The Byzantine Fathers Of the Sixth to Eighth Century icon

The Byzantine Fathers Of the Sixth to Eighth Century

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Justinian’s Request for a Theological Conference
and the Petition of the Monophysites.

The Monophysites responded to Justinian’s call for a conference by drawing up a review of their case, known as the “Petition of the Monophysites to Justinian.” Zacharias gives the text in his ^ Church History (9, 15), as does Michael the Syrian in his Chronicle (9, 22).

“O Triumphant Emperor, several other men crown your head of belief with a crown of praises, men who who use the occasion of others’ cases to write words about your generosity to them. But we, who have ourselves been deemed worthy to experience your virtues, render gratitude to you with a crown of praise woven in splendor. And, while we have been in the desert and, as it were, in the extremities of the world, we have been this entire time living in quietude and have been praying to the good and merciful God during all these days for your majesty and for our sins. And your tranquillity has inclined itself towards our baseness and in your letters of belief you have summoned us to come to you. And it is a miracle to us that you did not receive this our petition with scorn, but, with the kindness that is inbred in you, you have sympathized with us to bring us out of affliction, giving a pretext that this or that man had interceded for us.”

“Now, since it is our duty to obey when ordered, we have immediately left the desert and, travelling quietly along the road in peace without our voice being heard, we have come before your feet. And we pray God, the bountiful Giver, to reward on our behalf your serenity and the God-loving Empress with good gifts from above, and to grant peace and tranquillity upon you, and to place all rebellious people as a stool under your feet.”

“However, now that we have come, we present a petition to your peacefulness which contains our true faith. We do not wish to enter argument with any man on any matter that profits not, as it is written, lest we annoy your ears. For it is very difficult for a man to convince persons of a contentious nature even if the truth is made clear. Hence, as we have said, we refuse to enter any dispute with those who are contentious, with those who will not receive instructors. For it was our master the apostle who said, ‘We have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”

“Victorious Emperor, we do now accordingly also declare the freedom of our faith. When we were in the desert and received your edict at the hands of Theodotus the comes, we also wrote and declared what we thought. And your majesties gave us a message of truth which was free from affliction, for you were tenderly moved and you summoned us to your presence. And, since we have been deemed worthy of the mercies of God, we do in this petition inform your orthodoxies that by the grace of God we have from our earliest infancy received the faith of the apostles. We have been raised in it and with it, and we think and believe even as our three hundred and eighteen God-inspired holy fathers, who drew up the faith of life and salvation, which was confirmed by our one hundred and fifty holy fathers who once met here, and confirmed by the pious bishops who assembled at Ephesus and rejected the impious Nestorius. And thus in this faith of the apostles we have been baptized and do baptize. And this saving knowledge is rooted in our hearts, and this same doctrine alone we recognize as a rule in the faith, and beyond it we receive no other, for it is perfect in all points and it does not grow old nor need revision.”

“Now we acknowledge a worshipful and holy Trinity of one nature, power, and honor, which is revealed in three persons. For we worship the Father and his only Son, God the Logos, who was begotten of him eternally beyond all times, and is with him always without change, and the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, and is of the nature of the Father and of the Son. One of the persons of this holy Trinity, that is, God the Logos, we say by the will of the Father in the last days for the salvation of men took flesh of the Holy Spirit and of the holy Virgin the Theotokos Mary in a body endowed with a rational and intellectual soul, passible according to our nature, and became man, and was not changed from that which he was. And so we confess that, while in the Godhead he was of the nature of the Father, he was also of our nature in the manhood. Accordingly he who is the perfect Logos, the unchangeable Son of God, became perfect man, and left nothing lacking for us in respect of our salvation, as the foolish Apollinarius said, saying that the Incarnation of God the Logos was not perfect, and deprives us, according to his opinion, of things that are of prime importance in our salvation. For, if our intellect was not united with him, as he absurdly says, then we are not redeemed, and in the matter of salvation have fallen short of that which is of the highest consequence for us. But these things are not as he said. For the perfect God for our sake became perfect man without change, and God the Logos did not leave anything lacking in the Incarnation, as we have said, nor yet was it a phantom of him, as the impious Mani supposes, and the mistaken Eutyches.”

“And, since Christ is truth and does not know how to lie and does not deceive, because he is God, therefore God the Logos truly became incarnate, in truth again, and not in semblance, with natural and innocent passions, for of his own will he for our sake among the things which he took upon himself in the passible flesh of our nature of his own will endured also our death, which he made life for us by a Resurrection proper to God, for he first restored incorruption and immortality to human nature.”

“And, indeed, as God the Logos left nothing wanting and was not phantasmal in the Incarnation and Humanization, so he did not divide it into two persons and two natures according to the doctrine introduced by Nestorius the man-worshipper and those who formerly thought like him, and those who in our day so think.”

“And the faith contained in your confession refutes the doctrine of these men and contends with it, for in your earnestness you said the following: ‘God appeared, who became Incarnate. He is in all points like the Father except the individuality of his Father. He became a sharer of our nature, and was called Son of Man. Being one the same, God and Man, he showed himself to us, and was born as a babe for our sake. And, being God, he for men and for the sake of their salvation became man.’ ”

“If those who dispute with us adhered to these things in truth and were not content to hold them in appearance only, but rather consented to believe as we do and you do and as our God-inspired fathers did, they would have abstained from their stirring of strife. For that Christ was joined by composition and that God the Logos is joined by composition with a body endowed with a rational and intellectual soul the all-wise doctors of the Church have plainly stated. Dionysius, who from the Areopagus and from the darkness and error of heathendom attained to the supreme light of the knowledge of God through our master Paul, in the treatise which he composed about the divine names of the Holy Trinity says, ‘Praising it as kindly, we say, as is right, that it is kindly, because it in truth partook perfectly of our attributes in one of its persons, drawing to itself and raising the lowliness of our manhood, out of which the simple Jesus became joined by composition in a manner that cannot be described. And he who was from eternity and beyond all times took upon him a temporal existence, and he who was raised and exalted above all orders and natures became in the likeness of our nature without change and confusion.’ And Athanasius again in the treatise upon the faith named the unity of God the Logos with soul-possessing flesh ‘a composition,’ speaking thus: ‘What sort of resultant unbelief befalls those who call it an indwelling instead of an Incarnation, and instead of a union and composition a human energy?”

“If, therefore, according to our holy fathers, whom your peacefulnesses have followed, God the Logos, who was before simple and not composite, became incarnate of the Virgin, the Theotokos Mary, and [here Michael the Syrian adds “hypostatically”] united soul-possessing and intellectual flesh to himself personally and made it his own and was joined with it by composition in the oikonomia, it is manifest that according to our fathers we ought to confess one nature of God the Logos, who took flesh and became perfectly man. Accordingly God the Logos, who was before simple, is not recognized to have become composite in a body, if he is again divided after the union by being called two natures. But, just as an ordinary man, who is made up of various natures, soul and body and so forth, is not divided into two natures because a soul has been joined by composition with a body to make up the one nature and person of a man, so also God the Logos, who was personally united and joined by composition with soul-possessing flesh, cannot be ‘two natures’ or ‘in two natures’ because of his union and composition with a body. For according to the words of our fathers, whom the fear of God that is in you has followed, God the Logos, who was formerly simple, consented for our sake to be united by composition with soul-possessing and intellectual flesh and without change to become man. Accordingly one unique nature and person [hypostasis] of God the Logos, who took flesh, is to be proclaimed, and there is one energy of the Logos of God which is made known, which is exalted and glorious and proper to God, and is also lowly and human. [Michael the Syrian adds: “How is it that our brethren cannot apply themselves to annul the things which Leo has written in his Tome?”]

[Then followed quotations from Nestorius, Theodore, Diodore, Theodoret, Leo, and the Council of Chalcedon proclaiming two natures after the union and the Incarnation of the Logos, and two hypostases. These quotations are refuted by quotations from the Fathers which assert one nature and one person of the Incarnate Logos. Neither Zacharias nor Michael give these quotations.]

“And for this reason we do not accept either the Tome or the definition of Chalcedon, Ο Victorious Emperor, because we keep the canon and law of our fathers who assembled at Ephesus and anathematized and deprived Nestorius and excommunicated any who should presume to compose any other definition of faith besides that of Nicaea, which was correctly and believingly laid down by the Holy Spirit. These we reject and anathematize. And this definition and canon those who assembled at Chalcedon deliberately set at naught and transgressed, as they state in the Acts of that Council. And they are subject to punishment and blame from our holy fathers in that they have introduced a new definition of faith, which contrary to the truth of the doctrine of those who from time to time have been after a pure manner doctors of the Church, who, we believe, are now also entreating Christ with us, that you may aid the truth of their faith, honoring the contests undergone by their priesthoods, by which the Church has been exalted and glorified. For thus shall peace prevail in your reign by the power of the right hand of God Almighty, to whom we pray on your behalf that without toil or struggle in arms he will set your enemies as a stool beneath your feet.”

Severus received an invitation to participate in the conference but declined because “of age.” In the letter he sent to the emperor explaining that he was unable to attend, Severus took the opportunity to defend himself against accusations that he had been receiving funds to foment sedition. If indeed this accusation had been made, Severus was aware that the charge against him was political treason. He wrote that he lived in poverty and wished to die in the peace and obscurity he had in Alexandria. He included in this letter a vehement attack against and denunciation of Julian of Halicarnassus and his doctrine, obviously to distinguish his teachings from those of Julian.

According to Zacharias in his Church History (9, 15) the conference in Constantinople lasted more than a year. However, an account of only one of the conferences exists, one that lasted for three days and attended by six Syrian bishops and five supporters of Chalcedonian. Leontius of Byzantium was also in attendance representing Palestinian monks. One of the Chalcedonian representatives has left an account of this mini conference — Innocentius of Maronia in a letter to Thomas, a priest in Thessaloniki. Justinian’s approach was to resolve some of the issues in order to reveal that if Chalcedon were interpreted correctly, no doctrinal issue should be cause of division. The “issues” that Justinian wanted to resolve were not doctrinal — indeed, all he attempted to demonstrate was that Eutyches’ theology was not orthodox and that Dioscorus had been wrong in conducting the Robber Council at Ephesus. The Severians admitted that Eutyches was a heretic and even granted that Dioscorus had agreed with Eutyches. How, then, could they hold that Dioscorus was orthodox? The Severians finally acknowledged that Dioscorus had been blind, that his condemnation of Flavian was unjust, and that there had been sufficient reason for convoking the Council of Chalcedon. Some of these statements were historically inaccurate. Severus had previously written that Eutyches had submitted a confession of faith to Dioscorus in which he condemned Mani, Valentinius, Apollinarius, and any one claiming that the flesh of our Lord “came down from heaven.” But Severus added that Eutyches, after submitting this profession of faith, had “returned to his vomit.” It must also be mentioned that Dioscorus, during his brief attendance at the Council of Chalcedon, had condemned Eutyches on certain conditions. The next day the Severians focused on what they considered to be the real issue — their central objection to the Council of Chalcedon was that it presented a “new” and incorrect doctrine of “in two natures” — duarum naturarum novitas. They paid little attention to the position that not everything that was new was necessarily incorrect or bad. From the perspective of the Severians, St. Cyril would not have accepted the Council of Chalcedon. And that was the basic issue. The Council had not accepted St. Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas and, despite the fact that St. Cyril had spoken of “out of two natures,” he had never spoken about “two natures after the union.” At the meeting on the third day, attended by Justinian, the Theopaschite Formula was put forward as a compromise position. It is claimed that one of the Syrian bishops accepted Chalcedon, as did some of the priests in attendance. But the remaining bishops remained firm. Justinian promulgated an edict in March of 533 which set out his own profession of faith. It condemned Eutyches, Apollinarius, and Nestorius and strongly maintained that there had been no innovation of the faith. It professed that the Logos, co-eternal with the Father “became incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Mary, the holy glorious Ever-Virgin and Theotokos, and assumed the nature of man, and endured the Cross for us in the time of Pontius Pilate, and was buried and arose on the third day. We recognize one and the same person’s suffering which he voluntarily endured in the flesh. We know not God the Logos to be one and Christ to be another, but one and the same person consubstantial with the Father in his divinity and the same one consubstantial with us in his humanity. For he is perfect in divinity, and also perfect in his humanity. The Trinity has remained the Trinity even after one of the Trinity became incarnate as God the Logos, for the Holy Trinity allows no addition of a fourth person.” It is to be noted that justnian made no reference to Pope Leo’s Tome. Justinian also wrote a letter to Patriarch Epiphanius, addressing him as “ecu­menical patriarch.” In this letter he repeats the same ideas but calls attention to the letter of Proclus to the Armenians and refers to the position of the Bishop of Rome as “head of all of God’s most holy priests.” St. Proclus, bishop of Constantinople (434-446), had received a request in 435 from the bishops of the Church of Armenia concerning the theology of Theodore of Mopsuestia whcse works were then being translated into Armenian. In his famous response, Tomus ad Armenios de fide, St. Proclus avoided mentioning Theodore but discussed the teaching of the Church on the one hypostasis and the two natures in the Incarnate Logos. He then theorizes on the possible errors that could come from that teaching, errors which were those of Theodore. In his fourth letter he used the phrase which would become the rallying cry of the Theopaschite controversy — unum de Trinitate secundum cartem crucifixum. Justinian’s reference that the Holy Trinity allots “no addition of a fourth person” most probably reflects the fact that the Monophysite doxology had already been criticized on that possibility — such is the view of Marcellinus Comes in his Chronicon.

Justinian also wrote to Pope John II, the first pope to change his flame — he had been Mercurius, a Roman priest. The emperor’s letter, ^ Reddentes honorem, became part of the Code of Justinian. Justinian included the Theopaschite Formula in his letter to Pope John II and the pope approved it. The emperor also requested that the pope condemn a group of monks who had come to Rome to protest against the formula. That also Pope John II acquiesced to — he excommunicated the monks when they refused to cease their opposition. In his letter Justinian used the same language about the position of the Bishop of Rome that he used in his letter to the “ecumenical patriarch” Epiphanius — “the head of all the Churches.” There was actually nothing new in this attitude towards the Roman see from the Eastern perspective. It does not knew of any infallibility in that see and there was seldom any serious question of the Roman see being the primus.

The imperial documents essentially formed what would become the new Henotikon, the final attempt at compromise before the Monophysites officially established their own hierarchy. Justinian’s argument that the Council of Chalcedon was to be accepted was based on the fact that it contained the “eastern” tradition expressed by Patriarch Proclus in his Tomus ad Armenios defidei and not because of the influence of Pope Leo! And also because it did in fact condemn Eutyches and Nestorius. St. Cyril’s Twelve Anathemas were omitted but his language was utilized — Christ was “one” and suffered as “one.” But the strong language used in Zeno’s Henotikon of “one and not two” was not present. Despite this, Christ is “perfect God and perfect man.” It was a compromise formula and it was to be quickly recognized as such. For a few years it appeared as though Justinian’s compromise might work. The years from 531 to 536 were the years of peace, the years when a truce was in effect in the empire. Severus, now in the later years of his life, had suffered from the separation of the followers of Julian. There seemed to be no vehement reaction to this new compromise in the east and, most importantly, the strident Pope Hormisdas had died and Justinian now could deal with the more conciliatory Pope John I and then Pope John II, the latter of whom had accepted the edict as “in accordance with apostolic teaching.” The will of the emperor seems to have brought at least obedience — for a time.


Theodoras Influence: Severus Visits Constantinople.

An extraordinary turn of events took place. It seems that Theodora had encouraged the emperor not to give up with Severus and to continue to extend imperial invitations to him. He finally accepted and arrived in Constantinople to be welcomed in honor. The date of Severus’ arrival is disputed. In any case, he arrived between 534 and 535 with Peter of Apamea and a rather large group of monks. In 535 Timothy of Alexandria died and a few months later Epiphanius of Constantinople passed away. Two important sees were now vacant. One of the monks who had been “in exile” in Theodora’s monastery was in Alexandria upon the death of Patriarch Timothy. His influence was used on the military commander to consecrate Theodosius, a deacon, immediately. Theodosius was a Severian, and they were in the minority in Alexandria at the time. He was immediately opposed. Gaianus, a follower of Julian, was supported by a variety of groups in Alexandria and managed to survive as the opposing patriarch for a little more than one hundred days — he was then expelled. Theodosius was, of course, an anti-Chalcedonian. He held a council which immediately defined his position. Nicaea, Ephesus, and the Twelve Anathemas of St. Cyril were considered to be divinely inspired. In addition, the Henotikon was reaffirmed, an action which by its very nature nullified Pope Leo’s Tome and the Council of Chalcedon. But there was no mention of Dioscorus or his council. Theodosius received a letter of support from Severus and quickly began to ordain bishops in an attempt to gain leadership in Alexandria of the Monophysites.


Theodoras Influence: Anthimus of Trebizond
Becomes Patriarch of Constantinople.

The see of Constantinople also had to be filled. Here, too, Theodora’s candidate won the position. Anthimus of Trebizond was one of the Chalcedonian supporters at the conferences. He was, however, impressed by the arguments of the Monophysites. Once consecrated, Theodora made certain that Severus spoke often with Anthimus. Severus, it appears, was able to convince Patriarch Anthimus of his own orthodoxy as well as the flaws in and iniquity of the Council of Chalcedon. Precisely at the time when Justinian was attempting to take Italy militarily, Patriarch Anthimus came out strongly as an anti-Chalcedonian, even making the assertion that the doctrine of “in two natures” makes a “Quarternity” out of the Trinity. The balance had now changed again. Three patriarchs — Constantinople, Alexandria, and Severus of Antioch — were anti-Chalcedonian. Turmoil was unleashed again within the Church. Bishops began to send delegations to Rome to protest.


Pope Agapetus Visits Constantinople
on Request of Theodahad, the Gothic King.

Military events in Sicily and Dalmatia intervened now with ecclesiastical events. Theodahad, the Gothic King, prevailed upon none other than Pope Agapetus to journey to Constantinople to negotiate a military settlement with Justinian. The Roman see was quite impoverished at the time and, in order to raise the funds to undertake the trip, Pope Agapetus had to resort to selling some of the consecrated vessels. The emperor knew that he needed the support of Pope Agapetus if he was to succeed militarily in Italy. The pope had little difficulty in convincing Justinian that the West would never accept the new interpretation of Chalcedon. Severus knew that the situation was lost and wrote to a friend that “the real problem is that those in power want to please both sides.” Anthimus was presented with an option: either a complete and unequivocal acceptance of Chalcedon or his resignation. He resigned and entered Theodora’s monastery. Pope Agapetus requested that Justinian arrest and imprison Severus and Zooras but Justinian refused to break his commitment of safe-conduct to Severus.


Pope Agapetus Consecrates Patriarch

Menas in Constantinople.

The new choice for patriarch of Constantinople was Menas (d. 552), an Alexandrian by birth. Pope Agapetus consecrated the new patriarch of Constantinople. A statement had been drawn up, signed by both the new patriarch and Justinian, that reasserted the orthodoxy of the Council of Chalcedon. At the time of triumph Pope Agapetus suddenly died. Rumors of a fantastic nature coming from the anti-Chalcedonians concentrated on Pope Agapetus. Michael the Syrian in his Chronicle (9, 23) claims that the reason Pope Agapetus came to Constantinople was out of jealousy of the former Stylite Zooras, who baptized Theodora in 535. The death of Pope Agapetus, his opponents claimed, came “while he was engaged in the practice of black magic.”

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