Fundamental Christian Theology, Vol. 2

By Aaron Hills

Part IV - Christology

Chapter 3


Of course in a carnal world, every great truth is counterfeited this one with the rest. Many errors during the ages have appeared in the discussions of this doctrine.

1. The Docetae, from the Greek word dokeo-to seem, to appear. This was an heretical sect-a form of gnosticism which arose in the first Century. They denied the incarnation of God in Christ. The body of Christ was a mere deceptive appearance. Christ only appeared to be a human being. He only appeared to die on the cross. His blood was only phantom blood. Other features of their teaching led directly to vile living, and threatened the very life of Christianity. Peter and Jude and John wrote against them. This explains the remarkable beginning of the first chapter of the First Epistle of John: "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life." In other words, "We have seen Jesus and heard him and handled him with our hands, and know he was no phantom man, but a real human being."

2. The Ebionites. Authorities differ as to whether they appeared at the close of the first or the beginning of the second century. They denied the deity of Christ. They affirmed:

(1) That the Christ of the New Testament was contrary to the representations of the Messiah of the Old.

(2) That the Christ of the Church was contradict6ry to the Old Testament conception of God. The divinity of Christ was incompatible with the Monotheism of the Jewish Scriptures.

(3) That the annulling of the Old Testament law was in conflict with its divine origin. This Jewish sect held that Jesus was born a man, the Son of Joseph and Mary by ordinary generation; that at His baptism he received the Spirit of God, and became conscious of His call as the Messiah. They were humanitarians like the Socinians of a later age. They repudiated the teaching of St. Paul. The Deity of Christ and the divine incarnation were both denied.

3. ARIANISM. This heresy originated with Arius born A. D. 250, died 336. He denied that the Son was co-essential and co-eternal with God; but He was the greatest created Spirit.

Dr. Shedd says in "History of Christian Doctrine": "Four factors are necessary in order to the complete conception of Christ's Person: 1. True and proper deity; 2. True and proper humanity; 3. The union of deity and humanity in one Person; 4. The distinction of deity from humanity in the One Person, so that there be no mixture of natures. If either of these is wanting, the dogmatic statement is an erroneous one. The heresies which originated in the Ancient Church, took their rise, in the failure to combine all these elements in the doctrinal statement. Some one or more of these integral parts of the subject were adopted, while the others were rejected.

The Arians would not concede the existence of a truly and properly divine nature in the Person of Jesus Christ. Even the Semi-Arians, who allowed that the Son of God, or the Logos, was of a nature similar to that of God, yet not identical with it, could not attribute absolute divinity to the Redeemer of the world. That exalted and pre-existent being who became incarnate in Christ, even upon the Semi-Arian theory could not be called God-man with technical accuracy. But the Arian Christ was confessedly lacking in a divine nature in every sense of the term. Though the Son of God was united with human nature in the birth of Jesus, yet that Son of God was a creation. He indeed existed long before that birth, but not from eternity. The only element, consequently, in the Arian construction of Christ's Person, that was preserved intact and pure, was the humanity.

In the same class fall the earlier Nominal Trinitarians who held that the Son is not a subsistence in the essence, but only an effluence or energy issuing from it. They could not logically assert the union of the divine nature, with the humanity of Jesus" (Christian Doctrine, Vol. I, pp. 392, 393).

4. Apollinarianism. This Christology was so named from Apollinaris, Bishop of Laodicea, in 362

A. D. He was an opponent of Arianism, but went to the other extreme and denied the human mind in Christ, the place of which was supplied by the Logos. On the supposition that man was composed of body, soul and spirit, or rational and moral nature, it was assumed by Apollinaris that the Son of God united himself to the physical and psychic natures of man and omitted the pneuma, the moral and spiritual nature. This meant an imperfect human nature in Christ. The disproof of the theory is its inconsistency with the human facts in the life of Christ, and with the fact of the incarnation in the undivided nature of man. The mind or Spirit is so much of man that without it, there is no true human nature. In opposition to this heresy, the orthodox doctrine affirmed a reasonable human soul, an expression still retained.

5. Nestorianism. This heresy takes its name from Nestorius, a Presbyter of Antioch and later Patriarch of Constantinople (428-431). He was the most eminent exponent of the doctrine which really originated with his teacher Theodorus of Mopsuestia. The doctrine held to two natures in Christ--so distinct, apparently as to involve a double personality, united only in a moral union.

While it has been the special aim of the Apollinarian doctrine to make sure of the oneness of the person of Christ, it was equally the aim of the Nestorian doctrine to make sure of the integrity of His two natures, particularly of His human nature.

It is true the leaders of the movement claimed to hold the personal oneness of Christ, and denied the dualism with which Cyril of Alexandria charged them. But, in spite of their disavowals, their language went so far that it ultimately divided the Church. The Nestorian Church of Persia formally separated from the Church of the Roman empire, and put forth as their doctrinal basis the assertion that Christ consists of two substances, two natures, and of two persons or hypostases, the natures continuing to subsist unchanged and the persons also. Of course such a doctrine left no place for the reality of the divine incarnation, and must be false to the Christology of the Scriptures.

6. Eutychianism. This error is coupled with the name of Eutyches "a monk with a notable lack of culture, an intense love of debate and an extreme doggedness, and great zeal." He was condemned by the Council of Constantinople in 448 A. D. and the decision was reversed by the Council of Ephesus in 449 and again his doctrines were condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A. D. The Eutychians were often called Monophysites.

This is the opposite error to Nestorianism. It asserts the unity of self-consciousness in the Person of Christ, but loses the duality of the natures. Eutyches taught that in the incarnation, the human nature was transmuted into the divine; so that the resultant was ONE PERSON AND ONE NATURE.

For this reason, the Eutychians held that it was accurate and proper to say that "God suffered"-meaning thereby that He suffered in God's nature. When the Catholics employed this phrase, it was with the meaning that God suffered in man's nature.

This view contradicted the Chalcedonian symbol, which declared that in Christ there were two complete, unmixed, and unchanged natures, the human and the divine. They did not plainly teach "whether the divine was humanized, or the human deified, or the two so mixed and compounded as to constitute a nature neither human nor divine, though the stronger tendency was toward the view of the deification of the human nature" (Miley). In this view Christ was wholly divine. The doctrine is openly contradicted by the daily facts of His life. The Incarnation would lose its deep meaning. The grounds of the atonement and the sympathy of Christ through the common suffering with us would be swept away.

The Chalcedon symbol is an attempt by Council to straighten out these conflicting partial views. "It teaches:

1. That the uniting of the two natures in one personality does not so confuse or mix them that their distinctive properties are destroyed.

2. It prohibits the division of Christ into two selves or persons." He is one divine-human personality.

7. Socinianism. Laelius Socinus, born in Siena, Italy, in 1525 died in Zurich, 1562, and his nephew Faustus Socinus (b. 1539, d. 1604) are the authors and first propagators of this system of thought which is the origin of modern Unitarianism. It begins with holding that the Scriptures contain, rather than are a divine revelation. It adopts strong rationalistic principles of biblical exegesis and interpretation, finding therein liberty to "wrest Scriptures from the proof of the orthodox faith and maintain its own opposing views." "With all their rationalism the earlier Socinianism admitted the supernatural in Christianity, and held to the miraculous conception of Christ. But it denied the doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ.

The early Unitarians in 1566 all concurred in maintaining the supremacy of the Father; but with respect to Jesus Christ. (1) Some thought Him to be a God of inferior nature; (2) Others held with Arius, that He was the first Created Spirit who became incarnate with a view to effecting the salvation of mankind; (3) A third party believed Him to be merely a human being. This is the prevalent view now. The Christ of modern Socinianism is a man, nothing more.

Of course, such a system is untrue to the Christology of the Scriptures. It denies the Deity of Christ; the reality of the Incarnation; the union of two natures, in the personal oneness of Christ; and the need of an atonement.

8. The Lutheran- Christology. The error lies in the ascription of divine attributes, particularly of omnipresence to the human nature of Christ. Only by the omnipresence of His human nature could the Lutheran Christology answer to the doctrine of consubstantiation -- the doctrine of the presence and communion of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the supper. If the communicants really partake of the body and blood of Christ, then in some real sense, he must be present in His human nature. Con-substantiation means that the body and blood of Christ are truly present with the bread and wine, and are communicated to those who partake of the supper. "The statement of such a doctrine seems entirely sufficient for its refutation. The human nature assumed by the Logos in the incarnation remained human, with the attributes of the human. In itself it possessed the capacity for only such knowledge, power, and presence as are possible to the human. How then could it become omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent? They answer, through the divine nature with which it was united. But if this union answers for such results, either it must give to the finite attributes of the human nature the plenitude of the infinite, or invest that nature with the attributes of the infinite. Omnipresence such as the Lutheran Christology affirms of the human nature of Christ is possible only with an infinite extension of being. It is at this point that the doctrine encounters insuperable difficulties, even absolute impossibilities. There is no possibility that the human nature of Christ should possess the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence which the Lutheran Christology ascribes to it (Miley, Vol. II, pp. 58, 59).

9. The Kenotic Christology. The seed-thought of this doctrine is ascribed to Zinzendorf. "Kenoticism is the doctrine that in the incarnation the Logos emptied Himself of His divine attributes, or compressed them into the measure and cast of the human; that He parted with His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, and subjected Himself to the limitations of a merely human life." The doctrine is based on a forced interpretation of Phil. 2:6, 7, "Who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, etc." But of what? Surely not of His divine nature, nor of His divine perfections which are essential to and inseparable from Himself. He could and did lay aside His glory, which was His rightful estate as one with the Father. It means a self-emptying or self-divestment of that eternally radiant glory, which made Christ the central attraction of heaven. This idea accords with Jesus' prayer. "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." That glory He once possessed, but had laid aside. This was the act of Kenosis of which St. Paul speaks. He took upon Himself the form of a servant to accomplish the ends of the incarnation. But this differs entirely from emptying Himself of His divine attributes.

"If the Son of God could part with His attributes or humanize Himself, then Deity itself must be mutable. Christ's Deity is conceded in the very idea of His self-divestment of His divine attributes. The theory is subversive of the divine Trinity. The humanized Son, self-emptied of His divine attributes, could no longer be a divine subsistence in the trinity. Furthermore, no ground for an atonement by the blood of Christ could remain. If self-reduced to the measure of a man, His death could be no more saving than the death of a man" (Miley, Vol. II, p. 62). Thus it is that good men have speculated concerning the nature of Christ, without perceiving the logical consequences of their views until often unconsciously, they have given up the very foundations of their Christian faith. All such views are out of harmony with the word of God.