Monday, March 12, 2007

Pope St. Leo the Great, the "Robber" Council of 449, and the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (Newman)

    How was an individual inquirer, or a private Christian to keep the Truth, amid so many rival teachers? . . .

    [In the fifth and sixth centuries] the Monophysites had almost the possession of Egypt, and at times of the whole Eastern Church . . .

    The divisions at Antioch had thrown the Catholic Church into a remarkable position; there were two Bishops in the See, one in connexion with the East, the other with Egypt and the West with which then was 'Catholic Communion'? St. Jerome has no doubt on the subject:

    Writing to St. [Pope] Damasus, he says,


      Since the East tears into pieces the Lord's coat . . . therefore by me is the chair of Peter to be consulted, and that faith which is praised by the Apostle's mouth . . . From the Priest I ask the salvation of the victim, from the Shepherd the protection of the sheep . . . I court not the Roman height: I speak with the successor of the Fisherman and the disciple of the Cross. I, who follow none as my chief but Christ, am associated in communion with thy blessedness, that is, with the See of Peter. On that rock the Church is built, I know. [Epistle 15] . . .


    Eutyches [a Monophysite] was supported by the Imperial Court, and by Dioscorus the Patriarch of Alexandria . . . A general Council was summoned for the ensuing summer at Ephesus [in 449] . . . It was attended by sixty metropolitans, ten from each of the great divisions of the East; the whole number of bishops assembled amounted to one hundred and thirty-five . . . St. Leo [the Great, Pope], dissatisfied with the measure altogether, nevertheless sent his legates, but with the object . . . of 'condemning the heresy, and reinstating Eutyches if he retracted' . . .

    The proceedings which followed were of so violent a character, that the Council has gone down to posterity under the name of the Latrocinium or 'Gang of Robbers.' Eutyches was honourably acquitted, and his doctrine received . . . which seems to have been the spontaneous act of the assembled Fathers. The proceedings ended by Dioscorus excommunicating the Pope, and the Emperor issuing an edict in approval of the decision of the Council . . .

    The Council seems to have been unanimous, with the exception of the Pope's legates, in the restoration of Eutyches; a more complete decision can hardly be imagined.

    It is true the whole number of signatures now extant, one hundred and eight, may seem small out of a thousand, the number of Sees in the East; but the attendance of Councils always bore a representative character. The whole number of East and West was about eighteen hundred, yet the second Ecumenical Council was attended by only one hundred and fifty, which is but a twelfth part of the whole number; the Third Council by about two hundred, or a ninth; the Council of Nicaea itself numbered only three hundred and eighteen Bishops. Moreover, when we look through the names subscribed to the Synodal decision, we find that the misbelief, or misapprehension, or weakness, to which this great offence must be attributed, was no local phenomenon, but the unanimous sin of Bishops in every patriarchate and of every school of the East. Three out of the four patriarchs were in favour of the heresiarch, the fourth being on his trial. Of these Domnus of Antioch and Juvenal of Jerusalem acquitted him, on the ground of his confessing the faith of Nicaea and Ephesus . . . Dioscorus . . . was on this occasion supported by those Churches which had so nobly stood by their patriarch Athanasius in the great Arian conflict. These three Patriarchs were supported by the Exarchs of Ephesus and Caesarea in Cappadocia; and both of these as well as Domnus and Juvenal, were supported in turn by their subordinate Metropolitans. Even the Sees under the influence of Constantinople, which was the remaining sixth division of the East,took part with Eutyches . . .

    Such was the state of Eastern Christendom in the year 449; a heresy, appealing to the Fathers, to the Creed, and, above all, to Scripture, was by a general Council, profes-sing to be Ecumenical, received as true in the person of its promulgator. If the East could determine a matter of faith independently of the West, certainly the Monophysite heresy was established as Apostolic truth in all its provinces from Macedonia to Egypt . . .

    At length the Imperial Government, . . . came to the conclusion that the only way of restoring peace to the Church was to abandon the Council of Chalcedon. In the year 482 was published the famous 'Henoticon' or Pacification of Zeno, in which the Emperor took upon himself to determine a matter of faith. The Henoticon declared that no symbol of faith but that of the Nicene Creed, commonly so called, should be received in the Churches; it anathematized the opposite heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches, and it was silent on the question of the 'One' or 'Two Natures' after the Incarnation . . . All the Eastern Bishops signed this Imperial formulary. But this unanimity of the East was purchased by a breach with the West; for the Popes cut off the communication between Greeks and Latins for thirty-five years . . .

    Dreary and waste was the condition of the Church, and forlorn her prospects, at the period which we have been reviewing . . . There was but one spot in the whole of Christendom, one voice in the whole Episcopate, to which the faithful turned in hope in that miserable day. In the year 493, in the Pontificate of Gelasius, the whole of the East was in the hands of traitors to Chalcedon, and the whole of the West under the tyranny of the open enemies of Nicaea . . .

    A formula which the Creed did not contain [Leo's Tome at the Council of Chalcedon in 451], which the Fathers did not unanimously witness, and which some eminent Saints had almost in set terms opposed, which the whole East refused as a symbol, not once, but twice, patriarch by patriarch, metropolitan by metropolitan, first by the mouth of above a hundred, then by the mouth of above six hundred of its Bishops, and refused upon the grounds of its being an addition to the Creed, was forced upon the Council . . . by the resolution of the Pope of the day . . .

(John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845, 6th ed., 1878, rep. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1989, 251, 274, 282-3, 285-6, 299-300, 305-6, 319-20, 322, 312)

Edited by Dave Armstrong in 1993.

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