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The Chalcedonian Cure to the Illness of Confusion and Division

July 14, 2013

In life, we often feel confused and divided. We are not quite sure what we feel, what we think, or even what we want.  At times, our aims and our ambitions are at odds. And there does not seem to be an easy answer. In fact, there are no easy answers. But there is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” revealed in Christ Jesus. In the person of Christ, we find an answer worth living for and worth dying for. It’s an answer beyond our understanding that nevertheless brings clarity to our minds, calmness to our heart, and love to our souls. Today, Orthodox Christians celebrate the fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council held at Chalcedon in 451. One might say this Council was one of the most important councils of church history for it built upon the creedal formulas of the earlier councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431) as well as memorialized the Christian faith for all time when it proclaimed:

chalcedon_icon “We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in humanity; truly God and truly human, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to humanity; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, unchangeably, without division, inseparably; (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεόν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”

This is not some abstract, academic formulation with no bearing on our lives, but the sacred fruit of the vivid and vivifying experience of Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of the Living God. And if knowing Christ is life eternal, as indeed it is, then the Chalcedonian formula is a symbol of faith expressing a victory of hope for all humanity.  Our corruptibility, our division and our confusion are overcome in the person of Christ.  And this divine triumph of immortality that fully respects our human freedom is offered to us with the invitation to repentance, meaning radical change through union with Christ and through the imitation of Christ in things great and small.

There is a wealth of insight on so many levels that can be garnered from the divinely-illumined fathers’ definition at Chalcedon. For the purposes of this post, I would like to take just two small adverbs—without confusion (ἀσυγχύτως) and without division (ἀδιαιρέτως)— employed to describe the union between the human nature and divine nature in Christ. Without confusion means that divine nature and human nature are not mixed or transmuted into on another. Without division means that they are not to be separated or broken apart. Commenting on the incarnation, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, once said “what is not assumed is not healed.” The person of Christ and the human nature He assumed is part and parcel to our redemption. And so is the way in which Christ assumed our nature.

There is a therapeutic dimension to the definition of Chalcedon. Life in Christ in whom humanity and divinity are united without confusion implies sovereign freedom that we see in Christ’s movements in the Gospel, movements of love and forgiveness. With the liberty with which Christ has set us free, we can collaborate with God in the unique work of our salvation in which we offer up our will and He sheds upon us His divine grace. Life in Christ in whom humanity and divinity are united without division implies the reality of intimacy with God that is continuous, abiding, and everlasting. The words of Christ’s High-priestly prayer express the truth of Chalcedon and its meaning for us: “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” Union with God, unceasing prayer, the abiding presence of the glory of the Father in the temple of souls are made possible for us through the mystery of the incarnation.

In the Incarnation of Christ, each of us is given the potential to become by grace as Christ is by nature. It is possible for the grace of God and our human nature to be united without confusion and without division. The mystery of the person of Christ is the mystery of who we are called to become: fully free children of light and eternal participants in the very life of God. Such is the extent of God’s love for us. When that love is present before our eyes as well as that life to which we are called, we can find the strength to face the confusion and division that characterizes our lives and to overcome it by the power of the One Who overcame all the confusion and division of humanity in His very Person. What should we think, want, and feel? Christ, the perfect answer for every question, an answer with no confusion and no division. He is our hope; He is our glory; He is the One through whom our temporal suffering can be transformed into eternal joy, our petty division into sublime unity, and our darkened confusion into the brilliant clarity of the children of light and heirs to His holy kingdom.

One Comment
  1. Amen! Amen! Amen!

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