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Cyril Of Alexandria






Category: MONOPHYSITISM PAST AND PRESENT

Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, led the opposition to Nestorius. He
declared that the moment of conception was the moment of the union, and
that the notion of incarnation involved much more than an association
of natures. He maintained that the incarnation was a hypostatic union
(henosis physike). He endeavoured to guard against an Apollinarian
interpretation of his teaching; but in this attempt he was not
altogether successful. He asserted the perfection of Christ's humanity
and the distinction between the two natures. The perfection, however,
is compromised, and the distinction rendered purely ideal by his
further statement that there were "two natures before, but only one
after the union." He cited in proof the words of Athanasius, "one
incarnate nature of God the Word."

Cyril prevailed. Nestorius was condemned and the Antiochian school
discredited. Cyril's victory, however, was of doubtful value to
orthodoxy. His ardent but unbalanced utterances bequeathed to the
Church a legacy of strife. His writings, particularly the earlier
ones, furnished the monophysites with an armoury of weapons. His
teaching could not with justice be styled docetic or Apollinarian, but
its mystic tone was so pronounced that it proved a propaedeutic for
monophysitism. The shibboleth of orthodoxy, quoted above, "one
incarnate nature of God the Word," passed rapidly into the watchword of
heresy. Athanasius had used the word "nature" in a broad sense. The
monophysites narrowed it down to its later technical meaning. Thus
they exalted Christ into a region beyond the ken of mortal man. The
incarnation became a mystery pure and simple, unintelligible, calling
for blind acceptance. The monophysites, following Cyril, heightened
the mystery, but, in doing so, they eliminated the reality and the
human appeal of the incarnate life. They soon began to argue that,
since Christ is monophysite, the properties of deity and humanity in
Him are interchangeable; that therefore, while yet a Babe in the
manger, He ruled the world with the omniscience and omnipresence of the
Logos; that while He hanged upon the Cross, His mighty power sustained
and ordered the universe. The monophysites professed great jealousy
for the honour due to the Redeemer. But the ascription of such
attributes to Jesus Christ detracts from His honour. If the nature
that suffered on the Cross be not distinct from the nature that cannot
suffer, then the Crucifixion was a sham. Monophysitism is docetism
elaborated. It abandons the Christ of history. It rules out His
prokope. It ignores a fact, vital to Christology, namely the
kenosis or divine self-limitation. Thus it throws a veil of
unreality over those facts on which the Christian Faith is built.





Next: Monophysitism A Product Of Positive And Negative Currents Of Religious Thought

Previous: The Nestorian Reaction



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