The Christological History of the Oriental Churches #
To be true to the Christian Gospel, the teaching of any individual or group must proclaim the truth according to the great purpose of the Church, and the revelation of its head, Jesus the Christ. The Church’s main purpose is to Praise Almighty God. To praise Him with fitting praise, it must, at the same time, help people purify their individual and collective responses to the truth revealed by Almighty God. He, as the One Who created our world, also suffered to reclaim it from the sin that humans brought to it. He established the criteria of unity for the One and only Church He founded on earth. Therefore any who would become truly Christian must admit that God is neither a Roman Catholic or a Protestant or whatever labeled sect; He is neither Monophysite nor Dyophysite. Every denomination is limited by political authorities and or humanistic agendas. As such, each of these is contrary to equality and unity, essential characteristics of Christian love. But Jesus Christ, Our Lord and God, is one Creator, one Saviour, for all humanity. The blood and water He shed, He shed for the regeneration of all: as He is the universal Redeemer of the word.
The teaching of the Oriental Orthodox Churches which are founded on the Holy Apostles experience of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Creator and only Saviour of the world; and insists that the Seal of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit has never ceased to dwell in the Church. Individuals and groups have turned their backs on It and Him, but He has never ceased to be present for those who would worship Him “in spirit and in truth.”
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church accepts the First three of the Churches Councils as being “Ecumenical”. The Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325, set boundaries for human speculation about the Mystery of the Son of God as being of the same essence as the Father, condemning the teaching of Arius, who insisted that “There was when the Son was not.” The Second Council, in A. D. 381, settled fifty-six years of wrangling over how best to explain the Mystery of the Holy Spirit’s relationship with the Father, and certain controversies over the Divinity and Humanity in Jesus Christ. The Council of Ephesus, in 431, asserted that He Who was born of Mary is God, condemning the thinking of Theodore Mopsuestia and his pupil Nestorius (Antiochenes whose interpretations would split the Divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ by insisting that He whom Mary bore should only be called “Christ.")
The decrees of these Three Ecumenical Councils were not dominated by national or political agendas, but were truly Universal and spoke of one Lord Jesus Christ. These Councils defined the one true nature of the Incarnate God, proclaiming Christ as true God and true man; but united, without confusion and without division. Each of the regional Churches understood these gatherings as a sign of their ultimate unity, opportunities to witness in true Christian love. They united to fight Arianism, Nestorianism, and such heterodox innovations. This was maintained until the development of the teaching of “two natures” framed at the Council of Chalcedon (A. D. 451), which was contrary to the teachings of the first Three Ecumenical Councils. This fourth gathering attempted to justify a formula of “two natures” in Christ against the “one nature” (the teaching of Saint Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, approved by two earlier Councils and the accepted belief of the entire Church). At the same time, those who accepted the “two nature” formula equated the teaching of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its sister Churches (Armenia, Coptic, Syrian Church in India) with that of Eutyches, the real Monophysite who had distorted the union of the human with the Divine in Christ. Without due consideration of possible connotations of the Greek word for “nature” (physis), the word Monophysite was incorrectly attributed to the Oriental Churches in general. They would have nothing to do with such a phrase, which should be exclusively attributed to Eutyches' error.
The facts are, because of his confused formula, Eutyches was Excommunicated at a local Synod in 448, presided over by Flavian, Archbishop of Constantinople. Flavian reported this action to Pope Leo I of Rome, who responded with his “Letter #28” in June 449. Eutyches, meantime, appealed to Emperor Theodosius II asking him to call a Council to reconsider his case. The Emperor called a General Council under the leadership of Patriarch Dioscorus, which took place at Ephesus in August, 449. Representatives from Constantinople, Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria attended this Council. They invited Eutyches to speak for himself. He confessed his mistake and proclaimed the Nicene Creed, which had been decided by the 318 fathers in 325 A. D., plus the teachings of Saint Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. He was then recognized and reinstated by this Council. Pope Leo was not satisfied with the results and branded it a “robbers' council.”
Emperor Theodosius II died in 450. His sister, Pulcheria, and her husband Marcian, succeeded him on the Imperial Throne. Siding with Pope Leo, favoring his “two natures language,” they called another council at Chalcedon, in October, 451 to question Patriarch Dioscorus concerning the reinstatement of Eutyches, since Leo refused to accept it. Pope Leo’s legate read the “Tome of Leo” (the development of his “two natures” doctrine and papal supremacy may be traced in his letters #28 through #98). When the reading was finished, Archbishop Flavian of Contantinople responded, “Peter has spoken.” Some considered this a great event: but obviously, it failed to maintain love and peace. Instead, the Christian world, from the Byzantine Roman perspective, became coterminous with its Empire. All of the Churches in regions that were then outside of its control, along with the Patriarchate of Alexandria, refused to accept this innovation of “two natures.” To this day they remain separate from those regional Churches that then comprised the Byzantine Roman world.
The dissenters are collectively identified as the Oriental Orthodox Church. Their champion, Pope Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria, was condemned without a hearing; and exiled, in 454 A.D. to the Island of Gangra. He was not deposed for Christological or Dogmatical charges, but as a result of his refusal to appear before a Council. His own words show that Patriarch Dioscorus' concept of the Nature of Christ is far from that of Eutyches'. Dioscorus said, “I accept ‘the of two;' ‘the two' I do not accept; I am forced to be impudent, but the matter is one that touches my soul.” Eutyches, the heretic, had asserted that Christ’s humanity was absorbed by the Divinity and to the extent that it became inconsequential.
The Chalcedonian pronouncement asserted that Christ was “. . . made known in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union.” When carried a step further, this could mean that the “Divine nature” performed all miracles, whereas only the “human nature” is subject to suffering, hunger, et cetera. The non-Chalcedonian or pre-Chalcedonian Church, by insisting on St. Cyril’s “one nature” formula, precludes such conclusions, maintaining that all concerning Christ should be referred to His entire Person as “One incarnate nature of God the Word” = “made one.”
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church very strongly believes that He is One out of both. God the Word, through Whom all things were made, took flesh and blood and was called the Son of man, yet lost not what He was (is). The Word and the humanity constitute one nature, and union is established without losing His original attributes. The human nature was not dissolved in the Divine, as Eutyches taught at one point, but rather the Divine made the human nature immediately its own. After the union, Jesus Christ is One, knowing the distinction between the natures and not confusing one with the other.
By prayerfully considering these basic distinctions about this mystery, one may grow to better appreciate the Oriental Orthodox concept of “Tewahedo = made one.” As we take up our cross to follow Him, this affects how one accepts Jesus Christ for what He claimed to be. By Sacramental adoption we gradually become, by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature. By participating in the Body of Christ we may be made Divine as, He, by condescending to become human, became one of us.