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The early church councils: Christological controversy and definition

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1 The early church councils: Christological controversy and definition
Chapter 8 The early church councils: Christological controversy and definition

2 Questions to be addressed in this chapter
What led to the Council of Nicea? What was Nicea’s central contribution to Christian thought? How did Chalcedon maintain balance between the opposite extremes? What were the effects of the theological controversy on Christian worship?

3 The Arian crisis We find the starting point for the Christological crisis in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Around 318 a presbyter of the Church there named Arius (c ) came into conflict with his bishop, Alexander, over the nature of Christ. Arius claimed that the Son of God must be a creature with a beginning rather than the eternal Creator. A schism emerged within the Church, and the controversy led Emperor Constantine to call the Council of Nicea.

4 The Council of Nicea The Council of Nicea was called in order to address the Arian controversy. There is a very real sense in which the Arian controversy uncovered some metaphysical difficulties which had accrued with acceptance of the Hellenistic conception of God as pure and changeless Being. While the Arians themselves seemed to be defeated at Nicea, the impulse to emphasize the humanity of Christ would continue to manifest itself in other thinkers for another generation. The Arian heresy would finally be conclusively and explicitly condemned at the Council of Constantinople called by Emperor Theodosius in 381.

5 The Nicene Creed as formalized in 381
We believe in one God, the Father All Governing, creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence [homo-ousion] as the Father, through Whom all things came into being. Who for us men and because of our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and Son, Who spoke through the prophets; and in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

6 The four major Ecumenical Councils dealing with Christology

7 The Apollinarian and Nestorian Heresies and the Council of Chalcedon
After Nicea, the orthodox were concerned to maintain that Jesus was really divine and that he was really human. Asserting this is one thing, but it is quite another to explain how these two natures could be kept together in the one person of Jesus. Attempts to do so led to two opposite tendencies which, their critics claimed, degenerated into clearly unacceptable (and therefore, heretical) positions.


9 Christology in practice
The matter of Christology was not merely some abstract discussion happening only among the elite theologians of the Church. The Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa, wrote that debates on the nature of Christ were happening at every turn in common society in Constantinople. Both the Alexandrians and the Antiochenes worshipped Jesus Christ. Though their metaphysical theories about the object of their worship were different, there was unity in their practice.

10 Summary of main points 1. Arius took commonly held presuppositions about God to what he understood to be their logical conclusions, resulting in a theological crisis. Nicea defined the relationship of the Son to the Father as “homo-ousios.” 3. The polar extremes of Apollinarius and Nestorius regarding the nature of Christ created the tension in which the Definition of Chalcedon was held. Despite the politics and division, this period was remarkable for its unity in practice: Jesus Christ, the God-man, was the object of worship.

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