Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Chalcedonian Christology: Modern Criticism and Contemporary Ecumenism

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Chalcedonian Christology: Modern Criticism and Contemporary Ecumenism

Article excerpt

I.

Few, if any, bishops who were gathered at Chalcedon in 451 C.E. for the fourth Ecumenical Council would have had reason to assume that their resulting statement of faith would stand for centuries as the ultimate creedal formulation for determining the orthodoxy of one's Christianity. The Chalcedonian formula, an attempt to unite competing christological interpretations of Antioch and Alexandria, failed to resolve their disagreements, at least immediately. Yet, once accepted by the church, Chalcedon has colored every subsequent ecumenical discussion between the Western and Eastern churches. The formula of 451 has played an integral role in contemporary ecumenical dialogues. Within some churches, the Chalcedonian formula speaks with the same fullness and authority today as it did 1,500 years earlier. In other communions, Chalcedon is treated as another-albeit very significant-historical document of the "one holy catholic and apostolic church."(1)

The Chalcedonian formula has not, however, survived without criticism. The majority of the criticisms, which arose primarily from within the church, were products of the Enlightenment and reached their heights during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two primary charges that were, and occasionally continue to be, leveled against Chalcedonian Christology are: first, that the language of the formula itself is contradictory in relation to Trinitarian orthodoxy; second, that it is unfair and dismissive of other world religions, which leads some to argue that there cannot be a unique relationship of divinity and humanity in Christ. Another argument against a Chalcedonian interpretation of Christology, which develops out of the second criticism, is that it makes no difference whether Christianity claims a unique Christ or not. These criticisms, one could argue, reached their most mature form in the liberal Protestant theologies of nineteenth-century Germany. One of the most powerful and persuasive critiques launched against Chalcedon was posed by F. D. E. Schleiermacher, who called into question the internal contradictions of the formula. His criticisms provided a base for the further development and articulation of theological liberalism during the nineteenth century. The second charge against Chalcedon-its failure to take serious account of other religions-became manifest in the Christology of Ernst Troeltsch during the fin de siecle and the period just preceding World War I.

German liberal theologians and their treatment of orthodox Christology disproportionately shaped the Western christological debates of the modern era. The breadth of criticisms of Chalcedonian Christology found in Schleiermacher and his liberal Protestant descendants will be addressed in an attempt to evaluate the cogency of their specific issues taken with the council's formula. It shall be necessary to explicate what exactly of Chalcedon's formulation is lost in these theologians' reinterpretations or efforts to reformulate a viable modern Christology. I will then argue that the modern liberal German attempts to build a Christology, as illustrated primarily by Schleiermacher and Troeltsch, failed specifically because of their modernist presuppositions and their predilection to accept, unquestioningly, the Enlightenment goal. Furthermore, I hold that, after examining their criticisms, one can build a case that their assent to these presuppositions results in the failure of their respective restatements both to grasp and to retain the quiddity(2) of Chalcedon and its place in contemporary Christian worship and ecumenical dialogue. Once the quiddity of Chalcedonian has been encapsulated, I will examine what is required for potential reinterpretations of Chalcedon that attempt to honor the formula in a manner that preserves the integrity of the council and the worldview of contemporary Christians on the eve of the twenty-first century.

Chalcedon represented the height of Christian unity during the period of the early church. …

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