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§ 140. The Eutychian Controversy. The Council of Robbers, a.d. 449.

Comp. the Works at § 137.


Acts of the council of Chalcedon, of the local council of Constantinople, and of the Robber Synod of Ephesus. The correspondence between Leo and Flavian, etc. For these acts, letters, and other documents, see Mansi, Conc. tom. v. vi. and vii. (Gelasius?): Breviculus historiae Eutychianistarum a. gesta de nomine Acacii (extending to 486, in Mansi, vii. 1060 sqq.). Liberatus: Breviarium causae Nest. et Eutych. Leontinus Byzant.: Contra Nest. et Eutych. The last part of the Synodicon adv. tragödiam Irenaei (in Mansi, v. 731 sqq.). Evagrius: H. E. i. 9 sqq. Theodoret: Ἐρανιστής(the Beggar) or Πολύμορφος(the Multiformed),—a refutation of the Egyptian Eutychian system of doctrines (which begged together so much from various old heresies, as to form a now one), in three dialogues, written in 447 (Opera, ed. Schulze, vol. iv.).


Petavius: De incarnatione Verbi, lib. i. c. 14–18, and the succeeding books, particularly iii., iv., and v. (Theolog. dogmatum, tom. iv. p. 65 sqq. ed. Par. 1650). Tillemont: Mémoires, tom. xv. pp. 479–719. C. A. Salig: De Eutychianismo ante Eutychen. Wolfenb. 1723. Walch: Ketzerhist. vol. vi. 3–640. Schröckh: vol. xviii. 433–492. Neander: Kirchengesch. iv. pp. 942–992. Baur: Gesch. der Lehre von d. Dreieinigkeit, etc. i. 800–825. Dorner: Gesch. d. Lehre v. d. Pers. Chr. ii. 99–149. Hefele (R.C.): Conciliengesch. ii. pp. 295–545. W. Cunningham: Historical Theology, i. pp. 311–’15. Comp. also the Monographs of Arendt (1835) and Perthel (1848) on Leo I.

The result of the third universal council was rather negative than positive. The council condemned the Nestorian error, without fixing the true doctrine. The subsequent union of the Alexandrians and the Antiochians was only a superficial peace, to which each party had sacrificed somewhat of its convictions. Compromises are generally of short duration; principles and systems must develope themselves to their utmost consequences; heresies must ripen, and must be opened to the core. As the Antiochian theology begot Nestorianism, which stretched the distinction of the human and divine natures in Christ to double personality; so the Alexandrian theology begot the opposite error of Eutychianism or Monophysitism, which urged the personal unity of Christ at the expense of the distinction of natures, and made the divine Logos absorb the human nature. The latter error is as dangerous as the former. For if Christ is not true man, he cannot be our example, and his passion and death dissolve at last into mere figurative representations or docetistic show.

A large portion of the party of Cyril was dissatisfied with the union creed, and he was obliged to purge himself of inconsistency. He referred the duality of natures spoken of in the symbol to the abstract distinction of deity and humanity, while the two are so made one in the one Christ, that after the union all separation ceases, and only one nature is to be recognized in the incarnate Son. The Logos, as the proper subject of the one nature, has indeed all human, or rather divine-human, attributes, but without a human nature. Cyril’s theory of the incarnation approaches Patripassianism, but differs from It in making the Son a distinct hypostasis from the Father. It mixes the divine and human; but It mixes them only in Christ, and so is Christo-theistic, but not pantheistic.15941594   Cyril’s true view is most clearly expressed in the following propositions (comp. Mansi, v. 320, and Niedner, p. 364): Theἐνσάρκωσιςwasφυσικὴ ἕνωσιςor becoming man, on the part of God, so that there is onlyμία σεσαρκωμένη φύσις τοῦ λόγου. Ὁ Ωεὸς λόγος, ἑνωθεὶς σαρκὶ καθ ̓ ὑπόστασιν, ἐγεν́ετο ἄνθρωπος·, συνήφθη ἀνθρώπῳ. Μία ἤδη νοεῖται φύσις μετὰ τὴν ἕνωσιν, ἡ αὐτοῦ τοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη. Ἡ τοῦ κυρίου σάρξ ἐστιν ἰδία τοῦ Θεοῦ λόγου, οὐχ ἑτέρου τινὸς παρ ̓ αὐτόν. Theἕνωσις τῶν φύσεωνis not, indeed, exactly a σύγχυσις τῶν φύσεων, but at all events excludes all διαίρεσις, and demands an absolute co-existence and interpenetration of the λόγοςand theσάρξ. The consequence of this incarnation is the existence of a new entity, a divine-human subject, which is in nothing only God or only man, but in everything is both in one, and whose attributes (proprietates, idiomata) are not, some divine and others human, but all divine-human.

On the other side, the Orientals or Antiochians, under the lead of John, Ibas, and especially Theodoret, interpreted the union symbol in their sense of a distinction of the two natures continuing in the one Christ even after the incarnation, and actually obtained the victory for this moderate Nestorianism, by the help of the bishop of Rome, at the council of Chalcedon.

The new controversy was opened by the party of monophysite sentiment.

Cyril died in 444. His arch-deacon, Dioscurus (Διόσκορος), who had accompanied him to the council at Ephesus, succeeded him in the patriarchal chair of Alexandria (444–451), and surpassed him in all his had qualities, while he fell far behind him in intellect and in theological capacity.15951595    Towards the memory of Cyril he behaved very recklessly. He confiscated his considerable estate (Cyril was of wealthy family), accused him of squandering the church funds in his war against Nestorius, and unseated several of his relatives. He was himself charged, at the council of Chalcedon, with embezzlement of the moneys of the church and of the poor. He was a man of unbounded ambition and stormy passion, and shrank from no measures to accomplish his designs and to advance the Alexandrian see to the supremacy of the entire East; in which he soon succeeded at the Council of Robbers. He put himself at the head of the monophysite party, and everywhere stirred the fire of a war against the Antiochian Christology.

The theological representative, but by no means the author, of the monophysite heresy which bears his name, was Eutyches,15961596    That is, the Fortunate. His opponents said he should rather have been named Atyches, the Unfortunate. He must not be confounded with the deacon Eutyches, who attended Cyril to the council of Ephesus. Leo the Great in his renowned letter to Flavian, calls him “very ignorant and unskilled,” multum imprudens et nimis imperious, and justly attributes his error rather to imperitia than to versutia. So also Petavius and Hefele (ii. p. 800). an aged and respected, but not otherwise important presbyter and archimandrite (head of a cloister of three hundred monks) in Constantinople, who had lived many years in monastic seclusion, and had only once appeared in public, to raise his voice, in that procession, for the Cyrillian council of Ephesus and against Nestorius. His relation to the Alexandrian Christology is like that of Nestorius to the Antiochian; that is, he drew it to a head, brought it to popular expression, and adhered obstinately to it; but he is considerably inferior to Nestorius in talent and learning. His connection with this controversy is in a great measure accidental.

Eutyches, like Cyril, laid chief stress on the divine in Christ, and denied that two natures could be spoken of after the incarnation. In our Lord, after his birth, he worshipped only one nature, the nature of God become flesh and man.15971597    Μίαν φύσιν προσκυνεῖν, καὶ ταύτην Θεοῦ σαρκωθέντος καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντος, or as he declared before the synod at Constantinople: Ὁμολογῶ ἐκ δύο φύσεων γεγεννῆσθαι τὸν κύριονἡμῶν πρὸ τῆς ἑνήσεως · μετὰ δὲ τὴν ἕνωσιν μίαν φυσιν ὁμολογῶ.Mansi, tom. vi. fol. 744. In behalf of his view he appealed to the Scriptures, to Athanasius and Cyril, and to the council of Ephesus in 431. The impersonal human nature is assimilated and, as It were, deified by the personal Logos, so that his body is by no means of the same substance (ὁμοούσιον) with ours, but a divine body.15981598    The other side imputed to Eutychianism the doctrine of a heavenly body, or of an apparent body, or of the transformation of the Logos into flesh. So Theodoret, Fab. haer. iv. 13. Eutyches said, Christ had a σῶμα ἀνθρώπου, but not a σῶμα ἀνθρώπινον, and he denied the consubstantiality of his σάρξwith ours. Yet he expressly guarded himself against Docetism, and against all speculation: Φυσιολογεῖν ἐμαυτῷ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω. He was really neither a philosopher nor a theologian, but only insisted on some theological opinions and points of doctrine with great tenacity and obstinacy. All human attributes are transferred to the one subject, the humanized Logos. Hence it may and must be said: God is born, God suffered, God was crucified and died. He asserted, therefore, on the one hand, the capability of suffering and death in the Logos-personality, and on the other hand, the deification of the human in Christ.

Theodoret, in three dialogues composed in 447, attacked this Egyptian Eutychian type of doctrine as a beggar’s basket of Docetistic, Gnostic, Apollinarian, and other heresies,15991599    Hence the title of the dialogues: Ἐρανιστής, Beggar, and Πολύμορφος, the Multiform. Under this name the Eutychian speaker is introduced. Theodoret also wrote an ἀπολογία ὑπὲρ Διοδώρου καὶ Θεοδώρουwhich is lost. and advocated the qualified Antiochian Christology, i.e., the doctrine of the unfused union of two natures in one person. Dioscurus accused him to the patriarch Domnus in Antioch of dividing the one Lord Christ into two Sons of God; and Theodoret replied to this with moderation. Dioscurus, on his part, endeavored to stir up the court in Constantinople against the whole church of Eastern Asia. Domnus and Theodoret likewise betook themselves to the capital, to justify their doctrine. The controversy now broke forth with greater violence, and concentrated on the person of Eutyches in Constantinople.

At a local synod of the patriarch Flavian at Constantinople in 44816001600    Σύνοδος ἐδημοῦσα. Its acts are incorporated in the acts of the council of Chalcedon, in Mansi, vi. 649 sqq. Eutyches was charged with his error by Eusebius, bishop of Dorylaeum in Phrygia, and upon his wilful refusal, after repeated challenges, to admit the dyophysitism after the incarnation, and the consubstantiality of Christ’s body with our own, he was deposed and put under the ban of the church. On his way home, he was publicly insulted by the populace. The council confessed its faith that “Christ, after the incarnation, consisted of two natures16011601   609  Ἐκ δύο φύσεων, or, as others more accurately said, ἐν δύο φύσεσι,—an unessential difference, which reappears in the Creed of the council of Chalcedon. Comp. Mansi, tom. vi. fol. 685, and Neander, iv. p. 988. The first form may be taken also in a monophysite sense. in one hypostasis and in one person, one Christ, one Son, one Lord.”

Both parties endeavored to gain the public opinion, and addressed themselves to distant bishops, especially to Leo I. of Rome. Leo, in 449, confirmed the decision of the council in several epistles, especially in a letter to Flavian, which forms an epoch in the history, of Christology, and in which he gave a masterly, profound, and clear analysis of the orthodox doctrine of two natures in one person.16021602   This Epistola Dogmatica ad Flavianum (Ep. 28 in Ballerini, 24 in Quesnel), which Leo transmitted, with letters to the emperor and the emperor’s sister, Pulcheria, and the Robber Synod, by his legates, was afterwards formally approved at the council of Chalcedon in 451, and invested with almost symbolical authority. It may be found in the Opera Leonis, ed. Baller. tom. i. pp. 801-838; in Mansi, tom. v. fol. 1359; and in Hefele (Latin and German), ii. 335-346. Comp. on It also Walch, vi. p. 182 ff., and Baur, i. 809 ff. But Eutyches had powerful friends among the monks and at the court, and a special patron in Dioscurus of Alexandria, who induced the emperor Theodosius II. to convoke a general council.

This synod met at Ephesus, in August, 449, and consisted of one hundred and thirty-five bishops. It occupies a notorious place in the chronique scandaleuse of church history. Dioscurus presided, with brutal violence, protected by monks and an armed soldiery; while Flavian and his friends hardly dared open their lips, and Theodoret was entirely excluded. When an explanation from Eusebius of Dorylaeum, who had been the accuser of Eutyches at the council of Constantinople, was presented, many voices exclaimed: “Let Eusebius be burnt; let him be burnt alive. As he has cut Christ in two, so let him be cut in two.”16031603    Conc. Chalced. Actio i. in Harduin, tom. ii. fol. 161. The council affirmed the orthodoxy and sanctity of Eutyches, who defended himself in person; adopted the twelve anathematisms of Cyril; condemned dyophysitism as a heresy, and deposed and excommunicated its advocates, including Theodoret, Flavian, and Leo. The three Roman delegates (the bishops Julius and Renatus, and the deacon Hilarus) dared not even read before the council the epistle addressed to it by Leo,16041604    This, moreover, made reference to the famous Epistola Dogmatica, addressed to Flavian, which was also intended to be read before the council. Comp. Hefele, ii. 352. and departed secretly, that they might not be compelled to subscribe its decisions.16051605    Leo at least asserts this in reference to the deacon Hilarus. The two other delegates appear to have returned home before the council broke up. Renatus does not appear at all in the Acta, but Theodoret praises him for his courage at the Synod of Robbers. With the three delegates Leo sent also a notary, Dulcitius. Flavian was so grossly maltreated by furious monks that he died of his wounds a few days later, in banishment, having first appealed to a new council. In his stead the deacon Anatolius, a friend and agent of Dioscurus, was chosen patriarch of Constantinople. He, however, afterwards went over to the orthodox party, and effaced the infamy of his elevation by his exquisite Greek hymns.

The conduct of these unpriestly priests was throughout so arbitrary and tyrannical, that the second council of Ephesus has ever since been branded with the name of the “Council of Robbers.”16061606    Σύνοδος λῃστρική, latrocinium Ephesinum; first so called by pope Leo in a letter to Pulcheria, dated July 20th, 451 (Ep. 95, ed. Ballerini, alias Ep. 75). The official Acta of the Robber Synod were read before the council of Chalcedon, and included in its records. These of themselves show dark enough. But with them must be compared the testimony of the defeated party, which was also rendered at the council of Chalcedon; the contemporaneous correspondence of Leo; and the accounts of the old historians. Comp. the details in Tillemont, Walch, Schröckh, Neander, and Hefele. “Nothing,” Neander justly observes,16071607    Kirchengesch. iv. p. 969 (2d Germ. ed. 1847). “could be more contradictory to the spirit of the gospel than the fanatical zeal of the dominant party in this council for dogmatical formulas, in which they fancied they had Christ, who is spirit and life, although in temper and act they denied Him.” Dioscurus, for example, dismissed a charge of unchastity and other vices against a bishop, with the remark: “If you have an accusation against his orthodoxy, we will receive it; but we have not come together to pass judgment concerning unchastity.”16081608    At the third session of the council of Chalcedon, Dioscurus himself was accused of gross intemperance and other evil habits. Comp. Hefele, ii. p. 429. Thus fanatical zeal for doctrinal formulas outweighed all interests of morality, as if, as Theodoret remarks, Christ had merely prescribed a system of doctrine, and had not given also rules of life.

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