The Ethos Of Monophysitism

Monophysitism originated in a monastery. Eutyches, "the father of the

monophysites," was a monk. The monastic temperament is peculiarly

susceptible to this heresy, and the monastic element has always been

dominant in the monophysite churches. The cloister is the natural

habitat of the doctrine of the one nature. Monasticism is applied

monism. If the world's existence be a sham, if its value compared with

God be ne
ligible, it becomes a religious duty to avoid all influences

that heighten the illusion of the world's real existence and intrinsic

value. The monist, like the monk, must renounce all secular interests

and "go out of the world." The path of renunciation had an additional

claim on the Christological monist. In his universal ideal, as

manifested in time, the human elements were sublimated into the divine.

Consequently his ideal of conduct imposed a negative attitude towards

the world and a merging of his ego in the universal spirit. These are

the ruling elements in the spirit of the cloister, and these are the

characteristics of the monophysite ethos.

Those men, to whom God is the sum of all reality and the world merely a

cosmic shadow, regard worship as the sole worthy activity of the human

spirit. In worship union with God is sought, a union so close that the

personality of the worshipper is absorbed into the being of the

worshipped. His experience of God is so intimate that his experience

of the world is reduced to insignificance. As an overpowering human

love welds two beings into one, and identifies their thoughts, wills,

springs of action and even feelings, so the amor dei identifies man

with God and makes possible a deification of humanity. Deeply

religious natures in all ages have heard this mystic call. To lose

their ego in the divine spirit is the height of their religious

ambition. The conception is lofty, but it is not the Christian ideal

of life and duty.

Mysticism and monophysitism are twin systems. Both are religious

phases of pantheism. As, to the intellect, acosmism is the corollary

of pantheism, so, to the heart, asceticism follows from mysticism.

Whether conceived in terms of existence or of value, the world for the

mystic is an obstacle to the unio mystica. It snares the mind

through the senses and creates a fictitious -appearance of solid

reality in sensuous objects. It makes pretensions to goodness and

attaches to itself a spurious value. The only remedy is self-denial,

denial of existence to the world, denial of credence to the senses,

denial of gratification to the passions, desires, and inclinations.

The monophysites were mystics. They were the rigorists of the eastern

church. They formed the "no compromise" party. They stood for a

thorough-going renunciation of the world and the flesh. Though they

did not officially lay down the inherent evil of matter, Manicheanism

is latent in their system. They did not explicitly identify matter

with the spirit of evil, but they had the spiritual man's suspicion of

matter and his contempt for the body of the flesh. Abstinence,

mortification of the flesh, and all ascetic practices flourished in

their communion. Art and culture were suspect; they had no eye for

natural beauty. Some of their hymn-writers possessed considerable

poetic taste; but poetry was discouraged by their leaders. Several of

the extant letters of Severus of Antioch show that that patriarch did

his best to banish that art from his church. His attitude may be

gathered from the following quotation.[1] "As to Martyrius, the poet,

... I wish you to know that he is a trouble to me and a nuisance.

Indeed in the case of the others also who follow the same profession,

and were enrolled in the holy clergy of the Church that is with us, I

have debarred them from practising such poetry; and I am taking much

trouble to sever this theatrical pursuit from ecclesiastical gravity

and modesty, a pursuit that is the mother of laxity and is also capable

of causing youthful souls to relax and casting them into the mire of

fornication, and carrying them to bestial passions." The result of

this asceticism was a jaundiced and inhuman outlook on life. There was

much piety among the monophysites, but it was confined to a narrow

channel. Their zeal for purity of doctrine amounted to fanaticism;

their hatred of the Nestorian and of the Melchite at times reached a

white heat. Toleration was almost unknown in their communion.

The claims of humanity appeal less to a monophysite than to other

Christians. He places all life's values in the other world. He has no

motive for trying to ameliorate the lot of his fellow-men. Social

service has to him little or no divine sanction or religious value. We

are speaking only of general tendencies. No follower of Christ,

however perverted his views, could be totally indifferent to the

welfare of other men; but it came natural to the monophysite to think

that it does not matter much how a man lives in this world of shadows,

provided he holds communion with the world of unseen realities. The

same motive accounts for the rapid decline of missionary activity in

their communion. The Nestorians were far more active propagandists.

Worship is a very high type of service; but worship becomes selfish and

sickens into sentiment, if it neglects the inspiring tonic of contact

with human need. The monophysite Christology encouraged that form of

self-sacrifice, whose goal is Nirvana, which lapses lazily into the

cosmic soul and loses itself there in contemplation and ecstasy. It

supplies no motive for that finer piety which manifests itself in

ethical endeavour and practical philanthropy. His Christ had not

partaken of the cup of suffering. His Christ's advance to human

perfection was illusory. So the monophysite could not look for the

sympathy of Christ in his own struggles, nor could he appeal to

Christ's example in respect of works of human charity. Monophysitism

considers only the religious nature of man, and takes no account of his

other needs. We must therefore characterise the system as unsocial,

unlovely, unsympathetic.

The uncompromising attitude of the individual monophysites was

reflected in their ecclesiastical polity. We cannot but admire their

sturdy independence. The monophysite church stood for freedom from

state control. Her principles were the traditional principles of the

Alexandrian see. Alexandria would not truckle to Constantinople, nor

let religion subserve imperial policy. She would allow the catholic

party to be Melchites (King's men) and to reap all the temporal

advantages accruing to the established church. In this matter the

monophysites took a narrow view; but their narrowness evinces their

piety. They felt the evils attendant on Constantine's grand

settlement, and they made their ill-judged protest. They made it for

no unworthy motive. There are always such thinkers in the church. A

spiritual enthusiast despises the outward dignity that the church gains

from an alliance with the State, and is often blind to the spiritual

benefits conferred on the nation by that alliance, while he

concentrates his gaze on incidental evils. To connect with Christology

such an attitude towards the principle of Establishment may seem forced

at first sight. The connection, however, exists. Independence of the

temporal power is symptomatic with that unworldliness which, as we have

shown above, characterises monophysitism. Its adherents paid no

respect to the human as such. They attached no value to merely human

institutions, and made no attempt to see or foster the divine that is

in them. The argument that because the State is a human institution it

should have no voice in ecclesiastical policy is typically monophysite;

it is the argument of one who could draw no inspiration from the human

life of the Son of God.

Mysticism and rationalism have much in common. They both are elements

in the mental composition of almost every serious thinker. The

sterility of logic often drives him to seek a higher and surer

instrument of knowledge. So there is no inconsistency in further

characterising the monophysites as rationalists. The intellectuals of

the eastern church were found mostly in their communion. Theirs was

the formal logic point of view. Christ, they urged, was one and not

two; therefore His nature was one and not two. They could not see that

He was both. In Bergsonian language, they used exclusively mechanical

categories. Intelligence, an instrument formed by contact with matter,

destined for action upon matter, they used on a supra-material subject.

Their thinkers were highly trained logicians; they revelled in abstract

argument; theirs was a cold intellectual metaphysic, unwarmed by flesh

and blood empiricism.

Their narrow outlook on life, their religious zeal and their

rationalist philosophy combined to produce in them sectarianism of an

extreme type. Party spirit ran high among them. They fought the

catholics; they fought the Nestorians; they fought one another. The

list of schisms that occurred in their communion is of amazing length.

The letters of Severus of Antioch make sad reading. They show us that

the patriarch had constantly to interfere in cases of disputed

succession to bishoprics. At almost every vacancy in the provincial

dioceses there were parties formed each with their own nominee, ready

to schismatise if they could not secure recognition and consecration

for him. It is evident that monophysitism does not foster the

generous, tolerant, humane virtues of Christianity. It is the creed of

monks, mystics, and intellectualists.