What is Monophysitism?

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Monophysitism, or Eutychianism, claimed that in the person of Jesus Christ there was only one, divine nature rather than two natures, divine and human, as declared at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The origin of Monophysitism

Monophysitism arose a reaction to the Nestorius belief that accepted the true deity and true humanity of Christ, but rejected their union. The Nestorian Christ is really two persons having a moral union but not affected by the other. The Nestorian believes that there is God and there is a human; but there is no God-human.

Eutyches, the leading advocate of Monophysitism, opposed that the original human nature of Jesus was transformed into the divine nature at the incarnation. As a result the human Jesus and divine Christ became one person and one nature. He proclaimed the unity of self-consciousness but so fused the two natures that they lost their separate identities.

The Council of Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon Convened in 451 to debate Nestorianism and Monophysitism beliefs, and ruled against both. And in return Nestorius and Eutyches rejected the decree of the council and instituted independent groups within Christianity.

The Council of Chalcedon confirmed the perfect divinity and the perfect humanity of Christ, pronouncing Him to be of one substance with the Father as to His divine nature and of one substance with us as to His human nature, except for iniquity. The individuality of each nature was conserved and the two were acknowledged to be separate, absolute, united, and inseparable.

Divinity, not humanity, was seen as the foundation of Christ’s personality. Because the one person is a combination of two natures, the suffering of the God-man was truly endless.

The Chalcedon Symbol

What later came to be identified as the Chalcedon Symbol reads in part as follows:

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [of one substance] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to the acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence” (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2, p. 62).

The emperor Justinian ends the controversy

The outcome of the Council of Chalcedon was to preserve and intensify the division about the nature of Christ in the East. Finally the emperor Justinian, persuaded that the safety of the empire required a settlement of this problem, permanently closed the schools at Antioch and Alexandria, the two hubs of controversy.

The second Council of Constantinople

At a second Council of Constantinople, in 553, the church decided on the ending of Monophysitism, which went into permanent division and continues to this day in Christian sects such as the Jacobites, the Copts, and the Abyssinians.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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