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Saint Dioscorus the Great
Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ⲇⲓⲟⲥⲕⲟⲣⲟⲥ ⲁ̅
St. Dioscorus I, 25th Pope of Alexandria
The Champion of Orthodoxy
Born Unknown
Died 454, Gangra Island (Asia Minor)
Venerated in Oriental Orthodox Churches
Major shrine St Mark Cathedral (Cairo, Egypt)
Feast 17 September (Thout 7 in the Coptic Calendar)
Controversy Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Council of Chalcedon

Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria' (Coptic: Ⲡⲁⲡⲁ Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ⲇⲓⲟⲥⲕⲟⲣⲟⲥ ⲡⲓⲙⲁϩ ⲟⲩⲁⲓ) was Patriarch of Alexandria from 444. He was deposed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 but was recognized as Patriarch by the Coptic Church until his death. He died in Asia Minor, on September 17, 454.[1][2] He is venerated as saint by the Coptic and other Oriental Orthodox churches.

Biography & Ecumenism

Early life

Pope Dioscorus served as the dean of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, and was the personal secretary of Saint Cyril the Great, Pope of Alexandria, whom he accompanied to the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus, rising to the position of archdeacon.[3]

Opposition to Nestorius

In his struggle against Nestorius, St. Cyril explained the union between the divine and human natures of Christ as "inward and real without any division, change, or confusion." He rejected the Antiochene theory of "indwelling", or "conjunction", or "close participation" as insufficient to reveal the real unification. He charged that their theory permitted the division of the two hypostases of Christ just as Nestorius taught.

Thus the Alexandrian formula adopted by Cyril and Dioscorus was "one incarnate nature" which translated in Greek to "mia physis", by which Cyril meant "one out of two natures". He insisted on "the one nature" of Christ to assert Christ's oneness, as a tool to defend the Church's faith against Nestorianism. Thus, Christ is at once God and man.

On the other hand, the Antiochene formula was "Two natures after the union" which is translated to "dyo physis". This formula explained Christ as existing in two natures; Son of God, and Son of Man, and that God did not suffer nor did He die.

Nestorius was condemned and deposed by the Council of Ephesus, which approved of the title Theotokos for Mary and made no further dogmatic definition.

Support for Eutyches

Conflict reopened when Eutyches, an archmandrite in Constantinople, defended the formula "one nature" against the formula of "Two natures after the union" ("Dyo Physis"). Eutyches argued that the divinity absorbed the humanity of Christ. A synod chaired by Flavian Of Constantinople in 448 condemned and exiled Eutyches.

Eutyches appealed against this decision, labelled Flavian a Nestorian, and received the support of Dioscorus, while Pope Leo I, in his famous Tome confirmed Flavian's theological position but also requested that Eutyches should be readmitted if he repented.[4][5]

Emperor Theodosius II convened a Council to Ephesus and in remembrance of Cyril's role during the Council of 431, the Emperor asked Dioscorus to preside over the meetings. Dioscuros, who had brought with him a host of Egyptian monks, coerced the council to reinstate Eutyches and condemn Flavian (who was also physically attacked) and Leo as well as Eusebius of Dorylaeum and Theoderet of Cyrrus, Eutyches' two leading opponents. The protests of Leo's legates were ignored.[3] Flavian died shortly after the synod from the injuries he received from this attack. Pope Leo I protested, first calling the council a "robber synod", and declared its decisions void.[6]

File:St. Dioscorus.jpg

Another Coptic Icon of St. Dioscorus

The Emperor Theodosius supported the council's decisions until he died on July 28, 450. Now, his sister Pulcheria returned to power and made the officer Marcian her consort and Emperor. She consulted with Pope Leo on convoking a new council, gathering signatures for his Tome to be introduced as the basic paper for the new council, but also insisted (against Leo's wishes) that the council should be held not in Italy but in the East. Meanwhile, the new imperial couple brought Flavian's remains back to Constantinople and exiled Eutyches to Syria.

Council of Chalcedon

The Council, assembled at Chalcedon, not only dealt with the christogical views of Eutyches but also with Dioscuros' views and earlier behaviour. Because of this, on the insistence of the Roman legates, Dioscuros was denied a place among the council fathers.

When Dioscorus argued for the adoption of the formula "One incarnate nature of God the Word" and several bishops equated this with the views of Eutyches, Dioscuros tried to clarify his point that "We do not speak of confusion, neither of division, nor of change." Dioscorus stated that he did not accept "two natures after the union" but he had no objection to "From two natures after the union."

The Council declared Dioscorus and other bishops that had been responsible for the decisions of 449 deposed, not for condemned as heretics. Dioscorus was exiled to Gangra Island.[3][7]


A messenger from Constantinople arrived in Alexandria announcing that Dioscuros was deposed and exiled and that an Alexandrian priest named Proterius was appointed Patriarch in his stead, with the approval of the emperor. Though no one opposed Proterius out of fear of Imperial reprisals, many still secretly adhered to Dioscorus, considering him the legitimate Patriarch.

Dioscuros died in exile in 454. When the news reached Egypt, his supporters assembled and elected Timothy, a disciple of Dioscuros, to be the new Patriarch. Timothy, who immediately went into hiding, found adherence especially among the Coptic inhabitants of the countryside, creating the split between the Coptic and the Melchite (i.e. Imperial) Church.


His character and stance are subject to controversy between the Oriental Orthodox Churches on one side, and the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches on the other.

Dioscorus I is considered a saint by the Coptic, Syriac, and other Oriental Orthodox churches, while the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches have frequently deemed him a heretic.

Recent research suggests that both Leo and Dioscoros were Orthodox in their agreement with Saint Cyrill's Twelve Chapters, even though both had been considered heretical by the other side.[8]

Some commentators like Anatolius and John S. Romanides argue that Dioscorus was not deposed for heresy but for "grave administrative errors" at Ephesus, among which they mention his restoration of Eutyches, his attack on Flavian, his excommunication of Pope Leo and others and his rejction of the Council at Chalcedon. Defenders of Dioscuros argue that Eutyches was orthodox at the time of his restoration and only later relapsed into heresy, that Flavian was a Nestorian and that Pope Leo had supported Nestorianism.[9][10]

Another related matter of contention was the accusation, frequently levelled by Chalcedonian churches, that the Oriental Orthodox Churches accepted Eutychian doctrine. The latter deny this charge, arguing that they reject both the Monophysitism of Eutyches, whom they consider a heretic, as well as Dyophysitism espoused by the Council of Chalcedon.[11][12]

In May 1973 Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria visited Pope Paul VI of Rome and declared a common faith in the nature of Christ, the issue which caused the schism of the church in the Council of Chalcedon [13] .

Hence, in the mess typical of schisms, according to non-Oriental Orthodox Christian sects, he was a Coptic Pope turned heretic. Pope Dioscorus excommunicated many other influential bishops who he (and many others) considered Nestorian heretics, including Leo I.[6]

He was subsequently excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Leo I, most likely in very early 450 AD during the aftermath of the controversial Second Council of Ephesus, which he was charged by the Emperor to preside over with the concurrence of Bishop Leo I.

The other person involved in this controversy apart from Pope Dioscorus is Leo I with each side considering the other person a heretic. The main factors behind this are still present and it is subject to discussion between the churches.[14]

In recent research it was suggested that both Dioscoros and Leo are Orthodox because they agree with Pope St. Cyril of Alexandria, especially with his Twelve Chapters, even though both had been considered heretical by the other side.[15]

In May 1973, after fifteen centuries, Pope Shenouda III visited Pope Paul VI of Rome and declared a common faith in the nature of Christ, the issue which caused the schism of the church in the Council of Chalcedon. [16]

A similar declaration was reached between the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox churches in the 1990s in Geneva,[17] in which both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches agreed in condemning the Nestorian and Eutychian heresies and in rejecting interpretations of Councils which do not fully agree with the Horos of the Third Ecumenical Council and the letter (433) of Cyril of Alexandria to John of Antioch.[18]

They also agreed to lift all the anathemas and condemnations of the past.[19]

In the summer of 2001, the Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Patriarchates of Alexandria agreed to mutually recognize baptisms performed in each other's churches.[20]

See also


External links

Preceded by
Pope Cyril I
Pope of Alexandria
Succeeded by
Pope Timothy II
Patriarch of Alexandria (before schism)
Succeeded by
Patriarch Proterius I

ar:ديوسقورس الأول (بابا الإسكندرية) arz:ديسقورس الاول pt:Dioscoro de Alexandria ru:Диоскор sv:Dioskoros av Alexandria zh:狄奧斯庫若