Ecce Homo

On the Divine Unity of Christ

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Aaron Riches
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , May
     301 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The contours of Cyrilian orthodox christology are many and complex. In Ecce Homo, Aaron Riches surveys the development of christology in the early church and argues for a moderate continuity between the proposals of Cyril of Alexandria and the early church councils that followed. Part 1 of the book encompasses three chapters. These chapters deal with the Nestorian crisis and recount the establishment of Cyril as the champion in Chalcedon (451).

In the first chapter, as Riches recounts the Nestorian crisis, he describes Nestorius’s christology  as “rooted above all in the concern to protect the impassibility of God” (30). The emphasis on conjoined instead of union is key for the understanding of Nestorius’s position. The language of “oneness” did not seem to capture the duality necessary to protect the divine life from passibility. Chapter 2, “The Humanity of Christ,” starts with an elegant description of the communicatio idiomatum. The classical doctrine which states that whatever is predicated to the natures is ultimately communicated to the person took its cue from Athanasius, with whom the use of such doctrine serves to assert that the Logos “‘becoming’ flesh does not entail any ‘change’ or ‘mutation’” (43). In Cyril’s life, the doctrine was useful in refuting what Riches called Nestorius’s “anthropological minimalism,” presuming the full humanity of Jesus in abstraction from the incarnation (49). Finally, chapter 3 questions the “Hegelian” character of Chalcedon. For Riches, diversity in Antioch’s christology, and exploration of the Acta of Chalcedon, show that Chalcedon is more the establishment of Cyrilian orthodoxy than a compromise.

Part 2 of the book, “The Synergy of Christ,” is arranged so that Cyril is once again seen as the hero of the two councils of Constantinople (II & III). However, it is Maximus who retrieves Cyril’s theology, refines its terminology, and becomes the most “Determined Conqueror of Nestorianism”(146). Once the “mingling” options of Apollinarianism and Monophysitism were out of the picture, Constantinople II was able to formulate the doctrine of the an/en-hypostasis. The human nature of Christ did not have a person of its own (an), but “Christ’s human nature really ‘is’ real” and personalized via the Logos (119). As the book continues into chapter 6, Maximus is finally introduced. The genius of Maximus is seen in his harmony with previous formulations in christology which emphasized the unity of the Son, but also his ability to distinguish between the wills as they pertained to natures. Although the charge is made that Maximus and Constantinople III were formulations that sought to correct Constantinople II, Riches showed that Maximus still operated with a single subject christology, and that there is no trace of Nestorianism in him.

The third part of Ecce Homo looks to Thomas Aquinas as a resourcement against separation. Thomas’s single esse and his esse principale still puts forward the single subject christology from the fathers. It is Thomas’s esse principale that “fixes” the secundarium esse in the incarnation. This final part of the book also deals with the “Theandric Action.” Armed with the principles of Constantinople III on the singularity of the person, but also with two distinct wills, Thomas was able to make sense of the divine mission of the Son. In the same way in which there is unity in the theandric action of Jesus, the mission of the Son and his procession communicate the Son’s generation, but also balancing it out through his unity with the Father. Riches highlights this by reflecting on St. John’s use of the “I am” statements used with the Son’s “sending” (188). In the final part of the book, Riches develops a more speculative theme: Mariology. Here, his aim is to reflect on the unity of subject, the secundarium esse of the Son, and the role that Mary plays in the esse. If “Mary constitutes the human nature of her Son, she must also, in turn, be constituted within the forma of her Son’s via crucis” (242).

Riches’s Ecce Homo is a fantastic contribution, not only to historical studies in christology, but also to constructive systematic theology. Its interactions with towering figures such as Aloys Grillmeier and J. N. D. Kelly prove the book to be a serious and careful study. An example of this interaction of history and theology is present in Riches’s introduction of Karl Barth and his reception of the an/en-hypostasis. Riches reaches back to Leontius of Jerusalem and then presents Barth’s resourcement of the doctrine to the reader with the unity of Christ. However, Riches’s metaphysical dependence of the tradition seems to conflict with Barth’s (108), and in some sense even Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s (187),  actualistic ontologies. Riches’s painting of these authors seem to be in coherence with the tradition of the early church.

In an era when it is difficult to find serious engagements with christological development that are accessible and readable, I commend Riches for his effort. Ecce Homo has great potential to become a standard textbook in seminaries and religious studies classes.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rafael Bello is a Ph.D. student in Systematic Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
October 12, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Aaron Riches is a joint faculty member of the Instituto de Filosofía Edith Stein and the Instituto de Teología Lumen Gentium in Granada, Spain, where he teaches theology at the Seminario Mayor San Cecilio. This is his first book.



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