Classification Of Monophysite Errors

Two classes of erroneous beliefs result from a misconception of the

relation between God and man in Christ. There arise, on the one hand,

false opinions about the deity of Christ, and on the other, false

opinions as to His manhood. We shall adopt this classification as we

investigate the doctrinal consequences of the monophysite formula. It

is the method followed in one of the earliest systematic criticisms of

the h
resy. Leo's Tome, or letter to Flavian, contains a lucid

statement of the catholic doctrine of the incarnation, and an acute

analysis of the system of Eutyches, the heresiarch. He summarises the

errors of Eutyches under two heads; there are two main counts in his

indictment of the heresy. Eutyches, he contends, makes Jesus Christ

"deus passibilis et homo falsus." Eutyches and his followers

compromised both deity and humanity. The deity becomes passible, the

humanity unreal. All the monophysite misbeliefs can be classified

under one or other of these two heads.


We shall take first those errors that compromise the nature of the

deity, and shall preface our analysis by an explanation of the meaning

of the term "deus impassibilis." The impassibility of God is the

corner-stone of spiritual monotheism. Christianity owes it, as a

philosophic doctrine, largely to Aristotle. He conceived deity as

"actus purus," as the One who moves without being moved, a "causa sui."

The popular gods of Greece were passible; they were possible objects of

sense; they were acted on largely as man is acted on. They had a

beginning, and were subject to many of the processes of time. They

were swayed by human motives. They were, at times, angry, afraid,

unsatisfied, ambitious, jealous. Aristotle gave to the world the

conception of a transcendent God, a being who is real and yet is

"without body, parts and passions," who cannot receive idolatrous

worship, and is not an object of sense. Impassibility was one of the

highest attributes of this being. The attribute does not involve or

imply absence of feeling. Originally it had no reference to feeling,

in the psychological sense of that word. It certainly excludes

incidentally the lower, specifically human feelings, feelings caused by

external stimuli, feelings due to want or to lack of power. It does

not exclude the higher affections from the deity. Even in the noesis

noeseos of Aristotle, there is room for the transcendent bliss of

divine self-contemplation. Much more in the Christian God is there

room for spontaneous feeling, springing from His own nature, the

necessary concomitant of thought and will. Impassibility is a

comprehensive attribute. Originally negative, it soon acquired a rich

positive connotation. An impassible God is one who is outside space

and time. The attribute connotes creative power, eternity, infinity,

permanence. A passible God is corruptible, i.e. susceptible to the

processes of becoming, change, and decay. If to-day theists have to be

on their guard against debased conceptions of deity, in the plausible

garb of an "invisible king," of a finite or suffering God, much more

was such caution necessary in the early centuries of the Christian era.

Christians who came daily and hourly into contact with polytheistic

beliefs and practices had to be very jealous for the concept of

impassibility. It represented to them all that was distinctive in the

highest region of their Faith.

Monophysitism, as we proceed to show, compromised this article of the

Faith. Its adherents did not, perhaps, do so intentionally. In fact,

the first generation of monophysites maintained that their definition

safeguarded the impassibility. It was zeal for the honour of the Son

of God that induced them to deny Him all contact with humanity. Their

good intentions, however, could not permanently counteract the evil

inherent in their system. In later generations the evil came to the

surface. Theopaschitism, the doctrine that openly denies the

impassibility of the godhead, flourished in the monophysite churches.