The doctrine of the Incarnation as defined by the Council of Chalcedon differs widely at first sight from the plain teaching of the New Testament.
But closer examination shows that it is the teaching of the New Testament
put into technical language.
Everyone who accepts the teaching of the New Testament that Jesus Christ is both God and Man must accept the teaching of Chalcedon that He is one Person in two Natures, for every other possible interpretation has been tried and found wanting.
The great virtue of the definition of Chalcedon is that it is balanced.
It combines different aspects of the truth.
It rejects Nestorianism on one side, and Eutychianism on the other.
It asserts both the complete Godhead and the complete Manhood of our Lord.
It is the classical example of the Via Media,
the middle way that combines both extremes.
Some modern writers have been accused it of being insufficiently definite.
But this is one of its chief merits.
The Incarnation is a mystery.
We can never expect to understand it fully.
The purpose of the Chalcedonian Definition is negative rather than positive.
It warns Christians that one particular line of thought is false because one-sided.
It protects us from error rather than guides us to truth.
The way is left free for further speculation, as long as it does not fall into the errors that the Chalcedonian Definition shuts out.
All Christendom, with the exceptions to be mentioned later, has accepted
the decrees of Chalcedon.
Since Pope Leo had so much to do with the decision of the Council, the see of Rome became its leading champion, breaking the old alliance with Alexandria.
With Rome went the whole West;
and when Constantinople returned to Chalcedonian orthodoxy under the Emperor Justin, the Greek churches returned also.
The Patriarchate of the East beyond the Euphrates freely accepted Chalcedon.
In modern times the Continental Reformers declared their loyalty to Chalcedonian Christology, and it is formally recognized by the Confession of Augsburg and therefore by all orthodox Lutherans (for their standard is the Confession of Augsburg, not the private opinions of Luther).
Calvin accepted Chalcedon, but most Calvinists have refused to be bound by the dogmas of their master, whether true or false; and the sects of the Reformation cannot bind themselves by this or any other dogma because they maintain the inalienable right of the individual Christian to interpret the Bible for himself.
But every part of Christendom that has any claim to share in the inheritance of the ancient Church accepts the definition of Chalcedon, except the "Monophysite" communion consisting of the Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, and Jacobite or "Syrian Orthodox" Churches.
Whether these churches, though they will not accept Chalcedon, really deny
the truth that the Council guards is very doubtful.
They all condemn the teaching of Eutyches, and some authorities maintain that Severus of Antioch, their leading theologian, differed only verbally from his orthodox opponents.
The Council of Chalcedon, by condemning and deposing Dioscorus of Alexandria, aroused against itself the fanatical nationalism of the Egyptians and Syrians which, as we have seen, would not yield an inch to the hated "Melkites" or Imperialists, the supporters of the Emperor's Council.
The Monophysite party became a group, first of independent churches and then of independent nations.
The Moslem conquest two centuries after Chalcedon preserved the existing state of things as a glacier preserves whatever falls into it.
Orthodox and Monophysite remain to this day as they were in the seventh century.
Any agreement now would be regarded as treason to the tradition of their fathers, strengthened by thirteen centuries of Moslem oppression.
So the refusal of the Monophysite churches to submit to the definition of Chalcedon is not a genuine exception.
We may contrast the definition of Chalcedon with three later developments that have not received the same universal acceptance.
The later Latin Councils, especially those of Trent and the Vatican,
have imposed a large number of new dogmas, not only because they were needed
to exclude doctrine which the Council held to be false, but also because
the Roman see was determined to increase its own authority by means of them.
These dogmas are not based on Holy Scripture
from which it is impossible to prove
the supremacy by Divine right,
infallibility, and the universal ordinary jurisdiction of the Pope,
the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin, etc.
Nor does any Christian church outside the Roman Communion accept them.
For these reasons the Eastern and Anglican churches accept Chalcedon but reject the Councils of Trent and the Vatican.
Many modern Christians reject all the decrees of all the Councils,
declaring that the Bible by itself is enough.
But all the ancient heretics accepted the authority of the Bible.
Arius and Apollinarius, Nestorius and Eutyches,
all claimed that their teaching was based on the Bible.
Besides, the notion that the Bible is perfectly clear and intelligible is very naive.
"Simple Bible teaching" means in practice
the Bible interpreted in accordance with the tradition
in which the teacher has been brought up,
commonly a tradition going back to the Continental Reformers.
The chaos of sects in the United States shows how insufficient the Bible by itself is to protect the ignorant from false doctrine.
Modern liberal theologians have often demanded a change in the dogmatic
decrees of the Councils.
The time may come when it will be desirable or even necessary to interpret those decrees by a definition in more modern language.
But this cannot be done while Christendom is divided as it is at present, nor is there any real reason for attempting to do it.
Those who say they want the language modernized really want to alter the contents of the definitions.
They are precisely the persons from whom those definitions are intended to protect the simple.
The historic doctrine of the Church and Sacraments
(which was rejected partly by Luther and entirely by Calvin)
rests upon the doctrine of the Incarnation.
There are Christians who have attempted in modern times to lay great emphasis on the doctrine of the Church and the Sacraments without any clear belief on the doctrine of the Incarnation that underlies them.
This is like expecting cut flowers to grow in the ground.
The Church is the Body and the Bride of the Incarnate Word of God.
Those who reject either the Godhead or the Manhood of Jesus Christ believe the Church to be a merely human society, and the Sacraments mere magical rites without authority or efficacy.
But the doctrine of the Incarnation is the basis not only of the life of
but also of the life of civilized Europe.
Modern "liberal" civilization is founded upon the doctrine
that all human beings living in a country have equal civil rights,
and that all nations, large and small, and peoples living in tribal or even savage conditions have equal rights to freedom and self-development.
These doctrines are not put into practice universally even by the most civilized nations, but they have been for some generations regarded as ideals by most European States.
They rest ultimately on the belief that the Word of God took human nature and died for all men, and therefore that every human being is of infinite value.
Where the Christian faith is rejected, liberal civilization is sooner or later rejected too.
The ancient Romans did not believe that all men, whether citizens or not,
should have equal civil rights, or that Jews or other barbarians had the
same right to their own life as Romans.
Moslems do not believe that non-Moslems are entitled to civil equality with themselves.
Communists do not believe that the capitalists have as much right to equal justice as the proletariat.
German National Socialists did not believe that the Jew had equal rights with the German.
Fascists did not believe that Ethiopia had the same right to self-development as Italy.
Liberal civilization is very imperfect, but it has no meaning and no possible
future apart from the Incarnation.
The dogmas of Chalcedon are necessary if the Incarnation is to be rightly understood.
As G. K. Chesterton said, "a slip in the definitions might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs" [Orthodoxy, p.183.].
The dogmas of Chalcedon are the basis of modern civilization.
The consequence of accepting the teaching of Chalcedon,
that our Lord Jesus Christ is both God and Man,
is that we secure the true belief about the nature of God
and about the nature of man.
We see in Jesus Christ displayed to us in the four Gospels God Himself.
It is not only through the Gospels (as some think) that we can gain true knowledge of God, for the revelation of God to the prophets and other writers of the Old Testament was true though partial.
But Jesus Christ is the "express image" of the Father, and by studying His life we can know the character of God more perfectly than in any other way.
From Him we see that God is personal, not merely an idea or an influence.
God made us in His image.
We did not make Him in ours.
He is not merely a name for our highest ideals.
The God whom we see in Jesus Christ is the God of order and of justice.
It is not for us to sit in judgment on Him.
It is He who will judge us who is indeed judging us continually.
But He is not only our Judge (as Christians have in some ages been tempted
to regard Him), but also our Brother.
His love is shown by His death for us.
It was a new conception of God that Jesus Christ brought into the world when He showed that God loves us so much that He was willing to suffer all the humiliation of human life and all the pain of death on the Cross to save us from ourselves.
And therefore God is no longer a Being far away in the heavens,
nor a World-Soul without any particular relation to anyone.
He is our Leader and our Savior who calls us to live and die
with Him, for Him, and in His power.
For He is not only God but Man,
and knows by His own experience what it is to be Man.
As God is revealed to us in Christ, so man also is revealed to us in Christ.
It is remarkable that those who do not believe in God,
as Christians believe in Him,
do not believe in the dignity of man either.
According to Buddhism man is a miserable being destined for innumerable reincarnations to end at last in nothingness.
According to the tradition of Islam he is the slave of a capricious God.
According to Marxian Communism [he is] a piece of material doomed to serve the ends of economic destiny.
According to National Socialism [he is] the instrument of the omnipotent State and cannon fodder for its Leader.
But Christians believe that man is created in the image of God,
by which we mean that he is given free will
to control, within limits, his own destiny;
that he is redeemed by the death and resurrection of God the Son;
that if he accepts the destiny for which God has made him,
he is being prepared by the Holy Spirit for personal union with God.
Therefore he is of infinite value,
but only because God the Son has become and is Man.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is man as God made him,
man as he would have been but for the Fall.
Man is what he is because he is fallen.
He is not what God meant him to be;
but the life of Jesus Christ on earth shows what he might have been and what by the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ he may still be.
Moreover, our Lord is the Second Adam,
the Head and Representative of the human race.
He is not only a man,
He is Man.
Every other human leader belongs to some particular race;
the Buddha was an Indian, Plato a Greek, Mohammed an Arab, Luther a German;
but our Lord Jesus Christ, though born a Jew, belongs equally to all races.
The English are inclined to think of Him as English, the Chinese as Chinese, the Africans as African.
He is our supreme example.
We are to be like Him, and that ideal fully satisfies our consciences.
But He is not a mere teacher.
His teaching cannot be separated from His claims,
and we cannot follow it without His continual help.
He did not come only to show us the way, as the Buddha claimed to do,
or to proclaim the truth, as Mohammed claimed to do,
but to be Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
We cannot tread the Way or accept the Truth
without sharing the Life that is imparted to us in the Church.
Our Lord came first of all as a Saviour.
Those who represent Him as first of all a Teacher misrepresent Him completely,
do not even begin to understand what His religion is,
and cannot accept His teaching, which is inseparable from His claim to be the Incarnate Son of God and from His work of redemption.
Yet His teaching is unique,
for it is the basis of the Christian moral ideal,
which is different from all other moral ideals.
The strange notion is still sometimes met with
that the moral ideals of all men are the same, whatever their religion may be.
In reality men differ at least as widely in their moral ideals
as they do in their religious dogmas.
The ideal of Aristotle was the μεγαλόψυχος, the "magnificent" man,
who is great and knows himself to be so , almost the perfect prig.
The ideal of the Stoics was the man who had taught himself to feel no emotion about anything.
The Buddhist ideal is the monk who has wholly freed himself from desire and from his relation to the world in which he lives.
The Moslem ideal is the pious Arab warrior, completely submissive to the will of God but intensely proud of his own position as one of God's chosen.
(The ideal of Cromwell's Ironsides was probably not very different.)
The Christian ideal as described in the Gospels and as displayed in the
immense variety of Christian saints is unmistakably different from all these.
It differs from all of them in this:
that no one can make any progress towards it in his own strength.
It is impossible to follow Christ as our Teacher without accepting Him as our Saviour.
But the death of Jesus Christ would not have saved us
if He had not been both God and Man.
A created being, however exalted, could not have redeemed mankind.
It was for this reason that St. Athanasius spent his life in battle against the false teaching of Arius.
Nor could He have saved us if He had not been truly and fully human.
God has shared our sufferings.
God loves us so much that He died to save us.
That is the good news, the Gospel.
It is not true unless He is both God and Man.
And the brotherhood of men depends entirely on the Incarnation.
Because God has taken human nature,
every one who shares that human nature is His brother,
and the brother of His disciples.
If this were not true,
there would be no reason for men to regard one another as brothers.
In practice, they don't.
Finally, the Incarnation of the Son of God is unique.
Once and only once in time, God took human nature of the Blessed Virgin.
He never did it before.
He will never do it again.
The Incarnation is not merely the highest example of the immanence of God in man.
Jesus Christ is not merely one of the class of prophets and teachers.
Plato and the Buddha and Confucius, and the other teachers of mankind were only men.
Jesus Christ is not only Man but God.
"I tell you what it is," said Charles Lamb: "if Shakespeare came into the room, we should all stand up;
but if Jesus Christ came into the room, we should all kneel down. "
The Incarnation, rightly understood, with all that follows from it,
is the key to all the problems of mankind.
Every political, social, and economic problem could be solved
if every one took the Incarnation quite seriously as the basis of his conduct, public and private.
In the words of Browning:
I say, the acknowledgment of God in Christ,
Accepted by the reason, solves for thee
All questions, in the earth and out of it.
["A Death in the Desert."]