Posted by: mattcolvin | September 7, 2013

Quiz on Christological Heresies

Say whether the following statements are orthodox, Arian, Nestorian, Docetist, Apollinarian, Eutychian, or Pneumatomachist.

  1. There was a time when the Son did not exist.
  2. The body of Jesus was made from the material creation.
  3. Jesus had a human body, but a divine mind.
  4. “Christ is a man in the sense that all men are made up of three parts, body, soul and spirit, and he is made up of three parts, body, soul and Logos; if he had body, soul, spirit and Logos, then he would be made up of four parts and would not be a man but a man-God.”
  5. Jesus’ human nature suffered on the cross, but his divinity did not.
  6. Mary gave birth to the human Christ, but the divine Logos was present everywhere.
  7. “He is not a man, but is like a man, since he is not coessential with humanity in his highest part.”
  8. “The eternal Logos assumed, or took on, a man.”
  9. “The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary.”
  10. “We worship the humanity of Christ together with the Godhead because he is a sharer in the divine authority.”
  11. “It is not that the Logos of God suffered in his own nature, being overcome by stripes or the nail-piercing or any of the other injuries; for the divine, since it is incorporeal, is impassible. Since, however, the body that had become his own underwent suffering, he is – once again – said to have suffered these things for our sakes, for the impassible One was within the suffering body.”
  12. The subject of all Christ’s acts, both the incarnation but also the death on the Cross, is ‘the Son of God’.
  13. “Christ had to be true God so that by the power of his divine nature he might bear in his human nature the burden of God’s wrath.”
  14. “‘How is it then that David inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand”?'”. He said this as being indeed son of David according to the flesh, but his Lord according to his godhead.”
  15. “Before the union our Lord was of two natures, but after the union I confess one nature.”

Answers (and explanations) below the spoiler space.

Answers: 1. Arian. (The Logos is eternal.) 2. Orthodox. (The denial involves docetism.) 3. Apollinarianism. (If Jesus’ nous is not human, then He is not fully human.) 4. Quotation from Apollinaris. (The replacement of Jesus’ human spirit by the Logos would make Jesus lacking in a necessary criterion of humanity. Furthermore, the Logos is not a part or aspect of Jesus’ being. Being God is not like being possessed by an evil spirit.) 5. Nestorianism. (R.C. Sproul just committed this error too. The entire divine-human Christ suffered as a person. It is true that when nails were driven through his wrists, that was only possible because this Person had a recently acquired human nature, and thus this eternally existent Person now had a body, and thus wrists. But saying that “His wrists hurt” is not the same as saying that “only the human nature suffered.” The eternal Logos had wrists. So the eternal Logos suffered in His own human body. The agent who suffered was a person, not a nature.) 6. Nestorianism. (Again, the baby born of Mary was the second person of the Trinity. He was God already; He was not a mere man who became united to God later. Furthermore, while it is true that the Logos is omnipresent, Mary gave birth to a body that was His own.) 7. Quotation from Apollinaris. (The highest part of the mind, or Nous, was not, contra Apollinaris, replaced by the Logos.) 8. Quotation from Theodore of Mopsuestia (proto-Nestorian, since the Logos did not take on a preexistent Man, but became a man by taking on, not a man, but a human nature). 9. Orthodox (from the Heidelberg Catechism). 10. Quotation from Nestorius. (We do not worship the humanity of Christ for this reason. We worship the Person of Christ, and we worship Him in both natures, because both natures are His own. We do not worship one because it is allied with the other, or shares in its authority.) 11. Orthodox, from one of Cyril’s letters to the Council of Ephesus. 12. Orthodox. Quotation from Cyril again. 13. Orthodox, quotation from Heidelberg Catechism Q 17. (This formulation flirts with Nestorianism, however, by appearing to make only the human nature of Christ, rather than the Person of Christ, the object of God’s wrath on the cross. The vexed question of penal substitution arises here.) 14. Nestorius, quotation from his second letter to the council of Ephesus. (Nestorius falls afoul of Cyril’s anathema against those who read the Scripture and chop up the statements about Christ, allotting some to one of His two natures, and others to the other – a procedure that all too many preachers and theologians do in blithe ignorance of the orthodox rule here.) 15. Quotation from Eutyches. (Christ continues to have two natures, not one. Eutyches’ single nature of Christ was arrived at by a Stoic conception of “total mixture”. See, Mr. Wedgeworth, what horrible things happen when we grab seemingly useful concepts from Greek philosophy? If Eutyches were correct, his Christ would be neither truly human nor truly Divine.)


  1. […] 37. Quiz on Christological Heresies […]

  2. Wow, I would have failed this hard. I’m not a seminary grad, but I read a lot of theology and thought I had this down.

    • Well, going to seminary – or even teaching at a seminary – is evidently no guarantee of a good score.

  3. Do you have the Greek on the last one? Does he say miaphysis, or monophysis?

    • εκ δύο φύσεων γεγένησθαι τον Κύριον ημών προ της ενώσεως, μετά δε την ένωσιν μία φύσιν ομολογώ.

      From here:

      What distinguishes miaphysitism from monophysitism is not the use of the feminine “mia”, but what they respectively believe about that mia physis.

      • Thanks!

        “What distinguishes miaphysitism from monophysitism is not the use of the feminine “mia”, but what they respectively believe about that mia physis.”


        I’ve heard miaphysites emphasize that they are not monophysite, but miaphysite, so I was curious if that terminological distinction was reflected in Eutyches’ terminology. (My Greek isn’t any near good enough to figure out if there really is a substantive difference between the two.)

        The phrase “Mia Physis tou Theou Logou Sesarkomene” has one of the oddest pedigrees in all theology–from Apollinaris, to Cyril, to Eutyches, Julian of Halicarnasus, and Severus.

      • It’s just a serious ontological mess. I’m Chalcedonian, but only when confronted with heresies. The Bible doesnt talk about natures, so I don’t either unless someone else does.

  4. Matthew (Petersen), as a linguist and budding theologian, I would supplement Matt (Colvin)’s answer by saying that the difference between Monophysitism and Miaphysitism is not lexical, but semantic. That is, Eutyches was a Monophysite heretic not because he used the word “monos” (he didn’t, at least not in this quotation), but because he affirmed that which is meant by “monos”: that one and only one nature belongs to Christ, a nature that is neither human nor divine but some other unitary thing, a unique Logos-nature into which both humanity and divinity have merged. (The theological import of “monos” is seen in terms like “Monogenes,” Only-Begotten.) Thus Eutyches denied the orthodox (and, eventually, Chalcedonian) position that Christ is homoousios with us men according to His humanity.

    Miaphysitism, on the other hand, confesses that Christ has *one* (“mia”) nature, but that this nature is still recognizably from (“ek”) two natures: divine and human. The distinction is subtle, but among other things this allows more room for making an analogy between Christ’s hypostasis and the Holy Trinity: Christ is two in one, the Trinity is three in one. (I don’t know if Miaphysites have traditionally argued in this way, but as I understand it, they could.)

    A further complicating factor is that the Syriac term used for “nature” (“qnoma”) during the time of these debates was closer to the meaning of “person” than was the Greek “physis.” Thus at least some Syriac-speaking Christians thought that in order to combat Nestorianism, they had to deny that Christ had two natures (“qnoma”). (Earlier some Latin Christians had had trouble with the orthodox Greek affirmation of three hypostases in the Godhead for a similar reason, since they literally yet inaccurately rendered “hypostasis” as “substantia”, suggesting tritheism.)

    Matt (Colvin), does my analysis track with your understanding?

    • Thanks for the lesson, Jeff. Very helpful.

      My inclination is still to be highly suspicious of miaphysitism (“Just why is it so important to you to insist upon only one nature?”), but also to wonder whether the church has generated heresies by its use of extrabiblical concepts like “physis”. Indeed, the story of the early councils could be retold as the church spawning two new heresies with each shibboleth it used to quash the previous one. In other words, I agree with the creeds against he heretics, but I sympathize when the Arians complain about ουσία not being in the Bible.

      I like Klaas Schilder’s tract, and its title, “Extra-Scriptural Binding: a New Danger”.

      • I see what you mean about the problems that have come from using extrabiblical concepts. However, I’m not sure that we as human beings (sons of Adam) can ever get away from seeking creative ways to express truth in language, nor that we should try.

        Would you avoid the language of “Trinity” for the same reason, that it’s an extrabiblical idea dreamed up to creatively explain biblical truths? I know one independent Protestant pastor who argues that the use of Trinity language in theology is spiritually unhealthy, not worth the trouble it’s caused.

      • Trinity is just a coined word (by Tertullian?) to denote the fact that The Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but there is only one God. Therefore it doesn’t really bring in conceptual and philosophical problems the way ousia and physis do. Those terms have long pedigrees of usage in pagan philosophy.

        And no, I don’t actually think anyone ought to be bound to use extrabiblical terms, including “Trinity”. It’s true that if someone objects to “Trinity”, then you can bet that they will probably have heretical views about the truths that “Trinity” stands for – that is, they will deny the deity of one or more persons, or the unity if the godhead. But if someone teaches the deity of each of the persons, and still holds that there is only one God, then why should anyone complain if he doesn’t use the word “Trinity”? He teaches what the word means.

        Eutyches, for instance, was interrogated about his formulations and whether he could agree with orthodox ones. So if someone says, “I don’t like the word Trinity,” the proper response is to ask, “What don’t you like about it?”

        Zizioulas gives an account of how the word “ousia” was virtually eviscerated of its prior meaning, and redefined in Trinitarian terms. So now it’s acceptable, but what a lot of trouble!

        I like N.T. Wright’s investigation of Jesus’ self-understanding and Christology in light of contemporary Judaism. But of course, that is all done without recourse to the terminology of the creeds.

      • Matt, I like the balanced position you’ve taken: don’t require anyone to use extrabiblical theological terms like “Trinity,” but question those who reject such a term outright—what anti-Biblical beliefs may hide under the protestations of sticking to Biblical language?

        You know, we could pull the discussion back a step and say that the Biblical writers themselves used extrabiblical terms to expressed Divine truth. Would a later and more terminologically finicky age have condemned the translators of the Septuagint for using “theos” and “kyrios” for the One whose names are Elohim and YHWH? But then, what about Moses and the prophets using “Elohim” for the Living God, when that term was already established as a technical term for the idols of the Canaanites? In the end, there’s no way to escape using the world’s words for God’s truth. But we have to remember where the world got it words in the first place.

  5. I’d missed the continuation of the discussion till today. But it’s very interesting. Thanks Jeff!.

    I was wondering above if Matt took a similar approach to Nicea as to Chalcedon, which seems to have been asked and answered, that yes, you do.

    Regarding the Miaphysites: I’ve read Severus, and for him, the issue is that “*in* two natures” seems to be a claim that we divide up the acts, so that some of them are done by the Divine Nature, while others are done by the human nature, and so is tantamount to Nestorianism. He was also very bothered by Chalcedon’s acceptance of Theodoret, whose earlier writings were Nestorian.

    II Constantinople was an attempt to clarify Chalcedon, and make it impervious to the reading Severus gave it–that is, to accept (many) of Severus’ criticisms while rejecting his rejection of Chalcedon. However, it seems by that time the divisions were deeply seated enough that they couldn’t quite be sorted out.

    I need to get a copy of Leontius of Jerusalem, but I believe it was Leontius of Jerusalem who eventually did for Cyril what the Cappadocians had done for Athanasius–flesh out, and clear up the terminology, while maintaining his fundamental position.

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