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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Greek, Μονοφυσῖται , from μόνος,, single, and φύσις, nature) is the name of a Christian sect which took form under that name in the year 451, when the Eutychian heresy was condemned by the orthodox Eastern Church in the Council of Chalcedon. But though the name of the Monophysites first occurs in the acts of the Council of Chalcedon' Monophysitism must be regarded as of much older date, and is to be traced to Eutychianism (q.v.), from which it sprang, though by no means identical with it. Eutyches not only attributed but one nature to Christ after his incarnation, but held that Christ's body, being the body of God, was not identical with the human body. The Monophysites, in distinction, held that the two natures were so united that, although the "one Christ" was partly human and partly divine, his two natures became by their union only one nature (Μόνηφύσις ). This modification of the Eutychian doctrine was taught by Dioscorus, the successor of St. Cyril as patriarch of Alexandria. He presided at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 449), which considered the opinion of Eutyches, and from the murderous violence shown by his Egyptian partisans was called "Latrocinium," or "Robber Synod." Under the influence of Dioscorus, who wished to gain a victory over the patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople, the chief opponents of Eutyches, the assembled bishops were persuaded to give their decision in favor of Eutyches, the key-note to that decision being struck by the passionate exclamation of Dioscorus: "Will you endure that two natures should be spoken of after the incarnation" (Mansi, Concil. 6:583). "Partly thus terrified, partly ignorant, partly, perhaps, persuaded," says Neale, "the assembled fathers set their hands to the acquittal of Eutyches, and thus the Monophysite heresy was born in the Church" (Patriarchate of Alexandria, 1:295). The decision so given was not, however, accepted by the patriarchs of Antioch and of Constantinople, nor by the bishop of Rome, and another council was called by the new emperor Marcian in the following year, which assembled first at Nicsea, but eventually at Chalcedon, whence its name.
This council condemned the doctrine of the Eutychians and Monophysites, and it was stated "that Christ was really divine and really human; in his divinity co-eternal, and in all points similar to the Father; in his humanity, son of the Virgin Mary, born like all others, and like unto us men in all things except sin; that after his incarnation his person contained two natures unmixed (ἀσυγκύτως ) and unaltered (ἀτρέπτως ), yet at the same time completely (ἀδιαιρέτως ) and intimately (ἀκωρίσως) united." The adherents of the Alexandrian school saw themselves overpowered and withdrew from the council, and thus "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." Dioscorus himself was deposed from the patriarchate, and a certain Proterius placed in his stead. The people, however, sympathized with the persecuted, and the Monophysites increased very rapidly. They spread especially in Palestine, mainly through the agency of the monk Theodosius, who was instrumental in the expulsion of the patriarch Juvenal from Jerusalem, and got himself appointed in his place. The conflict between the two parties was only quelled by force of arms. Egypt, and in particular Alexandria, proved, however, the greatest strongholds of Monophysite views, and constant troubles were there the result. The patriarch Proterius was frequently annoyed by his opponents, and public quarrels were a common occurrence.
Finally, in the heat of passion, a few Monophysite partisans attacked the house of Proterius, and, driving him from it, followed him to the church, and there stabbed him to death, and disposed of his body in a most cruel manner. In Proterius's place was put a Monophysite, the presbyter Timotheus Elurus, and henceforth there ruled in Alexandria an unbroken succession of Monophysite patriarchs. Under Elurus's rule all who accepted the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon were excommunicated, especially pope Leo. But complaint being made against Elurus to the emperor, he was banished to Gangra in 460. In many respects the rule of Elurus was a profitable one to the Church, and had fanatics only stood aside the best results would have been assured. He was conciliatory in his nature, as may be seen from his acts. He evidently intended to draw his flock back into the orthodox fold. Thus Dioscorus had followed Eutyches in denying Christ's human nature to be of the same kind as that of ordinary men; but when Timothy was on a visit to Constantinople, and Eutychian monks desired to join his communion, he took the opportunity of disclaiming this part of their belief, and declared the conviction of himself and his followers to be that the Saviour became consubstantial with men according to his human nature, as he had ever been consubstantial with the Father according to his divine nature. In this particular the Monophysite followers of Timothy, who were hence called "Timotheans," as the opposite party were called "Dioscorians," returned to the creed of St. Cyril, which his deacon and successor Dioscorus had forsaken.
Another patriarchate which the Monophysites appropriated was that of Antioch. Peter the Fuller (γναφεύς ), an adherent of Eutyches, who had been driven out of two convents of Constantinople, having gone to Antioch with Zeno, a relation of the emperor, connected himself there with the remaining Apollinarists, and opposed the orthodox bishop Martyrius; the latter fled to ask help of the emperor, and in the mean time Fuller was appointed patriarch. He condemned the Council of Chalcedon, excommunicated all who held that God was not crucified, and introduced into the liturgy the formula θεὸς ὁ σταυρωθεὶς δἰ ἡμᾶς , which became subsequently the shibboleth of the Monophysites. He was finally deposed and exiled by the emperor.
The usurper Basiliscus, who succeeded Zeno on the throne in 476, protected Monophysitism, declaring it the religion of the state, and condemning the Council of Chalcedon and the epistle of Leo in an ἐγκύκλιον . But Acacius, bishop of Constantinople, having in the mean time organized a dyophysite counter-revolution, and gradually gaining strength, the orthodox succession was revived after the death of Alurus (477), when Zeno, who had recovered the throne, appointed Timothy Salophakiolus as patriarch of Alexandria. At the death of the latter, who had ruled for twelve years, the Catholic party nominated John Talaia, and the Monophysites Peter Mongus, as his successor: the latter succeeded through the influence of the emperor. In 482 Zeno issued his Henotikon for the purpose of uniting the two parties: it aimed at satisfying both parties, but it did not please either. The stricter Monophysites of Egypt, who insisted on an unvarnished rejection of the Council of Chalcedon, separated from the others to form a Monophysite society of their own, which received the name of Ἀκέφαλοι . (See ACEPHALT).
The dyophysites also split into two parties, one of which accepted the Henotikon, while the other rejected it. At the head of the latter party stood Felix II of Rome, who excommunicated Acacius (484); thus this attempt at conciliation resulted only in making four parties instead of two, and in creating a schism between the Latin and the Greek churches which lasted thirty-five years (484-519). Zeno's successor, Anastasius, adhered strictly to the Henotikon, and even inclined somewhat to Monophysitism. In 513 Severus; one of the principal men among the Acephali, became patriarch of Antioch. His attempt to introduce the formula θεὸς σταυρωθεὶς δἰ ἡμᾶς in the churches of Constantinople created fresh troubles; the patriarch Macedonius, who opposed the innovation, was deposed, and the disorders which followed were hard to repress, But in consequence of the revolt of the general Vitalianus (514), the orthodox party were finally restored to the possession of their rights, and in 519 the unity with Rome was fully established. The partisans of the Henotikon were taken off the church lists, and all the Monophysite bishops deposed. Most of these withdrew to Egypt. Here they were soon divided among themselves. Julian, formerly bishop of Halicarnassus, affirmed that the body of our Lord was rendered incorruptible in consequence of the divine nature being blended with it. (See APHTHARTODOCETE).
Others maintained that it was corruptible. (See AGNOETE) and (See PHTHARTODOCETAE).
The leader of the last named was Severus, the deposed patriarch of Antioch, who maintained the corruptibility of Christ's human nature, or its identity with that of ordinary pain — suffering, weak, and mortal manhood. This theology eventually became that of the Monophysites at large, hence he deserves special attention in this connection. With him Monophysitism receded another step from Eutychianism; and although it was still maintained that Christ, after his incarnation, was of one nature only, the doctrine came to be held in such a way as not to be extremely divergent from the Church. For "in the theology of Severus, the qualities of human nature were all retained in Christ after the incarnation, although the nature was in him so amalgamated with the divine Being that it could not be said to possess any being or identity of its own. Thus the Monophysite conception of Christ's person settled into that of a Theandric, or composite nature, analogous to that composite action of his person which later divines have called a Theandric operation (θεανδρικὴ ἐνέργεια ). Yet belief in such a composite nature is inconsistent with the Nicene Creed, which asserts that Jesus Christ is 'of one substance with the Father,' and since the Father is not of such a composite nature, to declare the Son to be so is to declare him to be of a different substance from him." Thus the intellectual form which Severus gave to Monophysitism cannot escape from the charge of heresy any more than that earlier form of opinion which was condemned at Chalcedon. The instability of opinion, when disassociated from the safeguard of the Nicene Creed, was also strikingly illustrated in the case of this later monophysite school as it had been in the earlier. Severus himself "held views respecting the soul of the united natures of Christ which were not logically consistent with the theology respecting their oneness, and thus it was only one step forward for Themistius, his deacon, to invent the tenet of the Agnoetae, that the human soul of Christ was like ours in everything, even in the want of omniscience or ignorance." When, again, Severus maintained that the divine and the human wills in the united natures were also so united that there could be no volition of the one nature one way and of the other nature in the other direction, he was preparing the way for that development of his opinion which was made by the Monothelites (q.v.), who maintained that "there was only one will in Christ, as well as only one nature." After the death of Severus, his followers divided — the men of wealth and the clergy choosing as successor to Timothy a certain Theodosius, and the monks and lower classes choosing Gaianus, the leader of the Aphthiartodocetce, whose party took the name of the Gaianites (See GAIANITE); the latter, viewing the body of Christ as created (κτιστόν ), were also called Ktistolatrce (comp. Dorner, 2:159 sq.; and Ebrard, Kirchen- u. Dogmengesch. 1:268 sq.). This division, and the energy of the emperor Justinian in supporting the orthodox cause, finally led to a revival of the orthodox patriarchate in the person of Paul (A.D. 539), and for a hundred years there were two lines in the patriarchate — one monophysite, the other orthodox. Many other sects arose also, such as the Tritheists, the Philoponists, the Conists, the Damianists. Indeed, the 6th century was an age of as great turbulence in the Church on account of monophysitism as any that preceded. Justinian was even moved to call a council, which, convening at Constantinople in A.D. 553, constituted the fifth ecumenical council, the result of whose deliberations was a partial victory for the Alexandrian monophysite doctrine, so far as it could be reconciled with the definitions of Chalcedon.
But, notwithstanding the concessions of the fifth cecumenical council, the Monophysites remained separated from the orthodox Church, refusing to acknowledge in any manner the dyophysite Council of Chalcedon. Another effort of Justinian to gain them, by sanctioning the Aphthartodocetic doctrine of the incorruptibleness of Christ's body (564), threatened to involve the Church in fresh troubles; but his death soon afterwards, in 565, put an end to these fruitless and despotic plans of union. His successor, Justin II, in 565 issued an edict of toleration, which exhorted all Christians to glorify the Lord, without contending about persons and syllables. Since that time the history of the Monophysites has been distinct from that of the Catholic Church. A numerous body of Monophysites of Alexandria seceded from the communion of the patriarch of that city appointed by the emperor, and chose another spiritual chief; and thus they continue to the present day, under the name of Copts. The Ethiopian or Abyssinian Church was always in connection with them. The Christians in Armenia and Georgia, among whom also monophysitism had early gained acceptance, openly declared themselves in favor of this doctrine; and thus the Armenian and Georgian churches continue at this time, separated from the other monophysite churches merely by peculiar customs. In Syria and Mesopotamia the Monophysites had nearly become extinct, in consequence of persecution and the want of ministers, when Jacob Baradaeus, an obscure monk, was the instrument of reviving them: after him the Syrian Monophysites are called Jacobites (q.v.). An attempt to reconcile the Monophysites with the orthodox party in the 7th century led to a modified form of the doctrine, and a new sect, the Monothelites, who attempted to compromise between the two factions by the hypothesis that after the union of the divine and human natures in Christ, though there continued to be two distinct natures, yet there was but one will. The only effect of this was to increase the controversy. (See MONOTHELITES).
Monophysitism still continued to be held in some parts of the East, and even by the Maronites (q.v.) until their final reconciliation with the' Church of Rome in 1182, when it was renounced by them. The doctrine that Jesus Christ possesses only one simple nature, being not truly man, but the divine Spirit in a human body, has recently been revived by Henry Ward Beecher in his Life of Christ, and is also maintained by the Swedenborgians. (See NEW JERUSALEM CHURCH).
The union of the divine and human natures in Christ is maintained by Dr. Hovey (God With Us). See the Acta, in Mansi, volume 7-9; Mai, Scriptorum veterum nova collectio e Vaticanis codicibus edita (volume 7); Gieseler, Commentat. qua Monophysitarum veterum varice de Christi persona opiniones inprimis ex ipsorum effatis recens editis, illustrantur (1835-1838); Assemani, De Monophys. (in Bibl. Or. volume 2); Le Quien, Oriens Christianus in IV patriarchatus digestus (Par. 1740); Renaudot, Hist. Patriarcharum Alex. Jacobitarum (Par. 1743); Makrizii, Hist. Coptorum Christ., Arab. et Lat. ed. Wetzer (Solisbaci, 1828); Walch, Ketzerhistorie, vol. 6:7, 8); Baur, Tritatslehre, 2:37-96; Dorner, Lehre v. d. Person Christi (2d ed.). volume 2, part 1; Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, 2:545 sq.; Gfrorer, Allg. Kirchengesch. vol. 2, part 2; Schrockh, Kirchengesch. 18:433-636; Neander, Ch. Hist. 2:524 sq.; and his Dogma, 1:337; Ebrard, Handbuch der Kirchen- u. Dogmengesch. 1:263 sq.; Schaff, Ch. Hist. 3:143-145; Neale, Hist. East. Church (patriarchate of Alexandria), 1:278 sq.; 2:3 sq.; Stanley, Lect. East. Ch. page 92 sq.; Hagenbach, Hist. Doctrines, 1:277 sq.; Milman, Hist. Latin Christianity, page 312 sq.; Princeton Review, 38:567 sq.; Princeton Repository, (January 1867), art. 3. Compare also Cureton's edition of the Eccles. Hist. of John, Bishop of Ephesus (Oxf. 1853), part 3. (See CHRISTOLOGY); (See INCARNATION).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Monophysites'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​m/monophysites.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.