Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Chalcedonian Council Opens

On this day in 451, a mere one thousand, five hundred, and fifty eight years ago, the Council of Chalcedon opened, and lasted several weeks, ending on the first of November. I don't recall many celebrations in the year 2001, which would have been a very fitting year in which to mark the anniversary of this great ecumenical council. Nevertheless, whenever this date comes around each year, Christians everywhere, certainly of those churches that confess a Chalcedonian Christology, ought to use this as a teaching moment, and an occasion for celebration. For the major business that kept the bishops busy those many days in the mid fourth century town of Chalcedon, a city which eventually became swallowed up into the great city we now call Istanbul, was one of the final Christological controversies left to be resolved.

It often happens that when one error is corrected, another one surfaces on the opposite side of the spectrum. The Council of Ephesus in 431 took on the Nestorian heresy, which despite the intentions of its advocates, had divorced Christ's two natures so crassly as to effectively leave Him with a duality of persons. One of the more famous implications of this mode of thinking was that it was impossible for a Nestorian to call Mary the "Mother of God." A mere twenty years after Ephesus the opposite problem had to be addressed, viz., that of monophysitism, its chief advocate being Eutyches. Under this heresy, Christ's natures are not merely united in one hypostasis, but blended into one nature.

The Church's Christology is beautifully rounded out with the clarification of Chalcedon. Ironically, one cannot really discuss this council without mention of a man who was absent, and yet was a key player. This is of course Saint Leo the Great. Pope Leo did not attend, but sent a few representatives instead, and with them a few letters, amongst which was the so called Letter to Flavian, the archbishop of Constantinople. This letter became known as Saint Leo's Tome, and effectively guided the debate. The Letter has both a Latin and a Greek history, and exists in many translations today. The one with which I am most familiar is from the old 19th century vintage Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers series, which is even online now, probably in many different places on the web. Here is one such source. If you can, take a moment to read it over today. This is our Leonine, and Chalcedonian heritage.


Brian P Westgate said...

How fitting then that I preached a very Christological sermon last night on Hebrews 2. I wasn't even thinking about Chalcedon, and yet I preached against the various heresies, and preached the Truth, which is the Gospel.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

That's good, Brian. I'd have liked to have been there. Too many sermons today are not Christological.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Rev'd. Deacon: Thank you for reminding us of the anniversary of Chalcedon. As to Leo's importance at the Council, you may want to check out John McGuckin's book on St. Cyril--in particular, the end of ch. 4. There he quotes another author who says, "Much is usually made of the cry which greeted the reading of the Tome: 'Peter has spoken these things through Leo.' It is often forgotten that that was not all they said; they went on to say: 'Cyril so taught. Eternal be the memory of Cyril. Leo and Cyril taught the same thing. This is the true faith...this is the faith of the fathers.' It was indeed complimentary to suggest that the bishop of Rome was living up to the reputation for orthodoxy of his see's founder, but it involved something more important than a compliment to compare Leo with Cyril the (sic) obvious meaning of those exclamations is that the bishops accepted and praised Leo _because_ he taught the same thing as Cyril. Cyril was the test for christological orthodoxy, and Cyril alone." p. 235

Again, hearty thanks for noting the Council's anniversary. We cannot give God sufficient thanks for the holy fathers of these councils.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks, Fr. Hogg, for your comment. We cannot study the fourth century doctors sufficiently. I pray God will raise up in our own time such men.