The council of Chalcedon: its theological and historical context and its consequences


Abstract

The article presents the Council of Chalcedon; its theological and historical context and its consequences. The author starts with the theological context of this Council. In that time the question of relation between humanity and divinity in Christ was discussed. Apollinarius of Laodicea taught that in the person of Christ there were two elements: the Logos and the body. The Logos replaced the soul. He propagated the formula mia physis tou theou logou sesarkomene. Others theologians were not agree with his opinion. Generally, there were two theological schools which worked on this matter: school of Alexandria and of Antioch. In the first one, the Christ was seen especially as God who became man. In the second one, He was seen as the man who was God’s Son. With other words, in Alexandria the starting point of reflection was the Divinity of Christ. In Antioch the starting of reflection was His humanity. The author mentioned Eutyches whose ideas on Christology produced a lot of trouble. In such a context, the Council of Chalcedon was organized (451). It was the proposal of Emperor Marcjan. The Council, after having condemned Eutyches and Dioskur of Alexandria because of their position on theological matter, proclaimed a new definition of the catholic faith. The base of this definition was the Letter of Pope Leo the Great Ad Flavianum. The most important point of this definition was the statement that Divinity and humanity meet in Christ, and both form one person. Such a declaration seems to be clear, but it did not satisfy Greek theologians. They did not want to accept the formula two natures (duo physeis) in one person, because in their opinion it signifies a separation between the Divinity and the humanity of Christ. They preferred to speak about mia physis tou Theou Logou sesarkomene. Surely, by the term physis they did not understand nature, but a being. While saying mia physis they did not mean one nature, but one being. In their conception, Jesus Christ was a Being in which met Divinity and humanity. Many theologians were suspicious of the term person (prosopon); they supposed that it had a modalistic meaning. The main opinion of Modalists is: there is only One God who appears sometimes as Father, sometimes as Son, sometime as Holy Spirit. There were also other reasons of contesting the definition of Chalcedon. It was known that that this definition was imposed by the Greek emperor, influenced by the Bishop of Rome (Pope). Many theologians, especially in monastic milieu, did not want to accept the intervention of the civil authorities in religious matter. They did not have a very good opinion about Latin theology. In the fifth century there were some anti-Hellenic tendencies in the eastern part of the Empire. Many Oriental theologians rejected the definition of Chalcedon because it was „a for­mula of Rom and Constantinople”. In such circumstances, a lot of Christians separated themselves from the Catholic Church, forming Monophysite Churches. Those who remained in unity with Rome and Constantinople, keeping the defini­tion of Chalcedon, were called Melchites. Another problem was the canon 28, which gave some privileges to the bishop see of Constantinople. Pope Leo the Great did not approve this canon. Anti-Hellenic tendencies were so strong that in the time of Islamic invasions the people of Palestine, Syria, and Egypt welcomed Arabic soldiers as liberators from Byzantine domination. It is to be said that Arabic authorities, after having taken power in a country, were friendly towards Monophysites and persecuted Melchites. So, the contestation of the definition of Chalcedon prepared the ground for the victory of Islam in the East. The article is ended by an observation of a French theologian Joseph Moingt: declaration that Divinity and humanity make union the person of Jesus Christ produced division not only in the Church, but also in the Roman Empire. This is one of great paradoxes in the history of Christianity.


Keywords

The council of Chalcedon; Logos

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Published : 2012-12-15


Grzywaczewski, J. (2012). The council of Chalcedon: its theological and historical context and its consequences. Vox Patrum, 58, 137-179. https://doi.org/10.31743/vp.4072

Józef Grzywaczewski 
Institut Catholique de Paris  France




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