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The Monophysite Theory Of A Composition Of Natures


For the consistent monophysites, then, the human nature, as a psychic
entity with peculiar properties, did not survive the incarnation. They
did, however, allow it a verbal reality. They admitted a composition
of natures, and this composition provided for them whatever degree of
reality the incarnation possessed. On this point their Christology
passed through several stages of development, the later stages showing
progressive improvement on the earlier. They distinguished three
senses of the word "composition." First, they said, it might mean
"absorption," as when a drop of water is absorbed in a jar of wine.
Second, it might imply the transmutation of constituent particles, as
when a third unlike thing is formed from two. Thirdly, there is
composition when, from the association of two whole and entire things,
a third whole and entire compound thing is formed without loss to the
components. They illustrated the third mode of composition by the
union in man of soul and body. The pre-Eutychian monophysites regarded
the hypostatic union as a composition in the first sense of the word.
They spoke of Christ's human nature as absorbed in the divine, as is "a
drop of vinegar in the ocean." Eutyches adopted the term in its second
sense. He taught that the Word became flesh[3] "as the atmosphere
assumes bodily form and becomes rain or snow under the influence of the
wind, and as water becomes ice by reason of the cold air." Philoxenus
in a later generation saw that both these positions were wrong and the
similes misleading. He taught a hypostatic union totally devoid of
confusion or loss or commutation of the elements of the two natures.
To illustrate his meaning he used the simile supplied by the
"Athanasian" creed, "as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so
God and Man is one Christ." This position is a vast improvement on
that of the original monophysites. It was ground gained to secure the
admission that in any sense Christ was very man. But the monophysites
never learned the true manner of the union, namely, that Christ was
"one; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the
Manhood into God; one altogether; not by confusion of Substance but by
unity of Person."

Read in this connection the assertion that God and man is one Christ,
"as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man," is orthodox; read apart
from this context, it is ambiguous. If the simile be kept as a simile,
as a mere suggestion or hint as to how, in general, two may compose one
and yet remain two, then no exception can be taken to it. If, however,
the clause be interpreted as a proportion sum, assigning corresponding
values to the different terms, then it savours strongly of
Apollinarianism. Most monophysites, like many moderns, probably
understood it in the mathematical sense. Christ, they argued, was God
and man, just as man is rational soul and body; the terms are in
proportion; therefore the divine nature was the rational soul, and the
human nature was the body. They forgot that the free act of the whole
divine person in assuming man underlies the union and makes it
efficacious; they gave sarx; the narrow meaning of soma, they set
before themselves the picture, not of the infinite robing in the
finite, but of the union of mind and matter. Consequently they
habitually spoke of the Logos, as assuming, not man or a human nature,
but a body.

Such in its varying phases was the monophysite doctrine of composition.
At its worst, it contained a direct denial of the real humanity of
Christ. At its best, it falls far short of the catholic doctrine of
His real, perfect and complete humanity. The permanent assumption of
human nature into the transcendent personality had no meaning for the
heretic party. If it had taken place, it was, they thought, merely
momentary, with no after-effects, the passing of a summer cloud across
the face of the sun.

We have considered the monophysites' view of Christ's human nature,
regarded as an integral psychic entity. It is evident that they either
undervalued it or denied its existence. The more consistent thinkers
of their party maintained that the incarnation had made no difference
in the being of Christ, and that therefore His human nature had no
objective reality. Those who shrank from carrying the doctrine to that
length conceded to the orthodox that the incarnation had to some extent
modified the being of Christ, that its net result was a composition.
Further analysis showed that this concession was rendered nugatory;
that in whatever sense the word "composition" was taken, it was
inadequate to express the hypostatic union; that the composition proved
in its first significance illusory, in its second, hybridous, in its
third, Apollinarianist. We pass on now to review the human nature in
its constituent parts, and it will be seen that the heretical formula
undermines faith in respect of each several part.

Next: The Parts Of Human Nature

Previous: The Christological Errors Of Monophysitism

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