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Monophysitism

February 25, 2024


This time around, we will be looking at the heresy that rose as a way to combat the heresy of Nestorianism. As we remember, Nestorius taught that the Divine nature of Christ was not completely united with His human nature, so there is basically two versions of Christ to put it simply. The response to this was led by a man named Eutyches, who was a monastic superior in Constantinople. He was born in 375 and died in 454. This new heresy was called Monophysitism, and in the form taught by Eutyches, he believed that Christ’s Divine nature totally overcame and obliterated His human nature, overemphasizing the “oneness” of Christ in opposition to the seeming “duality” of Nestorius. Eutyches himself was known to say, “two natures before, one after the incarnation”. This was his own formula and was a specific expression of the monophysitic doctrine that, in the incarnation, Christ’s human nature was deified and subsumed into a single essence. Hence, he concluded that Christ’s humanity was distinct from that of other men.


Eutyches, while on the one hand very devout in his piety, still had a very stubborn streak and a great intellectual pride coupled with not being well learned in theology. In refusing to ascent to what the Church teaches on the two natures of Christ he abandoned a serious part of the true faith. During his first examination, he seemed to intentionally avoid directly answering questions about his teachings, but on the other hand refused to assent to the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria, who was one of those who in fighting against Nestorius, had written out very clearly and succinctly what the Church has taught and believed concerning the two natures of Christ. However, Eutyches had powerful friends in the government and in the local church which came to his aide and the result was that those who were sent to examine him were humiliated and some were even beaten and imprisoned.


Eutyches insisted that if it was not found in Scripture, it wasn’t true, ignoring the very fact that Scripture does not contain every single bit of our faith and was never meant to. It contains the history of salvation, God’s plan for the world and mankind but also tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us things and that Christ as God is capable of revealing things to us not contained in Scripture. It is meant as a means to come to know the basic truths of God and His plan but was never claimed to be the one and only source of knowledge about God and His revelations to us. This is why Christ and His Apostles began the Traditions of our faith, which explain and show what God has revealed to us along with the Scriptures. Since the beginning, the Church has taught and believed that the faith and our Church are founded upon the two columns of Scripture and Tradition.


The teachings of Eutyches were formally condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and Eutyches was exiled, although he never stopped teaching his false doctrine until death. The main opponents of Eutyches and his doctrine were Pope St. Leo the Great, St. Cyril of Alexandria and Eusebius, Bishop of Dorylæum - who was known as pious and very learned man.


One of the legacies of Eutyches is the ultra-Protestant view that nothing can be imposed as of faith which is not verbally to be found in Scripture. This, together with an exaggerated horror of Nestorianism, appears to describe his whole theological position. And so we see the sad history of a heresy that rose up to combat a heresy. How quickly pride and the devil can mangle even the best of intentions once we let him in.


God love you,

Fr. Anthony

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