The second module was titled “From Nicaea to Chalcedon” and the chancellor examined the formulation of Christology under the four Christological councils. What we profess concerning the person of Christ, will directly influence what we profess about salvation, as such the study of Christology is very crucial.
The students learned about the ecumenical church councils that held between 325 AD and 451 AD, that is, Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon which established each that Jesus Christ is fully God, fully man, two natures, and one person. He indicated that theology is reflection on human life in light of who God is and so the revelation of God is the presentation of human life, and therefore the true understanding of theology is enfolded in the person of Jesus Christ and His work. The hermeneutics through which we interpret everything that is contained in the Gospel is the nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The New Testament apostolic witness affirms that Jesus Christ is God and that He is man as found in the titles “Son of God” and “Son of man” used interchangeably throughout the four gospels and the Pauline epistles. There is something called the trinity in Christological perspective. It is when the church begins to ask pertinent questions on who Jesus really is that we understand the true nature of God. In the first session of this second class, entitled, “Who do you say that I Am?”, Dr. Shawn Smith, drawing from Matthew 16, explained that from the very inception our Lord established that the church (“Ekklesia”) will be built on the revelation of who He Jesus is, meaning that the issue of establishing the identity of Jesus Christ is what clearly establishes the genuine church. It is therefore those who detain the revelation of the person of Jesus, as revealed by the Father, who are the true church. It is because of this very powerful basis of the identity of Jesus that there broke out in the first four centuries of the church what became known as the “Jesus Wars”. Hence, various sectarian groups, sects and religious movements wanted to appropriate for themselves the person of Jesus because they understand the universal nature of the person of Jesus and of the message He represents which creates an appeal which goes beyond cultural and ideological barriers. It was therefore an opportunity to be grasped to be the organisation which has the interpretation of the identity of Jesus. As such, every group which existed during that time came up with various proposals of the identity of Jesus Christ. For the rest of the first session, Dr. Shawn briefly summarised the various sectarian groups and the major proponents of those groups and their views regarding the person of Jesus Christ.
The students were also enlightened on the true identity of Jesus Christ and its soteriological ramifications. Dr Shawn Smith pursued his presentation of the major contending groups in the first four centuries of church history including, the Ebeonites, the Gnostics, the Adoptionists and the proponents of modalism, that is, the Monarchianists, championed by Sabellius, who propose a God who doesn’t want to meet us face-to-face, leaving us with an unknown God. Throughout these sessions, Dr. Shawn illustrated and demonstrated concepts and various viewpoints using compelling graphic and diagrammatic representations. He equally brought out with great insight the historical perspective and dramatic twists behind the historical developments in Christology. He introduced the Platonic (“Ideal Principle”) and Hebraic (“Shemah”) concepts of God as one and indivisible. These conceptions of God made the notion of the incarnation of God repulsive to both ideologies. On the third day of the module, Dr. Shawn explained that although the New Testament apostolic witness affirmed that Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man, they never took the time to explain how these two vital and crucial natures are joined as one, and this is the source of all the confusions that surround the heresies from the Ebeonites to the Gnostics. All these heresies were attempting to explain how His divinity relates to His humanity and vice versa. They either emphasized on His humanity and de-emphasized on His divinity and vice versa, and so you have those who reject His divinity altogether and those who reject His humanity altogether, like the Docetists who claim that Christ only appeared to be human, or the Gnostics who claimed that Christ was partially divine, but was not necessarily God.
Dr. Shawn particularly explained the big four heretics; Arius, Apollinarius, Nestorius and Eutyches. The first, Arianism, proposed a Jesus who is of similar, and not of same substance with God and saw Christ only as an example of obedience for us to follow, the conclusion being that if Christ is not of the same substance with God then it is not God the Father that He reveals. The second, Apollinarius, upheld a Monophysite view of Jesus Christ who possesses a human body and a divine Spirit which do not mix, with the soteriological implications that He did not assume our fallen humanity, and according to the Cappadocian father, Gregory of Nazianzus, the unassumed is the unhealed. The third, Nestorius, upheld a prosoponic, and not, a hypostatic union, between the person of Christ and the person of Jesus and proposed a separation between Christ and Jesus. The last of these, Eutyches, perceived the humanity of Christ like a drop of honey which was lost in the ocean of His divinity. Equally expounded were the four Christological councils which ensued as a result of various heresies, from the first of them, Nicaea, which held some three centuries after the founding of the church at Pentecost, in 325 AD. Dr. Shawn explained why these councils were called ecumenical councils: The word ecumenical comes from the Greek word, “oikoumene” and has several renderings. The first refers to the household of the inhabited earth and was considered to be the household of Caesar and therefore everyone within the Empire was considered a member of Caesar’s household which was called “oikoumene”. The word also came to signify the whole world as the entire Roman Empire (Colossians 1:23).
As such, these councils were referred to as ecumenical to speak of the representation of the churches in the Roman Empire to a large extent. It was on the initiative of the enigmatic Constantine the Great that the first ecumenical council was convened and developed the backdrop of the convening of this council since the first church council in Jerusalem. The chancellor commented on several other aspects such as the Great Schism, the persecution of the church in the first three hundred years of its history and its growth in spite of persecution, the Edict of Milan (Tolerance) in 313 AD, Constantine’s reforms and how it affected the church, the Nicene creed and major players in the Nicaean council and its ramifications, and myths surrounding the Nicene creed. With the fifth day came the continual exposition on the Christological councils, their ramifications and significance in present-day Christianity.