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Appendix 11 - Christological conflict among trinitarians

Appendix 11:
Christological conflict among trinitarians

The mutually irreconcilable christological views of the Antio­chenes and the Alexandrians resulted in bitter conflict among the trinitarians in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Eventually the Alexandrians, having gained the position of becom­ing the politically dominant party, ousted the Antiochenes. One part of the church drove out the other by labeling them heretics. The matter was not resolved through careful exegesis of the Scriptures and through good will, but went from conflict to schism.

Yet both sides (Alexandrians and Antiochenes) based their views on the same basic assumption: that Jesus was both God and man in one person because he possessed both divine and human “natures”. They simply assumed that we can talk about God and man in terms of “natures”. If we start from the wrong presupposit­ions, how can we reach the right conclusions?

The debate was basically about whether Christ had a human spirit. The Antiochene party said ‘yes’, because without it Christ would not be truly human; the Alexandrian party said ‘no’, because otherwise Christ would really be two persons: God the Son joined to a human being; this would call into question the unity of his person. The Alexandrians preferred the view that, in the person of Christ, God the Son replaced the spirit of the man. This established the deity of Christ, but at the cost of sacrificing his humanity, because this would unavoidably mean that Christ was God with a human body—but, again, man is more than just his body.

Clearly, neither position was satisfactory. But with the triumph of the Alexandrian view, man’s salvation was placed in serious doubt because Jesus was not truly the counterpart of Adam; he was constituted differently from Adam and from us. And even if it be acknowledged that man’s spirit also derived from God, that is quite different from saying that in Christ’s case God the Son has taken the place of man’s God-given spirit. And if Jesus is not really human in the same sense that we are human, then how can he legitimately be the representative man who died for all men?

But the problem for the Antiochene School, in the opinion of its adversaries, was that it could not satisfactorily explain how “the two natures” could constitute one functional person. The Alexan­drian school established a functional unity, in their view, of Christology by “denaturing” his human nature, so that his human nature had a body but excluded the human spirit which would threaten that unity. If Christ’s human “nature” had included both human spirit and body, then the Alexandrian christological position would have been no different from that of the Antiochenes.

What all this indicates is that the trinitarian doctrine of the two natures created problems that could not be resolved in the light of the Scriptures because of its being essentially unscriptural in its found­ational ideas. For those wishing to study the trinitarian problem in greater detail, studies such as that by J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, are helpful.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church