About seven weeks before the council met at Ephesus, Leo of Rome had sent his Tome to Constantinople where it had been well received by Flavian and the party opposed to Eutyches.
The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel
The referenced council was the Second Council of Ephesus in 449, attended by about one hundred fifty bishops. The purpose was to settle the issue raised by the condemnation of Eutyches in 448 – condemned for not accepting the Antiochene view of the reunion of 433 even though the disagreement in understanding that reunion had not been resolved between the Alexandrines and Antiochenes. Emperor Theodosius II convened the council, asking Dioscorus of Alexandria to exercise supreme authority over it as president.
In addition to investigating the condemnation of Eutyches, Dioscorus came to the council with his own understanding – the Alexandrine understanding. This as opposed to the Antiochene understanding under which Eutyches was condemned – and despite the reality that no official reconciliation between these two positions had occurred via a formal council.
In this mix, Pope Leo sent his Tome, intending it (according to Samuel and supported with extensive endnotes) to be understood as the only possible expression of the Christian understanding of Christ’s person. In other words, exercising Rome’s understanding as the supreme authority, Leo intended to make a statement after which no council would be necessary.
The council convened in any case. Dioscorus made many statements regarding the proposal that the faith should be confirmed first. To summarize: there was no need to clarify this, according to Dioscorus. The faith was already clearly defined by the fathers (referring to Nicea as confirmed at Ephesus) – do you intend to question the fathers?
This, of course, was the issue at hand – both sides claimed reliance on and harmony with the fathers, but understood the issue differently. But this time, the council was led by an Alexandrine and not an Antiochene. In other words, the faith is once again to be defined according to one side – the other side.
Eutyches was called in. The creed of Nicea was incorporated, and it was submitted that Eutyches held to it, having been baptized accordingly. This faith was confirmed at Ephesus, and Eutyches accepted it. He anathematized the heretics such as Apollinarius and Nestorius. In all of this, he implied the Alexandrine view of the reunion.
Two significant sentences from Eutyches’ confession in this council were left out of the minutes incorporated at Chalcedon.
‘For he who is the Word of God came down from heaven without flesh and was made flesh from the very flesh of the Virgin unchangeably and inconvertibly, in a way he himself knew and willed. And he who is always perfect God before the ages was also made perfect man in the end of days for us and for our salvation.’
Samuel describes this statement as an orthodox answer to the issue. The statement affirms the Nicene understanding and Christ’s consubstantiality with us. But it was not included in the minutes at Chalcedon. Samuel sees this as a deliberate omission, one intended to ensure the pre-determined outcome at Chalcedon of condemning Eutyches as a heretic.
But, while this will be an important point to keep in mind at Chalcedon, this is getting ahead of the story. This Second Council of Ephesus still had work to do. After evidence was presented, Dioscorus asked the assembly for its judgment regarding Eutyches. Several bishops acknowledged the orthodoxy of Eutyches, and one hundred eleven voted in favor of acquitting him. No dissenting voice was expressed (by then, it appears that the representatives from Rome had left). It should be noted that this was the desired outcome of the emperor, who called the council.
But this left the issue of Flavian and Eusebius, who led the previous council condemning Eutyches. The council declared that they had trespassed against the faith of Nicea. Which, of course, was also problematic. Both the earlier synod and this current council claimed adherence to Nicea as interpreted in 431. But they each held to a different understanding of what this meant. And no council to this point directly addressed and resolved this difference.
Of note in these proceedings, the Tome of Leo was not read. It is alleged that Dioscorus did not allow it to be read. Some suggest that he didn’t technically refuse it, just that he placed it so far down in the agenda that it was lost. Yet, on several occasions the legates form Rome asked for the Tome to be read. There was no one in the council to support them.
The common understanding is that Dioscorus purposefully hindered its reading. But Samuel conjectures another interpretation: Dioscorus did not have it read out of respect for the see of Rome.
The council, for instance, would have been constrained to apply the words which it had shouted against the bishop of Amasia to Leo also. So, in all probability, Dioscorus and the leading men at the council were trying their best not to declare the incumbent of the first major see in Christendom a heretic.
The matter was not left here. Leo, in turn, denounced the council as “a meeting of robbers.” The label has stuck, as pro-Chalcedonian writers regularly remind.
…the council of 449 asserted the Alexandrine view of the reunion of 433 as against the Antiochene interpretation which the synod of 448 had owned.
Thus far, it seems judgment is passed without accepted agreement on the standard. Both sides have played it this way.
Shortly after this council, the emperor – who desired the outcome that supported the Alexandrine position – died. His sister, Pulcheria, gained control and her consort, Marcian, was declared emperor on 28 August 450. She removed the eunuch who had stood in her way in the past and had Eutyches banished to northern Syria.
Pulcheria was determined to support Rome in its conflict with Alexandria for leadership in the Church. But she didn’t want Rome to stand alone, instead looking to elevate the status of the bishop in the capital, Constantinople, to an equal position with that of Rome.
To this end, Marcian wrote to Leo, expressing the desire to convene a council under the pope’s presidency to do away with all the impious error. In April 451, Leo excommunicated Dioscorus and two others on his sole authority, and, further, stated that the fate of the others who participated in the council of 449 would be left to his decision. Finally, he intended to circumvent the need for a new council, intending that his Tome resolves all questions.
On this last point, the emperor was not persuaded (keeping in mind the desire of Pulcheria that Constantinople be elevated to and equal position with Rome). The council would be called, and it would be called in the east – not in Rome. However, the Tome was to be considered the doctrinal standard for the council.
And with this, on 17 May 451, orders were issued for the council that would come to be known as Chalcedon.