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The Fourth Ecumenical Council’s abiding legacy was the formulation of the Creed of Chalcedon. We will briefly examine that Creed. Perhaps you would like to read it first; it is readily accessible in print and electronic form.1
Reaffirming the faith of the church of the past
This creed reaffirms what the church had confessed in the past. It opens by noting that it is “following the holy fathers,” and it ends “as…the Creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.” The delegates to Chalcedon did not turn from past teachings, but developed them. This Creed represents the work of the Holy Spirit guiding the church into a deeper understanding of truth.
Reformed believers appreciate this point. The early church’s confession regarding the Trinity, and the person and work of Christ, becomes our own. We make the Creed our own; and Article 19 of the Belgic Confession sets forth the same truths.
Expressing the relation between Christ’s natures and person
Two questions set forth the main doctrinal issues: How can Christ be truly man and truly God? And, how are His divine and human natures related to each other? The Creed answered these questions.
How would you answer these questions in your own words? What human language can fully convey the mystery of God in the flesh? How can mere humans comprehend fully that Christ became a real man, but remained fully God?
The fathers of Chalcedon used four terms to express this relation: “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Note that each of the four terms is negative. It is easier to say what is not true of the relation of the two natures in the person of the Son of God than to state that relation positively.
The two natures are united “without confusion” and “without change.” This means that each nature retained its own characteristics. The divine nature retained all the characteristics of a divine nature; Christ was eternal and all-powerful, for example. And the human nature kept all the characteristics of a human nature; Christ’s body was limited, weak, and subject to bearing the curse of God’s wrath, for example. So the two natures were not “changed”; they remained divine and human. Nor were they “confused,” that is, combined or mixed with each other. They are united in such a way that they remain distinct. Christ is not a God-man, part God and part man; He is fully God and fully human.
That the two natures are united “without division” and “without separation” means that they are so really united in the one person of the Son of God, that they will never be separated from each other. From the moment Christ was conceived, He was God in the flesh, possessing two natures. He remained such through His time on earth, His death, and His resurrection, and He will remain so to all eternity.
Our Belgic Confession reminds us that at Christ’s death a great change occurred in His human nature: His body and soul were separated from each other. Even then, His divine nature remained united to both His body and His soul. Another great change occurred in His human nature when He arose: His body and soul were reunited, and made heavenly and glorious. But His divine nature always was united to His human.
Opposing past and current heresies
In addition to answering this main question, the Creed opposes every significant heresy regarding the Trinity and the person and natures of Christ that was taught up until 451. Arius had taught that Christ was a creature, but was created before the world was created. The Creed emphasizes that Christ is of the same essence as the Father, begotten of the Father from eternity.
Apollinaris taught that Christ had a human body and soul, but a divine spirit; in other words, He was not completely human. The Creed asserts that He was “truly man, of a rational soul and body.” Here the word “soul” includes the idea of “spirit.”
Nestorius had taught that Christ was a human person; in fact, that He was two persons—one fully God, and the other fully human. The Creed asserts that Christ was one person in whom two natures are united.
And Eutyches taught that Christ had only one nature, a divine nature, and that His humanity was taken up into His divinity. The Creed asserts that Christ is to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion and without change.
The Creed of Chalcedon represented a distinct development in the mind of the church. The Nicene Creed (325) asserted that God was Triune, and that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were each God. It laid the foundation for a proper view of the triune God.
The Chaldcedonian Creed emphasized that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is fully God and fully man. It laid the foundation for a proper view of how Jesus Christ can be the Savior of God’s people, the Mediator of God’s covenant.
1 Most books containing the ecumenical creeds include it. It can
also be found at http://www.prca.org/about/official-standards/
creeds/ecumenical/chalcedon and in the back of the PRC Psalter.