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The Council of Chalcedon

A.D. 451

A Condemnation of the Council of Ephesus
and the Monk Eutyches


The Passing of the Twenty-Eighth Canon

Donna Morley

Catholic monk Eutyches, who was in charge of a monastery near Constantinople, caused a lot of commotion within the Catholic church when he proclaimed that Christ did not have two natures--human and divine. Rather, Christ was divine only.

Flavian, the Archbishop of Constantinople, called a local synod which condemned this “Monophysite” heresy, and excommunicated Eutyches from the church.

Eutyches was furious and maintained his views. He was not alone in his thinking either. The majority of Catholics (including the monks) in Syria and Egypt refused to accept the doctrines of two natures of Christ. With much support behind him Eutyches appealed to the bishops of Alexandria and Rome. And, because during this time religion was subordinate to politics, the Emperor Theodosius got involved. The Emperor called together a council, which became known as the Council at Ephesus (A.D. 449).

The Council at Ephesus pronounced anathemas against anyone who would dare say that Christ had two natures. Leo I, bishop of Rome had not attended this council, but gave the council a copy of his letter that he wrote to Flavian. The letter supported Flavian’s position and opposed Eutyches’ views. This letter is called Leo’s Tome.

Unfortunately, Leo’s letter fell on deaf ears. At the Council of Ephesus, Euthyches was exonerated while Flavian was assailed. He was accused of being a heretic, and later, assaulted because of his “heresy.” Shortly thereafter, Flavian died from the assault.

When the Council of Ephesus ended, Leo’s delegates returned to him with a report on what happened. Leo was shocked to hear that the bishops hd voted for a one-nature Christ. He was also deeply troubled that his dear friend Flavian was accused of heresy and killed. Upset beyond words, Leo branded the council as the “Robber Synod,” and refused to recognize its decrees.

Because of the ill feelings that now existed, Emperor Marcian stepped in. He suggested that a new council get together to once again address the nature of Christ. Leo didn’t want it and implored Marcian not to put the council together. Leo reasoned that another open debate would cause people to leave the church.

Marcian insisted that a council come together, and so it did. He originally planned for the council to meet at Nicaea, but later changed it to Chalcedon so that it could be closer to him and to Constantinople. The emperor made himself the honorary president of the council. One hundred and fifty bishops from all over attended the conference. Although Leo was not present, he did have representatives attend the conference for him. They were Bishops Paschasinus, Lucentius and Julian of Cos; and priests Boniface and Basil.


On October 8, 451 the Council of Chalcedon met and acknowledged the nature of Christ being both human and divine. This decision indirectly condemned the Council of Ephesus and Eutyches as well. Flavian, although dead, was vindicated. But the council was not entirely in Leo’s favor. He refused to accept its twenty-eighth cannon, which denied him the supremacy of his office (read the excursus on the Later History of Canon XXVIII).

Leo had fought hard for supremacy. For this reason, he wanted to become a pope have have greater authority and power over all the bishops in Constantinople and that of Rome. As well, that he would have greater authority and power over the people in the church. Leo’s idea of a sort of papacy, was referred to as his “Petrine Theory.” The theory was that Peter was the first Pope of Rome and that his authority over all Christians was handed down to Peter’s successors at Rome.

The church in the East (Constantinople) refused to believe Leo’s theory and insisted on the equality of all the bishops. For this reason, the twenty-eighth cannon was written. But the canon became irrelevant when later Gregory I upheld Leo’s theory and became the first pope.

Below is the original letter from Leo to Flavian (Leo’s Tome); the council’s definition of the faith; and the twenty-eighth canon (there were a total of thirty canons).


Leo’s Letter to Flavian

Leo [the bishop] to his [most] dear brother Flavian.

Having read your Affection's letter, the late arrival of which is matter of surprise to us, and having gone through the record of the proceedings of the bishops, we have now, at last, gained a clear view of the scandal which has risen up among you, against the integrity of the faith; and what at first seemed obscure has now been elucidated and explained.

By this means Eutyches, who seemed to be deserving of honour under the title of Presbyter, is now shown to be exceedingly thoughtless and sadly inexperienced, so that to him also we may apply the prophet's words, "He refused to understand in order to act well: he meditated unrighteousness on his bed." What, indeed, is more unrighteous than to entertain ungodly thoughts, and not to yield to persons wiser and more learned? But into this folly do they fall who, when hindered by some obscurity from apprehending the truth, have recourse, not to the words of the Prophets, not to the letters of the Apostles, nor to the authority of the Gospels, but to themselves; and become teachers of error, just because they have not been disciples of the truth. For what learning has he received from the sacred pages of the New and the Old Testament, who does not so much as understand the very beginning of the Creed? And that which, all the world over, is uttered by the voices of all applicants for regeneration, is still not grasped by the mind of this aged man. If, then, he knew not what he ought to think about the Incarnation of the Word of God, and was not willing, for the sake of obtaining the light of intelligence, to make laborious search through the whole extent of the Holy Scriptures, he should at least have received with heedful attention that general Confession common to all, whereby the whole body of the faithful profess that they "believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ Iris only Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary." By which three clauses the engines of almost all heretics are shattered.

For when God is believed to be both "Almighty" and "Father," it is proved that the Son is everlasting together with himself, differing in nothing from the Father, because he was born as "God from God," Almighty from Almighty, Coeternal from Eternal; not later in time, not inferior in power, not unlike him in glory, not divided from him in essence, but the same Only-begotten and Everlasting Son of an Everlasting Parent was" born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary." This birth in time in no way detracted from, in no way added to, that divine and everlasting birth; but expended itself wholly in the work of restoring man, who had been deceived; so that it might both overcome death, and by its power "destroy the devil who had the power of death."

For we could not have overcome the author of sin and of death, unless he who could neither be contaminated by sin, nor detained by death, had taken upon himself our nature, and made it his own. For, in fact, he was "conceived of the Holy Ghost" within the womb of a Virgin Mother, who bore him as she had conceived him, without loss of virginity. (2) But if he (Eutyches) was not able to obtain a true conception from this pure fountain of Christian faith because by his own blindness he had darkened for himself the brightness of a truth so clear, he should have submitted himself to the Evangelist's teaching; and after reading what Matthew says, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham," he should also have sought instruction from the Apostle's preaching; and after reading in the Epistle to the Romans, "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called an Apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which he had promised before by the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was made unto him of the seed of David according to the flesh," he should have bestowed some devout study on the pages of the Prophets; and finding that God's promise said to Abraham, "in thy seed shall all nations be blessed," in order to avoid all doubt as to the proper meaning of this "seed," he should have at-tended to the Apostle's words, "To Abraham and to his seed were the promises made. He saith not, 'and to seeds,' as in the case of many, but as in the case of one, 'and to thy seed,' which is Christ." He should also have apprehended with his inward ear the declaration of Isaiah, "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us;" and should have read with faith the words of the same prophet, "Unto us a Child has been born, unto us a Son has been given, whose power is on his shoulder; and they shall call his name Angel of great counsel, Wonderful, Counsellor, Strong God, Prince of Peac