The Council of Antioch on Christ’s Divinity

In the year 268 AD, a provincial council was convened at Antioch, Syria where the Apostles of the risen Lord often frequented and where believers were first called Christians:

“Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” Acts 11:25-26 Authorized King James Version (AV)

The council condemned the heretic Paul of Samosata and all those who, like him, denied the divine prehuman existence of Jesus. The synod argued that it was Christ himself whom the OT believers saw in visible form and whom they often identified as the Angel of God.

Here are some of their statements:

“The Son was not just a spectator nor was he merely present, but… came down and appeared to Abraham “at the oak of Mamre,” [as] one of the three, with whom the patriarch conversed as Lord and Judge… This is who, fulfilling the Father’s will, appears to and converses with the patriarchs… sometimes as an Angel, at other times as Lord, and at other times being testified to as God.

Truly it is impious to suppose that one can call the God of all an angel; however the Angel of the Father is the Son, he is Lord and God, for it is written: “His name will be called the Angel of Great Counsel.” For… it is written: “God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Take now your beloved Son’” etc. And again: “And the Angel of the Lord called to him and said, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’” etc. “‘For now I know that you fear God, since for My sake you have not spear your beloved son… and he called the name of the place ‘The-Lord-Has-Appeared’; as it is said to this day, ‘In the mountain the Lord was seen.’

And concerning Jacob: “the Angel of God,” [Jacob] says, “spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ Thus I said, ‘what is it.’ So he said, ‘lift up your eyes’” etc. “‘I am the God who appeared to you at the “Place-of-God,” where you anointed the pillar and made a vow to Me’… So Jacob called the name of that place ‘The Form of God’; ‘For I saw God face to face, and my soul was saved’”…

But truly the Law was also in a similar manner, we say, given to Moses through the ministry of the Son of God; as the Apostle, teaching [us], says: “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promised was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” Verily we do not know of another mediator between God and men apart from Him. But we are also taught these things by Moses: “Then the Angel appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of the bush” etc…

This is who, speaking the truth, says: “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from the Father; He has seen the Father.” And in the same Gospel: “You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form,” and: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” The Apostle says of Him: “He is the image of the invisible God,” and in another place he says: “To the King eternal, incorruptible, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honour and glory to the ages of ages. Amen.”… The Son however, being with the Father, is indeed God and Lord of all things made, yet he was sent by the Father from the heavens, and was made flesh, becoming man”. (Translation by Rev. Michael S. Spanou)

The foregoing shows that it has always been the belief of the ancient apostolic churches that Jesus Christ is that very divine Angel whom the Father dispatched all throughout the OT period, being that very same Jehovah God who appeared to believers in visible form.  

POSTSCRIPT

According to scholars and historians of the early church, the believers that gathered at this council held to a view of Christ, which would later on be called Apollinarianism and subsequently condemned as heresy. This is a view which teaches that the soul that animated Christ’s physical body was identical to the Hypostasis/Person of the Word.

According to this belief, instead of taking on a human soul, the divine Logos basically replaced that aspect of Christ’s humanity by being the One who animated the physical body which the Logos took from the blessed virgin.     

As scholar of early Christianity J. N. D. Kelly notes:

Although we are largely in the dark about Christological development in the second half of the third century, such evidence as we possess suggests that, while Origen’s general framework of ideas exerted a powerful influence, there was a widespread reaction against its most distinctive thesis, viz. that Christ’s human soul was the point of union between the eternal Word and the humanity. We have already noticed that Novatian in the West, while usually a faithful disciple of Tertullian, refused to follow his master in including a rational soul in Christ’s human make-up. His refusal, coming at about the same time as a similar reluctance was showing itself in the East, may well have resulted from the exchange of ideas between the two great sections of the Church. In the East at any rate the chief motive at work, apart from hostility to Origen’s doctrine of the pre-existence of souls, seems to have been the growing suspicion that the recognition of a real human mind in the Godman must logically entail the disruption of His unity.

An instructive illustration of this reaction can be seen in the views propounded by the bishops who excommunicated Paul of Samosata at Antioch in 268, and in particular by their able spokesman, the priest Malchion. These can be reconstructed from the surviving fragments of the acts of the synod. Being Origenists, the bishops naturally repudiate Paul’s denial of the personality or concrete subsistence of the Word; in their eyes He had existed from all eternity as a hypostasis or ousia. But they equally take umbrage at his radical separation of the Word from the man Jesus and his interpretation of the relation between them as merely one of inspiration.5 There is, they affirm, an absolute unity between the two, a unity which is not one of participation or grace, but of substance. They are, as it were, ontologically one, and ‘the substantial Word’, ‘the hypostasis of the Word’, is actually present in the make-up of Jesus Christ.1 Being Himself a substance (ousia), the Word has become ‘substantified’ (ousiomene) in the humanity,2 and the God-man is a composite being (syntheton zoon); the divinity and the flesh having been substantially (ousiodos) united, the former is a real element in the structure of the God-man.3

If we ask how this has been brought about, the answer is surprising and important. There is no suggestion of Origen’s theory of the intimate adhesion of Christ’s human soul to the Logos. On the contrary, the explanation put forward by Malchion and the bishops implies that Christ’s humanity did not include a human soul at all, all the functions of one in His constitution being performed by the Word incarnate. This comes out very clearly in their statement4 that the Saviour is a composite being in the same way as an ordinary man is composite; just as the oneness or unity of the latter results from the concourse (synodos) of flesh and ‘something else’ which inhabits the flesh (manifestly the higher soul or mind), so the unity of the Lord results from the coming together (ek tou syndedramekenai) of the divine Word and the flesh He assumed from the Virgin. Evidently they were dichotomists, believing in the Platonic manner that a human being is a mind inhabiting a body. So they can say,5 ‘We recognize only one difference, admittedly a very important one, between His constitution (autou ten systasin) and ours, viz. that the divine Logos is in Him what the interior man (ho heso anthropos) is in us‘. There can be no doubt that by ‘the interior man’ the fathers meant the higher soul or mind, or that by substituting the Word for it in the structure of the Incarnate they intended to safeguard His unity against Paul’s separation of the Word from ‘the man’.

Further proof that the doctrine of Christ’s human soul was coming under heavy fire in the latter half of the century can be gleaned from the apology for Origen which Pamphilus and Eusebius prepared between 308 and 310. From this it emerges1 that Origen was charged with holding adoptionist views similar to those of Paul of Samosata and Artemas, and also of preaching two Christs. Evidently these errors were taken by his critics to be the logical outcome of the thesis that the God-man possessed a human soul, for in defending him Pamphilus and Eusebius make the point2 that this suggestion of his should not be the occasion of offence, seeing that, on the evidence of Scripture, Christ Himself more than once alluded to His soul. In his own theology Eusebius was quite explicit3 that the Word indwelt the flesh of the Incarnate, ‘moving it like a soul’; it was His ‘corporeal instrument’. If he is prepared to make use of the Scriptural language referring to His human soul, he interprets it as signifying, not an actual human soul, but that which takes the place of one, viz. the eternal Word. So he explains4 that, when the demons launched their attack ‘against our Saviour’s soul’, the mistake they made lay in supposing that the soul inhabiting His body was an ordinary human one. Again, he understands5 by Christ’s death the departure of the Word from His flesh, which for its part is consigned to the grave.

If ideas like these were to the fore in circles which were in other matters sympathetic to Origenism, it is not surprising that theologians less subservient to Origen’s spell were disposed to dissociate themselves from his solution of the Christological problem. Methodius of Olympus (+ 311) is a good example; indeed, he is the only theologian falling into this category whose works have come down to us. Speaking of the incarnation, he states6 that the Son of God ‘truly became man’, or even ‘assumed the man’; he describes7 the Incarnate as ‘a man filled with deity unmixed and perfect, and a God contained in a man’. Phrases like these have an Origenist ring, as does his designation1 of the Lord’s humanity as an ‘instrument’ (organon). We should notice, however, that when he defines his meaning more precisely he affirms2 that it was in virtue of His assumption of flesh that the heavenly Christ, not being man, became man. As a matter of fact, his major Christological passages3 imply that there were only two elements compounded in the Godman, viz. the Word and His flesh. The effect of the incarnation, he states,4 was that the body in a miraculous way became the receptacle of the Logos; and, identifying Christ’s immaculate flesh with the bride of Solomon’s Song, he represents5 the Word as abandoning the Father for sheer love of it, descending to earth and cleaving to it in closest union. When we bear in mind that Methodius is a dichotomist6 holding that human nature is composed of body and soul, and that on his view the soul is the immortal element in man and belongs to the order of intelligences of which the Word is the chief, the conclusion is inescapable that he was an exponent of what may be called the ‘Word-flesh’ type of Christology, teaching that the Word took the place of the human mind or soul in the structure of the God-man. (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [Adam and Charles Black, London, Fourth Edition 1968], pp. 158-161; bold emphasis mine)

As Kelly explains, these Christians were attempting to safeguard against the belief that Christ subsists of two Persons, namely, the divine Logos and the human Jesus. They feared that to posit a human soul to Christ would logically entail that he is two distinct Persons. Their way of solving this dilemma was to deny that the Logos took to himself a human soul when he became enfleshed. They argued that the inner element, which animates the human body and makes an individual a unique personality, was the divine Logos.

In other words, it was the divine Logos that constituted the soul of Christ’s humanity, even though the Logos isn’t human in nature.

As noted earlier, this view would later be condemned as heresy due to its undermining the essential humanity of Christ since, as later theologians and apologists reasoned, to be truly human one must possess a human soul, mind, will, body etc.

However, this doesn’t mean that these earlier Christians were heretics since anathemas, or condemnations, which come later do not extend to individuals that came earlier, whose views of the Trinity were basically sound. These believers were wrestling with heresies which compromised the uni-Personality of Christ and so did their best to refute such blasphemies. At times, the explanations which they came up with to combat these false teachings weren’t as consistent or accurate as they could be.  

FURTHER READING

63 Church Father Quotes on the Angel of the Lord

HOLY SPIRIT WORSHIPED AS GOD

SECOND-THIRD CENTURY CHRISTIAN WORSHIP OF THE TRINITY

Were the Early Church Fathers Trinitarians?

Did the Ante-Nicene Fathers Worship the Holy Spirit as God Almighty?

Ignatius of Antioch’s Proclamation of the Essential Deity of Christ

Justin Martyr’s Witness to Christ’s essential and eternal Deity

Revisiting Shabir Ally’s Distortion of Justin Martyr Pt. 1Pt. 2

Origen’s Christology

Origen – Dialog with Heracleides

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