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(Published in The Greek Australian VEMA, November 2005)

Neo-Chalcedonism and the Fifth Ecumenical Council:


A Supplement to the Christological Teaching of Chalcedon

In the fifth century a large group within the Christian Church rejected the
Council of Chalcedon in 451 [i.e. the 4th Ecumenical Council], which had insisted on
the one person of Christ in two natures, perfect God and perfect man. Resulting from
this, there arose within the Church a theological movement, which came to be known
as the Neo-Chalcedonian school of Christology whose mandate it was to attempt the
reconciliation of those who were opposed to Chalcedon (the anti-Chalcedoninans) so
as to bring them back to the Church. The representatives of this theological
movement would offer a way of interpreting the 4th Ecumenical Council, with its
explicit insistence that the person [or hypostasis] of Jesus Christ was none other than
that of God the Logos, the second Person of the Holy Trinity.1 Accordingly, the Fifth
Ecumenical Council convoked by Justinian and held in Constantinople in 553 came
to supplement the teaching of Chalcedon by explaining in clearer terms how the two
natures of Christ had united in the eternal divine Person of the Son of God.2
Following on from this it could be said that the 5th Ecumenical Council was essentially
convened to endorse, amongst others, the Christologies of both Leontius of
Byzantium and Leontius of Jerusalem.

It did this by clearly distinguishing between the terms 'person' or 'hypostasis'


and 'nature' or 'essence' since the anti-Chalcedonians, had identified 'nature' with
'person' and therefore believed that the Council of Chalcedon had introduced the
former heresy of Nestorius who had argued that there were two prosopa [persons] in
Jesus Christ – the divine Logos of God and the man born of the Virgin Mary. It is for
this reason that Neo-Chalcedonism argued that the human nature attributed to Christ
did not introduce another human person alongside the divine Logos of God. As
stated above, the Council of 553 essentially ratified the Christologies of Leontius of

1 This is not to say that Neo-Chalcedonism offered a new interpretation on the Fourth Ecumenical
Council (451AD) which was convened in Chalcedon but that it affirmed the teaching of this council in
response to the needs of the time making explicit certain truths which could led to erroneous
conclusions if not interpreted correctly. Nor is this meant to imply that the Neo-Chalcedonian movement
came to interpret the 4th Council in light of St Cyril since the Dogmatic Statement of this council was
essentially Cyrillian in its articulation.
2 The Fifth Ecumenical Council condemned 'Three Chapters': namely the person and works of

Theodoret of Mopsuestia, the anti-Cyrillian writings of Theodoret of Cyrus and the letter of Ibas to Maris.
It also saw the condemnation of Origen
Byzantium and Jerusalem3 who spoke both of a personal unity, and a natural
distinction in Christ. Indeed they would coin the term en-hypostaton [which
etymologically speaking, means 'in' 'one person'] so as to state that the two natures
of Christ [divine and human] had been united in the person of the divine Word of
God.

Leontius of Byzantium
Distinction between Person/Hypostasis and Nature/Essence
Leontius of Byzantium was born in Constantinople in 500AD and, it is said
that at the age of twenty went to Palestine to become a monk at the monastery of Old
Lavra. Without doubt Leontius was one of the greatest theologians in the field of
Christology, who was able to offer a precise understanding of certain technical terms
which had been used at Chalcedon to articulate that Council's understanding of the
person and nature of Christ. Leontius transferred Trinitarian terminology4 to the field
of Christology and highlighted that the terms 'physis' (nature), 'ousia' (essence) and
'eidos' (species) expressed what was identical or common in Christ whereas the
terms 'hypostasis' (hypostasis), 'prosopon' (person) and 'atomon' (individual) referred
to the particular. And so, 'hypostasis' implied the real existence of a being or an
independent existence which existed in and of itself (tov kaq j eJautovn ei\nai),
that is it was distinct. For this reason one can see why the terms hypostasis and
prosopon [person] came to be identified since a person was an particular existence.

Nature, on the other hand could only exist and be revealed by a person since
it was not self-existent. The term 'nature' answered the question 'what' something is
whereas hypostasis denoted a 'somebody' or answered the question 'who'. That is to
say, one could not speak of an abstract nature without reference to the person which
revealed it. Many centuries later, St Gregory Palamas would state explicitly that our
personal God does not come from essence/nature but that essence is derived from
our personal God in this way affirming that the fundamental foundation of existence is
not nature but person – that is to say that nature cannot exist without a
person/hypostasis.5 In stressing that nature could not exist in and of itself (i.e. as an

3 In the past there has been considerable debate as to whether there was in reality one person or two.
Today the consensus view is that there were indeed two different writers; yet their theologies were
essentially the same (this view was favourably presented first by Marcel Richard in his article 'Léonce de
Jérusalem et Léonce de Byzance', Mélanges de science religieuse 1(1944): 35-88. At this point it must
be mentioned that I am not in agreement with Meyendorff who claimed that these fathers of the Church
were Origenistic (John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press,
1987), 61-68.
4 Remember that whereas in God it was said that there were three divine persons and yet one nature, in

the case of Christ the mystery of this unity in diversity lay in that there was one person in two natures.
5 St Gregory Palamas expressed this very clearly: "God, when He was speaking with Moses, did not

say, "I am the essence", but "I am who I am" (Ex 3:14). It is not therefore He-who-is who comes from
the essence, but it is the essence which comes from He-who-is" (Triads, 3.2.12).
'independent existence), Leontius explained that nature was an-hypostaton [i.e. there
can be no nature without being made real in a person]. The Monophysites
misconstrued this using it to their own advantage when they tried to conclude from
this that, since nature cannot exist apart from personhood, then the human nature of
Christ could not exist without a corresponding human hypostasis. Obviously this
missed the point entirely as to the Church's understanding of an-hypostaton. As we
shall see, to counter this, the term en-hypostaton was coined so as to underscore
that the human nature of Christ did not exist in itself but within the incarnate person
[or hypostasis] of the Word of God.

The Individual Human Nature of Christ


The next point developed by Leontius was that the human nature of Christ
was an individual one. This naturally raised difficulties with the anti-Chalcedonians in
that they could be led to conclude that this amounted to saying that Christ's human
nature included with it its own individual person. In replying to this, Leontius argued
that by 'individual human nature' was implied the unique or distinct way that the
divine Logos of God gave existence to the common set of properties belonging to
human nature in a general way. That is to say, just like all human persons share a
common set of properties (eg reason, thought, will, judgement, imagination, intuition
memory etc) which distinguish them from other existent realities) – that is, they
possess a common human essence or nature – yet they make these common
properties real in their own unique, distinct and unrepeatable way, so too, it can be
said that Christ gave existence to [or hypostasised] these human qualities in His own
unique way and could therefore be said to possess an individual human nature. Or to
put it yet another way, just like the common human nature of all persons, when
revealed by a distinct person, exists in a unique and particular way, so too was the
human nature of Christ revealed in its own 'individual' way without this implying two
persons.

In order to illustrate this more clearly Leontius made use of the example of a
'glowing sword'. According to Leontius a 'glowing sword' is said to be one self-
existent reality [i.e. one hypostasis, to use his terminology] since when iron is heated
to very high temperatures it begins to become red hot so that one can no longer
distinguish between the fire and the sword. So, just like a glowing sword is made up
of an element of fire and the sword itself, so too, in the case of the incarnate Logos,
the two natures [the divine and the human] were united in one hypostasis. In
stressing that Christ had assumed an individual human nature, the Eastern Orthodox
tradition, in no way implied that the Logos took on another prosopon (as this would
be no different to Nestorianism), but simply asserted that when a nature partakes in
an hypostasis, it is revealed in a distinct and unique way and can therefore be said to
be individual. In so doing, Leontius was able to affirm the human nature of Christ was
complete but in so far as it did not exist in separation from the divine it could not be
said to exist in a different hypostasis from that of the incarnate Word of God. That is
to say, for Leontius the divine person of Logos could not be thought of apart from His
human nature. Indeed for Leontius the person of Christ was realized through the
concurrence (sundromhv) of the two natures in the one hypostasis.6

Leontius of Jerusalem
Like his namesake, Leontius of Jerusalem was most concerned to defend the
particularity of Christ's human nature. Only very little is known of his life. Patristic
scholars today claim this Leontius to be the author of two theological treatises
entitled 'Against the Nestorians' and 'Against the Monophysites'.7 Like Leontius of
Byzantium, he defined the term 'hypostasis' as 'subsisting [existing] by itself'8 but
went further in using terms such as apo-stasis (distance)9, dia-stasis (separation)10 to
define the notion of personhood. In this way he was able to assert that even though
the human nature of Christ was an 'individual' one this in no way implied that it also
had an hypostasis different from that of the Logos since the human nature of Christ
was never separated from the Word of God. We can see again that the fullness of
Christ's human nature was never questioned, yet unlike Nestorius, Leontius asserted
that it never existed in a separate human person because this would undervalue and
ultimately destroy its unity with the Logos.

In referring to the person in Christology, Leontius of Jerusalem spoke of a


'composite hypostasis' [suvnqeto" or difuhv" uJpovstasi"]. By this was simply
meant that Christ was 'composed' not of two persons but of two natures. Therefore
Christ could be said to be a composite hypostasis in terms of his natures. It was the
two natures of Christ which were united in the person of the Word of God (e{nwsi"
kaq j uJpovstasin) resulting in a composite hypostasis and not as the Monophysites
believed in a composite nature. Indeed, after the incarnation, the second person of
the Holy Trinity was no longer simple but composite. 11 And so with the introduction of
the concept of 'composite hypostasis', Leontius was able to affirm both the divinity
6 Contra Nestorianos and Eutychianos, 1293B. Cited in Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 44. Elsewhere Leontius stated that the human nature was
constitutive of the person of Christ (sumplhrwtikav tou' proswvpou th'" katav Cristovn uJpostavsew").
(Contra Nestorianus and Eutychianos, 1289A).
7 These works can be found in Patrologia Graeca: Contra Nestorianos, PG 86. 1399-7681 & Capita

Triginta contra Monophysitas, PG 86. 1769-1901.


8 Adversus Nestorianus 1529D

9 Ibid.
10 Ibid, 1568B.
11 Adversus Nestorianus, 1585B.
and humanity of Christ whilst still insisting that the divine Son and Word of God was
the unique personal subject of both these natures in his person. Barthrellos noted
that on the level of 'nature' one could discern, in line with Chalcedon a profound level
of symmetry in so far as the person of Christ was seen to be made up of the "Logos
and his human nature".12 However, when speaking on the level of 'person', which
Leontius unmistakably identified with God the Logos, there was a radical asymmetry
in so far as the divine Logos was the "unique… and unaltered person in Christology,
who now ha[d] a human nature united to him".13

Enhypostaton
In order to affirm both the existence of two natures existing in the person of
the divine Word of God, both Leontioi introduced the concept of 'en-hypostasia' into
their Christology and it is for this that they are primarily remembered. By the
Christological term 'enhypostaton', was simply meant, that, after the incarnation there
were two natures which existed in the one hypostasis [or person] of the Logos. Both
Leontioi wanted to ground the two natures of Christ in the one hypostasis and
therefore to point out that in the one hypostasis of God the Logos there were united
the two natures. This implied that after the Incarnation, the person or hypostasis of
the divine Son of God possessed two natures – the divine and the human. That is to
say, both the divine and human natures were said to exist in the one hypostasis of
the Word of God. Or to put it yet another way, in the one hypostasis of God the
Logos were united two natures. From this they were able to say that the human
nature of Christ did not exist as a separate hypostasis of an independent human
subject but only in the hypostasis of the Word. The introduction of this term firmly
grounded their Christology to the definition of Chalcedon and for this reason, the term
'en-hypostaton' became a technicus terminus for Christology in the Christian Church.

Concluding Remarks
It is becoming clear that the Christological developments, which took place in
the first common Christian millennium had to be articulated in such a way so as not
to swallow up Christ's humanity in His divinity, but at the same time not to separate
His natures to such an extent that would inevitably lead to their complete division. As
if walking on a 'tight-rope', the theologians of the fifth and sixth centuries were able to
highlight wonderfully the personal unity in Christ without undermining the natural
distinction. Not only did they have to insist on the full divinity of Christ but also His full
humanity. And so at the 3rd Ecumenical Council (431) in Ephesus, we saw the

12 Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ, 48. Of course one must keep in mind that even on the
level of 'nature' the notion of symmetry cannot be taken too far because, ultimately one cannot speak of
an alleged evenness between the divine nature of Christ with that of His human.
13 Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ, 48.
emphasis on Christ's divinity, whilst at the 4th Ecumenical Council (451) in Chalcedon
Christ's full humanity was reaffirmed. The 5th Ecumenical Council was convoked so
as to affirm that the Christological doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon (one person –
two natures) was in fact compatible with the Christology of St Cyril of Alexandria in its
attempt to emphasize both the natural distinction in Christ yet at the same time the
personal unity. Its hope was that it could facilitate a union with all those who had not
accepted Chalcedon. For this reason it accepted Cyril's formula 'one incarnate nature
of God the Logos' so long as it was understood in light of the Council of 451.

Furthermore, the condemnation, by the fifth Ecumenical Council of the person


and works of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the anti-Cyrillian writings of Theodoret of
Cyrus and the letter of Ibas, bishop of Edessa to the Persian bishop of Maris
confirmed once and for all that Chalcedon was not Nestorian [i.e. the erroneous
assertion that in Christ there are two natures and two persons] as the Monophysites
[those who asserted that there was one nature in Christ after His incarnation] had
come to believe. And so, in thoroughly explaining Cyrillian Christology, the Leontioi
were able to show that Ephesus and Chalcedon were not mutually opposed to each
other. In this way their theology served to clarify that a duality of natures need not
necessarily imply a duality on the level of persons since, with their use of the term
'enhypostasia' they were able to find words to formulate the mystery of the two
natures in Christ united in the one person. In this way they were able to affirm, once
again the unity of subject in Christ.

Yet as history has shown, Christology was to experience several more


developments, having to emphasize, as we shall see, the reality of two energies or
wills in Christ - both a divine and human one, as championed especially by St
Maximus the Confessor. And finally in the eighth century, in response to the
iconoclastic controversy (those who did not want icons in Churches) the Church
would have to respond affirming the possibility of depicting or circumscribing Christ
with icons since He had been heard, seen and touched (cf 1Jn 1:1). These latter
controversies will be looked at in the following issues of VEMA.

Philip Kariatlis
Academic Secretary and Associate Lecturer
St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College