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Ibas of Edessa was the Bishop of Edessa during the fifth century, during the Nestorian controversies. His association with partisans of Nestorianism and, at the time, a critic of the actions of Cyril of Alexandria placed him under a cloud concerning his orthodoxy. While his writings were anathematized he, personally, wasn't.


His early life is largely unknown. Ibas first appeared as a presbyter in the church of Edessa during the episcopate of Bishop Rabbula of Edessa. Edessa was in the northern part of ancient Mesopotamia - now southeastern Turkey. While Rabbula was opposed to the views of Nestorius and Theodore of Mopesuestia, Ibas, who was in charge of the school of Edessa, took opposition to his bishop's stand. He admired the writings of Theodore and translated them into Syriac and disseminated them throughout the east.

The school of Edessa was popular throughout Persia and the east and provided opportunities for propagating Theodore's beliefs. While Rabbula was very concerned with these clearly heretical doctrines and endeavored to get the doctrines anathematized and burned, the church of Edessa favored Theodore's teachings and supported Ibas against his bishop, Rabbula.

Having attended the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus as a priest, Ibas knew of Cyril's autocratic side. Later, in a letter to Maris, bishop of Beit-Ardaschir in Persia, Ibas wrote of his experiences at the council. In the letter he severely criticized Nestorius on his stand to not recognized the title Theotokos for the Virgin Mary. While against Nestorius, Ibas criticized Cyril's methods of procuring the condemnation of Nestorius, and accused Cyril of Apollinarianism. He also denounced Cyril's twelve chapters as heresy that denied the doctrine of the union of two Natures in one Person. [1]. Ibas later reconciled with Cyril and, during the Fourth Council at Chalcedon, anathematized Nestorius both orally and in writing. The Fathers of the Council then rehabilitated him, declaring him orthodox.

After Bp. Rabbula died about 436, Ibas was elected his successor. But, those people who had strong anti-Nestorian views bitterly opposed Ibas' election and planned to secured his deposition on charges of preaching heretical doctrines. The malcontents, four priests, Samuel, Cyrus, Eulogius, and Maras. inspired by the Eutychian Uranius, bishop of Himeria, laid before the Patriarch of Antioch, Domnus II a complaint against Ibas. Domnus summoned Ibas at a synod at Antioch in 445. Although Ibas excused himself by letter,[2] Domnus supported Ibas and was not to ready to entertain the charges against him.

During Lent in 448, the accusers again made their complaint, this time in a manner too formal to ignore. After Pascha, Domnus called Ibas before a poorly attended council. Ibas personally defended himself against the accusations, most of which were trivial. But, a number of accusations could not be ignored: speaking blasphemous words, anathematizing Cyril and charging him with heresy, and that he, Ibas, was a Nestorian. However, only two of the accusers were present and Patr. Domnus and the council declined to proceed without the principle witnesses.

The dispute then moved to Constantinople where emperor Theodosius II and Abp. Flavian of Constantinople remanded the case back to the East to be heard by an imperial commission, a preceding that was contrary to the canons, but that bore the strength of an imperial decree. The bishops named to the tribunal were not friends of Ibas, namely Uranius, the ringleader of the movement against Ibas, and Photius of Tyre and Eustathius of Bierut, who both owed their sees to Uranius.

Initially, the trial was set in Tyre, but was moved to Bierut to avoid disturbances. In his defense, Ibas presented a memorial to the judges signed by many of his clergy denying that he ever said any of the alleged blasphemies [3]. Then, only three witnesses supported the accusation and presented a letter written in 433 by Ibas to Bishop Maris of Hardaschir in Persia [4]. As result the tribunal avoided any judicial decision and agreed to a settlement.

Ibas' enemies agreed to withdraw their accusations, and he promised that he would forget the past, regard his accusers as his children, and send any new difficulty for settlement to Domnus of Antioch. Additionally, to avoid suspicion of malversation, the church revenues of Edessa would be administered by economy. Ibas gave equal satisfaction on the theological issues. Publicly he anathematize Nestorius, and declared that his doctrine was that agreed upon by John of Antioch and Cyril of Alexandria. He also accepted the decrees of Ephesus equally with those of Nicea as due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The agreement was signed on February 25, 449 with Uranius alone dissenting. [5]

The peace did not last long. The Eutychian party, aided by the intrigues of Chysaphius and Dioscorus, got emperor Theodosius II to convene a council on August 1, 449 in Ephesus, with Dioscorus presiding. The council was to adjudicate whether at the council of 448 in Constantinople had properly deposed Patr. Flavian of Constantinople and excommunicated Eutyches. But the council was also used against Ibas. During his absence from Edessa reports of his heterodoxy spread such that his welcome there became hostile. He was obliged to leave town and ask the Magister militia for protection. All appeals to the civil government were in vain. When Chaereas, the governor of Osrhoene, came to Edessa on April 12, 449, he was met by a mob that included abbots, monks, and their partisans who clamored for immediate expulsion and condemnation of Ibas and his followers.

With Ibas absent, Chaereas began a series of inquiries and trials in an atmosphere of mob agitation in which the old charges on Ibas were recounted and found "proven". Based on Chaereas' report, the emperor ordered the assignment of a new bishop who would command confidence in the people to be substituted for Ibas.[6] While only a legally constituted synod could depose him, his enemies took gratitude in his treatment as he was treated as a common criminal, dragged from place to place, as he was placed in twenty different prisons and forced to change quarters some forty times. [7]

At the second session of the Robber Council of Ephesus on August 22, 449, Ibas, who was in prison in Antioch and was not called to defend himself[8], was deposed.

After the Robber Council Pope Leo I of Rome approached Pulcheria, emperor Theodosius' sister for help in reversing the council's decisions. After the emperor's death in July 450 and Pulcheria's marriage to Marcian, the new emperor, Marcian, summons a general council that convened under Patr. Anatolius at Chalcedon in 451. At the council, the status of the bishops deposed by the Robber council was considered. The council, after much discussion restored Ibas unanimously on the condition that he anathematize Nestorius and Eutyches and accept the tome of Leo. Ibas consented without hesitation. He was restored as bishop of Edessa. Nonnus, who had been chosen bishop on Ibas' deposition, having been legitimately ordained, was allowed to retain his episcopal rank, and on Ibas's death, October 28, 457, succeeded him as metropolitan [9]


  1. Phillippe Labbe, iv. 661, v. 510
  2. ibid. iv. 739
  3. Labbe, iv.667-671
  4. ibid. iv. 659-662
  5. ibid. iv. 630-648
  6. Perry, The Second Synod of Ephesus
  7. Labbe, iv. 634; Liberat.c. 12; Facund. lib. vi. c.i
  8. Labbe, iv. 626, 634
  9. Labbe, iv. 891, 917
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Ibas of Edessa
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