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350A landmark consensus on Christology

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  • Thomas Daniel
    Nov 24, 2002
      Subject: A landmark consensus on Christology

      2002.11.23 The Times:

      The Anglican Communion has reached a landmark consensus on
      Christology with the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Both Churches said
      they confessed that there was "one Christ, one Son, one Lord" and
      that "the perfect union of divinity and humanity in the incarnate
      Word is essential to the salvation of the human race". The agreement
      addresses one of the oldest divisions in Christian history, dating
      back to the Council of Chalcedon in AD451. The Oriental Orthodox
      Churches - Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syrian Orthodox - rejected
      the council's definition of Christ as one person "in two natures".
      The announcement was made at last week's General Synod - see Geoffrey
      Rowell, Credo.

      2002.11.23 The Times:
      November 23, 2002 Credo

      From East to West, in Jesus we encounter God incarnate
      BY Geoffrey Rowell

      AT THE beginning of this month I was in Armenia for a meeting between
      bishops and theologians of the Anglican Communion and of the Oriental
      Orthodox churches, the ancient Christian churches of Egypt, Armenia,
      Syria, Ethiopia and the Malabar coast of India. The Church of England
      has had long and close relations with these Churches, which have now
      spread beyond their ancient heartlands to a diaspora in the Western
      world, and our meeting was the first of an official dialogue to work
      towards a deeper unity and even closer relations.

      These ancient Churches were the result of one of the earliest
      Christian divisions, a division in the 5th century concerning the
      nature of Christ, though political and cultural factors played a
      part, for these were all Christian communities on the fringe of, or
      beyond, the Eastern Roman Empire. The Council of Chalcedon in AD451,
      which spoke of two natures in Christ, was not accepted by these
      Churches, whose understanding was shaped by the teaching of St Cyril
      of Alexandria, who said that in Christ there was "one nature of the
      incarnate Word of God". For these Churches, the language of two
      natures, divinity and humanity, seemed to come dangerously close to
      a schizoid Christ, keeping God at a distance.

      In recent decades ecumenical conversations have gone a long way to
      resolving this ancient difference of understanding, and we rejoiced
      that in our own meeting Anglicans and Oriental Orthodox were able to
      agree a common statement on our understanding of Christ, and reach
      out to heal what is one of the most ancient Christian divisions.

      Such theological divisions and arguments can easily seem remote and
      distant from our contemporary world. They can be mocked, as Gibbon
      mocked the controversy over the understanding of the divinity of
      Christ in the Arian controversy, when, noting the different terms
      used, he said that Christendom was split over an iota. But in that
      controversy it was an important iota.

      What was at issue was whether Christ was a supernatural being but not
      fully God, or, as the Nicene Creed was to confess, He was fully and
      completely God. The ancient debates about the person of Christ have
      something of the same character, the point at issue being the unity
      of the person of Christ, the reality of His human nature and,
      centrally, the affirmation that God gave Himself fully and completely
      into our human condition.

      In a world in which Platonist philosophy spoke of a God remote from
      the flux and change of history, the Christian affirmation of the
      incarnation, of God taking human nature, was bound to be offensive.
      The struggles of the early Church with the nature of Christ are, in
      the end, struggles to say that the God with whom we have to do is a
      God who does not stand aside from His creation, but, in the words of
      the Lady Julian of Norwich, "comes down to the very lowest part of
      our need".

      In Christ God freely chooses to know our humanity from the inside. In
      Jesus we encounter no less than God incarnate. That is the radical,
      wonderful and challenging reality that is at the heart of the
      Christian faith.

      The remote, distant and uninvolved God, repudiated in the theological
      battles of the early Church, is always in danger of creeping back.
      The deists of the 18th century, who turned God into the abstraction
      of a first cause, setting the Universe going and then remaining all
      but absent from it, is but one instance of this. It is often such a
      God who is denied by atheists and tilted at by critics. But that is
      not the Christian God, who is uniquely revealed and known in Christ.

      In a few weeks we shall celebrate at Christmas that self-giving of
      God, and will sing the praise of that love which goes to the
      uttermost. Tomorrow, when the Church celebrates the Feast of Christ
      the King, the king we honour and praise is the one who embodies that
      same love, a king whose kingdom is a kingdom of justice, love and

      To live the life of that kingdom is the Christian calling, a calling
      made possible by the one who came down to where we are that we might
      be exalted to share in His life.

      The Right Rev Geoffrey Rowell is Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe.