The further progress of Monophysitism

In spite of Chalcedon, the view represented by Alexandria continued to spread. To be sure, the West, led by Rome, and such of the East as acknowledged Constantinople held by the decision of that council. But large elements in the East dissented. They were called Monophysites, for they stressed the divine nature in Christ, holding that it transformed the human nature in such fashion that the whole became divine, although with some human characteristics. The Monophysites varied in the degree to which they emphasized the divine in Christ, but they could not accept Chalcedon.

The division was largely regional. Most of Egypt, Ethiopia, and much of Syria became Monophysite, thus further breaking the unity of the Catholic Church and threatening that of the Empire. Armenia also tended in that direction. The Roman Empire, within which whatever unity the Catholic Church possessed had been achieved and to which it was deeply indebted, was already suffering from the disintegration which was to become permanent in the centuries after A.D. 500. In later chapters we shall see how the divisions in the Church and in the political structure interacted to reinforce one another. The efforts to achieve Christian unity through doctrinal statements, ecclesiastical organization, and the aid of the state were proving illusory.

Yet the state did not give up the struggle. In 476 the Emperor Basilicus in his En-cyclion condemned the Tome of Leo and Chalcedon. In 482 the Emperor Zeno, in an attempt to heal the breach between Monophysites and the Chalcedonians, took a partly opposite tack and issued what was known as the Henoticon, a document which was purposely capable of various interpretations and which satisfied some of the moderate Mo-nophysites. However, the more extreme of the Monophysites would not accept it, and the Bishop of Rome, believing it to be a rejection of Chalcedon, broke off communion with the Bishop of Constantinople, who supported it. To carry the story to its end would take us far into the period which followed the year 500. We must, accordingly, defer its completion to a later chapter.

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