Monday, March 21, 2005

Lessons in Historical Theology for Jonathan Prejean (Part 4)

Over the past several days I have been demonstrating three things: (1) what patristic scholarship actually says about the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries (especially regarding Apollinarianism, Monophysitism, and Nestorianism); (2) that Jonathan Prejea's charges against me are baseless and uninformed; and (3) that Prejean in fact falls under the condemnation of Chalcedon in his cryptic Apollinari-Monophysitism. Now I’d like to offer some conclusions to this series.

What we have seen throughout this series is that patristic scholars by and large confirm what I have said all along. All of them confirm that Nestorius’ views (those condemned as heretical in Roman Catholic apologetic pop-history circles) were in fact orthodox, that Cyril’s views (the hero of modern “mother of God” proponents) were in fact Monophysite, that the councils were in error in condemning Nestorius, that they were equally in error in affirming Cyril, and that Chalcedon and Ephesus in fact contradict each other in just which positions they support (Chalcedon favors Nestorianism and Ephesus is Monophysitism). Inasmuch as Apollinarian is the kernel (the under-developed version) of Monophysitism, Ephesus would also lend support to Apollinarianism (hence, my original term Apollinari-Monophysitism).

Modern Roman Catholic apologetics is inherently Apollinari-Monophysite in that it stresses the deity of Christ at the expense of his humanity. In their view, as regards the humanity of Christ, Christ is not true man and true God, but rather God cloaked in a human nature. There is no human persona within Christ, only divine. That, as we have seen, is the essence of what Apollinaris taught. I think they are Monophysite only in a derived sense, based on their loyalty to Cyril and the actual outworking of their arguments. The question remains, Are they guilty of heresy?

If one subscribes to the authority and infallibility of ecumenical councils, then I don’t seen any way around charging modern Roman Catholic apologists with heresy. Chalcedon was sympathetic to Nestorianism (which modern Roman Catholic apologists view as heretical) and condemned Apollinarianism and Monophysitism (which is the essence of their position on these things). If this is one’s authority, then they are guilty as charged.

However, if we recognize along with patristic scholarship that Chalcedon and Ephesus actually contradicted each other, then they cannot be infallible, and their authority must also be called into question. This is my view because it is the only reasonable view to hold in light of the facts (Prejean prides himself on being an “apologist for historical fact”—very well; let’s see how well he fares on this fact). Since the councils are not infallible, and not authoritative, then we are left with the question, Are they right? I believe they are right (indeed, extremely cogent) on some points, and are gravely wrong on others. To the extent they are right, I am glad to affirm them; to the extent they are in error, I just as gladly reject them.

So how do they fare on the current issue? It is my opinion that both councils attempted to explain the inexplicable and went far a field in their dogmatic pronouncements and attendant condemnations. No one can explain the unity of the person of Christ and the relationship between his natures beyond what the Scriptures affirm because it is inexplicable beyond what the Scriptures affirm. The most we can safely affirm is that Christ is both fully God and fully man. But the moment we attempt to explain just how those two statements fit together—or worse, to go beyond that and proclaim Mary as “mother of God” is some kind of ramification of all that, or that it acts as a test of orthodoxy—we end up in error. Why? Because at that point we end up abandoning discussion on the communication of attributes in Christ and start down the path of discussing the communication of attributes in Mary.

As I stated in an earlier post in this series, the term theotokos, rightly understood as a Christological affirmation, is not objectionable in itself. It becomes objectionable in the hands of RC apologists who would use it to exalt Mary’s status over against the consistent testimony of the very Scriptures to which they purport to acquiesce in the concilliar definitions of Chalcedon and Ephesus about the person and natures of Christ. Indeed, they eagerly seek to defend the Cyrilline Apollinariani-Monophysite view of Christ’s person and natures from the Scriptures--not so they can uphold the deity of Christ, but as a pretext for finding a basis for exalting Mary by somehow proving from that fact that she’s the “mother of God.” I think that much is self-evident in their writings. But in so doing, they ignore the clear statements of Jesus that such a relationship—even if true—avails nothing. Indeed, I am convinced that they would, if they thought they could get away with it, happily throw out the qualifier of the councils that Mary is theotokos only “as regards his manhood,” and that “the difference of the natures [is] by no means removed because of the union, but the property of each nature [is] preserved and coalesced in one prosopon and one hupostasis,” and use the term in an unqualified way to exalt Mary instead of Christ. After all, that is the sense in which they use the term today, completely oblivious to the fact that the title has a historical context.

So are Roman Catholic apologists wrong in their views? I believe so. Are they in Christological heresy on this point? If the councils are to act as our rule of faith, I don’t see any way around it. But Scripture is much more forgiving on this point than are the councils. If Scripture is to act as our rule of faith, I don’t see how any view that affirms the full deity and full humanity of Christ as well as the unity of his person can be labeled as heretical given the fact no one knows exactly how the person and natures of Christ relate to each other, or even whether those categories are ones the biblical writers would deem legitimate in the first place. The councils use Platonic concepts and Aristotelian categories that are foreign to Scripture; and Scripture simply does not bother to elaborate on these things, no doubt because they are inexplicable to finite minds. Hence, my major complaint on this particular issue insofar as Roman Catholic apologists are concerned is not their Apollinari-Monophysite view of Christ; it is the application they think they can make to Mary.