Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Houston, Texas.
4. The Definition of Chalcedon (continued)
We have already quoted the Creed of Chalcedon’s statement regarding the union of Christ’s two natures. This creed was written in response to various errors that had arisen in the church as a result of the church’s efforts to understand how Christ could be in one person and at one and the same time both true God and true man. Chalcedon’s statement is the clearest and most succinct statement in the creeds of the church on this matter and involves in essence just four words, “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably.”
The more modern creeds of the church really do not-say any more than these four words say, and in many cases these modern creeds simply adopt the language of Chalcedon in their definition of this doctrine. The Belgic Confession, for example, uses two of Chalcedon’s terms, speaking of the fact that the two natures are united without change and without separation. The Westminster Confession really uses all four when it says’ that, “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, wereinseparably joined together in one person, without conversion (unchangeably), composition (indivisibly), or confusion (inconfusedly)” (VIII, ii).
Thus, though this creed has not found the general favor that has been accorded the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, and though it is not included among the evangelical creeds to which we subscribe via Article IX of the Belgic Confession, its statement regarding the union of Christ’s two natures is a statement to which we subscribe at least indirectly by way of Article XIX, which uses its language.
These four words used in the Creed of Chalcedon pretty well say all that can be said on the matter of the union of Christ’s two natures, and stand against the various errors that detract from this doctrine.
The first word states that Christ’s two natures are joined without confusion, or “inconfusedly.” The error that gave rise to this statement was the error of Eutychianism (named after the man who first taught it, Eutychius of Constantinople). He taught that Christ was the Theanthropos or “God-man,” meaning that the two natures of Christ were so fused and intermingled with one another that a third new nature was formed which was no longer truly human or truly divine, but a third new substance. Thus, he denied any distinction between the two natures, or to put it another way, he stressed the union of the two natures at the expense of the distinction between them.
There was another later form of this error called Monophysitism (the doctrine of one nature), which taught that Christ had only one nature, neither human nor divine, but something half-way between. The analogy in both the case of Eutychianism and Monophysitism would be that of mixing the metal, sodium, with the gas, chlorine, to form a third new substance, sodium chloride, or table salt, which is neither metal nor gas.
Another form of this heresy which focused on just one aspect of Christ’s natures was the error of Monothelitism (the doctrine of one will). The proponents of this error taught that Christ had only one will, and so denied that Christ was both real God and real man, at least as far as His will was concerned.
That Scripture rejects the error of Monothelitism is clear from a comparison of those passages in which Jesus identifies His will with that of the Father, and those in which He distinguishes His will from the Fathers. An example of the former is John 5:21 where Christ’s own will to quicken the dead is identified with the Fathers. An example of the latter is Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane in which He clearly distinguishes His own (human) will from the Father’s, when He prays “notmy will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Actually, to prove that Christ is both real man and real God is to disprove all of these errors, since they all deny both the reality and completeness of His humanity and His divinity.
These heresies also obliterate the distinction between God and man, and are, therefore, refined forms of pantheism, the old heathen doctrine that taught that God is the creation and the creation and all creatures in it are God. It we see this, then we will also see that these errors have not really disappeared from the church. It is probably true that no one today teaches actual Eutychianism or Monophysitism; but the rather vague pantheism, which makes no real distinction between God and man, also in the case of Christ, underlies very much of the teaching of the modern sects and also of modern, liberal Protestantism.
It is found, for example, in the following statement from the Outline of the Principle, Level 4, a handbook of the Unification Church:
As already mentioned, a true person is one who fulfills the Purpose of the Creation, is the incarnation of God, and is perfect as God is perfect, possessing divine value. A perfect person is also a unique, nonduplicable individual who is the lord of the cosmos and has cosmic value. Jesus is a true man, and thus is a person of such value (p. 140).
That the sects teach such doctrines is neither surprising nor particularly upsetting. It is to be expected. The frightening thing is that so much of modern Protestantism teaches very much the same thing. In the late 1800’s men like Swedenborg, Schelling, Hegel, Schleiermacher, and even Isaac Watts, the author of many popular hymns, had a profound influence on the history of the Christian Church, teaching that Christ, the great god-man, is nothing more than example for our emulation, that we also may become divine. Men like Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale teach much the same thing today insofar as they teach that salvation consists not in the incarnation of Christ, but in “growth” to a kind of perfect humanity, which in their theology is the only kind of divinity they know. Nor is it surprising, then, that one hears from them so little about the union and distinction of Christ’s two natures. In his study of the two natures of Christ, H. Hoeksema, in his Reformed Dogmatics, warns of these dangerous teachings and their results:
According to this proud philosophy, the incarnation is only the natural development of the human race. In Christ God reached self-consciousness. Hence He could identify Himself with the Father. He was divine because He was truly human. This pantheistic view, which in the course of history frequently lifted its proud head in one form or another, is the destruction of all true religion. If the divine Essence is not distinct from the essence of the creature, if the personality of God and that of man are merged, if my life, my thoughts and my desires, are nothing but little ripples on the swelling tide of the universal spirit-ocean, then there is neither religion nor morality. Then God is one universal subject in all, and there is no fellowship between Him and us, no responsibility, no sin, and no redemption. Then He does not exist, has no being in distinction from us; we cannot speak to Him, believe in Him, trust in Him, enter into His covenant fellowship (p. 360).
Arminianism and free-willism, with their emphasis on man’s ability to contribute to his own salvation, and to thwart the purposes of God, also blur the distinction between creature and Creator and really go in this same direction. What is especially distressing is that many evangelicals are guilty to some degree of this same vague “pantheism,” in that even while they confess both the humanity and divinity of Christ, they never teach plainly the distinction between them.
Lutheranism also blurs this distinction, though in a slightly different way, by teaching that at the time of His resurrection and ascension, Christ became everywhere present in His human nature. We will examine this teaching more closely in another connection, but it, along with all these other errors, shows that the statement of Chalcedon is still significant today.
The Belgic Confession maintains this distinction by insisting that “each nature retains its own distinct properties.” This is explained thus:
As then the divine nature hath always remained untreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth: so also hath the human nature not lost its properties, but remained a creature, having beginning of days, being a finite nature, and retaining all the properties of a real body.
The Athanasian Creed expresses this most beautifully with the confession that:
. . . our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ (30-34).
We maintain this distinction by speaking of Christ according to one or the other nature. It is impossible to say, for example, that God suffered on the cross, for the divine nature cannot suffer or die. It must beaccording to the human nature that Christ suffered.
Scripture itself supports us here as in Romans 9:5, which says that Christ is come of the Jews “according to the flesh.” This is a good example of how we may deal with the distinction between His two natures in speaking of Him. We must be careful, however, that we do not distinguish between the two natures to the point of teaching two Christs. Then we contradict the fourth part of Chalcedon’s definition, that the union of the two natures is “inseparable.”
We must, therefore, maintain that Christ, our Lord, has two intelligences, two wills, and that He is at the same time and in one Person eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, the Creator of heaven and earth, and also finite, weak, limited, visible, and corporeal, a creature. This is the wonder of the incarnation, the great mystery of godliness, and the hope of our salvation. We can understand the mixing of two substances to produce a third. That is neither in itself a miracle nor beyond our comprehension. But to understand how the two natures of Christ can be united in one Person and yet remain forever distinct is beyond our ken, and testifies of the work of God in the coming of Christ.