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Monophysites: A Contribution to the Dialogue Concerning the “Orthodoxy” of Non-Chalcedonians, Part 2

Updated: May 18, 2023

The Non-Chalcedonian Heresy: A Contribution to the Dialogue Concerning the

"Orthodoxy" of the Non-Chalcedonians (Continued from issue No. 6, 1996)


III. Dogmatic Differences

A. Is Severus Orthodox?

In its Third Joint Declaration (1993), the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue proposed the lifting of anathemas which had been imposed in the past on persons or synods, if it should be recognized that these persons or synods were Orthodox in their teaching. Correspondingly, there are certain publications, older and recent, which present as legitimate the acknowledgment that the Christology of Severus is Orthodox. We believe that this acknowledgment does not hold water because Severus was condemned synodally. In our report, we touch on certain points of his Christology, compare them to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and arrive at conclusions from which it is evident that Severus and his teaching were rightly condemned.

As sources for the teaching of Severus, we have used the studies of the Non-Chalcedonian professor V.C. Samuel. One of the enumerations of the dogmatic differences between Severus and Saint John of Damascus made by Samuel will comprise the introductory text. He writes:

1. The Chalcedonian theologian accepts all the Alexandrian expressions included under 'one incarnate nature of God the Word.' In so doing the Damascene understands the term 'nature' in the sense of 'essence.' But Severus insists that this sense does not safeguard the historical reality of Jesus Christ, and that if we are to safeguard it, we must confess the hypostatic character of the natures which came into union.

2. John of Damascus does not say clearly what he means by the expression 'composite Person,' or 'composite Hypostasis,' although he accepts it. Severus uses the phrase and clarifies its meaning. The one Hypostasis, he says, was formed the concurrence of the Divinity and the humanity of Christ. In the union, the humanity has been individuated, and for this reason it preserves its hypostatic character, as well as the potential for the human expression of the Divine energies and attributes, so that it can be grasped by us.

3. Severus does not believe that in order for the true humanity in Christ to be preserved there is any need for expressions like 'in two natures,' 'two wills,' 'two energies' and similar expressions. According to his perspective, these expressions introduce division of the one Christ, and cannot guarantee a true incarnation.

5. The insistence of John of Damascus on the deification of the humanity of Christ is connected with his refusal to accept the hypostatic character of the humanity of Christ. Severus, on the other hand, is unyielding on this point?

If we have correctly understood Professor Samuel, it seems that Severus attempts to understand the mystery of the Incarnation by using the philosophy of Aristotle as a tool. For this reason, as it appears from the texts of Samuel and from the above extract: Severus distinguishes between essence and nature, equates nature with hypostasis, understands the hypostatic union differently from the Holy Fathers, distinguishes between hypostasis and person, ascribes will and energy to the person and not to the nature, and finally, does not have an Orthodox understanding of how the assumed humanity of Christ is Deified. We shall proceed to analyze the points on which Severus is not in accord with the Fathers.

1. The Theology of Severus is Aristotelian.

Severus is not the first to use the terminology of his period with the content that Aristotelian philosophy gives to it. Arius and the other heretics did exactly the same thing in their attempt to comprehend the mysterious rationally. The Holy Fathers used the same terminology, but gave it such content that it could express all that they knew from personal experience of God and as a result of being enlightened from on high. Saint John of Damascus writes on this point:

The pagan philosophers, according to the aforementioned discourse, said that essence and nature were different…. The Holy Fathers, passing over their many quarrels, called that which is common and said of many things, that is, the most specific kind, "essence," '"nature," and "form," such as angel, man, horse, dog and the like. They called that which is particular, "individual,'" "person," and "hypostasis," such as Peter and Paul.

And Saint Maximus the Confessor wholly equates the terms "essence" and "nature'" (Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCI, Col. 149B) and the terms "hypostasis" and "person" (Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCI, Col. 152A). Up to this day, the Non-Chalcedonians insist that in the domain of Theology — that is, the dogma of the Trinity — the Fathers made a distinction between "Nature" and "Hypostasis," whereas in the domain of Economy — that is, of Christological dogma — they equated the terms. This view, however, is not consonant with the opinion of the Holy Fathers. Saint Maximus sees wickedness in the new invention of the Non-Chalcedonians, while Saint John of Damascus asks why one should equate these terms in the domain of Economy. It has repeatedly been said that terminological ambiguity created the enormous difficulties in mutual understanding between the Orthodox and the Non-Chalcedonians in the centuries that followed the Fourth Ecumenical Synod. This is used today, especially, as a lever for the reunion of the separated bodies, in the sense that the confession is the same, even if the two sides could not understand each other in the past.

Pope Francis, Monophysite Coptic Pope Tawadros II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew attend a syncretistic ecumenical prayer service at the Church of St. Peter in Cairo April 28, 2017.

We think that this is not correct. The Saints of the Church, who were of the same mind, formulated Christological dogma in an equally Orthodox way, even if with differing terms. Nor is terminological ambiguity even a decisive factor in determining the absence of orthodoxy. For example, Saint John Chrysostomos and Theodore of Mopsuestia were contemporaries and fellow-ascetics; but the one is a Father of the Church and the other is a great heresiarch. Another relevant example is that of Sts. Cyril of Alexandria and Leo of Rome, who formulated their Christological dogma in an equally authentic and an equally Orthodox manner, although they were combatting different heresies and were aiming at different goals: the former was aiming to safeguard the unity and uniqueness of the Person of Christ without really dividing the two natures in Christ, while the latter was aiming to ensure the reality of the two natures, without destroying the unity and uniqueness of the Person.

Consequently, we think that a decisive factor for Orthodoxy, or the lack thereof, was the deeper conception of the question, which the ever-memorable Father Georges Florovsky discusses. We have observed that in none of the texts of the Holy Fathers is there any mention of acquiescence to the heretics, inasmuch as they can perhaps claim terminological ambiguity as a mitigating factor in their lack of Orthodoxy. We cite the opinions of two Saints, which are characteristic of the style with which the Holy Fathers confront the issue of terminology. Saint John of Damascus:

Furthermore, Dioscorus and Severus and the multitudinous mobs of both accepted that there was one and the same hypostasis, defining in a similar way that there was one nature, 'not knowing what they say nor understanding what they assert.' The disease or deception in their mind lay in this, that they conceived nature and hypostasis to be the same.

Saint Maximus: "Severus knavishly says that hypostasis is the same as nature."

2. Severus accepts that the human nature of Christ subsists as a hypostasis.

As we have already said, Severus uses the terms "essence," "nature," "hypostasis" and "person" with the content given to them by Aristotelian philosophy. Severus does not conceive nature as concrete hypostases, but considers it generally as the essence of hypostases of the same kind; for him it is an abstract concept and does not really exist. When the essence is individuated in hypostases, the nature becomes concrete, takes on a hypostatic character, is made an individual and is actual. What we have said becomes clear in the extract below:

In the case of man, at the precise moment of concurrence between the essence of the body and the essence of the soul, he comes into existence as a psychosomatic totality and receives personhood, The two essences are not united as essences, but at the precise moment of union they become hypostatic realities. 'The body and the soul,' writes Severus, 'from which man formed, preserve their hypostases.' This point can be explained as follows. Hypostasis is the concrete subsistence Which derives from the individuation of an essence.

Severus transfers this example of man, a composite of body and soul, to Christ. In an analogous way, he writes, the Divine and human natures subsist in Christ. For the present we shall not dwell on the fact, fundamental in other respects, that the example of man cannot be transferred to Christ. Especially significant in this connection is the fact that according to Severus, the human nature of Christ participated in the union — although not before the moment of union — as hypostasis, and, in particular, having the elements which make it a person.

The Divinity and the humanity, then, combined into one. The moment that the Divinity came to union in God the Son, the humanity came to union in an individuated state. As Severus writes: "God the Logos is one hypostasis, He united to Himself hypostatically a particular flesh, which had a rational and spiritual soul and which He assumed from the Virgin Mary." The two natures, then, which came together in union were hypostases, although the Humanity of Christ received Its hypostatic condition only after the union.

The following extract explains a great deal:

In uniting humanity to Himself, does God the Word assume it only as an abstract reality, without it being in hypostatic or personal condition? If the humanity of Christ does not have the features which make it a person, can it function in any way in the Incarnation.

In juxtaposing the teaching of the [Orthodox] Church, we confirm its difference from that of Severus. It is taken for granted that nature understood "in mere thought" is something abstract. God the Word, according to Saint John of Damascus, assumed not the nature, understood in this way, nor that which is observed in the species, that is, all men together, but that which is observed in the individual, which is itself observed in the species, but which does not have a hypostatic character, but is observed as a whole in every hypostasis of the same species. The Saint, therefore, writes:

For the flesh of God the Word did not subsist in a self-existenting manner, nor did another hypostasis come into being besides the Hypostasis of God the Word, but rather, the flesh subsisted in it enhypostatically and did not become a self-existing hypostasis in itself."

And again, in another work of his:

It should be known that it is possible for natures to be united With each Other hypostatically, as in the case of man, and for a nature to be assumed by a hypostasis and to subsist in it, both of which are observed in the case of Christ, "but it is absolutely impossible for one composite nature to be formed from two natures or one hypostasis from two hypostases;" and again, it is impossible for things that subsist by themselves to have another source of subsistence.

Saint Maximus had clearly detected the possibility of ascribing a Nestorian understanding of the union of the natures to Severus: "If, again, he says that the union occurred from hypostases or persons, he is proven to be of like mind with Ebion, Paul of Samosata, and Nestorius...." It is natural for the Non-Chalcedonians not to accept the accusation of Nestorianism that Saint Maximus — and we, too, as a result — imputes to them, because their reference to a hypostatic character of human nature does not signify Nestorianism in their view, but the safeguarding of the reality of the nature. However, this insistence of theirs is of no avail, because a good intention is not sufficient for an Orthodox formulation of dogma, but only a correct attitude, correct presuppositions and clear formulation. How can one make a distinction between hypostasis and hypostasis, unless the one is called "hypostasis" and the other "person"? It is precisely on this point, however, that we find the other erroneous philosophical presupposition of the Non-Chalcedonians: the differentiation of hypostasis and person. Hence their confusion as to the mystery of the hypostatic union.

We consider it indispensable to make an observation that is relevant to the hypostatic character — according to Severus — of human nature. Father John Romanides raised this point at the unofficial meeting in Bristol, and has made Orthodox theologians sensitive to it at the meeting of the Inter-Orthodox Commission in Addis Ababa in 1971. Let us ask ourselves: Does this subject not perhaps fall into the set of the subjects that were not examined in detail, since a more appealing method was chosen at the ensuing official theological dialogue?

3. The hypostatic union according to Severus.

The term "hypostatic union" was used by Saint Cyril in the sense of a real union of the two natures in the one Hypostasis of God the Word. The Antiochians contested this term as being innovative and as not expressing the mystery of the union of the natures in Christ, and for this reason they missed the mark and found themselves in the domain of heresy. The hypostatic union, when understood in an Orthodox manner, is the kernel of Christological dogma and the weapon against all Christological heresy. In the writings of the Holy Fathers, there is a plethora of references to this fundamental principle of Christology. In the mystery of the union of the natures, the Hypostasis of God the Word has ontological priority. This Word was made incarnate by assuming flesh with a rational and spiritual soul and uniting it with His divinity, in such a way that this eternal Hypostasis of His became also the hypostasis of the assumed flesh. The enhypostatic character of the assumed flesh constitutes the most perfect dogmatic formulation of the mystery of union. The "function" of God the Word is not exhausted in the mere fact that He was united with the flesh, but in the fact that the Word Himself now eternally constitutes the Hypostasis and person of Christ, the Word Incarnate.

Moscow Patriarch Kirill presides over a syncretistic ecumenical prayer service in Echmiadzin, March 16th, 2010 with Monophysite Catholicos Garegin II.

In this sense, the union of the two natures of Christ, as a kind of accomplishment, is not preceded ontologically by the "formation" of the Person of Christ, Emmanuel, the Word Incarnate. In very simple words, the Non-Chalcedonians focus their capacity for understanding on the fact that the nature of the Word and human nature were united, and not on the fact that God the Word united these natures in Himself, Consequently, they understand the Person as a fruit of the union, whereas in the second case they would understand that the Person (that is, God the Word) effects the union. This divergent understanding of the Non-Chalcedonians is clearly evident to anyone who carefully studies many of their own texts, such as the phrase below: "The union brought a single Person into existence, and this one Person is the Person of God the Son in His incarnate state." Continuing, the foregoing text asserts: "There is a distinction between the Son before the Incarnation and the Incarnate Son, such that the Hypostasis and Person of Jesus Christ are not simply the Person of God the Son."

This position is not correct. This is because, although the Son before the Incarnation did not have the human nature which He assumed through His Incarnation, with the addition of the second limb to the above formulation, that is, of the clause "such that...of God the Son," the impression is given that the Hypostasis of God the Logos underwent some inherent change. A second point about the subject of the hypostatic union that the Non-Chalcedonians do not understand correctly is that which refers to the individuation of the human nature at the same time as its union with God the Word. Samuel emphasizes this fact ad nauseam, and he also states it unequivocally in the extract below:

The phrase 'hypostatic union,' therefore, means, according to Severus that there was a concurrence in Christ of whatever the divine nature of the Son provides and whatever an individuated human nature contributes. The phrase also signifies the absolutely intrinsic and personal character of the union.

One can now easily guess the significance of the above for the definition of the "composite hypostasis" of Christ. It is already time for us to affirm that Saint John of Damascus is unjustly accused of not saying clearly what he means by "composite hypostasis," obviously on account of the different viewpoint from which, as we have said, the Non-Chalcedonians see the hypostatic union. In any case, the Saint is clear, as will be evident from the extract below, and this formulation constitutes a rule of Orthodoxy and, at the same time, a refutation of Non-Chalcedonian ideas. He writes as follows:

We affirm that the Divine hypostasis of God the Word pre-existed timelessly and eternally, simple and incomposite, uncreated, incorporeal, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscribable, …and in the last days, without departing from the bosom of the Father, the Word ucircumscribably dwelt in the womb of the Holy Virgin seedlessly and incomprehensibly, as He Himself saw fit, and subjected the flesh from the Holy Virgin to Himself in this pre-eternal hypostasis of His. He became flesh from her, therefore, assuming the first fruits of our compound flesh, animated by a rational and spiritual soul, so that the hypostasis of God the Word became a hypostasis for the flesh, and that what had previously been the simple Hypostasis of the Logos became composite — a composite of two perfect natures, Divinity and Humanity.

The Non-Chalcedonians, as if they are unaware of the foregoing, define as a composite hypostasis the result of the concurrence of the Divinity and individuated humanity: "Severus uses the phrase and clarifies its meaning. The one Hypostasis, he says, was formed from the concurrence of the divinity and the humanity." It is characteristic, we think, that Severus does not define the Hypostasis of God the Word as the hypostasis of the assumed flesh as well. For precisely this reason, Professor Samuel poses the question in puzzlement: How is it possible for the enhypostatic human nature to safeguard in itself a truly functional position for the Person of Christ, since it does not have a hypostatic and personal character. This is a fundamental divergence from Orthodox teaching! Only the clear and unambiguous confession of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod can cure this erroneous view of the Non-Chalcedonians. That is, We confess "one and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, [God the Word] known in two natures."

The following paragraphs will make clear how central a role the aforementioned position of Severus plays in understanding Christological dogma and in its ramifications for the theology of the Church.

4. Severus Teaches Monoenergism.

Monotheletism and Monoenergism emerged as theological currents a hundred years after the death of Severus. However, his Monoenergetic frame of mind is unmistakable in his teaching. A vehement enemy of the Holy Fourth Ecumenical Synod, he did not accept that "each nature acts in common with the other…"

As is well known, the teaching of the Church on this point is that the will and the energy are essential properties of the nature: "But He truly became man, not without a natural energy, whose logos is a definition of the essence, which characterizes naturally all those in whom it is innate according to the essence." Simply willing and acting belong to the nature, whereas how one wills belongs to the hypostasis." It is likewise well known that the Sixth Ecumenical Synod consolidated this teaching by its authority: "Each nature in common with the other both wills and acts in its own way." Severus, by contrast, ascribes the energy to the person with characteristic clarity. He writes:

When we anathematize those who affirm two natures of Emmanuel after the union, along with their energies and properties, we do not place them under condemnation because they speak about natures, energies or properties, but because they say that there are two natures after the union and ascribe the energies and properties to each of these, hereby dividing them up between the natures.

The erroneous and inadequate understanding of the hypostatic union shows its first basic consequence: the equally erroneous understanding of the exchange of properties of the natures. According to the Non-Chalcedonians, the union of the natures in the one nature of the Incarnate Word permits the exchange of properties in such a way that the Incarnate Word has a composite Theandric energy. The following words of Severus suggest this.

To which nature are we to ascribe the activity [energy] of walking on water? Let them reply who introduce for us the two natures after the union. To the Divine nature? And how is going with bodily feet a property of Divinity? Well, to the human nature? And how is walking on liquid not alien to humanity? ...But it is obvious and not at all ambiguous, unless we are willfully drunk, that, since God the Word, Who became incarnate for us, is one and indivisible, His energy is also indivisible.

However, the Holy Fathers see in this example and in others like it two energies and one Christ acting either Divinely or humanly:

Since, therefore, there are two natures of Christ, we affirm that His natural wills and His natural energies are two. Since there is one hypostasis of His natures, we affirm that One and the Same both wills and acts naturally in both the natures.

The subject of the energies of Christ was always one of the most important points of friction. The confession of acting natures in Christ signified two persons for the Non-Chalcedonians, and for this reason they did not, in any way, accept two energies. They said:

Since He is the Only-begotten Son of the Father and is also the only-begotten son of His Mother, He is One Son. As One Son, He is One Christ; as One Christ, He is one Hypostasis; as One Hypostasis, He is One Person; as One Person, He is One will; as One will, He is also One energy; as One energy, He is One nature. In truth. He is one nature.

Until recently, the attitude of the Non-Chalcedonians towards dyothelete views was very harsh:

We cannot accept the dyothelete formulation (i.e., of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod), which ascribes will and energy to the natures rather than the hypostasis. We are able to confess only the united and unconfused Theandric nature, will, and energy of Christ, the Incarnate Lord.

The Orthodox understanding of the exchange of properties comes from an Orthodox understanding of hypostatic union. Since the Divine properties as much as the human are attributed to one and the same Hypostasis of God the Word, the Word suffers on the Cross in the flesh, and the flesh of the Word is said to be, and is, lifegiving. Saint John of Damascus analyzes this subject with wonderful clarity in his chapter, "Concerning the manner of the exchange" (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III, Chapter 4). In this sense of the exchange of properties, understood in an Orthodox way, the Theandric energy is also interpreted in an Orthodox way:

Thus, in Christ, Divine and almighty energy belongs to His divinity, while ours [i.e., human energy] to His humanity. Holding the hand of the newly created and drawing him up is a result of human nature, while the giving of life is a result of the Divine. For the former one thing, and the latter is another, although they are inseparable in Theandric energy.

One can find a more detailed reference to the subject of Theandric energy in Saint John of Damascus. Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III, Chapter 19.

5. Severus Accepts the Heretical Teaching of the Particular Essences.

The Aristotelian concept of particular essences is condemned by the Holy Fathers, because with regard to Trinitarian dogma, it introduces tritheism, while in the case of Christological dogma, it leads to the acknowledgment of one nature in Christ. Arius and John Philoponos are classic representatives of this theory. Saint Anastasius of Sinai attributes this heretical teaching to Severus. He writes:

Aristotle says that persons are particular essences. Going by this vain rule, Arius said that there were three essences, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Going by this iniquitous definition, Severus said that Christ was one nature formed from two particular essences and a half-divided hypostases.

Saint John of Damascus also accuses the Non-Chalcedonians of Egypt, the Schismatics and Monophysites, of accepting this theory of particular essences: "Nevertheless, in teaching that there are particular essences, they confound the mystery of the Incarnation." On the basis of these testimonies from the Holy Fathers, we understand that Severus "teaches that there are particular essences," at least as he is interpreted by Professor Samuel. The multiple references to the individuated essence being a hypostasis and an individual with personal existence attest to the truth of this statement. On this point, the teaching of the Church is completely different. According to Saint John of Damascus, the entire Divinity in the Hypostasis of the Word is united with the whole of human nature (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book Ill, Chapter 6), which, however, took on existence only in the Hypostasis of the Word (ibid., Chapter 11), without being either a self-existing hypostasis (ibid., Chapter 9) or an individual (ibid., Chapter 11).

6. How Does Severus Conceive the Deification of Man?

The Orthodox teaching on deification is based on the hypostatic union of the two natures in the Same Hypostasis of God the Word. The result of this hypostatic union is the deification of the assumed human nature: "For the Word became flesh and the flesh became Word, although neither departed from its own nature." Saint Gregory Palamas teaches explicitly that renewal in Christ is not a renewal of human hypostases, but of the human nature that is answerable to Him, with which nature the Word of God was united according to His own hypostasis: "It was not our hypostasis that He assumed from us and made new, but Our nature, united with it according to His own hypostasis" (Homily V, Patrologea Græca, Vol. CLI Col. 6413C). The flesh of Christ, as the body of the Incarnate Word of God, is for Saint Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Tradition the point of contact between man with God. The flesh of Christ, as the body of the divine Word, was the first to be saved and freed. We, therefore, he adds, "as fellow members of the body, are saved in it" (Saint Athanasius the Great, Against the Arians, Patrologea Græca, Vol. XXVI, Col. 277B). Through the deification of the human nature of Christ "the first fruits of our compound character" were deified and a "new root" was created, sufficient to impart life and incorruption to its offshoots (On behalf of the Holy Hesychasts, 111.1.33). The union (of men) with the new root is accomplished through free personal participation in the renewal in Christ.

From the foregoing, one understands the most tragic consequence of the unorthodox confession of the Non-Chalcedonians concerning the hypostatic union. If human nature is not enhypostatic in the Hypostasis of God the Word, how is it deified? Or, if it is deified through its own union with the Divinity, how is it not changed or not commingled? Where can we find a composite nature that preserves the essential differences of the things of which it is composed? Only a composite hypostasis has this capacity. The Non-Chalcedonians do not seem to grasp what is meant by the deification of our compound character. The salvation of men is thought of as an external event, as the extract below makes clear: "In assuming a member of the human race [!], God the Son accomplished the salvation of the whole of humanity by means of this member of the human family.

In connection with this, Samuel writes again that every man is saved when he responds to the love of God. However, he does not clarify how salvation (that is, deification) is communicated to the different human hypostases. The heretical teaching concerning particular essences, that is, that human nature was assumed by God the Word as an individual, is the principal cause of the problem. We think that this subject is very serious and should not be one of those that they can avoid discussing in a theological dialogue.

B. The Theopaschite Addition to the Trisagion.

From the period when the Monophysite Patriarch of Antioch, Peter the Fuller, (470) introduced the Theopaschite clause "...crucified for us" into the Trisagion, the Non-Chalcedonians have preserved it until today in their worship, and in order to strengthen it dogmatically they ascribe the hymn only to the Son. The Holy Fathers, however, always ascribed the Trisagion Hymn to the Holy Trinity, as also the thrice-holy doxology which the Prophet Isaiah recounts. There is an extended discussion of this subject by Saint John of Damascus in Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 111.10 and in on the Trisagion Hymn (in Greek Fathers of the Church, Vol. 4 [1990], p. 204). It is characteristic of the Non-Chalcedonians that they observe that ‘in this [prayer] the union of the Divine and human in the Incarnate God is made very clear’ because it brings out what we customarily call Theopaschitism. According to them, in the one nature of Christ it is not only the flesh that undergoes sufferings, but also the Divinity united with the flesh:

The Divinity is never separated from the flesh and the flesh IS never separated from the Divinity. Where the Divinity is found, the flesh will be found also. Because of the perfect union, both were even subject to death!

To begin with, it seems like an oxymoron for them to think that before the union with the flesh the Divinity was impassible, while after the union it is passible: ''The Divinity, which is impassible, suffered on the Cross by reason of His union with the flesh." However, this is completely understandable, if we take into account the fact that the Non-Chalcedonians do not have a correct grasp of the hypostatic union, according to which God the Word can be said to be and be impassible and passible: on the one hand, in His divinity, and on the other, in His humanity. Rather, they understand the union of the natures in themselves as the formation of one composite nature, in which the properties of the flesh are communicated to the Divinity and those of the Divinity to the flesh:

'The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.' In the same way, we can say that the flesh also became Divine Thus, the properties of the flesh can be ascribed to God the Word (in the Divine nature) and vice versa.

This is unacceptable from an Orthodox point of view. Saint John of Damascus says:

In speaking of the Divinity [of Christ], we do not predicate of it the properties of the humanity [of Christ]; for we do not say that the Divinity passible or created. Nor do we predicate of the flesh, that is, of the humanity, the properties of the Divinity; for we do not say that the flesh or the humanity is uncreated,"

We are not unaware that the Non-Chalcedonians proclaim that Christ is co-essential with the Father and therefore impassible in His divinity, and that God the Word is both impassible and passible. However, their doctrine of the composite nature of Christ allows them to give expression to Theophaschite interpretations like the above. Only the unambiguous confession of the Orthodox formulation of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, and this alone, can free the Non-Chalcedonians from this confusion.

C. Saint Maximus the Confessor Reveals the Monophysite Meaning of the Phrase "in thought alone."

The phrase "in thought alone" admits of a twofold interpretation: either Orthodox or Monophysite, its Orthodox meaning is determined by the Holy Fifth Ecumenical Synod in paragraph VH of its Resolution, which anathematizes anyone who uses the number "two" in order to insinuate that the natures of Christ are separated and self-subsisting, whereas the difference — that is, the separation by parts — should be taken only "in thought." It is well known that the Fifth Ecumenical Synod had to resolve the very serious issue of the misinterpretation of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod by the then Nestorianizing West. It was not the confession of the number of the natures of Christ in itself that caused the problem but the possibility of its misinterpretation, that is, that the natures should be thought to be separated and self-subsisting. Consequently, it is essential that emphasis be given to the phrase "but uses the number with this intention, that the natures be separated and self-subsisting," because this gives meaning and content to the clause "in thought alone." If we wish mentally to place the natures of Christ in separation, side by side, we are already Nestorians, because we shall of necessity lend them a particular hypostasis, something which signifies a division of the Person of Christ into two hypostases.

We Orthodox, however, who confess the unity and uniqueness of the Person of Christ, as the eternal Hypostasis of God the Word, are never able to divide the natures and place them separately and side by side. Consequently, when We confess two natures in the one Hypostasis of the Word, we have in mind, for certain, the essential difference of the natures in reality and not in thought alone. How else can the difference between the uncreated Divinity and the created flesh be removed? If, on the contrary, according to the Non-Chalcedonians the natures after the union are distinguished in thought alone, it is reasonable to pose the question: Are the natures confused in reality? Saint Maximus refutes precisely this misinterpretation by the Non-Chalcedonians of the clause "in thought alone" and considers it to be a cover for the confusion of the natures: "In professing the difference after the union to be bare, Severus thinks that the existence of the differing natures is conceptual, while in actuality he posits their confusion." Since Nestorius also, with the same reasoning, "called the union a bare appellation alone, but in actuality introduced the division of Saint Maximus concludes his critique as follows: "Truly they are an evil pair of lawless men, who are filled with an evil rage to tear apart the truth of correct dogmas through opposite points of view. "

D. Iconoclasm and its Monophysite Presuppositions.

Iconoclasm is not directly related to the Non-Chalcedonians. The iconoclast Emperors and Bishops were typically Orthodox. But their theological presuppositions were Monophysitic, This conclusion is drawn from an analysis of the arguments of the Iconoclasts, which are as follows:

1. They maintained that the depiction of Christ is inadmissible, because by being depicted His uncircumscribable and shapeless Divinity is circumscribed and given shape.

2. They did not accept that Christ is the prototype of His image, because they believed that would mean that Christ is a mere man.

3. They asserted that the depiction of Christ introduces, apart from the Hypostasis of the Word, a second, circumscribed person, which leads to the acceptance of two persons, that is, to Nestorianism,

From these arguments the Christological presuppositions of the Iconoclasts are clear. They entail respectively, the following:

a) A confusion between nature and hypostasis, which in consequence leads to their identification.

b) A heretical view of the way in which the two natures are united in Christ. And,

c) A failure to confess — chiefly as an attitude and not as a simple oral confession that the Hypostasis of God the Word is also hypostasis of the assumed flesh.

These, now, are the Christological views of the Non-Chalcedonians, as we have already said, in referring to the Christology of Severus. The Christological presuppositions of the Iconophile Holy Fathers and Confessors Theodore the Studite, Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople, and John of Damascus are completely contrary, as also are those of the Holy Fathers who comprised the Holy Seventh Ecumenical Synod. All of them, having the Christology of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod as a basis and foundation, refuted the arguments of the Iconoclasts as follows:

i) Insofar as, according to Saint Theodore the Studite, "when anything is portrayed in an icon, it is not the nature, but the hypostasis that is portrayed, Christ is portrayed as hypostasis, and this only according to His human nature, because the hypostatic union does not confuse His natures, but preserves the properties of each. Consequently, the uncircumscribable and shapeless Divine nature is not circumscribed or given shape.

ii) Insofar, again, as the two natures actually exist after the union and not only "in thought alone" — as Severus mistakenly supposed — and insofar as every nature preserves its character (Horos of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod), the circumscription of the human nature allows Christ to be portrayed in icons. According to Saint Theodore, "that which is circumscribed as set forth as a product of the icon of what is painted." That is to say, without being stripped of His Divinity, Christ is able to constitute the prototype of His image according to His human nature.

iii) Since the Holy Fathers clearly confess the Hypostasis of God the Word as a hypostasis of the assumed flesh also, it is in no way possible to introduce a second person. However, this could occur in the Severian View of a composite hypostasis of Christ.

We have not analyzed the subject of Iconoclasm at random. In the Second Joint Declaration (1990), paragraph VIII, it is said that the Non-Chalcedonians venerate the holy icons according to ancient Tradition. If this actually occurs, the Non-Chalcedonians would have to reconsider the dogmatic basis of the depiction of Christ in icons and the veneration of sacred icons. Otherwise, a chasm-like distance between faith and practice will appear, which would make manifest their dogmatic deviation from the theology that their practice presupposes.

Thoughts on the Joint Declarations of 1989 and 1990

The Joint Declarations cannot be accepted as formulae of agreement [formulae concordiae]. Firstly, because they presuppose a common faith, whereas the dogmatic differences that separate us are still important. Secondly, because in all the paragraphs there are ambiguities which render the text susceptible to twofold interpretation, such that each side can read its own faith in it. For example, in the Second Declaration (1990): Paragraph III could be a development "from two natures," but not of "in two natures." In paragraph IV, there is a confession of hypostatic union, but there is no clarification of its characteristics, that is, that the Hypostasis of God the Word is also an hypostasis of the assumed flesh, and that the exchange of the properties of the natures takes place in the Hypostasis of God the Word and not between the natures.

In paragraphs III and IV, there is a confession of the two natural wills and energies, but Monoenergism is not condemned in paragraph V, we see a confession of the fact that the One Who wills and acts is always the one Hypostasis of the Incarnate Word, but no confession of the fact that "each nature in common with the other both wills and acts in its own way," or, as is also correct, that Christ acts in each of His natures. Through paragraph VI, the interpretations of the Synods that do not agree With the Horos of the Third and the Agreements are rejected, but the Synods are not specified. On the basis of this paragraph, which Synods would the Non-Chalcedonians reject and which the Orthodox?

With paragraph [VI], the Non-Chalcedonians, presupposing double co-essentiality, use the Cyrilline expression "one incarnate nature of God the Logos" — in which "one nature" unquestionably means "one hypostasis" — but at the same time (in the First Declaration) they also preserve the clause "one united Theanthropic nature in Christ." The ancient Non-Chalcedonians would be envious of such a formulation. More importantly, today's Non-Chalcedonians would be able to boast that they remain firm in the faith of their fathers. By contrast, for the Orthodox, a definition was set forth by which the natures are distinguished in thought alone, something which would satisfy Severus completely, but none of the Holy Fathers (see footnote 79 of the present work).

In paragraph VIII, the Non-Chalcedonians accept as a matter of interpretation the Orthodoxy of the teachings of Synods subsequent to the Third. Will they ever accept this as their own interpretation? With such ambiguous formulations, the Non-Chalcedonians can very easily recognize their own faith in these Declarations, and we Orthodox our own. But how can we have a common Cup without a common mind?


At the very least, it would be naïve for anyone to believe that the enormous subject of Christology could be exhausted in such a brief report. But it is not impossible to summarize central points, which one absolutely must confess if his faith is to be Orthodox. From a historical perspective, it should be said that the Holy Fathers knew well with whom they were conversing, and there is no possibility that they misconstrued and condemned the Non-Chalcedonians on account of a misinterpretation. It is neither theological terminology nor racial and cultural factors that played a decisive role in the separation of the Non-Chalcedonians from the communion of the Catholic [i.e., Orthodox] Church, but chiefly their erroneous conception, and consequently their formulation, of the manner of the union of the two natures in Christ.

The dogmatic differences between the two sides are so great that, if they were forgotten, salvation itself would be put at risk. If, that is, the eternal Hypostasis of God the Word is not also the Hypostasis of the assumed flesh, the deification of the human compound is not possible, in which case the salvation of men through partaking of the deified and life-giving flesh of the Lord is also impossible. A great ecclesiological chasm exists between us and the Non-Chalcedonians, which only the explicit confession of the holiness and Ecumenicity of the Fourth and the following three Holy Ecumenical Synods on the part of the Non-Chalcedonians can bridge. Any manifest or hidden deviation whatsoever from Orthodox dogma, for the sake of some union contrary to the truth, Will occasion only harm to immortal souls and suffering for the Church. It is our wish and prayer that the Non-Chalcedonians, who are dear to us in all other ways, be made aware that their union with the Church entails that they take up their cross, rejecting and forgetting the house of their fathers, as it is said in the Psalm; then will the King desire the beauty of their union [1].

By the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory (Monastery of Gregoriou)

Mount Athos, Greece

Translated from the Greek by

Bishop Chrysostomos of Etna and Novice Patrick,

Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery



[1]. Archimandrite George, "The Non-Chalcedonian Heresy A Contribution to the Dialogue Concerning the “Orthodoxy” of the Non-Chalcedonians," Orthodox Life, 47, no. 1 (January-February1997), 27-44.


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