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The Metaphysical Basis Of Monophysitism


Monophysitism was a Christological heresy of the fifth century. It was
condemned by the church in the middle of that century at the council of
Chalcedon. Surviving its condemnation it flourished in the East for
several centuries. Its adherents formed themselves into a powerful
church with orders and succession of their own. Although the
monophysite church has long since lost all influence, it is still in
being. The Coptic and Jacobite churches of Egypt and Mesopotamia,
respectively, preserve to this day the doctrines and traditions of the
primitive monophysites.

The history of the sect, however, does not concern us here. The
writer's purpose is to review its doctrine. Monophysitism is a system
of religious thought, and, as such, its importance is out of all
proportion to the present or even the past position of the churches
that professed it. Its significance lies in its universality. It is
grounded in the nature of the human mind. It is found in West as well
as East, to-day as well as in the early centuries of our era. Wherever
men bring intellect to bear on the problem of Christ's being, the
tendency to regard Him as monophysite is present.

An examination of the heresy is of practical value. Our subject-matter
is not an oriental antique or a curiosity of the intellect, but a
present-day problem of vital moment to the Faith. If we are concerned
with a half-forgotten heresy, it is because a study of that heresy
serves both as a preventive against error and as an introduction to the
truth. The doctor studies disease to ascertain the conditions of
health; pathological cases are often his surest guide to the normal;
just so the study of heresy is the best guide to orthodox Christology.
It was in conflict with monophysitism that the church of the fifth
century brought to completion her dogmatic utterances about Christ; and
the individual thinker to-day can gain the surest grasp of true
Christology by examining the monophysite perversion.

With this practical purpose in view, we now proceed to an analysis of
the heresy. Monophysitism is a body of doctrine. It is a dogmatic
system, in which the individual dogmata are controlled by a principle
or dominant idea. As all the particular doctrines of monophysitism
depend on this principle, and, as it is not properly a theological
concept, but one borrowed from philosophy, we may call it "the
metaphysical basis of monophysitism." An intelligent grasp of this
basic principle is necessary to an appreciation of the whole system.
Accordingly, our first concern is to ascertain and exhibit this
metaphysical basis. In subsequent chapters we shall analyse in detail
the doctrines specifically monophysite and trace the Christological
errors back to their source in metaphysic.

Next: The A Priori And A Posteriori In Christology

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