Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Lessons in Historical Theology for Jonathan Prejean (Part 2)

Continuing in our series, here is what Brown has to say regarding the Nestorian controversy:

Installed at Constantinople, Nestorius found himself embroiled in a rancorous controversy over the use of the term theotokos as a title for the virgin Mary. The term, which means “God-bearing one” (not precisely “Mother of God,” as it is frequently translated), originally was descriptive of the man Jesus, born of Mary. In order to assert that he was truly God even when in Mary’s womb and during the process of birth, Mary was given the title theotokos. . . . In later centuries the term theotokos will come to be seen as a Mariological term expressive of her personal glory, and will be rejected by many who accept the full deity and preexistence of her Son.

Of course, Prejean’s romanticized version of history will disallow him from viewing theotokos as it was originally intended. All patristic scholars acknowledge the fact that theotokos was not originally intended as an honorific title for Mary, but developed into one centuries later. Hence, as I pointed out in my book Evangelical Answers nearly a decade ago and more recently in Who Is My Mother?, whereas most Protestants would easily accept theotokos in its original intent (though there are other terms that are more precise), Roman Catholic pop apologists such as Prejean subscribe to the title only in terms of what it developed into centuries after the fact. In other words, Prejean’s faith in the “Mother of God” is based on a revisionist history of that word. The sometimes-Apollinarian-sometimes-Monophysite Cyril of Alexandria attempted to supplement theotokos (“God-bearer”) with meter theou (lit., “mother of God”), but that phrase was adopted by neither Ephesus nor Chalcedon. Does Prejean want to talk about the “overwhelming view of patristic scholars” in regard to theotokos? Does he want to call attention to the fact that he holds to a revisionist view of the meaning of theotokos that stands in conflict with the scholarly consensus of patristic studies?

Brown continues:

The expression theotokos was poorly chosen as a shibboleth to divide the orthodox from heretics, for a number of prominent heretical groups had no difficulty with it. Arians could use it, although they did not believe that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, because they did accept him as a kind of divinity and acknowledged that he was born, suffered, and died. Apollinarians, with their view that there is only “one incarnate nature of God the Logos,” readily accepted the term. The Antiochene school, from which Nestorius came, sought to maintain the true humanity of Christ. To speak of Mary as “bearing God” seemed to Nestorius to imply that the One she bore was not a true man. Nestorius was willing to say that the Christ born of Mary is God, but did not want to say, “God is born,” because to do so implied in his mind that the One born was not a true man. One must say, “Christ is born,” thus implying, because God and man are one in Christ, that both God and man are born. To call Mary either “God-bearer” or “man-bearer,” although both are correct in terms of the communication of attributes, appears misleading. . . . The term theotokos originally was intended to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ, but it gradually came to be a title of honor for Mary. . . . Nestorius observed the beginnings of this development, and warned against making the Virgin into a goddess. . . . The term [Nestorius] preferred, Christotokos, is quite orthodox but was unpopular with those who emphasized the deity alone and was resented by those devoted to the growing cult of Mary. For the first time, growing popular piety was beginning to play a role in deciding major theological issues.

Brown reiterates what is a well-known fact among patristic scholars; namely, that the original intent of the title theotokos is far removed from the modern RC application of it. It is the RC apologist who is out of step with history and the meaning of words when they translate theotokos as "mother of God," with all that implies. To the RC apologist, "mother of God" is a title intended to exalt Mary; not a title intended to affirm Christ's deity in the womb. And once again, Prejean is shown to be incompetent in his understanding of Nestorianism. As Brown notes, Nestorius "sought to maintain the true humanity of Christ." Prejean, driven by his pop-history, engages in a fundamental blunder when he asserts that Nestorianism denied the full humanity of Christ.

Brown continues:

Nestorius taught that the two natures of Christ fall together in one prosopon [lit., “face”]. The Greek is ambiguous: by it, Nestorius apparently meant one person, which would be quite orthodox, but his opponents understood him to be saying one appearance, and thus to be speaking of only an apparent unity between the divine and the human in Christ. Nestorius held that the Logos was indissolubly united with the human personality from the moment of conception. There was, however, no transformation or mixture of the natures. Each preserves what is proper to it; hence, one can say only that the humanity is born, suffers, and dies, and was raised; nevertheless, although there are two natures, there is a single Son. These entirely orthodox views were first attacked from Alexandria, apparently initially because of ecclesiastical and personal rivalry; here too the problem of Nestorianism seems to be the first in which personal and regional pride and ambition were decisive –in this case, the desire of Alexandria and its patriarch, Cyril, to attain the undisputed preeminence in the eastern half of the Roman Empire.

This is the view, as Brown will show, that was eventually adopted by Chalcedon, and by Reformed theology (contrary to the utterly uninformed musings of one of Prejean's contributors to the comments section of his blog).

Brown continues:

[Cyril of Alexandria] acknowledged two perfections (teleia) in Christ, human and divine, but avoided the term physis, “nature.” As far as the positive presentation of Cyril’s position is concerned, it is hard to see any significant difference from that of the Antiochenes as represented by Nestorius. But he attacked them nonetheless, fearing or claiming to fear that in their interest in preserving the full humanity of Jesus, they let the deity be reduced to a mere appearance or a title. He misunderstood the Antiochenes as holding that the henosis of the divine and the human came about only as a relationship between them during the life of Jesus—a momentous misunderstanding Cyril’s great influence fastened on the church.

As Cyril understood Nestorius, all of Jesus’ saving acts were performed in his human nature only. . . . [In Cyril’s view] to suggest that Christ is two persons (which, be it noted, Nestorius did not do!) would bring a fourth Person into the Trinity itself, the man Jesus. . . . Theodoret objected that Cyril was once again reverting to a krasis (“mixure”) of the two natures; Cyril vigorously denied this, and claimed he only wanted to affirm their real unity. In so doing he revived an Apollinarian formula, one incarnate nature of God the Word; if the divine and human are really united, their union is a true nature, animated by the Logos. Cyril erroneously attributed the formulation to Athanasius, in consequence of the fact, mentioned earlier, that writings of Apollinaris had been circulated under the venerated name of Athanasius. Nevertheless, Cyril insists that both the divine and the human natures remain unchanged, so that in a sense one can say that he implies three natures: one divine, one human, and one of the incarnate Logos. Here apparently Cyril has been willing to strain the meaning of the word “nature”: his “one incarnate nature” is not a deified human nature, as in Apollinaris or the later Monophysites, but a theological postulate to underscore the reality of the unity of the unchanged, unmixed divine and human natures in the Person of Christ. Nestorius, by contrast, had strained the concept of the person, calling one person what to others looked like a mere harmonious collaboration between two distinct persons.

Cyril is not the champion of orthodoxy Prejean and his RC apologetic cohorts, in their romantic notions of Roman Catholic history, believe. In fact, Nestorius was much more orthodox than Cyril. Brown continues:

The incarnate nature as seen by Cyril was not a real nature in the usual sense, i.e. not a third kind of nature, but later Monophysites understood it to be so. Thus they claimed Cyril as the godfather of their doctrine. Nestorius’ incarnate person was a single person, not two as his critics thought, but he could not convince others that it was so. Consequently he has gone down in history as a great heretic although what he actually believed was reaffirmed at Chalcedon. The council of 451 really was far more compatible with the formulations of Nestorius the heretic than with those of Cyril, the doctor of the church. . . . Perhaps if he had not been misled into attributing the expression mia physis to Athanasius, [Cyril] would not have incorporated it into his system; but even without it, Cyril is more readily capable of being called as a witness for monophysitism than a doctor of the church (the title conferred by the Vtaican in 1882!) ought to be. In any event, if the views of Apollinaris and Nestorius have the merit of internal consistency, those of Cyril do not. He can be claimed by both Monophysites and dyophydites.

There's your venerable Cyril, champion of Mary, in all his historic glory!

Brown continues:

What Cyril could not accomplish with the somewhat muddled formulations of his theology he more successfully pursued by means of political and ecclesiastical diplomacy, appealing to the wife and sister of the Emperor Theodosius II in the East and to Pope Celestine in the West. While Nestorius approached the pope as an equal, Cyril rather obsequiously asked him for direction and instruction. For whatever reason, Celestine turned sharply on Nestorius and rallied to Cyril.

In the conflict with Nestorius, where the actual theological difference was minimal, Cyril’s courting of Rome and Rome’s rallying to his cause helped Rome to solidify its claim to a unique authority in the church. At the otherwise undistinguished Council of Ephesus (Third Ecumenical), Nestorius withdrew when his supposed ally John of Antioch failed to arrive; the council then condemned Nestorius. John finally arrived and together with Nestorius and the imperial commissioner convened what they called the true council, and deposed Cyril. Personal factors influenced the ultimate result: while Cyril intrigued at court, Nestorius ill-advisedly withdrew to a monastery; the Antiochene party abandoned him to his fate.

Following the Council of Ephesus, Cyril was persuaded to agree to a formula probably developed by the leading Antiochene, Theodoret of Cyrrhus. . . . The formula answers all the concerns of the Antiochene party, but the fact that Nestorius had been condemned and exiled continued to discredit them even though their ideas were being accepted as orthodox. In addition . . . the Alexandrian party [Cyril’s party] was preoccupied with the one incarnate nature, and admitted the concept of two natures only in a theoretical sense. . . . In the last analysis, neither the Alexandrian nor the Antiochene position fully answers the problems raised by the mystery of the incarnation. Each tried to explain too much, and the only way peace could be restored would be by setting limits beyond which no explanations would be attempted.

(Brown, Heresies, 172-177 passim).

In his latest post on this issue, Prejean had this to say:

“you have admitted exactly what I argued, which is that you deny the full humanity and divinity of Christ by your Nestorianism”

This statement would be laughable even if we didn’t have Brown’s statements above to set the context. So Nestorius is purported to have denied the full humanity of Christ? Even the pop-romantic version of the story knows that isn’t true. His alleged error had to do with preserving the full humanity of Christ, not diminishing it! In reality, though, he diminished neither the full humanity nor the full divinity of Christ. His views (the Antiochene views) were completely orthodox, and his condemnation was based on (1) a misunderstanding of his views, (2) the political climate, and (3) the influence of his rival Cyril, who himself was an unwitting Apollinarian-Monophysite. Here is Brown on that issue again:

In contrast to the Cappadocian-Alexandrian tendency, the school of Antioch [i.e., the school of Nestorius] held firmly to the clear biblical picture of Jesus Christ as a historic, human, individual person. God became incarnate in this person and took him on, not it (a mere human nature). . . . the Antiochenes, who stressed—correctly, as we believe—the full and complete humanity of Jesus Christ, had no leader of the caliber of Athanasius around whom they could rally.

The more amazing thing about this is, Prejean did not know this! Here he betyrays the sum of his knowledge about these things:

"I certainly will take a look at [Brown's] work. . . . But I'm not sure how it bears on the present controversy. Was Dr. Brown arguing that Nestorianism was something other than a denial of the full divinity and humanity of Christ?"

How could Prejean, a self-professed “apologist for historical facts,” not have known Nestorius’ true views on this issue? How could he not have known the circumstances surrounding the controversy? How could he have not known Cyril’s true views (which are well-known by historians—Harnack has gone on record calling Cyril a Monophysite). I’ll tell you how: because the knowledge of RC apologists like Prejean goes no further than the romanticized version of church history. They use patristic scholars like Kelly and Pelikan as source books for sound bites without ever bothering to notice that these same patristic scholars have as much to say against the traditional Roman Catholic view of history as they have to say for it. I have encountered this numerous times with earlier RC apologists who (a decade ago) used to cite Kelly religiously to support their view on any given doctrine; that is, until we began citing Kelly to show that they misinterpreted Kelly’s own views. Prejean, a relative newcomer to this arena, is merely the new-generation RC pop-apologist repeating the same errors of his forefathers.

Here is what Prejean had to say about my abilities in this area:

“you are speaking in an area in which you have no competence, and you are making elementary errors in doing so.”

Prejean states this, but demonstrates again and again that he has only a pop-romantic knowledge of the facts surrounding the Christological controversies. He was completely unaware that scholars have assessed Nestorius to be orthodox and Cyril to be heterodox! Who is it again that is “speaking in an area in which [he] has no competency”? Who is it again that is “making elementary errors”? The irony is rich.

Here is another statement Prejean made:

“How many patristic scholars agree with your explanation of 'Apollinarimonophysitism?' If I am so wrong on this subject, it should be trivial to produce some kind of evidence on this point.”

I, of course, did exactly that yesterday in my citation of Brown, where it is evident that Brown agrees with my assessment regarding those who embody a mixture of “orthodox dogma” and “theological naivete.” Here he is again:

Apollinaris rejected the proposition that Jesus possessed a human personality. . . . No one since the fourth century has called himself an Apollinarian, but the idea of Apollinaris resurfaces whenever there is a combination of orthodox dogmatism and theological naivete. . . . Firmly to assert the deity of Christ is not the same thing as to confess the New Testament faith in him, for in the New Testament he is definitely a man who is revealed to be the Son of God, with all that implies—not a divine being who reveals himself in human form.

Prejean has waded in over his head on this one. Tomorrow we'll continue to demonstrate that.