From 'Orthodoxy and the World'

History of Christianity
The History and Development of the Orthodox-Oriental Dialogue
By By Minas Monir
Aug 30, 2010, 10:00

Part II - b

Historical and Doctrinal Premises


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Edited by Elizabeth J Iskander


Part I

Part II - a

In the previous article, I discussed the objections and claims of the Monophysites about the origins of their One-nature formula. In this article, we'll examine the emergence of the Monophysite movement and the victory of the Catholic Church in the Holy Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Keep in mind that we won't discuss in details the minutes of the Councils since we don’t have enough space for that in an article. I aim to give a quick survey of the teachings of the major Monophysite figures, whose names the Joint-Commission of the dialogue between the two churches recommended to be added to the orthodox diptychs. Finally, I will show the consistency of the current teaching of the Monophysite churches with early Monophysitism, which totally justifies the opinion of the Muscovite Patriarchate.


Founding the Monophysite Movement: Eutychus and the tyrant-bishop

Saint Flavian and Eutychus: Constantinople 448:

The story starts when Eusebius of Dorylaeum, along with some others, raised a petition to judge Eutychus for his Monophysite teachings. Eutychus was the abbot of a large monastery and preached his Monophysitism in the monks' circles. Flavian, the Patriarch of Constantinople, convened a local council in the capital to face Eutychus. However, Eutychus refused to attend when he was summoned. Flavian was patient and respectful, sending him a couple of messengers asking him to come, but Eutychus procrastinated. Eventually, after the third summons, he felt he had to go to the hearing. Eutychus was given the opportunity to speak and explain but he preferred manipulation and playing with words. Flavian eventually managed to push him to confess the nature of the faith he held. Eutychus clearly praised the Mia-physis formula and denounced the fact the Christ is Consubstantial with us in his manhood. The paradox between the writings of Cyril, which used the Mia-physis formula (influenced by Apollinarius) and his Formula of Reunion with Antioch (+433), which declares Christ's two natures, made the need for a written explanation of the Holy Catholic Church an urgent matter. The Synod presented an Orthodox formula of faith using the term "from two natures ek du&o fu&seij", which comes from Cyril's formula. Thus, as we will see, in condemning Flavian, Dioscorus also condemned Cyril.

Dioscorus: the tyrant-bishop

Eutychus appealed to Dioscorus to, "keep the orthodox faith". Dioscorus  was an ambitious archimandrite, who led the radical stream against Cyril and became the patriarch after Cyril's death in 444 A.D. The records of the Alexandrians show that he was a corrupt and violent man. A parade of Egyptian witnesses lined up to testify to the theft and violence that characterized his own episcopal administration.  One witness stated: “No one has not had experience of his cruelty and inhumanity. Some have seen their lands devastated when their trees were cut down, others have had their houses destroyed, others have been exiled, and others hit with fines, still others have been chased out of the great city of Alexandria as if that city were the personal property of Dioscorus.”[1] Dioscorus didn't have mercy on anyone related to Cyril of Alexandria. He stole their money and persecuted Cyril's nephews and friends as he did with Athanasius, the nephew of Cyril.[2] Nestor, the bishop of Phragon in Egypt, one of Cyril's financial officers, accused Dioscorus of conniving with Chrysaphius, a corrupt chamberlain in the government, in using 1,400 lbs. of gold, Cyril's legacy, for his own purposes.[3]

The Robber Synod of Ephesus 449

The tyrant bishop, Dioscorus, used Eutychus' appeal to drag Flavian and the rest of patriarchs to his inferno. An interesting point is that on 6th of August, Emperor Theodosius II sent a letter to Dioscorus assuring him he had full authority over the military guards, and that he should not bother himself with giving the heretics a chance to speak, as "there is no freedom of speech".[4]At that time Christianity had four apostolic patriarchates, including Rome. Dioscorus, who wanted to take over Christ's church, excommunicated all the Patriarchs and the Pope! After restoring Eutychus, he admitted - unlike the objections of later Coptic defendants of the Robber Synod- to using violence and gave his sign to the monks and soldiers to start beating the aged bishops. Hilary, who was the head of the Roman delegate, shouted in Latin, "Contradicitour!" Chadwick's important study on the death of St. Flavian tells us that he died from of the physical pain due to the army assault he faced in the Council and on his way to exile between the end of August and the end of the year 450 A.D.[5]Finally, Dioscorus secured full victory and he ordained - uncanonically - his deacon apocrisarius Anatolius as a patriarch of Constantinople. In return, Anatolius ordained Maximus II at Antioch so Dioscorus had now complete authority over the whole East and excommunicated the Pope of Rome, Leo.

But was Dioscorus a Monophysite or he was simply an ambitious man? Historical records prove that he was actually in full agreement with Eutychus. Monophysites, and unfortunately Romanides, tried to say that Dioscorus refused the "in two natures" not "from two natures" since the former was not mentioned in the formula of reunion and that since Dioscorus accepted the latter then it would seem that he was not Monophysite. This is not true; while reading the minutes of the Council of 448 in the Robber Synod of 449, Dioscorus stopped at the "from two natures" term and said it clear that Flavian is a Nestorian and that the formula of reunion's content is blasphemous[6]Besides, just after hearing Eutychus' rejection of declaring that Christ is consubstantial with us in his manhood, Dioscorus was quite clear, he said: "We all agree with this"[7] That is the core of Monophysitism, Christ for them is not consubstantial with us in his manhood. Regardless of the question of the completeness of his humanity, he is not typically like us. Eventually, it makes sense to see Dioscorus condemning Flavian for using the Formula of Reunion. The excuse of Monophysites that Dioscorus was deceived by Eutychus doesn't explain his condemnation of the whole of Orthodox Christendom. He didn't only restore a heretic, but he condemned the Orthodox. For this reason he held onto to the mia-physis formula.

The Victory of Values in the Council of Chalcedon

The Council convened in Chalcedon in 451 was a victory for the principles and values. The Roman delegate managed the Council, giving everyone a chance to speak, including Dioscorus. Paschanius, the head of the Roman delegation, said that we will not do what he did to his opponents. The Council of Chalcedon brought back the dignity and reputation of Christian Ecumenical Councils when Christ and Christian Kerygma were declared to be above all considerations and every individual.  While Dioscorus was backed by the power of Theodosius the Emperor, the most exalted official senate was backed by Roman law and tradition.

During the Council, the dignified Roman law preserved justice and every document, testimony and piece of evidence were carefully tested, unlike the earlier Robber Synod which didn't even provide a public notary. Every document needed to be examined in the light of the creed of Nicaea and the great Holy Fathers, including the two canonical letters of St. Cyril of Alexandria, which were carefully examined regardless of the title of its author. The Tome of Pope Leo, which had been translated into Greek, was provided to all the bishops for ten days to check its consistency with the teachings of the Church. Unlike the actions of Dioscorus, who deposed Theodoret and a number of other bishops in their absence, the Council of Chalcedon summoned Theodoret and read carefully his writings. In the light of their consistency and Theodoret's public condemnation of Nestorius, he was given his complete chance and deserved to be restored. The Alexandrian relatives of Cyril along with lay people who who had been persecuted by Dioscorus, expected that he would have been brave enough to attend the Council, however he did not. So they were given the opportunity to express the truth without any fear of their bishop's violence. Those Alexandrians were the essence of bravery, as they continued the Apostolic Throne of Alexandria under the persecution of Monophysites who killed St. Proterius, the first Orthodox bishop of Alexandria after the deposed Dioscorus.

All of the Egyptians bishops accepted the validity of the Tome, and four of them officially approved it. The rest begged the Council’s senate to save them from the violence and humiliation they might face at the hands of Dioscorus' followers in Egypt if they approved it publicly. They were aware of the fate of the Orthodox hero Proterius and the brave men of Alexandria. Theodoret proved that he had an even better knowledge of Cyril's writings than them and he managed to confute them publicly with the extracts from Cyril's works. Monophysites knew how much they had deviated from the truth and how much Cyril did not belong to them.

The leader of the group who assassinated Proterius, Timothy "the Cat" was elected in 457 to be the patriarch of Monophysites. Timothy condemned Saint Cyril on account of the agreements: "Cyril [...] having excellently articulated the wise proclamation of Orthodoxy, showed himself to be fickle and is to be censured for teaching contrary doctrine: after previously proposing that we should speak of one nature of God the Word, he destroyed the dogma that he had formulated and is caught professing two Natures of Christ."[8] Even Severus of Antioch, the famous Monophysite figure condemned St. Cyril of Alexandria along with all the Holy Fathers saying: "The formulae used by the Holy Fathers concerning two Natures united in Christ should be set aside, even if they be Cyril's."[9]

In the next and last part of the series, we will examine the classics of the major Monophysites since the 6th century Severus of Antioch until the current writings of Monophysite scholars in order to prove continuity of Monophysite spirit whether through the explicit Christological statements or the implications in other fields of Christian Theology.

To be continued...


[1] A representative example, from the libellus presented by the deacon Ischyrion: ACO On the ecclesiastical politics of Alexandria see Haas 1997; and specifically on the episcopacy of Dioscorus see T. Gregory 1979, pp. 175–192. cited by Gaddis M., There is no Crime for Those Who Have Christ, University of California Press, 2005 p.319

[2] The scandalous treatment of Athanasius was reported by him in a letter to the Council of Chalcedon: ACO 2. I.

[3] Cited by W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of the Monophysite Movement, Cambridge University Press, UK  1979, P. 28

[4] Letter of Theodosius to Dioscorus, 6 August 449: ACO cited by Gaddis M. op. cit. p.299

[5] Chadwick H., The Exile and Death of Flavian of Constantinople: a Prologue to the Council of Chalcedon,  The Journal of Theological Studies 1955 VI(1):17-34; doi:10.1093/jts/VI.1.17

[6] The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon Vol. 1 Liverpool University press vol.1 p.304

[7] Ibid. p.221-222

[8] Timothy Ailouros, "Epistles to Kalonymos," Patrologia Graeca, Vol LXXXVI, Col. 276; quoted in The Non Chalcedonian Heretics,  Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, California 1996, p. 13

[9] Patrologia Graeca, Vol. LXXXIX, Col. 103D. Saint Anastasios of Sinai preserves this quote of Severos in his works; quoted in The Non-Chalcedonian Heretics, op. cit. p. 12

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