February 11, 2014

Book Review: "Jesus Fallen?"

By John Sanidopoulos

If there was one book on Christology I wish I had as a young seminarian, it would have been the recently published book titled Jesus Fallen? The Human Nature of Christ Examined From An Eastern Orthodox Perspective by Emmanuel Hatzidakis, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This book is a powerful and detailed critique of one of the most awful and annoying heresies circulating among Orthodox theologians today, especially in the West, that says Jesus Christ, the Son of God, assumed a corruptible, passionate and mortal nature.

I first encountered this heresy in 1992, before I entered seminary, when I had heard of a theologian in Greece excommunicated for being outspoken when he noticed this teaching in an encyclical of an Archbishop. Around this time I also read The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware. There he clearly describes how Jesus was born with a post-lapsarian (post-fallen) human nature, the nature which was the result of the fall of our forefathers Adam and Eve. I was a teenager at the time and didn't have a clear understanding of what this meant, but I do remember being troubled by it. It wasn't until 1994, when I entered seminary (Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology), that I started hearing this teaching more and more from professors and students and in material I was reading. For the next two years, though I was a bit troubled by the teaching, I didn't think much of it, and figured as I grew in my knowledge of Christology it would be better understood and I would address it at that time. Finally, one day as I was helping a new professor from England organize his books, we started talking about Kallistos Ware, and how infatuated the seminary was by his writings, even though, as the professor informed me, publications in Greece almost unanimously condemned his teaching on Christ assuming a post-lapsarian human nature, with the fathers of Mount Athos even writing and approving a detailed critique of it. This is when I began to research this topic more earnestly, and I came to a very different conclusion than what I was being taught in seminary, except for what I heard from this new professor. This is why I wish I had this new book, Jesus Fallen?, when I was a young seminary student. It is a book I had desired to write, but I'm glad I was beaten to it by a most-admirable text of meticulous research.

First of all, this is a beautifully bound and printed publication by Orthodox Witness, and includes detailed Topic, Author, and Scriptural Indexes, as well as 8 pages of full-color illustrations. As I mentioned earlier, it is a detailed critique of 684 pages, but it is not presented as dry theology; rather it is enriched with deep and authentic patristic truth with an abundance of sources that clearly show Christ was not born with a fallen human nature, but a pre-lapsarian (pre-fallen) human nature just as Adam had in Paradise. It begins by offering an overview of the issue among both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, then it continues by analyzing the nature of man before and after the fall, and after a thorough examination of the details of Orthodox Christology, the author begins to address the issue. Key questions are asked, such as: Are the blameless passions of Christ inherited or voluntarily assumed? Was Christ's humanity necessarily corruptible and mortal? Would Christ have died of "natural" causes? How do the two natures exist in Christ? What is the impact of Perichoresis and Antidosis? And after an entire chapter is dedicated to the sinlessness of Christ, he addresses the objections of those who submit to the post-lapsarian thesis, which I thought was most valuable. This is followed by a chapter in which the author ties everything together with the Orthodox patristic theology of Soteriology and Christology.

If this is an issue you are interested in or want to find out more on, then this book is a must. If you are interested in theology and want to know what it means when we say in the Creed "He became man" or when we read in the Gospel "the Word became flesh", then this book is highly recommended to have a complete understanding. If you are looking to know more about who Christ is and how Christ is related to our salvation, I could not recommend a more invaluable book. And if you are a seminarian, a priest, a teacher, a theologian, a professor, or just a general student of theology, then this book should unquestionably be a part of your library, after you have devoured its every page. This was my personal favorite Orthodox book released in 2013. Fr. Emmanuel is to be commended for providing us a text that puts the final nail in the coffin of another dead heresy.

The book can be ordered here, where also a free preview of the contents, foreword and preface are offered.