By Fr. Peter Farrington – St. George Ministry – Coptic Mission Communities in the UK.
I have been a member of the Coptic Orthodox Church for over 24 years, and I was seeking to learn about and become Orthodox for some years before that. I was active on the internet before it was the world wide web. It wasn’t always easy. I was becoming a member of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox communion and as a result I found myself exposed to some of the most difficult attitudes and comments I have ever experienced. There was a real and palpable hostility from some members of the Eastern Orthodox communion. I learned the words Monophysite and Heretic, and they were used casually and frequently, as if the truth of them could not be reasonably challenged. Over the next years things did not get much better, and much of my time was taken up with trying to explain that my Orthodox Church did not, and had never, taught the things which I was accused of believing. A low point came when one Eastern Orthodox clergyman told me that he was not interested in what I said I believed because his Church had already told him what I believed. Even today, after 25 years or more, the majority view which is heard from Eastern Orthodox online, is one which is filled with ignorance, misrepresentation, misunderstanding and condescension. I say this even while having many intelligent and thoughtful Eastern Orthodox friends, both clergy and laity, who do have a comprehension of what I, and the Oriental Orthodox communion teach and believe, and act accordingly.
But generally speaking, and especially among Western converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, it would seem that the same false explanation and description of the teaching and faith of the Oriental Orthodox Churches is presented as fact, and is received as fact, even while it is entirely untrue. It often seems, as the Eastern Orthodox priest-monk was willing to express in words, that many Eastern Orthodox do not wish to actually learn and understand what we believe, because they already know better than us, better than me, what I believe.
I remember one of the Desert Fathers, St Agathon, was willing to put up with all manner of abuse with patience and humility. It is written of him…
Some monks came to find Abba Agathon having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper they said to him:
“Aren’t you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?” “Yes, it is very true,” he answered. They resumed: “Aren’t you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?” “I am.” Again they said: “Aren’t you Agathon the heretic?” But at that he replied: “I am not a heretic.” So they asked him: “Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult.” He replied: “The first accusations I take to myself, for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.” They were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.
This is an word of wisdom that is applicable to the Oriental Orthodox communion. We may be accused of all manner of weakness and failure, but to accuse us of heresy, to accuse us of believing and teaching blasphemy, this is more than we should bear in silence. Heresy is separation from God, and those who casually and with great ignorance accuse us of heresy are insisting that we are separated from God. How is it possible to suggest such a thing of tens and hundreds of millions of people without having investigated the truth of it? How is it possible to say, as those who merely repeat the misrepresentations of others are doing in practice, I do not care what you say you believe, I already know!
In this post I want to examine the accusation that the Oriental Orthodox communion are monophysites, that is those who teach that in Jesus Christ there is not a duality of perfect humanity and perfect divinity in unity, but a single mode of being which is either the divine only, so that he is not properly human at all, or some new mode of being, so that he is neither one thing nor another but something different from divinity and humanity. There are other questions that could be asked, such as what the Council of Chalcedon means, and how we should consider figures who are highly respected in other communities but are controversial in our own. But in this post I want to restrict myself to the question, are the Oriental Orthodox Churches Monophysite in their teaching about Christ?
I can answer that question very simply and easily and forcefully before I begin to present some of the teaching of the Fathers. No, we are not Monophysite at all and have never been. The idea that the humanity of Christ is swallowed up in his divinity is an error that has never been accepted. The idea that Christ is of some new mode of being that is a mixture of humanity and divinity is an error that has never been accepted. Whatever you may think you know of our beliefs, if you think or have been taught that we believe one of these errors, is entirely and completely false.
If I held these views, and the Oriental Orthodox communion taught them, why would I not promote them? I would want everyone to believe that either the humanity of Christ was swallowed up by his divinity, so that he was not really man, or else that the humanity and divinity mixed together to form some new type of being. If I believed this, and believed this to be the truth, I would teach it. But this is not what I have been taught, nor is it anything I have found in 25 years of study of the Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox communion. Absolutely the contrary. Those who held these views were everywhere condemned and excommunicated.
What is necessary to show that the Oriental Orthodox do not accept that Christ has a diminished humanity, but is perfect in his divinity and in his humanity, and that these are united without confusion or mixture? We can begin with the words of Dioscorus, the Patriarch at the time of Chalcedon, who was deposed at that Council, and sent into exile. According to the popular view still being taught in the Eastern Orthodox Churches it would seem, he must have been one of those who believed that the humanity of Christ was swallowed up by his divinity, or was mixed with his divinity to become something else. Here is a passage from a letter he sent from his exile…
I am fully aware, having been educated in the Faith, respecting Him (Christ) that He was born of the Father, as God, and that the Same was born of Mary, as Man. Men saw Him as Man walking on the Earth and they saw Him, the Creator of the Heavenly Hosts, as God. They saw Him sleeping in the ship, as Man, and they saw Him walking upon the waters, as God. They saw Him hungry, as Man, and they saw Him feeding (others), as God. They saw Him thirsty, as Man, and they saw Him giving drink, as God. They saw Him stoned by the Jews, as Man, and they saw Him worshipped by the Angels, as God. They saw Him tempted, as Man, and they saw Him drive away the Devils, as God. And similarly of many (other) things.
and in the same letter…
He became Consubstantial with Man, taking Flesh, although He remained unchangeably what He was before.
We find in this letter, from the one who is supposed to be the force behind our supposed Monophysitism , that in fact he insists that Christ was born of the Father as God, and was born of the Virgin Mary as man. He does not teach that this distinction ceases at the incarnation, but throughout his life on earth he is seen to be both God and man. As Patriarch Dioscorus says, he remained what he was before, even though he became consubstantial with man. He became man, but he remained God without any change.
In another letter, also sent from his exile, he says…
This I declare, that no man shall say that the holy flesh, which our Lord took from the Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, in a manner which He Himself knows, was different to and foreign from our body… And again,’ It was right that in everything He should be made like unto His brethren,’ and that word ‘in everything’ does not suffer the subtraction of any part of our nature : since in nerves, and hair, and bones, and veins, and belly, and heart, and kidneys, and liver, and lungs, and, in short, in all those things that belong to our nature, the flesh which was born from Mary was compacted with the soul of our Redeemer, that reasonable and intelligent soul, without the seed of man, and the gratification and cohabitation of sleep.
For He was like us, for us, and with us, not in phantasy, nor in mere semblance, according to the heresy of the Manichaeans, but rather in actual reality from Mary, the Theotokos… He became man, and yet He did not destroy that which is His nature, that He is Son of God ; that we, by grace, might become the sons of God. This I think and believe; and, if any man does not think thus, he is a stranger to the faith of the apostles.
Again, we find Patriarch Dioscorus insisting that the humanity of Christ is the same as our own humanity. Indeed, there is no part of our humanity which is not assumed by the Word of God when he became man. Nor is his without a human soul, but that also he takes as his own, just like our own, and it is reasonable and intelligent, which means that it is complete with human will. When he became completely and truly man, as Dioscorus teaches, he did not destroy his own nature, he did not change his divinity, and he remained always the Son of God, and God himself, while becoming truly man. Nor is this just his own opinion, but he insists that anyone who does not think and believe in such a way, that Christ is the Word of God made man, without ceasing to be God, and without change, does not have the faith of the Apostles.
It was at the Council of Chalcedon itself that Patriarch Dioscorus stated,
We speak of neither confusion nor division nor change. Anathema to whoever speaks of confusion or change or mixture.
How is it possible to accuse Patriarch Dioscorus of confusion and change when he rejects all thought of confusion and change, and anathematises anyone who does confuse or divide or change the humanity and divinity which are united in Christ.
And in the account of his life, which was written by his disciple and the eye-witness of his exile, Theopiste, it is recorded how Abba Paphnutius visited him in his exile. We can note how the monk greets him and refers to the humanity and divinity of Christ. The life of St Dioscorus says…
After these words, they embraced in tears, and Paphnutius fell immediately at the feet of our holy father Dioscorus and clasped them. “I adore”, he said, “the earth which bears your feet, for this earth which bears them is truly holy ground, and I have seen the bush in which is the Messiah, that is to say his flesh, the divinity was united to it without change and without confusion, as the bush which burned without being consumed, in the same way the divinity and the humanity were not separated the one from the other from the moment when He entered into the womb of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Glory to Him, whose name is worshipped unto ages of ages, Amen”.
He describes the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, as being like the Burning Bush, so that we understand that the humanity was united to the divinity without change or confusion, nor were the humanity and divinity ever separated after the incarnation but where in an unconfused and unmixed union. This passage, included in this testimony, expresses both the teaching and faith of Dioscorus, as we have seen, but also the teaching and faith of the monastics in Egypt, who are represented by Abba Paphnutius.
We will return to Patriarch Dioscorus when we consider in due course why the Council of Chalcedon was rejected by the Oriental Orthodox as inadequately defending the Orthodox Christology, but it is necessary to consider whether and how he could be thought to be a supporter of Eutyches and his errors. Eutyches was a reasonably well known monk from Constantinople. He had been a loyal supporter of St Cyril against the Nestorian heresy, and had corresponded with Pope Leo of Rome when he saw the followers of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the father of Nestorianism, gaining influence and authority in the East. But he was not a theologian at all, nor was he a member of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria. He was accused of teaching that the humanity of Christ was from Heaven and not truly human, or that the humanity of Christ had been swallowed up and lost in the divinity. He may have held some of these views at various times, it is not at all clear. But he certainly struggled to express himself and had a weak Christology.
We need to ask on what basis Patriarch Dioscorus supported him, and to what extent he was supported. Without going into great detail, and I have written about Eutyches elsewhere, it is enough to say that he found himself up against some powerful opponents in Constantinople, who intended to use Eutyches as a means of condemning the language of St Cyril himself. Eutyches was called before a local council, and found himself being required to anathematise ideas and language which belonged to St Cyril of Alexandria. He couldn’t bring himself to do it, and he appealed to various heads of churches saying that the local council had been arranged with the intention of condemning him even before he spoke. The Emperor called a new and ecumenical or universal council, to take place at Ephesus, to try to bring peace to the Church, and to deal with this case among others.
This is not a post about Eutyches, (that can be found here), but if we assume that he taught the worst error he is accused of, that the humanity of Christ was from Heaven, and that the humanity lost its integrity in union with the divinity, then it is proper to ask how Patriarch Dioscorus dealt with his case. In the first place we have no correspondence between Eutyches and Dioscorus. They were not close friends, nor had they ever met. But Eutyches was certainly known to St Cyril, and therefore had some respect in Alexandria as being faithful to him. But he was accused of serious error. of heresy.
At the council of Ephesus in 449 A.D. Eutyches was not received into communion until he had answered questions about his faith. His reception into communion depended on his answers. At the beginning of the Council a letter from Eutyches was read out because he was not yet permitted to attend the Council. In it Eutyches stated…
Submitting myself to the Holy Synod I have kept this Definition till the present time, and I reckon, as well as your Piety, all those Holy Fathers Orthodox and Faithful, and I accept them as my Teachers, anathematizing Manes, Valentinus, Appollinarius, and Nestorius, and all Heretics up to Simon Magus, as well as those who affirm that the Flesh of our Lord and God Jesus Christ descended from Heaven.
The Definition he speaks of keeping is the Creed of Nicaea, a copy of which he had received from the hand of St Cyril himself. More than that, he rejects the heresy of Appollinarius, who taught that the humanity of Christ lacked a reasonable and intelligent soul, and especially importantly, he rejects the idea that the humanity of Christ came from Heaven, and so was a fantasy humanity. Eutyches is therefore accepted as Orthodox because he accepts the Faith of Nicaea and Ephesus, and for no other reason. His views are not considered a definition of the faith, or as modifying it at all. What matters is that he confesses the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus.
The monks of Eutyches‟ monastery, who have been excommunicated along with him, then present themselves, asking to be released from the discipline laid upon them by Flavian. They also insist that they and Eutyches held to the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus, and that Flavian wished to overthrow it. The monks are required to state their own faith so that it can be understood whether or not they were worthy of such penalties. They state,
“As our religious archimandrite informed your holiness in his plaint, our beliefs accord with the decrees of the holy fathers at Nicaea, which the holy council here confirmed, and we have never conceived or held anything contrary to this creed‟.
Patriarch Dioscorus then questions them more closely and asks,
“Regarding the coming of the Saviour in the flesh, do you believe the same as the blessed Athanasius, the blessed Cyril, the blessed Gregory, and all the bishops?‟
The monk Eleusinius replies,
“We believe the same as the holy fathers who met at Nicaea, and those who assembled here‟.
Dioscorus asks again,
“The most devout presbyter and archimandrite Eutyches has sent a document. Do you agree with what he has written? Do you follow his faith?‟
The monk insists that he does, that he does not offend against it in any way, and that they all believe the same. It is on this basis, of receiving the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus, that Eutyches‟ monastic community is then received back into communion. Dioscorus is clear that it is only with the assent of the bishops that they are released from the penalty which had been placed on them. Just as Eutyches also was restored to his priesthood and monastic leadership only by the assent of the bishops at Ephesus.
It could be said by some that more should have been asked of Eutyches, though at other Councils nothing pressing was asked of other controversial figures such as Theodoret and Ibas. But it cannot be said that Eutyches and his monastic community was already in communion with Patriarch Dioscorus, or that he was received into communion on the confession of a heretical faith. It was only on the basis of his affirming the Creed of Nicaea, and his agreement with the Fathers of the Church that he was restored to his monastery. There was never any acceptance of the idea that the humanity of Christ came from Heaven, or was an appearance, or was swallowed up and ceased to exist.
After the death in exile of Patriarch Dioscorus the Church in Alexandria chose Timothy to be their Archbishop. He also spent much of his Patriarchate in exile, but was greatly loved and had the support of the vast majority of the Egyptian Christians. I have written about him here. What matters in relation to this post is what he taught about Christ.
Patriarch Timothy seems to have impressed many of those whom he met, including the Emperor and Patriarch Acacius of Constantinople. Zachariah the Church Historian records,
“It was he who, in a discussion with Acacius the patriarch, was able to show that the heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches are one and the same; though they are generally thought to be diametrically opposed to each other. For the one, indeed, making objection declares that it would be a degradation to God to be born of a woman, and to be made in all points like as we are, by becoming partaker of flesh and blood; whereas He was only partaker by identity of name, and by power and indwelling, and by operation. But the other, indeed, for the purpose of liberating and exalting God, so that He should not suffer degradation and contempt by association with a human body, publishes the doctrine that He became incarnate from His own essence, and that He assumed a heavenly body; and that just as there is no part of the seal left upon the wax, nor of the golden signet upon the clay, so neither did there cleave to Christ any portion of humanity whatsoever.”
It is clear that Timothy of Alexandria was no Eutychian. Indeed he understood entirely the defects of the Eutychian and Nestorian Christology, both of which denied the full humanity of Christ, consubstantial with us. He absolutely rejects the idea that the humanity of Christ is from the divine essence, or that the humanity of Christ came from Heaven, or that the humanity just ceased to exist in union with the divinity. Patriarch Timothy convinced the Emperor Basiliscus and drew up an Encyclical which contains this doctrinal statement…
We anathematise everyone who does not confess that the only-begotten Son of God truly became incarnate by the Holy Ghost from the Virgin Mary; not taking a body from heaven, in mere semblance or phantasy.
This could hardly be a stronger statement of the teaching and faith of Patriarch Timothy, and of the Church in his care. He does not merely disagree with others but anathematises them. He rejects completely any idea that the humanity of Christ was from Heaven, and only an appearance. He insists that the Word of God became truly and really incarnate taking his humanity from the Virgin Mary.
Altogether about 700 bishops signed their agreement with the document. The bishops of the province of Asia Minor gathered at Ephesus and sent the following statement to the Emperor…
For we are satisfied with the doctrine and faith of the apostles and of the holy fathers, the three hundred and eighteen bishops; to which also the illustrious Council of the one hundred and fifty in the Royal City, and the two other holy Synods at Ephesus adhered, and which they confirmed. And we join with them in anathematising Nestorius, and everyone who does not confess that the only-begotten Son of God was incarnate by the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary; He becoming perfect man, while yet He remained, without change and the same, perfect God; and that He was not incarnate from Heaven in semblance or phantasy. And we further anathematise all other heresies.
This Council was presided over the Patriarch Timothy, and had a great attendance from the East, though it is little known outside of Oriental Orthodoxy. But this conciliar statement expresses the Oriental Orthodox teaching and faith very clearly. In the first place we can see that the faith of the Councils at Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus are accepted. In the second place, as far as this post is concerned, an anathema is given against all those who deny that the humanity of Christ is from the Virgin Mary, and who deny that he became perfect man, while remaining perfect God, or who say that he was only man in appearance. All of these are rejected and anathematised. There is no possibility that Patriarch Timothy ever taught or believed these things which he explicitly opposes and condemns.
We have a collection of other writings from the hand of Patriarch Timothy. Much of the material concerns Timothy’s struggle against Eutychians in Alexandria and especially in Constantinople. There was a community of these heretics in Constantinople who were claiming that Patriarch Timothy believed as they did. He wrote a lengthy letter against them, containing many proofs from the fathers that Christ should be confessed as consubstantial in His Godhead with the Father, and consubstantial in flesh with us. He writes,
For we believe, in accordance with the tradition of the fathers, that our Lord Jesus Christ was consubstantial in flesh with us, and one with his own flesh. For we hear the holy Apostle declaring: ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of it like them, ….Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in what pertains to God…..’ This expression, ‘like us in everything’ counsels all of us, who wish to live and enjoy eternal benefits, to confess that our Lord Jesus Christ’s flesh is derived from Mary the holy Virgin and Mother of God, because he was consubstantial in the flesh with her and with us, he who is consubstantial in his Godhead with the Father.
He then goes on to quote from St Athanasius, St Basil, St Gregory, St Ambrose, St Theophilus, St Cyril and St John Chrysostom. He uses all of these passages to stress that Christ is really consubstantial with us according to his humanity, while remaining consubstantial with the Father according to his Divinity. There is no doubt, there is no ambiguity. Patriarch Timothy absolutely believes that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with us, and has the same humanity as us, which he received from the Virgin Mary, even while he also remains consubstantial with the Father according to his divinity. He is human in the same extent that we are, like us in everything, even while remaining God.
He wrote to his own Church in Alexandria, warning them about those in Constantinople who followed the teaching of Eutyches, who were Monophysites. He said…
I promised that if they refrained from heterodoxy and confessed that our Lord was consubstantial in flesh with us and that he was not of a different nature, I would maintain them in their former honour and would grasp them with the same love…..I then saw that they persisted for about four years in not repenting, in being disobedient to the doctrine of the holy fathers and bishops and in refusing to accept that our Lord took flesh from the holy Virgin, and in asserting that he did not truly partake of her blood or flesh at all.
This is an important passage. In it he describes the false beliefs of these Eutychianists as heterodoxy. They need to repent and confess his own teachings, that the humanity of Christ was the same as ours, and that it was taken from the Virgin Mary. He repudiates their error which he considers as meaning that the Lord Jesus Christ did not truly become man at all. PatriarchTimothy was so hostile to the Eutychian poison that he had no choice but to write…
It seemed to me to be necessary, for the sake of those simple folk who are falling victim to them, to inform everyone, naming the above mentioned Isaiah and Theophilus as persons who, by asserting that our Lord and God Jesus Christ is of an alien nature from us and that he was not consubstantial in flesh with men and that he was not really human, have alienated themselves from communion with the holy fathers and with me, and give warning that no man henceforth should hold communion with them.
This must surely prove that Timothy believed that our Lord Jesus Christ was consubstantial with us, and really human. Christ would not be ‘really human’ if his humanity was swallowed up in his Divinity, or if his humanity came from heaven, or if he was of some third Christ essence, neither human nor Divine. He shows himself to be a consistent follower of the teaching of his predecessors, indeed he quotes from a letter of St Dioscorus which shows clearly that both of them confessed the real and complete humanity of Christ, which was not an ‘unreal appearance’ in any sense, but was the true flesh of the Word of God, who ‘became man, without abandoning his being Son of God, in order that we might, through the grace of God, become sons of God’.
In one final reference from Timothy of Alexandria, we read…
These anti-Christs neither acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come into the world in human flesh, nor believe that God the Word became man whilst remaining God unchanged…. Some of them say that our Lord’s incarnation was illusion, imagination and unreal… They are now preaching the evil doctrines of the Phantasiast heresy by saying that the body of our Lord and God Jesus Christ is uncreated, that body which was constituted of created manhood.
Far from being a Monophysite, Patriarch Timothy was committed to resisting any such false and heterodox ideas, even to the point of excommunicating those who pretended to be followers of St Cyril, but had adopted error. It was absolutely necessary in the thinking of Timothy, that the humanity of Christ be real and true humanity, like our own, and that in the union with the divinity the humanity should not lose its own integrity. Far from being a Monophysite, even in exile, he was opposed to such views wherever he found them, and warned his own community against those who taught them.
We can turn to other major Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox communion from these earliest times after Chalcedon and we will find the same insistence on the true incarnation and the continuing reality of the humanity, the consubstantiality of the humanity with us, and the union without confusion, mixture, division or separation. One of these is Philoxenus, a great monastic leader. In a Letter to the Monks he writes…
He did not cause the person of a man to adhere to Himself that two might be counted in Him, He and a man adhering to Him. Nor did He enter and dwell in another, He Who is the Only Son, but He was embodied from our nature and He is not counted two. He became man of the Virgin, and His person was not doubled; He became (man), and He was not changed, because even in His becoming His essence remained without change. For as He is in His essence, so He remained also in His becoming, that is, without change.
The first part of this passage refers to Nestorianism, the idea that there is the Word and a man, Jesus, associated with him. Or that the Word entered a man, Jesus who already existed. What does he want to teach? It is that the Word himself became a man like us, and so there are not two identities, the Word and a man, but the Word himself has become man, without any change. His divinity was not changed when he truly became man, but it remained divinity even while he became man without change. Philoxenus continues and says…
The Ancient of days became a child; the Most High became an infant in the womb, and God became man in the womb. The Spiritual One became corporal; the Invisible One was seen; the Intangible One was handled; He Who is consubstantial with the Father became of us in His becoming, because He, God the Word, was embodied in the Virgin and of the Virgin. He did not bring His body down from heaven, as Bardesanes said; nor was He seen under a false appearance or a phantom, according to the blasphemy of Mani and Marcion; nor was (His body) made from nothing, as said Eutyches the fool; nor was His nature changed, as the wicked Arius and Eunomius imagine; nor was He, Who was embodied, without (human) intelligence, according to the blasphemous doctrine of Apollinaris; but He Who is perfect God took a body, and became perfect man of the Virgin.
In this passage we see that all of the heresies about Christ are rejected. His humanity did not come from Heaven. He did not have only the appearance of being a man. Nor was his body created from nothing. Nor was his humanity or his divinity changed. Nor did he become only half a man without an intelligent soul. But he became perfect man, without ceasing to be perfect God. He continues, saying…
The Word was not embodied in the Virgin, as if not also of the Virgin, but He truly became man in her and of her. For the Virgin was not indeed a channel (through which) God (passed), but (His) true Mother, because He became man of her. Nor again was God born in another man, for a man was not born in whom God dwelt, according to the teaching of the impious Nestorius and his mad disciples; but God, Who was embodied without change, was born of the Virgin. For He, Who descended into her as God, the very Same came forth from her as man; and the one Whom she conceived spiritually, the very Same she brought forth corporally. And He, Whose generation from the Father is without beginning, was brought forth with a beginning in His generation from the Virgin.
In this passage, written as instruction to his own monks, he insists that the Word of God did not become man in the Virgin as if she was just a container, but he became man in her and of her, so that she was truly his Mother and the source of his humanity. He did not become man by joining himself to an already existing man, but he became man without change, so that he was truly and perfectly man of the same humanity as us, and truly and perfectly God, of the same divinity as the Father.
One last reference from Philoxenus, and many more could be produced, says…
We, on the contrary, believe in the Only Begotten God the Word, Who came down and was embodied of the Virgin in an ineffable manner, and remained, in His nature, God. We do not say, like the erring disciples of Eutyches, that He was embodied in the Virgin, but not of her.
In this excerpt we find that Philoxenus explicitly rejects the teachings of Eutyches. How then can he possibly be said to be a Eutychian, or teach Monophysitism, when he clearly and plainly condemns all of these beliefs as false. It was God himself who became man, and he became man in the same humanity as ours, and he did not change but remained God even while he truly became man.
There are so many Fathers who could be considered and who teach the same Orthodox Christology, but a few more examples will be considered as representative of the Oriental Orthodox Tradition from the 5th century to the present. In the reign of the Emperor Justinian, some of the bishops who had been sent into exile were called back to the city of Constantinople, and they wrote and address to the Emperor saying…
One of the persons of this holy Trinity, that is, God the Word, we say by the will of the Father in the last days for the salvation of men took flesh of the Holy Spirit and of the holy Virgin the Theotokos Mary in a body endowed with a rational and intellectual soul, passible after our nature, and became man, and was not changed from that which He was. And so we confess that, while in the Godhead He was of the nature of the Father, He was also of our nature in the manhood. Accordingly He Who is the perfect Word, the invariable Son of God, became perfect man, and left nothing wanting for us in respect of our salvation, as the foolish Apollinaris said, saying that the Humanisation of God the Word was not perfect, and deprives us, according to his opinion, of things that are of prime importance in our salvation. For, if our intellect was not united with Him, as he absurdly says, then we are not saved, and in the matter of salvation have fallen short of that which is of the highest consequence for us. But these things are not as he said; for the perfect God for our sake became perfect man without variation, and God the Word did not leave anything wanting in the Humanisation, as we have said, nor yet was it a phantom of Him, as the impious Mani supposes, and the erring Eutyches.
And, since Christ is truth and does not know how to lie and does not deceive, because He is God, therefore God the Word truly became incarnate, in truth again, and not in semblance, with natural and innocent passions, because of His own will He for our sake among the things which He took upon Himself in the passible flesh of our nature of His own will endured also our death, which He made life for us by a Resurrection befitting God, for he first restored incorruption and immortality to human nature. And, indeed, as God the Word left nothing wanting and was not phantasmal in the Incarnation and Humanisation, so He did not divide it into two persons and two natures according to the doctrine introduced by Nestorius the man-worshipper and those who formerly thought like him, and those who in our day so think.
This is a long passage, but it represents the Christological position of those who are the Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox communion, though of course there was not, at this time, a division into two communions. We find that God the Word took flesh, and received his humanity from the Virgin Mary. His humanity was not lacking a human soul, or the human faculty of will, which is described by the words rational and intellectual. It was humanity like ours, and was passible, which means it naturally felt hunger and tiredness, pain and suffering. But in becoming truly man like us he did not change his divinity at all. What more do these bishops teach? It is that he of the nature of the Father in his divinity, and of our own nature in his humanity. He is perfect in his divinity as the Word, and he became perfect man, lacking nothing at all in his humanity.
Indeed, these bishops insist on this most important point, that if the humanity of Christ is not entirely like ours in every regard, including soul and will, then we are not saved. By intellect is meant the will at this time in Church history, the one who thinks is the one who wills, and if our intellect, our reflective and willing aspect, is not united to Christ in his own humanity, then we are not saved. It is of the most extreme importance to these bishops, Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox communion, that Christ be perfect and complete in his humanity. There is no room at all for any hint of Monophysitism since it is rejected as being incompatible with salvation.
He became man, truly man, completely and perfectly man, so that our humanity could be restored to incorruption and immortality. Just as he was himself truly man without ceasing to be God, equally he was not two divided persons and two divided natures, God and a man with him, or associated with him. But he was perfect God and perfect man, without change, but without division.
Finally, from these references from the Fathers of the 5th and 6th century, we cannot fail to turn to Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch, and the worthy disciple of St Cyril, whose teachings he strive to reproduce as faithfully as possible, and to the other Patriarchs of that time, of Alexandria and Constantinople, who also rejected the Council of Chalcedon, as having introduced confusion into the Church. Anthimus, Patriarch of Constantinople, having rejected Chalcedon, sent a letter to Severus, the exiled Patriarch of Antioch, saying…
In the last days He became incarnate and became perfectly man of the Holy Spirit and of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, and united to Himself personally flesh of our nature, having a rational and intellectual soul, and without variation and confusion and sin took our resemblance upon Him. For He remained immutable as God, and even in assuming our attributes He did not at the same time also diminish His own divine properties; and that which was derived from us He made His own by dispensation by a junction consisting in a natural union. For He who was begotten without time and without a body of God the Father, the same submitted to a second birth in a body; and, after He had in an ineffable manner become incarnate of a virgin mother, she that bore Him also continued a virgin even after the birth. Wherefore also we truly confess her to be the Theotokos, and that He who was born of her in the flesh is perfect God and perfect man, the same out of two natures one Son, one Lord, one Christ, and one nature of the incarnate Word; and He became perfectly man, while each one of the natures remained without confusion in its sphere of manifestation, the natures which combined to form an indivisible unity.
And He is one and the same in the miracles and also in the passions; and by dispensation He made our passions His own, voluntary and innocent ones, in flesh which was passible and mortal and of our nature, intellectually and rationally possessed of a soul. And this all the time of the dispensation He allowed to be passible and mortal for the purpose mentioned above with respect to His Humanisation, I mean that He suffered not in semblance but in reality. For in the flesh that was capable of suffering He endured voluntary and natural and innocent passions and the death by the Cross; and by a miracle befitting God, that of the Resurrection, He made and rendered it impassible and immortal and in every way therefore incorruptible, since it came from the union and existence in the womb, which was holy and without sin. While recognising, therefore, the distinction between the elements which have combined to form the unity of nature, I mean the divine and the human nature, we do not separate them from one another; also we do not cut the One and ineffable into or in two natures, nor yet do we confound Him by rejecting the distinction between the Godhead and the manhood, but we confess Him to be one out of two, Emmanuel.
There is no trace of Monophysitism in these passages. Nor is this the writing of a minor figure in the Oriental Orthodox history, but a Patriarch of a major See. We can see that he teaches that Christ became perfectly man, he repeats this several times. We can see that the humanity which he teaches that Christ united to himself is rational and intellectual, meaning that it is with the human faculty of will. Christ became human without change or confusion. He was really human, and the humanity and divinity remained without confusion in their integrity. But the humanity and the divinity both belong to the Word of God who has become incarnate. So the miracles belong to the Word, and the suffering belongs to the Word and not to someone else.
This is the most important part – we recognise the distinction between humanity and divinity, but we do not separate them or divide them so that we have God the Word and a man with him. It is God the Word himself who has become man while remaining God. And even though we do not divide the humanity and divinity we do not confuse them. He is Emmanuel, God with us, one person or identity, out of two ways of being, divine and human, which remain unconfused but undivided.
Patriarch Theodosius of Alexandria responded to this formal confession of faith from Patriarch Anthimus when he also received it. He says…
Who is there, therefore, who will not marvel at the accuracy of the divine words of Severus, which everywhere supply due direction and in the same words refute the ‘semblance’ of Eutyches, and those who are like him, and the doctrine of Nestorius? For he says that Christ partook of our likeness in flesh and blood; and, that no one might think that He did so in phantasy, he went on to say that He partook of the same that through death He might bring to naught the power of death.
Moreover they contend against those who divide the one Christ into two natures by the example of children. For, as the child and the man, who is made up of soul and body, is one out of two, and the two are called one nature, though the soul was not converted into flesh nor the body changed into the essence of the soul; so also Christ, who consists of the two elements, the Godhead and also the manhood, which have a perfect existence, each in its proper sphere, is one and is not divided; and the union is not confused in Him in that [He united to Himself personally flesh of our nature and] allowed it in all the dispensation to be passible and mortal (but the same was holy without sin), and by the Resurrection made and rendered it impassible and immortal and in every way incorruptible.
In this equally formal Letter, we find that there is again a rejection of any of the ideas which might be called Eutychian, and which are considered to be Monophysite. Theodosius writes to his brother Patriarch Anthimus, and commends the teaching of Severus of Antioch in insisting that Christ became truly human, truly flesh and blood. He had to become completely and perfectly human because it was in our own humanity that he needed to destroy the power of death for us. He goes on to explain what is meant by speaking of one nature, as the Oriental Orthodox prefer to do, in continuity with St Cyril of Alexandria. It does not matter whether others wish to use this terminology or not. But what does matter is that the term is understood in the way we use it, and not understood in a way that we reject. Theodosius considers the case of a child or a man, who is both soul and body. These are not the same, and hey remain distinct and different, but are not confused or divided. In the same way, he explains, we see that Christ is God and man, and these are different and distinct, but being united without confusion, we find one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, and not two persons or identities, God the Word, and a man called Jesus. The word nature of physis has a range of meanings. It can represent the essence or ousia, but it also stands for the hypostasis or identity. When we use the idea of one nature we mean only and entirely that God the Word who has become man is one person and identity, as is clear from all these references, it never means that the humanity and divinity are mixed or confused, or cease to be what they are.
This is what St Cyril had taught when he said…
Accordingly we confess that the only begotten Son of God is perfect God, consubstantial to the Father according to divinity, and that the same Son is consubstantial to us according to humanity. For there was a union of two natures. Wherefore, we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. And, if it seems proper, let us point out as an example the composition in us ourselves according to which we are men. For we are composed of soul and body, and we see two natures, the one of the body and the other of the soul, but one man from both according to a union, and the composition of two natures does not make two men be considered as one, but one man.
This is what the Oriental Orthodox confess. That Christ is one because he has one identity, he is God the Word incarnate, while he remains always after the union of humanity and divinity both human and divine. While he is human and divine, the Son of Man and the Son of God this does not make him two persons or identities, nor does it even make him a God and a man alongside each other joined in some way. It is the one God the Word who is perfectly human and perfectly divine in an incomprehensible unity that does not confuse or mix, separate or divide.
Let us again consider the accusation of Eutychianism and Monophysitism. What can be found in the writings of Severus of Antioch to refute such a charge? In his first letter to a certain Sergius who wished to speak of one ousia or essence he says…
Know, therefore, that professing the natural particularity of the natures from which there is the One Christ is not just recently determined by us.
Here Severus indicates that Sergius’ error lay in supposing that union must mean the extinction of each natures particular existence. More than that, Severus places himself within the Orthodox tradition which had confessed the continuity of the natures in Christ. He continues this passage immediately with a substantial and important quotation from Cyril:
For even if the Only-Begotten Son of God, incarnate and inhominate, is said by us to be one, he is not confused because of this, as he seems to those people, nor has the nature of the Word passed over into the nature of the flesh, nor indeed has the nature of the flesh passed into that which is his, but while each one of them continues together in the particularity that belongs to the nature, and is thought of in accordance with the account which has just been given by us, the inexpressible and ineffable union shows us one nature of the son, but as I have said, incarnate.
The quotation from Cyril explains the meaning of the sentence from Severus. This passage shows us that Severus is dependent on Cyril for his Christology and that when he speaks of the particularity of the natures in Christ he is summarising the quotation which he then provides from Cyril. This in turn teaches that the humanity of Christ continues to be humanity and the Divinity of Christ continues to be Divinity. Therefore the concept of ‘one incarnate nature’ cannot and should not, in Cyril or in Severus, be taken to stand for the extinction or confusion of either the humanity or Divinity.
Severus makes this absolutely explicit by stating:
When the Doctor has confessed one nature of God the Word, who is incarnate, he says that each of them continues together and is understood in the particularity that belongs to the nature.
This makes clear that Severus teaches that the one nature of God the Word incarnate should be understood as allowing the two natures to continue to exist in the union of natures and to continue to preserve their distinctions and characteristics. There is no sense in which he teaches a Eutychian confusion of the humanity and Divinity.
Another quotation from Cyril is provided to illustrate what Severus means by the continuing distinctions of the humanity and Divinity of Christ:
Therefore let us recognise that even if the body which was born at Bethlehem is not the same, that is, as far as natural quality is concerned, as the Word which is from God and the Father, yet nevertheless it became his, and did not belong to another man beside the Son. But the Word incarnate is to be considered one Son and Christ and Lord.
This is a key quotation because it expresses both Severus’ confession of the continuing distinction and difference between the humanity born at Bethlehem and the eternal and divine Word, as well as his commitment to a union which makes one Christ without a confusion of these natures. The body born at Bethlehem was never the body of a man beside the Word or with the Word. From the moment of conception this humanity was the humanity of the Word, distinct from the divinity but never separated or divided, therefore, without suffering any change the humanity and the divinity are made one in the incarnation.
Severus, in his own words, writes to Sergius that:
..particularity implies the otherness of natures of those things which have come together in union, and the difference lies in natural quality. For the one is uncreated, but the other created….Nevertheless, while this difference and the particularity of the natures, from which comes the one Christ, still remains without confusion, it is said that the Word of Life was both seen and touched.
How could it be expressed any clearer that Severus did not even conceive of the humanity and Divinity of Christ being confused in any way. The ‘difference…remains without confusion‘, he confesses. Exactly the same teaching as steadfastly maintained by Cyril before him, and not at all to be compared with the teaching of Eutyches, however that is described. The union is confessed with the teaching that the Divine Word was seen and touched by the Apostles, but it is clear that this union does not confuse the continuing distinction between the humanity and Divinity.
Indeed Severus is well aware of the heresy of those who confused the natures in Christ. He writes to Sergius of their madness and he refutes any sense in which his teaching of the union of the humanity and Divinity in Christ could be compared with the confusion of natures of the ‘synousiasts’. Nor does he feel the need, as they have, to ‘cure evil with evil’, that is the evil of Nestorianism with the evil of Eutychianism.
To make this absolutely clear Severus quotes again from Cyril, who writes in his reply to a critic:
There is no share in any blame that one should recognise, for example, that the flesh is one thing in its own nature, apart from the Word which sprang from God and the Father, and that the Only-Begotten is another again, with respect to his own nature. Nevertheless to recognise these things is not to divide the natures after the union.
These words should be taken as though written by Severus himself. He is quoting them with complete agreement. There is no blame, he says in Cyril’s words, there is no blame associated with recognising that in Christ the humanity and Divinity are different things. The flesh is one thing, according to nature, the Divinity another, according to nature. Here is a clear expression of the Christology of the Oriental Orthodox. The recognition of the difference between the humanity and Divinity of Christ in no wise detracts from the confession of the true and perfect union of these natures. Both of these Christological facts are true. The humanity and Divinity retain their integrity, their distinctions, but the union of them drives out division. There is no room for Nestorianism or Eutychianism.
Severus proceeds to explain rather more about how he conceives of the union taking place:
Let us make an enquiry of the divinity and humanity. They are not only different in everything but they are removed from each other and distinct as well. But when the union is professed from the two of them, the difference, again, in the quality of the natures from which there is the One Christ is not suppressed, but in conjunction by hypostasis division is driven out.
Here is the key to understanding Oriental Orthodox Christology: the difference remains, division is driven out and the union takes place hypostatically. No-one should allow any interpretation of the Christology of the Oriental Orthodox which mutilates this clear and straight-forward definition. If someone suggests that a confusion of natures is taught, then they are mistaken. It is clear that Severus, and all of us with him, confess the continuing difference of these natures. If someone suggests that we teach that these natures have their own independent existence then they are mistaken. It is clear that Severus, and all of us with him, confess a real and perfect union in which there is no division. And if others should suggest that we teach a mixture or confusion of essences or ousia then they are again mistaken, because Severus, and all of us with him confess a hypostatic union.
But this teaching should not be understood as something new, or something that originated after Chalcedon had confused the unity of the Church. Severus indicates his continuity and agreement with Cyril by quoting immediately from him:
I too allow that there is a great difference or distinction between humanity and Divinity. For these things which were named are seen to be other, according to the mode of how they are, and they are not like each other in anything. But when the mystery which is in Christ has come for us into the middle, the principle of union does not ignore the difference but it removes the division; not because it confuses with each other or mixes the natures, but because the Word of God has shared in flesh and blood, thus again the Son too is understood and named as One.
But if the Oriental Orthodox absolutely reject the teachings of Eutyches and Monophysitism, and if we teach that Christ is fully and perfectly God and fully and perfectly man without confusion or mixture, division or separation, then why do we speak about one incarnate nature, surely that brings us back to Monophysitism? I hope it is clear by now that all Monophysitism is completely rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Churches. So the phrase one incarnate nature, used so much by St Cyril, cannot mean what some Eastern Orthodox want to insist, but it means what we confess in accordance with all these references.
This phrase is part of the language that we use in our Orthodox Church to explain and describe in a partial manner what we believe took place in the incomprehensible incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is a phrase used by St Cyril of Alexandria to express his own understanding, and has been used by our holy Fathers until the present time. But it is a phrase which is controversial in that from the very beginning it has been misunderstood and misrepresented. Undoubtedly many members of our own Orthodox Church, as well as those of the Eastern Orthodox Church, do not properly understand what is meant by these words.
St Cyril uses this phrase to speak about Christ, and it is a phrase that seems also to have been used in preceding generations, and by those who had a false understanding. But that hardly means that St Cyril used it in an incorrect manner. We confess that we believe in One God, but so do Jews and Muslims. We do not stop using the phrase “One God” simply because others use it in a false or deficient manner. Likewise, the fact that this phrase was used by others in an incorrect manner does not mean that it cannot also be used in an accurate and correct manner, as St Cyril and our Fathers certainly did.
In this simplified explanation it is enough to say that the phrase is criticised by those who consider Oriental Orthodox to be heretics because it uses the word “one” and the word “nature”. The Eastern Orthodox have come to define the word nature (or physis in the Greek), as having the meaning of essence (or ousia in the Greek). Essence has the sense of meaning what type of thing an object is. So a chair has the essence of chairness. That is what it is. A dog has the essence of dogness because that it what it is and what separates it from a cat. And so a man is of the essence of humanity. We may even speak in a relative sense, since God is incomprehensible, and say that the three divine persons are of the essence of divinity or share the divine essence.
Now when the Eastern Orthodox see the words “one” and “nature” in the same sentence, they tend to immediately think of “one essence”. But when we are speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we believe is God and man, this is a problem. If he is one essence then what does this mean? It must mean either that he is all God, and the humanity of Christ is just a mirage or a pretence. Or it must mean that he is all man, and his relation to God is not any different to that which any of us might experience. Or it must mean that he has now a new essence, which is God-man-ness, some sort of a mixture of divinity and humanity. All of these are unacceptable options for an Orthodox understanding of the incarnation. We want to insist that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, a divine person, one of the Holy Trinity, who has become man, truly human in every way, without sin, and without ceasing to be God, and without any confusion or mixture of the divine and human essences.
If he has not truly become man then we are not saved because no one really died and rose again. It was just an appearance. If he is not truly divine then we are not saved because it was only a prophet who died on the cross. And if he represents a new essence of God-man-ness then we are not saved because he is neither God nor man.
So if we mean “one essence” when we say “one incarnate nature of the Word” then there is a problem. In very recent times it has been noted that the phrase we are considering uses the Greek word “mia”, which is translated as “one”. And it has been proposed, in fact by a theologian who is not a member of our Orthodox Church, that we should call ourselves miaphysites. The idea behind this is that “mia” could be taken as meaning “one by a union”, and so the phrase “one incarnate nature of the Word” is interpreted as saying, “a union of essences in the incarnate Word”, and does not mean simply one at all.
Of course we do insist that in Christ the humanity and divinity are not mixed or confused into one, but that Christ is truly both God and man. So this seems an attractive way forward. It is as if we agree that there is one essence, but this essence is a union, not a confusion, of the essence of humanity and divinity. The problem with this explanation is that it does not describe what we believe, and what our Fathers teach, at all. It seems to me that it merely indicates that we have listened to the Eastern Orthodox criticism, allowed them to define all the terms, and then tried to find a solution based on the Eastern Orthodox interpretation.
Let’s be clear first of all that we do not believe at all that the humanity of Christ has ceased to be the same, real and true and complete humanity of each one of us, or that the divinity of the Word has been changed in any way. Severus says…
Flesh does not renounce its existence as flesh, even if it has become God’s flesh, nor has the Word departed from his nature, even if he has been hypostatically united to flesh which possesses a rational and intelligent soul: but the difference also is preserved, and the essential quality in the form of natural characteristics of the natures of which Emmanuel consists, since the flesh was not converted into the nature of the Word, nor was the Word changed into flesh.
What is very clear is that we do not believe at all that the flesh, the humanity of Jesus Christ, has ceased to be humanity, nor has the divinity of the Word changed into a different essence either. The humanity is just like ours and has the faculty of will – that is what rational means to Severus. It is complete and it remains completely human. The flesh was not changed into divinity, and the divinity was not changed into humanity, and the difference between them was preserved. More than that Severus is quite happy to speak about natures, a plural. Because humanity and divinity are different and remain different, and when we ask what essence Christ is of we have to answer accurately that he is of two essences.
Now we will notice that we are using the word translated as nature to speak of essences. And this is entirely proper. The word being used by Severus is not essence (or ousia), but is nature (or physis). And this word has several meanings. In some contexts it can mean essence (or ousia), just as he uses it here. But this is not its only meaning. It can also stand for another word used in the passage I have quoted, which is hypostasis. This is another Greek word which stands for a concrete identity, a real example of whatever type of thing we might mean by an essence. So there is a human nature which we all share, because we are all of this type of thing – we are human. But we are human hypostases, (the plural of hypostasis) because we are all real and concrete examples of what being human means.
Now God the Word is a divine hypostasis. He is a real instance of the divine nature, not quite in the same way that we humans are examples of the human nature of essence. But he is truly one divine identity. Severus tells us that this Word of God, this divine hypostasis, has united a real humanity to himself in a hypostatic manner. This real humanity, which comes into existence only at the moment of this uniting with the Word, has a soul and intelligence and will. It is a complete humanity. But it has its existence only as belonging to the Word. It is united hypostatically, which means that it belongs to the hypostasis, or the identity of the Word. God the Word, a divine hypostasis, remains divine, but God the Word now also has his own humanity, a real humanity. It is God the Word who is both human and divine without confusion.
If the uniting of humanity and divinity was a matter of essence then we would have to end up with a mixture, because humanity and divinity would have been united, and all of mankind would have become all of the Holy Trinity. But the union is to do with the identity of the Word. The humanity and divinity have been united because they both belong to him, and because they both belong to him and are united because he adds being truly a human to his own identity, they are neither mixed not confused but retain the difference about which St Severus speaks.
Again, Severus says…
Those therefore who confess one incarnate nature of God the Word, do not confuse the elements of which he consists….they recognise the difference only, not admitting a division: for the principle of union does not admit of division.
What are these elements which we do not confuse? They are his humanity and his divinity which are entirely different. We should have no trouble saying this. Humanity and divinity are different and retain their essential difference, but they are not divided. They have been united. But this unity is found in the hypostasis or identity of God the Word, since it is he who is both human and divine after the incarnation. It is not a unity in essence, but a union of essential difference in the identity of the Word.
…Emmanuel is one, consisting of Godhead and manhood which have a perfect existence according to their own principle, and the hypostatic union without confusion shows the difference of those which have been joined in one in dispensatory union, but rejects division, both the elements which naturally belong to the manhood have come to belong to the very Godhead of the Word, and those which belong to the Word himself have come to belong to the very manhood which he hypostatically united to him.
Once more we see that the Oriental Orthodox Faith is that the divinity and humanity continue to be preserved in perfection according to their own principles and without any confusion or mixture. The union in the hypostasis of the Word does not cause either the humanity or the divinity to be compromised in any way. It is separating these two elements, as Theodore and Nestorius and their supporters did, which we reject. We absolutely confess the continuing difference.
This is what St Cyril teaches when he says…
But, while each of them both remains and is perceived in the property which is by nature, according to the principle which has just been enunciated by us, the ineffable and incomprehensible union has shown us one nature of the Son, yet, as I have said, an incarnate nature.
Both the humanity and divinity remain, and we can see what is human because it has the quality of our own humanity. And we can see what is divine because it has the quality of the divine essence. But when we look at Christ we also see a unity, so that he appears as one incarnate nature. But this brings us back to the controversy of this phrase. If we do confess that the humanity and the divinity are entirely different, and are not united at the level of the type of thing that Christ is, because he is two, both human and divine, and these are not mixed up or confused at all. Then what does St Cyril and Severus mean, what do we mean, when we speak about one incarnate nature? If we don’t mean one essence, and clearly we do not, then what do we mean?
As I have suggested, and Severus states this quite clearly. Ousia or essence means a generality, such as humanity and the human nature. But hypostasis means a particular instance. This man over here. He has the same human nature but he is a particular instance. Just as God the Word became a real man, Jesus Christ, with particular features. Sharing the universal human nature which we all participate in, but being a particular instance. The word nature, or physis, can vary in meaning depending on the context. As Severus says…
Where therefore we name all mankind one nature, we use the name ‘nature’ generically in place of ‘essence’; but, where we say that there is one nature of Paul, the name ‘nature’ is employed in place of ‘individual hypostasis’.
It doesn’t really matter at all if Eastern Orthodox want to use these or any terms in a different way. But what is absolutely necessary is that if we are considering what Oriental Orthodox mean and teach then we must understand how we use these terms. And here we see clearly, nature can be used to mean essence or individual hypostasis. This is important because we have seen that we do not mean to say “one essence” when we say “one incarnate nature of the Word”. Severus explain exactly what we do mean, saying…
When we say ‘one incarnate nature of God the Word’, as Athanasius the prop of the truth and the apostolic faith said in the books on the Incarnation of the Word, we use ‘nature’ in place of ‘individual designation’, denoting the one hypostasis of the Word himself, like that of Peter also or of Paul, or of any other single man. Wherefore also, when we say ‘one nature which became incarnate’, we do not say it absolutely, but by adding one nature of the Word himself clearly denote the one hypostasis.
This is a very important passage indeed. It says exactly what we believe. It is nothing to do with a union of essences. When we say “one incarnate nature of the Word” we mean that the one hypostasis or identity, or even person, of the Word of God has become incarnate, has become a man, while remaining the divine Word. We mean “the one identity of the Word has become incarnate”. This is what nature means in this context. The one nature of the Word refers to the person of the Word, the who he is, not the essence, which is the what he is.
This is what Severus clearly tells us. It is not an opinion or a complicated argument made from vague references. This is exactly what we believe. So when we are told that we believe in a mixture of humanity and divinity because we confess “one incarnate nature of the Word”, we must be clear that those who accuse us have absolutely failed to understand what Oriental Orthodox believe. We do not mean one essence or ousia. We mean the one hypostasis or identity of the Word which remains one both before and after the incarnation. It is the one Word who has now become man for our sake while remaining God, and his humanity and divinity retain their perfection and difference, united in the one Word, who is both perfect God and perfect man. It is the one Word who is the one nature.
And this is exactly how St Cyril explained the meaning of this phrase when he used it. Saying..
To one Person therefore must we attribute all the words in the Gospels, to One Incarnate Hypostasis of the Word: for there is One Lord Jesus Christ, according to Scriptures.
Elsewhere he uses the phrase in the form, one incarnate nature of the Word, but here, he makes clear just what he means. Nature in this context means hypostasis or identity or person. And there is only one hypostasis of the Word who has become incarnate and is one Lord Jesus Christ. When we ask WHO Christ is, we insist that he is one. One nature/hypostasis. But when we ask WHAT he is, we insist that after the incarnation he is two. Of or from two natures/ousia/essences. He is a member of two types of thing, if we dare speak like that about the divinity. This is what we mean. This is what our Fathers always taught. This is the Apostolic and Orthodox Faith, whatever words others use to express the same truth.
If we advance to modern times we can find this same faith professed by all the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Archbishop Aram Keshishian, surely someone who would know what the Armenians believe, states:
The Christology of the Armenian Church is fundamentally in line with the Alexandrian Theological School. In fact, the Cyrillian formula of ‘One Nature of the Incarnate Word’ constitutes the foundation stone of her Christology. [It should be noted that] first, ‘One Nature’ is never interpreted in the Armenian Christology as a numerical one, but always a united one. This point is of crucial importance [for the Armenian Church] particularly in its anti-Eutychian and anti-Chalcedonian aspects. Second the term ‘nature’ (ousia, in Armenian bnut’iun) is used in Armenian theological literature in three different senses: (a) as essence, an abstract notion, (b) as substance, a concrete reality, (c) as person. In the context of anti-Chalcedonian Christology ‘one nature’ is used in a sense of ‘one person’ composed of two natures.
Or Archbishop Aram Keshishian of the Armenians also says:
We say, always in a formal way, that Nestorianism and Eutychianism have been rejected and anathematized by our churches and we adhere to that. In other words, we both anathematized, once again, Eutychian and Nestorian heresies.
The Coptic Orthodox have also officially accepted a Christological statement which says:
We confess that our Lord and God and Saviour and King of us all, Jesus Christ, is perfect God with respect to His divinity, perfect man with respect to His humanity. In Him His divinity is united with His humanity in a real, perfect union without mingling, without commixtion, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without separation. His divinity did not separate from His humanity for an instant, not for the twinkling of an eye. He who is God eternal and invisible became visible in the flesh, and took upon Himself the form of a servant. In Him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of the humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union.
This is part of the official teaching of the Church, and it makes clear that there was no mixture or confusion of the humanity and Divinity in Christ which are preserved and remain unchanged and unconfused. Or in a shorter form the statement was recast and equally authoritatively accepted as:
We believe that our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Incarnate–Logos, is perfect in His Divinity and perfect in His Humanity. He made His Humanity One with His Divinity without Mixture, nor Mingling, nor Confusion. His Divinity was not separated from His Humanity even for a moment or twinkling of an eye. At the same time, we Anathematize the Doctrines of both Nestorius and Eutyches.
Again the unconfused distinction of humanity and Divinity is confessed, and also the doctrines of Eutyches are anathematised. This is the official teaching of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and since both these statements were written by Pope Shenouda and agreed by the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate they are explicit statements of Christological teaching.
The Syrian Orthodox Church have made an official statement on Christology in the following words:
In our turn we confess that He became incarnate for us, taking to himself a real body with a rational soul. He shared our humanity in all things but sin. We confess that our Lord and our God, our Saviour and the King of all, Jesus Christ, is perfect God as to His divinity and perfect man as to His humanity. This Union is real, perfect, without blending or mingling, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without the least separation. He who is God eternal and invisible, became visible in the flesh and took the form of servant. In Him are united, in a real, perfect indivisible and inseparable way, divinity and humanity, and in Him all their properties are present and active.
Christ is perfect God and perfect man. There doesn’t seem to be a lack of distinction in this statement. Confusion or mingling is also explicitly rejected, and the humanity and Divinity are confessed to be present and active in Christ with all their properties undiminished in any way.
Or the Indian Orthodox have made a statement in the following words
Our Lord Jesus Christ is one, perfect in his humanity and perfect in his divinity, at once consubstantial with the Father in his divinity, and consubstantial with us in his humanity. His humanity is one with his divinity—without change, without commingling, without division and without separation. In the Person of the Eternal Logos Incarnate are united and active in a real and perfect way the divine and human natures, with all their properties, faculties and operations.
This statement confesses the dual consubstantiality of Christ, the perfection of each nature, and the union without confusion or change. And again the statement is careful to make clear that the divine and human natures are active in a real way. Active in a real way. Can this be much clearer?
The Oriental Orthodox Churches have never ceased to confess the real humanity of Christ. Consubstantial with us, like us in every way except for sin. Preserving the integrity of both his humanity and divinity in the union of both. A union which is without confusion or mixture.
The intention of this post is not to answer every question, and satisfy every difficulty, but it is to address the issue stated in the title of the post. Are the Oriental Orthodox followers of Eutyches, and teachers of Monophysitism. The answer is clearly that we are not and never have been. To accuse us of such serious error, blasphemy even, when we ourselves reject this heresy and have never been followers of Eutyches, is a great offence. Are there any other Christians who are so routinely condemned for teachings which they completely and absolutely reject and anathematise? It should be enough to hear us reject Eutyches and Monophysitism, but these examples of the teachings of the Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox communion show that we have never believed or taught these things.
Don’t call us Monophysites! Whatever you have been taught about us. It is not a matter of being polite, it is a matter of the truth.