On Unintentional Monophysitism

Disputations with Pyrrhus published by  St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

PYRRHUS: But those [who confess only one will] do not do so from an evil disposition or cunning, but only mean thereby to express the highest union.

MAXIMUS: If this be conceded to the Severans, then, taking advantage of this concession, they will say, not unreasonably, “We do not say ‘one nature’ from an evil disposition or cunning, but because we wish, just as you do by the expression ‘one will’, to manifest the Supreme Union [of God and man in Christ].” [*] For those who say what thou has just said lend weapons to them that oppose them, after the manner of David and Goliath. (The Disputation with Pyrrhus, 74-75)

[*] Translator’s Note: The attitude of St. Maximus is in clear contradiction to that found in the recent study Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite?: Towards a Convergence in Orthodox Christology. There, in the “Agreed Statements” held between Orthodox and so-called “Oriental” (i.e. Nestorian and Monophysite) churches at the Third Unofficial Consultation in Geneva, Switzerland, 16-21 August, 1970, a distinction is drawn between “the doctrinal definitions and canonical legislations of a Council, but also between the true intention of the dogmatic definition of a Council and the particular terminology in which it is expressed, which latter has less authority than the intention.” (Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite?, World Council of Churches, 1981. p. 10) 

It is worth recalling that St. Cyril initially does not use the term physis with the precision of the Antiochenes, but that he does subsequently move in this direction by accepting the Formula of Union. It might be argued in favor of the WCC study that St. John of Damascus does not refer to the Monophysites as heretics but only as schismatics. However, St. Maximus is quite clear in calling Monophysitism a heresy. This is because Monophysitism, in its Severan form, attempts to confess “two operations” without the underlying natures, a metaphysical impossibility. The Confessor is quite explicit in his accusations against Severus. According to the Confessor, Severus’ error is twofold: 1) he confuses hypostasis and nature and nevertheless calls the properties of each nature a really existent thing (Opuscule 2, PG 91:41C); and 2) that the attempt thus to distinguish two natural properties without their underlying natures is in fact “a real confusion of the real verities in Christ.” (Opuscule 2, PO 44A.) A little later on, referring both to Nestorius and Severus, the Confessor seems to interpret their “intentions” somewhat differently than the Geneva consultation: “Truly, this is a pair of evil and law-breaking men who would thus insanely and wickedly transgress the truth of correct dogmas in opposite [ways].” (Opuscule 2, PG 44AB).

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