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The Origins Of Monophysitism






Category: MONOPHYSITISM PAST AND PRESENT

The monophysitism of the fifth century had its roots in the past as
well as in the a priori. In the previous chapter we treated it as a
phase of philosophic thought and reviewed the metaphysic on which the
heresy rests. In the present chapter its relations as a historical
system of religious thought are to be exhibited. As such, it owes much
to outside influences. Much in the monophysite mode of thought and
many of its specific doctrines can be traced either to other
ecclesiastical heresies or to pagan philosophies. The fact of this
double derivation deserves to be emphasised. It refutes the charge of
inquisitorial bigotry, so frequently levelled against the theologians
of the early centuries. The non-Christian affinities of the heresy
account for the bitterness of the controversy to which it gave rise,
and, in large measure, excuse the intolerance shown by both parties.
Heresies were not domestic quarrels. Contemporaries viewed them as
involving a life and death struggle between believers and unbelievers.
Christianity can afford to be tolerant to-day. It has an assured
position. Its tenets are defined. Christians can almost always
distinguish at a glance errors that threaten the essentials of the
Faith from those that do not. In the fourth and fifth centuries the
case was otherwise. Christianity was then one among many conflicting
systems of religion. Its intellectual bases were as yet only
imperfectly thought out. Any doctrinal error seemed capable of
poisoning the whole body of belief. Heresy, so the orthodox held, was
of the devil. No charitable view of it was allowable. That
uncompromising attitude was, to a large extent, justified because many
articles of the heretical creeds were of purely pagan origin. Given
similar conditions to-day, our easy tolerance of opinion would
disappear. If Islam, for instance, were to-day a serious menace to the
Faith, Christians would automatically stiffen their attitude towards
monophysite doctrines. Toleration of the false Christology would,
under those circumstances, be treason to the true. The Church of the
fifth century was menaced from many sides. Monophysitism was the foe
at her gates. That heresy was not a variety of Christianity. It was a
semi-pagan theosophy, a product of Greek and oriental, as well as of
purely Christian speculation; therefore it was anathema to the orthodox.





Next: The Elemental Forms Of Christological Error Docetism And Ebionitism

Previous: Summary Of The Chapter



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