Mixing and Blending: The Orthodox Recipe for Theanthropos

“He comes forth, God with what he assumed, one from two opposites, flesh and spirit, the one deifying and the other deified. O the new mixture! O the paradoxical blending! He who is comes into being, and the uncreated is created, and the uncontained contained” (Or. 38.13). Thus declaims St Gregory the Theologian in his magnificent Theophany oration.

It’s a striking and dangerous image—the blending and mixing of divinity and humanity to form the one incarnate Christ. Striking—as it intimates the most intimate union. The divine and human natures stand neither over against each other nor alongside each other nor kept at a distance. They are joined and blended together, as one blends together lettuce, tomatoes, and bell peppers to create a delicious salad. Dangerous—because it can be easily misunderstood as suggesting that the two natures are mixed together to create a bizarre hybrid that is neither God nor man, much as one might mix Coca-Cola and a fine single malt whisky (there is no name for such a travesty).

Apollinarius also invoked the language of mixture to describe the Incarnation: “O new creation and God-spoken mixture! God and flesh made up one and the same nature!” (frag. 10; cf. frag. 93). Note how Apollinarius can speak of the incarnate Christ as possessing one nature. Because he conceives of the divine Word as functioning as the directing principle of Jesus, instead of a human mind, Apollinarius thinks of Jesus as possessing only a divine nature. Quite literally, and non-paradoxically, God walks on earth dressed in a physical form. His human body is the Word’s passive instrument. To speak of the one divine nature of Christ is therefore the most accurate way to speak of the Lord’s primary identity.

The language of mixing and blending would later be proscribed by the Council of Chalcedon as inappropriate to express the mystery of the hypostatic union; “yet for Gregory,” as Christopher Beeley explains, “such terms helpfully convey the dynamic unifying movement of the incarnation and the mysteriously intimate union of God with humanity in Christ” (The Unity of Christ, p. 187). Gregory protects himself from misunderstanding in two ways:

First, by insisting that the incarnate Son is a composite being. Human nature (including, most critically, a human mind) is not absorbed into deity, much as the Borg might assimilate the various races and peoples of the galaxy into its alien cybernetic collective. In Jesus Christ divinity and humanity perfectly coalesce and interpenetrate without in any way annulling or eradicating the other. As Kenneth Paul Wesche explains: “In contrast to Apollinaris and the Antiochenes, the union of God and man in Christ κατ’ ούσίαν is simply for Gregory an affirmation that when man himself comes in contact with God him­self his nature is not destroyed: rather, it is truly made human. In other words, man does not cease to be man, but in fact becomes truly man only in communion with God. In the Incarnation, God can indeed assume a full human nature, including the human nous, without there having to be some kind of barrier erected between the two natures in order to protect the integrity of the humanity” (“The Union of God and Man in Jesus Christ in the Thought of Gregory of Nazianzus,” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 28.2 [1984]: 93). In the theanthropic union human existence retains its creaturely integrity.

Second, by asserting that in the Incarnation divinity and humanity has been made one reality:

because he took upon himself your thickness, associating with flesh through the intermediary of a [human] mind, and being made a human being who is God on earth, since [human existence] was blended with God and he was born as a single entity, because the One who is more powerful prevailed [over his assumed humanity], so that he might be made divine to the same extent that he was made human. (Or. 29.19)

What he was he set aside; what he was not he assumed. Not that he became two things, but he deigned to be one thing out of two. For both are God, that which assumed and that which was assumed, the two natures meeting in one thing. (Or. 37.2)

God together with what he assumed, one thing made out of two opposites, flesh and Spirit, of which the latter deifies and the former is deified. (Or. 38.13)

We treat the Son of God, who was begotten of the Father and who was later [born] of the Virgin Mary, as a single entity (εἰς ἕν ἄγομεν) and we do not name two sons. Rather we worship one and the same in undivided Divinity and honor. (Ep. 102.4)

When the eternal Son unites himself to human existence by “blending” it with his own, Jesus is born as a single reality, not a human being distinct from God but God himself as Man—hence Gregory’s preference for numerical values (“one”—hen [neut.], heis [masc.]) to speak of Theanthropos.

With this repeated stress on the singularity of Christ, Gregory draws near to the “one incarnate nature” phraseology of St Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril favored speaking of the theandric union as taking place “out of two natures.” “After the union has occurred,” he writes to Succensus, “we do not divide the natures from one another, nor do we sever the one and indivisible into two sons, but we say that there is One Son, and as the holy Fathers have stated: One Incarnate Nature of The Word” (1 Succ. 6). After the theanthropic union is accomplished, we may only speak theoretically and notionally of two natures, for in reality there is only the one and indivisible Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Succ. 7).

Gregory tends to avoid the language of two natures, fearing that such language will only underwrite the dualism of Diodore and his assertion of two sons. Beeley elaborates further:

Finally, Gregory also tends to speak of Christ as possessing one divine nature, a choice that will have enormous repercussions in later centuries. Gregory’s preference for single-nature expressions reflects the crucial asymmetry that exists between God and humanity in Christ. Because the nature of the divine Son is radically transcendent of creation, the composition of divinity and humanity is not like a mixture of two similar types of things like different ingredients in a food recipe, which the common term “natures” could suggest. Gregory’s practice of speaking of Christ’s one divine nature also emphasizes that Christ is fundamentally divine—he is “God made visible” to those who are able to perceive his true identity (Or. 30.20); and it reinforces the idea that Christ never exists as a human being independent of the life of the divine Son. While it is also possible to speak of Christ as possessing two natures, in Gregory’s view it is less desirable. When Gregory does speak of Christ’s two natures, it is almost always to express the two different things from which Christ is composed, after which he has become “one thing” (Or. 37.2). Otherwise, the distinction between two natures in the incarnate Christ is possible only through human abstraction, like differentiating a human soul from its body (Or. 30.8). The confession that Christ possesses a single, divine nature expresses his most fundamental identity; and in doing so it reiterates the basic rationale and saving purpose of the incarnation: the divine Son’s union and mixture of fallen human existence within his eternal, divine life in order to heal and save it. (p. 188)

I’m not sure how hard one should push Beeley’s construal of the Gregorian Christ’s “one divine nature.” As far as I can tell St Gregory never explicitly says that the incarnate Christ has “one nature” (mia physis). On the other hand, his unitive emphasis is unmistakeable and even shares verbal similarities with Apollinarius. In the Incarnation divinity and humanity have been mixed and blended together: Jesus Christ, son of Mary, is God the eternal Son and second person of the Holy Trinity.

(Go to “The Apollinarian Nonsense”)

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9 Responses to Mixing and Blending: The Orthodox Recipe for Theanthropos

  1. Andy says:

    Fr. Kimel,

    “What He was, He set aside. What He was not, He assumed.”

    Now the Son of God is glorified, and has “again taken up” what He formally set aside. He is seated at the right hand of God in a glorified body. Contained and uncontained, localized yet omnipresent—at the same time, and for eternity.

    Is this the Orthodox understanding?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Andy, I’m always hesitant to say what is or is not the Orthodox understanding on a given theological question, except on those matters which seem to enjoy catholic consensus.

      To your question, let me suggest this: St Gregory does not speak of God temporarily putting aside his divine attributes. Rather, he speaks of God assuming creaturely attributes in the Incarnation.

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  2. Andy says:

    Fr. Kimel,

    I did not mean to ask a trick question. Perhaps I should have asked if it was your understanding?
    I’m here to learn, and to grow.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Andy, I didn’t for a moment think you were asking me a trick question. I just do not feel qualified to speak authoritatively for the Orthodox Church.

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  3. Canadian says:

    Clarity would come later I think, as it is not the language of the blending of natures that should be used to protect the reality of the deification of Christs humanity or his singular Personhood, but rather the affirmation that the humanity is interpenetrated by the divine energies. To try and show the unity and singularity of Christ at the level of Nature leads to confusion:
    “The confession that Christ possesses a single, divine nature expresses his most fundamental identity”
    His single Person is completely divine, but to express this, why say he has a single, divine Nature that is his most fundamental identity? For he is both most fundamentally human in his human nature and most fundamentally divine in his divine nature. Yet his Person is completely divine and not human at all.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Greetings, Canadian. I agree with you that the post-Chalcedonian adoption of hypostasis to signify the fundamental identity of Jesus Christ—i.e., he is the second hypostasis of the Trinity—is a less confusing way to speak of our Lord’s identity. The big question is how this works when we exegete Holy Scripture. Some theologians and exegetes will tend toward more unitive exegesis, others toward more dualistic exegesis.

      Nor does the adoption of hypostasis automatically solve, for example, the questions for which we’d all like to have answers (if there are answers), e.g.: (1) What were the limits of Jesus’ knowledge? (2) Was Jesus subject to disease and illness? (3) What does it mean to say that Jesus was tempted? (4) What does it mean to say that God died on the cross? etc.

      Further thoughts?

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      • Canadian says:

        Fr Kimel, thanks for your response.
        1) He is unlimited and knows all things in his divine intellect while his is limited and needs to learn in his human intellect.
        2) The hypostatic union does not eliminate the natural capability of his humanity to suffer, bleed and die because he has assumed our fallen, mortal condition (without sin). Though I have difficulty thinking of Jesus being sick, possibly he could have also experienced sickness at some time in his life, to be in all ways familiar with our infirmity.
        3) The Person of Christ was tempted according to his humanity, not his divinity. A nature cannot be tempted to sin, only a Person, because a Person not a Nature is the acting agent, but this temptation came through his humanity alone. Thankfully, because he is a divine Person, he cannot ever employ his humanity to act against Nature and against the Father (sin), but the temptation was acutely real.
        4) Again, a nature cannot be said to die, but a Person dies. Yet Christ dies according to his very own humanity, not his divinity. God the Person of the Son was born and died according to his human nature because he is united to his own flesh, because it is really and truly the flesh of the Son of God. So we affirm the truth that one Person was begotten of the Father before all ages in divinity, and was born and died in history in humanity. The unity of Christ is protected here because there is only one agent operating both the human and divine natures.

        When Christ hungers or goes to the bathroom, he does so ONLY in his humanity, yet the one Person of the Son is acting. At the very same time, he may be tweaking the trajectory of a 6 pound rock in the asteroid belt, but ONLY in his divinity. The one Person is acting in both natures at the same time, doing the things proper to each nature.
        It’s not that when the Son does something, that both the human and divine natures are doing that one thing, but that the one Son who operates both natures is doing it. So his divinity never participates in the human death of the Son, nor does the divinity relieve itself after the wedding of Cana, but the Person of the Son does relieve himself according to his humanity.
        In addition, because of the real deification of his humanity, he elevates the capabilities of his flesh to do extrordinary things like walk on water and glow brighter than the sun on the mount. But this is not by the blending of the natures but by the participation of his humanity in the energies of the divine Nature. This is where the Reformed run for cover because they do not think there is a real communication of divine energies to Christ’s humanity, but only an attributing of such by name because of the one Person.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Thanks, Canadian, for your response. I agree with everything that you write, and I’m sure St Gregory would have agreed with you also. A truly catholic christology will find itself speaking about the God-man in full paradoxical glory. The important thing is for us not to think we know what we are talking about. 🙂

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      • Canadian says:

        Sounds like Orthodox advice to me
        🙂

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