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Classification Of Monophysite Errors


Two classes of erroneous beliefs result from a misconception of the
relation between God and man in Christ. There arise, on the one hand,
false opinions about the deity of Christ, and on the other, false
opinions as to His manhood. We shall adopt this classification as we
investigate the doctrinal consequences of the monophysite formula. It
is the method followed in one of the earliest systematic criticisms of
the heresy. Leo's Tome, or letter to Flavian, contains a lucid
statement of the catholic doctrine of the incarnation, and an acute
analysis of the system of Eutyches, the heresiarch. He summarises the
errors of Eutyches under two heads; there are two main counts in his
indictment of the heresy. Eutyches, he contends, makes Jesus Christ
"deus passibilis et homo falsus." Eutyches and his followers
compromised both deity and humanity. The deity becomes passible, the
humanity unreal. All the monophysite misbeliefs can be classified
under one or other of these two heads.


We shall take first those errors that compromise the nature of the
deity, and shall preface our analysis by an explanation of the meaning
of the term "deus impassibilis." The impassibility of God is the
corner-stone of spiritual monotheism. Christianity owes it, as a
philosophic doctrine, largely to Aristotle. He conceived deity as
"actus purus," as the One who moves without being moved, a "causa sui."
The popular gods of Greece were passible; they were possible objects of
sense; they were acted on largely as man is acted on. They had a
beginning, and were subject to many of the processes of time. They
were swayed by human motives. They were, at times, angry, afraid,
unsatisfied, ambitious, jealous. Aristotle gave to the world the
conception of a transcendent God, a being who is real and yet is
"without body, parts and passions," who cannot receive idolatrous
worship, and is not an object of sense. Impassibility was one of the
highest attributes of this being. The attribute does not involve or
imply absence of feeling. Originally it had no reference to feeling,
in the psychological sense of that word. It certainly excludes
incidentally the lower, specifically human feelings, feelings caused by
external stimuli, feelings due to want or to lack of power. It does
not exclude the higher affections from the deity. Even in the noesis
noeseos of Aristotle, there is room for the transcendent bliss of
divine self-contemplation. Much more in the Christian God is there
room for spontaneous feeling, springing from His own nature, the
necessary concomitant of thought and will. Impassibility is a
comprehensive attribute. Originally negative, it soon acquired a rich
positive connotation. An impassible God is one who is outside space
and time. The attribute connotes creative power, eternity, infinity,
permanence. A passible God is corruptible, i.e. susceptible to the
processes of becoming, change, and decay. If to-day theists have to be
on their guard against debased conceptions of deity, in the plausible
garb of an "invisible king," of a finite or suffering God, much more
was such caution necessary in the early centuries of the Christian era.
Christians who came daily and hourly into contact with polytheistic
beliefs and practices had to be very jealous for the concept of
impassibility. It represented to them all that was distinctive in the
highest region of their Faith.

Monophysitism, as we proceed to show, compromised this article of the
Faith. Its adherents did not, perhaps, do so intentionally. In fact,
the first generation of monophysites maintained that their definition
safeguarded the impassibility. It was zeal for the honour of the Son
of God that induced them to deny Him all contact with humanity. Their
good intentions, however, could not permanently counteract the evil
inherent in their system. In later generations the evil came to the
surface. Theopaschitism, the doctrine that openly denies the
impassibility of the godhead, flourished in the monophysite churches.

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Previous: Monophysite Doctrine

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