St Cyril of Alexandria: The Unicity of the Incarnate Word

Few theologians in the Christian tradition have asserted the unicity of the God-Man as strongly as St Cyril of Alexandria. God the Word has made humanity his own, he declares again and again, not by the assumption of an already existing human person but by the appropriation of human nature, body and soul. In Jesus Christ two natures have become one reality, yet without obliteration, assimilation, or blending. Consider this dialogue with Cyril and his imaginary interlocutor:

B. So the Emmanuel must not be separated out into a man, considered as distinct from God the Word?

A. On no account. I say that we must call him God made man, and that both the one and the other are this same reality, for he did not cease to be God when he became man, nor did he regard the economy as unacceptable by disdaining the limitations involved in the self-emptying.

B. They would argue that if this were the case then his body must be consubstantial with the Word. For only in this way, and no other, could he be regarded as one single Son.

A. What nonsense this is. Surely it is the clearest proof of a delirious brain. How could one posit an identity of essence in things which are so disparate in the rationale of their respective natures? Godhead is one thing, manhood quite another. So, what are these things which we say have come into unification? One cannot speak of things “united” when there is only one thing to start with; there must be two or more. (On the Unity of Christ, pp. 76-77)

The Alexandrian’s principal concern is to secure the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ—hence the significance for Cyril of the Johannine declaration: “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). The ontological subject, i.e., the One who acts and speaks as the man Jesus, is God himself. Christ cannot be divided into two subjects, a divine Son and a human son. The biblical story disallows such a schizophrenic portrayal of the Savior. When the Word empties himself through inhomination, he genuinely submits to the worldly conditions of finitude, corruption, and death.

But, the Nestorians object, if the Son has truly become a human being, with the consequence that the Logos and Jesus are now one subject, then this logically entails the conclusion that Jesus’ body is consubstantial (of one essence) with God. It’s unclear to me precisely what Cyril’s critics are suggesting. Perhaps they are thinking of an absorption of the body into divinity, thus making Jesus into some kind of mythological avatar. Or perhaps they are accusing Cyril of teaching “that the holy body of Christ had come down from heaven, and was not from the holy virgin” (Ep. 39.7). In any case, Cyril will have none of it. The Incarnation is the unification of two disparate realities, divinity and humanity, into one composite reality, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Nestorians then advance another objection: “In that case both natures must have been confused, and have become one” (p. 77). Cyril replies:

A. But who would be so misguided and stupid as to think that the divine nature of the Word had changed into something which formerly it was not? or that the flesh was changed by some kind of transformation into the nature of the Word himself? This is impossible. We say that there is one Son, and that he has one nature even when he is considered as having assumed flesh endowed with a rational soul. As I have already said, he has made the human element his own. And this is the way, not otherwise, that we must consider that the same one is at once God and man.

B. Then he does not have two natures? that of God, and that of man?

A. Well, Godhead is one thing, and manhood is another thing, considered in the perspective of their respective and intrinsic beings, but in the case of Christ they come together in a mysterious and incomprehensible union without confusion or change. The manner of this union is entirely beyond conception. … After the union (I mean with the flesh) even if anyone calls him Only Begotten, or God from God, this does not mean he is thought of as being separated from the flesh or indeed the manhood. Similarly if one calls him a man, this is not to take away the fact that he is God and Lord. … My friend, if anyone says that when we speak of the single nature of God the Word incarnate and made man we imply that a confusion or mixture has occurred, then they are talking utter rubbish. (pp. 77-79; my emphasis)

Those who have been trained in the christological grammar of Chalcedon will immediately come to full attention. Did not the Fourth Ecumenical Council speak of the one Jesus Christ “in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably”? How then can Cyril speak of the single incarnate nature of Christ?  We will look more closely at the mia physis in our next post.

Cyril firmly rejects all suggestions that his unitive christology implies a hybridization of the divine and human natures of Christ:  “It was not impossible to God, in his loving kindness, to make himself capable of bearing the limitations of manhood” (p. 79). We must allow the biblical story to interpret, and if necessary correct, our philosophical preconceptions about what God can and cannot do. Cyril points us to the story of the burning bush. How was it that the bush was not consumed? “This event,” he tells us, “was a type of a mystery, of how the divine nature of the Word supported the limitations of the manhood; because he chose to. Absolutely nothing is impossible to him” (p. 79). Or as I might interpret: Cyril is struggling to articulate a non-contrastive, non-competitive understanding of divine transcendence.

(Go to “The One Incarnate Nature of Christ“)

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8 Responses to St Cyril of Alexandria: The Unicity of the Incarnate Word

  1. infanttheology says:

    Father Kimel,

    I hear Van Loon’s Dyophysite Christology of Cyril of Alexandria is pretty good.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maximus says:

    Fr. Kimel,

    St. Cyril’s formula is actually dyophysite. He says as much in his first letter to Succensus. He says that the “single nature of God the Logos” refers to divinity, then the “incarnate” is added to signify the complete humanity. It’s an Apollinarian formula that the Saint used in an Orthodox manner. I was shocked to find that St. Cyril actually petitioned St. Proclus not to condemn Theodore of Mopsuestia. He also defended the Antiochians against “One Nature” phraseology zealots. His later emphasis was on understanding the Easterners for the peace of the Church.

    That’s why Fr. McGuckin said that Dioscorus’ great flaw was to omit his teachers later writings because he deemed them to be the efforts of a sick old man.

    Van Loon’s very expensive work can be downloaded (for free) here:

    Christ is born! Glorify Him!


  3. Mina says:

    St. Cyril has explained in many places the “one nature” terminology analogically to the “one human nature” out of two natures, the soul and body. “One nature” is not divinity alone. That is a later Chalcedonian interpretation that forces St. Cyril into a diophysite interpretation, ignoring the context of his use of the terminology. Van Loon is a good read, but it comes with its biases. St. Cyril was very clear that “one nature” is both humanity and divinity in one single composite reality. The letter to Succenus is misinterpreted. The idea of adding incarnate was to prove that he confesses a full and real humanity, against those who accuse him of some sort of docetism or Apollinarianism. It is not a way of saying “Divinity incarnate”, but “one nature” which equates “The Word incarnate”.

    Furthermore, let us suppose St. Cyril did use Apollinarian terminology. That is no different than say Chalcedon would use Nestorian terminology concerning “in” two natures, and the “in” here is very important to highlight, something that St. Cyril rarely, if ever, says. And just as one can say there are several types of “diophysitism”, one can say there are also several types of “Miaphysitism” if you will. There just happens to be that the type later Chalcedonians have adopted is consonant with St. Cyril’s Miaphysitism.

    In addition, the terminology of St. Cyril was not meant to be consistent with Trinitarian terminology. Later Chalcedonian polemics in the 6th Century have sought this against the anti-Chalcedonian tradition, so that the terminology would mean the same thing in both Christology and Trinitarianism. St. Cyril used great flexibility of terminology not because of terminology’s sake, but because of a soteriological focus. Christ communicates His divinity through a full and real humanity, and this can only be possible if Christ’s full and real divinity and full and real humanity in one concrete reality together, one nature, so that we may be one in Christ for our salvation. Anti-Chalcedonians who followed St. Severus of Antioch were not so much concerned about terminological consistency like Chalcedonians, but rather soteriological focus.

    I recommend Fr. John McGuckin’s recent lecture at St. Vladimir’s:

    A much needed listen for today’s discussions. He pretty much makes mention we do not need to deny the fact that St. Cyril is Miaphysite.

    Furthermore, if you would like a strong (and in some ways polemical) Coptic rebuttal against some of the western Chalcedonian rhetoric against anti-Chalcedonians, Fr. Shenouda Maher’s textbook “Christology and the Council of Chalcedon” comes in handy, and there’s a forward in it by Fr. John McGuckin (there’s also the more popular, easier to read “Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined” by Fr. V.C. Samuel):

    I have also enjoyed Price’s minutes on Chalcedon, especially his commentaries, which I particularly enjoy his moderate and two-sided approach to the controversies of the fifth century. I have not read his “Chalcedon in Context”, but I heard that is a great read as well.

    Finally, St. Cyril leaves us a reason why he did not allow the condemnation of Theodore of Mopsuestia. It’s because the people already confess the Virgin as “Theotokos” and Christ as one person and one concrete reality (hypostasis). He hoped that by their Orthodox confession, they would eventually realize Theodore’s problems on their own and quietly disown him (I would recommend as a side story the book by Karekin Sarkissian, “The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church”, where it explains how St. Proclus was somewhat of a liaison between the Roman imperial Church and the Armenian Church, troubled by the fact that the Armenian Church did have translated writings in Armenian by Theodore of Mopsuestia in their tradition due to their contacts with the Syriac/Aramaic traditions). Both the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian traditions have eventually disagreed with this approach and eventually condemned both him and Diodore, even though they had died in peace with the Church. Fr. John Behr wrote a nice volume defending the condemnation of Diodore and Theodore, where he opines on Christopher Beeley’s recent research that St. Gregory the Theologian’s “Against Apollinarius” was not really so much against Apollinarius as it was against Diodore, and caused some animosity between him and Diodore. And there was no refutation of the terminology Apollinarius used, which may indicate that the terminology was an Alexandrian school teaching that Apollinarius misinterpreted, not a terminology that originated with him.

    All in all, these interpretations are shrouded in enough mystery, one can say the fault is not very easy to pinpoint, and St. Cyril is still very difficult to assess, allowing for flexibility of interpretation and confusion in the late fifth century and beyond, until today. One has to first admit Western scholarship is dominated by Chalcedonian bias, which is being turned only very recently, since the early 1900s with new scholarship on the theology of figures like St. Severus of Antioch.

    Christ is born and revealed unto us! Blessed be the revelation of our Lord!



  4. Maximus says:


    Thank you for the info. I’ll check it out because I’ve been studying this complex issue for years now. Fr. Kimel’s blog is not the place to solve this 1600 yr-old debate but I would still like to make a few points. St. Cyril of Alexandria was not a “Miaphysite” in the post-Chalcedonian sense; that is grossly anachronistic. He certainly would not have sided with those who would go on to anathematize virtually any and all dyophysite terminology and all mention of “two” out of sole preference for his own Mia physis terminology. St. Cyril was very flexible when dealing with others:

    ‘[T]he brethren at Antioch, understanding in simple thoughts only those from which Christ is understood to be, have maintained a difference of natures, because, as I said, divinity and humanity are not the same in natural quality, but proclaimed one Son and Christ and Lord as being truly one; they say his person is one, and in no manner do they separate what has been united. Neither do they admit the natural division as the author of the wretched inventions was pleased to think, but they strongly maintain that only the sayings concerning the Lord are separated, not that they say that some of them separately are proper to the Son, the Word of God the Father, and others are proper to another son again, the one from a woman, but they say that some are proper to his divinity and others again are proper to his humanity. For the same one is God and man. But they say that there are others which have been made common in a certain way and, as it were, look toward both, I mean both the divinity and the humanity. WHAT I AM SAYING IS THE SAME AS THIS…since he is one Christ, both Son and Lord, we say that His person also is one, BOTH WE AND THEY SAY IT. (Letter 40.10-14, 16-18)

    As far as the Apollinarian phraseology or even that age-old canard pertaining to Nestorian terminology supposedly used by Chalcedon, we can look to St. Cyril yet again when he had to give an answer to those in his own camp who accused him of dyophysitism:

    ‘Some attack the exposition of faith which those from the East have made and ask, “For what reason did the Bishop of Alexandria endure or even praise those who say that there are two natures?” Those who hold the same teachings as Nestorius say that he thinks the same thing too, snatching to their side those who do not understand precision. But it is necessary to say the following to those who are accusing me, namely, that it is not necessary to flee and avoid everything which heretics say, for they confess many of the things which we confess. For example, when the Arians say that the Father is the creator and Lord of all, does it follow that we avoid such confessions? Thus also is the case of Nestorius even if he says there are two natures signifying the difference of the flesh and the Word of God, for the nature of the Word is one nature and the nature of his flesh is another, but Nestorius does not any longer confess the union as we do. (To Eulogius the Priest, Letter 44)

    For St. Cyril, dyophysite terminology is not the problem, not accepting the Hypostatic Union is the root issue. Fr. McGuckin in his Christological Controversy addressed the trumped up charge that the Chalcedonian bishops MUST necessarily have been Nestorian since they used “two nature” terminology in the Christological Controversy:

    “The bishops would accept this, however, only on the basis of the strictest qualifications and safeguards (such as those agreed by Cyril himself in the Succensus letters). The adverbs of Cyril they had in mind were that the two natures endured in the one Christ: unchangeably (atreptos), undividedly (ameristos), and unconfusedly(asynchtos)…in fact, Leo’s attribution of separate actions to natures had been decidedly dropped, and his terms only inserted as one key sentence: the phrase ‘the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one prosopon’. To have supplied, in substance, three of the four so-called ‘Chalcedonian adverbs’ already, and with the fourth missing adverbs emphasizing Cyril’s basic point of the inseparability of the natures, is hardly, on anyone’s terms, a ‘triumph’ of western and Antiochene christology.”

    St. Cyril warnings to his followers to not assume that someone was Nestorian based on formulas was not heeded, plus, the Chalcedonian Fathers used Cyrillian terminology for their formula and judged St. Leo’s Tome by his writings! For those Dyophysite Antiochians that accepted the one Christ, the Saint urged his followers to ease up demanding Miaphysite terminology of them:

    ‘if you see them now agreeing with the true faith, forget about what has gone by. For we wish to see them denying rather than advocating the baseness of Nestorius in a shameless opinion, and in order not to appear to prize a love of strife let us accept communion with the most pious bishop, John, yielding to him for prudential reasons, not being too demanding in the use of language with regard to those who repent, for the matter as I said, requires a great deal of charity.’ (To Deacon Maximus of Antioch, Letter 57.1-2)

    We all agree that the Mia Physis formula is Orthodox, however, the quotes demonstrate that demanding that all adopt a purely Cyrillian way of speaking is not St. Cyril’s way. The Church allows dyophysite and miaphysite terminology, it allows the Egyptians, the Romans and the Antiochians to use their terms as long as it meant rightly. That’s why Fr. Florovsky cautioned the theologians from both sides in the 1964 talks:

    ‘The West also belongs to the oikoumene. We cannot afford to forget the West — and the Tome of Leo. The Christian Tradition is universal. The Byzantine Church was afraid of precipitating a schism by rejecting Leo. We must also be careful. …I have…doubts about agreement on the basis of a one-sided Cyrillian formula. I think it is important to come to terms with the later Ecumenical Councils.”

    This is St. Cyril’s way. In reference to his own terminology, the Saint considered those writings in their proper context, as a means of ridding the Church of Nestorianism. And after things settled, he was prepared even for his formulas to be evaluated:

    “But the force of the statements was written only against the teachings of Nestorius. For they throw out what he said and wrote in error. Those who anathematize and deny his evil teaching will cease to object to the documents which have been written by us. For they see that the meaning of the statements only goes against his blasphemies. When communion has been restored and peace made among the churches, when it shall be permitted us to write in answer without being suspected, either for those who are there to write to us, or for us again to reply to them, then we also will be satisfied very easily. Some of those things which were written by us are not at all properly understood by some, and these will be clarified. With the help of God we will satisfy them, not then as opponents but as brothers, because all things are going rightly”. (To Acacius of Beroea, Letter 33.10)

    May the time time come when we are no longer opponents but brothers! St. Cyril pray for us!


  5. Maximus says:

    For all those interested in this topic, Mina said, “Anti-Chalcedonians who followed St. Severus of Antioch were not so much concerned about terminological consistency like Chalcedonians, but rather soteriological focus.”

    I’ve been thinking about this statement because it runs counter to even the most irenical Orthodox scholars. Fr. Florovsky, the leading Orthodox ecumenist and theologian of his time, admits that “Monophysitism” is Cyrillian but that it lacked one important thing:

    “Monophysitism becomes ‘more orthodox’ in a strange and unexpected way precisely when the religious wave has receded and theology is cooling down to scholasticism. It is at this time that Monophysite closeness to St. Cyril seems so obvious, for this is closeness IN WORD, NOT IN SPIRIT. (The Byzantine Fathers of the Sixth to Eighth Century, Chap. 2: The Spirit of Monophysitism)

    Severus was concerned about the “soteriological focus” of terminology expressed only in a Cyrillian way. Also, introducing the Cappodican distinction between person and nature for Christological usage is a positive step forward, not something to be maligned. I just haven’t seen Dioscoros and Severus willing to accommodate those who preferred to employ Dyophysite terms in addition to terms like St. Cyril (see the quotes above) used after the Council of Ephesus. Fr. Meyendorff also held that the Miaphysites were unwilling to compromise:

    ‘The “monophysite” position consisted essentially in a sort of “Cyrillian fundamentalism” which allowed no compromise at all. The Chalcedonian orthodox camp was making major terminological concessions and clarifications: the Anti-chalcedonians were making none. Even the great Severus of Antioch, who saw the dangers of unabashed Monophysitism and understood the importance of affirming the full reality of Christ’s manhood, stopped short from accepting “two natures after the union”. Several individual leaders of Monophysitism eventually accepted Chalcedon, but they were disavowed by their flocks.

    Essentially a conservative or “fundamentalist” schism, Monophysitism rejected the “catholic” dimension of Chalcedon. Indeed, in the view of Chalcedonian and Neo-Chalcedonian orthodoxy, the catholicity of the Church requires that the one Truth be expressed in different terminologies; that some legitimacy be granted not only to Alexandrian expressions of salvation in Christ, but also to the Antiochian and the Western Latin tradition found in the Tome of Leo (provided there was agreement in substance); that a clearly “diphysite” christology was necessary to refute Eutychianism, and that it did not amount to a disavowal of St. Cyril. By standing for their theology, their formulas only, the Monophysites were moving in the direction of deliberate and exclusive sectarianism. This trend resulted in further grouping and splits, each group affirming its own exclusivity, rejecting other groups by always remaining opposed to Chalcedonian unity…In Egypt alone, by the end of the sixth century, the anti-chalcedonian opposition was split into twenty groups, each claiming canonical and doctrinal purity, and, in many cases, counting adepts in Syria, Arabia and Persia’ (Fr. John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Christian East After Justinian, pp. 252-253)

    Mina also said: “And just as one can say there are several types of “diophysitism”, one can say there are also several types of “Miaphysitism” if you will. There just happens to be that the type later Chalcedonians have adopted is consonant with St. Cyril’s Miaphysitism.”

    This statement sounds like the Chalcedonian Fathers were not Cyrillian and eventually became so, aka the theory of an evolved “neo-chalcedonianism”. There is some small truth to this, but overall it’s a distortion of the facts. Pope St. Leo wrote this to the Council of Chalcedon:

    “Let there, however, remain in force what was decreed specifically against Nestorius at the earlier council of Ephesus, at which Cyril of holy memory then presided, lest the impiety then condemned should derive any comfort from the fact that Eutyches is being struck down by condign execration. For the purity of faith and teaching, which we proclaim in the same spirit as did our Holy Fathers, condemns and prosecutes equally both the Nestorian and the Eutychian depravity together with their originators. Farewell in the Lord, most dear brethren. (Epistle 93, To the Council of Chalcedon)

    And despite his dyophysite phraseology, St. Leo also expressed that he considered his own christology to be Alexandrian: “[I]f they think there is any doubt about our teaching, let them at least not reject the writings of such holy priests as Athanasius, Theophilus and Cyril of Alexandria, with whom our statement of the Faith so completely harmonizes that any one who professes consent to them disagrees in nothing with us. (Letter 117.3)

    Fr. Romanides and Fr. McGuckin have suggested in print that Chalcedon ought to be re-assessed since it’s thoroughly Cyrillian, and that both the West and the Miaphysites have missed this. I can supply their quotes if necessary.


  6. Mina says:

    Dear Maximus,

    Thank you for your valuable input. You make a lot of good points, but there is some nuance of interpretation from our tradition that we would disagree.

    First off, an honest confession. I wish St. Dioscorus would have handled the situation differently. I sympathize with him, but that does not mean I agree with everything he did. The important point is I do believe St. Dioscorus is Cyrillian in thought, not just in word. He even mentions the same adverbs in the minutes of the council before these adverbs were adopted in the definition.

    With that in mind, you might be surprised to know that St. Severus was not stubborn because of mere terminology. He actually acknowledges the Orthodoxy of the terminology “two natures” because of past Church fathers using it. Nevertheless, because the council was at the very least guilty by association (the strongest debate was concerning the Three Chapters), the phrase needs to discarded for the time being until all Nestorian heresy is uprooted with the phrase “one nature”. So I disagree with the idea that we only agreed with St. Cyril terminologically. In thought, St. Severus acknowledged the Orthodoxy of the term, but saw in the Chalcedonian tradition, some supporters of Nestorian thought. The most famous of which are a huge conglomerate of North Africans who venerated Theodore of Mopsuestia, which schismed from Pope Vigilius when he signed on to the Council of Constantinople 553 (after a lot of resistance no less). So there is no “little truth” to the issue.

    We also have, thankfully, writings of St. Severus of Antioch who did condemn the various Monophysite groups. I doubt the number given by Fr. Meyendorff. I think that’s way over the line. I can count the names of groups with my hands. You had supporters of Eutyches, Sergius the Grammarian (who repented after his recorded dialogue with St. Severus, translated by Iain Torrance), Julianists (aphthartodocetists), and acepholoi, which was not a theological split, but a split based on interpretation of the Henotikon of Zeno. Later, you may also have had Tritheists, Collyridians, and eventually, Muslims, but can you really count these as “Monophysite groups” anymore than counting Mormons and JWs as Protestants? Or would Arians and Apollinarians be “Alexandrian Christian heresies” in the same association as St. Athanasius? I think that’s unfair and shows a clear Western bias.

    And that’s also the reason why it’s unfair to jump to the conclusion that the Miaphysis terminology was “originated” from Apollinarius, because I feel that despite its Orthodox use, this charge was made to discredit anti-Chalcedonians more than a truthful assessment of St. Cyril’s terminological approach and where the terminology truly originated. I think Christopher Beeley’s recent article on St. Gregory the Theologian’s “anti-Apollinarian” works that were really more “anti-Diodorian” might shed light into a theory of a common ancestry of the Miaphysis terminology of both Cyril and Apollinarius, rather than the theory of Apollinarian origination, simply because he saw that Apollinarius was not as serious a heresy as Diodore’s. This is why I used the argument of the “Nestorian origination” of “in two natures” as a rebuttal. From your perspective, even though it shouldn’t matter because you believe in its Orthodox interpretation, you automatically took offense called the theory a “canard.” Wouldn’t you think we would react similarly? 🙂

    Next, you alluded to sectarianism as if the anti-Chalcedonian was the sole cause of this. I think that is an unfair assessment. Consider the sources you quote from. The feeling was mutual. You had staunch Chalcedonians, that the council has to be defended by all means, and you had staunch anti-Chalcedonians, then you had those who thought like Emperor Zeno in his Henotikon. In other words, “let’s not mention the council, let’s just agree on the dogma”. This resulted in the acephaloi split among the OOs, and it caused a temporary schism with Rome among Chalcedonians for those who supported the document. One side complained the Henotikon did not condemn Chalcedon and the other side complained it did not stress accepting Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo.

    Furthermore, it was not all that clear in Chalcedon itself whether Miaphysitism was acceptable. You have Papal legates who did not know a word of Greek to condemn Dioscorus as a heretic with the same beliefs as Eutyches and you had the Constantinople patriarch who saw Dioscorus as Orthodox in thought and was only removed due to administrative illegalities. You had a group that was Miaphysite and a group that was anti-Miaphysite. The air of confusion in the minutes of Chalcedon held it up to suspect by the anti-Chalcedonian tradition, as well as perpetuate the increase in sectarianism, especially by those Chalcedonians who were anti-Miaphysite, especially those who supported the Three Chapters. Can we really say that St. Cyril would have supported Chalcedon? On an academic basis, one should answer this question as “we don’t know”. We really don’t know if St. Cyril would have been “Chalcedonian” or “anti-Chalcedonian”. We can’t claim one way or the other. Our traditions subsequently claimed him for their tradition, but this does not necessarily mean “St. Cyril would have supported our cause”.

    Here’s the best we can say, and this is in my opinion with my bias. I really do think St. Severus had both the terminology and the thought of St. Cyril and then some. He was not just versed in St. Cyril’s theology, but also quoted numerously from the Cappadocians, St. Athanasius, and from St. John Chrysostom. He was a synthesizer of these fathers into the incorporation of his contemporary OO theological development. I would say St. Cyril would theologically relate more to anti-Chalcedonians. He might also would have seen the Orthodoxy of Chalcedonians if not for the Three Chapters and maybe the weakness of the Greek translation of Leo’s Tome. At best, he would see Chalcedon as comparable to the “simple-minded Antiochians” who are otherwise Orthodox in thought and agree with his Miaphysis theology.

    A small word on Pope Leo. I am not saying he was Nestorian. But I do want to say is that Pope Leo did not know Greek. I would compare him to St. Augustine who can be revered, but nonetheless should not be used as a measuring stick for general Eastern Greek thought of Christology. He receives his ideas of being of the same mind of St. Cyril from St. John Cassian’s theological treatises. It is more accurate to substitute in all of Leo’s letters, I think, for every time he claims to be consistent with St. Cyril, he is really consistent with St. John Cassian, and his arguments against Nestorius is not necessarily as well-advanced and deep as St. Cyril was.

    Finally, if you notice very carefully the results of the Joint Commissions between the EOs and OOs, at the very end, it was agreed that lifting anathemas was important, but not necessarily accepting a veneration of the individuals/councils in question. In other words, we are taking a Henotikon approach, and we are also taking a proper Cyril of Alexandria-John of Antioch approach to unity, unity by theology, not by council or person (yes, many are surprised to know that St. Cyril did not require the council of Ephesus for unity with John of Antioch). Fr. John McGuckin says very forcefully, all these details are trash, and you can tell he advocates this Joint Commissions approach. In other words, in the same way we should lift our anathemas against Chalcedon and Pope Leo, the same should be reciprocated to Ephesus 449 and Dioscorus, and so on and so forth. For those reading this that take a conciliar fundamentalist approach, this is the most difficult hurdle, and I find overall in this century as well as the last, it is the OOs who are more open to communion and the EOs who are seem to be erring on demanding quite strictly that the councils not only must be “de-anathematized”, but also venerated, an approach that is bound sadly to failure. If St. Cyril can accept the veneration of Theodore of Mopsuestia, how much more our sad situation today!

    May the Lord have mercy on all of us and may the prayers of our common father St. Cyril be with us indeed!



  7. Maximus says:


    If only we could meet in unity at the altar, I’ve never met you but I like your person, so obviously full of piety, diligence and zeal. Some of our historical disagreements are not as substantive as you think; I can tell by some of your responses that I neglected to express myself as clearly as I intended.

    I believe that the Seven Ecumenical Councils are charismatic, divinely inspired events (despite the obviously human failings that took place during each one).The Fathers of the Seventh Council exclaimed: “For all these [Councils], being illumined by the same Spirit, defined such things as were expedient.” Even the basic Rainbow Series by Fr. Hopko plainly states: “the Ecumenical Councils are understood to be inspired by God and to be expressive of His will for men. Thus, they are essential sources of Orthodox Christian doctrine.” Likewise, the “Back to Basics” pamphlet of St. George Coptic Orthodox Church reads: “The Faith, our understanding of God, and the interpretation of Scripture are not based on one man’s experience, but rather on the whole of redeemed humanity. The Orthodox Christian experience agrees and does not depart from the collective experience of the Church as a whole…” Does this make one a fundamentalist? If so, I confess to it.

    As we both know, the Henotikon and similar attempts were disastrous. It’s not the way forward. One huge question I have is who is going to vote on what’s to be defined as “trash”? If we follow Fr. McGuckin’s recommendation then the most “conservative elements” in both of our churches won’t even be invited to vote. For instance, when Severus called Chalcedon and the Tome “the lifeblood of the abomination of Nestorius” is that to be thrown out as trash? Or should we call it “trash” when St. Maximus said that “the doctrine of Severus, when examined is opposed both to theology and to the economy”? These aren’t idiosyncratic sayings found in or two ancient polemical writers, these sentiments are found throughout EO/OO conciliar documents, divine services and the most substantial writings of our greatest saints. To just trash all that is to undo each of our traditions with our own hands.

    Fr. John Romanides, whose ecumenical work and writings have convinced many EOs of the basic orthodoxy of Miaphysitism, offers the best solution to me (I know these sentiments will be unpopular and distasteful to some):

    “Our discussions have now reached the point where the Chalcedonian Orthodox are clearly being told that the Non-Chalcedonians should not be expected to accept Chalcedon as a condition of union. This now seems to be put to us as a condition for continuing our unofficial dialogue. Such a condition is unacceptable and for us can only mean the end of dialogue. We strongly sense that either:
    (1) there has taken place a radical change since (the discussions at) Aarhus [1964] and Bristol [1967], or
    (2) we have all along been the objects of an ecumenical technique which aims at the accomplishment of inter-communion or communion, or union without agreement on Chalcedon and the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Ecumenical Councils.

    The Non-Chalcedonians should very clearly realize that from our side the faith professed cannot be separated from the people who profess. The faith confessed by the Fathers of Chalcedon is the true faith. If we accept that faith we must accept also the Fathers who profess this true faith. Otherwise, the communion of Saints confessing this faith is not accepted as a reality. In this connection, I would stress that we are not going to be maneuvered into positions predetermined for us by ecumenical technicians and strategists.” (Greek Orthodox Theological Review Spring-Fall 1971)

    Let us sincerely pray for one another brother. May God be with you and keep you!

    in ICXC,


  8. Mina says:

    Dear Maximus,

    You said “If only we could meet in unity at the altar”. There was a Greek Orthodox priest I once knew who sadly passed away due to cancer. I always prayed for the day that I may receive the Eucharist in his hands as a sister Church. He was involved in the annual OO/EO United Nations Vespers. I loved him very much. I pray we could unite at the altar, as I find no reason really to keep us apart.

    You might be surprised to know that Fr. John Romanides saw it differently and changed his mind later on. Fr. John of blessed memory reacted quickly because of his fidelity to his tradition, which we all sympathize and empathize in. In June 1989, Fr. John Romanides returned to the Joint Commissions on an official level, in St. Bishoy’s Monastery, Wadi el Natroun, Egypt. He, alongside with the late Metropolitan Paulose Mar Gregorios of the Malankara Orthodox tradition of blessed memory, was tasked with the issue of, not surprisingly, “Conciliar formulations and anathemas.” They came back in September 1990 in Chambesy, Geneva, after presenting 6 papers and discussions, they reached the famous “second official agreed statement”.

    I do not wish to quote the whole thing. I encourage you to scroll down and read the Second Agreed Statement. Besides the obvious Christological agreements, the issue of the conciliar interpretations begins in number 6, that all councils and saints venerated should be based on the council of Ephesus 431 as well as the letter of union in 433. The diversity of the terminologies in their correct understandings were professed in number 7.

    Pay attention now to number 8, a very interesting statement. I have the minutes of the unofficial discussions, but I wish to have the minutes of the official discussion. It seems that there was a disagreement between both sides on interpreting councils 4-7, iconology aside. The only agreement they could reach is that the OOs react positively to the EO interpretation, but they only consider this an EO interpretation, not an OO one. And then it proceeds to say that iconology is not really an issue, and that OOs have practiced sound iconology way before the seventh council.

    Given this very sticky situation, nonetheless, the positive agreements coming out of number 8 lead to numbers 9 and 10 (caps emphasis mine):

    9. In the light of our Agreed Statement on Christology as well as the above common affirmations, we have now clearly understood that both families have always loyally maintained the same authentic Orthodox Christological faith, and the unbroken continuity of the apostolic tradition, though they may have used Christological terms in different ways. IT IS THIS COMMON FAITH AND CONTINUOUS LOYALTY TO THE APOSTOLIC TRADITION THAT SHOULD THE BASIS OF OUR UNITY AND COMMUNION.

    10. Both families agree that all the anathemas and condemnations of the past which now divide us should be lifted by the Churches in order that the last obstacle to the full unity and communion of our two families can be removed by the grace and power of God. Both families agree that the lifting of anathemas and condemnations will be consummated on the basis that the councils and the fathers previously anathematised or condemned are not heretical.

    We therefore recommend to our Churches the following practical steps:


    B. The Oriental Orthodox should AT THE SAME TIME lift all anathemas and condemnations against all Orthodox councils and fathers whom they have anathematised or condemned in the past.

    C. The manner in which the anathemas are to be lifted should be decided by the Churches individually.

    Trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, Unity and Love, we submit this Agreed Statement and Recommendations to our venerable Churches for their consideration and action, praying that the same Spirit will lead us to that unity for which our Lord prayed and prays.

    Fr. John Romanides signed on to this agreement. So it is not on the basis of councils or men, but on the faith. Some have considered this reductionist. I consider this Orthodox, because no one here is saying ignore your Church fathers and councils. We are saying if your Church fathers and councils lead your Church to uphold the Orthodox faith as it stands now, who are we to impose an unnecessary standard to uphold councils literally for which we think you already uphold in spirit and truth (unless one goes to another extreme and demands that all OO and EO fathers and councils be venerated)? He eventually realized that for unity to occur, even OO councils need to be de-anathematized, such as Ephesus 449, as hard as that may be for Chalcedonians to imagine. We also have to acknowledge to lift the anathemas of Chalcedon and Pope Leo.

    Fr. John Romanides struggled with this issue. At one point, he retorted against those who wish not to literally accept the councils. But at another point, he also struggled with how, according to his interpretation, the OOs already accept councils 4-7, even if not literally:

    “One must emphasize that acceptance of the Three or Seven Ecumenical Councils does not in itself entail agreement in faith. The Franco-Latin Papacy accepts these Councils, but in reality accepts not one of them. In like manner there are Orthodox, since Peter the Great, who in reality do not accept the soteriological and Old Testament presuppositions of these Councils. On the other hand those of the Oriental Orthodox, who have not been Franco-Latinised in important parts of their theology, accept the first three of the Ecumenical Councils, but in reality accept all Seven, a fact which has now become clear in recent agreements.”

    We are not going to change history. What happened in the past happened. We are not going to pretend we did not condemn and even insult each other. Our Church fathers were lead by the Holy Spirit, but we recognize their fallibility. We have a unique situation in the history of the Church where our traditions agree theologically and sacramentally, but not historically, and this needs to be addressed and highlighted. I think Fr. John Romanides finally succumbed to that reality, which lead him to put his signature on Chambesy 1990, a very provocative document that I think is a necessary one to believe in.

    Pray for me,



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