Essay Chalcedonian Christology Notes
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Essay Chalcedonian Christology Revision
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'Chalcedonian Christology is incomprehensible and meaningless today'. Discuss. The Christology espoused by the Council of Chalcedon has remained since the 5 th century determinative of the classical Christian understanding of the nature of Christ as both 'truly man' and 'truly God'. Chalcedonian Christology asserts that Christ existed on earth as 'two natures... indivisibly, inseparably' inhabiting one body in hypostatic union, whereby the distinction between the natures and the properties of both natures are retained 'in one person and in one subsistence'. It is immediately clear to see why such a Christology might be considered to be 'incomprehensible' or 'meaningless' today, since it appears to make assertions that seem intuitively paradoxical, and which seem to fail to stand up to philosophical scrutiny, in light of other Christian claims about God. I will begin by examining these philosophical problems, concluding that accusations of philosophical inconsistency are legitimate, and we should go on subsequently to examine what readings of the Chalcedonian confession might allow us to refute the charge of incomprehensibility and retain some measure of value as an interpretation of the Incarnation. I will conclude that whilst the Chalcedonian creed can perhaps be construed from our modern perspective as one never intended to commit its authors to ontological assertions, it stretches the imagination to suppose that those very authors did not genuinely intend such assertions. Further, it seems that the value of this Christology hangs upon to what extent we consider the philosophical problems it faces to be significant or meaningful in themselves, and whether we can disentangle God from these constraints and find value in an understanding of Christ centred around the identification of a mystery, rather than the resolution of alleged philosophical and cultural problems with a misinterpretation of the confession. TW Bartel gives two linked philosophical arguments for the inconsistency of Chalcedonian Christology, by which he intends to demonstrate unworkable tensions both between commitment to the doctrine of two natures and a commitment to God as both omniscient and morally perfect, and between commitment to the salvific importance of the Incarnation and the claim that Christ is both omniscient and morally perfect. The first runs thus:
1. Christians are committed to the belief that God is omniscient.
2. Adherents to Chalcedonian Christology are committed to the claim that Christ is fully God. Therefore 3. Adherents to Chalcedonian Christology are committed to the claim that Christ is omniscient. However 4. Christians are at the very least committed to the belief that the gospels contain a reliable account of the life of Jesus Christ as God incarnate, and the gospels recount instances of Christ not being omniscient. Therefore 5. Either Chalcedonian Christology is false, or God is not omniscient. Whilst premiss 4 is perhaps disputable, Bartel's argument here would only fail if Christians were permitted to believe that the gospel account was so thoroughly inaccurate as to allow us to read that Christ had in fact been omniscient throughout, or could present interpretations of passages such as Mark 13:32 and Luke 2:52 that explain away these apparent instances of Christ's knowledge being incomplete. Bartel's second argument introduces a further property supposedly possessed by the God of classical Christianity -
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