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Fifth-Century Heresies

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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March 23, 2024 12:01 am

Fifth-Century Heresies

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 23, 2024 12:01 am

How can Jesus be God incarnate, with both a divine and a human nature? Today, R.C. Sproul explains how the ancient church sought to convey these truths with biblical clarity in response to heretical ideas.

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The function that heresy has in church history is that it forces the church to be precise.

It forces the church to define her doctrines and to differentiate her truth from the attending falsehoods and corruptions of that truth. What do you believe? One of the ways you can be certain what it is that you believe to add clarity to your convictions is to know what you don't believe and that's what will help you consider today on Renewing Your Mind.

Welcome to the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind as we work our way through R.C. Sproul's important series, The Mystery of the Trinity. The series helps each of us better answer the question, who is God? You can own this six-part series yourself, plus we'll send you Dr. Sproul's short book, What is the Trinity?, when you give a donation of any amount at Thanks for your support and for using these resources to help you grow deeper in your understanding of God and His Word. We looked at some earlier heresies last Saturday and today we moved to the fifth century and a council of the church that to this day provides the best guardrails when it comes to describing the person of Christ, guardrails that if we cross lead us into heresy.

Here's Dr. Sproul. As we continue now with our study of the Trinity, we're looking at a historical overview of those crucial developments in church history where the doctrine of Trinity was at stake. And as I've mentioned for the first three hundred years of Christian history, the focal point was on John's concept of the Logos, or the Word who becomes flesh and dwells among us. And we saw the crisis that was provoked in the third century by the modalism of Sibelius that was condemned at Antioch in 267, and then the even greater crisis of the denial of the full deity of Christ by Arius in the early years of the fourth century that culminated in the Council of Nicaea and the writing of the Nicene Creed in 325. Well, in one respect the Council of Nicaea was a watershed moment for the church.

It put an end, for the most part at least temporarily, to adoptionism, but nevertheless it was not the end of struggles for the church's understanding of the person of Christ. Now, it's been said that historically there have been four centuries where the church's understanding of the natures of Christ and the person of Christ have been most critical. And those four centuries in church history have been the fourth century, which we've already viewed, the fifth century, which we're about to look at, and then the nineteenth century and the twentieth century. And I mention that because we are living now in the aftermath of two hundred years of devastating attacks against the church's orthodox understanding of the person of Christ. And that's why it's so important in our day that we revisit this whole concept of the Trinity. But as we move beyond Nicaea and the Arian crisis, the church now faces a new crisis, and the new crisis with respect to Christology is a crisis where the church has to fight a war on two fronts. I've said before in this series that the tendency in church history is for one heresy when it is discovered.

In an effort to correct it, the tendency is to fall off the horse on the other side, to overcorrect. And out of zeal to avoid one heretical view, one goes to extremes in the other direction and errs on that side as well. I remember having a specific course when I was doing my doctoral studies in Holland where Professor Berkhauer gave a whole year's lectures on the history of heresy.

It was an extremely valuable course because one of the best ways of learning orthodoxy is learning what it isn't. And in fact, the function that heresy has in church history is that it forces the church to be precise. It forces the church to define her doctrines and to differentiate her truth from the attending falsehoods and corruptions of that truth. So that's one of the salutary benefits of heresy, one of the few. But in any case, as I said, the church now is fighting a battle on two fronts with respect to two distinct heresies. The one is a heresy that is developed by the man named Eutychus. And Eutychus' name is connected with the historical heresy of what is called monophystism or the monophysite heresy. And I'll write that down, monophysite heresy, which appears in every generation. The term monophysite means literally mono. Again, there's that prefix that we keep encountering, which means one.

And the word physite or physics comes from the Greek fusus, which means nature, one nature. Now, remember the formula that the church has used through the ages to define the Trinity, that God is one in essence, or being, or nature, and three in person. Now, just the opposite is used with respect to the church's confession of the person of Christ. The person of Christ is confessed to be one person, but with two natures, a human nature and a divine nature.

And now in this problem with Eutychus and the monophysite heresy is the monophysite heresy taught that Jesus did not have two natures, one divine nature and a human nature, but He only had one nature, one person, one nature, one to a customer, one to a customer is what you get here, according to Eutychus. Now, his understanding of that single nature of Christ may be described as viewing Jesus as having a single theanthropic nature. Now, that word theanthropic is not very common in our normal speech, is it? Philanthropic may be. When we say that there are philanthropic organizations or philanthropic people, what do we mean? The word anthropic comes from the Greek anthropos, which means man or mankind.

We study anthropology in the university, which is the study of people, human beings. And philanthropy, you know what Philadelphia means, love of the brother, city of brotherly love. Philanthropy is a love for humanity. So when we say that people are philanthropic, we mean that they care and love human beings.

Now we're not talking about philanthropy, we're talking about theanthropy or theanthropic. Now, some of you may have already guessed the meaning of the prefix of this word theia, because it's a common one that we have in theology. It is the Greek word for God.

And so what you have here is a word that is coined that is sort of a mongrelized word where two different words are stuck together or jammed together to create a new word. You have the word for man and the word for God jammed together. And so what you tickies were saying is that in Christ there's only one nature, and it's a theanthropic, a divinely human nature. Or you could conceive of it the other way around, you could conceive of it the other way around, a humanly divine nature. But it's not like you have two distinct natures, one divine and one human, but you only have one nature. And in fact, what you have in this, and this is what the church realized in the fifth century, is that you have a concept of Christ where He is neither God nor man.

He's more than man and less than God. You have kind of a deified humanity or a humanized deity. And so the distinction between humanness and deity is obscured and obfuscated in this kind of thinking, because what is going on here in the Monophysite heresy is the two natures of Jesus are being mixed together or confused. Now, as I said, at Chalcedon in the middle of the fifth century in 451, the church had to fight not only against Eutychees and his Monophysite heresy, but they had to fight this war on two fronts.

And the eastern front, if you will, was the twin heresy Nestorianism, named after its founder Nestorius. And Nestorius basically said that if you have two natures, you have to have two persons. So in Christ, we have a divine nature and a human nature, but we also have a divine person and a human person coexisting.

And so what is going on here is just the opposite of the Monophysite distortion in the Nestorian heresy. The two natures of Christ are not merely distinguished, but they are in fact separated. Now, I like to teach my seminary students distinctions because theology is about making distinctions. It's the prerogative of the theologian to make fine distinctions.

That's been going on for centuries. And I tell them one of the most important distinctions you will ever learn to make is the distinction between a distinction and a separation. We say of you that you are a duality, that is a unity in duality, that as a human being you are made up of a physical dimension and of a nonphysical dimension, which language the Bible describes in terms of body and soul. Now, if I distinguish your body from your soul, I haven't harmed you. But if I separate your body from your soul, I've killed you.

So we need to understand the difference between distinguishing and separating. And this we get into all the time when we're talking about Jesus, where Jesus, for example, will say that there were things that He didn't know. And historically we say, well, the human nature is not omniscient.

The human nature does not know everything. Now, of course, the divine nature is omniscient, so that when Jesus speaks of something He doesn't know, He's manifesting at that point the limitations of His human nature. Now, some people struggle with that, but they say, wait a minute, it's clear that when Jesus sweats, when Jesus is hungry, when Jesus has His side pierced, we don't believe that the divine nature is having His side pierced because the divine nature doesn't have a body. The divine nature doesn't sweat. The divine nature doesn't get hungry.

Those are all manifestations of His humanity. And so we say here the God-man who has two natures, a divine nature and a human nature, at times reveals His human side, at other times reveals His divine side. And we are distinguishing the two without separating them, that when the human nature sweats, that human nature is still united to a divine nature that doesn't sweat.

That becomes very important when you get to the cross. The human nature dies. The divine nature doesn't die, you know. And, of course, now the divine nature is united with a human corpse. The unity is still there, but the change that has taken place has taken place within the human nature, not the divine nature. And that's very important not the divine nature, and that's very important to understand.

But in any case, Nestorianism not only distinguished but separated the two natures. Now, it's over against these twin heresies that the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century, in the year 451, met to deal with this problem. Some people have argued that in the whole history of the church, the terminal counsel of Christology is Chalcedon, meaning by that that the church has never really been able to go beyond the limitations set on our understanding of the person of Christ from what was articulated at the Council of Chalcedon.

And frankly, I agree with that. It's possible theoretically that another council could be held in the 21st century, the 22nd century, or the 30th century that might give us new insight that we don't have in the past. But I haven't seen anything in church history that really goes beyond or improves upon the boundaries that are established for our reflection at the Council of Chalcedon.

And Chalcedon is famous for several things. First is for the affirmation or confession that Christ is vera deus vera homo. Now, let me take a second to ask you to think very carefully here. What these twin terms mean is this, that Jesus Christ in the unity of the two natures, that the person of Christ is truly God and truly man, that He is as a true divine nature and a true human nature.

Now, let me tell you how I hear this confessed frequently by people who should know better in our own culture today. They will say, well, what the church confessed to Chalcedon was that Jesus was fully God and fully God and fully man. Now you do have a contradiction. If you're saying that the person is completely and totally divine, then you have one nature. You can't have a person who's completely divine and completely human at the same time and in the same relationship. That's absurd.

No, it's not that. It's that He has two natures. One is divine.

Now, what is meant when people use the word complete or totally is here's where we get subtle. The divine nature is fully divine. It's not just semi-divine, but it is completely divine. The divine nature of Christ possesses all of the attributes of deity, not lacking any of them. And at the same time, the human nature of Christ is fully human, not just truly human, but fully human, fully human in terms of created humanity. The one thing that it lacks from us is there's no original sin. He's like us in all respects except sin.

But at that point, He's truly Adamic. He's as human as Adam was in creation. All of the strengths and all of the limitations of humanity are found in the human nature of Jesus.

Now, the second thing for which Chalcedon is known and perhaps the most famous thing for which it is known are the so-called four negatives, the four negatives of the Council. When the Council confessed that there is a perfect unity between two natures in Christ, the divine nature and the human nature, that they are to be understood in this union between the divine and human as being united in such a way as to be without mixture, confusion, division, or separation. That is what the church set the boundaries of Christology in the fifth century by saying, however we understand the mystery of the incarnation and the person of Christ and the relationship between the divine nature and the human nature is you cannot conceive of the human and divine nature as being confused or mixed together, where you end up with a deified human nature or a humanized divine nature. You can't mix them up, which is the heresy of the Monophysites. They were guilty of confusing the two natures. Eutyche's idea of one theanthropic nature, one divinely human nature was a violation of this principle. It confuses the two natures as the human nature of Jesus suddenly takes on divine qualities.

The person has divine qualities, but not the human nature. Now, at the same time as the Monophysite heresy is rejected by the first two negatives, the next two negatives have Nestorius in their sights, that they're trying to reject the heresy of Nestorianism by saying that the two natures are perfectly united. You can distinguish between them, but you can't divide them.

You can't separate them. And so you have to walk that razor's edge between confusion and separation if you're going to have a sound understanding of the person of Christ. And I frankly believe some of the greatest minds in church history, including two of my all-time favorite theologians, were fundamentally Monophysite in their understanding of Christ. At least they had Monophysite elements in their thinking. And you all want me to tell you which two, Thomas Aquinas and to your utter astonishment in terms of my heroes, Martin Luther. I have my Lutheran friends and theologians I talk with all the time, and I always refer to them as my Monophysite friends. And they refer back to me as their Nestorian friend. Because I said, no, no, no, no, I don't separate the two natures.

I just distinguish them. But that came about through much of the sacramental controversy historically, where they had the concept of the communication, this goes back to Rome, and the communication of divine attributes to the human nature that makes it possible for the human body of Christ to be at more than one place at the same time. Because spatial locality historically and philosophically is always understood as one of the limitations of humanity, and a human nature cannot be three places at the same time. Now it can be joined to a nature that can be three places at the same time.

The divine nature can be in Pittsburgh, Boston, and Washington at the same time. But the argument sacramentally historically was over whether the body, the physical body of Jesus, which belongs to His humanity, could be three places at the same time. The answer of those who argued that was, oh, He can be made present because He gets the communication of the divine attribute of omnipresence. The divine attribute is communicated to the human nature. Well, it's one thing for the divine nature to communicate information to the human nature. It's another thing to communicate attributes. Because if you communicate a divine attribute to a human nature, you have just now deified it at that point. That's where the controversy has roared throughout your system.

It still goes on today. And when people object to that, they're accused of Nestorianism. But let me just give you the third element of this counsel that's so important, and that is after the four negatives, I believe there's a semicolon, it may be a semicolon, it may be a colon, the final clause of this says, each nature retaining its own attributes. That is, in the incarnation, God doesn't give up any of His attributes, nor does humanity give up any of its attributes in the incarnation.

That's why we say the human body of Jesus, the human nature of Jesus is still subject to geographic limits. But one of the great heresies in the nineteenth century was the so-called canodic heresy that said that in the incarnation, deity gave up some of its attributes to be united to this human nature, which is a violation of Chelsea. And by the way, I have to say this, just this week I got the second letter from somebody that read my book, Renewing Your Mind, which is now out in its third title and third edition, the last edition of which was reworked, brought up to date by an editor at the publishing house. And after they did it, they sent it to me, and after they made their changes and asked me to give the final corrections and proofs, which I did hastily, and I missed something that somebody who read it wrote to me and said, I can't believe that you teach the canodic heresy.

Because on one of the pages in that book, it has me saying that in the incarnation, Jesus laid aside His divine nature. I saw that. I almost painted. I called the president of the publishing house. I said, this must be my fault. I didn't catch that. But I said, I wouldn't say that on the worst day of my life.

And I said, what can we do? And you know what he did? He pulled every single copy that they had in inventory off the shelves and reprinted it to correct that error, which I thought was a tremendous thing for the publisher to do. But I just got a letter from somebody else the other day who read that same thing from that edition. And I mean, that's how mistakes are made like that.

It's terrible. But I mean, even in our day, we have this people running around glibly saying that in the incarnation, God no longer retains His divine attributes, which shall sit on truly God, truly man, without confusion, mixture, separation, division, or division, separation, each nature retaining its own attributes. That was R.C. Sproul helping us to learn the clear God rails put in place at Kelso Don to keep us from falling into heresy when speaking of the person of Christ. You're listening to the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and I'm so glad that you're with us today.

This message was from R.C. Sproul's series, The Mystery of the Trinity. You can request this series on DVD, along with lifetime digital access to the messages, and we'll send you Dr. Sproul's brief book, What is the Trinity, when you give a donation of any amount in support of this daily outreach at So whether you prefer to watch, listen, or read when you study, this resource collection will help you biblically answer the question, Who is God? Give your gift at today, as this offer ends at midnight. With Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday fast approaching, we'll be taking a break next Saturday from The Mystery of the Trinity to hear a message from R.C. Sproul's series, The Cross of Christ. That's next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-23 03:13:35 / 2024-03-23 03:22:31 / 9

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