The Byzantine Fathers Of the Sixth to Eighth Century icon

The Byzantine Fathers Of the Sixth to Eighth Century

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The Decisions of Justinian’s
Standing Council of Bishops In 536.

Justinian, having been buoyed by the presence of Pope Agapetus, was to remain committed to the Council of Chalcedon -however he may have interpreted it. The Standing Council of Bishops in Constantinople was called into session by Justinian and met in session from about May until June or even as late as August of 536. Fifty-three bishops were present, including the papal legates who apparently had accompanied the now deceased Pope Agapetus. Menas presided as “ecumenical patriarch.” The monasteries in Palestine and further east sent delegations with accusations against Severus, Zooras, and Peter of Apamea. The charges ranged from the practice of magic, to profaning altars, to profaning baptism by giving pseudo-baptisms and rebaptizing the orthodox. The charge of rebaptism was not true in the case of Severus but was accurate in the case of some of his followers, a fact we know from one of Severus’ own letters. They accused Severus of fantastic things — he was a magician, he was a worshipper of the devil, he was a heathen, he was an idolater who reproduced the abominations of Daphne, he was selling the sacred vessels and even sold the gold dove over the altar, he was reducing the treasury of the church and saddling it with debt. But for some reason they failed to accuse Severus of immorality, a charge they levelled against the others! Peter of Apamea was accused of resorting to a devilish trick to regain a monastery from the Chalcedonians. He allegedly hired some women who entered the gates of the monastery, at the sight of which the monks fled, leaving the monastery vacant so that Peter could take possession of it! Anathema was pronounced on all three men. Severus, odd as it may sound, was simultaneously accused of being both a Nestorian and a Eutychian.

The Standing Council of Bishops condemned the former patriarch Anthimus as a heretic and placed Severus under ban again. This decision created an interesting sidelight, for Patriarch Menas revealed how controlled the Church was by the emperor, stating that nothing could take place in ecclesiastical affairs without the emperor’s “will and command.” Justinian did concur. He issued an edict banning Anthimus, Severus, and their followers from Constantinople and from all the major cities of the empire. In addition, Justinian ordered the burning of all copies of the writings of Severus. Anyone sheltering those under ban were to receive harsh penalties. In his Novel 42/56 Justinian charged Severus with carrying on an “underground war” by setting churches against each other.

“We prohibit all persons from possessing the books of Severus. For in the same manner that it was not permitted to copy and to possess the books of Nestorius because our previous emperors ordered in their edicts to consider those as similar to the writings of Porphyry against the Christians, so in like manner no Christian shall possess also the speeches of Severus. These are from this time forth determined to be profane and counter to the Catholic Church.”

Severus, Zooras, and others were prohibited from preaching, from having assemblies, and from celebrating the Eucharist. Severus left Constantinople for Egypt where he died eighteen months later (538).

Any hope of a reconciliation with the non-Chalcedonians vanished. The Roman deacon, Pelagius, became the permanent representative of the Roman see in Constantinople — indeed, he seems to have been the first of the permanent representatives of the Roman see in Constantinople. Pelagius, who was respected by both Justinian and Theodora, had influence in Constantinople. His primary goal seemed to be the restoration of Chalcedonianism in Egypt, a goal difficult to achieve. But already the power of the empire had begun to enforce the new policy and the Monophysites in Syria became the targets of the imperial police and military forces. It is reported that some Monophysites were burned alive. In Egypt also the imperial forces began to attempt to extirpate Monophysitism. Justinian summoned Patriarch Theodosius of Alexandria to Constantinople for a conference. Since Theodosius’ personal safety was in the control of the imperial military, he had no choice but to comply. In Constantinople he was deposed and exiled to Thrace. But Theodora arranged for his return to the capital to be housed in her monastery. The papal representative recommended Paul the Tabennesiot. Soon after Paul’s conse -cration in Constantinople by Patriarch Menas, he was accused of complicity in murder. His successor was Zoilus, a Palestinian monk, who was recommended by Ephraem of Antioch. Now it was Antioch which was controlling the patriarchal elections of Alexandria. The Egyptian Church, under the control of imperial forces, accepted the foreign patriarch — as a temporary measure. Patriarch Zoilus had to live under military escort until he, too, was deposed. Indeed, Paul and the four Chalcedonian patriarchs who succeeded him in Alexandria were nothing more than imperial placements — the vox populi in this vital ecclesiastical matter was beyond the reach of the emperor.


Theodora’s Agreement with the Roman Deacon Vigilius.

Upon the sudden death of Pope Agapetus, Theodora seized an opportunity. A Roman deacon, Vigilius, had accompanied Agapetus. The very day after the conference ruled against the Monophysites Theodora negotiated with Vigilius. He could have the episcopal throne of Rome if he agreed to modify the Roman position against the Monophysites. Liberatus of Carthage in his Breviarum (22) tells us that Vigilius’ agreement with Theodora was that he would abolish the Council of Chalcedon and enter into communion with the Monophysites. The same account is given by Victor of Tunnuna in his Chronicle (Patrologia Latino. 68, 956-958) and by Procopius in his Secret History (1,2) and in his De bello gothico (1, 25). The Vita Silverii in the Liber pontificalis gives a lengthy description of the intrigue that surrounded the deposition of Pope Silverius and places Vigilius in Constantinople at the time as apocrisiarius. In its Vita Vigilii the Liber pontificalis accuses Vigilius of “ambition” in securing the papal election, but it also claims that once Vigilius became pope he acted with “courage and intransigence” in resisting imperial pressure. It attributes to Vigilius the words “I am receiving justice for what I did” — digna enim factis recipio.

Vigilius agreed and left for Rome with the body of Pope Agapetus. But a new pope with the aid of the Gothic king Theodatus had already been consecrated, Pope Silverius. Antonina, the wife of the commander of the imperial forces in Italy, Belisarius, was a close friend of Theodora. Through Antonina Theodora had Belisarius arrest Pope Silverius on the false charge of treason, of communicating with the Goths who at that time were being driven out of Rome by Belisarius. Pope Silverius was handed over to accomplices of Vigilius — against the orders of Justinian. Vigilius (537-555) was enthroned as pope in April or May of 537. Silverius had appealed to Justinian who requested a trial for Silverius. The latter, however, was confirmed in his deposition and exiled in November of 537. As pope, Vigilius wrote a letter to Severus, Anthimus, and Theodosius establishing communion with them. Vigilius requests that the letter he is writing be kept strictly secret — mea earn fidem quam tenetis, Deo adjuvante et tenuisse et tenere significo. Non duas Christum confitemur naturas, sed ex duabus compositum unum filium.


The Prospect of Monophysitism
after its Defeat at the Conference of 536.

The Monophysite cause had seemed lost. Despite having an emperor who was well-disposed to them, they had been defeated at the conference of 536. Severus and John of Telia were now dead. Theodosius of Alexandria was now imprisoned. And their avowed enemy, Ephraem of Antioch, had unleashed another persecution. Moreover, their own internal problems were beginning to manifest themselves in an alarming way. The dispute begun between Severus and Julian had now become a division. And Chalcedonian patriarchs temporarily occupied the five thrones. Moreover, the new defense of the Council of Chalcedon seemed to be carrying a momentum, especially through the writings of Leontius of Byzantium, Leontius of Jerusalem, and Cyril Scythopolis (d. 557). This “Neo-Chalcedonian” defense was the reconciling of the doctrine of Chalcedon with the thought of St. Cyril.

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