In 1984 Pope Shenouda III
gave a series of lectures at the Seminary of St. Mark, about the
Christology of the Coptic Church. The Coptic Church later decided to
publish the lectures for educational purposes, and subsequently they
were translated into English to be presented as a paper at a meeting
of the Pro-Oriente Group1
in October 1991.
This small book bears the
signature of Pope Shenouda III and can be taken as the official
Coptic Christological Position. Most of the below critical
commentary has been compiled from the exegetical and dogmatical
writings of the Fathers of the Church. The reason for this is that
Holy Scripture must be understood within the Tradition of the Church,
which is the experience of the Church, and this experience is handed
down to us through the writings of the Fathers. Pope Shenouda quotes
many scriptoral passages, but very rarely does he quote any of these
exegetical and dogmatical Patristic writings. Recognizing with great
respect and love the ancient Tradition of the Coptic Orthodox Church,
and especially Pope Shenouda’s steadfast defence of Orthodox
Christianity through many struggles his homeland, Egypt, I shall
nevertheless venture to give a critical commentary on the most
important christological statements made by Pope Shenouda III in his
book, as seen from a Chalcedonian, or Byzantine Christological
position. In his book Pope Shenouda often seems to identify the term
”nature” with ”person”, which in my understanding results in a
misinterpretation of the Byzantine Christology. Hopefully the
following will explain and clarify the Byzantine Christological
position on the person and natures of Christ the Incarnate Logos.
Due to limited space, I have been forced to paraphrase most of Pope
Shenouda’s statements, but have done my utmost to retain the essence
of his statements without alteration.
The statements of Pope
Shenouda are in bold, and the commentary in normal typeface and the
commentary follows the chapter headings in Pope Shenouda’s book.
The Orthodox Concept regarding the nature of
"The divine and human
nature was united in a hypostatic union, without mingling,
confusion or alteration. God the Logos took flesh from the Holy
Virgin" and, “The Holy Spirit purified and sanctified the
Virgin’s womb so that the Child to whom she gave birth would
inherit nothing of the original sin”.2
The first statement is fully
Orthodox and very sound indeed. But as for the second statement in
the above - the Orthodox Church never taught a doctrine of ”original
sin”, but always maintained that mankind has a liability to sin,
which is know as the ancestral sin. The doctrine of ”original sin”
was created in the Western Church, first suggested by St. Augustine,
but later systematized and dogmatized by Anselm in the Latin Church.
The idea of original sin leads to the depressing concept of the
total depravity of mankind. The Orthodox teaching is that even
though mankind exists in a fallen state, the image of God was not
destroyed but only distorted. Man did not inherit any ”original
guilt” from Adam. St. Cyril of Alexandria says, “How could all we
who were not yet born, all be condemned with him...?”3
Furthermore such a geneologically inherited original guilt does not
correspond with the Angel’s salutation to the Virgin Mary, ”Rejoice,
thou who hast been shown grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art
thou among women”.4
St. Leo says, ”What was assumed from the Lord’s mother was nature,
There was no ”immaculate conception”, like taught in the Western
Church, but the Virgin Mary was purified when she accepted to bear
God in the flesh, and became the Theotokos.
unity of natures lead to the formation of “The One Nature of
Shenouda quoting St. Cyril of Alexandria7.
The term “Monophysite” has been misinterpreted through the
centuries, and has led to a false understanding among the
Churches accepting the council of Chalcedon, that the Oriental
Churches holding the Monophysite Christology, only believes in
one nature of Christ and denies the other.
Pope Shenouda says,
“We wonder which of the two natures the Church of Alexandria
It cannot be the divine nature, since the Alexandrian Church
fought against Arianism.
According to the
Oriental Christology, “The expression One Nature does not
indicate the Divine Nature alone nor the human nature alone, but
it indicates the unity of both natures into One Nature which is
the The Nature of the Incarnate Logos”.9
It can be likened to the human nature, which is composed of two
united natures - soul and body. The divine nature is
hypostatically united with the human nature. The expression “two
natures” suggests separation or division, and this was why the
Coptic Church rejected Chalcedon, where the, “tone of
Let us listen to St. John of
Damascus: ”How is it possible for the same nature to be at once
created and uncreated, mortal and immortal, circumscribed and
uncircumscribed? ...How can they ever say that Christ has two
natures, while they are asserting that after the union He has one
compound nature? For it is obvious to anyone that, before the union,
Christ had one nature”.11
This is of course the Divine nature, since the flesh which the Lord
took from the Mother of God was not pre-existent or consubstantial
with the Divine Logos. What He took from the Virgin was created
human nature. And when we speak of the human nature, ”...all
share the nature of the soul and possess the substance of the body”.12
They form one species made up of human hypostases, individual beings
with a soul and a body. However Jesus Christ is not an individual
out of many, and there is no ”Christ-species” with whom He shares
His hypostasis, because we are speaking about the Hypostasis of the
second Person of the Holy Trinity. His Hypostasis is therefore
different from the individual human hypostasis. His is one composite
person (hypostasis) because, ”His natures are united in His
person...and in this He differs both from the Father and the Spirit
and from His Mother and us”.13
Again – Christ is not an individual, and therefore the union of the
soul and body in one human nature cannot be compared to the union of
the Divine nature and human nature in one Divine hypostasis!
Coptic Church condemns Appolinarius because he taught that
Christ did not have a human soul when He became Incarnate. He
preached that Christ had a divine nature but since he did not
believe that Christ had a human soul, Appolinarius did not
believe in Christ having a fully human nature."
However Appolinarius like
Pope Shenouda also taught that Christ had only One Nature after the
union for, ”just as man is one nature, so is Christ Who has come
in the likeness of men...One incarnate nature of the Divine Word”.14
This statement sounds dangerously close to what the Coptic Pope
says.. Appolinarius was actually the first to introduce the word
However Appolinarius mostly used the term prosopon
for Christ’s Person, whereas Pope Shenouda uses the term
hypostasis. According to St. John of Damascus, the followers of
Appolinarius taught that, the Word only was made flesh”,18
meaning that Christ did not take flesh from the Virgin, even though
He was born from her. So in Appolinarius’ view Christ was not
consubstantial with mankind. Obviously the Coptic Church condemn
Appolinarius, but the, perhaps unwilling, overemphasizing of the
divine nature, and somewhat erroneous understanding of the
Chalcedonian use of the terms person and nature, might result in the
over-emphasizing of respectively both the divine and the human
nature in Christ, depending on the context.
The Council of Chalcedon
Pope Shenouda lists the
Council of Chalcedon together with Appolinarius and other “widely
known heresies”. He explains:
though Chalcedon had excommunicated Nestorius, it was still
Nestorian itself. The Council declared that Christ is two
persons: A God and a human being. The first person is working
miracles and the latter does the suffering and accepting
humiliation. St. Leo of Rome was also a Nestorian and his Tome
confirmed that Christ had two natures. Pope Shenouda reminds us,
that Nestorius said that the two natures were distinctly
separated and that Christ had two wills, and two actions."
Nestorianism leads to the
idea that if Christ has to distinct persons, these must necessarily
be a divine and a human hypostasis, or persons. Chalcedon did not
declare that Christ is ”two persons”, but two natures19.
St. Maximos the Confessor says, ”...a fourth person is not added
to the Trinity, which would be the case if the Incarnate Christ was
divided into two persons”.20
But is is necessary to distinguish between the two natures in Christ
because, ”nothing can be coessential or cognate with the
Divinity...in other words, in the Incarnation the two natures have
united to form a single person, not a single nature”.21
It is true that St. Leo’s Tome could be accused of occasionally
being somewhat unclear in the language used to describe these
concepts. Especially this phrase by St. Leo, ”...each ”form” does
the acts which belong to it, in communion with the other; the
Word...performing what belongs to the Word, and the flesh carrying
out what belongs to flesh...one shines out in miracles, the other
succumbs to injuries”.22
This has been greatly criticized by the Coptic Church as being
”Nestorian”, but hear how St. Leo explains this in the very next
sentence of his Tome, ”...as the Word does not withdraw from
equality with the Father in glory, so the flesh does not abandon the
nature of our kind...For...He is one and the same, truly Son of God
and truly Son of Man”.23
Obviosly Pope Shenouda’s fear that St. Leo is speaking of ”two
persons”, is unfounded. When speaking about the hypostatic union of
the two natures in Christ24,
St. Leo used the Latin word substantia which in Greek was
translated into hypostasis. Etymologically these two terms are very
similar ”hypo-stasis”, and ”sub-stantia”, but after the Arian
controversy, hypostasis was used by the Greek Fathers for the Latin
”person”. Substantia was then translated into ”ïõóéá” in Greek
(nature or essence). Unfortunately St. Leo was probably not aware of
But if one reads the few
examples given above it is obvious that St. Leo spoke about the two
natures in Christ, and not of two persons. St. Leo emphasized that
these two natures in Christ were, ”active in communion with each
He did so against Nestorianism and the heretical claim that Christ
was a mere man, in whom the Divine ”indwelled”. Leo’s emphasis on
this is essential for the Orthodox concept of Theosis or perfection
through Christ the Mediator, because Christ became man, so that man
could become God. The concept of Theosis seems not to be considered
at all by Pope Shenouda. St. Leo also affirmed Theopaschism,
which was in perfect harmony with what St Cyril taught. It is also a
fact that the Council of Chalcedon found no discord between the
teachings of St. Cyril and of St. Leo. The Tome of St. Leo was
compared with the letters of St. Cyril, and there is no reason to
believe that St. Cyril’s letter of anathema against Nestorius was
not considered by the Council, thereby elevating Chalcedon above any
suspicion of Nestorianism.26
The Nature of This Union
Divine nature did not mix with the human nature nor mingle with
it, but it was a unity that led to Oneness of Nature”.27 To illustrate
this, Pope Shenouda quotes St. Cyril, who used the analogy of
fire and iron:
When iron is heated, it does not become two natures, fire and
iron. But rather the iron unites with the fire. The fire and the
iron is united but retains all their respective properties. In
the same way the Incarnate Logos is not ”God and man”. St Cyril
and St Augustine28
used the example of the union between the soul and the body,
”...both become one in essence and in nature, so we say that
this is one nature and one person.”29
Those who believe that Christ had two natures never mention the
two natures in man, but consider them one30.
In fact, ”If we go into detail we would find...ourselves
before three natures in Christ!!! The Divinity, the soul,
and the body, each and each of them has its distinct entity and
If we accept the union of soul and body in one nature in Christ,
it becomes easier for us to use the expression ”One Nature in
And ”just as we say that the human nature is one nature
consisting of two elements or natures, we can also say about the
Incarnate Logos, that He is one entity of two elements or
The above allegory is not
valid, because the union of the soul and the body does not
constitute a union between two different human natures – as Pope
Shenouda himself affirms in the above. St. Maximos says about the
Incarnate Logos that, ”We speak of a distinction of natures to
avoid asserting that the flesh is coessential in its nature with the
Which is exactly the heresy of Appolinarius, whom Pope Shenouda
the divine nature is different from the human nature, then how
do they unite? The reply is that the nature of the soul is
different from that of the body, but they still unite in one
human nature. All man’s acts are attributed to him as a whole
being. All Christ’s actions are similarly attributed to Him –
not to this nature or that nature. The union of soul and body is
a real and hypostatic union, which took place in the Virgin’s
womb. The example of the union of soul and body in man is
inclusive – it is only incomplete in the sense that it does not
explain why the soul leaves the death at death, nor how they
reunite in the resurrection."35
The Hypostatic union of the
natures in Christ, which took place in the womb of the Virgin was
not between soul and body. Because as already mentioned, Christ was
not an ordinary individual hypostasis. The union was between the
human nature of the Virgin’s flesh and the divine nature of God the
Logos, and it happened for our healing. St. Paul says somewhere that
there is only one mediator between God and man, Christ. This
mediation becomes possible exactly because of the two natures in
Christ. St. Gregory Palamas says, ”Being twofold in nature, He
could truly be a mediator, joining each of the two to the other”.36
As for the resurrection of the dead, it is truly a real
reuniting of body and soul. The rising of Lazarus37
is proof of this. As to Pope Shenouda’s question how this will take
place? – hear St. John of Damascus, ”How do the dead rise again?
Oh what lack of faith” Oh, what stupidity! He who just by His will
changed dust into a body...will He not much more be able to raise up
again the body...? Senseless man, if thou art callous enough not to
believe the words of God, then at least believe His works...”38
The Unity of nature and the birth of Christ
is not two Sons, one the Son of God to be adored, and the other
a man and not to be worshipped”.39
It is not possible to separate between the two natures. We must
make one genuflexion to One Christ.40
said that, ”He was born from the Father before all ages
without a mother, and was born from a Virgin in the fullness of
time without an earthly father”.42
There was indeed never two
Sons. However the Divine Logos was not born, but begotten from
before all ages, as our Creed says. Born denotes an event taking
place in historical time having a beginning and an end. Begotten is
without a beginning and with no end - from all eternity, and outside
historical time. About the adoration St. John of Damascus says, ”...according
to its own nature His flesh is not adorable...when, however it has
been united with God the Word, it is adorable because of Him and in
So we adore One Christ, Who in order to fully become one of us, let
Himself be born in historical time from a human mother, the Virgin
Mary from whom He took flesh. Likewise St. Joseph took care of the
Lord Incarnate, when He was a child – just like any real father
would do. Christ submitted Himself to earthly parenthood. This is
important to emphasize in order to point out just how fully He
accepted to become one of us in His human nature, while eternally
remaining God the Logos and part of the Holy Trinity.
The One Nature of the Incarnate Logos
is One Nature (one entity) but has all the properties of two
And there was no separation beteen the two Natures at Christ’s
death. ”On the third day His soul, united with His body which
was also united with His Godhead; thus resurrection took place”.45
When Christ left His tomb, and when He walked through closed
doors (John. 20:19) was it the divine or the human nature?, or
was it Christ the Incarnate Logos?"46
There was never any
separation of the natures at Christ’s death, and here Pope Shenouda
is in full agreement with Chalcedonian Christology. St John of
Damascus says, ”...the person of Christ was always one, since, even
though the soul was separated from the body in place, it still was
hypostatically united to it through the Word”.47
Regarding when Christ walked through the closed doors and appeared
in the midst of His disciples - closed doors obviously present no
hindrance to Him Who let Himself be born from a Virgin!
The Importance of the ”One Nature” for
propitiation and redemption
Christ’s human nature performs acts independently of the divine
nature, then death of the human nature on the Cross is not
enough!" (1 Cor 2:8.)
St. Paul is not speaking
about the ”death of human nature” in this passage. He is speaking
about the Jews crucifying the Lord of glory well knowing who He was.48
It was for the very reason of freeing us from the tyranny of of the
devil that the Lord united to Himself human nature. St. Gregory
Palamas says, ”...the Word of God put on man’s nature to trick
the trickster. He received this nature in its undeceived and pure
state...offering it as first-fruits to the Father for sanctification
from ourselves for ourselves”.49
"Christ was crucified in One nature, and this is essential for
our salvation (Acts 3:14-15, Heb 2:10, Col 1:16, Rev 1:17-18)."
In none of the passages
listed above do the God-inspired Fathers detect any ”one nature” or
any necessity for the Divine to suffer or die. About Acts 3:14-15,
St Gregory of Nyssa says, ”He becomes the first-born of the new
creation of men in Christ by the two-fold regeneration... by Holy
Baptism and that which is the consequence of the resurrection from
the dead, becoming for us in both alike the Prince of Life”.50
Heb 2:10, St. John Chrysostom, ”...sufferings are a perfection
and a cause of salvation...for the Christ was glorified when He
suffered. But...do not suppose that there was an accession of glory
to Him: for that which is of nature He always had, and received
nothing in addition”.51
Col 1:16, St. John Chrysostom, ”...(He) Himself holds them
together now, so that were they severed from His providence, they
would be destroyed and ruined”.52
Rev 1:17-18, St. Bede, ”He is the First, because in Him were all
things created, the Last because in Him all things are
restored...Christ has conquered and dominated death”.53
it is very dangerous for our salvation to separate between the
two natures. The Tome of Leo stated that Christ is two: God and
man. ”What then? If that one being is alone the receiver of
suffering, then where is the salvation we gained?”54
There is no division or
separation in Christ Incarnate. St. John of Damascus says, ”...that
which was created remained created, and that which was uncreated
In other words both the created and uncreated nature remained united
in Christ without separation. St. Leo says, ”He assumed the form
of a servant...enriching what was human, not impairing what was
The One nature and the suffering
is related to the Divine aspect can be attributed to the Divine
nature at the same time without distinction”.56
And again, ”Thus the One sacrificed by God is the Son, the
Only-Begotten Son, that is, the Second Hypostasis (Person) of
the Holy Trinity; the Logos”.57
The logical consequence of
what Pope Shenouda says in the above is that the divine and human
nature became merged into one nature, and subsequently the Second
Person of the Holy Trinity had to die! Regarding possibility of the
crucifixion inflicting suffering on the divine, St. Leo says, ”...the
Son of God is said to have been crucified and buried, inasmuch as He
underwent this, not in His actual Godhead; wherein the Only-begotten
is coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, but in the weakness
of human nature”58.
The Term ”Son of Man”
Jesus called Himself Son of Man, He really meant Son of God."59
Such speculations might lead
even deeper into the idea that Christ Incarnate had only a divine
nature. The ”one nature” he refers to as the Son of God can only be
the divine nature. Why would Christ refer to Himself as Son of man,
if in reality He meant Son of God? The example of the blind man
who cried out ”Son of David” illustrates that He was known as the
Son of David, and David was surely not ”a divine father” of Christ
Incarnate? Christ was the Son of God according to His divinity, and
Son of David according to His human geneology. The angelic
salutation to the Theotokos shows this very clearly, ”This One
shall be great and shall be called Son of the Highest; and the Lord
God shall give to Him the throne of His Father David”.61
”Son of the Highest” is the Son of God, since there is no one higher
than God, and ”His father David” refers both to His literal
geneology through the Virgin Mary, and to the fact that He was sent
to David’s people to lead them into the heavenly kingdom.
Shenouda lists 8 Scriptural passages in defence of his position:
3:13, It cannot be the Incarnate Logos Who speaks to Nicodemus,
therefore this verse is proof of One nature.
St. John of Damascus says of
this passage that it, ”...is indicative of the One Person and
displays both natures62
and that, ”...we know that His one Person thus preserves for
itself the essential difference of the natures. How, indeed, would
the differences be preserved, were not those things preserved in
which they differ from each other?”.63
2) If the Son of Man means human
nature, and if the Lord of the Sabbath means divine nature –
then these two terms put together proves that Christ has one
The Holy Fathers do not
speculate in linguistic separations and additions in this way. St.
Theophylact explains Christ’s words this way, ”I, the Son of Man,
am Lord of the Sabbath for I am the Creator of all things,
including the days...it is I as Master Who sets aside the Sabbath”.64
There is One Lord Jesus Christ, Who is both Son of Man and Lord of
the Sabbath at the same time, precisely because there is no
separation between His natures, and there is no need to add ”two
sons” together to come to the Unity of Christ.
Matt 9:6, Which one of the natures forgive sins? Only God alone
can forgive sins, therefore the Incarnate Logos.
The Incarnate Logos’ divine
nature is consubstantial with the Godhead, and the miracles worked
by Christ Incarnate was of His divine nature. St. John of Damascus
says, ”...we recognize both the miracles and the sufferings as
His, even though it was in one nature that He worked miracles and in
another that He endured sufferings."
Matt 16:27, Will human nature or divine nature judge the world?
The terms, Son of Man and Son of God indicate one nature, and
the angels indicate divine nature. So this is proof that Son of
Man cannot indicate human nature alone.
The angels are not
consubstantial with the divine nature. They are bodiless, created
beings of created nature. St. Gregory Palamas says that we must
understand this passage as explaining , ”...from what point in
time Matthew, Christ’s Apostle and Evangelist counts the six days
preceding the day on which the Lord was transfigured...Six days
after the day when the Lord taught His disciples saying, ”The Son of
Man shall come in the glory of His Father”.65
Matt 25:31-34, Here the Son of Man and Son of God speaks at the
same time. Son of Man will judge the world, while judgment
proceeds from the Son of God ”So here unity of natures (the
One Nature) is obvious”.66
Here in this passage the
Lord only calls Himself Son of Man, and this passage rather than
being proof of ”one nature”, shows exactly how the Lord’s two
natures communes and how the two wills act through both natures.
Yes, the unity is obvious, but so are the two natures – Son of God,
and Son of Man.
Matt 26:63-65. Is it the human or divine nature who is sitting
at the right hand? And Acts 7:57. It is impossible to separate
In Matt. 26:65 Christ quotes
from the Prophet Daniel 7:13. It is the Son of Man who is sitting at
the right hand of the Father. Because there is only one Son of the
Father. St. Theophylact says, ”Power here means that of the
Father, and the Son of Man will be coming not from earth but from
Matt 24: 29-31. (”He” is the Son of Man) This is also the One
nature Who speaks.
This passage speaks about
the final judgment. It is Christ discoursing with His disciples on
the Mount of Olives. He clearly speaks as the Son of God foretelling
what is to come, but since the discourse does not come as a voice
from the heaven, but through Christ Incarnate, this passage also
proves that He speaks to us in our own nature. The sign mentioned by
Christ is the Cross, and the sending of His angels does not prove
that Christ has only one nature.
6: 62. This is of course the Son, the Hypostasis, but also, ”due
to the One Nature, He says concerning the Son of Man what he
says about the ”Hypostasis” of the Son because He is the
This passage says, ”What
if then ye should see the Son of Man ascending where He was before?”
It is the next verse, however, that holds the key to the correct
understanding of this passage. ”It is the spirit that maketh
alive; the flesh profiteth nothing. The words which I have spoken to
you are spirit and life”.69
Evidence from the Bible
Shenouda states in 8 points what according to him is Scriptural
proof of the one nature.
Matt 3:17. The Father did not say this about the human nature of
His Son. This cannot indicate two natures, so Christ has
evidently One Nature.
The Baptism of Our Lord was
of course not necessary in order to ”purify” His own human nature,
since there was no sin in Him. The Fathers interpret Matt 3:17 as a
manifestation of the Holy Trinity. St. Gregory Palamas says, ”In
this way He was declared to be truly the Son, the Father in heaven
was manifested as being truly the Father, and the Spirit too was
made known as proceeding from the Father...The grace of the Son, of
His Father and of the Spirit came to dwell in the baptismal water”.70
Also this passage clarifies that John was not the Christ as some
thought. St. Theophylact, ”They all saw the Spirit descending
upon Jesus so that they would not think that the voice which said
”This is My beloved Son,” was referring to John”.71
Interestingly enough Pope Shenouda nowhere quotes any of the
passages where Christ clearly manifests His human nature, as for
example in Matt 4:1-3, where Jesus hungers and is tempted by the
devil. Did this happen in ”one nature” as well? Did the Lord’s
fasting inflict hunger and temptation on the Divine Logos? Did the
tempter lift up the Divine Logos and carry Him around?
1: 15, 30. John did not separate between the natures, ”for
the One Who John baptized was He Himself Who was before him”.72
St. John the Divine speaks
here about dignity, and not about geneology, and even in the
geneology of Christ, there is nothing that suggests that Christ did
not have a human nature. St. John Chrysostom says, ”...The One
Who cometh after me, means, the One Who preacheth after me, not the
One Who was born after me”.73
And regarding the phrase ”because He was before me”, St. Bede
says ”...meaning, because He was eternal God before the ages; for
this reason, although He was born later than I (John), even in His
assumed humanity, the glory of His majesty to precedence over me”.74
Another clear proof of the two natures in Christ.
1:18. How did he declare the father? When He became Incarnate.
Who declared Him? The man Jesus Christ, Who came after John the
Baptist by human birth, and this proves the One Nature.
Christ being born in the
flesh after John has already been addressed above. Regarding the
verse in question. This verse speaks about the fact that before the
Incarnation of God the Logos, no one had seen God. Only when the
Divine Logos assumed our human nature, did He become visible to man,
and declared Him. Still God only makes Himself known through His
divine energies. St. John Chrysostom confirme that no one has seen
God in His Essence, and that all the visions of the Old Testament
was merely God’s condescension. ”That One” (Åêåéíïò) is a
demonstrative pronoun frequently used by the evangelist, when
emphasizing the person or thing immediately at hand. Jesus also uses
it about Himself (Jn 9:37)75
4) 1 Jn 1:1. The evangelist talks
about Him Whom he has seen and touched. How can this be if He
was not the Incarnate Logos? This is not about the human nature
alone or the divine nature alone, because the human nature was
not eternal and the divine nature cannot be touched.
This is very sound Orthodox
teaching. And here St. John the Divine illustrates very clearly that
Christ had two natures. The Logos of Life Which was from the
beginning, yet as already stated in point 3, they were able to hear
Him and touch Him when He took flesh of our nature. St. Bede says,
”...Thomas said, ”My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28)...He is speaking
here about that life which says in the Gospel, I am the resurrection
and the life (Jn 11:25)which was made manifest, being revealed by
the divine miracles that He worked while in the body”.76
9: 35-37. ”It cannot be the human nature alone because the Lord
Jesus Christ confirms that ”it is He that talks with you, the
Son of God”. Thus He is the Incarnate God Who was manifest in
the flesh (1. Tim 3:16)”.77
This too is very sound
Orthodox teaching. St. Cyril of Alexandria says that, ”Christ
conversed with the people, sometimes ”ïéêïíïìéêùò”, that is to say,
as a man, and sometimes with divine authority (ìåô åæïõóéáò ôçò
èåïðñåðïõò ), as God”.78
St. Augustine says about this verse, ”And now at last with the
face of his heart washed, and a conscience purified, acknowledging
Him no only as the son of man, which he had believed before, but now
as the Son of God, who had assumed our flesh, he said, Lord, I
And again listen to St. Cyril of Alexandria, ”Great is the
mystery of piety, the self-emptying of the Logos...Who, though He
was in the form and equality of the Father...came in likeness of us
and shared in flesh and blood, and graced everything under heaven
with the æconomy of the Incarnation”.80
Cor 10:4. Pope Shenouda says, ”how could He be with them
quenching their thirst unless St. Paul is speaking about the
Divine nature which is God the Logos?”81
This must be the Divine nature, God the Logos. But the Logos was
not called Christ until His Incarnation But due to the One
Nature the Apostle could not distinguish between the natures,
and he speaks about the eternity of Christ. Same in 1 Cor 10:9.
It is the second Hypostasis
of the Holy Trinity, God the Logos Who makes Himself known to the
Israelites in the desert through His divine energies. St. Paul here
speaks about one of the many types of Christ found in the Old
Testament. St. John Chrysostom says, ”...The Rock was Christ...it
was not the nature of the rock which sent forth the water – such is
his meaning...but another sort of Rock, a spiritual One...that is
Christ Who was everywhere with them and wrought all the wonders.”82
Matt 2:11. Did they worship the Divine nature alone, or the
human nature? The human nature alone cannot be worshipped. So it
must be One nature.
Human nature in itself
cannot be worshipped, but the Invisible Divinity became visible in
humanity to us, and this is how the Magi worshipped Him. St.
Theophylact says, ”...Gold they offered to Him as to a
king...frankincense as to God...they offered myrrh since He would
taste of death. For the Jews would prepare the dead for burial with
St. Theophylact says that the Magi had been taught by the prophecy
of Balaam84 that the Lord was both God and King. St. Theophylact, ”Behold the
kingship in the lion, and death in the reclining. Behold the
Divinity; for only the divine nature has the power to bless”.85
The magi worshipped not ”one nature”, but One Hypostasis – person.
walked the sea? Rebuked the wind? Was it the Divine or human
nature? It was of course the Incarnate Logos. Was it only the
Divine nature Who worked miracles? Then how about Lk 4:40? Who
laid His hands on them? How about Mk 5:29? How was she healed by
touching His clothes? How did Christ heal the blind man by spit
and clay? It was of course the Incarnate Logos.
And the Incarnate Logos did
this as Mediator and Healer, which was only possible because He
assumed our human nature. St. Theophylact says on Mk 5:29, ”You
should...understand these things as pertaining to human nature,
which also has an issue of blood. For human nature had been gushing
forth sin which was killing the soul as it drained out the
life-blood of the soul...But as soon as our human nature touched
Christ’s clothes...His flesh, it was healed. For he who touches
Christ’s clothes is he who believes that Christ took flesh”.86
The One Will and the One Act
We believe like St.
Cyril in One Nature of the Incarnate Logos. And we believe in
One Will and One act. Jn 4:34. Christ had the same will as the
Father. Also Jn 5:19, Jn 6:38, and Jn 10:30 is proof of One
Will. The Son was, ”fulfilling the Will of the Heavenly Father,
thus is must be that He Who united (Himself) with the manhood
had One Will...sin is nothing but a conflict between man’s will
Jesus Christ had no sin at all, Jn 8:46, therefore His Will was
that of the Father.
It is interesting to listen
to what St. Cyril himself wrote in his letter to John of Antioch, ”He
(Christ) is also called the Man from heaven, being perfect in His
divinity and perfect in His humanity, and considered as one of us in
one Person (hypostasis). For One is the Lord Jesus Christ, although
the differences of His natures are not unknown, from which we say
the ineffable union was made”.88
Obviously St. Cyril of Alexandria here recognizes the two natures in
Christ Incarnate, and hear him again from the same letter, ”Will
your holiness vouchsafe to silence those who say that a crasis, or
mingling or mixture took place between the Word of God and the
flesh. For it is likely that certain also gossip about me as having
thought or said such things”.89
The will of Christ is the will of the Father, since the Logos is
never apart from the Godhead, and there are not three wills in the
Holy Trinity. We see that when Christ prays to the Father at
Lazarus’ tomb (Jn. 11:1-46). That is, in His divine will and nature
He is consubstantial with God the Father, and this explains how He
fulfills the will of the heavenly Father. In Christ there are two
natural wills and two natural operations, or acts. Both are in one
Person (hypostasis) so it is the same Person Who wills and acts in
both natures. The actions are not separated but in full concert and
communion, since there is no division or separation in Christ. St.
John of Damascus says, ”...the will and operation of things
having different substances are different. Conversely, the substance
of things having the same will and operation is the same”.90
The Scriptural passages
quoted by Pope Shenouda do not indicate that Christ had only one
nature, but rather listen to St. John of Damascus again, ”...in
Father and Son and Holy Ghost we discover the identity of nature
from the identity of the operation and the will”.91
God the Logos makes Himself know to us through His acting through
the two natures, and when we observe these actions of the second
Person in the Holy Trinity, Christ Incarnate, in the Holy Gospels
we, ”...discover the difference of the nature from the difference
of the wills and operations”.92
These two wills are not what in Pope Shenouda’s understanding of
Chalcedonian Christology would be called personal. They are natural,
”For if we concede these to be personal, then we shall be forced
to say that the three Persons in the Holy Trinity differ in will and
And we do not worship three gods with three separate wills!
saints are perfect in their behaviour and their will becomes the
will of God, 1 Cor 2:16 –. ”He (St. Paul) did not say that
our thoughts are in accord with the mind of Christ, but that,
”we have the mind of Christ, and here unity is stressed.”94
There are several examples
of Saints who were not perfect in their behaviour, St. Nicholas of
Myra once resorted to physical violence, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk had a
somewhat hot temper sometimes, and St. Paul often laments his own
imperfections. This does not mean that they are not Saints, but
rather that they were humble and God-loving human beings, who
struggled to overcome the passions and came out victorious. The
passions can only be overcome by the purification of the heart95
prayer and ascetical efforts, which have been extensively described
in the writings of the ascetical Fathers. To make the human will
conform to the will of God is part of the ascetical path leading
towards Theosis or perfection. The transfiguration of man, is not a
mechanical achievement but a result of the ascetical life in
Christ.. The mind does not become consubstantial with the mind of
Christ, like one might understand Pope Shenouda’s statement above.
To have the mind of Christ can only come from living a life in
Christ sacramentally, nourished by the Holy Mysteries, in particular
by the Holy Eucharist, which is the Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
By God’s grace this life in Christ leads to the understanding of
spiritual things, as St. John Chrysostom says on 1 Cor. 2:16, ”...the
knowledge which we have concerning the things of the faith is
spiritual...it is not possible that one material-minded should know
This spiritual knowledge is always, and only, a gift of God’s grace
in the Holy Spirit, ”...For who knoweth the mind of the Lord?”98
The ultimate goal of the life in Christ is to reclaim the likeness
of the image of God which was distorted by the fall. This
transfiguration was foreshadowed by Moses when the Israelites could
not look at his face (Ex. 34:30-35). Christ Himself was transfigured
to the glory of the Father, on Mount Tabor, and the disciples could
not even look at Him. Before this Christ had told them, ”For the
Son of Man is about to come in the glory of His Father...”99.
The disciples who were with Christ on Mount Tabor were allowed to
see this glory, which is the uncreated light of God. St. Gregory
Palamas says that, ”...they saw that ineffable light, when and as
much as the Holy Spirit’s power granted them to do so”.100
Was this ”one nature” revealing this ineffable light, or was it the
uncreated energies of God through the Holy Spirit? St. Gregory
Palamas says, ”...when Christ was transfigured he neither
received anything different, nor was changed into anything
different, but was revealed to His disciples as He was”.101
After Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension Protomartyr Stephen’s face
became angelic at his martyrdom, which proves that Christ’s
Transfiguration was a model for the human transfiguration in Christ,
of which also St. Seraphim of Sarov witnessed during his
conversation with Motovilov102.
"The crucifixion was
the choice of both the divine and the human nature. Otherwise He
would not have died by His Own Will for our sake. The Will is
One, and consequently the Act is also One"103.
It is definitely true, that
the death on the Cross was not the will of one nature or the other.
It was by the will of God the Son, Who’s will is never in opposition
to the Will of God the Father. All of John 17 shows how Christ
Incarnate prays in His human nature, while at the same time there is
perfect concordance between Him and the Father. When the Lord prayed
in Gethsemane Garden He showed very clearly how fully He had made
our nature His own, when He said to His disciples, My soul is
very sad, even unto death”.104
He certainly had a human soul in his human nature! St. Ambrose says
of this passage, ”...He seemed sorrowful and was sorrowful, not
because of His own Passion, but because of our dispersion. He was
sorrowful, because He left us like little children”105. He was truly among us and loved us, and when He prayed that night in
the Garden, He was using the language of Him Who assumed our nature
– but not the language of that nature. St. Gregory the Theologian
says of Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane Garden that this, ”...
passage does not mean that the Son has a special will of His own,
besides that of the Father, but that He has not...for as we have one
Godhead, we have one Will”.106
When He prayed, ”O My Father, if is possible, let this cup pass
from Me; however not as I will, but as Thou wilt”107,
He showed that He had truly made human nature His own. “Father” He
said as being consubstantial with the Godhead, “if it is possible”,
to teach us to put the divine Will before our own, and “however
not as I will, but as Thou wilt”, as God, “since He is of the
same will as the Father, while at the same time He says it as man to
show the natural will of His humanity, for this last naturally
shrinks before death”.108
Regarding Christ’s death on the Cross, St. Gregory Palamas says, “Although
as God He was and remained above suffering and immortal, as man He
chose to suffer in the flesh for our sake, to be crucified, to die
and to be buried”.109
It was not “one nature” who grew physically, and became older
as Christ Incarnate did, since the divine is not corruptible, but
having assumed our nature, still having a divine nature, Christ
endured this corruption, and even death on the Cross. He suffered as
a man in His human nature, but as God He always remained above
suffering in His divine nature.110
The same is true when Christ is on the Cross and cries out “My
God, My God, why didst Thou forsake Me?111”
St. Theophylact says, “just as Christ agonized and was sorely
troubled before the cross, showing the fear that is ours by nature,
so now He says why have you forsaken me? Displaying our natural
thirst for life”.112
St. Cyril of Alexandria offers his interpretation, teaching us that,
“…the nature of man was made rich in all blamelessness and
innocence in Him, so that it could now cry out with boldness, “My
God, My God, why didst Thou forsake Me”(CF. Ps. 21:1) (Èåå Ìïõ, Èåå
Ìïõ, éíáôé Ìå åãêáôåëéðåò;) Understand that in becoming Man, the
Only-begotten spoke these words as one of us and on behalf of all of
our nature…It is as if He was saying…In Me Thou seest the nature of
man made clean, its fault corrected, made holy and pure…He did not
invoke the Father’s graciousness upon Himself, but rather upon us”.113
Post Scriptum instead of a conclusion
From the above it is clear
that the Latin Christian concept of original sin and the resulting
need for purification of the Virgin’s womb, at one point made its
way into the Coptic Orthodox theology. This is a real theological
issue which the Coptic Church needs to address and solve among its
own theologians. Will the Coptic Church follow the Latin teaching or
the Orthodox on this point? Another stumbling block for the
understanding between the Coptic Orthodox and the Byzantine Orthodox
is definitely the terminology used in Christology. Regarding
Christ’s Incarnate person we have seen how the Coptic Orthodox
emphasize that they do not deny any of the natures in Christ.
However they invariably slide into over-emphasizing the divine
nature in Christ in order to counter what they fear is Chalcedonian
Nestorianism, especially with regards to the Tome of St. Leo. This
very real Christological problem begins with their identification of
the term nature with person. It should, however, be more than
obvious from the above that St. Leo was not a Nestorian. Given all
the above Patristic interpretations and explanations, which
certainly must be known to all Coptic Orthodox Theologians, one
cannot help but wonder why they still maintain the position that
nature and person is one and the same thing? St. Cyril of
Alexandria, so highly venerated by the Coptic Orthodox, believed, as
we have seen, in the two natures, and he argued against any ideas
about the natures having been mixed into one.
We have also seen how it
becomes impossible for the Coptic Orthodox Christology when seen in
the light of the writings of the Fathers, to explain how a combined,
single nature in Christ can retain all the properties of two
natures? The long list of numerous Scriptural passages looks
impressing, but the argumentation falls apart, because of the total
absence of the Patristic witness of the Fathers of the Church in the
Coptic argumentation. In the Orthodox Church Scripture does not
explain itself. The idea that Christ Incarnate only had one nature,
also invariably leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that suffering
and death was inflicted upon the Divine Logos at his crucifixion.
But Christ the Incarnate Divine Logos, second Person of the Holy
Trinity came as the Mediator and Healer of mankind, and joined to
Himself real human nature, while remaining eternal God. And God did
not suffer in His Divine nature on the Cross. The Divine Logos is
not susceptible to suffering and death. It is however also clear
from the above that we agree on at least one very essential point,
namely that Christ the Incarnate Logos was One Person. This belief
in Christ’s real Incarnation is an essential part of our common
Orthodox Tradition, and the importance to reach a mutual
understanding between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the other
Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Byzantine Orthodox Churches
cannot be overemphasized.
The tragedy of the split
between us because of these issues mainly of terminology must not
prevail. May God grant that mutual understanding and ecumenical
efforts between our Churches will one day be successful.
By the prayers of our Holy
Father among the Saints, Cyril of Alexandria!
Statement on Christology (AD 1991):
"We believe that our Lord,
God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Incarnate - Logos is perfect in
His Divinity and perfect in His Humanity. He made His humanity One
with His Divinity without Mixture, nor Mingling, nor Confusion. His
Divinity was not separated from His Humanity even for a moment or
twinkling of an eye. At the same time, we anathematize the Doctrines
of both Nestorius and Eutyches".
(Signatures of Hierarchs
taking part in the Pro-Orient Group meeting)114
The Chalcedonian Statement of Christology (AD
“Wherefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one voice teach
that our our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son, the same
perfect in divinity and the same perfect in humanity, truly God and
truly man, the same consistent of a reasonable soul and body,
consubstantial with the Father according to His divinity and the
same consubstantial with us according to His humanity, similar to us
in all things except sin; begotten of the Father before the ages
according to His divinity, but the same begotten, in these last
days, for us and for our salvation, from Mary the Virgin and
Theotokos, according to His humanity; one and the same Christ, Son,
Lord, Only-Begotten, acknowledged in two natures (Åí äõï öõóåóéí),
without confusion, without change, without division, without
separation; the difference of His natures never being abolished
because of their union, but rather the characteristic property of
each nature being preserved and concurring into one person and one
hypostasis, (åéò åí ðñïóùðïí êáé ìéáí õðïóôáóéí óõíôñå÷ïõóçò), not
as if He was parted or divided into two persons, but one and the
same Son, Only-Begotten, God, the Word, Jesus Christ; even as the
prophets from ancient times spoke of Him, and as Jesus Christ
Himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed down
Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other
Early Christian Literature, Chicago 1957.
Cross, F.L. and Livingstone, E.A. (eds.) The Oxford
Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press 1997.
Damascus, St. John of, Writings, The Fathers of the Church, A
New Translation Vol 37, CUA 1958.
Holy Apostles Convent (Trans.), The Orthodox New Testament,
(2 Vols). Buena Vista, Colorado 2000.
Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines, Harper, San
Meyendorff, John, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions, SVS
Moore, Archimandrite Lazarus, St. Seraphim of Sarov, A
Spiritual Biography, New Sarov Press, Blanco, Texas 1994.
Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain (Ed.), The Philokalia Vol 2.
London & Boston 1981.
Romanides, John, The Ancestral Sin, Ridgewood NJ 2002.
Schaff, Philip, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series
Vol VII. Grand Rapids 1991.
>> >> Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series Vol V. Grand Rapids
>> >> Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series Vol VII. Grand Rapids
>> >> Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series Vol XIV. Grand Rapids
Shenouda III, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate
of Alexandria, The Nature of Christ, Cairo 1991.
Theophylact, St. The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According
to St. Matthew, Chrysostom Press, MO 2000.
The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, Chrysostom
Press, MO 2000.
Veniamin, Christopher, Prof. (Ed.) The Homilies of Saint
Gregory Palamas (Vols 1 &2), Saint Tikhon’s Seminary Press 2002.
Vlachos, Hierotheos, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Saint Gregory
Palamas as a Hagiorite. Levadia, Hellas 1997.
Standing Commission of Oriental Orthodox Churches following the
Oriental Orthodox Tradition.
2 The Nature of
Christ p. 7
3 The Ancestral
Sin, p. 166.
4 Luk 1:28. ONT.
5 Tome of St. Leo
6 The Nature of
Christ p. 8.
7 No reference.
8 The Nature of
Christ. P. 9.
9 Ibid. P. 10.
13 Ibid. P. 275.
14 Kelly p. 293.
15 Éðïóôáóéò –
Substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality. (Bauer) Used
by the Orthodox Church to describe the Persons in the Holy
16 Kelly p 293.
17 Ðñïóùðïí –
Face, countenance (Bauer). Used in ancient pagan Greek drama for
18 Writings p. 131.
Philokalia Vol 2 p. 250.
NPNF Ser 2 Vol XIV p 256.
C F. Oxford Dictionary p 1553
Meyendorff p. 173.
Ibid. P. 174.
Shenouda p 16.
Shenouda p. 18.
St. John of Damascus explains the two natures in man. See p. 2
of this paper.
Shenouda p. 18.
CF. Ibid. pp. 18-19.
Ibid. P. 19.
Philokalia Vol 2 p. 250.
CF. Shenouda . p. 20.
Palamas, Homily 16 p.191.
Writings p 405.
Shenouda. P. 22.
Ibid. (No reference)
Writings p. 336.
Shenouda. P. 26.
Ibid. P. 27.
Writings p. 333.
Palamas Homily 19. p. 241.
Ibid. Homily 16. p. 197.
NPNF Ser 2 vol V. p. 113.
ONT Heb. n.26. p. 410.
Ibid. Col. n.9. p. 320.
Ibid. Rev. n. 32 & 36. p. 553.
Shenouda. p. 30.
Writings p. 274.
Shenouda p 30.
Ibid. p. 33.
Writings pp 256-257.
Shenouda. p. 35.
Luk 18: 35-43.
Writings p. 382.
Writings p. 274.
Explanation of St. Matt. p 101.
Palamas, Homily 34 pp 134-135.
Shenouda p 37.
Explanation of St. Matt. p 236.
Shenouda p. 39.
Jn. 6:64. ONT p. 424.
Palamas, Homily 16 p. 189.
Explanation of St. Matt. p. 37.
Ibid. P. 40.
73 Jn. 1:15. n. 17. ONT P. 476
Jn. 1.18. n. 20. ONT p. 478
1 Jn. 1:1. n. 3. ONT pp. 485-486.
Shenouda . p. 42.
Palamas, Homilies Vol 1. n. 41 p. 282.
79 NPNF 1 ser. Vol VII. p.249
1. Tim. 3:16. n. 24. ONT pp. 358-359.
Shenouda p 42
1. Cor. 10:4. n. 69. ONT pp 185-186.
Explanation of St. Matt. p. 27.
Explanation of St. Matt. p. 27.
Explanation of St. Mark p. 46.
Shenouda. p. 45.
NPNF 2nd Ser. Vol 14 p 252.
Orthodox Faith Book III p. 296.
Ibid. P. 297.
Nature of Christ p. 45.
Íïõò – the ”eye of the soul”. Vlachos p 385. Also frequently
Íïåñïò - adjective of ”Íïõò”. Ibid p 396. Frequently translated
1. Cor. 2:16. n. 25 ONT p 177
Matt. 16:27. ONT.
100 Palamas, Homily 34 p. 138.
101 Ibid. p. 142.
102 Moore. p 197.
103 Shenouda p 46.
Matt. 26: 38. ONT.
105 Ibid. n 262 p 124.
106 NPNF 2nd Ser. Vol VII p 314.
107 Matt. 26:39, ONT.
108 Orthodox Faith Book III p 330.
109 Palamas, Homily 8 p. 87.
110 C.F. n 97. Ibid. p 290.
111 Matt. 27:46, ONT.
Explanation of St. Matt. p 247.
113 Matt. 27:46 n 286 p 128. ONT.
114 Shenouda p 47.
115 Meyendorff pp 177-178.