The term Monophysite refers to a ‘family’ of heresies which originated in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. and agree in confessing one nature, will, and energy, not two united but distinct natures, wills, and energies, in the one Person of Christ as the Church ever confessed from the beginning.
Probably, we need to explain the terms ‘nature’ and ‘person’. Briefly, ‘nature’ is what a thing is, its substance, its form, its powers, etc., whereas ‘person’ is who a thing is, the self-determining entity or personality in which nature resides, with its unique relationships to other things that make it identifiably distinct from all others (born of whom, married to whom, father of whom, etc.).
For example, we are all of the nature of Adam, but I, my person differs from ever other person on earth.
Within the concept of human nature we find our power of human rational thought, power of willing things within our power to do, the power of doing human things, including the ability to suffer, etc. Within the concept of person, we find the actual ‘driver’ determining how these natural powers proper to it will be put into operation, how the power of human thought, the power of human will, the power of human actions, will be utilized in a given scenario. An understanding of the distinction between nature and person is crucial to understanding the error of Monophysitism.
Monophysitism is a reaction to the earlier Nestorian heresy and is also the other side of that coin, so to speak. Both say that nature and person are one same thing. Therefore, they declared that one must either be a Monophysite or a Nestorian; that is, Christ must either be two associated, but separate persons with two natures (Nestorianism), or He must be one composite person with one new composite nature (Monophysitism), so that he has neither the nature of God the Father nor the nature of man, but a new nature with the mutually contradictory qualities of both - e.g., this one same nature both suffered and could not suffer, both died and was incapable of death so that the immortal Divinity suffered, was pierced, and died, or the Passion of Christ in the flesh was a ghost-like illusion as also the Resurrection would be. This latter heresy (Monophysitism), which thus denies the reality of our salvation, started two years before the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, whose 630 holy Orthodox bishops, abbots, and priests then condemned it to anathema along with all those who follow it. The Orthodox at Chalcedon confessed that the Word of God became incarnate or took flesh (i.e., human nature) and suffered in the flesh - that is, Christ suffered in His human nature, not in His Godhead, in that nature which He had united to His divine person and which with the divine nature of Christ is united in “a union without change, without confusion, without separation, without division” - “two natures in one person”.
Today, the Monophysite ‘family’ of sects call themselves by the following names (misappropriating the name ‘Orthodox’ which always meant ‘rightly-believing or rightly-glorifying’ Christians):
1. ‘Armenian Orthodox’ - Most Armenians followed Eutyches of Constantinople (5th c.) who originated the Monophysite heresy;
2. ‘Coptic Orthodox’ - Most Copts, who are a linguistic group in Egypt, followed Dioscorus of Alexandria (5th c.), who also supported Eutyches;
3. ‘Syrian Jacobite Orthodox’ - Some Syrians and other Arabs followed Severus of Antioch (6th c.), and then one of his successors named Jacob. Severus alienated himself from other Monophysites in stating that whether one says ‘one’ or ‘two natures’ is a matter indifferent, so long as you confess only one natural will and activity - which equals believing in ‘only one nature’ anyway;
4. ‘Malabarese Orthodox’ - an Indian offshoot of the Jacobite sect;
5. ‘Ethiopian Orthodox’ - some Ethiopians followed Dioscorus and the Copts.
These are the major branches of Monophysitism, although we might have missed a few small ones. Although there is an specific ethnic character to these titles, one should understand that not all Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians, etc., followed these heretical sects, but some remained part of the larger Orthodox Catholic or Right-believing Universal Church, a single international body which lacks a definite ethnic complexion, and they simply called themselves ‘Orthodox’, ‘Orthodox Catholic’ or ‘Eastern Orthodox’ (on account of the later apostasy of the Western Patriarch or Bishop of Rome in 1054 A.D. [see Roman Catholicism]).
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