Sixth–century theological controversy dealing with three Antiochene churchmen, theodore of mopsuestia, theodoret of cyr, and Ibas of Edessa. The term is taken from the Edict of Justinian (544) anathematizing certain chapters (kephalia ) of their writings, and came to be applied also to the authors.
Theodore of Mopsuestia. The problem began with the condemnation of nestorianism at the Council of ephesus by st. cyril of alexandria in 431, when Rabbula of Edessa (d. 436), who suspected Theodore of Mopsuestia as the originator of the heresy, opposed the spread of his books in Armenia. He elicited the Tome of Proclus of Constantinople that condemned the Antiochene distinction between the Son of God and son of man, insisting on a unity of person in Christ.
In 438 Proclus requested the condemnation of Theodore, whom he named as author of the passages refuted in his Tome, but John of Antioch refused to anathematize one "who had died in the peace of the Church"—an argument that would reappear frequently in the controversy. Cyril advised Proclus not to press the matter, and Theodore was not mentioned in the Council of Chalcedon.
Theodoret and Ibas. At the request of John of Antioch, Theodoret of Cyr had refuted the 12 Anathemas of Cyril and ascribed Apollinaristic leanings to Cyril in a letter to the Oriental Monk (Epistolae, 151). Theodoret had refused to accept the condemnation of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus, accepted the union of 433 with reluctance, and wrote his Eranistes (447) against Eutyches and his supporters. Censured by imperial edicts in 448, he was deposed at the robber synod of Ephesus in 449 but rehabilitated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (11th session, Oct. 26).
In response to the attacks of Rabbula, Ibas, master of the School of Edessa and bishop from 448, wrote a Letter to Maris the Persian, defending Theodore of Mopsuestia and criticizing Cyril's Christology. Although he was deposed at the robber council, he likewise was restored at Chalcedon when his orthodoxy was recognized by the papal legates.
Monophysite Agitation. This agitation against Nestorianism and the Council of Chalcedon occasioned the compromising henoticon of Zeno (482); it was continued under Anastasius I (491–518). In his Monophysitic polemic, Severus of Antioch named Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia as the true fathers of Nestorianism. Severus was abetted by Philoxenus of Mabbugh, who called for the condemnation of Theodoret and Ibas along with Nestorius. By way of reaction, in 520 a ceremony honoring the memory of Diodore, Theodoret, and Nestorius was held at Cyr, and the bishop, Sergius of Cyr, was reprimanded by the government. In 532 at the Colloquy of Constantinople between the orthodox and Severian Monophysite bishops, the latter asserted that the Council of Chalcedon had erred in exonerating Theodoret and Ibas. In 542 Theodore Ascidas, seeking to counteract the repression of origenism, persuaded Justinian that by condemning the three deceased bishops, he would destroy Nestorianism at its roots.
Justinian. While attempting to safeguard the authority of Chalcedon, which had exonerated two of the three, Justinian published a theological tract in the form of an edict against the Three Chapters (544). He brought Pope vigilius to Constantinople in 547 to persuade him to acquiesce in the condemnation; after considerable discussion the pope issued his Judicatum (April 11, 448) condemning the person and writings of Theodore, the Letter to Maris, supposedly written by Ibas, and the writings of Theodoret against the faith and St. Cyril. Forced by Western opposition led by the deacons Rusticus, Facundus of Hermiane, the future Pope Pelagius I, and many African and Dalmatian bishops, the pope withdrew the Judicatum after promising Justinian secretly that he would work for the condemnation.
Council of Constantinople. In July 551 Justinian published a profession of faith with 13 anathemas against the Three Chapters. When Vigilius objected, he was twice maltreated and had to take refuge in a church to escape outright persecution. Having decided to convoke a Council, Justinian requested judgment from the pope on a florilegium of texts culled from the works of the three incriminated bishops. Aided by Pelagius, Vigilius set to work, but on May 5, 553, the Council of constantinople ii opened without the pope and without the Western bishops residing in Constantinople who had refused repeated invitations to attend. On May 14 Vigilius published his Constitutum anathematizing propositions, prout sonant —as they read—attributed to Theodore, but he refused to condemn him as a heretic. The Constitutum repudiated certain propositions said to represent the thought of Theodoret and Ibas, but upheld the orthodoxy of the two men as vindicated at Chalcedon.
In its eighth session (June 2, 553) the Council condemned the person and writings of Theodore (c. 12), the writings of Theodoret against Cyril (c. 13), and Ibas's Letter to Maris (c. 14). Eight months later the emperor forced Vigilius to accept the condemnations (Dec. 8, 553), and in his Constitutum II (Feb. 23, 554) the pope confirmed this judgment.
Aftermath. Pelagius the deacon immediately attacked the pope in a Refutatorium (not preserved) and in his In defensione trium capitulorum based on a similarly named work by Facundus of Hermiane. However, upon the death of Vigilius (June 7, 555), Justinian chose Pelagius as pope, and he had great difficulty in taking possession as bishop of Rome until he took an oath of allegiance to the four ecumenical councils and named Theodoret and Ibas as "venerable bishops," without mentioning the recent Council of Constantinople.
In Africa the majority of bishops rejected "Justinian's Council" and were exiled by the imperial government. They included Victor of Tunnuna, Facundus of Hermiane, Reparatus of Carthage, the deacon Liberatus (Breviarum ), and Felix of Gillitanum (Synodicum ), all of whom had written in defense of the Three Chapters.
In Italy the provinces of Milan and Aquileia, joined by Illyricum, separated from communion with Rome, having been aided in their opposition by the Lombard invasion. Milan soon returned to communion (c. 572), but despite the efforts of succeeding popes, including gregory i, the break with Aquileia was healed only under sergius i (687–701).
Bibliography: É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 1903—50) 15.2:1868–1924. l. duchesne, L'Église au VI e siècle (Paris 1925). pelagius I, Pelagii diaconi ecclesiae romanae In defensione trium capitulorum, ed. r. devreesse (Studi e Testi 57; 1932). r. devreesse, Essai sur Théodore de Mopsueste (Studi e Testi 141; 1948). e. schwartz, Drei dog. Schriften Justinians (Munich 1939). h. m. diepen, Douze dialogues de christologie ancienne (Rome 1960). p. t. camelot, a. grillmeier, and h. bacht, Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart (Würzburg 1951–54) 1:213–242. c. moeller, ibid. 1:637–720. justinian i, On the Person of Christ: The Christology of Emperor Justinian, tr. k. p. wesche (Crestwood, N.Y. 1991).
[f. x. murphy]
"Three Chapters." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/three-chapters
"Three Chapters." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/three-chapters