From the earliest beginnings of the church, Christian writers have recognized a close connection between Christology and soteriology. Building on St. Cyril of Alexandria’s understanding of two prosopon in one hypostatic union, Maximus the Confessor argues that for mankind to be saved from their sins, humanity and deity must reside in the incarnate God. This is the idea I will explore in my discussion on the 2nd Article of the 39 Articles of Religion. To start from the beginning of this series, please click here.
II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.
Prior to Christ’s death, the presence of God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the temple that only the high priest could enter once a year when making an atonement for the sins of Israel. After the veil over the Holy of Holies ripped in two through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, God’s presence has been made known to the whole world. St. Cyril draws out this point when he writes, “Although the Word tabernacled among us, it is also said that in Christ ‘dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily’; but we understand that he became flesh, not just as he is said to dwell in the saints, but we define that that tabernacling in him was according to equality.” (Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius)
What Cyril means by “according to equality” is at the heart of his Christology. Christ, as the incarnate Logos, united within himself God and man—two natures, one person. He denies the argument that the two natures are an equality of honor only, pointing out that Peter and John were equal in honor yet two separate persons. In Christ, one nature is fully man, the other fully God, yet they are united as one person and not two. When Christ came to earth through the virgin womb of Mary, he did not just put on a skin suit. He became man by taking on the nature and reasonable soul of man.
Nestorius argues against Cyril’s equality of two natures and attacks the idea of a passable God. He rejects the idea that God could be born or suffer “as though what belonged to God the Word by nature had been destroyed by his conjunction with his temple or as though people considered it not enough that the sinless temple, which is inseparable from the divine nature, should have endured birth and death for sinners.” (Nestorius’ Second Letter to Cyril)
Maximus the Confessor confronts Nestorius’s separation of natures with regards to salvation. If the Logos is not human, then he cannot be the first fruits of our race. If he is not the first fruits of our race, then he cannot redeem our race. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (I Cor. 15:20) First fruits were the earliest gathered grains of crops. Moses instructed the Israelites to offer their first fruits on the day after the Sabbath following the Passover. (Hint: this was the same day that Jesus Christ was resurrected.) The term first fruits signifies that the first sheaf of the forthcoming grains will be followed by the rest of the sheaves, “unifying by grace the whole lump.” (Maximus, Opuscule 7) Also, if the Logos is not God, then we unite ourselves to a man only and not to the divine, and the sacrifice was of a man only and not the one with the divine power to save humans. By being both human and divine, united into one, the Logos bridged humanity and divinity.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said to Nathanael, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Jn 1:51) These words call to mind Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28:12. In Genesis, the angels ascended and descended on the ladder in Jacob’s dream. As Cyril notes, in John, the angels ascended and descended on the Christ, the ladder between heaven and earth. He did this by assuming flesh and blood while remaining as he is—God. When Jacob woke from his dream, he called the place Bethel and set up a stone on which he prophesied would be God’s house—the corner stone for the temple that, for the Israelites, was the temporary gateway between heaven and earth to meet God, just as Christ is the permanent corner stone and gateway between heaven and earth where God resides.