Christian Or Heretic – The Results!

We live in a religious culture that has become dominated by the conception that in order to be Christian, all you need to do is say you love God, clap your hands and rejoice occasionally, and that’s all there is to it. Where actual knowledge of the nature Christ has become optional – even, in some cases, frowned upon.

Well no, it’s not quite as simple as that. Because questions of theology actually matter, and an Incorrect understanding (ie heresy) prevents proper understanding of the Word of God, placing a barrier between us and God. It is for this reason that for most of Christian history, if you rejected basic, fundamental tenants of the faith, you were not considered part of the Church of Christ. Sure, there were differences of opinion, but there were certain core doctrines that in order to be a Christian, you had to accept.

It was in this vein that I put up my “Christian or Heretic” quiz the other day. Now, I’ll admit that it was done in somewhat of a hurry, and some of the questions could have been worded better, but, ultimately, anyone with a basic understanding of Christianity ought to have gotten them all correct. None of them should have been controversial. All are accepted without question by the Orthodox Communion, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican/Episcopalian Communion, Lutherans, Calvanists, and other mainstream Protestant Churches. Sure, some might place emphasis slightly differently here and there, but at the end of the day, none of these are In question if you consider yourself a mainstream Christian.

Yet, 90% of self-professed Christians fell into heresy (and I use the term heresy in its most technical sense) on at least one question.

This is rather disturbing, because, whilst the questions might initially seem abstract, they are in effect at the core of the message of salvation. The reason for this is simple. If humans are to share in God’s glory, if they are to be perfectly one with God, this means in effect that humans must be what the Orthodox call ‘deified’: they are called to become by grace what God is by nature (other Churches phrases this somewhat differently, but the point is effectively the same). Accordingly,  St. Athanasius summed up the purpose of the Incarnation by saying “God became human that we might be made God”. Now if this ‘being made God’ is to be possible, Christ the Saviour must be both fully God and fully human. No one less than god can save humanity; therefore if Christ is to save, He must be God. But only if He is truly human, as we are, can we humans participate in what He has done for us. A bridge is formed between God and humanity by the Incarnate Christ who is divine and human at once. As such, misunderstanding the nature of Christ has serious consequences as to how Salvation is to occur. It is precisely because this is so important that the Orthodox & Catholic Churchs recite the Nicene Creed every liturgy, which spells out the answers to almost all of these questions (the Anglican communion usually uses the creed of St. Athanasius, which, to all intents and purposes, is identical on these questions)

With this in mind, let us look at the questions (I should note that some of my comments are taken from Met. Kallistos Ware). I have also inserted the percentages of self-described Christians (taking away the few obvious joke responses, and also ‘don’t knows’) in the test who got an answer “wrong”.

Jesus was a divine being created by God the Father at some point, before which the Son did not exist: FALSE: Arianism (21% incorrect)

I must concede,  I am somewhat surprised even anyone got this wrong, for I would have thought all Christians would be aware that Christ was eternal, and to deny this  makes Christ less than God, and unbalances the Trinity.

By saying that Christ was created at a point in time, it says that the Son was inferior to the Father, and draws a dividing line between God and creation. The effect of making Christ less than God is  to render impossible human salvation for only if Christ is truly God, can he unite us to God, for none but God Himself can open to humans the way of union. This is why Christians believe Christ is ‘one in essence’ with the Father. He is no demigod or superior create, but God in the same sense that the Father is God.”

(Also, this is why we say he is “begotten not created”)

Jesus could not have had a human mind; rather, he had a human body and emotions but a Divine mind. FALSE: Apollinarianism (29% incorrect)

For reasons that I will go into in more detail a bit later (sorry, I got them in the wrong order somewhat), Christ is both fully God and fully human.

Jesus Christ, who is not identical with the Son but personally united with the Son, who lives in him, is one being and one nature: human FALSE: Nestorianism (14% incorrect)

Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to the incarnate Christ, but not to the divine “Logos” who existed before Mary and indeed before time itself FALSE: Nestorianism (60% incorrect)

The two preceding statements both effectively say the same thing: that Christ’s humanity was separate from his Divinity, and that Mary gave birth only to the human side. If this were true, there would be two persons coexisting in the same body. This so divides Christ’s humanity from His Godhead that he becomes two persons, instead of one – it effectively splits Christ in half.

Rather, Jesus (the human) is identical to The Son. Furthermore, if such a split occurs, Mary can no longer be called the Mother of God, as she is the mother only of Christ’s humanity, not of His divinity. In contrast, most mainstream Christian churches teach that Mary was indeed God’s mother, and that she bore not a man loosely united to God, but a single and undivided person, who is God and man at once. In doing so, it safeguards the unity of Christ’s person: to deny calling Mary the Mother of God would separate the Incarnate Christ into two, which would break down the bridge between God and humanity, and erect within Christ’s person a middle wall of partition. As such, this concerns the very message of salvation.

(I am slightly surprised that so many persons got the second part of this wrong)

Christ has only one nature, his humanity being absorbed by his Deity. False: Monophysitism (28% incorrect)

Jesus Christ, who is identical with the Son, is one person and one hypostas (being) in one nature: divine-human False: Monophysitism (66% incorrect)

In contrast to nestorianism, which effectively splits Christ into two, Monophysitism swung too far in the opposite direction, and this concept, stated that in the person of Jesus Christ the human nature was absorbed into the divine nature like a cube of sugar dissolves in a cup of water, creating a ‘new’ united nature, and effectively denies Christ’s humanity.

In contrast, in mainstream Christianity, whilst Christ is a single undivided person, he still has two natures – human and Divine. And it is critical that he retains both natures so that, as stated in the Tome of Pope Leo the Great “one and the same mediator between God and humanity the man Christ Jesus, could both on the one hand die and on the other be incapable of death. Thus was true God born in the undiminished and perfect nature of a true man, complete in what is his and complete in what is ours”. As such, Christ retains his humanity, so that we may be saved through Him.

Jesus was both truly God and truly man; consubstantial with both God the Father, and with mankind: True (5% incorrect)

Jesus has two unchangeable, inseparable, indivisible natures: TRUE (25% incorrect)

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are “of one being” in that the Son is “born before all ages or “eternally” of the Father’s own being: TRUE (10% incorrect)

These are three classic definitions/statements of the nature of Christ.

Jesus had two natures, but only one will (Divine): FALSE Monothelitism (33% incorrect)

If Christ has two natures, then He must have two wills. In saying He has only one will, it impairs the fullness of Christ’s humanity, since human nature without a human will would be incomplete: Since Christ is true man as well as true God, He must have a human as well as divine will.

And there you have it.

I think I explained the reasons behind the answers adequately, but feel free to hit me up with any questions if I explained anything incorrectly (or, in my own ignorance, got something wrong myself!). When I have a bit more time, I’ll try to do some cross-tab analysis.

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10 Responses to “Christian Or Heretic – The Results!”

  1. Tim Andrews Says:

    My dearest Mr. Thomson,
    I certainly understand how galling it must be for you – who is studying a Doctorate in Patristics at Oxford, to have made so fundamental an error. The shame you must be feeling is quite palpable. Rather than to make excuses, however, I would counsel you to simply examine your faith in more detail, and accept the limitations and frailties of your own intellect. Perhaps another reading of St. John of the Ladder might be in order.
    As always, I shall pray for you.

  2. Tim Andrews Says:

    (On a more serious note though, your comments on the differing views on conception are somewhat interesting; I shall look into them more)

  3. Ben Says:

    I agree with your basic argument – knowledge is important. On the other hand, I wondered how an everyday person would cope with your questions. Most children wouldn’t pass your test – so would that disqualify them from a relationship with God too? Yet, Jesus said we are to be more like them. And, did the New Testament sell terms like “consubstantial”? No – because it is post-biblical Latin.

    As a Protestant, I’m attracted to the simplicity of the New Testament. The point I’m trying to make (so clumsily) is that by their fruits (not man’s Q & A tests) we should know them.

    That said, one must have some knowledge in order to know what fruits are, and so your overall point is strong. On the other side, it is also important to stress that knowledge didn’t save the Pharisees (lol).

  4. Tim Andrews Says:

    Ben – fair points. Of course knowledge isn’t everything, but it certainly helps! And when we reach adulthood, I think that actually understanding the nature of Christ – something that isn’t all that difficult – is something we should all be able to do.

  5. Ben P. Says:

    Tim, I’m curious about this deification process. Can you tell me more?

  6. Tim Andrews Says:

    Ben P – as I noted in my post, this is language used more by the Orthodox Church than in the “west” (although the point is pretty much identical). However, I assume you’re more interested in the Orthodox perspective than more generic ones, so you’ll get that.
    essentially, for the Orthodox Church, the aim of Christian life can be described in terms of deification – the human ought to strive to become as a God; and the final goal at which every Christian must aim is to attain deification.
    The idea behind this is that each human was made according to the image of god, and, just as the 3 persons of the Trinity dwell in one another, so we humans, made in the image of the Trinity, are called to “dwell” in God.
    So essentially there is a personal and organic union between God and Humans – god dwelling in us, and we in Him. And through Christ, this union can occur.
    (I woulc clarify here though that this idea must be understood in the light of hte distinction between god’s essense and His enegries – Union with God means union with His energies, not the divine Essense!)
    (I’m also quoting liberally from Ware here)

    Make any sense?

  7. Ben Says:

    Agreed. Thanks for the clarification too.

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  9. martin english Says:

    from memory, I got the three “These are three classic definitions/statements of the nature of Christ” questions right. I don’t think its a stretch to say that if you got these right, then applied some logic, then I SHOULD have got the others right as well.

    I don’t think I did though

  10. Simon Says:

    Tim, thanks for this exercise, how interesting!

    “Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to the incarnate Christ, but not to the divine “Logos” who existed before Mary and indeed before time itself”

    It looks like I’ve fallen, inter alia, into the nestorianist heresy; however, unlike the others, where I see the error of my ways, for this one, I don’t understand the answer. Your statement above seems to be consistent with the scriptures.. alas, I don’t understand.

    Does orthodoxy say that Logos came into existence at the birth of Jesus? How can that be so if we understand that logos was in the beginning with God, and through logos all things were made? My understanding is that Jesus was the Son incarnate, the logos made flesh – who at birth laid aside certain aspects of his divinity to become fully man and yet fully God. It seems to me that at resurrection he reclaimed all the fullness of logos, “and sits at the right hand… “. Hmmm I must say, I do not understand.

    Help!

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