Formulation of the Faith in Christ: Conciliar Definitions (II)

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 16 March 1988, the Holy Father spoke on the unity of Christ, though being both God and man.

1. The great Christological Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople formulated the fundamental truth of our faith, also fixed in the Symbol: Jesus Christ, true God and true man, consubstantial with the Father as far as divinity is concerned, of our very nature as far as concerns humanity. Arriving here, in our catechesis, it is necessary to note that, after the conciliar explanations about the revealed truth about the true divinity and true humanity of Christ , the question arose about the correct understanding of the unity of Christ , which is At the same time, fully God and fully man.

The issue was directly related to the essential content of the mystery of the Incarnation and, therefore, to the conception and human birth of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Since the third century, the use of addressing the Virgin with the name of Theotokos = Mother of God had spread : an expression that is found, moreover, in the oldest Marian prayer that we know: the "Sub tuum praesidium": " Under your protection we welcome, Holy Mother of God ...". It is an antiphon that the Church has been reciting very frequently to this day: the oldest text of this prayer is preserved in a papyrus found in Egypt, which can be dated to the period between the third and fourth centuries.

2. But precisely this invocation, Theotokos , was contested by Nestorius and his disciples at the beginning of the 5th century . Nestorius argued that Mary can only be called the Mother of Christ and not the Mother of God (Begetter of God). This position was part of the attitude of Nestorius in relation to the problem of the unity of Christ. According to Nestorius, divinity and humanity had not been united, as in a single personal subject, in the earthly being that had begun to exist in the womb of the Virgin Mary from the moment of the Annunciation. In contrast to Arianism, which presented the Son of God as inferior to the Father, and Docetism, which reduced the humanity of Christ to a mere appearance, Nestorius spoke of a special presence of God in the humanity of Christ, as in a holy being , as in a temple, so that a duality not only of nature, but also of person, the divine and the human, subsisted in Christ; and the Virgin Mary, being the Mother of the Christ-Man , could not be considered or called the Mother of God.

3. The Council of Ephesus (year 431) confirmed, against Nestorian ideas, the unity of Christ as it resulted from Revelation and had been believed and affirmed by the Christian tradition —"sancti patres"— (cf. DS 250-266) , and defined that Christ is the same eternal Word, God of God, who as Son is "begotten" forever by the Father, and, according to the flesh, was born, in time, of the Virgin Mary. Consequently, Christ being a single being , Mary has the full right to enjoy the title of Mother of God , as has long been affirmed in Christian prayer and in the thought of the "fathers" (cf. DS , 251).

4. The doctrine of the Council of Ephesus was successively formulated in the so-called "symbol of union" (year 433), which put an end to the residual controversies of the post-council with the following words: "We confess, therefore, Our Lord Jesus Christ Only-begotten Son of God , perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and a body, begotten before the ages from the Father according to divinity, and the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary according to the humanity, the same consubstantial with the Father in terms of divinity and consubstantial with us according to humanity. Because the union of two natures (human and divine) was made, by which we confess one Lord and one Christ" ( DS , 272).

"According to the understanding of this unmistakable union, we confess the Holy Virgin as Mother of God, for having incarnated and made man the Word of God and for having united with himself, from the very conception, in Mary, the temple that he took from her" ( DS , 272). Stupendous concept of the humanity-temple truly assumed by the Word in unity of person in the womb of Mary!

5. The document that bears the name of "formula unionis" was the result of subsequent relations between Bishop John of Antioch and Saint Cyril of Alexandria , who received for this reason the congratulations of Pope Saint Sixtus III (432-440). The text already spoke of the union of the two natures in the same and unique subject, Jesus Christ. But, since new controversies had arisen, especially due to the work of Eutyches and the Monophysites - who supported the unification and almost the fusion of the two natures in the one Christ -, a few years later, the Council of Chalcedon met (year 451), who, in accordance with the teaching of Pope Saint Leo the Great (440-461), for a better precision of the subject of this union of natures, introduced the term "person". This was a new milestone on the path of Christological dogma.

6. In the formula of the dogmatic definition, the Council of Chalcedon repeated that of Nicaea and Constantinople and endorsed the doctrine of Saint Cyril, in Ephesus, and that contained in the "letter to Flavian of the prelate Leo, most blessed and most holy archbishop of the great and ancient city of Rome... in harmony with the confession of the great Peter... and for us a sure column" (cf. DS , 300), and, finally, he specified: "Following, then, the holy Fathers, unanimously we teach to confess one and the same Son: Our Lord Jesus Christ..., one and the same Christ Lord only begotten: in two natures, without confusion, immutable, without division, without separation, in no way erased the difference of natures by cause of the union, but rather each nature retaining its property and concurring inone person and in one hypostasis , not divided or divided into two persons, but one and the same only-begotten Son, God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets taught us of old, and Jesus Christ himself, and we it has been transmitted by the symbol of the Fathers" (cf. DS , 301-302).

It was a clear and vigorous synthesis of faith in the mystery of Christ, received from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition ("sanctos Patres sequentes"), which made use of rational concepts and expressions: nature , person , belonging to the current language. Subsequently, especially as a result of said conciliar definition, these terms will be elevated to the dignity of philosophical and theological terminology; but the Council assumed them according to the use of current language, without reference to a philosophical systemparticular. We must also note the concern of those Council Fathers for the precise choice of words. In the Greek text the word "πρόσωπον", corresponding to "person", rather indicated the external, phenomenological side (literally, the mask in the theater) of man, and, for this reason, the Fathers used, together with this word, from another term: "hypostasis" (ύπόστασις), which indicated the ontic specificity of the person.

Let us also renew the profession of faith in Christ, our Savior, with the words of that venerated formula, to which so many generations of Christians have referred, obtaining from it light and strength for a testimony, which has led them, sometimes even to the ultimate test of bloodshed.

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