Ecclesiastical Monophysitism-a Prelude

Christ is Risen!

My dear Fathers, Mothers, Brothers and Sisters:

The Church has upheld the Orthodox Faith. At times it seems like confusion and error are triumphing, but we know that Christ is the one who Conquers. IC XC NIKA!

In the early Church, understanding who Christ is was paramount. Defining the Trinity and the relationship between the three Persons who are One God was key. As time went on our understanding of who we are as Christians has likewise grown, both in ecumenical councils, in our hymnography, through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, and beyond.

When we step back to the times of the first 7 councils, there were important debates over who Christ is. After the first council of Nicaea was held, His divinity was rightly upheld. As time passed, however, the question of His humanity became so contentious that we still reel from the separation over this question. If the Divine is united to the Human, is the Divine like an ocean with a grain of sand added to it? There may be some fundamental linguistic challenges about what the words “person” and “nature” mean (which could lead to our reunion with our Miaphysite brethren), but at the end of the day, the Council of Chalcedon proclaimed the nature of the union of the divine and the human. Christological Monophysitism was codified as not the Orthodox way of viewing this union.

As one translation puts it:

“Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.”

Bindley 1899, p. 297

In this profession of faith we see the dynamic union of the divine and the human. One aspect of the two natures being united is that this union is not an absorption. Christ in His incarnation remains fully divine and fully human. This is why He can pray to His Father to ask for the cup to pass, but at the same time accept all sufferings perfectly, raise the dead, and know the future as is only the property of the divine.

When we profess this union we do not denigrate heaven for the sake of earth. We do not exalt divinity and despise our humanity. Balance is found.

In our world today, we can readily cite councils like Chalcedon and uphold who we profess Christ to be. But does that mean that we have no areas to increase in our Orthodoxy?

By no means.

In walking through this life and observing the state of affairs in the Church, I would like to suggest that our Monophysitism is not one with regard to the Person of Christ. No, I would argue our Monophysitism is Ecclesiastical.

As I have written elsewhere and would argue here, the Theology of the Body Broken is a powerful lens to see the world mystically. By doing so we come to a see one illness of the Church that we face today in Ecclesiastical Monophysitism.

Ecclesiastical Monophysitism pertains to what we believe about the Church, where we are able to meditate upon and live in the Divine nature of the Church, but we fail to fully meditate upon the Human nature of the Church. This is often done as a result of that meditation upon the Divine nature of the Church.

Fundamentally this boils down to our understanding of who we are as people saved in Christ God. When we are called to also meditate upon who we are in Christ who is also Man, we tend to shrink from such reflection. In so doing, another heresy that is not new rears its head.

In my next post, I will expand how this is often the case in the Church.

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