Fellow open theist blogger TC Moore is a couple of posts into a series in which he explores a Christology that proposes to be “open, unitive and liberative.” Open in that it is compatible with open theism. Unitive in that it does not divide the person of the Son in Nestorian fashion. Liberative in that it “honor[s] the alienated, the dispossessed and the oppressed.” Exciting stuff. There are several topics mentioned in the course of his presentation which one could profitably follow up on, each interesting in its own right—the eucharist, the identity of a ‘Christo-centric hermeneutic’, the early Christian belief in divine apatheia (including whether and how early Christians retooled philosophical concepts of the day in expressing their faith), and of course Nestorius. We’re particularly interested in these last two, i.e., (a) how TC understands apatheia as it relates to the controversy that shapes up between Cyril and Nestorius and (b) what TC thinks qualifies a Christology as “unitive” or “disjunctive,” because we’re still unsure on this.
Protecting open theism from apatheia
If we’re following him correctly, TC sets out to construct his Christology by exposing, among other things, Christological heresies, particularly to “confront the re-emergence of a very old heresy called Nestorianism,” whose modern expression he labels “Neo-Nestorianism” and which emerges today, he explains, as “a renewed effort to disjoin the divinity and humanity of Christ by well-meaning but nevertheless confused believers.” TC doesn’t identify these Neo-Nestorians or reference any of their published claims or arguments.
TC is also concerned to protect open theists against “some who have at one time identified with Open theism” but who “are now returning to the classical theism of tradition the way a dog returns to its vomit.” These same persons are also “re-infected by the virus” (of classical theism) and are “attempting to infect others.” He hopes “to prevent any further recapitulation [sic] from other Open theists.” What remains missing here is any mention of the explicit claims or arguments made by these Neo-Nestorians. What have they actually said that ‘disjoins’ the divinity and humanity of Christ? May the rest of us investigate their arguments as well?
What’s behind Neo-Nestorianism? The same thing, TC says, that motivated Nestorius to “concoct his disjunctive Christology” in the first place — belief in the impassibility (apatheia) of God. Here we have our culprit, the virus incarnate, the vomit to which the dogs are returning.
Without any reference to the identity or actual claims of these Neo-Nestorians, though, we can only engage generally. Careful readers here will know the lengths to which we have gone, in attempting to bring open theism and Orthodoxy into conversation, to state our disagreements with classical theism (over things like understanding God as actus purus and divine temporality among other things) and to express our understanding of apatheia not in terms of an absolute and unqualified immutability, but in terms of Boyd’s Trinity & Process as God’s “unsurpassably intense aesthetic satisfaction.”
Nestorius & Nestorianism
On to Nestorius. Just what was his error (to whatever degree Nestorius actually was ‘Nestorian’)? Perry Robinson has a great summation of the main points of McGuckin’s book here. Briefer summaries of complex debates are risky, but Young has a nice brief overview as well. She writes:
“[Nestorius] was certainly not very adept at making [his] point clearly. He inherited the Antiochene terminology and he was not altogether able to discard their very concrete ways of thinking. Thus he found it impossible to reserve the term ‘prosopon’ [‘person’] for the union; he could not avoid talk of a human ‘prosopon’ and a divine ‘prosopon’. Thus each nature had its own ‘prosopon’ and the two natures remain personalized to the extent that his opponents were not altogether unfair in accusing him of teaching a ‘double Christ’, two persons acting independently. Nestorius himself speaks of them as ‘self-sustaining’….”
The difficulty in establishing Nestorius’ actual views is of course the destruction of his works ordered upon his condemnation in Ephesus (AD 431). Only fragments of his writings survived. In his exile however, Nestorius composed an apology of his beliefs under a pseudonym (Heracleides of Damas) and published what has survived to today as The Bazaar of Heracleides, translations of which appeared a century ago. Some scholars interpret the work as a vindication not of the view we’ve come to know as ‘Nestorianism’ per se, but of Nestorius himself on the grounds that the views expressed in this work are orthodox. Others disagree. You can find the work (with introduction) online in English here. It’s very repetitious, but nine denials and assertions are at the heart of his apology, all of which seem perfectly orthodox with the exception of No. 8 which asserts that “the principle of the union is to be found in the prosopa of the godhead and the manhood; these two prosopa coalesce in one prosopon of Christ incarnate.” If the work is genuine and it reflects views Nestorius held throughout the controversy and not adjustments he made after Ephesus, then one can agree that Nestorius’ Christology ends up with a single subject though it begins with two, which is still a problem. Christ is the union of the prosopon of the Logos and the prosopon of the Son of Mary, the prosopon of each being taken by the other so that the two prosopa unite as a single prosopon.
Cyril’s Unitive Christology
The Bazaar aside, if we understand “Nestorianism” in light of that Christology (Cyrilline) the Church affirmed in condemning Nestorius, then what is condemned are two-subject Christologies. Nestorius could not make the Logos directly the subject of incarnation, suffering and death, and this was exactly what Cyril did (cf. Cyril’s twelfth anathema). That said, an encouraging point of agreement with TC is that he grants that Cyril’s Christology is ‘unitive’:
“Cyril’s view (the view which the Church went with over Nestorius—whose view they condemned btw) was *UNITIVE* as opposed to Nestorius’s *DISJUNCTIVE* Christology. That is why Cyril’s view cannot be rightly considered ‘Neo-Nestorianism’. Only a Disjunctive Christology can be considered Nestorian.”
We couldn’t agree more. Dwayne and I, after all, are Cyrilline. What’s puzzling about TC’s agreement on Cyril (as far as his claim that belief in divine impassibility was behind Nestorius’ Christology being ‘disjunctive’) is the fact that Cyril was as uncompromising as Nestorius in believing in the impassibility of the divine nature. (And, incidentally, though Kenoticism wouldn’t exist for another fourteen centuries, neither Cyril nor Nestorius was a kenoticist either.) One is left wondering how belief in the impassibility of the divine nature renders Nestorius’ Christology ‘disjunctive’ but leaves Cyril’s ‘unitive’.
Regarding Cyril’s Christology, Young summarizes:
“Certain phrases and arguments keep on recurring: the appeal to the title ‘Emmanuel’—God with us; to the Nicene Creed; to Paul’s account of the incarnation in Philippians 2. Mary must be called Theotokos, since she gave birth to ‘God made man and enfleshed’. There is one Son, one Lord Jesus Christ, both before and after the ‘enfleshment’. There is not one Son who is the Logos of God the Father and another who is from the holy virgin. The Logos who is before the ages is said to be born from her according to the flesh. The flesh is his own, just as each one of us has his own body. Cyril insists on an ‘exact union’. These phrase come from the First Letter to Succensus…Anticipating the usual criticisms, he goes on to say in this letter that this doctrine does not imply ‘confusion’ or ‘mixture’ of the Word, nor transformation of the body into the nature of the Godhead; what he intends to say is that ‘inconceivably and in a way that is inexpressible, he united to himself a body ensouled with a rational soul’. He bore the likeness of a servant while remaining what he was.”
Let’s allow Cyril to speak for himself. From his Third Letter to Nestorius:
“This means that he [the Word] took flesh from the holy virgin and made it his own, undergoing a birth like ours from her womb and coming forth a man from a woman; [and] he did not cast aside what he was, but although he assumed flesh and blood, he remained what he was, God in nature and truth. And we do not say that his flesh was turned into the nature of the godhead nor that the unspeakable Word of God was changed into the nature of the flesh. For he, the Word, is unalterable and absolutely unchangeable and remains always the same as the Scriptures say. For although visible as a child and in swaddling clothes, even while he was in the bosom of the virgin that bore him, as God he filled the whole of creation and was fellow ruler with him who begot him. For the divine [nature] is without quantity and dimension and cannot be subject to circumscription….”
The Son, the Father’s own image and Logos, both fills and sustains creation unceasingly and takes the human journey from conception in Mary’s womb onward—one and the same subject of a fully divine experience and a fully human experience. The subject is the same. The experiences or natures are not, however, co-extensive.
What we’re interested in understanding from TC is (a) If belief in divine apatheia renders Nestorius’ Christology disjunctive, how does it leave Cyril’s unitive since Cyril also affirmed apatheia? and (b) What are the relevant actual claims of these Neo-Nestorians that inform TC’s concern? Might the rest of us know? In deference to standard academic integrity, would TC share his sources?