Interpreting Conciliar Christology

An Overview in the Service of Analytic Theology


  • Donald Fairbairn Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary



Given the interest in analytic theology circles about following “conciliar Christology,” this article describes three different patterns by which patristics scholars have interpreted the relations between the Ecumenical Councils in the past 150 years, patterns that I label as “pendulum swing,” “synthesis of emphases,” and “Cyrillian/traditional.” The article argues that whereas much analytic theology work on Christology belongs in the “synthesis of emphases” pattern, the ascendant paradigm in patristics scholarship is Cyrillian/traditional. It makes a case that the councils understood themselves as moving in a straight line of development from one to another and as proclaiming a broadly Cyrillian Christology, in which the person of the Incarnate Logos is the subject of all actions and experiences of the incarnate Christ. Given the significance of this issue for analytic theology discussions of Christ’s human freedom (is it the freedom of the human nature to act independently of the Logos, or the human freedom of the Logos to accomplish his earthly mission?), analytic theologians would do well to be aware of these currents in patristics scholarship on the Ecumenical Councils.