The following was a college essay written by Joshua Pippert. It has been edited and approved by Christopher Centrella. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.
It has been common knowledge for as long as anyone can remember that Jesus Christ took the on the form of man as the only begotten Son of the Father and died for the sake of our redemption, yet close consideration of how this would have happened has led to several theories about Christ’s nature as well as distinct branches of study in the field of theology. Thinking about who Christ was as both man and God and how his death redeemed humanity leads to an intersection between two particular examples of these branches. Namely, Christology and Soteriology. The former concerns the nature of Christ’s humanity and divinity while the latter concerns the process and properties of salvation.
Some of the fourth and fifth century Christological ideas, however, turned out to be heresies (it’s bound to happen with topics such as this one). One among them being the belief that Christ had two natures that remained separate within him; otherwise known as Nestorianism. Yet from this, affirmations of Christs dual nature come from Saint Cyril of Alexandria for the purpose of addressing and disproving Nestorius. In his fourth letter to Nestorius, Cyril mentions the Son as a coeternal person of the Holy Trinity who did not begin existence when born of the Virgin Mary, but took on the form of flesh with no harm to his divinity (Blosser, 164). This is what Cyril called the hypostatic union of natures. God united to man, not God existing alongside man.
Similar to Cyril’s plight, Saint Leo’s response to Eutyches’ doctrines includes some teachings that are much the same as Cyril’s with Christ’s humanity not taking away from his divinity, but with these, he also mentions more technical ways in which this works. Tying Christ’s dual nature into salvation, Leo says in the third section of his tome:
“Thus the properties of each nature and substance were preserved entire, and came together to form one person. Humility was assumed by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity; and to pay the debt that we had incurred, an inviolable nature was united to a nature that can suffer. And so, to fulfil the conditions of our healing, the man debt that we had incurred, an inviolable nature was united to a nature that can suffer. And so, to fulfil the conditions of our healing, the man Jesus Christ, one and the same mediator between God and man, was able to die in respect of the one, unable to die in respect of the other. Thus there was born true God in the entire and perfect nature of true Jesus Christ, one and the same mediator between God and man, was able to die in respect of the one, unable to die in respect of the other.” (Blosser, 177)
It is this kind of nature that must always be held to be true as well, for if Christ is only God, but not man, then he could not have suffered and died for us. Likewise, if he’s only man, but not God, then he would not have been able to save humanity in virtue of his divine nature nor would he even have risen again. This is where heresies like the Docetic idea that Christ was only a divine apparition or the Arian idea that Christ was only man are inevitably led into difficulty. If Christ were lacking in either divine or human nature, then His entire passion would have been rendered purposeless. A greater articulation of salvation’s causes comes from Saint Athanasius in On the Incarnation of the Word.
He opens with an explanation of God’s will for man, saying that “God has made man, and willed that he should abide in incorruption” (Blosser, 145). Yet mankind neglected to abide by means of their own gift of free will, making of itself a race of blunted intellect, weak will, and an ever-present, insidious tendency towards sin. Although it is the fault of man that he lives in that state, however, Athanasius recognizes that it would not be like God to simply let mankind burn for what they’ve done. Rather, in His own infinite goodness and wisdom, he entered space and time, living as a man born of a woman to refamiliarize man with God and to pry them from the grips of their fallen natures. “For if a king, having founded a house or city, if it be beset by bandits from the carelessness of its inmates, does not by any means neglect it, but avenges and reclaims it as his own work” (Blosser, 148). Just like the king in this passage here, God did not abandon his own work because of the mere carelessness of man.
God’s nature was in union with the nature of man in one substance, both fully man and fully God, in order that he may suffer the burden of human sin and save all of humanity from sin through the same conjunctive passion. He did all of this as He chose out of love to restore his kingdom from its pilfered state. It is important that studies of Christ’s humanity and divinity be brought into dialogue with those of the redemption of mankind so that the burden, understanding, and love of mankind through His own manhood can be understood by mankind itself.
Blosser, Benjamin. THEO3420: History of the Catholic Church I. Cognella Custom, 2020.