Tag Archives: Preaching Chalcedon

Race-ing Toward Nicea part 2: Constantine, DuBois, & Lynching

                                                                                                                                    Whither, Eusebius of Caesarea?

For part one see: Race-ing Towards Nicea part 1: The Incarnation

I am continuing to wrestle with Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom. Simultaneously I am working through James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree and today I would like to present a potential inter-textual reading of both works.

In Defending Constantine (Chapter 10 “Justice For All”), Peter Leithart goes through the nitty gritty details of Constantine’s views on justice as well as his executive decisions when it came creating laws. Among some of his peculiarities was Constantine’s contention, much like Liberation Theology, that justice must be served to the oppressed. In those days, the Roman court system was oppressive and heavily biased towards the rich and powerful. Some of Constantine’s laws worked against this. In addition, Constantine outlawed crucifixions. The theological imagination for the secular philosopher/emperor Constantine was attracted to Christianity, and in that move, ended a murderous practice. However, Constantine still kept capital punishment itself around; Leithart just notes that Constantine just found more “creative” ways of executing criminals.

Torture and gory body-policing activities sponsored by the state such as the cutting off of thieves’ hands were acceptable Constantinian practices. Back then, these were social norms. It was expected that Constantine not to be able to transcend his cultural milieu. Like the Christian realists of the mid-20th century and even today, Constantine achieved what they would consider a “proximate justice.” The death penalty was such the norm back then that Constantine joked with Arius that the Emperor considered Arius and his fellow dissidents to be “gallows rogues,” or persons who found ways, time and again from being hung from the gallows ala Mordecai in the Book of Esther.

One interesting move that Leithart makes (as part of his larger Dominionist agenda in looking at the theological & social conservativism of the Global South) is to point out the African context from which the Donatist and Arian cotnroversies arose. In both instances, Christian bishops INVITED Emperor Constantine to help resolve these disputes. In the case of the Donatists, property rights were at stake. Radical Libyan Christians who took an uncompromising stance against bishops and laity who gave in to Roman persecution by denying Jesus as their Savior to save their own hides. The conflicts were so intense that Donatists were sometimes murdered for their beliefs. Appealing to political powers that be (an outside third-party) seemed to be the realistic approach to these issues.

James Cone’s The Cross And The Lynching Tree is written at the intersections of atonement theory, theodicy, and the struggle against White Supremacy. As Cone is making his argument in favor of USian Christians looking at the Cross through the history of the lynching tree, he notes that it was poets and artists during the Harlem Renaissance that first made the connection. Jim and Jane Crow was institutional, legal white supremacy maintained by placing black bodies on the gallows. One such writer, novelist and Christian scholar was W.E.B. DuBois DuBois’ Christian anti-racist imagination enabled him to use theological imagery to work to dismantle White Supremacy. Lacing his Christian prayers with appeals to the Prince of Peace, commenting on the race riots started by White Supremacists by referring to the book of Psalms, DuBois lived as an example of liberating Christian orthopraxis.

A few years ago in seminary, a group of African American students (including myself) protested against the injustices done to the Jena Six. The Jena Six situation was a high school fight started because someone hung a noose around the tree where the white kids usually sit. Under the murderous threat from the history of imperialist, racist KKKristianity which includes Emperor Constantine who himself had threatened an African man (as a joke) with lynching, the black high schoolers had little choice but to STAND THEIR GROUND.

No one can do an honest assessment of the Nicene-Chalcedon tradition without acknowledging its enforcement through, at minimum, the threat of violence (i.e., the anathemas and damnations and exiles etc.).  However, the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulas are not beyond the liberating grasp of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, Nicea & Chalcedon & the Apostles’ Creeds are are important to the extent that they remind  us Gentile Christians of our metanarrative that we find in Scripture, and that our stories are not our own, and that THE story is not about us. Tradition (with a capitol T) ideally should be used to keep our nationalistic desires in check, but when it fails to do so, history and Scripture witnesses to the fact that God uses outsiders, the rejects to prophesy deliverance to the Body of Christ.

No one represents this moreso than the the U.S. American prophet W.E.B. DuBois.  Living in the 20th century context where white Christians could recite the Creeds by rote memory, and then in the very next breathe, call a black person n*gger before lynching her, W.E.B. Dubois embodied Nicene-Chalcedonian orthopraxis as a testimony to Jesus Christ Our LORD and Liberator. In his essay, “The Gospel According To Mary Brown,” Dubois writes the Gospel narratives for his time, with a mulatto man portraying Jesus. Joshua is lynched because of his message of peace and anti-White Supremacy. As his mother Mary is found weeping, Joshua appeared to her, with his hair shining, white clothes (biblical language for holiness of the martyrs), “for his voice was the Voice of God.” When Mary asked where did Joshua go, Joshua tells her, “I was crucified, dead, and buried. I descended into Hell. On the third day, I rose from the dead. I ascended into Heaven and sit on the right hand of my Father, from whence I shall come to judge the Quick and the Dead.”

In an earlier post, I was mistaken to suggest that Constantine and Athanasius represent two different kinds of Christianity. It would be better for me to have said that Eusebius of Caesarea and the bishops and presbyters that made room for the devil by inviting Constantine to the table represent the imperial version of Christianity, the one where the nation-states’ story matters more than the Resurrection itself.

Eusebius and Athanasius represent two types of Christianity that we all have to struggle with. Eusebius and the Christian empire/dominionist tradition that Leithart favors is obsessed maintaining power over others (coercion, violence, war, white supremacy, lynching). The Nicene-Chalcedonian orthopraxis of Clement & Athansius of Alexandria and W.E.B DuBois offers a different way of being & doing in the world, that of living on the margins of exile, and pointing to the Logos as our Teacher & Prince of peace.

Other posts of interests:

Nestorianism Returns: Tea Party Politics vs Hypostatic Unity

Book Review: W.E.B. DuBois: American Prophet

Emperor Constantine and the Conservative Case for Reparations

Race-ing Towards Nicea part 1: The Incarnation

*Editors Note*: This is a Re-Post of my contribution to our Preaching Chalcedon Tri-Blog event. I am turning this into a series

THE IMPURITY CODE:How Liberal & Evangelical Christians Both Can Affirm the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition

First, I would like to take the time to commend Amanda Mac for this intriguing conversation that has stirred up a lot of interest apparently. Optymystic Chad deserves commendation as well for his brave stance, for not many Christians are willing to challenge tradition, and in such a provocative manner, no less.

Honestly, I come to this conversation without a dog in this fight. As a young pup growing up, I was Baptist, and the only creed we recognized was the Lord’s Prayer.  Like many folks, I did not encounter the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulas until graduate school. Honestly, for some reason, there is something magical about the ancient Creeds. As a children’s pastor at a church I once worked for, after they recited the Apostle’s Creed, I felt more alive and ready to give my children’s sermon, without a moment’s hesitation.  Perhaps it was a reminder that I am part of something larger than myself, that there is a cloud of witnesses that transcends any community I partake in. So as a matter of transparency, I come from a non-creedal tradition, and this is my defense (sorta) of the Chalcedonian Formula. On to the questions!

Homoousios As Hegemony

He asks,

“Further, the language of Christ’s two natures, while taken for granted by Chalcedon, is a Greco-Roman construct. Homoousios vs. Homoiousios is not Biblical language. It is simply one culture’s way of framing the earlier Hebraic faith. I oppose Chalcedon because it gives the appearance of divine approval to an outsourcing of theology to a 4th and 5th century Greco-Roman group of people who admitted no agenda, but clearly had one.While claiming to affirm a certain level of mystery, Chalcedon only does so after it has already said more than it should have. ”

Then Chad also inquires,

“Further, why does Christ have to be both Divine and Human? Or more to the point, if scripture only approaches this teaching narratively, why do we insist on understanding it mathematically? Economically? Through a Roman lens? Is it not enough to understand Jesus as being fully human, yet paradoxically doing and saying things only God could say and do? Why not let many theories abound?”

Chad is not the first to make these charges against the Chalcedonian Council. Neither do his pre-cautions go unwarranted. For instance, in her work, The Black Christ, Christian theologian and womanist Kelly Brown Douglas, who herself affirms the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition as an Episcopalian, says, “Black Christians tend not to consider it relevant to their own beliefs about Jesus” (p 112). She adds, “By ignoring Jesus’s ministry and focusing on his “being,” He is seen as someone to be worshipped, believed in, but not followed or imitated” (112-113). Seeing the face of Christ in the oppressed, specifically, black women is part of Brown Douglas’s Christology, but no where (at least from her viewpoint) can one see that in the N-C tradition.

The hegemonic nature of the Chalcedonian Promulgation also stands as a barrier for Christian bible scholar and feminist Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She, too, finds it way too problematic that Graeco-Roman terms were used as a fixed formula for attributing imperial economic labels onto Christ’s life. She says,

“This Christological doctrine thereby inscribes into Christian orthodox self-understanding and identity the “mysterious economy” of kyriarchal relations and imperial domination. By associating fatherhood/masculinity with divinity and eternity and by firmly placing motherhood/femininity in the temporal realm of humanity, it introduces not only gender dualism, but also the dualism between church and world, religion and nature, heaven and earth.” (Jesus, Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, page 22).

The Essential(isms) of The Faith

It would be impossible for Kelly Brown Douglas to speak for all persons of African descent at all times, and I doubt that she was doing that, but without qualifications, one finds themselves into Essentialism Land, that magical place where everyone knows who you are ‘cuz of what you look like. Brown Douglas forgot to mention that there is a significant population of Black Catholics who, like M. Shawn Copeland, who could attest to their black Christianity emphasizing the importance of the creeds. By the same measure, my apologies, Chad, but there is no such thing as THE Hebraic faith. Come on, friend, you know that Second Temple Judaisms thing? I would not say that one Jew is more “Hebraic” than another, for who am I, as a Gentile, to say such a thing. Is Philo somehow less Jewish because he wrote in Greek? Yes, the whole “Homoousios vs. Homoiousios” controversy is extra-biblical, but I don’t affirm that strict version of Sola Scriptura, and I doubt that you do either. Furthermore, to understand the Covenant Pentecostally, a believer has little choice but to affirm multi-lingualism. J. Kameron Carter understand Irenaeus’s writing to be pointing in this direction. In his Race: A Theological Account, Carter argues, ” In Christ, then, language is liberated from the fiction of purity and thus from every structure of dominance and slavery [.]” (30)  The notion of a pure biblical language, a pure race, a purely feminine/ masculine person comes unraveled in the covenantal Jewish flesh of Yeshua. There is no dualism or monism in Christ, but there is Reconciliation.

In order to understand Carter’s logic, one must go back to look at his theology of Israel, a theology that is anti-racist and anti-supercessionist. One cannot speak simply of Christ as purely human because Jesus’ humanity “constitutes a new intrahumanity.”  Christ’s existence is unique in that the Logos and Spirit are en-fleshed and in communion with the Father.  For Carter, “Christ’s flesh is mulatto flesh. […] The covenantal people of Israel witnesses to creation its own fruitful ‘contamination’  before YHWH as its life-giving limit” (30).  As Carter articulates so very well  Yeshua’s intrahuman fleshly existence , which supercedes space and time to receive the worship of Jews and Gentiles alike, is forever bound to impurity, therefore, the ethnic lines and classes set up by white supremacists and Social Darwinians alike are exposed for what they are: PURE FICTION.  Christ Yeshua is what it means for creation to exist in the presence of the Triune Creator, and no language can fully encapsulate that very miracle, but at the same time, every language and culture articulate it in their own unique way.

Goodbye, Every True Scotsman!!!

 

An Impure Orthopraxis

Amanda asks:

Should we preach Chalcedon today?  Is Chalcedon useful today?

I would answer, without a shadow of a doubt, yes, and more yes, but with a few qualifications.  As I alluded to in my response to Chad, one must understand Yeshua in light of what the formula says,

“but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ;
even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us”

I would argue that the Chalcedonian Formula is more of a Code, yes a Code. A Code is, for the most part according to Dictionary.com, a system of rules and regulations. It is an Impurity Code because it recognizes that the reconciling mission of the Savior is programmed into his very being: “recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Once one understands the Chalcedonian Impurity Code in this manner, minus the anathema threats, it becomes a weapon against closed societies that regulate humanity according to “gender” and “race.”

I suggest that we listen to the wisdom of J. Kameron Carter in his theology of participation, where “Chalcedon is to be conceived as witnessing to a theology of covenantal participation in which the life of YHWH is throughly implicated in and suffuses the life of Israel. […] It is precisely this participatory transcendence, this ecstasy, by which God is God for us, that makes creation transcendent within itself in its ecstasy back to its Creator” (191).  In other words, Christ’s intrahumanity in reconciling creation to its Creator, makes all of creation more than just material. Corporeality is the reality in which God has been revealed, for the Transfiguration, as testified to by Moses and Elijah, reveals that all creatures have been placed under a new social rubric.  The mathematics of Chalcedon is quite simple, really: Christ + All=1/ All – Christ= 0.  Bodies, therefore, become the very vehicles by which God is magnified.  Just as Moses and Elijah stand witness to that blinding light on Mount Tabor representing the legal and prophetic word, so must one recognize that Christ is the hermeneutical key to our open creation.  Becoming involved in the logoi of the prophets is to become involved in the life of God.  Contrary to Kelly Brown Douglas’s claims, Yeshua is not a person to be followed, for we do not live in the 1st century, nor do I wish to “imitate” Yeshua the Messiah because the scriptural witness informs me that his death ends all sacrifices and what good does it do the oppressed to live a life ordained with suffering? Is not that the reason womanist theology had to distinguish itself from J. Deotis Roberts’ and James Cone’s Christology?   If Christianity is just another story like Harry Potter where the hero gives his life for others, I want a new religion.  Thus, it is important to realize that the early churches speculated that it was possible that Christ is the door to life in God, and therefore our agency is not our own, but Christ’s.  Yeshua the Messiah, as what Latin American Liberationists call The God-Poor, existing in solidarity with the oppressed empowers humanity to join in God’s redemptive love for the cosmos.

Do our congregations, which are steeped in a largely biblically-illiterate culture, just “know” that Christ is fully divine and fully human when we preach?

Ummm. Depends on who you talk to.  Sometimes there are congregation members who do their homework and read, and there are others that do not.

What would happen if we dropped the “shorthand” and began using the full sentence in our preaching?

I think people will start to walk out and leave. Long sermons are never popular, well, unless you grow up in the Black Baptist tradition. Sigh.

How do we guard against the tendency towards either Docetism or Nestorianism in our churches?

Pray.

Should evangelical churches, that are largely creedless, begin to re-examine and find ways to adopt these ancient statements in a post-modern context?

I would say this is the very last thing that evangelicals need to do if they want to reach out to a post-modern context.  So, no. They should first re-discover their own history before trying to explore historical Christianity.

To conclude, I will end with a passage from Scripture that is a short version of the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition:

“Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature” (2nd Peter 1:4)

 

 

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A Generous Heresy: Rejecting Chalcedon

Amanda has done a wonderful job here of unpacking some issues regarding the use of Chalcedon in our churches today. The issues raised are appropriate, but I found myself wondering what this might mean for me, being someone who rejects Chalcedon.

I want to be clear about my position. My position isn’t clear. I do not reject Chalcedon because of some perceived heresy that I see within it. I don’t see a theological bogeyman that needs to be confronted or rejected. What I do see is an irrelevance.

Chalcedon is irrelevant because of the following: 1) It builds on earlier assumptions from the three earlier councils, which I also reject. Such outsourcing of theology is rejected by me. 2) The councils did not originate out of some sort of pastoral concern, but out of a felt need on the part of church leaders to control and streamline what is taught. Such hegemony is rejected by me. 3) The way in which the councils have been used as a measuring stick for orthodoxy has created “others” who weren’t “others” before the council. Such dualism is rejected by me. 4) The arguments and assumptions used to form Chalcedonian standards are rooted in a pre-modern, Greco-Roman worldview. While I affirm every culture’s right, nay, NEED, to enculturate the gospel, what I reject is the calcifying of the gospel as being necessarily understood through any particular cultural understanding. Which is exactly what Chalcedon has done.

Let us show our work. As noted by Amanda, the council of Chalcedon in 451 largely dealt with the debate between those who thought Christ’s divine nature overshadowed his human nature and those who thought the reverse. My assessment of this is: What difference does it make? Theologically and spiritually, it makes very little difference in the living out of the gospel and God’s mission. Why then the big fuss? Because politically, it made a large difference.

You see, it was inferred that the relationship between the church and the empire was typified by the relationship between Christ and God. Thus to emphasize one over the other would have implications for the politics of the day more than the day-to-day of the church. Ergo, I reject a notion that only serves only to divide the church and to legitimate a political position.

Further, the language of Christ’s two natures, while taken for granted by Chalcedon, is a Greco-Roman construct. Homoousios vs. Homoiousios is not Biblical language. It is simply one culture’s way of framing the earlier Hebraic faith. I oppose Chalcedon because it gives the appearance of divine approval to an outsourcing of theology to a 4th and 5th century Greco-Roman group of people who admitted no agenda, but clearly had one.While claiming to affirm a certain level of mystery, Chalcedon only does so after it has already said more than it should have.

Further, why does Christ have to be both Divine and Human? Or more to the point, if scripture only approaches this teaching narratively, why do we insist on understanding it mathematically? Economically? Through a Roman lens? Is it not enough to understand Jesus as being fully human, yet paradoxically doing and saying things only God could say and do? Why not let many theories abound?

Here’s a secret: most Christians today are not Chalcedonian compliant. Most Christians I know, apart from official doctrine, hold a modalistic view of the Trinity. Yet we still claim the old heresies as our own. Here’s a bombshell – I think Pelagius was way more right than Augustine. I have affinity for ebionite Christianity. I don’t particularly like Arianism, but I approve of all of those Barbarians as Christians, not heretics.

I may be the most heretical member of Political Jesus, but I am a committed Christian with an extremely high view of the scripture. But my view of such high authority does not pass on to a high view of the councils. My faith, as much as it is possible for me, tries to acknowledge the traditions of our faith history, but I do my best to understand my faith through the lens of my culture interpreting the words of the 1st century Hebraic faith of Jesus. Not understanding our faith through the lens of our culture, the lens of the enlightenment reformation, the lens of Latin theologians, the lens of Greco-Roman councilors, viewing a 1st century faith of Jesus. That looks like heresy to me.

But don’t worry, I have a generous view of heresy. It is what we all are, if we are honest.