Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Aphthartodocetae, a sect of Monophysites

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Aphthartodocetae (from ἄφθαρτος, incorruptible, and δοκέω, to think), a sect of the Monophysites, which arose in the 6th cent. They were also called Phantasiastae, because they appeared to acknowledge only a seeming body of Christ, and to border on Docetism; and Julianists, from their leader Julian, bp. of Halicarnassus, and his contemporary Xenajas of Hierapolis. They argued, from the commingling (σύγχυσις) of the two natures of Christ, that the body of our Lord, from the very beginning, became partaker of the incorruptibility of the Logos, and was subject to corruptibility merely κατ᾿ οἰκονομίαν. They appealed in proof especially to Christ's walking on the sea during His earthly life. Their opponents among the Monophysites, the Severians (from Severus, patriarch of Antioch), maintained that the body of Christ before the Resurrection was corruptible, and were hence called Phthartolatrae (Φθαρτολάτραι, from φθαρτός and λάτρεία), or Corrupticolae, i.e. Worshippers of the Corruptible. Both parties admitted the incorruptibility of Christ's body after the Resurrection. The word φθορά was generally taken in the sense of corruptibility, but sometimes in the sense of mere frailty. This whole question is rather one of scholastic subtlety, though not wholly idle, and may be solved in this way: that the body of Christ, before the Resurrection, was similar in its constitution to the body of Adam before the Fall, containing the germ or possibility of immortality and incorruptibility, but subject to the influence of the elements, and was actually put to death by external violence, but through the indwelling power of the sinless Spirit was preserved from corruption and raised again to an imperishable life, when—to use an ingenious distinction of St. Augustine—the immortalitas minor became immortalitas major, or the posse non mori a non posse mori.

The Aphthartodocetae were subdivided into Ktistolatrae, or, from their founder, Gajanitae, who taught that the body of Christ was created (κτιστόν), and Aktistetae, who asserted that the body of Christ, although in itself created, yet by its union with the eternal Logos became increate, and therefore incorruptible. The most consistent Monophysite in this direction was the rhetorician Stephanus Niobes (about 550), who declared that every attempt to distinguish between the divine and the human in Christ was improper and useless, since they had become absolutely one in him. An abbot of Edessa, Bar Sudaili, extended this principle even to the creation, which he thought would at last be wholly absorbed in God.

Cf. the dissertations of Gieseler, Monophysitarum variae de Christi Persona Opiniones, 1835 and 1838; the remarks of Dorner, History of Christology, ii. 159 ff. (German ed.); Ebrard, Church and Doctrine History, i. 268; and Schaff, Church History, iii. 766 ff.

[P.S.]