A Glorious Mystery
Dec 16, 2019
The doctrine of the incarnation has become one of my favorite points of reflection during the Christmas season, especially after completing a Christian history course this fall. During the semester, I learned one of the biggest topics the early church wrestled with was understanding the coexistence of Christ’s humanity and divinity. This was a topic of great debate among the Eastern and Western churches, so much so that when the two met in Ephesus in 431 A.D. to discuss the matter each side ended up excommunicating the other!
While the manner of the church’s feuding may seem a bit ridiculous, it is important to note how a misunderstanding of Christ’s personhood can play out. To emphasize Christ’s humanity at the expense of his divinity is to downplay Christ’s power to bring salvation to all mankind. On the other hand, emphasizing Christ’s divinity at the expense of his humanity downplays Christ’s ability to represent humanity as well as his ability to perfectly relate to them.
In 451 A.D. the Roman Emperor Marcian summoned the Council of Chalcedon to settle the matter of Christ’s humanity and divinity. After much deliberation, the council determined that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, and these natures were harmoniously joined and not to be understood as separate. The decision at Chalcedon successfully built a framework of understanding the personhood of Christ without imposing more words than what the Bible says on the matter. The council did not attempt to explain to the intellectually curious how God could dwell in human form. Rather, the council merely affirmed that He did so, leaving the answer to “How?” as a great mystery.
And what a glorious mystery it is! As the song Joy Has Dawned so beautifully puts it:
“Hands that set each star in place
Shaped the earth in darkness
Cling now to a mother’s breast
Vulnerable and helpless.”
It is a marvelous wonder, indeed, that the Creator of all things came down and experienced the whole array of human life. Whether it be the mundane activity of being nursed as a child or the anguish of physical pain and suffering, Christ experienced it all and believed it all to be worthwhile that we may be reconciled to God.
Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2001), 73.
This article was written by Cheryl Temple. Cheryl is the Director of Enrollment and Financial Aid at Stark College & Seminary. She is also a student in the Master of Arts in Ministry program.