11. CHRISTOLOGY
and DIVISIONS
 

 Transfig. Novgorod

Pieta, Michelangelo


[11.1] The Christological Controversies.   [11.2] The East Divided
 
[11.3] Catastrophes And Further Controversies In The East


 

 


[11.1] THE CHRISTOLOGICAL CONTROVERSIES
 

 

 

The Nicene result determined that Christ is fully God, and “was made man.” On the common basis of Nicene orthodoxy, however, the further question arose as to the relations of the divine and human in Him. Regarding that problem the Nicene creed was silent, and even the great Nicene champion, Athanasius, had not paid much attention to it. Only in the West had a general formula come into extensive use. As the Nicene decision had been largely anticipated by Tertullian, with the result that the West had been united when the East was divided, so thanks to the clear definitions of that great African writer, the West had a conception of full deity and full manhood existing in Christ, without confusion, and without diminution of the qualities appropriate to each. In the new struggle, as in that of Nicaea, the Western view was to triumph. Yet neither in its conception of “one substance in three persons,” nor in that of “one person, Jesus, God, and man” (ante, 2.8), had the West any wrought-out philosophical theory. What Tertullian had given it were clear-cut judicial definitions of traditional beliefs rather than philosophically thought-out theology. It was the advantage of the West once more, as in the Nicene struggle, that it was now united, even if its thought was not so profound as that of the divided East, when the East fairly began to wrestle with the intellectual problems involved.

It was possible to approach the Christological problem from two angles. The unity of Christ might be so emphasized as to involve a practical absorption of His humanity into divinity; or the integrity of each element, the divine and the human, maintained in such fashion as to suggest that in Him were two separate beings. Both tendencies were manifested in the controversy—the first being that toward which the theological leaders of Alexandria leaned, and the latter being derivable from the teachings of the school of Antioch.

Apollinaris

The first and one of the ablest of those who undertook a really profound discussion of the relation of the human and the divine in Christ was Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea in Syria (?-c. 390). A hearty supporter of the Nicene decision, he enjoyed for a considerable time at least the friendship of Athanasius, His intellectual gifts were such as to command even from his opponents. Moreover, as with Athanasius, Apollinaris’s interest was primarily religious. To both, Christ’s work for men was the transformation of our sinful mortality into divine and blessed immortality. This salvation, Apollinaris thought with Athanasius, could be achieved only if Christ was completely and perfectly divine. But how, Apollinaris argued, could Christ be made up of a perfect man united with complete God? Was that not to assert two Sons, one eternal, and the other by adoption ?[1] Nor could Apollinaris explain Christ’s sinlessness or the harmony of His wills, if Christ was complete man joined with full God.[2] To him, the best solution seemed akin to that of Arius, whom he otherwise opposed, that in Jesus the place of the soul was taken by the Logos, and only the body was human. That view having been condemned, though without mention of his name, by a synod in Alexandria in 362,[3] Apollinaris apparently altered his theory so as to hold that Jesus had the body and animal soul of a man, but that the reasoning spirit in Him was the Logos.[4] At the same time he held that the divine so made the human one with it—so absorbed it—that “God has in His own flesh suffered our sorrows. [5]These opinions seemed to do special honor to Christ’s divinity, and were destined to be widely and permanently influential in Oriental Christian thinking, but they really denied Christ’s true humanity, and as such speedily called down condemnation on their author. Rome decided against him in 377 and 382, Antioch in 378, and finally the Second Ecumenical Council—that of Constantinople —in 381.[6]

 

 

 THE SCHOOL of ANTIOCH 

 

Apollinaris was strongly oppposed by Gregory of Nazianzus and by the school of Antioch. The founder of the latter, in its later stage, was Diodorus (?-394), long a presbyter of Antioch, and from 378 to his death bishop of Tarsus. Its roots, indeed, ran back into the earlier teaching of Paul of Samosata (ante, p. 72) and Lucian (ante, p. 106); but the extreme positions which they represented, and their leadership, were rejected, and the school stood on the basis of the Nicene orthodoxy. It was marked by a degree of literalism in its exegesis of Scripture quite in contrast to the disproportionate use of allegory by the Alexandrians. Its philosophy showed the influence of Aristotle as theirs that of Plato. Its thought of Christ was more influenced by the tradition of Asia Minor, of the “second Adam,” and by the ancient distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of experience than was Alexandria. Antioch, therefore, laid more weight of teaching on the earthly life and human nature of Jesus than was the tendency in Alexandria. In this attempt to give true value to Christ’s humanity, Diodorus approached the view that in Christ were two persons in moral rather than essential union. Since the Logos is eternal and like can only bear like, that which was born of Mary was the human only. The incarnation was the indwelling of the Logos in a perfect man, as of God in a temple. These views are reminiscent of the adoptionist Christology, which had found one of its latest avowed defenders in Paul of Samosata in Antioch a century earlier. They were out of touch with the Greek conception of salvation—the making divine of the human.

Among the disciples of Diodorus were Chrysostom (ante, 3.8), Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Nestorius. Theodore, a native of Antioch, who held the bishopric for which he is named for thirty-six years, till his death in 428, was the ablest exegete and theologian of the Antiochian school. Though he maintained that God and man in Christ constituted one person—prosopon, —he had difficulty in making that contention real, and held theories practically identical with those of Diodorus.[7]


NESTORIUS, a presbyter and monk of Antioch, held in high repute there as a preacher, was made patriarch of Constantinople in 428. Recent discoveries, especially of his own autobiographical work, The Treatise of Heraclides of Damascus, have immensely broadened knowledge of his real theological position, as well as of the facts of his later life. His dogmatic standpoint was essentially that of the school of Antioch; yet he would not admit that there were in Christ two persons— the doctrine with which he was charged.

With the one name Christ we designate at the same time two natures. . . . The essential characteristics in the nature of the divinity and in the humanity are from all eternity distinguished.”

 [8]Perhaps his furthest departure from the current Greek conception of salvation is to be seen in such an expression as:

“ God the Word is also named Christ because He has always conjunction with Christ. And it is impossible for God the Word to do anything without the humanity, for all is planned upon an intimate conjunction, not on the deification of the humanity.”

[9]Nestorius would emphasize the reality and completeness of the human in the Christian’s Lord.

 

THE ALEXANDRIAN INTERPRETATION 

 

Opposed to Nestorius, and to be his bitterest enemy, was Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria (412-444), the nephew and successor of the patriarch who had had so unworthy a part in the downfall of Chrysostom. In him unscrupulous ambition combined with the jealousy of Constantinople long entertained in Alexandria—and it must be admitted, reciprocated—and with the hostility of the rival schools of Alexandria and Antioch. Yet it is but just to Cyril to note that there was more in his opposition to Nestorius than mere jealousy and rivalry, however prominent those unlovely traits may have been.

Cyril, following the Alexandrian tradition, and in consonance with the Greek conception of salvation, saw in Christ the full making divine of the human. Though he rejected the view of Apollinaris and held that Christ’s humanity was complete in that it possessed body, soul, and spirit, he really stood very near to Apollinaris.

His emphasis on the divine in Christ was such that, though he described the union in Him as that of “two natures,” the only personality in Christ was that of the Logos. The Logos “took flesh,” He clothed Himself with humanity. The human element had no personality apart from the Logos. Jesus was not an individual man. Yet while Cyril held to an interchange of qualities between the divine and the human, each is a complete nature. “From two natures, one”; and that one personality is the divine. For Cyril it was, therefore, God made flesh, who was born, who died, of whom we partake in the Supper, and whose making divine of humanity is the proof and means that we, too, shall be made partakers of the divine nature.[10] If the school of Antioch came near such a separation of the divine and the human as to leave Christ only the Son of God by adoption, that of Cyril allowed Him little more than an impersonal humanity absorbed in divinity.

The “Mother of God”

An ancient designation of the Mother of Jesus was “Bearer [sic. Mother] of God”— Theotokos, It had been used by Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, Apollinaris, and Gregory of Nazianzus. To Cyril it was, of course, a natural expression. Everywhere in the East it may be said to have been in good usage, save where the school of Antioch had influence, and even Theodore of Mopsuestia of that school was willing to employ the expression, if carefully guarded.[11] Nestorius found it current coin in Constantinople. To his thinking it did not sufficiently distinguish the human from the divine in Christ. He therefore preached against it, at the beginning of his bishopric, declaring the proper form to be “Bearer [sic. Mother] of Christ”—”for that which is born of flesh is flesh.” [12]Yet even he expressed himself a little later as willing to say Theotokos, in the guarded way in which Theodore would employ it. “ It can be endured in consideration of the fact that the temple, which is inseparably united with God the Word, comes of her.”[13] In preaching against this expression Nestorius had infuriated popular piety and the rising religious reverence for the Virgin. Cyril saw his opportunity to humiliate the rival see of Constantinople and the school of Antioch at one blow, while advancing his own Christology. Cyril promptly wrote to the Egyptian monks defending the disputed phrase, and there soon followed an exchange of critical letters between Cyril and Nestorius. It speedily came to an open attack on the patriarch of Constantinople.

Cyril now brought every influence at his command to his aid in one of the most repulsive contests in church history. He appealed to the Emperor and Empress, Theodosius II and Eudoxia, and to the Emperor’s sister, Pulcheria, representing that Nestorius’s doctrines destroyed all basis of salvation. He presented his case to Pope Celestine I (422-432). Nestorius, in his turn, also wrote to the Pope. Celestine promptly found in favor of Cyril, and ordered, through a Roman synod in 430, that Nestorius recant or be excommunicated. The action of the Pope is hard to understand. The letter of Nestorius agreed more nearly in its definition of the question at issue with the Western view than did the theory of Cyril. Nestorius declared his faith in “ both natures which by the highest and unmixed union are adored in the one person of the Only Begotten.” [14]Politics were probably the determining factor. Rome and Alexandria had long worked together against the rising claims of Constantinople. Nestorius was less respectful in his address to the Pope than Cyril. Moreover, without being a Pelagian, Nestorius had given some degree of favor to the Pelagians whom the Pope opposed (see p. 187). Nestorius’s attack on the much-prized Theotokos was also displeasing to Celestine.

The Council of Ephesus

The empire being now widely involved in the dispute, the two Emperors, Theodosius II of the East, and Valentinian III in the West, called a general council to meet in Ephesus in 431. Cyril and his followers were early on hand, as was Nestorius, but the friends of Nestorius were slow in arriving. Cyril and Memnon, bishop of Ephesus promptly organized such of the council as were present and they could secure. Nestorius was condemned and deposed in a single day’s session.[15] A few days later Nestorius’s friends, led by John, the patriarch of Antioch, arrived. They organized and, in turn, condemned and deposed Cyril and Memnon.[16] Cyril’s council, meanwhile, had been joined by the papal delegates, and added John to its list of deposed, at the same time condemning Pelagianism, doubtless to please the West.

The Emperor Theodosius II was at a loss as to what course to pursue. Nestorius retired to a monastery. Theodosius imprisoned Cyril and Memnon as trouble-makers, but politics inclined to their side and they were soon allowed to return to their sees. The real victim was Nestorius, and worse was to follow.

Antioch and Alexandria were now in hostility more than ever, but both, under imperial pressure, were made willing to compromise. Antioch would sacrifice Nestorius, and Cyril concede something to Antioch in creedal formula. Accordingly, in 433, John of Antioch sent to Cyril a creed composed, it is probable, by Theodoret of Cyrus, then the leading theologian of the school of Antioch. This creed was more Antiochian than Alexandrian, though it could be interpreted in either direction.

“We therefore acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ . . . complete God and complete man. ... A union of the two natures has been made, therefore we confess one Christ. . . The holy Virgin is Theotokos, because God the Word was made flesh and became man, and from her conception united with Himself the temple received from her.” [17]

Cyril now signed this creed, though without retracting any of his former utterances. By so doing he made irrevocable the overthrow of Nestorius. Yet Nestorius could have signed it even more willingly than he. This agreement enabled Cyril to secure general recognition in the East for his council of 431, in Ephesus—in the West the participation of papal representatives had always accredited it as the Third General Council.

Nestorius himself was banished to upper Egypt. There he lived a miserable existence, and there he wrote, certainly as late as the autumn of 450, his remarkable Treatise of Heraclides of Damascus. Whether he survived the Council of Chalcedon is uncertain. There is some reason to think that he did. At all events he rejoiced in the steps which led to it, and felt himself in sympathy with the views which were then proclaimed orthodox.

Not all of Nestorius’s sympathizers shared in his desertion. Ibas, the leading theologian of the Syrian school of Edessa, supported his teaching. Persecuted in the empire, Nestorianism found much following even in Syria, and protection in Persia. There it developed a wide missionary activity. In the seventh century it entered China, and about the same time southern India. Nestorian churches still exist in the region where Turkey and Persia divide the territory between Lake Urumia and the upper Tigris, and also in India.

Dioscurus, Flavian, and Leo

The agreement of 433 between Antioch and Alexandria was, in reality, but a truce. The division of the two parties but increased. Cyril undoubtedly represented the majority of the Eastern Church, with his emphasis on the divine in the person of Christ, at the expense of reducing the human to an impersonal humanity. Though he vigorously rejected Apollinarianism, his tendency was that of Apollinaris. It had the sympathy of the great party of monks; and many, especially in Egypt, went further than Cyril, and viewed Christ’s humanity as practically absorbed in His divinity, so that He possessed one nature only, and that divine. Cyril died in 444, and was succeeded as patriarch of Alexandria by Dioscurus, a man of far less intellectual acumen and religious motive, but even more ambitious, if possible, to advance the authority of the Alexandrian see. Two years later, 446, a new patriarch, Flavian, took the bishop’s throne in Constantinople. Though little is known of his early history, it seems probable that his sympathies were with the school of Antioch. From the first, Flavian’s course promised to be stormy. He had the opposition not only of Dioscurus, but of the imperial favorite minister, Chrysaphius, who had supplanted Pulcheria in the counsels of Theodosius II. Chrysaphius was a supporter of the Alexandrians.

 

   Eutyches (abbot/archimandrite)
 

 

Occasion for quarrel soon arose. Dioscurus planned an attack on the remaining representatives of the Antiochian school as Nestorian heretics. In sympathy with this effort, and as a leader of the monastic party, on the help of which Dioscurus counted, stood the aged abbot or “archimandrite,” Eutyches of Constantinople, a man of little theological ability, a partisan of the late Cyril, and influential not only by reason of his popularity, but by the friendship of Chrysaphius. Eutyches was now charged with heresy by Bishop Eusebius of Dorylæum. Flavian took up the case with reluctance, evidently knowing its possibilities of mischief; but at a local synod in Constantinople, late in 448, Eutyches was examined and condemned. His heresy was that he affirmed;

“I confess that our Lord was of two natures  [physis]

before the union [i.e.,the incarnation],

but after the union

one nature. [physis] [18]

 

   Leo the Great

 

 

Rome had now one of the ablest of its Popes in the person of Leo I (440-461) (see ante, 3.6), and to Leo both Eutyches and Flavian speedily presented the case.[19] To Flavian, whom he heartily supported, Leo wrote his famous letter of June, 449, usually called the Tome,[20] in which the great Pope set forth the view which the West had entertained since the time of Tertullian, that[:]

in Christ were two full and complete natures, which,

“without detracting from the properties

of either nature and substance,

came together in one person.”

What may be said, chiefly in criticism of Leo’s letter is that, while representing clearly and truly the Western tradition, it did not touch the intellectual depths to which the subtler Greek mind had carried its speculations. Probably it was well that it did not.

Meanwhile Dioscurus was moving actively in Eutyches’s defense and the extension of his own claims.

 The Robber Synod of Ephesus - 449

At his instance the Emperor called a general council to meet in Ephesus in August, 449. At Ephesus Dioscurus was supreme. Eutyches was rehabilitated, Flavian and Eusebius of Dorylæum condemned. Leo’s Tome was denied a reading. It was a stormy meeting, but probably not more so than that of Ephesus, in 431, or Chalcedon, in 451. Flavian died shortly after, and rumor had it in consequence of physical violence at the council. The report seems unfounded. Dioscurus had achieved a great victory, but at the fatal cost of a rupture of the ancient alliance between Alexandria and Rome. Leo promptly denounced the council as a “synod of robbers”; but the Emperor, Theodosius II, gave it his hearty support and a sympathizer with Dioscurus became patriarch of Constantinople.


 

 

   The Council of Chalcedon

 

 


Leo had no success with Theodosius II, but much with the Emperor’s sister, Pulcheria; and the situation was profoundly altered when the accidental death of Theodosius in July, 450, put Pulcheria and her husband, Marcian, on the throne. The new sovereigns entered at once into relations with Leo. The Pope wished a new council in Italy, where his influence would have been potent, but this did not satisfy imperial politics. The new General Council was called to meet in Nicaea, in the autumn of 451. Imperial convenience led to the change of place to Chalcedon, opposite Constantinople, and there some six hundred bishops, all but the papal delegates and two others from the Orient, assembled in what has ever since been known as the Fourth Ecumenical Council (that of Ephesus, in 449, being rejected).

The council proceeded rapidly with its work. Dioscurus was deposed and sent into exile by imperial authority, where he died three years later. After imperial pressure had been exerted, a commission was appointed, of which the papal delegates were members, to draw up a creed. Its production was promptly ratified by the council. The result was, indeed, a Western triumph. Rome had given the decision to the question at issue, and in so doing had made a compromise between the positions of Antioch and Alexandria that was wholly satisfactory to neither. The result was a lengthy document, reciting the so-called Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan creed (§3,4), approving Leo’s Tome, and condemning previous heresies.[21] Its essential part—the creed of Chalcedon—is as follows;


We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood, in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the God-Bearer (Theotokos), according to the manhood;

one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten,

in two natures, [physeis]

inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably,

the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in

one person (prosopon) and one subsistence (hypostasis),

not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.


Such is the creed that has ever since been regarded in the Greek, Latin, and most Protestant Churches as the “orthodox” solution of the Christological problem. It is easy to criticise it. Its adoption was greatly involved in ecclesiastical politics. It solved few of the intellectual difficulties regarding Christology which had been raised in the East. It did not even heal the Christological quarrels. But, when all is admitted, it must be said that its formulation was fortunate and its consequences useful. It established a norm of doctrine in a field in which there had been great confusion. More important than that, it was true to the fundamental conviction of the church that in Christ a complete revelation of God is made in terms of a genuine human life.

If a coincidence of imperial and Roman interests had secured a great dogmatic victory for Rome, the imperial authority was determined that the victory should not be one of Roman jurisdiction. By a canon, against which Leo protested, the council exalted the claims of Constantinople to a dignity like that of Rome (ante, p. 135). Nor was the downfall of Alexandria less damaging. Alexandrian rivalry of Constantinople had been Rome’s advantage in the East. Now successful rivalry was at an end, for the consequences of the Chalcedonian decision crippled Alexandria permanently. By the council the historic distribution of the Orient was completed, Jerusalem being given the patriarchal standing which it had long claimed, side by side with the three older patriarchates, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch.

[11.] 2. THE EAST DIVIDED

 

 


[11.2] THE EAST DIVIDED
 

 

 

    The creed of Chalcedon was now the official standard of the empire. Its Western origin and spirit made it unacceptable, however, to a large portion of the East. To many Orientals it seemed “Nestorian.” This was especially true in those regions which shared most strongly in the Alexandrian tendency to emphasize the divine in Christ at the expense of the fully human, and these elements of opposition included

most of the monks,

the old native stock of Egypt generally,

and a large portion of the population of Syria and Armenia.

Undoubtedly the tendencies which the “orthodox” Cyril and his heretical successor, Dioscurus, had represented were consonant with the Greek conception of salvation, and seemed to do special honor to Christ.

These rejecters of the creed of Chalcedon included many shades of opinion, but as a whole they showed little departure from Cyril.

Their chief difference from Chalcedon and the West was one of emphasis. They rejected Eutyches,

yet most of them would say “of two natures,”

provided it was understood that the human and divine were united in the incarnation into one nature, and that essentially divine, with human attributes.

As with Cyril, this humanity was impersonal, and, perhaps, even more than with him it was transformed into divinity, so that without ceasing, in a certain sense, to be human, it was properly describable as one divine nature.

Hence the opponents of Chalcedon were called Monophysites—believers in one nature.


  Compromise Efforts


Immediately after the Council of Chalcedon Palestine and, next, Egypt were in practical revolution, which the government was able only slowly to master. By 457 the see of Alexandria was in possession of a Monophysite, Timothy, called by his enemies the Cat; by 461, Peter the Fuller, of the same faith, held that of Antioch. These captures were not to be permanent, but the native populations of Egypt and Syria were throwing off the dominance of Constantinople and largely sympathized with the Monophysite protest. In Antioch Peter the Fuller caused fresh commotion by adding to the Trisagion,so that the ascription ran; “Holy God, holy Strong, holy Immortal, who was crucified for us.”

    The empire found itself grievously threatened, politically no less than religiously, by these disaffections; and much of the imperial policy for more than two centuries was devoted to their adjustment, with slight permanent success. In the contest between Zeno and Basilicus for the imperial throne, the latter made a direct bid for Monophysite support by issuing, in 476, an Encyclion, in which he anathematized “the so-called Tome of Leo, and all things done at Chalcedon “in modification of the Nicene creed.[22] For such a reversal the East was not yet ready, and this action of Basilicus was one of the causes that led to his overthrow by Zeno.

  The [unsatisfying/confusing] Henotikon of Emperor Zeno

Zeno, however, probably induced by the patriarch Acacius of Constantinople, made a new attempt to heal the schism. In 482 he published his famous Henoticon.[23] In it

[1] the results of the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople were confirmed,

[2] Nestorius and Eutyches condemned, and

[3] Cyril’s “twelve chapters”[24] approved.

[4] It gave a brief Christological statement, the exact relationship of which to that of Chalcedon was not, and was not intended to be, clear. Its chief significance was in the declaration;

“These things we write, not as making an innovation upon the faith, but to satisfy you; and every one who has held or holds any other opinion, either at the present or at another time, whether at Chalcedon or in any synod whatever, we anathematize.”

This left it free to hold the Chalcedonian creed to be erroneous.

The consequence was not peace but confusion. While many Monophysites accepted it, the Monophysite extremists would have nothing to do with the Henoticon. On the other hand, the Roman see, feeling its honor and its orthodoxy attacked by this practical rejection of Chalcedon, excommunicated Acacius and broke off relations with the East, the schism continuing till 519, when the Emperor Justin renewed the authority of Chalcedon, under circumstances that increased the prestige of the papacy,[25] but only alienated Egypt and Syria the more.

 

 


   Justinian’s Policy
 

 

 

Justin’s successor, the great Justinian (527-565), more fully than any other of the Eastern Emperors, succeeded in making himself master of the church. His conspicuous military successes restored to the empire for a time control of Italy and North Africa. The church was now practically a department of the state. Heathenism was suppressed and persecuted as never before. While Justinian himself was, at first, strongly Chalcedonian in his sympathies, his Empress, Theodora, leaned to the Monophysite side. He soon gave up the persecution of Monophysites with which his reign began. Himself one of the ablest theological minds of the age, he sought to develop an ecclesiastical policy that would so interpret the creed of Chalcedon that, while leaving it technically untouched, would exclude any possible Antiochian or “Nestorian” construction, thus bringing its significance fully into accord with the theology of Cyril of Alexandria. By this means he hoped to placate the Monophysites, and also to satisfy the wishes of the East generally, whether “orthodox” or Monophysite, without offending Rome and the West too deeply by an actual rejection of the Chalcedonian decision. Hence the establishment of a Cyrillic-Chalcedonian orthodoxy was Justinian’s aim. It was a difficult task. As far as concerned a satisfaction of the Monophysites in general it failed. In its effort to render the Cyrillic interpretation of the creed of Chalcedon the only “orthodox” view it succeeded. Any form of Antiochianism was permanently discredited. By this result Justinian undoubtedly satisfied the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the “orthodox “East.

  Justinian as a Theological Politician

    Justinian was greatly aided in his task by the rise of a fresh interpretation of the Chalcedonian creed, in the teaching of a monastic theologian, Leontius of Byzantium (c. 485-543). The age was witnessing a revival of the Aristotelian philosophy, and Leontius applied Aristotelian distinctions to the Christological problems. The feeling of much of the East, both “orthodox” and Monophysite, was that the affirmation of two natures in Christ could not be interpreted without involving two hypostases—subsistences—and therefore being “Nestorian.” An explanation without these “Nestorian” consequences was what Leontius now gave. The natures might be “intra-hypostatic — that is, there might be such a hypostatic union that while the peculiarities of one nature remained, it might find its hypostasis in the other. In Christ this one hypostasis, which is that of both natures, is that of the Logos. Thus Leontius would interpret the creed of Chalcedon in terms wholly consonant with the aim, if not with the exact language, of Cyril. The human in Christ is real, but is so subordinated that the ultimate reality is the divine.

    Such an interpretation seemed, at the time, a quite possible basis of reunion with the more moderate Monophysites, who constituted their majority. The large section led by Severus, Monophysite patriarch of Antioch (512-518), who, till his death in 538, found a refuge in Egypt, held essentially the same position as Leontius. Their chief difference was that they regarded the Chalcedonian Council and its creed with greater suspicion. With the more radical Monophysites, led by Julian of Halicarnassus (d. after 518), the prospect of union was less auspicious. They went so far as to hold that Christ’s body was incorruptible from the beginning of the incarnation, and incapable of suffering save so far as Christ Himself permitted it. Its enemies charged the theory of Julian with Docetic significance.

    To meet this situation by establishing an anti-Antiochian, Cyrillic interpretation of the creed of Chalcedon, and winning, if possible, the moderate Monophysites, was the aim of Justinian. He came to favor the so-called “Theopaschite” (i.e. “suffering God”) formula of the Scythian monks, “one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh,” after a controversy lasting from 519 to 533. Because of monastic quarrels in Palestine, and also because the Emperor’s theological sympathies, like those of his age, were exceedingly intolerant, Justinian condemned the memory and teachings of Origen in 543.[26]

    Justinian’s great effort to further his theological policy was the occasion of the discussion known as that of the “Three Chapters.” In 544 Justinian, defining the issue by his own imperial authority, condemned the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, now more than a century dead, but once the revered leader of the school of Antioch (ante, p. 145), the writings of Theodoret of Cyrus in criticism of Cyril (ante, p. 148), and a letter of Ibas of Edessa to Maris the Persian (ante, p. 149). Theodoret and Ibas had been approved by the Council of Chalcedon. The action of the Emperor nominally left the creed of Chalcedon untouched, but made it impossible of interpretation in any but a Cyrillic sense, condemned the school of Antioch, and greatly disparaged the authority of the Council of Chalcedon. The edict aroused not a little opposition. Pope Vigilius (537-555) disliked it, but the imperial reconquest of Italy had placed the Popes largely in the power of the Emperor. Between his knowledge of the feeling of the West and his fear of Justinian, Vigilius’s attitude was vacillating and utterly unheroic.[27]

The Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople 2)

To carry out his will, Justinian now convened the Fifth General Council, which met in Constantinople in 553. By it

the “Three Chapters,” i e., Theodore and the writings just described, were condemned [a blow against the Antiochene school],

the “Theopaschite” formula approved,

and Origen once more reckoned a heretic.[28]

Pope Vigilius, though in Constantinople, refused to share in these proceedings, but such was the imperial pressure that within less than a year he acceded to the decision of the council. The Cyrillic interpretation of the creed of Chalcedon was now the only “orthodox” understanding. The action of the council was resisted for a few years in North Africa; and the yielding attitude of the Pope led to a schismatic separation of northern Italy from Rome which lasted till the time of Gregory the Great, and in the neighboring Illyricum and Istria even longer. One main purpose of the condemnation of the “Three Chapters”—the reconciliation of the Monophysitesfailed. In Egypt and Syria Monophysitism remained the dominant force, the real reason being that these provinces were developing a native national consciousness antagonistic to the empire, for which theological differences were the excuse more than the cause.

 Egypt, Abyssinia, Syria, and Armenia

    Under Justinian’s successors, Justin II (565-578), and Tiberius II (578-582), alternate severe persecution of the Monophysites and vain attempts to win them occurred. These efforts were now of less significance as the Monophysite groups were now practically separated national churches. The native Monophysite body of Egypt can hardly be given fixed date for its origin. From the Council of Chalcedon the land was increasingly in religious rebellion. That church, the Coptic, is still the main Christian body of Egypt, numbering more than six hundred and fifty thousand adherents, strongly Monophysite to this day in doctrine, under the rule of a patriarch who still takes his title from Alexandria, though his seat has long been in Cairo. Its services are still chiefly in the ancient Coptic, though Arabic has to some extent replaced it. The most conspicuous daughter of the Coptic Church is the Abyssinian. When Christianity was introduced into “Ethiopia” is uncertain. There is some reason to think that its first missionary was Frumentius, ordained a bishop by Athanasius, about 330. The effective spread of Christianity there seems to have been by Egyptian monks, about 480. The Abyssinian Church stands to the present day in dependent relations to that of Egypt, its head, the Abuna, being appointed by the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria. It is Monophysite, and differs little from that of Egypt, save in the backwardness of its culture, and the great extent to which fasting is carried. It is probably the lowest in civilization of any existing church.

    While Egypt presented the spectacle of a united Monophysite population, Syria was deeply divided. Part of its inhabitants inclined to Nestorianism (ante, p. 149). Some were orthodox, and many Monophysite. The great organizer of Syrian Monophysitism, after its persecution in the early part of the reign of Justinian, was Jacob, nicknamed Baradæus (?-578). Born near Edessa, he became a monk and enjoyed the support of Justinian’s Monophysite-disposed Empress, Theodora. In 541 or 543 he was ordained bishop of Edessa, and for the rest of his life served as a Monophysite missionary, ordaining, it is said, eighty thousand clergy. To him Syrian Monophysitism owed its great growth, and from him the Syrian Monophysite Church, which exists to the present day, derives the name given by its opponents, Jacobite. Its head calls himself patriarch of Antioch, though his seat has for centuries been in the Tigris Valley, where most of his flock are to be found. They number about eighty thousand.

    Armenia during the first four centuries of the Roman Empire was a vassal kingdom, never thoroughly Romanized, maintaining its own language and peculiarities under its own sovereigns. Christian beginnings are obscure; but the great propagator of Christianity in the land was Gregory, called the Illuminator, who labored in the closing years of the third century. By him King Tiridates (c. 238-314) was converted and baptized—Armenia thus becoming the first country to have a Christian ruler, since this event antedated the Christian pro-fession of Constantine. Armenian Christianity grew vigorously. Never very closely bound to the Roman world, Armenia was in part conquered by Persia in 387. In the struggles of the next century hatred of Persia seems to have turned Armenia in the Monophysite direction, since Persia favored Nestorianism (ante, p. 149). By an Armenian council, held in Etchmiadzin (Valarshabad), in 491, the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo were condemned, and the Armenian or Gregorian Church—so named from its founder—has been ever since Monophysite. Armenians at present are wide-spread throughout the Turkish empire and the adjacent portions of Russia. Armenians are believed to number not less than two millions nine hundred thousand, of whom the greater part are Gregorians. The Gregorian Church is now far the most important and vigorous of these ancient separated churches of the East.

 The Christological Controversies

    The effect of the Christological controversies was disastrous to church and state. By the close of the sixth century the Roman state church of the East had been rent, and separated churches, Nestorian and Monophysite had been torn from it. Egypt and Syria were profoundly disaffected toward the government and religion of Constantinople—a fact that largely accounts for the rapid conquest of those lands by Mohammedanism in the seventh century.

[11.] 3. CATASTROPHES and FURTHER CONTROVERSIES in the EAST

 

 


[11.3] CATASTROPHES and FURTHER CONTROVERSIES
in the
EAST
 

 

 

Justinian’s brilliant restoration of the Roman power was but of brief duration. From 568, the Lombards were pressing into Italy. Without conquering it wholly, they occupied the north and a large portion of the centre. The last Roman garrisons were driven out of Spain by the Visigoths in 624. The Persians gained temporary control of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt between 613 and 629, and overran Asia Minor to the Bosphorus. On the European side the Avars, and the Slavic Croats and Serbs, conquered the Danube lands and most of the Balkan provinces, largely annihilating Christianity there, penetrating in 623 and 626 to the defenses of Constantinople itself. That the empire did not then perish was due to the military genius of the Emperor Heraclius (610-642), by whom the Persians were brilliantly defeated, and the lost eastern provinces restored. Before his death, however, a new power, that of Mohammedanism, had arisen. Its prophet died in Medina in 632, but the conquest which he had planned was carried out by the Caliphs Omar and Othman. Damascus fell in 635, Jerusalem and Antioch in 638, Alexandria in 641. In 651, the Persian kingdom was brought to an end. By 711, the Mohammedan flood crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain, bringing the Visigothic monarchy to a close, and swept forward into France, where its progress was permanently checked by the Franks, under Charles Martel, in the great battle of 732, between Tours and Poitiers. In the East, Constantinople successfully resisted it, in 672-678, and again in 717-718. Syria, Egypt, and North Africa were permanently taken by the Mohammedans.

 The Monothelite Controversy

    Under such circumstances, before the final catastrophe, efforts were naturally made to secure unity in the threatened portions of the empire. After negotiations lasting several years, in which the patriarch Sergius of Constantinople was the leader, a union policy was inaugurated by the Emperor Heraclius, on the basis of a declaration that in all that He did Christ acted by “one divine-human energy.” Cyrus, the “orthodox” patriarch of Alexandria, set up a formula of union, of which this was the substance, in Egypt, in 633, with much apparent success in conciliating Monophysite opinion.[29] Opposition arose, led by a Palestinian monk, Sophronius, soon to be patriarch of Jerusalem. Sergius was alarmed and now tried to stop any discussion of the question. He now wrote, in that sense, to Pope Honorius (625-638), who advised against the expression “energy” as unscriptural, and said, rather incidentally, that Christ had one will. Heraclius now, in 638, issued his Ekthesis, composed by Sergius, in which he forbade discussion of the question of one or two energies and affirmed that Christ had one will.

The Sixth General Council

    It was easier to start a theological controversy than to end it. Pope John IV (640-642) condemned the doctrine of one will in Christ—or Monothelite heresy as it was called—in 641. Heraclius died that year, and was succeeded by Constans II (642-668), who issued, in 648, a Typos, in which he forbade discussion of the question of Christ’s will or wills.[30] The holder of the papacy was the ambitious Martin I (649- 655), who saw in the situation an opportunity not only to further an interpretation of the theological problem consonant with the views of the West, which had always held that Christ’s natures were each perfect and entire, but also to assert papal authority in the Orient. He therefore assembled a great synod in Rome in 649, which proclaimed the existence of two wills in Christ—human and divine—and not only condemned Sergius and other patriarchs of Constantinople, but the Ekthesis and the Typos.[31] This was flat defiance of the Emperor. Constans had Pope Martin arrested and brought a prisoner to Constantinople in 653, where he was treated with great brutality. Martin had the courage of his convictions. He was exiled to the Crimea, where he died. Strained relations between Rome and Constantinople followed. Constans II was succeeded by Constantine IV (668-685). By that time, the Monophysite provinces, the retention of which had been the source of the discussion, had been taken by the Mohammedans. It was more important to placate Italy than to favor them. The Emperor entered into negotiations with Pope Agatho (678-681), who issued a long letter of definition as Leo I had once set forth his Tome. Under imperial auspices a council, the Sixth General Council, was held in Constantinople in 680 and 681. By it Christ was declared to have “two natural wills or willings . . . not contrary one to the other . . . but His human will follows, not as resisting or reluctant, but rather as subject to His divine and omnipotent will.” It also condemned Sergius and other of his successors in the patriarchate of Constantinople, Cyrus of Alexandria and Pope Honorius.[32] For the third time Rome had triumphed over the divided East in theological definition. Nicæa , Chalcedon, and Constantinople had all been Roman victories. It must be said, also, that a human will was necessary for that complete and perfect humanity of Christ as well as perfect divinity, for which the West had always stood. The doctrine, thus defined, was the logical completion of that of Chalcedon. With its definition, the Christological controversies were ended in so far as doctrinal determination was concerned.

    While the Sixth General Council was thus a Western success, it had a sort of appendix which was, in a sense, a Western defeat. Like the council of the “Three Chapters” (553), it had formulated no disciplinary canons. A council to do this work was summoned by Justinian II (685-695, 704-711), to meet in Constantinople in 692, and is called from the domed room in which it assembled—which was that in which the council of 680 and 681 had met—the Second Trullan Council, or Concilium Quinisextum, as completing the Fifth and Sixth General Councils. It was entirely Eastern in its composition, and is looked upon by the Oriental Church as the completion of the council of 680 and 681, though its validity is not accepted by that of Rome. Many ancient canons were renewed; but several of the new enactments directly contradicted Western practice. It enacted, in agreement with Chalcedon, that “the see of Constantinople shall enjoy equal privilege with the see of Old Rome.” It permitted marriage to deacons and presbyters, and condemned the Roman prohibition of such marriages. The Greek Church still maintains this permission. It forbade the Roman custom of fasting on Saturdays in Lent. It prohibited the favorite Western representation of Christ under the symbol of a lamb, ordering instead the depiction of a human figure.[33] Though not very important in themselves, these enactments are significant of the growing estrangement in feeling and practice between East and West.


[1] Ayer, p. 495.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos, 7.

[4] Ayer, p. 495.

[5] Ibid., p. 496.

[6] Canon, 1.

[7] 1Ayer, pp. 498-501.

[8] Ibid., p. 502.

[9] Ayer, p. 502.

[10] See Ayer, pp. 505-507.

[11] Ayer, p. 500.

[12] Ibid., p. 501.

[13] Ibid.

[14] In Loofs, Nestoriana, p. 171.

[15] Ayer, p. 507.

[16] Ibid., 509.

[17] Ibid., pp. 510, 511.

[18] Ayer, pp. 513, 514.

[19] Letters of Leo, 20-28.

[20] Ibid., 28; extracts, Ayer, p. 515.

[21] Ayer, pp. 517-521.

[22] Ayer, pp. 523-526.

[23] Ibid., pp. 527-529.

[24] Ibid., pp. 505-507.

[25] Ante, p. 135; see Ayer, p. 536.

[26] Ayer, pp. 542, 543.

[27] See Ayer, pp. 544-551.

[28] Ayer, pp. 551, 552.

[29] Ayer, pp. 661, 662.

[30] Ibid., pp. 662-664.

[31] Extracts, Ayer, pp. 664, 665.

[32] Ayer, pp. 665-672.

[33] Ayer, pp. 673-679.

 


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