No Longer Orphans: Hypostatic Union and the Fatherhood of God
Today at All Saints, we celebrated the Fourth Ecumenical Council of A. D. 451 at Chalcedon. As many of my readers will know, this was the Council famous for responding to the Monophysite heresies: that Jesus Christ’s human soul was replaced by the Second Person of the Trinity, among others like it. This Council also put forth the so-called Chalcedonian definition of the Person of Christ. Of course that definition, in typical early Church style, is more the fencing off of what is not the case, rather than the later, more scholastic style of stating emphatically what is the case. In other words, the Divine and human natures of Christ were united in the Person of Jesus in such a way that there was “no change, confusion, division or separation” of those natures. The Trinity is one Nature in three Persons. Jesus is two natures in one Person.
These things are important, however, not because a bunch of men got together and said: Believe it this way or you’re out. Rather, teachings had crept into the life, prayer and worship of the Church that denied what Chalcedon eventually affirmed. The problem is: if Jesus is either not fully God, or not fully man, we have no way to be saved. If Jesus is not fully God, then he has no power to save us, because he is merely human just as we are. If Jesus is not fully man, then he cannot save us, because we are still lost in our human sinfulness. Only by being fully human can he bring into union with God our own humanity. Only by being fully God can he save that which he has assumed. So Chalcedon emphatically stated that not to believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man, without change, confusion, separation or division, is to be entrapped in heresy, and to offer no real salvation. Thus, when it is said that heresy is cruel, it is true: it promises that which it cannot give.
But more than this hypostatic union (that is the technical term for the union of the Divine and human natures in Jesus), Chalcedon also affirmed the Fatherhood of God, and thus emphasized that we are no longer orphans, but are joint heirs with Christ, adopted brothers and sisters.
Contrary to most assertions today, the Fatherhood of God is not a concept that merely arose out of the cultural context of Israel and the Roman empire. Rather, the Fatherhood of God is revealed to us by Jesus Christ, Himself. Indeed, as I’ve often noted, the two things that Scripture says the Holy Spirit gives to us to say–that is, things we cannot come to on our own without divine revelation–is “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15) and “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). So the Fatherhood of God is not some optional cultural metaphor that we can jettison when we tire of the symbolism, or when it goes against our tastes and passions. Rather, God’s Fatherhood is essential to understanding the Gospel. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Christ himself throughout the Gospels. God’s Fatherhood is a metaphor, but it is only a metaphor because there is a reality behind it which it reflects. If there were no reality, if it were a mere human construct, then it would not have any force. It would cease, indeed, to be a metaphor.
Or, to say it this way: There is no such thing, in human terms, as “Parent.” “Parent” is an analytical term that has no existential meaning. All human parents are experienced as either mothers or fathers, and mothers and fathers are not androgynous interchangeable custodians of children. Fathers and mothers are different, though equally valuable and to be equally honored. Boys cannot learn fatherhood from mothers, and girls cannot learn motherhood from fathers. The best that fathers can do with boys is describe motherhood to them. But even when fathers attempt to exemplify motherhood to their children, they can only do so as fathers. And one may say the same for mothers. Mothers are as essential to the rearing of children as fathers, to be sure. But that sentence must be read in reverse as well: fathers are as essential to the rearing of children as mothers.
There is, however, no Divine Mother. Why this is, I do not know. But we do not have any Divine Authority revealing theistic Motherhood. Jesus saw fit–consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures and the later experience of the New Testament Church–to ensure that God is known, and can only be known, as Father. Apparently this is because it is only as Father that God can accomplish union with us in the Son and his Body the Church through the Holy Spirit. But God as Father most definitely communicates something to us different from God as Mother. Indeed, it may not be saying too much to say that insisting on God’s Motherhood is insisting on a different God from him revealed in Jesus Christ.
But precisely by virtue of God’s Fatherhood, we can know ourselves for who we really are: the children of God. We are not children, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, by virtue of some forensic proclamation, or by our own activism or good deeds. Rather, we are such only if we are in union with Christ. Because only in union with Christ can we know union with God the Father, and in Christ we become his sons and daughters.