Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. III: The Golden Age of Patristic Literature (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1990) 546.
At the request of John of Antioch Theodoret wrote at the beginning of 431 a sharp Refutation of the Twelve Anathemas of Cyril of Alexandria against Nestorius, from November 430. Therein he explains the Antiochene point of view, defends the orthodoxy of Nestorius and accuses Cyril of Monophysitism.
In the fifth century, there was a lot of debate about the incarnation of Christ. Most Christians today believe that Jesus was both divine and human, God and man. The problem is that the divine nature and the human nature are mutually contradictory. God is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and does not change. Humans, by contrast, eventually die, can only be in one place at a time, don’t know everything, and do change (since they mature). How could Jesus on earth be God and human at the same time, when the divine and human natures contradict one another?
Christians offered different solutions. Monophysitism was a point of view that had two schools. One school was Apollinarianism, which held that Jesus’ body was human but his mind was divine. According to this idea, Jesus did not have a human soul like everyone else, for his divine-mind (or logos) was his soul. The other Monophysite school was Eutychianism, which maintained that God the Word became a mixture of human and divine at his incarnation, meaning he was a “superman” who was unlike other human beings (at least that’s my impression of this viewpoint).
Nestorians believed that Jesus had two separate and distinct natures (divine and human) in the same person. A friend of mine at Harvard once compared the Nestorian Jesus to a bag with two different kinds of fruit, an apple and an orange.
After reading Theodoret’s response to Cyril, I understand the Nestorian point of view a lot better (albeit not perfectly). Cyril’s point seems to be that Jesus was God on earth, a fusion of human and divine. Cyril disagrees with the idea that the Holy Spirit from the Father empowered Jesus to perform his miracles, for he thinks that Jesus could do them through his own Spirit. After all, why would God on earth need someone else to empower him, when he could do them all by himself?
Theodoret responded that Jesus technically was not God on earth. He pointed out what I mentioned above: God is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and does not change. Jesus, by contrast, died, could only be in one place at a time, said he didn’t know when the Son of Man would return (Mark 13:32), and changed when he grew from a baby into an adult. At one point, Jesus even prayed that God would remove from him the cup of his crucifixion, indicating he had some disagreement with God the Father. How could Jesus do this, if he was God and agreed with his Father all the time? Against Cyril, Theodoret also quotes Bible passages claiming that the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to do his work.
For Theodoret, it was not the case that God the Word was transformed into a God-man, as Cyril argues. Rather, God the Word took on a human body: God fashioned a baby’s body, and God the Word entered into it. For Theodoret, Jesus’ body was like a temple or a garment that clothed God the Word. And does not Jesus in John 2:19-21 call his body a temple?, Theodoret asks.
Theodoret also notes that the Bible distinguishes between the body and the soul. Paul, for example, contrasts his bodily tabernacle with his inward man (II Corinthians 4:16). That means that one person can have two distinct aspects of him, a soul and a body. So why can’t we assume that Jesus had two distinct natures at the same time, a divine one and a human one? For Theodoret, as the soul is clothed with the body, so was God the word clothed with human nature.
But Theodoret is not an Apollinarian, one who believes that Jesus’ mind or soul was divine whereas his body was human. Theodoret actually accuses Cyril of holding this position. Rather, Theodoret maintains that Jesus had a human soul. After all, if Jesus did not know the time of the Son of Man’s return (meaning he lacked omniscience), then his soul had to be the part that lacked that knowledge, since the soul is the part that knows or doesn’t know.
Here we run into problems. Did the divine part of Jesus know when the Son of Man would return, whereas the human part did not? Did Jesus have a split personality? Theodoret’s answer is that the divine nature of Jesus permitted Jesus’ human nature to have limitations.
But, as I said a while back in my post, The Incarnation: Orthodoxy is Confusion!: “Does this make any sense at all? It makes Jesus look like a split personality. Jesus is Jesus, right? He’s one being, not two in one.” Did Jesus know the time of the Son of Man’s return, or didn’t he? Can you really have both at the same time?
Monophysitism (both schools) and Nestorianism both came to be considered heresies in the Catholic Church, which attempted to iron out the incarnation issue at the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century. And the Chalcedonian Creed says that Jesus had two natures, divine and human, which were united yet distinct (see here). So I guess Chalcedon tried to have it both ways!