The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a son when He has no consort, and when He has created everything and has knowledge of all things?
Such is Allah, your Lord. There is no God but He, the Creator of all things, so worship Him. And He is Guardian over everything. (Al Quran 6:101-102)
Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Jesus is perfect man and fully divine according to the official Christian doctrine.
This is beyond the comprehension of a Muslim or a Jew. How can a man made of 46 chromosomes, proteins, fats and carbohydrates, someone who is flesh and bones, can also be the Transcendental God, who is beyond time, space and matter, at the same time?
This is precisely the reason, why the Muslims and the Jews are not Christians.
The irony is that even though a faithful Christian can profess and claim on blind faith that Jesus is perfect man and fully divine, but, the moment he or she tries to comprehend and grasp this alleged reality, he or she is no longer a faithful Christian and instantaneously becomes a heretic.
I will introduce you to at least four of them from history, in this article.
Apollinaris was born in 315 and was too young to be present in the Council of Nicaea, which was held in 325, when Nicene Creed was developed and agreed upon by 318 present. But, as he grew, he became friends with Athanasius, who had a prominent role in the Council and rose quickly through the ranks and became bishop of Laodicea, in Syria. He became a strong supporter of the ‘orthodoxy’ and fully embraced the Nicene Creed, which excluded Arian’s teachings of Jesus, being a subordinate God.
In his zeal to defend Nicene Creed, Apollinaris was consumed with the question of how Jesus could be God and human at the same time. If Jesus was a man-god or a god-man hybrid, then was a part of him God and another part of him a man?
Prof. Bart Ehrman, an American New Testament scholar, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains in his recent book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee:
Like others at his time, Apollinaris appears to have understood that humans are made up of three parts: the body; the ‘lower soul,’ which is the root of our emotions and passions; and the ‘upper soul,’ which is our faculty of reason with which we understand the world. Apollinaris evidently maintained that in Jesus Christ, the preexistent divine Logos replaced the upper soul, so his reason was completely divine. And so, God and human are united and at one — there is only one person, Christ — but they are united because in the man Jesus, God had a part and a human had a part.
In other words, Apollinarius’ eagerness to emphasize the deity of Jesus and the unity of his person led him so far as to deny the existence of a rational human soul (νοῦς, nous) in Christ’s human nature, this being replaced in him by the Logos, so that his body was a glorified and spiritualized form of humanity.
Apollinaris attempts to rationalize and understand nature of Jesus could not drive a consensus, as a consensus is not possible around an absurdity, except under duress.
It was alleged that the Apollinarian approach implied docetism, that if the Godhood without constraint swayed the manhood there was no possibility of real human probation or of real advance in Christ’s manhood. The position was accordingly condemned by several synods and in particular by that of Constantinople (381).
However, some of Apollinarius rhetoric did stick. He made a lasting contribution to orthodox theology in declaring that Christ was consubstantial (of one substance) with the Father as regarding his divinity and consubstantial with us as regarding his humanity. This formula, which originated with Apollinarius, later became official orthodox doctrine.
Apollinaris was also one of the first to claim that God suffered and died on the cross, a claim which received immediate condemnation but later became acceptable in orthodox theology.
Additionally, the condemnation of his position did not prevent him from having a considerable following, which after his death divided into two sects, the more conservative taking its name (Vitalians) from Vitalis, the Apollinarist claimant to the see of Antioch, the other (Polemeans) adding the further assertion that the two natures were so blended that even the body of Christ was a fit object of adoration. The Apollinarian christology, along with Eutychianism, persisted in what was later the radically anti-Nestorianmonophysite school.
Encyclopedia Britannica nicely summarizes, Apollinaris for us:
Apollinaris The Younger, Latin Apollinarius (born c. 310—died c. 390), bishop of Laodicea who developed the heretical position concerning the nature of Christ called Apollinarianism. … Apollinaris denied the existence in Christ of a rational human soul, a position he took to combatArianism. Excommunicated from the church for his views, Apollinaris was readmitted but in 346 excommunicated a second time. Nevertheless the Nicene congregation at Laodicea chose him as bishop (c. 361).
Just like Apollinaris, Marcellus also had the audacity to try to comprehend the nature of Jesus and he had a similar fate of becoming a heretic.
Marcellus of Ancyra (died c. 374 C.E.) was one of the bishops present at the Councils of Ancyra and of Nicaea. He was a strong opponent of Arianism, but was accused of adopting the opposite extreme of modified Sabellianism.
He realized that the decisions leading to the creed of Nicea left considerable room for development, especially on the question of how Christ-who was co eternal and equal with God-actually related to the Father. Were Christ and the Father two separate but equal beings, or hypostases (a term that now meant something like “person” or “individual entity”)?
Sabellianism (also known as modalism, modalistic monarchianism, or modal monarchism) is the nontrinitarian belief that the Heavenly Father, Resurrected Son and Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one monadic God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons within the Godhead.
The term Sabellianism comes from Sabellius, a theologian and priest from the 3rd century. Modalism differs from Unitarianism by accepting the Nicean doctrine that Jesus is fully God.
Marcellus did not want to be a modalist.
Prof. Bart Ehrman explains:
Marcellus fully realized that a modalist view could no longer be accepted. But was there some way to preserve the oneness, the unity, of the godhead without falling into the trap of Sabellius and others like him, so that no one could charge the Christians of having more than one God? Marcellus’s solution was to say that there was only one hypostasis, who was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In his view, the Christ and the Spirit were eternal with God, but only because they were resident within him from back into eternity and came forth from the Father for the purposes of salvation. In fact, before Christ came forth from God-when he was resident within him-he was not yet the Son; he could be the Son only when he came forth at the incarnation. And so before that time he was the Word of God, within the Father. Moreover, on the basis of his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, which says that at “the end” of all things, Christ will “hand over the kingdom to God the Father,” Marcellus maintained that Christ’s kingdom was not eternal. Ultimately, God the Father is all sovereign; Christ will deliver his kingdom to the Father; and then he will return to be resident within him. This view obviously toed the line on the major Christological issues of the second, third, and early fourth centuries. Christ was God, he became man, and he was only one person. And it was not a modalist view. But other church leaders thought it sounded too much like modalism and condemned it as a heresy. The matter was discussed and finally decided at the Council of Constantinople in 381. That is when the line was introduced into the Nicene Creed that is still said today, that “his [Christ’s] kingdom shall have no end.” This line was added to demonstrate the theological rejection of the views of Marcellus. Other church leaders disagreed with this rejection. And so the debates continued.
A few years after the Council of Nicaea (in 325) Marcellus wrote a book against Asterius the Sophist, a prominent figure in the party which supported Arius. In this work (only fragments of which survive), he was accused of maintaining that the Trinity of persons in the Godhead was but a transitory dispensation. According to the surviving fragments, God was originally only One Being (hypostasis), but at the creation of the universe the Word or Logos went out from the Father and was God’s Activity in the world. This Logos became incarnate in Christ and was thus constituted Image of God. The Holy Ghost likewise went forth as third Divine Personality from the Father and from Christ according to John 20:22. At the consummation of all things, however (I Corinthians 15:28), Christ will return to the Father and the Godhead be again an absolute Unity.
Despite him being one of the delegates, at the Council of Nicaea, Marcellus was condemned by a council of his enemies and expelled from his see, though he was able to return there to live quietly with a small congregation in the last years of his life.
Let us move on and find our third ‘heretic.’
The term, “the mother of God.” was in wide use, for mother Mary, by the time of Nestorius in the early fifth century, but he came to object to it, publicly. What were his views and what happened to Nestorius is well described by Prof. Bart Ehrman:
In Nestorius’s view, to call Mary the mother of God sounded too much like Apollinarianism-that Mary gave birth to a human being who had the Logos of God within him instead of a human soul. Nestorius believed that Christ was fully human, not partially so, and also that Christ was fully God, not partially so. Moreover, the divine and the human cannot intermingle, since they are different essences. Both the divine and the human were present in Christ at the incarnation. In stressing this view that Christ was both fully God and fully human, Nestorius came to be seen as someone who wanted to argue that Christ was two different persons, one divine and one human-with his human element tightly embracing the divine so that they stood in a unity (much like a “marriage of souls”). But by this time orthodox Christians had long maintained that Christ was just one person. In the end, Nestorius’s enemies attacked this “two-person” Christology by arguing that it divided Christ and thereby made him a “mere man” rather than some kind of “divine man.” As a result, Nestorius and his views were condemned by Pope Celestine in 430 and by the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431.
Our fourth and the final heretic for today, is none other than Arius himself, without whose presence the Nicene Creed could not have been articulated or even superficially understood.
Arius (Ancient Greek: Ἄρειος, AD 250 or 256–336) was an ascetic Christian presbyter of Libyan origins, andpriest in Alexandria, Egypt, of the church of Baucalis. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead, which emphasized the Father’s divinity over the Son, and his opposition to Trinitarian Christology, made him a primary topic of the First Council of Nicea, convened by Roman Emperor Constantine in AD 325.
After Emperor Licinius and Emperor Constantine legalized and formalized the Christianity of the time in theRoman Empire, the newly recognized catholic Church sought to unify and clarify its theology. TrinitarianChristians, including Athanasius, used Arius and Arianism as epithets to describe those who disagreed with their doctrine of co-equal Trinitarianism, a Christology representing God the Father and Son (Jesus of Nazareth) as “of one essence” (consubstantial) and coeternal.
Although virtually all positive writings on Arius’ theology have been suppressed or destroyed, negative writings describe Arius’ theology as one in which there was a time before the Son of God, when only God the Fatherexisted. Despite concerted opposition, ‘Arian’, or nontrinitarian Christian churches persisted throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, and also in various Gothic and Germanic kingdoms, until suppressed by military conquest or voluntary royal conversion between the fifth and seventh centuries.
Although “Arianism” suggests that Arius was the originator of the teaching that bears his name, the debate over the Son’s precise relationship to the Father did not begin with him. This subject had been discussed for decades before his advent; Arius merely intensified the controversy and carried it to a Church-wide audience, where other “Arians” such as Eusebius of Nicomedia (who was not Eusebius of Caesarea, although they lived in the same period) proved much more influential in the long run. In fact, some later “Arians” disavowed the name, claiming not to have been familiar with the man or his specific teachings. However, because the conflict between Arius and his foes brought the issue to the theological forefront, the doctrine he proclaimed—though not originated—is generally labeled as “his”.
Prof. Bart Ehrman has done justice to him in his recent book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee:
Arius’s interpretation was one that may well have been acceptable in the theological climate of orthodox Christianity during the century or so before his day, but by the early fourth century it proved to be highly controversial. He, like other interpreters, understood the Wisdom of God to be the same as the Word of God and the Son of God-that is, the preexistent divine Christ who was with God at the beginning of the creation. But in Arius’s opinion, Christ had not always existed. He had come into existence at some point in the remote past before the creation. Originally, God had existed alone, and the Son of God came into existence only later. He was, after all, “begotten” by God, and that implied-to Arius and others who were like-minded-that before he was begotten, he did not yet exist. One further implication of this view is that God the Father had not always been the Father; instead, he became the Father only when he begot his Son. In Arius’s view, everything except for God himself had a beginning. Only God is “without beginning.” And this means that Christ-the Word (Logos) of God-is not fully God in the way that God is. He was created in God’s own image by God himself; and so Christ bears the title God, but he is not the “true” God. Only God himself is. Christ’s divine nature was derived from the Father; he came into being at some point before the universe was made, and so he is a creation or creature of God. In short, Christ was a kind of second-tier God, subordinate to God and inferior to God in every respect. As we have seen, Christological views such as this were not merely academic exercises but were connected at a deep level with Christian worship. For Arius and his followers it was indeed right to worship Christ. But was Christ to be worshiped as one who was on a par with God the Father? Their answer was clear and straightforward: absolutely not. It is the Father who is above all things, even the Son, by an infinite degree.
Over the centuries the Church has condemned every attempt to oppose or even rationalize the Nicene Creed, and called it a heresy. We have seen at least four examples here.
The Christian apologists have occasionally conceded that Trinity or nature of Jesus is a mystery, which cannot be understood. The more honest and rational among the Christian apologists, have yielded even more.
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard confessed, the quagmire between Christianity and rationality, in no uncertain terms:
It is not the business of any Christian writer or preacher to dilute Christianity to suit the general educated public. The doctrine of the incarnation was to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, and so will it always be, for the doctrine not only transcends reason; it the paradox par excellence; and it can be affirmed only by faith, with passionate inwardness and interest. The substitution of reason for faith means the death of Christianity.
The Nicene Creed is indeed a collection of paradoxes. If you are a Christian and believe it, I am afraid, you are a heretic, for believing in paradoxes, as God is All Knowing and cannot be contradictory.
On the contrary, if you do not believe in the Nicene Creed, then you have gone against the orthodoxy and you are again a heretic.
Only way out of this quagmire seems to be to become a Unitarian Christian, a Jew or a Muslim.
This is what is meant by the following verse of the Holy Quran:
Say, ‘O People of the Book! come to a word equal between us and you — that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for Lords beside Allah.’ But if they turn away, then say, ‘Bear witness that we have submitted to God.’ (Al Quran 3:65)
Nature of Jesus is a mystery and cannot be rationally understood, therefore, I believe, all attempts at trying to understand the dual nature of Jesus, perfect man and fully divine, are bound to lead to heresy of one kind or another or contradictions. If I have over stated my case, I would invite Christian apologists to explain the dual nature, in the comment section or endorse my humble attempt at explaining the Christian doctrine.
In summary, an apple cannot be a rock and a monkey at the same time, likewise, a man cannot be God at the same time.
All the different Paradoxes of the Nicene Creed will be examined in a separate article, until then I rest my case.
- Prof. Bart Ehrman. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. HarperOne, 2014. Pages 368-369.
- Prof. Bart Ehrman. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. HarperOne, 2014. Pages 366-367.
- Prof. Bart Ehrman. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. HarperOne, 2014. Pages 369.
4. Prof. Bart Ehrman. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. HarperOne, 2014. Pages 340-341.