In the aftermath of the Christological debates of Arianism a new question arose, if Christ was indeed homoousian with the Father then how could it be said that Christ, as God, died at the crucifixion? After all, one of the attributes of God is immortality, yet there was affirmed a real death of Christ. To some it seemed that the answer to this seeming oxymoron was to say that the human and divine parts of Christ were two distinct entities, the human part died at the cross while the divine part remained completely unaffected. To others it seemed that the answer lay in understanding the attributes of Christ’s divinity to be different from that of the Father.
For Eunomius the answer is simple and Scriptural, Acts 2:36 and Phil. 2:6-8 each speak very specifically about Christ and are key for Eunomius’ theology. For Acts 2:36 Eunomius understands the referent to be very simple, the “him” who was made Lord and Christ refers very simply to the creation of the Son by the Father, i.e. the beginning of the Word in the beginning was when he was made by the Father. It was only subsequent to this creation of the Son that Eunomius places the creation of the world by the Son, but for him the Son is still very much a created thing. Eunomius does not deny that the Word is divine, he is, after all “in the form of God” as Phil. 2:6 says. Furthermore, it is this same Word, made by God in the form of God, who emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant and died on the cross.
Eunomius is very clear that there is only one person acting in all of this, the one Word who was made by God. By relying so heavily upon this interpretation of Acts 2:36 Eunomius is able to circumvent entirely the question of what to do with a Christ who is completely human and completely divine. For a created Word is not bound to the absolute properties of either. While Eunomius is happy to say that the Word is God like the Father is God, the Word is still different in many respects for Eunomius. Most importantly, for Eunomius the Word, as a creature, is not immortal. Therefore there is little problem in the question “At the crucifixion, did God die?”
Eunomius accuses Basil of teaching that there are two persons because Basil does not say that “made” in Acts 2:36 or “emptied himself” in Phil 2:7 refers to the Word. Eunomius understands this as Basil saying that there is both the Word from the beginning as well as the Man who exalted through the crucifixion to be Lord and to have the name above every name (Phil 2:9). This logically makes two Lords and two Christs, the one Lord and Christ from the beginning and the one made into Lord and Christ at the crucifixion. This then leads into something of an absurdity, as Eunomius points out. First, because it leaves the crucifixion and its redemption to be done by a mere man. Second, because it makes Phil. 2:7 say that the one who emptied himself to become a man was already a man. This is, obviously, as Eunomius puts it, nonsense.
Gregory answers these charges brought against Basil by Eunomius by pointing out the logical errors and absurdities of Eunomius’ theology. Gregory begins by correcting Eunomius of his notion that “made” refers to the creation of the Word by the Father. There are, according to Gregory, only two types of beings, those created and those uncreated, therefore the Word must be either one or the other, not both or another. Furthermore, there is only one divine nature, and so if the Word is divine he must share the same nature as the Father, and those sharing the same nature logically share the same properties and attributes. For Eunomius to say that the Word does not share in the same properties and attributes as the Father is to say that the Word is a different creature, and because Scripture forbids the worship of any creature it is absurd for Eunomius to say that the Word is different from the Father but that the Word should still be worshipped.
Gregory continues by explaining that in Acts 2:36 the word “made” is referring both to the passion as well as the honor by God, but these are said of one and the same subject. Gregory proves this by referring back to Acts 2:33, the exaltation takes place “by the Right Hand of God.” Gregory connects this Right Hand of God to none other but the Lord. Therefore, the Right Hand of God “Itself raised to Its own height the Man united with It, making Him also to be what It is by nature.” Consequently, we can see that in Acts 2:36 it is the lowly nature being exalted due to its connection to its loftier nature.
Likewise, concerning Phil. 2:6-8 Gregory says that it is referring to the divine Word taking on the form of a servant. Since Eunomius believes that the Word is already a “servant,” a creature, Gregory says that it is Eunomius himself who says that this passage is about a human taking on the form of a human. For Gregory, the main thrust of this passage lays in its affirmation that the all-powerful creator and immortal God took upon himself complete humanity. Because the Word did this there was a mingling of attributes, and the lowly attributes of humanity were changed for the better by the loftier attributes of the divine, destroying the evil like a purifying fire.
Gregory concludes by explaining further what it means that the lowly nature, the man, was exalted. Clearly, human properties are different from divine properties, but this does not mean that there are two different persons. This is because through the Passion the union of the flesh with the one who is Lord and Christ caused the flesh to be made Lord and Christ. The end result is that the Passion reveals the flesh becoming Word. It is the transformative power of the Passion which transforms the flesh into the divine Word, making them one and the same. It is this transformation that is being discussed in Acts 2:36, the transformation of the flesh into the Lord and Christ which it is united to. While Gregory seemingly applies this passage to refer to one of two persons, clearly the end result is to show that there is one and the same person in unity.
Through this explanation Gregory is able to arrive at a third way of interpretation. One does not need to posit two separate subjects who carried out separate roles and function in Christ. Neither does one, like Eunomius, need to posit one single person who is neither completely human nor divine who can thus carry out all of the actions described in the Passion. Rather, for Gregory there is a single subject, one which has both human properties and divine properties which are united through the exaltation of the flesh through the Passion. This most closely keeps to the logical sense of Scripture. It was the divine Word who “took on the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7) and it was a human who was “made Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36) and through these actions the two were able to fulfill a human death of the divine on the cross, which resulted in one unified person who was then exalted “above every name” who is worthy to be worshipped (Phil. 2:9-10).