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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 144. The Three, Chapters, and the Fifth Ecumenical Council, A.D. 553.


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


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

Justinian was a great admirer of the decrees of Chalcedon, and ratified the four ecumenical councils in his Code of Roman law. But his famous wife Theodora, a beautiful, crafty, and unscrupulous woman, whom he—if we are to believe the report of Procopius16741674    Historia Arcana. c. 9.—raised from low rank, and even from a dissolute life, to the partnership of his throne, and who, as empress, displayed the greatest zeal for the church and for ascetic piety, was secretly devoted to the Monophysite view, and frustrated all his plans. She brought him to favor the liturgical formula of the Monophysites: “God was crucified for us, so that he sanctioned it in an ecclesiastical decree (533).16751675    This addition remained in use among the Catholics in Syria till it was thrown out by the Concilium Quinisextum (can. 81). Thenceforth it was confined to the Monophysites and Monothelites. The opinion gained ground among the Catholics, that the formula taught a quaternity, instead of a trinity. Gieseler, i. P. ii. p. 366 ff.

Through her influence the Monophysite Anthimus was made patriarch of Constantinople (535), and the characterless Vigilius bishop of Rome (538), under the secret stipulation that he should favor the Monophysite doctrine. The former, however, was soon deposed as a Monophysite (536), and the latter did not keep his promise.16761676    Hefele (ii. p. 552) thinks that Vigilius was never a Monophysite at heart, and that he only gave the promise in the interest of “his craving ambition.” The motive, however, of course cannot alter the fact, nor weaken the argument, furnished by his repeated recantations, against the claims of the papal see to infallibility. Meanwhile the Origenistic controversies were renewed. The emperor was persuaded, on the one hand, to condemn the Origenistic errors in a letter to Mennas of Constantinople; on the other hand, to condemn by an edict the Antiochian teachers most odious to the Monophysites: Theodore of Mopsuestia (the teacher of Nestorius), Theodoret of Cyros, and Ibas of Edessa (friends of Nestorius); though the last two had been expressly declared orthodox by the council of Chalcedon. Theodore he condemned absolutely, but Theodoret only as respected his writings against Cyril and the third ecumenical council at Ephesus, and Ibas as respected his letter to the Persian bishop Maris, in which he complains of the outrages of Cyril’s party in Edessa, and denies the communicatio idiomatum. These are the so-called Three Chapters, or formulas of condemnation, or rather the persons and writings designated and condemned therein.16771677    Τρία κεφάλαια, tria capitula. “Chapters” are properly articles, or brief propositions, under which certain errors are summed up in the form of anathemas. The twelve anathemas of Cyril against Nestorius were also called icEI)dAaia. By the Three Chapters, however, are to be understood in this case: 1. The person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia; 2. the anti-Cyrillian writings of Theodoret; 3. the letter of Ibas to Maris. Hence the appellation impia capitula, aO’CGi Ke4paAaia. This deviation from ordinary usage has occasioned much confusion.

Thus was kindled the violent controversy of the Three Chapters, of which it has been said that it has filled more volumes than it was worth lines. The East yielded easily to craft and force; the West resisted.16781678    Especially the African Fulgentius Ferrandus, Liberatus, and Facundus of Hermiane, who wrote in defence of the Three Chapters; also the Roman deacon Rusticus. Pontianus of Carthage declared that neither the emperor nor any other man had a right to sit in judgment upon the dead. Vigilius of Rome, however, favored either party according to circumstances, and was excommunicated for awhile by the dyophysite Africans, under the lead of Facundus of Hermiane. He subscribed the condemnation of the Three Chapters in Constantinople, a.d. 548, but refused to subscribe the second edict of the, emperor against the Three Chapters (551), and afterwards defended them.

To put an end to this controversy, Justinian, without the concurrence of the pope, convoked at Constantinople, a.d. 553, the Fifth Ecumenical Council, which consisted of a hundred and sixty-four bishops, and held eight sessions, from the 5th of May to the 2d of June, under the presidency of the patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople. It anathematized the Three Chapters; that is, the person of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the anti-Cyrillian writings of Theodoret, and the letter of Ibas,16791679    These anathemas are found in the concluding sentence of the council (Mansi, tom. ix. 376): “Praedicta igitur tria capitula anathematizamus, id est Theodorum impium Mopsuestenum, cum nefandis ejus conscriptis, et quae impie Theodoretus conscripsit, et impiam epistolam, quae dicitur Ibae.” and sanctioned the formula “God was crucified,” or “One of the Trinity has suffered,” yet not as an addition to the Trisagion.16801680    Collect viii. can. 10: ῎Ει τιsὀυκ ὁμολογεῖτὸν ἐσταυωμενον σάρκι κύριον ̔ημῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριδτὸν εἶναι Θεὸν ἀληθινῶν καὶκύριον τῆsδόξηs, καὶ῞ενα τῆs̔αγίαsτριάδοs, ὁτοιτῦτοsἀνάθεμα ῎εστων. “Whoever does not acknowledge that our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified in the flesh, is true God and Lord of glory, and one of the Holy Trinity, let him be anathema.” The dogmatic decrees of Justinian were thus sanctioned by the church. But no further mention appears to have been made of Origenism; and in truth none was necessary, since a local synod of 544 had already condemned it. Perhaps also Theodore Askidas, a friend of the Origenists, and one of the leaders of the council, prevented the ecumenical condemnation of Origen. But this is a disputed point, and is connected with the difficult question of the genuineness and completeness of the Acts of the council.16811681    In the 11th anathema, it is true, the name of Origen is condemned along with other heretics (Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Nestorius, Eutyches), but the connection is incongruous, and the name is regarded by Halloix, Garnier, Jacob Basnage, Walch, and others, as all interpolation. Noris and Hefele (ii. p. 874) maintain its genuineness. At all events the fifteen anathemas against Origen do not belong to it, but to an earlier Constantinopolitan synod, held in 544. Comp. Hefele, ii. p. 768 ff.

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

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

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



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