Daily Archives: March 25, 2008

Coptic Metropolitan Bishoy explains how Church Unity got Lost in Translation at Chalcedon

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.”


Filed under Uncategorized

"Ideas that Changed the World"? Disappointing Anti-Catholicism from Australian Evangelical group "Christians in the Media"

My wife alerted me to this website, “Ideas that changed the world”. She has been a teacher in her parish of the earlier course produced by the same people “Introducing God”.

Unfortunately, the producers of this material, otherwise quite a respectable mob, have chosen to use the approach of World Youth Day as a time to step up with some revived push to proselytise Catholics (I begin to know how the Jews must feel…!).

The website says:

With the Roman Catholic church waking up for World Youth Day in July 2008 and the Pope stating that Protestant churches are not valid churches we need to educate our people on the great truths of the reformation all over again.

To help we have produced a teaching series on the four great alones of the Protestant Reformation: Grace, Faith, Bible and Christ.

And gives this little blurb at the top of the page:

“Today a Catholic friend and I watched Grace Alone. With tears of joy she talked about how the burden of guilt she carried had been lifted, as God had done it all for her, and she gave her life to the Lord. Your DVD presents the Truth clearly, strongly and yet very lovingly. What an awesome tool to have!” -Ellen

And here’s some excerpts from a page long “testimony” on the same page:

Dominic Steele writes…

…I had been Christened and I participated in Confession, Communion and Confirmation in the Catholic Church, I attended a Catholic School for eight years and served as an altar boy at mass for five years. Now I was on the church council. However, in the months that followed I became increasingly disillusioned with [my parish] priest and church.

…Either I’d rejected church or church had rejected me. But I still knew that God existed and somehow things needed to be fixed with God. When my friend Russell Powell invited me to church and I eventually nervously accepted his invitation to his Protestant church I was astonished at the differences.

There wasn’t the same ceremony. But there was an authenticity that I hadn’t seen before. Instead of walking straight out to the car park after receiving Communion people stayed for hours talking about the things they had been taught from the Bible.

Having been in church for years and then out of church for a while, I (shockingly) would say I became a Christian (began a personal relationship with God through Jesus) on 26 January 1986. After this I spent a long time working out how my new faith differed from the faith of my childhood.

Growing up I wouldn’t have said that I was saved by God’s grace alone. I trusted in my own works to make me right with God rather than having faith alone in what Christ alone had done. And my authority came from the church institution rather than from the Bible alone. I have come to see that these differences are enormously significant.

In these talks and studies we introduce you to people who grew up Catholic and see how they have wrestled with the four major ideas of the 16th century Protestant Reformation: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Bible Alone and Christ Alone…

Whether you see yourself as Catholic, Protestant or neither our aim in these studies is to have a better understanding of what it is to be saved by Grace Alone (God’s gracious initiative in Jesus), made available to us through Faith Alone (not by us being good enough). Further we will aim to know God through the Bible Alone (and not through any church authority) and to see that we can pray to the Father through Christ Alone (and not through the saints).

And here’s the email I sent to their office (you can send an email from this page):

Dear Marnie,

My wife has been teaching Introducing God at her local Lutheran Church for some time. She is excited about your new course “Ideas that changed the world”, but, as she said to me, “from my brief look it seems fairly negative towards the Catholic church- quite disappointing!”

She’s not wrong.

It might surprise you to learn that the Catholic Church does teach that we are saved by grace alone, and through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It might also surprise you to learn that the Catholic Church is the only world-wide communion of Christians that teaches that the Scriptures are the Word of God, inpired and inerrant.

I have been an Evangelical Christian all my life, and a Catholic Christian for eight years. Together with the Evangelical Alliance here in Melbourne, the Commission I work for has been fostering a successful Evangelical-Catholic dialogue for the last three years. Catholics and Evangelicals throughout the world are realising that what they have in common is greater than what separates them, and in the culture wars we are partners, not enemies.

It is therefore, as my wife says, disappointing that you have chosen to produce and market a resource specifically designed to draw Catholics away from their Church and faith into a different way of believing. It is all the more disappointing that you have seen the World Youth Day as something to be opposed instead of embraced. The last 25 years of experience of WYD have shown that it has been a prime opportunity for thousands of young people to come alive in their faith in Jesus–precisely through faithfulness to his Church.

We do not live in the 16th Century any more. We live in a time when Catholics and Lutherans and Methodists throughout the world have reached agreement on the doctrine of Justification, and have signed together a statement to this effect with the highest Vatican approval.

It is true that there are many Catholics who do not know the teachings of the Church as well as they should. The Catholic Church is a large Church, embracing more than 25% of the Australian population. It is no secret that not all of these have been evangelised thoroughly. Pope John Paul II himself called more than twenty years ago for a “new evangelisation”–precisely referring to the need for an intense effort at the evangelisation of those already baptised. But this is to be done by strengthening them in their adherance to the Catholic faith, not drawing them away from it.

By all means, produce and promote a resource that speaks of the centrality of Christ, grace and the scriptures. Amen to that. But before you start using it to proselytise Catholics, please take the time to discover exactly what it is that we teach.

If you wish to contact me further on this, I would be more than happy to correspond via email, or to talk with you on the phone. I can be contacted at my office [etc.]


Filed under Uncategorized