Byzantine Christianity: Monophysitism and Iconoclasm

Although the Council of Chalcedon (451) was intended to put an end to divisive Christo- logical debates throughout the Christian world (1.5.9), its formal definition of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth never achieved universal acceptance throughout the eastern empire. Chalcedon affirmed the “two natures” of Christ, in that he was declared to be truly human and truly divine (1.5.9). The “Monophysites,” who were especially influential in Egypt and Syria, insisted that Christ had to be understood to possess a single nature. The term “Mono- physite” (Greek: “single nature”) was not generally used by those who had misgivings about the Council of Chalcedon’s formula for understanding the identity of Jesus of Nazareth; they generally preferred the related term “Miaphysite” (Greek: “one nature”).

Although this provoked several attempts at theological diplomacy during the sixth century, aiming to minimize the divergence between the two parties, in the end the divi- sions proved impossible to heal. It led to a schism between Orthodox Christian churches in Europe, and a group of churches in Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, and Armenia (now often known as “Oriental Orthodox” churches). These divisions remain to this day. The Oriental Orthodox churches recognize the authority of only the first three ecumenical councils: the Council of Nicaea (325), the Council of Constantinople (381), and the Council of Ephesus (431), arguing that things went wrong at the Council of Chalcedon (451).

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