1. The Council Convenes
2. Sentence against the Three Chapters
2.1. Sentence against Theodore of Mopsuestia
2.2. Sentence against Theodoret's Works
2.3. Sentence against the Letter of Ibas
2.4. Summary of Sentence against the Three Chapters
3. The Fourteen Anathemas against the Three Chapters
4. Papal Ratification of the Council
Although the error of Eutyches had been soundly condemned at Chalcedon in 451, that council's Christological definition of one person and one hypostasis in two natures was widely rejected by the Church in Palestine and Egypt, as being incompatible with St. Cyril's doctrine of "one incarnate nature". This Cyrillian faction, often called Monophysite ("one nature"), believed that the Chalcedonian formula of "two natures" could only be understood in a Nestorian sense, creating two Christs, and was therefore heretical.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can appreciate that most Chalcedonians and Cyrillians actually held the same orthodox doctrine, but used different terminology. The Chalcedonian formula of one hypostasis in two natures does not divide Christ into two, since he is only one hypostasis, or subsistent being. The divine and human natures in Christ are not manifested separately, but in one and the same real subject. The "one incarnate nature" of the Cyrillians, which arises from the union of divine and human natures without mingling, is a more difficult formula, since the term "nature" is used equivocally in two senses. The "one nature" is really a subsistent entity, like the Chalcedonian hypostasis, while the "two natures" are abstract essences, namely the properties of divinity and humanity. Both formulas assert one Person, one real subsistent Being, who has all the properties of divinity and humanity. The Chalcedonians call this single entity a hypostasis, while the Cyrillians call it a "nature" (physis). Since the Cyrillians consider a nature to exist only when it is manifested as a real, distinct entity, they would not say that Christ has two natures, but a single "nature" (entity) possessing the properties of both divinity and humanity. The Chalcedonians, on the other hand, understand a nature to really exist even when it is not manifested in an entity to the exclusion of other properties, so they have no difficulty in asserting that Christ has two natures, in the sense of possessing all the properties of divinity and humanity.
This verbal misunderstanding might have been resolved in a reasonable amount of time, were it not for the undue interference of the Roman emperors of the East. The usurper Basiliscus in 475 hoped to reverse the popularity of Chalcedon by requiring bishops to sign an anathema against St. Leo's Tome and all other doctrinal definitions and decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. Hundreds of bishops did so, mostly in Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, where the Monophysite faction was already strong.
In 476, the lawful emperor Zeno was restored at Constantinople. He appointed Acacius as bishop of the imperial see, and it is likely that this patriarch was actually responsible for the infamous Henoticon of Zeno. This edict, issued in 482, asserted an orthodox Christological definition, but included the clause, "Whoever believes, or has believed, otherwise, now or at any time, whether at the council of Chalcedon or at any other council, him we anathematize." This gave the Monophysites license to condemn Chalcedon as heretical. While the Cyrillian formula was indeed orthodox, the same was also true of the Chalcedonian definition, so it was a grave injustice to obliquely anathematize Chalcedon. Pope Felix III excommunicated Acacius for his betrayal of the Council, and the bishop of Constantinople responded in kind, creating open schism between East and West.
Acacius' successors professed Chalcedonian orthodoxy, yet they also signed the Henoticon. With the ascent of the Monophysite emperor Anastasius in 491, more Monophysites were elevated to ranks of prominence. During this period, the Monophysites began a campaign against the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Ibas of Edessa. These three bishops had been exonerated at Ephesus after anathematizing Nestorius, but now the Monophysites revived the accusations of Nestorianism in their writings, that came to be known as the "Three Chapters".
In 518, the Church of the East ended its schism with Rome at the behest of the orthodox emperor Justin. The terms of union were decided entirely by Pope Hormisdas, who affirmed the papal primacy as strongly as did St. Leo. The eastern bishops agreed that the basis of any union must include submission to the definitions of faith of the Apostolic See, where "the Catholic faith has ever been kept spotless." They reaffirmed the condemnation of Eutyches and Dioscorus at Chalcedon, recognized the authority of that Council, and assented to the excommunication of Acacius and his followers. In complete recognition of the doctrine of papal primacy, they acknowledged that the Apostolic See of Rome contains "the whole, true, perfect strength of the religion of Christ," and agreed to "follow the Apostolic See and preach as it has decided." Communion in the Catholic Church is defined by unity with its head, namely to be "one in thought with the Apostolic See."
With the restoration of Chalcedon through the acts of Pope and Emperor, there arose a strong counter-reaction to the Monophysite campaign against the "Three Chapters", to the extent of honoring the three accused, and even venerating Nestorius himself!
A more definitive resolution to these controversies became possible when Justinian assumed the throne in 527. Astutely recognizing that most Monophysites were not guilty of Eutyches' error, Justinian realized that their only error was in regarding Chalcedon as espousing the Nestorian doctrine. In 533, he made attempts to explain Catholic orthodoxy in Alexandrian terminology. This effort was supported by Pope John II, who cited St. Cyril's anathemas against Nestorius.
These peace attempts were momentarily thwarted by the empress Theodora, who supported the installation of Monophysite patriarchs at Alexandria and Constantinople in 535. The heterodoxy of the bishop of Constantinople was exposed by the direct questioning of Pope Agapitus, who replaced him with an orthodox bishop in 536. Widespread outrage against Monophysite overrepresentation in high office led to a policy of excommunicating and deposing Monophysites throughout the Empire.
Emperor Justinian, in 543, issued an edict condemning Origen, which he copied to the Eastern patriarchs and to Pope Vigilius for signature. The Pope affirmed this posthumous anathema, and undoubtedly did so freely, as he had been a favorite of the Empress Theodora, yet nonetheless fearlessly opposed her Monophysite sympathies. Moreover, the edict was issued at the behest of the papal legate Pelagius. The fact that the entire Church regarded Origen as condemned in 543 accounts for why the Council of Constantinople in 553 would speak of him as already anathematized.
Bishop Theodore Askidas of Caesarea, a favorite of the empress, sought to counteract Roman influence on the shaping of doctrine by demanding a condemnation of the Antiochenes and their "Three Chapters", which had been unpunished by the Council of Chalcedon. The emperor was partial to this succession, since it could help reconcile the Monophysites, so he issued an edict against the Three Chapters in 543. Pope Vigilius would resist signing the emperor's tract, for fear that it would repudiate Chalcedon or at least compromise its authority and that of the papacy which led it.
Objectively, the content of the "Three Chapters" was clearly Nestorian in places, but the question of whether the writings or even the authors themselves ought to be condemned raised serious issues of prudence and justice. The emperor had little patience for such scruples, and brazenly kidnapped the Pope in 545, finally bringing him to Constantinople in 547. There Pope Vigilius was persuaded that it was possible to condemn the Chapters without affecting Chalcedon, and therefore agreed to anathematize these writings.
In 548, the Pope issued a Iudicatum condemning the "Three Chapters", while clearly indicating that the Council of Chalcedon was not in any way compromised. Nonetheless, all the Latin bishops resisted this judgment, believing it to have been the product of coercion or servility, and in Carthage the Pope was even excommunicated. Pope Vigilius had never been popular in the West, as he was suspected of Byzantine loyalties, but the reaction against his Iudicatum must be understood in part as a fierce defense of the Council of Chalcedon against the Monophysites whom the emperor sought to appease. It must also be added that many of the Latin bishops were ignorant of the specific content of the Three Chapters, as these were written in Greek.
The revolt of the West convinced Justinian that it was necessary to convene an ecumenical council in order to clarify and resolve the controversy. The Pope agreed to suspend his judgment, and to condemn the Three Chapters at the council. The emperor, however, did not want to leave anything to chance, and sought to invite only sympathetic bishops to the council, while requiring them to assent to an imperial edict defining the doctrinal issue. Pope Vigilius rejected this infringement of the liberty of the Church, and with the help of a spontaneous crowd of supporters, he escaped arrest and was able to flee to Chalcedon. Condemning Justinian's outrages, the Pope demanded that no bishop sign the emperor's edict. The emperor, realizing the populace was with Vigilius, ordered the bishops of the East to submit to the pontiff. The victorious pope returned to Constantinople in 552.
[Top of page]
As it became clear that few bishops from the West would attend the general council, Pope Vigilius decided that he would not participate in the council, but give his judgment independently.
The Council convened on May 5, 553, and read a letter from the emperor defending his actions as being motivated by a pure concern for expunging the remnants of Nestorianism from the Church. He reminded the bishops that the Pope had already condemned the Three Chapters in writing, and would soon deliver his definition of doctrine to the emperor. On May 6, the bishops invited Vigilius to preside over the Council.
The Pope declined to participate in the Council, citing his illness, as well as the fact that most of the Italian delegation had not arrived. The Council proceeded on its own, and discussed the "Three Chapters": (1) the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia; (2) the writings of Theodoret against St. Cyril; and (3) the letter alleged written by Ibas to Mari the Persian. In all three cases, the writings were manifestly Nestorian in content, and in the case of Theodore of Mopsuestia the heresy was particularly grave. Nonetheless, Theodoret and Ibas were reconciled to the Catholic Church before their deaths, having both renounced Nestorianism, so they were not to be personally anathematized. Even in the more serious case of Theodore, there was reservation about anathematizing a person who had died in apparent good standing with the Church.
On May 14, the Pope independently arrived at his own judgment on the matter, which he expounded in a lengthy Constitutum to be delivered to the emperor. The pope decided that: (1) Theodore of Mopsuestia's writings were indeed heretical, but Theodore himself ought not to be condemned, since he was never given an opportunity to face charges while alive; (2) Theodoret ought not to be charged with insulting St. Cyril, as he denied authorship of such writings and St. Cyril himself never made such an accusation, so the authentic works of Theodoret should not be generally condemned, save for four Nestorian propositions they contain; and (3) Ibas had been declared orthodox at Chalcedon even after his letter had been read, as he withdrew his insults against St. Cyril, and that the letter could otherwise be interpreted in an orthodox sense. The Pope issued this Constitutum, signed by sixteen other bishops, as a definitive judgment on the question of the Three Chapters.
The emperor refused to receive the Pope's letter, so Vigilius sent a subdeacon to several of the conciliar bishops on May 25, in order that the Constitutum would be read at the Council and then passed to the emperor. The bishops refused to do so without the emperor's consent, unless the Pope would join the Council as its head. The subdeacon forwarded the Pope's message to Justinian, who responded:
We invited you to meet together with the most blessed patriarchs and other religious bishops, and with them in common to examine and judge the Three Chapters. But since you have refused to do this, and you say that you alone have written by yourself somewhat on the Three Chapters; if you have condemned them, in accordance with those things which you did before, we have already many such statements and need no more; but if you have written now something contrary to these things which were done by you before, you have condemned yourself by your own writing, since you have departed from orthodox doctrine and have defended impiety. And how can you expect us to receive such a document from you?
Although the Pope did not defend any heterodox proposition, Justinian found him guilty of defending impiety by failing to condemn the Three Chapters in their entirety. The emperor therefore instructed the Council to strike the name of Vigilius from the diptychs, a form of personal excommunication, while still retaining communion with the see of Rome. The Council assented to this request, declaring:
What has seemed good to the most pious Emperor is congruous to the labours which he bears for the unity of the churches. Let us preserve union to the Apostolic See of the most holy Church of ancient Rome, carrying out all things according to the tenor of what has been read.
The Council followed the emperor in his subtle distinction between the person of Vigilius and the See of Rome, excommunicating the former yet remaining in communion with the latter. Even if such a distinction were legitimate, the excommunication of Vigilius was hardly justified, since the pontiff did not defend any heresy, but at worst gave the appearance of doing so by not condemning the Three Chapters in their entirety. The Eastern bishops, for their part, did not appreciate the distinctions made by Vigilius in his Constitutum, if they read the document at all. They simply assented to Justinian's erroneous interpretation that any failure to condemn the Three Chapters in their entirety was a departure from orthodoxy.
This lamentable state of misunderstanding meant that the Council was effectively in schism with the Pope, despite the bishops' professed desire to remain in communion with Rome. The Council's decrees would be accepted by the Pope afterward, as the bishops of the East and even the emperor recognized the necessity of papal ratification.
The irregularity of the Council made the bishops acutely conscious of the need to justify their sentence and their authority in issuing it. Thus the introduction to the sentence against the Three Chapters contains the most detailed explanation of the authority of an ecumenical council to be found in a general council of the first millennium.
The bishops begin to justify their actions by noting their sacred obligation to correct heresy, and asserting that the Three Chapters were in fact being used by Nestorians to attempt to spread their heresy anew in the Church.
The synod next mentions Pope Vigilius' previous condemnation of the Three Chapters, and his agreement to participate in the Council and issue a definition of doctrine. The Council then speaks as though this definition has not yet been issued, and does not condemn Vigilius, but simply awaits his ratification of the sentence and his definition of faith. This silence eloquently speaks of the respect the bishops had for the papacy, even when in effective schism.
The Council's discussion of the reasons for an ecumenical council reads in many places as a plea for the Pope to participate. In a direct appeal to the Pope, the Council invokes the example of the Apostles:
Even though the grace of the Holy Spirit was abundant in each of the Apostles, so that none of them required the advice of another in order to do his work, nevertheless they were loathe to come to a decision on the issue of the circumcision of gentiles until they had met together to test their various opinions against the witness of the holy scriptures.
Without denying that the Pope is fully competent to define true doctrine, as were each of the Apostles, it is nonetheless wise for him to consult with his fellow bishops. From this follows a discourse on the rationale for ecumenical councils that appears to provide a strictly naturalistic justification:
The holy fathers, who have gathered at intervals in the four holy councils, have followed the examples of antiquity. They dealt with heresies and current problems by debate in common, since it was established as certain that when the disputed question is set out by each side in communal discussions, the light of truth drives out the shadows of lying.
The truth cannot be made clear in any other way when there are debates about questions of faith, since everyone requires the assistance of his neighbour.
If an ecumenical council is merely a forum for communal discussion, it could hardly result in the certainty of truth that is described here, since there are naturally many communal discussions that end in falsehood or confusion. The ecumenical council is a special type of communal discussion, as evidenced by the Apostles' statement at Jerusalem, "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...", as well as the present Council's appeal to Christ's promise to be present among those gathered in His name. The exceptional quality of ecumenical councils is further accentuated by emphasizing that there are only four holy synods which meet the standard of these lofty promises.
The bishops' claim that the only way to achieve clarity on a question of faith appears to be prejudicial to the Pope's authority to define doctrine on his own. On the contrary, the Council took care not to deny his apostolic authority, but appealed to the example of the Apostles who, though possessing full teaching authority, nonetheless deemed it prudent to consult with their brethren. The wisdom of issuing papal definitions in the context of a Council can be seen from the West's revolt against Vigilius' Iudicatum condemning the Three Chapters. Vigilius himself recognized the desirability of consulting with all bishops in order to clarify misunderstandings before issuing a definition, which is why he did not want to condemn the Three Chapters before the Latin bishops had arrived in sufficient number. When this did not materialize, he decided to issue judgment personally.
The Council acknowledges the Pope's decision to render judgment personally, and does not deny him this right. Nonetheless, the bishops claim they are compelled by their duty to correct to issue their own judgment, since the Pope declined their invitations to preside over them. They regarded themselves as a truly ecumenical council, since they did not renounce communion with the Apostolic See, though they had just assented to a de facto excommunication of the person of Vigilius. Interestingly, there is no condemnation of Vigilius in any part of the Council's official sentence. On the contrary, he is described reverently ("most religious Vigilius") and the controversy over his recent Constitutum is ignored altogether.
The 156 assembled bishops declared their fidelity to the first four ecumenical councils, anathematizing anyone who had been condemned by the Catholic Church or the four general councils. Believing to have established themselves as a true ecumenical council, the bishops regarded themselves as fully competent to treat the matter of the Three Chapters. In fact, both Council and Emperor recognized the need for papal confirmation in order to be truly ecumenical, but it was undoubtedly hoped by many that the Council's judgment would establish a fait accompli that the Pope would accept in order to preserve unity in the Church.
[Top of page]
The writings and person of Theodore of Mopsuestia are condemned in the strongest terms, as this author held many opinions that were clearly blasphemous. His Christology made a heretical distinction between God the Word and Christ, making the latter a mere human, so that Theodore was more "Nestorian" than his pupil Nestorius. Christ the man, according to Theodore, was born with carnal desires and passions, which he gradually overcame through his works, and only when he was baptized by John did he receive the Holy Ghost, and become an "adopted" son of the Father. Only after the Resurrection did he become impeccable, yet even now he is not to be regarded as God, but only venerated as one would venerate the image of the emperor. Since Theodore would not ascribe any divine power to the Body of Christ, he denied that the Apostles received the Holy Ghost by Christ breathing upon them. He also asserted that when the Apostle Thomas addressed the risen Christ as "My Lord and my God," he did not really profess Christ to be God, but rather praised God for the miracle of the Resurrection.
Theodore was also condemned for interpreting much of the Scriptures in a historically literal sense, to the exclusion of any prophetic sense. In this way, he was an early precursor of modern critics, who repeat his error of assuming that the same inspired words could not have multiple senses, and rashly deny that the prophecies of the Old Testament apply to Christ. This heresy denies the divine authorship and providential arrangement of the Sacred Scriptures.[*]
The manifest heresy contained in Theodore's writings makes the condemnation of these writings irresistible, but still many resisted the idea of posthumously anathematizing the person of Theodore. The Council addresses this issue:
Despite all this, those who defended his heresy, delighting in the insults offered by him to his creator, declared that it was improper to anathematize him after his death. Although we were aware of the ecclesiastical tradition concerning heretics, that they are anathematized even after death, we deemed it necessary to go into this matter as well and it can be found in the acts how several heretics were anathematized after they were dead. In many ways it has become clear to us that those who put forward this argument have no concern for God's judgments, nor for the pronouncements of the apostles, nor for the traditions of the fathers.
The Council speaks as though only those who espouse heresy and are ignorant of ecclesiastical tradition would argue against the condemnation of Theodore, when this is clearly not the case, as proved by the example of Vigilius and the Latin bishops. The bishops' silence about orthodox opposition to the condemnation of Theodore reflects their delicate conflict with the Pope, whom they hoped would be shamed into condemning the Three Chapters after they anathematized anyone who defended them in any way. They did not dare condemn the Pope directly, but hoped to force him to choose sides by establishing a sharp dichotomy between heretical defenders of Theodore and orthodox opponents.
The Council's argument in favor of anathematizing heretics posthumously derives from both Scripture and Church tradition. The Scriptural evidence begins with the word of Christ from the Gospel of St. John, "But he that doth not believe [in the Son] is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (3:18) Since Theodore's heresy was a repudiation of the divinity of the Son who was sent into the world, these words certainly apply to him, though not necessarily to all who are in theological error.
St. Paul says, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." (Galatians 1:8) The Council concludes from this that the penalty of anathema (separation from God) is incurred ipso facto by the heretic himself, even if he is never formally condemned, by virtue of preaching a false gospel. Posthumously anathematizing a person is therefore merely a formal recognition of the already existing fact of a person's separation from God due to heresy.
The Council does not make a distinction between holding an objectively heretical opinion and obstinately persisting in that opinion (formal heresy), as that could weaken the case against Theodore. St. Paul also says, "As for someone who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is condemned by his own judgment." (Titus 3:10-11) The Council focuses on the heretic's self-condemnation, but neglects the Apostle's instruction to admonish the sinner before rejecting him. Theodore was never accused of heresy in his lifetime, and therefore was denied the opportunity to publicly recant and be reconciled to the Church.
St. Cyril is next quoted, "Whether or not they are alive, we ought to keep clear of those who are in the grip of such dreadful errors. It is necessary always to avoid what is harmful, and not to be worried about public opinion but rather to consider what is pleasing to God." The wisdom of this judgment can scarcely be denied, but to follow St. Cyril's advice it might suffice to condemn the works while declining to pass ecclesiastical judgment on the person. Writing to John of Antioch, St. Cyril said of Nestorianism, "Action was taken against all those who believed, or had at any time believed, in these mistaken views." At face value, this would apply even to those who were already dead at the time of the Council of Ephesus (431), including Theodore of Mopsuestia, who died in 428. Clarification of this point might be found in another letter of St. Cyril cited by the Council: "The holy synod of Ephesus... has pronounced sentence against the heresy of Nestorius and has condemned... both Nestorius himself and all those who might later, in inane fashion, adopt the same opinions as he held, and those who had previously adhered to the same opinions and who were bold enough to put them in writing, placing upon them all an equal condemnation." A retroactive anathema applied to anyone who not merely held a Nestorian opinion, but also publicly proclaimed it by putting it in writing. Thus the Council of Ephesus appears to have effectively condemned Theodore of Mopsuestia.
The posthumous condemnation of Theodore may be justified on two grounds: (1) since his heresy was a denial of the divinity of the Son who was sent into the world, he incurred self-condemnation as taught in the New Testament; and (2) since he publicly proclaimed his Christological heresy in written form, he effectively incurred the penalty of anathema under the Council of Ephesus. The ecclesiastical penalty of anathema does not judge the "internal forum", that is, Theodore's personal culpability or lack thereof due to ignorance, resulting in his personal salvation or condemnation, which is known only to God. The Church only judges the "external forum," namely, the public works and deeds of men, and admits or excludes men from the Church on this basis alone.
Even with these qualifications, there appears to be an element of unfairness in condemning someone for a crime without admonishing the offender in his own lifetime, thereby giving him an opportunity to repent. The Council is therefore anxious to invoke reputable moral authorities in defense of this practice. Most prominent among these authorities is St. Augustine, whom the Council regards with special reverence.
In the sixth century, St. Augustine (354-430) was universally acclaimed throughout the Church. He was known mainly for his role in ending the Donatist controversy, and most of his widely circulated writings concerned ecclesiology or Biblical commentary, rather than his discourses on grace and free will resulting from the Pelagian controversy. St. Augustine was then esteemed not for what was original in his thought, but for his masterful ability to expound the ancient traditions of the faith. For this reason, a council composed almost entirely of Greek bishops did not hesitate to invoke him as a sacred authority.
According to the Council, certain letters of St. Augustine declare that it is proper to anathematize heretics even after their death. The main evidence comes from his letters against the Donatists, where the saint argues:
Although, even if the charges had been true which were brought by them against Cćcilianus, and could at length be proved to us, yet, though we might pronounce an anathema upon him even in the grave, we are still bound not for the sake of any man to leave the Church... (Letter clxxxv, 4)
The anathema against Caecilianus is purely hypothetical, since the saint was actually opposing those who were in schism on account of the Church's refusal to condemn Caecilianus. Nonetheless, the statement indicates that St. Augustine would have no strong objection to a posthumous excommunication. A better choice of evidence might have been his insistence that Manichaeans anathematize Mani and his works, though he had been dead over a century and was not even a Christian. Despite his apparent endorsement of this practice, St. Augustine would not condemn those who communicated with the retroactively excommunicated:
...for it sometimes happens that the crimes committed by men come to light only after their death, yet this does not bring guilt upon those Christians who communicated with them while they were alive. (Letter lxxvii, 1)
In the aforementioned case of Caecilianus, the saint protested against condemning someone who was never informed of the accusations against him.
...I answered that it was not to be wondered at if the men who then caused that schism... thought that it was right to condemn those against whom they had been instigated by envious and wicked men, although the sentence was passed without deliberation, in the absence of the parties condemned, and without acquainting them with the matter laid to their charge. (Letter xliii, 3)
According to St. Augustine, Caecilianus was unjustly condemned in absentia for being a traditor (one who handed over holy books during persecution), when others, including some of his accusers, were permitted to confess and keep their episcopates. Being condemned in absentia, Caecilianus was deprived of the opportunity for confession and reconciliation afforded to others.
Overall, St. Augustine is an ambivalent witness to the practice of anathematizing men posthumously, permitting the principle, yet circumscribing the practice by refusing to condemn those in communion with the heretic when he was alive, and noting the unfairness of denying someone the opportunity for defense. This last consideration is not an insurmountable obstacle for the posthumous condemnation of Theodore, since his errors did not come to light until after his death, so it was not possible to offer him an opportunity for defense. Since his authority was now invoked by others to deny the divinity of the Christ who walked the earth, it became as necessary to condemn him as it was to condemn Mani.
Admitting that the dead may be anathematized, with all the qualifications that entails, there remains the serious possibility that the fathers of the Council of Ephesus may have reconciled with Theodore, making a personal anathema wholly inappropriate. Once more, the conciliar bishops mention only "followers of Theodore" as making such an argument, in order to force the Pope and the Latin bishops to choose between condemning the Three Chapters or seeming to be an accessory to heresy.
Investigating the matter anew, the Council concludes that the fathers of the Council of Ephesus did not reconcile Theodore to the Church by their act of conciliation with the Antiochene bishops. The current Council admits that the fathers used conciliatory language regarding Theodore in order to persuade the Nestorians to abandon their heresy, but not because they countenanced his heresy. "Theodore was to be anathematized," in the sense that his heretical teachings were to be renounced and he was not to be regarded as a doctor of the Church, though he was not in fact formally excommunicated, for prudential considerations.
The ambivalent stance of the fathers of Ephesus toward Theodore of Mopsuestia can be gleaned from the letters of St. Cyril of Alexandria. John of Antioch wrote to St. Cyril that some had compiled a volume of Theodore's writings and wished to anathematize them. Many of the propositions in question admitted of multiple interpretations, and John was inclined to give Theodore the benefit of the doubt, especially since some of the disputed sayings were also said in an orthodox sense by some of the Fathers of the Church. "What damage will it not be, if their words are not only refuted but anathematized?" (Letter 66, 6) By anathematizing esteemed men, or even their works, it would put Nestorius in good company and grant him undeserved credibility. Furthermore, John argued, Theodore emphasized the distinction in natures of Christ not in denial of His unity, but in order to oppose heretics who denied the distinction.
St. Cyril's response affirmed that the condemnation of Nestorius effectively anathematized "all those who think the same as he, or even those who have ever thought so, namely that we anathematize those speaking of two Sons or two Christs." (Letter 67, 5) The saint also denies that the heresies of Theodore and his predecessor Diodore were held by any of the Fathers of the Church, such as Athanasius, Basil, the Gregories, and Theophilus. Those who claimed otherwise misinterpreted them or used spurious writings, as in the case of Athanasius.
St. Cyril was even more frank in a letter to Acacius of Melitene, to whom he describes the situation of the Antiochenes who condemn Nestorius yet refuse to anathematize the works of Theodore.
While feigning to hate the teachings of Nestorius they weld them together again in a different way by admiring the teachings of Theodore although they are tainted with an equal, or rather a far worse, impiety. For Theodore was not the pupil of Nestorius, but Nestorius was his, and they speak as if from one mouth spitting up poison of heterodoxy from their hearts. (Letter 69, 2)
The saint reiterates that the blasphemies of Theodore are not to be imputed to the Fathers of the Church, and relates how he personally examined the writings of Theodore and Diodore, in order to show the Antiochenes "that their teaching was in every way full of abomination." (Letter 69, 4)
In a letter to Emperor Theodosius, St. Cyril repeats that Theodore and Diodore "were the fathers of the blasphemy of Nestorius." (Letter 71, 2) The Fathers of the Church, on the other hand, wrote "the opposite to the wicked opinions of Theodore and Nestorius." (Letter 71, 3)
Despite his unequivocal condemnation of Theodore's teachings, St. Cyril nonetheless asked Proclus of Constantinople to refrain from anathematizing the person of Theodore. It sufficed to condemn his teachings, as was done at Ephesus when his exposition of doctrine was denounced. "But while condemning those who think in this way, in prudence the synod did not mention the man, nor did it subject him to anathema by name, through prudence," so those who admired the reputation of Theodore would not needlessly cast themselves out of the Church. (Letter 72, 3)
St. Cyril continues, making a distinction between the treatment of living and dead heretics:
If he were still among the living and was a fellow-warrior with the blasphemies of Nestorius, or desired to agree with what he wrote, he would have suffered the anathema in his own person. But since he has gone to God, it is enough, as I think, that what he wrote absurdly be rejected... (Letter 72, 4)
It is enough that the doctrines of Theodore are condemned, rather than his person or even his books (except insofar as they contain Nestorian doctrine). St. Cyril fears that forcing the Antiochenes to anathematize Theodore would create a great "disturbance", as many "would choose rather to be burned in a fire than do any such thing." (Letter 72, 5) The possibility of anathematizing the dead is not dismissed out of principle, but because of prudential considerations.
More than a century after Ephesus, the fathers of the Second Council of Constantinople decided that prudence now required that Theodore be condemned, in order that the Alexandrian Church should not be scandalized. Objectively, Theodore's doctrine merited condemnation, but the decision on whether to apply an ecclesiastical penalty to his person and works was a prudential judgment.
[Top of page]
Having established the legitimacy of condemning Theodore of Mopsuestia in his person and in his works, it followed by extension that it was licit to condemn the heretical works of Theodoret of Cyrrhus.
This Antiochene bishop is believed to have drafted the orthodox creed of union between St. Cyril and John of Antioch in 433, yet he would not sign this agreement because he refused to anathematize Nestorius. Theodoret believed that Nestorius had been wrongly interpreted, and in 436 he even wrote a counter-argument to St. Cyril's twelve anathemas against Nestorius. He also defended the orthodoxy of Theodore and Diodore.
Theodoret would later persuade Flavian of Constantinople to condemn Eutyches, initiating the Monophysite controversy. St. Cyril's successor, Dioscorus of Alexandria, deposed Theodoret at the Robber Synod of Ephesus (449), but Pope Leo declared this act invalid, so he was restored the following year. At the Council of Chalcedon (451), he finally agreed to the anathema against Nestorius, but only conditionally, if Nestorius actually held the heretical doctrine of which he was accused.
There is reason to question the orthodoxy of Theodoret even after Chalcedon, but the bishops at Constantinople decided to treat only his writings, not his person. In his no longer extant counter-argument to St. Cyril's anathemas, Theodoret erroneously regarded Cyril's doctrine as heretical, and failed to recognize that Nestorius' doctrine has heretical implications. His defense of Theodore is even more indefensible, as the heresy of Theodore is more manifest. For these reasons, the condemnation of Theodoret's works is theologically uncontroversial.
[Top of page]
Ibas, bishop of Edessa, is scarcely condemned at all by the Council, which spares his person and even hesitates to ascribe the condemned letter to his authorship, which is only "alleged". The purpose of condemning the letter is not to defame the memory of Ibas, but to resolve a point of confusion, as many held that this letter was upheld as wholly orthodox by the Council of Chalcedon, despite its apparently Nestorian content.
Pope Vigilius resisted the condemnation of this letter partly because it would at least have the appearance of repudiating Chalcedon. The Council therefore takes care to emphasize that the heresy of this letter was by no means espoused at Chalcedon, for in fact the patriarchs at that synod had previously deposed Ibas for defending the Nestorian heresy. At Chalcedon, Ibas was compelled to anathematize Nestorius and his doctrine, so it is hardly coherent that the synod would have accepted any heretical content in his letter.
It is true that Ibas had been cleared at Chalcedon, with the Roman legates declaring, "Having read his letter again, we declare that he is orthodox." The Patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople had also refused to condemn Ibas, resulting in the Monophysite reaction that culminated in the Robber Synod of Ephesus, at which Ibas was deposed. When Ibas was restored at Chalcedon two years later, he was declared to be personally orthodox, though no declaration was made regarding the objective orthodoxy of his letter. Nonetheless, the fact that the patriarchs and legates exonerated Ibas after examining this letter may be taken as an implicit endorsement of its orthodoxy.
The controversial letter was allegedly written by Ibas shortly after the Council of Ephesus, when he was still a presbyter. Angered by the outcome of that synod, he complained to the Persian bishop Mari that Nestorius had been unjustly condemned without proper investigation, and that St. Cyril had dominated the proceedings, imposing his twelve anathemas that effectively endorsed Apollinarian heresy. This libel against St. Cyril has been repeated by various modern commentators who similarly allow their malice toward Cyrillian doctrine to distort their perception of the man. St. Cyril did preside over the council, but this was by the common consensus of all but the Antiochene party. Those of us who have read the saint's epistles in detail know that tyranny was far from his character, and he went out of his way to make peace rather than foment disputes, as evidenced by his tolerance of Theodore of Mopsuestia and his reconciliation with John of Antioch, using the formula of "two natures", contrary to his customary usage of "one incarnate nature". The letters of Nestorius were thoroughly examined, and even included in the Acts of the Council of Ephesus. Their manifest heterodoxy has been discussed at length in our commentary on that synod.
Pope Vigilius, in his Constitutum, acknowledged that the Council of Chalcedon, by rehabilitating Ibas, did not thereby countenance the slanders against St. Cyril and the Council of Ephesus contained in his letter. Rather, Ibas effectively withdrew these insults once he had reconciled himself to the Church, anathematizing Nestorius. Ibas denied that he had ever held the Nestorian heresy, but he had erred in thinking Cyril to be a heretic and Nestorius to be unjustly condemned. Ibas' Christology, as expressed in the letter, may be considered orthodox if we grant him the benefit of the doubt in ambiguous expressions, and allow that his reluctance to ascribe properties and acts of Christ's human nature to the Divine Person was a precaution against Apollinarianism, not a denial of the hypostatic union. The fathers at Chalcedon had in fact, Pope Vigilius argued, given the letter this favorable interpretation, on the basis of which they declared Ibas orthodox.
The fathers at Constantinople decided to take a more rigid, formal approach to the question of the letter's orthodoxy with respect to Chalcedon. Invoking the example of previous synods, which compared the letters of St. Cyril and Pope St. Leo with the faith of the holy fathers, the present Council would subject Ibas' letter to similar analysis. Upon direct comparison with the Chalcedonian definition of faith, the letter was found to be in material contradiction with that definition. In addition to the slanders against St. Cyril and the Council of Ephesus, the bishops found, using a less favorable interpretation of the letter, following its plain literal sense, that the letter advocated the Nestorian heresy. Since the letter contradicts the faith of Chalcedon, it logically follows that the Council of Chalcedon could not have endorsed it. To solidify the argument, the bishops note that the fathers of Chalcedon required Ibas to anathematize Nestorianism, thus they cannot possibly be understood to have endorsed the Nestorian heresy contained in his letter.
The argument used by the fathers at Constantinople is formal, not historical. Historically, the bishops at Chalcedon did not condemn Ibas' letter, and most interpreted its Christology favorably, though they certainly did not condone its condemnation of the fathers at Ephesus. A summary of these favorable judgments follows.
Prior to Chalcedon and even the Robber Synod, Ibas was judged innocent of heresy by Domnus of Antioch. The emperor and patriarch of Constantinople sent Photius of Tyre and Eustathius of Berytus to confirm the judgment independently and impartially. At Photius' demand, Ibas made a profession of faith, anathematized Nestorius, and declared that "he believed entirely the same as that which John of Antioch and Cyril had agreed together upon, and assented to all that which the recent Synod at Constantinople and the Ephesine had decreed; he valued the latter as highly as the Nicene, and believed that there was no difference between them." (Acts of Tyre, quoted in Hefele, XI, 195) Photius and Eustathius reiterated their judgment of Ibas' orthodoxy at Chalcedon.
At the tenth session of Chalcedon, Ibas' accusers invoked his letter to Mari as evidence that he remained in heresy even after the decree of union of 433. This approach failed, as the most prominent judges deemed Ibas to be orthodox after reading the letter. The papal legates, as previously noted, were among those who judged favorably: "After the reading of the documents, we learnt from the sentence of the venerable bishops that Ibas was declared innocent. From the reading of his letter we have seen that he is orthodox."
Anatolius of Constantinople also exonerated Ibas, but by referring to the judgment of Photius and Eustathius, and Ibas' profession of faith in Chalcedon, rather than his letter.
The honesty of the bishops who previously pronounced judgment respecting Ibas, and the reading of the earlier Acts, show that the charges brought against Ibas are untrue. Therefore I dismiss all suspicion respecting him, since he receives and subscribes the definition of the faith recently given by the Synod and the letter of Leo; and I regard him as worthy of the bishopric.
Another judge, Maximus of Antioch, explicitly states that the letter actually proves Ibas' orthodoxy:
From that which has just been read it is clear that Ibas is innocent on all the points which have been brought against him, and the orthodoxy of his opinions is proved by the reading of the copy of his letter brought forward by his opponent; therefore I also vote that he again receive his episcopal dignity and his city...
Not all bishops agreed with this favorable judgment of the letter, on which no formal decision was ever rendered. Only the person of Ibas was rehabilitated, on the basis that he had never been a heretic since the creed of union of 433, as most seemed to believe, though some insisted that he be required to anathematize Nestorius and his doctrine to remove all doubt. This condition was required for Ibas' reinstatement as bishop, and he complied with the declaration: "I previously anathematized Nestorius and his doctrine in writing, and I now anathematize him ten thousand times. Anathema to Nestorius and Eutyches, and to every Monophysite; and I anathematize everyone who does not think as this holy Synod thinks." Ibas did not admit to having been a Nestorian, but rather denied ever having held this heresy since the creed of union between St. Cyril and John of Antioch.
A direct examination of the letter of Ibas will show why several eminent judges regarded its Christology as orthodox, and also why it now needed to be condemned in its entirety. The letter, written to the Persian bishop Mari after the 433 decree of union between St. Cyril and John of Antioch, provides an oddly slanted view of the recent controversy over Nestorius. While faulting Nestorius for denying that the Blessed Virgin is truly the God-bearer, Ibas nonetheless believed that Cyril had overreacted with the opposite heresy of Apollinarianism. Among his mischaracterizations of Cyrillian doctrine, Ibas claims that Cyril asserted "that God the Logos Himself had become man, so that there was no difference between the temple and Him that dwelt in it." By "the temple", Ibas refers to Christ's human nature, while acknowledging only one Divine Person who dwells in that nature. Ibas also misconstrued St. Cyril's doctrine of "one incarnate nature" (one hypostasis) as denying that Christ had both human and divine natures, without confusion or mingling. He further objected to language that attributed properties of human nature to the Divine Person, since the latter is one with the Divine Nature, which cannot have the accidents of the flesh. In all of this, Ibas' Christology admits of orthodox interpretation; his only error appears to be his belief that Cyril was a heretic.
Ibas then proceeds to relate a highly skewed version of the events at Ephesus. He pretends that the fathers of Ephesus had no will of their own, but were manipulated by Cyril, who, "from hatred to Nestorius, knew how to captivate the eyes and ears of all those who were present as by a magical draught." The Antiochene bishop rightly complains that the Council was convened before John of Antioch and his bishops could arrive; this misjudgment by St. Cyril is discussed in the commentary on that council. However, Ibas is clearly wrong when he claims that Nestorius was condemned "without any previous examination". From the Antiochene perspective, the Council of Ephesus resolved nothing, but caused a "great schism" (unnoticed in most parts of Christendom) that would only be resolved by the decree of union between St. Cyril and John of Antioch. Ibas' interpretation of this agreement is strikingly at odds with that of most orthodox Christians:
And John sent Bishop Paul of Emesa with a letter to Cyril, in which the true faith was explained, and gave him a commission to the effect that, if Cyril should agree to this faith, and should anathematize those who say, ‘the Godhead suffered,’ and ‘the Godhead and the manhood are only one nature,’ he should, enter into communion with him. And God softened the heart of the Egyptian, so that without difficulty he assented to this declaration of faith, and accepted it, and anathematized all who believed otherwise. And they entered into communion with each other, the controversy ceased, and peace returned to the Church. The letters interchanged between John and Cyril I have sent thee that thou mayest see and make known to all that the strife has ceased and the partition wall is taken away, and those are put to shame who persecuted the living and the dead. Now they are obliged to confess their own faults and teach the reverse of their previous assertions. For now, no one ventures any longer to say that the Godhead and the manhood are only one nature, but they agree together in faith in the temple (manhood of Christ) and Him who dwells therein as the one Son, Jesus Christ.
Ibas has construed the union between Cyril and John as a repudiation of the Council of Ephesus and its condemnation of "the living and the dead" (Nestorius and Theodore). Since Ibas misunderstood Cyrillian doctrine, it is only natural that this creed of union, with its explicit mention of two natures, should seem to be a reversal of opinion on the part of the Cyrillian party. Thus the general force of the letter is that Ephesus has been repudiated and Antiochene theology vindicated. Ibas even briefly defends the memory of Theodore of Mopsuestia, "herald of the truth and teacher of the Church, who not only smote heretics during his life, but also after his death left in his writings spiritual weapons for the children of the Church." For these reasons, we can see why the fathers at Constantinople would want to condemn this letter, especially as it was used by some to declare the Antiochene Christology of Diodore and Theodore was orthodox, or even that Chalcedon had repudiated the anathemas of Ephesus.
It is obvious from the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon that the fathers of that synod had no intention of repudiating Ephesus. Ibas was received into the Church only after he had repudiated Nestorius, so anything in his letter that was prejudicial to St. Cyril's acts against Nestorius certainly was not endorsed by the fathers at Chalcedon. Nonetheless, several eminent judges believed that the Christology of that letter was orthodox, an opinion that Pope Vigilius reiterated in his Constitutum, declaring that the letter was not heretical when "understood in the best and most pious sense".
The bishops at Constantinople were unwilling to give Ibas' letter a favorable interpretation, and instead regarded the letter in its strict literal sense, without reference to what Ibas may have intended. Thus the Council says that "the letter denies that God the Word was made incarnate of the ever virgin Mary," on the basis of Ibas' objection to referring "the expression 'the Word which was from the beginning' to the temple which was born of Mary". As we have noted, "temple" for Ibas merely meant Christ's human nature, and in fact the bishop had advised Nestorius not to deny the title of Theotokos to the Blessed Virgin. Thus, the Council's formal analysis of the letter is ahistorical.
Although Pope Vigilius (and several judges at Chalcedon) arrived at an opposite conclusion regarding the orthodoxy of Ibas' letter to that of the Council of Constantinople, there was no disagreement on questions of doctrine. Both parties agreed on the Ephesian and Chalcedonian definitions of faith, yet their differences on Ibas' letter lay not in a difference in doctrine, but in their methods of interpretation for the letter. Pope Vigilius and the Latins interpreted the letter in a historical sense, taking into account the author's intention, as determined by the judges who examined him. The Council, on the other hand, took a formal approach, taking a strictly literal interpretation, without regard for possible nuances in the author's meaning, but instead focusing on how present-day readers were interpreting the letter. Both approaches are correct, within their respective domains. The historical approach proves, as Chalcedon and Pope Vigilius affirmed, that Ibas was personally orthodox, but the Council's formal approach of rigid literalism could lead to a negative judgment against the substance of the letter. Both the decisions to condemn and not condemn the letter were consistent with doctrinal orthodoxy, but the choice hinged on a prudential judgment about which course of action would cause greater theological disturbance in the Church. The Pope feared that condemning the letter would undermine Chalcedon and unjustly defame Ibas, while the Council feared that failing to do so would embolden those who claimed Cyrillian doctrine was heterodox and Antiochene Christology was vindicated.
[Top of page]
The Council decided to anathematize the Three Chapters, namely, the writings and person of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the heretical writings of Theodoret, and the letter of Ibas to Mari. This decision was consistent with orthodoxy, though we acknowledge that it would have been equally legitimate to abstain from these anathemas, so long as the heretical propositions in question were condemned. The bishops, however, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the option of toleration, and anathematized "the supporters of these works and those who write or have written in defence of them, or who are bold enough to claim that they are orthodox, or who have defended or tried to defend their heresy in the names of holy fathers or of the holy council of Chalcedon."
At first glance, this anathema would seem to include Pope Vigilius and anyone else who opposed the condemnation of the Three Chapters. Upon closer inspection, we see that the last clause does not apply, since the Latins did not "defend their heresy", but rather admitted an orthodox interpretation to several of the condemned documents. The reference to "those who write or have written in defence of them" would seem to apply to Vigilius, though it must be remembered that the Council refused to accept his Constitutum, and gave him the opportunity for amendment. Nonetheless, the Council plainly anathematizes anyone who has written "in defence of" the Three Chapters, and the formal anathemas (to be discussed) include the qualification, "persists in this error until his death," allowing time for repentance. Those judges at Chalcedon who possibly found Ibas' letter to be orthodox do not fall under the ban, since they did not write in defense of the letter, but Pope Vigilius and other Latins certainly would if they did not retract.
[Top of page]
As mentioned repeatedly, there was no theological disagreement between the Latins and the Greeks regarding Christological orthodoxy, nor was there disagreement that Theodore and Theodoret had made many objectively heterodox statements, but the dispute hinged upon whether it was prudent to condemn any of the Three Chapters, which had been spared at Chalcedon, whether it was licit to condemn Theodore, who died in eminent standing in the Church, and whether the letter of Ibas admitted an orthodox interpretation. These issues, already discussed at length, would be addressed in the last three of the fourteen anathemas of the Second Council of Constantinople.
The first ten of these anathemas expound the orthodox Christology of the Church, navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis of Nestorianism and Monophysitism, in order to establish the heterodoxy of the Three Chapters. As they constitute a mere recapitulation and explication of what was defined at the first four councils, there was little controversy over the substance of these anathemas.
The first anathema summarizes Nicene orthodoxy regarding consubstantiality of the Divine Persons, taking care to include mention of the Holy Spirit. When discussing the Holy Trinity, it was common among the Greeks to use the terms hypostasis (subsistence) and prosopon (person) equivalently, as here hypostasis had its usual definition of "that which subsists" in a substance. Thus three Persons subsist in one Deity. The term hypostasis is used somewhat differently when discussing the Incarnation, a source of confusion that would give rise to the Nestorian controversy. The anathema is followed by a doxology that names the mysterious role of each Divine Person: all things come from the Father, all things are through the Son, and all things are in the Holy Spirit.
The second anathema is a further refutation of Arianism, appealing to the two nativities of the Word mentioned in the Nicene Creed: His eternal begetting from the Father, and His Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The doctrine of two nativities was invoked at Ephesus to prove that Nestorianism contradicted the Nicene faith. Thus it is truly the Word of God who was born of the Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of God truly and not equivocally. Ibas' letter objectively falls under this anathema, when he denies that "God the Logos Himself had become man", though here Ibas misinterpreted that phrase to mean a fusion of natures or a denial that Christ had a human rational soul.
The third anathema defends the unity of Christ's Person against those who would say that the Word was merely with or in Christ the man. The excerpt just cited from the letter of Ibas would also fall under this anathema, if taken at face value. The Council also anathematizes those who deny that both the miracles and sufferings of Christ are to be ascribed to the same Divine Person. Once again, Ibas' letter, at face value, seems to fail this test, since he objects, "For how can one refer the expression 'the Word which was from the beginning' to the temple which was born of Mary? Or how can one understand the expression, 'Thou madest Him a little lower than the angels,' of the Godhead of the Only-begotten?" Ibas, however, is only denying that human attributes can directly pertain to the Divine Nature. Though the Divine Nature is not subject to suffering, nonetheless the Word did suffer through the human nature He assumed. Ibas neither affirms nor denies this doctrine in his letter.
The fourth anathema defines the hypostatic union of Christ's human and divine natures in one subsistent being, opposing Nestorius, who acknowledged only the unity of the two natures under an abstract personhood by which they could be commonly addressed by the same title. Theodore of Mopsuestia wrote even more heretically, claiming that God the Word exalted Christ the man as a reward for his proper disposition toward God. The Council also refutes the Apollinarian claim that the Word was united with human flesh only, and that the faculties of the human soul were performed solely through the Divine Nature. The fathers affirm that both natures are preserved whole and entire, without confusion or mingling. The union is therefore said to be a union of synthesis (addition without loss of elements), or a union of subsistence (hypostasis), signifying that there is no division, but a single real entity. Here hypostasis means "that which subsists" in the two natures. We know from Nicaea that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity subsists in the Divine Nature. The mystery of the Incarnation is that this same Person also subsists in a human nature, and in fact is able to subsist in both natures as a single entity, or hypostasis. In Christology, hypostasis adopts a stronger meaning approximating "substance" (something that exists without being in a subject), whereas in Trinitarian theology it refers simply to the Divine Persons who subsist in the Deity, which is of but one substance, not three. The stronger Christological sense of hypostasis accounts for why many Alexandrians, including St. Cyril, thought it better to express the union as "one incarnate nature", to affirm the palpable reality of the united being that is Christ.
The Council is not blind to the possible complication of Trinitarian theology that the double usage of hypostasis might bring. Affirming that there is a single subsistence or person of Christ, the fathers deny that the Incarnation resulted in the addition of any person or subsistence to the Holy Trinity. Thus the hypostasis of the Incarnate Word is not to be construed as adding a fourth hypostasis to the Holy Trinity. The hypostasis of the Incarnate Word is that of the Second Person of the Trinity.
In the sixth anathema, the Council reaffirms the Ephesian doctrine that the Blessed Virgin is truly the God-bearer, for she bore not a mere man, but God the Word was truly made incarnate in her. The Council condemns Theodore's belief that she only bore Christ, in his blatantly heretical sense that Christ was not the Word. Instead, the Council upholds the definition of the Council of Ephesus, which, following the Nicene Creed, affirmed that the same Son who was eternally begotten of the Father also was born of the Blessed Virgin.
The seventh anathema explains the Ephesian definition of faith as not entailing any confusion of natures, so neither nature was in any way changed into the other. In fact, this lack of confusion of natures is precisely what is meant by union of subsistence (hypostasis). On the other hand, the distinction between natures is only a formal or mental distinction: the reality that exists, which is Christ, is one. He is one from both natures, and these two natures are individuated in a single being or subsistence. We see here how hypostasis in a Christological context has a stronger meaning, being the concrete individuation of a nature or essence. It is therefore heresy to affirm that each nature of Christ is separately individuated, but rather the Christian must acknowledge that both natures are individuated in the same subject. Instead of saying there is Christ the man and Christ the Word, we must confess one Christ who is both true man and true God; this is truly the faith of the Fathers.
The eighth anathema guards against the opposite error of Monophysitism, which speaks of "one nature of God the Word made flesh." Without denying the legitimacy of such a formula, which was used even by St. Cyril, the Council requires that this be understood in the orthodox sense of one hypostasis, or individuated nature, not in the sense of a fusion of human and divine natures into some monstrous nature. The Council also objects to describing the two natures as being of one "substance." Here the Council refers not to individuated substance (hypostasis in the Christological sense), but substance in the sense of ousia or essence, which is practically synonymous with "nature" in this context. We should remember that "nature" in Greek (physis) can refer to a dynamic principle, so affirming two natures in Christ means that the one Christ may act in accordance with the principles of either nature.
The ninth anathema clarifies how Christ is to be worshipped, condemning those who would venerate the Word and the man separately, as well as those who would exclude Christ's human flesh from veneration, or venerate it only as a part of some monstrous nature of confused divinity and humanity. Instead, Christ is to be venerated as the Church has from the beginning, with "a single adoration God the Word in human flesh along with His human flesh."
The tenth anathema encapsulates the essence of orthodox Christology, affirming that the Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified is the same who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. In other words, the prosopon (person) who is the subject of Christology is identical to the prosopon of Trinitarian doctrine. Similarly, the hypostasis of Christology is identical to one of the hypostases of the Trinity. In Christology, the hypostasis is the concrete individuation of divine and human natures, whose subject is Christ. In Trinitarian doctrine, the three hypostases are the three subjects of the Divine Nature, which is numerically one. Since the same Christ who is the subject of the Deity is also the concrete individuation of the divine and human natures, it follows that the hypostasis of Christology is none other than that of the Logos. St. Hippolytus (c. 230) taught that the one hypostasis of Christ "was in the Word," and St. Epiphanius (c. 365) wrote, "The Logos made the Flesh to subsist in the hypostasis of the Logos."
The eleventh anathema names in chronological order the major heresiarchs whose doctrine the Church has condemned in the past. Arius was condemned at Nicaea, while the doctrines of Eunomius (an extreme Arian), Macedonius (who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit), and Apollinarius (who said Christ's human nature lacked its own rational soul) were condemned at the First Council of Constantinople. Their persons and doctrines had been condemned even prior to that ecumenical council. Nestorius was condemned at Ephesus, and Eutyches at Chalcedon.
Lastly, Origen is listed among the anathematized heresiarchs. Defenders of this eminent third-century churchman have sought to nullify this anathema by every means, even arguing that it is an interpolation. As controversial as the inclusion of that famous name may be to later commentators, in the sixth century the excommunication of Origen was universally received by Latins and Greeks. It is true that the Second Council of Constantinople was convened principally to anathematize the Three Chapters, and the Pope's ratification of that Council only mentions the Three Chapters, not Origen. The anathema against Origen is not thereby lifted, for he is named among heresiarchs who have already been condemned by the Church. This is evident from the subsequent phrase, "and also all other heretics who have already been condemned by the holy, catholic and apostolic church and by the four holy synods which have already been mentioned." It is true that Origen was not condemned by any of the four synods, but neither were the persons of Eunomius, Macedonius, or Apollinarius. He was, however, condemned by the Catholic Church in 543, at a synod of Greek bishops whose fifteen anathemas against Origenism were ratified by Pope Vigilius. In fact it had been the papal legate Pelagius who instigated the emperor's edict against Origen, so there was no question of the Pope being coerced in this matter. The condemnation of Origen receives only a passing mention at the Fifth Ecumenical Council and is wholly unmentioned in the Pope's ratification, because everyone at the time took for granted that Origen had already been condemned. There was no requirement, then or now, that an ecumenical council be convened in order to excommunicate someone from the Catholic Church.
While the condemnation of the person and works of Origen in 543 is a topic unto itself, we may note that the present Ecumenical Council confirms this anathema, and anathematizes anyone who does not condemn Origen and his heretical works, persisting in this error until death. The same is said with regard to the other heretics, and this formula will be employed against the Three Chapters.
The general structure of the fourteen anathemas may now be seen: first, ten anathemas defining the Christology of the first four Ecumenical Councils; then an anathema reiterating the condemnation of previous heretics who denied this Christology; and finally three anathemas condemning each of the Three Chapters, using the same formula that is used against the heretics of the past. The formulaic qualifier "and who persist in their error even to death" was no doubt carefully chosen, so as not to anathematize Pope Vigilius or any other Latin bishop who had defended the Three Chapters, lest a schism should be provoked.
The anathema against Theodore of Mopsuestia details some of his more blatantly heretical opinions, which are more extravagant than those of Nestorius. The Council anathematizes any who defend or accept Theodore, "and persist until death in this error."
The anathema against Theodoret's heretical writings mentions his opposition to St. Cyril and his Twelve Chapters, as well his defense of Theodore and Nestorius. St. Cyril himself did not fault Theodoret for insults against his person, but the Council is concerned with attacks on St. Cyril's orthodoxy and on the orthodoxy of the Twelve Chapters against Nestorius. These writings of Theodoret are objectively heretical, though Theodoret himself was reconciled to the Church, having renounced the Nestorian heresy. This anathema is relatively lenient, since it may be doubted whether Theodoret ever believed that Nestorius or Theodore were heretics.
The last anathema condemns the letter of Ibas to Mari, on the grounds that it denies that the Word became man, "but alleges that he was only a man born to her, whom it describes as a temple, as if God the Word was one and the man someone quite different", and that it erroneously accuses St. Cyril of heresy, while defending "Theodore and Nestorius and their heretical teachings and books." The first statement, we have noted, could be interpreted in an orthodox sense, if the "temple" refers only to human nature. The Council chooses to take Ibas' letter at face value, and interpret it in a Nestorian sense. This interpretation is reinforced by the tone of the remainder of the letter, which speaks as though the creed of union entailed a repudiation of Ephesus. The letter does speak positively of Nestorius, and especially Theodore and his works, though not specifying which of these are to be praised. Nonetheless, since the entire letter sides with Antiochene theology and disparages St. Cyril, it may certainly be regarded as defending the heretical teachings, though perhaps maintaining that they are to be understood in an orthodox sense.
The anathema against the letter of Ibas is astonishingly thorough, given the ambiguous nature of some of the epistle's content:
If anyone defends the said letter and does not anathematize it and all those who offer a defence for it and allege that it or a part of it is correct, or if anyone defends those who have written or shall write in support of it or the heresies contained in it, or supports those who are bold enough to defend it or its heresies in the name of the holy fathers of the holy synod of Chalcedon, and persists in these errors until his death: let him be anathema.
No Christian is allowed to allege that even part of the letter is correct, and in fact he must anathematize anyone who would defend any part of the letter as correct. There is no room for compromise, as the Council indiscriminately anathematizes those who defend the letter along with those who defend the heresies it may contain. Pope Vigilius, in his ratification of the Council, would also anathematize all defenders of the letter, though he did not specify that those who defended only a part of it would also be condemned. The phrase "part of the letter" cannot be taken in the extreme sense that there is nothing whatsoever that is true in the letter of Ibas, or that no one may defend even those parts that are true. By "part of the letter", we must understand only those parts that are explicitly enumerated by the Council as being heretical, so that no one might say, for example, that Ibas' Christology was correct but his condemnation of St. Cyril was heretical. All of the enumerated errors in Ibas' letter are genuine errors and no one may assert the contrary, under penalty of anathema.
The Council also anathematizes those who would say that the Council of Chalcedon approved the letter, though the acts of the synod of Constantinople show an acknowledgment that several judges at Chalcedon might have found no error in the letter. Nonetheless, the Council of Chalcedon as a whole did not approve the letter, as many judges found fault with it, and the entire synod required Ibas to anathematize Nestorius and his heresy before receiving him into the Church. Such a measure would hardly have been necessary if his writings were unquestionably orthodox.
The Council summarizes its findings as being grounded in Scripture, Tradition, and the doctrine of the first four Ecumenical Councils, without defining any new doctrine at this synod. The usual penalties of excommunication apply to anyone who defends the Three Chapters.
[Top of page]
After the Council, the Greek bishops throughout the East subscribed to its decrees, but the entire Latin Church resisted. Several of the Pope's advisors were arrested, and Vigilius himself was forced to remain in Constantinople until finally, in December of 553, he issued an epistle anathematizing the Three Chapters and its defenders, and annulling his own defense of them in his original Constitutum. Through this document, the Pope ratified the Council of Constantinople and established its canonical ecumenical status.
The Pope opens his decretal by acknowledging that both sides in the dispute professed the same orthodox creed of the four Ecumenical Councils, but through confusion and want of charity, were divided on whether to condemn the Three Chapters. Vigilius now retracts his first Constitutum, since new facts have come to his attention since then, namely the acts of the Council. Having studied the discussions of the fathers at Constantinople and their conclusions, the Pope agrees that the Three Chapters ought to be condemned after all, and retracts his earlier defense of them.
There is no question here of the Pope admitting error in a definition of doctrine, for Vigilius and the Greek bishops had always agreed on the definitions of Christological orthodoxy. The Pope is retracting a judgment on whether certain men and their works ought to be anathematized, but he had always held, even in his first Constitutum, that heretical propositions contained in these works were to be condemned. The Pope is reversing himself on a judgment of ecclesiastical discipline, believing that he had wrongly assessed the facts of the case, yet without changing the standards of orthodoxy to be applied.
Pope Vigilius enumerates the heresies of Theodore, closely following the sentence of the Council of Constantinople, almost verbatim. He agrees with the Council that the heresies are sufficiently grave and dangerous to merit condemnation of his person, lest anyone be misled into error by the reputation of his name.
The Pope anathematizes not only Theodore, but "all other heretics, who (as is manifest) have been condemned and anathematized by the four holy Synods aforesaid, and by the Catholic Church." As the Pope's decretal closely follows the acts of the Council, this is undoubtedly a reference to the list of condemned heresiarchs, which includes Origen. The Pope notes that it is "manifest" that heretics are condemned by the Catholic Church, since heretics are ipso facto excommunicated by their unbelief.
After briefly condemning Theodoret's heterodox writings, the Pope condemns the letter of Ibas, in an explicit reversal of his earlier opinion. He repeats the judgment of the Council almost verbatim, taking a literal reading of the letter and finding it to deny that the Word was made man, and that the use of the term "temple" suggests that the Word and Christ are two distinct persons. These findings of fact, like those of the first Constitutum, are fallible, but the judgment resulting from this finding is binding upon all. There is certainly no harm in condemning the Three Chapters in their entirety, since they are de facto heterodox, so Catholics have no moral basis to resist this judgment, even if the facts underlying it are disputable.
In his later attempts to persuade other Latin bishops to reject the Three Chapters, Pope Vigilius argued that the letter of Ibas had never been regarded as orthodox by any of the judges at Chalcedon. As Hefele observes, even the Greeks did not dare press the argument that far, so it would seem that Vigilius was sincere in his reversal of opinion, as he pursued the argument more zealously. Since the letter of Ibas that was read at Chalcedon was actually embedded in a larger epistle of the acts of the council at Tyre, Vigilius argues that the "letter" (epistola) that was judged orthodox by the papal legates and the patriarch of Antioch was not the letter to Ibas, but the acts of the council at Tyre taken in their entirety. There is substance to this argument, since the term epistola was regularly used for such ecclesiastical documents. Moreover, the theological content of the letter of Ibas is ambiguous at best, so it is difficult to see how any judge could find in it proof of orthodoxy; at most there is an absence of proof of heterodoxy. Thus it is likely that the judges were not speaking of the letter of Ibas in isolation, but in the context of the acts of the Council of Tyre and Ibas' declaration of faith there and at Chalcedon.
The Pope anathematizes the Three Chapters and anyone who would defend them. He takes care to emphasize that this condemnation does not in any way compromise the Council of Chalcedon, since none of these heterodox teachings were endorsed by that synod; on the contrary, the fathers of that council required the explicit repudiation of such doctrine as a condition for reconciliation with the Church. Vigilius nullifies anything he said previously "in defense of" the Three Chapters, though this "defense" was never an endorsement of heretical propositions, but a refusal to condemn certain persons and works, due to prudential considerations.
[Top of page]
Pope Vigilius was able to leave Constantinople after ratifying the Council, only to face widespread opposition in the West, as the Latin bishops believed that the Pope had been coerced or corrupted into capitulating. Most Latin bishops had a quite limited understanding of the Greek documents in question, and retained the belief that a condemnation of the Three Chapters entailed a repudiation of Chalcedon and the promotion of Monophysitism. The Pope eloquently argued that the Fourth and Fifth Ecumenical Councils were consistent, in a lengthy second Constitutum issued in February 554. This effort was largely unsuccessful, and the Pope died in 555 before he was able to return to Rome.
His successor Pelagius, who had been an ardent defender of the Three Chapters, also endorsed the Council, though he was accused of trying to win the favor of the emperor. Much of the West, including Milan and Carthage, remained in schism with the Pope throughout the sixth and seventh centuries. Although there were no real doctrinal differences, many Latin bishops mistakenly believed that Vigilius and Pelagius had endorsed the Monophysite heresy. More than a century would pass before the Council was widely accepted in the West.
In the East, Justinian's effort to reconcile the Monophysites failed, as the Alexandrians took little interest in the Council of Constantinople or any other acts of the Chalcedonian bishops whom they regarded as heretics. The orthodoxy of Chalcedon was still upheld in most of the East, as the Fifth Ecumenical Council took care to emphasize its continuity with its predecessor.
For all the controversy and belligerence surrounding the Three Chapters, the Second Council of Constantinople accomplished almost nothing. No new doctrine was defined beyond that of Ephesus and Chalcedon, nor were the Monophysites appeased by a more thorough condemnation of Antiochene Christology. It is true that this Council resolved some of Chalcedon's unfinished business, but this is because the fathers at Ephesus and Chalcedon deliberately abstained from unnecessary anathemas that would only cause disturbances. The wisdom of such restraint is made plain by the outcome of this ill-starred fifth general council, which resulted in a century of schism in the West. Justinian's failed attempt at theological diplomacy illustrated the dangers of state intrusion into the liberty of the Church.
Despite its shortcomings, this much-maligned synod did help to clarify the established doctrine of Ephesus and Chalcedon, and to resolve these Christological controversies once and for all in the Catholic Church. Also, the anathemas against Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, though painful to many, were ultimately necessary in order to preserve the authority of the Fathers of the Church, lest the manifestly heterodox be included in their number. Even today, some non-Catholic Christians regard Origen and Theodore as saints, and falsely suppose that the errors of these men represent the apostolic tradition, rather than their own speculations.
[Top of page]
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Letters 51-110, trans. John I. McEnerney, in The Fathers of the Church, CUA Press, Washington, D.C., 1987.
C.J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church.
[*] 20 August 2014. Some text about genre criticism has been deleted here, after an astute reader pointed out its inaccuracy and irrelevance.
© 2007, 2014 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org