Coptic Metropolitan Bishoy (pictured above) has been visiting Melbourne. Not the most convenient time for Westerners, in the middle of our Holy Week and Easter, but of course, they are on a different calendar.
Having arranged baby-sitting, I was able to get to his public lecture tonight at Trinity College (arranged by a loyal Sentire Cum Ecclesia reader, Selina – OK, class, say ‘hullo’ to Selina: ‘Hullo Selina!’ – who is working in an admin role at Trinity), which was entitled: “The Christological Controversy and the Council of Chalcedon: An Orthodox Perspective & recent positive developments”. Yes, I know, a daunting title, but your intrepid correspondent does not cringe in fear before such challenges (after all, the opening lecture at Luther Seminary in 1983–the very first theological lecture I ever heard–was entitled “St Athanasius and the Trinitarian Controversy”…)
He gave a non-Chalcedonian view of the events surrounding the Council of Chalcedon and its outcomes, and also pointed to the way in which the controversies are being overcome today, 1500 years later–largely through avoiding terminology in which the real meaning gets lost in translation.
The terminolgy is indeed difficult, and reminds me of the mess I got myself into when we were discussing on these pages whether Christ was a “human person”.
Usually, we Chalcedonians say that when the “Word became flesh”, the two natures, divine and human, were united in “one person”–or “one hypostasis” (there are problems here when that greek word is transferred literally into Latin, because you end up with two natures in “one substance”). The Copts, from what I could gather, emphasise that in Christ the two natures are united so as to become “one nature” (mia physis)–although Metropolitan Bishoy strongly asserted (in St Cyril’s terminology) that in this union the two natures continue to exist distinctly. He even used the Chalcedonian phrase “without separation, without division, without change, and without confusion”, although, again in St Cyril’s words, “it is not possible to distinguish between the natures except in thought alone”. I’m not personally comfortalbe with that last phrase. To a modern ear, it seems to suggest that it isn’t objectively so, it is just so in our thinking. But that is surely not what either St Cyril or Metropolitan Bishoy mean.
And so we can’t call these guys “Mono-physites”. As the Metropolitan writes, ‘monophysite’ comes from ‘moni physis’ which means ‘only nature’, whereas the Copts teach ‘one nature’, that is ‘mia physis’, without denying the two natures.
Still, I find this difficult. To use the Trinitarian analogy, we cannot say that the three Persons are united in One Divine Person, or that three Gods are united in One God. It is Three Persons in One God. So with Jesus, it isn’t two persons in one person, or two natures in one nature. It is two natures in one person. It just seems to run better using that terminology.
Nevertheless, if you avoid all the “lost in translation” stuff, you can see that we are really talking about the same thing. So the Catholic-Coptic dialogue was wise to drop all allusions to the Greek terminology and simply confess together the following statement:
“We believe that our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the incarnate-Logos is perfect in his Divinity and perfect in his Humanity. He made his Humanity One with his Divinity without Mixture, nor Mingling, nor Change, nor Confusion. His Divinity was not separated from his Humanity even for a moment or a twinkling of an eye.
At the same time, we Anathematize [the teachings of] both Nestorius and Eutyches and their Doctrines.”