Chalcedon (An Analysis)

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Coptic Orthodox Cross
Note: This article or section represents an Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonian) perspective, which may differ from an Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) understanding.

By Essam Tony

I believe that the historical incident of the Council of Chalcedon could be better understood in light of the politics that involved the incident. It's my own feeling that this was a fight that both sides intended to escalate, rather that absorb, in order to achieve a certain political gain.

We know that the direct consequence of the enactments of the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) was the first split in the Church. The Western Church described the Eastern Church as being a Monophysite ( believing in one Nature for Christ), and the Eastern Church described the Western Church as being Diophysite (believing in two natures for Christ). These terminologies are not new, and are as old as the dispute itself.

After the Council of Chalcedon, the Coptic Church of Egypt led the "Monophysite" Orthodox movement in all the east, and the motives were both theologian and nationalist. The nationalist movement against the Byzantine Imperialists in Egypt was on the rise and was fuelled by the new religious dispute, and that peaked during the reign of the Emperor Justinian (c. 527-565 A.D.).

The religious disputations between the Monophysites in Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem in the East on one side, and the Diophysites in Rome and Constantinople in the West on the other side, exceeded the limits of courtesy and respect, and that was in the essence the real reason for the split between the east and the west. Both sides would share the blame for an indecent level of argument.

Several historical factors related to that dispute complicated the issue. The West further accused the East of being the followers of the heresy of Eutyches, which stipulated that the human nature of Christ was nullified and absorbed in his Divine nature. That accusation was not true, because in fact it was the Church of Alexandria that led the fight against that heresy years earlier.

With nationalistic motives on the Eastern side, there were also some nationalistic motives on the western side. The Bishops of Alexandria were "leaders" in the first three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus. Both the Councils of Constantinople and Ephesus, led by the Alexandrian Church and its view led to the excommunication of the respective bishops of Constantinople, which was the Capital of the Empire. The Dominance of the theologian arena by the Alexandrian church was a source of envy for the Western churches.

Moreover, in the Council of Ephesus the second (the "fourth" council), c.449 A.D., that was headed by St. Dioscorus I, 25th Pope of Alexandria (Bishop of Alexandria), the Pope of Rome (Bishop of Rome), Leo was excommunicated. That was badly received in the cities of Rome and Constantinople (which had its own Patriarchs excommunicated twice in the preceding 50 years, through councils steered by Coptic Popes). That Council of 449 A.D. was termed a "Council of thieves". In an attempt to overturn the decisions of the second Ephesean Council, the Bishops of the West, and the Emperor Marcianus intensified all their efforts to assemble a council of 600 Bishops in Chalcedon in 451 A.D., in what came to be known as the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. This Council overturned the canons of the Council of Ephesus the second, held two year earlier in 449 A.D., and asserted that the Bishopric throne of Rome is the first among the Christian World. The Council also excommunicated St. Dioscorus I, the bishop of Alexandria and exiled him. The Canons of the Council was documented in what came to be known as the "Tome of Leo", a document that was sent to all corners of the earth as the decision of the Council. The rally of the State in support of the Council was manifested in the number of attendants encouraged by Emperor Marcianus which reached 600 Bishops as compared to the 318 of Nicea, 150 in Constantinople, and 200 in Ephesus in the earlier three major Ecumenical councils.

In the final analysis of the Chalcedonean incident, the two parties appeared to have shared the same view, but disagreed on the semantics and the terminology each party saw befitting for the description of an agreed upon concept. The nationalistic ego was the reason behind the widening of a gap that could have bean, otherwise, mended.

The Churches of Alexandria, Antiochs, and Jerusalem rejected the Canons of the Council of Chalcedon, and rallied behind the exiled bishop of Alexandria, and riots erupted in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Armenia and Persia (Iran). St. Dioscorus, Pope of Alexandria, in return excommunicated all those who would accept the "Tome of Leo".

I would say that had the path of history had a less formal approach to theological disputes, other than excommunications and exiles, it might have bean possible to avert lots of divisions. So may be power corrupted the church at times.