Council of Chalcedon - Encyclopedia




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COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON, the fourth ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, was held in 451, its occasion being the Eutychian heresy and the notorious "Robber Synod" (see Eutyches and Ephesus, Council Of), which called forth vigorous protests both in the East and in the West, and a loud demand for a new general council, a demand that was ignored by the Eutychian Theodosius II., but speedily granted by his successor, Marcian, a "Flavianist." In response to the imperial summons, five to six hundred bishops, all Eastern, except the Roman legates and two Africans, assembled in Chalcedon on the Sth of October 451. The bishop of Rome claimed for his legates the right to preside, and insisted that any act that failed to receive their approval would be invalid. The first session was tumultuous; party feeling ran high, and scurrilous and vulgar epithets were bandied to and fro. The acts of the Robber Synod were examined; fraud, violence and coercion were charged against it; its entire proceedings were annulled, and, at the third session, its leader, Dioscurus, was deposed and degraded. The emperor requested a declaration of the true faith; but the sentiment of the council was opposed to a new symbol. It contented itself with reaffirming the Nicene and Constantinopolitan creeds and the Ephesine formula of 431, and accepting, only after examination, the Christological statement contained in the Epistola Dogmatica of Leo I. to Flavianus. Thus the council rejected both Nestorianism and Eutychianism, and stood upon the doctrine that Christ had two natures, each perfect in itself and each distinct from the other, yet perfectly united in one person, who was at once both God and man. With this statement, which was formally subscribed in the presence of the emperor, the development of the Christological doctrine was completed, but not in a manner to obviate further controversy (see Monophysites and Monothelites).

The remaining sessions, vii. - xvi., were occupied with matters of discipline, complaints, claims, controversies and the like. Canons were adopted, thirty according to the generally received tradition, although the most ancient texts contain but twentyeight, and, as Hefele points out, the so-called twenty-ninth and thirtieth are properly not canons, but repetitions of proposals made in a previous session.

The most important enactments of the council of Chalcedon were the following: (1) the approval of the canons of the first three ecumenical councils and of the synods of Ancyra, NeoCaesarea, Changra, Antioch and Laodicea; (2) forbidding trade, secular pursuits and war to the clergy, bishops not even being allowed to administer the property of their dioceses; (3) forbidding monks and nuns to marry or to return to the world; likewise forbidding the establishment of a monastery in any diocese without the consent of the bishop, or the disestablishment of a monastery once consecrated; (4) punishing with deposition an ordination or clerical appointment made for money; forbidding "absolute ordination" (i.e. without assignment to a particular charge), the translation of clerics except for good cause, the enrolment of a cleric in two churches at once, and the performance of sacerdotal functions outside of one's diocese without letters of commendation from one's bishop; (5) confirming the jurisdiction of bishops over all clerics, regular and secular alike, and punishing with deposition any conspiracy against episcopal authority; (6) establishing a gradation of ecclesiastical tribunals, viz. bishop, provincial synod, exarch of the diocese, patriarch of Constantinople (obviously the council could not here have been legislating for the entire church); forbidding clerics to be running to Constantinople with complaints, without the consent of their respective bishops; (7) confirming the possession of rural parishes to those who had actually administered them for thirty years, providing for the adjudication of conflicting claims, and guaranteeing the integrity of metropolitan provinces; (8) confirming the third canon of the second ecumenical council, which accorded to Constantinople equal privileges ('oa 7fp€ose7a) with Rome, and the second rank among the patriarchates, and, in addition, granting to Constantinople patriarchal jurisdiction over Pontus, Asia and Thrace.

The Roman legates, who were absent (designedly ?) when this famous twenty-eighth canon was adopted, protested against it, but in vain, the imperial commissioners deciding in favour of its regularity and validity. Leo I., although he recognized the council as ecumenical and confirmed its doctrinal decrees, rejected canon xxviii. on the ground that it contravened the sixth canon of Nicaea and infringed the rights of Alexandria and Antioch. In what proportion zeal for the ancient canons and the rights of others, and jealous fear of encroachment upon his own jurisdiction, were mixed in the motives of Leo, it would be interesting to know. The canon was universally received in the East, and was expressly confirmed by the Quinisext Council, 692 (see Constantinople, Councils Of).

The emperor Marcian approved the doctrinal decrees of the council and enjoined silence in regard to theological questions. Eutyches and Dioscurus and their followers were deposed and banished. But harmony was not thus to be restored; hardly had the council dissolved when the church was plunged into the Monophysite controversy.

See Mansi vi. pp. 529-1102, vii. pp. 1-868; Hardouin ii. pp. 1-772; Hefele (2nd ed.) ii. pp. 394-578 (English translation, iii. pp. 268464); also extended bibliographies in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopddie, 3rd ed., s.v. " Eutyches" (by Loofs) and s.v. " Nestorianer" (by Kessler). (T. F. C.)

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