1. Chalcedonian Categories for the Gospel Narrative

JITP.jpgSanders, Fred and Klaus Issler, eds.

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology

Nashville, TN: B&H, 2007. Pp. xii + 244. Paper. $24.99.

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Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective is a collection of six essays from a group of interdisciplinary scholars which seeks to set Christology in its proper Trinitarian perspective, as the title maintains.  Each essay is capable of standing on its own, but one of the editors, Fred Sanders says: “the chapters have been carefully calibrated and arranged so that taken together they reinforce one another and develop a coherent line of argument regarding the person and work of the incarnate Son.” [p. 37]  Each chapter opens with a brief summary, three axioms for Christological study, and a list of key terms.

In the introductory essay, Sanders makes his case that in order to frame an adequate Christology, we must work within the confines of Chalcedonian categories.  He says that: “Chalcedon already provides us with Christology in trinitarian perspective, and makes no sense without presupposing the Trinity.” [p. 15]  This is very true.  All throughout the chapter Sanders notes the importance of these Chalcedonian categories in understanding the incarnation and the work of salvation.  Early on in the chapter he states:

Though the body of Christian truth is made up of a great many doctrines, perhaps hundreds of them, there are only three great mysteries at the very heart of Christianity: the atonement, the incarnation, and the Trinity. All the lesser doctrines depend on these great central truths, derive their significance from them, and spell out their implications. [p. 8]

I couldn’t agree more.  Sanders then takes the reader through the first five ecumenical councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantimople II), noting the heresies that were being combatted (i.e., Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism) and the response to them in the various creeds.  He then spends a few pages arguing for the usefulness and validity of anhypostatic/enhypostatic Christology (which can largely be attribted to Cyril of Alexandria).  He notes that while these technical terms were not used at the fifth council (Constantimople II), they are accurate to summarize the heart of the council’s theology.

Sanders position is best summed up in his own words:

Is the human nature of Christ , therefore also a human person? The Christology we are considering gives a twofold answer. On the one hand, the human nature of Jesus Christ is in fact a nature joined to a person, and therefore enhypostatic, or personalized. But the person to who personalizes the human nature of Christ is not a created human person (like all other persons personalizing the other human natures we encounter); rather it is the eternal second person of the Trinity. So the human nature of Christ is personal, but with a personhood from above. Considered in itself, on the other hand, and abstracted from its personalizing by the eternal person of the Son, the human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anhypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son). [p. 31]

Sanders acknowledges that this might be taken as a subtle form of Apollinarianism, but notes that the fathers of the fifth century anticipated this charge and safeguarded against it by issuing an anathema to anyone who would charge Cyril of writing opinions like those of Apollinarius.

Sanders closes the chapter by giving a brief description of the essays to follow, all of which sound fascinating in their own right.  He notes that each chapter begins with three axioms for the study of Christology that are to each be accepted by the reader, even if following them leads to different conclusions than those reached by the authors.  He then lists 6 study questions which help the reader to really retain the information they have just read.

All in all, this was a very well-written, semi-technical essay, and one that has me looking forward to those that follow.  In terms of this being an introductory Christology, I’d imagine that they have the seminarian in mind, as in my opinion, this is a bit too advanced for someone with little to no knowledge of Christology as it has unfolded throughout Church history.

B”H

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