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Home » Church History » “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch » Chapter 7: “Defying Chalcedon: Asia and Africa (451 – 622)”

Chapter 7: “Defying Chalcedon: Asia and Africa (451 – 622)”




Even though the Chalcedon decrees splintered Christianity driving away Miaphysites and Dyophysites, Christianity spread and grew unexpectedly.


Ethiopia,  India, and Asia all had surprising ways that God reached them almost becoming of legend; a brief witnessing encounter in Acts, apostle Thomas reaching Asia, links to King Solomon with Ethiopian royalty, the Act of the Covenant, the story of Jonah in Nineveh.  Even though the theology may not have been the same among the different splinters, they did develop and grow.


It’s amazing how language played such a big influence on theology.  The fact that in certain of the languages nature meant origin completely made a view of the nature of God unacceptable.  Still with the different theologies they were meditated upon and reasoned and can still be of much value to Chalcedon views.




Living here in America, mainstream Christianity has largely been dominated by the theology of the Western church of the past and remains largely unaware (or suspicious) of Eastern theology.  In this chapter, MacCulloch writes about the Eastern Church’s spread toward the furthest reaches of the East, from Africa, Arabia, all the way toward China with its emphasis on Miaphysite Christology and a staunch loyalty to its Syrian roots.  It is interesting to note that as much as we may view the Eastern Church as being misguided, the Eastern Church also finds the Western Church to be misguided as well.  This fear of one another should not keep us from trying to understand their view of Christ in particular that may enlighten or even change the way we approach Christ and or ourselves in relation to God.


As MacCulloch describes the Eastern Church’s Christology, they were guided by Theodore of Mopsuestia’s teaching that Christ in his human nature was the Second Adam who therefore was the true pattern for all of Adam’s children.  Descendents of Adam should therefore do their best to imitate Christ’s holiness.  This lead to a more “optimistic view of human worth, potential and capacity, because if Jesus had a whole human nature, it must by definition be good, and logically all human nature began by being good… This was a contrast with the savage pessimism that has often emerged from Latin Western Christianity, following Augustine’s emphasis on original sin.” (loc. 4924 – 4935)  Furthermore, MacCulloch mentions the 7th century monk Isaac from Qatar who related with Origen’s theology and said that God’s divine love even extended down to hell; this type of theology is more or less unheard of in mainstream Western theology.  If you do hold on to these beliefs, you’re more or less branded a “liberal” at best or “heretic” or “non-Christian” at worst.


Meditating on the evolution of our understanding of Christ and God from different ages and away from modern eyes displays the complex and different ways people have struggled to understand God.  Instead of being so entrenched in our own little bubble of belief, it is critical to know and humbling to know that there are other perspectives out there and look at the shortcomings that our own theological/church tradition may have.  I must admit that having a more optimistic view of the goodness within man is quite a challenge for me because I, for various reasons, personally take a somewhat Thomas Hobbesian negative view of human nature (that we tend to follow our savage, self-interested needs deep down inside – “ the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”) .  It takes a lot of faith and willpower at times to see the good in man, and this includes your fellow church-goer.  Though I sometimes try, just turning on the news or even a ride on the subway is enough to turn me back into a Hobbesian.  To start off seeing the goodness of man first would definitely reorient my behavior and view of God.  To see that God’s love reaches down to the very depths of hell is quite profound- perhaps that was the great motivation for missionaries of the Eastern Church to branch out East and set up churches and monasteries there that still exist to this day.  It’s something to think about some more.




1 Comment

  1. Tim Snoddon says:

    How emotionally ravaging it must be to be Hobbesian!

    Anyone with anything to say about Justin I?…

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