Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Monophysitism
Monophysitism. The passionate protest raised in Egypt against the heresy of NESTORIUS, supported as it was by court influence, was carried so far that it led to a strong reaction. The Nestorian heresy was condemned because it tended to separate Christ into two beings, one God and the other man, and to regard the inhabitation of the latter by the former as differing in degree only from the inhabitation by the Deity, of the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Dispensation. The cruel persecution of Nestorius himself (who, though he undoubtedly went too far in some of his statements, was willing to qualify many of them), the harsh treatment of the learned and holy Theodoret, and the forcible suppression of the teaching of the Syrian school, produced great indignation, and when the emperor Theodosius II. died, and was succeeded in 450 by Marcian, the reaction against Monophysitism broke out all the more fiercely in consequence of the violence and long duration of these measures of repression. Cyril had died in 444, and had been succeeded by Dioscorus, a man of equally violent passions and uncharitable spirit, but of far less self-control and diplomatic skill. Cyril had himself been guilty of confounding the divine and human natures of Christ as completely as Nestorius had been guilty of dividing them, and as long as he and Theodosius II. survived, what was afterwards condemned as Monophysite heresy was in the ascendant. Extremes very frequently meet, and it was not unfairly contended that Cyril, when he insisted on the personal supremacy of the Logos over the Manhood, had practically divided the Person of Christ as much as Nestorius had, when he taught that the human nature was no more than a mere adjunct to the Godhead (Dorner, On the Person. of Christ, I. div. ii. pp. 67–71, where, however, there seems some "confusion of substance" in the way in which the author treats the question whether the Godhead could itself suffer pain, augmentation, or diminution through association with the manhood).
History of the Controversy.—When Theodosius and Cyril, with the aid of Rabbulas, endeavoured altogether to suppress the Syrian school in the East, considerable resistance was offered. As early as 435 Cyril had begun to resume his attacks on the reputation of Diodorus and Theodore. Even the patriarch Proclus [NESTORIUS] endeavoured to moderate the violence of Cyril's methods. John of Antioch informed the latter that the Syrian bishops would rather be burned than condemn their great teacher Theodore. The emperor was prevailed upon to forbid further proceedings, and Cyril himself found it necessary to yield. But he kept up the irritation by writing a treatise on the oneness of Christ's Person, to which Theodoret felt bound to reply, so that though repressive measures were abandoned, the controversy continued. Dioscorus, Cyril's successor, was not inclined to let it drop. He intrigued at Constantinople, and encouraged two monks
named EUTYCHES, and Barsumas to insist on something which approached very near to the absorption of the Manhood by the Godhead of Christ. Theodoret came forward once more (447) with his Eranistes (contributor to a club repast), a work in which he contended that the Logos was ἄτρεπτος (unchangeable), ἀσυγχύτος (i.e. His two natures were incapable of being confounded), and ἀπαθής (i.e. the Godhead was incapable of suffering). Dioscorus next wrote to the patriarch of Antioch accusing Theodoret of Nestorianism; and when Theodoret defended himself with temper and moderation, pointing out that he had condemned those who had denounced the term θεοτόκος and divided the Person of Christ, and appealing to the authority of Alexander, Athanasius, Basil, and Gregory, Dioscorus encouraged his monks to anathematize Theodoret openly in the church (448). By imperial decree Theodoret was ordered to keep in his own diocese, and not to cause synods to be summoned at Antioch or elsewhere. Just then a synod was held at Constantinople (448), under the patriarch Flavian (who had lately succeeded Proclus, and who is sometimes confounded with Flavian of Antioch, who died c. 408), for the dispatch of general business, and Eusebius, bp. of Dorylaeum in Phrygia, brought a complaint against the abbot Eutyches as a disturber of the public peace. Flavian bade him visit Eutyches; for Eutyches, like Dalmatius, had gained great credit for piety by never leaving his cell. Eusebius declined to do this, and Eutyches, when summoned, refused to come forth. When he found that he was about to be condemned for contumacy, he came forth, but brought a large assembly of monks, notables, and even soldiers in his train. By this means he secured a safe return to his monastery, but his adversaries continued to attack him, and to charge him with calling Christ's Body God's Body, and with asserting that It was not ὁμοούσιον with other bodies. When questioned, he denied that our Lord possessed two natures after His Incarnation. He was therefore deposed and excommunicated. The party of Eutyches had recourse to court intrigue, and the empress Eudocia contrived to deprive her sister-in-law Pulcheria, who favoured Flavian, of all her influence with the emperor. Eutyches next demanded a new trial, but though the emperor granted his request, Flavian refused to revise the sentence. Eutyches then, relying on the support of Dioscorus and the emperor, and also of Leo of Rome, whose predecessor had condemned Nestorius, appealed to an oecumenical council. But he tried to secure his safety by declaring his willingness to confess the two natures intheone Christ, if Dioscorus and Leo of Rome should require it. Flavian wished the matter to remain as it had been settled at Constantinople, but he was overruled, and a synod called together at Ephesus in 449.
Of this synod Dioscorus, not Flavian, was appointed president, and Flavian was present rather as an accused person than as a judge. The violence displayed at it by Dioscorus and his party caused it to be universally rejected by the Catholic church. It obtained the name of the Synod of Brigands, or Robber Synod (Latrocinium), which it has ever since retained. By trickery and tumult the bishops were forced to declare that there was but one nature in Christ, and the patriarch Flavian was so roughly handled at the council that he died shortly after of the injuries he had received. Flavian and Eusebius of Dorylaeum were deposed. Domnus of Antioch yielded to the clamour, in spite of the warnings of Theodoret,but he also was afterwards deposed. Theodoret was exiled to the monastery in which he had been brought up. For fuller details of this synod see DIOSCORUS; EUTYCHES. Within a few months, however, the situation underwent a great change. Theodosius died (450), and was succeeded by Marcian. The new emperor had previously espoused Pulcheria, who had contrived to regain her influence over the deceased emperor before his death, and who had already honoured the remains of the martyred patriarch Flavian with a public funeral. The bishops who had disgraced themselves by their craven submission to the decrees of the "Robber Synod"—"chameleons," as Theodoret calls them—now further disgraced themselves by as sudden a recantation. Leo, who had sent four representatives to Ephesus, had by this time learned from them the true history of the proceedings there. One of them, Hilary the deacon, had made a formal protest against these proceedings. Hilary had also taken with him from Ephesus the appeal of Flavian for a rehearing of the case in Italy. Leo now determined, if possible, to decide the question himself. As in the Arian, so in the Nestorian and Monophysite controversies, the West displayed a marked capacity for seizing on the salient points of the question at issue, which the Easterns often failed to grasp in consequence of their taste for metaphysical subtleties. Leo himself was a man "of strong character, undaunted courage, and clear, practical understanding," though "more skilled in liturgical than in theological questions" (Dorner). He was also by no means averse from making these controversies a means for increasing the prestige of his see. Socrates (H. E. vii. 7, 12) has remarked on the use which the patriarchs of Rome and Alexandria alike were making at this period of all opportunities of adding to their secular importance. Accordingly Leo held several synods at Rome in which the decrees of the "Robber Synod" were rejected. And even before the assembling of that synod he had written his celebrated letter to Flavian which, though suppressed at Ephesus, was afterwards read at Chalcedon, and accepted as an accurate statement of the doctrine handed down from the first in the church. He now made use of Flavian's appeal to him to procure the assembling of a council at Rome. But the emperor was too politic to permit this, and sent out letters for a council to be held at Nicaea. Such serious riots, however, broke out there that the emperor ultimately resolved to assemble it at Chalcedon, on the opposite side of the Bosphorus to Constantinople, where he could more easily prevent disturbances. There 630 bishops assembled. Leo now pretended that it was not only contrary to ecclesiastical
custom, but derogatory to his dignity, for him to be present at the council. He further claimed to exercise the presidency through his five delegates, but his claim was not admitted, and Anatolius, the new patriarch of Constantinople, was associated with the absent Leo in the office of president. The delegates of Leo protested against Dioscorus being allowed to sit with his brother-patriarchs, considering the very serious imputations under which he lay, and they stated that unless their demands were acceded to, they would withdraw from the council. It should be remarked in passing that the presence and action of Leo's delegates dispose of the objections some theologians and historians have made against the oecumenical character of the synod. Eusebius of Dorylaeum now demanded that his petition against Dioscorus should be read. It was couched in the following striking terms (so Evagr. H. E. ii. 4): "I have been wronged by Dioscorus; the faith has been wronged; the bishop Flavian has been murdered, and, together with myself, unjustly deposed by him. Give directions that my petition is to be read." It was read accordingly. Eusebius is further declared by Evagrius (ii. 2) to have accused Dioscorus to the emperor of having personally inflicted the injuries of which Flavian died. Dioscorus was convicted of having suppressed Leo's letter to Flavian at the "Robber Synod"; he was deposed; the bishops deposed by him—Theodoret and Ibas among them—were reinstated; and Leo's letter to Flavian accepted by the council amid loud shouts of "Peter has spoken by Leo; Cyril and Leo teach alike." Dioscorus was deposed, but permission was given to the Egyptian bishops to defer their subscription to the Acts of the synod until their new patriarch had been consecrated. Eutyches also was condemned. The proceedings of the council were decidedly tumultuous. One day Theodoret was howled down by the Egyptian bishops; the day after Dioscorus met with a similar reception from the Syrian bishops. Some of the laity who were present as representatives of the emperor openly remarked on the unseemliness of such conduct on the part of bishops. The treatment of the venerable Theodoret was especially unseemly. The reason for which he was howled down was his refusal to anathematize Nestorius until he had an opportunity of explaining his position, though this was the position eventually accepted by the Catholic church at large—namely, the rejection at once of the doctrine of two hypostases, and of the doctrine of only one nature, in Christ. It was only in consequence of the emperor's intervention that the reception of Theodoret by the council was secured.
The resolution first proposed to the synod was not adopted, it being considered too favourable to the party of Dioscorus. The Roman delegates threatened to leave the council unless Leo's letter were accepted as an authoritative statement of doctrine. If this were not done, they intimated that the question should be settled at Rome. As many points of importance connected with the relations between the churches of the East and of the West remained unsettled, especially the question of the status of the patriarch of Constantinople, some of the Eastern prelates feared the prolongation of these disputes which would result from the retirement of Leo's representatives. Therefore, though not without many energetic protests, Leo's letter was recognized, at the request of the emperor, and a definition of doctrine in accordance with that letter was drawn up. The synod first recognized the creed put forth at Nicaea (325), and next the enlarged form of it adopted at Constantinople (381). Whether such a creed was actually promulgated at Constantinople has been disputed of late. But much of the evidence existing in 451 has disappeared, and it seems hardly safe to conclude from the silence of contemporary writers that the 630 bishops at Chalcedon had been misinformed on so vital a point. The synod went on to condemn the vain babblings (κενοφωνίας) of those who denied to the Virgin the title of θεοτόκος, as well as those who, on the other hand, affirmed a confusion and mixture (σύγχυσιν καὶ κρᾶσιν) in Christ, under the foolish impression that there could be one nature (consisting) of the Flesh and the Deity in Him, and who, in consequence of (this) confusion, resorted to the amazing suggestion that the divine nature of the Only-begotten was capable of suffering. After having formally accepted Leo's treatise as in conformity with this statement, the decree went on to declare that Jesus Christ was "Perfect in Godhead and Perfect in Manhood, truly God and truly Man; that He was possessed of a reasonable or rather rational (λογικῆς) soul and body, of the same substance (ὁμοούσιον) with the Father according to His Godhead, and of the same substance with us as regards His Manhood"; and that He is "to be recognized as existing in two natures, without confusion, without change, indivisibly, and inseparably (ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως), the distinction of the natures being in no way removed by their union, but rather the speciality (ἰδιότης) of each nature being preserved, coalescing (συντρεχούσης) in one Person (πρόσωπον) and one hypostasis, not divided nor separated into two Persons, but being one and the same Son, and Only-begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ." There can be no doubt that the decision thus promulgated was a sound one, and that, as Leo did not fail to remark pertinently more than once, the doctrines condemned at the two councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon pointed out two rocks on which the doctrine of Christ might be shipwrecked. "The Catholic church," he goes on to say, "could not teach the Humanity of Christ apart from His true Divinity, nor His Divinity without His true Humanity" (Letter to Flavian, c. 5). Yet he did not feel compelled, as Dorner observes, to explain "the internal relations of the two natures." That was, and has remained, a mystery which the human intellect has been unable to unravel. All he had to do was to lay down the particular propositions which, when enunciated by too daring theologians, were in plain conflict with the express teaching of God's
Word, and must therefore tend to mislead mankind on points essential to their salvation. The general reception of the via media laid down by the council, emphasised as it was at two subsequent councils held at Constantinople [see below and NESTORIUS], leaves no doubt that it represents the mind of Christendom upon the point. This conclusion is further accentuated by the fact that, though some Nestorian and Monophysite communities continue to exist, even they are no longer unwilling to hold communion with those who receive the doctrines promulgated by the council on the questions at issue.
The resistance against the decrees of the council of Chalcedon has nevertheless been even more formidable than against those of Ephesus, and the communities still in existence which are separated from the church at large on the question of the decrees of Chalcedon are more numerous, less scattered, and more thoroughly organized than those called into existence by the decrees of Ephesus. Yet this can hardly be attributed to the more harmless character of Monophysitism, because as a fact the opinions advocated by Dioscorus and Eutyches were pushed to far greater extremes and far less carefully qualified than those expressed by theologians so competent as Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret of Cyrus. The survival, in forms so fully organized, of Monophysitism seems rather due to the break-up of the Roman empire, and the progressive decline of its political power, as well as to the spread of Mohammedanism in N. Africa and Armenia. In both cases the attempt at translation of Greek ideas into the Syrian and Egyptian vernacular had been an additional reason for the long continuance of the controversy.
A violent controversy at once sprung up, and a schism was organized, followed by violent disturbances. But it is notable that Dioscorus disappears from history after his deposition. His adversaries did not subject him to the same severities as those under which Nestorius perished. He had reason to be thankful that the fair-minded and gentle-hearted Theodoret was the leader of his opponents, and not the hard, intolerant, and relentless Cyril. Marcian contrived to restore order. But on his death fresh tumults arose. A rival patriarch, Timotheus Aelurus, was nominated, and Proterius, who had succeeded Dioscorus, was slain. The new emperor, Leo, deposed Timotheus. But the schism continued. The emperor Zeno next (482) issued his famous HENOTICON, in which, while Nestorius and Eutyches were anathematized, twelve chapters (or selections) from the works of Cyril were accepted. But Zeno's manner of life evoked no enthusiasm, and Philoxenus—favourably known to us as the patron of the Philoxenian-Syriac version of the Scriptures—"Peter the clothier," and Severus, organized a formidable Monophysite party in Syria, Egypt, and Constantinople respectively. Justinian, emperor from 527–565, did his utmost to support the decrees of Chalcedon, while his consort, the famous, or, as some historians prefer to put it, the infamous, Theodora, did her best to thwart her husband, at the instance of some ecclesiastical intriguers who had contrived to worm themselves into her confidence. For the controversy of the "Three Chapters" see NESTORIUS. Its result was to encourage Monophysitism, and that form of Christian belief rooted itself in Armenia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and ultimately in Abyssinia. The Coptic (the word Coptic is etymologically the same as Egyptian) church has remained as a separate body in Egypt to the present day. The Maronites in Armenia form another community which owes its existence to the Monophysite controversy. The Monophysites called their orthodox opponents Melchites, on the ground that they had accepted their opinions from the civil government and its head, the emperor; while the orthodox bestowed on their opponents the name of Jacobites, from Jacob of Edessa, an enthusiastic disseminator of Monophysite views.
It is unnecessary to follow out in full detail the history of the Monophysite schism. It only remains to mention that a reaction dating from the condemnation of the "Three Chapters" issued in Monotheletism, or the assertion of only one will in Christ. This controversy led to the summoning of a sixth oecumenical council at Constantinople in 680, in which Monotheletism was condemned, after having been anathematized at Rome, under Martin I., in 649. Communion between the East and the West had been broken off for some time on this point, and pope Honorius, like his predecessors Liberius and Vigilius, fell into suspicion of heresy in the course of the controversy. But the decision of the above-mentioned council restored the interrupted communion, and more friendly relations between the East and the West continued to subsist for above 300 years. The Coptic church, persecuted first by its orthodox sister, and afterwards by the Mohammedans, has obstinately maintained a precarious and downtrodden existence from the 6th cent. to the present moment. It has practically ceased to be heterodox, and in 1843 Proposals for union with the Orthodox church would have been carried into effect, but that when the Moslem Government heard of them, the Coptic patriarch was invited to take coffee with a prominent Government official, and went home to die of poison. Since the British occupation in 1882 the Coptic church has begun to emerge from its long period of depression. The lay Copts have become educated and even wealthy. Though but a seventh of the population, they own one-fifth of the property of their country. One of their number became prime minister—the first Coptic prime minister for a very long period—but was unfortunately murdered in an outburst of political and religious fanaticism early in 1910. Though the Coptic clergy are still ignorant and fanatical, and the aged patriarch refuses to take any steps towards their better education, the laity have extorted a permission from him for the appointment of a certain number of laity authorized to give instruction to their co-religionists on the truths of the Christian religion. The educated laity are decidedly friendly towards the Anglican church. Two missions to the Copts have been sent of late years from England, one in 1843 and the other in the last decade of the 19th cent. Neither of them were successful, and the
Copts will probably be allowed for the future to carry out the much-needed reforms in their system in their own way. The Maronites of the Lebanon have remained apart from the Orthodox church of the East up to the present time, but the French political influence in the Lebanon since 1860 has caused a considerable number of them to join the church of Rome. The church of Abyssinia, though its Liturgy shows some beautiful traces of the purer ages of Christianity, has fallen into many superstitions and corruptions. Yet that church has had sufficient vitality to claim representation among the numerous churches and denominations which now gather at the cradle of Christianity, and not the least imposing religious edifice to be seen at Jerusalem is the Abyssinian church.
General Effect of the Controversies about the Person of Christ.—It may not be out of place, in conclusion, to endeavour to arrive at some estimate of the influence of these prolonged and bitter controversies upon the history of the Christian church. On the surface that influence appears unfavourable. Not only was the church of Christ broken up into antagonistic sections which mutually hated each other, but a divided Christendom fell an easy victim to the Mohammedan invader. Western theology, when deprived of the balance afforded by the more purely intellectual characteristics predominant in the East, crystallized into a Roman mould. Not even the revival of letters cured this evil, and we find that even post-Reformation theology has not altogether escaped from the long domination of purely Western forms of thought. But to stop short here would be one-sided and superficial. The effect of these prolonged controversies has undoubtedly been to clear up the confusion which long existed in the Christian mind about the relations of the three Persons (or distinctions) in the Trinity, and of the two natures in the one Christ. The two conflicting tendencies at work in the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies were (1) the disposition to divide the Redeemer into two separate beings, united to one another for God's purpose of salvation, and (2) the disposition either (a) to make the Redeemer a Being compounded out of two other beings, God and Man, being Himself neither one nor the other, or (b) to regard the Humanity of Christ as swallowed up by His Divinity. Of these two forms of Monophysite doctrine the former is ultimately unthinkable. An Infinite Being and a finite one cannot possibly coalesce into a third being, which is neither the one nor the other. The second view, though in itself by no means inconceivable, has been felt to contradict the definite statements of Scripture on the nature of the union between God the Word and the Man Christ Jesus, and is therefore inadmissible. The controversy, pursued with great virulence for about a century and a half, ended by the definite establishment of a mean between the two extremes, namely, that Christ consisted of two separate natures, the Godhead and the Manhood, conjoined into one Personality or Individuality, i.e. one ultimate source of thought and action. Not that there was only one mind, or one will, in the Personality underlying these two natures, but that the action of the lower will was confined within certain limits, and ultimately determined by the fiat of the Divine and Higher Will. If it was permitted to the theologian to speak of a communicatio idiomatum (transfer of attributes), this involved no confusion nor amalgamation of the two natures, no absorption of the one by (or into) the other. Each remains separate and complete. But some attributes of the one nature may be spoken of as transferred to the other, by reason of the inseparable conjunction of both in the One Person (ὑπόστασις or πρόσωπον). Thus if, as is sometimes the case, God is spoken of as suffering or dying, it is not to be supposed that the Godhead, as such, is capable of suffering or of death. The expression is only permissible in consequence of the inseparable conjunction of Christ's Godhead and Manhood in one Personality. The same caution must be borne in mind when the Blessed Virgin is spoken of as θεοτόκος. God cannot be brought forth into this world as man is brought forth. Yet the Divine Word and the Man Christ Jesus are inseparably one. Another point must not be lost sight of. In the Nestorian and Monophysite controversies the word Hypostasis is applied to the Personal Mind and Will which separates the Being thus indicated from any other existence. But when, as in the Arian controversy, the word Hypostasis is applied to the so-called Persons in the Godhead, it is not used to indicate separate sources of thought and action, but is employed to denote certain eternal distinctions declared in Holy Scripture to exist within the Godhead Itself, where there can be only one Mind and Will. We confess that the Father's sole prerogative is to originate, the Son's to reveal, the Spirit's to guide, direct, inspire. But all these prerogatives co-exist harmoniously in Him, Who is above all, and through all, and in us all. The decisions of the four great oecumenical councils are thus a standing witness to the fact that the church, from the beginning till now, has taught consistently that Jesus Christ was (1) ἀλήθως (truly), (2) τελέως (completely), (3) ἀδιαιρέτως (indivisibly), and (4) ἀσυγχύτως (without confusion [of nature]) the Word, or Son of the Eternal God, Who in the last times, "for us men and for our salvation," took upon Him our flesh, and manifested Himself to the world "in the form of a bond-slave," and that His two natures remained separate and uncombined. And so, being at once Perfect God and Perfect Man, He is able, not only to reconcile God and Man, and to destroy the empire of sin in the latter, but can in the end present us, reconciled and saved, as perfect and unblamable before the God and Father of us all.
Bibliography.—Our authorities are nearly the same as those given under NESTORIUS. We have no longer the help of Socrates, but Evagrius is vivid, and generally accurate, though often very credulous. He accepts implicitly the decisions of Ephesus and Chalcedon, and of the latter he gives a detailed and careful summary. The letters of Theodoret, and the collection of the letters of other men of mark in his day, found in
many editions of his works [NESTORIUS] are full of information on the Monophysite controversy. In later times Monophysitism does not seem to have attracted the attention of writers to the same extent as Nestorianism has done. There is no work on the former corresponding to those of Assemani and Badger on the latter. Neander, Dorner, Canon Bright, and, more recently, Mr. Bethune Baker are as useful here as on Nestorianism. Canon Bright has also translated and edited Leo's Sermons on the Incarnation. Gieseler is strangely brief on the controversy in the 5th cent., but has more information on its later developments. Mr. Wigram's Intro. to the Hist. of the Assyrian Church (S.P.C.K. 1910) has some chapters on the later developments of Monophysitism in the East.