‘In relation to the humanity, he is one and the same Christ, the son, the Lord, the Only Begotten, who is to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division and without separation.’
– Creed of Chalcedon (A.D. 451)
For thousands of years the true nature of Jesus Christ has been widely debated. Christology is the theology devoted to studying the human and divine natures and roles of Jesus Christ. Many interpretations and viewpoints have been formed and disputed since the death of Christ up to present times.
Three major councils were organized to discuss the teachings and understandings of Jesus early in the first millennium. The discussions at Nicaea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381), and Chalcedon (A.D. 451) were developed into creeds that explained their belief in terms of the nature of Christ. These three creeds insisted that Christ was fully a man and fully God, not one or the other or part of both.
There were many other early perspectives of Christology in the Christian church. Each viewpoint had its individual varying forms and degrees. These are the basic convictions of the most prominent ones:
Docetism: This doctrine preached that Christ was of a divine nature and only
seemed to have a human form. He appeared to suffer on the cross but was in fact incapable of feeling human misery. The viewpoint stems from one that insists all matter is evil (dualism); therefore, Christ could simply not be human because he could not be evil. The name derives from the Greek word, dokein, ”to seem, to appear.” It was finally denounced at the Council of Chalcedon.
Arianism: Arius, a priest in Alexandria, taught that Christ was part of the Trinity,
but not as divine as God. Since God supposedly created Christ, he could surely not be as holy as him. It was acknowledged that Christ was not of a human nature, but not of a total divine nature either. He existed simply by the will of God. This viewpoint was denounced at both the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople.
Adoptionism (Ebionism): The idea of a Trinity was opposed in this doctrine.
The Adoptionists contend that Christ was a man who was adopted by God and made holy at his baptism. He first had a human nature, and developed into a deity after he was baptized. After several tries, Adoptionism was successfully denounced at the end of the 8th century.
Patripassianism: The Patripassians believe that God manifested himself as a
Man through Christ his son, and that they are truly the same divine being. The word Patripassian comes from the Latin words, patris, “Father”, and passus, “to suffer.”
Nestorianism: Nestorius, archbishop of Constantinople, preached that Christ
had two separate natures, human and divine, which acted together in an individual but were never actually united. He also refused to acknowledge Mary as the Mother of God because Christ was born as a man. This was denounced and Nestorius exiled from the empire.
Apollinarianism: Apollinarius, a bishop of Laodicea, taught that Christ was of a
human nature whose body was inhabited by a divine soul. The divine nature actually took over the earthly mind and in this way, Christ became a glorified model of humanity. Although several councils condemned this doctrine, it survived until the 5th century.
Monophysitism: The general belief of this doctrine is that Christ had only a
divine nature. There are four basic methods that this was taught: the divine nature overtook the human nature; the divine nature was overshadowed by the humanity of Christ; an exclusive nature was formed by the combination of the human and divine natures; or there is a balance between the two that cannot be questioned.
Gnosticism: Generally, this held that spirit is good, matter (including humanity)
is bad, and salvation can only be achieved as spirit is separated from matter by means of a higher knowledge. Christ came from God as an inferior being but could not have had an earthly body because it would have been evil. There are two variations here: that Christ only appeared to have a body, or that Christ took over the body of a man who had died.
Marcionism: Marcion, son of the bishop of Sinope, disputed traditional Jewish