Wahba, Fr. Matthias F., St. Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church, Hayward, California, USA:
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 Churches.’
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…
Monophysitism and the Council of Chalcedon
… 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.
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.’ …
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.
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.
It is evident that both the Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians agree on the following points:
- They all condemn and anathematize Nestorius, Apollinarius and Eutyches.
- 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.
- The manhood of Christ was real, perfect and had a dynamic presence.
- Jesus Christ is one Prosopon and one Hypostasis in real oneness and not mere conjunction of natures; He is the Incarnate Logos of God.
- 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…
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’…