Monday, January 31, 2011

Avoiding Heresies - Docetism

This week's heresy, Docetism, isn't really a heresy at all...at least not a single, codified heresy. Instead, it's a collection of heretical thought that shares a common thread--denying the full humanity of Jesus Christ. In some ways, this heresy is similar to Arianism, which involved denying the full divinity of Jesus Christ. This time, those who can be labelled as Docetic have swung too far in the other direction--so interested in asserting the Son's equality with the Father that they have lost touch with his humanness.

In the slide show below, we explore Docetism in general and Apollinarianism in particular. The questions behind Docetism are ones we might ask ourselves. For example, "How can Jesus Christ be both fully human and fully divine? What happened to his humanity when the divinity was united to it?" Or "Was Jesus born with all the attributes of God (omnipotent, omniscient, infinite, etc.), and, if not, what happened to those aspects of his divinity? Did he leave them behind in heaven, and, if so, doesn't that imply a change in God--whom we understand to be changeless?" Clearly, there's a lot to consider.

One of the arch-opponents of the Arian heresy was Apollinaris, a friend of Athanasius. Apollinaris was worried that splitting Jesus Christ into two distinct natures would result in a savior who was unable to save. In his mind, the only way to preserve the efficacy of JC's death & resurrection was to envision the Incarnation as the total unity of Jesus' divine and human natures, and he explained (over-explained, actually) that by attributing the "living principle" (flesh) of Jesus to his humanness and his "thinking principle" (mind) to his humanness. in other words, the Logos (Word) took the place of Jesus' human mind...because, let's be honest--how could a human being (mind and all) really contain the fullness of God? (Well, that's a heresy, and we call it Apollinarianism--a brand of Docetism). Basically, the Jesus Christ of Apollinaris was a divine mind contained in a human body--a mixture that results in an entity with hardly any humanity left at all (other than skin, bones, etc.).

Undoing the heresy of Apollinarianism (and Docetism, more generally) enables us to appreciate the Incarnation at a much deeper level. God didn't just come to earth in the form of a human. God himself became human. He took on our human nature--not just our human body. That gives us a whole new way of thinking about ourselves, about each other, and about the Eucharist.The slide show below explores that (and scriptural references) in more detail. Enjoy!

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