Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Antioch and Alexandria: Two Schools of Thought - part 3 (by Clint)

St. John Chrysostom

This is the final installment of this discussion. The second can be read here and the first can be read here.

There is no doubt that in addition to the theological controversies, there were political considerations in play in these disputes. The Antiochenes had influence in Constantinople, since the Patriarch of Constantinople often came from Antioch. Since Constantinople had passed Alexandria in prestige, there was a continual tension between the two sees. This tension came to include Antioch. During the Nestorian controversy, Antioch and Alexandria broke communion with one another. Though communion was re-established after Nestorius was removed from power, the troubled relationship between the two sees continued for some time.

Though the 3rd Ecumenical Council had denounced Nestorius and his teaching, there were still many Christian teachers who continued to support it. Both the Antiochene teachers Archimandrite Eutyches and Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople were attacked for Nestorianism. Appealing to Pope Leo, they hoped to have his intervention on their behalf. He responded with the writing that has become known as Leo’s Tome, which supported the view that Christ was of two natures and substances that are intact. The followers of St. Cyril often viewed the Tome as little better than Nestorianism. The controversy continued to grow.

Another Council was called, which is now known as the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451). Drawing upon both writings from St. Cyril and Leo’s Tome, amongst other sources, the council agreed that Chris is “one and the same Son…complete in his deity and complete…in his humanity,” and exists with “one prosopon and one hypostases; but he exists in two natures, which are at once unconfused and unaltered,” yet “undivided and inseparable." Both the writings of Leo and Cyril were also canonized.

While the Council had defined the Orthodox position on the issue, it did not bring unity. In reaction to the debates and decisions in the Council, a large portion of the eastern churches broke fellowship with the Orthodox and founded an organization of Nestorian Churches, which exists to this day. Many of the leaders of this movement were those supporters of Cyril, who had rejected Leo’s Tome as no better than Nestorianism. Though there were attempts to restore this schism, it was never effectively achieved.

It should be noted that not all leaders of the Alexandrian and Antiochene Schools were monolithic in opposition to one another. In fact, there were many prominent teachers and theologians who effectively synthesized the differing viewpoints. St. John Chrysostom serves as an important case study of this. Though associated with the Antiochene School, and even taught by Diodore, who was later condemned, St. John Chrysostom did not follow the excesses of the Antiochene view, nor did he over-react toward the Alexandrian view. While he did tend toward the literal interpretation of scripture, rather than the allegorical, his views of the relationship between Christ and his Church were in agreement with the view of St. Cyril, indicating that he was adhering to truth, rather than espousing a simplistic agreement with his “group.” Speaking of the Incarnation, St. John Chrysostom states:
[Christ’s] Essence did not change to flesh, (it is impiety to imagine this), but continuing what it is, It so took upon It the form of a servant…taking flesh to Himself, His Essence remained untouched…for by an Union and Conjoining, God the Word and the Flesh are One, not by any confusion or obliteration of substances, but by a certain union ineffable, and past understanding.

With these words, it is obvious that the Antiochene St. John held to fully Orthodox beliefs.

Ultimately, the influence of both the Antiochene and Alexandrian Schools helped to shape and develop the Orthodox view of Christology. The allegorical approach of Alexandria was tempered by the literalness of Antioch, and vice versa. Both schools produced schismatic heretics, as well as wonderful Orthodox saints. The resulting conclusions that are still taught by the Orthodox Church were not universally accepted, hence the non-Chalcedon churches that are no longer in communion with Orthodoxy. However, by the efforts of great saints, such as the Alexandrians St. Athanasius and St. Cyril and Antiochenes such as St. John Chrysostom and St. Flavian of Antioch, the Orthodox Church was able to maintain (and restore when necessary) Orthodox theology and teaching over error and heresy, which came from both schools in one form or another.


George said...

Forgive me if I'm dense, but is the use of "Antiochene" a derivation of "Antiochian" or is there something else in play here like a formal name? I enjoyed the series and hope you will do more.

Clint said...

Yes, it is a formal name, though it is just derived from "Antioch." It is synonymous with "The School of Antioch" basically. You can see it in use here:


George said...

Good, so I've added an additional factoid to the information already gleaned. Thanks

Clint said...

Ha, I am glad you found something of use in these posts.

I certainly learned a lot writing them. Now, if I can just retain it...