Aaron RICHES. Ecce Homo: On the Divine Unity of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016. pp. 301. $32.00 pb. ISBN: 978-0-8028-7231-9. Reviewed by Daniel LLOYD, Saint Leo University, North Charleston, SC 29406.
Aaron Riches’s Ecce Homo offers readers a constructive Christology based, in most part, upon a careful analysis of selective historical developments. R. divides the book into four parts. The first (titled “The Unity of Christ”) discusses Cyril of Alexandria’s theology of union (with an emphasis on single subjectivity) as the true basis of both the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. R. begins by rejecting any interpretation of Chalcedon which hedges on a middle ground between monophysitism (often attributed to some of Cyril’s works or his less theologically astute allies) and Nestorianism. This interpretation of the historical evidence places the council’s work squarely and intentionally in line with Cyril’s theology. The second part (“The Synergy of Christ”) moves the Christological narrative through the councils of Constantinople II and III in light of the contributions from Maximus the Confessor. Again, R. emphasizes Christ’s single subjectivity and the completeness of natures (professions derived directly from the apostolic witness and articulated by Cyril) as the explicit standard in the development of the dyothelite doctrine of Christ. The third part (“The Existence of Christ”) explores Thomas Aquinas’s theology as resourcing the orthodoxy presented in parts one and two. R. discusses Thomas’s use of patristic sources and the specific accounts of the councils (with Thomas being “the first Latin medieval theologian to quote directly from the conciliar documents of Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople II and Constantinople III” ) as constitutive of Thomas’s own Christology. Finally, part four (“The Communion of Jesus and Mary”) details, to a large degree, the interplay of the persons of Christ and Mary through their respective statuses as child of God by nature and child of God by adoption. R. shapes this final section through Louis Chardon’s theology.
R.’s is a modern Christological presentation rooted deeply in historical developments and theological fights. The positive side of this presentation is the care R. takes to present his interpretation of the texts within their own historical parameters, even if some of his conclusions will be controversial to specialists. An example of such care can be found in R.’s lucid presentation of Theodore’s use of prosopon (27-30). This is not to say that R. remains purely historical. For example, that R. can explain Cyril’s theology effectively with a quotation from the International Theological Commission (51) shows what kind of book this is. It seeks to harmonize major theological trends of 2,000 years (those the author presents as orthodox) and build the foundation of a metaphysic for discussing the Incarnation. In this respect, the book is a major contribution to modern discussions and one which will be incorporated, both positively and negatively, into modern theology. On this note, the title itself, “On the Divine Unity of Christ,” sets the reader up for R.’s integration of historical precedents with metaphysical considerations. For example, I wondered at first why the author chose “divine unity” rather than “divine subjectivity.” The later phrase, however, would miss much of R.’s project. The metaphysical concerns beyond Christ’s single subjectivity can be found throughout the book (rather than just in the later historical considerations). For example, in his discussion of John Damascene’s understanding of enhypostatos, R. writes: “It means that Jesus is ‘one,’ he is unus; and this unus is the eternal hypostasis of the Logos, which makes possible and is the source of the difference of his human nature, his complex incarnate hypostatic reality” (117). Such ideas are the basis for R.’s larger Christological, Pneumatological, and Marian speculations, speculations which extend beyond many traditional discussions of Christ’s subjectivity.
When describing the kind of study he has made, R. classifies it as “broadly genealogical and mystical” with an effort “to be ‘systematic’ in a basic sense” (249). I will take these three elements in turn (genealogy, mysticism, and systematic theology). By genealogical, R. means that his project involves pinpointing the major theological figures constituting his understanding of genuine orthodox developments in Christology. R.’s line of genealogy primarily focuses on Cyril, Maximus, Thomas, and Chardon, with some major nods to other figures. R. makes special effort to contextualize conciliar work (especially up to Constantinople III) as reflecting orthodoxy based on apostolic profession rather than in reaction to developing, competing theologies.
Since mysticism is not a discreet or directly sustained topic in the book, R. seems to be acknowledging the dependence on revelation and the ultimate transcendence of God in Christological investigation. The speculation regarding the interplay of natures, for example during Christ’s crucifixion and death (192-208), can be read as mystical reflections on the historical formulations which R. had previously developed regarding divine subjectivity in two complete natures. Finally, R.’s nod to systematic theology can be seen in his inclusion of Pneumatology and Mariology at the end of the work. Although R. gives these topics far less space and development, their inclusion helps the reader see how expansive the scope of R.’s thinking is in light of the first three parts. R.’s work will be a fruitful (and necessary in some cases) dialogue partner with scholars doing strictly historical research in the specific areas he covers as well as those working in modern systematics.