A theological doctrine that emphasizes the unity of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ in one nature. The term derives from Greek monos, “alone” or “single,” and physis, “nature.”
In the late antique period monophysite beliefs were strongest in the eastern parts of the Byzantine Empire. However, at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held at Chalcedon in 451, the church of the empire adopted the dyophysite christological dogma, that is, the doctrine of two natures, divine and human, in Christ. During the reign of emperor Justinian I (527-565), the monophysites of the East broke away from the Greek Orthodox, or Melkite (imperial) church, and organized independent churches: the Coptic Church in Egypt, and the Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Church in Syria and Mesopotamia. The Armenian Church accepted monophysitism in two synods in Dvin (506 and 552).
In the Middle Ages, numerous attempts were made between the Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox churches to find a compromise and to restore ecclesiastical unity, but these met with little success. During the negotiations between Byzantine emperors and the Armenian katholikoi (primates) on ecclesiastical reunification in 1165-1193, the Greek Orthodox Church demanded the renunciation of monophysite christology. Remembering occasional persecutions during Byzantine rule in Northern Syria (969-1084), the Syrian Orthodox and Armenians appreciated the respect for their religious autonomy by the Latins in Outremer. Some of their patriarchs and katholikoi were on good terms with the Latin hierarchy, but monophysitism remained the main obstacle to a definite ecclesiastical unification of these churches with the Latin church. Neither the temporary union between the Armenian Church and Rome, concluded for political reasons on the occasion of the coronation of Leon I in Sis in January 1199, nor the contacts between the Syrian Orthodox patriarch Ignatios II (1222-1252) and the Dominicans in 1236 and 1246 resulted in a formal renunciation of monophysitism by these churches.