The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion? Part II

A Hymn to the Theotokos

He Whom the heavens cannot contain, O Virgin Theotokos, ineffably by a word, was contained within thy womb; and thou hast remained pure in no way having thy virginity defiled. For thou alone among women art both virgin and mother; and thou alone, O pure One, hast nourished a Son Who is the Life-giver. And in thy embrace thou didst hold the never-slumbering Eye, Who didst not leave the bosom of the Father but continued as He was before the ages: Wholly above as God with the angels and wholly below from thee with men being everywhere inexplicably present. Entreat Him, O all-holy Mistress, to save the Orthodox who confess thee to be the pure Theotokos. (Saturday Evening Small Vespers, the Theotokion at the Aposticha, Tone 8)

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion? Part II (continued)

Next we must consider the opinion that our Lord Jesus Christ did, in His human nature, grow in wisdom and understanding. Concerning this St. Cyril of Alexandria, in his work, “Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke” writes: “He [that is, Christ] is said to have increased in wisdom, not as receiving fresh supplies of wisdom—for God is perceived by the understanding to be entirely perfect in all things, and altogether incapable of being destitute of any attribute suitable to the Godhead—but because God the Word gradually manifested His wisdom proportionately to the age which the body attained”. [p.64]

In reference to this the Blessed Theophylact writes:

He subjected Himself to His parents, giving an example even to us, that we should subject ourselves to our parents. The Virgin kept all these sayings in her heart. For both the Child’s actions and His words were divine, and not those of a twelve year old, but of a mature man. See here how the Evangelist explains what it means that the Lord increased in wisdom, by addingand in stature”, showing that as the Lord increased in stature and age, He permitted more and more of His wisdom to manifest itself. And He found favor with God and man, that is, He did what was pleasing to God and what drew praise from men. First from God, and then from men. For we must first please God, and then men. (Blessed Theophylact, “The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to Luke”, House Springs, Missouri: Chrysostom Press, p. 39)

Finally St. John of Damascus teaches:

He is said to have progressed in wisdom and age and grace, because He did increase in age and by this increase in age brought more into evidence the wisdom inherent in Him; further, because by making what is ours altogether His own He made His own the progress of men in wisdom and grace, as well as the fulfillment of the Father’s will, which is to say, men’s knowledge of God and their salvation. Now, those who say that He progressed in wisdom and grace in the sense of receiving an increase in these are saying that the union was not made from the first instant of the flesh’s existence. Neither are they holding the hypostatic union, but, misledby the empty headed Nestorius, they are talking preposterously of a relative union and simple indwelling, “understanding neither the things they say, nor whereof they affirm”. (ITim. 1:7)For, if from the first instant of its existence the flesh was truly united to God the Word—rather , had existence in Him and identity of person with Him—how did it not enjoy perfectly all wisdom and grace? It did not share the grace and neither did it participate by grace in the things of the Word; rather, because human and divine things had become proper to the one Christ by the hypostatic union, then, since the same was at once God and man, it gushed forth with the grace and the wisdom and the fullness of all good things for the world. [“Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”, Book 3, Chapter 22]

So, even though, our Lord Jesus grew physically (including His brain) the fullness of divine wisdom was always with Him. This is because the ability of a human being to reason is not only a function of the human brain, but also, as our Holy Fathers teach, it is a faculty of the human soul that will continue to function even after the physical brain is dead. Our Holy Fathers speak of the soul as possessing three powers; they are the powers of reason, desire, and anger. Bishop Kallistos (Ware) explains these powers of the soul in the glossaries in each volume of “The Philokalia”. Fr. Reardon expresses something quite different when he writes of our Lord, “All his ‘thinking’ took place in a human brain at the service of a human intellect because Jesus was (and is) God’s Son enfleshed in a human condition.” [“The Jesus We Missed”, p. 86] Along these same lines Fr. Hopko states of our Lord, “Jesus is really a human being…if you’re a real human being, then you’re limited. You learn things as a human being, with a human brain.” [see the third paragraph above]. I believe these errors stem either from an ignorance of, a lack of understanding of, and/or a lack of experience in the ascetic tradition of our Church.

The next step for us to take is to establish the truth that even during His life on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God was not ignorant of anything. So then, let us first see what St. John Chrysostom teaches about this:

As a reference, I will be using Aloys Grillmeier’s book, “Christ in Christian Tradition, Volume One, From the Apostolic age to Chalcedon”, translated by John Bowden. In examining the Christology of St. Chrysostom, Grillmeier follows the study by C. Hay: “St. John Chrysostom and the Intergrity of the Human Nature of Christ”, FrancStud 19, 1959, 301. Thus Grillmeier writes of St. John Chrysostom: He supposes the existence of so close a communication between the Logos and the spiritual soul of Christ that he will allow no limitation to Christ’s human knowledge because this seems to endanger his divinity. Because the Logos dwells in Christ, there is no need for knowledge to be mediated to Christ’s human spirit by human sense experience: ‘In the (divine) nature he possessed all. Nowhere in his writings does Chrysostom give any indication that Christ possessed a distinct human knowledge.’” [“Christ in Christian Tradition”, p. 419; single quotation marks refer to, C. Hay, art. cit., 305]

In addition to this what does St. John of Damascus tell us?

One should know that He did assume an ignorant and servile nature, and this is because man’s nature is subservient to God who made it, and it does not have knowledge of future events. If, then, like Gregory the Theologian, you distinguish what is seen from what is thought, then the flesh will be said to be servile and ignorant. However, by reason of the identity of person and the inseparable union, the Lord’s soul enjoyed the knowledge of future events as well as the other signs of divinity. For, just as the flesh of men is not of its own nature life-giving, whereas that of the Lord, being hypostatically united to God the Word Himself, became life-giving by reason of its hypostatic union with the Word without losing its natural mortality, and we cannot say that it was not and is not always so; in the same way, while His human nature did not of its essence have knowledge of future events, the Lord’s soul, by reason of its union with God the Word Himself and the identity of the person, did, as I have said, enjoy along with the other signs of divinity, the knowledge of future events also (emphasis are mine). (“An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”, Book 3, Chapter 21)

Again he states:

One should furthermore know that His sacred mind performs His natural operations, both understanding and knowing itself to be the mind of God and adored by all creation, but at the same time still mindful of His doings and sufferings on earth. It is, moreover, associated with the operation of the divinity of the Word by which the universe is ordered and controlled, understanding and knowing and ordering not as a mere human mind, but as one hypostatically united to God and reckoned as the mind of God” (emphasis are mine). (Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 19)

As a final aspect on this matter St. John writes:

And so, the Word of God is united to flesh by the intermediary of mind which stands midway between the purity of God and the grossness of flesh. Now, the mind has authority over both soul and body, but, whereas mind is the purest part of the soul, God is the purest part of the mind. And when the mind of Christ is permitted by the stronger, then it displays its own authority. However, it is under the control of the stronger and follows it, doing those things which the divine will desires.

Moreover, the mind became the seat of the divinity which has been hypostatically united to it (emphasis mine), just as, of course, the flesh did—but not an associate, as the accursed opinion of the heretics falsely teaches, when, judging immaterial things in a material way, they saw that one measure will not hold two.(1) (Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 6)

There are two more points that must be taken into consideration. Again, in his book, The Jesus We Missed, Fr. Reardon writes: “If the traditional interpretation of Jesus (that defined by the ancient councils and enshrined in the ancient creeds) is correct, there is no reason to suppose that the human mind of Jesus enjoyed access to the divine omniscience, and there is no evidence in the Gospels that that was the case.” (p. 80) And a little later he expresses the same as follows: “There is not sufficient evidence in the Gospel stories that the mind of Jesus had access to the divine omniscience, and traditional Christology prompts us not to ascribe it to him.” (p.84)

First we must consider the following: Is Fr. Reardon expressing traditional Christology of the Orthodox Church or the Christology that developed in the West? He does not support this with any quotations of the Holy Fathers and he is not unity with all that has been quoted above of St. John Damascus. In the person of our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine nature was hypostatically united with our human nature—including the intellectual power of the soul and the carnal brain. In the Divine Person of our Lord Jesus Christ—the Son of God, our human nature was enriched with His Divinity. In the passage above, Fr. Reardon implies that the grace of God dwelt in our Lord Jesus Christ in a way similar to the prophets—this is what “the mind of Jesus having access to the divine omniscience” implies. He even interprets our Lord’s foreknowledge of the disciples meeting “a man carrying a pitcher of water” (Luke 22:10) “as an example of prophetic foresight” (p. 82). Rather we should listen to St. Gregory the Theologian who wrote in his “Letter to Cledonius” (As found in John McGukin, Saint Cyril and the Christological Controversy, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004, p.392):

If anyone should say that [the divine power] was operative in Him by grace as in the case of a prophet, but was not and is not united to Him essentially, then let such a one be empty of the higher powers, or rather full of the opposite. (2)

Finally, one last thing to we need to consider is the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ: was His Person Divine or human? There is no doubt that our Orthodox Faith confesses the truth that His Person is Divine. In Christ God the Divine and human natures are united in one Person or Hypostasis—God the Son. The second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God “became flesh”, that is, He assumed our human nature, He did not become a human person. This is expounded by St. Cyril of Alexandria in his “Letter to Nestorius” which is included in the proclamations of faith in the Third Ecumenical Council. St. Cyril writes as follows:

Neither will it at all avail to a sound faith to hold, as some do, a union of persons; for the Scripture has not said that the Word united to Himself the person of man, but that He was made flesh. This expression, however, “the Word was made flesh,” can mean nothing else but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; He made our body His own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off His existence as God, or His generation of God the Father, but even in taking to Himself flesh remaining what He was. [“Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers”, Vol. 14, p. 198]

However, the erroneous Christology of Frs. Hopko and Reardon would very nicely fall into place if either His Person were human or there would be dual persons in our Lord—both Divine and human. These are, of course, great errors. So now, we end with a question similar to the title with which we began: The Christology of Frs. Hopko and Reardon, Orthodox or opinion?

(1) The reader should be aware that the mind is not equivalent to the brain. The mind (or nous as the Greek transliterates) is the inner essence of the reasoning faculty of the soul. The mind functions in a rational way for the needs of this world and also in a contemplative way in which it apprehends spiritual knowledge. When the mind functions in a contemplative way it is in the heart. Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) once related something on this theme worthy of noting. While a young monk he was given the obedience to learn Greek. When he began to study he said that his mind was lifted from his heart and went to his head.

(2) “i.e. if anyone maintains a Christology based on grace (Christ as a specially graced man) rather than on nature (Christ as God himself) then such a person not only has no grace (to inform theology) but has proved himself demonic in intent. Gregory is radically attacking the Antiochene tradition.”—John McGukin, “Saint Cyril and the Christological Controversy”, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004, p. 392 footnote #8.