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For Catholics: Heresies of the Early Church


New Member
In considering the schism in the universal church between East and West, here is something I found on "monophytism" (Christ with not two natures but one) which is the charge being made against the Egyptian Coptic Church and their explanation of the difficulty according to history. This was
the best explanation I've seen thus far.


| C O P | N E T

Monophysitism: Reconsidered

Fr. Matthias F. Wahba
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.


---------------- 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.
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New Member
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.

_|_ This article is one of many more articles about the Coptic Orthodox
| Church, the Christian Apostolic Church of Egypt. These articles can be
| obtained electronically from Copt-Net Repository, using anonymous FTP
COP|NET from pharos.bu.edu:CN. Please mail inquiries to [email protected].


Well-Known Member
This was an interesting read! Christ is One Person with a hypostatic union of two natures--human and divine. Christ is true God and true Man.


Well-Known Member

Arianism is a heresy started by a 4th century priest named Arius. He began teaching that Jesus Christ was not God or divine, but a human with divine or extraordinary powers (super-man).

This heresy appealed to a few other clergymen, and these of course began teaching it. It created a rift between theologians and clergy--those upholding the deity of Christ, and the Arians who denied it.

The church Fathers held an ecumenical council (a general church Council where all the Bishops attend) to issue an official statement of belief aka Creed--this was the Council of Nicea (325 AD).

One of the craziest (but true) stories related to Arius is that when Arius stood up in the middle of the Nicean council to proclaim that Christ wasn't God, a certain bishop in red ran across the room to slap him in the face-- Nicholas of Myra, aka St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus :lol:


Well-Known Member
I'm transferring this over from the other thread:


What is a heresy? Today it's often thrown around at people who disagree with your theological opinion or belief, or used as a synonym for "wrong belief."

In Catholicism, heresy has a specific meaning:

"Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089)
A heretic is a baptized Catholic who denies or obstinately doubts a truth of the Faith (for example, denying that Christ is God, or obstinately doubting the moral truth of abortion being a mortal sin, etc.)

There are two types of heresy--material heresy and formal heresy.

An example of material heresy would be a person who commits heresy but does so because he has a lack of knowledge of Catholicism, or may have even been miseducated in Catholicism.

A formal heretic denies the faith with full knowledge and deliberation.

Is heresy a sin? - Yes.

Why? - It weakens and even destroys the virtue of Faith.


New Member
I'm still wondering why they are calling the Copts and others like the Armenians and Ethiopians monophysites if, for example, the Copts do not subscribe to it!!! ?????? On-going church politics??