Question: What is the difference between Dyophysitism and Miaphysitism?
Answer: Dyophysitism and Miaphysitism are terms used to describe two (of the many) Christologies, but more specifically, Christ’s hypostatic union, so they attempt to describe the manner in which Christ is both human and divine. The words themselves (both from the Greek) tell the basic tale. Dyophysitism means two natures and Miaphysitism means one nature. That is the basic difference between them, but it is a coarse description considering the explosion of viewpoints that surround this divide. So, a little explaining of the “isms” is in order. But why all the fuss? Scripture is clear that Christ is both human and divine; that is not the issue. The issue is that we humans do not understand how that all works! And when it comes to theology, anything that can be divided will be divided—and divide they did.
The controversy centered around the council of Chalcedon in AD 451 and the churches involved were (roughly speaking, these are further divided) the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The council needed a description of the hypostatic union to counter the Nestorian heresy and its outfall. There were many ideas in play, so let’s sort them out.
- Dyophysitism understands Christ as having two natures that exist in one person. This is the position of the council of Chalcedon (451), the Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant churches.
- Miaphysitism understands Christ as having only one nature—but that this nature includes both humanity and divinity.
- Monophysitism (word-wise, the more precise opposite of Dyophysitism) understood Christ as having only a single nature, and this nature was either divine or a human/divine synthesis.
- Docetism holds that Christ only appears to be human.
- Adoptionism holds that Christ was a man—but one who was chosen by God.
- Nestorianism stressed the distinction between the divine and the human Christs so much so that it appeared that two persons were living in the same body.
- Eutychianism stressed the unity of Christ's nature—but to such an extent that Christ's divinity consumed his humanity...as the ocean consumes a drop of vinegar.
Fifteen and a half centuries later, people from these churches have made the splits even finer, so that basic issues of AD 451 have morphed into our contemporary unrecognizable morass. Today's people will mean different things when they use these terms since they are now loaded with history and culture, so beware if you are researching contemporary issues.
Just as these churches have split hairs theologically, so have they split apart politically. It is my opinion that the punishment fits the crime, because all this hair-splitting is theology run amok. Jesus told us what we had to know about his own nature in this conversation with the disciples.
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13–17, ESV)
It is not important to Jesus whether or not you can apply names to differing views of his nature. It is important to him that you answer his question directly and correctly as did Peter on that day. What’s your deal? Who do you think he is? Unless you too say, “He is the Christ! The Son of the living God,” please visit the following links for more information.