Monophysites (Gr. , from single, and , nature), the followers of Eutyches, who maintained that in Christ there is " only one nature, that of the incarnate word," his human nature having been absorbed by the divine. Eutyches had been led to maintain the mixture or confounding of the divine and human natures in Christ, against Nestorius, who taught that "the divine nature was not incarnate in Jesus, but only attendant on him, being superadded to his already formed human nature." Eutyches was warmly supported by the monasteries of Constantinople, and by those of Egypt, headed by Dioscurus, bishop of Alexandria. His opinion, condemned in 448 at Constantinople, was reaffirmed by the "robber synod " of Ephesus in 449, through the influence of Dioscurus and his partisans, aided by the abbot Barsumas and his Syrian monks, but especially through the active support of the emperor Theodosius II. This decision was reversed in 451 by the general council of Chal-cedon, which decreed that after the incarnation the one and same Christ subsists in both natures without mixture, change, division, or separation. This decision, which the Euty-chians termed sheer Nestorianism, only made them more tenacious of their doctrine.
Hence they were called Monophysites by their opponents, who in turn were denominated indiscriminately Diophysites or Nestorians. The great patriarchal sees of Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch, chiefly by means of the numerous monasteries of monks tainted with Eutychian-ism, fell into the possession of the Monophysites, and these cities, with their dependent churches, were for a long time scenes of the most scandalous and sanguinary violence. The perpetual interference of the Greek emperors in theological disputes, as it had not a little helped the growth of the Nestorian and Eutychian heresies, contributed also to perpetuate the division between the orthodox and the Monophysites. The usurper Basiliscus in 476 was the first emperor to issue doctrinal edicts obligatory on all upholding Monophysitism. In 477 the emperor Zeno gave his support to the Catholics, and in 482 he published a doctrinal compromise called Henoticon, which was condemned at Rome and rejected by both parties. Every attempt at reunion thenceforward made by the imperial authority only served to widen the breach. The emperors Justin and Justinian employed alternately, without success, measures of conciliation and severity.
While Justinian tried to win the Catholics by proscribing the writings of Origen favorable to the Monophysites, he irritated them by condemning what is known as the " three chapters," namely, passages from three Antiochian church teachers, tainted with Nes-torianism, but justified at Chalcedon. At the same time Justinian's wife Theodora was a most ardent propagandist of Monophysitism. The general council of Constantinople, convened in 553 by that emperor, created irremediable division, on the one hand by the condemnation of the Monophysite tenets, and on the other by the violence done to Pope Vigilius, and the condemnation of the " three chapters." The Monophysites, in the mean while, had fallen out among themselves; some (the Seve-rians) maintaining the corruptibility, others (the Julianists) the incorruptibility of the body of Christ. By adopting the latter doctrine Justinian made (in 564) a last attempt to draw over the Monophysites, but with no other result than to cause a new split among the Catholic bishops. Under his successor the efforts to make the Monophysites accept the decrees of Chalcedon were given up, and they organized as an independent body.
The zeal of Jacobus Baradaeus, who in 541 was ordained bishop of Edessa, gave them in Syria and Mesopotamia a permanent organization, with a patriarch, claiming to be the legitimate successor of the Antiochian patriarchs, at their head. They also received from him the name Jacobites,by which they were thenceforth commonly called. (See Jacobites.) As early as 527, the bishops of Armenia rejected at a national synod, under the presidency of their patriarch Nerses, the decrees of Chalcedon, and organized on a Monophysitic basis an independent church. (See Armenian Church.) In Egypt nearly all the churches adopted Monophysitism; the few adherents of the imperial decrees were called Melchites (i. e., royalists), while the Monophysites received the name of Coptic (i. e., Egyptian) Christians. (See Copts.) With this latter branch of Monophysitism the Abyssinian church is in organic connection. Some smaller branches of these four Monophysitic churches spread in other parts of western and in central Asia, but without attaining to any importance. - The history of the Monophysites is most amply treated of by Walch, in his Ketserhistorie, vols, vi., vii and viii. An extensive extract from this work is given in Schrockh's Kirchengeschichte, vol. xviii.
Writings and fragments of the party leaders are contained in Mai's Seriptorum Vete-rum Nora Collection vol. vii., and Spicilegium Romanum, vol. vii. (See Monothelites).