Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Athanasius, Marcellus, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, John of Damascus.

The Christological Problem.

We have discussed the significance of the Council of Nicaea and the reasons why it was attacked by many Eastern theologians, for religious, philosophical and political reasons. The main defender of the decision of Nicaea was Athanasius. He was first of all a great religious personality and therefore he was able, because his religious foundation was unchangeable, to change the scientific means and the political ways in which he fought for his basic religious conviction. His style is clear, he is consistent, cautious, and sometimes for the reasons just mentioned even compromising in his terminology. He was expelled several times from his episcopal see in Alexandria, he was persecuted, but he was finally victorious over heretics and emperors. It was he who saved the decision of Nicaea but in order to do so he had to compromise with a more Origenistic or, as one called it at that time, scientific interpretation of the formulas of Nicaea.

Let’s look at the negative and the positive side of his beliefs. Sin is overcome by forgiveness; and the curse of sin, death, is overcome by the new life – both given by the Christ. The new life includes communion with God, moral renewal, and eternal life, as a present possession. Eternal life is, positively speaking, deification, becoming similar to God as much as possible, (as I quoted from Plato.) So two things are needed: the victory over finitude, and the victory over sin – participation in the infinity of God and participation in the holy, over against sin, must be provided. How? It can be provided only by Christ who. as true man, suffers the curse of sin and, as true God. overcomes death. No half- God. no hero, no relative and limited power of being can do that. They cannot do the one. they cannot do the other. Only as historical. could he change history; only as Divine could he give Divinity. There is no half-forgiveness or half-eternity. Either our sins are forgiven: then they are fully forgiven; either we are eternal or not: if we are. we are fully eternal. Therefore no religious half-God could be the saviour.

The problem of Christology as always in all Christological and Trinitarian struggles, is salvation, and from this point of view you must understand them; from this point of view they become meaningful. even in the moments of greatest confusion and in the expressions of greatest abstraction.

The Christ who performs this work is not understandable to the human mind except through the Divine Spirit. Only through the Spirit can we come in unity with the Christ. This implies that the Spirit of Christ must be as Divine as Christ Himself is. When after the Nicaean decision groups arose which denied the Divinity of the Spirit, they were called semi-Arians. Athanasius fought against them and said: they are wrong. they want to make the Spirit into a creature but if the Spirit of Christ is a creature. then Christ also is a creature The Spirit of Christ is not the human spirit of the man Jesus. as a historical individual; the Spirit of Christ is not a psychological function; but the Spirit of Christ is God Himself in Him and. through Him. in us. In this way the Trinitarian formula which in Nicaea was left open with respect to the Spirit. becomes filled up.

The same thing which was said about the Son is now said about the Spirit. In order to be able to unite us with Christ. the Spirit must be Divine as Christ Himself is Divine – and not partly Divine. not .half-Divine. but fully Divine.