Christianity Knowledge Base
Council of Chalcedon
Fourth ecumenical council of chalcedon - 1876
Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, 1876 painting by Vasily Surikov
Accepted by
Previous council
Council of Ephesus
Next council
Second Council of Constantinople
Convoked byEmperor Marcian of the Eastern Roman Empire
PresidentAnatolius, Patriarch of Constantinople; A board of government officials and senators, led by the patrician Anatolius
AttendanceApprox. 520
TopicsThe judgements issued at the Second Council of Ephesus in 449, the alleged offences of Bishop Dioscorus of Alexandria, the definition of the Godhead and manhood of Christ, many disputes involving particular bishops and sees
Documents and statements
Chalcedonian Creed, 28 canons
Chronological list of ecumenical councils

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The Council of Chalcedon was an ecumenical council that took place from October 8November 1, 451 at Chalcedon, a city of Bithynia in Asia Minor. It is the fourth of the first seven Ecumenical Councils in Christianity, and is therefore recognized as infallible in its dogmatic definitions by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. It repudiated the Eutychian doctrine of monophysitism, and set forth the Chalcedonian Creed, which describes the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Historical background[]

Relics of Nestorianism[]

After the Council of Ephesus had condemned Nestorianism, there remained a conflict between patriarchs John of Antioch and Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril claimed that John remained Nestorian in outlook, while John claimed that Cyril held to the Apollinarian heresy. The two settled their differences under the mediation of the bishop of Beroea, Acacius, on April 12, 433. In the following year, Theodoret of Cyrrhus assented to this formula as well, apparently putting a rest to Nestorianism forever.

However, the works of two long dead Antiochean theologians, Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia were at this time translated into Syriac. By the intervention of Patriarch Proclus of Constantinople, the two theologians were condemned throughout the East, but this situation would later provide the material for the Second Council of Constantinople some hundred years later.

Eutychian controversy[]

About two years after Cyril of Alexandria's death in 444, an aged monk from Constantinople named Eutyches began teaching a subtle variation on the traditional Christology in an attempt (as he described in a letter to Pope Leo I in 448) to stop a new outbreak of Nestorianism. He claimed to be a faithful follower of Cyril's teaching, which was declared orthodox in the Union of 432.

Cyril had taught that "There is only one physis, since it is the Incarnation, of God the Word." Cyril had apparently understood the Greek word physis to mean approximately what the Latin word persona (person) means, while most Greek theologians would have interpreted that word to mean natura (nature). Thus, many understood Eutyches to be advocating a sort of reversal of Arianism -- where Arius had denied the divine nature of Jesus, Eutyches seemed to be denying his human nature. (Cyril's orthodoxy was not called into question, since the Union of 433 had explicitly spoken of two physes in this context.)

Pope Leo I, from Rome, wrote that Eutyches' error seemed to be more from a lack of skill on the matters than from malice. Further, his side of the controversy tended not to enter into arguments with their opponents, which prevented the misunderstanding from being uncovered. Nonetheless, due to the high regard in which Eutyches was held (second only to the Patriarch of Constantinople in the East), his teaching spread rapidly throughout the east.

In November 447, during a local synod in Constantinople, Eutyches was denounced as a heretic by the bishop of Dorylaeum, Eusebius, with the demand that he be removed from his office. Flavian of Constantinople did not wish to consider the matter, due to the great prestige that Eutyches enjoyed, but finally relented, and Eutyches was condemned as a heretic by the synod. However, the emperor Theodosius II and the Pope of Alexandria, Dioscorus, did not accept the decision of the synod because Eutyches had repented and confessed his orthodoxy. Dioscorus held his own synod reinstating Eutyches, and the emperor called a council to be held in Ephesus in 449, inviting Pope Leo I, who agreed to be represented by three legates.

"Latrocinium" of Ephesus[]

By this time, the pope had received communications from Flavian, and had himself determined that Eutyches was in the wrong and that the deposition in 447 was just. He wrote to the council, telling them that they must accept his judgment on the matter, but he left the punishment of Eutyches open for discussion. It appears Pope Leo I was unaware of the confession made to Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria.

Theodosius' council convened on August 8, 449, with some 130 bishops in attendance. Dioscorus presided by command of the emperor. The emperor denied the vote to any bishop who had voted in Eutyches' deposition two years earlier. As a result, there was a near-unanimous support for Eutyches, and Flavian was himself deposed and exiled. He died shortly thereafter. The papal legates left with a letter for the pope from Flavian, and in a second session, without papal representation, several more bishops were deposed, including Ibas of Edessa, Irenaeus of Tyre (a close personal friend of Nestorius), Domnus of Antioch, and Theodoret.

The decisions of this council threatened schism between the East and the West, since they went plainly against the papal declaration, although it was never read. The pope dubbed this council a "synod of robbers" — Latrocinium — and refused to accept its pronouncements. His letter was not read at the council and the papal legates left with it as well and it is for this reason that he called it so.

Convocation and session[]

The situation continued to deteriorate, with the pope demanding the convocation of a new council and the emperor refusing to budge, all the while appointing bishops in agreement with Dioscorus. All this changed dramatically with the death of Theodosius II and the elevation of Marcian to the imperial throne, for Marcian was a defender of the doctrine of Flavian and Leo.

Marcian agreed to hold a new council, but not in Italy, as the pope had requested, but rather in the East, but he invited the pope to preside in person. He had the exiled bishops returned to their dioceses, and had the body of Flavian brought to the capital to be buried in honor.

The council was called to meet at Nicaea, but was moved at the last moment to Chalcedon, where the council opened on October 8, 451. The papal legate Paschanius was sent to preside. Leo himself sent a letter to the council, condemning the work of the "latrocinium" and indicating that the correct doctrine about the Incarnation could be found in his previous letter to Flavian.

Attendance at this council was very high, some 500 bishops. Paschanius refused to give Dioscorus (who had carried out an excommunication of the pope in the period leading up to the council) a seat at the council, and as a result, he was moved to the nave of the church. Paschanius further ordered the reinstatement of Theodoret and that he be given a seat, but this move caused such an uproar among the council fathers, that Theodoret also sat in the nave, though he was given a vote in the proceedings, which began with a trial of Dioscorus.

Marcian wished to bring proceedings to a more speedy end, and asked the council to make a pronouncement on the doctrine of the Incarnation before continuing the trial. The council fathers, however, felt that no new creed was necessary, and that the doctrine had been laid out clearly in Leo's letter to Flavian, by then called "The Tome"[1]. The second day of the council ended with shouts from the bishops, "It is Peter who says this through Leo. This is what we all of us believe. This is the faith of the Apostles. Leo and Cyril teach the same thing."

The council continued with Dioscorus' trial, but he refused to appear before the assembly. As a result, he was condemned unanimously (though the Egyptian bishops seem to have been intimidated in this), and all of his decrees were declared null. Marcian responded by exiling Dioscorus. All of the bishops were then asked to sign their assent to the Tome, but a group of thirteen Egyptians refused, saying that they would assent to "the traditional faith". As a result, the emperor's commissioners decided that a creed would indeed be necessary and presented a text to the fathers. No consensus was reached, and indeed the text has not survived to the present.

Paschanius threatened to return to Rome to reassemble the council in Italy. Marcian agreed, saying that if a clause were not added to the creed supporting Leo's doctrine, the bishops would have to relocate. The bishops relented and added a clause, saying that, according to the decision of Leo, in Christ there are two natures united, inconvertible [natures], inseparable [natures].

The work of the council was completed by a series of 30[2] disciplinary canons.

  1. states all canons of previous councils shall remain in force, specific councils were clarified by Quinisext Council canon 2,
  2. states that those who buy their office are anathema,
  3. prohibits bishops from engaging in business,
  4. bishops were given authority over the monks in their dioceses, with the right to permit or forbid the foundation of new monasteries,
  5. travelling bishops are subject to canon law,
  6. the clergy were forbidden to change dioceses or
  7. to serve in the military or
  8. the poorhouses are under the jurisdiction of the bishop,
  9. limits the ability to accuse a bishop of wrong doing,
  10. prevents clergy belonging to multiple churches,
  11. regards letters of travel for the poor,
  12. no province shall be divided for the purposes of creating another church,
  13. no clergy shall be received by others without a letter of recommendation,
  14. regards wives and children of cantors and lectors,
  15. a deaconess must be at least 40,
  16. monks and nuns are forbidden to marry on pain of excommunication,
  17. rural parishes cannot change bishops,
  18. conspiring forbidden,
  19. twice a year the bishops shall conduct a synod,
  20. lists exemptions for those who have been driven to another city,
  21. says an accuser of a bishop shall be suspect before the bishop,
  22. makes it illegal to seize the goods of a dead bishop,
  23. allows the expulsion of outsiders who cause trouble in Constantinople,
  24. monasteries are permanent,
  25. a new bishop shall be assigned within 3 months,
  26. churches shall have a steward from among the congregation to monitor church-business,
  27. forbidden to carry off women under pretense of marriage (eloping),
  28. grants equal privileges (isa presbeia) to Constantinople as of Rome because Constantinople is the New Rome as renewed by canon 36 of the Quinisext Council (the papal legates were not present for the vote on this canon, and protested it afterwards),
  29. states a bishop cannot be demoted, only removed,
  30. grants the Coptic Orthodox time to consider their rejection of Leo's Tome.

Consequences of the council[]

The near-immediate result of the council was a major schism. The bishops that were uneasy with the language of Pope Leo's Tome repudiated the council, saying that the acceptance of two physes was tantamount to Nestorianism. This is the origin of Oriental Orthodoxy, which still today rejects the results of this council.

Recent years have brought about a certain amount of dialogue between other Christians and the Oriental Orthodox. Some Oriental Orthodox bishops have indicated that the difference in doctrine was never more than a misunderstanding and have since reintegrated in the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. Formerly schismatic Eastern Rite denominations returning to communion with Rome since Chalcedon include elements of the Alexandrian, Syriac and Armenian churches.

External links[]

This article was forked from Wikipedia on March 28. 2006.

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  1. Moffett, Samuel H. (1992). . HarperCollins.
  2. Meyendorff 1989, p. 287-289.