The Christian’s Heritage!The Council of Chalcedon – 451 A.D.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:1
Following the Council of Niceain 325 A.D. which we read about in last month’s edition, a period of continued theological struggle persisted in the church throughout the following century. These struggles centred mainly on the divine and human natures of Jesus. For example Nestorius of Antioch who was bishop of Constantinople in 428, concluded that Jesus had two separate natures and two wills, making him two persons – a double being – one divine and the other human, sharing one body.
Later in the 440’s, a respected monk from Constantinople, Eutyches denied that Jesus was truly human as his divine nature ‘swallowed up’ and absorbed his human nature.
This view came under fire from Flavian, the bishop of Constantinople, who convened a synod in 448 to condemn the position that Eutyches was championing. The Eastern emperor Theodosius II, however, favoured this idea and appointed his own chair,Dioscorus, to oversee a church-wide council at Ephesus in 449. Leo I, the then bishop of Rome, sent delegates to attend this event with a comprehensive Tome (scholarly work) ready to argue that the two natures, divine and human, are joined in Christ. Dioscorus never allowed them to present their case, and the views of Eutyches were declared the orthodox view.
Events took a sudden turn when emperor Theodosius fell off his horse and broke his neck the following year in 450. Hi sister Pulcheriabecame empress with her husbandMarcian, as co-emperor. It was Marcian who called for a council to meet at Chalcedon near Constantinople (in modern day Turkey). More than 500 bishops attended the largest gathering of its time, with delegates from the Eastern Church, Rome and Africa. This time they deliberated all the evidence including the Tome presented by Leo. This lasted from 8thOctober to 1stNovember 451 A.D. The Tome was approved and the result was the ‘Chalcedonian Definition’.
This Definition stated that Jesus Christ is to be ‘recognised in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation’. He is ‘one person, who is both divine and human’.For us as followers of Jesus in the 21st century this is indeed good news. When the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt among us,’ he assumed our humanity at birth and took on our sin and shame at the cross, so that we might be saved. As Paul reminds the Corinthian church: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive”(1 Cor 15:22) and then Paul goes on to say in v 45 of the same chapter, “The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam(Jesus), a life giving spirit”. Jesus, fully man and fully God; so the likes of you and I through faith can share in the divine inheritance of sonship. No longer slaves, but sons and heirs, and thus we too are able to cry out ‘Abba, Father’. This clearly was an important matter of faith worth defining by our forebears in Chalcedon all those years ago. This good news continues for generations to come.