Today the Church commemorates the Holy Fathers of the first six œcumenical councils: the Council of Nicæa, A.D. 325; the 1st Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381; the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431; the Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451; the 2nd Council of Constantinople, A.D. 553; and the 3rd Council of Constantinople, A.D. 680–81.
This feast is always celebrated on the Sunday nearest 16 July, i.e., falling on the 13th to the 19th inclusive.
Despite the anathematizing of the monophysite heresy by the Council of Chalcedon, the Church continued to be racked by controversy until the reign of the Emperor Justin I (518–527). The feast began as the Synaxis of the Council of Chalcedon on 16 July 518, when the Council of Chalcedon was at last restored to the diptychs. The Sunday nearest it was later celebrated as the feast of the first six councils on the recommendation of St Nicodemus the Hagiorite (1749–1809), whose feast falls on 14 July.
The readings in the Liturgy this Sunday are appropriate.
The Epistle is St Paul’s words to Titus, first bishop of Crete: ‘This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself …’ (Titus 3: 8–15 in part).
The Gospel is our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 5: 14–19)
Today we remember our father among the saints Anatolius, Patriarch of Constantinople. He presided over the Fourth Œcumenical Council at Chalcedon in A.D. 451.
The Council of Chalcedon, famous for providing the dogmatic formula relating the human nature to the divine in Our Lord Jesus Christ, was summoned by the Empress Pulcheria and the Emperor Marcian to address the Eutychean heresy. This is part of the tangled story of the events unfolding since the Third Œcumenical Council held at Ephesus two decades earlier, and going back even to the First Œcumenical Council more than a century before. I will recount these events very briefly.
The Nicene Creed, promulgated by the First Œcumenical Council in the year 325, affirmed the divinity of Christ, recognising him to be:
… the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, through him all things were made. For our sake and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man. He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; he rose again on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end.
While the Creed clarified the divinity of Christ, it left open how the human and the divine were joined in the incarnation. It soon became clear that there were differences of opinion. Everyone accepted the Nicene definition, more particularly that the purpose of the incarnation was ‘for our salvation.’ But it seemed that the interpretation of the incarnation by some theologians undermined the possibility of salvation. What made the question more difficult was the universal assumption of divine impassibility—that nothing can happen to God, making all the things that happened to Jesus an issue.
The problem came to be thought of in terms of the difference in theological emphasis between theologians associated with Antioch—Aristotelian, literal and historical—and Alexandria—Platonic, allegorical and mystical. The Antiochene emphasis on historicity caused them to focus on the humanity of Jesus, linking it only loosely to his divinity, while the Alexandrian emphasis on the mystical caused them to focus on the divinity of Christ, joining his humanity so closely to it as to be virtually indistinguishable, the so-called hypostatic union. For the Antiochenes, salvation equalled immortality. Because the humanity in Christ died and rose again, Christ can confer the gift of immortality on human beings. For the Alexandrians, salvation equalled divinization, and therefore requires the operation of a Christ in whom the human and the divine are inseparably united in hypostatic union, and who suffered, died and rose as a single being.
Theodore of Mopsuestia, who had studied in Antioch with St John Chrysostom, and who in A.D. 392 became bishop of Mopsuestia, a town in Cilicia II, in what is now southern Turkey, taught the Antiochene christology. Nestorius, who had been his student in Antioch, held a more extreme version of the teaching, to the point where he objected to any identification of the Only-Begotten, the Logos, with the man Christ Jesus, and hence objected to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s title Theotokos (‘bearer of God’). He held that she deserved only the title of Christotokos, since she bore only the human person in Christ, not the divine. The incarnation occurred when the human Jesus was assumed by the eternal Logos. The Alexandrian theology, by contrast, was that the union of the human and divine in Christ was so complete that the attributes of one could be assigned to the other without blasphemy and the Virgin Mary is literally Theotokos.
The Emperor Theodosius II was favourable to the Antiochene view while his sister the Augusta Pulcheria held to the Alexandrian. Theodosius placed Nestorius on the patriarchal throne of Constantinople in 428. Proclus, who would later become Patriarch of Constantinople and be canonised as a saint, preached a sermon before him immediately after his elevation criticising his christology. St Cyril of Alexandria took up the debate, defending the Alexandrian doctrine of the hypostatic union, as did St John Cassian in Rome, who saw a resemblance of Nestorius’s teaching to the Pelagian heresy in the West.
To resolve the issue, Theodosius summoned the Third Œcumenical Council to meet in Ephesus in Asia (now in western Turkey) in June of 431, expecting it to vindicate Nestorius and condemn St Cyril. St Cyril, however, arrived there before any of the Syrian bishops, who would naturally side with Nestorius. With the support of the orthodox bishop of Ephesus, Mennon, he opened the council without waiting for them so that, instead of himself, it was Nestorius’s teachings that were condemned and Nestorius who was deposed.
The teachings that were condemened at Ephesus flowed from a fundamental distinction Nestorius made between the incarnate Christ and the eternal Logos, the Only-Begotten. Against John 1:14, ‘And the Word became flesh,’ he taught that the flesh of Christ was not the flesh of the Logos. He held that the passages of Scripture that describe the human activities of Jesus are to be ascribed to Christ and those that describe the divine actions to the Logos, but no passage is to be ascribed to both. He held that Christ’s divine acts were not his own but were the operation of the Logos through him, so that it is proper to call him Theophorus, ‘bearer of God,’ but not God, hence worship is paid to the incarnate Christ only by courtesy, not by right. And finally, he taught that the person who ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father and who will judge the living and the dead is the incarnate Christ but not the eternal Son of God.
Understandably, when John of Antioch and the other Syrian bishops arrived in Ephesus, they were furious and immediately held a counter-council that claimed to depose St Cyril and Mennon. But they were too late. Theodosius, although unhappy with the turn of events, accepted the deposition of Nestorius and the condemnation of his teachings.
There now occurred an event to confuse the debate further. Eutyches, abbot of a monastery in Constantinople and influential at court because of his friendship with the prime minister Chrysaphius, espoused a doctrine radically opposed to that of Nestorius. Instead of distinguishing the human and the divine in the incarnate Christ, he collapsed them in almost a parody of the hypostatic union, asserting that at the incarnation the humanity from the Theotokos and the divinity from the Logos ceased to be two natures and became one, so that the humanity of the incarnate Christ is not consubstantial with that of human beings.
St Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople in succession to Nestorius, held a local synod in 448 that condemned Eutyches’ heretical views but Eutyches made use of his influence at court to arrange a packed synod to rehear his case, the notorious ‘Robber Synod’ held at Ephesus in 449. This predictably cleared him and condemned St Flavian. The synod degenerated into a riot in which St Flavian was so severely injured that he died shortly after.
Anatolius now enters the stage. He was an Alexandrian and was ordained a deacon by St Cyril. When the Robber Synod took place, he was living in Constantinople as representative to the imperial court of the Patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus, who had succeeded St Cyril when the latter died in 444. Dioscorus had presided over the Robber Synod and favoured Eutyches’ doctrines. When St Flavian was assassinated, Dioscorus used his influence to have Anatolius made Patriarch of Constantinople, thinking he could easily control him, but St Anatolius turned out to be fervently orthodox, although he could do nothing as long as Chrysaphius was in power.
In the meantime, St Leo of Rome, reacting to the teachings of Nestorius and Eutyches, wrote his ‘Letter to Flavian,’ better known as the Tome of Leo, based on St John Cassian’s ‘The Incarnation,’ defending the orthodox doctrine of the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ. The letter is dated 13 June 449.
On 28 July 450, Theodosius died and his sister the Augusta Pulcheria became regent. Her first act was to dismiss Chrysaphius. She had the relics of St Flavian brought back to Constantinople for interment in the Church of the Holy Apostles.
At the request of St Anatolius, Pulcheria and Marcian summoned the Fourth Œcumenical Council to meet in Chalcedon, a city on the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus opposite Constantinople, in October 451. The council read and approved the Tome of Leo, and condemned the teachings of Eutyches and Dioscorus, who were exiled, the latter deposed, as well as the opposite teachings of Nestorius. The council, avoiding both the separation of the natures of Christ and their confusion, defined the relationship between the human and the divine in Christ as:
… in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably united, and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Schaff and Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, XIV, 1900, pp. 264–65.
This definition has been accepted by all the orthodox, East and West, ever since. However, some of the bishops of Syria and Egypt, loyal to what they believed to be the teaching of St Cyril, rejected the Chalcedonian dogma. In 457, St Proterius, who succeeded Dioscorus as Patriarch of Alexandria, was lynched by a mob, who placed on the patriarchal throne the monophysite Timothy ‘the Cat,’ beginning the tragic schism between the orthodox (dyophysites) and the monophysites, which persists to this day.
St Anatolius was perfected on 3 July 458 and was succeeded on the patriarchal throne of Constantinople by St Gennadius.
Occasional comments by a convert to Orthodoxy.