Byzantine Christology has always been dominated by the categories of thought and the terminology of the great controversies of the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries about the person and identity of Jesus Christ. As we have shown in Part I, these controversies involves conceptual problems as well as the theological basis of life. In the mind of Eastern Christians, the entire content of the Christian faith depends upon the way in which the question "Who is Jesus Christ?" is answered.
The five ecumenical councils, which issued specific definitions on the relationship between the divine and the human natures in Christ, had at times been viewed as a pendulant development: from the emphasis on the divinity of Christ, at Ephesus (431), to the reaffirmation of His full humanity, at Chalcedon (451), then back to His divinity with the acceptance of Cyril’s idea of Theopaschism, at Constantinople (553); followed by a new awareness of His human "energy" or "will," again at Constantinople (680), and of His human quality of describability in the anti-iconoclastic definition of Nicaea n (787). Still, this opinion is often expressed in Western theological literature that Byzantine Christology is crypto-Monophysite and offered as an explanation for the lack of concern among Eastern Christians for man in his secular or social creativity. We hope that the following discussion sheds some light on these frequently recurring issues.
God and Man
To affirm that God became man and that His humanity possesses all the characteristics proper to human nature, it implies that the Incarnation is a cosmic event. Man was created as the master of the cosmos and called by the creator to draw all creation to God. His failure to do so was a cosmic catastrophe, which could be repaired only by the creator Himself.
Moreover, the fact of the Incarnation implies that the bond between God and man, which has been expressed in the Biblical concept of "image and likeness," is unbreakable. The restoration of creation is a "new creation," but it does not establish a new pattern, so far as man is concerned; it reinstates man in his original divine glory among creatures and in his original responsibility for the world. It reaffirms that man is truly man when he participates in the life of God; that he is not autonomous either in relation to God nor in relation to the world; that true human life can never be "secular." In Jesus Christ, God and man areone; in Him, therefore, God becomes accessible not by superseding or eliminating the humanum, but by realizing and manifesting humanity in its purest and most authentic form.
The Incarnation of the Logos was very
consistently considered by Byzantine theologians as having a cosmic significance. The cosmic dimension of the Christ-event is expressed particularly well in Byzantine hymnology: "Every creature made by Thee offers Thee thanks: the Angels offer Thee a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother."1 The connection between creation and the Incarnation is constantly emphasized in the hymns: "Man fell from the divine and better life; though made in the image of God, through transgression he became wholly subject to corruption and decay. But now the wise Creator fashions him anew; for He has been glorified."2 Similarly, the hymnology of Good Friday stresses the involvement of creation as a whole in the death of Christ: "The sun beholding Thee upon the Cross covered itself with gloom; the earth trembled for fear..."3
Thus, poetic images reflect the parallelism between Genesis 1:2 and John 1. The coming of Christ is the Incarnation of the Logos "through whom" all things are made: it is a new creation, but the creator is the same. Against the Gnostics, who professed a dualism distinguishing the God of the Old Testament from the Father of Jesus, patristic tradition affirmed their absolute identity and therefore the essential "goodness" of the original creation.
The Christ-event is a cosmic event both because Christ is the Logos — and therefore in God the agent of creation — and because He is man since man is a "microcosm." Man’s sin plunges creation into death and decay, but man’s restoration in Christ is a restoration of the cosmos to its original beauty. Here again, Byzantine hymnology is the best witness:
David foreseeing in spirit the sojourn with men of the Only-begotten Son in the flesh, called the creation to rejoice with him and prophetically lifted up his voice to cry: ‘Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name" [Ps 88:13].For having gone up, Ο Christ, with Thy disciples into Mount Tabor, Thou wast transfigured, and hast made the nature that had grown dark in Adam to shine again as lightning...4
The glorification of man, which is also the glorification of the whole of creation, should, of course, be understood eschatologically. In the person of Christ, in the sacramental reality of His Body, and in the life of the saints, the transfiguration of the entire cosmos is anticipated; but its advent in strength is still to come. This glorification however is indeed already a living experience available to all Christians, especially in the liturgy. This experience alone can give a goal and a meaning to human history.
The cosmic dimension of the Incarnation is implied in the Chalcedonian definition of 451 to which Byzantine theology remains faithful: Christ is "of one substance with us in His humanity, ‘like unto us in all things save sin.’"
He is God and man, for "the distinction of natures is in no way abolished because of the union; rather, the characteristic properties of each nature are preserved." The last sentence of the definition obviously covers the creative, inventive, controlling functions of man in the cosmos. The idea is developed in the theology of Maximus the Confessor when he argues against the Monothelites, for the existence in Christ of a human "will," or "energy," stressing that without it authentic humanity is inconceivable. If Christ’s manhood is identical with ours in all things except sin (and unless one classifies as "sin" every human "motion," "creativity," or "dynamism"), one must admit that Christ who is man in His body, in His soul, and in His mind was indeed acts with all these functions of true humanity. As Maximus fully understood, Christ’s human energy or will was not superseded by His divine will but accepted conformity with it. "The two natural wills [of Christ] are not contrary to each other..., but the human will follows [the divine]."5 This conformity of the humanum with the divinum in Christ is, therefore, not a diminution of humanity but its restoration: "Christ restores nature to conformity with itself... Becoming man, He keeps His free will in impassibility and peace with nature.6 "Participation" in God — as we have shown — is the very nature of man, not its abolition. This is the key to Eastern Christian understanding of the God-man relationship.
In Christ, the union of the two natures is hypostatic: they "concur into one person [prosōpon] and one hypostasis," according to the Fathers of Chalcedon. The controversies which arose from
the Chalcedonian formula led to further definitions of the meaning of the term hypostasis. While Chalcedon had insisted that Christ was indeed one in His personal identity, it did not clearly specify that the term hypostasis, used to designate this identity, also designated the hypostasis of the pre-existing Logos. The anti-Chalcedonian opposition in the East built thus its entire argument around this point that Byzantine Christology of the age of Justinian committed itself very strongly to excluding that interpretation of Chalcedon, which would have considered the "prosōpon, or hypostasis," mentioned in the definition as simply the "prosōpon of union" of the old Antiochian School— i.e., the new synthetic reality resulting from the union of the two natures. It affirmed, on the contrary, following Cyril of Alexandria, that Christ’s unique hypostasis is the pre-existing hypostasis of the Logos; that is, in the term used in Christology with exactly the same meaning as in the Trinitarian theology of the Cappadocian Fathers, one of the three eternal hypostases of the Trinity "took flesh" while remaining essentially the same in its divinity. The hypostasis of Christ therefore pre-existed in its divinity, but it acquired humanity by the Virgin Mary.
This fundamental position has two important implications:
(a) There is no absolute symmetry between divinity and humanity in Christ because the unique hypostasis is only divine and because the human will follow sthe divine. It was precisely a "symmetrical" Christology, which was rejected as Nestorian in Ephesus (431). This "asymmetry" of Orthodox Christology reflects an idea which Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria stressed so strongly: only God cansavewhile humanity can only cooperate with the saving acts and will of God. However, as we have emphasized earlier, in the patristic concept of man, "theocentricity" is anatural character of humanity; thus asymmetry does not prevent the fact that Christ is fully and "actively" man.
(b) The human nature of Christ is not personalized into a separate human hypostasis, which means that the concept of hypostasis is not an expression of natural existence, either in God or in man, but it designates personal existence. Post-Chalcedonian Christology postulates that Christ is fully man and also that He is a human individual, but it rejects the Nestorian view that He is a human hypostasis, or person.
A fully human individual life was en-hypostasized in the hypostasis of the Logos without losing any of its human characteristics. The theory associated with the name of Apollinaris of Laodicea and according to which the Logos in Jesus had taken the place of the human soul is systematically rejected by Byzantine theologians since it implied that the humanity of Christ was not complete. Cyril’s celebrated formula — wrongly attributed to Athanasius and, in fact, uttered by Apollinaris — "one nature incarnate of God the Word" was accepted only in a Chalcedonian context. Divine nature and human nature could never merge, be confused, or become complementary to each other; but in Christ, they were united in the single, divine hypostasis of the Logos: the divine model matched the human image.
The fact that the notion of hypostasis is irreducible to the concepts of "particular nature," or to the notion of "individuality," is crucially important not only in Christology but also in Trinitarian theology. Hypostasis is the personal "acting" source of natural life; but it is not "nature," or life itself. In the hypostasis, the two natures of Christ accomplish a union without confusion. They retain their natural characteristics; but because they share a common hypostatic life, there is a "communication of idioms," or perichoresis, which, for example, enables some of Christ’s human actions — words or gestures — to carry consequences which only God could have provoked. The clay made out of His spittle, for example, restores sight to the blind man.
Christ is one [writes John of Damascus]. Therefore, the glory which naturally comes from the divinity has become common [to both natures] thanks to the identity of hypostasis; and through the flesh, humility has also become common [to both natures]... , [but] it is the divinity which communicates its privileges to the body remaining itself outside the passions of the flesh.7
The hypostatic union implies also that the Logos made humanity His own in its totality; thus the Second Person of the Trinity was indeed the subject, or agent, of the human experiences, or acts, of Jesus. The controversy between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius concerning the term Theotoko sapplied to the Virgin Mary concerned essentially this very problem. Was there, in Jesus, a human person whose mother could have been Mary? Cyril’s answer — emphatically negative — was, in fact, a Christological option of great importance. In Christ, there was only one Son, the Son of God, and Mary could not have been the Mother of anyone else. She was therefore, indeed, the "Mother of God." Exactly the same problem arose in connection with the death of Christ: impassibility and immortality were indeed characteristics of the divine nature. How then, asked the theologians of Antioch, could the Son of God die? Obviously, the "subject" of Christ’s death was only His humanity. Against this point of view and following Cyril, the Fifth Council (553) affirms: "If anyone does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ who is crucified in the flesh is true God and the Lord of Glory and one of the Holy Trinity, let him be anathema."8 This conciliar text, which paraphrases 1 Corinthians 2:8 ("If they had understood, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory"), inspired the hymn "The Only-begotten Son" attributed to Emperor Justinian and sung at every Byzantine Eucharistic liturgy: "One of the Holy Trinity, you were crucified for us."
"Theopaschism" — the acceptance of formulae which affirm that the "Son of God died in the flesh" — illustrates how distinct the concepts of "hypostasis" and "nature" or "essence" really are. The distinction is stressed by one of the main Chalcedonian theologians of the age of Justinian, Leontius of Jerusalem: "The Logos," writes Leontius, "is said to have suffered according to the hypostasis, for within His hypostasis He assumed a passible [human] essence besides His own impassible essence, and what can be asserted of the [human] essence can be asserted of the hypostasis."9 What this implies is that the characteristics of the divine essence — impassibility, immutability, etc. — are not absolutely binding upon the personal, or hypostatic, existence of God. Later we shall see the importance of this fact for the patristic and Byzantine understanding of God. Meanwhile on the level of soteriology, the affirmation that the Son of God indeed "died in the flesh" reflected — better than any other
Christological formula — the boundlessness of God’s love for man, the reality of the "appropriation" by the Logos of fallen and mortal humanity — i.e., the very mystery of salvation.
An often-recurring criticism of Byzantine Christology, as it was defined by the Fifth Council, was that it, in fact, had betrayed Chalcedon by assuring the posthumous triumph of the one-sided views of Alexandrian Christology. Assumed by the divine hypostasis of the Logos the humanity of Christ, according to these critics, would have been deprived of an authentically human character. "In Alexandrian Christology," writes Marcel Richard, "there will never be any place for a true psychology of Christ, for a real cult of the Saviour’s humanity even if the assumption by the Word of a human soul will be expressively recognized."10 And Charles Moeller also maintains: "The tendency of the East to see Christ more and more as God (a tendency which is so marked in its liturgy) betrays a certain exclusivism which increases after the schism."11 This "neo-Chalcedonism" of the Byzantines is thus opposed to true Chalcedonian Christology and branded as a crypto-Monophysitism; it consists essentially in an understanding of the hypostatic union which would so modify the human properties of Jesus that He would no longer be fully man.12
It is undoubtedly true that Byzantine theology and spirituality are very conscious of the uniqueness of the personality of Jesus and are reluctant to investigate His human "psychology." A balanced judgment on this subject however can be attained only if one keeps in mind not only the doctrine of the hypostatic union but also the prevailing Eastern view of what "natural" man is; for in Jesus, the new Adam, "natural" humanity has been restored. As we saw, "natural" man was considered as participating in the glory of God. Such a man undoubtedly would no longer be fully subject to the laws of "fallen" psychology. These laws however were not simply denied in Jesus but seen in the light of soteriology.
The full dimension of the problem was never directly discussed by Byzantine theologians, but there are indications which can help us to understand their position: (a) their interpretation of such passages as Luke 2:52 ("He progressed in age and wisdom"), (b) their attitude toward the heresy of Aphthartodocetism, and (c) the stand of the Orthodox defenders of the images against the iconoclasts.
(a) The idea of "progress in wisdom" implies a degree of ignorance in Jesus, which is confirmed by other well-known passages of the Gospels (Mk 13:32, for example). Byzantine thought on this subject may often have been confused by the Evagrian idea that "essential knowledge" is the very characteristic of humanity before
the Fall. Evagrius also thought that Jesus was precisely a created "intellect" which had preserved this original "knowledge." The search for gnosis was indeed conceived, in the Evagrian spiritual tradition, which remained alive in the Christian East as the very content of spiritual life. This may have contributed to the fact that a majority of Byzantine authors deny any "ignorance" in Jesus Himself. John of Damascus, for example, can write:
One must know that the Word assumed the ignorant and subjected nature; [but] thanks to the identity of the hypostasis and the indissoluble union, the Lord’s soul was enriched with the knowledge of things to come and other divine signs; similarly, the flesh of human beings is not by nature life-giving while the Lord’s flesh without ceasing to be mortal by nature becomes life-giving, thanks to its hypostatic union with the Word.13
This text certainly represents a clear case of a representative Byzantine author’s affirming that the hypostatic union — in virtue of the "communication of idioms" — modifies the character of human nature. But this modification is clearly seen in the framework of a dynamic and soteriological Christology; the humanity of Christ is "paschal" in the sense that in it man passes from death to life, from ignorance to knowledge, and from sin to righteousness. However, in many less-justifiable cases, the ignorance of Jesus, as the Gospel texts describe, is simply interpreted as a pedagogical device or "appearance" on the part of Christ to show His "condescension." This obviously unsatisfactory solution is rejected by other authors who affirm Christ’s real, human ignorance. "Most Fathers admitted," writes the anonymous author of the De sectis, "that Christ was ignorant of certain things; since He is in all things consubstantial with us and since we ourselves are ignorant of certain things, it is clear that Christ also suffered ignorance. Scripture says about Christ: ‘He progressed in age and wisdom’ [Lk 2:52]; this means that ‘He was learning what He did not previously know."14 Obviously, Byzantine theologians are authentically concerned about recognizing in Christ our fallen humanity, but their minds are less clear about the moment when in Jesus this humanity becomes the transfigured, perfect, and "natural" humanity of the New Man.
(b) The heresy of the Aphthartodocetae whose leader was the sixth-century theologian Julian of Halicarnassus conceived Christ’s humanity as incorruptible, and they were accused of a docetic understanding of the Incarnation. As R. Draguet has shown, the issue is not so much the connection between hypostatic union and corruptibility but the very nature of man. Was mannaturallycorruptible (as he is naturally ignorant), or did corruptibility come with sin? The Aphthartodocetae denied that man by nature was corruptible. Since Christ is the New Adam and the truly "natural" man, His humanity is indeed incorruptible. In rejecting Aphthartodocetism, the Orthodox affirmed: (1) the inheritance of mortality from Adam was not an inheritance of guilt, and (2) the Logos voluntarily assumed not an abstract ideal manhood but our fallen humanity with all the consequences of sin including corruptibility. Opposition to Aphthartodocetism certainly contributed to preserving a clearer notion of Christ’s real and full human nature.
(c) Iconoclasm is certainly another way of denying that Christ is man in
a concrete and individual manner. Patriarch Nicephorus, one of the leading Orthodox polemicists, called it Agraptodocetism because iconoclasts considered Jesus as "indescribable."15 In order to justify the possibility of painting an image of Christ, John of Damascus and even more explicitly Theodore the Studite insisted upon His individual human characteristics: "Indescribable Christ," writes Theodore, "would also be an incorporeal Christ; but Isaiah [8:3] describes this as a male being, and only the forms of the body can make man and woman distinct from one another."16 Nicephorus in order to defend the use of images stresses very forcibly the human limitations of Jesus, His experience of tiredness, hunger, and thirst:17"He acted, desired, was ignorant, and suffered as man."18This means that He is man like one of us and can be represented on an image.
As interpreted by the Orthodox theologians of the eighth and ninth centuries who struggled against iconoclasm, the icon of Christ becomes a confession of faith in the Incarnation:
The Inconceivable is conceived in the womb of a Virgin [writes Theodore the Studite]; the Unmeasurable becomes three cubits high, the Unqualifi-able acquires a quality; the Undefinable stands up, sits down, and lies down; He who is everywhere is put into a crib; He who is above time gradually reaches the age of twelve; He who is formless appears with the shape of a man, and the Incorporeal enters into a body... Therefore, He is describable and indescribable.19
For Theodore, the icon of Christ is the best possible illustration of what is meant by the hypostatic union. What appears on the image is the very hypostasis of God the Word in the flesh. In the Byzantine tradition, the inscription around the halo surrounding the head of Jesus says "The One who is," the equivalent of the sacred name YHWE, the name of God whose person is revealed, but whose essence is inaccessible. It is neither God’s indescribable divinity nor His human nature alone which is represented on an icon but the person of God the Son who takes flesh: "Every portrait," writes Theodore, "is the portrait of an hypostasis and not of a nature."20
To paint an image of the divine essence or of God before His incarnation is obviously impossible; just as it is impossible to represent human nature as such, other than symbolically. Thus, symbolic images of Old Testament theophanies are not yet "icons" in a true sense. But the icon of Christ is different. With bodily eyes, the hypostasis of the Logos could be seen in the flesh, although its divine essence remained hidden; it is this mystery of the Incarnation which makes possible the sacred icons and requires their veneration.
The defence of images forced Byzantine thought to reaffirm the full concrete humanity of Christ. If an additional doctrinal stand against Monophysitism was necessary, it was taken by the Byzantine Church in the eighth and ninth centuries. But it was important to recognize that this stand was made neither at the expense of the doctrine of the hypostatic union nor at that of the Cyrillian understanding of the hypostatic identity of the incarnate Logos but in the light of the former Christological formulations. The victory over iconoclasm was a reaffirmation of Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian Christology.
Redemption and Deification.
The Chalcedonian definition proclaims that Christ is consubstantial not only with His Father but also "with us." Though fully man, Christ does not possess a human hypostasis, for the hypostasis of His two natures is the divine hypostasis of the Logos. Each human individual fully "consubstantial" with his fellow men is nonetheless radically distinct from them in his unique, unrepeatable, and inassimilable personality or hypostasis: no man can fully be in another man. But Jesus’ hypostasis has a fundamental affinity with all human personalities: that of being their model, for indeed all men are created according to the image of God, i.e., according to the image of the Logos. When the Logos became incarnate, the divine stamp matched all its imprints: God assumed humanity in a way which did not exclude any human hypostasis, but which opened to all of them the possibility of restoring their unity in Him. He becomes, indeed, the "new Adam"
in whom every man finds his own nature realized perfectly and fully, without the limitations which would have been inevitable if Jesus is only a human personality.
This was a concept of Christ which Maximus the Confessor had in mind when he re-emphasized the old Pauline image of "recapitulation" in reference to the incarnate Logos 21 and saw in Him the victory over the disintegrating separations in humanity. As man, Christ "accomplishes in all truth the true human destiny that He Himself has predetermined as God and from which man had turned: He unites man to God."22 Thus, Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian Christology would be meaningless speculation where it is not oriented toward the notion of redemption. "The whole history of Christological dogma was determined by this basic idea: the Incarnation of the Word, as Salvation."23
Byzantine theology did not produce any significant elaboration of the Pauline doctrine of justification expressed in Romans and Galatians. The Greek patristic commentaries on such passages as Galatians 3:13 ("Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us") generally interpret the idea of redemption by substitution in the wider context of victory over death and of sanctification. They never develop the idea in the direction of an Anselmian theory of "satisfaction." The voluntary assumption of human mortality by the Logos was an act of God’s "condescension" by which He united to Himself the whole of humanity; for, as Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, "what is not assumed is not healed, and what is united to God is saved;"24 therefore, "we needed a God made flesh and were put to death in order that we could live again."25
The death of "One of the Holy Trinity in the flesh" was a voluntary act, a voluntary assumption by God of the entire dimension of human tragedy. "There is nothing in Him by compulsion or necessity; everything was free: willingly He was hungry, willingly thirsty, willingly He was frightened, and willingly He died."26 But — and this was the essential difference between the Orthodox and the Aphthartodocetae — this divine freedom of the hypostasis of the Logos did not limit the reality of His human condition: the Lord assumed a mortal humanity at the very moment of the Incarnation, at which time the free divine decision to die had already been made. "He takes a body, a body which is not different from ours," writes Athanasius; "He takes from us a nature similar to
ours; and since we all are subject to corruption and death, He delivers His body to death for us."27
The idea that the cross was the purpose of the Incarnation itself was vividly suggested by the Byzantine liturgical texts of the Nativity. The hymnology of the pre-feast (December 20 to 24) is structured according to that of Holy Week, and the humility of Bethlehem is viewed as leading toward Golgotha: "The kings, first fruits of the Gentiles, bring Thee gifts... By myrrh they point to Thy death..." "Born now in the flesh, Thou shalt in the flesh undergo burial and death, and Thou shalt rise again on the third day."28
The question whether the Incarnation would have taken place, had there not been a Fall, never stood at the centre of attention in Byzantium: Byzantine theologians envisaged rather the concrete fact of human mortality: a cosmic tragedy in which God through the Incarnation undertook to become personally — rather, hypostatically — involved. The major and apparently the only exception to this general view is given by Maximus the Confessor for whom the Incarnation and "recapitulation" of all things in Christ is the true "goal" and "aim" of creation; the Incarnation therefore was foreseen and foreordained independently of man’s tragic misuse of his own freedom.29This view fits in exactly with Maximus’ idea of created "nature" as a dynamic process oriented toward an eschatological goal — Christ the incarnate Logos. As creator, the Logos stands as the "beginning" of creation; and as incarnate, He is also its "end" when all things are going to exist not only "through Him" but "in Him." In order to be "in Christ," creation had to be assumed by God, made "His own;" the Incarnation therefore is a precondition of the final glorification of man independent of man’s sinfulness and corruption.
Given the fallen state of man, the redemptive death of Christ makes this final restoration possible. But the death of Christ is truly redemptive and "life-giving" precisely because it is the death of the Son of God in the flesh (i.e., in virtue of the hypostatic union). In the East, the cross is not envisaged so much as the punishment of the just one, which "satisfies" a transcendent Justice requiring a retribution for man’s sins. As Georges Florovsky rightly puts it, "the death of the Cross was effective not as a death of an Innocent One but as the death of the Incarnate Lord."30 The point was not to satisfy a legal requirement but to vanquish the frightful cosmic reality of death, which held humanity under its usurped control and pushed it into the vicious circle of sin and corruption. And, as Athanasius of Alexandria has shown in his polemics against Arianism, God alone is able to vanquish death because He "alone
has immortality" (1 Tm 6:16). Just as original sin did not consist in an inherited guilt, so redemption was not primarily a justification but a victory over death. Byzantine liturgy, following Gregory of Nyssa, uses the image of the devil swallowing a hook hidden by the body of Emmanuel; the same idea is found in a pseudo-Chrysostomic sermon read during the liturgy of the paschal night: "Hell received a body and encountered God; it received mortal dust and met Heaven face to face."
Summarizing this patristic concept of death and resurrection, in the light of the Christological statements of the fifth and sixth centuries, John of Damascus writes,
Although Christ died as man, and His holy soul was separated from His most pure body, His divinity remained with both the soul and the body and continued inseparable from either. Thus, the one hypostasis was not divided into two hypostases, for from the beginning both body and soul existed in the hypostasis of the Word. Although at the hour of death body and soul were separated from each other, yet each of them was preserved having the one hypostasis of the Word. Therefore, the one hypostasis of the Word was an hypostasis as of the Word; so also of the body and of the soul, for neither the body nor the soul ever had any proper hypostasis other than that of the Word. The hypostasis, then, of the Word is ever one, and there were never two hypostases of the Word. Accordingly, the hypostasis of Christ is ever one. And though the soul is separated from the body in space, yet they remain hypostatically united through the Word.31
The triduum of Easter — the three days when Christ’s humanity suffered the common fate of man, yet remained mysteriously en-hypostasized in the one divine hypostasis of the Logos — was graphically expressed in the traditional Byzantine iconography of the Resurrection: Christ trampling down the gates of Sheol and lifting Adam and Eve back to life. Better than any conceptual language and better also than the image of any particular event or aspect of the mystery — such as the empty tomb or even the crucifixion itself — this icon points to the dynamic, soteriological dimension of Christ’s death: God’s intrusion into the domain usurped by the devil and the breaking up of his control over humanity. The same mystery of hypostatic unity which remained unbroken in death itself is expressed in the Byzantine liturgy of Holy Week; on Good Friday, at vespers, at the very moment when Christ gives up the spirit, the first hymns of the Resurrection are beginning to resound: "Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself free from corruption."
The hidden yet decisive triumph over death permeates the liturgical celebration of Holy Saturday: "Though the temple of Thy body was destroyed in the hour of the passion, yet even then one was the hypostasis of Thy Divinity and Thy flesh."32 One could discover in these texts the ultimate, soteriological reason why Cyril’s theopaschite formula becomes a criterion of orthodoxy in sixth-century Byzantine theology: death was vanquished precisely because God Himself had tasted of it hypostatically in the humanity which He had assumed. This is the paschal message of Christianity.
In connection with our discussion of the Greek patristic view of original sin as inherited mortality, we mentioned the concomitant understanding of the Resurrection as the foundation of Christian ethics and spirituality, for the Resurrection of Christ means indeed that death has ceased to be the controlling element of man’s existence, and man therefore is also free from slavery to sin. Death certainly remains as a physical phenomenon, but it does not dominate man as an unavoidable and ultimate fate: "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Co 15:22). And Athanasius writes, "Henceforth, we are dissolved for a time only, according to our bodies’ mortal nature in order the better to receive resurrection; like seeds cast into the earth, we do not perish but sown in the earth; we shall rise again since death has been brought to nought by the grace of the Saviour."33
And Chrysostom: "It is true we still die as before, but we do not remain in death; and this is not to die. The power and the very reality of death are just that a dead man has no possibility of returning to life. But if after death, he is to be
quickened and moreover to be given a better life, then this is no longer death but a falling asleep."34 Since death has ceased to be the only possible end of existence, man is free from fear and sin based on the instinct of self-preservation is no longer unavoidable. The vicious circle has been broken on Easter Sunday and is broken each time "the death of Christ is announced and His resurrection is confessed."
But what does "being in Christ" mean concretely? The last quotation — from the Byzantine Eucharistic canon of St. Basil — suggests the answer: through baptism, chrismation, and the Eucharist, man freely becomes a member of the risen Body of Christ.
This element of freedom — and even of "consciousness" — is essential to the doctrine of salvation as understood by the Byzantine patristic, sacramental, and liturgical tradition. On the one hand, there are emphatic affirmations of the universality of redemption. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, assures us that
As the principle of death took its rise in one person and passed on in succession through the whole of the human nature, so the principle of the Resurrection extends from one person to the whole of humanity... This is the mystery of God’s plan with regard to His death and His resurrection from the dead.35
And his thoughts on the universality of redemption and "recapitulation" are echoed by Maximus the Confessor. On the other hand, the new life in Christ implies personal and free commitment. On the last day, the Resurrection will indeed be universal, but blessedness will be given only to those who longed for it. Nicholas Cabasilas tells us that baptismal "resurrection of nature" is a free gift from God given even to children who do not express consent; but "the Kingdom, the contemplation of God, and common life with Christ belong to free will."36
Byzantine theologians seldom devote much explicit attention to speculation about the exact fate of souls after death. The fact that the Logos assumed human nature as such implied the universal validity of redemption but not the apokatastasis or universal salvation, a doctrine which in 553 was formally condemned as Origenistic. Freedom must remain an inalienable element of every man, and no one is to be forced into the Kingdom of God against his own free choice; the apotytastasis had to be rejected precisely because it presupposed an ultimate limitation of human freedom — the freedom to remain outside of God.
But by rejecting God, human freedom, in fact, destroys itself. Outside of God, man ceases to be authentically and fully human. He is enslaved to the devil through death. This idea, which is central to Maximian thought and which makes him profess so strongly the existence of a human created will in Christ, serves as the basis of the Byzantine understanding of the destiny of man: participation in God, or "deification" (theōsis) as the goal of human existence.
En-hypostasized in the Logos, Christ’s humanity, in virtue of the "communication of idioms," is penetrated with divine "energy." It is therefore a deified humanity, which however does not in any way lose its human characteristics. It is quite to the contrary. These characteristics become even more real and authentic by contact with the divine model according to which they were created. In this deified humanity of Christ’s, man is called to participate, and to share in its deification. This is the meaning of sacramental life and the basis of Christian spirituality. The Christian is called not to an "imitation" of Jesus — a purely extrinsic and moral act — but, as Nicholas Cabasilas puts it, to "life in Christ" through baptism, chrismation, and the Eucharist.
Deification is described by Maximus as a participation of the "whole man" in the "whole God":
In the same way in which the soul and the body are united, God should become accessible for participation by the soul and through the soul’s intermediary by the body in order that the soul might receive an unchanging character and the body immortality; and finally that the whole man should become God deified by the grace of God-become-man becoming whole man — soul and body — by nature and becoming whole God — soul and body — by grace.37
"Thus, for Maximus the doctrinal basis of man’s deification is clearly to be found in hypostatic unity between the divine and the human nature in Christ."38 The man Jesus is God hypostatically; and, therefore, in Him, there is a "communication" (perichōrēsis—circumincessio) of the "energies" divine and human. This "communication" also reaches those who are "in Christ." But they, of course, are human hypostases and united to God not hypostatically but only "by grace" or "by energy." "A man who becomes obedient to God in all things hears God saying: ‘I said: you are gods’ [Jn 10:34]; he then is God and is called ‘God’ not by nature or by relation but by [divine] decree and grace."39
It is not through his own activity or "energy" that man can be deified — this would be Pelagianism — but by divine "energy" to which his human activity is "obedient;" between the two, there is a "synergy" of which the relation of the two energies in Christ is the ontological basis. But there is no confusion of natures just as there cannot be any participation in divine essence by man. This is the theology of deification which we can also find in Gregory Palamas:
"God in His completeness deifies those who are worthy of this by uniting Himself with them, neither hypostatically — that belonged to Christ alone — nor essentially but through a small part of the uncreated energies and the uncreated divinity... while yet being entirely present in each."40
Actually, the Byzantine Council of 1351, which confirmed the theology of Palamas, defined it as a "development" of the decrees of the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680) on the two wills or "energies" of Christ.41 In "deification," man achieves the supreme goal for which he is created. This goal, already realized in Christ by a unilateral action of God’s love, represents both the meaning of human history and a judgment over man. It is open to man’s response and free effort.
The only doctrinal definition on Mary to which the Byzantine Church was formally committed is the decree of the Council of Ephesus which called her the Theotokos, or "Mother of God." Obvious Christological and not Mariological, the decree nevertheless corresponds to the Mariological theme of the "New Eve," which has appeared in Christian theological literature since the second century and which testifies, in the light of the Eastern view on
the Adamic inheritance, to a concept of human freedom more optimistic than that which has prevailed in the West.
But it was the theology of Cyril of Alexandria affirming the personal, hypostatic identity of Jesus with the pre-existent Logos, as it was endorsed in Ephesus, which served as the Christological basis for the tremendous development of piety centred on the person of Mary after the fifth century. God became our Saviour by becoming man; but this "humanization" of God came about through Mary who was thus inseparable from the person and work of her Son. Since in Jesus there is no human hypostasis; and since a mother can be mother only of "someone," not of something, Mary is indeed the mother of the incarnate Logos, the "Mother of God." And since the deification of man takes place "in Christ," she is also — in a sense just as real as man’s participation "in Christ" — the mother of the whole body of the Church.
This closeness of Mary with Christ led to an increasing in the East popularity of those apocryphal traditions which reported her bodily glorification after her death. These traditions found a place in the hymnographical poetry of the Feast of the Dormition (Koimesis, August 15) but never were the object of theological speculation or doctrinal definition. The tradition of Mary’s bodily "assumption" was treated by poets and preachers as an eschatological sign, a follow-up of the resurrection of Christ, an anticipation of the general resurrection. The texts speak very explicitly of the Virgin’s natural death, excluding any possible connection with a doctrine of Immaculate Conception, which would attribute immortality to her and would be totally incomprehensible in the light of the Eastern view of original sin as inherited mortality.42 Thus, the boundless expressions of Marian piety and devotion in the Byzantine liturgy are nothing other than an illustration of the doctrine of hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Christ. In a sense, they represent a legitimate and organic way of placing the somewhat abstract concepts of fifth- and sixth-century Christology on the level of the simple faithful.