THE CONCEPTION OF JESUS
The adherents of Christendom do not only deny the begettal of Jesus but they also deny and reject his conception. Even if I was to accept the Virgin Birth, I would still have to insist on the fact that Mary actually conceived Jesus in her ovum. Please note the following text taken from Luke 1:31:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call him Jesus.”
Although the Christian Church uses the term “conception” it does not apply it literally but rather claims that Jesus was “implanted” as an “embryo” into the uterus of Mary. The word “conceive” actually means: “to start life.” Christians do not believe that Jesus’s life actually started in the ovum of Mary. They insist that his pre-existent divine life was merely transferred into the uterus of Mary. Even those who reject the divinity of Jesus [such as Jehovah’s Witnesses] also deny the fact that Jesus’s life began at the moment of him being conceived in Mary’s ovum. Please note the very statement of the Watchtower:
“While on earth, Jesus was a human, although a perfect one because it was God who transferred the life-force of Jesus to the womb of Mary” [Should You Believe in Trinity, p. 14].
If God merely transferred the life-force [run down body of the pre-existent Jesus] into the womb of Mary, then it follows that Jesus never began or started in the ovum. Mary then did not conceive but merely received the implanted, run-down spiritual being. I want you to be aware of one simple fact. The adherents of Christendom insist that their pre-existent Jesus never ceased to be what he had always been before his so-called INCARNATION.Please note:
“the Word became flesh...is the cornerstone of the Christian faith...God, the Word, became incarnate in a human person, Jesus Christ...When the Word became flesh, God became man. He became human for a time without ceasing to be what He had always been - God” [The Bible Advocate, Sept. 1988, pp. 11-13].
In the Question and Answer Catholic Catechism, on pp. 61-63, we find the following explicit statements:
“The Word of God became man in the person of Jesus Christ through the Incarnation. This means that the second Person of the Trinity became UNITED with our human nature...The divine and human natures are united in Christ in such a way that he is one individual, at once true God and true man. This is the mystery of the Incarnation...In the mystery of the Incarnation, we profess with the infallible Church that there are in Christ two really distinct natures, one human like ours and one divine or of one substance with God the Father; yet united in such a way that Christ is one person, and unchanged so that each nature REMAINS truly and unqualifyingly itself. He is GOD FROM ALL ETERNITY, and BECAME MAN IN TIME...By distinct natures we mean two perfect natures each distinct and perfect in itself.”
That the adherents of Christendom do not really believe that Jesus conceived in Mary’s ovum even though they use the term “conception” is evident from the following statement found in the same Catechism:
“Jesus knew from the moment of his conception that he was divine. To suppose that his human soul only gradually came to know he was divine would be to deny that he was TRUE GOD and true man FROM THE FIRST INSTANT OF THE INCARNATION IN HIS MOTHER’S WOMB.”
When the sperm fertilises the ovum “life begins.”. When the nuclei of these two cells fuse, the formation of a new individual is “initiated.” Now we all know that when conception occurs there is no embryo as yet. There is no awareness or consciousness in the ovum where life just started. Christians insist that their Jesus knew from the moment of his conception that he was divine. This is because he never really conceived but was rather incarnated in the uterus of Mary. Now I want you to be aware of one most significant fact. If Mary did not really and literally conceive in her ovum but Jesus was merely implanted in her uterus, then she was not really his mother nor was he actually a human being at all.
For if Mary did not actually start his life THROUGH CONCEPTION then she was not his biological mother. She was merely an incubator in whom a pre-existent God Being was implanted in the form of an embryo. That means that Jesus could not have been a real human being nor could he have been a descendant of David, Abraham or Adam. In our scientific laboratories, fertilised ovum is implanted in the uterus of a woman unable to conceive. When the foetus develops and is eventually born, who is the biological mother of the baby - the one who carried the baby or the one who actually donated the fertilised ovum? The woman who actually donated the fertilised ovum. The woman who had carried the foetus in her womb was merely the FOSTER MOTHER and she passed no genes onto the foetus. The foetus inherited the features of the father who donated the sperm and the mother whose ovum was in the first place. If Mary did not literally conceive in her ovum then Jesus was not her biological son.
Likewise, if Joseph did not literally procreate Jesus then he could not have been a descendant of David or Judah - since Mary, as we have already seen, was of the tribe of Levi and not Judah. This fact should help you realise that the Trinitarian concept is contrary to reason, facts, and the original belief of the Ebionites - whose chief leader was James the Just - the brother of Jesus. I want you to be aware of another fact. The Trinity dogma was not injected into Christendom without bitter controversies and objections. Even the strongest advocates of the Incarnation concept realised the tremendous difficulties their doctrine posed. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, by J.D. Douglas, art. “Incarnation” states:
“...having declared in the doctrine of the Trinity [ad 325] that the Father and the Son are CO-ETERNAL and CONSUBSTANTIAL, the fathers of the church could not avoid the question: How could the eternal Son, WHO IS EQUALLY GOD WITH THE FATHER, so partake of our flesh as to become a man as we are men? Some [e.g. Appolinarius] suggested that the Son assumed a true body and soul, but in place of the human spirit had, or rather was, the Divine Logos. Realizing that this impugned our Lord’s full humanity, others [e.g. Nestorius] affirmed this humanity, but spoke of Jesus in a way that made him virtually distinct person from the divine Logos...Cyril of Alexandria and his followers argued that, as the result of the INCARNATION, the human and the divine were FUSED into ONE nature [Monophysitism].
AFTER MUCH CONTROVERSY, following the LEAD OF POPE LEO I, the church came to define the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation at the COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON in a.d. 451 by declaring that our Lord Jesus Christ is TRUE GOD and TRUE MAN [vere Deus, vere homo], consubstantial with the Father in all things as to His divinity, yet in His humanity like unto us in all things, sin excepted. This one and same Jesus Christ is known in two natures, ‘without confusion, without conversion, without severance and without division, the distinction of natures being in no wise abolished by their union, but the peculiarity of each nature being maintained, and both concurring in one person and subsistence. This union of the human and the divine natures in one person [known technically as the ‘hypostatic union’ from the Greek ‘hypostasis’, ‘person’] is the common confession of the church, EASTERN ORTHODOX, ROMAN CATHOLIC, AND PROTESTANT. It is not that the Definition of Chalcedon REMOVES THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION - ONE MIGHT SAY THAT IT RATHER HIGHTENS the mystery - but it has proven remarkably effective in marking out the proper boundaries of believing thought about the person of Jesus Christ...As for the terms of Chalcedonian Christology...:’To say that Jesus Christ has a ‘divine nature’ is to say that all the qualities, properties, or attributes by which one describes the order of being pertain to Him. In short, He is God Himself, not like God, but just God...
He is the God who BECAME a man. HE DID NOT CEASE TO BE GOD WHEN HE BECAME MAN. HE DID NOT EXCHANGE DIVINITY FOR HUMANITY; rather He assumed humanity so that, as a result of the Incarnation, HE IS BOTH HUMAN AND DIVINE, THE GOD-MAN. Therefore we can never think of Him as man, without at the same time thinking of Him as GOD.” In a footnote of the Living Bible - Life Application Bible, in reference to verses 1 and 14 of John 1, we read: “What Jesus taught and what he did are tied inseparably to who he was. John shows Jesus as fully human and fully God. Although Jesus took upon himself full humanity and lived as a man, he never ceased to be the ETERNAL GOD who has ALWAYS EXISTED, who is the creator of the universe...This is the truth about Jesus and the foundation of all truth.” “When Christ was born, God became a man. He was not part man and part God; he was COMPLETELY DIVINE.”
This doctrine which is termed the “foundation and cornerstone of the Christian Faith” fundamentally denies the fact that Jesus was conceived in the ovum of Mary. It also denies the fact that God begat him through baptism. This Christian doctrine insists that Jesus was “always God” who became incarnated in the womb of Mary - becoming a person with TWO FUSED NATURES. This fundamental and principal Christian doctrine does not only deny the fact that Jesus was Mary’s biological son but it even denies that he was God’s real begotten Son. For we have already seen earlier that Christians insist that Jesus was the Son from eternity without ever being begotten by his Father. This teaching propagated by all of Christendom and Sacred Name Assemblies, nullifies the fact that Jesus was the subject to real temptations. This teaching claims that Yahshua could not sin because he was also God. In the Question and Answer Catholic Catechism by John Hardon, on p. 63, we find this explicit statement:
“Even though Christ assumed a human nature he was not subject to sin because he was also God. Therefore he could not commit any personal sin, and he had NO CONCUPISCENCE or unruly passions, which are the result of original sin.”
The word “concupiscence” actually means: “sexual desire; lust; any immoderate desire.” Thus according to the Christian teaching Jesus was a man “immune to sin” - unable to commit sin - because of his “divine nature” which was supposedly “FUSED” with his human nature. This is all due to the fact that Jesus supposedly pre-existed and was incarnated in the uterus of Mary. In the Pocket Catholic Catechism, on pp. 41-42, we find the following claim:
“The true humanity of Jesus implies that he had a free human will...While saying this, we dare not forget that, although He could really choose with a real human will, yet He could never sin. Not only did He not, but He could not sin because His human nature was united with His Divine nature in one Person WHO IS GOD. And GOD CANNOT SIN.”
This Christian concept makes mockery of Jesus’s temptations. It nullifies his victories over sin. It makes his victory look simple. It destroys the meaning of his ultimate exaltation and the reward for his obedience to God’s Law and for fulfilling perfectly the role God called him for. The Bible clearly states that Jesus was raised from the dead and was given a place of honour - at the very right hand of his Father. He inherited a name greater than any of the angels. He was given great glory and power. If Jesus pre-existed as the eternal GOD or some kind of a Spirit Being then all this becomes meaningless. For Jesus would then have already possessed all this. There is nothing he could have received as a reward for his obedience. Only if we accept the Ebionite view that Jesus began as an ordinary man who was born of Joseph and Mary but who heard the call of God and perfectly fulfilled the role He gave him to play, does the exaltation and reward make real sense.
After defining at the Council of Nicaea [325 c.e.] that Jesus was pre-existent GOD BEING, the Christian Church had a real problem of explaining just how did their pre-existent God - Savior manage to be FULLY HUMAN while at the same time NOT CEASE TO BE WHAT HE HAD ALWAYS BEEN - ETERNAL GOD. The bishops of the Council of Nicaea have declared that their Jesus is of the same substance, Greek “homousin” with the Father. This is to say that their Jesus was composed of the same “stuff” that God is composed of. While the bishops of the Council of Nicaea had a problem of explaining the DEITY OF THEIR JESUS and just how he could be both GOD and MAN, at the same time the Ebionites had no such problem. The Lion Handbook: History of Christianity, on p. 113, gives us this information:
“The issue of the Trinity [a later term] became an unavoidable problem. It was particularly difficult to resolve because of the influence of the Greek concept of unity, as perfect oneness, excluding any internal distinctions. Docetics and Jewish Christians, such as the EBIONITES, saw no problem. The Docetists regarded Christ as merely a temporary appearance of God disguised as a human. The Ebionites saw Jesus as an ORDINARY PERSON INDWELT by God’s power at his BAPTISM. Neither believed that Jesus Christ was truly God.”
Many bishops who were present at the Council of Nicaea felt that they were pressured by Constantine to accept and agree upon a formula which they have later realised to be something that they did not really believe in. In his book Church History - Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity, on pages 98-99, a Catholic professor, John C. Dwyer, makes this statement based on the actual historical fact:
“When the bishops returned home from the Council of Nicaea, they and their theologians had an opportunity to discuss what had happened, and many of them came to believe that they had been prodded into accepting a formula which went far beyond what they really believed. It was not that they objected to what we today call the divinity of Christ, but rather that to speak of UNITY OF SUBSTANCE between Jesus and the Father seemed to OBLITERATE ALL DISTINCTION...Most of them probably did not realize that Nicaea had taken an important step of REDEFINING THE MEANING OF THE WORD ‘GOD’...The overwhelming majority of the bishops who were dissatisfied with the Nicene formula were not themselves Arians, but they disliked the homoousion formula which departed from the New Testament usage in two respects. First, the council had employed for the first time A NON SCRIPTURAL TERM and insisted that accepting this term WAS NECESSARY FOR FAITH. The history of the next fifty years would indicate just how troubled many of the bishops were by this fact. The second departure from scriptural usage was more significant, because many at the time were only vaguely aware of it. In the New Testament, that word GOD refers to the one whom Jesus calls ‘Father’ - that is, to the one whom he knows and loves in a unique way, but at Nicaea the word God was for the first time given MUCH LARGER AREA OF MEANING, and it began to refer, NOT TO THAT PERSON WITH WHOM JESUS IS IN DIALOGUE, but rather TO THAT WHICH JESUS AND THAT PERSON [the Father] HAVE IN COMMON.”
Please note. The Council of Nicaea over which Constantine, the emperor of Rome presided, gave for the first time a different meaning to the word GOD. It was no longer used in reference to the Being of the “Old Testament” - later known as the FATHER - but rather to the NATURE, SUBSTANCE or GODHEAD which God and Jesus supposedly had in common. By declaring their Jesus FULLY GOD, EQUAL to the Father, the Church Fathers, bishops and theologians had a real problem of explaining the definition of “one substance” and just how was it possible for the pre-existent GOD BEING to be born of a woman and be “FULLY MAN” while at the same time retain the “FULL GODHOOD.”
During the Council of Nicaea which was summoned by emperor Constantine in 325 c.e. Arius was condemned and then exiled. No one dared attack the decision as long as Constantine was alive. After his death however, his son Constantius ruled in his place. He was a staunch supporter of Arius whom he recalled from exile. It was now turn for Athanasius - the most influential Church Father of his time - to be exiled because of his staunch support of the Nicene Creed. For the next century two main Christian Schools those of Alexandria and Antioch would battle for supremacy. The theologians of these two schools held a different view as to the nature of Jesus. Both schools attempted to solve the problem of how their Jesus could be both GOD and MAN. Catholic professor, John C. Dwyer, in his book, Church History - Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity, on pages 99-106, summarises this historical fact in the following words:
“The Council had met at Constantine’s initiative and during his lifetime no one dared call the Nicene formula into question. Opposition to the Council had to use more devious methods, and these consisted largely in attacks directed at those bishops who supported Nicaea, and in the attempt to discredit them with the Emperor. Constantine died in 337 and he was succeeded in the East by his son, Constantius, who was Arian in sympathy, and who encouraged the arianizing bishops of the East, especially of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia. On the beginning of his reign, Constantius shared power with his brothers, but by the year 351 he alone ruled the entire Empire, and his Arian sympathies came into the open; in the next ten years the Nicene doctrine was rejected and Arian teaching affirmed at a number of local synods and councils in both parts of the Empire. It looked, about the year 360, as though Arianism had won and would become the faith of the Empire. That it did not was the work, above all, of one man, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who spent many years of his life in exile because of his firm support of the Nicene teaching. Athanasius recognized that only a small percentage of the opponents of Nicaea were truly Arian in sympathy, and that they had supported the Arian position at the local councils and synods because of what they regarded as the danger of the homoousin formula.
But the very success of rather blatant Arianism after 351 made it possible for Athanasius to convince these more moderate opponents of Nicaea that the term homoousin could be given an acceptable definition, and that if defined this way, it was formula without which the church could not live. Between the death of Constantius in 361, and 381 when the second ecumenical council met in Constantinople, Athanasius won his victory. There were three other theologians of this period, who, although less prominent in the battle on behalf of Nicaea, provided much of the theological foundation for the Council of Constantinople in 381, as well as for later theorizing about the mystery of the Trinity. All three were from central Asia Minor - a territory which had been Christian for some time and which did more than its share in providing the eastern church with intellectual leadership. The three were Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus. Perhaps their deepest insight appeared in their view that the Trinity was best thought of as three ways in which God possesses his existence. Athanasius’ victory was a necessary one for the church, but it was the tragedy of Nicaea that this victory was necessary, and that questions had to be raised and answered in a language so entirely different from that of the New Testament. The struggle against Arianism made the church cautious of, and even embarrassed by, all of those New Testament texts which speak of the genuine humanity of Jesus Christ.
As has so often happened in the history of the church, victory over one heresy made the church vulnerable to what might be called the polar opposite of the same heresy. No sooner was the question of the divinity of the Word settled than a new problem surfaced. If the Word was God, then what was to be said about the humanity of Jesus Christ? Does he have a human nature, fundamentally like ours, or does he have only one nature, that of the divine Word? And if he does have two natures, what is it which holds them together, unifies them, and makes him just one person? Different solutions to these three questions DIVIDED THE TWO LEADING CITIES OF ALEXANDRIA AND ANTIOCH, AND THE THEOLOGICAL STRUGGLE WAS COMPOUNED BY QUESTIONS OF CHURCH POLITICS. The first attempt to solve the problem of how Jesus Christ could be at one and the same time God and man was made in Alexandria, and it is often called the Word-flesh christology.
Those who held this view argued that, in Jesus, the Word [that is, the divine principle in him] took upon himself not a complete human being, but rather a human body, and that the Word discharged for this body all of the functions which are usually taken care of by the human soul. The radical members of this group actually denied that Jesus had a human soul, and they used to speak of the one incarnate nature of the divine Word. Now even in Alexandria this went too far. It was not that theologians there saw such a teaching as an assault on the genuine humanity of Jesus [which it was!]. Their objection was based on their teaching about how human beings were saved by Christ. They argued that unless the word had taken to himself a complete human nature, body and soul, then human beings would not be saved, since it was by the union of human nature with divine nature that the saving power of God becomes accessible to us. This very PLATONIC view of salvation was expressed in a famous slogan or catchword: what has not been assumed has not been saved. This slogan saved the formal orthodoxy of Alexandria, but even though the main line of Alexandrian theologians did not deny the humanity of Jesus, they were never able to take it very seriously, or, in the terms in which they thought about the human condition, they were never able to find anything for the human soul of Jesus Christ to do.
This was a problem for almost all theologians who came from that city, and we saw it earlier in Clement of Alexandria, who, writing about the year 180, spoke of the PERFECT IMMUNITY OF JESUS FROM ALL THE LIMITATIONS OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. Later, Athanasius would speak of how Jesus “PRETENDED” weakness and ignorance, apparently in order to give us good example [although one might wonder in just what respect such example is good!]. Nothing could indicate more clearly the DANGERS involved in the victory of Nicaea. Alexandria had developed a clever way of explaining the unity of Jesus Christ, but theologians there based that unity solely on the controlling and directing power of the Word. As a result, they passed on to later ages a Jesus who was divine but DEHUMANIZED. In the city of Antioch, theologians approached the problem of relating the humanity and divinity of Jesus in an entirely different way. Here, they started with the fact of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, and they asked how these two realities could be joined so as to constitute the one God - man Jesus Christ.
Their great strength was that they took the humanity of Jesus seriously and they accepted the fact that he was a vulnerable, and eventually broken man. Their theology was weak in explaining the unity of Jesus Christ, and even the best exponents of Antiochene thought tended to speak vaguely about how one person “resulted” from the coming together of the two realities, the divine and human. The theological rivalry of the two cities might have gone on unabated for centuries, untroubled by anything more damaging than an occasional anathema, but in the year 428 the question ceased to be merely theological and became POLITICAL and PERSONAL. Nestorius, a not overly bright representative of the school of Antioch, became bishop of Constantinople, and therefore titular head of the eastern church. At this very moment, the church of Alexandria was ruled by a bishop named Cyril - a man who was proud and ruthless, but also dedicated to the church and to the preservation of pure doctrine. Of course, he identified pure doctrine with the typical Alexandrian teaching about the unity of Christ through the power of the divine Word. Nor sooner had Nestorius assumed his position as Patriarch of Constantinople than he began to teach a rather carelessly worded version of the Antiochene theory concerning Jesus Christ’s humanity and divinity. What he really held was that the Word had been united with a complete man [this was called a Word-man christology, to distinguish it from Alexandria’s Word-flesh christology], and that both of these natures, the human and the divine, had their own concrete reality.
Unfortunately, he used language which made it seem as though these natures were merely joined together, and he said nothing about the role of the Word in providing the unity which made Jesus one person. This made it seem to Cyril and the other Alexandrians that he was teaching that there were two persons in Christ. More unfortunate still, for Nestorius, was the fact that he decided to express his teaching about Jesus by asserting that Mary was not the mother of God, but the mother of Christ. This touched the issue of the growing devotion to Mary in the eastern provinces, and brought strong emotions into play, above all on the part of the monastic communities in Constantinople. In 430, Cyril, who had written to Pope Celestine about Nestorius’ teaching, was commissioned by the Pope to resolve the problem. Cyril undertook to do this by sending to Nestorius a list of teachings about the unity of the divine and human Jesus, with orders to accept them by condemning the opposite positions. [It is for this reason that they are often referred to as the anathemas]. Needless to say, the list was a summary of the most extreme Alexandrian position, and it appeared to Nestorius [and other more intelligent Antiochene theologians] to be nothing more than blatant heresy. Nestorius, as Cyril must have foreseen, refused to accept Cyril’s anathemas.
The bishops of two major dioceses in the church were now accusing each other of heresy, and for the good of the church and the Empire, peace had to be restored. By this time, an ecumenical council was accepted as the ordinary way of handling such problems, and the Emperor summoned one to meet in Ephesus in 431. Cyril and his friends arrived early, before the Antiochene bishops, and promptly excommunicated Nestorius. The Emperor’s commissioners objected, but the LEGATES OF THE POPE APPROVED, and this is the council which has gone down in history as the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus. Just a few days later, Nestorius met with his fellow bishops and excommunicated Cyril and his supporters. There were no precedents for such a situation. The very step which had been taken to solve the problem had now resulted in the mutual excommunication of two of the major sees of Christendom and it seemed as though nothing could get the church out of the impasse. There were two major obstacles; the first was the excommunication of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus [which almost all of the bishops from Antioch had taken as a personal insult] and the second was the list of “anathemas” - the propositions summing up Alexandrian theology Antiochene party, John, bishop of Antioch, and of Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril explained what he had really meant by his anathemas, and the theologians of Antioch were willing to admit that he had interpreted them in an orthodox sense. [Cyril may, on the occasion, have realized how dangerous some of his formulations were, since he apparently never made use of them again]. For their part, the Antiochenes agreed to the excommunication of Nestorius. If Cyril had lived longer, his agreement with John might have settled matters for good, and the history of the eastern church might have been very different. But Cyril died in 444, and he was succeeded as bishop of Alexandria by Dioscuros, a ruthless opponent of his compromise with John.
Dioscuros made himself the leader of a group which wanted to disavow the Symbol of Union, as the agreement between John and Cyril was called, and were looking for a pretext to do it. They found this pretext in a dispute which broke out in Constantinople in 448. There, an apparently pious but very confused monk by the name of Eutychus became the spokesman for a group which rejected the Symbol of Union and asserted a particularly radical form of the old Alexandrian theology, affirming that Jesus’s humanity had been absorbed in his divinity, so that one could speak properly only of the divine nature of Jesus. Many in Constantinople felt that this was not traditional doctrine [it was not!], and reported the matter to the Pope, Leo, I. In the following year , Leo wrote a letter to Flavian, Patriarch of Conastantinople, pointing out that Eutychus’ teaching was heresy. In his letter, Leo outlined the theory of the two natures of Christ, divine and human, which had been held in the church of the West since the middle of the fourth century. In that same year, the Emperor Theodosius II, ordered the calling of a council which was to meet in the city of Ephesus. In the summer of 449, Dioscuros and his cronies arrived in Ephesus, took complete control, refused to allow Leo’s letter to Flavian to be read, and rehabilitated Eutychus. The Pope’s legates protested, but the Emperor’s commissioners accepted the “council” and approved its decrees. The problem had now become more serious: not only were Antioch and Alexandria locked in hostile confrontation, but the Pope and the Emperor were now on different sides. Providentially perhaps, the Emperor died in July of the year 450, and his successor, Marcion, summoned a council to meet in the small town of Chalcedon, near Constantinople, in the following year.
This Council of Chalcedon met in which Cyril had ordered Nestorius to sign. It was a time which called for a spirit of compromise that was motivated by a deep love of the church, and, perhaps surprisingly, the major disputants acted in precisely such a spirit, and a compromise was achieved just two years after the Council of Ephesus, in 433. The compromise was the joint work of the leading theologian of the October, and the Emperor’s representatives insisted from the very beginning that the assembled bishops find a formula on which all could agree. They found this in Leo’s letter to Flavian, and they reaffirmed that Jesus is true God and true man, and that in him there are two principles of operation which remain distinct, but that there is only one acting subject, and that this subject is the divine Word. Actually, what Leo had asserted in his letter was the same doctrine as that of the Symbol of Union [although Leo had used the characteristic language of western theology], and it was clear that Dioscuros and those who viewed the agreement between Cyril and John as a sell-out to Antioch were not prepared to accept the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon.
For almost two hundred years the Emperors of the East tried to tamper with the decrees of Chalcedon, in order to make them more palatable to the Alexandrians and those who agreed with them. THIS WAS DONE, OF COURSE, FOR PURELY POLITICAL REASONS, TO SECURE EGYPT’S LOYALTY TO THE EMPIRE, BUT IT DID NOT WORK. The Egyptian church drifted off into the heresy known as monophysitism - the theory that in Jesus Christ there is only one nature, the divine nature - and when the Moslems appeared on the frontier little more than two hundred years later, they were regarded by the leadership of the monophysite church as an improvement over rule from Constantinople. Chalcedon brought to an end a century and a half of christological dispute - argument about who and what Jesus Christ was and is - within the church. Tragically, the disputants had often talked, not with each other or even to each other, but past each other. Antioch and Alexandria conceived of the problems in entirely different ways, and they often used the same terminology but meant something very different by it. Another unfortunate result of the Council could hardly have been foreseen. The highly technical language of Leo’s letter and of the councillor decrees has been translated over the years into other languages used by Christians, so that we find ourselves today speaking, at least in creeds, of the one person in two natures in Jesus Christ, without asking whether these words really translate what was in the minds of the council fathers. As a matter of fact, they probably do not, and the result has been that Christians often feel obligated to speak of Jesus in a language which is so alien to their world as it would have been to the world of the New Testament. The attempt to distil the scriptural message into more or less philosophical terminology, which had begun at Nicaea, was probably unavoidable, but the results of this attempt were unfortunate.”
Justo L. Gonzalez, in his book, The Story of Christianity, on pages 252-261, has this to say in regards to “Christological controversies:”
“The question of the divinity of the Second Person of the Trinity [and of the Holy Ghost] has been settled by the council of Nicea  and Constantinople . Although the conversion of some of the barbarians to Arianism and their subsequent invasion of Western Europe brought about a brief resurgence of Arianism, this eventually disappeared, and Christians were in basic agreement on Trinitarian doctrine. But there were still other issues that would cause sharp theological disagreement. Foremost among these was the question of how divinity and humanity are joined in Jesus Christ. That is the fundamental Christological question. On this question, there were in the East two different currents of thought, which historians have conveniently labeled the “Antiochene” and the “Alexandrine” - although not all those who followed the Alexandrine way of thinking were from Alexandria, now were all the Antiochenes from Antioch. Both sides were agreed that the divine was immutable and eternal. The question then was, how can the immutable, eternal God be joined to a mutable, historical man? At this point, the two schools followed divergent paths. The Alexandrines, like Clement and Origen centuries earlier, stressed the significance of Jesus as the teacher of divine truth.
In order to be this, the Savior had to be a full and clear revelation of the divine. His divinity must be asserted, even if this had to be done at the expense of his humanity. The Antiochenes, on the other hand, felt that for Jesus to be Savior of human beings he had to be fully human. The Godhead dwelt in him, without any doubt; but this must not be understood in such a way that his humanity was diminished or eclipsed. Both sides agreed that Jesus was both divine and human. The question was how to understand that union? In the West, such questions did not create the same stir. For one thing, after the barbarian invasions, there were other urgent matters that required attention. For another, the West simply revived the Tertulian’s old formula - that in Christ there were two natures united in one person - and was content to affirm this. Thus, the West played a balancing role between the two factions in the East, and for that reason would come out of the controversies with enhanced prestige. The first stages of the controversy began even before the Trinitarian issue was settled. One of the defenders of the Nicene position regarding the Trinity, Apollinaris of Laodicea, thought that he could help that cause by explaining how the eternal Word of God could be incarnate in Jesus. This he attempted to do by claiming that in Jesus the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, took the place of the rational soul. Like all human beings, Jesus had a physical body, and this was activated by the same principle that gives life to all human beings. But he did not have a human intellect. The Word of God played in him the role that the intellect or “rational soul” plays in the rest of us. Although this explanation seemed satisfactory to Apollinaris, soon many began to see flaws in it.
A human body with a purely divine mind is not really a human being. From the Alexandrine point of view, this was quite acceptable, for all that was needed was that Jesus really speak as God, and that he have the body necessary to communicate with us. But the Antiochenes insisted that this was not enough. Jesus must be truly human. This was especially important, since Jesus took up humanity so that humankind could be saved. Only if he really became human did he really save us. If any part of what constitutes a human being was not taken up by him, that was not saved by him. Gregory of Nazianzus [one of the great Cappadocians] put it this way: ‘If any believe in Jesus Christ as a human being without human reason, they are the ones devoid of all reason, and unworthy of salvation. For that which he has not taken up he has not saved. He saved that which he joined to his divinity. If only half of Adam had fallen, then it would be possible for Christ to take up and save only half. But if the entire human nature fell, all of it must be united to the Word in order to be saved as a whole’.
After some debate, the theories of Apollinaris were rejected, first by a number of leading bishops and local synods called by them, and eventually by the Council of Constantinople in 381 - the same council that reaffirmed the decisions of Nicea against Arianism. The next episode of the Christological controversies was precipitated by Nestorius, a representative of the Antiochene school who became patriarch of Constantinople in 428. There were always POLITICAL INTRIGUE surrounding that office, for the patriarchate of Constantinople had become a point of discord between the patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria. The Council of Constantinople had declared that the bishop of Constantinople should have in the East a precedence similar to that which the bishop of Rome had in the West. This was a simple acknowledgment of political reality, for Constantinople had become the capital of the Eastern Empire. But the bishops of the older churches in Antioch and Alexandria were not content with being relegated to a secondary position. They responded, among other things, by turning the bishopric of Constantinople into a prize to be captured for their own supporters. Since Antioch was more successful at this game than Alexandria, most of the patriarchs of Constantinople were Antiochenes, and therefore the patriarchs of Alexandria regarded them as their enemies - a process we have already seen when dealing with the life of John Chrysostom. For these reasons, Nestorius’ position was not secure, and the Alexandrines were looking to catch him at his first mistake. This happened when Nestorius declared that Mary should not be called theotokos - that is, bearer of God - and suggested that she be called Christotokos - bearer of Christ.
It is difficult for Protestants to understand what was at stake here, for we have been taught to reject the notion that Mary is the “Mother of God”, and at first glance, this seems to be what is at stake here. But in truth, the debate was not so much about Mary as about Jesus. The question was not what honors were due to Mary, but how one was to speak of the birth of Jesus. When Nestorius declared that Mary was the bearer of Christ, but not of God, he was affirming that in speaking of the incarnate Lord one may and must distinguish between his humanity and his divinity, and that some of the things said of him are to be applied to the humanity, and others to the divinity. This was a typically Antiochene position, which sought to preserve the full humanity of Jesus by making a very clear distinction between it and his divinity. Nestorius and the rest of the Antiochenes feared that if the two were so closely joined together, the divinity would overwhelm the humanity, and one would no longer be able to speak of a true man Jesus. In order to explain this position, Nestorius declared that in Jesus there were “two natures and two persons”, one divine and one human. The human nature and person were born of Mary; the divine were not; What he meant by this is not altogether clear, for the terms “person” and “nature” could be used with different meaning. But his enemies immediately saw the danger of “dividing” the Savior into two beings whose unity consisted in agreement rather than in any real joining together. Soon many others were convinced that Nestorius’ doctrines were indeed dangerous. As was to be expected, the center of opposition to Nestorius was Alexandria, whose bishop Cyril was a much abler politician and theologian than Nestorius.
Cyril made certain that he had the support of the West, for which the doctrine of two persons in Christ was anathema, as well as emperors Valentinian III and Theodosius II, who then called an ecumenical council to be gathered at Ephesus in June 431. Nestorisus’ main supporters, John of Antioch and his party, were delayed. After waiting for them for two weeks, the council convened, in spite of the protests of the imperial legate and several dozen bishops. They then dealt with the case of Nestorius and, without allowing him to defend himself, declared him a heretic, and deposed him from his see. John of Antioch and his party arrived a few days later, and they then convened a rival council, which was much smaller than Cyril’s and which declared that Cyril was a heretic and reinstated Nestorius. In retaliation, Cyril’s council reaffirmed its condemnation of Nestorius and added to it the names of John of Antioch and all who had taken part in his council. Finally, Theodosius II intervened, arrested both Cyril and John, and declared that the actions of both councils were void. Then followed a series of negotiations that led to a “formula of union” to which both Cyril and John agreed in 433. It was also decided that the actions of Cyril’s council against Nestorius would stand. As to Nestorius, he spent the rest of his life in EXILE, first in a monastery in Antioch, and then, when he became too embarrassing to his Antiochene friends who had ABANDONED him, in the remote city of Petra. Thus, the second episode in the Christological controversies ended with a victory for Alexandria, and with a truce that would not hold for long. In 444, when Dioscorus succeeded Cyril as patriarch of Alexandria, the stage was set for a third and even more acrimonious confrontation, for Dioscorus was a convinced defender of the most extreme Alexandrine positions, and a rather unscrupulous manoeuvrer. The storm centered on the teachings of Eutychus, a monk in Constantinople who lacked theological subtlety, and who held that, while the Savior was “of one substance with the Father”, he was not “of one substance with us”.
He also seems to have been willing to say that Christ was “from two natures before the union, but in one nature after the union”. Exactly what this meant is not altogether clear. In any case, Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople, whose theology was of the Antiochene tradition, felt that Eutychus’ teachings were close to docetism and condemned him. Through a series of manoeuvres, Dioscorus had the affair grow into a conflict that involved the entire church, so that a council was called by Emperor Theodosius II, to meet at Ephesus in 449. When this council gathered, it was clear that Dioscorus and his supporters had taken all necessary steps to predetermine the outcome. Dioscorus himself had been appointed president of the assembly by the emperor, and given the authority to determine who would be allowed to speak. This council took an extreme Alexandrine stand. When Pope Leo’s legates tried to present before the assembly a letter that Leo had written on the subject at hand, they were not allowed to do so. Flavian was manhandled so violently that he died in a few days. The doctrine that there are in Christ “two natures” was declared heretical, as were also all who defended the Antiochene position, even in moderate form. Furthermore, it was decreed that any who disagreed with these decisions could not be ordained. In Rome, Leo fumed, and called the council a “robbers’ synod”. But his protests were to no avail. Theodosius II and his court, who apparently had received a large amounts of gold from Alexandria, considered the matter ended. Then the unexpected happened. Theodosius’ horse stumbled, and the emperor fell and broke his neck. He was succeeded by his sister Pulcheria and her husband Marcian. Pulcheria had agreed earlier with the western position, that Nestorius should be condemned. But she was not an extreme Alexandrine, and felt that proceedings at Ephesus in 449 had left much to be desired. For this reason, at the behest of Leo, she called a new council, which met at Chalcedon in 451 and which eventually became known as the Fourth Ecumenical Council.
This council condemned Dioscorus and Eutychus, but forgave all others who had participated in the “robbers’ synod” of Ephesus two years earlier. Leo’s letter was finally read, and many declared that this expressed their own faith. It was a restatement of what Tertulian had declared centuries earlier, that in Christ there are “two natures in one person”. Finally, the council produced a statement that was not a creed, but rather a “Definition of Faith”, or a clarification of what the church held to be true. A careful reading of that “Definition” will show that, while rejecting the extremes of both Alexandrines and Antiochenes, and particularly the doctrine of Eutychus, it reaffirmed what had been done in the three previous great councils [Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381, and Ephesus in 431]: ‘Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all with one voice teach that it is to be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human, with a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father in his divinity, and of one substance with us in humanity, in every way like us, with the only exception of sin...It will be readily seen that this “Definition” does not seek to “define” the union in the sense of explaining how it took place, but rather in the sense of setting the limits beyond which error lies. It is clear that this manner of speaking of the Savior is far distant from that of the Gospels, and has been deeply influenced by extrabiblical patterns of thought.
But, given the manner in which the issue was posed, it is difficult to see what else the bishops gathered at Chalcedon could have done in order to safeguard the reality of the incarnation. The “Definition of Faith” soon became the standard of Christological orthodoxy in the entire Western church, and in most of the East - although there were some in the East who rejected it, and thus gave rise to the first long-lasting schisms in the history of Christianity. Some, mostly in Syria and Persia, insisted on a clear distinction between the divine and the human in Christ, and were eventually called “Nestorians”. Many others took the opposite tack, rejecting the doctrine of “two natures”, and for that reason were dubbed “monophysites” - from the Greek monos, one, and physis, nature. Very few of these, however, adhered to the teachings of Euthychus. Rather, their concern was that the divine and the human in the Savior not to be so divided that the incarnation be rendered meaningless. To this were added political and nationalist considerations which added fire to the theological debates that raged for centuries. The Chalcedonian Definition did not put an end to Christological debates, particularly in the East. There were many in Egypt who considered Dioscorus a MARTYR, and believed that Flavian and Leo were heretics. A large number of believers in Syria held similar views. In both cases, their theological objections were almost spurred by resentment against the central government in Constantinople, which collected taxes in the provinces and did not return to them proportional benefits. To this were added cultural and ethnic tensions that existed since the time of the first Roman conquest, and had never been resolved. In order to regain the loyalty of these people, the emperors sought theological compromises that would satisfy both them and those who held to the decision of Chalcedon. It was an impossible task, for the reasons for disaffection were not purely theological. On balance, all that the emperors achieved was further to alienate both the Chalcedonians and the others, and to force the church into endless controversy.
The first to follow this unwise policy was Basiliscus, who had deposed Emperor Zeno, and who in 476 annulled the decisions of Chalcedon and called a new council. But this never met, for Zeno regained the throne and Basilliscus’ projects were abandoned. Then Zeno himself published an “edict of union” - Henoticon - in 482, in which he simply directed that all should return to what was commonly held before the controversy. But this created a new stir, for many, particularly Pope Felix III, declared that the emperor had no authority to prescribe what was to be believed. Since Zeno had the support of Patriarch Acacius of Constantinople, the dispute resulted in an open breach between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople. This “schism of Acacius” separated East from West until 519, well after the death of both principals. At that time, Emperor Justin and Pope Hormisdas reached an agreement that was in fact a return to the decisions of Chalcedon. Justin was succeeded by his nephew Justinian, the ablest emperor of the Byzantine Empire, who restored its military glory by reconquering North Africa and Italy, rebuilt Saint Sophia, and codified the entire system of law. But he erred in thinking that he could regain the allegiance of his subjects who rejected the council of Chalcedon by condemning, not the council itself, but the writings of three Antiochene theologians who were particularly distasteful to those who rejected the council. What ensued is usually called “the controversy of the Three Chapters”. This created such a stir that eventually Justinian was forced to call a council, which gathered at Constantinople in 553. At Justinian’s prodding, the council, which eventually came to be known as the Fifth Ecumenical Council, condemned the Three Chapters. But this did not satisfy those who wished to see the decisions of Chalcedon withdrawn, and therefore Justinian achieved little for all his efforts. The last emperor who sought to regain the allegiance of those opposed to Chalcedon was Heraclius, early in the seventh century. Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople proposed that, while there are indeed two natures in Christ, there is only one will.
Although Sergius’ position is not altogether clear, it seems that he meant that in Christ the divine will took the place of the human will. In any case, this is how he was interpreted, and thus the objections raised against his view were similar to those raised earlier against Apollinaris: a man without a human will is not fully human. Sergius’ position, which came to be known as “monothelism” - from the Greek, monos, one, and thelma, will - gained the support of Pope Honorius, and long debates ensued. But then came the Arab conquests, which overran Syria and Egypt. Since those were the areas where opposition to Chalcedon was strongest, imperial policy no longer sought to reconcile the anti-Chalcedonians. In 648, Constans II prohibited all further discussion of the will or wills of Christ. Finally, the Sixth Ecumenical Council, gathered at Constantinople in 680-681, condemned monothelism, AND DECLARED POPE HONOTIUS TO HAVE BEEN A HERETIC. [Much later, in the nineteenth century, this condemnation of a pope as a heretic came to the foreground in the discussions surrounding the proclamation of papal infallibility]. In a way, the controversy regarding the use of images was a final episode in the Christological debates. In the early church, there seems to have been no objection to the use of images, for the catacombs and other early places of worship were decorated with paintings depicting communion, baptism, and various biblical episodes. Later, when the Empire embraced Christianity, several leading bishops expressed concern that the masses now flocking to the church would be led to idolatry, and therefore they preached, not against the images themselves, but against their misuse as objects of worship. In the eighth century, several Byzantine emperors took steps against images, and in 754 Constantine V called a council that forbade their use altogether and condemned those who defended them.
The reasons for this decision are not altogether clear. Certainly, the presence of Islam with its strong teaching against physical representation, was a factor. Also, the emperors may have wished to curb the power of the monks, who were almost unanimously in favor of images, In any case, the entire Empire was soon divided between “iconoclasts” - destroyers of images - and “iconodules” - worshippers of images. The iconodules saw their position as a corollary of Christiological orthodoxy. If Jesus was truly human, and in him God had become visible, how could one object to representing him? Furthermore, the first maker of images was God, who created humans after the divine image. John of Damascus, who was among those condemned by the council of Constantine V, argued: ‘To depict God in a shape would be the peak of madness and impiety...But since God...became true man...the Fathers, seeing that not all can read nor have the time for it, approved the descriptions of these facts in images, that they might serve as brief commentaries’. The controversy raged for years. The West simply refused to accept the imperial edicts, while the East was rent asunder. Finally, the Seventh Ecumenical Council gathered in Nicea in 787. This assembly distinguished between worship in the strict sense, latria, which is due only to God, and a lesser worshipful veneration, dulia, which is to be given to images. Although the iconoclasts regained power for a time, in 842 images were definitively restored - an event that many Eastern churches still celebrate as the “Feast of Orthodoxy”. In the West, the decisions of the council of 787 were not well received, for the distinction between latria and dulia was difficult to make in Latin. But eventually the difficulties were overcome, and most Christians agreed on the use of images in church, and on the restricted veneration due to them.”
It took seven ecumenical councils to finally settle the Christological controversy which originated with Antioch and Alexandria. I want you to be aware of one fact. All these councils were summoned by the emperors of the western and eastern empires. These emperors waged great wars and their only motive in summoning these councils was to preserve the unity and political stability of their empires. The bishops themselves were corrupt and bloodthirsty men. The first council took place in Nicaea. It was here where it was officially declared that Christian Jesus is FULLY GOD and FULLY MAN. The seventh council also took place in the same city. During this seventh council the veneration of icons and images was sanctioned.
These councils were attended by the bishops of the powerful Christian churches. They were sanctioned and attended by the emperors themselves. Now Jesus always spoke of his followers as a little flock. He foretold that his followers would be hated and bitterly persecuted. He insisted that only few walked on the narrow way and many followed the broad way. The Ebionites - as their name indicates - “poor ones” were despised, rejected and condemned by the Church Fathers. None of their leaders were ever invited or allowed to attend any of the Church Councils. They therefore played no part whatsoever in the Christian Creeds and abominable doctrines.