When investigating the Council of Chalcedon, most are interested in the theological issues that are divisive to the miaphysites (Oriental Orthodox) vis a vis the dyophysites (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics). Indeed, these issues came up. However, what is perhaps most surprising is that both sides were given an honest hearing at Chalcedon with an enhanced sensitivity towards the unyielding miaphysite/Cyrillian faction. It is with the utmost disappointment that the compromise struck in which the actual substance of both sides was honored unmolested had been largely glossed over due to the political interests of two different loci of authority competing for influence in Constantinople.

The Political Situation in a Few Words. The Roman Empire by the 450s was by no means on its last legs—it would prove to endure about another 1,000 years. However, old institutions within the Empire had obviously been overturned. The capital, wealth, and authority of the Empire was now within Constantinople, not Rome, for over 100 years. No one alive would have remembered a time when this was not the case. Constantinople’s position at this point was cemented.

The old city of Rome itself, being sacked and under constant threat from invaders, had declined in influence. However, they were certainly far from useless even at this late of a juncture. Under Rome fell Illyricum (most of the former borders of Yugoslavia), all of Italy, most of Spain and France, and large sections of North Africa. Certainly, Constantinople still had a motivation to keep relations stable with the Western Roman Emperor who nominally was still a partner in their empire.

Then there was Egypt. Though under Roman control, they had exercised considerable influence through their control of trade to Asia (much of which followed routes that went down to Ethiopia and then India, bypassing the Persians) in addition to their grain stores. The Emperor in Constantinople had every reason to keep those in Egypt pliant as well.

The Ecclesiastical Situation in a Few Words. It should go without saying, but since the first and second centuries, the Church of Rome’s synod had the most prominence in the universal Christian Church. Traditionally, this was understood as a primacy which entailed financial support from the Roman synod itself (which in those days was wealthier than elsewhere in the Church, see Fragment 1 of Dionysius of Corinth) as well as ecclesiastical prerogatives. The latter were mainly of a local nature, a jurisdiction which covered the entire western half of the Empire and large sections of the Balkans. The Roman synod also gave theological input alongside of other synods in interpatriarchal disputes concerning church practices and doctrines such as the date of Pascha, baptism, and Christology.

In a political sense, Constantinople may have consolidated its political dominance, but ecclesiastically the city found itself repeatedly humbled. Roman and/or Alexandrine pressure had successfully demoted or deposed several bishops of Constantinople, including Saints Gregory Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, and heretics like Nestorius. Despite of this, Constantinople’s synod had serious influence as it was able to elicit the support of bishops throughout the Empire who were in Constantinople conducting business (i.e. eliciting imperial support, giving their own influence in exchange). Additionally, residing as it did at a geopolitical crossroads, this gave the Constantinopolitan synod influence over all of Asia Minor (largely at the expense of Ephesus, which was experiencing a demographic collapse).

While Constantinople was important, it often played second fiddle to Rome and Alexandria on big questions—such as Semi-Arianism and Nestorianism. One may speculate that a reason why imperial support often went behind these heresies was that they were seen as a means of subverting the influence of Rome and Alexandria.

Traditionally, Rome was always more important than Alexandria. Officially, as the Edict of Thessalonica delineates, both Rome and Alexandria faithfully represented the divine witness of the Apostle Peter. Considering Alexandria’s influence in the Councils of Nicea, Constantinople I (where their theology had officially ultimately “won out” over the imperial heresy of Semi-Arianism and its associated heresies like Eunomianism), and then Ephesus, one can begin to perceive an Alexandrine Primacy. During the Council of Ephesus 1, Saint Cyril of Alexandria literally dictated the Roman legates to rubber stamp the June 22nd, 431 session as the ecumenical council despite their lack of attendance. After some grief on the question, the Roman legates and then Pope Saint Celestine assented. To someone living in the mid-fifth century, it may even appear that there was a Roman Primacy according to honor and an Alexandrine Primacy according to reality.

Roman honorifics understandably asserted what were historical claims in light of Rome’s role in previous interpatriarchal disputes. In Chalcedon, for example, Paschasinus (the Papal legate) spoke of Pope Saint Leo as “the head of all the churches” (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 1, p. 5) and in appeals was addressed as “ecumenical archbishop.” (Ibid., Vol 2, p. 51) During the Council of Ephesus 2, Alexandria was given similar titles. Olympius of Augaza called Pope Disocorus of Alexandria “ecumenical archbishop” (The Second Synod of Ephesus, p. 287) and the entire council allegedly declared in unison that he was an “Archbishop…the great guardian of the faith” (Ibid., p. 155) and “a personage unique in the world.” (Ibid., p. 127) Such honorifics undoubtedly pertained to ecclesiastical prominence within the Roman Empire specifically.

In light of the preceding, at the dawn of the Council of Chalcedon, Dioscorus apparently really believed in his primacy. Upon hearing that Leo restored Theodoret and insisted upon him being received as a bishop in the upcoming council (something Chalcedon only tentatively did as they still held a trial against him), Dioscorus excommunicated Leo. Leo of course reciprocated. This set the stage for how the Council of Chalcedon would transpire.

The Agenda of the Emperor (Saint) Marcian. Before Marcian, Emperor (and Saint) Theodosius II was in many ways unsuccessful in his attempts to influence the Church. When attempted to prop up Nestorius during Ephesus 1 he failed. More embarrassingly, he could not even punish Saints Cyril of Alexandria and Memnon of Ephesus in thwarting his plans. When he tried to unilaterally transfer the jurisdiction of Thessalonica to Constantinople, he was rebuffed by Rome and he quickly relented. Then, Saint Flavian of Constantinople held a large synod in Constantinople in 448 addressing a very real Eutychian heresy. Theodosius II quickly folded under pressure and permitted Dioscorus to overturn the former synod that occurred on his own home turf. He ultimately died due to a hunting accident.

Marcian was installed on the throne and off the bat proved to be more assertive and successful in getting his way. Being assertive meant taking the reins before getting the assent of Emperor Valentinian III in Rome itself. Additionally, he agreed to a “white marriage” with Saint Pulcheria as a means of legitimizing his rule, as she was Theodosius II’s sister.

It is unclear whether Pulcheria favored Leo and this, in addition to a need to consolidate western support, led Marcian to take an uncompromising pro-Roman position immediately before Chalcedon. Politically speaking, it is more likely that Pulcheria’s position was influenced strictly due to the latter. In any event, Marcian sought to unite the Empire from the divisions caused by Ephesus 2 by calling a council. This was against the repeated requests of Leo who did not want a council due to the fear that it would rule with Alexandria again against himself. After all, Alexandria economically and politically was more important to Constantinople than Old Rome. Nevertheless, mindful of his position in the West, Marcian was intent upon otherwise eliciting Leo’s support. This meant: 1. Validating Leo’s doctrine (i.e. the Tome) and 2. Exacting revenge against Dioscorus for his excommunication of Leo, unless the former completely capitulated.

The Doctrinal “Factions” Heading Into Chalcedon. In an article as “short” as this one, the main competing ideologies cannot be fully fleshed out. Instead, what will be covered is how these ideologies were conceived by their adherents literally at the time of Chalcedon. The discussion is going to be strictly historical, not hagiographic or canonical.

Nestorianism is a condemned, adoptionist heresy. Nestorius theoretically did not confess “two sons,” as his own creed disowned it. (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 1, p. 314) However, this was a disingenuous denial, because Nestorius taught that two separate entities were “conjoined” and are by “honour” referred to in the singular. (Ibid.) Not only does this imply adoptionism, it is something that Nestorius explicitly expounded in his First Sermon Against the Theotokos. The human nature of Christ was a distinct entity apart from the eternal Logos: “she [Mary] gave birth to the human being, the instrument of the Godhead” (Norris, The Christological Controversy, p. 125) and “God is within the one who was assumed, the one who was assumed is styled God because of the one who assumed him.” (Ibid., p. 130) In explaining himself as to how Christ’s human nature was a mere “instrument,” a distinct non-divine entity adopted by God, Nestorius leaves no doubt as to specifically what he meant:

For the sake of an illustration of what is meant, note this: If you want to lift up someone who is lying down, do you not touch body with body, and, by joining yourself the other person, lift up the hurt one while you…remained what you were? This is the way to think of the mystery of the incarnation. (Ibid., p. 125)

Even in his more “mature” reflections on Christology in The Bazaar of Heracleides, Nestorius communicates his obvious adoptionism. In Book II, Part 1 he writes: “the flesh which was made flesh, which was of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary, exists not eternally, but there was when it was not; and it is of another ousia and of another nature and of another hypostasis.” (p. 182) In other words, the human nature of Christ belonged to an independent hypostasis from the hypostasis of the Logos. Any other teaching was Apollinarian/Gnostic in Nestorius’ mind. The condemnation of Nestorianism is deserved, the merits of such being obvious.

Western Christology, as typified by the Tome of Leo, to this day is slandered as crypto-Nestorian. In reality, the Christologies of Nestorius and the West have nothing in common. The Creed of the Council of Toledo (400/447) taught that “this Son of God, God, born of the Father entirely before every beginning…[from] her has assumed true man.” The term “assumed” speaks of the divine hypostasis of the Logos (“the Son of God”) assuming human nature (“true man”) itself. Hence, there is no pre-existent human nature “cojoined” and made one person by honor as Nestorius taught.

If this interpretation was not clear enough, it was made explicit by Leo. In his Tome, he wrote that, “The same eternal Only begotten of the Father, was born from the Holy Spirit and Mary…He [the Only-begotten of the Father] had assumed our human nature and made it His own.” (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol 2., p. 14) Hence, literally one Person, the Hypostasis of the Logos, assumed human nature, “the distinctive character of each nature being preserved and coming together into one person.” (Ibid., p. 17) This is theologically equivalent to Cyril’s canonical teaching: “the two natures being brought together in a true union.” (Second Letter to Nestorius)

If this is not literally a hypostatic union as Cyril taught, then what is? Some may point out that Cyril taught that only “theoretically speaking…we would admit that there are two united natures but only One Christ and Son and Lord.” (First Letter to Succensus, Par 7) In other words, one may speak of two natures, but a singular entity in Christ—specifically the divine person who preceded the assumption of the human nature, the latter which can only be conceived of separately. However, this is the precise explanation that Leo gives: “this union of person that needs to be conceived in each nature we also acknowledge that…the Son of God assumed the body from the Virgin from whom he was born…and again the Son of God is said to have been crucified and buried.” (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol 2., p. 20)

As for Eutyches (whose Christology was being reacted to in the Tome), Leo was “amazed” (Ibid., p. 23) he taught that two natures can precede the union, but one exist afterwards. It seemed to Leo that this was something even more extreme than Nestorius. Eutyches allegedly posited not only adoptionism (the divine Logos being a separate Person than Mary’s child), but added to this the idea that upon such an adoption the annihilation of human attributes. If this were so, Christ could not even redeem humanity as He had no share in it.

Eutychianism did not style itself as an absurd sort of adoptionism, but it does appear that logically it would have lent itself to such an interpretation. During the Council of Constantinople 448, Eusebius of Dorlyeum (the same individual who fomented resistance in Constantinople against Nestorius himself immediately preceding the Ephesus 1) accused Eutyches of this specific kind of Christological heresy. Eutyches was commanded to confess “the same one Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is consubstantial with his Father in respect of the Godhead and consubstantial with his mother in respect of the manhood.” (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol 1., p. 221) After repeated requests, Eutyches finally claimed to only accept double consubstantiality out of duress. Flavian, flabbergasted, asked, “So you confess the true faith out of compulsion rather than conviction?” (Ibid., p. 222) After Eutyches concurred with this, he was asked point blank whether he affirms “our Lord who is from the Virgin is consubstantial [with us] and from two natures after the incarnation?” (Ibid.) To this Eutyches, rightly anticipating answering the question as such would give him grounds for an appeal* declared in the negative, “I acknowledge…two natures before the union, but after the union I acknowledge one nature.” (Ibid.) The answer was tactful and intended to clothe his rejection of Christ’s consubstantiality with mankind as a defense of Cyrillian Christology.

*Eutyches appealed to “the most holy bishops of Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Thessalonica.” (Ibid., p. 264)

But is it Cyrillian? Cyril’s Third Letter to Nestorius implies double consubstantiality in its fifth anathema (“the Word hath been made Flesh, and hath shared like us in blood and flesh”) and sixth anathema (“the Word that is of God the Father…is God alike and Man.”) (Source) If one can trust the Greek fragment, Cyril even explicitly teaches against Eutyches’ denial: “I know the nature of God is impassible, unchangeable, and immutable, even though by the nature of his humanity Christ is one in both natures and from two natures.” (Letter 53, Par 2; John McEnerney, Letters 51-110 Cyril of Alexandria,  p. 11; PG 77.285-288)

It is no wonder Eutyches appealed everywhere he could. He must have known it would be hard to find a buyer. Despite having his cause taken up by Dioscorus, ironically the faction that later descended from the latter condemned Eutyches’ heresy. They anathematized him by name and rejected his theology by confessing in the Henotikon, “the only begotten Son of God, himself God, who truly assumed manhood, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is con-substantial with the Father in respect of the Godhead, and con-substantial with ourselves as respects the manhood.” (Evagrius, History, Book 3, Chap 14) Ironically, the doctrine of the Lord’s consubstantiality with mankind was also denied by Nestorius, (The Bazaar of Heracleides, Book 2, Part I, p. 178) as in his adoptionist view God had not really become man but rather adopted a man who by honor is called God. Interestingly, what became the Non-Chalcedonian movement had assumed the technical terminology of human consubstantiality that their foes fully affirmed and they earlier were reluctant to accept–just as Nestorius was.

Chalcedon’s explicit Christology is found in its own definition (Session 5). It is helpful to parse the definition itself in order to isolate its meaning:

[T]he council has accepted as in keeping [with these creeds] the conciliar letters of the blessed Cyril…it [the Tome] agrees with the confession of the great Peter and is a universal pillar against those with false beliefs…For the council sets itself against those who attempt to dissolve the mystery of the dispensation into a duality of sons, and it removes from the list of priests those who dare to say that the Godhead of the Only-begotten is passible. [I]t [the council] opposes those who imagine a mixing or confusion in the case of the two natures of Christ…it anathematizes those who invent two natures of the Lord before the union and imagine one nature after the union. (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 2., p. 203-204)

The Council’s posture is that it is making a proper explanation of the theology of Cyril. It also asserts that Leo’s Tome fundamentally agrees and it condemns Eutyches’ false beliefs (“those who invent two natures of the Lord before the union and imagine one nature after”). Additionally, the definition condemns Nestorianism (“duality of sons”) and Apollinarianism (“Godhead…is passible”). The question is whether the definition when it explains itself actually does the preceding. Let the reader judge:

[There is one] Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood, truly God and the same truly man, of a rational soul and body, consubstantial with the Father in respect of the Godhead, and the same consubstantial with us in respect of the manhood, like us in all things apart from sin…in two natures without confusion [asynchtos], change [atreotos], division [adiaretos], or separation [achoristos]  (the difference of the natures being in no way destroyed by the union, but rather the distinctive character of each nature being preserved and coming together into one person and one hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons. (Ibid., p. 204)

“The same” is an obvious reference to there being only one hypostasis/Person. The discussion of consubstantiality is straight from Constantinople 448, but obviously not Nestorian as there is no hint of adoptionism. “[I]n two natures” was intended to remove any possibility of Eutychianism. It was believed “from two natures” could potentially allow for an Eutychian reinterpretation, as Eutyches allowed for two natures before the hypostatic union. “From” implies a past and not necessarily an abiding condition. The actual phrase “in two natures” was stated by Basil of Isauria during Session 1 of the council and may originate with him. Contextually, it related to what he said during Constantinople 448 vis a vis Eutyches. (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol 1., p. 159) Basil’s own explanation of the term, as follows, was strictly in keeping with the Western and Cyrilline consensus discussed above and deliberately contrasted itself with Eutychianism:

We therefore accept all his [Cyril’s] writings and letters as true and full of piety, and we worship the one Jesus Christ our Lord, acknowledged in two natures. As “the reflection of the Father’s glory”, he possessed one of these in himself eternally, while, as born from a mother for our sake, he took the other nature from her and united it to himself hypostatically, and so is called the perfect God and Son of God and also perfect man. (Ibid., p. 191)

The discussion of there being no “confusion, change, division, or separation” are clearly meant to convey that the natures of Christ are left intact in the singular hypostasis of the Logos. This interpretation is proved not only by the fact it is literally quoting Dioscorus (covered later), but also by the next phrase (“the differences…no way…union”) is lifted ad verbatim from Cyril’s Second Letter to Nestorius. (Source) Hence, “in two natures” was a clarification intended prevent a false Eutychian-adoptionist Christology (which allegedly taught a confusion and admixture of Christ’s natures so that He was not consubstantial with man). By deliberately being anti-adoptionist, it at the same time was not Nestorian. The definition cannot be construed to “part or divide” Christ into two entities or persons as Nestorius does.

Dioscorus/Ephesus 2’s Christology is a much more difficult subject, due to the hagiographic glosses of both Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxies. As follows is an impartial, historical treatment.

If it was not for Dioscorus’ obvious political motivations to snub both Constantinople and Rome in one fell swoop, and assert his own see’s alleged primacy, it would otherwise be surprising that he chose Eutyches’ cause as the hill he was willing to fight and die on. Dioscorus, in his own “private” writings, appears to agree with the Western-Cyrilline consensus theology as expounded by Chalcedon itself. In a letter written to the Patriarch of Antioch he taught:

“Do not divide our One Lord Jesus Christ into Two Sons.” For, although He became to be in the Flesh, (derived) from a woman, yet, in the Assumption of the Flesh with a reasonable Soul, He continued to remain what He was before, that is, God. (Dioscorus to Domnus, p. 327 in The Second Synod of Ephesus)

When in exile after Chalcedon, Dioscorus forthrightly confessed the very words which Eutyches refused to accept concerning Christ’s consubstantiality with mankind. He then ironically appears to accuse the Chalcedonians of rejecting the plain meaning of the council’s own doctrinal definition and denying Christ’s double-consubstantiality:

[D]o not listen to the soul-destroying words of the heretics…who divide into two Him who is One…the teachings of holy bishops and Orthodox archbishops have proved the fatuity [foolishness] of the affirmations of heretics and shown it is an impiety to speak of two natures in God the Word Incarnate; for, they [the miaphysite fathers] have excommunicated those who hold this doctrine [two natures in God], and they have banished from the hope of Christians those [Chalcedonians] who do not confess God the Word to be consubstantial with the Father, because He became consubstantial with man, taking flesh, he remained unchangeably what He was before; as they have done (excommunicated and banished) with the rest of the heretics . (Letter to Egyptian Monks, The Second Synod of Ephesus, p. 393)

In what sense can one honestly assert Dioscorus took issue with Chalcedon’s definition? Dioscorus’ opposition was nominal, wed as he was to a formula that essentially amounted to “from two natures before the union, one after the union.” The above shows that this did not mean anything substantially different to him than what was the consensus teaching. Nevertheless, Dioscorus himself had portrayed his own teaching as diametrically opposed and called the consensus teaching (which he privately shared) “Nestorian” and “blasphemous.” (The Second Synod of Ephesus, p. 422) This in effect conflated his own Christology with Eutyches’, whom he defended and restored.

And so, the way Chalcedon postured itself in response was to differentiate itself with the officially Eutychian view of Dioscorus—something justified given his resistance to Constantinople 448 and Chalcedon itself:

The most magnificent and glorious officials said: ‘Dioscorus said, “I accept ‘from [past tense] two natures’ [i.e. the exact position of Eutyches], but I do not accept ‘two’ [i.e. as delineated in Constantinople 448 which excommunicated Eutyches].” But the most holy Archbishop Leo says that there are [presently] two natures in Christ, united without confusion, change or separation in the one [hypostasis of] only-begotten Son our Saviour. So whom do you follow – the most holy Leo, or Dioscorus?’ The most devout bishops exclaimed: ‘We believe as Leo does. Those who object are Eutychianists. Leo’s teaching was orthodox.’ (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 2, p. 200)

Historically, it appears that Dioscorus’ was purely an opportunist. His Christology, as published, is not different conceptually from Leo’s, Flavian’s, or Chalcedon’s—but at odds with Eutyches. Yet he slandered the former and endorsed the latter. In order to substantiate that Dioscorus’ theological hypocrisy can only be explained by a desire for gain, (cf 1 Tim 6:5) it is important to delineate precisely how Dioscorus’ postured the Christological issue in the councils of Ephesus 2 and Chalcedon. After all, the councils represent his official position–not his private correspondence.

Dioscorus’ Christological Posturing in Ephesus 2 and Chalcedon. It has been shown that outside of a conciliar context that Dioscorus’ Christology was not in substance different than the consensus view as expounded immediately before Ephesus 2 by Flavian and Constantinople 448. Nevertheless, Dioscorus was intent upon equating those with whom he theologically agreed with Nestorius. “Thus Nestorius taught,” the Ephesian synod quipped after a reading from Constantinople 448. “Wait a little to hear other blasphemies,” goaded Dioscorus. (The Second Synod of Ephesus, p. 422) Amongst these alleged blasphemies, was the condemnation of Eutyches’ supposed (it was quoted secondhand) confession that, “I confess that He is perfect God and perfect Man, but he had not flesh consubstantial with us.” (Ibid., p. 423) While this is something that Eutyches likely meant, even he was smart enough to not outright deny double consubstantiality on the record. This statement, blasphemous by Dioscorus’ own admission (see above) as well as the Henotikon’s, was defended as orthodox by the Ephesian synod.

Why? Eutyches said the magic words, which he surely meant in the Eutychian sense: “I confess that our Lord was of two natures before the union, but after the union I confess Him to be of One nature.” (Ibid.) Dioscorus without any qualification endorsed this statement inserted as it was along with patently heretical statement denying Christ’s consubstantiality with man. (“We all assent to this,” Ibid.) The council at another point derisively read Theodoret’s Letter to Egyptian Monks Against Cyril, which likewise taught Christ’s consubstantiality with mankind. (Ibid., p. 223, cf Ibid., p. 449) This demonstrates that during Ephesus 2, double consubstantiality was only invoked negatively in the writings of others.

During Chalcedon, Dioscorus appeared to continue a cautious defense of Eutyches. He claimed that Basil of Isauria’s published statement during Constantinople 448 (“in two natures”) was denied by Basil himself, and that only “[i]f Eutyches holds opinions contrary to the church” would his condemnation be deserved. (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 1, p. 159) The obvious implication is that Dioscorus was denying Basil’s published sentiment (which represented the Christology of Constantinople 448) as Basil himself disowned it during Ephesus 2. Then, how, Dioscorus reasoned, could Eutyches therefore be wrong as didn’t “the Church” speak in Ephesus 2?

Doubling down on this sentiment during Chalcedon, Dioscorus spoke derisively “of two natures after the union” (Ibid., p. 188), justifying Flavian’s deposition specifically on these grounds. (Ibid., p. 190) Then, most explicitly, after hearing read out confessions quoted from Constantinople 448 of Christ having two natures after the incarnation, Dioscorus interrupted the reading to declare: “I accept ‘from two [natures]’; I do not accept ‘two [after the incarnation]’. I am compelled to speak brashly: my soul is at stake.” (Ibid., p. 194) He had obviously staked his ground, hitching himself to Eutyches’ confession.

The preceding was precisely the statement which had “vindicated” Eutyches at Ephesus 2. Dioscorus’ declaration cannot be interpreted as anything other than an endorsement of Eutyches on that point. Hence, Dioscorus’ purposeful rejection of the consensus view in two churchwide councils was rightly perceived as Eutychian. One can rightly speak of a Christological view that Dioscorus held privately which was in fact orthodox, but a public and official/canonical view he deliberately entered into the minutes of councils that was Eutychian. And so, the canonical anathemas against him that the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics hold appear justified. It is ironic that the only person Dioscorus has to blame is himself.

The Attempted Restoration of Dioscorus. Being that even Dioscorus himself (though officially Eutychian) really did not privately ascribe to the Christology of Eutyches, it makes sense that the parties complicit in Ephesus 2 would have looked for a way out of a metaphorically sinking ship. During Ephesus 2, the affirmations surrounding Eutyches’ restoration (even in such a dangerous atmosphere where Dioscorus used force to ensure compliance) were quite reserved. Saint Juvenal of Jerusalem, who had taken the correct side during Ephesus 1 and Eutyches’ condemnation (initially), during Ephesus 2 declared, “Inasmuch as he (Eutyches) as frequently made the declaration that he is Orthodox, I withdraw what I said about him.” (The Second Synod of Ephesus, p. 427)

In other words, Juvenal obviously had a notion of what Eutychianism was and had rejected it. Under pressure during Ephesus 2, due to the aforementioned “magic words” (“two natures before the union”), Juvenal deliberately took Eutyches at his word that all he was doing was affirming Cyrillianism. Domnus of Antioch had a similar rationale for his re-acceptance of Eutyches (“Because of what was once forwarded to me…I subscribed to his Deposition. But by the Libel which he has now presented…,” Ibid.). Other bishops followed simply by saying they were following “the Holy Fathers” (Ibid.), certainly meaning the qualified approvals of Juvenal and Domnus—not the enthusiastic, unqualified approval of Dioscorus himself.

Enter Chalcedon. The majority of Ephesus 2’s attendees were at Chalcedon and had turned their backs on Eutyches and Dioscorus (preferring the soft power of Marcian, who threatened to send the council to Italy, over the point of the sword exerted during Ephesus 2). This was not altogether difficult, or even disingenuous, as their theology was never Eutychian to begin with. While playing ball with Marcian’s agenda, which sought obvious rapprochement with Rome, these former-Ephesus 2 attendees had their own obvious agenda. They sought the full restoration of their partisans disgraced as a result of the repudiation of Ephesus 2. Ultimately this even included Dioscorus. As for Eutyches, whose Christology was always different than theirs, his cause was discarded.

In a gambit to get the ringleaders of Ephesus 2 absolved, the Illyrian synod (perhaps in league with the Egyptians) decided to throw a wrench in the works during the second session of Chalcedon. That is, they wanted to plant the seeds of a future Christological controversy for leverage. The consensus position discussed above had accepted Cyril and Ephesus 1. In fact, Basil of Isauria, as quoted above, had accepted “all” the writings of Cyril. While this is a very general statement, it almost certainly was thought to include the Third Letter to Nestorius (read out, but not affirmed in the minutes of Ephesus 1). There is no serious evidence that anyone called into question the authority of this letter, read out as it was during Ephesus 1.

Atticus of Nicopolis, an Illyian bishop with sensitivities against Nestorianism (the Illyrians had even questioned Leo’s Tome and demanded clarification which made clear its non-Nestorian character), wanted the Third Letter to Nestorius entered into the minutes during that second session. (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 2, p. 26) The purpose was so it can be affirmed alongside the other canonical letters of Cyril and used as material in the forming of Chalcedon’s Christological definition. The way things were going during that session, where even the Tome was received (after notable objections to certain sections), almost certainly the Third Letter would have been read without interruption. It was less controversial and already accepted by Ephesus 1. Even Theodoret and the “Orientals” were quoting Cyril approvingly at this juncture. If the reading occurred, the council would have definitely approved the letter in the standard “enthusiastic” manner of a council. This is something that (regrettably) had not occurred at Ephesus 1 and it is for this specific reason that the letter was not yet explicitly referred to as one of the “canonical” letters of Cyril. (See Session 1.1072; Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 1, p. 365)

The letter was about to be read when suddenly a commotion broke out interrupting its reading: “If you order this to be granted, we request that the fathers take part in the examination.” (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 2, p. 27) Who interrupted the reading (and acceptance) of the letter? Arguments went back and forth until it was identified it was the Illyrians who had done this. (Ibid., p. 28) They demanded that the council “restore” the tentatively deposed (by imperial, but not conciliar decree) ringleaders (“the fathers”) of Ephesus 2. (Ibid., p. 28) Their demand was that no study with the purpose of forming Chalcedon’s conciliar definition should occur without having restored the ringleaders first, as their input would be necessary.

The preceding was a fair enough demand considering Chalcedon was at least on paper supposed to be a reconciliation council which would make all sides happy inasmuch as it was possible. Shutting out two Patriarchs (Dioscorus of Alexandria and Juvenal of Jerusalem) would not accomplish this. However, this demand was made at a most inopportune time. Unless one supposes the Illyrians were simply fools, it was done on purpose. If the Third Letter was approved, Cyril’s confession therein would likewise be canon: “to one Person therefore must we attribute all the words in the Gospels, to One Incarnate Hypostasis of the Word: for there is One Lord Jesus Christ.” (Third Letter to Nestorius) This Cyrillian confession, though not explicitly made ad verbatim by Eutyches and Ephesus 2, was a standard for Orthodoxy. If canonized, it would be much more difficult to accuse Chalcedon of being at odds with Cyril’s First Letter to Succensus (where it states there is “one incarnate nature of the Word” in Par 6 ). Any insinuations that Chalcedon was Nestorian would fall flat and the leverage necessary to restore their partisans in a potential follow-up council would be gone.

What followed was the restoration of everyone other than Dioscorus. In a future session he had obviously ignored the canonical three summons against himself and having not been judged by his accusers (Eusebius of Dorlyeum and Theodoret were seated in the middle of the council, not with the accused or the judges during Session 1), his deposition was undoubtedly canonical. Marcian, having to choose between making enemies out of Leo and his Roman synod and Dioscorus and his Alexandrine synod, wisely chose the latter rather than the former. While he needed Rome’s support to attain legitimacy in the Western Roman Empire and he had no means of cowing that synod into submission with either soft or hard power, Egypt’s synod for that matter was captive in the capital. He ordered their house arrest until the synod would elect a new Patriarch (one which due to the existence of hostages would prove to be of his liking). Being captive, they would be compelled to approve of Chalcedon. (See Session 4) So, Marcian could effectively have his cake and eat it too if he sacrificed Dioscorus. However, if he slighted Leo, he was back to where he started. This would have called the whole enterprise (and expense) of holding the council into question. Only with the collapse of Western Rome’s position, rendering their support for Constantinople less important than Alexandria’s, did it seem that Marcian bet on the wrong horse. This explains the Henotikon and change in Constantinople’s policies in the subsequent decades.

Initially, in the fifth session of Chalcedon, a Christological definition was drafted which apparently had everyone’s approval. It likely retained a highly Cyrillian character and made clear that Flavian’s teaching in Constantinople 448 was consistent with the former’s theology. It used the terminology “from two natures” in reference to Christ, which avoided explicitly being a repudiation of Ephesus 2—whose attendees were the backbone of Chalcedon’s members.

This was rightly perceived as a latent repudiation of Leo. Leo sought that Dioscorus could never be restored without a complete humbling. The terminology that Disocorus refused to confess (“in both/two natures”), despite him actually agreeing with its actual meaning, was deliberately missing in the draft definition. Dioscorus could never officially accept “in two natures” due to where he staked his ground with Eutyches. With “from two natures,” Dioscorus would be able to recant without admitting he was in the wrong. This was not the sort of capitulation Leo was looking for.

So, hoping for Egyptian pliancy in the future and seeking to placate the Roman legates (who were instigated by only “some” of the Orientals; Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol. 2, p. 197), it was ordered that the definition be rewritten to make clear that the Tome was seriously affirmed and Dioscorus (presuming he would never accept the Tome) condemned. At this point, the real sympathies of the synod reared their head. “Drive out the Nestorians” nearly everyone yelled. (Ibid.) The council had, in fact, wanted to leave the door open for Dioscorus. They were mindful that a purposeful re-writing that categorically repudiated the position of Dioscorus in Ephesus 2 would make that impossible.

The Roman legates, acting upon a previous assurance that Marcian would comply, threatened to leave the council and hold another in Italy. (Ibid.) The council doubled down, asserting that, “The Holy Spirit dictated the definition,” the same which the Roman synod rejected. (Ibid., p. 198) Given the understanding of conciliar infallibility in those days, these were serious words. After the Emperor sent word that he would back up the Roman legates on their threats, the Illyrians (who were ironically under Roman jurisdiction) accused the Legates and Orientals of being “Nestorians” and told them to “go off to Rome.” (Ibid., p. 200)

Probably anticipating this sort of impasse, the imperial officials called for a revised definition drafted by a committee which would include three of the five restored “fathers” of Ephesus 2 (Juvenal of Jerusalem, Thalassius of Caesarea, and Eusebius of Ancyra). Thirteen of the committee of 18 people were attendees of Ephesus 2. (Ibid., p. 188) Even amongst those who were not, as Price and Gaddis point out, “The only bishop from Syria was Maximus of Antioch, a belligerent supporter of Cyrillian theology, consecrated bishop by Anatolius while the latter was still supporting Dioscorus.” (Ibid., p. 189) The same point out, “This was not a group likely to break away from the consensus of the council fathers in favour of the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria, or to show any desire to accommodate the strongly dyophysite Christology of the Antiochene school.” (Ibid.)

This group of former-allies of Dioscorus were instructed tactfully by the imperial officials to “add to the definition in accordance with the decree of our most holy father Leo that there are two natures united without change, division or confusion in Christ.” (Ibid., p. 200) The thought must have been if everyone’s wishes were honored then everyone will be happy. A smart political solution that proved to be better in theory than practice due to the absurd degree of intransigence that Dioscorus exhibited.

One must be reminded that Leo’s letter did not explicitly use the words “without change, division, or confusion.” In fact, it was Dioscorus who stated these very words in the first session of the council: “‘We speak of neither confusion nor division nor change. Anathema to whoever speaks of confusion or change or mixture.’” (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Vol 1., p. 185) Equivalent Greek words were cited during Ephesus 2.

Now, let’s consider the actual “divisive” part of the Chalcedonian definition:

…in two natures without confusion [asynchtos], change [atreotos], division [adiaretos], or separation [achoristos] (the difference of the natures being in no way destroyed by the union, but rather the distinctive character of each nature being preserved and coming together into one person and one hypostasis)…

Dioscorus’ own partisans had clearly took the clue that the imperial officials had given them. “In two natures,” paraphrasing the Tome (and Cyril for that matter) which spoke of “in both natures” allowed the council to say to Leo that his theological demands were met. The meaning of “in both natures” is then literally defined according to the very verbiage of Dioscorus himself. The term “separation” is another reference to the Tome. Afterwards, the meaning of the section is clarified using Cyril’s own words as discussed previously. Hence, Dioscorus was given the opportunity to recant by his own partisans in a way that guaranteed he would save as much face as possible. The way to restoration was made wide open for him.

Ramifications and conclusions. First, one must comment on Dioscorus as he was the catalyst of what would become the Oriental Orthodox schism. His refusal to accept a council which so transparently taught his own theology in that it went as far as to quote him in its definition speaks to the character of the man. He was so clearly duplicitous and schismatic that his ignominy is more deserved than Nestorius. While Nestorius was an outright heretic, Dioscorus knowingly slandered his theological enemies, ascribing views that they did not have, and on an official level denied his own (orthodox) private convictions. This sort of intentional schizophrenia makes him the heretic of the worst sort–a purposeful (instead of absentminded or ignorant) heretic.

Second, there can be no doubt that worldly, political considerations made a flash point between Rome and Alexandria that should have never existed. Even despite such high stakes, the conciliar fathers of Chalcedon were quite adept at making legitimate compromises between the aims of everyone involved. At the end of the day, the greed of Dioscorus and his quest for Alexandrine primacy had done in his whole faction, which ultimately went down the path of proto-nationalist agitation and schism. It is with the utmost irony that one man’s greed would prove to be so decisive in splitting a Church which had fundamentally agreed on the Christology of their day. As for future developments in Miaphysite theology after Chalcedon, it will be left to more adept theological minds to parse. The analysis offered here concludes that stark differences do not actually exist during Chalcedon.

Lastly, most ecumenical attempts at rapprochement between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox work at trying to validate everyone’s saints involved and make it as if it was one big misunderstanding. This attempt at reconciliation is not working, because it is predicated upon falsehoods. Dioscorus cannot be a saint. Those who have wrongly built him up as a saint, and thereby exacerbated his errors, can be forgiven for perhaps not knowing better. This is not the case for Dioscorus. He was the worst of heresiarchs. He literally expounded a heresy for gain (at the expense of the Church’s unity) which he did not even agree with. He then slandered the side he had actually agreed with so as to obscure the actual path to unity—his own repentance.

Oriental Orthodox must look with astonishment and regret that their chief saint, Cyril, and his work was betrayed by Dioscorus (who, by the way, ironically also betrayed Cyril’s own family). This was all for the sake of a primacy that no one any longer prizes or even remembers existed. The rift and schism can be healed by identifying who had initiated the break in unity. Chalcedon and its transparent, obvious teaching, must be embraced. The hard, legitimate compromises made by Ephesus 2’s partisans should be appreciated. They literally did everything they can to save Dioscorus from himself. This is the path to unity.

A postscript:

1. I invite tough scrutiny and request that more adept minds mine into the literal Greek words that the definition of Chalcedon used vis a vis those of Dioscorus in Session 1. This to me appears to be the smoking gun. Additionally, the minutes of Ephesus 2 have Syriac equivalents to these words from what I can tell, which implies to me that the intent of that council was not to endorse literal Eutychianism. I give permission to anyone to take this work, do the touch ups in the original languages that are necessary, and publish on it. Send it to your bishop. This is what is needed for unity.

2. I reject a reading of Session 5 that posits the original minutes were manipulated and altered. There is no textual evidence of this whatsoever. A political explanation (as offered here) provides a realistic reason why the session went as it did. It makes no sense that ardent opposition would be recorded at the beginning of the session, an obvious team of compromisers put together, and then one is to expect continued opposition. Why not expect that everyone realized an abundantly fair compromise was struck with the quoting of Dioscorus/Ephesus 2 itself? And, if Marcian ordered the minutes scrubbed of opposition in the latter section as some postulate, why not scrub the embarrassing elements from the former section? I believe in time the theory put forward here on the integrity of Session 5’s minutes will be vindicated.

3. The article lays out a couple interesting “what ifs.” What if the Third Letter to Nestorius was read? My opinion is that the Egyptians would have agitated anyway over the language of the Tome and Definition itself. As Dioscorus’ own letter shows, they flat out lied that their opposition rejected Christ’s consubstantiality with mankind (like Nestorians), despite this being the precise point in which the Chalcedonians took in opposition to Eutyches. The moral of this story is that Dioscorus’ and his faction’s opposition did not require a firm theological basis in which to agitate. If not so, they would have accepted Chalcedon. Another interesting “what if” would be Dioscorus’ taking the olive branch offered by the Definition. Perhaps he would have been given a pension like Domnus of Antioch and he’d live in a comfortable sort of forced retirement. Price and Gaddis assert that the deposition based on three summons was never “fatal,” but they make the mistake of citing “examples” of depositions that were appealed to higher conciliar authorities. What is higher than an ecumenical council? Perhaps the ecumenical council can outright rescind it? This procedural detail is lost to history as no example exists. Pope Vigilius’ was deposed by imperial decree and acclamation of an ecumenical council, but without a vote. This was a deliberately weak deposition which allowed for Vigilius restoration if he played ball, but also allowed for his replacement by the Roman synod if he did not (precisely the situation that Pope Silverius faced, who was earlier deposed by imperial decree and replaced by Vigilius himself). How could someone with an iron-clad deposition like Dioscorus make a full comeback? Who knows. Being that it did not happen, we can only speculate.

4. This article contains hard words for Oriental Orthodox. This should not be viewed as contrary to my sincere love for those who are part of those communions, many who exceed the kindness and holiness of any other Christian. If by some miracle they were to accept Chalcedon en masse in this century, that would be a dream come true.

5. I have been informed that Theodosius II is a canonized saint. In a historical article such as this, it is hard to square many of his actions with how he is commemorated. In my own reflections, the obvious thing of importance is that the Council of Ephesus occurred under his watch and he recanted, recognizing this council. This is surely worthy. On a larger level, I am impressed by how Theodosius II accomplished so much in his worldly failures, maintaining the unity of the Church; where Marcian in many ways succeeded in a worldly sense, but required much more force to keep things together (and in his absence, his accomplishments all collapsed). Perhaps this is the more profound lesson? I do not know. Saint Theodora is a similar saint whose actions are hard to square with the good of the Church. It is best to presume that these saints tried their best.