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A Question About The Monophysites

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One of the big ideas I struggle to wrap my mind around is the issue of the monphysite movement in Syria and Egypt. Why did it happen? What were the root causes? Who really benefited from the rift and why? I am not an academic so please forgive me if this question seems like its coming from left field.


Now the pat answer I hear has to do with religous dispute being the only way for latent Syrian and Egyptian nationalism to bubble to the surface, but this answer seems a bit too convenient to me. It just seems like the sort of answer where people try to wrap up incredibly complex issues in a nice, concise little bow. It just doesn't smell right for some reason I really can't put my finger on.


Right now my thoughts on the matter are contradictary and disjointed so any guidance or suggestions would be welcomed.


My first thought was to see the popularity of this schism as some manifestation of anti-clerical feelings. After all, that seems to be a big factor in the spread of many dualist and monarchist christian "heresies" that spread so quickly through the poor in various parts of the empire. Then I remember the monophysite movement seemed to be advocated by the religous establishments of Alexandria and Antioch so it doesn't really seem like the product of an anti-clerical movement.


Next I thought about the movement as an expression of class issues. The Hellenistic ruling elite who comprised so much of the land owning upper class were very hard on their tennant farmers and the tax collectors were a big source of discontent as well. Maybe the orthodox religion came to be associated increasingly with a Hellenistic dominated Empire and the movement away from Orthodoxy was some sort of rejection against an oppressive and distant ruler? Then I keep coming back to the issue of how the Monophysite movement was advanced by the religous heirarchy of the eastern patricarchies. I mean, how could Bishops and Patriarchs be openly advocating a movement that would somehow undermine the authority of the Emperor? Such a person would be too easy of a target for an unhappy Emperor.


Then I remembered something about the Blues and Greens in Constantinople. Supposedly the Blues were Orthodox and comprised more of land owners while the Greens were more Monophysite and centered more on the commercial classes like traders and factory owners. What are the implications of such a line of division? What does it say about the appeal of the different expressions of Christianity? I would be lying if I said I had a firm handle on these questions. :P


The closest I can come to answering this question is to consider the whole issue about how earlier Roman society looked at virtue as an upper class thing and kept pretty low expectations on the common man with respect to virtuous living. I remember the author who talked about this point also talked about how Christianity and stoicism both had a democratizing influence on the subject of virtue in the Roman culture and this was very distressing to the establishment. Somehow or another the virtuous life of a person of lesser station deminished a person from the upper classes by bluring this key point of distinction.


Is it possible that the Orthodox/ Monophysite conflict of the later Roman Empire somehow rehashed this issue either through an issue of style or one of substance on the part of the Churches of the day? Is it possible there is some deep cultural or social element specific to the Egyptian and Syrian people that made monphysite theology more acceptable? Could this have been something as straightforward as the patriarchies of Antioch and Alexandria trying to assert their independence from the patriarchy of Constantinople?


I suppose its highly possible that all of my questions and theories are totally off the mark. If so, thats all the more reason for me to be asking for help on this very confusing concept. ;)


Any help will be greatly appreciated.

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Nice post DanM,


I cant really give you an answer (maybe Ursus can, he is our in-house religous expert), however i can give others a chance to understand what Monophysitism actually means (i didnt know either at first),


so here it goes ---> Monophysite




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