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

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 23 March 1988, the Holy Father explained the meaning of the hypostatic union of the two natures, divine and human, in the one Person of Christ. 

1. In our catecheses we are reflecting on the old conciliar definitions with which the faith of the Church has been formulated. In the development of this formulation, a firm point is constituted by the Council of Chalcedon (year 451) which, with a solemn definition, specified that in Jesus Christ, the two natures , the divine and the human, have been united (without confusion) in a single personal Subject , who is the divine Person of the Word-God . On the occasion of the term "ύπόστασις" it is usually spoken of hypostatic union. In effect, the very person of the Word-Son is eternally engendered by the Father, as far as his divinity is concerned; on the contrary, in time that same person was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary as to her humanity. Thus, the definition of Chalcedon reaffirms, develops and explains what the Church had taught in the preceding Councils and what the Fathers had witnessed, for example Saint Irenaeus, who spoke of "Christ, one and the same" (cf. ., eg, Adv, Haer III, 17, 4).

It should be noted here that, with the doctrine on the divine Person of the Word-Son, who, assuming human nature, entered the world of human persons , the Council also highlighted the dignity of the man-person and the relationships between different people. Moreover, it can be said that attention has been drawn to the reality and dignity of each man in particular, of each man as an unmistakable subject of existence, of life and, consequently, of rights and duties. How can we not see in this the starting point of a whole new history of thought and life? For this reason, the incarnation of the Son of God is the foundation, the source and the model, both of a new supernatural order of existence for all men, who precisely from that mystery obtain the grace that sanctifies and saves them, as well as of a Christian anthropology, which is also projected into the natural sphere of thought and life with its exaltation of man as a person, placed at the center of society and — one can say — of the entire world.

2. Let us go back to the Council of Chalcedon to say that this Council confirmed the traditional teaching about the two natures in Christ against the monophysite doctrine (mono-physis = one nature), which had spread after it. Specifying that the union of the two natures occurs in one Person, the Council of Chalcedon emphasized, even more, the duality of these two natures (έν δύο φύσεσιν), as we already read in the text of the definition that we mentioned above: "We teach that one must confess... that one must recognize the one and only Christ, the only begotten Son and Lord subsisting in the two natures, without confusion, immutable, undivided, inseparable, the difference between the natures not being suppressed in any way because of the union, indeed, the property of one nature and the other being safeguarded" ( DS , 302). This means that human nature has in no way been "absorbed" by the divine. Thanks to his divine nature, Christ is "consubstantial with the Father, according to divinity"; thanks to his human nature, he is "consubstantial also with us, according to humanity" (όμοούσιον ήμίν ... κατά τήν άνδρωπότητα).

Therefore, Jesus Christ is true God and true man. On the other hand, the duality of natures does not harm , in any way, the unity of Christ , which is given by the perfect unity of the divine Person.

3. It should also be noted that, according to the logic of Christological dogma, the effect of the duality of natures in Christ is the duality of will and operations , even in the unity of the person. This truth was defined by the III Council of Constantinople (VI Ecumenical Council), in the year 681 —as, on the other hand, the Lateran Council of 649 already did (cf. DS , 500)— against the errors of the Monothelites, who they attributed to Christ a single will.

The Council condemned the "heresy of one will and one operation in two natures... of Christ", which mutilated in Christ himself an essential part of his humanity, and "following the five holy Ecumenical Councils and the holy and distinguished Fathers", according to them, "defined and confessed" that in Christ there are "two natural wills and two natural operations...; two wills which are not in contrast to each other..., but (which are) such that the human will remains without opposition or repugnance, or rather, is subject to his omnipotent divine will..., according to what He himself says: 'Because I have come down from heaven, not to do my will, but the will of the one who has sent me. sent´ ( Jn 6, 38)" (cf. DS , 556).

4. This is the teaching of the first Councils: in them, together with the divinity, the human dimension of Christ is totally clear. He is truly man by nature, capable of human activity, human knowledge, human will, human conscience, and, let us add, human suffering, patience, obedience, passion, and death. Only by the strength of this human fullness can the texts on Christ's obedience even to death (cf. Phil 2, 8; Rom 5, 19; Heb 5, 8) be understood and explained, and, above all, the prayer of Gethsemane: "...not my will, but yours be done" ( Lk 22, 42; cf. Mk 14, 36). But it is also true that the human will and the human action of Jesus belong to the divine Person of the Son : it is precisely in Gethsemane that the invocation takes place: "Abba, Father" ( Mk 14, 36). He is well aware of his divine Person, as he reveals, for example, when he declares: "Before Abraham was, I am" ( Jn 8, 58), and in other evangelical passages that we already examined in due course. of the. It is true that, as a true man, Jesus possesses a specifically human conscience, a conscience that we continually discover in the Gospels. But, at the same time, the human consciousness of him belongs to that divine "I" , by which he can say: "I and the Father are one " ( Jn10, 30). There is no evangelical text from which it turns out that Christ speaks of Himself as a human person , even when he willingly presents himself as "Son of man": a word dense with meaning that, under the veils of biblical and messianic expression, It already seems to indicate the belonging of the One who applies it to himself to a different and superior order to that of ordinary mortals in terms of the reality of his Self. Word in which the testimony of the intimate consciousness of his own divine identity resonates.

5. As a conclusion to our exposition of the Christology of the great Councils, we can savor all the density of the page of Pope Saint Leo the Great in his Letter to Bishop Flavian of Constantinople ( Tomus Leonis 13 June 449) It was, as it were, an introduction to the Council of Chalcedon, and summed up the Christological dogma of the ancient Church: "The Son of God, coming down from his heavenly abode without ceasing to share in the glory of the Father, entered this lower world, born after a new order, by a new mode of birth.... He who is true God, is also true man. There is no unreality in this unity since the humility of the manhood and the majesty of the deity exist in reciprocity. For just as God does not change by his merciful condescension (whereby he became man), so likewise man is not swallowed up by the (divine) dignity. Each of the two natures performs its proper functions in communion with the other, the Word doing what is proper to the Word, and the flesh doing what is proper to it. The one is resplendent with miracles, the other submits to insults. Just as the Word does not forfeit equality of glory with the Father, so the flesh does not desert the nature of our kind...." After referring to the many Gospel texts which constitute the basis of his doctrine, St. Leo concludes: "It does not pertain to the same nature to say, 'I and the Father are one' (Jn 10:30), and to say 'The Father is greater than I' (Jn 14:28). Although in the Lord Jesus Christ there is one single person of God and man, yet the source of the contumely which both share is distinct from the source of the glory which they also share. From our nature he has a humanity inferior to the Father; from the Father he possesses divinity equal to that of the Father" (cf. DS 294-295).

These formulations of the Christological dogma, although they may appear difficult, enclose and reveal the mystery of the Verbum caro factum , announced in the prologue of the Gospel of Saint John before which we feel the need to prostrate ourselves in adoration together with those high spirits who have honored it. also with his studies and reflections for our benefit and that of the whole Church.

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