Mixing and Blending: The Orthodox Recipe for Theanthropos


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

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

Apollinarius also invoked the language of mixture to describe the Incarnation:

O new creation and God-spoken mixture! God and flesh made up one and the same nature! (frag. 10)

The man is not able to save the world while remaining subject to the destruction common to men. But we are not saved by a God without him being mixed with us. He mixes by becoming flesh, that is, a man, as the Gospel says, when he became flesh, then he tented among us. (frag. 93)

Note how Apollinarius can speak of the incarnate Christ as possessing one nature. Because he conceives of the divine Word as functioning as the directing principle of Jesus, instead of a human mind, Apollinarius thinks of Jesus as possessing only a divine nature. Quite liter­ally and non-paradoxically, God walks on earth dressed in a physical form. His human body is the Word’s passive instrument. To speak of the one divine nature of Christ is therefore the most accurate way to speak of the Lord’s primary identity.

The language of mixing and blending would later be proscribed by the Council of Chalcedon as inappropriate to express the mystery of the hypostatic union; “yet for Gregory,” as Christopher Beeley explains, “such terms helpfully convey the dynamic unifying movement of the incarnation and the mysteriously intimate union of God with humanity in Christ.”1 Gregory protects himself from misunderstanding in two ways:

First, by insisting that the incarnate Son is a composite being. Human nature (including, most critically, a human mind) is not absorbed into deity, much as the Borg might assimilate the various races and peoples of the galaxy into its alien cybernetic collective. In Jesus Christ divinity and humanity perfectly coalesce and interpenetrate without in any way annulling or eradicating the other. As Kenneth Paul Wesche explains:

In contrast to Apollinaris and the Antiochenes, the union of God and man in Christ κατ’ ούσίαν is simply for Gregory an affirmation that when man himself comes in contact with God him­self his nature is not destroyed: rather, it is truly made human. In other words, man does not cease to be man, but in fact becomes truly man only in communion with God. In the Incarnation, God can indeed assume a full human nature, including the human nous, without there having to be some kind of barrier erected between the two natures in order to protect the integrity of the humanity.2

In the theanthropic union human existence retains its creaturely integrity.

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

The one whom you now scorn was once above you. The one who is now human was once incomposite. What he was, he continued to be; what he was not, he assumed. In the beginning he existed without cause, for what is the cause of God? But later on he was born for a cause—namely that you might be saved, who insult him and despise his Divinity because he took upon himself your thickness, associating with flesh through the intermediary of a [human] mind, and being made a human being who is God on earth, since [human existence] was blended with God and he was born as a single entity, because the One who is more powerful prevailed [over his assumed humanity], so that he might be made divine to the same extent that he was made human. (Or. 29.19)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, Gregory also tends to speak of Christ as possessing one divine nature, a choice that will have enormous repercussions in later centuries. Gregory’s preference for single-nature expressions reflects the crucial asymmetry that exists between God and humanity in Christ. Because the nature of the divine Son is radically transcendent of creation, the composi­tion of divinity and humanity is not like a mixture of two similar types of things like different ingredients in a food recipe, which the common term “natures” could suggest. Gregory’s practice of speaking of Christ’s one divine nature also emphasizes that Christ is fundamentally divine—he is “God made visible” to those who are able to perceive his true identity (Or. 30.20); and it reinforces the idea that Christ never exists as a human being independent of the life of the divine Son. While it is also possible to speak of Christ as pos­sess­ing two natures, in Gregory’s view it is less desirable. When Gregory does speak of Christ’s two natures, it is almost always to express the two different things from which Christ is composed, after which he has become “one thing” (Or. 37.2). Otherwise, the distinction between two natures in the incarnate Christ is possible only through human abstraction, like differentiating a human soul from its body (Or. 30.8). The confession that Christ possesses a single, divine nature expresses his most fundamental identity; and in doing so it reiterates the basic rationale and saving purpose of the incarnation: the divine Son’s union and mixture of fallen human existence within his eternal, divine life in order to heal and save it.3

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

(7 October 2013; rev.)

Footnotes

[1] Christopher Beeley, The Unity of Christ, p. 187. Also see Christopher Beeley, “Gregory of Nazianzus on the Unity of Christ,” in In the Shadow of the Incarnation (2008), pp. 97-120.

[2] Kenneth Paul Wesche, “The Union of God and Man in Jesus Christ in the Thought of Gregory of Nazianzus,” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 28.2 (1984): 93.

[3] Beeley, p. 188.

(Go to “Apollinarian Nonsense”)

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

  1. My reading of Sergei Bulgakov leads me to the same thought in different language. The incarnate Christ is a single, concrete person, while the dual natures, wills, energies, etc. are abstractions that exist only to the extent they are abstracted from the one incarnate Christ. Abstractions have no independent reality. The miaphysites are correct in that the strict dualism of Chalcedonic Christology leaves a space for Nestorianism, but only if we treat the dual natures, wills, energies, etc. as concrete realities instead of theoretical, notional abstractions.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Kristofer,

      I am quite sure the Chalcedonian fathers would sign off on nature, will, energy as “notional, theoretical”. This needs some clarification. Surely your will is not theoretical, your human nature merely notional, your activities abstractions, no?

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      • KRISTOFER CARLSON says:

        Everything begins with the person. A person has a nature, but the nature is not the person. A person has a will, but the will is not the person. This is clear from the dogma regarding the Holy Trinity. The three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a divine nature, but the divine nature does not exist apart from the three persons. Thus we can speak of divinity as an abstract concept, but that concept has no meaning or existence apart from the tri-hypostatic union.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I don’t think we can juxtapose person against nature in such terms of abstraction (concept, noumenon) Kristofer, I certainly don’t think Chalcedon did at any rate. The person of the Father is no less or more abstract (or concrete for that matter) than is His nature. Perhaps you are meaning to say that nature, will, energy cannot be thought of as discrete from person? The reality of the natures is no less upheld than is the person by Chalcedon (one could say, that was precisely the point of the council – to say that the natures human and divine are very real and must be acknowledged “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably.” To reduce these to mere abstractions, concepts, names, this would, I surmise, be the very anthesis of Chalcedon.

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  2. Robert Fortuin says:

    would *NOT* sign off

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  3. Robert Fortuin says:

    This is a worthwhile topic – what is the unifying principle, the locus of unity, in Jesus the Theanthropos? The question then further pushes us on to ask – what do we mean by this very common term “person”?

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    • KRISTOFER CARLSON says:

      St. Sophrony preferred the Greek term hypostasis to the English term person, which is tied too closely to the modern concept of the individual. In his book “His Life is Mine”, he writes: “The revelation of God as I AM THAT I AM proclaims the personal character of the Absolute God which is the core of His life. To interpret this revelation the Fathers adopted the philosophical term hypostasis, which first and foremost conveys actuality and can be applied to things, to man or to God. In many instances it was used as a synonym for essence. (Substance is the exact Latin translation.)”

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes it is the unrepeatable, unique subject which is held to account. It’s the very basis of jurisprudence as we know it. What is this “I” that makes it “I” and not “you”? It’s the of identity, but also of difference, and of unity. Is it synonymous with being, existence? What makes it personal in contrast to a non-personal existence? Can we reduce person to consciousness?

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        • KRISTOFER CARLSON says:

          @Robert Fortuin, I am neither theologian nor philosopher, so there is no reply I can provide that would be satisfactory. All I can say is that 1) a rock exists, but is not a person, and 2) consciousness is an attribute of personhood, but personhood does not require consciousness (for example, coma patients.) My recommendation would be to sign up for David Bently Hart’s substack: . As an alternative, you could read some of his books.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I was just merely attempting to stimulate reflection on this topic. The questions and answers that present us are not so simple. So one could ask “what then is consciousness?”. It appears to me any effort to reduction is dangerously defective. Can we reduce things merely to “person” when consider a human being (or God)? When we invoke person, do we then not also invoke will, desire, intentionality, and physical existence? Additionally, one can (or should) ask “why start with ‘person’ and not ‘nature’?” This is not a foregone conclusion that it is self evident that we start with person, hypostasis. A case could be made, as many have, that ousia or nature, substance is more fundamental than the particular hypostatic instance.

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  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I made two minor changes to the text and footnotes. Can you identify them?

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  5. brian says:

    Robert, your provocative questions require stamina and contemplative resources I cannot properly share at the moment. I do think Person is both more ultimate and implicitly more fundamental, though the question is an abstraction, because one never finds Hypostasis apart from nature and there never could be a person lacking a nature. If you focus on uniqueness, singularity, what is incommunicable, then you are obviously not attending primarily to a common nature. The flourishing of a nature always points beyond itself, is excessive to ousia as it invokes the “dramatic” non-repeatability of relations that cannot be the subject of general metaphysics. None of that amounts to reductionism, though I suppose there are versions of personalism that could go there. That doesn’t happen if you understand the archetype of Personhood to be Triune life.

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