Studies in Christian Essentials

By Harry E. Jessop


Chapter 8



The Christological controversy within the Early Church was long and bitter, extending over several centuries, but finding its fiercest conflict in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. During the earlier period this question was not dominant, for with it were involved other issues, such as the doctrine of the Trinity and the personality of the Holy Spirit. The question finally arose as to how the union of the divine and human in a single Person could be conceived, and how these two distinct aspects of Christ's personality could be thought of as related to each other.

First came the Docetic and Gnostic controversies, in which the reality of Christ's human body was denied. Then followed the Ebionite heresy, in which the Godhead of Christ was questioned, but a peculiar relationship to God was accorded Him by reason of the unmeasured fullness of the Spirit which rested upon Him from His baptism onward.

Then came the Sabellians with their modalistic monarchian doctrine that the Son was not a distinct personality, but, like the Spirit, was an aspect, a mode, "an expression of the one God."

Now followed the Arians, with their teaching of Christ as a created being, higher than man, yet lower than God -- the Logos uniting himself with the humanity of Jesus and taking the place of the human soul, thus forming neither man nor God, but a demigod.

At last the controversy came into the open, and at Nicaea in Bithynia, A.D. 325, the first ecumenical council was held and what became known as the Nicene Creed was framed. This, however, did not end the controversy. For half a century the conflict raged. Five times Athanasius, who had so stoutly opposed the Arians, was driven into exile, and men took his place of whom it is declared that in character they were much less worthy.

The Nicene Creed affirmed the oneness of essence of the Son with the Father, but this now raised a further question, namely, how this divine, coeternal Son is related to the humanity in which He appeared on earth. The Apollinarians asserted that, while Jesus had a body, the Logos within Him took the place of the human mind. This error was dealt with at the council of Constantinople, which reviewed and strengthened the Nicene Creed, finally making it to read as follows:

We believe:

  1. In one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible:
  2. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, the only begotten (that is, of the substance of the Father), God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth);
  3. Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
  4. And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and suffered and was buried;
  5. And risen again on the third day according to the Scriptures,
  6. And ascended into heaven;
  7. And sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
  8. And is coming again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end;
  9. And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the prophets;
  10. One holy catholic and apostolic Church:
  11. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.
  12. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Soon the battle raged again, this time the Nestorians denying the real union between the divine and the human in Jesus and asserting two distinct personalities. This error was condemned at the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431.

Then came the Eutychians teaching that strange intermingling of the two natures in Christ which constituted a third nature, and the controversy led to Chalcedon that fourth great ecumenical council, where the question of the person Christ was clearly faced, discussed, and defined. The findings of the earlier councils were reviewed and endorsed and a new creed or symbol framed which read as follows:

Following the holy fathers we teach with one voice that the Son of God and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same Person, and that He is perfect in Godhead and perfect in Manhood, very God and very Man of a reasonable soul and human body consisting, consubstantial with us, sin only excepted; begotten of His Father before the worlds according to His Godhead; but in these last days for us men and for our salvation born into the world of the virgin Mary the Mother of God according to His Manhood. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably united, and that without distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and Hypostasis, not separated or divided into two persons but one and the same Son and Only Begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets of old time have spoken concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the fathers hath delivered to us.

Even yet the controversy continued, Monophysitism with its one nature theory, and later the Monothelite controversy concerning the will in Christ.

Some have not hesitated to speak slightingly of these creeds, calling them vain attempts at word spinning, which are now old, musty, and outworn. Those who talk in this manner are utterly lacking in appreciation for these great symbols, and the blood, sweat, and tears out of which they have come. Watch these men in their magnificent endeavor to build a defense against the subtle working of error, using every word they could, piling one expression upon another lest there should be left one loophole through which it might find its way in. This age of jazz might do well to listen once again to these men, involved though their wording of things may seem to be; for again in these latter days, as we have already seen, there have arisen these deadly modern errors, each with its own degree of spiritual poison for the unwary soul.

All these attacks, however, whether ancient or modern, have only the more clearly established one great fact, namely, that the person of Christ is greater than all criticism and all opposition. Today He stands supreme, towering above all else. When men have exhausted their ingenuity and hell has done its worst, He will continue to stand before a gainsaying world as GOD MANIFEST IN THE FLESH.


If at all possible, do some definite reading on theological Symbolics. Do not rest satisfied until you are thoroughly acquainted with the historic background of the creeds. Ponder the creeds themselves. Were they adequate? Should they now be revised? If not, why not? If so, to what extent? Learn the creeds so as to be able to recite them.


  1. What happened at Nicaea?

  2. What was the relationship of Athanasius to the Arians?

  3. What happened at Constantinople?

  4. What happened at Ephesus?

  5. Why the need of the Council of Chalcedon?