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§ 145. The Monophysite Sects: Jacobites, Copts, Abyssinians, Armenians, Maronites.


Euseb. Renaudot (R.C., † 1720): Historia patriarcharum Alexandrinorum Jacobitarum a D. Marco usque ad finem saec. xiii. Par. 1713. Also by the same: Liturgiarum orientalium collectio. Par. 1716, 2 vols. 4to. Jos. Sim. Assemani (R.C., † 1768): Bibliotheca orientalis. Rom. 1719 sqq., 4 vols. folio (vol. ii. treats De scriptoribus Syria Monophysitis). Michael le Quien (R.C., † 1733): Oriens Christianus. Par. 1740, 3 vols. folio (vols. 2 and 3). Veyssière De La Croze: Histoire du Christianisme d’Ethiope et d’Armenie. La Haye, 1739. Gibbon: Chapter xlvii. towards the end. Makrîzi (Mohammedan, an historian and jurist at Cairo, died 1441): Historia Coptorum Christianorum (Arabic and Latin), ed. H. T. Wetzer, Sulzbach, 1828; a better edition by F. Wüstenfeld, with translation and annotations, Göttingen, 1845. J. E. T. Wiltsch Kirchliche Statistik. Berlin, 1846, Bd. i. p. 225 ff. John Mason Neale (Anglican): The Patriarchate of Alexandria. London, 1847, 2 vols. Also: A History of the Holy Eastern Church. Lond. 1850, 2 vols. (vol. ii. contains among other things the Armenian and Copto-Jacobite Liturgy). E. Dulaurier: Histoire, dogmes, traditions, et liturgie de l’Eglise Armeniane. Par. 1859. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley: Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church. New York, 1862, Lect. i. p. 92 ff. Respecting the present condition of the Jacobites, Copts, Armenians, and Maronites, consult also works of Eastern travel, and the numerous accounts in missionary magazines and other religious periodicals.


The Monophysites, like their antagonists, the Nestorians, have maintained themselves in the East as separate sects under their own bishops and patriarchs, even to the present day; thus proving the tenacity of those Christological errors, which acknowledge the full Godhead and manhood of Christ, while those errors of the ancient church, which deny the Godhead, or the manhood (Ebionism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Arianism, etc.), as sects, have long since vanished. These Christological schismatics stand, as if enchanted, upon the same position which they assumed in the fifth century. The Nestorians reject the third ecumenical council, the Monophysites the fourth; the former hold the distinction of two natures in Christ even to abstract separation, the latter the fusion of the two natures in one with a stubbornness which has defied centuries, and forbids their return to the bosom of the orthodox Greek church. They are properly the ancient national churches of Egypt, Syria, and Armenia, in distinction from the orthodox Greek church, and the united or Roman church of the East.

The Monophysites are scattered upon the mountains and in the valleys and deserts of Syria, Armenia, Assyria, Egypt, and Abyssinia, and, like the orthodox Greeks of those countries, live mostly under Mohammedan, partly under Russian, rule. They supported the Arabs and Turks in weakening and at last conquering the Byzantine empire, and thus furthered the ultimate victory of Islam. In return, they were variously favored by the conquerors, and upheld in their separation from the Greek church. They have long since fallen into stagnation, ignorance, and superstition, and are to Christendom as a praying corpse to a living man. They are isolated fragments of the ancient church history, and curious petrifactions from the Christological battle-fields of the fifth and sixth centuries, coming to view amidst Mohammedan scenes. But Providence has preserved them, like the Jews, and doubtless not without design, through storms of war and persecution, unchanged until the present time. Their very hatred of the orthodox Greek church makes them more accessible both to Protestant and Roman missions, and to the influences of Western Christianity and Western civilization.

On the other hand, they are a door for Protestantism to the Arabs and the Turks; to the former through the Jacobites, to the latter through the Armenians. There is the more reason to hope for their conversion, because the Mohammedans despise the old Oriental churches, and must be won, if at all, by a purer type of Christianity. In this respect the American missions among the Armenians in the Turkish empire, are, like those among the Nestorians in Persia, of great prospective importance, as outposts of a religion which is destined sooner or later to regenerate the East.

With the exception of the Chalcedonian Christology, which they reject as Nestorian heresy, most of the doctrines, institutions, and rites of the Monophysite sects are common to them with the orthodox Greek church. They reject, or at least do not recognize, the filioque; they hold to the mass, or the Eucharistic sacrifice, with a kind of transubstantiation; leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper; baptismal regeneration by trine immersion; seven sacraments (yet not explicitly, since they either have no definite term for sacrament, or no settled conception of it); the patriarchal polity; monasticism; pilgrimages, and fasting; the requisition of a single marriage for priests and deacons (bishops are not allowed to marry);16821682    Laymen are allowed to marry twice, but a third marriage is regarded as fornication. the prohibition of the eating of blood or of things strangled.16831683    Comp. Acts xv. 20. The Latin church saw in this ordinance of the apostolic council merely a temporary measure during the existence of Jewish Christianity. On the other hand, they know nothing of purgatory and indulgences, and have a simpler worship than the Greeks and Romans. According to their doctrine, all men after death go into Hades, a place alike without sorrow or joy; after the general judgment they enter into heaven or are cast into hell; and meanwhile the intercessions and pious works of the living have an influence on the final destiny of the departed. Like the orthodox Greeks, they honor pictures and relics of the saints, but not in the same degree. Scripture and tradition are with them coordinate sources of revelation and rules of faith. The reading of the Bible is not forbidden, but is limited by the ignorance of the people themselves. They use in worship the ancient vernacular tongues, which, however, are now dead languages to them.

There are four branches of the Monophysites: the Syrian Jacobites; the Copts, including the Abyssinians; the Armemians; and the less ancient Maronites.

I. The Jacobites in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Babylonia. Their name comes down from their ecumenical16841684    Ecumenical, i.e., not restricted to any particular province. metropolitan Jacob, surnamed Baradai, or Zanzalus.16851685    From his beggarly clothing. Barâdai signifies in Arabic and Syriac horse blanket, of coarse cloth, and τζάνζαλονis vile aliquid et tritum (see Rödiger in Herzog’s Encycl. vi. 401). This remarkable man, in the middle of the sixth century, devoted himself for seven and thirty years (511–578), with unwearied zeal to the interests of the persecuted Monophysites. “Light-footed as Asahel,”16861686    2 Sam. ii. 18. and in the garb of a beggar, he journeyed hither and thither amid the greatest dangers and privations; revived the patriarchate of Antioch; ordained bishops, priests, and deacons; organized churches; healed divisions; and thus saved the Monophysite body from impending extinction.

The patriarch bears the title of patriarch of Antioch, because the succession is traced back to Severus of Antioch; but he commonly resides in Diarbekir, or other towns or monasteries. Since the fourteenth century, the patriarch has always borne the name Ignatius, after the famous martyr and bishop of Antioch. The Jacobite monks are noted for gross superstition and rigorous asceticism. A part of the Jacobites have united with the church of Rome. Lately some Protestant missionaries from America have also found entrance among them.

II. The Copts,16871687    From αἴγυπτος, Guptos, and not, as some suppose, from the town Koptos, nor from an abbreviation of Jacobite. They are the most ancient, but Christian Egyptians, in distinction from the Pharaonic (Chem), those of the Old Testament (Mizrim), the Macedonian or Greek (αἴγ.) and the modem Arab Egyptians (Misr). in Egypt, are in nationality the genuine descendants of the ancient Egyptians, though with an admixture of Greek and Arab blood. Soon after the council of Chalcedon, they chose Timotheus Aelurus in opposition to the patriarch Proterius. After varying fortunes, they have, since 536, had their own patriarch of Alexandria, who, like most of the Egyptian dignitaries, commonly resides at Cairo. He accounts himself the true successor of the evangelist Mark, St. Athanasius, and Cyril. He is always chosen from among the monks, and, in rigid adherence to the traditionary nolo episcopari, he is elected against his will; he is obliged to lead a strict ascetic life, and at night is waked every quarter of an hour for a short prayer. He alone has the power to ordain, and he performs this function not by imposition of hands, but by breathing on and anointing the candidate. His jurisdiction extends over the churches of Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia, or Ethiopia. He chooses and anoints the Abuna (i.e., Our Father), or patriarch for Abyssinia. Under him are twelve bishops, some with real jurisdiction, some titular; and under these again other clergy, down to readers and exorcists. There are still extant two incomplete Coptic versions of the Scriptures, the Upper Egyptian or Thebaic, called also, after the Arabic name of the province, the Sahidic, i.e., Highland version; and the Lower Egyptian or Memphitic.16881688    Of this latter H. Tattam and P. Bötticher (1852) have lately published considerable fragments.

The Copts were much more numerous than the Catholics, whom they scoffingly nicknamed Melchites,16891689    From the Hebrew melech, king. or Caesar-Christians. They lived with them on terms of deadly enmity, and facilitated the conquest of Egypt by the Saracens (641). But they were afterwards cruelly persecuted by these very Saracens,16901690    So that even their Arabic historian Makr<zi was moved to compassion for them. and dwindled from some two millions of souls to a hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand, of whom about ten thousand, or according to others from thirty to sixty thousand, live in Cairo, and the rest mostly in Upper Egypt. They now, in common with all other religious sects, enjoy toleration. They and the Abyssinians are distinguished from the other Monophysites by the Jewish and Mohammedan practice of circumcision, which is performed by lay persons (on both sexes), and in Egypt is grounded upon sanitary considerations. They still observe the Jewish law of meats. They are sunk in poverty, ignorance, and semi-barbarism. Even the clergy, who indeed are taken from the lowest class of the people, are a beggarly set, and understand nothing but how to read mass, and perform the various ceremonies. They do not even know the Coptic or old Egyptian, their own ancient ecclesiastical language. They live by farming, and their official fees. The literary treasures of their convents in the Coptic, Syriac, and Arabic languages, have been of late secured for the most part to the British Museum, by Tattam and other travellers.

Missions have lately been undertaken among them, especially by the Church Missionary Society of England (commencing in 1825), and the United Presbyterians of America, but with little success so far.16911691    A detailed, but very unfavorable description of the Copts is given by Edward W. Lane in his “Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians,” 1833. Notwithstanding this they stand higher than the other Egyptians. A. P. Stanley (Hist. of the Eastern Church, p. 95) says of them: “The Copts are still, even in their degraded state, the most civilized of the natives: the intelligence of Egypt still lingers in the Coptic scribes, who are on this account used as clerks in the offices of their conquerors, or as registrars of the water-marks of the Nile.” Comp. also the occasional notices of the Copts in the Egyptological writings of Wilkinson, Bunsen, Lepsius, Brugsch, and others.

The Abyssinian church is a daughter of the Coptic, and was founded in the fourth century, by two missionaries from Alexandria, Frumentius and Aedesius. It presents a strange mixture of barbarism, ignorance, superstition, and Christianity. Its Ethiopic Bible, which dates perhaps from the first missionaries, includes in the Old Testament the apocryphal book of Enoch. The Chronicles of Axuma (the former capital of the country), dating from the fourth century, receive almost the same honor as the Bible. The council of Chalcedon is accounted an assembly of fools and heretics. The Abyssinian church has retained even more Jewish elements than the Coptic. It observes the Jewish Sabbath together with the Christian Sunday; it forbids the use of the flesh of swine and other unclean beasts; it celebrates a yearly feast of general lustration or rebaptizing of the whole nation; it retains the model of a sacred ark, called the ark of Zion, to which gifts and prayers are offered, and which forms the central point of public worship. It believes in the magical virtue of outward ceremonies, especially immersion, as the true regeneration. Singularly enough it honors Pontius Pilate as a saint, because be washed his hands of innocent blood. The endless controversies respecting the natures of Christ, which have died out elsewhere still rage there. The Abyssinians honor saints and pictures, but not images; crosses, but not the crucifix. Every priest carries a cross in his hand, and presents it to every one whom he meets, to be kissed. The numerous churches are small and dome-shaped above, and covered with reeds and straw. On the floor lie a number of staves and crutches, on which the people support themselves during the long service, as, like all the Orientals, they are without benches. Slight as are its remains of Christianity, Abyssinia still stands, in agriculture, arts, laws, and social condition, far above the heathen countries of Africa—a proof that even a barbaric Christianity is better than none.

The influences of the West have penetrated even to Abyssinia. The missions of the Jesuits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and of the Protestants in the nineteenth, have been prosecuted amidst many dangers and much self-denial, yet hitherto with but little success.16921692    Especially worthy of note are the labors of the Basle missionaries, Samuel Gobat (now Anglican bishop in Jerusalem), Kugler, Isenberg, Blumhardt, and Krapf since 1830. Comp. Gobatin the Basler Missionsmagazin for 1834, Part 1 and 2. Isenberg: Abyssinien und die evangelische Mission, Bonn, 1844, 2 Bde. and Isenbergand Krapf: Journals, 1843. Also Harris: Highlands of Ethiopia 1844. The imported fragments of an Abyssinian translation of the Bible, dating from the fourth or fifth century, have drawn the attention of Westem scholars. Prof. A. Dillmann (now in Giessen) has since 1854 published the Aethiopic Old Testament, a grammar, and a lexicon of the Aethiopic language. Of the older works on Abyssinia the principal are Ludolphus: Historia Aethiopica, Frankf. 1681; Geddes: Church History of Aethiopia, Lond. 1696, and La Croze: Histoire du Christianisme d’Ethiopie et d’Armenie, La Haye, 1739. They have all drawn their principal materials from the Jesuits, especially from the general history of Tellez, published 1660.

III. The Armenians. These are the most numerous, interesting, and hopeful of the Monophysite sects, and now the most accessible to evangelical Protestantism. Their nationality reaches back into hoary antiquity, like Mount Ararat, at whose base lies their original home. They were converted to Christianity in the beginning of the fourth century, under King Tiridates, by Gregory the Enlightener, the first patriarch and ecclesiastical writer and the greatest saint of the Armenians.16931693    Φωτιστής, Illuminator. He was married and had several sons. He was urgently invited to the Nicene council, but sent his son Aristax in his stead, to whom he resigned his office, and then withdrew himself for the rest of his life into a mountain-cave. There are homilies of his still extant, which were first printed in 1737 in Constantinople. They were provided by him with monasteries and seminaries, and afterwards by Mesrob16941694    Called Mesrop, Mjesrob, Mjesrop, and Marchtoz. Comp. respecting this man and the origin of the Armenian version of the Bible, the chronicle of his pupil, Moses Chorenensis, and the article by Petermann in Herzog’s Encycl. Bd. ix. p. 370 ff. with a version of the Scriptures, made from the Greek with the help of the Syriac Peschito; which at the same time marks the beginning of the Armenian literature, since Mesrob had first to invent his alphabet. The Armenian canon has four books found in no other Bible; in the Old Testament, the History of Joseph and Asenath, and the Testament of the twelve Patriarchs, and in the New, the Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul and a Third, but spurious, Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. The next oldest work in the Armenian language is the history of their land and people, by Moses Chorenensis, a half century later.

The Armenians fell away from the church of the Greek Empire in 552, from which year they date their era. The Persians favored the separation on political grounds, but were themselves thoroughly hostile to Christianity, and endeavored to introduce the Zoroastrian religion into Armenia. The Armenian church, being left unrepresented at the council of Chalcedon through the accidental absence of its bishops, accepted in 491 the Henoticon of the emperor Zeno, and at the synod of Twin (Tevin or Tovin, the capital at that time), held a.d. 595, declared decidedly for the Monophysite doctrine. The Confessio Armenica, which in other respects closely resembles the Nicene Creed, is recited by the priest at every morning service. The Armenian church had for a long time only one patriarch or Catholicus, who at first resided in Sebaste, and afterwards in the monastery of Etschmiezin (Edschmiadsin), their holy city, at the foot of Mount Ararat, near Erivan (now belonging to Russia), and had forty-two archbishops under him. At his consecration the dead hand of Gregory the Enlightener is even yet always used, as the medium of tactual succession. Afterwards other patriarchal sees were established, at Jerusalem (in 1311), at Sis, in Cilicia (in 1440), and after the fall of the Greek empire in Constantinople (1461).16951695    Respecting the patriarchal and metropolitan sees and the bishoprics of the Armenians, comp. Le Quien, tom. i., and Wiltsch, Kirchliche Geographie und Statistik, ii. p. 375 ff.  In 637 Armenia fell under Mohammedan dominion, and belongs now partly to Turkey and partly to Russia. But the varying fortunes and frequent oppressions of their country have driven many thousands of the Armenians abroad, and they are now scattered in other parts of Russia and Turkey, as well as in Persia, India, and Austria.

The Armenians of the diaspora are mostly successful traders and brokers, and have become a nation and a church of merchant princes, holding great influence in Turkey. Their dispersion, and love of trade, their lack of political independence, their tenacious adherence to ancient national customs and rites, the oppressions to which they are exposed in foreign countries, and the influence which they nevertheless exercise upon these countries, make their position in the Orient, especially in Turkey, similar to that of the Jews in the Christian world.

The whole number of the Armenians is very variously estimated, from two and a half up to fifteen millions.16961696    Stanley (History of the Eastern Church, p. 92), supported by Neale and Haxthausen (Transcaucasia), estimates the number of the Armenians at over eight millions. But Dr. G. W. Wood, of New York, formerly a missionary among them, informs me that their total number probably does not exceed six millions, of whom about two and a half millions are probably in Turkey.

The Armenian church, it may be remarked, has long been divided into two parts, which, although internally very similar, are inflexibly opposed to each other. The united Armenians, since the council of Florence, a.d. 1439, have been connected with the church of Rome. To them belongs the congregation of the Mechitarists, which was founded by the Abbot Mechitar († 1749), and possesses a famous monastery on the island of San Lazzaro near Venice, from which centre it has successfully labored since 1702 for Armenian literature and education in the interest of the Roman Catholic church.16971697    Comp. C. F. Neumann: Geschichte der armenischen Literatur nach den Werken der Mechitaristen, Leipzig, 1836. The chief work of the Mechitarists is the history of Armenia, by P. Michael Tschamtschean († 1823), in three vols., Venice, 1784. The schismatical Armenians hold firmly to their peculiar ancient doctrines and polity. They regard themselves as the orthodox, and call the united or Roman Armenians schismatics.

Since 1830, the Protestant Missionary, Tract, and Bible societies of England, Basle, and the United States, have labored among the Armenians especially among the Monophysite portion, with great success, The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions,16981698    This oldest and most extensive of American missionary societies was founded a.d.1810, and is principally supported by the Congregationalists and New School Presbyterians. in particular, has distributed Bibles and religious books in the Armenian and Armeno-Turkish16991699    The Armeno-Turkish is the Turkish language written in Armenian characters. language, and founded flourishing churches and schools in Constantinople, Broosa, Nicomedia, Trebizond, Erzroom, Aintab, Kharpoot, Diarbekir, and elsewhere. Several of these churches have already endured the crucial test of persecution, and justify bright hopes for the future. As the Jewish Synagogues of the diaspora were witnesses for monotheism among idolaters, and preparatory schools of Christianity, so are these Protestant Armenian churches, as well as the Protestant Nestorian, outposts of evangelical civilization in the East, and perhaps the beginning of a resurrection of primitive Christianity in the lands of the Bible and harbingers of the future conversion of the Mohammedans.17001700    Compare, respecting the Armenian mission of the American Board, the publications of this Society; Eli Smithand H. G. O. Dwight: Missionary Researches in Armenia, Boston, 1833; Dr. H. G. O. Dwight: Christianity revived in the East, New York, 1850; H. Newcomb: Cyclopaedia of Missions, pp. 124-154. The principal missionaries among the Armenians are H. G. O. Dwight, W. Goodell, C. Hamlin, G. W. Wood, F. Riggs, D. Ladd, P. O. Powers, W. G. Schauffler (a Würtemberger, but educated at the Theol. Seminary of Andover, Mass.), and Benj. Schneider (a German from Pennsylvania, but likewise a graduate of Andover).

IV. The youngest sect of the Monophysites, and the solitary memorial of the Monothelite controversy, are the Maronites, so called from St. Maron, and the eminent monastery founded by him in Syria (400).17011701    He is probably the same Maron whose life Theodoret wrote, and to whom Chrysostomaddressed a letter when in exile. He is not to be confounded with the later John Maron, of the seventh century, who, according to the legendary traditions of the catholic Maronites, acting as papal legate at Antioch, converted the whole of Lebanon to the Roman church, and became their first patriarch. T he name “Maronites” occurs first in the eighth century, and that as a name of heretics, in John of Damascus. They inhabit the range of Lebanon, with its declivities and valleys, from Tripolis on the North to the neighborhood of Tyre and the lake of Gennesaret on the South, and amount at most to half a million. They have also small churches in Aleppo, Damascus, and other places. They are pure Syrians, and still use the Syriac language in their liturgy, but speak Arabic. They are subject to a patriarch, who commonly resides in the monastery of Kanobin on Mt. Lebanon. They were originally Monothelites, even after the doctrine of one will of Christ, which is the ethical complement of the doctrine of one nature, had been rejected at the sixth ecumenical Council (a.d. 680). But after the Crusades (1182), and especially after 1596, they began to go over to the Roman church, although retaining the communion under both kinds, their Syriac missal, the marriage of priests, and their traditional fast-days, with some saints of their own, especially St: Maron.

From these came, in the eighteenth century, the three celebrated Oriental scholars, the Assemani, Joseph Simon († 1768), his brother Joseph Aloysius, and their cousin Stephen Evodius. These were born on Mt. Lebanon, and educated at the Maronite college at Rome.

There are also Maronites in Syria, who abhor the Roman church.17021702    Respecting the present condition of the Maronites, comp. also Robinson’s Palestine, Ritter’s Erdkunde, Bd. xvii. Abtheil. 1, and Rödiger’s article in Herzog’s Encycl. Bd. x. p. 176 ff. A few years ago (1860), the Maronites drew upon themselves the sympathies of Christendom by the cruelties which their old hereditary enemies, the Druses, perpetrated upon them.




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