That Which He Did Not Assume: Misapplications of Nazianzus’s Rule in Modern Theology

Gregory of Nazianzus’s rule – “that which he did not assume, he did not heal” – has long been a safeguard for Christological orthodoxy, serving as a powerful tool against Apollinarianism, Monothelitism, and Docetism, to name only several examples. In modern theology, however, the dictum has led to developments that critique classical theological models. For example, Christ did not assume a female body, so some feminist theologians have wondered whether a male savior can redeem women. (1) On an Aristotelian theory of gender, an older and more sexist theology might simply argue that women are humans lacking the fullness of humanity in men, which Christ assumed, so women are redeemed. (2) Similar arguments are employed against the impeccability of Christ: if Christ did not assume a fallen human nature, he allegedly did not redeem those with a fallen nature. (3) Drawing on a philosophy of human nature and on the doctrines of union with Christ and sanctification, I will argue that Nazianzus’s rule applies only to human faculties which must be assumed for a full human nature to be purified through union. Will, mind, body, and soul (among other parts) must be accepted in the incarnation as necessary and constitutive parts of humanity. I will then treat the questions of Nazianzus’s rule, properly construed, in relation to the matter of his impeccability and masculinity. It is here that the questions of modern theologians fruitfully enhance the doctrines of patristic theologians. In particular, the impeccability of Christ suggests that the Son’s assumption of humanity itself was not the mechanism of our regeneration and sanctification, pointing toward the role of pneumatology. Regarding gender, the reading of Nazianzus’s role I propose raises questions about gender I hope to have time to explore (this will be the part I cut if sufficient time is covered with the above content.)

(1) E.g., Elizabeth Johnson, “Redeeming the Name of Christ: Christology,” in Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, ed. Catherine Mowry LaCugna (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 119. Numerous others could be cited.

(2) This position is named/criticized in Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon, 1993), 125–26.

(3) See Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, ed. Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 62.

4 thoughts on “That Which He Did Not Assume: Misapplications of Nazianzus’s Rule in Modern Theology”

  1. Straw Man?
    Is Gregory’s Rule a a binding hermeneutical principle? It is unclear whether most Christians are even aware of the rule. The author suggests that he will apply this rule without specifying how. It would be nice to see more details. A good thesis provides the goal along with a clear conclusion.

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