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Aphthartodocetism (Greek ἄφθαρτος aphthartos "incorruptible" + δόκησις dokisis "[mere] appearance") also known as Julianism, is a heresy formulated by the non-Chalcedonian bishop Julian of Halicarnassus in the 6th century. It is a form of Monophysitism that argues Christ's body was always impassible, a doctrine which Julian believed was necessary for Christ's suffering and death to have been voluntary. Julian's Aphthartodocetist Christology forced him to reject St. Cyril's teaching[1] that Christ's body changed after the Resurrection.[2] This heresy was opposed by St. Eutychius of Constantinoplecitation needed and Severus of Antioch.

Severus of Antioch's condemnation of Aphthartodocetism

The Non-Chalcedonian bishop Severus of Antioch condemned Julian's Aphthartodocetist Christology. Their two parties emerged into a schism that lasted until the following 7th century.citation needed A relevant excerpt from one of Severus's letters reads:

This foolish man, who confesses the passions with his lips only, hiding his impiety, wrote thus: 'Incorruptibility was always attached to the body of our Lord, which was passible of His own will for the sake of others.' And in brotherly love I wrote and asked him : 'What do you mean by "incorruptible," and "suffered of His own will for the sake of others," and "was attached to the body of our Lord," if without any falsehood you confess it to be by nature passible? For,if by the incorruptibility possessed by it you mean holiness without sin, we all confess this with you, that the holy body from the womb which He united to Himself originally by the Holy Spirit of the pure Virgin, the Theotokos, was conceived and born in the flesh without sin and conversed with us men, because "He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth," according to the testimony of the Scriptures. But, if you call impassibility and immortality incorruptibility, and say that the body which suffered in the flesh on our behalf was not one that was capable of suffering with voluntary passions and dying in the flesh, you reduce the saving passions on our behalf to a phantasy; for a thing which does not suffer also does not die, and it is a thing incapable of suffering.' And upon receiving such remarks as these from me he openly refused to call the holy body of Emmanuel passible in respect of voluntary passions; and therefore he did not hesitate to write thus, without shame and openly: 'We do not call Him of our nature in respect of passions, but in respect of essence. Therefore, even if He is impassible, and even if He is incorruptible, yet He is of our nature in respect of nature.'[3]

Emperor Justinian and Aphthartodocetism

Some have claimedcitation needed that the emperor Justinian imposed Aphthartodocetism. However, Justinian's supposed decree imposing Aphthartodocetism is not preserved. The only source concerning such a decree is the testimony of the historian Evagrius.citation needed Fr. Asterios Gerostergios notes in his book Justinian the Great: The Emperor and Saintcitation needed that other parties involved at the time the decree was alleged to have been issued make no mention of the act.


  1. "Even after the resurrection [Christ's] same body which had suffered continued to exist, although it no longer contained any human weakness. We maintain that it was no longer susceptible to hunger or weariness or anything like this, but was thereafter incorruptible, and not only that but life-giving as well since it is the body of Life, that is the body of the Only Begotten. Now it is radiant with divine glory and is seen to be the body of God. So, even if someone should call it ‘divine’ just as one might call a man’s body ‘human’, such a fitting thought would not be mistaken. In my opinion this is what the most-wise Paul said: ‘Even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, nonetheless we know him so no longer’ (2 Cor.5.16)." from The First Letter of Cyril to Succensus, in Fr. John A. McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria. The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004) 352-358, Orthodox Joint Commission, accessed August 8th, 2015, https://orthodoxjointcommission.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/first-letter-of-cyril-to-succensus/
  2. Zachariah of Mitylene, Syriac Chronicle Book 9 Chapter 10, trans. F. J. Hamilton and E. W. Brooks (Essex: Methuen & Company, 1899), 260, Tertullian.org, accessed July 21st, 2015, http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/zachariah09.htm
  3. Syriac Chronicle Book 9 Chapter 16