A landmark consensus on Christology
- 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
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
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
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.