Theology in Reconciliation pp. 163-67

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Theology in Reconciliation

God became man means that God as man acts and lives within the limits (ὅροι), principles (λόγοι), measures (μέτρα), and laws (νόμοι) of what is inalienably  and properly human.1 This is one of Cyril’s most characteristic ideas to which he returns time and time again. It is essential to the Incarnation that the Son of God really made his very by way of economic appropriation (οἰκείωσις οἰκονομική) what is ours, namely, human being with its creaturely and finite limits, actual human existence under law, and indeed under the divine condemnation. Hence, far from despising the measures of our humanity (τὰ τῆς ἀνθρωπότητος μέτρα), he lowered himself to live with conditions and within the scale to which we are subject, accomodating himself to our earthly existence in every respect, in such a way as everywhere to observe ‘the measures of kenosis‘ (τὸ τῆς κενώσεως μέτρον).2 Cyril interpreted the Pauline teaching that Christ was made ‘under the law’ (ὑπὸ τὸν νόμον) to refer beyond the moral law to ‘physical law’ (φύσικὸς νόμος) and the ‘law of human nature’ (ὁ τῆς ἀνθρωπίνης φύσεως νόμος), that is, to the laws governing the earthly and temporal conditions of human existence.3 That is not to say that the incarnational descent of the Son of God into ‘diminution’ (ἐν μειώσει)4 took place ‘by nature’ far less ‘by necessity’, as Theodoret understood Cyril to mean, for in his own nature the Son of God as he who transcends all created being, is not limited or circumscribed by time and space, but rather fills the universe with his presence. Rather is the kenosis to be understood as the free act of God which he undertook out of an immense love, willingly submitting to be like us for our sakes within the measures of our humanity, while at the same time ‘making himself endurable to the measures of human nature.’5 But while kenosis is traced back to and grounded in the sovereign freedom of God, it was a voluntary movement in which ‘he necessarily went through the laws of human nature (κεχώρηκεν ἀναγκαίως διὰ τῶν ἀνθρωπίνης φύσεως νόομον).6 That is to say, the voluntary kenosis gave rise to and embraced experiences which were not willed—Cyril insists upon that point—such was the passion that Christ had to undergo, but which he nevertheless freely willed out of love for us.7  Expressed otherwise, in the incarnate humiliation to be one with us under the yoke of the law he freely allowed the humanity he assumed to fulfil its own measures, to follow its own laws, and so, because of the indissoluble union, the physical kenosis, in the one person of the Son, he economically allowed the measures of the manhood to prevail over himself (ἠφίει δὴ οὖν οἰκονομικῶς τοῖς τῆς ἀνθρωπότητος μέτρος ἐφ’ ἑαυτῷ τὸ κρατεῖν)8 It is important to not that Cyril understood this as applying not simply to the physical life of Jesus in the flesh but also to his rational soul of human mind, indeed to the whole human nature which the Son of God hypostatically united to himself. ‘and so he made his own everything that pertained to his own soul as well as his own body, for it was necessary for him to be shown to be like us in every physical and mental way, since we consist of rational soul and body.  Just as in accordance with the economy he allowed his own flesh to experience suffering proper to itself, so he allowed his soul to experience suffering that was its very own. And he kept measure of the kenosis in every respect, God though he was by nature and transcendent over every creature.’9 It was the seriousness which he took this, together with his conviction as to the indivisible reality of the one Person of Christ, God come among us as man, that posed a problem for Cyril: how to express Jesus’ real human growth from ignorance to knowledge, in consonance with his divine nature, and yet in such a way as to avoid anything that savoured of ‘wonder-working’ which would be inconsistent with the principles of the economy (τοῖς τῆς οἰκονομίας λόγος).10 He found himself forced to say that while humanly Christ was ignorant, yet divinely he partook of the wisdom of the Father, so although he subjected himself to our human ignorance which he had genuinely made his own, he was nevertheless ignorant of nothing: from the point of view of that contrast he appeared to be ignorant.11 On the ground of these statements it has been argued that Cyril had no room for mental and moral growth in Christ, yet the contrast he draws is not between the physical and the mental in Christ, but between the physical and the mental which were subject to the measures of human nature and inevitably involve ignorance (e.g. of the future) on the one hand and the divine nature which does not need to increase and grow on the other hand.12 Even then, Cyril was not playing off the human nature of Christ over against his divine nature, for that kind of dualist approach was abhorrent to him, but reverting to the basic point that since in Christ God did not come into man but became man, while remaining God, he lives as man, acting both divinely and humanly, as it befitted him in his one incarnate reality (μία φύαις σεσακωμένη). Hence, in recognising the difference between the natures (φύσεις), Cyril says, ‘I acknowledge that the Lord speaks at once both in a divine and human manner'(οἶδα τὸν κὺριον Θεοπρεπῶς τε καὶ ἀνθρωπίνος ἅμα διαλεγόμενον).13 The divine and the human activities, as it were, the obverse of one another in his one divine-human activity (μὶα ἐνέργεια), for the activities of the divine and human natures have come together in the same way as their hypostases (ὑποστάσεων σύνοδος).14 It is understandable, therefore, but doubtless misleading, that Cyril should speak of the incarnate Son as seeming or appearing to be ignorant, or as giving out that he did not know, when in his divine nature he actually was the Wisdom of the Father. It was an economic and vicarious ignorance (“for our sakes”)  by way of voluntary restraint of his divine knowledge throughout a life of continuous kenosis in the flesh in which he refused to transgress the limits of the creaturely and earthly conditions of human nature.15 Regarded from a later point of view in the development of Christological thought, Cyril would appear not to have thought sufficiently into one another the ‘anhypostatic’ and ‘enhypostatic’ aspects of the Incarnation, which he brought into play in his debate with Theodoret, but nevertheless throughout that work,16 as also for for example in the seventeenth Paschal Homily,17 it is made indubitably clear that he entertained no docetic ideas about the rational soul or human mind of Jesus or his growth from infancy to maturity completely within the measures and laws governing human nature.18 The human experiences of Jesus, for example, the troubling of his soul, his feelings of anguish, fear and his mental suffering, make it quite clear that he was a man born of woman as we are, not in some apparent or supposed way (οὐ δοκήσει καὶ ὑπονοίᾳ), but really and truly (φυσικῶς δὲ μᾶλλον καὶ ἀλμθῶς). Nor can that language about Christ in the Gospels be explained away as anthropomorphisms, he claimed, for what they describe belongs to his condescension towards us.19 That applies with full force to the ignorance of Christ which Cyril held to be inescapably part of his saving abasement to be one with us and to share to the full our actual human life and experience.20

1. See Adv. Nestorium, MPG LXXVI, i, 17B; 20D; 21AB; 28C; 35A; ii, 73AB; 76A; 80B; 89C; iii, 116C; 117A; 120C-121A; 145B; 168A; iv, 169BC, v, 221C; 224C, 228bB; or Quod unus sit Christus, MPG LXXV, 1257A; 1272B; 1277C; 1288C; 1293A; 1301B; 1309D; 1317A; 1324A; 1325B; 1332BC; 1348D, etc.

2. Epist Ad Nestorium, MPG LXXVII, iii, 116BCExplicatio duodecim capitum MPG LXXVI, 300C-301CAdv. Nestorium, LXXVI, 73A-76CApol. Con. Theodoretum, LXXVI, 413BCThesaurus, MPG LXXV, 428A.

3. Thesaurus, MPG LXXV, 428AAdv. Nestorium, MPG LXXVI, i, 17B-21AScholia MPG LXXV, 1397BQuod unus sit Christus, MPG LXXV, 1288C-1293A; 1296BC.

4. Epist. ad Acacium MPG LXXVII, 193C.

5. Epist Ad Nestorium, MPG LXXVII, iii, 109DAdv. Nestorium, MPG LXXVI, i, 28C-37A; ii, 73D; vi, 221CQuod unus sit Christus, MPG LXXV 1285A-1288DScholia MPG LXXV 1374BC; 1398BCEpist. ad Hebraeos, MPG LXXIV, 965D; 969B.

6. Adv. Nestorium, MPG LXXVI, i, 21B; ii, 101B; iii, 125BAd Nestorium, MPG LXXVII, iii, 112D; 116CQuod unus sit Christus, MPG LXXV, 1264A; 1268AIn Ioannis Evangelium, MPG LXXIV, 513CDApol. con. Theodosium, MPG LXXVI, 405DDe recta fide ad reginas, MPG LXXVI, 1205BC.

7. In Ioannis Evangelium, MPG LXXIII, 529C-544C; LXXIV, 328A-329CAdv. Nestorium, MPG LXXVI, v, 228B-229BQuod unus sit Christus, MPG LXXV, 1352B-D.

8. Quod unus sit Christus, MPG LXXV, 1332B; cf. Apostolic Constitutions 7.3.47.

9. De recta fide, MPG LXXVI, ii, 1413BC. See also In Ioannis Evangelium MPG LXXIII, 532AAd Nestorium, MPG LXXVII, 20D-21AAdv Nestorium, MPG LXXVI, V, 228BApol. con Theodoretum, MPG LXXVI, 440C-441CScholia, MPG LXXV, 1388BCQuod unus sit Christus, MPG LXXV, 1332BHomilia Paschalis 17, MPG LXXVII, 776A-781A.

10.Quod unus sit Christus MPG LXXV, 1332B.

11. Apol. con Theodoretum, MPG LXXVI, 416BCAd Nestorium, MPG LXXVI, iii, 155CDAdv. Anthropomorphitas, MPG LXXVI, 100B-104ADe recta fide ad reginas, MPG LXXVI, 1353BCQuod unus sit Christus MPG LXXV, 1332BThesaurus MPG LXXV, 368D-380B; 421D-429C.

12. Apol. con. orientales, MPG LXXVI 341B. See A. B. Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ, pp. 55ff., and 366ff., (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 3rd edit. 1889).

13. Epist. ad Acacium, MPG LXXVII, 200BApol. con. Theodoretum, MPG LXXVI, 413BC; 416B-DEpist. ad Succensum, MPG LXXVII, i, 237C.

14. Apol. con. Theodoretum, MPG LXXVI, 396C.

15. This seems to be the point of Cyril’s idea that the mystery of the Incarnation took place noiselessly and silently (ἀφοφητὶ καὶ σεσιγμένως), for the self-revelation of Christ as Son of God kept pace with the advancing measures of his humanity: In Ioannis Evangelium MPG LXXIII, 845C-848B; LXXIV, 53D-56A; 61D; 101B-DAdv. Nestorium, MPG LXXVI, iii, 153BCQuod unus sit Christus MPG LXXV, 1332BDe recta fide ad reginas, MPG LXXVI, 1353B-DThesaurus MPG LXXV, 425B-428B.

16. Apol. con Theodoretum, MPG LXXVI, 397C.

17. Homilia Paschalis, MPG LXXVII, xvii, 768D-789AB-D.

18. See further, In Lucam, MPG LXXII, 505D-508DIn Ioannis Evangelium MPG LXXIII, 157D-160AIn epist. ad Corinthos ii, MPG LXXIV, 936CDe recta fide ad reginas, MPG LXXVI, ii, 1412D-1413DExplicatio, MPG LXXVI, 297A; 300CApol. con. orientales, MPG LXXVI, 320BScholia, MPG LXXV, 1396A-1397BFragmenta con. Diodorum, MPG LXXVI, 1435C; 1437B-1438B, etc.

19. In Ioannis Evangelium MPG LXXIV, 88D-89D. 

20. See, for example, Thesaurus MPG LXXV, 369D; or Homiliae, MPG LXXVII, 1092C, where this is spoken of as taking place, ἀληθινῶς, καὶ οὐ δοκήσει καὶ φανταασία. Also Con. Orientales, MPG LXXVI, 384CD.