Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wright, Chalcedon, and Nestorius

As I take on this task of N.T. Wright and his Christology, I freely admit that I have not read any books published by him on the subject. I take all my Wright quotes from his on-line articles which better fits my budget. I hope someone more familiar with his work can come and show me where N.T. Wright repudiates Nestorianism, and where he affirms a historically orthodox position, which is the Biblical position. I do think that with the amount of his stuff on the web, there is enough here to raise the legitimate question of whether or not Bishop Wright is orthodox in his Christology.

We should begin by defining quickly the major points of Nestorianism. Nestorianism is the doctrine that states the human being, Jesus, is morally related to the Divine Son of God or Logos, but Jesus is not united to the Second Person of the Trinity as one person. Thus, they are two persons, not one. The orthodox position, called the Chalcedonian position, is that Jesus is one person who has both a complete human nature and a complete divine nature. The two natures are hypostatically unified into one person.

Bishop Wright makes clear that he is no fan of Chalcedonian formulations. " Chalcedon, I think, always smelled a bit like a confidence trick, celebrating in Tertullian-like fashion the absurdity of what is believed, and gave hostages to fortune which post-Enlightenment fortune has been using well."(Jesus and the Identity of God). Bishop Wright’s main point is that Jesus had a vocational understanding of being God. What that means is that Jesus felt called to do and accomplish what the Scripture said only YHWH would do. But that is a long way from saying that Jesus is God incarnate, or that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity. Wright himself is willing to admit:

‘If I am anything like on target this creates a context not only for understanding Jesus within his historical framework, not only for discerning the real roots of New Testament Christology (the reason, for instance, why Paul so quickly took to using the LXX [56] kyrios-passages for Jesus), but also for rethinking traditional systematic debates. What would it do, for instance, to questions about hypostatic union? How might it affect the use of words like nature, person, substance, and so forth? I think it might open up a flood of new possibilities; it might even slice through the denser thickets of theological definitions and enable us to talk more crisply, dare I say more Jewishly, and for that matter more intelligibly, about Jesus and about God.’(Jesus' Self Understanding).

So I do not think the claim that Bishop Wright is not a believer in Chalcedonian Christology should cause a great stir. It seems to be something he is very willing to reconsider by his own admission. That Wright is not comfortable in the formula of Chalcedon then is some what obvious.

It still remains then for us to look at how well he fits in a Nestorian view, and I am the first to say it is not a perfect fit. However, it is not unfitting either. The Right Reverend Wright asks these questions:

‘First, in what sense, if any, can we meaningfully use the word “god” to talk about the human Jesus, Jesus as he lived, walked, taught, healed, and died in first century Palestine? In what sense might Jesus conceivably have thought in these terms about himself? Can we, as historians, describe the way in which he might have wrestled with this question within the parameters of his own first century Jewish worldview?’(Jesus and the Identity of God).

Wright likes to focus on the ‘human Jesus’, and what this First Century Jew knew about being divine. This ascribes full personhood to the ‘human Jesus’ by ascribing to him self-consciousness. In effect, Wright is asking what the human person Jesus knew about being the divine person of the Trinity. The answer that Wright produces is that Jesus knew he was vocationally related to YHWH of Israel. But Wright never says Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity. Wright prefers the language that Jesus embodied the return of YHWH, or that Jesus was ‘God-at-work-in-the-world.’ This is language accepted by Nestorius. The ancient Bishop of Constantinople states:

"If any one says that the man who was formed of the Virgin is the Only-begotten, who was born of the bosom of the Father, . . .and does not rather confess that he has obtained the designation of Only-begotten on account of his connection with him who in nature is the Only-begotten of the Father . . . let him be anathema."(Nestorius’s Counter Anathema 7).

Wright and Nestorius here drive home the same point. Jesus is in connection with the Divine Person, but is in union with Him. They have a conjunction, but not a hypostatic union. Jesus does the work of YHWH because he is God With Us, but Jesus is not necessarily YHWH. Jesus can be identified with YHWH because of their connection, but not because Jesus the human is YHWH.

I can see that this is going to take much more than one blog post. So I think I will break it up into multiple posts. What is Wright saying about Person and Nature? Critique of Wright’s Methodology. Scriptural examination of Wright’s claims.

Again, this is my impressions from his online articles. I welcome feedback, discussion, and comments.


Chancellor Carlyle Roberts II said...

What you're essentially saying (and wrongly claiming to be the orthodox view) is that Jesus' humanity is itself divine. In other words, you're promoting a variation of the divine flesh heresy that was floating around in some Oneness circles. In Christ, deity and humanity are joined in prosopic union; that's what Nestorius taught. It's Christ's divinity that makes Him divine, not His humanity.

Nestorius never said that Jesus, as a human being, was "morally related" to the Logos. What he said was that those things pertaining to Christ's divinity don't pertain to His humanity and the things pertaining to His humanity don't pertain to His divinity. You might want to read the surviving correspondence between him and that spawn of Satan, Cyril - who bore false witness against him at Ephesus. Nestorius believed that the Word was united to a human nature in Christ, and that these two natures, being united together, make but one Christ, one Son only, and likewise one Person only, made up of two natures. Cyril, that spawn of Satan, taught only one nature and commingled, intermixed, etc. Christ's deity and humanity. The result was that Cyril had a God who hungers, thirsts, suffers, and even dies. Interestingly, there isn't as much difference between Nestorius' two-nature Christ and that of the Council of Chalcedon.

I strongly recommend that you do some real research and find out what Nestorius believed from more than just a single anathema, but from Nestorius' own letters to Cyril and from Nestorius' book The Bazaar of Heraclides.

Jeremy said...

"Nestorius and His Place in the History of Christian Doctrine" - Friedrich Loofs