Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 13th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Chalcedonian Entanglements

English: A diagram showing the Monophysite vie...

English: A diagram showing the Monophysite view of Christ: One nature, which is neither fully human, nor fully divine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, many today seem to insist upon the finality of our modern ideas. If it is new, it is without suspicion. If it is old, historic, or another adjective used to immediately cast doubt upon its value, then it is pointless. It is disproven. It is antiquated. Thus, many seek to find value in the ever changing thought processes of our modern society. They miss so much.

Yesterday, I was challenged to ponder something by world renowned theoretical physicist and Orthodox scholar, Richard Rohr. He writes,

Jesus was fully human, just as he was fully divine at the same time, but dualistic thinkers find that impossible to process, so they usually just choose one side or the other (Jesus is divine and we are human, missing the major point of putting them together!). Matter and Spirit must be found to be inseparable in Christ before we have the courage and insight to acknowledge and honor the same in ourselves and in the entire universe. Jesus is the Archetype of Everything.

He then quotes an actual Orthodox Scholar (Olivier Clément) who would believe and understand Chalcedonian theology. But, Rohr goes on.

Unfortunately, at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), this view–the single, unified nature of Christ–was rejected for the “orthodox” belief, held to this day by most Christian denominations, that emphasizes two distinct natures in Jesus instead of one new synthesis. Sometimes what seems like orthodoxy is, in fact, a well-hidden heresy!

Say what now?

Here is a Catholic Priest (Rohr) who has sworn to uphold Catholic doctrine calling Chalcedon a “well-hidden heresy.” Truth be told, I was never really a fan of Chalcedon and somewhat follow N.T. Wright on the matter. However, I am not a Catholic nor an Orthodox, and specifically I am not a priest sworn to uphold the doctrinal and liturgical teachings of those ancient communions.

Rohr goes on (and up?) into quantum physics, something I’m not sure he is uniquely qualified to do. He writes:

Perhaps quantum physics can help us reclaim what we’ve lost because our dualistic minds couldn’t understand or experience the living paradox that Jesus represents. Now science is confirming there is no clear division between matter and spirit. Everything is interpenetrating. As Franciscan scientist and theologian Ilia Delio says, “We are in the universe and the universe is in us.” Christ’s very nature mirrors this universal reality, that we are all one, just as he is one within himself. The Church formally believed in “The Indwelling Spirit” (e.g., Romans 5:5, John 14:17), but for most Christians no dynamic or practical theology of the Holy Spirit was ever developed. S/he remained the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity, and God remained external and foreign to the human experience.

You can read the total writing here. 1

There is an issue with the use of quantum physics. No, not that science and religion is at odds, but that I think Rohr is using it wrong. There are notions of quantum entanglements that contradicts Rohr’s assumptions:

Individual subatomic particles, such as photons, do not exist in single, well-defined states like on-off light switches. Rather, they exist as a superposition of states. Experiments show, for example, that prior to observation (i.e., definitive interaction with a large-scale system) a photon can actually have more than one polarization at once and be in more than one place at once. Not only can individual particles exist in superposed or ambiguous states prior to observation, but the superposed states of pairs, triplets, or larger groups of particles can be related to each other by means of entanglement. Entanglement arises because the superposed states of particles that have interacted directly retain a definite, permanent relationship even after the particles have separated. Two entangled photons, for example, may be sent to two different detectors, A and B. Individually the photons do not, while in transit, have definite polarizations. When the polarization of one of the photons is collapsed to a definite value by measurement at detector A, however, photon, bound for detector B, instantly takes on the opposite polarization. There is no delay; the effect is truly instantaneous.

Rather than Rohr, what about Dr. Holder, astrophysicst and priest,

Quantum holism, as demonstrated by the EPR [Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen] thought experiment, is analogous to this. The electron and positron, though distinct and widely separated, yet form a unified quantum system (Polkinghorne 2004, 73ff.; 2010).

According to the Chalcedonian definition, our Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. He is one person, the Son of God, but with two natures, divine and human. This reminds us of the wave-particle duality of subatomic particles discussed above. An electron is one thing but possesses both particle and wave properties. (Rodney Holder, The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity220-230)

Now, let me borrow the words of an actual theoretical physicist and Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne:

Others have wished to break the Chalcedonian bounds and to speak of Jesus in human terms as a man inspired by God, and in obedient union with God, to an unparalleled degree. The difference between him and us then becomes a question of intensity rather than ontological distinction. This leads to a kind of functional Christology in which the purpose of Jesus is on the one hand to allow the divine love and power so to transfigure his life that God’s nature is made visible to us (“a window into God”) and on the other hand so to show us the possibilities of a human life truly lived in communion with God that we are led to seek to share in this experience. This is a view that has appealed to some scientist-theologians, often phrased in evolutionary language. Jesus is described as “the new emergent,” the pioneer of the latest development in the upward unfolding of human possibility. Ian Barbour writes in this way and to some extent so does Arthur Peacocke.

There are echoes here of some of the language used in the epistle to the Hebrews (for example, Heb. 2:10, but note also 1:3), but I do not find this way of thinking to be adequate to the witness of the New Testament as a whole. I believe that the insights of a functional Christology ask some of the relevant questions but they do not provide the right answers. The work of Christ (what he achieves) is certainly the clue to the nature of Christ. A scientist framing a theory has first to decide what are the phenomena that must be included and explained. The same is true for Christology. Its agenda is set by the functions that Christ fulfils, but a list of these functions is not itself a Christology. (40–41)

And suddenly, I am Chalcedonian. I admit, I am on a journey into orthodoxy (or maybe even Orthodoxy?). As such, I find myself learning new things. For instance, the lack of a solid Chalcedonian foundation could allow for us to see Jesus as nothing more than human — or as not human at all. Indeed, fundamentalists often forget just how human Jesus was.

Thus, the Chalcedonian definition is necessary so as to avoid either a bifurcated Jesus or a Jesus devoid of either his humanity of his Godhead. Indeed, Rohr is mistaken. Chalcedon does not promote dualism, but ends it:

If the person of Christ is the highest mode of conjunction between God and man, God and the world, the Chalcedonian ‘without confusion’ and ‘without separation’ shows the right mean between monism and dualism, the two extremes between which the history of christology also swings. The Chalcedonian unity of person in the distinction of natures provides the dogmatic basis for the preservation of the divine transcendence, which must always be a feature of the Christian concept of God. But is also shows the possibility of a complete immanence on which the biblical doctrine of the economy of salvation rests. The Chalcedonian definition may seem to have a static-ontic ring, but it is not meant to do away with the salvation-historical aspect of biblical christology, for which, in fact, it provides a foundation and deeper insights. (Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, p. 491.)

This song below always calls me to remember the humanity of Jesus. And it is bluegrass. If you don’t love bluegrass, you don’t love Jesus.

  1. By the way, Ilia Delio relies on and heavily promotes the work of Teilhard de Chardin, a Roman Catholic Priest now with the Church Triumphant. I would classify him as a mystic, no less — and wonder if in a few centuries we will not recognize him next to Bruno and Eckhart.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to “Chalcedonian Entanglements”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    There seem to be two additional components missing from the Monophysite Christ. One is Republican. The other is capitalist.

    Never mind that the politicization of Jesus explains why Americans are fleeing churches and dumping Christianity in record numbers.

  2. I hate to nit pick, but
    “Yesterday, I was challenged to ponder something by world renowned theoretical physicist and Orthodox scholar, Richard Rohr.”

    I can’t find any reference to Rohr being a physicist. Polkinghorne, yes. But not Rohr. Are you sure?

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