The Council of Chalcedon provided a 'logical' conclusion to the first three ecumenical councils. Against Arianism, Nicaea I used the term homoousios to reaffirm 'Christ is (truly) divine'. Against Apollinarianism, Constantinople I insisted 'Christ is (fully) human'. Against what were understood to be the errors of Nestorius, Ephesus professed that Christ's humanity and divinity are not separated. Against Eutyches, Chalcedon taught that, while belonging to the one (divine) person, the two natures of Christ are not merged or confused. Thus the first four councils became acknowledged as representing the essential and orthodox norm for understanding and interpreting the NT's witness to Christ (and the Trinity). In speaking of NT witness, one must add that it provided a starting-point but remained much less specific than were later christological and trinitarian doctrines.
Five months after his election to the papacy, Gregory the Great in a circular letter of February 591 to five Eastern patriarchs (those of
Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and the former patriarch of Antioch) declared that he received and venerated the first four councils just as he received and venerated the four Gospels (DH 472).25 Even so late in the day, his endorsement of the second council, Constantinople I, was important. (Having been a papal envoy to Constantinople before becoming a bishop, Gregory showed a proper sensitivity to East—West tensions.) Before recognizing Constantinople I, in which none of its bishops had taken part, the Western Church had shown some resistance. In his letter Gregory also indicated his unqualified acceptance of the fifth council. But this endorsement of Constantinople II was motivated by his fidelity to the first four councils. They remained the touchstone for essential orthodoxy in teaching about Christ and the Trinity.
But, despite proving a logical conclusion to the first three general councils, Chalcedon left some, or even much, unfinished business. For instance, in the innovative part of its teaching it did not define 'person (prosopon or hypostasis). Half a century later, Boethius (¿•.480—524) influenced all later Western teaching on Christ (and subsequent Western philosophy) by defining person as 'an individual substance of a rational nature'. In the meantime, however, a sad division emerged between the Catholic Church and the hardline followers of Cyril of Alexandria, who remained dissatisfied with the Chalcedonian formula of 'two natures'. In an unsuccessful attempt to win them back, Emperor Justinian promoted Constantinople II (553) and a regettable, posthumous condemnation ('Three Chapters') of three authors who supposedly favoured errors that Cyril had opposed. By using Cyril's 'one nature' and Chalcedon's 'two natures' as equivalent expressions (DS 429; ND 620/8) and presenting the union between 'God the Word' and 'the flesh' as taking place 'hypostatically' (DS 424-6, 429-30; ND 620/4, 5, 8), Constantinople II highlighted the unity of Christ's person over the distinction of the natures. This also came through notably when Chalcedon's 'in' two natures was replaced by Cyril's 'from' two natures (DS 429; ND 620/8). This championing of Cyril also led the Council to remove any possible lingering ambiguity about Christ's divine identity by calling 'our Lord Jesus Christ' 'one of the Holy Trinit/ (DS 424, 426, 432; ND 620/4, 5, 10). In line with its stress on the union of divinity and humanity in Christ, the Council anathematized
See R. A. Markus, Gregory the Great and his World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
those who would not 'venerate in one act of worship God the Word made flesh together with his flesh' (DS 431; ND 620/9).
With still no peace in sight between the Monophysites (who championed Cyril's language) and the mainstream Dyophysites (who followed Chalcedon's teaching on 'two natures'), Sergius (patriarch of Constantinople from 610 to 638 and himself the son of Monophysite parents) proposed a compromise with his formula of Christ's two natures but 'one energy'. In a correspondence with Sergius, Pope Honorius I (d. 638) wrote of their being only 'one will' in Christ. Defenders of Honorius may explain how he did not lapse into heresy: he was not talking 'ontologically' (as if Christ's human nature literally lacked a human will) but merely 'morally' (in the sense that Christ's human and divine wills worked in such perfect harmony that it was as if they were one). Nevertheless, one can hardly acquit Honorius of being gravely imprudent in his two letters to Sergius (DH 487—8). His 'monothelite' ('one will') language threatened belief in Christ's full humanity, as if the human nature of Christ lacked an essential faculty, its will. The monothelite view transposed Monophysite reductionism from the level of human nature as such to that of human faculties, and represented Christ's human will as being 'absorbed' by his divine will. Patriarch Sergius' 'one energy' formula, in effect, did the same. It slipped over the fact that Christ's 'energy' or modes of activity comes from his natures and not as such from his person. Hence to assert 'one energy' was tantamount to asserting 'one nature'. This amounted to a Monophysite view of Christ's activity, as though his human action were absorbed by the divine principle of activity.
The Third Council of Constantinople (680/1) took a firmly Chalcedonian line by condemning Honorius' monothelite teaching (DH 550—2) and distinguishing the two natures of Christ in terms of their willing and acting. It taught that Christ enjoyed a human and a divine will (the two wills being in perfect harmony with each other) and two 'energies' or 'natural operations'. Applying Chalcedonian terminology to the problem it faced, Constantinople III insisted that the two wills and 'natural operations' were neither separated from each other nor blended together (DH 556—8; ND 635—7). Thus at the level of Christ's will and 'natural' activities, the Council upheld the Chalcedonian balance between a Nestorian separation and a Eutychian blending.
The vindication of Christ's complete humanity was motivated by soteriological considerations. Without a human will, not only would his true 'consubstantialit/ with us have been defective but also the reality of the salvation he mediated would have become suspect. Lacking a human will, Christ could not have freely accepted also 'on our side' (and for our sake) the redemptive mission that he carried through.
The Second Council of Nicaea (787) formed an epilogue to the previous six councils by putting an end to the Iconoclastic heresy, a movement which, not long after Jerusalem had come under Muslim control in 638, opposed the use of images in Christian worship and disturbed the Eastern Empire from ¿-.725 to 843. Various causes triggered off this movement: some Christians, for example, played down the importance of Christ's humanity and hence any visual images of him; others believed that the use of icons hampered the conversion to Christianity of Jews and Muslims. In a first phase, icons were destroyed as fostering superstitious practices and even being idols that were incompatible with Christian faith. From the monastery of St Sabas near Jerusalem St John Damascene (c.675—c.749) argued that using images to represent Christ and other sacred persons was a necessary consequence of the incarnation. They visibly expressed faith in the Word of God taking 'flesh' and assuming human existence in our material world. Nicaea II restored images and their veneration (DH 600—3; ND 1251—2). By endorsing iconic expression of belief in the incarnation, the Council summarized and drew to a close the christological teaching of seven ecumenical councils. Not long after Nicaea II, in 843 the Feast of Orthodoxy was established to mark the triumph over Iconoclasm, in particular, and over (christological) heresy, in general. Eastern Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, still celebrate this feast on the first Sunday of Lent.
Tensions between Eastern and Western Christianity flared up in the ninth century with a brief schism involving Photius (c.810-c.895), who was appointed, deposed, reappointed, and once again deposed as patriarch of Constantinople. Many details of the controversy, which involved several popes and Eastern emperors, remain obscure. But Photius entered history by being the first Eastern theologian to accuse Western Christianity of unilaterally tampering with the Creed by adding the Filioque or teaching about the Holy Spirit 'proceeding' not only from the Father but also from the Son. As regards the government of the Church, the Photian schism encouraged Eastern Christians to be even less willing to accept papal authority. From the time of Charlemagne's coronation in 800 until around 1050, popes often depended far too much either on the Western emperor or on the local or regional nobility in Rome or Italy, respectively. Apart from Nicholas I (pope 858—67) and Sylvester II (pope 999-1003), outstanding popes were sadly lacking. Sergius III (pope 904-11) was said to have murdered his two predecessors, and John XII (pope 955-64) was given the papal office at the age of 20 through the power of his father, the real ruler of Rome. Between 882 and 984 nine popes were murdered: by poison, strangulation, and other methods. That deplorable period in the history of the papacy also played its part in preparing the ground for the break between Western Catholicism and Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity, which is conventionally dated as 6 July 1054.
A monk who became patriarch of Constantinople in 1043, Michael Cerularius (d. 1058), strongly attacked the addition of the Filioque to the Creed and the (Western) use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist. An attempted reconciliation was doomed to failure, since an equally violent personality led the legation from Rome, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida. On that fatal 6 July 1054 the Cardinal laid on the altar of Santa Sophia a bull excommunicating Cerularius, who responded by excommunicating the Cardinal. In the long run that clash came to be seen as the beginning of a lasting schism. (The mutual excommunications were to be officially lifted only in December 1965.) But in the short run Eastern and Western Christians continued to have much in common, not least in the area of monastic life.
We have already seen above something of the fruitful story of Eastern and Celtic monasticism. Let us complete this chapter by a postscript on monasticism, which may over time do much to heal the divisions between East and West.
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