The emperor became infuriated and turned out to be a bitter persecutor of the non-Chalcedonian body. …In the face of such cruel treatment many made their surrender and joined the Chalcedonian body.
The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel
Efforts were made to unify the two sides in the conflict in the latter half of the sixth century. We are no more than one hundred years after the council. Unity talks were held, documents of reconciliation drafted, non-Chalcedonian bishops were offered a diocese if they would switch sides. All came to naught.
One emperor, Tiberius, refused to persecute the non-Chalcedonians. “Are those whom you ask me to persecute heathens?” “No,” came the reply from the patriarch, the one who was doing the asking. They were Christians, just not Christians in our camp.
I reflect on the criticism offered by many in the Eastern Church of the Western Church – the persecution of heretics and the like. It turns out all lived in a world of stones and glass houses in all times and all places in the history of Christendom.
An interesting example: during the sixth century, the Arab Christian Kingdom of the Ghassanids, adherent to the non-Chalcedonian view, grew into prominence. Emperor Maurice had their leaders exiled, then destroyed the kingdom. This opened the door for Persian expansion into Syria. Did such behavior also later open the door for Islam?
The non-Chalcedonians in the East, being persecuted and oppressed by their emperor, preferred domination by the Persians – in this case, they enjoyed, relatively speaking, religious freedom. When their emperor ordered that those who would not accept Chalcedon should have their noses and ears cut out and their properties confiscated…well, the Persians didn’t look so bad in comparison.
Samuel then goes into a long examination of the dispute – arguments from each side. What, theologically, separated the two sides when it came to understanding the nature of Christ. It most certainly was not that Christ was both divine and human – both sides agreed on this. It was, precisely, how?
It is not a section that I will work through here. The more I learn about the dispute, the more I am baffled. Nothing in Scripture precisely explains this. so, we are left with tradition. But both sides claim adherence to tradition – exposing the folly of those Orthodox Christians who claim “we have followed the tradition of the Church from the time of the Apostles.” To which I say…which tradition?
My view on this entire matter is summed up well by Samuel, and after reading and working through this section of his work in which he examines the arguments on both sides (and having marked up these sections extensively), I could not summarize it better than he does:
In the Christological controversy, unlike any other theological dispute in the ancient church, there was a great deal of obscurity on account of the technical terms that were employed.
He looks at the Greek and Syriac equivalents of the key terms used in this discussion, how each was used and understood in the context of its use, how different writers understood the same term differently, how the same writer would use different terms to mean the same thing. He further examines in detail each position relative to the earlier views in Antioch and Alexandria.
Again, this is all secondary to my purpose – other than to emphasize that this controversy is not one that should have divided the Church – and should not be used today to continue in this division.
From here, Samuel offers some concluding remarks, to summarize:
· Labels such as Nestorianism and Eutychianism are extreme exaggerations of the views of the men for which they are named; the term Monophyte is a distortion of the views held by those so labeled.
· By the time that it was attempted to unify the Antiochene and Alexandrine positions of the church, it was too late. The traditions were too deeply embedded in each.
· Chalcedon was intended to bring political unity to the empire, and not concerned so much about theological interests.
· At Chalcedon, Rome was concerned with asserting the superior role of the pope, and not at all concerned with understanding the nuance of the disagreements in the east.
· These two united forces – the emperor and the pope – pressed the issue at Chalcedon. Against such weight, many of those who would otherwise have disapproved decided it was best to go along.
What does this all mean today? Samuel offers three areas of examination:
· An ecumenical perspective: prior to Chalcedon, there were heresies on the one hand, and Christological statements on the other on which all the major bishoprics would agree. But, beginning with the council of 431 and continuing with the nuances discussed at Chalcedon, this was not the case. Therefore, to label the non-Chalcedonians as heretics was inappropriate. Chalcedon merely demonstrated that more work needed to be done if unifying progress was to be made in this area.
· The perspective of ecclesiastical authority: Pope Leo claimed this for his Tome via the authority of Peter. Others view that this authority resides in the councils – a conciliar authority. Chalcedon demonstrates that neither of these positions can be supported in an unqualified sense. Samuel further examines this via various changes in positions by subsequent popes and subsequent councils from their respective predecessors.
· In the light of the Church’s faith: Peter declared that Jesus was Christ, the Son of God. all the disputants affirm that Jesus Christ is the one and only definitive savior. They only differ in the precise way in which He is to be so affirmed. In different ways, they each affirm both the divine nature and the human nature. Each of these positions seem to raise more questions than answers.
This ends my examination of Samuel’s book. Through this I have come to conclude that Chalcedon – being intended as a tool to bring the empire under unity and to establish the authority of Rome – cannot be held as a proper vehicle to divide the Church. Further, this examination brought me to understand that even the Council of Ephesus in 431 was not commonly understood by the participants – even though they all ‘agreed.’
I may at some point have to work even further back, to the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and even the First Council of Nicaea in 325 in order to find a common statement on which to stand. And with this, I offer the Nicaean Creed as modified in 381:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;
And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
We look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.
That’s good enough for me for today. But I have probably opened up another can of worms.