The Julianist Theology

Having reached 554 comments, I was trying to come up for a blurb for my “Comment Count morphed into the corresponding Calendar Year” feature on the sidebar.  I found on Wikipedia that on this year the Armenians resoundly rejected the Chalcedonian Formula (that Jesus has two natures in one person).  This reminded me that the teachings of Julian of Halicarnassus were most influential in Armenia.  As Julian is one my favorite theologians, and I don’t have any other blogs, I’d thought I’d take a break from anime and manga to discuss Julianism.  Abandon hope all ye who click on this post…

Julian’s followers were known as Aphthartodocetae, which was meant as an insult.  “aphthartos” means “incorruptible”, and Docetism was an old and widespread heresty to the effect that Jesus only seemed to be human and he never really suffered or was crucified (the Gnostics were often Docetists, and the Koran seems to be Docetist when it comes to Jesus’ Passion too).

Julian taught Jesus had an incorruptible body.  Before you get all outraged at this, let’s go through it rationally, like he did.

Why did Jesus come to Earth?  Because we were (and are) sinful and need redemption.  What is the origin of this sin?  Adam and Eve’s Fall in the Garden of Eden.  Was Adam just like us, then?  No, not really, and especially not before the Fall.  He could live without fear of death, and he wasn’t subject to a lot of our pains, afflictions and temptations.  After his Fall, however, the human nature became corrupt.

Now, what is Jesus’ role again?  To redeem us.  Therefore Jesus has to become human.  But which sort of human?  A sinful, corrupt, weakened human?  No, because then any of us would do.  What was needed was precisely the original human, an Adam, the incorruptible.

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Wonder of the World

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Wonder of the World

The drama had to be reenacted once more.  A perfectly capable human being (as God intended) had to obey God, just as Adam didn’t, and die for our sakes, without at all deserving to die. But regardless of our theory of salvation, Jesus’ incorruptibility still follows from his Incarnation: if Jesus is to be a human, it makes sense for him to be the original human, and not some defective offspring thereof.

Notice that for us regular humans death is but the wages of sin.  Julian argued that Jesus died by choice, because as the bearer of an incorruptible body he could have lived forever, and this doesn’t make him a superman, no!  it makes him the true human that we were all meant to be and may possibly become again.

One of the neat things about Julianism is that it makes Jesus’ sacrifice arguably all the greater.  Julian never denied that Jesus suffered and ate and drank like a regular human being (which would have made him a Docetist), he simply argued that all of this was through Jesus’ rational choice: he willed his body to decay, need nourishment and die.  That’s heroic.

Herodotus, Historian from Halicarnassus

Herodotus, Historian from Halicarnassus

The fundamental point on which Julianism hinges, let me repeat one more time, is the definition of what a human is.  Julian claimed that as we find in Genesis, the true human is a much more powerful person than most of us think.

The Emperor Justinian actually made Julianism official throughout the Byzantine Empire, but died shortly after, and his order was rescinded.  Afterwards, Julianists were powerful in Armenia although today they are all gone.  Anyway, I think it’s a very interesting argument he makes.

There’s very little online about this Bishop of Halicarnassus, here’s a tiny bio.

~ by Haloed Bane on June 10, 2009.

6 Responses to “The Julianist Theology”

  1. Although Julianists may be gone, I think the theology behind it still very much in the Christian mainstream (well, evangelical Protestantism at the least) in the characterization of Christ as the perfect man, being perfectly obedient to his Father’s will and willfully choosing death and suffering.

    Julian’s explanation is considerably more nuanced, but it makes a lot of sense too – I think like a lot of Christian theology, it expresses an interesting side of the death of Christ – that Christ choosing to suffer and die like the rest of corrupt humanity was paradoxically at the same time the expression of his perfect obedience.

  2. Yup, I agree! I think that back when Julian was operating there was a real fear among the theologians that Christians would forget about the humanity of Jesus and just worship him as another god. If they did, the whole peculiarity (the distinctiveness) of the Christian message would evaporate…To talk about Christ being Adam-like and incorruptible smacked people of a denial of his humanity..Of course, the common people never understood the persons and natures debate (I can’t say I do either).

    We should add that the non-believer could look at the Gospel and say: “there’s nothing sublime here..after all, the fix was in. If the Son was the Son then he was omniscient and He knew that He would triumph in the end, thus it was all a big show, and let’s not even bring the Trinity in (where it all becomes a play with only one actor in three different roles)…”

    These are tremendously intricate and interesting issues. Thanks for the comment🙂

  3. The Jesus I like the most is in the moment of his most profound humanity: the whole night at the Garden of Gethsemane, where he was face-to-face with existential doubt. His rhetoric even doubted his father, though it is plain that he will go along. This is probably the best case for his humanity, from a behavioral perspective.

  4. @ghost

    The best case for his humanity, and at the same time the best case against his divinity IMHO. btw, this is my favorite event in Jesus’ life too, especially as Luke portrays it.

  5. Bertrand Russell picks on Jesus’ morality – which makes for interesting cases for his humanity:

    1. He admonishes a fig tree for not having figs (fig tree dies afterward I think LOL)

    2. He exorcises LEGION out of a swineherd, but lets it possess the poor guy’s entire herd of pigs who are sent stampeding down a cliff like morbidly obese lemmings. Why have mercy on a bunch of demons, and none for ‘innocent’ (if ‘unclean’) pigs?

  6. But I know exactly what the religionist will argue, he will argue as the Buddha did with the concept of upaya (=skillful means): the message conforms to the capacity of the listener. Would 1st century Judeans have been content and nourished by lofty discussions on metaphysics, or logicism, for that matter?

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