Friday, December 9, 2022

The Trial

Eutyches was an archimandrite and heretic who lived in the fifth century at a monastery near Constantinople.

-          Orthodox Wiki

[Eutyches], An heresiarch of the fifth century….

-          New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia

In the present context it should be noted that in the light of the opinion that Eutyches was not in fact a heretic….

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

One of these is not like the other.  The home Synod of Constantinople in 448 condemned Eutyches as a heretic.  The issues involved were directly relevant to subsequent councils at Chalcedon and beyond.

Eutyches was not a theologian of any standing.  He was a monk who held some standing in the monastic circles around Constantinople, having directed more than 300 monks over thirty years.  He was a friend of Cyril, and an indefatigable supporter of the Alexandrine cause at the capitol.  He had direct access to the emperor’s court.

Flavian (the president of this home synod) and Eusebius of Dorylaeum would leave no stone unturned during the synod, until Eutyches was finally crushed at Chalcedon.  But the story begins here, three years earlier in 448. 

This conflict, which led to Chalcedon, had a simple beginning.  It began in theological debate between Eusebius (“a bishop that was ruthless”) and Eutyches (“an old monk who could exert great influence at the court of Theodosius II but who could not be relied on for any consistent theological discussion”).

On 8 November 448, Eusebius presented to patriarch Flavian of Constantinople a libel against Eutyches.  Although no specific accusations were made nor details offered in the petition, he was accused of presenting ideas contrary to Nicea and Ephesus, demanding that the monk be called to defend himself.  Flavian advised that Eusebius take the matter up privately with Eutyches, however Eusebius persisted.

Thirty-two bishops took part in the proceedings, which lasted two weeks with several sittings.  In the first period, the monk refused to attend despite being summoned three times.  In the latter period and at the seventh sitting, he finally appeared, escorted by representatives of the emperor.  With this, his trial began.

The nature of the faith was first confirmed: Cyril’s second letter to Nestorius and the Formulary for Reunion were read.  The councils of Nicea and Ephesus were confirmed.  Then testimony given by Eutyches was relayed by Presbyter John and Deacon Andrew: the monk denied all charges of heresy; he considered Eusebius an old enemy; he accepted both Nicea and Ephesus; he laughed at the accusation that the flesh of our Lord came down from heaven.

The difficulties were around the subtle language that separated the Alexandrine position from the Antiochene, with Eutyches holding to the Alexandrine view.  After his testimony, he was charged with holding two heretical ideas:

…that he rejected a union of two natures and that he refused to admit that Christ was consubstantial with us.

Some of Eutyches’ testimony is offered:

‘After he became man,’ Eutyches is reported to have said, ‘that is after our Lord Jesus Christ was born, God the Word is worshipped as one nature, namely that of God who has become incarnate.’

‘In which scriptures,’ asked Eutyches, ‘is there the expression of two natures?  Or of the fathers, who has defined God the Word that he has two natures?’

At the same time, Eutyches said that Christ was perfect God and perfect man.

‘May it not happen to me to say that Christ is of two natures, or to argue about the nature of my God,’ said Eutyches.

Eutyches felt that he would be creating doctrine where none existed and where no agreement had been reached.  On this view, Samuel agrees.

In order to make his position clear, Eutyches had prepared a written statement of his faith.  But this was neither received nor read.  It is speculated that the reason it was not accepted was that it registered the monk’s acceptance of Nicea – requiring the synod to decide if the statement was orthodox. 

Flavian would have been forced into a no-win situation if the statement was read – either accepting Eutyches as orthodox (having agreed with Nicea), or concluding that Nicea was not (thus condemning Eutyches).  Per Samuel, this would have forced the synod to make a clear statement of accepting either the Alexandrine or Antiochene position.

Eutyches made a statement – as far as he was willing to go on the question of Christ’s nature: he worships the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son came in the flesh through the flesh of the Virgin; He became man perfectly for our salvation.

But was He consubstantial with us?  Until this day “I have not spoken of the body of our Lord that it was of the same substance with us, and that our God became incarnate from her.’  He was pressed by Basil of Seleucia: if His mother was consubstantial with us, then was not Christ also?  Florentius also made the same point.

‘As you now say,’ said Eutyches, ‘I agree in everything.’

So why did Eutyches wait so long to say it?  Why did he hesitate?

‘I did not say this previously.  I say this now because your holiness says it.’  ‘Till this hour,’ answered Eutyches, ‘I was afraid to say this, because I knew him to be my God, and because I have not dared to investigate his nature.  Now that your holiness permits me to say it, I say this.’

Flavian reminded him that this is not a new teaching, but the teaching of the fathers.  Yet, I find sympathy with Eutyches – he is a monk, not a theologian; he was willing to go only as far as his understanding or as he felt permitted; he seemed to consider that determining the precise nature of Christ was above his pay grade.  So far, so good. 

But then Flavian asked if Eutyches affirmed Christ’s consubstantiality with us and that he was of ‘two natures after the union.’  His reply:

‘I confess that our Lord was from two natures before the union, but after the union I confess one nature.’

Samuel explains Eutyches’ hesitation (and, perhaps, also shedding light on some of the confusion):

…Eutyches was trying in his own way to exclude a doctrine of two Sons, which he feared was implicit in the phrase [“consubstantial with us”].

Again, being a monk and not a theologian, he didn’t have the words, a way to better explain his understanding.  This can be seen in his agreement once a bishop has given him permit.  In any case, the synod demanded that he clearly confess the dogmas and to anathematize all who hold contrary views.  Still, Eutyches would not relent, nor go farther than he understood of the scriptures or the fathers:

‘But I have not found them clearly in the scriptures,’ said the old monk, ‘nor have the fathers said all these things.  So if I anathematize, woe to me that I condemn the fathers.’

And, certainly, the Alexandrine fathers had not said all these things.

‘Let him be anathema,’ cried the synod.

At this point he was pressed again: affirm the two natures and that Christ is consubstantial with us.  Eutyches reply suggests something of his confusion – and suggests that Flavian’s initial suggestion to Eusebius to take his petition up directly with Eutyches was the wiser course.  Stating that he has read Athanasius, Cyril, and other holy father, they state two natures before the union, but one nature after.

Basil of Saleucia said that if he did not admit two natures, he would be maintaining confusion and mixtures; and Florentius gave his ruling that he who did not affirm ‘from two natures’ and ‘two natures’ did not have the orthodox faith.

As president of the synod, Flavian gave the verdict.  Thirty bishops and twenty-three archimandrites gave their signature to the decree.


In adopting its decision concerning Eutyches, the synod assumed a theological position to be exclusively orthodox.

While referencing Nicea, the creed itself was never read at this synod.  No reference was made to the council of Constantinople in 381.  In Samuel’s view, this synod that charged Eutyches accepted only the Antiochene view of the (not quite) reunion of 433.

It is this very position that the Alexandrines had all along been resisting with great determination.

Further, the demand that Eutyches should affirm ‘two natures after the union,’ was premature – thus far the Church had not sanctioned this phrase.  It is perhaps for this reason that Eutyches agreed to subscribe to this phrase if the bishops of Rome and Alexandria would require him to do so.  In other words, Eutyches was condemned for not accepting the Antiochene view, which, as has been shown, was not yet accepted by all.

In any case, the decision was made – and it caused great tension in Constantinople.  Eutyches had a large following among the monks, and he had access to the court of the emperor.  He sent his appeal to the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Thessalonica.  But he didn’t wait for a reply before also lodging a complaint with the emperor.

The emperor ordered an enquiry of the facts; he also wrote to Dioscorus of Alexandria, summoning him to a council to be held in Ephesus on 1 August, 449 (the Second Council of Ephesus).

Pope Leo, in the meantime, wrote his famous Tome, sending it to Constantinople – not to work for the reconciliation of the parties, but to offer a theological statement for the east to accept, irrespective of any past tradition.  Upon receiving the emperor’s letter inviting him to the council, the pope found no reason for a council and instead sent representatives in his place.

These were days of anxiety for everyone involved in the dispute.  No one was in fact sure of a final victory for his cause.

Which will take us next to the Second Council of Ephesus….


  1. I can't tell from the narrative whether the two natures or the one nature viewpoint was considered orthodox by the council.

    1. The entire nuance of the language remains almost lost on me. This was true before I started on this book, and remains true now. But if it is true for me, it must also have been true for many even in the early Church.

      In any case, what I am finding through this book - and am more focused on - is how factions and power played a part, using this nuance to gain control or to punish.

      Which brings me back to the agreed point that Jesus was both divine and human, but precisely how we are to understand that is on the one hand a mystery and on the other hand should not be used to divide the Church.

  2. From the perspective of the current, post-Christian era, these ancient theological debates seem ridiculous. There you were, in the jewel of Christendom, arguing over hair-splitting speculations on the human and Divine nature of Christ, and in short order the Muslims would overthrow it all. Then would come the modern fratricidal wars, destroying Christendom utterly.

    All the Councils, the libels back and forth, the doctrinal debates, all for nought. Like the World Wars themselves.

    The Anti-Gnostic

  3. To Anti-Gnostic: Exactly. Except for 1 little point: That there was a man name Jesus, who claimed to be the Christ, whose ministry lasted 3 years - until the fateful day when the religious war of THAT day had him crucified by the Romans. We believe because we believe in the testimony we read today passed down to us, and then the experience we have afterwards, faith is met by the Spirit of the Living God. These articles on the history of the church show how man tries to understand the infinite God with our finite minds. Its interesting to us who believe since it shows how hard we have struggled. Faith comes to us individually, and THEN we can find others who share our Faith - and its powerful. I hope 1 day you can have this experience. "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"

    1. Ted - I was a professing Christian for 5 decades and an Orthodox convert. I may still be Christian, but I don't really know any more given events of the last two years.

      In 2020, the Church declared that the State, not Jesus Christ, was head of the Church. Most Christians gladly went along with this.

      Most Christians believe that their highest and best calling is to be raped and murdered into extinction. They will gladly tolerate all levels of thuggishness and illegal invasion, and sell their own native land out so refugees from all those places that are, as usual, failing, have somewhere nice to live. (While their own children are priced out of the housing market.)

      Christians, in sum, no longer longer love themselves and no longer love Creation. And in thinking about it, it seems that that is where Christianity inevitably ends up. Once Christianity no longer has a Christendom, it just becomes one more religious ideology in the secular bazaar. Its participants then become locked in the dynamic of the purity spiral, with increasingly spectacular displays of out-group altruism. Eventually they'll end up like that pastor out in Texas, lighting themselves on fire to protest white racism.


    2. Anti-Gnostic, unfortunately the one unavoidable issue: without Christianity, there is no chance for moving toward liberty in this world (to say nothing of the larger truths). So while I (and many others) agree with your frustration, there is no other means for a positive change - despite the worst efforts of many so-called Christians.