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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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The incarnation of the Son of God
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All
things were made by him; and without him was not anything made
that was made... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among
us...” (John 1:1-3, 14).
Thus does the Evangelist John announce the glad tidings and theologize in the first lines of his
Gospel. The Orthodox Church places this account at the head of all the Gospel readings, offering
it to us at the Divine Liturgy on the day of holy Pascha, and beginning the yearly cycle of readings
from the Gospel with this one.
“Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). The
unutterable, unknowable, invisible, unattainable God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity,
became man in the form of the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and dwelt among men on earth.
The preaching of the God-Manhood of the incarnate Son of God constitutes the content of
the words of the Saviour Himself, the content of the whole message of good tidings announced
by the Apostles, the essence of the four Gospels and all of the Apostolic writings, the foundation
of Christianity, and the foundation of the teaching of the Church.
The Lord Jesus Christ: true God.
The good tidings of the Gospel are the good tidings of the incarnate Son of God who became
man, having come down from heaven to earth.
Faith in Jesus Christ — that He is the Son of God — is the firm foundation or rock of the
Church, according to the Lord’s own words: “Upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matt.
With these good tidings the Apostle Mark begins his account: “The beginning of the Gospel
of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
With this same truth of faith the Evangelist John concludes the main text of his Gospel “But
these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believ-ing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:31); that is, the preaching of the Divinity of
Jesus Christ was the aim of the whole Gospel.
“That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35) —
the Archangel Gabriel addressed the Virgin Mary.
At the Baptism of the Saviour these words were heard “This is My beloved Son”; the same
thing was repeated at the Lord’s Transfiguration (Matt. 3:17, 17:5).
Simon confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), and this
confession served for the promise that the Church of Christ would be built upon the rock of this
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself testified that He is the Son of God the Father: “All things are
delivered unto Me of My Father; and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth
any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27).
Here Christ speaks of Himself as the only Son of the only God the Father.
In order that the words, “the Son of God,” might not be understood in a metaphorical or
conditional sense, the Sacred Scripture joins to them the expression, “Only-begotten” — that is,
the Only one begotten of the Father: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we
beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (John
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth
in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Likewise, the Sacred Scripture uses the word “true,” calling Christ the True Son of the True
God: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we
may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is
the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
Similarly, the word “His own” is used in connection with the Son of God: “He Who did not
spare His own (in the Greek, idion) Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with
Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)
The Only-begotten Son of God is True God even while in human flesh: “Whose (that is, the
Israelites) are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God
blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 9:5).
Thus, all the fullness of Divinity remains in the human form of Christ: “For in Him dwelleth
all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
The first Ecumenical Council of Nicea was convoked for the confirmation of this truth in
the clear awareness of all Christians, as the foundation of the Christian faith, and for this purpose
it composed the Symbol of Faith (the Creed) of the Ecumenical Church.
The human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Being perfect God, Christ the Saviour is at the same time also perfect Man.
As Man, Christ was born when for Mary, His mother, “the days were accomplished that she
should be delivered” (Luke 2:6). He gradually “grew, and waxed strong in spirit” (Luke 2:40).
As Mary’s son, He “was subject unto her and her spouse” (Luke 2:51). As Man, He was baptized
of John in the Jordan; He went about the cities and villages with the preaching of salvation;
not once before His Resurrection did he encounter a need to prove His humanity to anyone. He
experienced hunger and thirst, the need for rest and sleep, and He suffered painful feelings and
physical sufferings.Living the physical life natural to a man, the Lord also lived the life of the soul as a man. He
strengthened His spiritual powers with fasting and prayer. He experienced human feelings: joy,
anger, sorrow; He expressed them outwardly: “He was troubled in spirit” (John 13:21), showed
dissatisfaction, shed tears for example, at the death of Lazarus. The Gospels reveal to us a powerful
spiritual battle in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before He was taken under guard:
“My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:38) — thus did the Lord describe
the state of His soul to His disciples.
The rational, conscious human will of Jesus Christ unfailingly placed all human strivings in
submission to the Divine will in Himself. A strikingly evident image of this is given in the Passion
of the Lord, which began in the garden of Gethsemane: “O my Father, if it be possible, let
this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). “Not my will,
but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Concerning the truth of the Saviour’s fully human nature, the Holy Fathers of the Church
speak thus: “If the nature which He received had not had a human mind, then the one who entered
into battle with the devil was God Himself; and it was therefore God who gained the victory.
But if God was victorious, then I, who did not participate in this victory at all, do not receive
any benefit from it. Therefore I cannot rejoice over it, for I would then be boasting of
someone else’s trophies” (St. Cyril of Alexandria). “If the becoming man was a phantom, then
salvation is a dream” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem). Other holy Fathers expressed themselves similarly.
The errors concerning the two natures of Jesus Christ.
The Church has always strictly guarded the correct teaching of the two natures of the Lord
Jesus Christ, seeing in this an indispensable condition of faith, without which salvation is impossible.
The errors with regard to this teaching have been various, but they may be reduced to two
groups: In one, we see the denial or lessening of the Divinity of Jesus Christ; in the other we see
a denial or lessening of His Humanity.
A. As was already mentioned in the chapter on the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the
spirit of the Jewish disbelief in the Divinity of Christ, the denial of His Divinity, was reflected in
the Apostolic age in the heresy of Ebion, from whom these heretics received the name of Ebionites.
A similiar teaching was spread in the third century by Paul of Samosata, who was denounced
by two councils of Antioch. Slightly different was the false teaching of Arius and the
various Arian currents in the 4th century. They thought that Christ was not a simple man, but the
Son of God, created rather than begotten, and the most perfect of all the created spirits. The heresy
of Arius was condemned at the First Ecumenical Council in 325, and Arianism was refuted in
detail by the most renowned Fathers of the Church during the course of the 4th and 5th centuries.
In the 5th century there arose the heresy of Theodore of Mopsuestia, which was supported by
Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople. They acknowledged the Lord Jesus Christ to be only
the “bearer” of the Divine principle, and therefore they ascribed to the Most Holy Virgin the title
of Christotokos (Birthgiver of Christ), but not Theotokos (Birthgiver of God). According to Nestorius,
Jesus Christ united within Himself two natures and two different persons, Divine and human,
which touched each other but were separate; and after His birth He was Man, but not God.
St. Cyril of Alexandria stepped forward as the chief accuser of Nestorius. Nestorianism was accused
and condemned by the Third Ecumenical Council (431).B. The other group erred in denying or lessening the humanity of Jesus Christ. The first
heretics of this sort were the Docetists, who acknowledged the flesh and matter to be an evil
principle with which God could not be joined; therefore, they considered that Christ’s flesh was
only pretended or “seeming” (Greek dokeo, “to seem”).
At the time of the Ecumenical Councils Apollinaris, Bishop of Laodicea, taught incorrectly
concerning the humanity of the Saviour. Although he acknowledged the reality of the Incarnation
of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, he affirmed that His humanity was incomplete: affirming the
tripartite composition of human nature, he taught that Christ had a human soul and body, but that
His spirit (or “mind”) was not human but Divine, and that this comprised the Saviour’s Divine
nature, which abandoned Him at the moment of His sufferings on the Cross.
Refuting these opinions, the Holy Fathers explained that it is the free human spirit that comprises
the basic essence of man. It is this which, possessing freedom, was subjected to the fall
and, being defeated, was in need of salvation. Therefore the Saviour, in order to restore fallen
man, Himself possessed this essential part of human nature; or, to speak more precisely, He possessed
not only the lower but also the higher side of the human soul.
In the 5th century there was another heresy which lessened the humanity of Christ: that of the
Monophysites: It arose among the monks of Alexandria and was the opposite of and a reaction
against Nestorianism, which had lessened the Saviour’s Divine nature. The Monophysites considered
that in Jesus Christ the principle of the flesh had been swallowed up by the spiritual principle,
the human by the Divine, and therefore they acknowledged in Christ only one nature. Monophysitism,
also called the heresy of Eutyches, was rejected at the Fourth Ecumenical Council,
that of Chalcedon (451).
An offspring of the rejected heresy of the Monophysites was the teaching of the Monothelites
(from the Greek thelima, “desire” or “will”), who set forth the idea that in Christ there is
only one will. Starting from a fear that acknowledging a human will in Christ would permit the
idea of two persons in Him, the Monothelites acknowledged only one Divine will in Christ. But,
as the Fathers of the Church have explained, such a teaching abolished the whole labor for the
salvation of mankind by Christ, since this consisted of the free subjection of the human will to
the Divine will: “Not thy will, but Thine, be done,” the Lord prayed. This error was rejected by
the Sixth Ecumenical Council (681).
Both of these kinds of error, which died out in the history of the ancient Church, continue to
find refuge for themselves partly in a hidden form but in part openly in the Protestantism of the
last centuries. Protestantism, therefore, to a large extent refuses to recognize the dogmatic decrees
of the Ecumenical Councils.
The two natures in Jesus Christ.
At three Ecumenical Councils — the Third (of Ephesus, against Nestorius), the Fourth (of
Chalcedon, against Eutyches), and the Sixth (the third one of Constantinople, against the Monothelites)
— the Church revealed the dogma of the one Hypostasis of the Lord Jesus Christ in two
Natures, Divine and Human, and with two wills, the Divine will and the human will, which was
entirely in subjection to the former.
The Third Ecumenical Council, that of Ephesus in 431, approved the exposition of faith of
St. Cyril of Alexandria concerning the fact that “the Divinity and Humanity composed a single
Hypostasis of the Lord Jesus Christ by means of the unutterable and inexplicable union of these
distinct natures in one.”The Fourth Ecumenical Council, that of Chalcedon in 451, putting an end to Monophysitism,
precisely formulated the manner of the union of the two Natures in the one Person of the
Lord Jesus Christ, acknowledging the very essence of this union to be mystical and inexplicable.
The definition of the Council of Chalcedon reads as follows:
“Following the Holy Fathers we teach with one voice that the Son and our Lord Jesus Christ
is to be confessed as one and the same (Person), that He is perfect in Godhead and perfect in
manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and (human) body, one in Essence with
the Father as touching His Godhead, and one in essence with us as touching His manhood; made
in all things like unto us, as touching sin only excepted; begotten of His Father before the world
according to His Godhead, but in the last days for us men and for our salvation born of the Virgin
Mary the Theotokos, according to His manhood. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the
only-begotten Son, must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly,
inseparably... not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and
only-begotten God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets of old time have spoken
concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers hath
delivered to us” (Eerdmans, Seven Ecumenical Councils, pp. 264-265).
The manner of this union of the natures is expressed in the Chalcedonian definition in the
words: “Unconfusedly and immutably.” The Divine and Human Natures in Christ do not mingle
and are not converted one into the other.
“Indivisibly, inseparably.” Both natures are forever united, not forming two persons which
are only morally united, as Nestorius taught. They are inseparable from the moment of conception
(that is, the man was not formed first, and then God was united to him; but God the Word,
descending into the womb of Mary the Virgin, formed a living human flesh for Himself). These
natures were also inseparable at the time of the Saviour’s sufferings on the Cross, at the moment
of death, at the Resurrection and after the Ascension, and unto the ages of ages. In His deified
flesh the Lord Jesus Christ will also come at His Second Coming.
Finally, the Sixth Ecumenical Council, in the year 681 (the third Council of Constantinople),
decreed that there be confessed two wills in Christ and two operations: “Two natural wills
not contrary the one to the other. . . but His human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant,
but rather as subject to His Divine and omnipotent will” (from the “Definition of Faith”
of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Eerdmans, Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 345).
The human nature — or, in the terminology of the Holy Fathers, the “flesh of the Lord” —
united with the Godhead, was enriched by Divine powers without losing anything of its own attributes,
and became a participant of the Divine dignity but not of the Divine nature. The flesh,
being deified, was not destroyed, “but continued in its own state and nature,” as the Sixth Ecumenical
Council expressed it (loc. cit.).
Corresponding to this, the human will in Christ was not changed into the Divine will and
was not destroyed, but remained whole and operative. The Lord completely subjected it to the
Divine will, which in Him is one with the will of the Father: “I came down from heaven, not to
do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me” (John 6:38).
In his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St. John Damascene speaks thus of the union
of the two natures in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Just as we confess that the Incarnation
was brought about without transformation or change, so also do we hold that the deification of
the flesh was brought about. For the Word neither overstepped the bounds of His own Divinity
nor the Divine prerogatives belonging to it just because He was made flesh, and when the fleshwas made Divine it certainly did not change its own nature or its natural properties. For even after
the union the natures remained unmingled and their properties unimpaired. Moreover, by reason
of its most unalloyed union with the Word, that is to say, the hypostatic union, the Lord’s
flesh was enriched with the Divine operations but in no way suffered any impairment of its natural
properties. For not by its own operation does the flesh do Divine works, but by the Word
united to it, and through it the Word shows His own operation. Thus, the steel which has been
heated burns, not because it has a naturally acquired power of burning, but because it has acquired
it from its union with the fire” (Exact Exposition, 3, 17; Engl. tr., p. 316-317). The union
of the two natures in Christ is defined by St. John Damascene as “mutually immanent” (Exact
Exposition, 111, 7, p. 284).
Concerning the manner of the union of the two natures in Christ, one must of course have in
mind that the Councils and Church Fathers had only one aim: to defend the faith from the errors
of heretics. They did not strive to reveal entirely the very essence of this union, that is, the mystical
transfiguration of human nature in Christ, concerning which we confess that in His human
flesh Christ sits at the right hand of God the Father, that in this flesh He will come with glory to
judge the world and His Kingdom will have no end, and that believers receive communion of His
life-giving Flesh and Blood in all times throughout the whole world.
The sinlessness of the human nature of Jesus Christ.
The Fifth Ecumenical Council condemned the false teaching of Theodore of Mopsuestia,
which stated that the Lord Jesus Christ was not deprived of inward temptations and the battle
with passions. If the Word of God says that the Son of God came: “in the likeness of sinful flesh”
(Rom. 8:3), it is thereby expressing the idea that this flesh was true human flesh, but not sinful
flesh; rather, it was completely pure of every sin and corruption, both of the ancestral sin and of
voluntary sin. In His earthly life the Lord was free of any sinful desire, of every inward temptation;
for the human nature in Him does not exist separately, but is united hypostatically to the
The unity of the hypostasis of Christ.
With the union in Christ the God-man of two natures, there remains in Him one Person, one
Personality, one Hypostasis. This is important to know because in general oneness of consciousness
and self-awareness is dependent on oneness of personality. In the confession of faith of the
Council of Chalcedon we read: “Not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same
Son and only-begotten God the Word…” The Divine Hypostasis is inseparable in a single Hypostasis
of the Word. This truth is expressed in the first chapter of the Gospel of John: “In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” and further:
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14). On this foundation, in some
passages of Sacred Scripture human attributes are indicated as belonging to Christ as God, and
Divine attributes are indicated as belonging to the same Christ as man. Thus, for example, in (1
Cor. 2:8) it is said: “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Here
the Lord of glory — God — is called crucified, for the “King of Glory” is God, as we read in
(Psalm 23:10): “Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory.” The
truth of the unity of the Hypostasis of Christ as a Divine Hypostasis is explained by St. John
Damascene in the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (Book 3, Chapters 7 and 8).The one worship of Christ.
To the Lord Jesus Christ as to one person, as the God-man it is fitting to give a single inseparable
worship, both according to Divinity and according to Humanity, precisely because both
natures are inseparably united in Him. The decree of the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council
(the Ninth Canon against Heretics) reads: “If anyone shall take the expression, Christ ought to be
worshipped in His two natures, in the sense that he wishes to introduce thus two adorations, the
one in special relation to God the Word and the other as pertaining to the Man… and does not
venerate, by one adoration, God the Word made man, together with His flesh, as the Holy Church
has taught from the beginning: let him be anathema” Eerdmans, Seven Ecumenical Councils, p.
On the Latin cult of the “Heart of Jesus.”
In connection with this decree of the Council it may be seen how out of harmony with the
spirit and practice of the Church is the cult of the “sacred heart of Jesus” which has been introduced
into the Roman Catholic Church. Although the above-cited decree of the Fifth Ecumenical
Council touches only on the separate worship of the Divinity and the Humanity of the Saviour, it
still indirectly tells us that in general the veneration and worship of Christ should be directed to
Him as a whole and not to parts of His Being; it must be one. Even if by “heart” we should understand
the Saviour’s love itself, still neither in the Old Testament nor in the New was there
ever a custom to worship separately the love of God, or His wisdom, His creative or providential
power, or His sanctity. All the more must one say this concerning the parts of His bodily nature.
There is something unnatural in the separation of the heart from the general bodily nature of the
Lord for the purpose of prayer, contrition and worship before Him. Even in the ordinary relationships
of life, no matter how much a man might be attached to another — for example, a mother
to a child — he would never refer his attachment to the heart of the beloved person, but will refer
it to the given person as a whole.