What a Tangled Web …

Around the year 30, in a provincial backwater in the Roman Empire called Judea, on the banks of the Jordan, a young man appeared. He came under the spell of the fiery preaching of John the Baptiser, threw in his lot with him, and was immersed in the river. It wasn’t long before he became a fiery preacher himself, in the long tradition of the ‘prophets’ who recalled the Jewish people to the worship and service of the God they were told had chosen them as his own particular people. 

Jesus then built up his own following, and ‘hit the road’. He not only preached but, in line with the times in which he lived, ‘healed the sick and cast out demons’. He believed God’s promised earthly Kingdom was about to arrive, with himself playing a key part. Unfortunately for him, having gone to Jerusalem at the crowded and politically volatile Passover time, he was deemed to pose an unacceptable risk to public order. He was arrested and crucified, while his followers made themselves scarce. Some of them, however, had visions of him alive again, a fervently energising belief which had far-reaching implications.

If God had raised Jesus from the dead, and taken him ‘up into heaven”, who on earth was he? He must now be divine. The next thought was that he’d always been divine. If Israel’s king in previous times had been ‘a’ son of God, then surely Jesus must be ‘the’ son of God. From ‘the Son of God’, he finally became ‘God the Son’, and the implications reached a crescendo. If Jesus was God the Son, how many gods were there? After all, there was only supposed to be one. This baffling conundrum needed, at Chalcedon in the year 451, nearly 600 bishops to sort it out. After five days of impassioned, convolutedly complex debate, agreement was finally reached, and here is what was decided … 

Our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the Virgin Mother of God as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us.”

Congratulations if you made it through to the end ! Was there ever a more tortuous, barely comprehensible, non-solution to a needlessly self-created non-problem? This codological cornucopia reaches its climax in the claim that it’s all “as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us.” Oh, really? In the Gospels, Jesus is recorded as asking, “Who do people say I am?” I have the notion that if anyone, in response, had spouted forth the above clanjamfrie (*), Jesus might well have cast out of them the demon responsible for such an outrageously opaque peroration.

Jesus, with regard to the most inclusive aspects of his lifestyle, and the most pertinent elements of his teaching can, and to me should, be a living and guiding reality in our everyday attitudes, behaviour and relationships. That seems to me to matter far more than these 197 more or less meaningless words from these 600 bishops, god rest their arguably needlessly troubled souls.

(*) “A disorderly rabble; a brouhaha or rumpus; a collection of worthless items.” (Ian Crofton’s Dictionary of Scottish Phrase and Fable). 

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