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Christ's Body


It is obvious to an unprejudiced reader of the gospels that Christ's
pre-resurrection body was real and normal. It was an organism of flesh
and blood, of the same constitution and structure as ours. It occupied
space, and was ordinarily subject to the laws of space. It was visible
and tangible. It shared the natural processes of birth, growth, and
metabolism. At the resurrection a catastrophic change took place in
it. It was still a body. It was still Christ's body. Continuity was
preserved. The evidences of continuity were external, and so strong as
to convince doubters. We cannot fathom either the change or the
continuity. What we know is that after the resurrection the body was
not so subject as before to the laws of space. It was, it would seem,
of finer atoms and subtler texture. It had reached the height of
physical being, and development apparently had ceased. It was the
entelechy of the human body. It was still real, though no longer
normal. To employ paradox, it was natural of the species
"supernatural." It was the natural body raised to a higher power. It
was natural to human denizens of a higher world. Body's function is
two-fold. It both limits the soul and expresses it. It narrows the
activity of the person to a point, and thus serves as a fine instrument
for action upon matter. At the same time it draws out the
potentialities of the soul and fixes its development. The
post-resurrection body was apparently less limitative and more

The foregoing considerations may be summed up in the form of three
dogmata, all of which orthodox Christianity teaches. These are, first,
that Christ's pre-resurrection body was real and natural; second, that
His resurrected and ascended body is real and supernatural; third, that
there was a real continuity, whether by development or by epigenesis
between the two. In all these points the monophysites missed the
truth. Their presuppositions misled them. As monists they were
inclined to regard matter as sinful. They could not conceive the
infinite donning a soiled robe. "Our body with its hateful wants"
could not, they thought, be a tabernacle for the Logos. The idea of
the native dignity of the human frame and of its being ennobled by the
King's indwelling was completely foreign to the monophysites' ways of

Since such was the background of their thought it was inevitable that
definitely heretical doctrines should result. In the first place we
meet the flat denial of the reality of Christ's body. Even in
apostolic days those who held this heresy were found. They denied that
Christ had come in the flesh. They were styled docetists or
phantasiasts. According to them the body had no objective reality. It
was a phantom. Its reality was entirely subjective. It was the effect
produced on the perceptions of those who associated with the mysterious
spirit-being. The Logos, as viewed by the phantasiasts, at the
incarnation struck His being into the bounds of time, but not of space.
Divine personality, they thought, did not require and could not use a
material medium. This doctrine was not part of the official
monophysite creed; but, as pointed out in the previous chapter,
monophysitism was a lineal descendant of docetism, and always showed
traces of its lineage. The saying that, "Christ brought His body from
heaven," was commonly attributed to Eutyches. He denied having said
it, but, at any rate, the general feeling of his followers was that
Christ's physical nature was divine and therefore not consubstantial
with ours.

Such doctrines destroy the discipline of faith in the resurrection.
The radical difference between the natural and the resurrection body is
blurred by them. The immense change is abolished. The resurrection
becomes purely a spiritual change, which even a non-Christian could
accept. The body, according to the tenor of monophysite teaching, was
spirit before the resurrection and spirit after it. Thus the ascension
too becomes purely spiritual. It is shorn of half its significance.
The Christian's hope for the human body rests on the fact that Christ
returned to heaven with something that He did not bring from heaven,
namely, a glorified human body. If He brought that body with Him from
heaven, the main significance of His human dispensation falls to the
ground. The incarnation becomes unreal, illusory, impotent.

An offshoot of docetism that flourished among the monophysites is the
aphthartodocetic heresy. This is of considerable historical
importance. Large numbers of the Syrian and Egyptian monophysites
embraced it, and seceded from the parent church. It became part of the
official creed of Armenian Christianity, and that church has not
repudiated it to this day. There are good, though hardly conclusive,
grounds for holding that the emperor Justinian, profound theologian and
life-long champion of orthodoxy, was converted to the heretical theory
in the last few months of his life.[4] Aphthartodocetism, affirming
the reality of Christ's body, denies that it was subject to the wear
and tear of life. The body, as this heresy taught, was superior to
natural process; it was neither corrupted nor corruptible. The term
"corruptibility" has the wide significance of organic process, that is
the lot of all created living things. A milder form of the heresy
asserted that Christ's body was corruptible but was not corrupted.
Aphthartodocetism springs from a spurious spirituality, from a
fastidiousness that has no place in true religion. It is symptomatic
of Manicheanism, which associates matter with sin. Christians affirm
sinlessness of Christ's humanity; they do not affirm immateriality of
His body. The monophysites, in abandoning the true Christology, were
predisposed to the infection of this heresy. A being in whom organic
process was present seemed to these heretics no fit object of worship.
They called the orthodox Ctistolatrae or Phthartolatrae, worshippers of
the created or corruptible.

Monophysites of all shades of opinion united in condemning the practice
of worshipping Christ's human nature. That practice was in their eyes
both idle and injurious; idle, because the human nature did not exist
as a separate entity; injurious, because it fixed the mind of the
worshipper on the finite. In consequence they were much opposed to all
observances based on a belief in His humanity. Images or other
representations of Him in human form seemed to them idolatrous. The
monophysite church was not directly concerned in the iconoclastic
controversy, but their doctrines were indirectly responsible for it.
In fact the great monophysites, Severus and Philoxenus, have been
styled "the fathers of the iconoclasts."

Next: Monophysitism Blind To The Dual Character Of Christ's Experience

Previous: The Parts Of Human Nature

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