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Chalcedon, 451 CE: Eutychianism (=Monophysitism)

Bill East

Note: This article first appeared as a series of postings on the Medieval-Religion discussion list and is posted here with the kind permission of the author.

Marcian and Augusta Pulcheria summoned a council to be held at Nicaea, and the bishops duly made their way there for the opening on 1 September, 451. A certain kindly but misunderstood old gentleman called Attila the Hun was, however, causing some anxiety in Illyria, and Marcian found it necessary to keep one hand on the tiller of state. The bishops were therefore instructed to proceed to Chalcedon, which is close to Constantinople. Now Marcian could keep one eye on the bishops, and the other on the Hun. One wonders which he found more troublesome.

The Council of Chalcedon assembled in the basilica of St. Euphemia. No less than eighteen imperial officers sat facing down the church. On their left, the place of honour, sat the representatives of Leo, headed by Paschasinus, followed by Anatolius of Constantinople, Maximus of Antioch, Thalassius of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Stephen of Ephesus, and the bishops of their jurisdiction. On their right sat Dioscorus of Alexandria, Juvenal of Jerusalem, Anastasius of Thessalonica, and the bishops of Egypt, Palestine, and Illyricum. There were more than five hundred bishops present in all.

The first session began on 8 October. The Roman delegation immediately objected to the presence of Dioscorus. Dioscorus, now on the defensive, was instructed to sit in the middle as he could not be both judge and defendant. Eusebius of Dorylaeum, who had been deposed by the Latrocinium (see previous entry), then appealed to the Council, which proceeded to review the acts of the Latrocinium. Theodoret of Cyrrhus was allowed to enter, amid scenes of uproar, until the imperial officers called meeting to order. A number of Dioscorus' supporters, including Juvenal of Jerusalem, went over to the other side. Only Dioscorus himself refused to yield, maintaining that Flavian had been justly deposed because he had spoken of 'two natures after the union.'

Clearly the 'dyophysite' or 'two-nature' position was gaining ground. However,

"Eustathius of Berytus thought it right to warn the bishops that, in their support of the doctrine of 'two natures' they should make it clear that theirs was not the 'dividing' of Nestorius; and Basil of Seleucia threw out the suggestion-which, it would seem, was to bear fruit when the 'Definitio' was drawn up-that they could safeguard the truth by stating that, while the two natures in Christ were not to be 'divided,' they were not to be 'confused' but to be 'recognized' (in their difference)." (Sellers, p. 108)

At the second session of the Council, on 10 October, the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople were read, together with Cyril's letters to Nestorius and John of Antioch. Finally the Tome of Leo was read. This was greeted with shouts of approval: "This is the faith of the fathers and of the Apostles. This we all believe. Peter has spoken through Leo; thus Cyril taught; Leo and Cyril teach the same; anathema to him who teaches otherwise. This is the true faith; the orthodox hold this; it is the faith of the Fathers. Why was it not read at Ephesus [at the Latrocinium]? Dioscorus kept it concealed.'

"The Tome" is the title usually given to Leo's letter to Flavian concerning Eutyches. The word is usually applied to a lengthy and weighty volume in English, but "Tomos" in Greek can be applied to any document, without regard to length. In fact, the "Tome" runs only to a couple of pages, and can easily be read aloud at one sitting, as it was at Chalcedon. The text can be found in NPNF, Series 2, Letter XXVIII (pp. 38-43). Leo insists that Christ was true God and truw man: "Without detriment therefore to the properties of either nature and substance which then came together in one person, took on humility, strength, weakness, eternity, mortality...Thus in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true God born, complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours...both natures retain their own proper character without loss...each form does what is proper to it with the co-operation of the other." The great merit of the document is its clarity. It is written in simple, unphilosophical language which can be understood by anybody.

The definition of Chalcedon, 451:

"Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance [homoousios] with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us man and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer [Theotokos]; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized IN TWO NATURES, [en dyo physesin] WITHOUT CONFUSION, [asynchytos] WITHOUT CHANGE, [atreptos] WITHOUT DIVISION, [adiairetos] WITHOUT SEPARATION [anchoristos]; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and substance [hypostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us."

This did not end all discussion, dissension, and debate.

"From the political point of view, the Council of Chalcedon was a failure. In his zeal for uniformity, the Emperor Marcian had not reckoned with that spirit of nationalism which was destined to prove one of the major forces in the forthcoming disruption of Eastern Christendom. Whilst the Greek cities-at any rate, officially-supported the decisions of the Council, the peoples of Egypt and Syria, living in the days when strong patriotic feeling could be expressed only through the medium of theological controversy, rose in revolt against what they regarded as an attempt on the part of the Greek government to 'Graecize' its subject races; and a hundred years later, after the Church in the East-for the West never wavered in its adherence to Chalcedon-had endured another long period of internal strife, the Monophysites separated themselves into their own communities, and Copt and Syrian were moved to denounce the doctrine of 'two natures' partly because this was the government's creed."[Sellers, 'The Council of Chalcedon,' p. 254]

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