The Monophysite Theory Of A Composition Of Natures

For the consistent monophysites, then, the human nature, as a psychic

entity with peculiar properties, did not survive the incarnation. They

did, however, allow it a verbal reality. They admitted a composition

of natures, and this composition provided for them whatever degree of

reality the incarnation possessed. On this point their Christology

passed through several stages of development, the later stages showing

ogressive improvement on the earlier. They distinguished three

senses of the word "composition." First, they said, it might mean

"absorption," as when a drop of water is absorbed in a jar of wine.

Second, it might imply the transmutation of constituent particles, as

when a third unlike thing is formed from two. Thirdly, there is

composition when, from the association of two whole and entire things,

a third whole and entire compound thing is formed without loss to the

components. They illustrated the third mode of composition by the

union in man of soul and body. The pre-Eutychian monophysites regarded

the hypostatic union as a composition in the first sense of the word.

They spoke of Christ's human nature as absorbed in the divine, as is "a

drop of vinegar in the ocean." Eutyches adopted the term in its second

sense. He taught that the Word became flesh[3] "as the atmosphere

assumes bodily form and becomes rain or snow under the influence of the

wind, and as water becomes ice by reason of the cold air." Philoxenus

in a later generation saw that both these positions were wrong and the

similes misleading. He taught a hypostatic union totally devoid of

confusion or loss or commutation of the elements of the two natures.

To illustrate his meaning he used the simile supplied by the

"Athanasian" creed, "as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so

God and Man is one Christ." This position is a vast improvement on

that of the original monophysites. It was ground gained to secure the

admission that in any sense Christ was very man. But the monophysites

never learned the true manner of the union, namely, that Christ was

"one; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the

Manhood into God; one altogether; not by confusion of Substance but by

unity of Person."

Read in this connection the assertion that God and man is one Christ,

"as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man," is orthodox; read apart

from this context, it is ambiguous. If the simile be kept as a simile,

as a mere suggestion or hint as to how, in general, two may compose one

and yet remain two, then no exception can be taken to it. If, however,

the clause be interpreted as a proportion sum, assigning corresponding

values to the different terms, then it savours strongly of

Apollinarianism. Most monophysites, like many moderns, probably

understood it in the mathematical sense. Christ, they argued, was God

and man, just as man is rational soul and body; the terms are in

proportion; therefore the divine nature was the rational soul, and the

human nature was the body. They forgot that the free act of the whole

divine person in assuming man underlies the union and makes it

efficacious; they gave sarx; the narrow meaning of soma, they set

before themselves the picture, not of the infinite robing in the

finite, but of the union of mind and matter. Consequently they

habitually spoke of the Logos, as assuming, not man or a human nature,

but a body.

Such in its varying phases was the monophysite doctrine of composition.

At its worst, it contained a direct denial of the real humanity of

Christ. At its best, it falls far short of the catholic doctrine of

His real, perfect and complete humanity. The permanent assumption of

human nature into the transcendent personality had no meaning for the

heretic party. If it had taken place, it was, they thought, merely

momentary, with no after-effects, the passing of a summer cloud across

the face of the sun.

We have considered the monophysites' view of Christ's human nature,

regarded as an integral psychic entity. It is evident that they either

undervalued it or denied its existence. The more consistent thinkers

of their party maintained that the incarnation had made no difference

in the being of Christ, and that therefore His human nature had no

objective reality. Those who shrank from carrying the doctrine to that

length conceded to the orthodox that the incarnation had to some extent

modified the being of Christ, that its net result was a composition.

Further analysis showed that this concession was rendered nugatory;

that in whatever sense the word "composition" was taken, it was

inadequate to express the hypostatic union; that the composition proved

in its first significance illusory, in its second, hybridous, in its

third, Apollinarianist. We pass on now to review the human nature in

its constituent parts, and it will be seen that the heretical formula

undermines faith in respect of each several part.