A division in the catholic (universal) church has recently been healed. This division started on October 8, 451, when a month-long church council was held at Chalcedon. There were issues of authority but the core of the meeting was the nature of Christ. Today we freely say that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. But it took the Church centuries to get to that phrase. While the New Testament shows that Jesus was fully divine and also human, it focuses more on Christ’s divinity than his humanity. To the witnesses of Jesus, the most remarkable aspect was his divinity. Later, however, as the Church came to take his divinity for granted, there was an effort to look more at his humanity and this searching caused a great Church divide.
Prior to Chalcedon, an earlier council had decided Christ has one nature. But the Nicene Creed seems to suggest that Jesus has two natures – human and divine. A century after it was written, however, Church leaders thought that it did not make sense; it’s either one or the other, right? Not so fast, said the bishops at Chalcedon. If we think in human terms, yes, it makes no sense, but if we look at Christ through divine eyes, nothing is impossible.
The problem with councils is that someone is always going to feel left out. In the case of Chalcedon, that group is the Oriental Orthodox churches (Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syriac, Indian Orthodox, Armenian) and that was the beginning of the divide between East and West.
Our Book of Common Prayer includes liturgical elements from both the Eastern and Western church. Speaking of divides, it also incorporates parts of the Scottish and English rites. It would make sense then that the Anglican Communion could help in uniting the Oriental Orthodox with Western Orthodox.
Last week, a statement on Christology was published by the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission. It addresses the division that started in Chalcedon. The Commission quoted Anglican theologian Richard Hooker (16thcentury) who quoted St. Cyril (5th century) that, “His two natures have knit themselves the one to the other, and are in that nearness as uncapable of confusion as of distraction. Their coherence hath not taken away the difference between them. Flesh is not become God but doth still continue flesh, although it be now the flesh of God’ (Laws 53.2).” Another component is that the union of both natures – human and divine – is natural, hypostatic (united in one God-man), real and perfect. The commission underscored that the two natures of Christ are distinguished in our mind in thought alone; it’s not a God thing but a human understanding thing.
One more interesting note – the commission also agreed that Mary is the Theotokus, the mother of God.
Up next for the commission is the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Church disagrees with Nicaea on this: “We believe in the Holy Spirit… who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” They believe the Holy Spirit did not “proceed” since that implies creation after the Father and the Son. Although I personally don’t think that was the intent of the phrase, it is a sticking point.
We wake up today with a more united Body of Christ. And that is good news.