Thursday, 7 February 2019

Alexey Streltsov: Impassible Passion: Cyril’s Unitive Christology at the Crossroads between Christian Tradition and Plotinus’ Psychology

While ancient Greek philosophical theology firmly held to the notion of impassibility of God, Christian thought had to accommodate it to the Nicene confession that the divine Son of God “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”I suggest that the unitive Christology of Cyril of Alexandria, with its claim that the incarnate Word suffered impassibly, built on preceding theological tradition (Gregory Thaumaturgus and Athanasius of Alexandria being its most clear representatives), but at the same time repseresented conceptual reworking of the paradigm of psychology of Plotinus (continued in the works of Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus) with its understanding of the character of impassibility of the soul in its union with the body. According to Plotinus, Enn. III 6, the soul is engulfed by the passions without being really affected by them (at least in the way the ensouled body is). For Cyril this translated into remark of the Word “tasting death in the flesh” in his notoriously contested 12th anathema.Consequently, I find it helpful neither downplaying rational component of the thought of Cyril (as if he only followed the Biblical narrative ignoring the paradoxical character of his claims), nor postulating his uncritical dependency on non-Christian philosophical theology. Compared to his Antiochene critics (Nestorius, Theodoritus, later representatives of Nestorianism) who remained to a great extent within a framework of Platonic philosophical theology concerning the concept of divine impassibility, Cyril built a bridge toward more Incarnational view by interweaving points of Neoplatonic psychology within his Christological discourse.

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