In his wonderful book, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Robert Louis Wilken criticizes the Formula of Chalcedon as "formulaic and abstract," which described Jesus as "one person," but "seemed to divide Christ into a divine nature that, for example, healed the sick and raised the dead and a human nature that hungered, thirsted, suffered, and died." How, he asks, "was the Christ of Chalcedon the man depicted in the gospels?"
Though known mostly as a polemicist, Cyril of Alexandria, on Wilken's reading, was a biblical commentator who helped recover the Jesus of the gospels for the church.
He focuses on Cyril's treatment of John 13:31-32, the kind of text, he claims, that "received little attention in earlier commentators." Cyril, however, recognized the inherent connection of suffering and glory. As Cyril writes, "the perfect fulfillment of his glory and the fullness of his fame clearly lie in this, in his suffering for the life of the world and making a new way through his Resurrection for the resurrection of all."
Since the destruction of death could come about only "by life undergoing death for the sake of all men so that in him we all may have life. For this reason Christ says that he is glorified in death . . . His cross was the beginning of his being glorified upon earth."
Two centuries later, Maximus the Confessor pressed a similar passage - the agony of Christ in Gethsemane - to work out the issue of the will of Christ. Not only does this passage show that Jesus had a human will that submitted to the Father, but also shows that the man Jesus came to submit to the will of God for the salvation of the world. In this sense, Jesus is deified: "It is clear that his human will is wholly deified, in that it is in harmony with the divine will, for it is always moved and formed by it. His human will is in perfect conformity with the will of his father when as a man he says: 'Let not my will but thine be done.'"
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 05:57 PM
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