Church In-fighting

By Phillip Schaff

History of the Christian Church   Vol 3  pg. 574ff


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, while they in return stigmatized the adherents of the council as  Dyophysites and Nestorians. They conceded, indeed, a composite nature , 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 (, yet as never existing simply as such, but only in individuals. According to them, therefore, over, is in fact always an individual existence.   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.”   From this they were also called Theopaschites.

This formula is in itself orthodox, and forms the requisite counterpart to , 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.

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 Aelurus and Peter Mongus (454–460), in opposition to the newly-elected patriarch Protarius, who was murdered in a riot in Antioch; Peter the Fuller (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, 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, 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.

The most important of these parties were the SEVERIANS (from Severus, the patriarch of Antioch) or PHTHARTOLATERS (adorers of the corruptible), 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, 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.  The latter argued from the commingling  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.  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 , 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.

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.  The Severians were subdivided again, in respect to the question of Christ’s

omniscience, into THEODOSIANS, and THEMISTIANS, or AGNOETAE.

The Julianists were subdivided into KTISTOLATAE, and AKTISTETAE  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.

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 in a concrete instead of an abstract sense, and identifying it with, 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.

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