Chalcedon, Council of
CHALCEDON, COUNCIL OF
The Fourth Ecumenical Council, held at Chalcedon Oct. 8 to 31, 451. Considered here are its historical antecedents, history, dogmatic decisions and canons, historical and doctrinal significance.
Historical Antecedents. The Council of Chalcedon marks a final episode in the quarrels over doctrine and policy that followed the Council of ephesus (431) and the Latrocinium, or Robber Council of ephesus (449). The Robber Synod resulted in the triumph of dioscorus of alexandria and eutyches and the defeat of those who (e.g. flavian of constantinople and theodoret of cyr) were labeled Nestorians because they acknowledged two natures in Christ.
Leo I was informed of the errors of Eutyches by letters from Flavian, Eusebius of Doryleum, and Theodoret of Cyr and through communication with his deacon Hilary. Leo protested strongly to Emperor theodosius ii and his sister pulcheria, requesting (Oct. 13, 449) the convocation of a general council in Italy. No reply was made to his letters or to those Leo wrote on December 24. The intervention of the Western emperor valentinian iii (February 450) likewise had no effect. Theodosius abided by the decisions taken at the Robber Synod and brushed aside any intervention by the Roman pontiff in Eastern affairs. Later (July 16, 450) in writing to the emperor concerning the election of anatolius to the See of Constantinople, Leo maintained his position as arbiter of the faith: Anatolius should make a profession of the Catholic faith as it had been set forth in Leo's Tome to Flavian.
The sudden death of Theodosius (July 28, 450) brought about a reversal of the situation. Pulcheria came to power and immediately married the senator Marcian, who thereupon became emperor (Aug. 24, 450). The all-powerful eunuch Chrysaphius, the god-child of Eutyches, was put to death, and Eutyches was exiled and interned. Writing to the pope to announce his accession to the throne, Marcian suggested calling a council, which a short while later (September 22) he decided should be held in the East. But Leo temporized in his reply of April 451, and in another letter (June 9) he asserted that the peril of invasion by the Huns appeared to make a convention of the bishops inopportune. Leo preferred a council in Italy rather than in the East, where there would be political intrigues and influences. But on May 23 Marcian convoked a council to meet on Sept. 1, 451, at Nicaea in Bithynia.
On the conciliar agenda was an important doctrinal problem. It now seemed necessary to complete the work of the Council of Ephesus by settling the question as to the one or two natures in Christ; only thus could an end be made to the error of Eutyches and of those who restricted and deformed the thought of St. cyril of alexandria. Leo believed that his Tome should suffice without a council, which would risk a renewal of the disorders caused by the Robber Synod. Marcian, on the other hand, though adhering firmly to the orthodox position, desired a council in the East, where the imperial authority could adjudge the doctrinal question. Beyond the theological problem, there was a problem of a possible quarrel between the pope and the emperor.
History. On receiving the news of the convocation, Leo replied that he would not oppose the decision of the emperor and would send legates to preside in his place. It was necessary, however, to maintain the faith as defined at Ephesus and as set forth in his Tome to Flavian. The bishops summoned to the council first met at Nicaea, but were soon transferred to Chalcedon so that Marcian could more easily supervise the debates. They actually numbered 350 or 360, although later tradition mentions 600 or 630. These bishops were almost all from the East. The West was represented by three Roman legates and two African bishops.
The council commenced on Oct. 8, 451, in the basilica of St. euphemia in the presence of 19 imperial commissioners under the effective presidency of the Roman legates (Bps. Paschasinus of Lilybeum and Lucentius of Ascoli, and Boniface the priest). The first four sessions (October 8–17) constituted a trial of the instigators of the Robber Synod of Ephesus, and from the outset Paschasinus demanded the condemnation of Dioscorus, who in fact was deposed at the third session (October 13). The two synodical letters of St. Cyril were solemnly approved but no mention was made of the 12 anathemas. Likewise, Leo's Tome was accepted with the cry, "Peter has spoken through Leo."
Although the bishops were reluctant to add anything to what had been set forth at the Councils of Nicaea I and Ephesus, Marcian wanted a doctrinal definition that would abolish the controversy, the more so when he discovered that there were some who hesitated to speak of two natures in Christ in the same manner as Leo.
At the fifth session (October 22) a text was presented to the bishops; it had been edited by a commission under the chairmanship of Bp. Anatolius of Constantinople and has been preserved in the conciliar acts. It was approved by the bishops but opposed by Paschasinus, who did not think it did justice to the doctrine of Leo. Since this matter dealt with two natures in Christ and touched immediately on the authority of the Apostolic See, Paschasinus threatened to leave if Leo's thought was not given proper consideration. To avoid an impasse the imperial commissioners proposed that a new commission of six bishops
produce a new version and gave the bishops a choice of siding with either Leo or Dioscorus. The commission developed a new formula of faith, which conformed to Leo's thought by explicitly defining the two natures in Christ. This statement was accepted by the bishops and was solemnly approved on October 25 in the presence of Marcian and Pulcheria. The emperor confirmed all that had been done by the council.
In the ten (or 11) remaining sessions (October 26–31) the cases of Theodoret of Cyr, Ibas of Edessa, and domnus of antioch were considered, and a number of disciplinary canons were promulgated. After dispatching a long letter to the pope explaining their actions and asking his confirmation of the council's decrees, the bishops departed.
Dogma and Canons. The formula of faith is based expressly on Scripture, the definitions of Nicaea and Constantinople I, and on the teachings of the Holy Fathers, and takes particular note of the synodical letters of St. Cyril and the Tome of Leo. It is opposed to those who would destroy the mystery of the Incarnation by partitioning Christ and refusing to call Mary theotokos (the Nestorians), to those who claim that divine nature is capable of suffering, and to those who confuse or amalgamate the two natures and speak of only one nature after the union (Eutyches). The council defined one Christ, perfect God and man, consubstantial with the Father and consubstantial with man, one sole being in two natures, without division or separation and without confusion or change. The union does not suppress the difference in natures; their properties, however, remain untouched, and they are joined together in one Person, or hypostasis.
This definition was elaborated from formulas of Cyril, Leo I, John of Antioch, Flavian of Constantinople, and Theodoret of Cyr in remarkable balance, and it put an end to the Christological uncertainties of the 4th and 5th centuries. It excluded the "one nature of the Incarnate Word," which was an Apollinarian formula that St. Cyril had employed in a sense that could be accepted, but to which Eutyches had given a clearly heterodox meaning. It distinguished between nature and person. It stated that in Christ there were two distinct natures whose individual properties had not been destroyed in the union. They subsisted in the unity of one Person, or hypostasis. This precision of vocabulary gave the word prosopon (person) a much stronger significance than it had in the thought of Theodore of Mopsuestia or Nestorius. It completed the theology of Cyril with that of Leo and definitively proclaimed the unique Person of Christ, son of God, and son of Mary, true God and true man.
On October 25 the council, in response to the invitation of Marcian, promulgated 27 canons devoted to ecclesiastical discipline and to the direction and moral conduct of the clergy and monks. It defined the individual rights of bishops and metropolitans: priests were to be under the authority of the bishop; monks were to reside in their monasteries and were to be under the jurisdiction of the bishop; they were both to observe celibacy under pain of excommunication. All these regulations were justified by events preceding the council.
On October 29, however, another canon gave to the See of Constantinople privileges equal to those of ancient Rome and granted its bishop jurisdiction over the Metropolitans of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace. This primacy in the Orient was based on the political position of the "new Rome," in which the emperor and senate now resided. The following day the Roman delegates protested vigorously in the name of the pope and called attention to the canons of Nicaea that had determined the hierarchical order of the patriarchal sees.
Leo put off his reply to the letter of the council that requested him to confirm its decrees. Letters from Marcian and Anatolius also went unanswered. Then on May 22, 452, the pope annulled everything that had been done in disregard of the canons of Nicaea. It was not until March 21, 453, that Leo confirmed the decrees of the council, and then only regarding matters of faith. This incident was a significant episode in the opposition that was to increase between Rome and Constantinople in the following centuries.
Significance. The Council of Chalcedon represented a culmination in the history of the dogma of the Incarnation. Beyond dealing with the diverse theological tendencies that confronted each other, it stated the Catholic doctrine that preserved indissolubly the two facets of the mystery: the unity of person in the Incarnate Word and the perfect integrity of His two natures. The theology of St. Cyril and that of Leo, as inheritor of St. Augustine and Tertullian, are merged in these formulas; and they do justice also to what was of value in the Antiochene theology. Nevertheless the Cyrillan partisans remained absolutely opposed to two natures, in which they were determined to see a form of Nestorianism. monophysitism, even though frequently only verbal, was about to be born and to provoke many quarrels and schisms, which still remain unresolved.
From another point of view, the Council of Chalcedon marked an important step in the development of the Roman primacy. The authority of Celestine had been af-firmed at Ephesus; that of Leo was imposed with still greater vigor at Chalcedon. The doctrine of the primacy of the Apostolic See, as opposed to a "Church of the Empire" held by the emperors of Constantinople, was af-firmed. Even though this primacy was unanimously recognized at Chalcedon, it still ran the risk of being questioned, and the unity of the Church was compromised by the dangerous political principle that was invoked to justify the primacy of Constantinople in the East. On this problem further disputes and schisms were in the offing; all was not settled in 451.
The acts of Chalcedon are preserved in several ancient collections. In Greek there are three compilations of letters and a record of the minutes in which the order of the second and third sessions is reversed. In Latin, documents are contained in the Collectio Novariensis de re Eutychis (before 458) and Coll. Vaticana (c. 520). There are three recensions of translations of the acts from Greek (6th century) and several collections of the letters of Leo. All these documents are published (Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 6). There is a more recent edition by E. Schwartz (Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum 2.2–5).
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[p. t. camelot]
Chalcedon, Council of
A Chalcedonian was a person upholding the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon (ad 451), especially those regarding the nature of Christ, which were eventually accepted by all except the Monophysite Churches.