The Metaphysical Basis Of Monophysitism

Monophysitism was a Christological heresy of the fifth century. It was

condemned by the church in the middle of that century at the council of

Chalcedon. Surviving its condemnation it flourished in the East for

several centuries. Its adherents formed themselves into a powerful

church with orders and succession of their own. Although the

monophysite church has long since lost all influence, it is still in

being. Th
Coptic and Jacobite churches of Egypt and Mesopotamia,

respectively, preserve to this day the doctrines and traditions of the

primitive monophysites.

The history of the sect, however, does not concern us here. The

writer's purpose is to review its doctrine. Monophysitism is a system

of religious thought, and, as such, its importance is out of all

proportion to the present or even the past position of the churches

that professed it. Its significance lies in its universality. It is

grounded in the nature of the human mind. It is found in West as well

as East, to-day as well as in the early centuries of our era. Wherever

men bring intellect to bear on the problem of Christ's being, the

tendency to regard Him as monophysite is present.

An examination of the heresy is of practical value. Our subject-matter

is not an oriental antique or a curiosity of the intellect, but a

present-day problem of vital moment to the Faith. If we are concerned

with a half-forgotten heresy, it is because a study of that heresy

serves both as a preventive against error and as an introduction to the

truth. The doctor studies disease to ascertain the conditions of

health; pathological cases are often his surest guide to the normal;

just so the study of heresy is the best guide to orthodox Christology.

It was in conflict with monophysitism that the church of the fifth

century brought to completion her dogmatic utterances about Christ; and

the individual thinker to-day can gain the surest grasp of true

Christology by examining the monophysite perversion.

With this practical purpose in view, we now proceed to an analysis of

the heresy. Monophysitism is a body of doctrine. It is a dogmatic

system, in which the individual dogmata are controlled by a principle

or dominant idea. As all the particular doctrines of monophysitism

depend on this principle, and, as it is not properly a theological

concept, but one borrowed from philosophy, we may call it "the

metaphysical basis of monophysitism." An intelligent grasp of this

basic principle is necessary to an appreciation of the whole system.

Accordingly, our first concern is to ascertain and exhibit this

metaphysical basis. In subsequent chapters we shall analyse in detail

the doctrines specifically monophysite and trace the Christological

errors back to their source in metaphysic.