Course:Carey HIST501/Project 1/Monophysitism

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Central Belief of Monophysitism

Monophysitism means “one nature” and is the Christological belief that Jesus has one essential nature. The exact enmeshing may take on varying intricacies as can be seen in the monophysitism of Eutychianism but the idea of a unified nature is at its core. In the case of Eutyches, it holds that the two natures (the divine and the human) are so enmeshed and the human so dwarfed by the divine, that the latter altogether absorbed the former “as a drop of honey, which falls into the sea, dissolves in it.”[1]

This conclusion for those who adhere to it can be considered a result of the theology of the Alexandrian church as it worked out the meaning of the word-flesh in relation to the Nicene declaration that Christ be of the same substance as God the Father [2].

Timeframe of Monophysitism

The earliest indication of Monophysitism occured with Apollinaris in the mid 4th Century[1] and continues today in the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthadox, Coptic and Jacobite churches. Key moments inbetween include The Robber council (Ephesus 2) of 449 CE, The council at Chalcedon 451 CE, The Acacian Schism 484 CE - 519 CE, The reign of Justinian up until the death of his wife Theodora (527 CE- 548 CE), particularily reinstallment of Chalcedonian Patriarchs in Alexandria (532 CE) and the missions of Julian and Jacob Badai (542-578 CE).[2]

Key People in Monophysitism

Cyril Of Alexandria- Though its unknown when Cyril was born, by the time of his death in 444CE he was known as a bishop, theologian, doctor of the church, heretic and early supporter of monophysitism.[3]

"Icon: St. Cyril of Alexandria" by bobosh_t is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

During his time as Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril was outspokenly against the teachings of Nestorius, of Antioch. Nestorius put forth a Christology which distinguished the divine and human natures of Christ, emphasizing that Mary could not have borne the divine, but only the human. This teaching inadvertently depicted Christ as two persons, though this is not what Nestorius intended.[1] Cyril’s own Christology centered on the unity/unification of Christ, that in the incarnation the two natures are so intimate as to be inseparable, the very kernel of Monphysitism.

Apart from taking issue with Nestorius’ teaching, it is understood Cyril may have had other issues with the Antioch Patriarch who was said to be sympathetic to dissenting clergy of Cyril’s. Cyril outspokenly criticized and slandered Nestorius in Rome where he found a friend in Pope Celestine who took issue with Nestorius’ acceptance of those whom he had exiled. As a result, Cyril was successful in getting Nestorius deposed at the General Council of Ephesus in 431 with the support of Rome and emperor Theodosius2 but at the condemnation of  the Syrians and their patriarch John.[2]

His prolific writing would continue to inspire and direct those faithful to a monophysite Christology throughout its growth and maturation.

Eutyches- (B: circa 375CE D: 454 CE) Eutyches was the leader of a monastery near Constantinople who followed in the Christological footsteps of Cyril of Alexandria in espousing a one-nature view (see Eutychianism). Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, brought Eutyches before a synod and asked him to recant his monophystic beliefs, which he refused to do and for which he was condemned. He found sympathy however from fellow follower of Cyril and patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus. This was (for a short time) a powerful ally for Eutyches as Dioscorus was able to get the emperor Theodius to agree to a second council in Ephesus in 449 where, under the leadership of Dioscorus and against the sentiment of the other patriarchs, Eutyches was rehabilitated. This affair was declared the “Robber” council by Pope Leo 1 who was able to get yet another council (Council of Chalcedon) called in 451 where Eutyches would be again condemned and exiled as a heretic along with Dioscorus.[4][2][1]

Severus of Antioch- (B: circa 465CE D: 538CE) After being educated in Antioch, Severus was baptized in 488 CE and soon after became an ascetic at a monophystic monastery first in Palestine, then Gaza. While firmly a monophysite, Severus is considered a moderate and while he followed the teachings of Cyril, he was against the enmeshed monophysitism of Eutyches[5]. Severus’ own monophystic view holds “There is but one sole complete being, one sole hypostasis composed of two natures" [6].

Severus was elected Patriarch of Antioch in 512CE, during the Acacian Schism and thus gave monophysitism a position of power until he was forced to flee in 518 under the reign of emperor Justin. Severus fled to Alexandria and while there in 529-530CE assisted in the formation of clerical hierarchies to administer sacrements to the monophysites there and give strength to its survival as its own church[2].

During the reign of Emperor Justinian1(non monophysite) Severus was supported the Empress Theodora who was herself a monophysite. Severus returned to Constantinople in 535 invited by the ruling couple Justinian and Theodora only to be exiled again in 536, first by Synod in June, then by edict of the emperor in August. He returned to Alexandria where he would die in 538CE.[5]

Due to his prolific teaching and his work for the monophysite church in Alexandria during his first exile, Severus is considered a father of Monophysitism.

Justinian1- (r. 527-565 CE) Justinian was born into a relatively humble farming family in Tauresium, but was taken to Constantinople under the care of his childless uncle Justin who had gained notoriety as a prominent military official there. This allowed Justinian to gain a good education and he too eventually served with the military. In 518, his uncle Justin became emperor after the death of the reigning one. During this time Justinian was called upon frequently as an advisor and became so key that he was formally adopted by his uncle and named as his primary successor. When Emperor Justin died Aug.1 527 CE, Justinian took his place and when coronated, insisted his wife Theodora be coronated equal in her co-ruling role as Empress. Justinian is credited with replacing the complicated roman law system with an updated legal code still the framework of that used today. Also Consequential to their reign was the Nika Riot which nearly destroyed the city but through their ultimate success in halting it lead to both the emperor’s solidification as leader and his credit with the building of several churches.[7][8]

Justinian was himself an orthodox (non-monophysite) Christian emperor who attempted and ultimately failed to bring unification between the opposing sides through a conference in 532 CE aimed at by agreement upon a Christological statement of doctrine based on the Theopaschite theological interpretation stating "one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh and was God.” The failure came about by the monophysite’s refusal to approve the canonical status of Chalcedon, which Justinian wanted.[2] In actuality thanks greatly to his monophysite wife Empress Theodora, Monophysitism grew and solidified itself under his reign. It is said that upon her death the Empress went so far to ask her husband to continue to protect a group of Monophysites she had given sanctuary to in the palace, and he obliged.

"Detail of mosaic showing Empress Theodora and attendants, completed in 547; Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna (4)" by Prof. Mortel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Theodora- (B: 497CE D:548CE) Born the daughter of an actress and bear-keeper, Theodora followed in her mothers line of work as an actress of the hippodrome before a short stint in North Africa as a mistress of a civil servant. It is suggested that after the dissolution of this relationship, Theodora made her way back home to Constantinople via Alexandria where she converted to Christianity.  After returning home in 525CE, she married the then senator Justinian1 who she would then be coronated alongside on the first of april 527 CE, Justinian becoming Emperor and Theodora assuming the role of Empress of the byzantine Empire.[9]

Theodora engaged her role as empress actively, assisting in the decision making of the empire in its golden age and while it is suggested her and her Emperor husband shared many outlooks, religion was not one of them. Unlike Justinian1, Theodora was a Monophysite and in this conviction she used her position to protect monophysite (heretical) monks and church leaders. During her reign, she can be lauded for the (non-monophysite) Emporer inviting Severus, a monophysite sympathizer and Antioch Patriarch to the Constantinople palace and for the election (albeit brief stay) of the monophysites Theodosius as Patriarch of Alexandria and Anthimus, bishop of Trebizend in Constantinople.

In addition, Theodora is credited with funding the mission of a presbyter named Julian who is said to have converted the Royal Court of Nubia to monophysite Christianity, and her close friendship with evangelist Jacob Baradeius had an impact on his own successful missions and the development of Jacobite Christianity in Syria.(Diehl) It was during and due to her actions in her time as Empress that the Monophysite Church gained an unretractable footing and spread abroad. Theodora died 28 June 548 between the ages of 48-51 likely due to cancer, and was later venerated to Sainthood in the Orthodox Church.[2][10][9]

Context of Monophysitism's Beginning- Apollinaris to Chalcedon

Monophysitism has its origins as far back as the years surrounding the 2nd Council of the church in 381CE which silenced Apollinaris’ single-nature Christology wherein the Word (divine) in Jesus displaced his rational (human) self. From here, Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople raises his two-nature view which is then repudiated by Cyril at the 1st council of Ephesus. Eutyches who leads a monastery near Constantinople defends the monophysite stance for which he is removed for his refusal to recant at a Synod by the Constantinople bishop Flavian.[1]

However, Eutyches had sympathy from the Patriarch of Alexandria Doiscorus who was a follower of Cyril, and he wielded his power to vindicate and reinstate Eutyches at the second council of Ephesus in 449CE against the sentiments of the attending bishops. This 2nd Council at Ephesus is referred to as “The Robber Council” because of this. [2][1]

The vindication was short-lived as it was reversed at the council of Chalcedon in 451, ending with both Eutyches and Dioscorus being condemned and exiled. This further lead to the refinement of the creed of Nicea, adding the Christological stance:

…We all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man…one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ…[11]

"Coptic church in the Mar Girgis quarter of Cairo" by amerune is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Monophysitism's Flourishing and Solidification- Post-Chalcedon to Jacob Bardai

The Council of Chalcedon was not the end of disagreement between adherents to the Orthodox view set in place at Chalcedon and adherents of Monophysitism but is in fact where we begin to see a firm gap grow between the two. Up until around 484CE, The Church of Alexandria was split between a monophysitist majority and a non-

monophysitist minority. This is evidenced in the rise, fall and circumstances surrounding new bishops within these years.[2] Following this arose the Acacian Schism, a break in communion between Roman and Constantinople which lasted until 519. This occurred after Emperor Zeno sought to increase unity between adherents of the two Christologies through a letter called the  henotikon which reaffirmed Nicea, Constantinople and the 1st council at Ephesus, their condemnation of Cyril, Eutyches and Nestorius, while sidestepping the council of Chalcedon and thereby allowing Constantinople to remain the superior over other Eastern sees, while gaining the tentative

agreement of Alexandria as well as Jerusalem and Antioch.[12] [2][5] This failed as the Henotoken was not acceptable to Rome, though it was popular in the east. The two sides were re-unified in 519 by reaching an agreement to strike certain names form the diptychs, however dissent and separation from monophysites continued to calcify, first with the building up of monophysite church administration under Severus in Alexandria,  then the failure of unification under Justinian due to his insistence on the canonical status of Chalcedon in 532CE. Though Justinian1 was successful in reinstating orthodox patriarchs in Alexandria, this served only to further alienate the Coptic's who were largely monophysite, clearly separating them into their own church.

Empowered by the Empress, two successful, influential missionary efforts occurred: Julian to the kingdom of Nubia where the court was converted to monophysite Christianity and Jacob Bardai who between 542CE and 578 CE made a number of trips covering all of the Bosporus and the Persian frontier gaining converts and establishing Monophystic churches.[2][9]

Impact and Legacy of Monophysitism Today

It is impossible to underestimate the legacy which the centuries of Monophysitism’s flourishing have had on Christianity. On the “orthodox” (non monophystic side), the early councils, especially Chalcedon lead to the refinement of the Christological stance. It has also lead to creation and flourishing of distinct monophystic church communities such as the Coptic church in Egypt, the Ethiopian orthodox church in Ethiopia and the Jacobite Church of Syria (named for the missionary Jacob Badai), whose worshippers reside mainly in south India.[1][2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Shelley, Bruce (2021). Church History In Plain Language, 5th Edition. Zondervan Academic. Retrieved Accessed October 20, 2021. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 Frend, W (Sept. 22, 2021). ""Monophysitism"". Retrieved October 19, 2021. Check date values in: |date= (help)
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  6. lebon, J., ed. (1903). Liber Contra Impium Grammaticum. Paris-Louvain: Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium . no-break space character in |publisher= at position 44 (help); |first= missing |last= (help)
  7. N.A. (May 29, 2018). "Justinian". Retrieved October 19th, 2021 – via Middle Ages Reference Library. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. New World Encyclopedia Contributors (15 June 2018). "Justinian I". New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Cartwright, Mark (April 03, 2018). "Empress Theodora". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 15, 2021. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. New World Encyclopedia contributors (November 24th, 2015). "Theodora (sixth century)". New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 16, 2021. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. N.A. (2021). "The Chalcedonian Creed". The Westminster Standard. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  12. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia (28 Jan. 2021). "Acacian Schism". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved October 19, 2021. Check date values in: |date= (help)