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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 143. The Monophysite Controversies.


I. The Acta in Mansi, tom. vii.-ix. The writings already cited of Liberatus and Leontinus Byzant. Evagrius: H. E. ii. v. Nicephorus: H. E. xvi. 25. Procopius († about 552): Ἀνέκδοτα, Hist. arcana (ed. Orelli, Lips. 1827). Facundus (bishop of Hermiane in Africa, but residing mostly in Constantinople): Pro defensione trium capitulorum, in 12 books (written a.d. 547, ed. Sirmond, Paris, 1629, and in Galland. xi. 665). Fulgentius Ferrandus (deacon in Carthage, † 551): Pro tribus capitulis (in Gall. tom. xi.). Anastasius Sinaita (bishop of Antioch, 564): Ὁδηγόςadv. Acephalos. Angelo Mai: Script vet. Bova collectio, tom. vii. A late, though unimportant, contribution to the history of Monophysitism (from 581 to 583) is the Church History of the Monophysite bishop John of Ephesus (of the sixth century): The Third Part of the Eccles. History of John, bishop of Ephesus, Oxford, 1853 (edited by W. Cureton from the Syrian literature of the Nitrian convent).

II. Petavius: De Incarnatione, lib. i. c. 16–18 (tom. iv. p. 74 sqq.). Walch: Bd, vi.-viii. Schröckh: Th. xviii. pp. 493–636. Neander: Kirchengeschichte, !v. 993–1038. Gieseler: i. ii. pp. 347–376 (4th ed.), and his Commentatio qua Monophysitarum veterum variae de Christi persona opiniones ... illustrantur (1835 and 1838). Baur: Geschichte der Trinitätslehre, Bd. ii. pp. 37–96. Dorner: Geschichte der Christologie, ii. pp. 150–193. Hefele (R.C.): Conciliengeschichte, ii. 545 ff. F. Rud. Hasse: Kirchengeschichte (1864), Bd. i. p. 177 ff. A. Ebrard: Handbuch der Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte (1865), Bd. i. pp. 263–279.


The council of Chalcedon did not accomplish the intended pacification of the church, and in Palestine and Egypt it met with passionate opposition. Like the council of Nicaea, it must pass a fiery trial of conflict before it could be universally acknowledged in the church. “The metaphysical difficulty,” says Niedner, “and the religious importance of the problem, were obstacles to the acceptance of the ecumenical authority of the council.” Its opponents, it is true, rejected the Eutychian theory of an absorption of the human nature into the divine, but nevertheless held firmly to the doctrine of one nature in Christ; and on this account, from the time of the Chalcedonian council they were called Monophysites,16541654    Μονοφυσίται, from μόνη or μία, φύσις. They conceded the ἐκ δύο φύςεσιν(as even Eutyches and Dioscurus had done), but denied the ἐν δύο φύσεσιν, after the ἕνωσις ͅ. while they in return stigmatized the adherents of the council as Dyophysites and Nestorians. They conceded, indeed, a composite nature (μία φύσις σύνθετοςor μία φύσις διττή), but not two natures. They assumed a diversity of qualities without corresponding substances, and made the humanity in Christ a mere accident of the immutable divine substance.

Their main argument against Chalcedon was, that the doctrine of two natures necessarily led to that of two persons, or subjects, and thereby severed the one Christ into two Sons of God. They were entirely at one with the Nestorians in their use of the terms “nature” and “person,” and in rejecting the orthodox distinction between the two. They could not conceive of human nature without personality. From this the Nestorians reasoned that, because in Christ there are two natures, there must be also two independent hypostases; the Monophysites, that, because there is but one person in Christ, there can be only one nature. They regarded the nature as something common to all individuals of a species (κοίνον), yet as never existing simply as such, but only in individuals. According to them, therefore, over, φύσιςor οὐσία is in fact always an individual existence.16551655    Ἰδικόν.

The liturgical shibboleth of the Monophysites was: God has been crucified. This they introduced into their public worship as an addition to the Trisagion: “Holy, God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, who hast been crucified for us, have mercy upon us.”16561656    Ἅγιος ὁ Θεὸς , ἄγιος ἴσχυρος , ἅγιος ἀθάνατος , ὁ σταυρωθεὶς δι ̓ ἡμᾶς , ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς. An extension of the seraphic ascription, Isa. vi. 3. From this they were also called Theopaschites.16571657   665  Θεοπασχῖται. This formula is in itself orthodox, and forms the requisite counterpart to θεοτόκος, provided we understand by God the Logos, and in thought supply: “according to the flesh” or “according to the human nature.” In this qualified sense it was afterwards in fact not only sanctioned by Justinian in a dogmatical decree, but also by the fifth ecumenical council, though not as an addition to the Trisagion. For the theanthropic person of Christ is the subject, as of the nativity, so also of the passion; his human nature is the seat and the organ (sensorium) of the passion. But as an addition to the Trisagion, which refers to the Godhead generally, and therefore to the Father, and the Holy Ghost, as well as the Son, the formula is at all events incongruous and equivocal. Theopaschitism is akin to the earlier Patripassianism, in subjecting the impassible divine essence, common to the Father and the Son, to the passion of the God-Man on the cross; yet not, like that, by confounding the Son with the Father, but by confounding person with nature in the Son.

Thus from the council of Chalcedon started those violent and complicated Monophysite controversies which convulsed the Oriental church, from patriarchs and emperors down to monks and peasants, for more than a hundred years, and which have left their mark even to our day. They brought theology little appreciable gain, and piety much harm; and they present a gloomy picture of the corruption of the church. The intense concern for practical religion, which animated Athanasius and the Nicene fathers, abated or went astray; theological speculation sank towards barren metaphysical refinements; and party watchwords and empty formulas were valued more than real truth. We content ourselves with but a summary of this wearisome, though not unimportant chapter of the history of doctrines, which has recently received new light from the researches of Gieseler, Baur, and Dorner.16581658    The external history of Monophysitism is related with wearisome minuteness by Walch in three large volumes (vi.-viii.) of his Entwurf einer vollständigen Historie der Ketzereien, etc., his auf die Zeiten der Reformation.

The external history of the controversy is a history of outrages and intrigues, depositions and banishments, commotions, divisions, and attempted reunions. Immediately after the council of Chalcedon bloody fights of the monks and the rabble broke out, and Monophysite factions went off in schismatic churches. In Palestine Theodosius (451–453) thus set up in opposition to the patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem; in Alexandria, Timotheus Aelurus16591659    Αἴλουρος, Cat. and Peter Mongus16601660    Μόγγος, the Stammerer; literally, the Hoarse. (454–460), in opposition to the newly-elected patriarch Protarius, who was murdered in a riot in Antioch; Peter the Fuller16611661    Fullo, γναφεύς. He introduced the formula: Θεὸς ἐσταυρώθη δι ̓ ἡμᾶςinto the liturgy. He was in 485 again raised to the patriarchate. (463–470). After thirty years’ confusion the Monophysites gained a temporary victory under the protection of the rude pretender to the empire, Basiliscus (475–477), who in an encyclical letter,16621662    Ἐγκυκλιον. This, however, excited so much opposition, that the usurper in 477 revoked it in an ἀντεγκύκλιον. enjoined on all bishops to condemn the council of Chalcedon (476). After his fall, Zeno (474–475 and 477–491), by advice of the patriarch Acacius of Constantinople, issued the famous formula of concord, the Henoticon, which proposed, by avoiding disputed expressions, and condemning both Eutychianism and Nestorianism alike, to reconcile the Monophysite and dyophysite views, and tacitly set aside the Chalcedonian formula (482). But this was soon followed by two more schisms, one among the Monophysites themselves, and one between the East and the West. Felix II., bishop of Rome, immediately rejected the Henoticon, and renounced communion with the East (484–519). The strict Monophysites were as ill content with the Henoticon, as the adherents of the council of Chalcedon; and while the former revolted from their patriarchs, and became Acephali,16631663    Ἀκέφαλοι, without head. the latter attached themselves to Rome. It was not till the reign of the emperor Justin I. (518–527), that the authority of the council of Chalcedon was established under stress of a popular tumult, and peace with Rome was restored. The Monophysite bishops were now deposed, and fled for the most part to Alexandria, where their party was too powerful to be attacked.

The internal divisions of the Monophysites turned especially on the degree of essential difference between the humanity of Christ and ordinary human nature, and the degree, therefore, of their deviation from the orthodox doctrine of the full consubstantiality of the humanity of Christ with ours.16641664    Petavius, l.c. lib. i. c. 17, enumerates twelve factions of the Monophysites. The most important of these parties were the Severians (from Severus, the patriarch of Antioch) or Phthartolaters (adorers of the corruptible),16651665    Φθαρτολάτραι(from φθαρτόςcorruptible, and λάτρης, servant, worshipper), corrupticolae. who taught that the body of Christ before the resurrection was mortal and corruptible; and the Julianists (from bishop Julian of Halicarnassus, and his contemporary Xenajas of Hierapolis) or Aphthartodocetae,16661666    Ἀφθαρτοδοκῆται, also called Phantasiastae, because they appeared to acknowledge only a seeming body of Christ. Gieseler, however, in the second part of the above-mentioned dissertation, has shown that the Julianist view was not strictly docetistic, but kindred with the view of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hilary, Gregory of Nyssa, and Apollinaris. who affirmed the body of Christ to have been originally incorruptible, and who bordered on docetism. The former conceded to the Catholics, that Christ as to the flesh was consubstantial with us (κατὰ σάρκα ὁμοούσιος ἡμῖν). The latter argued from the commingling (σύγχυσις) of the two natures, that the corporeality of Christ became from the very beginning partaker of the incorruptibleness of the Logos, and was subject to corruptibleness merely κατ ̓ οἰκονομίαν. They appealed in particular to Jesus’ walking on the sea. Both parties were agreed as to the incorruptibleness of the body of Christ after the resurrection. The word fqorav, it may be remarked, was sometimes used in the sense of frailty, sometimes in that of corruptibleness.

The solution of this not wholly idle question would seem to be, that the body of Christ before the resurrection was similar to that of Adam before the fall; that is, it contained the germ of immortality and incorruptibleness; but before its glorification it was subject to the influence of the elements, was destructible, and was actually put to death by external violence, but, through the indwelling power of the sinless spirit, was preserved from corruption, and raised again to imperishable life. A relative immortality thus became absolute.16671667    Comp. the Augustinian distinction of immortalitas minor and immortalitas major. So far we may without self-contradiction affirm both the identity of the body of Christ before and after his resurrection, and its glorification after resurrection.16681668    As was done by Augustineand Leo the Great. The latter affirms, Sermo 69, De resurrectione Domini, c. 4: “Resurrectio Domini non finis carnis, sed commutatio fuit, nec virtutis augmento consumpta substantia est. Qualitas transiit, non natura defecit; et factum est corpus impassibile, immortale, incorruptibile ... nihil remansit in carne Christi infirmum, ut et ipsa sit per essentiam et non sit ipsa per gloriam.” Comp. moreover, respecting the Aphthartodocetic controversy of the Monophysites, the remarks of Dorner, ii. 159 ff. and of Ebrard, Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte, i. 268 f.

The Severians were subdivided again, in respect to the question of Christ’s omniscience, into Theodosians, and Themistians, or Agnoetae.16691669    After their leader Themistius, deacon of Alexandria; also called by their opponents, Agnoetae, Ἀγνοηταί, because they taught that Christ in his condition of humiliation was not omniscient, but shared our ignorance of many things (Comp. Luke ii. 52; Mark xiii. 32). This view leads necessarily to dyophysitism, and accordingly was rejected by the strict Monophysites. The Julianists were subdivided into Ktistolatae,16701670    Κτιστολάτραι, or, from their founder, Gajanitae. These viewed the body of Christ as created, κτιστόν. and Aktistetae16711671   680  Ἀκτιστηταί. These said that the body of Christ in itself was created, but that by its union with the Logos it became increate, and therefore also incorruptible. according as they asserted or denied that the body of Christ was a created body. The most consistent Monophysite was the rhetorician Stephanus Niobes (about 550), who declared every attempt to distinguish between the divine and the human in Christ inadmissible, since they had become absolutely one in him.16721672    His adherents were condemned by the other Monophysites as Niobitae. An abbot of Edessa, Bar Sudaili, extended this principle even to the creation, which be maintained would at last be wholly absorbed in God. John Philoponus (about 530) increased the confusion; starting with Monophysite principles, taking φύσιςin a concrete instead of an abstract sense, and identifying it with ὑπόστασις, he distinguished in God three individuals, and so became involved in tritheism. This view he sought to justify by the Aristotelian categories of genus, species, and individuum.16731673    His followers were called Philoponiaci, Tritheistae. Philoponus, it may be remarked, was not the first promulgator of this error; but (as appears from Assem. Bibl. orient. tom. ii. p. 327; comp. Hefele, ii. 655) the Monophysite John Askusnages, who ascribed to Christ only one nature, but to each person in the Godhead a separate nature, and on this account was banished by the emperor and excommunicated by the patriarch of Constantinople. Among the more famous Tritheists we have also Stephen Gobarus, about 600.



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