What is Not Assumed

What is Not Assumed

Gregory of Nazianzus was born into a Christian family in Cappadocia. His father, bishop of Nazianzus, gave Gregory an intense religious education. He studied in Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, Alexandria, and Athens. While in Athens, he roomed with his friend and fellow Cappadocian, Basil of Caesarea.

Gregory returned home to teach rhetoric in 356 ad. At that time, he dedicated himself to asceticism and caring for his parents. Later, Basil convinced Gregory to join him at his monastery in Pontus where Gregory excelled in monastic life.

When division over the identity of Jesus threatened the church in Nazianzus, Gregory returned home to help ease the conflict and to again assist his ailing parents. In 361, Gregory was ordained priest in Nazianzus at Basil’s encouragement.

Soon Gregory was caught up in church political wrangling. After the death of his father, then shortly thereafter his mother, brother, and sister, Gregory was the sole surviving family member. However, not wanting to become bishop of Nazianzus, he took solace at a monastery in Seleucia, but his finest hour was yet to come.

After the Council of Nicaea in 325, conflicts over Christ’s identity had continued. Sabellianism taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were the same person playing different roles (modalism). Apollinarus believed Jesus was a human with a divine soul, making him only partially human. Those who believed Jesus was fully human and fully divine were losing ground and they called on Gregory for help. At first reluctant, he finally left retirement and went to Constantinople to address the issue.

Gregory defended the oneness of essence and threeness of persons of the Godhead against subordinationism, tritheism, and modalism. He equated eternality with divinity and said a created being cannot be divine. Therefore, created beings cannot bring salvation to humanity.

These concepts laid the groundwork for the Council of Constantinople in 381. Bishops from across the empire came to discuss the issue. In the end, the consensus was that Jesus was fully human and fully God (Col 2:9). It also stated that the Holy Spirit was fully divine. Gregory contended, “What was not assumed was not healed,” meaning whatever aspect of humanity (body, soul, spirit) that Son did not assume at the incarnation could not have been redeemed by the death on the cross. Jesus needed to be fully human to save humanity.

The ancient church councils were not inspired and had no real bearing on Truth. For those following the New Testament, the decisions of councils and bishops have no authority. However, they do offer clarification and refinement of language and understanding on the theology of the New Testament.

Today, the concept of being fully God and fully man is innocuous, but there was a time it was considered heresy. Thankfully, men like Gregory helped explain and refine important biblical concepts.

-Sam Dilbeck


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