Monday, December 26, 2011

Council of Chalcedon

There seems to be some controversy over my brief words about Christmas yesterday.  The topic of debate is the question as old as Christianity itself: "Who is Jesus?"  Is he God?  Is he human?  Is he, perhaps, half-god and half-human like people at the time said about Hercules?

Fortunately for us, we don't need to worry about this issue.  In 451, at the Council of Chalcedon, all the bishops in the world came together to settle the debate once and for all.  No one was excluded because of their beliefs.  Over a series of sixteen sessions, they discussed the nature of Christ (and many others) at length.

At the end, the Bishops decide to make full use of a helpful suggestion by Pope Leo I, now known as Saint Leo the Great.  They solemnly declared that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.  In other words, Jesus has two natures in one person.

This was an exercise of extraordinary magisterium, the highest teaching power of the church.  To put it in layman's terms, this teaching is infallible.  The church recognized that this was one of the rare circumstances in which they could invoke infallibility, and because it was an incredibly important issue, they decided to do so.  That was the purpose of the council: to get an infallible definition of the nature of Jesus, which would decide the matter for all time.

Saying Jesus is fully God and fully human is not only the correct answer to the question of Jesus' nature, but it's also the best one.  The problem with saying "Jesus is 100% God and 0% human" is that it means Jesus didn't really die for our sins; he just pretended to die.  The problem with saying "Jesus is 0% God and 100% human", which is a very popular idea today, is that it completely erases Jesus' authority and power to forgive sins and give life.  There are more problems than these; I'm just giving examples to show that it's difficult to build a theology which tries to balance God and human in Jesus.  More often than not, you end up overemphasizing one nature, and the other one gets diminished. That's why the correct answer is not "either/or"; it's a "both/and".  By saying "Jesus is fully God and fully human", we are not limiting either of the two natures of Jesus.

Of course, when Protestantism and other Christian denominations were invented about a thousand years later, many of them decided to re-open the question of Jesus' nature. So now beliefs on this topic are all over the board.  But for Catholics, at least, that question has been dead for a really long time.  We say he's both God and human, and there's nothing which could make this answer change.  Beliefs as to what this means and how this affects our religion, yes, those can change.  But the solemn definition of Jesus as both God and man cannot.

10 comments:

L said...

Well, I agreed with you up till your last paragraph. I'm Protestant, but I believe that Jesus is both God and man, like how you said. All the Protestants I know believe the same, so not all Protestants "opened the discussion" back up.

That said, I love how easily and readily you defend and share about your faith--that should be done by more people.

Sparkles said...

Interesting!

Kira said...

Confusing, true, but we were always taught the three-leaf clover trick when we were little. You know, Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are all one but different parts, just like a three-leaf clover? But I think that's a little different than the idea of your blog post today....

Anonymous said...

Lee Strobel's The Case for the Real Jesus deals with this arguement as well. He does a good job of explaining it.

Anonymous said...

I believe Jesus is not god and was only human when he came to Earth. He has the power to forgive sins and give life because god(his father) gives him the power to do so. Like when Jesus went into the wilderness and satan tried to get him to make the rock into bread, he did not want to use his fathers(gods) power to prove satan wrong. Many people misread the bible in thinking jesus and god are tge same, but they are same in their spirit, and the same because they work together, not because they are the same being. It's like saying two people are the same because they are both blonde. They are the same in hair colour but are not the same person.

Anonymous said...

John 1:1

Film Geek said...

I'm a protestant but I pretty much completely agree with the belief that Jesus was both God and human. Thank you for making posts about faith a large part of your blog! :)

Anonymous said...

Another Protestant here. “L” up there summed up my thoughts perfectly. :)

I love that you make these posts! It makes us consider and think so much about our faiths, and I'm really happy for you that you have the courage to say these things to the biggest, coldest, darkest collective entity out there--the Internet!

Anonymous said...

It seems as though the demi-god option was never seriously entertained, which is a pity. It would seem to make far more sense.

Michael Gray said...

The demi-god option was never a feasible choice, because it contradicts the Biblical account of Jesus' birth. It also contradicts some of the statements Jesus made about his relationship to God the Father.

Actually, the question of Jesus' relationship to God was worked out in a council, before Chalcedon. But that's another story all together.