The God-Man Who Could Not Die

Would Jesus have died of natural causes? The oddity of the question becomes clear when we compare it to another: Would Abraham Lincoln have died of natural causes if he had not attended Ford’s Theatre on that fateful evening? The obvious answer is we don’t know. Perhaps another attempt might have been made on his life a year later. Perhaps he might have died in his sleep at the age of 95. The only thing we know is that he would have died, one way or the other. But matters become more complicated when we consider the question about Jesus. We hesitate to give a simple yes or not. The confession of his divinity constrains us. Not only does it seem unfitting that the incarnate Word might have grown old and feeble, eventually dying of tuberculosis, cancer, or heart disease; but it scandalously subjects him to the necessities of fallen existence. Fr Emmanuel Hatzidakis puts it this way:

Of course the Lord assumed a body capable of dying precisely in order to die—as He did. But what is our understanding about its mortality: was it mortal by necessity, or was its mortality voluntarily assumed? The Church chants, “Let us sing hymns of praise to Him who of His own free will was crucified in the flesh, suffered, was buried and rose from the dead for us,” testifying to the voluntary passion of the Lord. How would Christ’s death be a sacrifice if it were necessarily imposed on Him, if He were not completely free, especially in His humanity, to embrace it voluntarily? We have no say over our death. We are all subject to it. If Christ’s body were “like” ours, He would have to necessarily die. Notice well the gravity of the utterance: If He Had not died of violent death He would have died “like” us of a “natural” (read unnatural) death, having no choice over this matter. In his old age he would be confined to a wheelchair, then His organs would fail, “like” ours do. Judas indeed would be His best friend, allowing Him to offer “morally” His doomed life for our salvation. If we held that at His conception Christ took on a corrupt and mortal humanity, we would still be faced with the same problem: His “fate” would have been sealed, and He would have to accept it with His human will by necessity. On further point: We Orthodox emphasize free will, synergy, and cooperation. But in Christ’s case we would be denying Him those precious gifts. Virgin Mary was free to accept or reject God’s call. Christ, in His human will, would have had no real choice. In essence the hypothesis would lead us into some sort of Monotheletism and Monoenergism. (Jesus: Fallen?, p. 100)

Hatzidakis is alarmed by the picture of the incarnate Word having to endure the necessities imposed by fallen existence. The picture of an elderly Jesus confined to a nursing home, unable to feed and clothe himself, lying in his own excrement, is revolting; but is it any worse than the image of Jesus hanging on a cross in weakness and agony, struggling to breathe, his body finally succumbing to “hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia, and perhaps acute heart failure”? (“On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” p. 463). We have so sanitized Calvary we no longer feel its horror. Hatzidakis might reasonably reply that it’s not the manner of death, whether by crucifixion or nursing home, that offends him but the absence of choice. Fair enough. We’ll explore the question of freedom in a future article. Yet I do not think I am just reading between the lines when I suggest that another dynamic is also at work in Jesus: Fallen?

Throughout the history of the Church, believers have devised theological and pastoral strategies to minimize the sufferings of the God-Man, if not eliminate them altogether. Let’s call it the Docetic spirit. It seems to us neither just nor even metaphysically possible that the almighty and merciful Creator should endure torture and death. At the beginning of the second century we find St Ignatius of Antioch condemning those who would reduce the sufferings of Christ to mythological appearance:

For he suffered all these things for our sakes, in order that we might be saved, and he truly suffered just as he truly raised himself—not, as certain unbelievers say, that he suffered in appearance only (it is they who exist in appearance only!). Indeed, their fate will be determined by what they think: they will become disembodied and demonic. (Smyr. 2)

And of the Trallians he asked: “But if, as some atheists (that is, unbelievers) say, he suffered in appearance only (while they exist in appearance only!), why am I in chains?” (Trall. 10). According to the Docetists, explains Fr Patrick Henry Reardon, “the Son of God wore a semblance of humanity, like a costume, as it were, a kind of actor’s mask. Donning this mask, He ‘played a part’ in the human drama, rather like the various gods of the Iliad—or, for that matter, the biblical angels, who ‘appeared’ on earth.”

But while it’s easy to meet the Docetic heresy head-on, it’s far more difficult to exorcize the pious impulse to protect Jesus from finitude and suffering, as Hatzidakis’s patristic documentation well demonstrates. St Hilary of Poitiers speculates that while Jesus suffered the pain of crucifixion, he did so “without its consciousness”—his earthly body had a unique nature of its own (pp. 94-95). St Athanasius conjectures that the dominical body was naturally immune to illness and disease, for it would be unfitting for the one who healed disease to be subject to it (pp. 219-220, 247-248). St Maximus the Confessor stipulates that it was incorruptible and therefore, by implication, invulnerable to physical harm (p. 204). St Gregory Palamas tells us that once Jesus reached the maturity of his youth, he stopped aging (p. 221). St John of Damascus assures us that Jesus possessed all knowledge of which a human soul is capable (p. 376). (Hatzidakis therefore suggests that Jesus never laughed at a good joke. Humor, after all, depends on surprise [p. 86].) Each of these Fathers rejected the heresy of Docetism; each taught the complete humanity of the Savior; each affirmed the divine Word’s assumption of the innocent passions. Yet each also attributed to the pre-resurrection Jesus one or more qualities that seem to divorce him from humanity in ways we might deem not only soteriologically but humanly important. These Fathers, of course, go on to assert that Jesus voluntarily chose to experience hunger, thirst, fatigue, physical pain—yet the evangelical damage is already done. A dangerous gap has been created between the Jesus of the biblical story and the dyophysite Christ of dogma. We are thus left wondering whether the divine Son ever truly knew the drama and pathos of human existence, whether he ever truly became Man. The spectre of Docetism hovers over the theological proceedings.

The critical issue for Hatzidakis is the deification of humanity at the moment of enfleshment:

Although the Lord’s body was by its nature, as a created substance, subject to corruption and death, on account of being the body of the Lord who is the source of Life, it acquired qualities ordinary bodies do not possess. Because of its union with the divinity of the Logos, His body was rendered incorruptible and immortal, much as our bodies will become, when, united with Christ as members of His Body, the Church, they will be raised imperishable and immortal. Yet he voluntarily assumed passibility and mortality in order to render our bodies imperishable through His conquering of death. …

Christ’s flesh is delivered from corruptibility and mortality when the immortal Word of God created it at the very instant he assumed it. The created and finite existence of the humanity He assumed, by virtue of its union with the eternal God in the person of the divine Logos, becomes incorruptible and immortal. … If Christ were necessarily and inherently mortal it would mean that He was not God in the flesh and that He was not in personal communion with God, the source of immortality. If Christ were “fallen” He would be in his humanity exactly like us, subject to the necessity of death. …

Christ’s created humanness is in perfect communion with God, sharing his immortality. He never experienced the ontological consequence of the break of communion with God (death), with all its concomitant consequences, because upon conception He is inseparably united with divinity. The fallen state of separation and alienation from God never occurred nor could it occur in the humanness of the Incarnate God. (pp. 202-204)

When the eternal Logos joins himself to human nature in the womb of the Virgin, he saturates it with his divine energies and incorporates it into the trinitarian being of the Godhead. At that moment mortal flesh becomes immortal. “Christ did not reach deification as the Saints do,” Hatzidakis elaborates, “but was deified at the very instant of the formation of His body in the womb of the most holy Virgin” (p. 101). Dominical theosis is an abiding state, not a dynamic process. In a very real sense, Christ’s salvific work is accomplished at the Annunciation. Hatzidakis’s view immediately raises this question: What is the difference between Christ’s pre-resurrection body and his glorified body? His answer may surprise: no difference at all! Well, that’s not quite accurate. There’s a difference but only in terms of economia:

We should again emphasize that Christ is the almighty God in human flesh. He did not acquire His divine power after His resurrection; He was not rewarded by being given a glory He did not previously possess. Christ has full knowledge of His divine power even in the depth of His humiliation. At the time of His suffering the Evangelist testifies: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands” (John 13:3). Christ was not exalted after His resurrection or ascension, for whom all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom were hidden in Him (see Col. 2:3) and the fullness of deity dwelt in Him (see Col. 2:9) since the beginning. He speaks with authority, even in His humiliation: “For this is the will of My Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). The “I” is that of the Incarnate Son of God, who has the power to raise people from the dead and grant them eternal life. Surely, He must have Himself what’s in His power to grant to others, immortality and life eternal, in His humanity. He declared the full authority He had received from His Father after the resurrection (see Mt. 28:18), but He did not receive it after His resurrection or ascension. …

After his resurrection the new life in its fullness is offered to us, not to Himself. With His resurrection Christ did not renew Himself; He renewed us. “Christ rose from the dead … renewing in Himself the corrupt nature of our race” [Sunday Matins, 3rd Tone]. He subjected Himself to death, not because He had to, but because we had to be freed from corruption. He assumed voluntarily what He was not, in order to renew what we were. As Christ accepted by His free human will in concert with His divine will, the “blameless passions,” that is corruptibility and mortality, likewise it was by the power of His dual will that He laid them aside after His resurrection, as no longer needed, because the plan of redemption was accomplished. After the resurrection His body is no longer subject to corruption, not because it was physically changed and rendered incorrupt and immortal by the resurrection, but because He had accomplished His mission, which was the defeat of the archenemy, the devil. …

Christ’s body was already “restored, perfect, [and] incorruptible” at His conception; it did not become glorious at His resurrection, because the body He took for Himself was like that of Adam and more glorious than his, because it was the body of God. … The body of the Lord remained the same after the resurrection. As it was firm in goodness prior to His resurrection, so it was after His resurrection. (pp. 466-468)

The resurrection, in other words, does not effect the transformation of human nature. It represents only Christ’s jettisoning of the blameless passions. At that point the benefits of the Incarnation became available to all.

If the body of Christ was always radiant in its uncreated glory, why didn’t anyone, everyone, notice? Because human beings were still trapped in darkness and sin. The grace of theosis had not yet been made universally available. Jesus could only be seen as a mere man, therefore, and not in his uncreated glory. The event of the Transfiguration is properly interpreted not as something that happened to Jesus but as something that happened to Peter, James, and John—the purification of nous and the gifting of new spiritual faculties. Hatzidakis quotes St Gregory Palamas: “At that moment, the initiate disciples of the Lord ‘passed … from flesh to spirit’ by the transformation of their senses, which the Spirit wrought in them, and so they saw that ineffable light, when and as much as the Holy Spirit’s power granted them to do so” (p. 434). Whereas Western Christians think of God as actively hiding himself in the flesh of Jesus during his earthly ministry, Orthodoxy teaches that the divine glory was always visible. We simply lacked the spiritual eyes to see:

The Transfiguration of Christ holds the key to our understanding as to what kind of human body that Christ did have and how the natural, blameless passions worked in Him. Christ allows His disciples to see Him not in a form He would take after his resurrection (as Western scholarship often sees it), but as He was “in the days of His flesh” and as He shall continue to be and appear for all eternity: God in the flesh. … If the human nature of Christ were inherently subject to corruption and death it would mean that what the disciples witnessed on Mount Tabor was a mirage, a vision planted in their brain of the glory of Christ, as it would be revealed after the resurrection. However this is not what the Church teaches. The Church proclaims that Christ was always enveloped in His glory, as our progenitors were before the fall and before God clothed them with “the garments of skin.” He replaces their lost glory with incomparably greater glory, on account of His hypostatic union. (p. 436; cf. The Orthodox Understanding of Salvation by Christopher Veniamin)

We can now plainly see why Hatzidakis puts such a strong emphasis on the voluntary submission of the human will of Christ to suffering and death. The sinless Jesus is constitutionally incapable of experiencing either. If he were, he would thereby be demonstrated to be a sinner, alienated from God and in need himself of salvation. This problem is resolved by the Lord’s free acceptance of the conditions of fallen existence: “Far from inheriting a corrupt body, on account of which the Lord would be led inexorably to death, the body assumed by the divine Logos was not subject to corruption and death. Christ lived a sinless life, therefore He could not die, unless He would lay down His life voluntarily to save the sheep that was lost” (p. 281). In my previous article I raised the question of aphthartodocetism. I am still unable to distinguish (at least in any significant way) Hatzidakis’s views on the immortality of Christ’s earthly body from the sixth century heresy propounded by Julian of Halicarnassus. The similarities are striking.

We return to the question with which we began this article: Would Jesus have died of natural causes? Fr Emmanuel Hatzidakis’s emphatic answer—no.

Are you satisfied with this answer? I am not. Not only does it force us to read the gospel narratives against their plain meaning, but it evacuates the death and resurrection of Christ of its salvific content. Pascha is projected back into the conception of Jesus, thus rendering everything that comes after in his life as soteriologically irrelevant. The resurrection becomes the merely public revelation of what God already accomplished at the Annunciation, not the death of death nor the recreation of humanity. That we end up with such a conclusion should warn us that we have made a theological misstep somewhere along the way.  The Incarnation should not be limited to that single moment when the Word crafted a body for himself within the womb of Mary. God takes to himself not just a body but a history. Throughout his earthly life, the divine Son is becoming flesh, becoming the man defined by messianic vocation and a life of love and sacrifice. The patristic doctrine of the Incarnation, with its sophisticated elaboration of two natures and two wills, was never intended to replace the narrated Savior. “God’s eternal Word,” writes Reardon, “assumed not only our human nature—considered abstractly and in general—but the concrete, historical circumstances of an individual human life” (The Jesus We Missed, p. 27).

Contrast Hatzidakis’s static construal of Incarnation with the more biblical, historical, dynamic (dare I say, more Orthodox) construal of Fr John Meyendorff:

The true dimension of the humanity of Jesus can only be understood in the context of soteriology. He assumed human nature in its fallen state and He brought it to the Father in its original, transfigured form. This salvation act was done in time, not only in the sense that Jesus grew as a man, going through the normal process of human maturing, but also in the paschal sense. He was the New Passover leading Israel not from Egypt to Canaan, but from death to life: “Christ, Our Passover, was sacrificed, writes St Paul. “Passover” implies a passage from one situation to another, a radical change, salvation. The Christian Gospel tells us that this change happened precisely in the person of Christ. If he did not assume that fallen humanity which was to be saved, which was to be healed and transformed; if, as some had imagined, He was immune to disease or any death-causing event, and was destined to live indefinitely within fallen time, no true salvation or change would ontologically occur in and through His humanity. That humanity would have to be conceived only as a screen, covering a theophany, which would be seen as operating by itself, in a short of magic exercise of divine omnipotence, with the human nature ceasing to be what we are as soon as Divinity touched it. (“Christ’s Humanity,” pp. 27-28)

Indeed, the Incarnation in all its aspects was an expression of the free will of God. But God willed precisely that, as man, Jesus, since his conception in the womb of Mary, would be fully conditioned by what our human, fallen existence is: he lived in time, “grew in wisdom,” did not know, suffered, and died. On the other hand, the hypostatic union—i.e., the conception and the birth of the God-man Jesus—is not yet by itself a deification of Jesus’ human nature. Deification would have been a somewhat automatic happening if, as some have supposed, the Incarnation was simply the manifestation of a pre-existing God-manhood of the Logos, fulfilled when he became a human being. In fact, the Incarnation implied tragedy and struggle. The Creator, by assuming the created and fallen flesh, met evil and death face to face. He met and overcame these realities of the fallen world, which he did not create but only tolerated. This tolerance reached its ultimate point when the incarned Son of God accepted a human death on the cross: this ultimate point was also his ultimate victory. (“New Life in Christ,” pp. 494-495; also see Patrick Henry Reardon, Reclaiming the Atonement)

Meyendorff’s christological approach accords the events of Christ’s life and death their full soteriological power and significance. Incarnation becomes a truly kenotic act. The divine Son enters into history, taking upon himself the disease of sin and conquering death in paschal victory. And so every Easter we sing:

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

(Go to “The Gethsemene God”)

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52 Responses to The God-Man Who Could Not Die

  1. Tony says:

    “St Hilary of Poitiers speculates that while Jesus suffered the pain of crucifixion, he did so “without its consciousness”—his earthly body had a unique nature of its own (pp. 94-95). St Athanasius conjectures that the dominical body was naturally immune to illness and disease, for it would be unfitting for the one who healed disease to be subject to it (pp. 219-220, 247-248). St Maximus the Confessor stipulates that it was incorruptible and therefore, by implication, invulnerable to physical harm (p. 204). St Gregory Palamas tells us that once Jesus reached the maturity of his youth, he stopped aging (p. 221). St John of Damascus assures us that Jesus possessed all knowledge of which a human soul is capable (p. 376). (Hatzidakis therefore suggests that Jesus never laughed at a good joke. Humor, after all, depends on surprise [p. 86].) Each of these Fathers rejected the heresy of Docetism; each taught the complete humanity of the Savior; each affirmed the divine Word’s assumption of the innocent passions. Yet each also attributed to the pre-resurrection Jesus one or more qualities that seem to divorce him from humanity in ways we might deem not only soteriologically but humanly important. These Fathers, of course, go on to assert that Jesus voluntarily chose to experience hunger, thirst, fatigue, physical pain—yet the evangelical damage is already done. A dangerous gap has been created between the Jesus of the biblical story and the dyophysite Christ of dogma. We are thus left wondering whether the divine Son ever truly knew the drama and pathos of human existence, whether he ever truly became Man. The spectre of Docetism hovers over the theological proceedings.”

    It seems like the answer to your question has been answered, by the Fathers of the Church. I don’t understand why you would think that a dangerous gap has been created and that “evangelical damage has been done”. I am following your posts and your blog, I just don’t understand why you seem to see a disconnect between between Christ living and dying as a man, but done so voluntarily. Why would Christ be limited to experiencing real human pain and suffering if His human nature was deified and sinless and perfect? Can He not do this? Can He not be Man and God, and all according not to necessity but according to His good and divine will? It seems like the Patristic teachings are fairly clear, as you (and Father Emmanuel) have pointed out. Does Father John Meyendorff or Metropolitan Kallistos have greater insight than the Church Fathers? As an Orthodox, I am confused how this topic can be so confusing, unless one is trying to understand this using human logic. Is not this study trending towards more rationalism than the ‘more Orthodox dare I say’ approach of revelation and fidelity to the teachings of the Saints?

    I guess I am approaching this topic a bit differently. I simply don’t see the dangerous gap nor the evangelical damage. Rather, I see how great God is that He came into the world to save us from our sins while inexplicably remaining pure, sinless, and perfect. Not because He had to , or because of some necessity, but because of His divine and loving will. God is not limited, then why do we get put limits upon Him? The charge of aphrodocetism I believe is quite unfair, when no one is making the argument that Christ did not really experience the sufferings, temptations, and blameless passions which man is subject to since the fall. He certainly did, yet these were external to Him, and not internal deriving. Just as it was before the fall. It was not inner temptations which led to Adam’s fall, but rather the Satan who tempted him. Adam failed because he chose disobedience and death over God’s will. Christ, the Second Adam, too was tempted, but these sprung up not internally as it does to the fallen man, but rather externally, and He did what Adam did not do, not by coercion, or necessity, but by divine freedom – to follow the will of the Father.

    Would Jesus have died a natural death? Now such a claim seems to me much more to do evangelical damage, and that is a reason why I think no Church Father has ever made such a claim. For surely, contemplating this question did not start just recently, or just in this corner of the Internet, and the Patristic teachings we do have say the complete opposite. As a (sinful) Orthodox Christian, I simply don’t understand where the confusion is. But perhaps that is because I rather steer clear from confusion and rather submit to the teachings of those much greater than me, namely the Saints. Is this not how we are supposed to approach this topic and indeed any topic as members of the Church?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Top of the morning, Tony. Thanks for your comment. I think my next article will address the concerns you raise, especially regarding this question: “Can He not be Man and God, and all according not to necessity but according to His good and divine will?” With your permission I will hold off from responding to your concerns about freedom until I have posted my next article.

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  2. Tony says:

    Having re-read my above, I want to emphasize that I am not addressing this to Father Aidan alone, but to all the readers. When we come to a divergence in modern opinion with what has already expressed and taught beforehand, how is it that we react? How do we find the authentic truth?

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    • brian says:

      Surely, one would not want to imply as some interpretations of a progressive, developed tradition seem to do that those earlier in the timeline (patristics, medievals, etc.) were somehow deficient and not in touch with the fullness of Christ’s revelation. The opposite error, however, would be to understand the patristic heritage as so omnicompetent as to render future theological investigation and questioning redundant. If revelation is infinitely rich with meaning, then we must encounter it existentially as something both wondrous, mysterious, and capable of engendering a live, deepening discovery. A pleromatic truth resists closure. Such a reality could not possibly be comprehended in a manner that would ask any generation to simply genuflect before a finished and complete rendering of dogmatic truth.

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      • Tony says:

        Point well taken. I agree we must have discernment.

        With that in mind and with regards to the topic on hand, or indeed, any topic in which modern opinion runs counter to what has been taught in the past, by what criteria does one use to discern what the truth is? Is it human logic? Is it sound hermeneutics? This may be steering the current conversation off course, but I actually think it is very much applicable. After all, the discussion we are having here now is not a new discussion. To think that the Saints of the early Church did not consider such a question (that is, if Christ would have died a natural death or of old age) would be wrong (IMO). And yet, in all the writings of the all the Saints which I can recall, nothing is said alluding to such a thing as a possibly and indeed the opposite is taught. So we have a cloud of witnesses and a consensus (for all practical purposes) of Saints in the Church. Is that not enough?

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        • brian says:

          Tony,

          I am drawn to Father’s blog because we share a truly “eclectic” approach that tries sees tradition as a living form of inquiry. However, I can only speak for myself with regards to your interesting and germane questions. I am not sure I am a “safe” model to follow. I am often put off by forms of traditionalism that appear to me timid or doctrinaire in a manner that is too easily censorious and scolding. Yet to lack respect and appreciation for the saints or tradition is probably a much worse folly. Though, to be frank, I often find the saints less compelling than they are vaunted to be. This may likely be my own failing, but I do not find my voice or my concerns met by many saintly pronouncements. I sometimes do, of course, but I am wary of pious assent that points at the saints as a means of ending discussion. (I am much influenced by Balthasar’s theology which makes the saints central to his particular hermeneutic. I take his point, but this does not make my own questions or existential conundrums disappear.)

          There was a movement mid-twentieth century in Catholicism called Resourcement. It attempted to bring to bear the riches of patristic insight upon contemporary questions, both theological and anthropological. I think this is a very valuable approach, but one is anachronistic if one presumes that the patristics considered every possible question. Clearly, they would not have thought deeply about every possible aspect of theological interest. When we attempt to discover the relevance of their wisdom to our own questions, some measure of adaptation is often required.

          As to logic, there is no such thing as a neutral, objective logic, though some versions — like those heir to secular Enlightenment narratives — do indeed adopt that pose. Theo-logic comes with Christ. The revelation of Christ enables a Trinitarian understanding, enables a paradoxical logic coincident with Incarnation — it is a logic gifted by grace. We must discern with that logic or we will fail to understand. But recognizing such does not bring us to a place devoid of danger or the timely need for discernment. There is no method, theological or otherwise, no tradition, magisterium, or theory of scriptural inspiration that can absolve us personally of the need to engage reality and make decisions, though a wise decision will always listen to the shared understanding of the Body of Christ.

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  3. Note X Note says:

    Christ’s created humanness is in perfect communion with God, sharing his immortality. He never experienced the ontological consequence of the break of communion with God (death), with all its concomitant consequences, because upon conception He is inseparably united with divinity. The fallen state of separation and alienation from God never occurred nor could it occur in the humanness of the Incarnate God. (pp. 202-204)….excerpt from above post

    Surely humanity was created before Christ’s conception. Did they ( Father, Son, Spirit) not create humans in their own image and likeness. So fallen, or not, the “hidden”, the “invisible” God is united with man. Let’s examine how this might be… I have found from three personal trials that our very substance reveals this truth. One, being a diabetic, I was born with the ability to make my own insulin. When about 20yrs old I was separated from the ability to make my own insulin much like sin separated my soul from God. However, I received insulin from the outside of my body to save my body just as Christ came from heaven to save my soul. Two, my four year old daughter died due to a lack of oxygen during an MRI to take pictures of her diseased heart. So is without the Spirit, my soul is a God starved spirit. Three, after 20 years with diabetes I became extremely Magnesium deficient. Why? Well, come to find out after much searching, because not even the normal tests for deficiencies I was having every three months for the last 20yrs could detect this “hidden, invisible” element so absolutely crucial to my very existence. God, the Father, is this crucial, yet invisible, life-giving Father. So, would the only Son have died had the Father not willed?
    I could say yes his human body would die. Would humanity be saved? No, just as, without insulin or oxygen or Magnesium my body dies.

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  4. Dana Ames says:

    I have understood that Orthodoxy does not see our human nature as fallen in the sense of corrupted. Human nature is simply all that goes into being human, and it remains good, as God created it. Our separation from God has affected it, cast a pall of sorts over it, but not to the point that it has become other than as it was created. Am I wrong in this? If not, then I don’t see the problem that Fr Hatzidakis is addressing. If so, I welcome correction.

    Dana

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dana, Fr Emmanuel Hatzidakis believes that the Orthodox understanding of ancestral sin is deeper than mortality. According to him it includes the inheritance of both the innocent passions and the blameworthy passions. This is one reason why it seems to me that his criticisms of Fr Meyendorff are and Met Kallistos Ware are misplaced. They do not agree on what fallen existence means and therefore are talking past each other on the question whether Jesus assumed fallen human nature.

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  5. Julian says:

    Fr. Kimel, I think Fr. Meyendorff got it right. So to your original question, would Jesus have died of natural causes, I think the correct answer would be yes, assuming that the Son continued to submit himself to the consequences of his fallen human nature. But if for some reason the Son chose not to submit himself, then he had the power to keep his body alive, indefinitely.

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    • Tony says:

      But, I think the point that is trying to be established in this hypothetical is whether Jesus would have died from old age by necessity and according to His human nature. Of course, if Christ willed to grow old and die from a natural cause, then He could very much do so, given His freedom to do whatever He wills. But this does not contradict what Father Emmanuel is saying, namely that such a circumstance would be according to Christ’s will to allow this and not because His life-giving and deified human body would naturally decay and die (which seems to be what Father John Meyendorff is stating). But we must remember, it is not merely Father Emmanuel who is making this claim, but it seems to be the teaching of the Church Fathers, most notably St. John Damascene.

      This leads me to my first comment in this post which Brian touched upon, namely, how do we decide what is the truth? Is it what feels right to our minds or our human logic? Are our limited experiences and mental and spiritual capabilities the bulwark of what is the truth? Life is certainly eclectic, but is truth relative? Is that not the spirit of this age which has brought such apostasy and moral depravity? I ask this sincerely, and not accusatory.

      In his epistle, St. Paul says that the Church is the pillar and foundation for truth. Indeed, the Apostle of the Gentlies ran to Jerusalem to check and make sure he was teaching the correct things, that is, what the Church was teaching, lest he was running in vain. Perhaps he too had a certain opinion or made a logical conclusion about something which needed to be corrected, not unlike the way he would later do to St. Peter.

      For me, when I find that we have a large consensus of past God-bearing Saints teaching one thing, should we not then put much more weight upon that then what our own individual minds think or what the current thinkers of the day may opine? I’m just trying to approach this topic the way I have understood and been taught such topics should be approached. If I am in error, and am mistaken, I hope someone can correct me and tell me how it is we Christians must handle the situation when the voices of the past and the voices of (some?) in the present are in contradiction.

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      • Note X Note says:

        Christ addressed both the past and future thinkers when in Mathew 21:44 claimed the importance of being the cornerstone. He claimed those who fall on it(being the future I derive) be shattered. And for the past ,Christ claimed to pulverize to dust(an unrepairable state) those on whom the stone would fall(being the past I derive). All that to say, The work of God to place this first stone of the resurrected church is phenomenal,wether we arrive from a hypothetical question or gospel account.

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  6. brian says:

    Gentlemen,

    The binary choice of either a worldly relativism or treating the patristic heritage as a kind of “higher arbiter” that would dispense with the need for existential struggle on our part is precisely what I have attempted to circumvent. It is a false posing of the possibilities. However, if what I said above is not understood, I do not think any reiteration on my part is likely to be any more illuminating.

    The hypothetical question of Christ and natural death involves so many factors that a proper examination would probably require a book, at least a sustained article. My short, undeveloped answer, btw, again following Balthasar on this, is that among the unique attributes of Christ’s person is a coincidence between Jesus’ human existence and his mission. Ultimately, this has to do with the way in which Jesus’ kenotic, temporal action is a mode of what he is “always already” as the eternal Son of the Father. All other human existence has a gap between a potential mission and a kind of “ordinary ontological starting point.” In simple terms, the calling of a prophet or saint breaks into a prior “natural” existence. In contrast, every moment of Jesus’ existence is comprehended by mission.

    Sorry if that is too compact for greater clarity. Now the basic “grammar” of Christ’s mission was set forth in Old Testament Levitical rites of sacrifice. The Pascha is the “hour” that Jesus yearns for, but does not anticipate. Since the atonement is presaged by a public, liturgical act of ritual sacrifice, I do not think Christ’s mission could properly conclude in a hidden, non-sacrificial mode. Though as I pointed out to Father in a private communication, there is something profoundly hidden in the silence of Holy Saturday, so the quiet terror of loss contained in “non-dramatic” death is also taken up into Christ’s victorious act.

    This manner of approach places the focus differently than the question of whether Christ’s flesh was Pre-lapsarian or not. I have given my own opinion on that elsewhere, whilst acknowledging the appeal of other perspectives. This whole discussion, btw, is an example of how a living theology must proceed if it is to be a genuine inquiry and not a fake that already knows all the answers because they’ve been comprehensively given in a prior era.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Some thoughts from Bulgakov vis-a-vis aphthartodocetism may be found here and here.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Robert Fortuin says:

    To echo Brian’s observation:

    It is a gross misunderstanding of, and antithetical to, Orthodox Holy Tradition in particular, and theology in general, to denote it to mean that a.) the patristic era is closed, and b.) patristics exhaustively treat every possible issue, and c.) it is not historically contextual, and d.) that (therefore) Orthodox theology consists of the mere quoting of the Fathers.

    We speak of a holy and living tradition for we do not appeal to antiquity, but to a living, creative theological vision, a shared experience. Appeals to static tradition is an appeal to dead letter and leads to idolatry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tony says:

      “Appeals to static tradition is an appeal to dead letter and leads to idolatry.”

      I agree. But I fear the opposite is also very possible=, very commonplace, and much more dangerous, whereby the appeal to a modern, ‘creative theological vision’ can also lead to idolatry. When this ‘creative theological vision’ is in contradiction to the Patristic witness (which, to address another poster here, is not necessarily the mere opinions of a few, but also can be the teachings of the catholic Church), then does this not cause an even greater problem? It is wrong to idolize the Fathers of the Church as infallable, but is not the Orthodox phronoma that those Fathers who ran the race and handed down faithfully the faith ‘handed down once’ more authoratative then what I think is right or what a few other people share?

      I have heard in this thread about the dangers of appealing to tradition and the teachings of the Saints, but not much on what is the correct and Orthodox approach towards teachings which seem to be direct contradiction with the faith of the Fathers. Does a living, creative theological vision so easily disregard the witness of Saints? I find that extremely difficult to ascribe to. If that implies that I am stagnate or appealing to dead letters or idolatry, then I am much more comfortable confronting God as that as my sin than to counter the experience and teachings of the great Saints before me. Do you get what I mean?

      Like

      • brian says:

        Tony,

        Do you really agree? I suspect that your questioning is not genuine. You keep posing the available options in a manner that places a thumb on the scale. I have looked through this dialogue and I do not clearly discern anyone dismissing an appeal to tradition or the saints. Where do you see that? The need for a wise and discerning engagement is hardly a dismissal. If one interprets any searching effort to discover theological truth as “a commonplace modernism” that equates to a merely individual and idiosyncratic indulgence that favors the zeitgeist over Christian dogma, one has certainly “cooked the books.” In the end, you contextualize any personal effort that does not simply agree with patristic consensus as dangerous and illicit, a kind of pride. There is no need to defend what has not been asserted. Yet there is a basic integrity needed for dialogue. There is no merit in reinterpreting an interlocutor’s words so as to yield a convenient straw man.

        Like

        • Tony says:

          With regards to this particular topic, it seems clear to me that the Patristic teaching is one thing and the modern theological opinion proposed by some is the complete opposite. I am trying to understand which is the truth.

          I am sorry you feel that I do not have integrity or sincerity in my questions above. I know that through the internet, a discussion/debate can give the wrong impression, and I apologize if what you think I am doing is constructing straw men or being “not genuine”. I have an understanding of approaching the Orthodox fatih perhaps differently than you and I am trying to understand your position a little better by asking questions. I am not saying that I have the best approach. I am trying to find the approach which is God-pleasing and according to the Orthodox faith. Forgive me and please do not feel obliged to reply to my posts which you feel are not at the level or integrity needed for dialogue.

          Like

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Tony,

        Certainly, and of course, an error in either direction is a real possibility and a legitimate concern, although I don’t think one error is worse than the other – both are equally harmful, ugly and deadly, both equally stray from the Living Truth.

        As to your questions in regards to ‘the correct and Orthodox approach towards teachings which seem to be direct contradiction with the faith of the Fathers.’ What you hear is in not an outright disagreement with you, other than a caution that appeals to authority (the ‘Patristic witness’, ‘Tradition’) must be made very carefully. Here’s why: facile appeals to authority a.) assume that a clear witness always exists, without ambiguity, and thus b.) the patristic witness merely require retrieval, like an index card from a library catalog (pardon the anachronistic reference) and hence c.) this witness requires no interpretation, and this then leads to d.) the abortion of any creative reflection, discussion, theologizing, etc.

        So the caution then, to bring it back to this particular subject and discussion, is to be under the false impression that we simply refer to ‘the patristic witness’. But the patristic witness is not singular, monolithic; it is rather complex, diverse, multi-faceted, sometimes contradictory. Likewise with the ‘modern view’ on this. Is there a singular modern view on this issue, and can we treat it as such? I don’t think so. It will require careful analysis of tradition, scripture, the Ecumenical Councils, hymnography, the saints, theology, philosophy, methaphysical concerns, and so forth. This should answer your question, ‘Does a living, creative theological vision so easily disregard the witness of Saints?’

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Brian, you touch on one of my strongest objections to Fr Emmanuel Hatzidakis’s book: he presents the theological Tradition as if it speaks with one voice on the issues he addresses. He tries to overwhelm the reader with bunches and bunches of quotations, without careful historical interpretation or sensitivity to nuance. On more than a few occasions I find that the quotations do not precisely say what he believes they say. But heck, these are Church Fathers and (real) Orthodox theologians (unlike Ware and Meyendorff), so there cannot be substantive disagreement. All the rough edges are smoothed over and homogenized into one dogmatic voice.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Tony says:

            Father, are there many different voices of prior to the past 100 years within the Orthodox Christian tradition which counter the thesis that Father Emmanuel is proposing? If so, please demonstrate this so that I can be corrected if I am believing in something false. If not, can we safetly say that this may be a Tradition which speaks of one voice?

            I highly respect Frs. John Meyendorff and Metropolitan Kallistos, but if their opinions on this matter differ from the Patristic sources, to whom do we say is teaching the Orthodox faith correctly?

            Disclaimer: I dont know how this is coming out on the computer screen, but I am asking sincerely.

            Like

        • Tony says:

          Thank you for your reasoned and informative reply.

          Like

  9. elijahmaria says:

    All discussions on the freedom to theologize are fine and to be encouraged, but the Church is never necessarily encumbered by the opinions of either the few or the many, regardless of how erudite. The decision to present doctrinal statements have their own criteria for discernment and dialogue. And in addition, the liturgical prayers, which are the catechisms of Orthodoxy, are not there to argue the perspectives of the theologians but rather to speak the truths revealed. So there’s nothing here really that is new for the Orthodox way. But rather it is an intriguing expostulation of an old set of theological perspectives.

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  10. elijahmaria says:

    It still seems to me that we need to answer the question of whether or not Adam was immortal and incorruptible by grace or by nature? The question is critical not only to the parsing of the teachings of the aphthartodocetics but is also central to the question of Orthodox teaching concerning theosis.

    Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Why, hasn’t the Church already answered this question, old hat, no? 😉

      Like

    • Tony says:

      Excellent question and I think gets to the core of this present discussion! The Patristic teachings as I understand it is that Adam’s created human nature was not ‘by nature’ incorruptable and immortal, for that which is created does not by nature have such divine qualities, unless it participates in the uncreated energies of God. Thus, as long as Adam was graced by the uncreated energies of God, he could remain in such a blissful state. The consequences of the fall are that this divine communion was lost on account of sin and Adam’s created nature began to suffer the consequences of separation from God Who is life, which meant decay and death.

      To paraphrase what Prof. Nikos Matsoukas has written, the aphthartodocetists ascribed to Christ a different body than that which was by nature Adam’s created nature, that is they ascribe as the nature of Christ’s human nature heavenly, uncreated, incorrupt, and not even subject to the blameless passions. However, Christ’s human nature was always created, even after the Resurrection. But, on account of the hypostatic union, it becomes a partaker of theosis and incorruption. Prior to the Resurrection, however, it is subject to the blameless and natural passions “through concession, so that the plan of divine economy may be realized.”

      Thus, the charge of aphthartodocetism is not applicable, for they speak of the natural human created body of Christ as having the attributes of divinity as natural to it, whereas the teachings of the Fathers speak of the diefied human nature of Christ within the hypostatic union to be so on account of the uncreated energies of God, so that if Christ was hungry, or tired, or thirsty, or felt pain, it was his voluntary concession to suffer these things within His created body, which like Adam’s created body, could truly experience them, but not out of necessity since He is a new creation, and what we hope to be, but rather on account of his kenosis and according to His will.

      I hope I explained this correctly.

      Like

      • elijahmaria says:

        I would agree with you, Tony. It is important to make the distinction that you make in that if human nature, as Created and not as distorted by sin, is immortal and incorruptible, by nature, then there is no real need for theosis is there?

        Like

  11. Tony says:

    Robert posted this excellent statement above:

    “Is there a singular modern view on this issue, and can we treat it as such? I don’t think so. It will require careful analysis of tradition, scripture, the Ecumenical Councils, hymnography, the saints, theology, philosophy, methaphysical concerns, and so forth”

    And this is exactly what I am (poorly) trying to do. In my personal analysis (which by no means is exhaustive), I find that aside from some writings of (a few?) contemporary Orthodox theologians, there does appear to be a singular voice on this issue, though nothing defined explicitly within a Ecumencal Council (that I am aware of). Thus, can this topic be something that can be safely said to be within the real of theologoumena? And if not, at what point does it become a doctrinal and dogmatic issue? Does it require a Ecumencial Council or an overwhelming consensus or someother mechanism by the Holy Spirit?

    Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tony,

      Unless I am substantially misunderstanding Fr. Hatzidakis position, I take it to be essentially the heresy of aphthartodocetism, which was rejected by the Church as missing the mark, at odds with the phronema of the Church. Aphthartodocetism is a troublesome position for the reason that it makes Christ’s humanity (and his earthly experience, including the resurrection!) salvifically superfluous, unnecessary, redundant. It construes a very strangely bifurcated (schizophrenic?) understanding of the operations of the divine and the human will in Christ, where the divine nature is required to grant permission to the human nature for each action. Aphthartodocetism is essentially a form of monophysitism, where the human nature is, well, not really human, sidelined by divinity. Hardly the Orthodox view of theosis!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tony says:

        I think you are misunderstanding Father Emmanuel’s position. I would recommend you read his book in order to understand it a little better. I briefly touched upon it above in reply to elijiahmaria the important distinction between what Father Emmanuel is stating and what the aphthartodocetists believed.

        Like

  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Hi, Tony. It looks like I won’t be ready to publish my next (and hopefully last) article in this series until next week, so I thought I’d jump in and share a couple of thoughts on the authority of the consensus patrum. This is a question that is often raised on this blog, because I sometimes advance opinions (e.g., on universal salvation) that are contrary to the majority opinion within Orthodoxy. Invariably I get hit over the head with the authority of the consensus of the Church Fathers, which is treated as representing infallible dogma. But there are several problems with this approach to doctrinal authority.

    (1) The Orthodox Church does not have a formal magisterial office that can close debate and bind the conscience of believers. The Orthodox Church, in other words, is not the Roman Catholic Church. The irony here is that the RCC’s understanding is actually fairly refined and nuanced. It’s insufficient for a RC to claim that a particular doctrine, even one that enjoys, or once enjoyed, wide patristic support, is irreformable. He must also demonstrate that the specific conditions for infallibility have been met. This means that in practice the RCC, which is often abused by the Orthodox for its authoritarian teaching on infallibility, actually allows greater theological diversity and debate than the Orthodox Church.

    (2) The consensus patrum on particular theological questions is rarely as monolithic as often presented by “traditionalist” theologians. Typically there are many diverse, and sometimes conflicting, voices within the tradition—particularly when each Father is analyzed on his own historically-specific terms. This, IMHO, is one of most serious flaws of Fr Hatzidakis’s analysis. Sometimes his citations simply do not say what he thinks that they say or at least not as clearly.

    (3) Consensus patrum works just fine for parish priests and catechists, but there’s a difference between presenting the common teaching of the Church for parochial consumption and asserting that that any specific teaching enjoys irreformable status. And precisely on this point no consensus exists within the Orthodox Church. When does common teaching become irreformable? All Orthodox agree that the dogmatic definitions of the 7 ecumenical councils enjoy such status, but after that matters become more difficult and contentious.

    Please take a look at “Dogma and Doctrine in the Orthodox Church” and the follow-up article.

    Like

    • Tony says:

      Thank you Father for the post above. I agree that we must be careful not to ascribe infallibility to the Church Fathers, and that the best mechanism we have with regards to what is dogma is expressed via the synodical system of the Church, with the greatest authority being of course the Ecumencial Councils. I guess my confusion is when a particular topic is not explicitly addressed within a Ecumencial Council and there are various theological opinions on the matter. Personally, I often just shy away from too much debate because the high level of discourse is often above my pay grade (so to speak) and I simply do not have the wisdom or knowledge to correctly discern what is true and what is not. One crutch I do favor is to look towards the Saints who were God-inspired and whose teachings have endured and been considered by the Church (whether via Council or not) to be according to the apostolic faith. Perhaps it is a cop out, but I find that my adherence and unity in mind with them brings me much greater peace, than say pursuing internal arguments and digging deeper in wells which (in my weakness) could lead me to stumble. Some might call it intellectual laziness, but I find greater peace through obedience than through intensive theological investigations I am not skilled to participate in. May God forgive me if, in the end, I am counted unworthy.

      I appreciate greatly what you have written above Father and I thank you and will look into the link you provided. I know that within the realm of mystery which we travel through there is not very often a crystal clear vision of what is true and not, or as St. Paul said, we see through a glass darkly. I guess it confuses me all the more when I find theologians I have read and loved (such as Father Meyendorff and Metropolitan Kallistos) speaking one thing which appears (at least on the surface) to contradict what great Saints taught long ago and have been considered (by many?) in history to be the apostolic faith. Again, thank you for your reply and I look forward to your next installment in this series.

      Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        And I would never seek to dissuade you, Tony, from adhering closely to the faith as it has been taught to you by your parish priests.

        Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        But having said this, I hope you can understand why I and others are not particularly impressed by the “Fathers say” kind of criticism. This is not much different from the evangelical “The Bible says.” Functionally, both are appeals to final authority, whose purpose is to end discussion. Note how the discussion in this thread has shifted from the actual argument at hand–namely, the claim that Christ assumed fallen human nature–to discussion whether the Church has already dogmatically settled the question. Once the final authority question has been raised, there doesn’t appear to be any way to get back to the far more interesting and important theological questions, like “What does it mean to say that God enfleshed himself in human nature?” and “Can God suffer in the flesh?” and “Did Jesus truly experience temptation?” and “Was the man Jesus omniscient?” It is, of course, important to know what the Fathers thought about these questions and to know why they reached the conclusions that they did. We may find that their arguments unpersuasive, perhaps because they did not have information available to them that we have today or perhaps because they really did not penetrate deeply into the question or whatever.

        I commend this article to you and the other readers of this blog: http://tinyurl.com/j6cxdfz

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tony says:

          Thank you Father. I do love Father Ted’s blog! Thank you for the link. I believe I have read that article before and find in it he makes many valid points.

          Like

  13. Dale Tuggy says:

    According to Hatzidakis, Jesus’s human nature has always been immortal. But surely any divine nature must be immortal yes? Doesn’t it follow that Jesus never died?

    Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Dale,

      Following Hatzidakis’ docetic construal, that conclusion would indeed follow. However, is it in accord with the theology of scripture, tradition, councils? I and others here suggest it fails conclusively.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tony says:

      Jesus’s human nature is not ‘by nature’ immortal. Jesus’ human nature is created, just as Adam’s and everyone who has ever lived. If Christ allows His human nature to feel hungry, then He can truly feel hungry, because of the nature of created His human flesh. If Christ allows pain, then He truly feels pain, because He has nerve endings and synopsis and pain receptors which fire off within a neural network of nervous tissue. The docetist argument people are making simply do not apply, and it is unfortunate because had they actually read the book, they might better understand.

      Christ’s human nature It is immortal because He is the Son of God, and the hypostatic union of the Word’s divine and human nature is what makes it immortal. Not by the created bodies inherent power, but but the theosis through participation with the uncreated divine energies of God.

      Jesus died, and He truly did, not because His deified body had too (for even Elijah has not died in the flesh), but because He allowed it to. He allowed His heart to fail and His lungs to fill with fluid (He who walked on water). He allowed the loss of blood to cause him to go into hypoperfusive shock (He who cured the woman with the issue of blood). He allowed His body to shut down (He who raised Lazarus 4 days dead). He Himself said:

      “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

      Jesus died completely, and just as every created human body does, because it was a true human body He assumed. But He did this not at the subjugation towards His created body, but rather, as the Lord of all things and the Fountain of life, through His divine will on account of His divine love.

      Like

      • Tony says:

        Forgive me for the many typographical and grammatical errors above. I hope the point is understood.

        Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Tony: “Jesus’s human nature is not ‘by nature’ immortal. Jesus’ human nature is created, just as Adam’s and everyone who has ever lived. If Christ allows His human nature to feel hungry, then He can truly feel hungry, because of the nature of created His human flesh. If Christ allows pain, then He truly feels pain, because He has nerve endings and synopsis and pain receptors which fire off within a neural network of nervous tissue. The docetist argument people are making simply do not apply, and it is unfortunate because had they actually read the book, they might better understand. Christ’s human nature It is immortal because He is the Son of God, and the hypostatic union of the Word’s divine and human nature is what makes it immortal. Not by the created bodies inherent power, but but the theosis through participation with the uncreated divine energies of God.”

        I was away from the computer for much of the day and so missed this exchange. Based on my reading of Jesus: Fallen? Tony has accurately presented Hatzadikis’s position: the prelapsarian human nature of Jesus is not naturally immortal but rather “becomes” immortal through the hypostatic union at the moment on conception. “Becomes” is probably not the right word to use, but it makes the point. Perhaps I was not as clear about this as I might have been in my two previous articles, and I thank Tony for the clarification.

        However, I stand by my claim that Hatzidakis’s position bears strong similarities to aphthartodocetism. I refer everyone back to St John Damascene’s description of the heresy as quoted in my previous article. Note how he distinguishes the position of Severus of Antioch from Julian of Halicarnassus: what he sees as being important is the fact that Julian and his followers teach “that the body of the Lord was incorruptible from the first instant of its formation. They also confess that the Lord endured suffering hunger, I mean, and thirst, and fatigue but they say that He did not suffer these in the same way that we do. For they say that we suffer these by physical necessity, while the Christ suffered them voluntarily and was not subject to the laws of nature.” This may not be identical to what Hatzidakis is saying—for one thing Julian was a monophysite and did not maintain a clear dyothelite distinction between Jesus’ divine and human wills—but the similarities remain striking nonetheless. To be fair, it must be noted Hatzidakis rejects the heresy of aphthartodocetism.

        What makes Hatzidakis’s position particularly problematic is his dogmatic claim that the conscious assent of the man Jesus, i.e., the free assent of his human will—was a precondition for the Incarnation and the subsequent sufferings. I personally find this nonsensical. Clearly Jesus could not humanly assent to anything until after he had taken human flesh. But this is the topic of my next posting, so stay tuned.

        Let’s also keep one other point in mind. Hatzidakis has advanced his interpretation of the teaching of the Orthodox Church so confidently that he is willing to accuse by name respected bishops and priests–in particular Met Kallistos Ware, Fr John Meyendorff, and Fr Patrick Reardon—as guilty of heresy. He therefore has a solemn duty to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that his interpretation of the teaching of the Orthodox Church accurately represents the authoritative teaching of the Orthodox Church. He does not come close.

        And Tony, I have read the book. If I have misunderstood Fr Hatzidakis at any point, it’s not for lack of trying to understand him.

        Like

        • Tony says:

          Father Aidan: “This may not be identical to what Hatzidakis is saying…”

          Your right, Father, that is not what Father Emmanuel is saying. He, along with St. John Damascene, reject the notion that Christ was not subject to the laws of nature. Christ most certainly was! But it was an allowance made by His divine will to be subject to the laws of nature. This slight difference is all of the world of difference between aphthartodocetism and what Father Emmanuel (and St. John Damascene) is saying. He explains this in the book. Respectfully, Father, I believe the charge of aphthartodocetism is being incorrectly applied.

          Father Aidan: “He therefore has a solemn duty to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that his interpretation of the teaching of the Orthodox Church accurately represents the authoritative teaching of the Orthodox Church. He does not come close.”

          How does one demonstrate this, beyond a reasonable doubt? This seems to lead us full circle to the question I was making earlier in this thread. Father Emmanuel does an excellent job in the book to demonstrate that a large number of Church Fathers expressed similar teachings which he posits, using numerous quotes, including from St. John Damascene. Having read the book, I am sure you would agree. What else, the , does he need to do in order to come close? Father John Meyendorff and Metropolitan Kallistos and godly men, but they are not infallible and they certainly don’t represent in themselves to be a consensus of the Fathers. Earlier in the thread I was told by someone to be cautious in attributing too much weight on Church Fathers. If I am to do that with those who are proclaimed Saints of the Church, should I not also apply that to modern Orthdox Christian writers and theologians, especially when they teach something with seems to be at odds with what has been handed down?

          Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Tony,

            My understanding of the incarnation is quite different, the consent to kenotic voluntary emptying of the eternal Logos happened before the incarnation. That is to say that the decision to suffer and submit to the innocent passions was beforehand voluntarily entered into, and are not decided case-by-case during Christ’s earthly journey. The ad hoc voluntarism of Hatzidakis position leads to a very strange , I would say schizophrenic humanity and person. The body needs to sweat, but needs to be given permission to do so. Jesus is hungry, but needs to be granted by the divine nature to eat something. (or is it the case that He’s really not hungry, but when he eats he only does so to appear that he does?) Perhaps this seems very natural and unproblematic to you, but it does not to me. This seems to me very counter to the hypostatic union as defined by the council of Chalcedon. In fact, I believe it turns Jesus’ humanity into a fantasy. So yes, from everything that I have gathered my assessment is that this is a form of aphthartodicetism, reducing Christ’s humanity to a mere shadow, overwhelmed by divinity. I don’t see what you have said mitigates it at all, it confirms rather my take on it. Jesus was really hungry, and He was really sleepy – He didn’t need permission to be so.

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            “You’re right, Father, that is not what Father Emmanuel is saying. He, along with St. John Damascene, reject the notion that Christ was not subject to the laws of nature. Christ most certainly was! But it was an allowance made by His divine will to be subject to the laws of nature. This slight difference is all of the world of difference between aphthartodocetism and what Father Emmanuel (and St. John Damascene) is saying. He explains this in the book. Respectfully, Father, I believe the charge of aphthartodocetism is being incorrectly applied.”

            Tony, let me see if I understand your objection and can state it to your satisfaction: the difference between Julian and Fr Emmanuel is that Julian believed that the prelapsarian body of Adam was created by God as naturally immortal, incorruptible, impassible. At the Fall it lost these properties—human nature was quite literally changed—and became mortal, corruptible, and passible. When the Logos became Man in the womb of Mary, he assumed human nature as it was originally created by God—immortal, incorruptible, impassible—but he freely and voluntarily allowed it to suffer that which was contrary to its prelapsarian nature, namely, mortality, corruptibility, and passibility.

            Does that sound right, so far?

            Like

  14. Dale says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Tony. I do see the force of Fr. Aiden’s objection, that this is substantially the condemned position. But leaving aside heresy concerns, my point was just this. Nothing can die while immortal, by definition. You clarified that his human nature is not essentially immortal, but only so because, and so long as the divine nature willingly makes it so. OK. So then, it is false that Christ’s human nature was always immortal. At some point, the divine nature as it were withdrew his support from the human nature, so that it (he?) could die. And now presumably the human nature has been made immortal again. Is that right?

    It is an odd christological picture, that Christ has to constantly will to be subject to laws of nature. He can’t then in any sense have death thrust upon him, against his will. He kills himself as much as he’s killed by others. Whatever the others do is ineffective till he wills to be subject. It starts to look like both a murder and a suicide… Such a being does not seem to be like us in all things except sin. Temptation becomes problematic too. Suppose he’s tempted to steal bread when hungry. We now have him deliberately inflicting the temptation upon himself, in a sense, as he is willingly bringing it about that he feels so hungry, and that this causes thoughts of stealing!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. elijahmaria says:

    I think that the objection against the charge of heresy is that human nature is NOT immortal, incorruptible, impassible by nature but rather by grace so that one does not need to assume a corrupted nature to have the blameless passions, or to be subject to corruption and death. The heretics presume something in Creation that was not there. Human nature is rather immortal, incorruptible, impassible by grace, which is lost to man at the time of the ancestral sin.

    Like

    • Mike H says:

      There are two primary things that I’ve been wrestling with as I think through the issues and read these thoughtful posts, both of which seemed to pop up in your succinct post here. I’ll go ahead and assume that I’m participating in some ancient heresy that I can’t pronounce, so I ask forgiveness in advance.

      1 – Is it necessary to posit “pre-fall” nature and grace against each other? As in “immortal by grace rather than by nature”? I mean that in all seriousness. Is it necessary? How do we divide things up? Perhaps what is most “natural” is a relationship of grace.

      2 – And so how are we to divvy up the human experience into “blameless passions” vs. those resulting from “corruption”? I don’t know what a prelapsarian humanity would look like and so I’ve no idea what Christ assumed. Given the scientific consensus – and I recognize that many won’t agree – I have become increasingly skeptical that there was a time within human history where humanity did not thirst, hunger, or suffer. Or physically die. Or experience pain in child birth. Or when sharks ate seaweed and there was nary a thistle in all the world.

      So I’m uncomfortable positing some time and place in which humanity existed as complete and fully created – immortal, incorruptible, impassible – whether by grace or by “nature”. If so, it lasted about 5 seconds. But if that was the case, why should there be a “fall” at all, or why shouldn’t we expect an infinite cycle of “falls” in the future? Even in this scenario something must have been incomplete. And so I feel more comfortable saying that humanity is only fully created in Christ – the True Human – as in “it is finished”.

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      • elijahmaria says:

        Your ruminations make me smile, Mike. I’ve dug out what I consider to be more than my fair share of Canadian thistles this year, accumulating wild blackberry bushes and thorn rich wild roses.

        I think in all fairness to my aging brain that I will address but one of your concerns. The reason that it is good, if not also necessary, to posit a pre-lapsarian human nature that is, by nature, prone to be fragile, friable, combustible, and prone to death, without grace, is to distinguish it from the divine nature that is impassible, immortal, and incorruptible, among other things, by nature. We are not divine. We are human. We are creatures and we need God without any shadow of a doubt, unless one is prone to some very serious doubts about all of this at which point I find myself at a total loss as to how to help or even whether to try. So that is my response to one of your concerns and I will generously leave the rest to others. Cheers!!….M.

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  16. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Mike: ‘1 – Is it necessary to posit “pre-fall” nature and grace against each other? As in “immortal by grace rather than by nature”? I mean that in all seriousness. Is it necessary? How do we divide things up? Perhaps what is most “natural” is a relationship of grace.’

    Perhaps for different reasons, I too am skeptical of all the speculation and mythologizing—and it is speculation and mythologizing—about the state of prelapsarian humanity, as if we have been given divine revelation about our condition and life before the Fall. We do not have any information about prelapsarian humanity. What we have is the revelation that God is Goodness and Life and therefore is not the creator of death. What we have is the revelation of authentic humanity in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Our theological reflections properly begins, in other words, with eschatology, not protology.

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    • Karen says:

      Father,
      Isn’t Genesis 1 & 2 something of a revelation of the nature of prelapsarian human nature? Namely, that it is created by God and in the image of God, it together with the rest of creation is “very good”, that man was given dominion by God over the rest of creation, and that he had communion with God in the Garden? Perhaps you could flesh out a bit better what you mean by “we do not have information about prelapsarian humanity?”

      I agree that–apart from our own theosis, perhaps–we have no experiential first-hand information about prelapsarian humanity.

      Karen

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Hi, Karen. I agree that we do in fact learn from Genesis 1 & 2 all of creatio is very good and that man is created in the image of God for communion with God. What I had in mind were the more speculative theories of some of the Fathers: e.g., did God introduce the gender distinction because he foresaw the Fall and therefore put into place plan B for the reproduction of the species?

        My concern is the failure of contemporary Orthodox theology to come to grips with our present knowledge of the cosmological origins (and conclusion) of the universe and the evolutionary development of life on this planet. I know for a fact that priests and theologians shy away from talking or writing on this topic because of fear they will be labelled modernists by the internet dogma police and even possibly disciplined by their bishops. I’m still waiting for an Orthodox version of the Scopes monkey trial.

        We are in a different place than were the Fathers. We do not know how they might have speculated about the prelapsarian condition of humanity if they knew then what we know today. If we are going to assert that God is not the author of death–and we must continue to assert this–then we need to integrate our (always provisional) scientific understanding of the universe into our theology and provide a compelling explanation of the presence of death, suffering, destruction in the world well before the creation/emergence of man on our planet. Some measure of demythologization has to happen, precisely so we can effectively proclaim today the catholic faith in its fullness.

        We can, of course, simply continue to assert that if Adam and Eve (are we talking about two historical individuals? did a real Eden really exist?) had never sinned, humanity would have become immortal within this physical universe. Okay. Maybe. I dunno. I’m thinking, e.g., of C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet: the sentient creatures of Malacandra are mortal but unfallen; they do not fear physical death. They embrace it as a necessary stage in their journey toward Maleldil. Can we imagine, are we permitted to imagine, that possibility for original humanity? I don’t know the answer; but I’m not embarrassed to admit that this is a problem for me, and I am dissatisfied with most of the Orthodox answers I have read.

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