Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Avoiding Heresies - Eutychianism

First, let me remind you of something I mentioned in the first post but haven't made explicit since. I am basing the structure for this class on Heresies and How to Avoid Them, a collection of sermons on the topic edited by Michael Ward and Ben Quash. I often pull directly from the sermons in this book and indicate that when I do (usually in parentheses). It's a great book--excellent resource for preachers and pastors on heresies as it (mostly) presents them from the pastor/preacher perspective.

Now, on to class #4...
The first four heresies in this series (Arianism, Docetism, Nestorianism, and now Eutychianism) form a mini-section of the class. These four help establish some important theological boundaries for what we can and can't say about the nature of Christ. With these four heresies (and the Ecumenical Councils that accompany them), we establish that Jesus Christ is fully divine & fully human and that those two natures are fully united in the one person of Jesus Christ yet also remain fully distinct. How's that for a mind-full?

As we wrap up this mini-section, it's important to realize how they naturally progressed one after another. This week's heresy (Eutychianism), which popped onto the scene almost simultaneously with the previous heresy (Nestorianism), is a fervent anti-heretic's overreaching attempt to combat what was misstated in the previous heresy. Nestorius and his followers argued that Christ's human and divine natures must be separate and distinct to the point of existing as two separate realities. The more he emphasized the "two-ness" of Christ's natures, the more Eutyces and his followers pulled their hair out, shouting, "No! One, one, one!"

Eutychianism is the heresy that followed, and it asserts that Christs two natures come together in a union that makes it impossible to distinguish between the two. That's extreme Eutychianism--a theological terminus that Eutyches himself never quite attained. He stopped a little short, instead asserting that Christ was "of two natures" but after then incarnation was only "in one nature." He's the guy who used the "drop of honey dissolved into the sea" image to convey how those two natures came together. But, as committed to orthodoxy as Eutyches tried to be, he was a heretic.

Christ must be in two natures that are fully united yet fully distinct. That's the only way our salvation makes any sense. Otherwise, as Marcus Plested pointed out in his sermon in the aforementioned book, our human nature, once united to the divine through baptism, must ultimately disappear as Christ's did. And that would result in a humanity-less resurrection. In other words, that leads to nothing more than death itself--blinking out of physical, created existence to be resubsumed by the divine. Heresy, heresy, heresy! Aren't we more interested in being saved as we are--the created humanity that was made in God's image?

Below is the slide show from this week's class. It explores some relevant scripture passages (including a remarkable look at Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4) and some other dire consequences of Eutychianism. Also, and certainly not least, my favorite credal statement--the Chalcedonian definition, which can also be read here. Enjoy!

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