Historic Documents

The Definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.)

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

The Creed of Chalcedon was adopted at the fourth and fifth sessions of the fourth œcumenical Council, held at Chalcedon, opposite Constantinople, A.D. 451 (Oct. 22d and 25th). It embraces the Nicæno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and the christological doctrine set forth in 30the classical Epistola Dogmatica of Pope Leo the Great to Flavian, the Patriarch of Constantinople and martyr of diophysitic orthodoxy at the so-called Council of Robbers (held at Ephesus in 449).

While the first Council of Nicæa had established the eternal, pre-existent Godhead of Christ, the Symbol of the fourth œcumenical Council relates to the incarnate Logos, as he walked upon earth and sits on the right hand of the Father. It is directed against the errors of Nestorius and Eutyches, who agreed with the Nicene Creed as opposed to Arianism, but put the Godhead of Christ in a false relation to his humanity. It substantially completes the orthodox Christology of the ancient Church; for the definitions added during the Monophysite and Monothelite controversies are few and comparatively unessential. As the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity stands midway between Tritheism and Sabellianism, so the Chalcedonian formula strikes the true mean between Nestorianism and Eutychianism.

The following are the leading ideas of the Chalcedonian Christology as embodied in this symbol:

1. A true incarnation of the Logos, or the second person in the Godhead (ἐνανθρώπησις θεοῦ, ἐνσάρκωσις τοῦ λόγου, incarnatio Verbi).) This incarnation is neither a conversion or transmutation of God into man, nor a conversion of man into God, and a consequent absorption of the one, or a confusion (κρᾶσις, σύγχυσις) of the two; nor, on the other hand, a mere indwelling (ἐνοίκησις, inhabitatio) of the one in the other, nor an outward, transitory connection (συνάφεια, conjunctio) of the two factors, but an actual and abiding union of the two in one personal life.

2. The precise distinction between nature and person. Nature or substance (essence, οὐσία) denotes the totality of powers and qualities which constitute a being; while person (ὑπόστασις, πρόσωπον) is the Ego, the self-conscious, self-asserting and acting subject. The Logos assumed, not a human person (else we would have two persons, a divine and a human), but human nature which is common to us all; and hence he redeemed, not a particular man, but all men as partakers of the same nature.

313. The God-Man as the result of the incarnation. Christ is not a (Nestorian) double being, with two persons, nor a compound (Apollinarian or Monophysite) middle being, a tertium quid, neither divine nor human; but he is one person both divineand human.

4. The duality of the natures. The orthodox doctrine maintains, against Eutychianism, the distinction of nature even after the act of incarnation, without confusion or conversion (ἀσυγχύτως, inconfuse, and ἀτρέπτως, immutabiliter), yet, on the other hand, without division or separation (ἀδιαιρέτως, indivise, and ἀχωρίστως, inseparabiliter), so that the divine will ever remain divine, and the human ever human, and yet the two have continually one common life, and interpenetrate each other, like the persons of the Trinity.

5. The unity of the person (ἕνωσις καθ᾽ ὑπόστασιν, ἕνωσις ὑποστατική, unio hypostatica or unio personalis). The union of the divine and human nature in Christ is a permanent state resulting from the incarnation, and is a real, supernatural, personal, and inseparable union—in distinction from an essential absorption or confusion, or from a mere moral union; or from a mystical union such as holds between the believer and Christ. The two natures constitute but one personal life, and yet remain distinct. ‘The same who is true God,’ says Leo, ‘is also true man, and in this unity there is no deceit; for in it the lowliness of man and the majesty of God perfectly pervade one another. . . . Because the two natures make only one person, we read on the one hand: “The Son of Man came down from heaven” (

John iii. 13

), while yet the Son of God took flesh from the Virgin; and on the other hand: “The 32Son of God was crucified and buried,” while yet he suffered, not in his Godhead as coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, but in the weakness of human nature.’ The self-consciousness of Christ is never divided; his person consists in such a union of the human and the divine natures, that the divine nature is the seat of self-consciousness, and pervades and animates the human.

6. The whole work of Christ is to be attributed to his person, and not to the one or the other nature exclusively. The person is the acting subject, the nature the organ or medium. It is the one divine-human person of Christ that wrought miracles by virtue of his divine nature, and that suffered through the sensorium of his human nature. The superhuman effect and infinite merit of the Redeemer’s work must be ascribed to his person because of his divinity; while it is his humanity alone that made him capable of, and liable to, toil, temptation, suffering, and death, and renders him an example for our imitation.

7. The anhypostasia, impersonality, or, to speak more accurately, the enhypostasia, of the human nature of Christ; for anhypostasia is a purely negative term, and presupposes a fictitious abstraction, since the human nature of Christ did not exist at all before the act of the incarnation, and could therefore be neither personal nor impersonal. The meaning of this doctrine is that Christ’s human nature had no independent personality of its own, besides the divine, and that the divine nature is the root and basis of his personality.

There is, no doubt, a serious difficulty in the old orthodox Christology, if we view it in the light of our modern psychology. We can conceive of a human nature without sin (for sin is a corruption, not an essential quality, of man), but we can not conceive of a human nature without personality, or a self-conscious and free Ego; for this distinguishes it from the mere animal nature, and is man’s crowning excellency and glory. To an unbiased reader of the Gospel history, 33moreover, Christ appears as a full human personality, thinking, speaking, acting, suffering like a man (only without sin), distinguishing himself from other men and from his heavenly Father, addressing him in prayer, submitting to him his own will, and commending to him his spirit in the hour of death. Yet, on the other hand, be appears just as clearly in the Gospels as a personality in the most intimate, unbroken, mysterious life-union with his heavenly Father, in the full consciousness of a personal pre-existence before the creation, of having been sent by the Father from heaven into this world, of living in heaven even during this earthly abode, and of being ever one with him in will and in essence. In one word, he makes the impression of atheanthropic, divine-human person. His human personality was completed and perfected by being so incorporated with the pre-existent Logos-personality as to find in it alone its full self-consciousness, and to be permeated and controlled by it in every stage of its development.

The Chalcedonian Christology has latterly been subjected to a rigorous criticism (by Schleiermacher, Baur, Dorner, Rothe, and others), and has been charged with a defective psychology, and now with dualism, now with docetism, according as its distinction of two natures or of the personal unity has most struck the eye. But these imputations neutralize each other, like the imputations of tritheism and modalism, which may be made against the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity when either34the tri-personality or the consubstantiality is taken alone. This, indeed, is the peculiar excellence of the Creed of Chalcedon, that it exhibits so sure a tact and so wise a circumspection in uniting the colossal antithesis in Christ, and seeks to do justice alike to the distinction of the natures and to the unity of the person. In Christ all contradictions are reconciled.

The Chalcedonian Creed is far from exhausting the great mystery of godliness, ‘God manifest in flesh.’ It leaves much room for a fuller appreciation of the genuine, perfect, and sinless humanity of Christ, of the Pauline doctrine of the Kenosis, or self-renunciation and self-limitation of the Divine Logos in the incarnation and during the human life of our Lord, and for the discussion of other questions connected with his relation to the Father and to the world, his person and his work. But it indicates the essential elements of Christological truth, and the boundary-lines of Christological error. It defines the course for the sound development of this central article of the Christian faith so as to avoid both the Scylla of Nestorian dualism and the Charybdis of Eutychian monophysitism, and to save the full idea of the one divine-human personality of our Lord and Saviour. Within these limits theological speculation may safely and freely move, and bring us to clearer conceptions; but in this world, where we ‘know only in part (ἐκ μέρους),’ and ‘see through a mirror obscurely (δἰ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι)’ it will never fully comprehend the great central mystery of the theanthropic life of our Lord.