(Part 3) Theologizing the Person of Christ in the Fourth Century: Logos-Sarx Christology

In the first part of his book, Christ in Christian Tradition, Aloys Grillmeier’s main position is that the Christology leading up to the Council of Nicaea was predominantly a Logos-sarx principle. On the two polar extremes of this Christology were the Arians and the Apollinarians, who exhibited the failures of this interpretation because of their unwillingness to appreciate the full divinity or full humanity of Christ. Both also insisted that Christ did not have a human soul, suggesting that Jesus’ body was the only element that Christ shared with humanity. Throughout this period, orthodoxy remained silent in affirming Jesus’ human soul because of the early church’s inability to see its soteriological implications. In the end, the Logos-sarx Christology of the third and fourth centuries saw the greatest influx of Hellenistic ideas into Christian tradition. The author’s method of argumentation is inductive in nature that provides a study of orthodox and heretical documents from the patristic era. Grillmeier presents the evolution of Christology from its emphasis on the one God and his divine Logos, to the relationship that this Logos had to human flesh, and finally to an understanding of the historical influences of Logos-sarx expressions. Grillmeier begins with a treatment of Eusebius and Lactantius (chap. 1) before discussing the views of Arius (chap. 2) and his influence on the Council of Nicaea’s understanding of the incarnation (chap. 3).

Grillmeier begins with a brief overview of the rise and influence of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata, who developed christological heresies that would inspire several harsh and persistent reactions by orthodox Christians. In this fight for proper Christology, the church expressly rejected the concept that the Father created the Logos, which emphasized the eternality of Christ and the Son’s procession from the divine substance of the Father. Directing his attention to Eusebius of Caesarea, Grillmeier explains that subordinationism was a dominant christological characterization in the early church of which Eusebius was the last great non-heretical subordinationist. Rather than stress the procession of the Son, Eusebius stressed the inherent divine nature of the Father and the derived Godhood that the Son received from the Father, making the Son subordinate in both nature and sovereignty. As in Middle Platonism, the Logos acted as the mediator between God and creation. While rejecting the idea that the Father eternally begot the Son, Eusebius denied that the Son was a created being.

Eusebius’ understanding of the incarnation was the same as other Logos-sarx Christologies, suggesting that Christ’s human flesh was only a temple or housing structure for the divine Logos. The implication was that Christ did not possess a human soul. The body was completely animated and divinized by the Logos. During his crucifixion and burial, the Logos left the body and returned only at the resurrection. For Eusebius, assuming Christ was part of the same substance as the Father meant that the Father also suffered and died (“patripassianism”). Similarly, believing that Jesus had a human soul would make him a mere mortal with no divine substance. Eusebius did not have a concept of two natures in a single person. He eventually became a “homoiousian,” believing that Jesus’ divine nature was only similar to but not identical with the Father’s nature.

The church father Lactantius, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by Platonic-Hermetic-Gnostic philosophy. Concluding the same procession-subordinationist Christology, Lactantius developed a “spirit christology” that essentially merged the Logos with the Holy Spirit into a form of binitarianism. Here, the incarnation involved the formation of a heavenly flesh added to a subordinationist nature, speculating that the Father brought forth the Son by an act of the will, as opposed to the Son having eternally co-existed with the Father. His understanding of the incarnation is ambiguous about Jesus’ human soul but is implicitly a Logos-sarx conception that believed the Logos was merely clothed or garbed in human flesh. Ultimately, Lactantius viewed Christ as a “middle being” between the supreme Father and creation.

Grillmeier then explores the Christology of two lesser-known fathers, Asterius the Sophist and Aphrahat the Persian sage. With Asterius, Jesus did not lose his divine power, omnipotence, or omnipresence during his passion. With Aphrahat’s writings, historians are able to view the Christology of a branch of Christianity outside the Greek and Latin churches. Asserting that Jesus was both God and Creator, he still had a subordinationist Christology derived apart from Hellenistic influences.

In chapter two, the author directs his attention to the period of classical Logos-sarx Christology and its relation to the second generation of Arianism. Grillmeier explains that Arius desired to solve the subordinationist problems of earlier theological interpretations. Influenced by Middle Platonism and Neo-Platonism, Arius’ brand of monad theism reintroduced Christ as a created demiurge with a subordinate nature to the Father who was capable of sinning. Rather than believe that the Son was also the divine Logos, Arius remarked that only the Father possesses essential Wisdom and created the Son to be an intermediary to the rest of creation. One of his christological opponents was Gregory Thaumaturgus, who stressed the trinitarian equality and distinction of the Godhead. Making Christ co-equal in nature to the Father, Gregory aided the church in overcoming its subordinationist tendencies. He argued the exact opposite of Arius’ plural hypostases, which Gregory said divided and alienated the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from each other.

To understand the spread and eventual destruction of Logos-sarx Christology, Grillmeier first describes its extreme heretical form in Arianism. For Arians, the divine Logos conjoined itself to human flesh without a human soul, though orthodoxy did not yet realize the importance of refuting this belief. Thus, Nicaea did not discuss whether Christ had a human soul or not. In the Logos-sarx Christology, the Logos provided all of the psychical animation and spiritual life to the human Jesus. In order to maintain a Middle Platonic understanding of the world, Arianism’s ontological conception of Christ made him subordinate to God but higher than the angels. Grillmeier’s main contention is that the consistent stream of Logos-sarx Christology and its connection to subordinationism within the church resulted in Arius conceiving of Christ as a creature.

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