The History of Coptic Theology from the Fifth to the Twentieth Century

The Pre-Chalcedonian Theology

Prior to the Council of Chalcedon, there existed no theological differences between the Church of Alexandria and the Churches of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The patriarchate of Alexandria had provided the Church with Athanasius, the great champion of Orthodoxy, who was instrumental in the defeat of Arianism at the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325. The teachings .of Athanasius were upheld, declaring Christ to be consubstantial and co-eternal with God the Father. Cyril of Alexandria, the defender of the use of the title Theotokos, took considerable measures in the excommunication of Nestorius at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. Cyril taught the personal, or hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, holding to the view that after the union, the Logos formed but one nature with the body (Mia physis tou Logou sesarkomene). Accompanying Cyril to Ephesus was Shenute, the first and greatest of all the Coptic theologians of the pre-Chalcedonian Church. Shenute of Atripe, a theologian of distinction and originality, was abbot of the large White Monastery west of Suhag, where over two thousand monks lived in the fourth and fifth centuries. He succeeded in making the Coptic dialect of Atripe the literary medium of Egypt for the following centuries. As a theologian, preacher, and abbot, Shenute left a profound mark on Coptic theology and institutions. His literary efforts, namely his letters, ordinances, and sermons, influenced the religious life of the Copts to such an extent that he became known as the great religious reformer of the Coptic Church.

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