It has been recognized for some time that nationalism is a factor to be reckoned with in the ecclesiastical history of the later Roman Empire. Certainly the history of the Monophysites after Chalcedon is largely the story of the struggle of Egyptian and Syrian national feeling against the Empire. In all probability the bishops of Alexandria who in the two generations before Chalcedon combatted the rise of the imperial church at Constantinople— Theophilus, Cyril, and Dioscorus—were supported by the patriotism of the Egyptian nation as well as by the pride of the Alexandrian see. But there has not yet been any answer to the question, when did this union of Christianity and nationalism in Egypt begin?
The discussion of this problem involves interrogating our sources on a subject they do not consciously treat and must be a matter of interpretation rather than merely of quotation of evidence. The problem could be stated in two ways; the church historian asks, when did Egyptian Christianity become nationalist? while for Egyptian history the problem is, when did Egyptian nationalism become Christian? The Egyptian nation, with its language, its religion, and some remnants of its literature and culture, had continued to exist through the whole period of Greco-Roman dominance. In the Coptic church it was to find once more the means to vigorous self-expression.