In Orthodox parlance we speak of a “letter said to be written to Maris.” (Canon 1 of Trullo) This letter was read during the 10th session of the Council of Chalcedon and is of no minor historical importance. Chief among the Oriental Orthodox’ reasons for rejecting Chalcedon, and therefore union with the Orthodox Catholics, is specifically because the approval of the letter.
Allegedly, it proves that the concilliar fathers of Chalcedon were not only dastardly, but also heretics. It would definitively show that the council was Nestorian, and Leo’s Tome and its excommunication of Nestorius must be understood in this light.
The “official” Orthodox stance since the fifth ecumenical council is that Ibas did not really write a Letter to Maris and that it was some sort of forgery. Yet, since the advent of modernism, scholarship has totally betrayed the traditional Orthodox view and has embraced the Oriental Orthodox approach to the history of Chalcedon to the point that this is a scholarly consensus: Ibas really wrote the letter and the council endorsed it.
Both mainstream Roman Catholic and Orthodox sources take this stance, but in so doing condemn the fathers of Council of Constantinople II to be crass historical revisionists. This obviously lends credibility to the Oriental Orthodox position.
In this article, we will be questioning the mainstream narrative and offer what we hope is a more historically consistent solution to the problem. That is, we are improving upon the currently available scholarship. In so doing, our aim is to return Orthodox to their traditional understanding without sacrificing a historically reliable approach to the episode.
Reviewing the Mainstream Scholarly Perspective. Father Richard Price, our generation’s preeminent scholar and translator of the ecumenical councils, sums up what occurred (in his eyes). It can be summarized in two main points:
First, the Roman Legate, Paschasinus, endorsed the Letter to Maris by mistake. Second, due to the procedure of an ecumenical council demanding universal consent, everyone (embarrassingly) went along with it and implicitly endorsed the same letter.
In Father Price’s own words:
It fell to Paschasinus, as the senior papal legate, to deliver the first verdict. His sentence in favour of the reinstatement of Ibas in the see of Edessa was right and proper, but unfortunately it included the statement ‘and from the reading of his letter we have found him to be orthodox’. We can only suppose that he had either failed to grasp the contents of the letter (his Greek was limited, and his attention may have been wandering), or did not appreciate how offensive it was to the eastern bishops, who recognized the need to reinstate Ibas but had vast respect for Cyril and Ephesus I. But conciliar etiquette involved, as we have seen, a requirement of unanimity. This made it impossible for the bishops who spoke after him to express disagreement. Maximus of Antioch actually repeated his commendation of the letter, not out of conviction (for he was firmly in the Cyrillian camp and had been a protégé of Dioscorus), but because his tenure of his own see was insecure and depended on papal support. The other bishops, as they delivered their verdicts, sagely omitted all reference to the letter. Paschasinus’ and Maximus’ praise of the letter proved an acute embarrassment when the Three Chapters, one of which was this same Letter to Mari, were condemned a century later by both the emperor Justinian and Constantinople II. (p. 16 of Presidency and Procedure at Early Ecumenical Councils)
As we can see, Price’s thesis literally demands that the Chalcedonian fathers bumbled into endorsing the letter out of ineptitude, ingratiation, and procedural necessity.
This explanation, though the “best” one scholarship has yet provided, is obviously less than satisfying. Price appears aware of this, as he writes elsewhere:
They must therefore have found the Letter to Mari hugely embarrassing; yet, by restoring Ibas to his see immediately after a reading of the letter, they seemed to imply approval of it. This was often adduced by anti Chalcedonians in the subsequent period as evidence that the bishops had in effect rejected Cyril and approved Nestorianism (Price and Gaddis’ Acts of Chalcedon, Vol II, p. 270)
From this, we must ask ourselves, does the documentary evidence prove that the concilliar fathers were (1) mindless, embarrassed bumblers and (2) explicitly endorsing the Letter of Ibas? Both must be established in order to justify the “scholarly consensus” and, ultimately, the Oriental Orthodox position on the council.
Sessions 9 and 10 of the Chalcedon. Ironically, one does not need to review very many historical documents to test the preceding historical hypothesis. With the exception of a couple relevant sections from the minutes of Ephesus II and Constantinople II, understanding this issue requires reviewing a limited amount of sections from Sessions 9 and 10 of Chalcedon.
We will do so in sequential order, omitting no relevant detail. To make it more readable, the speaker will be introduced at the beginning of what is said when this is not done so in the original minutes.
4. [Ibas:] I have suffered intrigue and have been falsely accused by certain clerics. Direct that the judgement delivered by the most devout bishops Photius and Eustathius be read out. For Bishop Uranius of Hemerium, doing everything to please Eutyches, contrived that certain clerics should accuse me and that the case should be sent to himself and the aforesaid. But I was found innocent of the blasphemies charged against me, and a judgement was delivered by the aforesaid most devout bishops which refuted the accusations made against me calumniously and testified to my orthodoxy…I have been found guilty of nothing, and that my episcopacy and my church be restored to me. For all the clerics of Edessa in what they wrote to the aforesaid bishops testified on my behalf that I am orthodox.
In the above, Ibas asserts he was deposed at the Councils of Berytus (449 AD) and Ephesus II (449 AD) due to false allegations. It should be noted that the Letter to Maris was part of these allegations. We know this, because priest Samuel stated during Ephesus II:
He [Ibas] acknowledged it, [the Letter to Mari] and this is in the genuine acts which took place in the city of Beruit [i.e. Berytus]. (Ephesus II, 2006, p. 173-174)
We will discuss the “genuine” acts of Berytus when we cover Session 10. For now, let’s continue:
6. [Paschasinus:] The proceedings [of the Council of Tyre, Feb 448 AD, see Footnote 7 in Price and Gaddis in Chalcedon Volume 2] which the most devout Ibas has mentioned and which cleared him in the judgement of the bishops from every accusation should be brought before us, so that from the reading of it we may know whether it is a formal verdict or if we need to make a decision.
Paschasinus asks that the minutes of Tyre be read. This council occurred before Berytus and the purpose it serves at Chalcedon is to be used as evidence in favor of Ibas’ Orthodoxy. It is not stated explicitly why these minutes were read first, though this may be both because it chronologically occurred before Berytus and there were no accusations of forgery.
7. [Council of Tyre:] [W]e induced the most God-beloved Bishop Ibas (who himself embraced this in order to convince those who claimed to have been wronged) to set out in writing what he held and believed concerning our pious faith; and this he did.
In short, Tyre asserts that Ibas in writing proved his Cyrillian orthodoxy. The minutes of Tyre did not convince everyone:
13. As all the most devout bishops remained silent [in protest?], the most magnificent officials said: ‘The holy council will express its opinion tomorrow.’ (9:13)
Now enter Ibas’ cheif accuser, Deacon Theophilus. He brought with him both the minutes of Ephesus II and the Council of Berytus as evidences against Ibas. Berytus is invoked as the first piece of evidence:
10. Theophilus the deacon said: ‘We request a reading of the proceedings concerning Ibas at [the Council of] Berytus, so that you may learn that he was justly deposed.’
14. Theophilus the deacon said: ‘I have the minutes of the proceedings relating to him at Berytus [449 AD] and at Ephesus [449 AD].’
As a side note, it helps to look at footnote 39 in Price’s translation of Chalcedon. The minutes starting in 10:27 belong to “Berytus” though they are ascribed to “Tyre” in 10:26. Berytus is a different council than the earlier Council of Tyre, because it was held between Berytus and Tyre–which explains the names of the cities being used interchangeably. Understandably, this may confuse some readers, which is why we take the time to clear up the issue here. Let’s proceed and review every relevant section of Berytus:
81. [Council of Berytus:] Maras [not Maris, an accuser like Deacon Theophilus] said: ‘He said in a sermon, “I don’t envy Christ becoming God, for inasmuch as he became God, so also have I”. 82. The most God-beloved bishops said: ‘Let first the most religious Bishop Ibas confess if he said this.’ 83. The most religious Bishop Ibas said: ‘Anathema to who said this and whoever uttered this calumny! I myself did not say it; God forbid!’ … 126. Maras said: ‘He said, “We held him [Cyril] to be a heretic until he anathematized the [twelve] chapters”.’ 127. The most religious Bishop Ibas said: ‘I am so far from anathematizing the man [Cyril] after he explained the chapters that I received letters from him and sent letters to him in which he held me to be in communion and I held him to be in communion.’ … 136. The most God-beloved bishops said: ‘If it transpires that after the death of the most blessed and holy Cyril the most religious Bishop Ibas called him a heretic and held him to be a heretic, prove it.’ 137. Maras said: ‘We can prove it.’ [Footnote 95 postulates that Saint Justinian magically excised every extent manuscript at this point, which is strange as Pope Vigilius never accuses Justinian of this during his time of opposition to Constantinople II and one would presume that Latin manuscripts in the West would not include such doctoring.] The same hallowed secretary read out the following: [138 follows, the whole Letter to Maris.]
The preceding can be summed up in a few words: Ibas is accused of calling Saint Cyril a heretic after Antioch’s and Alexandria’s reconciliation in 433 AD. Ibas repeatedly denies this. His accusers claim to have examples that show his denials are false. Ibas answers all these accusations. Finally, his accusers read the Letter to Maris in which to accuse him and disprove his preceding denials.
If Chalcedon’s treatment of the minutes of Berytus did not appear to end after the letter, the expected answer of Ibas would be that he never wrote such a thing–consistent with his repeated denials we have thus far read. In fact, one may expect he would have read a document of weightier authority which proved his Orthodoxy–something we see he immediately does during Session 10.
As a side note, it now makes sense why there were accusations of forgery in Berytus’ minutes on this point (implied in v. 142, as shown below). Apparently, one set of minutes showed that Ibas denied he wrote the Letter to Maris, while the other set says he admitted to it.
Disappointing to historians, all the manuscripts of Chalcedon have Berytus’ minutes seemingly interrupted by Ibas. There are several possible reasons. Ibas may have been interrupting Theophilus from saying something especially incriminating. Perhaps, he disagreed with the “forged” version that Theophilus was reading and wanted to get his two cents in. Another posibility was that Theophilus was omitting something important from those same minutes. These are our possibilities. When discerning what really occurred, it is important to keep in mind which of the preceding is supported the most by the documented evidence.
In any event, to debunk Theophilus, Ibas pulls out his “trump card.” This “card” is referenced during the Berytus minutes, which implies it could have very well been part of those same minutes at a portion after the Letter to Maris. Nevertheless, he did not use it beforehand, because it was against conciliar procedure:
92. The most religious Bishop Ibas said: ‘Our clergy number just over two hundred or even more; I don’t remember the number. All the clerics have testified whether I am a heretic or orthodox, in written depositions…Whether the testimony of so many clerics agrees with that of the three witnesses he mentions, who accompanied them to Constantinople to lodge an accusation, and are with them now, is a matter for you to judge. 93. [Priest] Samuel said: ‘It is for us, that is, for those who present the article or make an accusation, to provide proofs of what we say; it is not for the most religious Bishop Ibas to testify on his own behalf or through others. No one is asking him to make a denial. I have said that it happened; it is for me to prove it.’
The “trump card,” the aforementioned “written depositions” and “testimony,” is the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa. This document vouched for Ibas’ Orthodoxy and was being invoked as proof that he did not condemn Cyril as a heretic after 433 AD. He was initially prevented from reading the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa, because Priest Samuel had to be given time to make his case.
Samuel’s case apparently ended after reading the Letter to Maris. Hence, any reading to the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa is intended as a denial of the sum of accusations against Ibas’ accusers. Hence, during a council, it may implicitly be understood precisely as a denial of the Letter to Maris.
This is not wishful, eisegetical thinking. This is precisely how Ibas responds to Theophilus’ reading the Letter to Maris in the minutes of Berytus during Session 10 of Chalcedon:
139. Ibas the most devout bishop said: ‘Let your clemency order that the letter from the clergy of Edessa be read, so that you may learn that I am a stranger to the charges brought against me and have suffered violence.’
Ibas invokes the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa immediately after the Letter to Maris with the intent of responding to the charge that the Letter to Maris on top of the other accusations proves he is Nestorian. As we can see, Ibas explicitly states the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa clears him from all “the charges brought against” him.
Whether we actually believe him or his letter is irrelvant. Historically speaking, he could have been lying and distracting from the fact he really wrote the Letter to Maris, which otherwise implicated him as an anti-Cyrillian.
Nevertheless, if we are to properly interpret the minutes of Chalcedon, it is important we take him at his word and accurately understand how he is intending to portray himself. Why? It is on these specific grounds that he is officially restored by the council. And so, if the council accepts the “dubious” reasoning of Ibas, in so doing they are actually rejecting his authorship, or at a bare minimal, the significance of the Letter to Maris. This, clearly, would be a pro-Cyrillian, anti-Nestorian stand.
The final world on the subject during Session 10 of Chalcedon is as follows:
141. [Letter from the Clergy of Edessa (approx 448-449 AD):] A declaration and entreaty to the most God-beloved and sacred bishops Photius and Eustathius from all the clergy of the metropolis of Edessa…All of us who are alleged to have heard this statement [“I do not envy Christ”] make known to your God-belovedness, as in the presence of the merciful God, that neither from him nor from anyone else have we heard such a statement ever being made…
As we can see, the letter merely states that Ibas never made a Christologically suspect statement in public. Because it was written before Berytus, it does not directly reference the issue with the Letter to Maris, even though it is being cited in response to the accusation which cited that letter.
142. Theophilus the deacon said: ‘I have something to ask you. The one who brought this declaration (I don’t know the name of the deacon who brought it) after he was expelled from there, did he not testify before all the clergy that I had altered the wording [during the Council of Berytus, see Footnote 114 and Ephesus II, p. 173-174 in 2006 translation] in order to please the bishop?
Interestingly, Theophilus implicitly admits he changed portions of the minutes of Berytus, though Father Price believes this is in reference to the Christological statement (“I do not envy Christ”) mentioned previously. This is an interesting response to the reading of the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa. Why would he respond this way if for whatever reason unless a portion of the minutes of Bertyus under dispute did not pertain to that exact letter?
In support of such an inference, we must note that during Ephesus II they needed witnesses in order to ascribe the Letter to Maris to Ibas. These details lend credibility to the idea that both parts of the minutes precisely on the questions of the Christological statement and the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa were under dispute at the time. This is an important detail to acknowledge, as a century later Saint Justinian and Facundus of Carthage differed on whether Ibas admitted during Berytus he authored the Letter to Maris.
For there to be a dispute over the integrity of the minutes on this point shows that the pro-Ibas side was not conceding that he admitted he wrote the Letter to Maris. This is similar to President Donald Trump not conceding he lost the 2020 election. Historians can look back at how an individual or his partisans do not concede something and from that infer what those people allegedly believed.
The issue of disputed forgeries in Berytus’ minutes is an important detail, because if a dispute was important enough for two factions to resort to forgery, this reveals that the issue was highly controversial. The conciliar fathers would be aware that the issue created strife and demanded attention. Dozing off and mispeaking due to ineptitude is less likely in such an event, especially when the issue was treated during two sessions and was known to be highly sensitive (as proven by the mass silence of bishops during Session 9).
After Deacon Theophilus defended himself from the charge of forgery, a long interlude of Bishops refusing to read the minutes of Ephesus II ensued in minutes of Session 10. The official stance was that the council was invalid and reading its minutes was therefore unnecessary. Of course they read Ephesus II during Session 1, but that is besides the point.
After the preceding, the Bishops give their judgements, accepting Ibas back into communion. One must pay attention to on what grounds they do. This will help us interpret whether the conciliar fathers were:
- Crypto-Nestorians (as the Oriental Orthodox believe) in their acceptance of the Letter to Maris,
- Inept bumblers as Father Price’s reading demands, or
- Pro-Cyrillians who had in fact either rejected the Letter to Maris either implicitly or explicitly by omitting its mention or avoiding mention of its authorship, in favor of emphasizing Ibas’ condemnation of Nestorius.
161. Paschasinus and Lucentius the most devout bishops and Boniface the presbyter, representing the apostolic see, said through Paschasinus: ‘Now that the documents have been read, we know from the verdict of the most devout bishops that the most devout Ibas has been proved innocent, and from the reading of his letter we have found him to be orthodox.
Paschasinus provides for us a straightforward rationale. Several documents convinced him of Ibas’ Orthodoxy. In the above, we can see that these documents are specifically the minutes of Tyre, the minutes of Berytus, and the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa. To review, Tyre was invoked to defend Ibas, Berytus was invoked to denigrate him, and the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa was invoked to respond to Berytus.
Clearly, anyone with basic reading comprehension (or listening skills if one was actually at Chalcedon) would recognize that “his letter” is the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa. The reason why is that it is the last document read and, in effect, procedurely the final word on the subject.
Some may object and say there were other documents and “evil Justinian” excised them from the minutes. But, this is a conspiracy theory. We have to work with the evidence we have. We cannot infer the existence of documents which we have no black and white evidence of.
Others may object that “his letter” would imply that this was specifically Ibas’ letter (to Maris), as the Edessene clergy’s letter would be invoked as “their letter.” This is an especially poor argument. Basic conventions in language permit people to speak of recommendation letters as belonging to the person that is actually recommended.
If you were to apply for a job and give letters of recommendation to a perspective employer, would you call them “their” letters of recommendation or “mine?” Would they ask you for “their” letters or for “yours?” In fact, when we Google “their letters of recommendation,” we get responses such as, “Can foreign students manipulate their letters of recommendation?” This demonstrates that the “they” is understood to be the individuals who have the letters–not those making the recommendation.
The preceding is basic common sense and you, the reader, had already accepted it without protest. I purposely slipped in the convention above and you likely did not even notice, how natural it is for anyone speak this way. I wrote a little above: “Whether we actually believe him [Ibas] or his letter [from the Edessene clergy] is irrelvant. Historically speaking, he could have been lying.” The reason you took no notice was because everyone understands that “his letter” is a sensible way of invoking a letter of recommendation.
This is not an English-only convention. Even in the Scriptures Saint Paul calls the Corinthians (who ought to be) vouching for him and Timothy “our letter [of commendation].” (2 Cor 3:2) (For more details on this ancient convention, see p. 68-70 of Yoon’s Ancient Letters of Recommendation and 2 Corinthians 3:1-3: A Literary Analysis.) It not surprisingly is also a convention in Latin. During the ninth session of the Synod of Constantinople 869-870, Archdeacon Joseph (Legate of the Alexandrian Patriarch, Joseph) was asked to have “his commendatory letter” (Price and Montinaro, Constantinople 869-870, p. 354). For those who doubt Price’s translation, here is the Latin: commendatitia eius epistola. Pretty much, it is basic common sense that anyone’s recommendation letter would be referred to as “his letter,” which is why the convention is found everywhere.
Hence, any assertion that Paschasinus was accepting Ibas back into communion over the charges he was a Nestorian by endorsing the Letter to Maris is not only completely ahistorical (a normal historical interpretation would be that they would not invoke a Nestorian document as evidence he was not Nestorian), it also grammatically makes no sense.
The only way to take the mainstream scholarly (and Oriental Orthodox) view is if we were to on purpose take the least charitable interpretation of Paschasinus’ words possible. I understand that modernist scholarship loves “questioning sacred cows” and upending tradition, but their own methods of historical inquiry would disallow their reading here.
162. Anatolius the most devout bishop of Constantinople Rome said: ‘The good faith of the most God-beloved bishops who sat in judgement and the reading of all the accompanying material prove the most devout Ibas innocent of the accusations brought against him.
Saint Anatolius, similar to Paschasinus, invokes “the reading of all the accompanying material” as proof of Ibas’ Orthodoxy. This means, plainly, what we have read above as a whole serves as proof. Hence, this is not an endorsement of the Letter to Maris anymore than it is an endorsement of the Christological accusation (“I do not envy Christ”) recorded in Berytus. Rather, it states that when all of these documents are read, it is clear that the evidence points to Ibas not being a Nestorian. Now, whether this Ibas was really a repentant or he was pretending to be is irrelevant. The point is, it is clear he is posturing himself as a pro-Cyrillian (or, at least, not ambivalent) and he is being accepted specifically on these grounds.
163. Maximus the most devout bishop of the city of Antioch said: ‘From what has just been read it has become clear that the most devout Ibas is guiltless of everything charged against him; and from the reading of the transcript of the letter produced by his adversary his writing has been seen to be orthodox.’
The above is the best piece of evidence that someone, for some reason, actually endorsed the Letter to Maris. Honestly, the whole case for the anti-Orthodox side hinges upon this statement being interpretted as an “endorsement” of the Letter to Maris. As we shall see, this is an uphill battle to say the least.
For one, the theory of Father Price, that the concilliar fathers bumbled into approving it because they weren’t “paying attention,” is not extremely compelling. Why? He explains:
[B]oth Anatolius and Maximus were firm Cyrillians and hostile to what we call the ‘Antiochene school’. We must suppose that they wished to scotch the issue. (Price, Acts of Constantinople II, p. 92)
Price must suppose this, because it makes no sense that pro-Cyrillians would endorse the letter. The fact that it must be “supposed,” instead of being inferred from the evidence, means it is not a strong explanation. If so, a stronger explanation, if presented, should be accepted in its place.
Second, even if Maximus of Antioch really endorsed the Letter to Maris (for whatever odd reason), this does not mean the whole council endorsed it. Councils often have a few dissenting voices. This explanation is given by the Council of Constantinople II, as they implicitly accepted that (maybe) Paschasnius and almost certainly Maximus of Antioch had endorsed the Letter to Maris, but the Council of Chalcedon in the majority of their subscriptions inveighed against it specifically:
[I]n doing this they treated as of no account what had been said about the same letter by one or two, who indeed, coming to the same mind as everyone else, accepted Ibas when he had done penance, had anathematized Nestorius, and had subscribed to the definition issued by the same holy council. (Session 6, Par 30)
Being that we all accept that a minority opinion does not speak for a whole council (Nicea I was traditionally a 316-2 vote, for example), the only way Maximus of Antioch’s judgement would be problematic is that everyone else accepted Ibas on identical grounds. Yet, no other subscription, other than Paschasinus’, comes close to doing this. Therefore, mainstream scholarship has already had a perfectly reasonable rejoinder to their own criticism for almost 1500 years. Why this extremely sensible response does not silence both Oriental Orthodox as well as manstream scholarly critics can only mean that they have ideological axes to grind.
Third, a compelling historical case can be made that Maximus of Antioch did not endorse the Letter to Maris at all, but the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa which was contained in the disputed minutes of Berytus. The benefit of this theory is that it is supported by internal evidence within Sessions 9 and 10, and it does not require any comical “Maximus was covering for Paschasinus who fell asleep, woke up, and said something stupid when it was the time for his judgement” sort of explanation.
Let’s make the case Maximus is referencing the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa. By the sixth century, the context behind Maximus’ statement was not universally understood. It was perceived as seemingly embarassing at best or heretical at worst. Yet, if we were to trust the “‘evil Justinian’ butchers the minutes” conspiracy theory, the fact he did not have it excised from the record evidences that in the fifth century it was (1) really said and (2) not controversial or strange when it was said. If it was not controversial, then it must have been perceived as pro-Cyrillian and anti-Nestorian.
Pope Vigilius, when he accepted the Council of Constantinople II in the Second Constitutum, makes the case that the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa is being referenced:
In referring to the copy of the letter he can be shown to have been thinking not of the one to Mari the Persian but of the letter of the Edessene clergy. For how can the aforementioned Maximus be supposed to have said there was anything orthodox about the letter to Mari the Persian, which, it is certain, impugned the First Synod of Ephesus and the teaching of the blessed Cyril proclaimed there, considering that Maximus, as we have already stated fully above when examining the reception of the letter of Pope Leo of blessed memory, declared that it ought to be accepted precisely for the reason that it agreed with the faith of the blessed Cyril enunciated at Ephesus? For he spoke as follows: ‘The letter of the most holy Leo archbishop of imperial Rome accords with the teaching of the 318 holy fathers at Nicaea and of the 150 at Constantinople New Rome and with the faith enunciated at Ephesus by the most holy Cyril, and I have signed.’ (Par 132)
Even if Vigilius is disingenuous, one would be hard pressed to disagree with his reasoning: “Who then can be found so distant from the rationality of the whole human race as to believe that this priest so contradicted himself [in the above]” (Par 133)?
We must ask ourselves, how is it possible that the audience at Chalcedon understood Maximus of Antioch along Vigilius’ lines when his words so clearly seem to endorse what was read in Berytus, and thereby the Letter to Maris? It is possible that Maximus of Antioch made what we call today a “gaffe” and the other Bishops understood the gist of what he was really saying even though it came out wrong.
Critics may consider this to be “reaching,” but in so doing they expose their own hypocrisy and lack of common sense. Let’s use a recent example. Vice President Joe Biden said publicly, “We have put together, I think, the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organization in the history of American politics.” Only a fool would seriously think this was an admission. Clearly, it was a gaffe. Biden intended to extol their work with “voter rights organizations” (who ironically do commit voter fraud, but not officially). While one may argue Biden made a Freudian slip (or experienced plain dementia), no one can seriously argue he was actually trying to communicate he was breaking Federal law. So, while Maximus may have misspoke, it is entirely likely other Bishops that were physically present would have understood the gist of what he was saying.
While the preceding is a completely satisfying explanation, Vigilius does us one better. Though we lack the full minutes of Berytus, the answer he gives is certainly possible given details we see within the minutes. Vigilius argues:
[Deacon] Theophilus produced against him at the Synod of Chalcedon nothing other than the proceedings conducted in the presence of Photius and Eustathius and, maliciously suppressing (as is clearly apparent) that part of the proceedings which contains the letter of the Edessene clergy, got to be read out only that part which he thought told against Bishop Ibas; at this Bishop Ibas, in order to refute him all the more clearly out of the very pages that the same adversary had produced, asked for a reading of the part he had deceitfully omitted, that which proved the inadmissibility of the letter that had been read out against him, in order that from the very text that his adversary Theophilus had himself produced he might be shown to be all the more effectively refuted. (Par 135)
The above explanation is not only likely (the minutes of Berytus make mention of Ibas trying to read the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa), it actually makes sense. It requires no speculation that Maximus went from Cyrillian to suddenly Nestorian during Chalcedon or that he wanted to ingratiate himself to Paschasinus so badly he was willing to betray his own Orthodoxy. Rather, if we were all sitting at Chalcedon, we might have visibly witnessed a physical altrication (like what happened during Ephesus II) where Ibas abruptly rips the minutes of Berytus out of Theophilus’ hands and reads further down the page his own recommendation letter. This may be what Maximus is referring to when he stated he was convinced by the reading of Theophilus’ transcript and not Theophilus’ reading. If we are going to be “critical” historians and sticklers with words, we can infer that there was someone else reading Theophilus’ transcript–which adds weight to Vigilius’ theory.
While I will not go as far as to say that this is what, blow for blow, actually happened, what I can say is that this actually makes sense. It requires no contradictory suppositions as Father Price’s theory does and it actually pieces together all the textual evidence we have presented thus far.
In review, we have so many legitimate reasons to not be troubled by Maximus of Antioch’s judgement in Session 10, I can only express confusion and disappointment with the “scholarly consensus” and Oriental Orthodox interpretation. Let’s continue with the other judgements, which are all in the same (Orthodox) vein:
164. Juvenal the most devout bishop of Jerusalem said: ‘Divine Scripture orders the receiving back of those who repent, which is why we also receive people from heresy. I therefore resolve that the most devout Ibas should receive clemency.
Clearly, Saint Juvenal of Jerusalem judged that Ibas is to be restored because he renounced Nestorianism–an odd judgement if the Letter to Maris was actually approved of.
172. Romanus the most devout bishop of Myra in Lycia said: ‘Since the reliability of the documents that have been read has persuaded me, I too judge that the most devout Bishop Ibas should retain the priesthood.’
We have another reference to the documents, taken as a whole, proving Ibas’ Orthodoxy. The reference to “reliability” may be a subtle dig at Deacon Theophilus’ forgeries, perhaps implying to us there was some sort of obvious vindication of Ibas even from his forged documents–as speculated above.
173. Eunomius the most devout bishop of Nicomedia said: ‘Now indeed the most devout Ibas has been proved innocent from what has been read. For as regards the statements in which he seemed to accuse the most blessed Cyril by speaking ill of him, he made a correct profession in his final statements and rebutted those in which he had accused him.
Eunomius literally states that after everything was read, Ibas was proved innocent of Nestorianism “in his final statements.” Clearly, the final statements refers to the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa. Further, it appears some “event” occurred which the Bishops judging in Ibas’ favor took special notice of, as he “rebutted those in which” had accused him.
174. John the most devout bishop of Sebasteia…[et al]… said: ‘The judgement of the most devout bishops Photius and Eustathius [in the Council of Tyre?] has proved the most devout Ibas innocent, and likewise his denial has made us more ready to accept him, for clemency is ever dear to Christ the Lord.
We have yet another reference to Ibas’ notable denial–one that scholarship and Oriental Orthodox have not attached enough importance to, though it was certainly provocative at its time. It should be noticed that Photius and Eustathius were present at both Tyre and Berytus as judges, so it is difficult to infer precisely what Bishop John was referencing.
In summary, the Letter to Maris is not a very complicated episode if we look plainly at the facts as preserved in the minutes of the councils:
- Ibas was once a partisan against Cyril and (nominally) became “pro-Cyrillian” on the basis of the communion of his Patriarchate with Alexandria.
- He was accused of being anti-Cyrillian by adversaries and the alleged statement (“I do not envy Christ”) and a letter ascribed to him (Letter to Maris) were evidences laid out against him.
- He was initially vindicated at the Council of Tyre (448 AD) by denouncing Nestorius publicly and allegedly providing a written denunciation, but he stood accused again at the Councils of Berytus and Ephesus II (449 AD).
- What was said at both Berytus and Ephesus II were under dispute as evidenced by charges of forgery on both sides. If Ibas was taking the stance at Chalcedon (or Berytus and Ephesus II) that he really was Nestorian all along, he (or his partisans) would have never forged the minutes in sections pertaining to this point. After all, he would have been an admitted Nestorian with no need to hide it. On the flip side of the coin, if he really denied he was Nestorian (whether the denial is believable is irrelevant), those plotting against him at Berytus and Ephesus II would have had an incentive to alter the minutes to make him look like he did not deny his alleged Nestorianism for the sake of magnifying his guilt. In any event, forgeries from either side prove that Ibas was in some way distancing himself from the statement and letter ascribed to him. To what extent cannot be known with certainty, as he never says explicitly, “I did not write the letter.”
- At Chalcedon, the issue is treated in Sessions 9 and 10 by reading the following documents in order: minutes of Tyre (pro Ibas), minutes of Berytus (anti Ibas), Letter of the Clergy of Edessa (probably part of the minutes of Berytus), and a rejection of considering the minutes of Ephesus II.
- After following this order, the bishops give their judgements. None of their judgements extol Nestorianism and almost all explicitly assert that Ibas is restored due to him denouncing Nestorius. Hence, any interpretation that the judgement of Chalcedon was a vindication of Nestorianism is completely unjustified.
- There are a grand total of two subscriptions, that of Paschasinus and Maximus of Antioch, which are “questionable” because they may be saying something positive about the Letter to Maris.
- By the admission of scholarship, Paschasinus and Maximus of Antioch are pro-Cyrillians and their statements of approval are difficult to explain without presuming Paschasinus was not paying attention and Maximus was just lying through his teeth to placate the Roman legates.
- Presuming that the simplest and most consistent explanation of the historical data is likely the best, one is inclined to reject the scholarly consensus on this point. Paschasinus’ invoking of “his [Ibas’] letter” should be taken as a reference to the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa, as this would have followed a standard Greek literary convention and contextually made sense as it was the final word on the subject. Maximus’ reference to “the reading of the transcript of the letter [in the minutes of Berytus] produced by his adversary” is most likely a reference to the Letter from the Clergy of Edessa, which internal evidence suggests was invoked during Berytus. This is why the reading of Theophilus’ transcript and not Theophilus’ actual reading or accusation is invoked as proof of Ibas’ Orthodoxy.
- Other reasonable explanations exist, including the possibility Maximus made a gaffe or his disingenuous subscription was a rejected minority opinion. Either of these make the Letter to Maris issue not problematic and they are easier to accept than Father Price’s “they fell asleep at the wheel” speculation.
Having demonstrated all of the preceding, one is compelled to consider the Letter to Maris issue a moot point. The approach of modern scholarship as well as Oriental Orthodox is so excessive, that it in fact points the sword back at themselves. A critical understanding of the text actually inveighs against their own position. Therefore, we must conclude that the traditional explanation accepted by the Orthodox Church stands up best to historical scrutiny.
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