A former student, Stephen Long, offers some thoughts concerning my post about Cyril of Alexandria . The remained of this post comes from Stephen.

The Nestorian controversy is the high water mark of “temple”/”indwelling” language as a Christological metaphor. As a result of Cyril’s opposition to the Antiochene scheme (and an important part of that story, usually eclipsed by the more well-known dispute with Nestorius, is Cyril’s disputes with the semi-orthodox *Theodoret* in the wake of Ephesus), “temple” (and by extension “indwelling”) language for Christology declines dramatically — and its Marian usage (already prevalent pre-Ephesus and pre-Chalcedon) really takes off.

Now, you say the following:

“Ezra Gebremedhin . . . notes the implicit contrast between an understanding of the incarnation as union to the ‘Antiochene’ view that the incarnation is primarily an indwelling (34). Cyril certainly draws this contrast, but I wonder if its a felicitous one. Perhaps the divide can be bridged: A strong understanding of divine indwelling (tabernacling, John 1:14) might be understood not as an alternative to union but as a description of the kind of union the incarnation is. This seems to be the aim of early writers who introduced the notion of ‘perichoresis’ into Christology to express the intimate union of the two natures that remained distinct.”

I think you need to distinguish a little more precisely here. The “metaphor” of tabernacling/indwelling (which I’m not implying to be a “mere” metaphor which could be dispensed with . . . ) is used in two quite different ways when we say that the Word “tabernacled among us “, versus “indwelt a man”. The former is (as Athanasius and the early Cyril certainly did use this Johannine language to mean) a statement of the reality of God’s actual presence in our midst; the latter, as Cyril heard it, just implies two hypostases. (Or, to adapt a sentence from John McGuckin who’s quoting H. Turner, the failure of the latter language probably doesn’t lie in *intentionally* positing a double personality in Christ, but rather in being unable to offer a convincing explanation, on its own logical terms, of why there should *not* have been one.) Thus, I don’t think it’s a matter of a “strong” understanding of indwelling being able to describe union: rather, given the actual terms of the debate (which it looks to me like Gebremedhin is accurately hearing), there really is a gulf between what is being meant and “indwelling” language is being used in two entirely different ways.

Thomas is actually a little more helpful on actually employing Johannine language in the face of Antiochene distortion than Cyril is. (He has the benefit of hindsight.) To my knowledge, Cyril never goes back to John 2 and the reference to the “temple of his body” to explain how the language can still figure into Christology (it is in the Bible, after all!)—it’s just become too problematic, and so he more or less drops it. Thomas, on the other hand, knows exactly what Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius are saying about a Christology of “indwelling as in a temple” (see SCG 4.34 and 4.41 paragraph 5) but still wants to explain how John 2 and Colossians 2:9 can be properly read theologically.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

Loading...