« Prev Chapter 28. Nestorians and Monophysites. Next »


From the time of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), to the end of Justinian's reign, the Eastern Church was vexed by controversies which arose out of the opinions of Eutyches (Chap. XXII). On account of these quarrels, the Churches of Rome and Constantinople would have no intercourse with each other for five-and-thirty years (AD 484–519). The party which had at first been called Eutychians (after 145Eutyches) afterwards got the name of “Monophysites”, (that is to say, “maintainers of one nature only”)—because they said that after Our Blessed Lord had taken on Him the nature of man, His Godhead and His manhood made up but one nature; whereas the Catholics held that His two natures remain perfect and distinct in Him. The party split up into a number of divisions, the very names of which it is difficult to remember. And other quarrels arose out of the great controversy with the Eutychians. The most noted of these was the dispute as to what were called the “Three Articles.” It was not properly a question respecting the faith, but whether certain writings, then a hundred years old, were or were not favourable to Nestorianism. But it was thought so important, that a council, which is reckoned as the fifth general council, was held on account of it at Constantinople in the year 553.

Notwithstanding all their quarrels among themselves, the Monophysites grew very strong in various countries. In Egypt they were more in number than the Catholics. The Abyssinian Church (which, as we saw in a former chapter (Chap X), was considered as a daughter of the Egyptian Church) took up these opinions. The Nubians were converted from heathenism by Monophysite missionaries; and in Armenia the church exchanged the Catholic doctrine for the Monophysite in the sixth century.

But the most remarkable man of this sect was a Syrian named Jacob. He found his party suffering and greatly weakened, in consequence of the laws which the emperors had made against it; and most of the bishops and clergy had been removed by banishment imprisonment, or other means. Being resolved to preserve the sect, if possible, from dying out, Jacob went to Constantinople, made his way into the prison where some of the Monophysite bishops were confined, and was secretly consecrated by them as a bishop, with authority to watch over all the congregations of their communion throughout Syria and the East. For 146nearly forty (AD 541–578) he laboured in carrying out the work which he had undertaken, with a zeal and a stedfastness which we cannot but admire, although we must regret that they were employed in the cause of heresy. In order that he might not be known, as there were severe laws against spreading his opinions, he dressed himself as a beggar, and thence got the dance of “The Ragged”. In this disguise, he travelled, without ceasing, over Syria and Mesopotamia. His secret was faithfully kept by the members of his party. He stirred up their spirit, ordained bishops and clergy to minister among them in private, and at his death, in 578, he left the sect large and flourishing. From this Jacob, the Monophysites of other countries, as well as of his own, got the name of Jacobites, in return for which they called the Catholics “Melchites,”—that is to say, followers of the emperor's religion. And by these names of Melchites and Jacobites, the remnants of the old Christian parties in the East are known to this day. (These Jacobites of the East must not be confounded with the Jacobites of English history, who were the friends of James II, and of his family, after the Revolution of 1688.)

The Nestorians also continued to be a strong body. Both they and the Monophysites were very active in missions—more active, indeed, than the eastern Catholics. The Nestorians, in particular, made great numbers of converts in Persia (where the heathen kings would allow no other kind of Christianity than Nestorianism), in India, and in other parts of Asia. And in the seventh century (which is somewhat beyond the bounds of this little book) their missionaries made their way even to China, where they preached with great success.

« Prev Chapter 28. Nestorians and Monophysites. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection