God's impassibility in Theodoret of Cyrus’ commentaries on the Pauline letters

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Title: God's impassibility in Theodoret of Cyrus’ commentaries on the Pauline letters
Author: Karhulahti, Juha
Contributor organization: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology
Helsingin yliopisto, Teologinen tiedekunta
Helsingfors universitet, Teologiska fakulteten
Date: 2020
Language: eng
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/323355
Thesis level: Licentiate thesis
Discipline: Dogmatiikka
Abstract: Theodoret of Cyrus lived from AD 393 to c. 453. He was one of the Fathers of the eastern Church and the bishop of Cyrus. He was raised in the Antiochian tradition. This study focuses on his Antiochian Christology in order to present his doctrine of God’s impassibility (ἀπάθεια). His doctrine of God’s impassibility reveals his concept of God’s capability to have emotions and God’s capability to be affected or not affected by someone else. In addition, it reveals the very core of his concept of the relationship of the two natures of Christ. The study also provides important information for understanding Theodoret’s position in the Christological debates before the council of Chalcedon in 451. There were many sources from which theologians could build their Christological presentations at the time. Philosophical backgrounds also influenced theological work, although their significance has been overestimated in research of later times. Rather, the Christian biblical tradition seems to prevail in the Christological presentation of the Fathers. This study will indicate this fact also. As a highly esteemed Antiochian theologian, Theodoret of Cyrus defended “two nature” Christology. This form of Christology emphasised the difference between Christ’s divine and human nature. In its extremity, two nature Christology was even claimed to have “two subjects” (ὁ Λόγος and ὁ ἄνθρωπος) ‘the divine Word and the human man’ in Christ. This claim was actually made against Antiochian theologians usually from the competing school of Alexandria, which was bent towards asserting “one nature” Christology, according to which Christ’s divine nature (ὁ Λόγος) assumed a human body (τὸ σώμα), and the Word (ὁ Λόγος) was the unquestionable subject of Christ. For this study, I have systematically analysed Theodoret’s work in his ‘Commentary on Pauline letters’. First, I present Theodoret’s terminology and exegetical methods. Second, I present his early Christology as a guide for other scholars. This is necessary in order to indicate the evolution in Theodoret’s Christology. My study proves that Theodoret, together with other orthodox theologians of the time, developed his Christology leading up to Chalcedonian structure. The result was that the real subject in Christ was crystalized into his person, “The Ruler Christ”, who dominated over his two natures. “The Ruler Christ” executed God’s divine plan through the natures and according to their properties. Theodoret associated suffering and all human limitations to Christ’s human nature, although the divine nature was also present in every event of Christ’s human life. Still, the divine nature was not affected in any way; on the contrary, it remained immutable, impassible and eternal. However, in the process, the divine nature was able to have emotions in the same manner as God has emotions in his good guidance. Third, I propose that the relationship of the two natures of Christ is indicated in Theodoret’s ‘Commentary on Pauline letters’ by using biblical names. Theodoret is careful when expressing the communication of properties between the two natures (communicatio idiomatum) neither to deny the Antiochian view of the difference between the two natures nor to deny the Alexandrian view of the unity in Christ. He eagerly employed unifying names (communicatio onomaton). Through names, Theodoret is able to present the ontological union of natures in Christ’s person. When it comes to God’s ἀπάθεια, he indicates through names that God, though divine, was present in passible events whilst being impassible. In the last chapter, I present Theodoret’s main arguments on God’s impassibility by using both his Christology and soteriology as well as his anthropology. To conclude, my study presents Theodoret of Cyrus as one of the Chalcedonian theologians. He represents Antiochian “two nature” Christology in its orthodox form. During a very tense time for the Church, he found the method of communicatio onomaton as a peaceful way to take part in discussions not only with his own tradition but also with other schools. In his biblical interpretation, he managed to present God as emotional, loving and immanent as well as being eternally immutable and impassible due to his divine nature.
Subject: Theodoret of Cyrus
Antiochian school
two nature Christology
God’s impassibility

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