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Monophysite Doctrine


The distinctive doctrine of monophysitism, that from which the name of

the heresy is taken, is the assertion that there is but one nature, the
divine nature, in Christ. There existed some difference of opinion
among the monophysites as to whether any degree of reality might be
ascribed to the human nature. Some were prepared to allow it
conceptual reality; they would grant that Christ had been diphysite
momentarily, that He was "out of two natures." But that admission is
quite inadequate. It amounts to no more than the paltry concession
that Christ's human nature before the incarnation is conceivable as a
separate entity. All monophysites united in condemning the diphysite
doctrine that after the incarnation Christ was and is "in two natures."
Such a Christ they would not worship. It was "the image with two faces
that the Council of Chalcedon had set up."[1] They adopted the
Athanasian phrase, "One incarnate nature of God the Word," as their

Monophysitism can make out a strong prima facie case. It is
attractive at first sight. The heretical formula seems simpler and
more natural than the catholic. The unity of nature appears a
corollary of the unity of person. Human personality is ordinarily
assumed to be monophysite; so it is natural to make the same assumption
as to divine personality. The simplicity of the doctrine is, however,
all on the surface. It will not bear examination. As a definition of
Christian faith it is useless. It cannot account for the recorded
facts of Christ's life. The facts of His body, of His mind, of His
sufferings refuse to fit into it. It affords no foundation for belief
in His transcendent work. No intelligible doctrine of redemption can
be built upon it. It contains no germ of hope for mankind. Therefore
the Church in the name of Christ and on behalf of humanity rejected it.

Although the heresy has been officially condemned, it should none the
less be studied. It is improbable that any one in our time will defend
the formula, or openly profess the doctrines that follow from it. But,
though not recognised as such, it is an ever-present and instant menace
to the Faith. Monophysite tendencies are inherent in religious
thought. The metaphysical idea, on which it rests, still has a
powerful hold over the human mind. Spiritually-minded men are
especially liable to this form of error. It is a mistake to think that
Christological questions were settled once and for all in the fifth
century. Each generation has to settle them afresh. Accordingly, to
exhibit the consequences of the monophysite formula, to show how wrong
abstract ideas develop into wrong concrete ideas and falsify Christian
practice, is a task of practical and present-day importance.

Next: Classification Of Monophysite Errors

Previous: Monophysitism And Neo-platonism

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