Christology and Ecumenism: Article 2, Chalcedon, and Oriental Orthodoxy

Article 2 of the Thirty-Nine Articles contains the primary christological teaching in the Articles. In relatively straightforward terms, it puts forward the basic christology that the reformed Church of England was to confess, and thus the position of the later Anglican tradition. Its position within the section of Articles that seeks to demonstrate the reformed Church’s faithful reception of the catholic faith indicates the perception that the reformers in England had on their christology.[1] The christological doctrine and, crucially, the way that doctrine is formulated by Article 2 was seen by the reformers as a faithful repristination of the catholic faith once delivered to the saints and not as an innovation or renovation on the part of the reform movement in England. As a result, the doctrine presented in Article 2 can appropriately be called a summary of the christological doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon, which came to the reformers as part of the catholic and orthodox heritage of the western church from which the Reformation was born. As O’Donovan states “The Trinitarian and Christological formulae of the first two articles are the deposit left within the Western church by the Nicene, Constantinopolitan and Chalcedonian Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries”[2] Not all corners of Christianity have received that same christological heritage, however. The Oriental Orthodox, or non-Chalcedonian, traditions have never accepted christological formulations from the Council of Chalcedon and as a result, have been divided from the rest of the church since the council in 451 CE. The question for Anglicans in relation to the non-Chalcedonian churches is whether or not the Chalcedonian christology of the Thirty-nine Articles precludes theological and ecumenical unity with church bodies that reject Chalcedon in favor of alternative christological formulations. This question can be answered by examining the contents of the Article itself, the details of the theology of Chalcedon, and the specific theology put forward by non-Chalcedonian Christianity. Examination of the language used by Article 2, Chalcedon, and non-Chalcedonian use of St. Cyril of Alexandria’s language reveals that the differences in christology between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian traditions are chiefly terminological. At the level of theological substance there are no significant differences to warrant separation on the basis of christology.

Article 2 outlines two major themes of christological teaching, dealing first with the person of Christ and then with the work of Christ:

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man…[3]

The Article first articulates the person of Christ, beginning with the eternally begotten Son and moving into the event of the incarnation. This theological logic is both traditional and intentional, clearly following the biblical and creedal emphases on Jesus’ true divinity and true humanity. Christ is the “Son, which is the Word of Father” as witnessed to by John 1:1, hearkening back to Genesis 1:1. The Son is not a derivative, created, or secondary being but is “begotten from everlasting,” “the very and eternal God,” and “of one substance with the Father.” These three phrases are important safeguards and clarifiers that protect against the dangers of failing to identify the Son with God himself such as Arius did. Here is evident the Nicene trinitarian heritage that the church inherited and sought to maintain. The Son who is of the same substance as the Father (consubstantialis[4]) was also incarnated, taking the nature of humanity (naturam humanam[5]) from the substance (substantia[6]) of the Virgin Mary. Here the act of the incarnation is described in succinct if potentially unclear fashion. To avoid confusion, the further explanation is given “that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided.” The two natures (duae naturae[7]) mentioned previously remain together “whole and perfect,” meaning the incarnation does not result in either the divine or human nature or substance of Christ being compromised or changed in any way. Rather, the two natures persist in the one person of Christ. Vitally, there are not two Christs or two persons, but one Christ who is divine and human:

who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us and to be a sacrifice not only for original guilt but also for all actual sins of men.

Article 2 concludes with a brief summary of the work of Christ and its effects. The one Christ who was divine and human experienced death on the cross, truly dying and being buried. The affirmation of the historicity of the death of Jesus echoes the creeds and focuses on the reality of the events Jesus experienced as being important for accomplishing the results of that work. Those results are reconciliation between God and humanity by way of forgiveness of sins. Sins are forgiven by virtue of the sacrifice Christ offered of himself in the crucifixion. Further details of salvation and forgiveness of sins are elaborated more in later Articles. The focus of Article 2 is on the person of Christ. The inclusion alongside details about the person of Christ along with a description of his work indicates the important perspective that his work and his person are not to be divorced from each other. Both the person and work of Christ go together and are important and even necessary components of any christological reflection. That being said, it is clear that the primary interest of Article 2 is presenting and securing a way of speaking about the incarnation and formulating a christological articulation of who Christ is before and after the incarnation.

Within Article 2’s explication of the person of Christ, there are several key terms and ideas that must be highlighted. The terms rendered “nature,” “substance,” and “never to be divided” are absolutely vital to the theological framework being presented by the article. Additionally, the inclusion of “the Blessed Virgin” and “one Christ” are important. The use of these ideas and more specifically the vocabulary used in both English and Latin in the article is important because analyzing the language used provides insight into the sources being utilized in the construction of Article 2. Griffith Thomas notes four affirmations being made by Article 2 regarding the incarnation: Christ has a human nature, Christ has two natures, Christ is one person, and that person is one Christ.[8] Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son. This divine person takes from the Virgin Mary a “nature” and not a “personality” or a “person.” “According to the orthodox Christology settled at the Council of Chalcedon, it was Human Nature, not a Human Person that the Son of God took into union with Himself. By Human Nature is to be understood all those qualities which the race has in common.”[9] With the assumption of human nature – all that it means to be human – the divine Son was thus existent in both divine and human natures, but remained one person. The doctrine of the hypostatic union is used to explain this mystery, that two different natures exist fully and perfectly in one person; “two natures in one, ὑπόστασις [hypostasis].”[10] Article 2, in its formulation of the person of Christ, “may be said to sum up the Christology of Chalcedon.”[11]

The christology of Chalcedon came out of the crucible of intense theological controversy in the fifth century. For many it represents the culmination of orthodox christology’s victory over challenges from various heretical understandings of the incarnation and the person of Christ. Examining the language of the Definition of Faith produced by the council illuminates and confirms the influence Chalcedonian christology has on Article 2. The Chalcedonian Definition exists in the original Greek as well as Latin and English versions that are relevant for comparing with the Latin and English of Article 2. Overall, there is a significant overlap between the language of Article 2 and that of the Chalcedonian Definition.

Chalcedonian Definition[12]

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [coessential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ: as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Article 2[13]

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us and to be a sacrifice not only for original guilt but also for all actual sins of men.

Chalcedonian Definition

Sequentes igitur sanctos patres, unum eundemque confiteri Filium et Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum. consonanter omnes docemus, eundem perfectum in deitate et eundem perfectum in humanitate; Deum verum et hominem verum eundem ex anima rationali et corpore; consubstantialem Patri secundum deitatem, consubstantialem nobis eundem secundum humanitatem; ‘per omnia nobis similem, absque peccato’ (Heb. 4): ante secula quidem de Patre genitum secundum deitatem; in novissimis autem diebus eundem propter nos et propter nostram salutem ex Maria virgine, Dei genitrice secundum humanitatem; unum eundemque Christum, Filium, Dominum, unigenitum, in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseperabiliter agnoscendum: nusquam sublata differentia naturarum propter unitionem, magisque salva proprietate utriusque naturæ, et in unam personam atque subsistentiam concurrente: non in duas personas partitum aut divisum, sed unum eundemque Filium et unigenitum, Deum verbum, Dominum Jesum Christum; sicut ante prophetæ de eo et ipse nos Jesus Christus erudivit et patrum nobis symbolum tradidit.

Article 2

Filius qui est Verbum Patris, ab aeterno a Patre genitus verus et aeternus Deus, ac Patri consubstantialis, in utero Beatae Virginis ex illius substantia naturam humanam assumpsit: ita ut duae naturae, divina et humana, integre atque perfecte in unitate personae, fuerint inseparabiliter coniunctae: ex quibus est unus Christus, verus Deus et verus Homo: qui vere passus est, crucifixus, mortuus et sepultus, ut Patrem nobis reconciliaret, essetque hostia non tantum pro culpa originis, verum etiam pro omnibus actualibus hominum peccatis.

The language overlap between the Chalcedonian Definition and Article 2 substantiates the claim that Article 2 is primarily a restatement of Chalcedonian christology with respect to the person of Christ and the formulation of the incarnation and the relationship between Christ’s divinity and humanity.

Understanding Article 2 as a Chalcedonian expression requires understanding what Chalcedonian christology precisely is and the claims made by the Council of Chalcedon with respect to the incarnation of the Word. The Council of Chalcedon served as something of a climax to heated christological controversy that had been raging in the church for most of the first half of the fifth century. The conflict grew significant with the clash between Nestorius and St. Cyril of Alexandria beginning in 428 following Nestorius’ infamous public criticism and even anathematizing of the use of the title “Mother of God (theotokos)” for the Virgin Mary. Politically, the rivalry between the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools of theology as well as the Alexandrian and Constantinopolitan Sees made this conflict expedient as an opportunity to further personal interests. However, there was a legitimate theological question at stake. “The issue was not the status of the Virgin but the question who it was who was born of her – a human being, united to the Godhead but yet distinct from it (as Nestorius supposed), or God the Word himself.”[14] This controversy grew into a great battle over the identity of Christ, specifically the manner in which the divine and human natures related to each other in the incarnation. The culmination of this battle came in the Council of Chalcedon, by which time Nestorius had already been deposed by the Council of Ephesus (431), and orthodox christology was officially formulated in the Definition of Chalcedon. The council’s primary theological task was to challenge the spread of monophysitism, a catch-all term for christological views primarily associated with Eutyches “that emphasize the divine nature of of the incarnate Christ at the expense of the human, and in some cases claim that there was a single divine-human nature.”[15] The Definition that was ultimately produced did not solve all the christological woes in the church, despite the “most devout bishops” claiming that “the definition satisfied everyone” and “the definition has satisfied God.”[16] As a matter of fact, the dissatisfaction some felt resulted in the first great schism in the church as those who rejected the council split from the rest of the church, a division which still exists between the Chalcedonians and the churches today known as Oriental Orthodox.[17]

The main points of Chalcedon’s christology are familiar following an examination of Article 2. As demonstrated above, Article 2 draws on the language of Chalcedon to produce a summary of Chalcedon’s theology. The Chalcedonian Definition presents the same ideas about Christ’s incarnation and the relationship of the two natures as the Article does. Jesus is “perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity,” “truly God and truly man,” “consubstantial” with both God and humanity, begotten of God according to divinity and Mary according to humanity, “in two natures” in which there is no division or confusion, and he is a single person.[18]

The two most important elements of the Chalcedonian Definition are the assertion that Christ is “acknowledged in two natures” (en duo physesin; in duabus naturis) and the four classic adverbs “no confusion, no change, no division, no separation” (asygxutos, atreptos, adiairetos, axoristos; inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter) used to describe how those two natures are acknowledged. These two elements together constitute the major formulation and teaching Chalcedon offers regarding how Christ’s natures interact with each other following the incarnation.

The statement that Christ is “in two natures” raises both an interpretive and a textual question. Textually, the question arises if this phrase is originally en duo phusesin (in two natures) or ek duo phusesin (from two natures). The interpretation of Chalcedon hinges quite significantly on which preposition is used. Schaff notes disagreement in the literature on this question. Ultimately he determines that “in two natures” was original and “from two natures” was later altered to make concessions to monophysitism.[19] Price and Gaddis concur, stating the alternate reading was “doubtless slipped into a sixth-century edition of the text in an attempt to appease the miaphysites.”[20] Pelikan and Hotchkiss appeal to Eduard Schwartz and say the reading “in two natures” has been “definitely confirmed.”[21] Scholarly consensus indicates the original wording in the Definition was almost certainly “in two natures” and thus that is the reading that should be considered authentic.

Interpretively, the different prepositions alter the possible interpretations available. Ek is best understood in the context of the Definition as meaning “from” in the sense of “origin.”[22] Christ could thus be described as “originating from” or “coming out of” two natures, the divine and human. In the context of a discussion on the incarnation, the idea is best understood as Christ’s divine-human existence resulting from the meeting of both the divine and the human natures in the unique event of the incarnation. If Christ is “from” two natures the door is left open for a view that Christ exists in some tertium quid made up of a combination of the divine and human natures but neither nature really maintaining itself within Christ in any meaningful way. This concept was rejected as far back as Tertullian.[23] The use of “from” would certainly not demand any such idea, but it would be an exegetical possibility. Describing Christ as being “from” two natures could however simply be an attempt to remain as close to the revelation of Scripture as possible without saying anything beyond what Scripture shares in order to avoid error. The Scriptures are abundantly clear that in Christ divinity and humanity somehow met and came together. So it is certainly true that Christ is “from” two natures, and at a minimum that can be claimed with confidence based on the witness of Scripture. The phrase “from two natures” can be seen as a potentially more cautious, but as a result, less precise wording that allows for more variety in interpretation that could include ideas that stand in opposition to the goals of the council.

On the other hand, “in two natures” results in important differences in interpretation. En is contextually best understood as “in” in the sense of a state or condition.[24] Christ being “in” two natures refers to his state after the incarnation in an ongoing sense. It is not merely that there were two natures before the incarnation that came together resulting in the union in Christ, but that following that union there are in fact two natures continuing to exist. When compared with “from” this leads to fewer possible interpretations as to what exactly is being said about the union of the two natures. By stating Christ exists “in” two natures, any idea of either nature being eradicated in any way is rendered impossible.

The relationship of the two natures is further qualified by four adverbs. These serve as boundary markers that limit what can and cannot be said about the two natures that are acknowledged. These natures have “no confusion, no change, no division, no separation.” The first two terms prevent any sort of collapse of the two natures into each other, preventing Eutychianism or monophysitism. Neither nature is compromised so that each can be identified, at least in thought, as maintaining integrity and thus Christ can be said to be truly divine and truly human because both natures remain what they were prior to the union. However, these two terms cannot be held without the third and fourth, which mediate against Nestorianism. The two natures maintain their integrity distinct from one another, but in no way can this imply any sense of division or separation between them. There is no sense in which the two natures of Christ are simply associated or merely connected, but they are truly and thoroughly united in the one Christ.

What is both extremely important for understanding the christological formulations and disagreements surrounding Chalcedon and extremely difficult to do is determining what “nature” (physis, natura) means. The BDAG Greek Lexicon lists the definitions of physis as “1) condition or circumstance as determined by birth, 2) the natural character of an entity, 3) the regular or established order of things, and 4) an entity as a product of nature.”[25] When Chalcedon describes Christ as one person in which two natures, divine and human, exist, the question arises of what constitutes a nature. Using BDAG’s definitions, options one and two seem most likely to fit what Chalcedon is attempting to describe. In this sense, the condition or character of being human exists simultaneously in Christ as the condition or character of being divine. To synthesize the phrases that have been examined from Chalcedon’s Definition: following the incarnation, Christ exists as one person, in which both the condition and character of being human and the condition and character of being God continue to persist without losing their integrity in any sense while being united in such a way that there truly is only one Christ, not two Christs attached to each other, one divine and one human.

The formulation of Christ’s incarnation in terms of two natures qualified with the adverbs above is precisely the doctrine being expressed in Article 2. The article’s Chalcedonian christology is understood clearly in light of the interpretation of Chalcedon’s definition itself. On the basis of Article 2, the Anglican tradition is a Chalcedonian tradition in terms of christology. While the Articles of Religion do not explicitly require acceptance of the Chalcedonian Definition or submission to the Council of Chalcedon,[26] the theology expressed in Article 2 teaches Chalcedonian christology.

Not every church body in the world accepts Chalcedon. Since the council itself, churches have existed that reject the Definition of Chalcedon and its christological formulation. For a tradition like the Anglican tradition that is Chalcedonian in its christology, ecumenical relations with a church that rejects Chalcedon can only occur if the question of christology is addressed. Resolving this question is easier said than done. “The non-Chalcedonian Orthodox have been for centuries accusing the Chalcedonian Orthodox of being Nestorians. On the other hand, the Chalcedonians have been accusing the non-Chalcedonians of either being monophysites … or of a one-sided insistence on Cyrillian terminology to the exclusion of Cyril’s own acceptance of two natures.”[27] While Anglican and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches certainly have a far shorter history of debate and discussion than non-Chalcedonian and Chalcedonian Orthodox do, the differences in christology between both families of Orthodox churches also applies to Anglican and non-Chalcedonian churches.

Today, the non-Chalcedonian churches are collectively known as the Oriental Orthodox family of churches. The communion is made up of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and the Syrian Orthodox Church.[28] These churches enjoy communion with one another but not with the Eastern Orthodox, Protestant (including Pentecostal), or Roman Catholic churches. This schism dates back to Chalcedon and endures to this day, although significant ecumenical dialogue has taken place. On the question of nomenclature, these churches are referred to as “Oriental Orthodox” to distinguish them from other (Eastern) Orthodox churches that they are not in communion with. Historically, the term “monophysite” has been applied to these churches in reference to christology, although that is an inaccuracy and is rejected by Oriental Orthodox themselves as it associates them with a heresy they also repudiate. In response to this in recent decades the term “miaphysite” has been used to identify the christology of these churches. “Non-Chalcedonian” may be the most clear and accurate way to refer to this group of churches as that represents the original and most theologically significant difference between them and other church bodies.

It is vital to clarify terms in reference to identifying these churches and even more so to their christological teachings. As christology forms the most significant and most relevant unique feature of their theology, that is the focus of this brief study. Traditionally the non-Chalcedonians have often been described as monophysite in their christology. The alternative term miaphysite has been developed as a way to more accurately represent their christology. “It is important to clarify that miaphysitism (which stresses the unity of the incarnate Christ) is not the same as monophysitism (according to which the Word’s taking flesh undermines the integrity of Christ’s humanity).”[29] This is important not only for precision’s sake but also for recognizing what is actually being claimed by the non-Chalcedonian churches. Monophysitism is recognized as heresy by both Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians and so it is unfair to refer to non-Chalcedonians as teaching it.

A chief difficulty in reconciling differences between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians is interpreting the word “nature”. This difficulty comes to the fore when examining a favorite slogan of non-Chalcedonians which comes from St. Cyril of Alexandria, “one nature of the Word of God being incarnate or enfleshed.” As noted above, Chalcedon declares that Christ exists “in two natures” which seems to contradict the Cyrilline, and Oriental Orthodox, idea of “one nature.” “Miaphysite” and “dyophysite” seem like mutually exclusive positions. Indeed, that has been the conclusion of many on both sides of the divide for centuries. Upon closer examination, however, this is revealed to be an incorrect reading of Cyril and his formula’s relation to Chalcedon’s Definition.

As the church was dealing with christological controversies and heresies, vocabulary needed to be developed by theologians in order to express the doctrine of the church with regards to the incarnation and the relationship between Christ’s divine and human natures. Later, the vocabulary would come to be codified and widely agreed upon, but as the church was formulating how best to accurately speak about the incarnation these terms were not always clear the way that they later became. The term “nature” is a clear example of this development of terminology. When Cyril uses the formula “one incarnate nature” he is not necessarily using “nature” the same way that later theologians would come to use it. In Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian christology, nature comes to mean the distinct character or condition of either the divine or human existence that are both present in the single Christ, expressed by the idea of there being two natures in one person. However, Cyril uses “physis” virtually synonymous with “hypostasis”,[30] which typically came to mean something closer to “person.” Today, at least in Chalcedonian traditions, it would be typical to confess Christ as two natures in one person, using “nature” and “person” as two distinct concepts to explain different aspects of Christ’s incarnate existence. A compelling piece of evidence that for Cyril these terms were interchangeable is the fact that he spoke of “the one enfleshed hypostasis of the Word”[31] and even states, “Thus there is only one nature (physis) of the Word, or hypostasis if you prefer, and that is the Word himself.”[32]

Cyril’s main christological task was combating Nestorianism. In order to accomplish this, he and those following him spoke of the “one nature” in order to emphasize the “one person” of Christ against the Nestorian notion that “two natures = two persons.”[33] This way of addressing the Nestorian position was possible precisely because “the terms ‘nature,’ ‘hypostasis,’ and ‘person’ were equated at that time since they were regarded as synonymous and identical.”[34] After Chalcedon, in the face of the division caused by disagreement on the formulation found in the Definition, Chalcedonian Orthodox theologians were tasked with addressing the disagreement. They followed Cyril while maintaining support of Chalcedon: “Cyrilline Chalcedonianism, which began with attempts to clarify Chalcedon in response to monophysite arguments and led, under imperial pressure, to efforts to find common ground with the monophysites, is the central trend in Christological discussion in the sixth century.”[35] These attempts for common ground between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian christology included an emphasis on the Cyrilline expression: “The phrase, so beloved of the later Cyril, ‘One incarnate nature of God the Word,’ is capable of an orthodox [Chalcedonian] interpretation; furthermore, for these Cyrilline Chalcedonians, both of the expressions, ‘out of two natures’ of the original draft of the Definition, and ‘in two natures’ of the final version, are acceptable: Christ is known [from two natures] and [in two natures].”[36]

Cyril’s use of christological terminology to oppose Nestorian teaching demonstrates his purpose of asserting and emphasizing Christ’s unity over and against the Nestorian emphasis on duality. This concern is clear in Cyril’s commentary on the gospel of John. “He did not hesitate to say, not that he became ‘in flesh’ but that he became ‘flesh,’ in order to show the unity. Moreover, we certainly do not say either that God the Word from the Father has been transformed into the nature of the flesh or that the flesh passed into the Word. Each remains what it is by nature, and Christ is one from both.”[37] This quotation is especially important for the present discussion of Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian christology as Cyril expresses here both chief concern for the unity of Christ and clear expression of the persistent integrity of both natures. In this statement from Cyril, both extremes of Nestorianism and Eutychianism are warded off in a way that ought to be amenable to both a traditional Chalcedonian position and a non-Chalcedonian miaphysite position.

Cyril is not the only source in the history of the church that uses language that could possibly please both Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians. Archbishop Abune Theophilos was consecrated as the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 1971. While differences in language exist between the original Amharic text and the English translation of the statement quoted below, the main points of his statement reveal the ways in which there is in fact great resonance and overlap between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian christology.

Thus He who is eternally God the Son, consubstantial with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, became perfect man, consubstantial with us, unchangeably and inseparably, unconfusedly and indivisibly. God the Son united to himself hypostatically manhood, taken from the Holy Virgin, which was endowed with a rational soul… The one Lord Jesus is thus perfect God, the Same being also perfect man, with the single exception that He is absolutely sinless. Jesus Christ is one and only Son, being composed of the two natures which continue in Him without reduction or division [Amharic: “Our Lord Jesus Christ is Son of the Father by nature. In him the divine nature and the human nature are united without separation and without division.”]. He is one Hypostasis, one Prosopon, and one Nature incarnate of God the Son [Amharic: “Christ is one person, one nature.”]. The ‘one’ here refers to the unity, not to any reduction, as is sometimes erroneously construed.[38]

Theophilos, the leader of a non-Chalcedonian church, expresses christology here using Chalcedonian language (“unchangeably and inseparably, unconfusedly and indivisibly”) while clearly maintaining a miaphysite, non-Chalcedonian way of formulating the incarnation (“one Hypostasis, one Prosopon, and one Nature incarnate of God the Son”). Rather than interpreting Theophilos’ statement as a self-contradictory mess, it seems more consistent with the history of the theological language being utilized here to understand that he is being faithful to his church’s position while also recognizing the substantial agreement that exists between the non-Chalcedonians and Chalcedonians. Looking at the language of Cyril and Chalcedon, it becomes apparent that the differences in christology between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians are chiefly terminological and are not in fact due to substantial disagreement in doctrinal confession about Christ and the incarnation.

The differences between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians are terminological and not doctrinal, meaning that relations between Anglican churches and non-Chalcedonian or Oriental Orthodox churches require clarification of terminology but not change in doctrine. This approach is demonstrated in the success of talks of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission and the agreed statement on christology produced by this group. The agreed statement includes this point: “those among us who speak of two natures in Christ are justified in doing so since they do not thereby deny their inseparable indivisible union; similarly, those among us who speak of one incarnate nature of the Word of God are justified in doing so since they do not thereby deny the continuing dynamic presence in Christ of the divine and the human, without change, without confusion.”[39] The theology of Chalcedon and of St. Cyril of Alexandria together provide the tools to recognize in each other the orthodox Christian confession regarding the incarnate Christ, and to understand each other where terminology differs as to expression but not doctrinal substance. The bishops and church leaders of both traditions who signed this statement in doing so acknowledged this overlap in theological conviction and the agreed statement offers helpful ways of speaking that keeps both traditions within the realm of orthodox confession without compromising either their respective theological positions or the historic witness of Scripture and the church.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion serve as one of the foundational documents for the Anglican tradition. Article 2 provides the summary of the Anglican teaching on christology. In Article 2 a traditional Chalcedonian christological formulation is upheld. This is confirmed by examining the language the article uses, which is primarily taken from the Chalcedonian Definition. The Definition of Chalcedon expresses christology in terms of two natures or characters or conditions of being. These two natures continue to exist in Christ after the incarnation, although they do so in such a way that they are not collapsed into each other or separated from each other. Non-Chalcedonian churches have historically utilized the Cyrilline expression of “one nature of the incarnate Word of God” to describe their christology. On the surface, the difference between “two natures” and “one nature” seems insurmountable, but a closer look at what “nature” means in Cyril’s usage reveals that both traditions are confessing substantially the same thing. Neither side wants to separate the unity of Christ and neither side wants to deny that both divinity and humanity subsist within the incarnate Christ. The differences between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches are thus terminological and not theological. For this reason, there is no theological basis for division between Anglican and other Chalcedonian churches and the Oriental Orthodox or non-Chalcedonian churches on the basis of christology.


  1. Gerald Bray, Anglicanism: A Reformed Catholic Tradition (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021) 61.
  2. Oliver O’Donovan, On the 39 Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christianity (Carlisle: Paternoster Press 1986) 22.
  3. Gerald Bray, ed, Documents of the English Reformation Third Edition (Cambridge: James Clarke and Co., 2019) 254-255.
  4. Ibid., 254.
  5. Ibid., 254-255.
  6. Ibid., 254.
  7. Ibid. 255.
  8. W.H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) 39-40.
  9. Ibid., 40.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid., 41.
  12. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Greek and Latin Creeds, with Translations Vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919) 62-63.
  13. Bray, Documents of the English Reformation 254-255.
  14. Richard Price, “The Council of Chalcedon (451): A Narrative” in Richard Price and Mary Whitby, eds, Chalcedon in Context: Church Councils 400-700 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011) 70.
  15. Jaroslav Pelikan and Valerie Hotchkiss, eds, Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition Volume I (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) 172.
  16. Richard Price and Michael Gaddis, trans, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon: Volume 2 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005) 197.
  17. Pelikan and Hotchkiss, Creeds and Confessions 173.
  18. Ibid., 181.
  19. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom 64 n.4.
  20. Price and Gaddis, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon: Volume 2 204 n.52. Schaff’s reference to “monophysites” and Price and Gaddis’ to “miaphysites” refer to the same group: those who reject Chalcedon. This terminology will be explored further below.
  21. Pelikan and Hotchkiss, Creeds and Confessions 173.
  22. Frederick William Danker, ed, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) Third Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) 296; G.W.H. Lampe, ed, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961) 424.
  23. Tertullian, “Against Praxeas” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson 1994) 624.
  24. BDAG 327.
  25. BDAG 1069-1070.
  26. This does not prevent individual Anglican churches from requiring acceptance of Chalcedon, however. See for example the Jerusalem Declaration, Book of Common Prayer 2019 (Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019) 792.
  27. Very Rev. Prof. John S. Romanides, “St. Cyril’s ‘One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate’ and Chalcedon” in Paulos Gregorios, William H. Lazareth, Nikos A. Nissiotis, eds Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite? Towards Convergence in Orthodox Christology (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981) 51.
  28. Bp. Nareg Alemezian, “The Oriental Orthodox Family of Churches in Ecumenical Dialogue.” The Ecumenical Review 61, no. 3 (2009) 315–27.
  29. I.R. Torrance, “Miaphysitism.” In I.A. McFarland, D.A.S. Fergusson, K. Kilby, et. al. eds, Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology. Cambridge University Press. Credo Reference:
  30. John A. McGuckin, “St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Miaphysite Christology and Chalcedonian Dyophysitism” Ortodoksia 53, 2013, Ortodoksisten pappien liitto & Itä-Suomen yliopiston filosofisen tiedekunnan ortodoksisen teologian koulutusohjelma (Kopijyvä Oy, Joensuu 2013), 33-57; 38. See also John Henry Newman, “On St. Cyril’s Formula, μία φύσις σεσαρκωμένη” in Tracts: Theological and Ecclesiastical (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics Inc., 1974) 351.
  31. Ibid., 52 n.7.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Prof. Johannes N. Karmiris, “The Problem of the Unification of the Non-Chalcedonian Churches of the East with the Orthodox on the Basis of Cyril’s Formula: ‘Mia Physis Tou Theou Logou Sesarkomene’” in Gregorios, Lazareth, Nissiotis, eds Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite? 32.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Andrew Louth, “Christology in the East from the Council of Chalcedon to John Damascene” in Francesca Aran Murphy and Troy A. Stefano, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Christology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) 143.
  36. Ibid., 142-143.
  37. St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John Volume I David R. Maxwell, trans, Joel C. Elowsky, ed, Ancient Christian Texts, Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray, eds (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013) 237-238.
  38. Tesfazghi Uqbit, Current Christological Positions of Ethiopian Orthodox Theologians Orientalia Christiana Analecta 196 (Rome: Pontificii Instituti Studiorum Orientalium, 1973) 185-186.
  39. Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission “Christology: Agreed Statement” 2014,


Lukas Stock

Lukas Stock is a student at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL studying for a Master of Divinity degree. He holds a BA in Pastoral Studies from Moody Bible Institute and an MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from Moody Theological Seminary. He is pursuing ordination in the ACNA and hopes to serve the church and the academy.

'Christology and Ecumenism: Article 2, Chalcedon, and Oriental Orthodoxy' has 1 comment

  1. November 11, 2021 @ 10:04 am Daniel Logan+

    Lukas, this is really well done. Thank you for your good work for the Church!


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