The Creed of Chalcedon
and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence
What is “concurring in one Person and Subsistence?” The divine and human natures. But what does it mean to “concur?” And what in the world is a “subsistence?”
Indeed, the language does throw one. Well, “concur” comes from Latin literally meaning, “to run with.” When something concurs with something else, that means that they are happening at the same time, or agreeing with one another. So, to say that the divine and human natures of Christ concur is simply to say that they are “happening” in the same place at the same time—agreeing together, working together—but still two distinct natures in one place. The next question is: What is that place? And that’s where the word, “subsistence,” comes in. The two natures concur in one subsistence—that is, a particular being, to the point—a person. So, a subsistence is a person. “Well, why didn’t they just say that?” you ask. Richard A. Muller says the teachers in the West thought the word, “subsistence” (translating the Greek, hypostasis) was a more philosophically precise term than “person.” We’ll take his word for it. (Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, 195, 286.)
So the divine and human natures of Christ are perfectly together and agreeing with one another in the one person of the Son, Jesus Christ. That’s all this line is saying. Yes, it’s technical. Yes, it sounds like jargon. But the bishops at Chalcedon were using the language of the day, employing concepts from Greek philosophy to whet the precision of their words. And I see that as providential. Greek is a wonderful language for honing definitions as it is both subtle and supple. And Greek philosophy (at least the kind they adopted) was a philosophy that examined reality, a much better philosophy to serve theology than any other to come around in the last thousand years, to be sure. Imagine, the peace that Rome imposed on the world (pax Romana) and the excellent roads they built helped the Apostle Paul spread the gospel. And later, Greek philosophy, which was regnant at the time, helped the Church define these important matters of Christology, just as relevant now as then—perhaps more so. Why, it’s as if God were behind the whole thing!
I believe that God was with those Bishops at the Councils of Chalcedon and earlier at Nicaea. God works through his Church, “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.