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Constantinople II, Council of


The Council, accepted as the fifth general council, was convoked by the Emperor Justinian in 553 and held from May 5 to June 2 with 168 bishops assembled in the great hall of the hagia sophia in Constantinople to render judgment, in accordance with the emperor's instructions on the three chapters. All but 11 bishops (including nine recruited by the government from Africa) were from the Orient, since Pope vigilius and his retinue of Western bishops present in the capital refused repeated invitations to attend. Presiding were the Patriarchs euty chius of constantinople, Apollinaris of Alexandria, Domninus of Antioch, and three bishops representing the newly appointed Eustachius of Jerusalem, in accord with Justinian's decision to give the assembly the appearance of complete freedom by not appointing the customary imperial commissioners to govern the debate.

The Council. The conciliar assembly opened with the emperor's allocution read by the notary Stephen, in which Justinian justified his regulation of religious affairs of the Empire, pointing for precedent to the activities of his predecessors in convoking general councils. Describing nestorianism as the primary danger, reminding the bishops of the written opinion on the Three Chapters he had received from them a year earlier, and deploring the absence of Pope Vigilius, Justinian directed the assembly's attention to the impious writings of theodore of mopsuestia, theodoret of cyr, and the letter "falsely attributed" to Ibas of Edessa.

In the first two sessions (May 5 and 8) the bishops concerned themselves with attempts to persuade Vigilius and his entourage to join them in Council; and in the third (May 9), they made a profession of faith based on Justinian's inaugural message, to which they added an anathema against anyone separating himself from the Church, evidently having Vigilius in mind. The fourth session (Monday, May 12) considered 70 passages from the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia and condemned them as Nestorian teaching, while the fifth session (May 17), after considering the relations between St. cyril of alexan dria and Theodore, decided that though he was deceased, the person and the works of Theodore should be anathematized. They then decided that the writings of Theodoret of Cyr against Cyril also were heretical and expressed their amazement at the subtlety of the Council of chalcedon, which had exonerated Theodoret, but only after his explicit repudiation of Nestorius. The sixth session (May 19) dealt at length with the Letter to Maris and the reputation of Ibas of Edessa, deciding that he was not the author of the letter; hence his exoneration at Chalcedon was justified.

Reaction of the Pope. Vigilius, meanwhile, had examined the same matters in his Constitutum I (signed May 14, 553) composed with the aid of the deacon and future pope, pelagius i. On May 24 he attempted to send an official copy to the emperor, but was rebuffed with the remark, "If the Constitutum agrees with the condemnation of the Three Chapters, it is useless; if it disagrees, Vigilius contradicts himself and is self-condemned." To justify this statement, Justinian in a formal message to the seventh session (May 26) described his relations with the pope since his arrival in Constantinople in 546 and produced secret letters, two signed by the pope in 546 and a third in 550, in which Vigilius had given Justinian and Theodora a guarantee that he would condemn the Three Chapters. This message was followed by a notice that the emperor had ordered Vigilius's name struck from the dip tychs since he adhered to the errors of the Three Chapters, while making it clear that he did not sever communion with Rome: he repudiated the occupant, not the seenon sedem sed sedentem employing a distinction original with Pope leo i (P. Jaffé, Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, 483). The bishops supported the emperor's action and condemned the pope until he should repent.

The Conciliar Decrees. In the eighth session (June2) a doctrinal statement and 14 anathemas prepared under theodore ascidas were accepted as the Council's conclusion. The statement gives a long résumé of the Council's actions and a profession of faith in the Incarnation. It explains the attempt to induce Vigilius to attend, but says nothing of his condemnation in the seventh session; finally it insists on the authority of the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo I, while making repeated efforts to justify its condemnation of the Three Chapters.

Drawn almost verbatim from the Edict of 551, the anathemas (1 to 10) resume in negative form the Alexandrian Christology aimed at destroying the Nestorian doctrine that divided Christ in two persons and accept the Theopaschite formula "One of the Trinity suffered in the flesh (10)." The last four anathemas condemn a series of heretics from Origen and Arius to Eutyches and Nestorius (11); and along with their heretical teachings, Theodore of Mopsuestia (12) and Theodoret of Cyr (13) are condemned, as is also the Letter to Maris of Ibas of Edessa (14). Finally the Council decrees deposition of clerics and anathematization of laymen who defy its decrees.

Acceptance of the Decrees. Justinian delayed publication of the Conciliar Edict until July 14, then demanded the signature of all Metropolitans, bishops, and monastic leaders. Pressure was brought to bear on Vigilius, who, separated from Pelagius, his chief adviser, finally wavered, and on Dec. 8, 553, addressed a letter to the Patriarch Eutyches of Constantinople, in which he accepted the Council and its decisions, blaming his previous obstinacy on the devil's deception; he appealed to St. augus tine's Retractions as precedent for his change of mind.

On Feb. 23, 554, Vigilius published his Constitutum II, reaffirming his adherence to the Council's condemnation of the Three Chapters. He accepted its contention that Ibas was not the author of the Letter to Maris, that Theodore had been condemned virtually by Pope dama sus i (382386), and that Theodoret was rehabilitated at Chalcedon only after repudiating his former Nestorian teaching. But he said nothing of the doctrine expressed in the first ten anathemas, while explicitly nullifying "whatever is brought forward in my name in defense of the Three Chapters."

Reaction in the Orient. The Council was accepted without difficulty everywhere except in the Grand Laura of Egypt, where a group of monks, called Isochristes (the same as Christ), because they maintained that in the resurrection all men would be the same as Christ, refused to accept its condemnation of Origen. In the West, and particularly in Africa, Northern Italy, Dalmatia, and Gaul, open rebellion broke out among the bishops. The deacon Pelagius wrote a Refutatorium against Vigilius and an In defensione trium capitulorum, which, together with the work of the same name by facundus of herm iane, repudiated the condemnation of the Three Chapters.

Governmental repression exiled Pelagius, victor of tunnuna, Rusticus and Liberatus of Carthage, Facundus of Hermiane, and Abbot Felix of Gillitanum.

On the death of Vigilius (June 7, 555), however, Justinian chose Pelagius as the new bishop of Rome, and with the aid of the Byzantine general Narses had him installed, despite local opposition. On Easter Sunday (April 16, 556) Pelagius cleared himself by oath, was consecrated, and dispatched a Letter to the Whole Christian People, in which he declared his adherence to the doctrine of the four ecumenical councils and the faith of Chalcedon, but said nothing of Vigilius and his Constitutions, nor of the Council of 553 (Liber pontificalis 5, PelagiusI). With the aid of the civil power he forced the bishops of Tuscany and Sicily into communion with him; but he was unsuccessful in the provinces of Milan and Aquileia, whose metropolitans cut themselves off completely from communion with Rome.

Despite Pelagius's protest that "it has never been permitted that a particular synod should judge a General Council" (Jaffé 1018) and his appeal both to the general Narses and to Justinian, the Milanese remained in schism until 572; while in aquileia, where the metropolitan took the title of patriarch (570), despite the efforts of Popes pelagius ii and gregory i (590604) the schism continued until the pontificate of sergius i (687701), when after a Synod at Pavia legates from Aquileia accepted the Council of Constantinople II as universal and the metropolitan made his submission to Rome.

Evaluation. From a historical standpoint the Council presents several difficulties. The Acts are preserved in Latin (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 9:163658) in two revisions, the shorter of which was probably prepared for Vigilius by Justinian and used by Pelagius, for it makes no mention of Justinian's and the Council's condemnation of Vigilius in the seventh session. It was this version that was employed by theologians in their estimate of the Council's value until the longer version was discovered and published by É. baluze in 1683. At the Council of constan tinople iii the secret letters of Vigilius to Justinian and Theodora were challenged and pronounced forgeries, but evidence supplied by Facundus of Hermiane (Adv. Mocianum ) and Justinian (Mansi 9:366) testify to their authenticity. Contemporary evidence (Pelagius, In def. trium cap. ) likewise witnesses to the authenticity of the letter of Vigilius to Eutyches of Dec. 8, 553, and the Constitutum II.

From a theological viewpoint the Council's decisions destroyed whatever Nestorian tendencies may have lingered in Chalcedonian thought. But as Justinian seems to have recognized at the end of his reign, the greater danger lay in Monophysitism. Some modern authors feel the Council represents the triumph of Neo-Chalcedonianism, by which is meant an overstressing of Cyrillan Christology, and as such, a reversion from the accomplishment of Chalcedon.

While Constantinople II settled the fact that the two natures are inviolably united in the person of Christ, it did not come to terms with the qualities of the human nature. Thus it opened the way for the quarrels over the two wills and two energies in Christ that were to be the subject of the next two ecumenical councils and that have returned as problems today in regard to the "ego" of Christ.

Bibliography: j. bois, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al, 15 v. (Paris 190350) 3.1:123159. É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al, 15 v. (Paris 190350) 15.2:12681924. g. bardy, Catholicisme 3:114116. l. petit and j. b. martin, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 53 v. in 60 (Paris 18891927); repr. Graz 1960) 9:171657. c. j. von hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents orginaux, tr. and continued by h. leclerq, 10 v. in 19 (Paris 190738). f. diekamp, Die origenistischen Streitigkeiten im sechsten Jahrhundert (Münster 1899). l. duchesne, L'Église au VIe siècle (Paris 1925). e. stein and j. r. palanque, Histoire du bas-empire, 2 v. (Paris 194959) 2:623690. Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta 8198. c. moeller, "Le Cinquième concile oecuménique et le magistère ordinaire au VIe siècle," Revue des sciences religieuses 35 (1951) 413423; "Le Chalcédonisme et le néochalcédonisme en Orient," a. grillmeier and h. bacht, Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3 v. (Würzburg 195154) 1:637700. h. m. diepen, Douze dialogues de christologie ancienne (Rome 1960). g. l. c. frank, "The Council of Constantinople II as a Model Reconciliation Council," Theological Studies 52 (1991) 63650.

[f. x. murphy]

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