Monophysitism And Non-christian Thought

We leave here the subject of the influence of other heresies on

monophysitism, and proceed to exhibit its affinities with non-Christian

thought. At Alexandria, the home of the heresy, two systems of

philosophy, the Aristotelian and the Neo-Platonist, were strongly

represented. Both of these philosophies exercised a profound influence

upon the origins and upon the later developments of monophysite

doctrine. We propose to take, first, the Aristotelian, and then the

Neo-Platonist philosophy, elucidating those leading ideas in each on

which the monophysite thinker would naturally fasten, as lending

intellectual support to his religious views.


Aristotle was held in high estimation by the monophysite leaders,

particularly in the sixth and seventh centuries. His works were

translated into Syriac in the Jacobite schools. The West owes much to

these translations. For it was largely by this agency that his

metaphysic reached the Arabs, who transmitted it to the West in the

Middle Ages.

The Aristotelian logic was widely known among the monophysites. It

seems to have formed part of their educational curriculum. Taken apart

from the rest of the system, the logic produces a type of mind that

revels in subtle argumentation. It exalts the form of thought at the

expense of the matter. It had this effect on the monophysite

theologians. They were trained dialecticians. They were noted for

their controversial powers, for their constant appeal to definition,

for the mechanical precision of their arguments. These mental

qualities, excellent in themselves, do not conduce to sound theology.

Formal logic effects clarity of thought often at the expense of depth.

It treats thoughts as things. Procedure, that is proper in the sphere

of logic, is out of place in psychology and theology. Concepts such as

person and nature must be kept fluid, if they are not to mislead. If

they are made into hard and fast ideas, into sharply defined

abstractions, they will be taken to represent discrete psychic

entities, external to one another as numbers are. The elusive, Protean

character of the inter-penetrating realities behind them will be lost

to view. The most signal defect of monophysite method is its

unquestioning submission to the Aristotelian law of contradiction. The

intellectual training that makes men acute logicians disqualifies them

for dealing with the living subject. The monophysite Christologians

were subtle dialecticians, but the psychology of Christ's being lay

outside their competence.

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