You Really Ought To Know About
The Christological Controversies
Christianity was not born into a Christian world. Students educated in generations of Sunday Schools did not greet the spread of Christianity. Instead, especially in lands previously influenced by Greek culture, the Gospel spread into minds that had been dominated by secular philosophy.
Philosophically-educated minds did not comfortably accommodate the Christian Jesus. As Paul explained, "The Greeks search(ed) for wisdom," and found "foolishness" in the preaching of Christ (I Cor. 1: 22-23). Why? Their secular logic just could not accept that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:14).
Still, Christianity spread broadly - but shallowly. As the Gospel spread out of caves and into cathedrals, eventually becoming the state religion of Rome, many converts were essentially unconverted "in the spirit of (their) minds" (Eph. 4:23). They truly liked the idea of forgiveness, but the foundational truths wrankled them, and even contradicted their secular rationality. Finding a happy place for grace, they found no place in their thinking for Christ as 100% God and also as 100% man.
Creativity followed - someone has said that creativity is the mother of apostasy. Rejecting the Jesus of 100% divinity and 100% humanity, they recreated Jesus into forms that suited their rationality. This led to the Christological Controversies (Christology is the study of the nature and person of Jesus).
The Christological Controversies
From the second century onwards, shortly after the age of the Apostles, controversy raged within Christianity for several hundred years about how the human and the divine combined within Jesus. These were known as the Christological Controversies. The competing views argued across the spectrum from (i) Christ was entirely human and not divine at all, to (ii) Christ was entirely divine and not human at all. Somewhere in between was the orthodox view that Christ was entirely unique and that Christ entirely upended rationality by possessing two 100%s.
Here is a brief summary of the positions that were taken, and of some of the position takers (ignore the big words - I certainly so - and focus on the easily understandable summaries).
- The denial of Christ's Divinity - which lead to the heresies known as Ebonism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Socinianism, Liberalism, Humanism, Unitarianism.
- The denial of Christ's dual natures - which created heretical beliefs such as Monophysitism, Eutychianism, Monothelitism. These all confuse the two natures of Christ; i.e., absorbed one of His natures into the other.
- The denial of Christ's humanity - which gave rise to Docetism, Marcionism, Gnosticism, Apollinarianism, Monarchianism, Patripassianism, Sabellianism, Adoptionism, Dynamic Monarchianism.
The Controversies Settled - Temporarily
Tamping down the Christological Controversies became a full-time job. Four major "Church Councils" addressed the issue. At Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and at Chalcedon (451), great gatherings of Christian leaders hammered at religious errors and hammered-out the conclusion that has since dominated. The conclusion was that Jesus, in one person, possessed "the whole fullness of deity" (Col. 2:9), and was also "made like His brothers in every way" (Heb. 2:17). The summary, 100% God and 100% man, is apt.
The Controversies Revived
With the secular and purely rational again in ascendance, the importance of an orthodox understanding of the nature of Christ is again important. Rejecting the divine in Jesus, the modern secular mind has reformed (and demoted) Christ into a great but fallible religious leader who ranks high on the intelligence and goodness scales, but who is still just a man. The Liberal/Progressive Jesus lived (possibly), performed miracles (maybe), was resurrected (unlikely), and has left a record of himself (debatably). A possible, maybe, unlikely, and debatable Jesus allows for lots of wiggle room. The orthodox Jesus does not.