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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 141. 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. 16091609    Respecting this apparent inconsistency of Leo, see Hefele, who considers it at length, ii. 387 ff.

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, 16101610    Who, however, stipulated as a condition of the marriage, that she still be allowed to keep her vow of perpetual virginity. Marcian was a widower, sixty years of age, and had the reputation of great ability and piety. Some authors place him, as emperor, by the side of Constantineand Theodosius, or even above them. Comp. Leo’s Letters, Baronius (Annales), Tillemont (Emper. iii. 284), and Gibbon (at the end of ch. xxxiv.). The last-named author says of Marcian: “The zeal which he displayed for the orthodox creed, as it was established by the council of Chalcedon, would alone have inspired the grateful eloquence of the Catholics. But the behavior of Marcian, in a private life, and afterwards on the throne, may support a more rational belief, that he was qualified to restore and invigorate an empire, which had been almost dissolved by the successive weakness of two hereditary monarchs .... His own example gave weight to the laws which he promulgated for the reformation of manners.” 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.”16111611    This promise was in fact fulfilled, although only at one session, the sixth.

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.16121612    Evagrius, H. E. ii. c. 4: “The bishops Paschasinus and Lucentius, and the presbyter Boniface, were the representatives of Leo, archpriest of the elder Rome.” Besides them bishop Julianof Cos, Leo’s legate at Constantinople, also frequently appears in the council, but he had his seat among the bishops, not the papal delegates.

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,16131613    There are only imperfect registers of the subscriptions yet extant, and the statements respecting the number of members vary from 520 to 630. 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,16141614    Ἄρχοντες, judices. There were six of them. 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.16151615    Such tumultuous outcries (ἐκβοήσεις δημοτικαί), said the commissioners and senators, ill-beseemed bishops, and were of no advantage to either side. 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.”16161616    Mansi, tom. vi. 971: αὕτη ἡ πίστις τῶν πατέρων, αὕτη ἡ πίστις τῶν ἀποστόλων, παν́τες οὕτω πιστεύομεν, οἱ ὀρθόδοξοι οὕτω πιστεύουσιν, ἀνάθεμα τῷ μὴ οὕτω πιστεύοντι, κ.τ.λ.

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:16171617    Complete in Mansi, tom. vii. f. 111-118, The Creed is also given by Evagrius, ii. 4.

“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;16181618    Ὁμοούσιος is used in both clauses, though with a shade of difference: Christ’s homoousia with the Father implies numerical unity or identity of substance (God being one in essence, monoousios); Christ’s homoousia with men means only generic unity or equality of nature. Compare the remarks in § 130, p. 672 f. like unto us in all things, yet without sin;16191619    Ὕ ́Ενα καὶ αὐτὸν υἱὸν τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰ. Χριστὸν τὸν αὐτὸν ἐν θεότητι καὶ τέλειον τὸν αὐτὸν ἐν ἀνθρωπότητι, θεὸν ἀληθῶς καὶ ἄθρωπον ἀληθῶς τὸν αὐτὸν, ἐκ ψυχῆς λογικῆς[against Apollinaris] καὶ σώματος, ὁμοιούσιον τῷ Πατρὶ κατὰ τὴν θεότητα, καὶ ὀμοούσιον τὸν αὐτὸν ἠμῖν κατὰτὴν ἀνθρωπότητα, κατὰ πάντα ὅμοιον ἠμῖν χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας. 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;16201620    Τῆς θεοτόκου, against Nestorius. This, however, is immediately after modified by the phrase κατὰ τὴν ἀνθρωπότητα(in distinction from κατὰ τὴν θεότητα). Mary was the mother not merely of the human nature of Jesus, but of the theanthropic person Jesus Christ; not, however, according to his eternal Godhead, but according to his humanity. In like manner, the subject of the passion was the theanthropic person, yet not according to his divine impassible nature, but according to his human nature. one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, known in (of) two natures, 16211621   Ἐν δύο φύσεσιν and the Latin translation, in duabus naturis, is directed against Eutyches. The present Greek text reads, it is true, ἐκ δύο φύσεων, which, however, signifies, and according to the connection, can only signify, essentially the same thing, but is also capable of being understood in an Eutychian and Monophysite sense, namely, that Christ has arisen from the confluence of two natures, and since the incarnation has only one nature. Understood in this sense, Dioscurus at the council was very willing to accept the formula ἐκ δύο φύσεων. But for this very reason the Orientals, and also the Roman legates, protested with one voice against ἐκand insisted upon another formula with ἐνwhich was adopted. Baur (l.c. i. p. 820 f.) and Dorner (ii. p. 129) assert that ἐκ is the accurate and original expression, and is a concession to Monophysitism, that It also agrees better (?) with the verb γνωρίζομεν(to recognize by certain tokens) but that it was from the very beginning changed by the Occidentals into ἐν. But we prefer the view of Gieseler, Neander (iv. 988), Hefele (ii. 451 f), and Beck (Dogmengeschichte, p. 251), that ἐν δύο φύσεσιν was the original reading of the symbol, and that It was afterwards altered in the interest of Monophysitism. This is proved by the whole course of the proceedings at the fifth session of the council of Chalcedon, where the expression ἐκ δύο φύσεων was protested against, and is proved by the testimony of the abbot Euthymius, a cotemporary, and by that of Severus, Evagrius, and Leontius of Byzantium. Severus, the Monophysite patriarch of Antioch since 513, charges the fathers of Chalcedon with the inexcusable crime of having taught: ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀδιαιρέτοις γνωρίζεσθαι τὸν Θεόν(see Mansi, vii. 839). Evagrius (H. E. ii. 5) maintains that both formulas amount to essentially the same thing, and reciprocally condition each other. Dorner also affirms the same. His words are: ” The Latin formula has ’to acknowledge Christ as Son in two natures,’ the Greek has ’to recognize Christ as Son from two natures,’ which is plainly the same thought. The Latin formula is only a free, but essentially faithful translation, only that its coloring expresses somewhat more definitely still Christ’s subsisting in two natures, and is therefore more literally conformable to the Roman type of doctrine” (l.c. ii. p. 129 f.). without confusion, without conversion, without severance, and without division;16221622    Ἀσύγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως[against Eutyches], ἀδιαρέτως, ἀχωρίστως[against Nestorius]—γνωριζόμενον. 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.16231623    Εἰς ἓν πρόσωπον καὶ μίαν ὑπόστασιν. 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 16241624    Ἡ ἁγία καὶ οἰκουμενικὴ σύνοδος. 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.16251625    Respecting the famous 28th canon of the council, which gives the bishop of Constantinople equal rights with the bishop of Rome, and places him next after him in rank, Comp. above § 56 (p. 279 ff.).

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.16261626    Eutyches, who, in the very beginning of the controversy, said of himself, that he had lived seventy years a monk died probably soon after the meeting of the council. Dioscurus was banished to Gangra, in Paphlagonia, and lived tin 454. Comp. Schröckh, Th. xviii. p. 492. 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.16271627    Dorner judges very unfavorably of the council of Chalcedon (ii. p. 83), and denies it all vocation, inward or outward, to render a positive decision of the great question in controversy; forgetting that the third ecumenical council, which condemned Nestorius, was, in Christian spirit and moral dignity, decidedly inferior to the fourth. “Notwithstanding its 630 bishops,” says he (ii. 130), “it is very far from being able to claim canonical authority. The fathers of this council exhibIt neither the harmony of an assembly animated by the Holy Ghost, nor that certainty of judgment, past wavering and inconsistency, nor that manly courage in maintaining a well-gained conviction, which is possible where, out of antitheses long striving for unity, a bright and clear persuasion, shared by the general body, has arisen.” Kahnis (Der Kirchenglaube, Bd. ii. 1864, p. 89) judges as follows: “The significance of the Chalcedonian symbol does not lie in the ecumenical character of this council, for ecumenical is an exceedingly elastic idea; nor in its results being a development of those of the council of Ephesus (431), for, while at Ephesus the doctrine of the unity, here that of the distinction, in Christ’s person, was the victorious side; nor in the spirit with which all the proceedings were conducted, for passions, intrigues, political views, tumultuous disorder, &c., prevailed in it in abundant measure: but it lies rather in the unity of acknowledgment which it has received in the Church, even to our day, and in the inner unity of its definitions.”

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.



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