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The Christ of Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon, the 4th Ecumenical Council, tells us a lot about how we should view not only our Lord Jesus Christ, but also His Church, the Orthodox Church and the whole of creation. It has become rather fashionable now in Protestant and Catholic circles to distinguish the "Jesus of History" from the "Christ of Faith." This is what I call the "Channel 4 Jesus." This is the crazy idea that the "real Jesus" has been buried by the Church, (the Protestant version), or that He has been extended and developed by the Church, (the Catholic version). This Nestorian heresy of having two Christs separated as to their human and divine natures and here allocated between genuine and inauthentic or primitive and developed personas is precisely what the Council of Chalcedon anathematised. This is what the Council said:-

"Following the holy Fathers we teach with one voice that the Son [of God] and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], that he is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and [human] body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood; made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of his Father before the worlds according to his Godhead; but in these last days for us men and for our salvation born [into the world] of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to his manhood. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, distinctly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Prophets of old time have spoken concerning him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers hath delivered to us.

[264, 265 Acts of the Council]

Our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, is One Sacred Person embracing equally and without tension: -

· The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Son

· The Co-Creator with the Father and the Spirit of the Universe

· The God-Man conceived of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, one Person of human and divine natures

· The historical Christ who was born, lived, died, rose again and ascended into heaven

· He who is to come again to judge the living and the dead

All these are one and the same Person, our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In Him there is no confusion in the union of human and divine, temporal and eternal, personal and cosmic; nor is there any separation of these dimensions of his existence. All form one coherent whole which is His Person.

That this doctrine of Chalcedon is taught by Scripture is plain to see. Jesus the carpenter of Nazareth is also the God of the Cosmos. In his single Person he gathers together and unites all things heavenly and earthly:-

" … in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him." [Ephesians 1:10]

Christ has a Body in which all this gathering together takes place, the Church, in which all the fullness of God for the whole Universe is manifest :-

"He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." [Ephesians 1:22-23]

These are not isolated references in the New Testament. Listen to St. Paul again in Colossians as paints Christ on a Cosmic canvas.

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the Body, the Church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross." [Colossians 1:15-20]

The Council of Chalcedon affirms that this is no different Christ who became Incarnate of the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. It is the same Christ who loved, laboured, died and rose again. He came amongst us on account of the inherent tragedy of the Fall which touched upon not only human life but the whole of creation as well. They cannot be separated. Human redemption leads to a cosmic restoration. This is how St. Paul sees it in Romans: -

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."

[Romans 8:18-21]

Salvation in Orthodoxy, therefore, does not stop at the human level. It proceeds in and through the human realm to embrace the whole Cosmos and this will also receive its freedom from corruption and death in the New Creation. In the Church, this redemption of matter, space and time, this sanctification of all things is achieved in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit regenerating and making all things new through his People. A redeemed humanity has, therefore, a crucial role to play in the healing of the Universe as a priestly order, every Orthodox Christian becoming God’s agent for the renewal of creation. We are called to be God’s gardeners in a new Eden. (Incidentally, this explains why we Orthodox are so concerned about the environment and ecological concerns. The rape of the earth is a consequence of the Fall and a shameful example of Man’s alienation from his Creator).

The precise mode of this priestly service requires us to understand the relationship between humanity and creation. The Scriptures speak of Man as "a little lower than the angels" and "crowned with glory and honour." [Psalm 8:5]. Humankind, therefore, spans two connected realms that, in us, can and should be united … the spiritual and the material. That these can be united is witnessed by the Incarnation. In Christ there is no division between the spiritual and the physical, between the human and the divine. As Chalcedon affirms, in His one sacred Person, all things are reconciled, all things are one. This is because the God-Man, Christ, is fulfilling the task of Creation’s High Priest by restoring the unity that it lost at the Fall. To use language borrowed from Greek Platonic and Stoic philosophy, entirely appropriate here; Christ, and now also His Body, is the microcosm of a New Creation. This means that in each saved human being one may see the whole Universe restored. The salvation of the human race is therefore instrumental to the restoration of all things in Christ. We have a divine vocation as priests to be God’s agents in the healing of the Universe.

St. Maximus the Confessor sees this great task of humanity as microcosmic priest to the macrocosmic Universe in terms of overcoming a number of polarities caused by the Fall: -

· God and creation

· spiritual and material

· heaven and earth

· paradise and world

· man and woman

This cannot be done theoretically. It has to be done in practice. The mission of Church is to show the world in her common life an entirely new order of things in which division has no place and death is no more. That places a great responsibility on each one of us to live up to the great dignity of our calling from God. To this end we have God’s promise of the Kingdom that one day His great purpose will be fully worked out. Until then we labour with grace to open up within ourselves and for others the dynamics of a new resurrection life against which corruption and death is utterly powerless! Thanks be to God!

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