The early theological tradition of the Church in Egypt - through the fourth century - is central to the developing tradition of the Church in both East and West. Figures such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Athanasius worked in the mainstream, even if, in Origen's case, certain radical propositions were later condemned. Into the fifth century, Cyril of Alexandria defined divine and human natures in Christ in a way that influenced the entire Church. The Council of Chalcedon was the turning point at which the theology of Coptic Christianity diverged from both Latin West and Greek Orthodox East. The Copts accept only the decrees of the first three Ecumenical Councils: Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus. When they recite the Creed, they interpret certain phrases in a manner consistent with Cyril's teaching and counter to Chalcedon. Rather than using the 'Monophysite' label for their tradition, Copts prefer anti- or non-Chalcedonian or Miaphysite, as in the Cyrillian formula, 'one nature (mia physis) of the Word incarnate'. Coptic leaders maintain that Christ is 'perfect in His divinity and perfect in His humanity' and they 'do not speak of two natures after this mysterious union of Our Lord' (statement of Shenouda III at 1989 conference of Greek Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox).

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