Part III - The Nicene Age: Lesson No. 16 - The Nature of Christ

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I. The Relation of Humanity and Divinity in Christ

One aspect of Christology has to do with Christ's relationship to the Father. In practical terms this addresses Christ's divinity. In what sense, or to what extent, was Christ divine? Previous lessons have shown that this question drew forth a variety of answers and generated prolonged and heated controversies among the various factions within the Church. Some, such as Arius who asserted that Christ was a created being, went to such an extreme that they practically denied the true divinity of Jesus Christ. It was principally these matters which occasioned the convening of the Council of Nicea (325) which reaffirmed the full divinity of Christ. However, it was many years before the controversy cooled and Arianism was largely eradicated.

A discussion of how Christ was divine and how He was related to the Father naturally led to a discussion of the other major aspect of the Christological problem - the humanity of Christ. In what sense, or to what extent, was Christ human? How were the human and divine natures related or united in Christ? These questions gendered controversies as long and vicious as those gendered by a consideration of Christ's divinity. Again, it was to the advantage of the West that it had early arrived at a formula which provided it with unity on this matter. Christ was considered fully God and fully man at the same time but in such a way that His human and divine natures did not detract from one another. Obviously, this is more of a simple statement of belief than a defense or explanation of it. This may well be as far as the finite human mind can take it. Nevertheless, the more philosophical East was not satisfied with this. Its people wanted a clearer definition of just how Christ's human and divine natures were related.

It was possible to assert one aspect of Christ's nature at the expense of the other. One could so emphasize Christ's divinity that His humanity could be practically overwhelmed; or one could so emphasize His humanity as to diminish His divinity. The latter of these two dilemmas had more or less been at the heart of the Arian controversy. The former was an important part of the controversy concerning the human and divine natures in Christ. Some had no difficulty in speaking of Christ as having two natures - one human and the other divine. Others had great difficulty in thinking of Christ as having two natures. This to them implied a duality of persons. They were thus dubbed "Monophysites" (from the Greek words, "monos," meaning "one," and "phusis," meaning "nature"). Controversies over such issues raged through the Fifth and Sixth Centuries and were the occasion for several more general councils. Monophysite sects exist in certain parts of the Middle East to this day.

II. The Importance of the Humanity of Christ

Without becoming involved in the subtle and intricate distinctions of the controversies surrounding the nature(s) of Christ, it must be recognized that there is a balance to be maintained between the deity and the humanity of Christ. Neither can be slighted in the least. Some have diminished the deity of Christ even to the point of making Him nothing but a man. This is wrong. He was fully divine. On the other hand, some are reluctant to give to Him everything His humanity implies. This too is wrong. He was fully human.

As the death of Jesus is nothing to men without His resurrection, so His deity is of no avail to men without His humanity. It took One who had been with both God and man to adequately reveal God to man (Jn. 1:18; 14:9). Jesus became God in human flesh so that He might explain God to man in terms man could understand. Moreover, it was the offering of the body of Jesus which served to sanctify men (Heb. 10:10). Without partaking of humanity, Jesus would not have been perfected (Heb. 5:8,9; 2:10). Through His death He rendered the devil powerless (Heb. 2:14). In order to be a high priest and also be able to make propitiation for sins, He had to be made like His brethren (Heb. 2:17). Since, He was also human, He can identify with mankind and help and understand them (Heb. 2:18; 4:1416), and knowing that Jesus had to endure the afflictions common to all men, those in human flesh can take courage.

III. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)

(1) One aspect of Christology addresses itself to the relationship between the _________ and _________ natures in Christ.

(2) (T or F) Christ was both fully human and fully divine.

(3) (T or F) The Monophysites believed Christ had only one nature.

(4) (T or F) It would have been impossible for Christ to have sinned.

(5) Why is the humanity of Christ important?

(6) What aspects of Christ's humanity are brought out in the Scriptures, and where?

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