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Council of Chalcedon
Date 451 A.D.
Accepted by Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans
Previous council First Council of Ephesus
Next council Second Council of Constantinople
Convoked by Emperor Marcian
Presided by A board of government officials and senators, led by the patrician Anatolius
Attendance Approx. 370
Topics of discussion the judgments issued at the Second Council of Ephesus in 449, the alleged offences of Bishop Dioscorus of Alexandria, the definition of the Godhead and manhood of Christ, many disputes involving particular bishops and sees
Documents and statements Chalcedonian Definition, 28 canons
Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Council of Chalcedon is considered by the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Old Catholics, and various other Western Christian groups to have been the Fourth Ecumenical Council . It was held from 8 October to 1 November 451 at Chalcedon (a city of Bithynia in Asia Minor). The ancient city has been absorbed by greater Istanbul and is now the neighbourhood of Kadıköy, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.

The Council of Chalcedon was convened by Flavian's successor, Anatolius, at Pope Leo I's urging, to set aside the 449 Second Council of Ephesus, better known as the Robber Council.[1] The Council of Chalcedon repudiated the idea that Jesus had only one nature, a heresy now known as monophysitism, and stated that Christ has two natures in one person. The Chalcedonian Creed describes the "full humanity and full divinity" of Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity. The council also issued 27 disciplinary canons governing church administration and authority. In the famous 28th canon passed by the council, the bishops sought to raise the See of Constantinople (New Rome) in stature, claiming that Constantinople enjoyed honor and authority similar to that of the See of (older) Rome. Pope Leo's legate opposed the canon but in 453 Leo confirmed all the canons, except the 28th.

As one of the Ecumenical Councils in Chalcedonian Christianity, the Council of Chalcedon is recognized as infallible in its dogmatic definitions by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (then one church). Most Protestants also consider the concept of the Trinity as defined by these councils to be orthodox doctrine. However, the Council resulted in a major schism, with those who refused to accept its teaching, now known as Oriental Orthodoxy, being accused of monophysitism. The Oriental Orthodox churches reject the "monophysite" label and instead describe themselves as miaphysite. This council is the last council that is recognised by the Anglican Communion.

Historical background

Relics of Nestorianism

In 325, the first ecumenical council (First Council of Nicaea) determined that Jesus Christ was God, "consubstantial" with the Father, and rejected the Arian contention that Jesus was a created being. This was reaffirmed at the First Council of Constantinople (381) and the Council of Ephesus (431).

After the Council of Ephesus had condemned Nestorianism, there remained a conflict between Patriarchs John of Antioch and Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril claimed that John remained Nestorian in outlook, while John claimed that Cyril held to the Apollinarian heresy. The two settled their differences under the mediation of the Bishop of Beroea, Acacius, on April 12, 433. In the following year, Theodoret of Cyrrhus assented to this formula as well, apparently putting a rest to Nestorianism forever within the Roman Empire.

However, the works of two deceased Antiochean theologians, Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, were at this time translated into Syriac. By the intervention of Archbishop Proclus of Constantinople, the two theologians were condemned throughout the East, but this situation would later provide the material for the Second Council of Constantinople some hundred years later.

Eutychian controversy

About two years after Cyril of Alexandria's death in 444, an aged monk from Constantinople named Eutyches began teaching a subtle variation on the traditional Christology in an attempt (as he described in a letter to Pope Leo I in 448) to stop a new outbreak of Nestorianism. He claimed to be a faithful follower of Cyril's teaching, which was declared orthodox in the Union of 432.

Cyril had taught that "There is only one physis, since it is the Incarnation, of God the Word." Cyril had apparently understood the Greek word physis to mean approximately what the Latin word persona (person) means, while most Greek theologians would have interpreted that word to mean natura (nature). Thus, many understood Eutyches to be advocating Docetism, a sort of reversal of Arianism -- where Arius had denied the consubstantial divinity of Jesus, Eutyches seemed to be denying his human nature. Cyril's orthodoxy was not called into question, since the Union of 433 had explicitly spoken of two physeis in this context.

Leo I wrote that Eutyches' error seemed to be more from a lack of skill on the matters than from malice. Further, his side of the controversy tended not to enter into arguments with their opponents, which prevented the misunderstanding from being uncovered. Nonetheless, due to the high regard in which Eutyches was held (second only to the Patriarch of Constantinople in the East), his teaching spread rapidly throughout the east.

In November 447, during a local synod in Constantinople, Eutyches was denounced as a heretic by the Bishop Eusebius of Dorylaeum. Eusebius demanded that Eutyches be removed from office. Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople preferred not to press the matter on account of Eutyches' great popularity. He finally relented and Eutyches was condemned as a heretic by the synod. However, the Emperor Theodosius II and the Patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus, rejected this decision ostensibly because Eutyches had repented and confessed his orthodoxy. Dioscorus then held his own synod which reinstated Eutyches. The competing claims between the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria led the emperor to call a council which was held in Ephesus in 449. The emperor invited Pope Leo I who declined on account of the invasion of Italy by Attila the Hun. However, he agreed to send four legates to represent him. Leo provided his legates, one who died en route, with a letter explaining Rome's position in the controversy. Leo's letter, now known as Leo's Tome, confessed that Christ had two natures, and was not of or from two natures.[2] Although it could be reconciled with Cyril's Formula of Reunion, it could not stand against Cyril's Twelve Anathemas.

"Latrocinium" of Ephesus

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On August 8, 449 the Second Council of Ephesus began its first session with Dioscorus presiding by command of the emperor. Dioscuras began the council by banning all members of the November 447 synod which had deposed Eutychus. He then introduced Eutyches who publicly professed that while Christ had two natures before the incarnation, the two natures had merged to form a single nature after the incarnation. Of the 130 assembled bishops, 111 voted to rehabilitate Eutychus. Throughout these proceedings, Roman legate Hilary repeatedly called for the reading of Leo's Tome, but was ignored. Dioscuras then moved to depose Flavian and Eusebius of Dorylaeum on the grounds that they taught the Word had been made flesh and not just assumed flesh from the Virgin and that Christ had two natures. When Flavian and Hilary objected, Dioscuras called for a pro-monophysite mob to enter the church and assault Flavian as he clung to the altar. Flavian was mortally wounded. Dioscuras then placed Eusebius of Dorylaeum under arrest and demanded the assembled bishops approve his actions. Fearing the mob, they all did. The papal legates refused to attend the second session at which several more orthodox bishops were deposed, including Ibas of Edessa, Irenaeus of Tyre (a close personal friend of Nestorius), Domnus of Antioch, and Theodoret. Dioscorus then pressed his advantage by having Cyril of Alexandria's Twelve Anathemas posthumously declared orthodox[3] with the intent of condemning any confession other than one nature in Christ. Roman Legate Hilary, who as pope dedicated an oratory in the Lateran Basilica in thanks for his life,[4] managed to escape from Constantinople and brought news of the Council to Leo who immediately dubbed it a "synod of robbers" — Latrocinium — and refused to accept its pronouncements. The decisions of this council now threatened schism between the East and the West.

Convocation and session

The situation continued to deteriorate, with Leo demanding the convocation of a new council and Emperor Theodosius II refusing to budge, all the while appointing bishops in agreement with Dioscorus. All this changed dramatically with the emperor's death and the elevation of Marcian, an orthodox Christian, to the imperial throne. To resolve the simmering tensions, Marcian announced his intention to hold a new council. Leo had pressed for it to take place in Italy, but Emperor Marcian instead called for it to convene at Nicaea. Hunnish invasions forced it to move at the last moment to Chalcedon, where the council opened on October 8, 451. Marcian had the bishops deposed by Dioscuras returned to their dioceses and had the body of Flavian brought to the capital to be buried honorably.

The emperor asked Leo to preside over the council, but Leo again chose to send legates in his place. This time, Bishops Pachasinus of Lilybaeum and Julian of Cos and two priests Boniface and Basil represented the western church at the council. The Council of Chalcedon condemned the work of the Robber Council and professed the doctrine of the Incarnation presented in Leo's Tome. Attendance at this council was very high, with about 370 bishops (or presbyters representing bishops) attending (see Price and Gaddis, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, Liverpool 2005, vol. 3, 193-6). Paschasinus refused to give Dioscorus (who had excommunicated Leo leading up to the council) a seat at the council. As a result, he was moved to the nave of the church. Paschasinus further ordered the reinstatement of Theodoret and that he be given a seat, but this move caused such an uproar among the council fathers, that Theodoret also sat in the nave, though he was given a vote in the proceedings, which began with a trial of Dioscorus.

Marcian wished to bring proceedings to a speedy end, and asked the council to make a pronouncement on the doctrine of the Incarnation before continuing the trial. The council fathers, however, felt that no new creed was necessary, and that the doctrine had been laid out clearly in Leo's Tome.[2] The second day of the council ended with shouts from the bishops, "It is Peter who says this through Leo. This is what we all of us believe. This is the faith of the Apostles. Leo and Cyril teach the same thing."

The council continued with Dioscorus' trial, but he refused to appear before the assembly. As a result, he was condemned, but by an underwhelming amount (more than half the bishops present for the previous sessions did not attend his condemnation), and all of his decrees were declared null. Marcian responded by exiling Dioscorus. All of the bishops were then asked to sign their assent to the Tome, but a group of thirteen Egyptians refused, saying that they would assent to "the traditional faith." As a result, the emperor's commissioners decided that a creed would indeed be necessary and presented a text to the fathers. No consensus was reached, and indeed the text has not survived to the present.

Paschasinus threatened to return to Rome to reassemble the council in Italy. Marcian agreed, saying that if a clause were not added to the creed supporting Leo's doctrine, the bishops would have to relocate. The bishops relented and added a clause, saying that, according to the decision of Leo, in Christ there are two natures united, inconvertible [natures], inseparable [natures].

Confession of Chalcedon

The Confession of Chalcedon provides a clear statement on the human and divine nature of Christ:

Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; "like us in all things but sin." He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter). The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.

Interestingly enough, this goes against the teaching of Cyril from the previous council stating that it is incorrect to speak of Christ as existing in two natures after the union. The reasoning adopted by the Eastern Orthodox Church is that further clarification of Cyril's position was required.


The work of the council was completed by a series of 27 disciplinary canons:[1]

  1. States that all canons of previous councils shall remain in force; specific councils were clarified by Quinisext Council canon 2.
  2. Forbids simony (paying for ecclesiastic office).
  3. Prohibits bishops from engaging in business.
  4. Gives authority to bishops over the monks in their dioceses, with the right to permit or forbid the foundation of new monasteries.
  5. States that travelling bishops are subject to canon law.
  6. Forbids the clergy from changing dioceses.
  7. Forbids the clergy from serving in the military.
  8. Places the poorhouses under the jurisdiction of the bishop.
  9. Limits the ability to accuse a bishop of wrongdoing.
  10. Prevents clergy belonging to multiple churches.
  11. Regards letters of travel for the poor.
  12. Prohibits provinces from being divided for the purposes of creating another church.
  13. Prohibits clergy from officiating where they are unknown without a letter of recommendation from their bishop.
  14. Regards wives and children of cantors and lectors.
  15. Requires a deaconess to be at least 40.
  16. Forbids monks and nuns from marrying on pain of excommunication.
  17. Forbids rural parishes from changing bishops.
  18. Forbids conspiracy against bishops.
  19. Requires bishops to conduct a synod twice a year.
  20. Lists exemptions for those who have been driven to another city.
  21. States an accuser of a bishop shall be suspect before the bishop.
  22. Forbids seizing the goods of a dead bishop.
  23. Allows the expulsion of outsiders who cause trouble in Constantinople.
  24. Asserts that monasteries are permanent.
  25. Requires a new bishop to be ordained within 3 months of election.
  26. Requires cathedrals to have a steward from among the clergy to monitor church business.
  27. Forbids carrying off women under pretense of marriage (eloping).

Canon 28 grants equal privileges (isa presbeia) to Constantinople as of Rome because Constantinople is the New Rome as renewed by canon 36 of the Quinisext Council. The papal legates were not present for the vote on this canon, and protested it afterwards, and was not ratified by Pope Leo in Rome.

According to some ancient Greek collections, canons 29 and 30 are attributed to the council: canon 29, which states that an unworthy bishop cannot be demoted but can be removed, is an extract from the minutes of the 19th session; canon 30, which grants the Egyptians time to consider their rejection of Leo's Tome, is an extract from the minutes of the fourth session.[5]

In all likelihood an official record of the proceedings was made either during the council itself or shortly afterwards. The assembled bishops informed the pope that a copy of all the "Acta" would be transmitted to him; in March, 453, Pope Leo commissioned Julian of Cos, then at Constantinople, to make a collection of all the Acts and translate them into Latin. Most of the documents, chiefly the minutes of the sessions, were written in Greek; others, e.g. the imperial letters, were issued in both languages; others, again, e.g. the papal letters, were written in Latin. Eventually nearly all of them were translated into both languages.

The Status of Constantinople

The Council of Chalcedon also elevated the See of Constantinople to a position "second in eminence and power to the Bishop of Rome".[6][7]

Since the conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the first place of honor given to an episcopate was to Rome. The Council of Chalcedon modified this somewhat by placing Constantinople second in honor, above Antioch and Alexandria. The middle of Canon XXVIII reads:

And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges (ἴσα πρεσβεῖα) to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honoured with the Sovereignty and the Senate and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her.[8]

When the capital of the old Roman Empire was still in Rome, there was no pentarchy – that is, the five patriarchal sees whose bishops were the first among equals within their ecclesiastical provinces. Nonetheless, over time, bishops repeatedly asserted the authority of the bishop of Constantinople, although always second in honor to the bishop of Rome. For example, the third canon of the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (381 AD) states that "the bishop of Constantinople... shall have the prerogative of honor after the bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome." It is possible that for the Eastern bishops Constantinople's preeminence was a fait accompli and that the 28th canon was a culmination of ongoing ecclesiological development. Or perhaps, as one commentator has noted, the claims of the Church in Rome regarding her preeminence "excited jealousy of her rival of the East."[9]

In making their case, the council fathers argued that tradition had accorded "honor" to the see of older Rome because it was formerly the imperial city. Accordingly, “moved by the same purposes” the fathers “apportioned equal prerogatives to the most holy see of new Rome” because “the city which is honored by the imperial power and senate and enjoying privileges equaling older imperial Rome should also be elevated to her level in ecclesiastical affairs and take second place after her.”[10] The framework for allocating ecclesiastical authority advocated by the council fathers mirrored the allocation of imperial authority in the later period of the Roman Empire. The Eastern position could be characterized as being pragmatic (or perhaps political) in nature, as opposed to a doctrinal view. In practice, all Christians East and West addressed the papacy as the See of Peter or the Apostolic See rather than the See of the Imperial Capital because it was commonly understood that Rome's precedence comes from Peter rather than its association with Imperial authority.

After the passage of the Canon 28, Rome filed a protest against the reduction of honor given to Antioch and Alexandria. However, growing concerns that withholding Rome's approval would be interpreted as a rejection of the entire council, in 453 he confirmed the council's canons with a protest against the 28th.

Consequences of the council

The near-immediate result of the council was a major schism. The bishops that were uneasy with the language of Pope Leo's Tome repudiated the council, saying that the acceptance of two physes was tantamount to Nestorianism. Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, advocated miaphysitism and had dominated the Council of Ephesus.[11] Churches that rejected Chalcedon in favor of Ephesus broke off from the rest of the Church in a schism. These churches compose Oriental Orthodoxy, with the Church of Alexandria as their spiritual leader.

Recent years have brought about a degree of rapprochement between Chalcedonian Christians and the Oriental Orthodox. Agreement on doctrine has been declared between Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, for instance, although communion between these families of churches has not been restored.


  • Edward Walford, translator, The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius: A History of the Church from AD 431 to AD 594, 1846. Reprinted 2008. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-88-6. [2]
  • Bindley, T. Herbert and F. W. Green, The Oecumenical Documents of the Faith. 2nd ed. London: Methuen, 1950.
  • Grillmeier, Aloys (1975), Christ in Christian Tradition: from the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, ISBN 066422301X, 
  • Hefele, Charles Joseph. A History of the Councils of the Church from the Original Documents. 5 vols. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1883. (Our topic is located in vol. 3)
  • Meyendorff, John, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Washington D.C.: Corpus Books, 1969).
  • Price, Richard, and Gaddis, Michael, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, 3 vols (Liverpool University Press, 2005, 2007).
  • Sellers,R.V., Two Ancient Christologies (London: SPCK, 1940)
  • Sellers, R.V., The Council of Chalcedon: A Historical and Doctrinal Survey, (London, SPCK, 1961).

See also


  1. ibid. pps. 45-47
  2. 2.0 2.1 Leo's Tome
  3. Frend, W. H. C., The Rise of the Monophysite Movement, James Clarke & Co, 1972, pps. 41-43
  4. Life of St. Hilary
  5. The Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 1, ed. Norman P. Tanner, S.J. (1990), 75-76.
  6. Bokenkotter, Thomas (2004). A Concise History of the Catholic Church. Doubleday. p. 84. ISBN 0385505841. 
  7. Noble, Thomas; Strauss, Barry (2005). Western Civilization. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 214. ISBN 0618432779. 
  8. Canon IX, Council of Chalcedon Seven Ecumenical Councils, Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  9. See Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: The Seven Ecumenical Councils, vol. 14, by Henry R. Percival, 1994, 383-84.
  10. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner, SJ, 99-100.
  11. "Latrocinium." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005

External links