Monophysites and Diophysites


These words sound like something out of a physics textbook. In fact they describe two ways of thinking and speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ regarding the union and distinction between the divine Logos and his humanity.

Historically the Christian Church was divided by the Council of Chalcedon. Both sides agreed, and still do, that Christ is one person in which perfect divinity and perfect humanity are perfectly united. The difference lay in the terminology used by Chalcedon to describe this union. The monophysite (one nature) churches could not agree to the wording, so they withheld their consent. They were the African Churches of Egypt and Ethiopia, the Syrians, Armenians and the Indians. The diophysite (two natures) churches were the Western and Orthodox churches, and since then, the Protestant churches.

It may sound like a stupid argument about words, not substance, but there is a real and valid point to the Monophysite objection.

They argue that St. Cyril has taught us that since the incarnation it is wrong to speak of Christ as if he is two, and not one. For example, it is wrong to say that he is God and man, since that is to speak of two entities. Rather we should speak of the incarnate God, since that is to speak of a single entity, a single person.

They use the example of burning iron. One does not speak of it as fire and iron, but as one thing. To do otherwise is unnatural. Man is a perfect union of body and soul, yet we do not speak of man as body distinct from soul. When you have indigestion you do not say, “My body is feeling discomfort but my soul is not”. That is an absurd mode of speech.

There is a far more serious reason not to speak of the incarnate God in this way. Nestorianism teaches that Christ’s deity and his humanity are so distinct that they are in effect two persons. There is a divine person and a human person, but the union is hardly a union at all. The argument is that when Chalcedon speaks of Christ in these dualistic terms, even though they formally affirm the perfect union, they are thinking in a way that has very strong Nestorian tendencies, a way that is unnatural, and a way of thinking about the two natures that is heretical, because it is so much like Nestorianism.

If we are to speak of the Hypostatic Union even the language employed must avoid Nestorian-like modes of speech and categories of thought.

To be continued …


5 thoughts on “Monophysites and Diophysites

  1. Isaiah 22
    20 ‘ Then it shall be in that day,
    That I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah;
    21 I will clothe him with your robe
    And strengthen him with your belt;
    I will commit your responsibility into his hand.
    He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
    And to the house of Judah.
    22 The key of the house of David
    I will lay on his shoulder;
    So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
    And he shall shut, and no one shall open.
    23 I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place,
    And he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house.

    Matthew 16
    17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed[d] in heaven.”

    Nothing wrong with having a Father of the Church. But the father is to be a father not a dictator. He represents the Fatherhood of God on earth who fathers God’s household. Nor is that earthly Father infallible.

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