Person of Christ

In Christology, the term Person of Christ (Ancient Greek: πρόσωπον, prosopon) refers to the study of personal (prosopic) characteristics of Jesus Christ as the second person of the Divine Trinity. Theological studies of Christ's person focus on the questions of personal (and hypostatic) union of his two natures (divine and human) as they co-exist within one person, and one hypostasis.[1] There is no direct discussion in the New Testament regarding the duality of natures within the Person of Christ, who is viewed as both divine and human.[1] Hence, since the early days of Christianity theologians have debated various approaches to the understanding of these questions.[1] In contrast to prevailing monoprosopic views on the Person of Christ, alternative dyoprosopic notions were also promoted by some theologians, but such views were rejected by the ecumenical councils.

Early church

From the 2nd century onward, the Christological approaches to defining the Person of Christ and how the human and divine elements interact and inter-relate resulted in debates among different Christian groups and produced schisms.[2][3]

In the period immediately following the Apostolic Age, specific beliefs such as Arianism and Docetism (polar opposites of each other) were criticized and eventually abandoned. Arianism which viewed Jesus as primarily an ordinary mortal was considered at first heretical in 325, then exonerated in 335 and eventually re-condemned as heretical at the First Council of Constantinople of 381. On the other end of the spectrum, Docetism argued that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, and that he was only a spiritual being. Docetic teachings were attacked by St. Ignatius of Antioch and were eventually abandoned by proto-orthodox Christians.[4][5]

However, after the First Council of Nicaea in 325 the Logos and the second Person of the Trinity were being used interchangeably.[6]

Debate between Alexandrian and Antiochian schools

Historically in the Alexandrian school of christology, Jesus Christ is the eternal Logos paradoxically humanized in history, a divine Person who became enfleshed, uniting himself to the human nature.[7] In contrast, the Antiochian school conceives of Jesus Christ as a complete human person with his own human nature mysteriously united at the moment of Incarnation to the eternal Logos and its divine nature.[7]

The views of these schools can be summarized as follows:[8]

  • Alexandria: Logos assumes a general human nature.
  • Antioch: Logos assumes a specific human being

The First Council of Ephesus in 431 debated a number of views regarding the Person of Christ. The council was called by Cyril of Alexandria at the request of Pope Celestine I who was unhappy with Nestorius, who had previously been a preacher in Antioch, and his view that regarded the Person of Christ as having human nature disjointed from his divine nature. At the same gathering the council also debated the doctrines of monophysitism (i.e., the Person of Christ having only one divine nature which absorbed the human nature into itself) or miaphysitism (i.e., Cyril's formulation, the Person of Christ having one post-Incarnate nature derived from human and pre-Incarnate divine natures). The council rejected Nestorianism (i.e., the Person of Christ being two nominally associated natures corresponding to independently operative, divine and human hypostases—two Sons superficially unified by the title "Christ"—though in the present day it is widely acknowledged that this characterization of Nestorius' own highly nuanced christology is inaccurate) and adopted the term hypostatic union, referring to divine and human natures united indivisibly at the Incarnation in the one hypostasis of the divine Logos. The language used in the 431 declaration was further refined at the 451 Council of Chalcedon.[9][10][11][12]

Adoption of the doctrine of hypostatic union

The Council of Chalcedon endorsed the Cyrillian concept of hypostatic union, stating that the human and divine natures of the Person of Christ co-exist, yet each remains distinct subsequent to the Incarnation, complete, and unaltered.[13][14] However, the Chalcedon creed was not accepted by all Christians. To date Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Reformed theology adhere to the Chalcedonian Definition, while many branches of Oriental Christianity such as West Syrian Orthodoxy, Coptic Orthodoxy, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodoxy, and Armenian Orthodoxy enthusiastically reject it as a betrayal of Cyril and of the Council of Ephesus.[14][15][16] Some in the Assyrian Church, the East Syrian defenders of Nestorius who separated over imperial ratification of the Ephesian Council, dispute the orthodoxy of Chalcedonian christology, while others recognize its affirmation of dyophysitism as consistent with and essentially aligned to the teachings of their own Syriac Fathers, Antiochian theologians such as Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus.

Because Saint Augustine died in 430 he did not participate in the Council of Ephesus in 431 or Chalcedon in 451, but his ideas had some impact on both councils.[17] On the other hand, the other major theological figure of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas, had much to say about the Person of Christ. In particular regarding the attributes of the union of the natures of Christ (as in Communicatio Idiomatum) Aquinas concluded that the union of the divine and the human in the Person of Christ is achieved in a manner that each maintains its own attributes.[18]

The Third Council of Constantinople in 680 held that both divine and human wills exist in Jesus, with the divine will having precedence, leading and guiding the human will.[19]

Reformation thought

John Calvin maintained that there was no human element in the Person of Christ which could be separated from the person of The Word.[20] Calvin also emphasized the importance of the "Work of Christ" in any attempt at understanding the Person of Christ and cautioned against ignoring the Works of Jesus during his ministry.[21]

Modern approaches

The study of the Person of Christ continued into the 20th century, with modern theologians such as Karl Rahner and Hans von Balthasar. Rahner pointed out the coincidence between the Person of Christ and The Word of God, referring to Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26 which state that whoever is ashamed of the words of Jesus is ashamed of the Lord himself.[22] Balthasar argued that the union of the human and divine natures of Christ was achieved not by the "absorption" of human attributes but by their "assumption". Thus in his view the divine nature of Christ was not affected by the human attributes and remained forever divine.[23]

See also

Further reading

  • The Person of Christ by John Owen 2001 ISBN 1-58960-067-3
  • The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod 1998 ISBN 0-8308-1537-6
  • The Person of Christ by Murray Rae, Stephen R. Holmes 2005 ISBN 0-567-03024-5


  1. 1 2 3 Introducing Christian Doctrine by Millard J. Erickson, L. Arnold Hustad 2001 ISBN page 234
  2. Editors, Erwin Fahlbusch (1999), The encyclopedia of Christianity, Leiden, Netherland: Brill, p. 463, ISBN 0-8028-2413-7
  3. Rausch, Thomas P. (2003), Who is Jesus? : an introduction to Christology, Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, p. 149, ISBN 0-8146-5078-3
  4. Ehrman, Bart D. (1993), The Orthodox corruption of scripture: the effect of early Christological controversies on the text of the New Testament, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-510279-6
  5. McGrath, Alister E. (2007), Christian theology : an introduction, Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, p. 282, ISBN 1-4051-5360-1
  6. A concise dictionary of theology by Gerald O'Collins 2004 ISBN 0-567-08354-3 pages 144-145
  7. 1 2 Karl Barth's christology by Charles T. Waldrop 1985 ISBN 90-279-3109-7 pages 19-23
  8. Historical Theology: An Introduction by Geoffrey W. Bromiley 2000 ISBN 0567223574 pages 50-51
  9. The creed: the apostolic faith in contemporary theology by Berard L. Marthaler 2007 ISBN 0-89622-537-2 page 114
  10. Mary and the Saints by James P. Campbell 2005 0829417257 pages 17-20
  11. Essential theological terms by Justo L. González 2005 ISBN 0-664-22810-0 page 120
  12. Doctrine and practice in the early church by Stuart George Hall 1992 ISBN 0-8028-0629-5 pages 211-218
  13. The acts of the Council of Chalcedon by Council of Chalcedon, Richard Price, Michael Gaddis 2006 ISBN 0-85323-039-0 pages 1-5
  14. 1 2 An Episcopal dictionary of the church by Donald S. Armentrout, Robert Boak Slocum 2005 ISBN 0-89869-211-3 page 81
  15. An introductory dictionary of theology and religious studies by Orlando O. Espín, James B. Nickoloff 2007 ISBN 0-8146-5856-3 page 217
  16. Sourcebook of the world's religions by Joel Diederik Beversluis 2000 ISBN 1-57731-121-3 pages 21-22
  17. Augustine by Mary T. Clark 2005 ISBN 0-8264-7659-7 page 65
  18. Summa Theologiae: Volume 49, The Grace of Christ: 3a. 7-15 by Thomas Aquinas, Liam G. Walsh 2006 ISBN 0-521-02957-0 page 103
  19. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology by Alan Richardson and John Bowden (Jan 1, 1983) ISBN 0664227481 page 169
  20. Calvin's Christology by Stephen Edmondson 2004 ISBN 0-521-54154-9 page 217
  21. Calvin's First Catechism by I. John Hesselink 1997 ISBN 0-664-22725-2 page 217
  22. Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0-86012-006-6 page 1822
  23. The eschatology of Hans Urs von Balthasar by Nicholas J. Healy 2005 ISBN 0-19-927836-9 pages 22-23


  • Chesnut, Roberta C. (1978). "The Two Prosopa in Nestorius' Bazaar of Heracleides". The Journal of Theological Studies (29): 392–409. JSTOR 23958267. 
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