6. Two Natures in One Person: Definition or Creed of Chalcedon + Commentary

From the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). English, Greek, and Latin are included; the post discusses how the definition opposes three deficient teachings about Christ and answers the objection that the fifth-century church just made it all up.

As noted in the other posts in this series, theologians have to work out how these verses (and many others) fit together:

These key verses refer to Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:6-8

ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,

ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος, καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος

ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ·

[Christ Jesus] who, though being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7 but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, coming into existence in the likeness of men; and when he was found in the appearance as a man,

8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, that is, death on a cross.

That is my translation. HT: Lidija Novakovic, Philippians: A Handbook of the Greek Text [Baylor UP, 2020]. If you would like to see the verses in many translations and in context, please go to biblegateway.com.

For more exegesis of the Greek words, please click on this post:

4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant

And Col. 2:9 indicates the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form, now in heaven and while he was on earth:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.

John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

What does his emptying look like?

As I write in every post in this series, professional theologians use biblical logic to sort out this proposition:

Jesus = True God and True Man

How exactly was he the God-man at his incarnation and during his ministry?

Don’t feel frustrated if you don’t get this at first and you have to read it several times. Sooner or later, things will “click.” It’s a profound mystery, after all!

Here are other Scriptures (and no doubt many not included in this long list) that they used to build their creed:

2. Two Natures in One Person: He Was Human and God

Now let’s look into their deductions from these Scriptures, boiled down in this remarkable creed. I write my commentary as a student, only to learn.

Let’s begin.

In 451 AD, the Byzantine Emperor Marcian (ruled 450-57), Pope Leo I “the Great” (r. 440-61), and the western Emperor Valentinian III (r. 425-55) convened this council, called the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Chalcedon was a city near Constantinople (Istanbul). Its main purpose was to sort out debates about the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

Who was Jesus?

The Definition of Chalcedon, also called the Creed of Chalcedon, clarifies the question in this statement.

Definition or Creed of Chalcedon

Greek

English

Ἑπόμενοι τοίνυν τοῖς ἁγίοις πατράσιν ἕνα καὶ τὸν αὐτὸν ὁμολογεῖν υἱὸν τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν συμφώνως ἅπαντες ἐκδιδάσκομεν, τέλειον τὸν αὐτὸν ἐν θεότητι καὶ τέλειον τὸν αὐτὸν ἐν ἀνθρωπότητι, θεὸν ἀληθῶς καὶ ἄνθρωπον ἀληθῶς τὸν αὐτὸν, ἐκ ψυχῆς λογικῆς 65 καὶ σώματος, ὁμοούσιον 66 τῷ πατρὶ κατὰ τὴν θεότητα, καὶ ὁμοούσιον 67 τὸν αὐτὸν ἡμῖν κατὰ τὴν ἀνθρωπότητα, κατὰ πάντα ὅμοιον ἡμῖν χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας· πρὸ αἰώνων μὲν ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς γεννηθέντα κατὰ τὴν θεότητα, ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων δὲ τῶν ἡμερῶν τὸν αὐτὸν δἰ ἡμᾶς καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν ἐκ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου τῆς θεοτόκου κατὰ τὴν ἀνθρωπότητα ,68 ἕνα καὶ τὸν αὐτὸν Χριστόν, υἱόν, κύριον, μονογενῆ, ἐκ δύο φύσεων [ἐν δύο φύσεσιν] ,69 ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως ,70 ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως 71 γνωριζόμενον· οὐδαμοῦ τῆς τῶν φύσεων διαφορᾶς ἀνῃρημένης διὰ τὴν ἕνωσιν, σωζομένης δὲ μᾶλλον τῆς ἰδιότητος ἑκατέρας φύσεως καὶ εἰς ἓν πρόσωπον καὶ μίαν ὑπὸστασιν συντρεχούσης, οὐκ εἰς δύο πρόσωπα μεριζόμενον ἢ διαιρούμενον, ἀλλ᾽ ἕνα καὶ τὸν αὐτὸν υἱὸν καὶ μονογενῆ, θεὸν λόγον, κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν· καθάπερ ἄνωθεν οἱ προφῆται περὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς ἡμᾶς ὁ κύριος Ιησοῦς Χριστὸς ἐξεπαίδευσε καὶ τὸ τῶν πατέρων ἡμῖν καραδέδωκε σύμβολον. We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [coessential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood;74 one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures,75 inconfusedly, unchangeably,76 indivisibly, inseparably;77 the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
Latin
Sequentes igitur sanctos patres, unum eundemque confiteri Filium et Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum consonanter omnes docemus, eundem perfectum in deitate et eundem perfectum in humanitate; Deum verum et hominem verum eundem ex anima rationali et corpore; consubstantialem Patri secundum deitatem, consubstantialem nobis eundem secundum humanitatem; ‘per omnia nobis similem, absque peccato‘ (Heb. iv.): ante secula quidem de Patre genitum secundum deitatem; in novissimis autem diebus eundem propter nos et propter nostram salutem ex Maria virgine, Dei genitrice secundum humanitatem; unum eundemque Christum, filium, Dominum, unigenitum, in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseperabiliter agnoscendum: nusquam sublata differentia naturarum propter unitionem, magisque salva proprietate utriusque naturæ, et in unam personam atque subsistentiam concurrente: non in duos personas partitum aut divisum, sed unum eundemque Filium et unigenitum, Deum verbum, Dominum Jesum Christum; sicut ante prophetæ de eo et ipse nos Jesus Christus erudivit et patrum nobis symbolum tradidit.
Notes
The Greek text, together with the Latin version, is taken from the ὅρος τῆς ἐν Χαλκηδόνι τετάρτης Συνόδου , Act. V. in Mansi, Conc. Tom. VII. p. 115. We have inserted ἐν δύο φύσεσιν (see note 4). There are several other Latin versions which Mansi gives, Tom. VII. pp. 115 and 751–758, with the various readings. See also Hahn, l.c. pp. 117 sqq.

The Creed is preceded in the acts of the Council by an express confirmation of the Nicene Creed in both forms, ‘the Creed of the three hundred and eighteen holy Fathers of Nicæa,’ and ‘the Creed of the hundred and fifty holy Fathers who were assembled at Constantinople.’ The Fathers of Chalcedon declare that ‘this wise and saving Creed [of Nicæa] would be sufficient for the full acknowledgment and confirmation of the true religion; for it teaches completely the perfect doctrine concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and fully explains the Incarnation of the Lord to those who receive it faithfully.’ The addition of a new Creed is justified by the subsequent Christological heresies (Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism). After stating it, the Synod solemnly prohibits, on pain of deposition 64and excommunication, the setting forth of any other Creed for those ‘who are desirous of turning to the acknowledgment of the truth from Heathenism and Judaism.

Link: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds2.iv.i.iii.html#fna_iv.i.iii-p5.3

Commentary

Let’s take the creed line by line or section by section.

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;

The line “confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ” means he is one person.

The last line “the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood” means that he is perfectly (completely, wholly) God and perfectly (completely, wholly) man. He is not partial God and partial man. To me, the word perfect seems to be equivalent to “true God” and “true man.” He is not deficient in his deity or humanness.

So from the outset the writers of the creed affirm two natures in one person.

truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body;

Whatever is true of God is true of Jesus in his divine nature. Whatever is true of man is true of Jesus in his human nature (except he was without sin). He has a rational soul, which is the essence of humanity, or so say the old-school theologians (and I agree).

consubstantial [coessential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin;

This is the core section, so let’s spend some time here.

In his divine nature, Jesus shares the same substance or essence as his Father. Jesus was true God. In his human nature he shares the same essence or substance that we have, yet without sin. He felt the same grief of soul as we do, the same joy that we do (and so on), but without sin.

The key Greek word is ὁμοούσιον (homoousion from homoousia, pronounced hoh-moh-OO-see-on), which means the “same” substance and is translated here as “consubstantial.” In his deity, the Son is of the same substance with the Father. And in his humanity, he is ὁμοούσιον (homoousion) with humankind by being a rational soul, sharing the same substance or essence (except without sin). The alternative (and deficient) Greek word is homoiousion (pronounced hoh-moi-OO-see-on, meaning “similar substance”). With this word, the Son has a similar substance, but not the same substance. This was rejected because it lowers Christ’s deity relative to the Father. If the Son were “similar” to God, he could not be “true God” or “perfect God.”

begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, 

Jesus was eternally begotten of the Father. “Begotten” means that the Father generates the Son in his personhood. The main point is that the Father is the “source” of the person of the Son, but the Father did not make or create the Son. Some theologians say that if the Father generated the Son in his divine nature, then the Son would be a dependent being in his essence, and a dependent being (or not a necessary being) means that he is not true God. The Son would not be a se or self-existent as the Father is, and a dependent being is not true God or perfect God. Rather, this creed teaches that the Son is co-eternal with the Father. The generation is eternal, without beginning. Anything that is eternal cannot have a beginning. Anything that does not have a beginning is not made or created. Therefore, the Son is not created or made, but is co-eternal with the Father.

This figure, by Wayne Grudem (p. 558), visually explains the Christology that came out of the Chalcedon Council.

God is the Big Circle with F (Father) S (Son) and HS (Holy Spirit). The person of Christ is the smaller, dotted circle. Christ’s divine nature is within the God Circle. His human nature (stick figure) is outside of God, but the two natures are united within the one-person circle.

While Jesus was ministering on earth, most people saw only his human nature, and rarely his divine. Certain modern scholars get lost in “the historical quest” for Jesus, to the neglect of his divine nature. New Agers lose his humanity and seek his divinity. To avoid these two extremes, both natures must be included.

Let’s circle back around to “begotten.”

I like what professional theologian Donald Frame says of the term. “‘Begotten’ is little more than a synonym for ‘Son'” (p. 494). In affirming we don’t know the details, Frame also says, “A certain amount of reverent agnosticism is appropriate here” (p. 495). No, this is not agnosticism that doubts God’s existence, but the kind of agnosticism that keeps quiet about such heavenly matters like eternal generation or being begotten.

Personally, I like to simplify things. The Scriptures reveal the Father and the Son, not to give us a headache, but so we can relate to them. We can have a personal relationship with the Father as intimately (and more so) as we have with our own father. And we can relate to the Son as the Messiah and Lord, who has a unique relationship with the Father. The Son reveals the Father. The title Father is more personal and revealing than God.

Bottom line: let’s have a relationship with the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit), since they are revealed in Scripture in those two persons (and the third person of the Spirit), for our relational benefit. Let’s not get bogged down in these minute details when they distract us from a relationship with the three persons of the Trinity.

and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood;

This describes the incarnation, when the Father added a human nature to his Son, at his conception. The Son was born of the Virgin Mary. She is the mother of God, so to speak, according to his manhood, that is, when he was born. However, personally, I prefer not to use the phrase “mother of God,” though doing so is not wrong theologically, but goes beyond what the Scriptures clearly affirm. And I don’t like to shove this phrase in the face of an atheist or a Muslim or a Jew. Too abrupt and startling for them. Let’s keep the gospel simpler. But you can use the phrase if you wish.

one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten,

Here are his titles of ministry and incarnation. We already looked at “only-begotten” above. You can read about the others at these links:

3. Titles of Jesus: The Son of David and the Messiah

6. Titles of Jesus: The Son of God

5. Titles of Jesus: The Lord

The more complicated sections are to follow.

to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;

This section describes the union of the two natures, divine and human. It is called the hypostatic union, or two natures united in one person. You cannot atomize them or break them apart, but neither can you merge and confuse them or fuse them together in a mixture. This section will be explained in the next one, which expands its meaning.

the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ,

So now the creed reveals the two natures in the one person of Jesus the Messiah, the Lord, the Son of God, only begotten, and the Word. So Jesus has two natures (divine and human) which maintain their distinctive properties, yet the two natures concur in one person. They are in union in one person. This where we get the term hypostatic union or the union of two natures in one person. Evidently, the words “person” and “subsistence” are synonyms or mean the same thing in this creed.

You can understand this concept dimly and imperfectly with your own two natures, after you are born again. When the Spirit causes you to be born again, the Spirit lives in you, and he causes you to share in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). So now you have your human nature and a divine nature by the Spirit of God (after you were born again). Your human nature is distinct from the Spirit-caused divine nature, but they concur in your one person named Joe or Jane (or insert your own name). The difference is that your human nature was sinful because of your birth from human parents, that is, by virtue of being human. Jesus never had a sinful human nature.

Bottom line: this section teaches two natures in one person, Jesus of Nazareth.

as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

So the teachings of Jesus, the prophets of old, and the creeds come together to support this Creed or Definition of Chalcedon.

Objection and reply

Objection: None of these complicated words are found in the Bible, but are just made up by the church.

Reply: Christ’s human nature is found in the Bible (he was tired, he was hungry, he was thirsty, and he did not know the hour or day of his return). His divine nature is found in the Bible (“before Abraham was, I am”; “and the Word was God” and so on). He was one person, not two, because the Bible always describes him as “he” or “Jesus”; he never refers to himself as “we,” but “I.” So there are not two persons.

All this creed is doing is putting together all those verses into one succinct statement that defines who he is—two natures (fully human and fully divine) in one person, Jesus Christ.

2. Two Natures in One Person: He Was Human and God (Scripture references)

There is nothing wrong with brevity and clarity in a creed.

Applying the creed to defective beliefs.

Now let’s apply the creed to defective teachings which it was intended to answer.

This creed or definition opposes Apollinarianism (Christ did not have a human mind or soul). This defective idea is named after Apollinarius, who flourished in fourth century, who became bishop of Laodicea, but then promoted it. He was opposed in 362 and by 377 was condemned, but he seceded and declared himself orthodox. Other councils also opposed him. To oppose Apollinarianism, this creed says that he had a human nature and a divine nature. Don’t blur them or eliminate one of them.  The creed says: Jesus was “truly man of a reasonable soul and body … consubstantial [coessential] with us according to his manhood … in all things like us.” The words consubstantial or coessential means the same nature or substance or essence as we humans have (except his human nature was without sin).

Was Jesus a dual personality (two persons), human and divine? This is called Nestorianism, named after Nestorius, who flourished in the fourth century. Eastern Emperor Theodosius II (r. 401-50) promoted him to the patriarchal see of Constantinople in 428. He was deposed in 431 for his dispute over Mary. He was exiled, even though he said he was orthodox about the nature and person of Christ. The creed opposes Nestorianism with the words: two natures are “indivisibly, inseparably … concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons.”  This creed says not to call his two natures two persons. Rather, Jesus is one person with two natures.

It opposes Monophysitism (literally “one single nature”). It says that Christ had one human nature and his human nature was lost in his union with the divine nature and made one new nature. Did he have a human body, but not a human mind, so his rational mind came from God’s divine nature? Or did Christ’s human nature blur and blend with God’s divine nature so much that they became one new nature, like ink in water makes a new substance which is not exactly water or ink? This defective idea is also called Eutychianism, named after Eutyches (c. 378-454), a monk of Constantinople, who promoted it or refused to sign on to two natures. The creed opposes this notion with these words: “To be acknowledged in two natures inconfusedly, unchangeably … the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved.” As noted, we must not fuse together the two natures, but each nature shares their own distinct properties. Don’t separate them by denying one, but keep them together, but distinct.

Conclusion

The Definition is the standard for the three main branches of Christianity: Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and most of their subdivisions or denominations. I believe that the writers of this creed did the best they could with all of the biblical data.

2. Two Natures in One Person: He Was Human and God (Scripture references)

I like it because it is so compact and clarifies Jesus’s two natures. I also like to feel a part of our brothers and sisters in Christ who lived so many centuries ago. It is a bad idea to stomp on church and doctrinal history.

I need the creed. You need the creed. I read the creed. Do you read the creed? You must read the creed!

RELATED

Statement of Faith: Apostles Creed and NAE Statement of Faith

Nicene Creed

Athanasian Creed + Commentary

ARTICLES IN THE “TWO NATURES IN ONE PERSON” SERIES

1. Two Natures in One Person: Key Terms and Concepts

2. Two Natures in One Person: He Was Human and God (Scriptures in Part 2)

3. Two Natures in One Person: Basic Questions and Answers

4. Two Natures in One Person: Tough Questions

5. Two Natures in One Person: If Jesus Got Hungry, Did God?

6. Two Natures in One Person: Definition or Creed of Chalcedon + Commentary

7. Two Natures in One Person: Review and Conclusion

SOURCES

Works Cited

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