Question about the Tome of Leo in light of Saint Cyril of Alexandria.

Hello everyone, I'm new to this forum, however those who recognize my name may shudder due to cringy forum posts elsewhere. I'm a former Roman Catholic, who is a non-member of either the Oriental and Eastern Communions, however I've been mainly attending Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches. Before I become a catechumen, I want to explore Oriental Orthodoxy and try to figure out - to the best of my ability - Who properly holds the title of the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

I've read portions of Saint Cyril's commentary on John (what we have of it anyways), and I've come across a passage that makes me question one of the main criticisms of Chalcedon that non-Chalcedonians seem to hold.

It seems that one of the main criticisms that I've heard from both of these sources about the Orthodoxy of the Tome of Leo is distinct roles that are granted to both natures.

For example, from the Tome of Leo,
"So, if I may pass over many instances, it does not belong to the same nature to weep out of deep-felt pity for a dead friend, and to call him back to life again at the word of command, once the mound had been removed from the four-day-old grave; or to hang on the cross and, with day changed into night, to make the elements tremble; or to be pierced by nails and to open the gates of paradise for the believing thief."

Severus of Antioch said something like that it's foolish to draw such distinctions, because in the example of walking on water, or perhaps raising Lazarus, Chalcedonians would say that the Divine Nature is responsible for these miracles; however, the Divine Nature doesn't have feet and isn't capable of walking on water, nor does the Divine Nature have a voice which can say "Lazarus, arise!"

Therefore, the conclusion that is drawn by these people as well as the Coptic priest I've talked to is that we cannot separate the actions of Christ like this, which is why they are so enthusiastic about maintaining "One Incarnate Nature of the Word."

However, this is what I wanted to show you. This comes from Part 27 and 28 of Book 8 of Saint Cyril's Commentary on the Gospel of Saint John, where he's discussing the Natures of Christ in the Garden.

"Now, He says, is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save one from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. See I pray you in these words again how the human nature was easily affected by trouble and easily brought over to fear, whereas on the other hand the Divine and ineffable Power is in all respects inflexible and dauntless and intent on the courage which alone is befitting to It. For the mention of death which had been introduced into the discourse begins to alarm Jesus, but the Power of the Godhead straightway subdues the suffering thus excited and in a moment transforms into incomparable boldness that which had been conquered by fear."

It seems that Saint Cyril of Alexandria himself is making a similar "division of Natures" that the Miaphysites that I've talked to have accused the Dyophysites of doing.

In fact, out of curiosity, I brought this exact same example up to the priest I was discussing with, without mentioning Saint Cyril as the author, and he condemned the idea as "Nestorian" and spiritually dangerous.

I also think it's worth bringing up the Council of Ephesus, which does something similar (although not exactly the same).

"In a similar way we say that he suffered and rose again, not that the Word of God suffered blows or piercing with nails or any other wounds in his own nature (for the divine, being without a body, is incapable of suffering), but because the body which became his own suffered these things, he is said to have suffered them for us. For he was without suffering, while his body suffered...

So, it seems to me that there is one of three conclusions that can be drawn from this.

1. The Miaphysites have, out of either misunderstanding or out of preserving Alexandria terminology, have actually, in their own belief system, condemned the theological ideas of Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Council of Ephesus.

2. There is a nuance of this argument that I am missing, and failing to comprehend the argument that the Miaphysites are making as regards to the Tome of Leo.

3. Most Miaphysites don't understand their own theology due to the division of Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians, and it has been misrepresented to me; this is an argument that the non-Chalcedonians don't actually hold, rather it's something else with Chalcedon that is heretical.

So, could an Oriental Orthodox help me out? In light of the Gospel Commentary by Saint Cyril, or the Council of Ephesus, what is inconsistent with the Tome of Leo?


  • Hi Livenotonevil,

    I think the crux of the issue is what you [or Leo rather] mentioned above: "it does not belong to the same nature...". 

    As you may probably already know, we believe in one nature out of two natures (composite). This is in line with what St. Cyril has taught us--"Miaphysis Tou Theo Logou Se-Sarkomeni" or "the One Incarnate Nature of the Logos." This means that we acknowledge that Christ is both fully divine and fully man and that this union consists of one unique nature. In our Liturgical prayers, we state the following:

    "He made It [humanity] one with His divinity without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration....Truly I believe that His divinity parted not from His humanity for a single moment, nor a twinkling of an eye;.."

    The quote you provided from St. Cyril, while it does contrast between the "two" natures, it does not make the claim that they "do not belong" or are separated in the Person of Christ. Notice the part where he says "the Godhead straightway subdues the suffering thus excited and in a moment transforms into incomparable boldness that which had been conquered by fear." 

    In this statement by St. Cyril, he acknowledges that, Jesus [being God], became bold. It was not so that only His divinity was bold while His humanity was experiencing cowardice but that HE experienced boldness despite suffering.  So, yes He did experience pain and suffering as Man but, because His divinity did not part from His humanity, we believe He experienced it as one reality and not in a "compartmentalized" fashion in which only half of Him did and the other half did not. Jesus was not a schizophrenic. 

    We believe such a claim that these "two natures" do not belong is to divide the person of Christ. The fathers [in this case, St. Cyril] sought to combat Nestorianism by claiming One Nature that consisted of both the Human and the Divine into One Person. Funny enough, the Chalcedonians thought we were followers of Eutyches (which we are NOT!). Combine this with semantics, politics, and rash behavior and you have yourself one big mistake that many people from both sides wish we can hopefully one day put behind us.

    I invite anyone to correct me if I misspoke but these are my two cents.
  • edited August 2018
    “Even less is Christ divided into two natures. He is indeed one from two, from divinity and humanity, one person and hypostasis, the one nature of the Logos, become flesh and perfect human being. For this reason he also displays two wills in salvific suffering, the one which requests, the other which is prepared, the one human, the other divine. As he voluntarily took upon himself death in the flesh, which was able to take over suffering and dissolved the domination of death by killing it through immortality — which the resurrection had shown clearly to all — so in the flesh, whose fruit he could take over — it was indeed rationally animated — he voluntarily took upon himself the passio of fear and weakness and uttered words of request, in order through the divine courage to destroy the power of that fear and to give courage to the whole of humanity, for he became after the first Adam the second beginning of our race.”

    St. Severus of Antioch, contGram in 33 (CSCO 102) 133 (7-21), Grillmeier, Christ II (2) 167

    By death. Christ conquers death through His life-giving divinity. So also by fear does Christ conquer fear through His courage-giving divinity. That’s the point St. Cyril was trying to make, that by being afraid, He quickly suppressed fear by filling natural human fear with “incomparable boldness”. St. Severus made it even clearer that it is within the human fear we receive divine courage, just as within human death we receive divine life. When Christ died, it’s not the human nature the died separated from divinity, but the death is an act of salvation, it’s not a mere death. So also is the fear an act of salvation, not mere fear. We don’t simply say, “his humanity died and his divinity rose his humanity from the dead.” No, we say “Christ died a life-giving death, and rose from the dead by the power of His divinity that filled His humanity.”

    Pope Leo on the other hand would say something along the lines of “His humanity feared, his divinity didn’t”. St. Cyril made it clear, “He feared, and filled that fear with incomparable boldness.” Remember a key part of Orthodoxy is paradoxy; through human fear we partake of the uncreated boldness of God. That is the point of “one nature.” Very rarely do I find Leo say something like this. “One and the same person” is simply a dry mechanical way of professing unity, but Leo hasn’t assured me that I partake of the divine nature in the human experiences, that these human experiences are filled with the fullness of the divine counterpart.

    Always ask this: where’s my salvation in what is said about Christ? Are we merely talking about human and divine experiences, without the communication of properties between the two? Then that’s a problem. I cannot partake if the divine nature of the properties of Christ are not communicated with each other to give a theanthropic action of our salvation.
  • edited August 2018
    "Then that’s a problem. I cannot partake if the divine nature of the properties of Christ are not communicated with each other to give a theanthropic action of our salvation."

    While of course Christ's death was a life giving death in which God Himself died, how could the Divine Nature of Christ experience death?

    On this point, I'm reiterating what (I understand) to be the Council of Ephesus.

    From the Council of Ephesus:
    "In a similar way we say that he suffered and rose again, not that the Word of God suffered blows or piercing with nails or any other wounds in his own nature (for the divine, being without a body, is incapable of suffering), but because the body which became his own suffered these things, he is said to have suffered them for us. For he was without suffering, while his body suffered. Something similar is true of his dying. For by nature the Word of God is of itself immortal and incorruptible and life and life-giving, but since on the other hand his own body by God’s grace, as the apostle says, tasted death for all, the Word is said to have suffered death for us, not as if he himself had experienced death as far as his own nature was concerned (it would be sheer lunacy to say or to think that), but because, as I have just said, his flesh tasted death."
  • I'm not here to be polemical or apologetic, but I legitimately want opinions. However, one response (on another forum where I posted this same exact question) actually gave a valid and legitimate criticism of the Tome, which you can see here:

    I'm in the process of inquiring into both Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, and I want to determine - to the best of my ability and with the guidance of God - who is right.
  • LivenotoneviL said: "how could the Divine Nature of Christ experience death?"

    I think at some point, we need to come to terms with the fact that the Incarnation is beyond our limited understanding. If we could fully rationalize everything, then we would be the omniscient ones. 

    "The Word was united with its own flesh in a transcendent manner that is beyond human understanding, and having, as it were, transferred the flesh wholly to himself by that energy by which it lies in His power to give life to those things that lack life, he drove corruption out of our nature and also rid it of that which through sin has prevailed from of old, namely death. Therefore, he who eats the holy flesh of Christ has eternal life, for the flesh contains the Word who is by nature life. That is why He says, "I will raise him up at the last day." Instead of saying, "My body shall raise him up"-that is, will raise up the person who eats it-He has put in the word "I," since He is not other than His own flesh."

    St. Cyril of Alexandria

  • edited August 2018
    I agree with the idea that the Incarnation is beyond our understanding. However, I desire Truth, even if it means studying theology, and I found it worthy to post this quote from Saint Cyril of Alexandria's commentary on John.

    From Book 8, Part 24.

    "Can it be then that the Divine Nature of the Word became capable of death? Surely it were altogether impious to say this. For the Word of God the Father is in His Nature Life: He raises to life, but He does not fall: He brings death to naught, He is not made subject to corruption: He quickens that which lacks life, but seeks not His own life from another. For even as light could not become darkness, so it is impossible that Life should cease to be life. How then is the same Person said to fall into the earth as a grain of wheat, and also to "go up" as "God with a shout?" Surely it is evident that to taste of death was fitting for Him, inasmuch as He became Man: but nevertheless to go up in the manner of God, was His own natural prerogative."
  • edited August 2018
    I’m still not sure I understand your question. The quotes from Ephesus and Cyril are obviously things we believe and agree with. If you’re throwing quotes at me to make a point, I don’t see it. I acknowledge and have read them hundreds of times. But it seems you don’t see my point very clearly.

    No the divinity does not experience death in its own nature. In unity with humanity, Christ gives death its salvific property. The divinity doesn’t do one thing and humanity another. After union, we speak of Christ’s actions in His incarnate state. And in fact, all eternal actions in a MYSTICAL and MYSTERIOUS sense can be said to involve His incarnate state, which cannot be easily explained in systematic and logical sense.

    If you need an analogy, the famous heated iron. The nails went through iron while it’s still hot. The heat didn’t get nailed, but a heated iron did.

    You’re looking for a scientific way of understanding the incarnation. No, we’re not giving that to you. We agree divinity is not materialistic and does not die. At the same time we also reject language that separates divinity from humanity. You need to have that balance. Theology is not a book that you read, but a spiritual life you experience.

    I recommend you start listening to some of Fr. John Behr’s talks. A lot of the spiritual Christology he talks about is something I find consonant with the mysticism of Miaphysitism, and not the dry scholastic approach of two natures. I say that with a good amount of irony, since he’s clearly Chalcedonian. You need to give up trying to make sense of something in your own mind and understand there are mysteries in Christ and in the Trinity for your salvation. I’m not saying two natures is wrong, but your approach in the questioning is beyond the scope of importance. No one here is saying the integrity of either nature is lost or changed, but the oneness is emphasized for clear salvific reasons. Apart from the union you can differentiate the properties of each nature, but in the union, we don’t like to utilize separative language.
  • edited August 2018
    I'm sorry if I can't help with scholastic inclinations. I just want to find the True Church. That's all. It may be near impossible, but I believe such a True Church MUST exist, and I want to try my best to find it.

    My question seems to be along the line of why the separative language of the Tome of Leo is deemed heretical, when you can separate the actions - not viewing each nature as separate, individual actors - but as referring to the properties of each nature alone,
    And doesn't the mere fact that we are referring to two natures already signify that there are, in fact, two natures in Christ?

    When I read the Tome of Leo, I understand how it can be understood in a heretical way.

    The most famous (infamous) line from the Tome seems to be the following:

    "The activity of each form is what is proper to it in communion with the other: that is, the Word performs what belongs to the Word, and the flesh accomplishes what belongs to the flesh. One of these performs brilliant miracles; the other sustains acts of violence. As the Word does not lose its glory which is equal to that of the Father, so neither does the flesh leave the nature of its kind behind. We must say this again and again: one and the same is truly Son of God and truly son of man."

    I can see how this can be problematic: this can be viewed in such a way that each nature is kind of "stuck in" Jesus, separate from one another, with each nature performing separate actions individually, as if the Person was not the one who was performing the actions, but rather the Natures were, which leads to an inevitable conclusion of Nestorianism.

    If this was the only way the Tome could be interpreted - then yes. Chalcedon should be discarded, it's against what Saint Cyril himself preached.

    However, I question whether this is the only end all be all interpretation of the Tome, not only in light of how the Chalcedonian Orthodox Christians view the Tome, but even how Pope Leo himself views the Tome.

    We have several of his sermons, and one of these Sermons - Sermon 54 - Pope Leo actually quotes the Tome. He says:

    "But because the design of that mystery which was ordained for our restoration before the eternal ages, was not to be carried out without human weakness and without Divine power , both form does that which is proper to it in common with the other, the Word, that is, performing that which is the Word's and the flesh that which is of the flesh. One of them gleams bright with miracles, the other succumbs to injuries. The one departs not from equality with the Father's glory, the other leaves not the nature of our race."

    However, IMMEDIATELY before he even says this, he says the following:

    "In all things, therefore, dearly-beloved, which pertain to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Catholic Faith maintains and demands that we acknowledge the two Natures to have met in our Redeemer, and while their properties remained, such a union of both Natures to have been effected that, from the time when, as the cause of mankind required, in the blessed Virgin's womb, the Word became flesh, we may not think of Him as God without that which is man, nor as man without that which is God. Each Nature does indeed express its real existence by actions that distinguish it, but neither separates itself from connection with the other. Nothing is wanting there on either side; in the majesty the humility is complete, in the humility the majesty is complete: and the unity does not introduce confusion, nor does the distinctiveness destroy the unity. The one is passible, the other inviolable; and yet the degradation belongs to the same Person, as does the glory. He is present at once in weakness and in power; at once capable of death and the vanquisher of it. Therefore, God took on Him whole Manhood, and so blended the two Natures together by means of His mercy and power, that each Nature was present in the other, and neither passed out of its own properties into the other."
  • Your interpretation and the interpretation of most EOs I know of are fine by me. I think the intent in the end is getting the right theology, and I believe you have it. In my opinion, it shouldn’t matter as much the human origin of the expression of the theology. My only issue is that the actions of the natures should be understood in a contemplative fashion, whereas the action is mystically one in reality.
  • Thank you, Mina.

    I'm sorry for taking up your time, but if you have the time, could you elaborate what you mean by the "human origin of the expression of the theology"?
  • "Two natures" vs "one nature" are human expressions that could explain the same theology which is beyond the expressions we might give them.
  • Nice to see you here brother :) you have no cringy posts I know of
    I am no expert on those things but I hope they have helped you
  • Hello Livetonoevil,
    Concerning your faith and which to choose.
    I will give my opinion. Which faith to choose? If we go towards theology it's is because we are analytical and like to know how things work. I'd like to reiterate what minasoliman said "action is mystically one in action."
    Historicly, the question came about because ofwhat is God's nature. I guess it's ok to try and understand, but there is also the danger of questioning God when in reality, He is a mystery as stated above.
    Where does that lead us? It leads us to Christ and the way He was and showed us how to be. He was one who healed and forgave sin upon confession of faith.
    The church meaning the Oriental church is one that believes in the healing of soul.
    The Holy Spirit comes through inspiration. Those that experience it like myself when believing I'd lost my salvation repeatedly questioned my confession father until he gave me that right answer and that was Jesus never closes the door for you. That supplied my faith and from there the Holy Spirit takes me to places of scripture that pertain to me personally and to what needs to be given out of service that I may serve God.

    A question I was asked by a Sunday school teacher was "If there was war, should we fight? I knew Jesus said we were to die like lambs and I understood the submission and following Him as a lamb sacrifice. But I also remembered Ecclesiastes 3:8 A time to love and a time to hate; A time of war and a time of peace. It is difficult in what to decide but what Ecclesiastes says we do what is appropriate for that time.
    This brings me to Chalcedon. Chalcedon represents the spLitton of two different ways of thinking: One is having the church like a hospital and the other into politics, because on their part they had to deal with wars and rulers like Constantine and Helena and Justinias and Theodora who won great wars against invaders cemented this postion of politics. Politics has to do with law and as Mina said regarding Leo's tome it sounds a bit dry. I would suggest it is because there is political thinking behind it.
    Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything so there needs to be great decernment when choosing what to do in the appropriate time. The eastern church made the choice of politics and it is one hard to return back back from.
    If we are to be Christ-like, then the healing Jesus is the appropriate time for us as the world needs us to be that healing Jesus.
    If you are looking for which faith to choose livenotoeviL then the suggestion would be the service of a healing Jesus.

    May God guide you in service and faith.
  • edited September 2018
    I appreciate the response - but I don’t know if I agree. I can see your point to a certain extent, but it’s not as if from Chalcedon onwards the EO Church was purely political, and before that the Church has no political ties whatsoever.

    After all, Eutyches appealed to the Emperor and the Emperor appointed Dioscoros to deal with the matter. This isn’t also to mention the banishment of EO patriarchs by the Emperor and replacing them with OO sympathetic patriarchs during the Acacian schism.

    Nor was even the Council of Chalcedon devoid of politics, with the whole controversy involving to a great degree a tug of war over the Church, with Rome pushing for Papal rule, Constantinople pushing for an upgrade in ecclesial rank, and Alexandria pushing for supremacy in matters of dogma. 

    Also, the Armenian Church. Is there no politics connected directly to the Armenian Church today?

    Honestly, when (or if, I hope when) Islam dies out, I’m sure patriotism will be more greatly embraced by the OO (regardless of union with EO or not) in their respective countries.

    I find this argument kind of disingenuous (intentional or unintentional), similar to that of the Eastern Orthodox which gave me similar responses when I was Roman Catholic.

    "The Eastern Orthodox Church is pro-democracy than the monarchist Roman Catholic Church!"
    "The Eastern Orthodox Church NEVER burned people at the stake for witchcraft or heresy!"

    lol if only this was true.
  • I was making a general comment with the conclusion being in the direction of the church representing a healing Jesus as the church is Christ's body and the head is the wisdom of Jesus we recieve via the Holy Spirit through the church fathers ( of which I am in need much of).
    What I'm saying is our connection ( the church) is with a healing Jesus Christ. Do away with most forms of politics as much as possible and I know there has to be some liaison with the state, but have a little as possible.
  • While the reality of the hypostatic union is established by the Scriptures, and is on that account maintained by the Church, it is to be lamented that many intricate and fruitless metaphysical questions have been debated among different sects of Christians as to the divine nature of the Lord, and the manner of the union between the Deity and a man -- the parties engaged in these questions being too often hurried into presumptuous as well as unprofitable speculations -- on points as far beyond the reach of the human intellect as colors to a man born blind, and forgetting that the union of the soul and body of any one among us can neither be explained nor comprehended by himself or any other, and appears the more mysterious the more we reflect upon it.

  • nice quote, where is it from?
  • The idea that the historic debates over metaphysics are either a waste of time, or at least made too much of a deal, is theologically inaccurate. There is a way to say that we need precise metaphysical language while saying that multiple expressions of metaphysical statements can mean the same metaphysical thing. The problem with all Christological heresies, whether Apollinarianism, Theodoreanism, Chalcedonianism, Sergianism, or Julianism, is that they all abandon a properly Orthodox understanding of the reality of Christ into a contradictory set of beliefs. Sergius, for instance, spoke of Christ's natural sets of properties being joined into one composite ousia. The obvious problem is that this makes Christ partake in a one-membered ousia which is neither consubstantial with the Godhead nor mankind. Thus, St Severus rightly rebuked this heresy.

    Likewise, the Chalcedonians fall into either Theodoreanism, or Julianism, depending on whether they emphasize the following:
    The humanity which Christ assumed cannot be said to be "general human nature" or else every hypostasis which partakes in general human nature becomes incarnate. The humanity which Christ assumed must carry with it hypostatic properties (such as hair color or nose shape) which differentiate the humanity of Christ from the humanity of any other human.

    If the Chalcedonians admit that Christ assumed these hypostatic properties, they then confess that the humanity assumed was a hypostatic humanity, which is what St Severus (and all of the Fathers before him, in fact) stated all along, which they sought to avoid. The reason that they sought to avoid this was because it would render their creed to be Nestorian - if both of the natures are hypostases, and yet remain distinct, they divide Christ.

    This means that Chalcedonians needed to say that it was not general humanity per se which Christ assumed, but rather "general humanity as considered in the particular," but upon further investigation, this is tantamount to rejecting that Christ assumed hypostatic properties, only natural properties. This means that the humanity of Christ (if it is not the entirety of the human race) must be a phantom as Julian implied.

    Just as Julianism and Sergianism stand condemned, so too does Chalcedonianism inevitably fall under the same anathema. However, we don't need to hold to a strict metaphysical language to point this out to the Chalcedonians, because they do share vast similarities in their tradition - namely, they together with us hold to a broadly Cappadocian framework, minus the novel 3rd definition of "phusis" introduced by John the Grammarian. This means that the Chalcedonian formula could possibly be made Orthodox by saying "one hypostasis of two hypostases, which is in two natures." This formula is able to 1) adequately preserve the Chalcedonian tendency to want to make obsessive distinctions of the natural properties, while 2) maintaining the full reality of the humanity, while 3) maintaining the full unity into one hypostasis. Without this, Chalcedonian theologians historically were only able to choose one of the last two. John of Damascus interestingly seems to have promoted a form of Nestorianism in a work of his which unfortunately has not been translated into English, and in this work he sought to reconcile the obvious fact that Christ must've assumed hypostatic properties which distinguishes His human nature.

    I pray for the day that the Chalcedonians will follow the same path as the great and saintly Patriarchs of Constantinople, Sts Acacius and Anthimus.
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