Miaphysitism

Miaphysitism

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Miaphysitism is a Christological formula of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and of the various churches adhering to the first three Ecumenical Councils. Miaphysitism holds that in the one person of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

, Divinity and Humanity are united in one or single nature ("physis
Physis
Physis is a Greek theological, philosophical, and scientific term usually translated into English as "nature."In The Odyssey, Homer uses the word once , referring to the intrinsic way of growth of a particular species of plant. In the pre-Socratic philosophers it developed a complex of other...

"), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.

Historically, Chalcedonian
Chalcedonian
Chalcedonian describes churches and theologians which accept the definition given at the Council of Chalcedon of how the divine and human relate in the person of Jesus Christ...

 Christians have considered Miaphysitism in general to be amenable to an orthodox interpretation, but they have nevertheless perceived the Miaphysitism of the non-Chalcedonians to be a form of Monophysitism
Monophysitism
Monophysitism , or Monophysiticism, is the Christological position that Jesus Christ has only one nature, his humanity being absorbed by his Deity...

. The Oriental Orthodox Churches themselves reject this characterization.

History


The term "miaphysitism" arose as a response to Nestorianism
Nestorianism
Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus...

. As Nestorianism had its roots in the Antiochene tradition and was opposed by the Alexandrian
Alexandrian
Alexandrian is either:* an adjective referring to a place called Alexandria, as in Alexandrian text-type* a person from and/or inhabiting a city called Alexandria...

 tradition, Christians in Syria and Egypt who wanted to distance themselves from the extremes of Nestorianism and wished to uphold the integrity of their theological position adopted this term to express their position.

The theology of miaphysitism is based on an understanding of the nature (Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

  physis) of Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

: divine and human. After steering between the doctrines of docetism
Docetism
In Christianity, docetism is the belief that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die...

 (that Christ only appeared to be human) and adoptionism
Adoptionism
Adoptionism, sometimes called dynamic monarchianism, is a minority Christian belief that Jesus was adopted as God's son at his baptism...

 (that Christ was a man chosen by God), the Church began to explore the mystery of Christ's nature further. Two positions in particular caused controversy:
  • Nestorianism
    Nestorianism
    Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus...

     stressed the distinction between the divine and the human in Christ to such an extent that it appeared that two persons were living in the same body. The view was condemned at the Council of Ephesus.
  • Eutychianism
    Eutychianism
    Eutychianism refers to a set of Christian theological doctrines derived from the ideas of Eutyches of Constantinople . Eutychianism is a specific understanding of how the human and divine relate within the person of Jesus Christ .At various times, Eutyches taught that the human nature of Christ was...

     stressed the unity of Christ's nature to such an extent that Christ's divinity consumed his humanity as the ocean consumes a drop of vinegar. The view was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon
    Council of Chalcedon
    The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

    .


In response to Eutychianism, the latter Council adopted dyophysitism, which clearly distinguished between person and nature, stating that Christ is one person in two natures, but emphasizes that the natures are "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation".

The Miaphysites rejected this definition as verging on Nestorianism and instead adhered to a wording of Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril of Alexandria was the Patriarch of Alexandria from 412 to 444. He came to power when the city was at its height of influence and power within the Roman Empire. Cyril wrote extensively and was a leading protagonist in the Christological controversies of the later 4th and 5th centuries...

, the chief opponent of Nestorianism, who had spoken of the "one (mia) nature of the Word of God incarnate" ( mia physis tou theou logou sesarkōmenē). The distinction of this stance was that the incarnate Christ has one nature, but that nature is still of both a divine character and a human character, and retains all the characteristics of both. Though the Miaphysites condemned Eutychianism
Eutychianism
Eutychianism refers to a set of Christian theological doctrines derived from the ideas of Eutyches of Constantinople . Eutychianism is a specific understanding of how the human and divine relate within the person of Jesus Christ .At various times, Eutyches taught that the human nature of Christ was...

, the two groups were both viewed as monophysites by their opponents.

The Council of Chalcedon
Council of Chalcedon
The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

 (451
451
Year 451 was a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Marcianus and Adelfius...

) was often seen as a watershed for Christology
Christology
Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. Primary considerations include the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature...

 among the Chalcedonians as it adopted dyophysitism. However, as Eastern Churches, especially the Copts in Egypt, who held to Miaphysitism, rejected the decision, the controversy became a major socio-political problem for the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

. There were numerous attempts at reunion between the two camps (including the Henoticon in 482
482
Year 482 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Severinus and Illus...

), and the balance of power shifted several times. However, the decision at Chalcedon remains the official teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 and traditional Protestants. The non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches are usually grouped together as Oriental Orthodox
Oriental Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy is the faith of those Eastern Christian Churches that recognize only three ecumenical councils — the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the First Council of Ephesus. They rejected the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon...

. Over recent decades, leaders of the various branches of the Church have spoken about the differences between their respective christologies as not being as extreme as was traditionally held.

John Meyendorff, an historian of this period of Church history, held that the official teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 is not expressed by Chalcedon alone, but by "Chalcedon plus Cyril" – i.e., the dyophysite position expressed by Chalcedon, plus Cyril's miaphysite expression quoted above in its Orthodox interpretation – with the former attempting to express the inexpressible from one side (the dyophysite site) and the latter doing the same from the miaphysite side, both approaches being necessary and neither sufficient by itself.

Other positions


Much has been said about the difficulties in understanding the Greek technical terms used in these controversies. The main words are ousia , physis , hypostasis and prosopon . Even in Greek, their meanings can overlap somewhat. These difficulties became even more exaggerated when these technical terms were translated into other languages. In Syriac
Syriac language
Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent. Having first appeared as a script in the 1st century AD after being spoken as an unwritten language for five centuries, Classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from...

, physis was translated as kyānâ (ܟܝܢܐ) and hypostasis was qnômâ (ܩܢܘܡܐ). However, in the Persian Church, or the East Syriac tradition, qnoma was taken to mean nature, thereby confounding the issue further. The shades of meaning are even more blurred between these words, and they could not be used in such a philosophical way as their Greek counterparts.

Miaphysite churches


The Oriental Orthodox Churches include the Armenian Apostolic Church
Armenian Apostolic Church
The Armenian Apostolic Church is the world's oldest National Church, is part of Oriental Orthodoxy, and is one of the most ancient Christian communities. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion in 301 AD, in establishing this church...

, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Indian Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church (including the British Orthodox Church
British Orthodox Church
The British Orthodox Church is a small Oriental Orthodox jurisdiction, canonically part of the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria. Its mission is to the people of the British Isles, and though it is Orthodox in its faith and practice, it remains British in its ethos...

 which is under the Patriarch of Alexandria), the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the predominant Oriental Orthodox Christian church in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Church was administratively part of the Coptic Orthodox Church until 1959, when it was granted its own Patriarch by Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All...

 ('tewahido' is a Ge'ez
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

 word meaning 'being made one') and the newly autocephalous
Autocephaly
Autocephaly , in hierarchical Christian churches and especially Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, is the status of a hierarchical church whose head bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop...

 Eritrean Orthodox Church.

One or more of the Independent Catholic Churches
Independent Catholic Churches
Independent Catholic churches are Catholic congregations that are not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church or any other churches whose sacraments are recognized by the Roman Catholic Church...

, while not being in full communion with the above Churches for various reasons, also embrace this Christology. These include the Antiochian Catholic Church in America
Antiochian Catholic Church in America
The Antiochian Catholic Church in America is one of the Independent Catholic Churches. The ACCA is distinct from most of these churches in that it largely embraces the theology and much of the practice of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox Church, from which the clergy of the...

. In recent theological discourses, some Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic and Anglican theologians have begun to embrace this Christology as being consistent with, though different from, the Chalcedon formulation.

Just as the Second Council of Constantinople (known as the "Fifth Ecumenical Council") condemned a certain understanding of the Dyophysite formula introduced at the Council of Chalcedon, it likewise condemned a certain understanding of the Miaphysite terminology of Cyril of Alexandria introduced at the Council of Ephesus, thus leaving room for other orthodox understandings for both Dyophysitism and Miaphysitism. A certain understanding of Miaphysitism thus was affirmed as acceptable doctrine among the Chalcedonians.

Literature

  1. H.H. Pope Shenouda III «THE NATURE OF CHRIST»

  1. MAIN DOCTRINES AND PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH - Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

External links