Monday, January 30, 2023

Words Cannot Explain…

…leaving scapegoats to take the blame….

The lack of real agreement at the council of 451 with reference to the Alexandrine emphasis is linked with the council’s treatment of Theodoret and Ibas.

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

It will be recalled that these two were condemned at the Second Council of Ephesus – a council rejected by Pope Leo and repudiated at Chalcedon.   At the same time, many at Chalcedon believed the judgment against these two was sound – the two were, in fact, Nestorians.  A resolution exonerating them should not be passed unless the two explicitly reject Nestorianism.

First, Theodoret of Cyrus.  He was introduced at Chalcedon with no reference to his earlier condemnation.  This was justified – overriding the more than 100 bishops of the earlier council – by the plea that he had been restored single-handedly by Leo of Rome.

As [Theodoret] came in, the bishops of Egypt, Illyricum and Palestine voiced their strong protest.  ‘Have mercy on us,’ they shouted.  ‘The faith is destroyed! The canons cast him out!  Cast out the teacher of Nestorius!’

Shouts went back and forth, one side in opposition, the other in support.  In the end, the commissioners ruled that Theodoret would stay in the capacity of a petitioner.  His case was brought up eighteen days later.  Ignoring the action of Leo, the bishops in opposition proclaimed ‘Theodoret is still under excommunication.’

Theodoret wished that his petitions to the emperor and the Roman legates be read.  The opposing bishops wished not for this, but only that Theodoret anathematize Nestorius directly and openly.  He said a few words, unsatisfactory to these bishops. 

‘Speak plainly,’ demanded the bishops, ‘anathema to Nestorius and his doctrine; anathema to Nestorius and those who defend him.’

Theodoret would attempt to explain his position.  He would condemn Nestorius, but this was not sufficient – he must anathematize him.  Instead of doing so, Theodoret once again attempting to defend his position, the bishops exclaimed ‘He is a heretic!  He is a Nestorian!  Away with the heretic!’

With this, Theodoret made a clear statement: anathema to Nestorius, to him who does not confess that Mary is Theotokos and who divides the one and only Son into two sons.  He also reminded that he had signed the Tome of Leo.  With this, the bishops agreed and restored Theodoret to the communion of the Church.

Samuel notes of this entire episode – of Theodoret and Nestorius:

Here we want to observe that Leo of Rome, in declaring Nestorius a heretic on the one hand, and supporting Theodoret who had been an ally of Nestorius and who had not condemned the man on the other, maintained a double standard in the Christological controversy.

Whatever Leo did, he did it single-handedly as opposed to the one hundred and more bishops who had earlier condemned Theodoret. 

Next, to Ibas of Edessa.  In the so-called robber council of 449, he was deposed on a charge of heresy and of mismanaging ecclesiastical properties.  Samuel presents a summary of the history leading to Chalcedon.  He concludes his summary:

The foregoing summary shows that Ibas was a man who had denounced the council of Ephesus in 431, the theological position of the Alexandrine fathers, and the teaching of Cyril. 

At Chalcedon, after various readings were completed (but none from the council of 449 which condemned him), the Roman legates concluded that there was insufficient evidence to warrant his excommunication.  Therefore, he should be exonerated.  These legates would say that the earlier decision regarding Ibas had been irresponsibly given – we know he is orthodox.

Not all agreed with this statement regarding the earlier council, yet agreed to reinstate him given Ibas’s subsequent condemnation of Nestorius and Eutyches. 


The most important decisions at the Council of Chalcedon were, first the treatment of persons: Dioscorus on the one hand, Theodoret and Ibas on the other; second, the approval of the Tome of Leo; third, the adoption of the definition of the faith.  Regarding this, Samuel notes:

In regard to none of these decisions there was real agreement among the members of the council.

The real issue remained: the divergent interpretation by the Antiochenes on one side and the Alexandrines on the other regarding the council of 431 – superficially covered-up via the reunion of Cyril of Alexandria and John of Antioch in 433.  But this tenuous reunion lasted only as long as both Cyril and John lived.  However, John died a few years later and the fissures once again came to the fore.

All the men in the drama – condemned or exonerated or, in alternating fashion, both – were, in Samuel’s words, nothing more than scapegoats.  They were used as pawns in the larger battles of establishing power and authority in the various sees – very specifically, Rome and Constantinople which at Chalcedon found common cause.

…Rome for asserting its claim of universal supremacy over the Church and the emperors for trying to bring the entire Church in the east under the jurisdiction of the see of Constantinople.

Neither side had the patience to fully understand the issues and concerns of those in disagreement.  Perhaps a solution that would bring all parties together was, in Samuel’s words, “humanly impossible.”

Which brings me to a point I have made often on this topic: words cannot explain.  Maybe putting the precise manner in which divine and human came together in the person of Jesus cannot be stated in any words understandable by man.  Perhaps just accepting that the two are both present in the one person (or being, if you prefer), in some manner, is – and should be – sufficient for communion.


  1. "Maybe putting the precise manner in which divine and human came together in the person of Jesus cannot be stated in any words understandable by man. Perhaps just accepting that the two are both present in the one person (or being, if you prefer), in some manner, is – and should be – sufficient for communion."

    It is sufficient for me. This is an argument I do not engage in. I just accept it.

    1. For me as well, Roger.

      I am, in any case, looking into this for a few reasons: first, on what causes has the Church split? (this being the major first one); second, I have grown tired of those who pound the table about how they are following the tradition of the apostles and therefore am wanting to look into the history (not a flattering story, thus far - and I have a couple more books of the time to get to eventually).

  2. "Maybe putting the precise manner in which divine and human came together in the person of Jesus cannot be stated in any words understandable by man."

    Matthew 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

    The greatest understanding of that union is that Mary is NOT the "mother of God"! That false heresy is analogous to the adultery and idolatry that Israel committed in worshipping false goddesses such as Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), called by God a great abomination! Also, Israel worshipped the "queen of heaven" ( Jeremiah 44:17-18) by praying unto her in the same manner Catholics pray to the false goddess Mary.

    Therefore, Mary bore no part of the divine nature, but is all of the seed of the Holy Ghost. All she provided was the ability to bear the human side of Christ Jesus. That is why the Godhead is masculine, and that the seed mentioned throughout the bible is always by and through a man, which in this special incarnation is the Spirit of God.

    Mary was blessed (Luke 1:48) and never to be venerated as a false goddess in that she was sinless or that she was something less than any other sinner, calling Jesus Christ, God my Saviour (Luke 1:47). Also, the lie that she is a mediator, for that would mean the scriptures are not true. "For there is one God, and ONE MEDIATOR between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;" (1 Timothy 2:5).

    1. Preacher, this is not a forum to debate theology or doctrine. No one with the time to write knowledgeably on such matters has time for this blog. Further, it is not a place to sow division on such matters on which no one who has time to spend here is qualified.

      I write about these issues in order to understand the history, to better understand why the history of the Church developed as it has, why the splits occurred.

      You were concerned earlier that I deleted one of your comments because I disagreed - which, as you figured out, you deleted your own comment. However, I will be clear: I will publish no more of your comments that are diving into theology and that sow division.

      The internet is full of sites that revel in such amateur undertakings. This site isn't one of these.

  3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Even when he reveals himself, God remains a mystery beyond words".