, the man and God join together by a process which Theodore calls literally conjunction. They unite. Now the union is the kind of union which I am demonstrating by my hands. I'm not just doing this to be funny. I'm saying that the God here and the man here come together. They coincide in the womb of Mary. They match each other in the womb of Mary. They are conjoined like this.

Now the next question is does the divinity or does the humanity have its own independent identity? Theodore says yes, and this is a very key point. Because the Alexandrian picture is the Son of God comes down into the womb of Mary and creates in the womb of Mary an embryo and eventually sort of the embryo grows and is born as the baby Jesus. All right. Without the coming into the womb of Mary of the Son of God, this process would not have occurred and therefore there would never have been a baby Jesus other than by direct divine intervention. All right? What Theodore is saying is the divinity and the humanity each has its own integrity. Theodore agrees that in the womb of Mary, the divine and the human come together, but they come together as partners. It is not that the Son of God forms the embryo and therefore the baby like this which would have no existence otherwise. So Theodore is committed to saying that the conjunction could be interrupted, that if the divine and the human were to separate, this would not destroy the humanity of Jesus. Jesus would continue to exist as a human being. In fact, apparently, what Theodore claimed is that on the cross, this is what happened because on the cross God took off because God can't - well, I'm putting it perhaps a bit rudely - but God is not involved because God cannot suffer and die. And only the man Jesus Christ suffers and dies on the cross, so it's the human being which suffers and dies, not God. And this is why, says Theodore, Jesus says on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Precisely because the divine part of the conjunction has gone away, you see, or has ceased to function at that particular point. Of course, this separation is not permanent, and it is when the divine rejoins the human as it did in the tomb that the resurrection becomes not only possible but inevitable because the divine and the human have now kissed and made up. They're back together again and when that happens there's no stopping them. Out they come out of the tomb like this together, and they remain together inseparable in eternity now.

All right. Theodore had solved the problem from his point of view of the humanity of Jesus. There could be no question of grades of humanity, of degrees of humanity. Jesus is fully human. But he had solved it at a very high price because it is not clear in Theodore's thinking as to why this conjunction ever happened in the first place. What brought the divine and the human together? You can see how the divine might have agreed to do this because the Son of God was fully functioning in eternity. But how could you possibly argue that the human side was a player in this particular thing? What did the humanity of Jesus consist of even if there was an embryo in Mary's womb? I mean, do you think - could the embryo possibly have agreed to be joined together with the Son of God? I mean, it's hardly an equal thing. You see what I'm saying? And so you've got this problem, you see, where does the impulse for the conjunction come from? When the conjunction has occurred - and you might say, well, of course, the divine just took over the human, but it's not so simple because if that happens then you're compromising the integrity of the humanity, you see. This is a difficult problem, this. When Jesus is born and Jesus grows up and Jesus is functioning as a man, who is he? Who is this person you are talking to? Are you talking to God or are you talking to a man?

Now, theoretically, Theodore didn't really have an answer to that question other than, well, it all depends. I mean, if he's walking on water, I mean, he's clearly God. On the other hand, if he's sort of sweating away in the garden of Gethsemane, then he's clearly man. So it kind of depends on the circumstance as to whether it's God or whether it's man. Well, that's all very well but, I mean, it would take extreme examples like the one I've suggested, but what about some less extreme example like Jesus cleansing the temple. Did he cleanse the temple as God or did he cleanse the temple as man? It's not clear. What about the Sermon on the Mount? Did he preach the Sermon on the Mount as God or did he preach the Sermon on the Mount as man? Again, not clear. But because Theodore was so committed to the integrity of the humanity of Jesus, he could not solve this problem in a way which would in any sense diminish, compromise or ensnare the mind, soul, will, et cetera, of the human being Jesus of Nazareth. You see what I mean? Jesus' humanity had to be fully functioning at all times, otherwise his humanity would not be real, which, of course, leaves you with the problem of, well, what does the divine do at this point? Where does the divine fit in? How can the divine fit in?

Theodore expressed his beliefs by saying that the humanity of Jesus had its own hypostasis. In other words, its own identity. But he complicated matters by saying that the hypostasis of the Son of God and the hypostasis of the man Jesus of Nazareth, came together in conjunction, and this conjunction produced the person of Jesus Christ. So the person is the conjunction of the two hypostases.

And Theodore would argue, as I might argue, that if I put my two hands together like this and you look at this, you are not going to say, oh, he's got his two hands together, even though that's clearly a valid analysis of the situation. You will say he's praying, because the way I've put my hands together suggests behavior of prayer. So you will in fact impose upon the reality, which is two hands together in conjunction, an interpretation which is basically greater than the sum of its parts. You see what I mean? The interpretation of prayer is something that you can say, well, this is the person, this is the persona which my hands have adopted but it's something else. It's something bigger than just the two hands. You get my point? And this is basically what Theodore says about Jesus. He said, well, all right, yes, Jesus is a conjunction of divine and human, but, of course, the result is something bigger than that. You're not meant just to analyze the component parts. You're meant to see what happens when they conjoin. The conjunction is greater than the sum of its parts, in other words. And, of course, it’s that that concerns you. If I put my hands together like this, your reaction to this, your relationship to this will be one of prayer. And if I say to you let’s join together in prayer, you will assume that this is natural consequence of this. You see what I mean? I mean, we’re not here to sort of slap hands together or do something like that. You see what I’m saying; we’re not here just to abide by the natural phenomenon but to go beyond this.

Now is this a viable doctrine of Christ? Well, like so many before and since, Theodore was lucky enough to die before he had to answer that question. But his followers and in particular his great follower Nestorius were not so lucky. And that will be the story for another time.

Assessment

Name Description
1 Church History I - Quiz 9

Church History I - Quiz 9

Duration

1 hour 9 min

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