What Chalcedon Meant? (Florovsky)

“And was made man.” What is the ultimate connotation of this creedal statement? Or, in other words, who was Jesus, the Christ and the Lord? What does it mean, in the language of the Council of Chalcedon, that the same Jesus was “perfect man” and “perfect God,” yet a single and unique personality? “Modern man” is usually very critical of that definition of Chalcedon. It fails to convey any meaning to him. The “imagery” of the creed is for him nothing more than a piece of poetry, if anything at all. The whole approach, I think, is wrong. The “definition” of Chalcedon is not a metaphysical statement, and was never meant to be treated as such. Nor was the mystery of the Incarnation just a “metaphysical miracle.” The formula of Chalcedon was a statement of faith, and therefore cannot be understood when taken out of the total experience of the church. In fact, it is an “existential statement.” Chalcedon’s formula is, as it were, an intellectual contour of the mystery which is apprehended by faith. Our Redeemer is not a man, but God himself. Here lies the existential emphasis of the statement. Our Redeemer is one who “came down” and who, by “being made man,” identified himself with men in the fellowship of a truly human life and nature. Not only the initiative was divine, but the Captain of Salvation was a divine Person. The fullness of the human nature of Christ means simply the adequacy and truth of this redeeming identification. God enters human history and becomes a historical person.

This sounds paradoxical. Indeed there is a mystery: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifested in the flesh.” But this mystery was a revelation; the true character of God had been disclosed in the Incarnation. God was so much and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of “the little ones”) as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life. The divine providence therefore is not merely an omnipotent ruling of the universe from an august distance by the divine majesty, but a kenosis, a “selfhumiliation” of the God of glory. There is a personal relationship between God and man.

3 responses

  1. I certainly agree that such statements cannot harmlessly be considered outside the religious practices that give them their true point. But it’s worth remembering that they were (and remain) extremely controversial even to those within religious practices. How to make sense of the idea of God and man fully conjoined in one being is almost as problematic to believers as it is to non-believers.

    • True. In fact, from one point of view, the idea is precisely as problematic to believers as it is to non-believers. For the believer, it is a fully paradoxical as it is for the non-believer.

      • In a sense, the believer’s in a tougher spot than the non-believer. At least the non-believer can just shrug and say “it’s nonsense, but what did you expect?” The believer doesn’t get let off the hook so easily.

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