Theodore’s Christology

I started The Cambridge History of Christianity: Constantine to c. 600.  My latest reading was interesting because it shed light on the personalities of key figures of the Arian controversy.  Arius was a dynamic preacher who also wrote songs, and Arius was able to argue biblically and philosophically while also breaking down his theology so that the masses could understand it.  And Athanasius was tried for murder, but he was found not guilty when his “secret service” found that the alleged murder victim was still alive!

Something on page 93 stood out to me, and it concerned the sorts of issues that came up at Chalcedon, pertaining to the proper way to characterize Christ’s nature.  (Was it only divine?  Was it divine and human?  If so, how did those two natures relate to each other, if they even did so?)  Frederick Norris states on that page regarding the Antiochian Christian Theodore of Mopsuestia (whose literal-historical interpretations of the Psalms I have cited in my weekly quiet time write-ups here):

“He attacked Arians and Apollinarians for many of the same reasons as Diodore did and thus fell under suspicion from Cyril of Alexandria as a precursor of Nestorius.  He also spoke about the actions of the divine Son and those of the ‘assumed man’ and insisted on grace as the category through which to understand the incarnation, rather than the body/soul analogy employed particularly by Cyril and the Miaphysites.  That allowed him to read many Gospel passages more literally, yet it made his understanding of the unity of Jesus’ person seem insubstantial…His writings were declared heretical at Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), but not his person.”

There are things that I do not understand about this quote, which shows that some background reading may be necessary on my part!  I have difficulty conceptualizing the positions of Cyril and Theodore.  Cyril used a body/soul analogy.  What was that, exactly?  Did it say that, in the same way that humans have a body and a soul, which are different, so Jesus had a human and a divine nature?  What’s interesting is that another thinker, Theodoret, used that sort of argument against Cyril (see my post here).  Theodore referred to “the assumed man” and saw the incarnation as an act of grace.  What’s that mean?  That the divine son only assumed humanity without being truly human?  Or that Jesus was God incarnate through an act of divine grace, in that God the Father empowered him to be perfect and to do wonders?  And how did Theodore read Gospel passages literally?  Did he take at face value the Gospel passages about Jesus’ limitations (i.e., Jesus not knowing certain information, Jesus being empowered by the Father, or Jesus being unable to do certain things, such as healing in a place that had no faith)?

The Catholic Encyclopedia says the following about Theodore’s Christology:

“Theodore’s Christology exercised a more direct and eventful influence on the doctrine of his (mediate) disciple Nestorius. The contemporary polemics against Arianism and Apollinarianism led the Antiochenes (Diodorus, Theodore, and Nestorius) to emphasize energetically the perfect Divinity and the unimpaired Humanity of Christ, and to separate as sharply as possible the two natures. Thus, in a sermon which he delivered at Antioch (perhaps the first as bishop), Theodore vehemently attacked the use of the term theotokos, long employed in ecclesiastical terminology, because Mary was strictly speaking anthropotokos, and only indirectly theotokos. It was only by recalling his words and correcting himself that Theodore could appease the excitement resulting from this view (see John of Antioch, “Epist. ad Theodosium imper.” in Facundus Herm., ‘Pro defensione trium capp.’, X, 2; P.L., LXXXVII, 771). It cannot indeed be denied that the Antiochene separation of the natures must result in an improper weakening of the union in Christ. Like Nestorius, Theodore expressly declares that he wished to uphold the unity of person in Christ; perhaps they recognized some distinction between nature and person, but did not know exactly what was the distinguishing factor, and therefore used faulty paraphrases and comparisons, and spoke of the two natures in a way which, taken strictly, presupposed two persons. Thus, according to Theodore, the human nature of Christ was not only passibilis, but also really tentabilis, since otherwise His actual freedom from sin would be the result of His physical union with God, not a merit of His free wilt. The union of the human and Divine nature happens not kat ousian nor kat energeian, but kat eudokian (at will), and indeed a eudokia hos en houio, which effects a enosis eis en prosopon. The two natures form a unity, ‘like man and wife’ or ‘body and soul’. Consequently, according to Theodore, the communicato idiomatum, fundamentally speaking, is also lawful.”

This sheds a little more light on the situation.  Theodore was considered to be a Nestorian, one who believed that Christ had two radically distinct natures within him (and I realize that I have more to learn on that).  Moreover, for Theodore, Christ was capable of emotion and could be tempted, which was why his freedom from sin was a result of his free will and not so much his physical union with God.  Moreover, the unity of the natures is somehow achieved through an act of will, and does not relate so much to being.

Then there’s this passage from a web site, which I cannot vouch for (since I do not know who the author is or what his credentials are), but the author does document his claims:

“[Theodore] answered the great question of how Christ was fully man and fully God by stating that Jesus had in fact two natures within him, both possessing a human soul and the divine Logos.  This is accomplished by what Theodore calls ‘indwelling’. Though there may be different ways of indwelling conceived, Theodore feels that the only way this is possible considering the nature of the Divine and  the person of Jesus was that he was indwelled by God by good pleasure, that is the purposeful will of God ‘which he exercises when he is pleased with those who are zealous to be dedicated to him, because of their standing in his sight.’  With Jesus more specifically he was indwelled ‘as in a son’, meaning that he not only indwelled but in fact united with him, equipping him to share the honor and glory of divinity…  This indwelling, however, was not a ‘reward’ for some kind of character God saw in Jesus, thus adopting him as his own later in life, rather this union was from the time of the initial conception, so that in the person of Jesus God did not ‘come upon him’ but rather as Jesus was formed in his mother’s womb, the uncreated Divine Logos was already being united with him.  The person of the man is complete in having both a human body and a human soul, and God is complete in the person of the Logos, so in this union of God and man in Jesus we find one who is uniquely able to save humanity from sin and destruction.  He had both a human soul and the divine Logos within him, cooperating in a union which provided salvation and allowed others to participate in this salvation.”

This clarifies more how Jesus’ incarnation was an act of grace and will: God in God’s good pleasure (or, perhaps more accurately, the Logos) decided to indwell Jesus, and this occurred at Jesus’ conception.  But it was not the Logos coming upon Jesus, but rather being united with Jesus at conception.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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