Chalcedon

Official Christian orthodoxy is defined by the Confession of Chalcedon. Yet the only correct opinion it draws has to do with the nature of the incarnation, or, what Jesus Christ is.

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

With this, the great christological debates that began at the end of the first century were mostly quelled. What had sparked them was gentile dumbfoundness at the prospect of a god becoming flesh; and the only language at hand for understanding such an idea was that of Greek philosophy, obsessed as it was at the time with substance or ὑπόστᾰσις (hypostasis). For Jewish thought in the period of the Second Temple the question of Christ’s nature, his substance, was a non-question. What was essential for the members of this Jewish sect was who Christ was, not what he was made of. Who Chris was enabled redemption there on the cross. Who Christ was lent the utmost significance to his final words as found in the gospel of Mark: “Father, father, why have you forsaken me?!” You cannot understand these words if you are obsessed with substances and their transubstantiations, realms, their boundaries and traversals. Indeed, Western mind has thrived on fabricating distinctions where simplicity is due. Why have you forsaken me? This is a simple question.

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~ by Benoît on June 28, 2010.

10 Responses to “Chalcedon”

  1. “this is a simple question.” Theology is always inadequate, maybe incommensurate, to its questions. It is preliminary, not definitive. It’s meant to give some access to the issue of “who Christ was,” so that the simple question can be heard in all its poignancy.

    But I don’t want to distract from this gorgeous post.

  2. But it’s no light matter that Christianity comes right after philosophy proper in Athens. You don’t get much deeper than asking, “What is the essential nature of reality?” I think Deleuze said that all the great dualisms in philosophy were detours we took because we were not equipped to understand what a body can do.

    I don’t think Judaism evaded substance–it just invented a metaphysics that placed “will” at the foundations of manifest reality, and it thereby snuck in dualisms between will and matter that would stay in theology and philosophy for a long time. It would be silly to say that Genesis was not directly dealing with substance or that “will” is not just another metaphysical invention, however, and rather than being a more pure access to reality Judaism really introduces all of this epistemological restriction (instead of merely skepticism) so that we have millenia of this tradition of ethics trumping alternative (pagan) metaphysical conceptions to Mosaic theology in the West.

    And when Christ is lost to himself and paradoxically doubts God, I agree that this is the real invention of Christianity–but it’s one of the triumph of substance or metaphysics over divine command or the narrative conception of life. Like Lacan says, it’s when we conceive of ourselves as pure substance–and here he’s skeptical of saying pure matter–that we really stare into the abysss and become unknown or uncanny to ourselves. People tend to see the thrust of Continental philosophy as moving us away from literalism and physicalism, but I think it’s easy to see that the most naive question in Europe–maybe becoming most apparent since Nietzsche–is how do we make sense of our cultural and subjective inventions like juridicality, ethics, and ultimately our own subjectivities, in a purely naturalistic world? And this is how the contradictions of ethics and culture, the deceptive nature of power relations, etc. become illuminated to them.

    The Christological debates were simply attempts to reconcile orthodoxy, the way it existed in Judaism, with Christian theology. They didn’t want Rome to run another pagan empire that would fall apart, and there were plenty of historical reasons to revive orthodoxy. The really interesting speculations about Christ actually came with figures like Leibniz in the big metaphysical systems of the early enlightenment, and eventually with the huge hermeneutics movements which tried to naturalize Christianity.

    But I don’t think any of us are good philosophers if we don’t seriously ask the question, “What kind of a thing am I?”

    • I should be a bit clearer on an important point: it isn’t that Second Temple Judaism had no understanding what was connoted by hypostasis, but that it was secondary to WHO God was in a profound way. Old Testament scholars go back and forth on the possibility the Pre-Exilic and even early Post-exilic Judaism was polytheistic like its neighbors by pointint out all sorts of various devine and semi-devine figures through ancient Jewish liturgy (like the female, possible, counterpart of YHWH, Ashara [or something like that]). But what they miss is that, yes, there may or may not be all sorts of things flying around in the heavens, but what’s important is who YHWH is, which is creator and lord of all creation and so the only deity worth worship (The ancient Mediterranean world couldn’t get there heads around this idea and so Jews stood out in that milieu). As creator, there was indeed a line of “substance” that nothing could cross but this wasn’t as central to the faith as who he was, and I submit that the New Testament authors’ reading of the eschatological passages of Psalms and Deutero-Isaiah (dispersed throughout their writings by allusion, direct citations, and modifications) make no sense if you put the accent on substance rather than identity since who he is, and more importantly, who he will be (Jesus) defy the claims substance/hypostasis make on his being. The Patristic age just couldn’t get a handle on an omnipotent, immutable (all attributes of divine substance) God suffering (the last of the Jews who were witness to Christ or were the first generation after the apostles had died out by the early 2nd century, though you still see the non-Greek inflected Christianiy in Hermes and others) and that’s why you had Arianism, Nestorism, et al saying shit like “well, Jesus was ‘adopted’ by God” or “Jesus’ sprit was divine and felt no pain, but his vessel, his body, did”, all attempts to secure divine substance away from the substance of Man.

    • I should also be clear that I’m not at all under the idea that I’m delivering a historical understanding across time to the present without alteration – I know full well that I my own act is an exegesis influenced by my time, and will sound like something from my time. Bauckham’s scholarship is especially unclear on just what ‘identity’ even means. It likely stands for something modern Jews and Christians no longer have a conception of, but the point of any historical exegesis is too brige the past and the present as to result in a completely novel future. So my contribution here is to give substance (ha ha) to identity. That’s what I’m doing right now and that’s why I’m interested in the “via negativa” of Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, and Bataille, people for whom faith isn’t positive statements about God but about strange, abhorrent, and direct experiences deprived of intellectualism.

      Another avenue for what I’m getting at: Greek ontology is very related to their preoccupation with their (relative to today) primitive geometry. Hypostasis is a term that comes out of investigations such as that of Democritus, who determined the world to consist of a small number of distinct geometrical shapes (atoms) in motion with one another, down to Aristotle. This is why I mentioned in the post that “ou cannot understand these words if you are obsessed with substances and their transubstantiations, realms, their boundaries and traversals”, because the discourse surrounding hypostasis relates to all phenomena in a very rigid, “thing-like” manner, or as objects in the way Heidegger determined the ontotheological tradition to observe the world, da-sein included. Perhaps there’s a bit of Heidegger me.

    • >>The Christological debates were simply attempts to reconcile orthodoxy, the way it existed in Judaism, with Christian theology. They didn’t want Rome to run another pagan empire that would fall apart, and there were plenty of historical reasons to revive orthodoxy.

      I meant to say that the responses to the Christological debates were strongly influenced by the need to keep the reach of Constantinople from disintegrating, and not particularly meditative responses to the meaning of Christ. Islam managed to become its own religion, for example, rather than be another christologically separated sect of Eastern Christianity, because Rome wanted to finally establish an orthodoxy like that in Judaism, rather than have its religion be fragmented and heterogenous, as had been the case with its pagan raligions, so it didn’t budge on Chalcedon and let the Aramaic regions occupied by Arabs become separated from the state..

      • Now I see, and agree, considering there are legal penalties and shit like “Oh thanks to the Augustii Valerius and the other guy” in the Confession.

  3. There’s a mis-rendering here: where I write Christ in “…of the Second Temple period the question of Christ’s nature… was a non-question” there should be God. It seems I typed out this post too quickly. The point is that Second Temple Jewish understanding of God’s divinity revolved around the identity of God rather than his substance (the significance of the daily repetition of Shema in Second Temple liturgy). This relationship is inherited by early Church fathers (who are Jewish) in their deification of Christ, who shares in God’s identity.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the crucifixion constituting a “triumph of substance or metaphysics over divine command or the narrative conception of life”. As far as I can tell, the New Testament authors, Paul included, understood the crucifixion in terms they interpreted Psalms and Deutero-Isaiah to lend them: that God identify himself, in messianic revealing, with the lowest, the godforsaken, and so marry all of creation. The biblical scholarship of Richard Bauckham is quite rich in illuminating this. Christianity wasn’t Hellenistic philosophy all along, but only became so, and to the detriment of the primacy of identity versus substance, the identity of Christ with God versus the negotiation of his share in Divine Substance (on numerous occasions Paul modifies Shema into a pronouncement on Jesus’ identity). This isn’t to mention that the christological debates were largely carried on by an educated (which means a Greek education in those times) layer of theologians rather than resembling on-the-street early Christian liturgy. It’s difficult for me to see how hypostasis is useful when considering the significance of Christ in the NT in light of historical evidence (though it does lend a clue as to why the Pope considers maritology so important: since the confession of Chalcedon only the the incarnation, Mary takes on a related importance) of what the New Testament authors were restricted to talking about.

    Now I can only speak to Second Temple Judaism because it’s what the New Testament authors were familiar with, and to read into the Old Testament practices and ideas which could not have held currency in that period or prior, so to evoke Genesis seems a bit hasty as even OT scholars reading the ancient Hebrew can’t say a lot of the OT is definitively about. It’s a bunch of texts strung together after the exile designed to found an identifying canon but whose historical stratification of its constituent parts shines through anyway. But that’s history, and it’s history in exactly the same way Tertullian or Lacan isn’t at all talking about what the author of Mark is.

    Though I suspect at bottom we’re attempting to approach the same thing (I suppose that this reading of Christianity reconciles it with Nietzschean materialism in a fundamental way), our approaches differ drastically in their routes.

  4. >>There’s a mis-rendering here: where I write Christ in “…of the Second Temple period the question of Christ’s nature was a non-question” there should be God. It seems I typed out this post too quickly. The point is that Second Temple Jewish understanding of God’s divinity revolved around the identity of God rather than his substance (the significance of the daily repetition of Shema in Second Temple liturgy).

    Yes, but isn’t “identity” here literal, in the sense of, “I am that am”? Are you saying that there was a strategic decision here to not do metaphysics and instead understand something like the personality of God? That is the gist I got from where you went with this: understanding who and not what Christ is. But I think that this is still metaphysics: the indivisibility of God makes Him a kind of prime mover and makes His intentionality fundamental to contingent manifestations of reality–and through this metaphysical move we have ethics or divine commandments usurping ontological speculations about substance. My point is that, yes, from this stage it is not going to make sense to define things in terms of their necessary properties, because you have such a powerful transcendental signifier that it ultimately mediates everything–2+2=4, droughts happen, visions occur, etc. because God wants them to; but this is still basically doing metaphysics, to which for a long time “substance” did not intuitively mean clunks of matter or the like, but also included things like “idea” and “conatus.” I know it seems like I’m reading Platonism and later metaphysics in here, but I’m simply saying that the fact that I’m able to make sense of such a move suggests that the philosophy of the Second Temple could not have been an uncorrupted, pre-metaphysical era for thinking in general. I think it began the way all metaphysics does: with the ontological question of what is.

    >>This relationship is inherited by early Church fathers (who are Jewish) in their deification of Christ, who shares in God’s identity.

    I think “shares in” is ambiguous here, no? Are you saying that Judaism could make sense better than Hellenism of the apparent contradiction that Christ was both divine and had flesh because to them all apparent substance was contingent on God, and if God so chose He could become living Christ? That may be the case, but I don’t see why it’s valuable–at least, it seems to take away the transformative themes of compassion, suffering and so forth that many Christian theologians have found so valuable. I’m also not sure why God would start talking about Himself as His own son with Christ, rather than continuing to directly affirm His self-identity, though Islam takes a similar position on God’s indivisibility as Judaism.

    >>I’m not sure what you mean by the crucifixion constituting a “triumph of substance or metaphysics over divine command or the narrative conception of life”. As far as I can tell, the New Testament authors, Paul included, understood the crucifixion in terms they interpreted Psalms and Deutero-Isaiah to lend them: that God identify himself, in messianic revealing, with the lowest, the godforsaken, and so marry all of creation.

    I think the explanatory power of your reading comes from throwing in “the godforsaken,” here. But how does anything–let alone God–become literally God-forsaken? This seems to be the crux of what you say is the different approach in Second Temple Judaism: it is not just that reality is contingent on God as a necessary being; it’s not about how things necessarily exist at all, but rather about how God conceives of Himself, now as the ultimate Judge, now as the lowliest of creation, etc. But even this sounds to me like metaphysics, or when Spinoza says that all of our minds are accidental ideas that ultimately compose God’s substance. I’m just not sure how to make the move you’re suggesting, which sometimes seems to oscillate between an “anything goes” and an “everything is restricted” approach to understanding reality to me.

    >>The biblical scholarship of Richard Bauckham is quite rich in illuminating this. Christianity wasn’t Hellenistic philosophy all along, but only became so, and to the detriment of the primacy of identity versus substance, the identity of Christ with God versus the negotiation of his share in Divine Substance (on numerous occasions Paul modifies Shema into a pronouncement on Jesus’ identity).

    Yes, I think it’s just an historical fact that the Hellenization of Christianity was an intrusion on the canon the apostles were working on that happened after the fact. I just think this maneuver ended up being useful for speculation about reality in general–Hegel, for example, sees Christ’s self-forsakenness as the opening for real idealism and the metaphysics of the foundational split in reality, which is so valuable to the hermeneutics of suspicion that conceives psychoanalysis. Those are personal opinions about the historical legacy of Christianity, and I don’t mean to say Lacan and the rest were there in the writings of Mark. But at the same time, there were large conflicts even at that time which were based solely on the political and historical antagonisms between orthodoxy and the Greco-Roman conflicts of the time. So we have the Gnostic texts and some explicity Hellenistic derivations being birthed at the same time as the ultra-Jewish interpretations. The question I saw you asking was whether what became of all of it was for the better or worse. I wanted to say:

    1. Metaphysics was unavoidable even to Judaism, though it may be that at least the Second Temple had no concern for it. I’m just trying to get a reading of how that makes sense, and I’m skeptical of dismissing the traditional notion that religions fundamentally answer metaphysical questions.

    2. The concept of substance is powerful because it allows us to get closer to a systematic understanding of reality than glimpses into God’s intentions. I don’t think this means that we have to abandon the primacy of identity either: identity and difference are properties of substance, after all, and Spinoza uses the identity of God as the basic foundation of monism, for example. If you mean “identity” in the sense of God’s intentions or personality, I just don’t see why this is a productive step for “the Western mind.” And the revelatory texts we do have just seem too hermeneutically complex to make definite claims about the world.

    >>This isn’t to mention that the christological debates were largely carried on by an educated (which means a Greek education in those times) layer of theologians rather than resembling on-the-street early Christian liturgy.

    Yes, but was the quelling of these debates really an effect of saying, “Silly Greeks, think more Jewish”? Wasn’t the Trinity really an historically convenient invention?

    >>It’s difficult for me to see how hypostasis is useful when considering the significance of Christ in the NT in light of historical evidence (though it does lend a clue as to why the Pope considers maritology so important: since the confession of Chalcedon only the the incarnation, Mary takes on a related importance) of what the New Testament authors were restricted to talking about.

    What historical evidence do you mean? It may not have mattered to Chalcedon, but I think the nature of Christ is normatively as useful as any question about his teaching. There really are these moments in the NT when Christ suggests that hunger, suffering, etc. are constructed, that reality is contingent, that the Kingdom of God is likewise a subjective disposition (“in us”) and an historical reality, etc. When I leave the NT with the impression that reality is essentially spiritual in nature, I’m speculating about substance.

    >>Now I can only speak to Second Temple Judaism because it’s what the New Testament authors were familiar with, and to read into the Old Testament practices and ideas which could not have held currency in that period or prior, so to evoke Genesis seems a bit hasty as even OT scholars reading the ancient Hebrew can’t say a lot of the OT is definitively about. It’s a bunch of texts strung together after the exile designed to found an identifying canon but whose historical stratification of its constituent parts shines through anyway. But that’s history, and it’s history in exactly the same way Tertullian or Lacan isn’t at all talking about what the author of Mark is.

    I think I was too struck by your more general statements about the misdirection of the Western mind to be more careful about the actual question of Christology and the Jewish canon. But I meant to suggest that even if Second Temple Judaism was not concerned with doing metaphysics (I’m becoming convinced that it wasn’t), this was based on a metaphysical move–the transcendental signifier–that allowed ethics, abiding by the will of God, to usurp the priority of ontological questions–and it was only a matter of time before such questions would resurface.

    >>Though I suspect at bottom we’re attempting to approach the same thing (I suppose that this reading of Christianity reconciles it with Nietzschean materialism in a fundamental way), our approaches differ drastically in their routes.

    Yes, I tend to come away from the perversions of Mosaic religion in Western philosophy thinking that they are theology proper, only to be reminded by history that the God of Abraham was assuredly different than the God of philosophers. In any case, I’m interested in combatting the horrors of our industrial society with the force of more religious times.

  5. Reading your additional comments, it seems to me like your beef is more with materialism or naturalism than with metaphysics.

    Is that right? Or are you getting at some deeper criticism of rationality?

  6. I am not sure that the 2nd temple is all that is relevant here. Margaret Barker takes some serious risks as a scholar and some of these may or may not be “going too far;” but she suggests that a set of First temple traditions is alive and well at least in Jesus’ circle and the first few centuries of the church, and she reads e.g. Clement of Alexandria (also some pseudo-Clementine material), St Basil, and so on, as drawing upon these when they refer to “secret” or “unwritten” aspects of the tradition, nearly all of which pertain expressly to liturgy and worship. To my mind, at least, she makes a strong case. Undoubtedly, the central question (whether of religion or of philosophy) is Who is God, but the tradition is also about how one asks this question. A great deal of material here:
    http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/
    on the off-chance that you are not already familiar with this site.

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