Christology of Philoxenos of Mabbug
(This article is the conclusion part of the Doctoral Disserration The Christology of Philoxenos of Mabbug mainly, based on his ten discourses against Habib of Dr. Mathews Mar Severios submitted at Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum Favultas Scientiarum Ecclesiasticarum Orientalium, Rome 1984 directed by P.I.ORTIZ DE URBINA S.J.) (Editor)
Philoxenos of Mabbug was one among the main protagonists of the fifth and sixth-century Christological controversy in the Christian Church. The life, works and theological views of this bishop of the Antiochian Church were all influenced by the struggles of that controversial period. The Christology of Philoxenos reflects his untiring efforts to save the faith of the Church from all the wrong Christological perspectives which existed at his time.
He was born in the village of Tahl in the region of Beth Garmai, in Persia, between 430 and 440 AD in an Aramaic Christian family. After receiving baptism, he took the monastic profession of ‘Aksenoyuto’ which existed in Persia at that time due to the persecutions. Thus he was called ‘Aksenoyo’ in the sense of an itinerant monk. He travelled and stayed in different monasteries in the confines of Roman territories in the East and taught in the monastic schools.
Aksenoyo studied in the School of the Persians at Edessa when it was dominated by the theological thought of the Antiochian Christologians Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret of Cyrrus. This was during the second episcopate of Iba at Edessa and the directorate of Narsai at the School of Edessa (451-457 AD). Aksenoyo was trained in the school in philosophical and theological speculation, knowledge of the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the Antiochian exegetical method and Christian spirituality. He became a supporter of the Alexandrian Christology which was opposed to that of the Antiochians. In the school the Alexandrian group was a minority. Since both the bishop Iba and the director of the school Narsai were supporters of the Antiochian Christology, they expelled from the school (c. 457 AD) the group of students who ‘disobeyed Iba’. Aksenoyo was one among this group of the Alexandrian minority.
Then he visited the monasteries in the vicinity of Edessa and taught the faith of the Church for a long time. During this period he must have received the name Philoxenos’, a Greek equivalent to his Aramaic name, Aksenoyo.. Philoxenos came to the diocese of Antioch during the patriarchate of Calendion(c. 479 AD) and soon became actively involved in the controversy of the Trisagion there. Philoxenos defended the developed Trisagion introduced by his friend Peter the Fuller, the predecessor of Calendion, but then in exile. Calendion opposed it. Being a Cyrillian Christologian, Philoxenos supported also the Henotikon of Zeno, issued in 482 AD, which was more on-Chalcedonian than Chalcedonian in its Christological emphasis. Calendion, because of his aversion towards the Henotikon, expelled Philoxenos from the diocese of Antioch (c. 484 AD) as a preacher of Cyrillian Christology, supporter of the developed Trisagion and the Henotikon’.
In 484 AD the Emperor Zeno deposed Patriarch Calendion from Antioch and bishop Cyrus from Hierapolis(Mabbug) because they disagreed to sign the Henotikon. He re-called Peter the Fuller who returned with his friend Philoxenos to Antioch. Emperor Zeno reinstated Peter the Fuller on the throne of the Antiochian see after signing the Henotikon. Peter the Fuller ordained Philoxenos bishop of Mabbug in 485 AD. During the peaceful early period of his episcopate (485-498 AD) Philoxenos could fulfil his duty as a pastor of souls writing doctrinal and spiritual treatises and making contact with the Christians in Persia while propagating his Alexandrian Christological views. The time of the Patriarchate of Flavian II at Antioch (498-512 AD) was a troubled period for Philoxenos. The latter opposed the former because of his adherence to the Antiochian Christologians and the council of Chalcedon both of which were condemned by a synod in Constantinople in 499 AD and at which both Patriarch Flavian II and Philoxenos participated. Because of his free access to the Emperor Anastasius, Philoxenos was able to persuade the latter to summon synods at Antioch (509 AD) and at Sidon (512 AD) in order to force Flavian to condemn the council of Chalcedon and all those who accepted ‘two natures in Christ’ or otherwise be expelled from the throne. Philoxenos achieved this end in 512 AD at a synod in Laodicea. The synod deposed Flavian and consecrated Severus Patriarch of Antioch.
Philoxenos together with the Patriarch Severus (512-519 AD) reunified the Syrian East in the Empire against Chalcedon and established unity with the Patriarchs Timotheos of Constantinople and John of Alexandria. But in 518 the Emperor Justin, who succeeded Anastasius, re-established unity between bishop Hormisdas of Rome and the Patriarch John of Constantinople and commanded strict obedience to the council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo as the criterion of faith in the Empire. Severus, Philoxenos and all the other bishops who were’ against were expelled in 519 AD. Philoxenos was first exiled to Gangra, then to Philippopolis and again back to Gangra. He wrote four letters from his exile of which three are extant. Those letters describe also the persecution that he had undergone in the exile. He died at Gangra, possibly of suffocation, on 10th December, 523 AD. He is considered one of the Fathers of the Church in the Syrian Orthodox Tradition, which commemorates his feast on December 10th.
The works of Philoxenos reflect the best Syriac scholarship, doctrinal convictions and spiritual upbringing of the author. In his exegetical method he follows the Antiochian literal method though .in his doctrinal views he is purely Alexandrian. His ascetical works have a Pauline trichotomical view (l Cor. 2; 14, 15 ; 3. 3 – sarkikos, Psochikos pneumatikos). The influence of the fourth-century Evagrius Ponticus on Philoxenos’ ascetic works is also considerable. His published works are 37 out of which 30 are authentic and are of dubious authenticity. The un-published works are 31 out of which 21 are authentic and 10 are of dubious authenticity. Two nonextant works are his ‘Letter to Stephen Bar Sudaily’ on spirituality and the Letter to Beronicianus concerning persecutions in his exile.
A study on the 21 Christological works of Philoxenos, which we gave in summary, other than his Dogmatic Letter(E) and the Ten Discourses against Habib (D1-D10), helped us to conclude that, although his main Christological views remained the same before and after those two works, his arguments in other works are characterised by the historical circumstances in which they were composed, such as the controversy of the Trisagion, the conflict with Falvian II over the question of Chalcedon and the Antiochian Christologians, the exile, persecution and the like. The main concern of his works between 476 and 485 AD was the question of the developed Trisagion. His Christology was developed in its defence. There was no attack against Chalcedon or mention of the Henotikon in these works. In his later works from 500 to 522 AD Philoxenos attacked the council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo while describing the Henotikon as the ‘unifier of the churches everywhere’. This silence on Chaleedon during this period is probably because the Henotikon was considered by Philoxenos in its Christological affiramtions to condemn the council of Chalcedon, though we know that it does not condemn either, the council of Chalcedon or the Tome of Leo, but only the teachings of Eutyches and Nestorius. We think that the adherence of Flavian II to Chalcedon provoked him to write against it.
The texts of our special study thus are from the period of his defence of the developed Trisagion, all of them being written between 482 and 484 AD. From our study of the Dogmatic Letter of Philoxenos(E), the Treatise of Habib against it(T) and the Ten Discourses of Philoxenos against Habib (D1-D10) we see that Philoxenos and Habib knew each other. Habib was a simple Syrian monk, probably from Persia. He had a basic knowledge of Scripture, Philosophy and the Tradition of the Church. His Christological opinions much resembled the Christology of the Antiochian Christologians Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius as well as that of Paul of Samosata. But it is difficult to identify him conclusively as a ‘Nestorian’ or ‘Chalcedonian’. There was no docetic Christology in him. He was also a learned debater like Philoxenos. We think that the insufficient explanation of doctrinal affirmations in the Dogmatic Letter of Philoxenos caused Habib to misunderstand Philoxenos. We cannot blame Philoxenos either for this because he wrote for monks who knew well Philoxenos and his teachings. This is why Habib interpreted Philoxenos in ways different than the intention of the author.
The answers of Philoxenos to the objections and arguments of Habib in the Ten Discourses reflect the main Christological affirmations of Philoxenos. They reveal that Philoxenos knew well the Platonic, Aristotelian and Stoic Philosophical systems. Our source study revealed to us that most of his theological ideas are nothing but a developed presentation of the theology of Ephrem the Syrian joined to Alexandrian and Cappadocian theological perspectives. This helped Philoxenos maintain and defend his personal findings and developments in theology. Habib lacked a really thorough knowledge of the writings of the Fathers which caused him to contradict even basic patristic affirmations. A very clear example is his use of the examples of ‘the temple and its indweller’ and the ‘lamb of Egypt’, to support his dualistic Christology while the Fathers used them differently for representing the reality of the Manhood of Christ and His death for others, in a Christology of unity.
Is there anything in which Philoxenos and Habib were in agreement? Both for Habib and Philoxenos the prime interest was soteriology, and this lay under their Christological arguments. Unfortunately, in their urge to defend each one’s own position both of them became polemical-which resulted sometimes even in false accusations, and illogical arguments. Both of them had the idea that the word ‘kyono’ represents a concrete being or reality. Both Philoxenos and Habib used the words ‘flesh’, ‘body’ and’ man’ as synonymous, meaning a man with true body, soul and intelligence. Both of them emphasized the reality of Christ’s manhood which was the central point of dispute. Both of them did not hold a docetic Christology though they accused each other of such. We could not find in either of them the heresies of Arius, Eunomius, Marcion, Mani, Bardaisan, Valentinius, Eutyches and Apollinarius because both of them denied them as false teachings though they accused each other and tried to prove that the other held those heresies.
While both of them agreed that the Manhood of Christ was a real manhood with true human needs an extreme emphasis on this point in the system of Habib resulted in his assigning to Christ two self-sufficient centres of actions or subjects, while through a balanced explanation of the Godhead and Manhood of the Incarnate Word of God, Philoxenos safe-guarded the radical unity of the subject and the recognition of both the divine and human properties which were made common in the one united kyono of Godhead and Manhood in Christ. Both Habib and Philoxenos are found in agreement also on the fact that the word ‘Ityo’ in its proper sense is applicable only to God. But the latter distinctly explained of the possibility of the word ‘ityo’ being used also concerning creation in the sense that there exist created ityo different from the uncreated ityo God. This idea of Philoxenos is an adaptation from the Greek,Philosophical and Patristic traditions.-
A Chronologic and spatial limitation or movement Cyrill of Alexandria. Concerning ‘qnumo’ there is a big difference between Habib and Philoxenos. Habib never considered ‘qnumo’ an individual but an impersonal yet distinct attribute of power. This resulted in Habib’s explaining the Trinity in a modalistic way. Philoxenos explained the qnumo as a concrete individual with distinctive and particular characteristics. This helped him to explain the Trinity following the Alexandrian and Cappadocian Fathers as ‘one kyono in three qnume and three qnume in one kyono’.
A sound Trinitarian theology is indispensable for a sound Christology. The above understanding of Habib concerning ‘qnumo’ prevented him from accepting a personal descent of the Son of God in the Incarnation. Philoxenos understood this difficulty of Habib and insisted on the concept of the personal descent of the Qnumo of the son of God in the Incar- nation. Since Habib did not find the three Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three qnume, personal existence in the sense of a concrete being was according to him the ‘divine kyono’ of God. So in Habib’s system the descent of God is not personal descent but the eternal kyono (eternal qnumo) took a man and dwelt in him. Is it a personal dwelling? Habib is not clear. But because of his insistence on the existence of Christ in two kyone and two qnume, in that man taken, he accepts two individualities in Christ.
In Habib’s explanation this kind of an indwelling results in two distinct properties acting sometimes particularly and sometimes commonly. Because of this ‘union’ Christ is called by the names one Son, one Jesus, one Lord, one Glory, one worship but not one kyono, one qnumo, one God or one Word. All the operations of Christ beginning from His birth to death are attributed by Habib separately between the two kyone or two qnume. This is really the weak part of his Christology be cause it lacks the oneness of the subject of operations in Christ, the cardinal point of soteriology.
The same insistence on the duality of operations in the one Christ is seen in the Antiochian Christologians Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius. Both they and Habib insisted on the ‘one son’ and not two sons. This helps us to understand how this conjunction, rather than union, which the son of David had with the Son of God in the sharing of the ‘sonship’ of the latter by the former is common in the systems of the.Antiochian Christologians and in that of Habib. This prosopic union and the lack of union of the kyono and qnumo raise here the question of salvation. By whom was it effected? If by the human operations of a man then none is saved. The difficulty of understanding the mystery of God’s union with the human kyono in becoming a perfect man without change to the kyono of God led them to this ‘easier’ solution. While recognizing this a mystery incomprehensible to the human mind, Philoxenos insisted on the subject of the Incarnation as the Son of God, one of the Trinity, who united His Manhood to His Godhead to become one.
The difference here between Habib and Philoxenos is that for the former the subjects in Christ are two whereas for the latter the subject of all the operations, both divine and human, is. the Incarnate Son of God who is the origin of both His divine and human properties revealed in a real union and resulting in one and the same Incarnate kyono and qnumo
The united kyono of the Godhead and Manhood of the Incarnate Word of God has united divine-human properties, existing or expressed not particularly but commonly. So Philoxenos could attribute all human predicates like birth, growth, needs, sufferings and death to the one Incarnate Son of God. A lack of this kind of view even caused Habib to refrain from calling the Holy Virgin Mary Mother of God. Failure to recognise the fact of the oneness of the subject of all the operations in Christ is the real error in Habib. According to Philoxenos the Manhood of the Incarnate Son of God served Him for accomplishing the salvation of the whole human race. This is the Patristic Christological tradition. -The personal death of a man taken by God would result only in his own salvation. The intention and concern of Habib for soteriology is laudable and we are sorry for him that he failed in his aim because of his wrong way of understanding the salvific acts of Christ. Even though Habib did not either praise or deny the Antiochian Christologians Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius he held a similar Christology.
Now, what can we say of the Christology of Philoxenos? His Christology is closely related to his Trinitarian theology. The central emphasis of his Christology is the oneness and the sameness of the subject of Economy in the Incarnation who is the Incarnate Son of God. The place of this qnumo of the Son of God in the Trinity as one qnumo of the Trinity and His descent are traditional ideas found in the earlier Fathers of the Church which are contextually developed by Philoxenos in his discourses against Habib. He developed a ‘Theology of Becoming’ the ‘Son of God’s becoming man with becoming spirituals or sons of God by baptized Christians and with many other examples. The Theology of Becoming is the dynamic centre of his Christological views concerning the human birth, growth, operations, needs, suffering, death and resurrection of the Incarnate Son of God.
The perfect Word of God became perfect Man of true body endowed with a rational soul and mind. He united to Himself the Manhood of our kyono. In this union neither the Godhead was changed into Manhood nor His Manhood was changed into His Godhead. He is bar-kyono with His Father in His Godhead and bar-kyono with us in His Manhood. The manner of this union is an ineffable mystery known only to God but is recognised by us through faith. Thus ‘faith’ and ‘mystery’ found their important place in the Christology of Philoxenos. In this united kyono of the Godhead and Manhood of the One Incarnate Word His divine and human properties are united to become common in everything to the One Incarnate qnumo who became the origin of both.
After the Incarnation Christ does not exist ‘in two kyone’ ‘ but ‘in One Incarr.a-te kyono’ because of unity. Since for Philoxenos ‘one kyono’ meant ‘one concrete and individual being’ he correctly used the expression ‘One Incarnate kyono’ in order to avoid the concept of two concrete beings or subjects in the one Christ. In its meaning it was the same ‘One Incarnate nature of God the Word the greatest formula of Cyrillian Christology.
We find that since the phrase ‘humanly natural ‘or naturally’ are used in the sense of fallen human nature by Philoxenos, birth, growth, operations and death of the Incarnate Son are not understood by him as ‘naturally’ or ‘humanly natural’. According to him in that sense all operations of the fallen human nature are inevitably mixed with lust in which he concurs with Gregory of Nyssa. At the same time Philoxenos affirmed that the birth, growth, needs, suffering and death of Christ are really human in their characteristics in the sense of a pure human nature without its defects from sin. For this he used the phrases according to the human kyono, from the human kyono transcending the human kyono, voluntarily and miraculosly’. This represents an important development in his Christology. A further development and expla nation of these terms is found in his Mathew-Luke commentary and in his ‘Letter to the Monks of Senoun’.
Another appreciable development in his Christology is his concept of the ‘voluntary and living death of the incarnate Son of God which we find in almost all his Christological works. Christ, being born ‘transcending the human kyono from the Holy Virgin Mary, was in His Manhood free from the inevitable mortality and corruption of the body, the separation of body from soul that makes both lifeless, all of which are the after-effects of the Adamic sin added as defects to ‘true Manhood’. Thus the death that He fulfilled undergoing the corruption of His body was not His personal death, but the death of the whole human race of which He also became a member by His Manhood. In this voluntary death for others His body and soul were separated, ending His earthly life, whereas both of them remained living through the living Word of God whose were that body and soul. Excellent Christological explanation of this type we see beginning. from his first letter to the monks of Teleda.
Philoxenos’ special way of considering the oneness of kyono, qnumo and parsopo in Christ Is Important. For this reason he made the following affirmations. In the One Incarnated qnumo of the Son of God : everything of man is of God and everything of God is of man ; the particular properties of Godhead and Manhood became in every thing, common ; all attributes of the Son of God are also said of the Son of Man and vice versa. In this manner the Son of Man descended from heaven and the Son of God is from the descendance of David. His Manhood is of His Godhead and His Godhead is of His Manhood; pagronuto. is of the Ruhono and ruhonuto is of the body of the Pagrono; non-corporal and non-corporeity of the Corporal’. We find here the traditional idea of ‘Communication idiomatum’ (Christological). However, Philoxenos never used this phrase though he held an idea similar to it. We think that he may have avoided because of its limitations in giving a wrong slant to ‘the humanizing of the Godhead’ just as ‘the divinizing of the anhood’ by mutual compenetration.
The doctrinal affirmations of the councils of Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus are Philoxenos bases for the authority of faith. Although absent in his ‘Ten Discourses against Habib’, the main objection of Philoxenos against the council of Chalcedon put forth in his later works is centred on the phrase in two natures’ in the definition of faith of Chalcedon. But both Chalcedon and Philoxenos condemned Nestorianism and Euitychianism as they were known to them. So from a careful study of the terminology of the definition of faith of Chalcedon compared with the Christology of Philoxenos we can say that the underlying faith of the Chalcedonian definition and the Christology of Philoxenos is the same, because it is the already existing Christology of the earlier Fathers of the Church up to Chalcedon. How can it be explained that the newly added phrase ‘Christ is made known in two natures’ does not imply two centres of operation resulting in two subjects, though it affirms Him as ‘one hypostasis’? Philoxenos rejected the phrase ‘in two natures’ in the definition of Chalcedon because of its absence in the writings of the earlier Fathers and since kyono meant a concrete being for him. We find the same objection to the phrase as the ‘impedimentum dirimens’ concerning Chalcedon by all the later non- Chalcedonians, while all of them agree on the same faith. This is evident also from the agreed statements of faith in the recent Non-official consultations between the Chalcedonians, both Byzantine (l) and Roman Catholic (2) and the non-Chalcedonians.
The influence of the Christology of Philoxenos in the non-Chalcedonian traditions of the Church, especially in the Syrian Orthodox Church, is remarkable. Severus of Antioch, his contemporary and co-worker developedthe same Christological tradition though with a rational method of approach. Jacob of Saroug, their contemporary had the same Christological views. Theexpression one Incarnate kyono or qnumo is 1) For the documents, seeGOTR, 1964, 10 : 1968, 13, 14 : 1970- 71, 15, 16. 2) For the documents, see‘Wort and Warheit, Pro-Oriente, Vienna, Supplement 1, 2, 3, 4 (1972, 1974,1976, 1978).
Severus because both expressions signify Christ ‘One Incarnate qnumo of Godhead and Manhood’. The later theologians of the non Chalcedonian Tradition, especially in the Syrian Orthodox Church like Jacob of Edessa, Mose Bar kepa, Michael the Syrian, Dionesius Bar-Slibi and Bar Hebreus followed the methods of both Philoxenos and Severus. A careful study of the liturgical texts of the Syrian Orthodox Church revealed to us the immense use of Philoxenian and Severian theological perspectives both on the mystery of the Trinity and the Incarnation of the Son of God. Finally we are concerned here with the unity of the Church. For more than fifteen centuries the Churches which accept and those which reject the council of Chalcedon remain separated from the Eucharistic Communion, though both of them preserve the same faith in Christ. Historical facts and terminological difference rather than real differences of Christology keep them aloof to each other. This fact was stressed by Pope Paul VI, Patriarch-Pope Shenouda and Patriarch Ignatius Jacob III in their mutually agreed declarations. We are conscious that the use of correct terminologies is necessary to articulate a right faith. Analysis of Philoxenos’ Christology seems to us to suggest a formula ‘Christ is made known in the One United Nature of His Godhead and Manhood’ instead of ‘Christ is made known in two natures’ that at the same time might satisfy both sides and help them discover their deeper unity of faith in the oneness of Christ and the salvation that He accomplished through His Manhood. We hope that the Holy Spirit will unite us in the one faith which is in the Incarnate Son of God.
Metropolitan Dr. Mathews Mar Severios
Courtesy: പൗരസ്ത്യ ക്രൈസ്തവ ദർശന കർമ്മയോഗി
Editor: Fr. Dr. T. P. Elias
Publishers : Pradeepthy Publications, Meembara