The Council of Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon (451), the Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, was called to deal with the heresy of Eutyches (c.380-c.456) and the Monophysites.

In 431 the Council of Ephesus had met to combat the heresy of Nestorius (c.386-451)) which stated that Christ was two persons, a divine and a human,  but this gave rise to a completely opposite heresy which said that Christ's human nature was absorbed by His divine nature, that they became physically one; there was one Christ with one personality and one nature. After the incarnation, no distinction could be made between the divine and human in Christ. The two leading proponents were Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria and Eutyches, the Archimandrite of a monastery outside Constantinople. This heresy claimed authority, by virtue of a misunderstanding, from St. Cyril of Alexandria.

A Synod was convened at Constantinople (447) which confirmed that after the incarnation Christ consisted of two natures united in one person (hypostasis). Eutyches countered that before the incarnation there were two natures but after it they were united and that the humanity of Christ was not the same as ours. He was deposed and excommunicated but protested to Emperor Theodosius II who supported him and Pope Leo I who opposed him in the Epistola Dogmatica of 449 which was submitted to a Council at Ephesus in that year at which only the supporters of Eutyches were heard; his position was upheld and his opponents deposed. There was a stand off between Leo and Theodosius.

Matters changed dramatically with the sudden death of the Emperor in August 450 who was succeeded by his sister Pulcheria who married Marcian both of whom opposed Eutyches. Marcian proposed a council but as most leading bishops changed sides and as Europe was in chaos with the invasion of Attila the Hun, the Pope demurred. Before his letter of arrived, Marcian had summoned a Council to Nicea in his own name and that of the Western Emperor Valentinian III. The Pope was displeased but nonetheless sent Bishop Paschasinus (of Lilybaeum) to preside in his place. The Emperor moved the Council to Chalcedon. It was the best attended of the Eastern dominated Councils with some 600 bishops, mostly from the East but balanced by the Papal Presidency and its ecumenical nature was never challenged.

The Symbol, derived from Leo's letter, did not put an end to the controversy. Many in the East disliked the term "person" as the means of uniting Christ's two natures because it veered towards Nestorianism and they preferred St. Cyril's "union of two natures in Christ." Many others simply denied Chalcedon and there are Monophysites in the Eastern Mediterranean today. The following is the text of the Symbol of the Council of Chalcedon 451:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognised in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and substance, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God The Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

KC viii/07

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