Monophysite Doctrine

The distinctive doctrine of monophysitism, that from which the name of

the heresy is taken, is the assertion that there is but one nature, the

divine nature, in Christ. There existed some difference of opinion

among the monophysites as to whether any degree of reality might be

ascribed to the human nature. Some were prepared to allow it

conceptual reality; they would grant that Christ had been diphysite

momentarily, that He was "out of two natures." But that admission is

quite inadequate. It amounts to no more than the paltry concession

that Christ's human nature before the incarnation is conceivable as a

separate entity. All monophysites united in condemning the diphysite

doctrine that after the incarnation Christ was and is "in two natures."

Such a Christ they would not worship. It was "the image with two faces

that the Council of Chalcedon had set up."[1] They adopted the

Athanasian phrase, "One incarnate nature of God the Word," as their


Monophysitism can make out a strong prima facie case. It is

attractive at first sight. The heretical formula seems simpler and

more natural than the catholic. The unity of nature appears a

corollary of the unity of person. Human personality is ordinarily

assumed to be monophysite; so it is natural to make the same assumption

as to divine personality. The simplicity of the doctrine is, however,

all on the surface. It will not bear examination. As a definition of

Christian faith it is useless. It cannot account for the recorded

facts of Christ's life. The facts of His body, of His mind, of His

sufferings refuse to fit into it. It affords no foundation for belief

in His transcendent work. No intelligible doctrine of redemption can

be built upon it. It contains no germ of hope for mankind. Therefore

the Church in the name of Christ and on behalf of humanity rejected it.

Although the heresy has been officially condemned, it should none the

less be studied. It is improbable that any one in our time will defend

the formula, or openly profess the doctrines that follow from it. But,

though not recognised as such, it is an ever-present and instant menace

to the Faith. Monophysite tendencies are inherent in religious

thought. The metaphysical idea, on which it rests, still has a

powerful hold over the human mind. Spiritually-minded men are

especially liable to this form of error. It is a mistake to think that

Christological questions were settled once and for all in the fifth

century. Each generation has to settle them afresh. Accordingly, to

exhibit the consequences of the monophysite formula, to show how wrong

abstract ideas develop into wrong concrete ideas and falsify Christian

practice, is a task of practical and present-day importance.