The General Council of Chalcedon, 451
(Chapter 4 of THE CHURCH IN CRISIS: A History of the General Councils, 325-
1870, by Msgr. Philip Hughes.)
"What Nestorius had endangered by his rash sermons and his erroneous
formulae ... was the central doctrine of the Christian religion. This fact
is enough to explain the intensity of St. Cyril." And the bishop's
belief about the Antiocheans, as he made his way home to Alexandria, was
that they still stood by Nestorius. Their excommunication by the great
council the pope did not, however, confirm, despite an increasing severity
of tone towards Nestorius himself, and despite a real uneasiness about the
situation at Antioch. So long as there was hope that John of Antioch would
conform, the Apostolic See would follow its practice of careful patience.
"In cases of this kind," the pope wrote to the bishops who had assembled at
Constantinople for the consecration of Nestorius' successor, "there are
many things to be taken into consideration, which the Apostolic See always
has had regard to." And the policy--the traditional Roman habit, parcere
subiectis--brought its reward, though not in Celestine's time, for on July
27, 432, he died, a bare four months after this letter.
How to reconcile John and Cyril? John no less fervently believing that
Cyril was a heretic, an Apollinarian, who had striven, in his twelve
theses, to insinuate, or impose, on the Church a heresy as grave as that
which Nestorius had patronised. Both parties, luckily, really desired an
understanding. And there was an intermediary whom both could trust, whom
all the world venerated, the aged bishop of Boerea, Acacius. To him both
sides had recourse. The emperor also begged him to undertake the
peacemaker's part, and the new pope, Sixtus III, sent him a letter of
encouragement. John and Cyril interchanged letters whose tone revealed to
each the truly apostolic spirit of the other, and on April 12, 433,
eighteen months nearly after the dissolution of the council, the accord was
complete. John made an explicit declaration that Nestorius was a heretic,
and that he had been rightly deposed and was no longer bishop of
Constantinople. He also signed a statement of his belief in the Incarnation
of Christ the Divine Logos, an explanation in which he used the terms
traditional in the region dominated by his see of Antioch. And Cyril
accepted the statement as wholly orthodox, as the belief of the Catholic
Church. John was not asked to make a similar statement about Cyril's twelve
anathemas. They were never so much as mentioned, by either side. And why
should they have been? In the intention of the theologian who had framed
them they had never been meant as a public statement of doctrine. They were
merely a special formula, drawn up for a special occasion, the testing of
the meaning of phrases used by a notoriously slippery controversialist.
To the agreement of 433 Theodoret of Cyrrhus sent in his adhesion in the
following year; and, after much hesitation, he too consented to
anathematize Nestorius and to admit that he was rightly and lawfully
deposed. And now once again, after six years of tumult, there was peace--
among the chiefs, at any rate. The bickering did not however cease
altogether, and one incident calls particularly for notice because it was
the beginning of a dispute that was seriously to harass the Church in later
years, and to be the occasion of the summoning of the strangest of all the
General Councils, that which met at Constantinople in 553. This skirmish
arose from the fact that, in the schools of the kingdom of Armenia, there
had developed a keen interest in the teaching of two Antiochean
theologians--both of them now dead--who had been the (unconscious) first-
begetters of the Nestorian heresy. These were the bishops Diodore of Tarsus
(370-?92) and Theodore of Mopsuestia (392-428). Their works were now
translated into Syriac, and a certain amount of enthusiasm was growing for
their ideas, when two neighbounng bishops, of an Alexandrian cast of mind,
intervened. The Armenians sought counsel at Constantinople and the bishop,
Proclus, after some study of the texts of Theodore, condemned his
(undoubtedly) erroneous teaching, but set out his own exposition of the
orthodox teaching in a terminology that threatened to undo the work of the
Union of 433. Moreover, Proclus sent round a letter for the bishops of the
East to sign, in which they explicitly, by name, condemned the dead
Theodore, and he, furthermore, procured from the emperor a letter which
transformed this into an imperial order. John of Antioch, in return, flatly
refused to condemn as a heretic a man who had died in the peace of the
Church. This was a thing never done before. And the flames would, no doubt,
have spread as rapidly as in 428 but for the intervention of Cyril, who
pointed out to Proclus that the Council of Ephesus had left the memory of
Theodore of Mopsuestia in peace, never so much as mentioning his name
although it had condemned a creed attributed to him. Proclus ceased to urge
his demands, and now there was really peace (437).
John of Antioch died in 440, Cyril in 444, Proclus in 446. Of the great
figures of the council of Ephesus, Theodoret survived--with Nestorius; and
with one who had played his part behind the scenes at Rome, Celestine I's
deacon, Leo, who was now, since 441, pope. Theodosius II was still emperor.
Such was the personal setting when, in 448, the theological controversy
about the true meaning of the mystery we call the Incarnation broke out
afresh, and more violently than ever. It was this crisis that led to the
General Council of Chalcedon, held in 451.
The protagonists in the new controversy were a monk of Constantinople,
Eutyches by name; the bishop of the capital, Flavian; and the bishop of
Alexandria, Cyril's one-time deacon, Dioscoros.
The disputes arising from the theories now to be brought before the
judgment of the bishops were destined not only to survive the condemnation
of the next council, Chalcedon, but b be the occasion of the most serious
defection from Christian unity which the Church had yet experienced, a
defection that still endures in organised form after fifteen hundred years.
The history of this, and other defections, is in no way the subject of this
present book. But the account of the council would be untrue as to the
facts if it were told without reference to this history. It must also again
be said that the theological questions raised were far from simple, hardly
to be understood without some training in technical theology. Finally,
truth demands that we make clear that the human beings on the orthodox
side, in the course of their fight to protect the traditional faith against
the new errors, made mistakes in their attitude to the innovators.
From the beginning, to instance one major theological complication, the
party of Eutyches claimed to be nothing more than loyal disciples of St.
Cyril, one of whose favourite theological dicta became, as it were, their
watchword and (for them) the touchstone of orthodox belief about the
Incarnation of the Divine Word--"There is only one physis, since the
Incarnation, of God the Word"; where (for St. Cyril) the Greek word
italicised stands for what the Latins call "person"; but, the old trouble
all over again, to a vast number of the Greek-speaking theologians of this
time, the word meant not "person" but "nature." Cyril himself, in the
settlement of 433, had recognised that the Antiochean way of expressing the
doctrine--that spoke of two physes--seemingly the contradictory of his own,
was just as orthodox as his: that the other side was using the same word to
mean something else. But, to the men who claimed to be carrying on Cyril's
work, the Antiocheans held the heresy that there were two persons in the
What now began, within two or three years after Cyril's death, was a
movement, at Constantinople, on the part of a highly influential monk, of
great austerity of life, to spread a doctrine--seemingly based on the
Cyrillian formula--that made heretics of all but the Alexandrian party, the
one-physis (Monophysite) party as they came, eventually, to be called.
Popular sermons on any of these fundamental doctrines, that condemned as
heresy other ways of expressing them, could very soon (as the events of
twenty years before had shown) bring great cities to a state of chronic
disorder. And so it was to prove yet once again.
The pope, St. Leo, was to say that Eutyches went wrong from his lack of
skill in these matters rather than from malice. Newman notes that the
early writings of the party "display ... unction," rather than logic; that
the Eutychians "write devotionally, rather than controversially," and that
"Eutyches in particular refused to argue, out of reverence, as he said,
towards our Lord. Whenever his inconsistencies were urged upon him, he said
the subject was beyond him." His first leading idea, it would seem, was
that Christ was not, as man, man in the fullness of what we mean when we
use the word of the rest of the human creation. Christ, he said, was not of
the same substance (homo-ousion) as we are. What made Him different was
that He had not a human soul (i.e., a spiritual, intellectual soul; a human
mind). In Christ our Lord it was the Divine which functioned, where, in us,
it is the mind.
Eutyches was an old man, close on ninety, but very influential--he was the
head of a monastery of three hundred monks, the leading personage, after
the bishop, in the religious life of the capital; he was friendly with, and
in constant touch with, like-minded followers of St. Cyril in Asia, in
Syria, and in Egypt; the emperor venerated him for his long ascetic life,
and the emperor's chief minister, Chrysaphios, was his godson. Eutyches saw
himself as fighting a revival of Nestorianism, and he said this, in so many
words, in a letter to the pope, some time in the spring of 448.
As the new teaching spread, opposition grew among those who saw this
activity as an attack on the settlement of 433. Soon, from the bishops of
Antioch, there came complaints to the emperor, and from Theodoret, in 447,
a popular kind of dialogue called The Beggarman (Eranistes), between a
"Eutychian" and a Catholic, in which, however, Eutyches was never mentioned
by name. The emperor's reaction to the accusations was an edict (February
16, 448) which renewed all the laws enacted against the Nestorians, and a
law against all books which did not conform to the faith of Nicaea, and
Ephesus, and of Cyril's twelve anathemas. As to Theodoret, he was bidden
never to leave his diocese for the future, not even to come to the council
which the emperor had it in mind to summon. The appeals against such
bishops as Theodoret had also gone to Alexandria as well as to
Constantinople, and a bitter correspondence passed between the two bishops.
Then in November, there came an unexpected flash of lightning to clear the
sultry atmosphere. A synod of bishops, at Constantinople, was considering
some local problem when one of them, Eusebius, bishop of Dorylaeum,
producing a dossier of evidence, denounced Eutyches as a heretic, and
demanded that he be summoned before the synod to explain himself.
The bishop of the capital city, Flavian, was very reluctant to credit the
accusation. In the end, however, the accuser carried the day, and a summons
was duly sent. It was fourteen days before it was obeyed--fourteen days
spent in arguments and pourparlers. Meanwhile the synod put out a
declaration of belief--a repetition of that of 433--accompanied by such
works of St. Cyril as the letter to Nestorius demolishing his heretical
theses, and the letter of 433 making his peace with John of Antioch. The
declaration stated that since the Incarnation there are two natures [of the
Divine Word] in one single person, the one only Christ, one only Son, one
When Eutyches finally consented to appear, he arrived with a high official
of the court, sent by the emperor, as his protector, and with an escort of
hundreds of monks. He was heard, there was a vast amount of argument, and
even the court dignitary did his best to win the old man over. But he would
not agree that there are two physes in God incarnate. The synod proclaimed
him a heretic, deposed him from his post in the monastery, forbade him to
exercise his priesthood, and ordered that none should have any access to
him for the future. Thirty-two bishops put their names to this sentence,
and twenty-three heads of monasteries endorsed it.
There were two highly placed personages, however, who did not accept the
synod's deposition of Eutyches--the emperor, and the bishop of Alexandria.
When the monk appealed to Rome against his sentence, the emperor sent a
letter supporting him. Dioscoros, to whom also an appeal had been sent,
called a synod of his own and annulled the deposition. The pope's reply
(February 18, 449) was a complaint that from the bishop of Constantinople
he had not yet had a word about these proceedings, regarding which he
ought, long since, to have notified the Apostolic See. And, as well as to
Theodosius, Leo wrote that same day to the bishop, saying he was astonished
that no information about the Eutychean affair had been sent, whereas Rome
should have been the first to be told. "We desire to know the reasons for
your action, and that all the documents should be sent.... Would you then,
beloved brother, hasten to tell us the whole story as fully and as lucidly
as possible, as you ought to have done already ... to say what this new
thing is that contradicts the old belief, and which you have seen fit to
punish with so severe a sentence."
Sometime after this--we do not know exactly when--Flavian's report arrived
at Rome. It left the pope in no doubt that Eutyches was in the wrong, and
he confirmed the sentence passed on him. Then, on March 30, the emperor
summoned a council--in his intent a General Council of all his own
states--to meet, once again, at Ephesus, on August 1. The pope was
invited to be present. He agreed to be represented by three legates (as
Celestine had been represented in 431), and in this reply to the emperor,
he stated his view that Eutyches had been justly condemned, and said that
in a letter to Flavian, written that same day, he had set out "that
which the Catholic Church universally believes and teaches about the
mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord."
This letter to Flavian is a different kind of production altogether
from the writings whether of Cyril or Theodoret, or any of the contending
theologians. It is not, in tone or form, a work of theology at all, but a
judgment, a decision, an authoritative statement that "this is the Catholic
faith." Incidentally it is a model of Latin style, of the way the Latin
language can be used to set out Christian doctrine. The pope also wrote to
the council itself, accrediting his legates, a letter which makes it clear
(while he left it to the council to decide the fate of Eutyches) that the
doctrinal issue has been decided in his letter to Flavian, and that he
expects the council to accept this. From this last letter it would seem
that the pope expected Eutyches to submit, and he urges that he be treated
mercifully. Leo, nevertheless, had no great hopes that the council would
bring peace, nor had Theodoret, safely locked up at Cyrrhus, seven hundred
miles away. But neither can ever have anticipated what actually was to take
place, proceedings such that the pope was moved to say, in a phrase that
has stuck, non iudicium sed latrocinium.
The council opened on August 8, with some 130 bishops present,
Dioscoros (by the emperor's command) presiding. After the edict summoning
the council had been read, the legates called for the pope's letter to the
council, but Dioscoros passed to the emperor's letters authorising the
presence of the monk Barsumas. Eutyches then appeared, to read his appeal
against the sentence of the synod of the previous November, and the legates
made a second effort to have Leo's letter read. They were again ignored,
and after Eutyches had read a statement of his belief, the votes were taken
amid great uproar. The name of his accuser, Eusebius of Dorylaeum, was
greeted with cries of "Burn him alive," "Cut him in two, the man who wants
to divide Christ," "Anathema," and so forth, while 114 bishops agreed that
Eutyches' theory was good Christian doctrine. By the emperor's orders no
bishop who had taken part in the condemnation of Eutyches was allowed to
vote. This decision of the council was thus quasi-unanimous, of those with
Dioscoros had already done what little needed to be done to excite his
brethren, and now he passed to propose the punishment of Flavian and
Eusebius--deposition. After an inflammatory harangue, which provoked
reprisals from the supporters of these two, with Flavian interjecting an
appeal and the Roman legate Hilarius protesting also, Dioscoros cried out
that his life was in danger, and on his appeal the imperial officials threw
open the doors of the church, and a mob of soldiers, seamen, monks, and the
general rabble poured in. Flavian took refuge in the sanctuary, and clung
to the pillars of the altar. In the end he was dragged away, and taken to
prison. The bishops then voted his condemnation, 135 of them signing the
decree, many of them through sheer fear, and unable to escape.
Flavian was exiled, and after three days on the road he died, apparently
from shock or from injuries received in the dreadful scene. But he
managed to draft an appeal to the pope, and to get this into the hands of
the all but helpless legates.
Two weeks went by, while the emperor considered the reports sent him and
then, August 22, the second, final session of the council took place--the
papal legates not present: they had, by this time, made their escape. The
business was simple enough, the deposition of a number of bishops, leading
members of the Antiochean party, some of whom had been under fire since the
first stirrings of Eutyches. They were Ibas of Edessa, Irenaeus of Tyre
(the close personal friend of Nestorius), Domnus of Antioch (who had been
pliability itself in this latrocinium), and Theodoret. The bishops solemnly
accepted the twelve anathemas of Cyril, and then, with acclamations that
should be remembered--"Hail Dioscoros," "God has spoken through Dioscoros,"
"the Holy Ghost has spoken through Dioscoros"--the council of 449 came to
Between the end of the Latrocinium and the meeting of the General Council
of Chalcedon there is an interval of two years and two months nearly. The
period is fairly evenly divided by the death of Theodosius II, and because
his successor, Marcian, a man who knew his own mind, was a loyal Catholic
also, the religious history of the two halves of the period is as unlike as
The situation could not have been more serious than the scandal of Ephesus
left it. Except that Dioscoros had not excommunicated the pope, he had all
but arrayed the East in open opposition to Rome and the West, the dividing
line being the principle that the only true exposition of the Christian
faith was not Leo's Tome, but the Alexandrian formula of Cyril as used by
Dioscoros. A faction of bishops, powerful because it had the full support
of the state, dominated all the churches of the East, as, one hundred years
earlier, in the worst days of the Arian terror.
To Rome the inevitable appeals came in, as soon as the victims found a
means to make contact; very moving letters from the now dead Flavian, from
Eusebius, and from Theodoret, who, fifteen hundred miles away from Rome,
managed to send two of his priests to support his case. And the pope had
the story from his legates also. He now wrote a protest to the emperor,
saying that what had happened at Ephesus was "an insult to the faith, an
injury to all the churches of the world." A more authoritative council was
needed, to which the bishops of the whole church should be invited, and it
should meet in Italy. The fact of Flavian's appeal to Rome, made at Ephesus
and brushed aside, is the basis of this demand, and brings from Leo a
strong reminder that the right of bishops to appeal to Rome is something
fundamental in the church; recognised by Nicaea and by a decree of the
whole body of the bishops, it is a custom of the church universal.
From the emperor there came not a word of reply, and he left unanswered
also the letters sent by the pope on December 25, in which the request for
a new council was repeated, and in which the emperor was warned not to
allow himself to be the tool of intriguers, a reference to the corrupt
regime of Chrysaphios, the real patron of Eutyches. In February 450 the
emperor's western partner, Valentinian III, left Ravenna to reside in Rome.
With him came his mother, the empress Galla Placidia, and his wife Eudoxia,
the daughter of Theodosius. The pope promptly enlisted the prestige of
these imperial personages, and once more letters went to Constantinople.
All three stress the same point: this is a case (i.e., Flavian's appeal,
which is the foundation of the pope's demand for a new council) where all
law and all precedent demand that the pope shall be judge. Is he not
Peter's successor? they say, tenant of the see in which he to whom the
heavenly keys were given set up the supreme episcopal authority? The pope
also wrote to the sister of Theodosius, Pulcheria (driven from the court
these ten years by Chrysaphios), and to the clergy of Constantinople,
encouraging them to stand firm despite the manoeuvres of the wicked
To his imperial equals Theodosius had no choice but to reply. In April he
blandly explained that the excellent work done at Ephesus, and especially
the deposition of Flavian, had brought peace at last to the religious
world. What need was there of another council?
Meanwhile, Theodosius had appointed new bishops in place of those deposed.
The successor of Flavian was Anatolios, who had been the agent of Dioscoros
in the capital. This appointment was the occasion of the pope's last letter
to Theodosius. It is an explanation that he has not yet acknowledged the
new bishop, because he is not sure of his orthodoxy. In order to remove all
doubts, Anatolios is to make a written acceptance, in the presence of his
clergy and the people, of the decrees of Ephesus 431, and of Leo's own
doctrinal letter to Flavian, the Tome. It was on July 16, 450, that this
was written. The letter crossed the news from Constantinople that
Theodosius had died (July 28) after an accident with his horse, that
Pulcheria had taken the throne, and that her first act had been the
execution of the wicked Chrysaphios. She also offered her hand to the
senator, Marcian, and on August 24 had him proclaimed emperor. Overnight,
as it were, a new world came into being, a world in which religion could
again breathe freely, and the private fancies of "mystics" and the feuds of
theologians no longer tyrannise over the ordinary believer.
It was, then, Marcian who replied--towards the end of August--to the last
of Leo's letters to Theodosius, announcing now his own elevation. It was
fitting, he said, that he should begin his reign by writing to the man who
"held the supreme place [principatus] in the episcopate of the divine law"-
-the writer knows well what principate means, he is the holder of that
principate in the temporal order to describe which this term was first
coined, centuries before. As to the council Leo has asked for in Italy,
Marcian would prefer it in the East, with Leo presiding in person.
Should the distance seem too great, let the pope suggest some other place,
and Marcian will summon to it all the bishops of the East, of Thrace and
Illyricum. Other news from Constantinople strengthened the good
impression thus created. At the new emperor's command the body of Flavian
had been brought back to the capital and buried alongside his predecessors
in the church of the Holy Apostles. Anatolius had duly signed his
acceptance of the Tome. The bishops exiled after the Latrocinium had been
What of the bishops who, through sheer fear, had submitted to the
usurpation of Dioscoros, and voted all this iniquity? They now desire to be
readmitted to the communion of Rome. At Constantinople, with the approval
of St. Leo's legates, a partial reconciliation has been allowed, to be
followed by a restoration to full communion later. This the pope confirms
(April 13, 451). But he excepts from this boon Dioscoros, and also the
bishop of Jerusalem.
And now (June 9) the pope announced a change of plan. Sending a new
delegation to the emperor, with powers to settle finally, in consultation
with the bishop of Constantinople, the fate of the repentant bishops, he
writes that these measures will, he thinks, suffice. The council asked for
is not really necessary. But the pope was too late. Already by the time
he had come to this conclusion, the emperor had acted, and sent out the
summonses for the council (May 17). It was to meet on September 1, and at
Nicaea. On June 26 the pope wrote accepting the arrangement. He asked one
thing only, that none should be allowed "to call in question the belief
which our fathers received from the Apostles, as if there were any doubt
what this is." The pope will not come to the council, but be represented by
his legates; and of these, Paschasinus, bishop of Lilybaeum, in Sicily,
"it is fitting, shall preside over the council in my place."
The pope also wrote to the council, a blend of good wishes,
information, and authoritative instructions. The emperor has called the
council but "with due regard to the rights and honour of St. Peter," as
shown by his invitation "to us also to lend our presence" to the venerable
assembly. But neither the critical situation at the moment, nor
precedent allows us to accept. The presence of the legates will be a
reminder that it is really the pope who is presiding. Passing to the
business before the bishops the pope reminds them that he has already
stated, in his letter to Flavian, what is to be believed about our Lord's
Incarnation. As to the question of reconciling, and reinstating, the
repentant bishops, the pope leaves this entirely to the council, and the
question also about restoring the exiled bishops to their sees, now
provided (thanks to the late emperor) with "successors." But--no bishop is
to be degraded from his episcopal character. It is in this letter that the
famous phrase is found that has for fifteen centuries blasted the council
of 449 as the Latrocinium.
By the appointed September 1 the bishops had assembled at Nicaea, but
matters of state kept the emperor occupied, and he finally decided that it
would be more convenient if the council took place, not at Nicaea, forty
miles away, but at Chalcedon just across the Bosporus from the capital. And
it was there that on October 8 the opening session was held. The delay at
Nicaea, with the papal legates still at Constantinople--they did not leave
until the emperor left--gave Dioscoros his last opportunity to
manoeuvre, and he used it to arrange an excommunication of the pope--his
last fling, as it turned out. Something like five hundred bishops had come
to the council, an attendance never seen again at one of these assemblies
for another seven hundred years. To keep order during the debates, to see
fair play, and to be the emperor's channel of communication generally,
Marcian had appointed a body of no less than eighteen commissioners,
various high officers of state. The council met in the great church of St.
Euphemia, the commissioners and the legates and such principal figures as
the bishops of Alexandria and Constantinople sitting in line before the
sanctuary balustrade, the bishops placed on either side of the nave,
probably in two blocks facing each other, as in the English parliament.
It was the pope's senior legate, the bishop Paschasinus for whom Leo had
demanded the actual presidency of the council, who opened the proceedings,
explaining as he said, the instructions sent to the council by "him who is
the head of all the churches." And, in the first place, Dioscoros was not
to be given a place among the bishops. If he resists this ruling he must be
expelled. Such are our instructions, and if Dioscoros is allowed to sit as
a bishop, we leave. Dioscoros, said the second legate, is here only to be
judged. To treat him as a father of the council would be to insult the
rest. Dioscoros then left his seat and was given a place in the nave of the
church. And another bishop with him, Eusebius of Dorylaeum, to whom fell
the role of formally reciting the Alexandrian's alleged offences. Next the
commissioners demanded that Theodoret--freed by the new emperor from his
confinement--should be given a place, and his entry was the occasion of the
first "scene" at the council, the "Orientals" and the bishops from Asia
Minor applauding and crying, "Out with Dioscoros the murderer," the
Egyptians shouting anathemas to Theodoret and acclaiming the emperor who
had destroyed Nestorius. It was a storm that only the lay commissioners
could have controlled, with their guards in support. At their suggestion,
Theodoret, for the sake of peace, also took his seat in the nave, but as a
member of the council. The commissioners had already made clear his rights,
"because the most holy chief-bishop Leo has restored his episcopal rank,
and the most divine emperor has commanded that he take part in the
Eusebius then opened the case against Dioscoros, by readings from the
minutes of the Latrocinium, and of Flavian's synod that had condemned
Eutyches in 448, in Greek and again in Latin. Dioscoros interrupted to say
that it was at the command of Theodosius II that he had presided at
Ephesus, and to name the two other bishops who had shared the
responsibility with him. At Ephesus, he said, the bishops had unanimously
agreed to all that was done, and the emperor had confirmed their decisions.
Whereupon tumult again, reminders from all sides of the violence used to
extort consenting votes, and a strong intervention from the commissioners.
The day ended before the readers had got through to the full tale of the
doings at Ephesus. It was concluded two days later. And then a message from
the emperor interrupted the business. Marcian, hoping to end, once and for
all, the theological conflict, proposed to the council that it should put
out a solemn definition of the church's belief about the Incarnation,
something that both Alexandrians and Antiocheans would accept. The council,
however, thought another creed unnecessary. In the earlier session they had
acclaimed Flavian's statement of 448 as orthodoxy itself. Not a voice had
protested that the truth lay with Eutyches. And now, when one bishop
said, "The pope has given us a ruling about Eutyches, we follow the pope,
we have signed the letter," the rest called out in agreement. And to clinch
the matter the classic documents were again read out, the bishops
applauding each: the creeds of Nicaea and of the council of 381, the
letters of Cyril to Nestorius (on his heresy) and to Antioch at the
conclusion of the peace of 433, and (this time) the letter of Leo to
Flavian, the Tome. And at this last the bishops called out, "It is Peter
who says this through Leo. This is what we all of us believe. This is the
faith of the Apostles. Leo and Cyril teach the same thing." And so went by
the second day of the council.
On October 13 the bishops retumed to the case of Dioscoros. He did not,
this day, come to the council. Though three times formally summoned he kept
away. He was judged contumacious, and the council asked Paschasinus to
pronounce the sentence. And this he did, saying explicitly that he was
acting in the place of the pope. What Dioscoros had done was recalled: the
reinstatement of the heretical Eutyches, despite the just sentence of the
monk's own bishop and his persistence in the condemned belief; the holding
up at the Latrocinium of the Tome of Leo; the excommunication of Leo; the
refusal to stand his trial. Wherefore the pope, "through us and through
this holy council, in accord with the thrice blessed apostle Peter, who is
the foundation stone on which the Catholic Church is built, the foundation
of the orthodox faith, has stripped him of his rank of bishop and of all
his episcopal functions." Then the bishops began, turn by turn, to stand up
and deliver their judgment. They had got as far as the 187th, each of them
declaring his agreement, in a variety of phrases, when (seemingly) a block
vote was taken. Not a bishop opposed the sentence, not even the terrified
Egyptians (who were, however, to make a great scene a few days later).
Dioscoros was immediately notified of his fate, and the reports went off to
Rome and to the emperor, not an hour's distance from the scene. Marcian
confirmed the sentence and promptly banished the Egyptian to Gangra, a town
250 miles away in the mountainous country of southern Paphlagonia.
On October 17, the council took up the case of the five bishops who had
been the principal aides of Dioscoros at the Latrocinium. It was decided,
unanimously, to reinstate them in their sees. Then the commissioners
revived the emperor's demand for a creed. Paschasinus replied. He went once
more through the classic list, Nicaea--Leo's Tome, and said, once more,
nothing need be added to this; and, once again, the council unanimously
agreed--or all but unanimously. For a group of thirteen Egyptian bishops
now demanded to be allowed to say no more than that they accepted "their
traditional faith," meaning by this "the faith of St. Mark, of Nicaea, of
Athanasius and Cyril." The bishops shouted them down. "It's a trick," they
cried. "Let them sign Leo's letter." But the Egyptians threw themselves on
their knees. "When we get home we'll be murdered," they protested, "if we
have done anything else than be faithful to our own chief bishop. It is our
custom that we obey the bishop of Alexandria, as Anatolios knows well.
And at this moment we have no chief bishop. We do not want to seem to
disobey the council. But kill us here if you like. We are willing; rather
than to return to be killed at home, for betraying the chief see of Egypt."
The council persisted in its demands that the Egyptians sign. The Egyptians
persisted in their refusal. It was the commissioners who solved the
problem. The Egyptians should wait at Chalcedon until the successor to
Dioscoros was appointed. "C'est une comedie!" is a modern historian's
comment. But was it not rather a foresign of the bloody scenes
presently to be enacted at Alexandria, once the council had broken up?
In the next session, October 20, various disputes between bishops and
metropolitans, appeals from sentences, were heard and settled, and the
useful principle was voted that no imperial interference with the canons
regulating episcopal elections was valid. It was the new emperor himself
who was the cause of this unlooked for bold independence among the bishops.
"The emperor's will," said the commissioners, "is that in all business
between bishops, the pronouncements of the court shall have no force if
they are contrary to the canons laid down by the councils."
And then, two days later, quite unexpectedly it would seem, the plan for a
new statement of belief made its appearance yet a third time. In the
interval since its rejection on October 17, there had been busy work behind
the scenes, the centre of which was the (Alexandrian) bishop of
Constantinople, Anatolios. The commissioners, this time, came forward with
a creed already prepared. What it contained we can only surmise from the
ensuing dispute, for the text did not survive. It seems to have been yet
another attempt to state the doctrine in terms that would offend neither of
the extreme parties, terms that (experience surely shows) will not have
sinned through any excessively clear meaning. When the formula was read,
the majority of the bishops were in favour, a minority (Antiocheans) were
opposed, and the papal legates would have nothing to do with it. Their
instructions were simple. The Tome of Leo had been set for the council's
acceptance as the official teaching about the Incarnation, the final word
for Alexandrians and Antiocheans alike, the Catholic Faith. And now
Paschasinus said, "If you will not accept the letter of the blessed pope,
Leo, make out our passports, that we may return to Italy and the General
Council be held there."
Here was a crisis indeed, before an ultimatum evidently meant.
The commissioners proposed that a committee be chosen to revise the
formulary. "No! down with Nestorians," from the bishops. "Mary is
Theotokos, Christ is God." Then the commissioners, "Do you accept Leo's
letter?" "All of us; we have signed it." "Then add to the formulary what
Leo has written." "No! no change in the formulary. The formulary is
sufficient; it confirms the letter. Leo says what Cyril says. Celestine,
Sixtus, agree with Cyril." And the baffled officials sent for direction to
Marcian came down on their side--and the side of the legates. If the
bishops refused to have the formula amended, the council should go forward
in Italy. Even now a nucleus still clung to the text as it stood. "Those
who don't like it can go back to Rome," bishops from Illyricum cried; "they
are Nestorians." The commissioners cut to the root of the matter, asking
point-blank, "Do you follow Leo, or Dioscoros?" "We believe what Leo
believes" was the answer. "Then add to the formula what Leo says, namely
[we believe] that, according to the decision of our most holy Leo, in
Christ there are two natures united, inconvertible [natures], inseparable
[natures]." The bishops agreed. The committee was chosen. A new formulary
It is a lengthy statement, for, acknowledging belief in the teaching of
Nicaea and the council of 381 it repeats these two creeds verbatim; it
passes to the two famous letters of Cyril, and then to the Tome, which it
greets with a world of compliment enshrining the statement that the letter
"is in harmony with the confession of the great apostle Peter, and is
for all of us a landmark against ill thinkers, a protection for orthodox
teaching." And then the formulary comes to the point, a statement of faith
on the point in dispute. It is written in the terminology of Leo's
To the next session (October 25) the emperor himself came. He spoke words
of praise to the bishops. Thanks to them all the peoples of his empire
would henceforth have no other belief about the Incarnation but what the
Holy Apostles had taught, the faith of Nicaea and of Leo, beloved of God,
who rules the Apostolic See. And the bishops applauded, and then all set
their names to the formulary, the three legates in the first place.
What remained to be done, in the week that followed, was the enactment of
twenty-eight canons, or disciplinary laws. The first of these is very
important for it gives universal force to an existing collection of 104
canons, the work of five previous councils, of which only Nicaea was a
General Council. Bishops, clerics, and monks are the chief objects of
the new legislation. One only of the new canons has reference to the laity-
-prescribing penalties for all those concerned in abductions.
Bishops are given authority over all the monks of their diocese, and their
permission is needed for new foundations. They are not to receive clerics
who have left the diocese to which they belong. They are to appoint a
priest to administer the temporalities of their sees. Disputes between
bishops are to be decided by the synod of the bishops of the province--
which synod, they are reminded, is to meet twice a year; this last rule is
too often neglected, says the canon. Disputes between a bishop and his
metropolitan are to be settled either by the exarch, i.e., by the
bishop of the chief city in the (civil) diocese, or by the bishop of
Constantinople. Bishops are to be consecrated within three months of their
election, and those who ordain for money are to be deposed. Bishops must
not ordain candidates not provided with a livelihood.
As to the clergy: they can belong to one diocese only, and must not leave
it on their own authority; they are not to take up any secular employment,
or join the army; in those places where certain orders of clergy are
allowed to marry they must not marry heretics, nor give their children in
marriage to heretics, Jews, or pagans; strange clergy who arrive without
appropriate introductions are not to be allowed to officiate; in disputes
between themselves clerics are not to seek remedies in the civil courts
without first consulting the bishop; accusations brought against the clergy
are not to be listened to until the bishop is satisfied of the accuser's
good character; clerics fall under the penalty of deposition if they have
any part in an abduction.
Monks are warned that they are not to wander about outside their
monasteries, nor are they to marry--both classes of offenders are to be
severely punished. Like the clergy, secular employments are forbidden them,
and they must not become soldiers--or they risk excommunication. About both
the monks and the clergy it is stated that far too many of them drift to
Constantinople, and spend their lives there in disedifying idleness. To end
this, such desoeuvres are now handed over to the officials of the see of
Constantinople, who are to arrange their expulsion from the city.
No woman is to be accepted as a deaconess before the age of forty. And if,
later, she marries she is to be deposed from her office. If a nun marries
she, too, is to be excommunicated.
In canon 12 there is an indirect reference to the state. Some bishops
desiring to achieve metropolitan status have gone so far as to induce the
state to divide the civil province where they live, so that their see-city
is now the metropolis of the new province. The civic authority treats the
bishop now as metropolitan and he acts as such towards the other bishops of
the province. Such successful adventurers on the high seas of clerical
ambition are now reduced to their real status, although allowed to keep the
honorific title they have procured.
Much more serious than the nonsense thus proscribed in canon 12 is the new
place in the ecclesiastical firmament contrived at Chalcedon for the bishop
of the capital. At Nicaea when, for the first time known to us, the bishops
faced the situation that not all sees were equal in dignity or powers,
there is reference to two eastern sees by name, Alexandria and Antioch.
Nicaea does not add anything to whatever it is that distinguishes these
sees. It records--and records as traditional, as "the ancient custom"--
their present status, as super-sees; their bishops have rights over the
other bishops of the (civil) diocese of which these two cities are the
capitals. By the time of the second of these General Councils, 381, the
eastern bishops had before them the experience of half a century of trouble
caused largely by bishops of every rank crossing the frontiers of their
neighbour's jurisdiction. Moreover, a new city had come into existence in
330. The small town of Byzantium had been transformed into the imperial
capital, Constantinople--a town which, from its unique geographical
position in the empire and its wonderful harbour, was as inevitably
destined to outstrip all other cities, as ever, from its foundation, was
New York. And the bishops of this eastern council of 381 were determined to
give the new city a kind of practical blessing, an ecclesiastical
recognition of the marvellous place it had already become after a mere
fifty years' existence. Constantinople, they said explicitly, is New Rome;
and, in the church, it shall have the second place, shall come next after
Rome, with a "primacy of honour." Now, after another seventy years, the
bishops at Chalcedon take up the matter once more.
There are two incidental references to the capital in these canons, and one
canon deals with nothing else. In the new law about disputes between a
bishop and his metropolitan, and in that about disputes as to which see
rural parishes belong, it is said that the case must go for judgment to the
exarch of the (civil) diocese or to the bishop of Constantinople. Was this
meant to the detriment of the jurisdiction of Alexandria and Antioch?
Apparently not. The bishops whom it concerned are those of the two (civil)
dioceses, Asia and Pontus, that took in the whole of Asia Minor, and that
called Thrace, in Europe.
If the option to choose Constantinople were usually taken, it would mean
that this bishop now enjoyed (as a judge of appeals) a jurisdiction akin to
Alexandria and Antioch, but over a still larger territory, over four
(civil) dioceses, whereas theirs extended, in each case, over one alone.
The 28th canon of the council carries the matter much further. And all this
seemingly petty squabbling for place between prelates, in the excited
atmosphere of a General Council in 451, fifteen hundred years ago, still
matters. What we are considering is, in fact, one of the fundamental acts
from which derive the divisions to consider which the coming General
Council seems principally summoned. Here is one beginning of troubles that
have lasted for a thousand years or so, to the great detriment of religion,
and of our common civilisation.
In this 28th canon the bishops begin by recalling the act of the council of
381, and they confirm it. They then speak of the see of Rome, and of how
"the Fathers" always recognised its special privileges, as something due to
that city's imperial state. "We therefore define and declare the same about
the privileges of the see of Constantinople, New Rome. The city now
honoured with the presence of the emperor and the senate, and which enjoys
the same [state] privileges as the old royal Rome, should be as great as
she in what relates to the church, and rank second to her." And for the
future, all the (26) metropolitans of the three (civil) dioceses of Thrace,
Asia, and Pontus are to be consecrated by the bishop of Constantinople--he
is to be definitely their overlord. And likewise it is he who will
consecrate the bishops of the churches among the barbarian peoples beyond
The legates were not present at the session of October 31 when this canon
was voted, nor the imperial commissioners. But the next day, Paschasinus
protested strongly. He was answered that these were domestic affairs, in
which it was thought the legates were not interested. Another of the
legates said that the bishops had voted the canon under duress. But they
denied this violently. He then said--it was the bishop of Ascoli,
Lucentius--the canon went contrary to the relevant law of Nicaea. Upon
which he was asked whether this matter came within the legates' mandate. To
which the third legate replied trenchantly, by reading out the passage that
bade the legates not to allow anything that violated what the holy fathers
decreed (i.e., Nicaea) or that lessened the dignity of the Roman See.
Should any bishop, relying on the importance of the capital, attempt any
usurpation, he was to be opposed.
The commissioners decided that the previous declarations now in conflict
should be produced. Paschasinus read the canon of Nicaea--in a text which
opens with the words "That the Roman See has always held the first place."
It was then read in Greek by one of the emperor's officials, and with it
the canon of 381. The bishops were formally asked by the commissioners
whether their votes had been forced. They unanimously answered they had
been free, and various speakers explained that the new arrangement about
the consecration of bishops merely stated in law what had been the practice
now for some years. Eusebius of Dorylaeum--the "prosecutor" of Dioscoros,
it will be remembered--then told of how he had read the canon of 381 to Leo
when he was a refugee at the papal court, and that the pope had assented to
it. (And, of course, in this very council Paschasinus had given the first
place after the legates to Anatolios of Constantinople.) When the
commissioners turned to the bishops who had not voted for the new canon, to
ask their views, the metropolitan of Ancyra said that not wanting to do any
more consecrations he had left it to the bishop of Constantinople to
consecrate his suffragan the bishop of Gangra, but for himself he suspected
that money played too great a part in consecrations done at the capital.
Whereupon, as may be guessed, there was a really hot discussion, which the
commissioners broke up by declaring the canon carried. The rights of the
bishop of old Rome, they said, have been safeguarded, but it is only right
that the bishop of New Rome should have the same rights and honours, and
also these rights to consecrate in the three civil dioceses mentioned. And
the bishops again applauded.
But the last word fell to the legates. "The Holy See," said Lucentius,
"ought not to be basely treated while we look on. And therefore, all that
was done yesterday, in our absence, to the prejudice of the canons and
laws, we demand of your highnesses [this to the commissioners] to order
that it be annulled. Otherwise, let this our appeal in law against the
canon be attached to the minutes, that we may know what it is we must
report to the apostolic bishop who is the first personage in the whole
church, so that he may be able to pronounce sentence on the unjust act
against his see, and on this overthrowing of the canon law." One of the
bishops called out to the presiding officials, "We still agree with you."
And they said, "The whole council approves our position." And with this
rupture between the bishops and the pope the council came to an end.
And the end of the story?
The bishops, before they separated, addressed a letter to the pope. They
were grateful, they said, that he had been faithful to the command given to
the Apostles, "Teach ye all nations ... to observe all things whatsoever I
have commanded you." Five hundred and twenty of us were at the council,
"and you led us as the head guides the limbs of the body." Dioscoros has
been punished as a man deserved who in his madness had struck at him to
whom the Lord had confided the care of His vineyard, the one whose mission
it is to give unity to the church. They make the smoothest of references to
their "confirmation of the canon" of 381; enacting their new canon, they
say, in the persuasion that "since in you the apostolic light shines in all
its splendour, you will often, with your customary care, see that
Constantinople benefits from that brightness." They beg the pope to confirm
this arrangement which they have presumed to think would please him, being
confident that the head will allow to his children what is for their good.
The bishops, in this letter, have dropped the language about the imperial
importance of the new city, and about recognition of the pope's primacy as
related to the like importance of Rome. It is to him as primate because
Peter's successor that they address their plea--the one sure concrete
reality beneath their wealth of insinuating compliment.[35a] And with their
letter they send the minutes of the council's proceedings. The legates also
brought with them letters from the emperor and the bishop of
Constantinople--a somewhat uneasy production, this last, from "the see of
Constantinople to its father, your own Apostolic See."
Leo's reply to Anatolios is grave. This council called to strengthen the
faith seemed to you, he says, a useful opportunity to cause Alexandria the
loss of its traditional second place, and Antioch its rank as third, so
that, these put below you, all metropolitan bishops would lose their
special privileges. As to the canon of 381, "this vote of some bishops or
other, given (as you brag) sixty years ago now, and never notified to the
Apostolic See by your predecessors--this affords no support to what you are
doing." ... Dioscoros may have disgraced Alexandria, "but the bishops of a
see are one thing, the see itself another."
The emperor, congratulated on his share in bringing about this triumph of
the true belief, is told of the sorrow felt at the news of Anatolios'
usurpation. How prosperity has fanned his ambition! That the sacred
guarantees of Nicaea should be jettisoned, and this new rank created, all
to increase the importance of a single see, and that not an apostolic see.
Let Anatolios be content with his see's imperial importance, for it is not
possible to turn it into an apostolic see. Let him not covet more than his
predecessors enjoyed. And let him keep to the rules, if he does not
wish to find himself cut off from the church universal. Everything done in
contravention of the Nicaean rules "we dismiss as without legal effect....
By the authority of the blessed apostle Peter we quash it utterly by a
Finally the pope replied to the council, March 21, 453. He renews, by this
letter, the approbation already given by the legates to the council's
execution of the task for which it was called--the case concerning the
faith, the case for which alone the council, he reminds them, was called.
As to the work which the bishops then took it upon themselves to do--the
reorganisation of sees--the pope says he prefers not to know anything about
it. For it violates "the inviolable canons of Nicaea." Whatever is not
according to these is null and void.
The emperor, distressed at the evident breach between the pope and the
bishop of his capital, wrote to Rome, some months later, pleading for
Anatolios (? November or December 453). Leo replied, and Marcian read the
reply to the bishop. The pope's letter said that a reconciliation would be
welcome, but that Anatolios must first "make satisfaction to the
canons." The only way to a peace and charity that are genuine is "by
keeping to the Catholic faith and the canons of Nicaea." And Anatolios,
after his interview with Marcian, wrote his submission to the pope (April
454). He declines all responsibility for the new canon which has exalted
his see. He himself is a lover of peace and lowliness of life. It was the
zeal of the clergy of Constantinople, it was the eastern bishops who worked
this for their own profit. And, he goes on to say, "Whatever was thus done,
all its worth and the confirmation of it was reserved to the authority of
your holiness." All this is so much hot air until you choose to ratify
The pope took the reply as made in good faith, and the matter closed with
his writing to Anatolios that he looked to find in him a worthy successor
of his great predecessors, and to find him a useful guardian against all
attempts against the Catholic faith or the laws of Nicaea (May 29, 454).
This was two years and seven months almost since, at Chalcedon, the bishops
had voted the canon in the teeth of the legates' protests. The crisis was
really closed that opened with the speech of Eusebius of Dorylaeum at the
synod of November 448.
1. Bardy, 196.
2 Batiffol, 397; the letter, dated March 15, 432, is in Jaffe, no. 385. A
more familiar fact, to most of us, about St. Celestine I is that he was the
pope who commissioned St. Patrick for the conversion of Ireland.
3. Epistles, no. 31.
4. The Heresy of Apollinaris (1835), printed in Tracts, Theological and
Ecclesiastical (1874), p. 260. The notes in square brackets to this "tract"
were seemingly added in the 1870s.
5. To quote Newman once again, this was equivalent to saying that for the
sacred purpose of the Incarnation of the Divine Word, there was brought
into existence a unique creature, a human body animated with an animal
soul: "That He had united Himself to what, viewed apart from His presence
in it, was a brute animal." Tracts, as before, p. 270.
6. It was he who, in 429, had made the first open move, at Constantinople,
7. Batiffol, 503-4, quoting Jaffe-Wattenbach, no. 420.
8. I.e., not of all the bishops of the Church.
9. June 13, 449.
10. Always known by its Greek name the Tome of St. Leo (tomos, i.e.,
"volume"). Barry, no. 19, prints a translation of it.
11. "Not a council at all, but a 'get together' of bandits."
12. As so often, authorities are not agreed as to the figures.
13. The accounts of what happened in the church are conflicting. According
to one story Flavian was set upon by Dioscoros himself and the monk
Barsumas. At the ensuing Council of Chalcedon, Dioscoros was greeted with
shouts of "Murderer!"
14. This is his letter of November 22.
15. Three of the civil dioceses that make up Marcian's imperial
16. Sent June 16, 450.
17. Letter sent June 16, 450.
18. The modern Marsala.
19. As in 431 and 449. This is the third time we see the system at work.
Did the legates to Nicaea in 325 go uninstructed, and without any word for
the council? No record survives certainly.
20. It is the year, of course, of Attila's famous invasion of the West.
21. In illo Ephesino non iudicio sed latrocinio are the pope's actual
words. Jaffe-Wattenbach, 473.
22. For his palace at Chalcedon.
23. Nor any, one may add, had cried, "Cyril rather than Flavian."
24. It is now, at Chalcedon, that we first hear this council spoken of as
though regarded as of the same class as Nicaea and Ephesus, 431.
25. From this session, whose business was the trial of a bishop, the
commissioners were absent.
26. That is, as the crow flies. It is the modern Cankiri, fifty miles N.E.
of Ankara (Turkey).
27. This successor to Flavian being himself an Alexandrian cleric.
28. Batiffol, as before, p. 546, n 1.
29. "Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God." Matt. 16:16.
30. For the text, Greek and Latin, see Denzinger, no. 148. Barry, no. 20,
prints a translation.
31. For the text and a translation of these, see Schroeder.
32. The others were Ancyra (Ankara) 314, New Caesarea 315, Gangra 340 and
Antioch 341; all Eastern councils, it will be noted.
33. The exarchs for the three (civil) dioceses concerned, Thrace, Asia, and
Pontus, were the bishops of Heraclea, Ephesus, and Caesarea.
34. Thrace meant, roughly, European Turkey, Bulgaria, and the strip of
Greek territory to the east of the island of Thasos. The bishops of Greece
(the civil diocese of Achaia) and of the western Balkan lands (the civil
diocese of Macedonia) were still directly subject to Rome. The pope's local
agent for these sees was the bishop of Thessalonica.
35. Matt. 28:19.
35a. The bishops' letter is no. 98 in the collection of St. Leo's letters.
36. Anatolios' own words in this letter.
37. Aliud enim sunt sedes, aliud praesidentes. For the letter, Jaffe, no.
483. The date is May 22, 452.
38. An allusion to the fact that Anatolios had gone so far as to consecrate
one who is his superior in rank, the new bishop of apostolic Antioch, the
third see in the church.
39. These last two quotations are from Leo's letter, of the same date, to
the empress Pulcheria, joint ruler with Marcian, her husband. Ibid., 482.
40. Ibid., 490.
41. Satisfaciat canonibus, Jaffe, 504.
42. The letter of Anatolios is in the collection of St. Leo's letters, no.
132 (April 454). For the whole of this see Batiffol, as last, 562-81.