Christ's Body

It is obvious to an unprejudiced reader of the gospels that Christ's

pre-resurrection body was real and normal. It was an organism of flesh

and blood, of the same constitution and structure as ours. It occupied

space, and was ordinarily subject to the laws of space. It was visible

and tangible. It shared the natural processes of birth, growth, and

metabolism. At the resurrection a catastrophic change took place in

it. It was still a body. It was still Christ's body. Continuity was

preserved. The evidences of continuity were external, and so strong as

to convince doubters. We cannot fathom either the change or the

continuity. What we know is that after the resurrection the body was

not so subject as before to the laws of space. It was, it would seem,

of finer atoms and subtler texture. It had reached the height of

physical being, and development apparently had ceased. It was the

entelechy of the human body. It was still real, though no longer

normal. To employ paradox, it was natural of the species

"supernatural." It was the natural body raised to a higher power. It

was natural to human denizens of a higher world. Body's function is

two-fold. It both limits the soul and expresses it. It narrows the

activity of the person to a point, and thus serves as a fine instrument

for action upon matter. At the same time it draws out the

potentialities of the soul and fixes its development. The

post-resurrection body was apparently less limitative and more


The foregoing considerations may be summed up in the form of three

dogmata, all of which orthodox Christianity teaches. These are, first,

that Christ's pre-resurrection body was real and natural; second, that

His resurrected and ascended body is real and supernatural; third, that

there was a real continuity, whether by development or by epigenesis

between the two. In all these points the monophysites missed the

truth. Their presuppositions misled them. As monists they were

inclined to regard matter as sinful. They could not conceive the

infinite donning a soiled robe. "Our body with its hateful wants"

could not, they thought, be a tabernacle for the Logos. The idea of

the native dignity of the human frame and of its being ennobled by the

King's indwelling was completely foreign to the monophysites' ways of


Since such was the background of their thought it was inevitable that

definitely heretical doctrines should result. In the first place we

meet the flat denial of the reality of Christ's body. Even in

apostolic days those who held this heresy were found. They denied that

Christ had come in the flesh. They were styled docetists or

phantasiasts. According to them the body had no objective reality. It

was a phantom. Its reality was entirely subjective. It was the effect

produced on the perceptions of those who associated with the mysterious

spirit-being. The Logos, as viewed by the phantasiasts, at the

incarnation struck His being into the bounds of time, but not of space.

Divine personality, they thought, did not require and could not use a

material medium. This doctrine was not part of the official

monophysite creed; but, as pointed out in the previous chapter,

monophysitism was a lineal descendant of docetism, and always showed

traces of its lineage. The saying that, "Christ brought His body from

heaven," was commonly attributed to Eutyches. He denied having said

it, but, at any rate, the general feeling of his followers was that

Christ's physical nature was divine and therefore not consubstantial

with ours.

Such doctrines destroy the discipline of faith in the resurrection.

The radical difference between the natural and the resurrection body is

blurred by them. The immense change is abolished. The resurrection

becomes purely a spiritual change, which even a non-Christian could

accept. The body, according to the tenor of monophysite teaching, was

spirit before the resurrection and spirit after it. Thus the ascension

too becomes purely spiritual. It is shorn of half its significance.

The Christian's hope for the human body rests on the fact that Christ

returned to heaven with something that He did not bring from heaven,

namely, a glorified human body. If He brought that body with Him from

heaven, the main significance of His human dispensation falls to the

ground. The incarnation becomes unreal, illusory, impotent.

An offshoot of docetism that flourished among the monophysites is the

aphthartodocetic heresy. This is of considerable historical

importance. Large numbers of the Syrian and Egyptian monophysites

embraced it, and seceded from the parent church. It became part of the

official creed of Armenian Christianity, and that church has not

repudiated it to this day. There are good, though hardly conclusive,

grounds for holding that the emperor Justinian, profound theologian and

life-long champion of orthodoxy, was converted to the heretical theory

in the last few months of his life.[4] Aphthartodocetism, affirming

the reality of Christ's body, denies that it was subject to the wear

and tear of life. The body, as this heresy taught, was superior to

natural process; it was neither corrupted nor corruptible. The term

"corruptibility" has the wide significance of organic process, that is

the lot of all created living things. A milder form of the heresy

asserted that Christ's body was corruptible but was not corrupted.

Aphthartodocetism springs from a spurious spirituality, from a

fastidiousness that has no place in true religion. It is symptomatic

of Manicheanism, which associates matter with sin. Christians affirm

sinlessness of Christ's humanity; they do not affirm immateriality of

His body. The monophysites, in abandoning the true Christology, were

predisposed to the infection of this heresy. A being in whom organic

process was present seemed to these heretics no fit object of worship.

They called the orthodox Ctistolatrae or Phthartolatrae, worshippers of

the created or corruptible.

Monophysites of all shades of opinion united in condemning the practice

of worshipping Christ's human nature. That practice was in their eyes

both idle and injurious; idle, because the human nature did not exist

as a separate entity; injurious, because it fixed the mind of the

worshipper on the finite. In consequence they were much opposed to all

observances based on a belief in His humanity. Images or other

representations of Him in human form seemed to them idolatrous. The

monophysite church was not directly concerned in the iconoclastic

controversy, but their doctrines were indirectly responsible for it.

In fact the great monophysites, Severus and Philoxenus, have been

styled "the fathers of the iconoclasts."