On Reasons that Chalcedon was Rejected

Aloys Grillmeier SJ 1910-1998

The parting [between non-Chalcedonians and followers of Chalcedon] begins with ‘in two natures’, which, however, is nothing but the consequence of the Cyrillic ‘perfect in divinity’, ‘the very same One also perfect in humanity’ or ‘One and the same consubstantial with the Father according to divinity’ and ‘consubstantial with us according to humanity’. Why does Timothy [II Aelurus, non-Chalcedonian Patriarch of Alexandria (d. 477), Coptic Synaxarion 12th Amshir] energetically reject the application of the word and concept physis to the ‘complete humanity’ of Christ? He seems to have various reasons for this, and they cannot all be reduced to a common denominator:

(1) To speak of nature means to assert of a subject what belongs to it necessarily and unrelinquishably from birth. To the divine Logos, however, belongs from eternity necessarily and unrelinquishably only the divine essence. To assert of Him a second ‘nature’ would mean that being human belongs to the one and only Son of God just as originally and necessarily as being divine. The Incarnation is rather a deed of the ‘oikonomia’, that is, of the free assumption of human form in time:

‘He is not that which He was not through a metamorphosis or a transformation (conversion); rather, He remained entirely God, consubstantial with the Father Who begot Him; because of the oikonomia [God’s free arrangement of salvation] and not because of His nature, He became human for us and our salvation.’ (Timothy Ael., Contra eos dicunt duas naturas [CPG 5475])

(2) If one must apply to the humanity of Christ the designation ‘second nature of the God Logos’, then one would have to make the same assertions about it as about the divine essence of Christ; what cannot be said of the divine nature must be also be withheld from the human nature:

‘It is impossible to call the life-giving flesh of our Lord the second nature of the God Logos or His second essence. Indeed, it is written that He Who was crucified, the Lord of glory [cf. 1 Cor. 2:8], suffered in His flesh. No one can say that the Lord of Glory suffered in His nature or essence [i.e., in His divinity]. But if the God Logos appropriated Himself another nature, that is, united Himself with a perfect human being, and if Christ is of two natures, as He seems to be for those who speak of two natures, then it follows that they say that He suffered in His nature [i.e., in His divinity] — which is a godless assertion — and that they assert that the divine nature is capable of suffering. For the nature of Christ is only divinity, which also became flesh without transformation for our salvation and so that He might appear in the flesh, according to the Scriptures [cf. 1 Tim. 3:16]…’ (Timothy Ael., op. cit., fol. 19vb)

(Classical Christianity: If the perfect and complete humanity of Christ is not a ‘nature’ then what exactly is it for the followers of Dioscorus, Timothy Aelurus and Severus?  Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky supplies the answer: “Hardest of all was intelligibly defining the form and character of the human ‘traits’ in the God-Man synthesis. The followers of Severus could not speak of Christ’s humanity as a ‘nature’. It broke down into a system of traits, for the doctrine of the Logos ‘taking’ humanity was still not developed fully by Monophysitism… The Monophysites usually spoke of the Logos’ humanity as oikonomia. It is not without foundation that the fathers of the Council of Chalcedon detected here a subtle taste of original Docetism. Certainly this is not the Docetism of the ancient Gnostics at all, nor is it Apollinarianism. However, to the followers of Severus the ‘human’ in Christ was not entirely human, for it was not active, was not ‘self-motivated’. The Byzantine Fathers of the Sixth Through Eighth Centuries

Therefore, the Christ of traditional non-Chalcedonianism has but one nature (the divine) in addition to human traits (excluding human will and energy) taken up for the salvation of Man.

It was precisely this consequence that Chalcedon sought to avoid through its distinction between hypostasis and nature. With the text just quoted, Timothy shows that he did not understand this basic idea. (Classical Christianity: St. Paisios the Athonite rightly remarked, “They don’t say that the Monophysites didn’t understand the Holy Fathers – they say that the Holy Fathers did not understand them. In other words, they talk as if they are right and and the Fathers misunderstood them.” Hieromonk Isaac: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos; 2012 For the English Language by the Holy Monastery of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian , p. 659) As long as he kept his concept of nature, he was right in rejecting the two-natures formula. But his two objections against the application of the nature concept to the humanity of Jesus are contradictory. (1) To assert the ‘nature’ of the incarnate Logos can mean only what belongs to Him from eternity as the Son of the Father. To have humanity as a ‘second nature’ would mean that Christ would also have to have been preexistent as a human being, and indeed in the form of God. This, however, would make humbling and exalting, as described in Phil. 2, impossible:

‘If those who assume two natures say that the voluntary kenosis, the humbling and the exalting belong to the human nature  [of Christ], then how can it be that He was in the form of God (Phil. 2:6) and renounced His greatness, He Who is worshipped by all in the glory appropriate to God [cf. Phil. 2:11]? How can one say that He took on the form of a slave if He already was one? How has He become like human beings and been found in human form (Phil. 2:7), this human being Who was already this by nature, according to the statements of those who speak of two natures? Then He would have become like God through robbery. But He humbled Himself (Phil. 2:8)…’ (ibid., fol. 18vc)

This original meaning of physis, which the Syriac kyana also contains, is thus to be considered: it means ‘innate essence’. For the Logos of the Father, creaturely humanity can never be ‘innate’, that is ‘nature’. There is absolutely no place for a ‘duality’, for the nature of the Logos is simple. And to a ‘simple’ being one cannot accord a ‘natural duality’ [cf. ibid., fol. 19rb, where Timothy declares it impossible to accord ‘two natures to simple beings’]. Timothy’s rejection of the nature concept for the humanity of Christ is best understood on the basis of this fundamental idea of his. (2) Following this immediately, yet secondarily, is a further determination of nature: it is entirely, completely, with all its characteristics, what Timothy interprets with the words hypostasis (qenōma) and person:

‘There is no nature that is not also hypostasis and no hypostasis that is not person (parsōpā). Thus if there are two natures, there are also with all necessity two persons and even two Christs, as the new teachers proclaim.’ (thus in the 9th refutation of the definition of Chalcedon, fol. 41rc)

In order to escape the Nestorian division into two natures or persons, Timothy reserves the term nature solely for the God Logos, the mia physis tou theo logou (one nature of God the Word), and expresses the humanity only with the sesarkomene. He wants to hold exclusively to the Nicean schema, in which for him the entire doctrine of the Incarnation is expressed — not in a static view, as seems characteristic of Chalcedon, but in the spectacle of the historical event. We will summarize his teaching again with a section of the petition that he sent to Emperor Leo:

‘But I believe that God has put into the mind of your Serenity to set right the statements in this letter, which are a cause of stumbling to the believers; for these statements are in accord, and agreement, and conjunction with the doctrine of Nestorius, who was condemned for cleaving asunder and dividing the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in respect of natures, and persons, and properties, and names, and operations; who also interpreted the words of Scripture to mean two, which are not contained in the Confession of Faith of the 318. For they declared that the Only-Begotten Son of God, Who is of the same Nature with the Father, came down, and became incarnate, and was made man; and suffered, and rose again, and ascended to Heaven; and shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And natures, and persons, and properties were not mentioned by them, nor did they divide them. But they confessed the divine and the human properties to be of One by the dispensation.

Accordingly, I do not agree with the transaction of Chalcedon, because I find in them divisions and cleavage of the dispensation.’ (Zacharias Rh., HE IV 6)

Thus the number ‘two’ cannot be applied at all to Christ as long as the assertion concerns Christ Himself. One cannot speak of two natures or persons or characteristics or names or activities. Similar formulations are found in the History of Dioscorus, but there they exhibit a more advanced form, which belongs to the time of Severus. Thus Dioscorus is supposed to have written to Emperor Marcian:

‘How can the rebellious [Pope] Leo have dared to open his mouth and blaspheme the Most High by saying: we must confess in the Messiah two natures and two characteristics and [two] activities, since the holy church confesses one nature of the incarnate God without mixing or change; [even in death] the divinity of my Master was not separated from His humanity, not even for a moment; but this horrible, this stupid, this accursed Leo, who wanted to separate the soul from the body of our Lord, must immediately and without delay be thrown into utter darkness.’ (F. Nau, JA X 1, p. 254 [with Syriac text on p. 36] cf. Grillmeier, CCT II/1, pp. 136-137: The above-mentioned Logos separation is, however, also rejected by Leo.)

Similarly, Dioscorus is supposed to have written to Juvenal of Jerusalem, still at Chalcedon:

‘Cursed by anyone who assumes two natures in the Messiah after the indivisible unity…! Cursed be anyone who assumes in the Messiah two properties and two activities.’ (ibid., 278 (Syr. p. 64)

(Classical Christianity: Fr. Florovsky offers helpful commentary on the theological formulation above: “In the contemplation of the Monophysites the human in Christ was like a passive object of Divine influence. Divinization or theosis seems to be a unilateral act of Divinity without sufficiently taking into count the synergism of human freedom, the assumption of which in no way supposes a ‘second subject’. In their religious experiment the element of freedom in general was not sufficiently pronounced and this could be called anthropological minimalism.’ The Byzantine Fathers of the Sixth Through Eighth Centuries)

…This introduces the main themes of the Monophysite controversy with the followers of Chalcedon. (Christ in the Christian Tradition, Vol. 2. Part 4. ‘The Church of Alexandria with Nubia and Ethiopia after 451, pp. 31-34)



  1. Fundamentally, what is at work here is the failure to distinguish between Person and Nature. The Monophysites believe that the Natures of Humanity and Divinity underwent a union, and speak as though they were united to one another in the incarnation. But that is not exactly true. The union occurs on the level of Person, not nature. The Person of the Word took the humanity of his mother and made it his own. The Human Soul of Christ belongs to none but the Word. The Human flesh of Christ belongs to none other than the person of the Word. The Human willing of Christ belongs to none other than the person of the Word. Here, the unity of divine nature and human nature are not direct but tangential.

    The reason both Nestorians and Monophysites reject this is because both carry philosophy to deeply into the mystery. For the Monophysites, every existing thing has its own particular being and essence, which is true. But Christ is one, therefore, to be philosophically consistent, Christ’s incarnate unity must also be a natural unity as in philosophy, after all he is one!

    The Nestorians did the opposite, yet followed the same reasoning: Christ is clearly true God and True Man. Since Christ is True God he must be a fully divine person, and since he is fully man, he must also be a fully individualized human person. So the Word and the Human Person are conjoined from the moment of conception. The problem here, instead of a Humandivine nature, you get two centers of consciousness in Christ.

    Rejecting the heresies of purely human reasoning, the Catholic Church or Christ declared the One Logos, the only personal subject of the incarnation to subsist IN two natures, tossing philosophy onto the ground and trampling human reasoning and its idolatrous tendencies and saying that He who is from all eternity created and made one with his own Person, his own Hypostasis, his own complete humanity, body soul and will, such that HE is the one person who, in his humanity submits to his own divinity and is undivided and unconfused.

  2. Daniel,

    Thanks for your comments. You are exactly right, both of these errors are due to holding hard and fast to human logic and philosophy. Nestorianism and Monophysitism follow the same philosophical rules. In the Dialogue with Emperor Justinian, Paul of Nisbis states:

    “If Christ possesses subsistence in His Divine nature, and subsistence in His human nature, then a subsistence plus a subsistence makes two subsistences. Therefore, Christ has two hypostases and two natures.”

    Compare Paul’s Nestorian theology with Timothy Aelurus’ statement in his Refutation of Chalcedon:

    ‘There is no nature that is not also hypostasis and no hypostasis that is not person (parsōpā). Thus if there are two natures, there are also with all necessity two persons and even two Christs, as the new teachers proclaim.’ (thus in the 9th refutation of the definition of Chalcedon, fol. 41rc)

    St. Anastasios the Sinaite perceived how following the rules of philosophy leads into errors:

    “Aristotle says that persons are particular essences; going by this vain rule, Arius said that there were three essences, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Going by this iniquitous definition, Severus said that Christ was one nature formed from two particular essences, that is, separate hypostases.” (Patrologia Graeca, Vol. LXXXIX, Col. 108B.)

    This is the reason that tritheism arose in the Monophysite camp. Nestorianism and Monophysitism actually have other similarities, which prompted St. Maximus to declare: “Nestorius and Severus… have one aim in their ungodliness, even though the mode is different.”

    I was really shocked when I saw that Severos taught that the Person of the Incarnate Logos is a product of the Union and not the same as the Divine Logos from eternity. Nestorius also taught that the Person of Christ was a product of the ‘prosopic union’ and not merely the Logos or the human Jesus. In the Byzantine Christ, Fr. Demetrios Bathrellos elucidates:

    ‘For Maximus, the distinction between person/hypostasis, on the one hand, and nature/essence on the other, is indispensible for the articulation of a proper Christology. Severus’ fatal mistake consists precisely in his refusal to distinguish between them, because, without this distinction, it is not possible to denote unity and and distinction in a satisfactory way. Maximus argues that by identifying hypostasis with nature, Severus confuses divinity and humanity. By the same token, by arguing that there is a distinction in the natural qualities too, because, since nature and hypostasis are the same, ‘natural qualities’ equals ‘hypostatic qualities’; thus, for Maximus, Severus falls into Nestorianism.’ (Ep. 15, 568D) (Byzantine Christ, pg. 101)

  3. Another excellent point regarding St Maximos is that his treatment on the unity of will between the Human Nature of the Word and the Divine nature of the word is an excellent model for how Grace can infallibly direct or move the will in such a way that it freely assents to the divine will. In this we can see perhaps some influence of St Augustine on St Maximos, who in many ways agrees with his theology. But it is an excellent point of meditation, the relation of the natures in Christ is an image of our nature under the influence of Grace.

Speak Your Mind