Vol.3, Chapter IX (Cont’d) – The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, a.d. 451


Comp. the Acta Concilii, together with the previous and subsequent epistolary correspondence, in Mansi (tom. vii.), Harduin (tom. ii.), and Fuchs, and the sketches of Evagrius: H. E. l. ii. c. 4; among later historians: Walch; Schröckh; Neander; Hefele, l.c. The latter, ii. 392, gives the literature in detail.

Thus the party of Dioscurus, by means of the court of the weak Theodosius II., succeeded in subjugating the Eastern church, which now-looked to the Western for help.

Leo, who occupied the papal chair from 440 to 461, with an ability, a boldness, and an unction displayed by none of his predecessors, and by few of his successors, and who, moreover, on this occasion represented the whole Occidental church, protested in various letters against the Robber Synod, which had presumed to depose him; and he wisely improved the perplexed state of affairs to enhance the authority of the papal see. He wrote and acted with imposing dignity, energy, circumspection, and skill, and with a perfect mastery of the question in controversy; — manifestly the greatest mind and character of his age, and by far the most distinguished among the popes of the ancient Church. He urged the calling of a new council in free and orthodox Italy, but afterwards advised a postponement, ostensibly on account of the disquiet caused in the West by Attila’s ravages, but probably in the hope of reaching a satisfactory result, even without a council, by inducing the bishops to subscribe his Epistola Dogmatica. 

At the same time a political change occurred, which, as was often the case in the East, brought with it a doctrinal revolution. Theodosius died, in July, 450, in consequence of a fall from his horse; he left no male heirs, and the distinguished general and senator Marcian became his successor, by marriage with his sister Pulcheria,  who favored Pope Leo and the dyophysite doctrine. The remains of Flavian were honorably interred, and several of the deposed bishops were reinstated.

To restore the peace of the empire, the new monarch, in May, 451, in his own name and that of his Western colleague, convoked a general council; not, however, to meet in Italy, but at Nicaea, partly that he might the better control it, partly that he might add to its authority by the memories of the first ecumenical council. The edict was addressed to the metropolitans, and reads as follows:

“That which concerns the true faith and the orthodox religion must be preferred to all other things. For the favor of God to us insures also the prosperity of our empire. Inasmuch, now, as doubts have arisen concerning the true faith, as appears from the letters of Leo, the most holy archbishop of Rome, we have determined that a holy council be convened at Nicaea in Bithynia, in order that by the consent of all the truth may be tested, and the true faith dispassionately and more explicitly declared, that in time to come no doubt nor division may have place concerning it. Therefore let your holiness, with a convenient number of wise and orthodox bishops from among your suffragans, repair to Nicaea, on the first of September ensuing. We ourselves also, unless hindered by wars will attend in person the venerable synod.”

Leo, though dissatisfied with the time and place of the council, yielded, sent the bishops Paschasinus and Lucentius, and the priest Boniface, as legates, who, in conjunction with the legates already in Constantinople, were to represent him at the synod, over which Paschasinus was to preside in his name.

The bishops assembled at Nicaea, in September, 451, but, on account of their turbulent conduct, were soon summoned to Chalcedon, opposite Constantinople, that the imperial court and senate might attend in person, and repress, as far as possible, the violent outbreaks of the religious fanaticism of the two parties. Here, in the church of St. Euphemia, on a hill commanding a magnificent prospect, and only two stadia or twelve hundred paces from the Bosphorus, the fourth ecumenical council was opened on the 8th of October, and sat till the lst of November. In number of bishops it far exceeded all other councils of the ancient Church, and in doctrinal importance is second only to the council of Nicaea. But all the five or six hundred bishops, except the papal delegates and two Africans, were Greeks and Orientals. The papal delegates had, therefore, to represent the whole of Latin Christendom. The imperial commissioners, who conducted the external course of the proceedings, in the name of the emperor, with the senators present, sat in the middle of the church, before the screen of the sanctuary. On the left sat the Roman delegates, who, for the first time at an ecumenical council, conducted the internal proceedings, as spiritual presidents; next them sat Anatolius, of Constantinople, Maximus, of Antioch, and most of the bishops of the East; — all opponents of Eutychianism. On the right sat Dioscurus, of Alexandria (who, however, soon had to give up his place and sit in the middle), Juvenal, of Jerusalem, and the other bishops of Egypt, Illyricum, and Palestine; — the Eutychians.

The proceedings were, from the outset, very tumultuous, and the theological fanaticism of the two parties broke out at times in full blaze, till the laymen present were compelled to remind the bishops of their clerical dignity. When Theodoret, of Cyrus, was introduced, the Orientals greeted him with enthusiasm, while the Egyptians cried: “Cast out the Jew, the enemy of God, the blasphemer of Christ!” The others retorted, with equal passion: “Cast out the murderer Dioscurus! Who is there that knows not his crimes?” The feeling against Nestorius was so strong, that Theodoret could only quiet the council by resolving (in the eighth session) to utter the anathema against his old friend, and against all who did not call Mary “mother of God,” and who divided the one Christ into two sons. But the abhorrence of Eutyches and the Council of Robbers was still stronger, and was favored by the court. Under these influences most of the Egyptians soon went over to the left, and confessed their error, some excusing themselves by the violent measures brought to bear upon them at the Robber Synod. The records of that Synod, and of the previous one at Constantinople (in 448), with other official documents, were read by the secretaries, but were continually interrupted by incidental debates, acclamations, and imprecations, in utter opposition to all our modern conceptions of parliamentary decorum, though experience is continually presenting us with fresh examples of the uncontrollable vehemence of human passions in excited assemblies.

So early as the close of the first session the decisions of the Robber Synod had been annulled, the martyr Flavian declared orthodox, and Dioscurus of Alexandria, Juvenal of Jerusalem, and other chiefs of Eutychianism, deposed. The Orientals exclaimed: “Many years to the Senate! Holy God, holy mighty, holy immortal God, have mercy upon us. Many years to the emperors! The impious must always be overthrown! Dioscurus, the murderer [of Flavian], Christ has deposed! This is a righteous judgment, a righteous senate, a righteous council!”

Dioscurus was in a subsequent session three times cited in vain to defend himself against various charges of avarice, injustice, adultery, and other vices, and divested of all spiritual functions; while the five other deposed bishops acknowledged their error, and were readmitted into the council.

At the second session, on the 10th of October, Dioscurus having already departed, the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan symbol, two letters of Cyril (but not his anathemas), and the famous Epistola Dogmatica of Leo to Flavian, were read before the council amid loud applause — the bishops exclaiming: “That is the faith of the fathers! That is the faith of the apostles! So we all believe! So the orthodox believe! Anathema to him who believes otherwise! Through Leo, Peter has thus spoken. Even so did Cyril teach! That is the true faith.”

At the fifth and most important session, on the 22d of October, the positive confession of faith was adopted, which embraces the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan symbol, and then, passing on to the point in controversy, expresses itself as follows, almost in the words of Leo’s classical epistle:

“Following the holy fathers, we unanimously teach one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, complete as to his Godhead, and complete as to his manhood; truly God, and truly man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; consubstantial with the Father as to his Godhead, and consubstantial also with us as to his manhood; like unto us in all things, yet without sin; as to his Godhead begotten of the Father before all worlds, but as to his manhood, in these last days born, for us men and for our salvation, of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, known in (of) two natures,  without confusion, without conversion, without severance, and without division; the distinction of the natures being in no wise abolished by their union, but the peculiarity of each nature being maintained, and both concurring in one person and hypostasis. We confess not a Son divided and sundered into two persons, but one and the same Son, and Only-begotten, and God-Logos, our Lord Jesus Christ, even as the prophets had before proclaimed concerning him, and he himself hath taught us, and the symbol of the fathers hath handed down to us.

“Since now we have drawn up this decision with the most comprehensive exactness and circumspection, the holy and ecumenical synod  hath ordained, that no one shall presume to propose, orally, or in writing, another faith, or to entertain or teach it to others; and that those who shall dare to give another symbol or to teach another faith to converts from heathenism or Judaism, or any heresy, shall, if they be bishops or clergymen, be deposed from their bishopric and spiritual function, or if they be monks or laymen, shall be excommunicated.”

After the public reading of this confession, all the bishops exclaimed: “This is the faith of the fathers; this is the faith of the apostles; to this we all agree; thus we all think.”

The symbol was solemnly ratified at the sixth session (Oct. 25th), in the presence of the emperor and the empress. The emperor thanked Christ for the restoration of the unity of faith, and threatened all with heavy punishment, who should thereafter stir up new controversies; whereupon the synod exclaimed: “Thou art both priest and king, victor in war, and teacher of the faith.”

At its subsequent sessions the synod was occupied with the appeal of Ibas, bishop of Edessa, who had been deposed by the Robber Synod, and was now restored; with other cases of discipline; with some personal matters; and with the enactment of twenty-eight canons, which do not concern us here.

The emperor, by several edicts, gave the force of law to the decisions of the council, and commanded that all Eutychians should be banished from the empire, and their writings burned. Pope Leo confirmed the doctrinal confession of the council, but protested against the twenty-eighth canon, which placed the patriarch of Constantinople on an equality with him. Notwithstanding these ratifications and rejoicings, the peace of the Church was only apparent, and the long Monophysite troubles were at hand.

But before we proceed to these, we must enter into a more careful exposition of the Chalcedonian Christology, which has become the orthodox doctrine of Christendom.


142. The Orthodox Christology — Analysis and Criticism

The first council of Nicaea had established the eternal preexistent Godhead of Christ. The symbol of the fourth ecumenical council relates to the incarnate Logos, as he walked upon earth and sits on the right hand of the Father, and it is directed against errors which agree with the Nicene Creed as opposed to Arianism, but put the Godhead of Christ in a false relation to his humanity. It substantially completes the orthodox Christology of the ancient Church; for the definitions added by the Monophysite and Monothelite controversies are few and comparatively unessential.

The same doctrine, in its main features, and almost in its very words (though with less definite reference to Nestorianism and Eutychianism), was adopted in the second part of the pseudo-Athanasian Creed, and in the sixteenth century passed into all the confessions of the Protestant churches. Like the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity, it is the common inheritance of Greek, Latin, and Evangelical Christendom; except that Protestantism, here as elsewhere, reserves the right of searching, to ever new depths, the inexhaustible stores of this mystery in the living Christ of the Gospels and the apostolic writings.

The person of Jesus Christ in the fulness of its theanthropic life cannot be exhaustively set forth by any formulas of human logic. Even the imperfect, finite personality of man has a mysterious background, that escapes the speculative comprehension; how much more then the perfect personality of Christ, in which the tremendous antitheses of Creator and creature, Infinite and finite, immutable, eternal Being and changing, temporal becoming, are harmoniously conjoined! The formulas of orthodoxy can neither beget the true faith, nor nourish it; they are not the bread and the water of life, but a standard for theological investigation and a rule of public teaching.

Such considerations suggest the true position and the just value of the Creed of Chalcedon, against both exaggeration and disparagement. That symbol does not aspire to comprehend the Christological mystery, but contents itself with setting forth the facts and establishing the boundaries of orthodox doctrine. It does not mean to preclude further theological discussion, but to guard against such erroneous conceptions as would mutilate either the divine or the human in Christ, or would place the two in a false relation. It is a light-house, to point out to the ship of Christological speculation the channel between Scylla and Charybdis, and to save it from stranding upon the reefs of Nestorian dyophysitism or of Eutychian monophysitism. It contents itself with settling, in clear outlines, the eternal result of the theanthropic process of incarnation, leaving the study of the process itself to scientific theology. The dogmatic letter of Leo, it is true, takes a step beyond this, towards a theological interpretation of the doctrine; but for this very reason it cannot have the same binding and normative force as the symbol itself.

As the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity stands midway between tritheism and Sabellianism, so the Chalcedonian formula strikes the true mean between Nestorianism and Eutychianism.

It accepts dyophysitism; and so far it unquestionably favored and satisfied the moderate Antiochian party rather than the Egyptian. But at the same time it teaches with equal distinctness, in opposition to consistent Nestorianism, the inseparable unity of the person of Christ.

The following are the leading ideas of this symbol:

1. A true incarnation of the Logos, or of the second person in the Godhead. The motive is the unfathomable love of God; the end, the redemption of the fallen race, and its reconciliation with God. This incarnation is neither a conversion of God into a man, nor a conversion of a man into God; neither a humanizing of the divine, nor a deification or apotheosis of the human; nor on the other hand is it a mere outward, transitory connection of the two factors; but an actual and abiding union of the two in one personal life.

It is primarily and pre-eminently a condescension and self-humiliation of the divine Logos to human nature, and at the same time a consequent assumption and exaltation of the human nature to inseparable and eternal communion with the divine person. The Logos assumes the body, soul, and spirit of man, and enters into all the circumstances and infirmities of human life on earth, with the single exception of sin, which indeed is not an essential or necessary element of humanity, but accidental to it. “The Lord of the universe,” as Leo puts the matter in his epistle, “took the form of a servant; the impassible God became a suffering man; the Immortal One submitted himself to the dominion of death; Majesty assumed into itself lowliness; Strength, weakness; Eternity, mortality.” The same, who is true God, is also true man, without either element being altered or annihilated by the other, or being degraded to a mere accident.

This mysterious union came to pass, in an incomprehensible way, through the power of the Holy Ghost, in the virgin womb of Mary. But whether the miraculous conception was only the beginning, or whether it at the same time completed the union, is not decided in the Creed of Chalcedon. According to his human nature at least Christ submitted himself to the laws of gradual development and moral conflict, without which, indeed, he could be no example at all for us.

2. The precise distinction between nature and person. Nature or substance is the totality of powers and qualities which constitute a being; person is the Ego, the self-conscious, self-asserting, and acting subject. There is no person without nature, but there may be nature without person (as in irrational beings). The Church doctrine distinguishes in the Holy Trinity three persons (though not in the ordinary human sense of the word) in one divine nature or substance which they have in common; in its Christology it teaches, conversely, two natures in one person (in the usual sense of person) which pervades both. Therefore it cannot be said: The Logos assumed a human person, or united himself with a definite human individual: for then the God-Man would consist of two persons; but he took upon himself the human nature, which is common to all men; and therefore he redeemed not a particular man, but all men, as partakers of the same nature or substance. The personal Logos did not become an individual ἄνθρωπος, but σάρξ, flesh, which includes the whole of human nature, body, soul, and spirit. The personal self-conscious Ego resides in the Logos. But into this point we shall enter more fully below.

3. The result of the incarnation, that infinite act of divine love, is the God-Man. Not a (Nestorian) double being, with two persons; nor a compound (Apollinarian or Monophysite) middle being a tertium quid, neither divine nor human; but one person, who is both divine and human. Christ has a rational human soul, and — according to a definition afterwards added — a human will, and is therefore in the full sense of the word the Son of man; while yet at the same time he is the eternal Son of God in one person, with one undivided self-consciousness.

4. The duality of the natures. This was the element of truth in Nestorianism, and on this the council of Chalcedon laid chief stress, because this council was principally concerned with the condemnation of Eutychianism or monophysitism, as that of Ephesus (431) had been with the condemnation of Nestorianism, or abstract dyophysitism. Both views, indeed, admitted the distinction of the natures, but Eutychianism denied it after the act of the incarnation, and (like Apollinarianism) made Christ a middle being, an amalgam, as it were, of the two natures, or, more accurately, one nature in which the human element is absorbed and deified.

Against this it is affirmed by the Creed of Chalcedon, that even after the incarnation, and to all eternity, the distinction of the natures continues, without confusion or conversion, yet, on the other hand, without separation or division, so that the divine will remain ever divine, and the human, ever human, and yet the two have continually one common life, and interpenetrate each other, like the persons of the Trinity.

The continuance of the divine nature unaltered is involved in its unchangeableness, and was substantially conceded by all parties. The controversy, therefore, had reference only to the human nature.

And here the Scriptures are plainly not on the Eutychian side. The Christ of the Gospels by no means makes the impression of a person in whom the human nature had been absorbed, or extinguished, or even weakened by the divine; on the contrary, he appears from the nativity to the sepulchre as genuinely and truly human in the highest and fairest sense of the word. The body which he had of the substance of Mary, was born, grew, hungered and thirsted, slept and woke, suffered and died, and was buried, like any other human body. His rational soul felt joy and sorrow, thought, spoke, and acted after the manner of men. The only change which his human nature underwent, was its development to full manhood, mental and physical, in common with other men, according to the laws of growth, yet normally, without sin or inward schism; and its ennoblement and completion by its union with the divine.

5. The unity of the person. This was the element of truth in Eutychianism and the later monophysitism, which, however, they urged at the expense of the human factor. There is only one and the self-same Christ, one Lord, one Redeemer. There is an unity in the distinction, as well as a distinction in the unity. “The same who is true God,” says Leo, “is also true man, and in this unity there is no deceit; for in it the lowliness of man and the majesty of God perfectly pervade one another …. Because the two natures make only one person, we read on the one hand: ‘The Son of man came down from heaven’ (Joh_3:13), while yet the Son of God took flesh from the Virgin; and on the other: ‘The Son of God was crucified and buried’ (1Co_2:8), while yet he suffered not in his Godhead as co-eternal and consubstantial with the Father, but in the weakness of human nature.”

Here again the Chalcedonian formula has a firm and clear basis in Scripture. In the gospel history this personal unity everywhere unmistakably appears. The self-consciousness of Christ is not divided. It is one and the self-same theanthropic subject that speaks, acts, and suffers, that rises from the dead, ascends to heaven, sits at the right hand of God, and shall come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead.

The divine and the human are as far from forming a double personality in Christ, as the soul and the body in man, or as the regenerate and the natural life in the believer. As the human personality consists of such a union of the material and the spiritual natures that the spirit is the ruling principle and personal center: so does the person of Christ consist in such a union of the human and the divine natures that the divine nature is the seat of self-consciousness, and pervades and animates the human.

I may refer also to the familiar ancient analogy of the fire and the iron.

6. The whole work of Christ is to be referred to his person, and not to be attributed to the one or the other nature exclusively. It is the one divine-human Christ, who wrought miracles of almighty power, — by virtue of the divine nature dwelling in him, — and who suffered and was buried, — according to his passible, human nature. The person was the subject, the human nature the seat and the sensorium, of the passion. It is by this hypostatical union of the divine and the human natures in all the stages of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, that his work and his merits acquire an infinite and at the same time a genuinely human and exemplary significance for us. Because the God-Man suffered, his death is the reconciliation of the world with God; and because he suffered as Man, he has left us an example, that we should follow his steps.

7. The anhypostasia, impersonality, or, to speak more accurately, the enhyopstasia, of the human nature of Christ. This is a difficult point, but a necessary link in the orthodox doctrine of the one God-Man; for otherwise we must have two persons in Christ, and, after the incarnation, a fourth person, and that a human, in the divine Trinity. The impersonality of Christ’s human nature, however, is not to be taken as absolute, but relative, as the following considerations will show.

The center of personal life in the God-Man resides unquestionably in the Logos, who was from eternity the second person in the Godhead, and could not lose his personality. He united himself, as has been already observed, not with a human person, but with human nature. The divine nature is therefore the root and basis of the personality of Christ. Christ himself, moreover, always speaks and acts in the full consciousness of his divine origin and character; as having come from the Father, having been sent by him, and, even during his earthly life, living in heaven and in unbroken communion with the Father. And the human nature of Christ had no independent personality of its own, besides the divine; it had no existence at all before the incarnation, but began with this act, and was so incorporated with the preexistent Logos-personality as to find in this alone its own full self-consciousness, and to be permeated and controlled by it in every stage of its development. But the human nature forms a necessary element in the divine personality, and in this sense we may say with the older Protestant theologians, that Christ is a persona σύνθετος, which was divine and human at once.

Thus interpreted, the church doctrine of the enhypostasia presents no very great metaphysical or psychological difficulty. It is true we cannot, according to our modern way of thinking, conceive a complete human nature without personality. We make personality itself consist in intelligence and free will, so that without it the nature sinks to a mere abstraction of powers, qualities, and functions. But the human nature of Jesus never was, in fact, alone; it was from the beginning inseparably united with another nature, which is personal, and which assumed the human into a unity of life with itself. The Logos-personality is in this case the light of self-consciousness, and the impelling power of will, and pervades as well the human nature as the divine.

8. Criticism and development. This Chalcedonian Christology has latterly been subjected to a rigorous criticism, and has been charged now with dualism, now with docetism, according as its distinction of two natures or its doctrine of the impersonality of the human nature has most struck the eye.

But these imputations neutralize each other, like the imputations of tritheism and modalism which may be made against the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity when either the tripersonality or the consubstantiality is taken alone. This, indeed, is the peculiar excellence of the creed of Chalcedon, that it exhibits so sure a tact and so wise a circumspection in uniting the colossal antitheses in Christ, and seeks to do justice alike to the distinction of the natures and to the unity of the person. In Christ all contradictions are reconciled.

Within these limits there remains indeed ample scope for further Christological speculations on the possibility, reality, and mode of the incarnation; on its relation to the revelation of God and the development of man; on its relation to the immutability of God and the trinity of essence and the trinity of revelation: — questions which, in recent times especially, have been earnestly and profoundly discussed by the Protestant theologians of Germany.

The great want, in the present state of the Christological controversy, is, on the one hand, a closer discussion of the Pauline idea of the kenosis, the self-limitation, self-renunciation of the Logos, and on the other hand, a truly human portrait of Jesus in his earthly development from childhood to the full maturity of manhood, without prejudice to his deity, but rather showing forth his absolute uniqueness and sinless perfection as a proof of his Godhead. Both these tasks can and should be so performed, that the enormous labor of deep and earnest thought in the ancient church be not condemned as a sheer waste of strength, but in substance confirmed, expanded, and perfected.

And even among believing Protestant scholars, who agree in the main views of the theanthropic glory of the person of Christ, opinions still diverge. Some restrict the kenosis to the laying aside of the divine form of existence, or divine dignity and glory; others strain it in different degrees, even to a partial or entire emptying of the divine essence out of himself, so that the inner trinitarian process between Father and Son, and the government of the world through the Son, were partially or wholly suspended during his earthly life. Some, again, view the incarnation as an instantaneous act, consummated in the miraculous conception and nativity; others as a gradual process, an ethical unification of the eternal Logos and the man Jesus in continuous development, so that the complete God-Man would be not so much the beginning as the consummation of the earthly life of Jesus.

But all these more recent inquiries, earnest, profound, and valuable as they are, have not as yet led to any important or generally accepted results, and cannot supersede the Chalcedonian Christology. The theology of the church will ever return anew to deeper and still deeper contemplation and adoration of the theanthropic person of Jesus Christ, which is, and ever will be, the sun of history, the miracle of miracles, the central mystery of godliness, and the inexhaustible fountain of salvation and life for the lost race of man.


143. The Monophysite Controversies

I. The Acta in Mansi, tom. vii.-ix. The writings already cited of Liberatus and Leontinus Byzant. Evagrius: H. E. ii. v. Nicephorus: H. E. xvi. 25. Procopius († about 552): Ἀνέκδοτα, Hist. arcana (ed. Orelli, Lips. 1827). Facundus (bishop of Hermiane in Africa, but residing mostly in Constantinople): Pro defensione trium capitulorum, in 12 books (written a.d. 547, ed. Sirmond, Paris, 1629, and in Galland. xi. 665). Fulgentius Ferrandus (deacon in Carthage, † 551): Pro tribus capitulis (in Gall. tom. xi.). Anastasius Sinaita (bishop of Antioch, 564): Ὁδηγός adv. Acephalos. Angelo Mai: Script vet. Bova collectio, tom. vii. A late, though unimportant, contribution to the history of Monophysitism (from 581 to 583) is the Church History of the Monophysite bishop John of Ephesus (of the sixth century): The Third Part of the Eccles. History of John, bishop of Ephesus, Oxford, 1853 (edited by W. Cureton from the Syrian literature of the Nitrian convent).

II. Petavius: De Incarnatione, lib. i. c. 16-18 (tom. iv. p. 74 sqq.). Walch: Bd, vi.-viii. Schröckh: Th. xviii. pp. 493-636. Neander: Kirchengeschichte, iv. 993-1038. Gieseler: i. ii. pp. 347-376 (4th ed.), and his Commentatio qua Monophysitarum veterum variae de Christi persona opiniones … illustrantur (1835 and 1838). Baur: Geschichte der Trinitätslehre, Bd. ii. pp. 37-96. Dorner: Geschichte der Christologie, ii. pp. 150-193. Hefele (R.C.): Conciliengeschichte, ii. 545 ff. F. Rud. Hasse: Kirchengeschichte (1864), Bd. i. p. 177 ff. A. Ebrard: Handbuch der Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte (1865), Bd. i. pp. 263-279.

The council of Chalcedon did not accomplish the intended pacification of the church, and in Palestine and Egypt it met with passionate opposition. Like the council of Nicaea, it must pass a fiery trial of conflict before it could be universally acknowledged in the church. “The metaphysical difficulty,” says Niedner, “and the religious importance of the problem, were obstacles to the acceptance of the ecumenical authority of the council.” Its opponents, it is true, rejected the Eutychian theory of an absorption of the human nature into the divine, but nevertheless held firmly to the doctrine of one nature in Christ; and on this account, from the time of the Chalcedonian council they were called Monophysites, while they in return stigmatized the adherents of the council as Dyophysites and Nestorians. They conceded, indeed, a composite nature (μία φύσις σύνθετος or μία φύσις διττή), but not two natures. They assumed a diversity of qualities without corresponding substances, and made the humanity in Christ a mere accident of the immutable divine substance.

Their main argument against Chalcedon was, that the doctrine of two natures necessarily led to that of two persons, or subjects, and thereby severed the one Christ into two Sons of God. They were entirely at one with the Nestorians in their use of the terms “nature” and “person,” and in rejecting the orthodox distinction between the two. They could not conceive of human nature without personality. From this the Nestorians reasoned that, because in Christ there are two natures, there must be also two independent hypostases; the Monophysites, that, because there is but one person in Christ, there can be only one nature. They regarded the nature as something common to all individuals of a species (κοίνον), yet as never existing simply as such, but only in individuals. According to them, therefore, φύσις or οὐσία is in fact always an individual existence.

The liturgical shibboleth of the Monophysites was: God has been crucified. This they introduced into their public worship as an addition to the Trisagion: “Holy, God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, who hast been crucified for us, have mercy upon us.” From this they were also called Theopaschites. This formula is in itself orthodox, and forms the requisite counterpart to θεοτόκος, provided we understand by God the Logos, and in thought supply: “according to the flesh” or “according to the human nature.” In this qualified sense it was afterwards in fact not only sanctioned by Justinian in a dogmatical decree, but also by the fifth ecumenical council, though not as an addition to the Trisagion. For the theanthropic person of Christ is the subject, as of the nativity, so also of the passion; his human nature is the seat and the organ (sensorium) of the passion. But as an addition to the Trisagion, which refers to the Godhead generally, and therefore to the Father, and the Holy Ghost, as well as the Son, the formula is at all events incongruous and equivocal. Theopaschitism is akin to the earlier Patripassianism, in subjecting the impassible divine essence, common to the Father and the Son, to the passion of the God-Man on the cross; yet not, like that, by confounding the Son with the Father, but by confounding person with nature in the Son.

Thus from the council of Chalcedon started those violent and complicated Monophysite controversies which convulsed the Oriental church, from patriarchs and emperors down to monks and peasants, for more than a hundred years, and which have left their mark even to our day. They brought theology little appreciable gain, and piety much harm; and they present a gloomy picture of the corruption of the church. The intense concern for practical religion, which animated Athanasius and the Nicene fathers, abated or went astray; theological speculation sank towards barren metaphysical refinements; and party watchwords and empty formulas were valued more than real truth. We content ourselves with but a summary of this wearisome, though not unimportant chapter of the history of doctrines, which has recently received new light from the researches of Gieseler, Baur, and Dorner.

The external history of the controversy is a history of outrages and intrigues, depositions and banishments, commotions, divisions, and attempted reunions. Immediately after the council of Chalcedon bloody fights of the monks and the rabble broke out, and Monophysite factions went off in schismatic churches. In Palestine Theodosius (451-453) thus set up in opposition to the patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem; in Alexandria, Timotheus Aelurus and Peter Mongus (454-460), in opposition to the newly-elected patriarch Protarius, who was murdered in a riot in Antioch; Peter the Fuller (463-470). After thirty years’ confusion the Monophysites gained a temporary victory under the protection of the rude pretender to the empire, Basiliscus (475-477), who in an encyclical letter, enjoined on all bishops to condemn the council of Chalcedon (476). After his fall, Zeno (474-475 and 477-491), by advice of the patriarch Acacius of Constantinople, issued the famous formula of concord, the Henoticon, which proposed, by avoiding disputed expressions, and condemning both Eutychianism and Nestorianism alike, to reconcile the Monophysite and dyophysite views, and tacitly set aside the Chalcedonian formula (482). But this was soon followed by two more schisms, one among the Monophysites themselves, and one between the East and the West. Felix II., bishop of Rome, immediately rejected the Henoticon, and renounced communion with the East (484-519). The strict Monophysites were as ill content with the Henoticon, as the adherents of the council of Chalcedon; and while the former revolted from their patriarchs, and became Acephali, the latter attached themselves to Rome. It was not till the reign of the emperor Justin I. (518-527), that the authority of the council of Chalcedon was established under stress of a popular tumult, and peace with Rome was restored. The Monophysite bishops were now deposed, and fled for the most part to Alexandria, where their party was too powerful to be attacked.

The internal divisions of the Monophysites turned especially on the degree of essential difference between the humanity of Christ and ordinary human nature, and the degree, therefore, of their deviation from the orthodox doctrine of the full consubstantiality of the humanity of Christ with ours. The most important of these parties were the Severians (from Severus, the patriarch of Antioch) or Phthartolaters (adorers of the corruptible), who taught that the body of Christ before the resurrection was mortal and corruptible; and the Julianists (from bishop Julian of Halicarnassus, and his contemporary Xenajas of Hierapolis) or Aphthartodocetae, who affirmed the body of Christ to have been originally incorruptible, and who bordered on docetism. The former conceded to the Catholics, that Christ as to the flesh was consubstantial with us (κατὰ σάρκα ὁμοούσιος ἡμῖν). The latter argued from the commingling (σύγξυσις) of the two natures, that the corporeality of Christ became from the very beginning partaker of the incorruptibleness of the Logos, and was subject to corruptibleness merely κατ ̓ οἰκονομίαν. They appealed in particular to Jesus’ walking on the sea. Both parties were agreed as to the incorruptibleness of the body of Christ after the resurrection. The word φθορά, it may be remarked, was sometimes used in the sense of frailty, sometimes in that of corruptibleness.

The solution of this not wholly idle question would seem to be, that the body of Christ before the resurrection was similar to that of Adam before the fall; that is, it contained the germ of immortality and incorruptibleness; but before its glorification it was subject to the influence of the elements, was destructible, and was actually put to death by external violence, but, through the indwelling power of the sinless spirit, was preserved from corruption, and raised again to imperishable life. A relative immortality thus became absolute. So far we may without self-contradiction affirm both the identity of the body of Christ before and after his resurrection, and its glorification after resurrection.

The Severians were subdivided again, in respect to the question of Christ’s omniscience, into Theodosians, and Themistians, or Agnoetae. The Julianists were subdivided into Ktistolatae, and Aktistetae according as they asserted or denied that the body of Christ was a created body. The most consistent Monophysite was the rhetorician Stephanus Niobes (about 550), who declared every attempt to distinguish between the divine and the human in Christ inadmissible, since they had become absolutely one in him. An abbot of Edessa, Bar Sudaili, extended this principle even to the creation, which be maintained would at last be wholly absorbed in God. John Philoponus (about 530) increased the confusion; starting with Monophysite principles, taking φύσις in a concrete instead of an abstract sense, and identifying it with ὑπόστασις, he distinguished in God three individuals, and so became involved in tritheism. This view he sought to justify by the Aristotelian categories of genus, species, and individuum.


144. The Three Chapters, and the Fifth Ecumenical Council, a.d. 553

Comp., besides the literature already cited, H. Noris (R.C.): Historia Pelagiana et dissertatio de Synodo Quinta oecumen. in qua Origenis et Th. Mopsuesteni Pelagiani erroris auctorum justa damnatio, et Aquilejense schisma describitur, etc. Padua, 1673, fol., and Verona, 1729. John Garnier (R.C.): Dissert. de V. Synodo. Paris, 1675 (against Card. Noris). Hefele (R.C.): vol. ii. 775-899. — The Greek Acta of the 5th council, with the exception of the 14 anathemas and some fragments, have been lost; but there is extant an apparently contemporary Latin translation (in Mansi, tom. ix. 163 sqq.), respecting whose genuineness and completeness there has been much controversy (comp. Hefele, ii. p. 831 ff.).

The further fortunes of Monophysitism are connected with the emperor Justinian I. (527-565). This learned and unweariedly active ruler, ecclesiastically devout, but vain and ostentatious, aspired, during his long and in some respects brilliant reign of nearly thirty years, to the united renown of a lawgiver and theologian, a conqueror and a champion of the true faith. He used to spend whole nights in prayer and fasting, and in theological studies and discussions; he placed his throne under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin and the archangel Michael; in his famous Code, and especially in the Novelles, he confirmed and enlarged the privileges of the clergy; he adorned the capital and the provinces with costly temples and institutions of charity; and he regarded it as his especial mission to reconcile heretics, to unite all parties of the church, and to establish the genuine orthodoxy for all time to come. In all these undertakings he fancied himself the chief actor, though very commonly he was but the instrument of the empress, or of the court theologians and eunuchs; and his efforts to compel a general uniformity only increased the divisions in church and state.

Justinian was a great admirer of the decrees of Chalcedon, and ratified the four ecumenical councils in his Code of Roman law. But his famous wife Theodora, a beautiful, crafty, and unscrupulous woman, whom he — if we are to believe the report of Procopius — raised from low rank, and even from a dissolute life, to the partnership of his throne, and who, as empress, displayed the greatest zeal for the church and for ascetic piety, was secretly devoted to the Monophysite view, and frustrated all his plans. She brought him to favor the liturgical formula of the Monophysites: “God was crucified for us, so that he sanctioned it in an ecclesiastical decree (533).

Through her influence the Monophysite Anthimus was made patriarch of Constantinople (535), and the characterless Vigilius bishop of Rome (538), under the secret stipulation that he should favor the Monophysite doctrine. The former, however, was soon deposed as a Monophysite (536), and the latter did not keep his promise. Meanwhile the Origenistic controversies were renewed. The emperor was persuaded, on the one hand, to condemn the Origenistic errors in a letter to Mennas of Constantinople; on the other hand, to condemn by an edict the Antiochian teachers most odious to the Monophysites: Theodore of Mopsuestia (the teacher of Nestorius), Theodoret of Cyros, and Ibas of Edessa (friends of Nestorius); though the last two had been expressly declared orthodox by the council of Chalcedon. Theodore he condemned absolutely, but Theodoret only as respected his writings against Cyril and the third ecumenical council at Ephesus, and Ibas as respected his letter to the Persian bishop Maris, in which he complains of the outrages of Cyril’s party in Edessa, and denies the communicatio idiomatum. These are the so-called Three Chapters, or formulas of condemnation, or rather the persons and writings designated and condemned therein.

Thus was kindled the violent controversy of the Three Chapters, of which it has been said that it has filled more volumes than it was worth lines. The East yielded easily to craft and force; the West resisted. Pontianus of Carthage declared that neither the emperor nor any other man had a right to sit in judgment upon the dead. Vigilius of Rome, however, favored either party according to circumstances, and was excommunicated for awhile by the dyophysite Africans, under the lead of Facundus of Hermiane. He subscribed the condemnation of the Three Chapters in Constantinople, a.d. 548, but refused to subscribe the second edict of the emperor against the Three Chapters (551), and afterwards defended them.

To put an end to this controversy, Justinian, without the concurrence of the pope, convoked at Constantinople, a.d. 553, the Fifth Ecumenical Council, which consisted of a hundred and sixty-four bishops, and held eight sessions, from the 5th of May to the 2d of June, under the presidency of the patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople. It anathematized the Three Chapters; that is, the person of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the anti-Cyrillian writings of Theodoret, and the letter of Ibas, and sanctioned the formula “God was crucified,” or “One of the Trinity has suffered,” yet not as an addition to the Trisagion. The dogmatic decrees of Justinian were thus sanctioned by the church. But no further mention appears to have been made of Origenism; and in truth none was necessary, since a local synod of 544 had already condemned it. Perhaps also Theodore Askidas, a friend of the Origenists, and one of the leaders of the council, prevented the ecumenical condemnation of Origen. But this is a disputed point, and is connected with the difficult question of the genuineness and completeness of the Acts of the council.

Vigilius at first protested against the Council, which, in spite of repeated invitations, he had not attended, and by which he was suspended; but he afterwards signified his adherence, and was permitted, after seven years’ absence, to return to Rome, but died on the journey, at Syracuse, in 555. His fourfold change of opinion does poor service to the claim of papal infallibility. His successor, Pelagius I., immediately acknowledged the council. But upon this the churches in Northern Italy, Africa, and Illyria separated themselves from the Roman see, and remained in schism till Pope Gregory I. induced most of the Italian bishops to acknowledge the council.

The result of this controversy, therefore, was the condemnation of the Antiochian theology, and the partial victory of the Alexandrian monophysite doctrine, so far as it could be reconciled with the definitions of Chalcedon. But the Chalcedonian dyophysitism afterwards reacted, in the form of dyothelitism, and at the sixth ecumenical council, at Constantinople, a.d. 680 (called also Concilium Trullanum I.), under the influence of a letter of pope Agatho, which reminds us of the Epistola Dogmatica of Leo, it gained the victory over the Monothelite view, which so far involves the Monophysite, as the ethical conception of one will depends upon the physical conception of one nature.

But notwithstanding the concessions of the fifth ecumenical council, the Monophysites remained separated from the orthodox church, refusing to acknowledge in any manner the dyophysite council of Chalcedon. Another effort of Justinian to gain them, by sanctioning the Aphthartodocetic doctrine of the incorruptibleness of Christ’s body (564), threatened to involve the church in fresh troubles; but his death soon afterwards, in 565, put an end to these fruitless and despotic plans of union. His successor Justin II. in 565 issued an edict of toleration, which exhorted all Christians to glorify the Lord, without contending about persons and syllables. Since that time the history of the Monophysites has been distinct from that of the catholic church.