The Origins Of Monophysitism

The monophysitism of the fifth century had its roots in the past as

well as in the a priori. In the previous chapter we treated it as a

phase of philosophic thought and reviewed the metaphysic on which the

heresy rests. In the present chapter its relations as a historical

system of religious thought are to be exhibited. As such, it owes much

to outside influences. Much in the monophysite mode of thought and

many of
its specific doctrines can be traced either to other

ecclesiastical heresies or to pagan philosophies. The fact of this

double derivation deserves to be emphasised. It refutes the charge of

inquisitorial bigotry, so frequently levelled against the theologians

of the early centuries. The non-Christian affinities of the heresy

account for the bitterness of the controversy to which it gave rise,

and, in large measure, excuse the intolerance shown by both parties.

Heresies were not domestic quarrels. Contemporaries viewed them as

involving a life and death struggle between believers and unbelievers.

Christianity can afford to be tolerant to-day. It has an assured

position. Its tenets are defined. Christians can almost always

distinguish at a glance errors that threaten the essentials of the

Faith from those that do not. In the fourth and fifth centuries the

case was otherwise. Christianity was then one among many conflicting

systems of religion. Its intellectual bases were as yet only

imperfectly thought out. Any doctrinal error seemed capable of

poisoning the whole body of belief. Heresy, so the orthodox held, was

of the devil. No charitable view of it was allowable. That

uncompromising attitude was, to a large extent, justified because many

articles of the heretical creeds were of purely pagan origin. Given

similar conditions to-day, our easy tolerance of opinion would

disappear. If Islam, for instance, were to-day a serious menace to the

Faith, Christians would automatically stiffen their attitude towards

monophysite doctrines. Toleration of the false Christology would,

under those circumstances, be treason to the true. The Church of the

fifth century was menaced from many sides. Monophysitism was the foe

at her gates. That heresy was not a variety of Christianity. It was a

semi-pagan theosophy, a product of Greek and oriental, as well as of

purely Christian speculation; therefore it was anathema to the orthodox.