Monophysitism: Reconsidered
                            Fr. Matthias F. Wahba
                     St. Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church
                             Hayward, California



The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria,  in which I am a  priest, is one of
the Oriental  Orthodox  Churches. These churches   are  the Coptic, Armenian,
Syrian, Ethiopian, and   the Malankara Indian   Churches. The common  element
among them  is   their non-acceptance  of  the Council   of  Chalcedon of  AD
451. Accordingly  they   prefer  to  be  called   "Non-Chalcedonian  Orthodox

The Council  of Chalcedon caused a big  schism within the church which lasted
until the present.    In addition, after  the Arab  invasion  in the  seventh
century, the churches lost communication  with each other. Through this  long
period, the   non-Chalcedonians were  accused   of Eutychianism,   and called
"Monophysites", meaning that they believe  in one single  nature of our  Lord
Jesus Christ.   They never accepted  this idea considering   it a heresy. The
purpose of this paper is to reconsider the issue.

Several publications  reflect such an  attitude. In The Oxford  Dictionary of
Byzantium, for   instance, Alexander Kazhdan      shows monophysitism as    a
"religious movement  that originated in  the first  half  of the 5th C.  as a
reaction against the  emphasis of  Nestorianism  on the  human nature of  the
incarnate Christ." The  Encyclopedia of the  Early Church caries  an entry on
"monophysitism"  where   Manlio  Simonetti  writes, "The   term  monophysites
indicates  those who  admitted  a single nature in  Christ,  rather than two,
human and divine, as the  Council  of Chalcedon  (451) sanctioned."  Then  he
gives examples of Apollinarius and Eutyches, and goes on to mention St. Cyril
the Great as having a  "Monophysite Christology".  Furthermore, in the Coptic
Encyclopedia, W.H.C. Frend  defines monophystism as  a  doctrine:

      opposed to  the orthodox doctrine  that He (Christ) is one person
      and has two natures.....  The monophysites hold....  that the two
      natures  of Christ were united at  the Incarnation in  such a way
      that  the one Christ  was  essentially divine although He assumed
      from  the  Virgin Theotokos   the  flesh and  attributes  of man.

Now, what  is the actual   belief of the Church of   Alexandria and the other
non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches on the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Common Declaration:
In May 1973 H.H. Pope-Shenouda III of Alexandria visited H.H. Pope Paul VI of
Rome. Their Common Declaration says:
       We confess that our Lord and God and Savior and King of us all,
       Jesus  Christ,  is perfect  God  with  respect to His divinity,
       perfect man  with respect to His humanity.  In Him His divinity
       is united  with His humanity  in a  real, perfect union without
       mingling, without  commixtion, without  confusion,      without
       alteration, without division, without separation.

After fifteen centuries,   the two prelates   declare a common faith in   the
nature of Christ, the  issue which caused  the schism  of  the church  in the
Council of Chalcedon. This will lead us to  throw some light on that council.

Monophysitism and the Council of Chalcedon
1- According to some Scholars, there, was no need for it, but politics played
a big role. "It  was only under  constant  pressure from the  Emperor Marcian
that the Fathers  of  Chalcedon agreed  to  draw a  new formula  of  belief."

2-  The  different expressions  of the one   faith are due   in large part to
non-theological    issues,   such as  "unfortunate   circumstances,  cultural
differences and the difficulty  of translating terms."  It is debated whether
the opposition to Chalcedon was out  of a Christological  issue or an attempt
to assert Coptic and Syrian identity against the Byzantine.

3- Ecclesiastical politics had been very confused ever since the legislation,
in the  Council of 381,  of a primacy  of honor for Constantinople, the New
Rome," second only to that of the old Rome.  It  seems that both Rome and the
Emperors  used the Council of Chalcedon  to carry out their respective plans:
Rome for asserting its claim for primacy over the Church and the Emperors for
trying to bring the entire Church in  the East under  the jurisdiction of the
See of Constantinople.

4- No one  can deny the  disadvantages of the  imperial interventions in  the
dispute.  Most  probably,  Chalcedon's decisions and   terms  would have been
different if the  Emperor Marcian and  his wife Pulcheria had not intervened.
Since 450, they were gathering signatures for the  Tome of Leo, the bishop of
Rome.  Many bishops of   Chalcedon approved it   only as a  concession to the
bishop whom the imperial authority supported.

5- The definitions  of  the Tome were composed  in   a way that  it  could be
interpreted by  different  persons, each in  his  own way.  It is known  that
Nestorius, who was still alive  in 451, accepted the Tome  of Leo, while  the
Alexandrines rejected it.

6- The Council  of Chalcedon, which is believed  to  have condemned Eutyches,
did not deal  with him but with Dioscorus,  Patriarch of Alexandria. Eutyches
himself was not present at  the council. Scholars   state that Dioscorus  was
deprived  of office  on procedural grounds  and not  on account of  erroneous
belief. At Chalcedon Dioscorus  strongly declared, "If Eutyches holds notions
disallowed by  the doctrines of  the Church, he  deserves not only punishment
but even the fire.  But my concern  is for the  catholic and apostolic faith,
not for any man whomsoever."  The evidence is  sufficient for us to look  for
other reasons  for his condemnation.   Rome was annoyed by the  extraordinary
vitality and activity of the Church of Alexandria and its patriarch.

7- As soon as the members  of the council  had assembled, the legates of Rome
demanded that Dioscorus be banished on account of the order  of the bishop of
Rome  whom they  called, "the  head   of all  churches".  When the   imperial
authorities asked for a charge to justify the demand, one of the legates said
that he  "dared  to  conduct  a council  without   the authorization  of  the
apostolic  see,  a thing which  has  never  happened and  which  ought not to
happen."  As a matter of fact,  the Council of  381 had been held without the
participation, not to say  the authorization, of the bishop  of Rome, and the
Council of 553 against his wishes.  It is evident that the delegates intended
by the words,  "the head of   all churches" to assert the   claim of Rome  of
ecumenical supremacy over the church.

8- Chalcedon  rejected the Council  of 449, and Leo of  Rome considered it as
latrocinium,  a council of robbers, a  title which "has  stuck for all time."
This may uncover   the intention behind  such an  attitude. A council   which
ignored Rome's  authority, robbing its claim of  supremacy, was not for Leo a
church council but  a meeting of  robbers. The Council of Chalcedon,  without
even examining  the issue, denounced  the Council of  449, putting the entire
responsibility for its decrees exclusively on Dioscorus. Only one hundred and
four  years later,  the  decision, not  of  Chalcedon,  but of the  so called
latrocinium was justified. The Council of Constantinople in 553 anathematized
Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa, and condemned
their  Three  Chapters.  It is  remarkable  that the   desire  of the Emperor
Justinian to reconcile the non-Chalcedonian churches was behind the decree.

Two Different Traditions
Dioscorus, then, was not a heretic. The majority of  the bishops who attended
the Council of Chalcedon, as scholars indicate, believed that the traditional
formula of faith received from St. Athanasius was the "one nature of the Word
of God."  This belief is totally different  from the Eutychian concept of the
single nature  (i.e. Monophysite). The  Alexandrian theology was by  no means
docetic.  Neither was it Apollinarian,  as stated clearly.  It seems that the
main problem of  the Christological formula  was the divergent interpretation
of the   issue between  the  Alexandrian and  the Antiochian  theology. While
Antioch  formulated its  Christology   against  Apollinarius  and   Eutyches,
Alexandria did against  Arius and Nestorius.  At Chalcedon, Dioscorus refused
to  affirm  the "in  two  natures" and  insisted  on  the "from two natures."
Evidently  the  two  conflicting   traditions  had not  discovered  an agreed
theological standpoint between them.

Mia Physis
The Church of Alexandria considered  as central the Christological mia physis
formula of St. Cyril  one incarnate nature  of God the Word". The Cyrillian
formula was accepted   by the Council   of Ephesus in   431. It was   neither
nullified by the Reunion of 433, nor condemned at Chalcedon. On the contrary,
it continued  to   be  considered an  orthodox  formula.   Now  what  do  the
non-Chalcedonians mean by the  mia physis, the  "one incarnate nature?". They
mean by  mia one, but  not "single one" or  "simple  numerical one,"  as some
scholars believe. There is a  slight difference between  mono and mia.  While
the  former suggests  one single (divine)  nature, the  latter refers to  one
composite and united nature, as reflected by the Cyrillian formula. St. Cyril
maintained that the relationship between the  divine and the human in Christ,
as Meyendorff puts it,  "does not  consist  of a simple cooperation,  or even
interpenetration, but of a union; the incarnate Word is  one, and there could
be no duplication of the personality of the one redeemer God and man."

Mia Physis and Soteriology
"The Alexandrian Christology", writes  Frances Young, "is a  remarkably clear
and consistent construction, especially when viewed within its soteriological
context. Mia physis, for the  Alexandrians, is. essential for salvation.  The
Lord is crucified, even  though His divinity  did not suffer but His humanity
did.  The sacrifice of the  Cross is attributed to the  Incarnate Son of God,
and thus has the power of salvation.

Common Faith
It is evident that both the Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians agree on the
following points:

1- They all condemn and anathematize Nestorius, Apollinarius and Eutyches.

2- The unity of  the divinity and  humanity of Christ  was realized  from the
moment  of His conception,  without separation or  division  and also without
confusing or changing.

3- The manhood of Christ was real, perfect and had a dynamic presence.

4- Jesus Christ is one  Prosopon and one Hypostasis in  real oneness and  not
mere conjunction of natures; He is the Incarnate Logos of God.

5- They all accept the  communicatio idiomatum (the communication of idioms),
attributing all  the  deeds and words  of  Christ to  the one hypostasis, the
Incarnate Son of God.

Recent Efforts for Unity
In recent times,  members  of the Chalcedonian and  non-Chalcedonian Orthodox
Churches have met together coming to a clear understanding that both families
have  always loyally  maintained the same   authentic Orthodox Christological

In 1964 a  fresh dialogue began at the  University of Aarhus in Denmark. This
was followed by meetings at  Bristol in 1967,  Geneva in 1970 and Addis Ababa
in 1971.  These were a  series of non-official  consultations which served as
steps towards mutual understanding.

The official consultations  in which concrete steps were  taken began in 1985
at  Chambesy  in Geneva.  The second  official  consultation was held  at the
monastery of Saint  Bishoy in Wadi-El-Natroun,  in Egypt in   June 1989.  The
outcome of this  latter meeting was  of historical dimensions, since in  this
meeting the two families of Orthodoxy were  able to agree on a Christological
formula, thus ending  the controversy regarding  Christology which has lasted
for more than fifteen centuries.

In September 1990  the   two families of  Orthodoxy  signed  an  agreement on
Christology, and recommendations   were presented to the different   Orthodox
Churches, to lift the  anathemas and enmity  of the past, after  revising the
results of the dialogues. If   both agreements are   accepted by the  various
Orthodox Churches,  the restoration of   communion will be   very easy at all
levels, even as far as sharing one table in the Eucharist.

As for  its  part, the Coptic  Orthodox   Church Synod,  presided  by HH Pope
Shenouda III, has agreed to lift the anathemas, but this  will not take place
unless this is performed bilaterally, possibly by holding a joint ceremony.

I conclude that the term "monophysitism" does not reflect  the real belief of
the non-Chalcedonians. They prefer not to be called "monophysites," as far as
the term may be misunderstood.  They believe in one nature "out of two", "one
united nature",  a  "composite nature"  or  "one incarnate  nature and not  a
"single nature". There is no evidence that the term was used during the fifth
century.  Most probably it.  was introduced later  in a polemic way on behalf
of the Chalcedonian       Churches.  However, considering     the past,   the
non-Chalcedonians    are   better  to     be    called  "mia-physites"   than
"monophysites."  Recently, in   so far as  they are  coming to be  understood
correctly, they are  to be called   simply "orthodox",  the same belief  with
their brothers the Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches.  This could be an imminent
fruit of the unity of all Orthodox Churches.