The study of Who and What Christ was/is is called “Christology“. This is one of the most complex and controversial topics in Christian theology and it is most definitely not my intention today to provide an exhaustive and authoritative answer as such an answer would be either too ambiguous (if short) and too complex (if exhaustive).
However, what I do want to tackle today is how illustrate dramatically different the discussion this topic was in ancient Christianity and today.
Positions rejected by the early Ecumenical Councils (i.e., “heresies”)
Ebionitism — Jesus was not divine, but was a holy man and a prophet, upon whom the Spirit of God descended at his baptism.
Schematic classification of some of the above
Jesus was simply God
Jesus was not God but simply a creature
The Christ was part man and part God
Some will call these “ancient heresies”, which is not false, they are ancient, but neither is it true, because in the modern world all of these heresies can still be found.
[Sidebar: “heresy” is not an insult, it is a theological category which I already explained in a previous vignette so I won’t repeat it all here. The same goes for the expression “anathema” which is not a curse; again, I refer you to the same vignette for an explanation of the correct understanding of these terms]
For example, it would not be incorrect to say that Islam teaches a form of Ebionitism while most (but not all) of western Christianity is neo-Nestorian (both the Latins and the Protestants). But mostly what we can observe is what I would describe as a comfortable indifference to this crucial issue, one which was so insightfully noticed by C.S Lewis in his “Mere Christianity” lectures when he said: (emphasis added)
Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences.
This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.
Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is “humble and meek” and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
C.S Lewis was not an Orthodox Christian, but he was undeniably filled with a lot of the spirit of early, original, Christianity, and I often think of the passage above as a powerful “wake-up slap in the face” to those millions today (including those poor souls who think that Christ was some kind of ancient woke hippie and that it was Saint Paul – whom they would, of course, only refer as “Paul” – who introduced all sorts of nasty “non-incusive” “bad stuff” in Christ’s original teachings) who are utterly unaware of the stark nature of the choice before them: either accept Christ as the ManGod (theantropos) or consider Him as either totally insane or very evil: tertium non datur.
By the way, the famous First Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (325) and, later, the Second Ecumenical Council Constantinople (381) gave the most authoritative and exact definition of both What and Who Christ was:
“One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end”.
In addition to that, the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) later also fully endorsed the following 12 anathemas proposed by Saint Cyril of Alexandria (source):
1. If any one confess not that Emmanuel is in truth God and that the holy Virgin is therefore Mother of God, for she bare after the flesh the Word of God made Flesh, be he anathema.
2. If any one confess not that the Word of God the Father hath been Personally united to Flesh and that He is One Christ with His own Flesh, the Same (that is) God alike and Man, be he anathema.
3. If any one sever the Persons of the One Christ after the Union, connecting them with only a connection of dignity or authority or sway, and not rather with a meeting unto Unity of Nature, be he anathema.
4. If any one allot to two Persons or Hypostases, the words in the Gospel and Apostolic writings, said either of Christ by the saints or by Him of Himself, and ascribe some to a man conceived of by himself apart from the Word That is of God, others as God-befitting to the Word alone That is of God the Father, be he anathema.
5. If any one dare to say, that Christ is a God-clad man, and not rather that He is God in truth as being the One Son and That by Nature, in that the Word hath been made Flesh, and hath shared like us in blood and flesh [Heb. 2:14], be he anathema.
6. If any one say that the Word That is of God the Father is God or Lord of Christ and do not rather confess that the Same is God alike and Man, in that the Word hath been made flesh, according to the Scriptures, be he anathema.
7. If anyone say that Jesus hath been in-wrought-in as man by God the Word and that the Glory of the Only-Begotten hath been put about Him, as being another than He, be he anathema.
8. If any one dare to say that the man that was assumed ought to be co-worshipped with God the Word and co-glorified and co-named God as one in another (for the co-, constantly appended, compels us thus to deem) and does not rather honour Emmanuel with One worship and attribute to Him One Doxology, inasmuch as the Word has been made Flesh, be he anathema.
9. If any one say that the One Lord Jesus Christ hath been glorified by the Spirit, using His Power as though it were Another’s, and from Him receiving the power of working against unclean spirits and of accomplishing Divine signs upon men; and does not rather say that His own is the Spirit, through Whom He hath wrought the Divine signs, be he anathema.
10. The Divine Scripture says that Christ hath been made the High Priest and Apostle of our confession [Heb. 3:1] and He hath offered Himself for us for an odour of a sweet smell to God the Father. If any one therefore say that not the Very Word of God was made our High Priest and Apostle when He was made Flesh and man as we, but that man of a woman apart from himself as other than He, was [so made]: or if any one say that in His own behalf also He offered the Sacrifice and not rather for us alone (for He needed not offering Who knoweth not sin), be he anathema.
11. If any one confess not that the Flesh of the Lord is Life-giving and that it is the own Flesh of the Word Himself That is from God the Father, but say that it belongs to another than He, connected with Him by dignity or as possessed of Divine Indwelling only and not rather that it is Life-giving (as we said) because it hath been made the own Flesh of the Word Who is mighty to quicken all things, be he anathema.
12. If any one confess not that the Word of God suffered in the Flesh and hath been crucified in the Flesh and tasted death in the Flesh and hath been made First-born of the Dead, inasmuch as He is both Life and Life-giving as God, be he anathema.
Once again, I do not propose to discuss these 12 anathemas today (please!), or even explain what they mean and at whom they were directed or why. Instead, I want to show the subtle and yet absolutely crucial complexity of each and every word contained into these dogmatic definitions which, I remind you, are obligatory statements of faith, not “opinions” or “obscure theological points”! Christians and heretics died in huge numbers to defend/condemn such dogmatic definitions. This bears repeating: many thousands of people died, were martyred, because they either accepted or rejected these extremely precise formulations.
At Her core, the Church of Christ is a Church of martyrs, founded by and on martyrs, and true Christianity is always a form of martyrdom (as is any “imitation of Christ”).
[Sidebar: inevitably, some smartass modern positivist will remind us all (as if that needed reminding!) that “the Church” killed an “innumerable number” of “absolutely innocent people” to impose its view of the truth on everybody else. This is both truth and false at the same time. It is a kind of semi-truth. Before the conversion of Saint Constantine the Great in 312 and the Edict of Milan (313), Christianity was mostly persecuted by (non-Christian Jews) and Romans (read the Book of Acts is that is a challenge for you). Later, following the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325), the Second Ecumenical Council Constantinople (381) and the Edict of Thessalonica (380) Christianity was proclaimed as the established religion of the Roman State. This was neither a theocracy and bishops did not rule over the state but, instead, the bishops and the heads of state ruled side-by-side in what was called a “symphonia” while “caesaropapism” is a western concept to slander and obfuscate the real nature of the original Christian Roman Empire and, especially, its successor states (the Eastern Roman Empire and Russia). Humans being humans (humans with a fallen nature, according the Christianity!), it did not take long for rulers to figure out that religion can be very conveniently used as an excuse/pretext not only for the suppression of internal dissent (religious or not!) but also for foreign wars. So OF COURSE Roman secular rulers did, at times, use Christianity to persecute all sorts of groups, including, by the way, Orthodox Christians who were also persecuted by non-Orthodox/heretical Roman authorities (by, for example, Leo III the Isaurian or Constans II). And yes, there were also quite a few bloodthirsty bishops in history, if only because bishops are sinful and passionate people too! To the modern, secular, mind, religion is something akin to a personality disorder, and it is responsible for horrible persecutions for 2000 years. Logically (at least to that type of folks), if the Roman Christians were so bad, all those they persecuted (for cause or not) in the name of “the Church” must have been good (by the same token, if Stalin was evil, Hitler must have been kind, and vice versa, of course). Friends! we are talking about how all humans, irrespective of religion or lack thereof, mostly acted in history, both ancient and modern! Considering the massive and utterly unprecedented 300 year long bloodbath resulting from the “progress” of western (masonic) secularism and its various ideological offshoots – including nationalism, liberalism, capitalism, Marxism or National-Socialism, I would not advise modern secularists to thump their chest in self-righteous indignation too much. I would also remind them that the real roots western civilization are the time of the First Crusade and that modern western imperialism is as alive and evil today as it was in the now distant 11th century! For those not familiar with this topic, here is a short “Roman Timeline” to refresh your memory:
- Rome founded in 753 BC
- Rome becomes an empire in 27 BC
- Constantinople founded in 330 AD
- Rome sacked in 410 AD
- (Only the) Western Roman Empire finally ends in 476 AD (see here for what that meant to the entire Christian world)
- Rome cuts itself from the rest of Christianity 1054 AD
- The Papacy adopts the Dictatus Papae in 1075 AD (check the link!)
- First Crusade is unleashed in 1096 AD
- False Council of Florence 1439 AD
- Constantinople falls in 1453 AD and the Eastern Roman Empire ends (over a full thousand years after the fall of the First, western, Rome!)
I especially draw your attention on the very quick succession of the events in 1054, 1075 and 1096: first the break away (schism and heresy) from the rest of the Christian world, immediately after, the megalomanical forgery of “Papal Dictates” quickly followed by the First Crusade. If anybody seriously thinks that the fact this all happened in only 42 (!) years all “just a coincidence”, then please email me, I got a few great bridges to sell to you!]
Again, what I am trying to illustrate is not how bloodthirsty humans have been through history, but only that in early Christianity people not only adopted a very specific set of beliefs, they cared for them enough to die, often in horrible tortures, rather than abjure them.
Nowadays the word “Christian” has lost any objective sense (see here and here for a discussion), it encompasses anything, everything and its opposite, hence utter and proven futility of this entire endeavor and, especially the terminal hypocrisy of Word Orthodoxy denominations saying that they are only participating in this charade to “bring Orthodoxy to the world”, “share the message of Christ” or any other similar nonsense! The undeniable and infinitely sad truth that World Orthodoxy jurisdictions failed to achieve a single tangible positive objective by their participation in the “ecumenical dialog of love”, and the only thing they created are schisms, schisms and more schisms which, of course, they deny and blame on True Orthodox Christians (I always am amazed how all the ecumenists call each other “brothers” (and even “brothers in Christ”!!!) but call True Orthodox Christians “schismatics”, “graceless and the like. Feel the love!
The Ecumenical Movement is the where these putative “Christians” sit down with unrepentant heretics and even pagans and try as hard as can be to obfuscate any and all differences between the many religions and denominations out there.
BTW – the technical term for this activity is “religious syncretism”.
Remember that list above of the “ancient” heresies? They are ALL represented in one form or another in the World Council or Churches and the various “Ecumenical” movements out there. This is why “ecumenism” (aka “religious syncretism”) has been called a “pan-heresy” or a “heresy of heresies”: its purpose is to unite as many people as possible under one umbrella “world religion” and, in the process, obfuscate or even “lift” (by what authority exactly remains unclear!) all the “ancient” and “outdated” anathemas ever pronounced by the One True Church of Christ throughout the centuries.
It is no wonder then that many True Orthodox Christians have come to the conclusions that that the sole real purpose of this entire ecumenical rigmarole is to create a single “umbrella” world religion which would create (one of) the preconditions for the coming and the rule of the Antichrist, which now even the Latins will officially welcome as they have now proclaimed that they “await the same messiah” as the Judaics (whom they now call their “older brothers in faith”) except that for the Latins it would be a 2nd coming while for the Judaics it would be the 1st one.
Long forgotten are the words of the early Christian saints who solemnly defined Christianity as the faith “which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian” (St. Athanasius) and that true Christianity is the faith “which has been believed everywhere, always and by all” (Saint Vicent of Lerins) and which “the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church has received, as the teachers expressed in dogmas, as the whole world has agreed, as the grace has illuminated” (Synodikon of Orthodoxy).
At its core and in essence, the entire “Ecumenical Movement” is not “just” a denial and obfuscation of the true, original, Christology, it is much more than that: it is a rejection of the importance and even relevance of Christology as such!
Those who today attend such blasphemous conferences have utterly forgotten even the very first verses of the Book of Psalms (which Christians should be reading on a daily basis!) “Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of evil men. But his pleasure is in the law of the Lord; and in his law will he meditate day and night” (Ps 1:1-2 LXX) or even the words of Christ Himself: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” (Luke 12:51-53).
Yes, of course God wants all of mankind to unite, Orthodox Christians pray for the unity of all in every service, but that unity has to be a unity founded on the full Christian Truth (both doxa and praxis), not outright lies or other forms of obfuscation.
[Sidebar: in the western denominations unity is always seen as something organizational and ceremonial. The perfect example of that is the so-called “Eastern Rite” which demands that its members accept the Filioque, but does not demand that they say so publicly (see Article 1 of the infamous Treaty of Brest for proof of this!) To put it simply, if you accept the authority of the Pope you are “Catholic”, and what you actually believe, or not, makes no difference whatsoever. As for the Protestants, they too can believe anything they want, as long as it is based on the Bible aka “the revealed Word of God”; however, which version of the Bible (Masoretic or LXX) is never clarified and, frankly, it does not really matter since the interpretation of the Scripture is left to each individual acting as his own “mini-Pope”, sola scriptura and all that…
In diametrical contrast, in the East, unity is seen primarily as a “unity of faith” which must come first and which must be total and complete before any organizational or ceremonial expression of unity would be even considered!]
There is a verse in the New Testament which often is very quoted: “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It is even the (unofficial) motto of the CIA! Yet in 99.99999999%+ of the cases, this verse is truncated and actual sentence by Christ is never mentioned in full: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). The terms in red are unambiguously conditionals. The terms in blue indicate which conditions must necessarily must be met for the full proposition to make sense (and take effect in our personal lives!).
The Ecumenist always tell us “but, but, we did not sign any heretical statements!”. First, this is plainly false (see here for a superb discussion of this issue), but it is also nonsensical: by sitting down with heretics at a “council of the ungodly” the pan-heretics have basically treated all of Christology as utterly irrelevant, simply too passé. That is what “religious syncretism” is: a wholesale abandonment of Christology and, therefore, it represents and embodies the ultimate apostasy, even when cloaked in beautiful liturgical vestments or when proclaimed in (truly) holy places (be it in/by Rome or Moscow!).
Can you imagine the Holy Church Fathers sitting down with a worldwide gathering of schismatics, heretics, apostates and even pagan to “seek a common ground and unity”? In fact, most ancient heretics clearly considered themselves Christians (which, of course, they were objectively not, but that is immaterial here, because it would be completely pointlessness for a non-Christian to argue, kill or even die for Christological issues) and “only” disagreed on what nowadays are called “fine and obscure theological points“!
When I look at the list of “ancient” heresies I listed on top, I often think that very few, if any, of the founders of these heretical sects I listed would have agreed to even sit down with the type unity-seeking pan-heretics which nowadays regularly meet at the World Council of Churches (and elsewhere): even the condemned and anathematized heresiarchs of antiquity would have recoiled in utter shock and disgust at what is said (and done!) by the Ecumenists nowadays.
Conclusion: how to really achieve unity?
For a quick and authoritative pointer on how to achieve real unity we can turn to these words of Saint Paul:
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2:19-20). This clearly shows that in Saint Paul’s mind “Christology” (not that he used that term) was the cornerstone of the entire Christian faith. Which is hardly surprising since Christ Himself said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6) and “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). Again, notice the conditionals, they are crucial.
As is all of Christology.
That is why I can only ask every person reading these line to answer (not necessarily in the comment section, though that is fine too, but even in his/her mind only) CS Lewis’ question:
You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.
So what will you chose, if anything, or will you, like the pan-heretical ecumenists, simply chose the comfortable indifference and ignore Christology and all its momentous implications?
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I, Andrei Raevsky, aka The Saker, have absolutely no authority whatsoever to teach anything to anyone. None. Zero. Ziltch. Nada! The “Christian Vignettes” are NOT a catechism, or a course in dogmatics or anything else formal. These vignettes are only one guy’s strictly personal musings on various topics. Nothing more.