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Hesychasm - Icon Apophaticism - Filioque clause Miaphysitism - Monophysitism Nestorianism - Theosis - Theoria Phronema - Philokalia Praxis - Theotokos Hypostasis - Ousia Essence - Energies distinction Metousiosis

Miaphysitism (sometimes called henophysitism) is the Christology of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and part of the Christology of the various churches adhering to the "Seven Ecumenical Councils" (as found in the Second Council of Constantinople). Miaphysitism holds that in the one person of Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united in one "nature" ("physis"), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.

Historically, Miaphysitism has been considered by Chalcedonian Christians to be capable of orthodox understanding, while still perceiving that of the Non-Chalcedonians to be a form of Monophysitism. The Oriental Orthodox Churches themselves reject this characterization.[1]


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 mia physis tou theou logou sesarkōmenē)[2] 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 portions of the Church, especially the Copts in Egypt, who held to Miaphysitism, rejected the decision, the controversy became a major socio-political problem for the Byzantine 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.

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) 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 furthermore. 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. Hence, some have suggested that the popularity of miaphysitism was due to a grounding of language in the fact that someone's person and nature are a verisimilitude.

Miaphysite churches

The Oriental Orthodox Churches include the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Indian Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church (including the British Orthodox Church which is under the Patriarch of Alexandria), the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church ('tewahido' is a Ge'ez word meaning 'being made one') and the newly autocephalous Eritrean Orthodox Church.

One or more of the Independent Catholic Churches, while not being in full communion with the above Churches for various reasons, also embrace this Christology. These include the Antiochian Catholic Church in America. In recent theological discourses, some Eastern Orthodox, Old-Catholic and Anglican theologians have begun to embrace this Christology as being consistent with, though different from, the Chalcedon formulation.

Just as the Second Council of Constantinople (known as the "Fifth Ecumenical Council") condemned a certain understanding of the Dyophysite formula introduced at the Council of Chalcedon, it likewise condemned a certain understanding of the Miaphysite terminology of Cyril of Alexandria introduced at the Council of Ephesus, thus leaving room for other orthodox understandings for both Dyophysitism and Miaphysitism. A certain understanding of Miaphysitism thus was affirmed as acceptable doctrine among the Chalcedonians.

  1. Nine Saints Ethiopian Orthodox Monastery: Monophysitism and Dyophysitism
  2. John McGuckin (2004), Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, ISBN 0-88141-259-7 p140 et al

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