Sunday, 10 February 2019

Alexis Torrance: ‘Christ is not an individual’: the meaning and reception of an early Byzantine Christological argument

In their respective defenses of dyophysite Christology, both Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus repeatedly reject the concept of Christ as a single ‘mixed’ nature of God and man. In doing so, they deploy an interesting argument whereby Christ was not properly speaking an ‘individual’ stemming from a common genus (like ‘Christness’). This argument will first be examined in its own right before turning to its reception and re-working in modern Orthodox theology, particularly the personalist (and anti-individualist) thought of John Zizioulas. The negative reaction to Zizioulas’ appropriation of this idea, exemplified in the work of Jean-Claude Larchet, will likewise be summarized. In the final section, an alternative view of the potential theological relevance of the argument that ‘Christ is not an individual’ will be offered, one that is not so much related to the person vs individual debate as to the ongoing discussion of the concept of ‘Godmanhood’ or ‘divine-humanity’ espoused by Vladimir Soloviev and developed in the early twentieth century by Sergius Bulgakov. In conclusion, it is argued that if one wishes to find a contemporary theological application for the early Byzantine rebuttal of Christ’s ‘individuality’, it would be more natural to link it with an argument avant la lettre against the notion of an overarching concept of ‘Godmanhood’ of which Christ is the individual instantiation, rather than as a developed commentary on the notion of the person/hypostasis in opposition to that of the individual.

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