Miaphysitism (sometimes called henophysitism) is a Christological formula of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Miaphysitism holds that in the person of Jesus Christ, Divine nature and Human nature are united (μία, mia - "one" or "unity") in a compound nature ("physis"), the two being united without separation, without mixture, without confusion, and without alteration.
Historically, Chalcedonian Christians have considered Miaphysitism in general to be amenable to an orthodox interpretation, but they have nevertheless perceived the Christology of the Oriental Orthodox to be a form of Monophysitism (single nature doctrine). Meanwhile the Miaphysite Oriental Catholic Churches have always rejected Monophysitism. The Oriental Orthodox prefer the term non-Chalcedonians.
The term "miaphysitism" arose as a response to Nestorianism. As Nestorianism had its roots in the Antiochene tradition and was opposed by the Alexandrian tradition, Christians in Syria and Egypt who wanted to distance themselves from the extremes of Nestorianism and wished to uphold the integrity of their theological position adopted this term to express their position.
The theology of miaphysitism is based on an understanding of the nature (Greek φύσις physis) of Christ: divine and human. After steering between the doctrines of docetism (that Christ only appeared to be human) and adoptionism (that Christ was a man chosen by God), the Church began to explore the mystery of Christ's nature further. Two positions in particular caused controversy:Nestorianism stressed the distinction between the divine and the human in Christ to such an extent that it appeared that two persons were living in the same body. The view was condemned at the Council of Ephesus.
Eutychianism stressed the unity of Christ's nature to such an extent that Christ's divinity consumed his humanity as the ocean consumes a drop of vinegar. The view was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon.
In response to Eutychianism, the latter Council adopted dyophysitism, which clearly distinguished between person and nature, stating that Christ is one person in two natures, but emphasizes that the natures are "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation".
The Miaphysites rejected this definition as verging on Nestorianism and instead adhered to a wording of Cyril of Alexandria, the chief opponent of Nestorianism, who had spoken of the "one (mia) nature of the Word of God incarnate" (μία φύσις τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη mía phýsis toû theoû lógou sesarkōménē). The distinction of this stance was that the incarnate Christ has one nature, but that nature is still of both a divine character and a human character, and retains all the characteristics of both. Though the Miaphysites condemned Eutychianism, the two groups were both viewed as monophysites by their opponents.
The Council of Chalcedon (451) was often seen as a watershed for Christology among the Chalcedonians as it adopted dyophysitism. However, as Eastern Churches, especially the Copts in Egypt, who held to Miaphysitism, rejected the decision, the controversy became a major socio-political problem for the Eastern Roman Empire. There were numerous attempts at reunion between the two camps (including the Henoticon in 482), and the balance of power shifted several times. However, the decision at Chalcedon remains the official teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and traditional Protestants. The non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches are usually grouped together as Oriental Orthodox. Over recent decades, leaders of the various branches of the Church have spoken about the differences between their respective christologies as not being as extreme as was traditionally held.
John Meyendorff, an historian of this period of Church history, held that the official teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church is not expressed by Chalcedon alone, but by "Chalcedon plus Cyril" – i.e., the dyophysite position expressed by Chalcedon, plus Cyril's miaphysite expression quoted above in its Orthodox interpretation – with the former attempting to express the inexpressible from one side (the dyophysite site) and the latter doing the same from the miaphysite side, both approaches being necessary and neither sufficient by itself.
Much has been said about the difficulties in understanding the Greek technical terms used in these controversies. The main words are ousia (οὐσία, 'substance'), physis (φύσις, 'nature'), hypostasis (ὑπόστασις, 'being'), and prosopon (πρόσωπον, 'person'). Even in Greek, their meanings can overlap somewhat. These difficulties became even more exaggerated when these technical terms were translated into other languages. In Syriac, physis was translated as kyānâ (ܟܝܢܐ) and hypostasis was qnômâ (ܩܢܘܡܐ). However, in the Persian Church, or the East Syriac tradition, qnoma was taken to mean nature, thereby confounding the issue further. The shades of meaning are even more blurred between these words, and they could not be used in such a philosophical way as their Greek counterparts.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches include:the Armenian Apostolic Church
the Syriac Orthodox Church
the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India
the Coptic Orthodox Church (including the British Orthodox Church which came under the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria between 1994 and 2015)
the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (autocephalous since the 1950s; in the Ge'ez language the word tewahedo means "being made one")
the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church (autocephalous from the 1990s)
The British Orthodox Church is no longer under the Coptic Orthodox Church. It is not canonically Orthodox.
Meyendorff, John (1989). Imperial unity and Christian divisions: The Church 450-680 A.D. The Church in history. 2. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 978-0-88-141056-3.
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