28 September 2009

A History of Chalcedonian Christology



A brief trip to Half-Price Books today yielded an extraordinary find. Just when I had made up my mind finally to purchase The Cambridge Companion to Plato and Eric Havelock’s Preface to Plato, I chanced to look in the Religion section. It seems when I spend half an hour browsing it intently, I find nothing, but when I just take a quick look with no real expectations, something turns up. So today. Two hefty hardcover tomes in dust-jackets by Aloys Grillmeier, SJ, were sitting there waiting for me to use some of the last of my birthday money on them: Christ in Christian Tradition, Vol. II, Part 1: From Chalcedon to Justinian I, trans. Pauline Allen & John Cawte (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), and, with Theresia Hainthaler, Christ in Christian Tradition, Vol. II, Part 2: The Church of Constantinople in the Sixth Century, trans. Pauline Allen & John Cawte (London: Mowbray, 1995).

I’m sorry to say I had never heard of these books, and I’m still a bit confused by the divisions in content and textual history of the series. For instance, I fear that there may have been an expansion of the contents of V2.P1 with the aid of the same Theresia Hainthaler who assisted with V2.P2 and that the edition I have purchased may therefore be dated. I’m not too concerned about this however. Looking through the contents of both volumes has convinced me of the invaluability of these books just as they are. Section 3 of Part One of V2.P1 (pp. 20-89), for instance, consists of an enormous and detailed ‘Formengeschichte of the Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian sources of christology up to John Damascene’, which, besides giving notes on the sources also provides bibliographic information on available editions.

Part Two of V2.P1 however is the ‘Exposition’ (pp. 93-337). Among other fascinating bits, after the long examination of the more important primary sources on Chalcedonian Christology, Grillmeier considers some interesting sources on the reception of the Synod. In Chapter Three, VI.2 of that Part he looks at a homily of St Diadochus of Photike for the Ascension that specifically discusses the debate over the ‘one-nature or two-natures formula’, unlike the important Codex encyclius, ‘in such a way that shows that the Chalcedonian terminology has already penetrated the minds of his hearers’ (p. 233). ‘Yet,’ adds Grillmeier, ‘he still remains completely in the kerygmatic style which draws its proofs from the biblical language of the Old Testament, but makes full use of them for the doctrine of Chalcedon’ (p. 233). Here is the passage Grillmeier cites:

The prophets have thus proclaimed one and the same Lord and they have in no way mingled, as some are introducing, the form of his incarnation (τῆς δὲ σαρκώσεως ἀυτοῦ τὸ σχῆμα; cf. Phil 2, 7b) in one nature. Rather they have brought out wonderfully the characteristics which befit his divinity, while what belongs to the body they have expressed in human fashion to teach us clearly that the one ascending or the Lord raised above the heavens—the former exists with what he is from the Father, the latter came from the Virgin, remains man, being one in form and in hypostasis (εἷς ὢν ἐν εἴδει καὶ εἷς ἐν ὑποστάσει). For the unbodily, having given himself a visible form in the assumption of the flesh, in this form ascends visibly to the place whence invisibly he descended and assumed flesh . . . Thus let no one suppose, brothers, that the tangible human nature which the holy Logos of God really appropriated for himself and is known by (ἐγνώρισται) is altered because of the rays of his divine and sublime essence, as far as the undivided truth of each of the two natures in him is concerned (PG 65, 1145BC [§§V and VI]). (pp. 233-4)

V2.P2 is an even longer book divided into four parts: ‘Part One: The Anti-Chalcedonian Pole—The Christology of Patriarch Severus of Antioch’, ‘Part Two: Retrospective Theological Consideration of Chalcedon’, ‘Part Three: The Theological Actions Undertaken by Justinian I (518-527 and 527-565)’, and ‘Part Four: The End of the Justinianic Era and an Appraisal of the Sixth Century’. Much of Part Two of V2.P2 is concerned with Leontius of Byzantium, whom Grillmeier names in the first chapter of this part ‘The Crown Witness of Chalcedonian Christology’. Unfortunately, as Grillmeier ‘presupposes’ (p. 186), this Leontius is the same Leontius of Byzantium whom Cyril of Scythopolis tells us was expelled from the Mar Saba monastery by St Sabas the Sanctified himself for ‘embracing the doctrines of Origen’ (The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, trans. R.M. Price [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1991], p. 185). Grillmeier argues briefly against an Origenist interpretation of Leontius’s Christology (p. 190), but whatever other arguments might have been marshalled against him, then or now, it seems that as a defender of Chalcedon he was a valuable ally of the Orthodox, if not himself entirely Orthodox in other respects.

I am also especially excited to see Chapter Two, II, of Part Four of V2.P2, ‘Concrete christology: the mysteries of the life of Jesus in Romanos Melodos’ (pp. 513-23). Here Grillmeier writes an interesting summary:

Without a doubt Romanos Melodos offers an impressive supplement to the reflective christology of the theologians and Justinian’s politico-religious decrees. He is the mediator between on the one side the more critical theological discussion based on concepts and formulas, and the celebration of the Church and its people in the Byzantine liturgy on the other, which had its centre in the Hagia Sophia; but he is also the great comforter of all levels of the Imperial City in their great trials, especially since the Nika revolt of 532. Romanos supports a sacralization of everyday life and offers texts for all occasions. Daily life has a series of liturgical acts which accompany the individual hours of the day. The great feasts of the church’s year were centred on Christ’s person and his work of redemption.

. . .

Poetry and music in the liturgy filled the eyes and ears of the Christian with a ‘physical radiance’ (Glanville Downey, Constantinople in the Age of Justinian [Norman, OK: U of Oklahoma, 1980], p. 121); to this Romanos Melodos made a significant contribution. The fine arts, which in the Hagia Sophia had created their greatest work to venerate Christ, the divine Wisdom, became in Constantinople the splendid expression of the content of faith. . . . (pp. 522-3)

I must admit that unless I suddenly become very interested in historical theology, I probably will not be reading these books through. But as references, I can foresee much pleasurable as well as useful ‘dipping into’ them.

9 comments:

T. Ambrose Nazianzus said...

Man, I can't imagine anyone not knowing Aloys Grillmeier. He's a Patristics legend, apparently (and a Jesuit!).

aaronandbrighid said...

You're quite right that I ought to have known him. But in my defense, Patristics per se is not really my field, and especially Patristic studies that focus on dogmatic issues. I'm a bit more read-up on ascetic theology and monasticism and am more apt to recognise names and major works in the study of those fields.

Also, I know very few Jesuits! The former Jesuit, Fr George Maloney, and William Harmless are the main exceptions, and it is no coincidence that both have done work on the fields I mentioned as more in my line. Oh, and Frederick Copleston, whom I know for his 'History of Philosophy' and for his work specifically on Russian philosophy.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Well I hadn't heard of this work before, either. Quite the score, Mr Taylor!

Happy dipping into.

Esteban Vázquez said...

I feel that you have betrayed the deepest and most sacred ties of our friendship by shrugging off historical theology in this way. I must go to my bedroom and weep now... unless you hand over the books. That ought to assuage my sorrows. ;-)

Justin said...

I might have to borrow them in order to photocopy some pages! I'm glad hey found a good home.

aaronandbrighid said...

Kevin> Thanks, but you don't have to lie just to make me feel better!

Esteban> That sounds like blackmail. And I like the way you said 'hand over the books', like it was a stick-up, or like you had a gun to my daughter's head.

You know, you probably have a few that I'd like YOU to 'hand over' as well!

Justin> You'd be quite welcome!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

But I hadn't heard of it! Honest injun!

aaronandbrighid said...

Cross your heart and hope to die,
Stick a needle in your eye?

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Yes! And double pinkie swear!