Miaphysitism is a term applied retrospectively to a doctrinal schism originating in the early fifth century. The doctrine alleges one nature only in Christ, and was thus in direct conflict with the Chalcedonian teaching of the dual nature of Christ. It should be noted, however, that the extreme form of this doctrine advocated by Eutyches was denounced not only by Chalcedonians but by non-Chalcedonians as well. The title Miaphysitism rather than 'Monophysitism' is now used as the more accurate term for the position held by the Syrian, Coptic and Armenian Churches. Eutyches developed the thinking of Cyril of Alexandria about the union of two natures in Christ in a confusing manner, presenting the belief that before the incarnation, Christ had two natures, but after it only one. This attempt to preserve the unity of God contributed to continuing difficulties in explaining how Jesus can be fully human and fully divine, despite the apparent consensus that the Chalcedonian definition of 451 was the final word on the matter.
Its relevance for a study of Byzantine Christianity is that it became, and has remained, one of the fault lines of the Eastern Christian world. Syria and Egypt tended to favour Miaphysite positions, for them the proper understanding of Cyril of Alexandria, and originally this owed much to the rivalry between the rural communities and the cities in these two countries. By the sixth century, this particular schism was engrained, with the Armenians, Copts and Syrians expressing independence from mainstream Byzantine Orthodox teaching. Great sensitivity is required in understanding these divergent positions, which spawned controversy long after 451.
We should also mention the 'Nestorian' Church, or more accurately the Church of the East, which declared its independence in Persia before the Council of Ephesus was convened in 431 at which Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, was condemned. The Syriac-speaking Christians of this Church pursued a remarkable missionary enterprise in the East, settling in China by the seventh century and establishing communities in South India by the sixth century. The term 'Nestorian', like the term 'Manichaean', was used by the Byzantines to denounce segments of the Christian tradition it wanted to believe was heretical. The Church of the East repudiates this title, which was applied to it as a term of opprobrium.
Was this article helpful?