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Vladyka Dmitri


What This Union Means to Us

Chapter Six

There are several consequences, results, or implications of this union of the two natures in Christ that are directly related to the question of our redemption. The first may be called the communion of attributes. The theologians use the Latin technical term 'communicatio idiomatum' to describe this consequence. It consists of the fact that in the Person of Christ, the two natures united without confusion, without change, without division and without separation, each of the natures transmitting its attributes to the other. In other terms, what belongs and is proper to Him as Man is attributed to Him as God. What is proper to Him as God is ascribed to Him as Man.

 This principle is illustrated by such New Testament passages as "We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son," (Rm. 5:10); "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all," (Rm. 8:32); "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins..." (I Pt. 3:18); "The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second Man is the Lord from heaven," (I Cor. 15:47); "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven," On. 3:13). God is by nature immortal and beyond suffering. Man is of this creation and does not "come down" from heaven. Yet here we see the attributes of one nature attributed to the other.

 We hear this doctrine over and over again in the liturgy of the Church. For example, in the Canon to the Cross, Tone l, for Friday Matins, we hear: "For as thou, who by nature art impassible [not subject to suffering], hast endured to suffer, and thou hast been crucified with the thief, O Word, who hast put to death the arch-evil enemy, and hast saved those who sing thy praises."

 St. John of Damascus wrote an Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summary of the paramount doctrines of the Church, with quotations from the major Fathers who lived and wrote before his time. (St. John lived from A.D. 675 to about the middle of the next century.) The following paragraph dealing with this communion of attributes comes from his very important work.

 With regard to Christ's Person (hypostasis), we call Him by a name taken from the two natures or from only one of them. In both cases, we apply to Him the qualities of the two natures. Christ is called Son of God and God, and, at the same time, He takes the attributes or qualities of that nature which He united to His Divinity, that is, of the flesh. Thus it is said of Him: "God having suffered," or "the Lord of glory crucified," not insofar as He is God, but insofar as He is God and Man. In a parallel way, while He is called Man and Son of Man, He takes the attributes and the glory that belong to the divine nature. Thus He is called "Child before the ages," and "man without beginning;" not because He is child and man, but because, being God, He made Himself a child subsequently. Such is the reciprocal communication of the attributes, by which each of the natures transmits its own to the other, by reason of the identity of the Person (hypostasis) and the reciprocal penetration of the two natures. That is why we can say of Jesus Christ: "He is our God; He has been seen on earth and has conversed with men." (Barnabas 3:26-28)

The two natures reside in Christ entire and distinct, without confusion, and retain their own attributes, without change. The expressions that are used to describe the redemptive work of the Word of God are applied to the one Person of Jesus Christ: without division and without separation.

 Thus, as we have already seen, it is for the very reason of the union of the two natures in Christ that the Church has always insisted that the title "Theotokos" or "Mother of God" is not only appropriately applied to the Virgin Mary but that the very title preserves and confirms the doctrine of the union.

The Deification of the Human Nature of Christ

On speaking of the Incarnation of the Son of God, we have said that He identified Himself completely with the human race, in everything, of course except man's sin. (Hb. 4:15) However, He did accept the consequence of sin which was death. 

Death had entered into the world as a result of sin, and that by one man, Adam. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned." (Rm. 5:12) So unified is the human race that not only the consequence of man's sin, but also the very inclination to sin became the heritage of all men. In the same way, the sinlessness, righteousness, and obedience of one (of the same race) brought to mankind liberation from the reign of death. Thereby was made possible man's salvation: union with God. 

"For if by one man's offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Rm. 5:17-19) 

Man was made in the image of God and given the capacity for growing toward the realization of that image. He was in a process of deification, with the goal of full participation in God's goodness. Yet he misused his gifts, interrupting the process. He soiled the image and corrupted his nature. He was in need of reconciliation. Thus, Christ's taking our nature and raising it to its highest possible level of perfection, deifying it, is the basis of man's deification. He is set back on the right road: his union with God, or his salvation. 

St. Athanasius says that "the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death hath lost its power over all." (The Incarnation of the Word of God, § 9) 

St. Gregory of Nyssa states: "For through purity He brought into the closest kinship with the Father of our nature that 'new man which is created after the likeness of God' (Eph. 4:24), in whom 'the whole fullness of the Godhead dwelt in bodily form' (Col. 2:9). And along with Himself He drew to the same state of grace all the nature which shares in His human body, and is akin to Him ... For what happened in the human nature of Christ is a benefit shared by all men who believe..." (Against Eunomius, 12,1) 

As a consequence of the union of the two natures in Christ, the human nature is deified: rendered godlike, made divine. By this it is not meant that the humanity of Christ changed into divinity, that it ceased to be limited or that it received the divine attributes in exchange for the human attributes. Rather, the human nature, assumed by the Son of God in the unity of His person, participated in the divinity, the original goal of man's creation. It was elevated in its perfections to the highest possible degree in humanity, without ceasing nevertheless to be human. 

St. John of Damascus summarizes this dogma in this way: 

...[The] flesh of our Lord was deified; became one with God and God, not by change or transformation or confusion of nature. "One of the natures," says Gregory the Theologian, "deified, and the other was deified, and, if I should dare to say, became one with God; He that anointed became man, and He that was anointed became God. And that, not by a change of nature, but by a providential or hypostatic union for the purpose of [man's] salvation, by which union the flesh was united inseparably with God the Word, and by a reciprocal contact of natures, in which we can see some analogy in iron reddened by fire ...Since the Word, in becoming flesh, did not shed its divinity and did not rid itself of the divine perfections that are proper to it, so the flesh, having been deified, did not change its nature or its natural attributes; for even after the union, since the two natures remained unconfused, so also their attributes remained unjoined. The flesh of the Lord 'enriched itself with divine forces" by its intimate union with the Word, "without having lost any of its natural attributes;" for the flesh accomplished the divine acts not by the power that is in it, but by the power of the Word united with it, the Word manifesting His own works through flesh. Thus iron reddened by fire burns, not because it has received from nature the power to burn, but because it borrows it from its union with fire. This is why the flesh was mortal by itself, but life-creating by its hypostatic union with the Word..." (Exact Expositon of the Orthodox Faith, III, 17) 

The name "Christ" means the "anointed one." The Lord Jesus Christ was anointed for His mission to raise up fallen mankind. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the words of the Prophet Isaiah (61:1) are thus applied to Christ: "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." (Hb. 1:9) By "thy fellows" is meant the fellow human beings of the Son of Man, since He took part in the same flesh and blood of the children that God had given Him. (Hb. 2:13,14) 

The flesh of the Lord was exalted and became immortal and incorrupt. David "seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted..." (Peter's Sermon, Acts 2:31-33) "Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name, which is above every name." (Ph. 2:9) 

It is evident that the Apostle's meaning is that Christ's humanity was exalted, since His divinity had no need of exaltation, perfection or anything else. "Even by this phrase the mystery of godliness is declared, for he who says 'exalted by the right hand of God' clearly reveals the unspeakable dispensation of this mystery, that the right hand of God, that made all things that are (which is the Lord, by whom all things were made, and without Him was nothing made that was made, [Jn. 1:3]), Itself raised to its own height the Man united with it, making Him also to be what It is by nature." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, V, 3) 

The eternal divine knowledge was transmitted to the man Jesus, who grew also in human knowledge, as one of our race. (Lk. 2:52) "For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth..." (Jn. 5:20) And yet the human knowledge of Jesus was not changed into omniscience or infinite wisdom. He still asked, on hearing that His friend Lazarus was dead, "Where have ye laid him?" (Jn. 11:34) He likewise declared that He did not know the time of the Second Coming: "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." (Mk. 13:22) Obviously, as the eternal Word of God and One of the Holy Trinity, He knows all things. 

The holiness and perfection of the divinity were communicated to the Son of Man as well. Even at His conception, the angel referred to Him as holy. (Lk. 1:35) He was sanctified, according to His own words: "Say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" On. 10:36) As the eternal Son of God, He had no need of sanctification, but received it in the flesh "so that through Him it might pass to all men," (St. Athanasius, Against the Arians, I, 47) 

The same thing may be said of the power that was given to Him. When the Jews sought to kill Him because "He made Himself equal with God," He answered them: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." (Jn. 5: 18,19) The Son of God is all-powerful, but the human being seen by men was the instrument of His omnipotence. 

The New Testament, as we have seen from the passages quoted above, demonstrates that the One Person Jesus Christ accomplished His work of redemption as God and Man. His humanity, deified by its intimate union with His divinity, remains humanity, and it thus provides the means for our own deification. We have been made partakers of Christ's suffering (I Pt. 4:13), and therefore we will be partakers of His glory when it shall be revealed (I Pt. 4:13; 5:1) Our goal and destiny is to be partakers of the divine nature. (II Pt. 1:4)

We Worship Christ as One Person

The Holy Gospel according to St. John records these words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father; He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father, which hath sent Him. " (5:22,23) 

St. Paul says concerning Jesus: "God which hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth." (Ph. 2:9,10) And in another place, he says: "And again, when He bringeth in the first begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him." (Hb. 1:6) 

In St. John's Revelation, where he records his vision of worship in heaven, we read: "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." (5:11-13) 

The above passages from the New Testament show very clearly that it is proper and essential to adore or worship Jesus Christ as one and the same Person, as God-Man, for the very reason that the divinity and the humanity are united in Him inseparably.

Although His humanity remains humanity, having been taken by Him into the unity of His divine Person, it is the humanity of God the Word.  Not only is this doctrine clear from the words of Christ Himself, from the testimony of the Apostles, and from the vision of heavenly worship in the Revelation, but the Fathers of the Church in all generations have taught it. 

St. Athanasius wrote: "Although in itself a part of creation, the flesh (of Christ) became the flesh of God; and we, in adoring that flesh, do not separate it from the Word, as in adoring the Word, we do not separate Him from the flesh." (Against Arius, I, n.43) 

This was taught by St. John Chrysostom as follows: "It is truly great and astonishing that our flesh was taken up into heaven and there receives the adoration of the Angels, the Archangels, of the Seraphim and the Cherubim." (On the Epistle to the Hebrews, Homily V)

Again, St. John of Damascus wrote: "Christ therefore, is one, perfect God and perfect Man; and Him we worship along with the Father and the Spirit, with one obeisance, adoring even His immaculate flesh and not considering that the flesh is unworthy of adoration: for in fact, it is worshipped in the one Person (hypostasis) of the Word, which indeed became hypostasis for it. But in this we do not do homage to that which is created. For we worship Him, not as mere flesh, but as flesh united with divinity, and because His two natures are brought under the one Person and One Hypostasis of God the Word. I fear to touch coal because of the fire bound up with the wood. I worship the two-fold nature of Christ because of the divinity that in Him is bound up with flesh." (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 111,8)

And St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote thus: "We are accustomed to worship Emmanuel with one single worship, not separating from the Word the body which was personally (in hypostasis) united to Him." (Against Nestorius, 2,10) 

This dogma concerning the "one single and inseparable divine worship due to Jesus Christ as one and the same Person, as God-Man," and always taught by the Church, was given formal expression at the Council of Ephesus, the Third Ecumenical Council (A.D. 431).  There the Holy Fathers accepted and approved the "Anathemas" of St. Cyril of Alexandria against Nestorius. 

To the Orthodox, and to all those who agree with all that has been said about the union of the two natures in Christ, the doctrine under discussion should be an obvious consequence of the Incarnation. Yet, the fact is that there exists now in some Christian groups, as there did in other times, a tendency to find it perfectly proper to worship the divinity of Christ and merely to have reverence for His humanity, as some different Person. 

St. Cyril saw the disastrous possibility of such a differentiation between the divinity and humanity of Christ. Thus he pointed to the similarity between this novel doctrine and the denial of the title Theotokos to the holy Virgin Mary. In either case, the result would be to separate Christ into two persons.

The Two Wills and the Two Energies

The heresy which denied the Incarnation, or minimized it, had disturbed the peace of the Church from the earliest times and manifested itself in various forms, as we have already seen. The victory for the Biblical doctrine of the fulness of Christ's divinity and His humanity was won at the Council Chalcedon (A.D. 451), its definition of the two natures and their union standing as a basic article of faith. 

Next is seen the error of denying Christ's human nature in the so-called monothelite heresy. The name was derived from the Greek words monos, one, and theliton, will. It was applied to those who said they accepted the teaching of the two natures, but then actually rejected it by saying that both the human will and the human energy (operation and acts) were absorbed by the divine will and energy. Therefore, it followed that in Christ there was but one will and one energy: the divine. 

Some historians have seen in this idea an attempt at appeasing the Monophysites, a kind of compromise that might restore the already damaged ecclesiastical unity of the Empire, thereby securing its political unity. It was supported by some emperors and high-ranking clergymen, who felt that the formula could be accepted by those who had accepted Chalcedon's definition and by those who had rejected it. 

On the other hand, the defenders of the Orthodox doctrine, principally St. Maximus the Confessor, saw in it the rejection of the Incarnation, the assumption of human nature by the Son of God. Maximus argued that without a human will and energy, authentic humanity would be inconceivable. Thus he asserted that the two natural wills of Christ are not contrary to each other, but that the human will follows the divine. This conformity is not an abolition of the human nature, but its restoration. Man was created in the first place to seek to do God's will. 

The Sixth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople III, A.D. 680-681) condemned monothelitism in these terms: "We confess likewise in Christ, in accordance with the doctrine of the holy Fathers, two natural wills or desires and two natural energies [operations or acts], without change, without confusion; two natural wills [wills corresponding to each nature], not contrary wills, whatever impious heretics may have said: His human will obeys and submits itself without opposition or struggles to His all-powerful divine will." (Acts of the Council)

Let us now examine the evidence of Holy Scripture in this regard. The Saviour said of Himself: "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me." (Jn. 6:38) In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed: "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt," (Mt. 26:39); and, "not my will, but thine, be done," (Lk. 22:42). By distinguishing in these two cases His will from the Father's and by subjecting the first to the second, Jesus obviously indicated His human will, because His divine will was not different from the will of the Father but identical. 

Before His saving sufferings, He said: "Let this cup pass from me," but, of course, He was to drink of that cup as a man, and not as God. Therefore, as man He wanted to avoid the suffering; it was the expression of a natural fear. "'Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done:' 'Not mine,' that is to say, my will and thy will, inasmuch as I am of the same essence as thou." (St. John of Damascus, Exact Expositon of the Orthodox Faith, III, 18) 

St. Athanasius, interpreting the Lord's words in Matthew 26:39, wrote: "Here the Lord manifests two wills: the human will proper to the flesh, and the divine will, proper to God. The first, in accordance with the weakness of the flesh, prays to avoid suffering; but the second accepts." (On the Incarnation of the Word of God, n. 21) 

The holy Apostle Paul says: "He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," (Ph. 2:8); and further, “Though  He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him." (Hb. 5:8,9) Humbling Himself and becoming obedient must both be attributed to His human will, as St. Maximus the Confessor states in his Dialogue with Pyrrhus

That the Lord Jesus Christ manifested the will proper to His human nature throughout His earthly life is seen in the following: "They gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink." (Mt. 27:34) "And from thence He arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it..." (Mk.7:24) "The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee..." On. 1:43) "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for He would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill Him." (Jn. 7:1) 

In Jesus' lament over Jerusalem, we find an expression of His divine will, a will for His people that He had even before His Incarnation: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, but ye would not!" (Lk. 13:34) 

With regard to the energies, it is clear that what belongs to Christ's divinity is His divine and all-powerful energy, with which He performed miracles. What belongs to His humanity is His human energy: eating, drinking, being thristy, walking, etc. 

In the healing of Jairus' daughter, "He took the damsel by the hand, and said to her...Damsel, I say unto thee, arise..." (Mt. 5:41,42) He took her by the hand and spoke to her. This is the human act or energy. He restored her to life. This is the divine act. 

"The miracles were performed by the Divinity, but not without the flesh, and the lesser things were performed by the flesh, but not separated from the Divinity, which did not suffer, but rendered the sufferings salutary..." (St. John of Damascus, Op. cit., III,19) 

The Chalcedonian formula concerning the way in which the two natures were united in Christ: without confusion or change, without division or separation, applies also, of course, to the two wills and the two energies. Hence, it is proper to speak of Christ's the andric energy (theos - God; andros - man). When He became incarnate, His human energy was deified and not without participation in His divine energy; His divine energy was not without participation in His human energy. Either was accomplished with the cooperation of the other. (St. John of Damascus, Ibid.) 

It cannot go without stating that the monothelite heresy gives us an example of an early attempt at "ecumenical compromise. Byzantine politicians of the Fifth and Sixth Centuries were more concerned about the unity of the Empire than about Christian truth. To them it probably made little difference whether in Christ there was one nature or two. 

The fact is that the Fourth Council had made its definition but it was one not accepted by the Monophysites of Asia and Africa. Certainly, the provinces where they lived now had one more reason to be at odds with Constantinople. 

To the powerful forces that were willing to compromise for political expedience, people like St. Maximus the Confessor, who defended Orthodoxy against compromise, were a threat. He was severely persecuted and mutilated. 

Yet, monothelitism could not have healed the breach. Three parties would have resulted had the politicians been able to force it on the Church for a time. It died and was absorbed by its parent heresy. Nevertheless, what did survive was a certain spirit, not unlike the "ecumenical" spirit of the Twentieth Century, in which all doctrine can be restudied, tampered with or bartered off.


Previous Chapter V - God and Man at Once | Next Chapter VII - The Object of His Ministry

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