Thomas Monck: A Cure for the Cankering Error of the New Eutychians

As a young man, when my Sunday School teacher or pastor began talking about how God would use my spiritual gifts for His glory, I would say to myself, “I’m just an Average Joe.” After all, I was raised in a rural Tennessee community of tobacco farmers. I am descended from north Alabama and South Carolina carpenters, share croppers, and itinerant pastors. And though both of my parents are very intelligent, they’re just regular folks. So when a church leader asked me to consider what gifts God had given me, I was stumped. How could God use an Average Joe like me for anything worthwhile?

As we have been reviewing important writings from the English General Baptists this month, I have been struck by how God has used Average Joes all along the way to forge the Free Will Baptist tradition. For example, in last week’s post, we considered the farmer, self-educated preacher, and Messenger Thomas Grantham (1634-1692). This week we’re going to consider another Average Joe, Grantham’s fellow farmer and Messenger—Thomas Monck.

Felonious Monck

Thomas Monck grew up in seventeenth-century Buckinghamshire, England in the midst of religious and political turmoil. Those who did not conform to the Church of England’s (or Anglican) faith and practices were subject to imprisonment, fines, search and seizure of property, and general harassment. Monck’s hometown certainly “drank deep of the cup of persecution” [1]. Whereas most magistrates were content to imprison, fine, and seize the property of the non-conformists, those in this county went so far as to attempt to “take away their lives” [2].

Monck’s father, with eleven other General Baptists was arrested for non-conformity to the Anglican Church [3]. After refusing to capitulate, the group was sentenced to execution, only to be saved by a pardon from King Charles I, procured by young Monck. Despite the intense persecution, Monck was not deterred.

He soon became a leader in his local church and eventually became the area Messenger. Messengers were ordained by individual congregations to plant new churches, fill in for imprisoned or absent pastors in the area, and help settle doctrinal disputes. Though they did not have command over anyone, a Messenger’s counsel was not to be disregarded lightly. Due to the nature of their work, the English General Baptists were extremely selective about who they chose to fill the position of Messenger. While Monck continued to work his farm, he proved to be a wonderful Messenger who took his responsibility seriously.

Matthew Caffyn and Heterodox Christology

One of a Messenger’s duties was to combat heresy wherever it was found, even if amongst one’s own ranks. This was the case with the Matthew Caffyn (1628-1714) affair.

Caffyn was a popular General Baptist pastor during the seventeenth-century who was friendly with Monck. Although his teachings were initially orthodox, Caffyn’s Christology began to elicit concern by the 1660s. The farmer and Messenger Monck stood for biblical integrity at all costs, and raised the alarm against his fellow minister’s heterodox teachings. He is a worthy example for us.

On several occasions Monck accused Caffyn of heterodoxy before the General Assembly (similar to the National Association of Free Will Baptists), but each time with no result. At each meeting Caffyn denied the accusations, or else dodged the question altogether. Eventually he claimed that he was simply unsure about Christ’s nature.

Time and again the national body determined that though Caffyn’s teachings were unorthodox, he did not need to be disciplined. This may have been due to his popularity among the assembly, but Caffyn’s subtlety and dishonesty also played a part. Eventually, a contingent including Monck separated themselves from the General Assembly, and formed the General Association [5].

A Theological Prescription: A Cure for the Cankering Error

Although Grantham is the shining star of late seventeenth-century English General Baptist theology, Monck deserves a place beside him. In an effort to defend against Caffyn’s heterodox views on Christ’s nature, Monck wrote A Cure for the Cankering Error of the New Eutychians (1673)[6]. In this work, Monck combats Caffyn’s erroneous teachings by presenting a biblical definition of Christ’s nature and the Trinity. Though it is a book of depth and complexity, Monck nevertheless intimately connects with the average folk for whom he “intended” it [7].

In the preface, Monck expounds on Peter’s warning against false teachers and doctrine (2 Pet. 2:1-3). He reminds us that false teachers have been with the church since apostolic times, and are usually subtle in their errors. This same subtlety was being observed with Caffyn and his followers. He warns that those who associate with false teachers will also share in their guilt and misery. Monck did not simply intend to warn average laymen against falling prey to these heresies, but also to draw Caffyn and his followers into repentance that they may “recover [themselves] out of the snare of the Devil” [8].

Monck begins his defense by defining God’s “Divine Essence.” Drawing from Scripture and Augustine, he states that God’s nature demands His indivisibility. If God could be said to have divisible parts, then He would no longer be infinite (a necessary attribute) [9]. Yet, how can three persons exist within the one Godhead?

Though Monck is clear to state that the “perfect manner how one Person is of another, is incomprehensible, and unutterable in this life,” he does clearly present what is revealed in Scripture about this doctrine [10]. He argues that Jesus’ statement in John 14:10-11, which concerns Jesus being in the Father and the Father in Him, explains how each person of the Trinity is still one God. They are three persons with one essence, which necessitates that they be “in” one another—otherwise God would have more than one essence [11]. Having discussed the Trinity, Monck moves to the primary purpose of his work, Christology.

Christological error often begins with an orthodox understanding of original sin. Caffyn slipped into a Eutychian Christology (which combines the two natures of Christ to form a unique third nature), because he had trouble reconciling Christ’s sinless estate with His human nature. What follow is his complex and scientifically unsound solution.

Caffyn believed that flesh (e.g., DNA) and original sin pass to babies only through the father’s seed. Therefore, in Jesus’ case, neither flesh nor original sin passed through Mary. And because Jesus did not have a biological father, Caffyn concluded that Christ did not receive either flesh or original sin. Thus, he surmised that Christ transformed from spirit into a heavenly flesh, thereby avoiding original sin [12]. Under this paradigm, Jesus was neither man, nor God, but some undefined third substance.

For Monck this was problematic for several reasons:

(1) If Jesus isn’t a man, He can’t die a substitutionary death, and He is no true example to us;

(2) If Jesus isn’t God, He is incapable of paying the infinite sin debt required of all men; and

(3) If God didn’t become a man when He “turned Himself into flesh,” He must have become a third kind of substance.

Monck confronted Caffyn’s heterodoxy by contending that Christ was like us in every way, sin excepted (Heb. 2:17; 4:15). He posited that Christ did not receive original sin, because it is transmitted through procreation [13].

Monck states further that Christ was made of woman, even though He took our nature upon Himself by “assuming of his manhood into his Godhead . . . by unity of Persons” (cf. Gal. 4:4; Isa. 11:1) [14]. That is, Christ “took part of her [Mary’s] substance,” and did not “pass through her as Water through a Pipe” [15]. For Monck, the belief that Christ is both fully God and fully man, commonly known as the hypostatic union of Christ, is essential so that He can be the mediator and example we need.

After explaining the biblical definitions of the Trinity and Christ, Monck proceeds to raise and answer relevant questions concerning the details of these doctrines. He then describes in his closing pages how these doctrines are useful in the Christian life for the “poorer sort of Christians”—the Average Joes [16].

Average Joes

Most moving and challenging about this work is that Thomas Monck, an Average Joe and rural farmer, developed a highly complex and rich understanding of some of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith. And he did so through serious study of the Scriptures, early church fathers, orthodox creeds, and concentrated reasoning. The Trinity and Christ’s nature have left the church in awe for the last 2,000 years. While Monck doesn’t claim to explain away their mystery, what he does uncover is amazing! In addition, Monck’s writing reflects his awe of God. Rather than giving him a cold faith, Monck’s study only served to deepen his love for God, leaving him intoxicated with the deep mysteries of His nature. He’s exactly the kind of average Joe that I want to be.

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[1] Adam Taylor, The History of the English General Baptists in Two Parts: Part First: The English General Baptists of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1818), 226.

[2] Ibid.

[3] A sign of these magistrates’ officious attitude concerns two women who were also arrested among the twelve. One was a widow with six dependent children and the other a spinster. This is unlike most magistrates, who would have only arrested the men of the church.

[4] Thomas Monck, “Introductory Note” written October 19, 1672 to A Cure for the Cankering Error of the New Eutychians (1673) from a reproduction of the original work in Cambridge University Library printed by Early English Books Online.

[5] It was the General Association with whom Benjamin Laker and the Palmer movement in North Carolina associated. At Laker’s death the small congregation meeting in his home sent a letter to the members of the General Association, and not the General Assembly, asking for pastors and General Baptist literature.

[6] The entire title gives you a pretty good idea of its content: A Cure for the Cankering Error of the New Eutychians Who (Concerning the Truth) have Erred, Saying, that our Blessed Mediator did not Take His Flesh of the Virgin Mary, Neither was He Made of the Seed of David According to the Flesh.

[7] In fact, Monck had intended to write four more chapters for the book, but decided to leave them off “because it would make it too voluminous (or big) so that the poorer sort of Christians, for whose sake it was chiefly intended, could not be able to buy it.” Monck, 219.

[8] Monck, 138.

[9] Ibid., 27, 29.

[10] Ibid., 43.

[11] Ibid., 38.

[12] Clint C. Bass, Thomas Grantham (1633-1692) and General Baptist Theology (Oxford: Regents Park College, 2013), 194. It may be noted that Caffyn’s Christology also incorporates Hoffmanite elements.

[13] Monck, 94.

[14] Ibid., 49.

[15] Ibid., 50.

[16] Ibid., 219.

Author: Phillip Morgan

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